Author's Note: Thanks to everyone who both read and reviewed my first Aerrow and Piper one shot, "I'll Give You the Stars", I was beyond grateful for the support and comments :D I aim for this story to be ten chapters long, and once again I hope it will be a little different to any other Aerrow/Piper story out there on the grand world wide web :D Here's the first chapter, feel free to tell me if there are any errors and I will change them in an instant. I hope you enjoy, and please review if you have the time!
Aerrow looks into those amber eyes and his heart shatters into a thousand million more fragments.
He searches for something, anything… but there is nothing. His fingers clasp her cold, lifeless palms together, squeezing them gently, begging, pleading for a response… but there is nothing. There is always nothing.
The Sky Knight can feel his own eyes beginning to brim with tears but he pushes them back determinedly; he should be used to this by now, this sense of loss, of grief, every time he sees her. But no matter what, no matter how many times he tries to finally convince himself that she's gone, there is that brief flicker of life behind her eyes and all of his hope surges back; it only lasts a second, but even that one fleeting second, where everything is right again, is worth the agony of accepting the truth.
And the truth is that Piper is never coming back to him.
Not his Piper anyway.
He sighs, defeated, releases her hands and leans back in his own chair; the woman in front of him doesn't react to the contact made, her expression stays blank and her eyes remain continually fixed on something in front of her that Aerrow cannot see. But the lack of response does not concern or scare the young man, in fact it confirms that, to a certain degree, Piper is healthy; because this is how it is, how it always is. It has been this way for five years, this is their routine; for hours the pair will sit in the same room in silence, the Sky Knight constantly searching for someone who isn't there anymore, trying to break through an invisible barrier that separates him from his best friend, and the navigator lost to the Atmos, breathing but barely living.
The room they sit in is well lit, offering its inhabitants a beautiful view of the terra outside and the blue sky dotted with clouds; but the white washed walls make Aerrow shudder uncomfortably, everything is all a little too clinical. The place is meant to feel like a home; sweet-scented flowers in vases on bedsides, bright portraits hanging in corridors, a well-tended garden; but Aerrow knows that beneath the "happy families" façade lies the serious and terrible truth: this is not a home, it is a hospital… a hospital for crystal-related injuries and incidents.
Although, for Piper this is home; and so it has been for the past five years... not that she notices. For five long years Piper has lived in the confines of a ward specifically designed for those deemed as psychologically traumatised; and for five long years, Aerrow has visited her whenever possible, just to see… to see if… if the Piper he can remember has come back to him.
But Piper is never coming back to him.
And it is his fault…
When Aerrow was fifteen years old, he and his team passed through into the far side in pursuit of Cyclonis who had escaped after her attempt to take the Atmos; during the two years they were there, they developed into young adults, learning more about each other and themselves than they could have ever imagined. They became more like a family than any of them had thought possible, they came to rely on each other, to support each other through the hardships they encountered in the new world; understanding one another in new ways, maturing and growing as independent as they were dependent upon their team. Even Finn matured… a little. And though Cyclonis posed a constant threat to them, the Storm Hawks possessed a weapon of their own, a weapon quite capable of destroying everything Cyclonis worked for: that weapon, was Piper.
For those two years on the far side, Piper studied and researched and experimented, never daring to stop, always desperate to finally harness her powers and defeat her enemy, her rival, her best friend forever; she felt the true scale of her responsibility, the weight of the Atmos rested upon her shoulders and not once did she falter, surrender was something Piper did not often do. As time passed she became the young, independent woman she had always longed to be; in a sense, she blossomed.
But from her power, something else bloomed; something strange and unknown to her, but something beautiful and everlasting at the same time … it was love.
"Only Perfect Attunement can let the binding flow both ways…"
How it hurts Aerrow to remember those words now… why? Because more passed between himself and his navigator than crystal energy during that first battle in the final war for the Atmos. They were willing to sacrifice themselves for each other, were prepared to die together and when you make an oath like that, you create a bond that can never be broken; they became one soul living in two bodies, living for one another, sharing every moment and every memory and every emotion they ever experienced.
Aerrow had always loved Piper, it just took him a while to actually see that; …but by the time he actually realised how much she meant to him, it was too late, the Piper he knew was gone. And that is why it hurts him; because Piper will never know just how much he loved her. All those years spent together, wasted.
Whilst on the Far Side, the two teens were never apart, they grew closer every day, planning, training, practising, and waiting for that one moment when they could finally find the confidence to confess their feelings to one another; the Storm Hawks developed their skills, learned to survive, built new weaponry, discovered new terras, prepared themselves for that final battle they knew was to come soon. And right on cue, Cyclonis tore their world apart, tore the world of the Sky Knight apart; the beginning of the end for Aerrow came with the return of the one man whose laugh still haunts his dreams to this day: the Dark Ace.
