The sun beat down from the sky, piercing the fluffy clouds that meandered through it. The breeze was harsh and peppered with the scent of water, tossed up into it from the seas of Tropica several miles to the east.
Piper stood on the bridge, wringing her hands. She had a headache and the nape of her neck felt sticky, even though the Condor was an even 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Stork glanced up from the helm, not muttering for a moment. When she only glanced at him silently, he turned back to focus on his worrying.
Finally, the navigator took a deep breath. She wasn't getting any younger and she certainly wasn't getting any bolder, so the only way to solve the problem was for her to just get it over with.
Stepping out onto the outer deck, the girl smiled in spite of herself as the electric snap of the anti-meteor shield sounded overhead. Stork's silent thoughtfulness never ceased to amuse her.
Aerrow was leaning against the railing, his green eyes bright and his rust-colored bangs blowing in the wind.
When he noticed her, the sky knight looked over his shoulder and smiled. "Hey, Piper."
Feeling sick, the navigator smiled. "Hey, Aerrow."
Noticing her hesitation, his smile faded a little. "Did you need something?"
"Uh- no. I just wanted to talk."
Her voice sounded unnatural, even to her.
"Oh. Okay." The handsome smile returned. "What's up?"
"Um, Aerrow, I've kind of been wondering about … something."
Piper leaned against the railing, willing her heart not to beat a hole through her chest before she finished. The sun ducked graciously behind a cloud for a minute.
"Yeah?" She was too nervous to tell whether he was looking at her or not.
"We've all been a squadron for a long time." She thought about it for a minute. "Well, relatively speaking, that is. Compared to all of existence, we've only known each other for a fraction of a-"
"I get it," Aerrow prompted politely.
"And I guess I've known you for a long time too. You're my … best friend."
Working up the nerve to look at him, she gauged his response. He was smiling.
He was so beautiful when he smiled.
"I trust you more than Junko, and Finn of course, and even Stork. You just seem to be … I don't know." She shrugged. "On the same wavelength as me."
"I always thought so too." He looked back at the sky.
"I guess I was just wondering about that." Piper hesitated. "About our relationship."
Something told her that his smile had faded.
Her response was a little too fast. "What?"
"Have you ever read the official code of the sky knights?"
For once, a book she hadn't read. "I don't think so. Why?"
"There's a- passage."
He turned to look at her, and, shaking, she looked at him.
"It's in the fourth chapter."
The navigator swallowed and nodded. Something was wrong.
It took a long moment for him to speak. It was the first time that he'd addressed Piper without looking her in the eye. Maybe the first time she'd seen him look down while speaking at all.
"Sky knights and squadron members can't engage in intimate relationships."
His emerald eyes snapped up and he pulled in a breath.
She nodded slowly.
"I'm sorry, Piper. Maybe it's … I'm really sorry."
"Oh. No. It's okay."
Backing up, the navigator smiled. The smile didn't feel right. Not like a smile at all.
Turning around, she walked back inside. Stork looked at her for a long moment, and as she entered the hallway he began hammering at something while whispering to himself.
The door shut behind her and she sank to the floor, burying her face in her hands.