It was inevitable, really.

Honestly, Stork was surprised it had taken this long. They'd been living on his ship for close to a month now. He knew they must all have wondered about it. Sooner or later, one of them was bound to ask.

He just really wished it wasn't Finn.

"So, what's with the earrings?"

The marksman was leaning against the railing next to Stork, who was at the helm as usual. The skies were clear and open, with no sign of either weather disturbances or enemy attacks. For a while, Stork had been enjoying the peace and quiet, but that was before Finn showed up. The human teenager was downright bored at the lack of activity, and he made sure everyone knew it. More than likely, his teammates had driven him off for being a general pest, so now he was hanging around the bridge, bothering Stork with pointless questions - most of which had been answered in monosyllables.

But then the subject of the earrings came up. Stork really should've seen it coming, but he didn't, and he hadn't thought to prepare an answer. He'd gotten so used to the damn things that he hardly thought about them at all. "What about 'em?" he asked, stalling for time. "Lot of people have earrings."

"Yeah, but you? Aren't you like, afraid of them getting infected or something?" Finn snorted. "I can't even see you letting some stranger poke holes in your head. Unless it's like a weird Merbian ritual or something."

Stork briefly considered going with that. He decided against it, though. Too easy to look up and find out otherwise - unlikely, in Finn's case, but not impossible. Once Finn was obsessed with something, he'd go to great lengths to satisfy his curiosity... even if it meant reading.

"Not really, no," he admitted.

"Figures." Finn smirked. "So why'd you do it? Trying to be rebellious or something?" The idea of Stork getting his ear pierced just to flaunt social conventions clearly amused him to no end.

"Actually... it wasn't my idea." Unable to think of a lie, Stork settled for an edited version of the truth. "Someone, uh, thought they'd look good on me."

Finn thought that over for a second, processing it. Then he leaned toward Stork with his smarmiest grin. "Must've been really cute if she talked you into it."

Oh, for Atmos' sake. If it wouldn't send them all spiraling to their doom in the Wastelands, Stork would have slammed his face against the helm in disbelief. "It wasn't like that," he said through gritted teeth. Leave it to Finn to interpret it that way.

Undaunted, Finn plowed on. "What, was it a he? I won't judge you, dude. I sorta already figured you might be, y'know..."

Stork set the autopilot and turned toward the marksman, scowling. "Did I say I did it to impress anyone? Did I? Please. Maybe that's something YOU would do. Not me. But you're too self-centered to think of that, aren't you?" He jabbed a finger in Finn's face. "It didn't even occur to you that I might not've been my decision at all. That I didn't have a say in the matter. That the only reason I still have these stupid things is that they've been soldered shut, and I'd rather not rip a chunk of my earlobe out with them!"

For once, Finn seemed to be struck speechless. He stared at Stork's finger, then at the merb's wide eyes, the left one twitching slightly in that agitated way it had. After a moment it dawned on Stork that he'd said more than he intended to. A lot more.

Fuming, he lowered his hand and stepped back. Finn was still staring at him. Finally the marksman managed a, "Dude." And shook his head, like he couldn't think what else to say.

Stork's anger left as suddenly as air escaping a punctured balloon. He looked away and sighed. Great. Now there'd be even MORE uncomfortable probing questions. His pierced ear twitched self-consciously. Go ahead and ask. There's no point lying anymore.

But for once, Finn didn't ask. Maybe he was just smart enough to realize that he didn't want to know any more. All he said was, "Major bummer, dude."

Stork grunted an affirmative, still not looking at him.

"I, uh, guess I'll get outta your hair now. Forget I said anything." Finn retreated uncertainly, like he thought Stork might attack him on the way out. A minute ago he might have, but the urge had faded. Now the pilot just felt drained and a little shaken.

I should've lied. I should've told him to take his question and shove it up his ass. I shouldn't have said anything. He turned to look out the window, drawing comfort from the monotony of the sky and the wisps of clouds drifting past. His hands drifted back to the helm - they weren't needed there at the moment, but the familiar grip helped to calm their trembling. Stork drew a few deep breaths, and felt the tension ease out of him.

Only then did he reach for the silver rings. A gentle tug, a tiny rotation between thumb and forefinger... and a shiver of pleasure ran clear down to his toes. The pilot let out a small sigh. Oh yes. Much better.

He'd told Finn only half the truth about why he still had the earrings. The other half was something he wasn't comfortable sharing with anyone, let alone the loud-mouthed flyboy. His ears had always been sensitive, even before the piercing; but now, just tweaking those rings sent a thrill of ecstasy through his body. An endorphin rush, sweet and pure and soothing. Stress, anxiety, depression, the aches and pains of his tightly-wound muscles - everything seemed a little easier to bear for a moment.

Amazing how such a small thing could make such a difference. If not for that one little comfort, that one readily-accessible source of relief, he might not have made it through the long lonely months in the Wastelands.

Of course, the sensitivity went both ways. Twist the earrings too sharply and the thrill would become a stab of excruciating pain. Stork never forgot that, or the reason they were put there in the first place.

Once they'd been used to control him. But the control was his now, and he was never letting it slip away again.

When Stork let his hand fall, he felt better. Finn wouldn't likely ask about that particular subject again. And if anybody else did... well, nothing curbed curiosity like too much information. He'd just tell them that the earrings matched the chains at the time.