Cyclonis used all of her crystal mastery to resurrect him; well, what was left of him… and it did work – but not without a price. The Dark Ace paid for his second life, and he paid dearly; after all, you cannot return from the dead without making sacrifices, and the Dark Ace sacrificed everything for his master, he sacrificed his soul. The man Cyclonis brought back was not the feared Cyclonian warrior, instead he was broken and scarred, tormented by his own existence, not knowing if he was alive or dead; haunted by the memories of his demise, suffering from years of existing without a body, floating between worlds, experiencing the pain of being abandoned... One thing had to be said though, the man Cyclonis brought back was ten times more deadly; when you don't have a soul, why should you care what happens to you? When you don't have a soul, you've already reached the epitome of suffering, there's nothing else to fear anymore… and that was all his master ever really cared about in the end; that and the fact that he remained as loyal to her as ever… at first.
And then, after two years had passed, it was finally time to return home; it was finally time for the ultimate battle for the Atmos, and this time, the Storm Hawks were more than ready. Neither side could afford to lose. Cyclonis, during her travels on the far side, had discovered the legendary Hypno Stone, a rare crystal with the power to possess and control the minds of any individual; but that was not enough for her, until she ruled the Atmos, it would never be enough.
On her return from the Far Side, she rebuilt her Storm Engine, planning to use it to enhance the power of the Hypno Stone and control everyone, everywhere; there would be no resistance, no one to stop her, there would be only victory.
Except, one team dared to stand in her way: the Storm Hawks, hot in pursuit of the Master, willing her defeat. In the end though, it all came down to one person…
Aerrow doesn't know what happened exactly in the throne room during that last crucial hour of the war, there's only two people in the entire Atmos who know what truly took place, and neither is in a state to tell their story; the only thing that Aerrow is certain of is that he failed in his duty to protect his team, his navigator sacrificed everything because he could do nothing.
When the Storm Hawks returned from the Far Side, they told the Sky Council everything; welcomed as heroes, every squadron in the entire Atmos was behind them, ready for war, prepared to fight for one last time; and no one was more prepared than Piper, Aerrow hadn't realised that until it was too late, it chills him to the bone to think that she knew what would happen all along…
… and she went through with it anyway.
He looks at her blank, expressionless face, thinking about what the girl must have experienced in those last moments; he remembers the explosion, the Dark Ace fleeing from the scene, the sight that awaited the Sky Knight once he'd finally managed to clamber through the rubble and debris… his Piper, broken beyond repair.
An investigation into what happened concluded that both Crystal Mages had been locked in a vicious and spectacular battle that had resulted in the eruption of the crystal; somehow, probably thanks to her own crystal-wielding capabilities, Piper had resisted the powerful calling of the Hypno Stone, somehow she had gotten close enough to destroy it and in doing so, had released the Atmos from its command. But you can't destroy something that powerful without consequences; all that power stored in that one stone would have had to have been released, and you don't usually leave huge explosions unscathed…
Except, it wasn't that they were physically damaged, oh no; the stone had destroyed something much more valuable, the stone destroyed their sanity.
Piper and Cyclonis lost their minds that day in the blast. These days, five years after that terrible event, Cyclonis is no longer a great and feared master; instead, she sits in the same ward as Piper, insane, terrified of everything, no longer able to communicate with the world around her, a shadow of her former self. As for Piper… well, all that is left of Piper sits before Aerrow now; she is not unstable, she is not dangerous, she is not scared or forgetful or dazed – she is nothing. Piper can no longer react with the world around her, when someone speaks to her she doesn't listen, when someone touches her she doesn't even notice; she just sits there, blank and empty.
Everyone has given up on her recovery, even Aerrow feels that his visits are pointless at times; at first many believed that she would recuperate, that somehow because of how different her behaviour was to that of Cyclonis, she had managed to protect herself from the full scale of the explosion and that eventually she would piece herself back together. But five years have passed and Piper is the same now as she was in those first hours of being recovered from the wreckage of Cyclonia.
The Storm Hawks don't visit as often as they used to; not because they don't care, it's because they do, to see the once vibrant and lively Piper turned into a ghostly shell of a person is too horrifying, too upsetting for them to cope with. Only Aerrow visits regularly; whenever he has time to spare, he will fly to Terra Atmosia and spend hours in the room with the white-washed walls and the vases of flowers and the girl he used to know.
And he knows she isn't coming back to him; so why does he bother?
