Title: Growing Up Finn(egan)
Fandom: Storm Hawks
Genre/Rating: General, Family, Friendship/PG
Word Count: 4854
Disclaimer: Orangucat comes from the children's book Orangucat Moves In by Louise Gauld, and the quote directly after it is from Pamela Allen's A Lion in the Night.
Summary: A series of pre-canon ficlets. The first 14 years of Finn's life through his mother's eyes.
Notes: In the same universe as Five Linear Events and there are details in this which are explained in that. It should still be possible to read it separately though. As long as you know "Finnegan" equals "Finn's dad", you're good to go. Also, the home terra I've created for Finn and Aerrow is a big holiday-by-the-sea kind of place (think seaside villages or somewhere like, say, Fremantle in Western Australia). You'll see what I mean.
I tried to use all the canon facts we know to create this back-story and make it that what occurs here could realistically end up in what we do see in the characters in the canon timeframe. Yes, I've…given it a lot of thought and cruelly used Dice to my own ends throughout.
Raising a child alone is even harder than Rosella had ever expected. It's not even that she's practically helpless without her mother's guidance; it's that she's scared. So scared sometimes she can't move or speak or breathe.
She can feel her love for Finn growing, amplifying in the same way the hurt of losing Finnegan does with each passing day; multiplying itself over and over until it's so large and so complete that she can't focus on anything else, can only find herself sitting on the lounge holding him or watching him sleep just to be sure he's still breathing.
But Rosella has never been a woman who gives up (on herself, on love, on anything) so she keeps herself busy and presses down the fear until, sometimes, she can almost trick herself into thinking it isn't there.
And, eventually, after reaching his first word, his first steps, the first night he sleeps through, it begins to diminish. It never quite goes away—and it never will—but tricking herself would be much easier now.
Finn is worth every tantrum and snot-cloaked shirt—and every moment of terror coiling through her belly.
So she decides not to bother.
Rosella knows that this will be the last time Finn ever sees his grandmother if his grandfather has any say in the matter. And he does.
Her father never approved of her choices, especially in marriage, but she'd ignored him and now it is returning to slap her in the face. Discovering that she has no intentions of returning home or remarrying someone respectable, he pulls her into the next room and scolds her quietly while Finn's shrieks of laughter carry through the closed door.
They've never seen eye-to-eye, so when he finally says that if she won't change, she isn't allowed in his home—well, it still hurts, but she's prepared. She's been waiting for this moment to occur for years; has always known it was coming.
There's a sense of freedom in finally being released from waiting, even though Finn cries all the way home as if he knows they won't be coming back again.
The lake is like a consolation prize, somewhere she has never brought Finn before and only sees reason to now, but she delights in watching him flee from the tiny ripples that barely count as waves at all and roll through the sand between the water's edge and where grass leads up to their back gate as much as he delights in doing them. His laughter rings loudly for the second time that afternoon, high and sweet, and Rosella hopes it's enough to distract him from more family lost to them both.
Finn's hair is sticking up everywhere and thick with sand when he follows her back to the house for a bath, and he's whining about leaving again. He asks when he can come back here and Rosella tells him tomorrow.
He asks when he can see Grandma again. Rosella shakes her head and sighs.
Reading to Finn is easily one of Rosella's favourite pastimes. It doesn't matter how many times she repeats each book, how many times she has to read out Orangucat's multiple names or sing, "'Ha! Ha! I'm the king of the castle and you're the dirty rascals,' bellowed the lion," because the way Finn giggles and his eyes shine every time make it more than worth it.
Relaxing back against the couch or his bed's headboard or a wall, with him pressing himself against her so he's close enough to see the pictures, makes how sick she is of the books fade long enough for her to read them to him another four or five times each in a single sitting if that's what he wants.
Finn has almost boundless energy—something Rosella remembers her mother used to say about her—so it's rare for him to stay still for long, no matter what she threatens him with. It's lovely to have him pressing himself close without a flurry of elbows and knees and the resulting bruises.
