A whole afternoon away from school.
A license- a free pass, a golden ticket, even- to do whatever you want with the rest of the day. That's what you've got, and you intend to put it to good use. And what could possibly be more perfect than a trip to the circus? Certainly not anything else you can think of. Then again, your town isn't exactly known for housing a whole lot of riveting attractions. The closest thing on main street that fits the "entertaining" bill is probably the malt shop, and you're not too fond of that place. Not that it's a bad place; it's not. It just happens to be the hangout for bad people.
They're mostly bad in your opinion, and that opinion isn't shared by most of your classmates. You guess you can't blame them. If you were popular, they'd be nice to you, instead of constantly shoving you and spilling your books.
But you don't want to think about that right now. Especially not when you've got such a great opportunity today. After all, the circus only comes around once a year. Although, come to think of it, it feels like it's been longer than a year since the last circus set camp in the abandoned field by the old barn at the edge of town. And, as you glance down at the flyer gripped tightly in your fingers, you can't help but feel like the last circus that visited wasn't nearly as... boastful as this one.
You pause, shoes skidding to a halt as you take a moment to reread the decoratively printed text. This little sheet of paper brags about a coming event that contains the world's youngest and most daring acrobats, terrifying and disconcerting animal wrangling, and even the most spectacular freak show in the country. Your head tilts just a bit at that last statement. You get the feeling that a freak show isn't something you ought to be getting all excited about- from what you've heard, they usually contain weary, miserable, deformed people and animals, things that aren't exclusively seen in a circus, no matter how glamorously bizarre they try and make them appear. Not only that, you'd feel pretty guilty watching anyone limp around the ring while surrounded by a bunch of gawking spectators pointing and laughing.
And yet, there's still this faint excitement churning in your stomach. You're curious, and you can't deny it.
Already the sounds of the circus are crowding your ears. This does nothing to quell your enthusiasm, and your grip on the flyer tightens, crinkling the paper into a fan. You guess one peek can't really hurt, especially since this is the first time you can remember actually having enough change in your pockets to binge on something.
You round the edge of the fence, abandoning the quiet dirt road for the lazily cropped wheat field. You wince just a bit when you realize the show must've already started since you're the only one rushing towards the tremendous, cobbled tent-structure, and all the sounds of laughter and noises of shocked enjoyment are eminating from inside it. You pick up the pace, nearly stumbling by the time you reach the open flap that serves as a door. You stare down the awkwardly lit hall, looking for someone who appears ready to accept your coins for admission, but it's empty. You can't see to the end of the tunnel where the front stage must be, but you shuffle onwards after a pause, figuring that if anyone approaches you with the accusation of not buying a ticket, you can easily explain what happened. You're sure they'll listen to reason, especially if you've got the money to back you up.
You reach the end of the hall and decide you must be supposed to pay after the show. You hesitate anyway, wondering if you should just try again later so you don't end up walking in halfway through a show, but it's then that the crowd lets out a huge gasp. You finally hear the ringmaster's voice, loud and clear, and the pull proves itself to be too strong.
You have to see this.
You pad quietly as you can around the end of the hall, blink a little in the sudden brightness, then fumble towards the nearest set of bleachers. It's not nearly as large inside the tent as it appeared to be outside, but it's utterly packed nonetheless. You sit in the first available seat you find, grinning at your luck when you realize it's in the front row. What's a little less lucky is the fact that you're surrounded by your classmates.
And the thing about your classmates is, they're not too fond of you.
Fortunately, hardly anyone seems to notice. You get a few dirty looks, but no one starts harassing you right off the bat. They're all too absorbed in the show. A minute later, you see why. The ringleader is sidestepping into the shadows. You were too concerned just moments ago about whether or not you were in for a sudden dispatching, but now that you know you're safe for now, all your attention is cast onto the ring.
