Gavin’s winds are only ever gales. Strong, biting, cold.
(In this endless winter, they always have been.)
His Evol awakens under scalpels and bright artificial light, accompanied by the words “Experiment Success” from masked scientists looming close and his father’s answering nod of approval.
“Not completely worthless then.”
A scoff. His father’s voice warps in the still air around him—
“With the mother’s genes, I would’ve expected more, but I suppose it’ll do.”
—the sound echoes, takes new life as the wind darkens: it forms a shield, a howling cocoon that drowns out all else, then hardens, shoots out in a sharp, merciless wave, meant to maim, to kill, to silence.
The scientists scatter before the gales, but the winds fade before they can reach his father. Only the barest breath of a breeze brushes his cheek.
His father almost smiles.
Before he can summon up another blade of wind, pain explodes across his back: there, then gone, leaving his limbs numb and leaden.
His vision blurs. His father’s smile distorts, turning to something cruel and vicious, almost demonic.
He wakes to bright white walls, his father gone, and wonders if it was all a nightmare, some sick sad dream. but when he clenches a fist, black wind forms.
Not a dream, his mind supplies.
The rest is a storm of emotions— disbelief, rage, a grudging wonder.
They all fade, with time.
He lets the air wrap around him in their place.
He doesn’t know if he can call the power his but he doesn’t mind it.
In this world he doesn’t have the stars, doesn’t know ginkgo leaves or soft piano or a warm, warm smile.
But the winds stay.
He doesn’t know what the wind means to him. Flies for miles and doesn’t know why it never eases that tightness in his chest, never feels like wings, never feels like freedom. It’s only ever a weapon, wielded by his father, by the military and the STF, by anyone but him.
Months slip into years, into a childhood gone by with no sign of an answer to the question of the wind, to the question of his existence.
He doesn't know what his justice means. What it's for. Why he fights, if the world he dreams of isn't his, just like everything else he holds close. (The winds. The uniform. The missions.)
Somewhere along the way, he forgets to keep searching. And maybe it's easier this way— to lose himself in someone else's cause. To be his father's weapon, a well-forged blade.
Because how do you find something if you've lived your whole life empty, without it? How do you even begin to search if you don't know what you're looking for or why?
He loses himself to the empty sky, lets the storm consume him. Or maybe there hadn't been anything of him to lose to begin with.
He first sees her on a winter day, bitter and grey, a far cry from the warm, golden autumn of another world.
There's no ginkgo tree. No blood-stained letter, no blushes and stolen glances and unspoken promises.
(She still saves him. She always does.
"Talk. Who are you? Why are you following me?" It comes out harsher than he intends. Cold. Angry. A mask for his confusion, his suddenly racing heart.
"Not answering? Where's your accomplice?"
(The questions are all wrong, but they’re all he knows how to ask.)
She's silent at first, a thousand emotions and more caught in her too-open, too-vulnerable gaze. Then, soft, stammering, panicked, she responds.
Her answers don't make sense, they sound like lies, bad ones, or at least he tells himself they do.
He pressures her. He wants the truth. (Wants to know why it feels like some almost-forgotten part of him's been waiting all life for this. For her.)
“Why don’t you believe me?!”
Some fragile thing hovering in her eyes falls and shatters. And maybe some part of him, deep down, realizes they’re stitched of the same fabric, their souls weaved from the same red thread because his chest feels like it’ll tear open at the sight. Maybe it does, at her outburst. At the trembling of her mouth. The tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
It shakes him. Softens his hold on her until he’s hyper-aware of her warmth and the delicate bones of her wrist under his fingers. It’s enough to melt his ever-present icy rage.
She’s suspicious, she’s been following him, and he shouldn’t trust her, shouldn’t even be listening to her, should’ve had her brought in and interrogated at the NW headquarters, and yet— she says she was his underclassman at Loveland High School. She says his name soft and sad, half-hope, half-resignation, and somehow it feels familiar. It feels right.
It feels like being lost all over again. Like being found. Like the thing he’d been looking for all those long cold years was her and her warm, earnest gaze, her hand in his. Her missing smile.
(He warns her away.
He lets her go.)
Or he wishes he could. But in the aftermath of the explosion, he sees her again, jostled and shoved by the crowd and his body reacts before his mind does— he’s across the street, her in his arms, the wind at his heels.
He wonders briefly, distantly, if this is what flying, what having wings, is meant to feel like.
Her eyes, full of disbelief, on the edge of wonder, are answer enough. This, his heart whispers, is what your Evol is meant for. This is what you’d fight for. What you’d live for.
She clutches his uniform, curls fingers tight into the stiff black fabric, and he doesn’t tell her to let go.
But once she’s out of danger, he forces himself away from her, pulls the mission back to the forefront of his mind. warns her to not follow him, again, words meant for her sake more than his.
She follows him anyway. and maybe some part of him wanted her to, but his father’s teachings, dividing society into the weak and strong, ring loud in his ears, give voice to cruelty of his own.
He hears himself mocking her and her Evol, as if from afar.
The words come out all wrong— what he means is don’t run into danger so recklessly. take care of yourself first.
She argues back. He protects her. This, too, feels familiar, somehow. It feels right.
“This won’t happen a second time,” he says. He doesn’t want it to— not if it means she’s in danger again.
She reaches for him. He pushes her away.
It scares him. The way his instincts cry out for him to protect her, to lead her to safety, to take her hand and never let go.
(His heart’s more painfully alive than it’s ever been.)
He leaves her standing there, alone under the swirling flakes of snow, each step he takes away from her, purposeful, measured, unwavering. It doesn’t feel like a betrayal, not quite. More like he’s trying to escape the new weight of his heart and its storm of feelings.