She know she spoils him with books, and that there are more important things she could be spending the money on, but whenever she goes shopping, she finds herself hovering in the children's section of the bookshop. Her fingers roam across them, touching each with the tips of her fingers and picking out beautiful, colourful books. Ones she might buy. And when she finds ones she knows, knows, Finn would love, she is at the counter with money in hand before she knows it.
Struggling in other ways is made up for by Finn's glee when she brings them home. His eyes, bright and beautiful and blue, as he walks towards her asking if she can read a book to him, a new one or any at all; it makes up for it.
Rosella doesn't (can't) care what others think—that she's reckless, stupid; wasting what little money she receives from Cyclonia on Finnegan's death benefits—because she can go without any number of luxuries if it means she gets to see that shine in his eyes over and over again.
Finn's fiercest nightmare, the one that sends him screaming under the covers of Rosella's bed, is of monsters. Of being eaten.
His descriptions shouldn't make her snigger, but they're so ridiculous, and, after the first time she can't contain her laughter, she finds that the best way to calm him down is to make him realise how silly they are. That there's no monster under his bed or in his closet; sky sharks don't inhabit the skies around their terra and there are no sea creatures in the lake behind their yard.
She gets him to help her investigate the places he dreams of sometimes, turning it into a grand adventure with flashlights and bike helmets and a baseball bat between them. They sneak through the house together; ducking round corners and peeking under and inside everything for the monsters she knows aren't there.
Afterwards, Finn curls against her, exhausted and contented, and she tells him about her childhood dreams; the stupid ones that make him giggle until he falls asleep, a smile tugging at his lips.
Then Rosella sighs, pulls him closer so she can smell the soap on his skin from his nightly bath, and falls into dreams of her own.
It's inevitable that, as Finn ages, as he begins to socialise with the other children living on or visiting their terra, he notices those children have two parents, while he has only one. It's not as if Rosella is secretive about Finn's father—apart from his career choice, and she'll tell him that when he's old enough to hear it, when he's ready to listen and understand—but, the more likely it is he'll remember what she says, the less inclined Rosella finds herself to speak.
He comes home one afternoon, from playing with a family from another terra, and, for the first time, asks about his father himself. It's almost strange how Rosella can sit on the porch repeat his name in her mind over and over until she falls asleep and dreams of him, but the moment Finn says dad aloud, a shiver runs down her spine and her heart clenches.
She tells him anyway, because Finnegan is his father and he has the right to know. Running with what her own father once disapprovingly called a ridiculous flair for the dramatic; Rosella takes Finn down to the lake behind their house and weaves the tale as they splash through the shallows together.
Beginning at their meeting, she works her way through everything she remembers until their marriage. She pretends to eat fries and propose, brushes her lips against Finn's forehead when she reaches the day Finnegan first kissed her, and drags him squealing into a wet hug as he attempts escape.
He lets her pull him into the wedding waltz, like he understands how much it means to her. They spin around in the water, his feet resting on hers and his left hand grasped in her right as she tells him about how handsome Finnegan was in a suit and how he fumbled over his vows because he was so nervous. She doesn't bother mentioning how her father frowned throughout the reception afterwards, like he'd been expecting Rosella to leave Finnegan at the altar, or how her sisters left before it even ended.
When Rosella finally comes to Finnegan's departure, she pauses and drops to the ground, crossing her legs. Finn watches her for a moment, unusually docile, before placing himself firmly in her lap.
She's more careful about the details now, because these ones aren't real. No one ever told her how Finnegan died, so she made it up, ensuring that she would always have something to tell Finn if he asked.
Rosella explains, in a voice that doesn't quiver even if she feels like it should, how she likes to think Finnegan died. How he saved his men from their enemy, how he sacrificed himself so that none of their families lost a father, a brother, or a son. It's a great battle, she tells Finn, a huge battle between airborne ships carrying hundreds of men and, around it, separate fights between those on the much smaller skimmers.