A disembodied voice echoing out from some unseen source pipes up as the lights all dim. You squint, your spectacles not helping your vision one bit as it becomes difficult to see. Hushed whispers erupt around you on all sides, and a shrill giggle or two from the girls on your right break out.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the voice drawls, smooth like liquid ebony. "Before this next spectacle is let loose, I'm obligated to warn those with frail hearts that now might be the time to dismiss yourself. The creature we are about to unleash is more animal than man. Found raiding villages and devouring hapless children, it took twenty of our troop's strongest men to capture the fiend. Not all of them survived the struggle, and while we will do our best to contain the beast, there is no guarentee that you, our dear audience members, are exempt from his incurable urge to destroy." A shiver runs down your spine, tapping coldly on your back like piano keys. The voice lowers to nearly a growl and you can almost hear a grim sneer in its next words. "Please give your warmest welcome to the newest member of our show, the most exotic freak in our collection..." It rises to nearly a roar, the whispers around you are becoming nearly panicked with excitement. "The Bird Man!"
From the back of the ring a gutteral noise breaks out. Your heart is pounding in your chest and you find yourself wondering, crazily, whether the story you just heard is true. Surely they wouldn't unleash something so monstrous on innocent people, right? Your eyes flicker to statuesque figures standing by the bleachers in a vaguely circular formation, glowering into the dimness. Bodyguards, you think. Maybe some kind of Bird Man tamers. You swallow sharply and grip your seat, swinging your gaze back again as a spotlight breaks out over the ring. You lean forward just as everyone leans back, somehow feeling exhilirated. You're probably wasting your breath, you know. More likely than not it will be just some poor individual in a cheap costume. But something about this seems inexplicably legitimate, and you can't help but feel excited.
Besides, everyone else seems to be buying it, so you don't see the harm in pooling your belief with theirs. The mutters quiet just a bit and the people around you tense up with anticipation. The lights surrounding you suddenly exstinguish completely. Kids around you yelp in surprise, but your eyes are still trained ahead. The only source of visibility is now directly in front of you. Something shifts just outside the ring of light, and then, all at once, it leaps forward with a roar. Shrieks rise up around you and there's a massive scrambling noise as everybody but you backs up about an inch. You're staring unblinkingly at what has stepped forward. You have no idea what to think, but your mouth already has an adjective in mind. You hear frightened mumblings of "horrible" and "dreadful" and even a "what the hell is it?", but you simply don't find these applicable.
"Nifty," you gasp.
You're not sure what to think of the being you see. He's got paint all over his torso, something almost tribal, and matted, feathered mane. Clawed feet bristling with feathers traipse around in a circle as clawed hands bob threateningly. The spotlight struggles to keep up as he dashes around almost haphazardly. You strive to get a glimpse of what you think must be his face- a cruelly glimmering beak and black, hollow eyes- as his wings flit over his form like two downy waifs. People all around you are backing up still more uneasily, you hear children younger than you making terrified noises, and shrill, panicked laughter is bubbling up from random places in the stands.
You're peering around almost eagerly, practically falling off your seat, when someone lets out a scream. Everyone jumps, yourself included, as the spotlight is doused entirely. Your ears strain almost painfully as you catch the sounds of a struggle and vicious cawing. They rise in volume till it's practically a cacophony right against your skull. The lights flare on exactly at what feels like the climax, nearly blinding you and everyone else in the audience. You blink frantically, eyes struggling to focus. The audience is letting out moans of horror, and your eyes latch onto a large, red stain on the ground. A wall of circus employees has formed a dome in the center of the ring, blocking something from view. Outraged noises and the sound of a struggle can be heard from within. As a mass, they move precisely and slowly towards the back of the tent and between the stands, leaving only a small splash of blood and several tawny feathers behind.
Your breath, which you hadn't even realized you were holding, hisses out suddenly. The people around you sound frightened and diconcerted, but your heart is pounding for another reason. The rest of the show passes by in a blur, and by the time it's over, your mind is still reeling over that one spectacle. Your classmates are all climbing to their feet around you, chattering animatedly, and you hurry to do the same. You want to get out of here before they get any ideas, honestly. Now that the show's over, interacting with them has a fifty-fifty chance of being a thing that happens, and you'd rather avoid it. You rush back towards the exit, making sure you're in front of the crowd, but then pause. You turn back, curiousity refusing to relinquish its grip on you. People start flooding past you, but you hardly notice, instead finding yourself more focused on the small, crimson stain still coloring the edge of the ring.
It's then that you make the decision to stay.