Because sometimes there is a flash of life in her dazzling amber eyes, because sometimes Piper returns; just for a moment, there is a spark of recognition, for just a second she is aware of who she is and where she is and what happened to her. And then they are gone, but they were still there, long enough for Aerrow to see them. And that, to the Sky Knight, is all that matters; that there is still something there.
When Piper had first been brought into the ward, Finn had had the surprisingly clever idea that maybe presenting her with artefacts she would recognise might jog her memory; they tried reading from her log book, tried showing her the maps and reference charts she'd created and used so many times before… and then, they presented her with a crystal. That was when everything changed. Because Piper did react, just not in the way that everyone expected…
There was such jubilation when it became apparent that the navigator recognised the green crystal sitting in Aerrow's hand, the Storm Hawks and the Doctors all stood around her, holding their breath and watching intently as she stretched out her hand and picked up the jewel with her delicate fingers; she held it up to the light, her expression one of confusion and curiosity, she knew what it was… she remembered who she was… and then, she smashed it. Her move was so quick and so volatile that no one had anticipated it, with sudden precision she slammed her fist and the crystal into the edge of her desk and it broke clean in two; there was silence in the room as everyone stared, horrified and dumbfounded as the girl studied the two pieces intently as though searching for something hidden with its glass casing. Whatever it was, Piper did not find it and as soon as this became apparent to her, she slipped back into nothingness, her eyes glazing over once more whilst her spectators recovered from their shock.
Apparently such a response was a serious breakthrough, the Doctors theorised that perhaps it was her way of reacting to her current state, that she was aware that it was a crystal that had done this to her in the first place; for the next few months, different crystals would be presented to her in a series of tests to see if she would respond any differently; to see if, over time, she would gradually begin to rebuild her awareness of other things.
But nothing changed.
Whenever she came close to a crystal, she would attempt to destroy it, all she seemed to want to do was smash them into pieces, sift through the fragments and then give up when, whatever she was searching for, was nowhere to be found. Over time, it was agreed that crystals were only aggravating her condition and that she should not be allowed any near them… this saddened Aerrow to the point where he almost lost hope, because what was Piper without her crystals?
But then there is one particular thing that keeps his hope alive, one small gesture that makes him certain that all is not lost, not yet anyway.
During the battle, Piper must have lost the crystal that hung around her neck; this knowledge is a source of great frustration and misery for the Sky Knight even now, five years later, because it was he who gave her that necklace when they were children, as a gift to her on her fifth birthday. She had treasured it for over ten years, and now it is lost, just as Piper is lost. But at the same time, it is a sign of hope for the young boy; because Piper knows that it is lost. From time to time, quite out of the blue, the girl will raise her hand to her throat and caress the place it use to rest, and she will sigh when she realises that it is not there…
Piper knows that she is nothing without her crystals; Piper knows that something is not right.
Now, all of Aerrow's prayers rest with the discovery of that crystal; because something is telling him that it is important, something is telling him that he has to find it. And then he remembers why, because Piper had tried to tell him about it, on that fateful night before the battle…
"Aerrow, I need you to look after something for me…"
No! Not that! Anything but that!
The Sky Knight shakes himself from his daydream and jumps to his feet; he is growing tired, his memories are trying to force their way to the surface of his mind. He decides that it's time to leave; he has to do something, anything to make sure he doesn't remember that night. Anything.
But then he feels his heart tear in two, he wants to leave but cannot bear to be parted from her, it's too much to know he may not see her for another week, another month… who knows? Cautiously, he moves closer to Piper's chair, she hasn't reacted to his sudden movements but as he approaches, he watches, enthralled, as her hand reaches up to her neck and strokes the empty space. As she begins to lower her hand back to her lap again, he catches it gently and squeezes it before crouching down to look up into her face; the tears prickle at the back of his eyes again, the pain is unbearable but he fights it back down, he will cry later when he is alone.
"I'm going now, Piper." He whispers to her, his voice is deeper than it once was when he was a boy; it reveals his strain and distress and makes him sound weary and old. He doesn't want to leave her, but he must. One single tear escapes and flows over his cheek. "I'll see you soon, I promise; in a week or so, okay?"
Piper does not reply, she never replies. Aerrow sighs sadly, squeezes her hand tighter to try and emphasise the magnitude of his next chosen words, the words he always says as he leaves.
"I love you, Piper. Please come back to me."
And with that he lets her hand fall back to its original place, stands and strides to the door, fighting to hold himself together; he takes one last glance at the girl behind, teetering on the threshold, as though being pulled from one reality to another before taking a deep breath and pacing away down the corridor, leaving the lost navigator to her empty existence once again.
For just a few minutes, tears will rise in Piper's eyes and will roll down her dark cheeks without her even noticing as the words of the Sky Knight echo in the silent, lonely room.
"Please come back to me."