When she finishes there are tears running down her cheeks. Finn sits quietly, with his arms around her middle, until she stands and they walk home together, hand-in-hand in sodden clothes.
Finn and Aerrow meet in a playground as Rosella meets Aerrow's mother on the park bench nearby.
Lory is beautiful and friendly and there's a subtle sadness in her eyes that Rosella recognises from her own reflection. While Lory talks about correct nutrition and how important sun-protection is, Finn and Aerrow have a monkey bar war that somehow results in a sprained ankle.
They sit side-by-side on the front porch of Rosella and Finn's home anyway, while Rosella bandages Finn's ankle with one of her scarves. She pretends she doesn't see the tears rolling down Finn's cheeks because he hates her talking about it, and that she can't see Aerrow's hand clasp Finn's when she pulls the fabric a little too tight.
Instead, she tells them a story about a group of friends flying sky skimmers, having adventures together, and saving lives.
After she goes inside with Lory to make coffee, she sees the boys through the kitchen window. Their shoulders are touching and they are hunched close together. Finn is speaking quickly, his face alight with mischief, and Aerrow is giggling along, his fingers squeezing tightly around the hat in his lap.
There's something personal, something strangely intimate, about their body language—as if they have already bonded and fast become friends for life—that Rosella doesn't want to intrude on. Instead, she looks away from the window and passes one of the mugs across the counter, sipping from the other with a placid smile.
The final straw is when Rosella catches them trying to sneak past the shallows again, but this time they've gone too far out. Aerrow realises only half a second before Finn and it's only luck that has Rosella already running down towards the lake to scold them.
She has no choice but to shed most of her layers of clothing and follow them in, dragging both boys, who are struggling so fiercely all three of them almost drown, back to shore.
Rosella puts them both in corners of the lounge room, to sit silently and wait for her to yell at them more coherently than when she's coughing up water and gasping for breath, but the Naughty Spot only held affect for so long, and, at seven, they're both growing out of that stage.
So the only option she has is to ensure that, when they next try to play in the lake unsupervised, both of them can actually swim.
Teaching them is harder than she thought; it's exhausting work and knowing the actions herself isn't nearly enough to make her any kind of instructor.
She manages an awkward few days of lessons before she gets into the swing of it, drawing upon what she remembers from her own mother teaching her, and Finn and Aerrow begin to improve rapidly.
When she's confident they can manage themselves, Rosella sits on the shore with a book. She glances up every few minutes, checking up on them and smiling at their stupid antics. But they're always fine, and eventually she can lie back on a towel and let her concentration drift.
Sometimes, on these days, one or both of the boys will sneak up and splash her with water, before sprinting back to the water yelling. Rosella chases after them, tickling and teasing and joining their games until all three are exhausted.
Her boys, she thinks of them now, and it makes her smile fondly. She isn't sure when she started thinking of Aerrow as a surrogate son, but in hindsight, she realises it was probably destined to happen.
Lory hints at it for a while, sends Aerrow to play with Finn for what she elusively calls her 'weekly appointment', talks sometimes like she's not expecting to be around much longer.
When she sits Rosella down and explains it all, the shock is still enough that Rosella can't keep her fingers grasped around her mug and it crashes to the living room floor. They clean up the mess together. Both of them have shaking hands and it takes longer than it would alone, but Rosella supposes that neither of them feel quite able to do anything alone at the moment.
It's one thing to know that Lory is sick—she's always sick; she's beautiful, fragile Lory and Rosella has always defined her like that a little—but death is…something else altogether. It's so permanent.
Anything from a month until a year, Lory tells her is what she has left. But she says she'll hang on. For Aerrow, she'll cling to life until she can't let it go.