Instead of letting yourself be pulled along with the rest of the crowd, you duck behind the nearest set of bleachers and skirt around the back of the tent, hand skimming along the tarp as a way of guiding yourself. You stop yourself when you reach the edge of the back flap where you saw the Bird Man being hussled into. That's what you assume happened, anyway. It's totally empty save for one foreboding man flanking it on the right side. The spectators all seem to have either left or are on their way out. You briefly consider turning back, but you don't think you can. There's this inexplicable pull that's tugging you, some undeniable curiosity that's urging you to see this individual again. And you just can't seem to find it in you to refuse.
You take one long look at the man standing by the entrance, making sure he's glancing the other way, then hold your breath and quietly duck into the space behind him.
A flurry of beefy hands shove you brutally into the cage with enough force to get the back of your head throbbing like a prison inmate's bar-banging cup. You lie there, dazed and still dribbling blood, then attempt to leap to your feet. You push off the ground, but you're not quick enough. The door slams shut with a sharp ringing while the hired bulk flashes you a leer.
"Boss says you're gonna get thrashed," you hear him chortle. You jam your talons through the mesh of the cage door at this, straining in an attempt to elongate your fingers enough to claw his fucking eyes out, but you're not sucessful. You're rewarded with a chorus of doltish guffaws and the sound of gravel crunching under retreating footsteps. A hiss escapes you and you rip off your mask violently, flinging it angrily at the wall. It hits with a satisfying crack, but you don't bother looking over to see where it's fallen. Instead you run a callused palm over your face, wiping at the sweat that has accumulated under the cheap costume piece and smudging the precautionary makeup dotting your cheeks. Your wings started itching the moment you were shut back inside. It's like simply knowing you can't spread them multiplies the urge to do so by a thousand.
Of course, you're not going to be stuck in here for long and you know it. It's only a matter of time before another braindead goon rips open the door and drags you back out so you can get your come-uppance for the little stunt you pulled earlier. You glance down at the scratch said stunt ended with, slowly oozing blood reminiscent of sun-softened candy. You wipe at it with your thumb, but this does nothing to staunch the flow and only succeeds in smearing your side with color. It stings a bit, but the feeling's practically welcome to you. Your back is where most marks have scarred, and you can barely feel the space between your wings anymore.
You paw at the ground with one talon, wondering what possessed you and gave you the idea that actually trying to escape would be a worthwhile move. Even before you attempted that utterly razzed getaway plot, you knew it was a shot in pitch black darkness. You've paid for it already if the generous scratch on your side is enough proof, but you're not done suffering yet. The boss is going to hear about your little escapade soon if he hasn't already, and he'll do everything in his power to make you regret it even more. You grind your teeth together defiantly and start pacing. He can do what he wants, you resolve. You'll be damned if you're going to regret the fiery pleas for freedom you've been making as of late.
You stop yourself in front of the door, feeling suddenly more than just irritated. You slip your talons through the wire and shake the door violently, challenging anybody who might be supervising you from just outside your field of vision. Nothing happens, so you decide to amplify the sounds of your animosity. You lift your legs and hook the claws on your feet into the door as well, battering the cage loudly, your wings arching and flapping behind you in a violent whirl. You open your mouth and let out a raucous shrieking sound, and it's then that something jumps.
Of course, it's less a jump and more of an acrobatic move that has the demonstrator coming close to ripping a hole in the tent's ceiling. The figure jolts upwards and outwards from behind a pile of crates and lands on the floor in a pale heap. Your eyes narrow warily and a couple of uneasy warbles swell temptingly in your throat. You're expecting a threatening shadow to surge up, or maybe a disheveled worker who only has it better than you by a dime a week.
You're not expecting an apology.
"I'm sorry!" a voice gasps.
You squint in the dim light, willing your eyes to adjust. The individual is still cloaked in the gritty darkness cast by the crates, but from what you can tell it's a kid, your age or younger, and he's fumbling for something. His hands close around an object and when he jams them hurriedly onto his face your realize they're specs. Stumbling to his feet, he backs up till his arm is brushing the side of the crate pile, eyes widening at you almost fearfully.
