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then the sky will shed its metaphors of freedom

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"You all set, Amber?" the chief asks from the ground.

She flashes him two thumbs up and a smile. "All set."

He smiles. "Fly well and fly high." As he's turning, he pauses and then faces them again. "Oh, one more thing … "

~*~

Amber screams. She doesn't know what else to do when there are these big, giant wings on her back that she can't take off, even though she's been tugging for what feels like hours.

She shrieks again when Blondie steps into the room and asks, "What—" But the question dies when she sees the wings, and then her lips are sliding into a smirk. "Wicked costume, Amber."

"This isn't—" Amber shakes her head and flaps her hands. "Help me."

"Sure."

Blondie saunters over, and the skim of her fingers down the feathers makes her wings shiver. Amber can't really feel anything except horrified until the wings flex and stretch past her teeny bed. She squeaks in protest and futilely tries to grab them, to shove them back into whatever nightmare they came from.

"I can't really … ," Blondie says. Amber jerks when Blondie traces a finger down her spine, between the wings. "Amber?"

"Is it—" Amber shuts her eyes and covers her face, but she can't ask if these things are permanent.

"These." Blondie's fingers trail down her shoulder blade, and Amber can feel it, the new bumps of skin where the wings connect to her body as Blondie touches them. "You have wings." Blondie's voice is soft with awe, and she strokes a snaking line down Amber's back.

"Hey." Sweet Pea. Oh god. "What's going on?" Sweet Pea stalks into the room, eyes narrowed on Amber. "I heard screaming."

Amber opens and closes her mouth, unsure of what to say. She doesn't know how she can explain that she suddenly has wings, so she's mesmerized when Blondie steps forward, cocks out her hip, and rests her hand on it.

"Just Amber. I pinched her skin when I put these on." She motions to the wings, an expansive ta-da gesture that Amber wants to shake her head against, ward off somehow.

Sweet Pea's gaze is critical, narrowed, but then she nods. "Nice. Come on. We have to practice. We don't want to keep Blue waiting."

When Sweet Pea leaves the room, Amber leaps off the bed and grabs Blondie's arm. "I don't—"

"Hey." Blondie smiles and pats Amber's forearm. "It's no problem. Let's go practice."

~*~

Amber is off balance, off beat, and as she's spinning, her ankle twists, wings flaring out. She falls, wincing when her knee bangs against the floor, her palms stinging, too.

"What is this?"

Her breath catches, and she twists around, staring at Blue who's staring at her wings. He looks to Madame Gorski, who stretches a hand.

"Uh, new costume, Blue," Blondie says, stepping forward, punctuating her words with a flirtatious laugh. She crouches next to Amber and grabs hold of her arm. "Do you like it?"

Amber feels like she's going to cry as Blue stares at her, cold and deliberate in a way that makes her feel slimy.

"It's nice," Blue finally says, and that endorsement leaves the room taking a collective breath. "As long as it doesn't interfere with your dancing." Blue steps forward, but Amber's already nodding and promising Blue that it won't, but he talks over her. "Good, Amber. You know how important dancing is. That's good."

Amber nods, a little too frantically, but Blue's already walking away. When he's gone, she sags against Blondie, burying her face into the crook of Blondie's neck, shoulders trembling.

"That is enough," Madame Gorski says. "We will continue tomorrow."

~*~

"Do you think," Blondie whispers, and then stops. Even though Amber can't feel it, she thinks Blondie's running her fingers through the feathers again. "Do you think you can fly?"

Amber buries her face against her pillow. "I don't know," she whispers back. I don't know how, a sad thought that follows. Where would she go anyway?

In the end, Blondie can't set the knife to Amber's skin and help get her free of these wings.

~*~

Baby Doll corners Amber near the board — map, fire, knife, key. Everything that's supposed to set them free. "Those wings are real, aren't they?"

"Wait a minute, those are real?" Rocket asks, staring.

Amber throws her arms around Baby Doll's neck and buries her face into Baby Doll's shoulder. "I don't know what to do. I tried cutting them off, and Blondie can't and— Help me get rid of them."

"Hey, no." The wrap of Baby Doll's arms around her are awkward, because the wings are so big, so unwieldy, so in the way all the time. "Don't say that. These will help us get everything we need to get out of here."

"God, Amber." Rocket laughs and shakes her head, leaning against the wall with her arms folded over her chest. "You shouldn't even be here. If I had wings, I'd've been gone a long time ago."

~*~

"Amber, you know what to do," the chief says.

Amber nods. They know how to deal with dragons; they've slain far worse and far bigger.

~*~

Amber presents the lighter, her heart racing and the wings — her wings — shivering and fluttering behind her.

"Good job," Baby Doll says.

"Great job," Blondie adds, bumping Amber with her hip before draping an arm across her shoulders. She leans in, and Amber doesn't expect the soft puff of a breath tickling her skin or the warm slide of Blondie's mouth on her neck. "Told you. The neck. It works every time."

~*~

In the sky, Amber can't see anything, but she can hear the battle over the comms, the ricochet-quick beat of Rocket's and Sweet Pea's guns, the short circuit sparks of Baby Doll slicing another bot to wires and steel plates.

Blondie's gone AWOL, and when Amber gets a good, calm sec, she's going to worry like hell about that. Right now, though, she has to get that bomb when the team disarms it. She has to get everyone out safe and do what she does best: fly.

~*~

Sweet Pea grabs Amber's shoulders and holds on, and she looks so sad, so hurt and tired that Amber wants to hug her.

They've lost Rocket. The cook— And Amber can't do anything more than shake her head, vision blurring with tears. She has the knife, though. They have the knife, and all that's left is the key, and maybe they will get out of here. The rest of them, at least. All Amber is asking is for someone to cut off these wings, so she can run, too, but Sweet Pea shakes her head, shakes Amber, too.

"You get a chance, Amber," Sweet Pea softly says, "you fly over that wall, do you hear me? You fly."

"I—"

"No. You can, and you will."

~*~

This is the first time Amber hasn't had to be the eyes in the sky for an op. They're traveling low-key this time, if a chopper can be considered low key.

She leans back in her seat, feet propped on the wall while the chief gets them out of here and rests her head on Blondie's shoulder. Blondie laughs but doesn't push her off, just drapes an arm across her shoulders and pulls her closer.

"Mission accomplished, yeah?" she asks, lips brushing Amber's temple.

Amber smiles. "Yeah."