Rosella's crying, harshly and unstoppably, by the time Lory finishes explaining it all properly (the facts, the appointments, her illness, everything) and she feels awful that she's the one being comforted while Lory stays clear-eyed and calm about everything. Of course, she's been sick for so long that she has probably long-accepted her fate.
Lory leaves after a few more minutes. As she reaches the porch, she turns around and asks Rosella to look after Aerrow when she's gone.
Rosella stands in the doorway, shaking and crying and promising.
Junko has been to their home terra before, on his family's yearly vacation, but it takes five years before Finn and Aerrow meet him. Rosella isn't there when it happens, but she's thankful that no one gets hurt this time.
He's a sweet boy. Rosella's never met a wallop before so she has nothing to compare him to, but it seems strange that someone who looks like he could do so much damage is so—so soft.
He's much less inclined to lie than Finn and Aerrow are too. It's hard to tell if that's because he's honest or because he's a bit, well, dim, really. Which sounds mean however you spin it, but sometimes he says things that make her stop and stare, silently wondering if someone took out half his brain and replaced it with a brick, and it's a horrible thing to think about someone else's child, but it's true.
In any case, they turn into a trio for the month Junko's holiday lasts; sneaking early desserts from the parlours in the tourist district that begins a few blocks from Aerrow's home, and standing as a united front with ice-cream in the corners of their mouths as Finn and Aerrow explain that they just don't feel like dinner and Junko suggests he could eat it for them.
They go to the beach a lot too; the beautifully crafted one across the lake that uses crystal power to create waves in the usually-still water. Walking out the door after asking Rosella's permission for Finn, they always look an odd group. Finn with his new surfer-like haircut, and his tan and his blue eyes; Junko, big and brown and surprisingly gentle; and Aerrow, red-haired and pale skinned, with a hat shadowing his face and a smear of sunscreen across his nose.
Sometimes Rosella wants to follow, wants to see them playing and having fun together, wants to let Junko's parents take a break from keeping watch of three rowdy boys. But a diner full of memories, sitting across a carefully cobbled street from the white sand and blue water, stops her every time.
Aerrow finds the body when he goes home after spending all day with Finn in their fort.
He bursts in through the front door fifteen minutes after he leaves and Rosella almost asks if he'd left something behind, but his eyes are wide and helpless, and he's breathless from sprinting the whole way back, and he's shaking with suppressed emotion. And she knows. Before he even opens his mouth to tell her, in a voice that's faltering and fearful, she just knows.
Rosella leaves him with Finn and strict instructions, and runs to Lory's house.
It's scary how much Lory simply looks asleep, sitting in an armchair with a book fallen to the floor, her hand hanging open, palm-up, above it. Her head is resting on a shoulder and there are peaceful dreams in the curve of her beautiful face. But she's cold, cold to the bone, and, God, Aerrow must have touched her and felt it and this was his mother.
Lory clung on as long as she could—and longer than anyone had expected—but she couldn't last forever. Rosella takes a few things Aerrow will need to stay with her and Finn at least temporarily—and, hopefully, until he's old enough to leave of his own volition.
This had been Lory's intention too, but being a single, unemployed mother does Rosella no favours when Aerrow's grandparents show up. They never hide their disdain of her, her home, or her fatherless child. Gypsy, Aerrow's grandfather calls her, without leaving Aerrow or Finn's hearing. His lip curls in disgust and he swears to take Aerrow from her.
Rosella is so busy trying to convince everyone who even questions her a little that she can look after Aerrow that she barely notices how Finn changes after she kicks the old couple out of her house. His expressions evolve until even a smile looks forced; like there's a sulky coldness lurking behind it. Aerrow looks confused frequently and hurt even more.
And Rosella cooks them dinner and sits with them at the table and doesn't even see it.
Her efforts are a waste anyway, and Aerrow's grandparents smirk their smug content at her from the footpath as she cries into Aerrow's shoulder. She swears to him that she'll find a way for him and Finn to see each other again soon, so that she can see him too. He just looks sad; sad and a little wistful, but there's no hope flickering behind his eyes.