"I didn't mean to sneak up on you!" he rushes. "I mean, I did. That is, I meant to sneak back here. But I didn't mean to make you mad, uh..." His eyes pool pathetically and his palms collapse against his chest as he begs, "Please don't eat me!"
"Eat you," you echo, deadpanning. You slowly disengage your taloned feet from the wire and place them delicately on the ground, keeping your hands clenched through the door for support. "Why would I eat you?" You wave one arm in an errant gesture. "You look like a skinned toothpick shoved through a fucking hay bailer." You watch, surprised and amused, as he cringes when you curse.
"So... you're not gonna eat me?" he ventures.
"Nah, I'd go for someone with a more sausagey physique," you quip. "Somebody with a few chunky, package-ready meat rolls that are ripe for the picking."
He makes an undeniably disgusted face, and your wings fall slack as you experience a wave of intense exasperation when you realize he thinks you're being genuine.
"Fucking sap," you grumble, then raise your voice and announce, "Kidding. I'm kidding."
His eyes swell again behind those thick lenses. "Oh." He then toes hesitantly at the ground and starts inching his way towards you, the mirror image of an awkward dame with something jammed in her throat that she'd do anything to avoid spilling. Only when he's a foot away from you does he look up again, gaze locking onto your face. You're mildly surprised to see it's not frightened, but instead quizzical. "So..." he begins, then blurts out, "You don't raid villages and eat children?"
You snort loudly. "Is that what they're saying now?" You scoff, pretending the announcer's little speech isn't the one constant in this hellish performance tour you've stumbled into. "That's the dumbest goddamn thing I've ever heard. Next thing you know they'll be going into great detail about how I've had to piss in the same cup for the last three years just to make all the bluenoses faint."
You're getting a good view of the kid's face now, and it's looking a bit sick from what you said. He's younger than you, though you guess he could be your age with the added excuse of having a baby face. He's thin, lanky, and just a bit puny, with large blue eyes magnified beneath square black spectacles. His mouth, currently twisting in distate, is occupied by protruding buck teeth, and atop his head is the most unkempt black rat's nest you've ever laid eyes on. Even the state of your quarters- which could make the queen of England shit her knotted knickers in distate- can't hold a candle to the shape this kid's hair is contorting itself into. You notice he's started staring back at you skeptically a moment too late.
"I don't eat people," you state slowly, attempting to dispel the awkward silence.
A smile lights up his face, making him look like he's just huffed giggle water. "Oh, keen!"
"Yeah, keen," you repeat dryly. You're still staring him down in a way you know is disconcerting. You have a bad tendency of forgetting to blink. "Listen, kid-" you begin, but he cuts you off.
"John," he declares.
"I'm John," he repeats.
"I'm... Dave," you reply after a pause, then jump back into what you were explaining. "You shouldn't be here. Trespassers get their asses flogged and it's not really an age specific treatment." You jerk your head towards the exit that's been taunting you since camp was first set up. "Beat it."
He protests immediately. "I can't!"
"Why not?" you growl. It's not so much that you're losing patience with him; you just don't want to witness a beating on an empty stomach. That, and the kid doesn't look like he's got much fight in him.
"I'm gonna break you out of here," he whispers.
You stare. "What."
"I saw what happened out there!" he exclaims. "At first I thought you were real scary and intimidating, and that was why all those men had to stop you. But that was mostly the mask, and now that you're not wearing it I can see you're mostly a regular looking fella, except for the wings and claws and stuff, but-"
"Get to the point," you prompt. Your ears are twitching warningly and the feathers on the tips of your wings are starting to stand erect. Someone's coming.
He seems to sense at least some of your distress because his voice drops once more. "Anyway, I can see that you don't belong here. They've got you locked up like an animal, but you're just a kid like me." His gaze visibly soften, pitying you. Your stomach lurchs in revulsion. "You look really bad," he murmurs, then hurriedly adds, "No offense." He steps forward just a bit, hand reaching out and patting the cage where your fingers are hooked. "But that doesn't matter. Like I said, I'm gonna get you out of here!"
"That's great," you say flatly. "A very touching display, kid, I promise." You narrow your eyes. "Thing is, that's not happening." Your voice sinks to a growl. "And if you don't leave right now, you're gonna see exactly why."