His winds linger around her a moment longer, then follow, one step behind.
He forces himself to ignore the wind’s whisper in his ear— she’s crying, and maybe it’s his fault, and his heart tells him it is. But when gold winks up at him from where it’s half-buried in drifts of snow, he lets the wind guide his hand to it: it’s a gingko bracelet, it’s hers, it’s somehow so familiar it hurts.
He pockets it.
Later, in the cold metal darkness of HQ, he makes his report.
“Anyone suspicious?” The commander asks.
There was a girl, Gavin thinks, but does not say. She knew my name, she knew me. And somehow, I felt like I knew her, too.
There was a girl, and after twenty-four years of wandering the skies alone, her eyes felt like warmth. They felt like coming home.
“No suspicious individuals,” he says instead, and it isn’t a lie.
There was a girl, he thinks, even as his commander updates him with the other intel gathered. He wonders if he’ll ever see her again.
He doesn’t think he will, but he decides he wants to.
Explosions wrack the swirling storm clouds and stinging ice of North Mountain. As the cable car towers collapse in a flurry of smoke and flames, the wind tells him, she’s there. In the center of all the danger. Again.
He’s never flown faster than that moment, every fiber of his being focused on a single purpose: save her. (protect her. stay with her, until the end.)
She’s in the wind, then in his arms a heartbeat later.
“Gavin,” she gasps, snow-dusted, windswept, but alive. “How did you—?”
Her fingers clutch him back, clutch him close. She makes the smallest noise— of relief, he thinks, he hopes— and for a moment, she seems about to bury her head in his chest and he’s not sure if the roaring in his ears is from the cold gusts of air enveloping them or from the pounding of his heart, but. He’d let her, he wants her to, somehow, wants her to hold him tight so he has an excuse to never let go.
“You again,” he says, softer than he expects.
“Gavin,” she murmurs again instead of responding, his name like a prayer on her lips, like an incantation.
“Why—” he starts at the same moment, then breaks off, clearing his throat, daring a glance at her startled face, then looking away.
“You go first,” he says gruffly after a long pause.
It’s barely loud enough for him to hear with the rest of the air still alive with the echoes of explosions, but he feels her chest rise and fall against his, watches a grin break across her face like sunlight through the clouds, and the storm around them fades away— it’s just him and her and their shared patch of sky, made world enough for him with her smile.
But a heartbeat later, her laughter’s faded, her smile replaced by that same sad look: half-hope, half-resignation. In its absence, he wishes she’d laugh again. Wishes he could make her laugh again. Wishes he knew what made her smile.
“Why do you always protect me?” She asks. Soft, hesitant, as lost as he feels.
"Why is it always you?" Some part of him knows: It's always been her. It'll always be her.
Before she can reply, another explosion rips through the air and why stops mattering as his instincts kick in. He pulls the winds close, pulls her closer, and his brain distantly registers the sound of his radio crackling but she fits in his arms like they were meant for her and her alone, and in that moment, that's all he wants to think about: his arms around her waist, her cheek pressed firmly against his heart.
They confront the cable car operator together, then follow the shadowy iron passage into the mountain's depths. He gives her his spare gun, tells her how to use it, how to hold, tells her to protect herself to ease the worry in his own heart.
"Your first and only mission is to keep yourself safe," he says.
She doesn't listen, it seems she never does, the first bullet she fires is to save him, and it doesn't make sense— he's been told his whole life he's only worth anything because of his Evol, the winds that are his but not, but she holds up the gun she barely knows how to use, and runs to his side, as if his life's more than being a weapon, being someone else's shield.
She saves him. She protects him. He tries to do the same for her.
She has his back, and he has hers, and together, they're invincible— his strength isn't his Evol alone, and maybe it wasn't ever meant to be, it was always meant to be this: the brush of her shoulder against his, the way she aims and fires without him having to remind her how, his nice shot! and her answering quicksilver smile.
"Gavin," she murmurs in the aftermath of it all, the metal limbs now harmless, in scattered pieces around them.
"Gavin, we did it."
She shakily lowers the empty gun, turning to him with a slight grin and a proffered palm.
It's ridiculously light-hearted for someone who's just faced death and won, or at least he thinks it is, until he sees the strain of her smile, the way her eyes shift nervously back and forth, and the way her fingers worry the edge of a tear in her coat.
And maybe it's his instincts again, maybe it's his heart, maybe it's fate and time, lost memories caught in the wind and carried back to him— but he takes her hand in his and pulls her to his chest, holds her close, holds her tight.
"Gavin," she says again, voice muffled but warm, and it sounds like don't let go.
(In another life, he swore to accompany her until the very end.
In this one, he does.)
He tries to give her bracelet back, but she tells him to keep it, even as she gazes at it, eyes soft, wistful, sad.
He tries to ask her about the person she's searching for, but she stays quiet.
He learns to stop, to give her space when her mind's a world away.
Through it all, he stays by her side.
(Maybe he never quite remembers the golden past of a life that was never his. Maybe she doesn't need him to.)
One day, she tells him she's stopped looking for that person, that they're already long gone.
"You sound certain of that," he replies. She nods and lets out a breath, blinks back unshed tears, then gives him a resolute smile.
"It's alright," she says, "because I've realized the me that was looking for them, the me that was destined for them— they're gone, too."
"Maybe they're together then?"
She looks at him for a long moment, a mini-eternity passing through her thoughtful eyes.
"Maybe they are."
He offers her his hand. She takes it.
His winds become soft for her, become gentle, become breezes he can call his own, and no one else's but hers.
She becomes his wings, and together, they fly.
(Their first kiss is still under a never-ending starry sky.)