It's only when Aerrow tries to hug Finn goodbye that Rosella finally realises what has happened. Finn stands stiffly, with his arms by his sides and his back straight and his eyes cold, and doesn't say a word.
They sit side-by-side on the porch after he's gone, where Aerrow and Finn sat the day they met. Rosella puts her arm around Finn ands asks him if hating Aerrow makes it hurt any less.
Finn shakes her off and storms inside.
It's over a year before Aerrow's grandparents allow him to visit. At first, after he left, Finn moped constantly; he still wasn't smiling or eating as much, and he barely left his room. Every time Rosella tried to bring it up, to address it because he needed to talk about it, he simply withdrew further into his little, self-imposed cocoon.
When she catches him pulling apart the fort he and Aerrow made in the backyard when they were six and, later, finds a picture of them together in two pieces in the bin, her silent worries grow far worse. She tapes the picture back together and hides it in her room, but says nothing.
Then Junko shows up again, his family returning for their yearly summer holiday, and, suddenly, everything's different. Finn throws himself into his friendship with Junko with more gusto than ever.
Junko is obviously more than just a replacement; the affection between them has a different shade, but is no less genuine. It alleviates Rosella's worries, makes her think that maybe Finn is just moving on, in his own strange way.
But Junko's departure is more telling than any of their other interaction. Finn punches him on the arm, smirks and tells him they'll see each other next year, dude. A month isn't enough to forge the same strength of connection as that of four years of close companionship, however well the two boys get on, and Finn seems to know he can't fake that he's back to normal so he doesn't bother.
Over time Rosella's anxiety leaps into a crescendo, verging on panic, and then Aerrow comes back.
Finn greets Aerrow with an unimpressed grunt and shuts himself in his room for the rest of the night and Rosella's never felt so out of control.
It's the first time she's raised her voice to him in earnest, beyond a fearful berating or irritable scolding, but Finn lies on his bed with his back to her and pretends not to hear it. Does he think Aerrow is to blame in this, she asks him eventually. Think that Aerrow chose to leave them or to be away for so long? She's so scared that nothing will get through to him. Aerrow is looking more upset with each passing moment, and she's so scared that if Finn doesn't do something now, he won't get another chance.
It takes him two days. Aerrow is standing by the fort they built together, and that Finn destroyed alone, when Finn approaches. Rosella sees it through the screen door that opens onto the backyard. Finn speaks, too far away for her to hear anything, but she can see his lips moving.
Aerrow looks over and says something, hurt taut across his features. Finn shakes his head and replies, quickly, angrily, and abruptly picks up one of the flimsy pieces of wood.
Mouth twisting into an almost-smile, Aerrow says something else, and this time Finn nods. His face curves into regret and he drops the wood, leaning forward and talking rapidly.
Aerrow's face goes carefully blank—oh, no Rosella's mind supplies with dawning horror—but he interrupts, saying something that makes the first real grin to spread through Finn, changing everything from his expression to his posture.
When Aerrow drags him into a hug, long and sincere, Rosella walks away down the hall and into the kitchen, whistling tunelessly to the happy jangling of her bracelets.
And when Aerrow leaves this time, the fort is partially rebuilt.
Aerrow visits again, not quite a year later, and this time he brings Piper.
From what Rosella can gather, Aerrow met her on his grandparents' terra, living nearby, and she's been helping him with his studies. Becoming a Sky Knight is a lot of work and Aerrow is clearly grateful not to be doing it all alone.
Junko's family is on vacation during this visit and the four of them spend a lot of time alone, going out a lot and hiding away together to discuss, presumably, their plans. It's not really surprising that Aerrow and Finn recruited their new friends; Piper and Junko have a special brand of bravery that's rare and the same drive to defeat Cyclonia.
Rosella is seeing less of their interaction than ever, but she can piece together that everything is not as amicable as they're trying to project to her and to each other.