He pales just a bit, finally picking up on the sound of approaching footsteps that you've been hearing for almost a minute. He glances around frantically, then stares into your face again. He studies the ground for a moment and your heart starts to pick up the pace. If he doesn't leave soon, he's going to get socked in the gut and thrown out onto his face at best. He looks back up and you're a bit surprised by the hardness that seems to be entering his soft features.
"I'm gonna set you free," he promises. "Tonight. I'll be back."
You watch him dash in the opposite direction of the approaching steps. He turns a corner quickly and is out of your sight, but it isn't for a few seconds after he's gone that you are actually able to release your grip on the cage door. It's then that another nameless thug slides into view on your right. You go limp; you've been expecting it for a long time when he smashes the door open and drags you out by the collar.
You've never been so anxious for the sun to set in your entire life.
You sit in the ancient old swing that's been rusting its chains in your front yard for as long as you can remember. You haven't even used the thing in years, but today is definitely a special ocassion. You're still reeling over your earlier encounter. You can't believe you actually met somebody like that. Somebody who's really part bird.
Dave, you remember, then almost shiver with excitement. You've pinched yourself about seventeen times since the walk back home to make sure you're not dreaming, but you still can't get your head to wrap around the idea just yet. You decide to make it an even eighteen and scissor the flesh of your shounder between your thumb and index quickly. You're probably going to bruise like a peach after this, but you don't care. This is a pretty good reason to leave a mark on your skin as far as you're concerned.
You never thought in a million years that you'd meet a real, live person like that. Not a freak at all, really, just... somebody special. It seems a little dumb when you say it like that, since that's what your dad always used to tell you. That you were special and one of a kind and all that baloney. It's sort of lost its meaning at this point, but when you're talking about him it seems at least a little more on the level. Probably because he is one of a kind. You've sure never seen somebody like him. That's half the reason you want to get to know him, you think. He didn't seem particularly friendly, though, so that might be a bust. But even if he doesn't talk to you, you still want to get him out of there. You think back to how he'd looked without that mask hiding his face. Shocking red eyes and surprisingly gaunt cheeks, thin arms and visible ribs. Covered in dirt and cheap costume makeup. It makes you sad just thinking about it.
You have to help him.
The moment twilight starts popping holes in the sky to let starlight through, you get a move on. Abandoning your perch on the swing, you shuffle down the dirt road as quickly and quietly as you can, the tools you collected earlier jangling in your pocket in a grim reminder of what you plan on doing. You reach the field in about ten minutes,and the light from the sun has already been entirely exstinguished. Now that it's really getting dark, your heart is beating a mile a minute. You push ahead anyway, cringing as every awkward step crushes the wheat uncomfortably under the bare soles of your feet. The circus tent is lit up bright as a jack-o-latern's smile, illuminating the space around it in thin, yellow streaks. You start holding your breath with anticipation. The crowd's roars can already be heard as you duck against the tent wall, listening carefully for what you remember to be Dave's cue.
It doesn't come.
You're bewildered at first, but then decide you can't waste time being confused. You skirt around the edge of the structure, dodging backwards carefully when you see a burly employee coming your way. Ducking down, you press your hands against the dirt, and he passes you without incident. The moment he's out of sight you leap back up and dash around to the other side, coming up on the same door you left through earlier in the day. Swallowing sharply, you wonder just for a moment if you should be doing this, then decide without a doubt that you need to. You scurry quickly through the flap and slip behind an inconspicuous pile of crates. You wait expectently for someone to trudge down the length of the tent, but no one does. You hesitate again, then get to your feet once more and scurry towards the area where you know the preformers- and Dave- are situated.
You run into no one, but this isn't as reassuring as you would hope. Eventually, you spot the glint of metal ahead and pick up your pace. You rush up to the cage, opening your mouth to breath a consoling message, then stumble to a halt, the words dying in your throat.
Dave is lying on the ground in a crumple, wings bent at awkward angles. his back, which had been hidden from you first by makeup and second by the angle at which the two of you spoke, is scabbed in places and rawly wounded in others. Blood has clotted thickly in some patches and is dribbling freely in others. A mess of tawny feathers form a ring around him, and his wings convulse suddenly as he cringes through a violent shudder. Your heart clenches in horror and you stumble forward only to fall on your knees in front of the cage.