Piper is pretty already, still eleven, and much smarter than all three boys combined. There's nothing beyond playful smugness in her intelligence, but the way her eyes go cold and disapproving whenever she glances at Finn set Rosella on edge.
Finn shows little indication of thinking much of Piper in return, and he's becoming much friendlier with Junko—laughing harder and longer at his jokes and talking him up at the slightest hint of deprecation. It's a defence mechanism Rosella is familiar with and, with the comfortable camaraderie between Aerrow and Piper, understanding why is just as simple.
The only possible explanation is that he's feeling replaced. That he thinks Aerrow found himself a new best friend and has pushed Finn to number two, so he's showing how completely he's done the same.
Rosella wants to interfere again, push them to talk it through and figure everything out, but Finn's getting too old for her to be butting into his relationships and his life and sorting it all out for him, so she can't.
Aerrow hasn't noticed anything yet, but he will—and when he does, she knows he'll do something about it. And she has to be content with that.
They're still close friends and they aren't on the verge of losing each other anymore, so Rosella knows to just sit back and let them sort everything out. By themselves. In their own time.
She can't shelter them so much anymore, protect them or save them from everything they get into, as much as she would like to. So she takes on her new role and gets used to it.
Rosella had encouraged Finn's desire to defy Cyclonia, but, even when Aerrow announced he'd begun studying to become a Sky Knight last year, it hadn't felt quite real. It isn't until the day they plan on leaving to find a pilot for the Condor grows closer that it sinks in.
She's proud of them and, if she's honest, a little scared too. A lot scared. Memories flood back the night before they leave, and she finds herself leaning against the doorframe of Finn's room, wondering if she'll get him back alive. If she'll get him back at all.
Finn sleeps sprawled across his bed like he doesn't want to waste an inch of it and Rosella knows that one day, when he finds someone, he'll annoy her endlessly with the way his hand will invariably land on her face when he stretches. It's a situation she remembers well.
Trusting her son's life to someone else is hard, especially in times like this and especially after losing Finnegan, but if anyone can keep him safe, she knows its Aerrow.
When Rosella waves them off the next morning, she pulls Aerrow aside to tell him just that. He's quiet and serious and she can tell he's thinking about his father, but he promises solemnly that he'll do all he can.
Her bracelets jangle harshly when she hugs them both goodbye, clinging until she had to let go. She feels reassured enough to be glad that Finn and the others will be around to stop Aerrow wallowing.
But she still can't sleep that night.
"Hey, Mum."His voice crackles a bit over the radio and he sounds nervous and maybe a little embarrassed.
She hasn't heard him in almost three months, hasn't slept well since the last call was cut off abruptly, and the surge of relief that hits her is like a tidal wave, leaving her gasping for breath. He's alright, she thinks, and her vision blurs with tears.
"Do you know how worried I've been?" Rosella asks, but the effect of it is lost in the sheer pleasure of knowing she hasn't lost him.
Finn coughs sheepishly. "Yeah, sorry 'bout that. We've been really busy."
She waits for maybe an explanation or some enlightenment. It's pointless because it never comes, but today feels like it should be different.
Instead, he draws Aerrow into the conversation, joking around and distracting her until they both hurriedly cut off the connection, pretending she can't hear the reason why; can't hear the crashes and exclamations, and the tightness in their voices before the noise dissolves into crackling and they're gone.
Rosella realises then what he'd done; how he'd again avoided telling her what was really happening. All the trivial details, of course, about sky surfing or how awful Junko's cooking remains despite all efforts to improve it, but nothing more. Nothing substantial.
She wonders if it would be easier to know nothing or to know everything, because only knowing half of it still keeps her up at night. And the dreams when she manages to get any rest at all—of Finn's father, of Aerrow's, and of Lory; of death and of her boys—are, she is certain, killing her.
These days, she thinks, things have changed. Rather than worrying that Finn won't return to her, she worries that there will be no one to whom he can return.