"Dave?" you whisper timorously.
He coughs in a way that makes you cringe. There's a long silence and he doesn't turn his head.
"You came back," he rasps.
A small smile of relief floods your face when he speaks. "Yeah."
It vanishes when he growls. "Why the fuck did you come back?"
"H-huh?" you gasp.
"Are you that goddamn stupid?" he demands, then shakes his head in a pained way. "How the hell can you be this goddamn stupid?"
"You're hurt," you insist. "They whipped you! We need to get you out of-"
"Shut up," he croaks. "You think I don't know they're whipping me?" He pushes himself up just a bit, back and wings trembling, and when he turns there's visible pain on his face. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Why?" you question, feeling slightly hysterical. You're utterly flabberghasted by what he's saying and begin to wonder whether or not he's insane.
"I can't," he hacks out, fumbling into a sitting position and outright cawing in pain when his back brushes the mesh wire behind him. "I owe them too much."
"What could you possibly owe them?" you ask. "Maybe you made a deal or something a while back, but if they're hurting you this badly, you can't go through with it!"
"You don't know for nothing," he hisses, glaring red-hot daggers at you. Clenching the cage wall nearest to him, he takes a deep breath, then seems to slouch, almost like the fight has been punched right out of him. He closes his eyes tightly, exhaling real slow. "My brother owed them money." He winces again, but this time you're not sure it's from pain. "A whole load of it, he used to slip them hooch but half the time he didn't deliver. He got into it just to keep me out of their mitts, I think, but he's always been an ass. Too goddamn dumb to screw a bottle on right, you could hear him clicking the cap in the other room. Last time they were in town, he didn't pay the difference after bailing another delivery. They came to put a bullet in his chest but I wouldn't let them, so they took me instead." His claws tighten and the metal squeaks a bit. "I'm just biding my time till I can get out on my own. I don't need help." His shoulders tense up and his eyes flutter open, then he looks at you like he's waking up from a dream. "You should get out of here."
"But..." you fumble, trying to find the gall to protest again. In the end, you only offer, "I can get you out!"
His look conveys his doubt, but you won't be deterred. You reach into your pocket wordlessly, extracting a thin pocket knife. You brandish it proudly.
"Peachy," he intones. "It'll only take a couple months for you to cut me an escape route, and assuming I'm not museum bait by then, we can have a couple of malts at the shop and celebrate."
You raise your eyebrows at him, admittedly impressed by his ability to snark in his weakened state, then jam the knife's blade into the padlock on the door and twist violently.
It opens with a snap and you grin at Dave. He lowers his eyebrows and looks unamused. Swinging the door open, you offer your hand.
"Everyone is busy putting on the show right now," you say. He doesn't move, so you plea, "Come on! Just let me help you out now, and then you can do whatever you need to on your own." Your stomach lurches unpleasantly at this and you hope it won't come to that. You don't want to have your first and possibly last encounter with somebody this unique cut short.
He stares at you for a long while. Your heartbeat pangs intently in your ear and you stare right back. Finally, he averts his eyes and shoves away your hand. You pull it back, your insides writhing uncomfortably inside you. Then he stands, muttering, "I don't need your help to get up."
He wobbles when he steps forward, but you don't press the issue, instead hurrying at a slightly restricted pace to accomadate him. Your chest is throbbing and your forehead is beading with sweat as you stumble along, eyes glancing back and forth frequently to confirm that Dave is following you and that you remain unseen. When you push out of the tent and into the fresh air, Dave stops. He clenches his eyes shut, then spreads them wider than you thought they could go, looking like he hasn't seen the night sky in years.
Your heart tugs sadly when you realize this could easily be the case. Quietly, you beckon to him, snapping him out of his trance. You make sure he's following before creeping around the side of the tent. You skew off into the field, glancing back frequently to ascertain Dave's position, then pick up the pace. He starts to lag behind by the time you reach the dirt road, so you circle back around.
"You sure you don't want any help?" you inquire, once again offering your hand.
You're alarmed when he not only doesn't refuse but basically collapses on you heavily. You yelp in surprise, then hush yourself to avoid alerting any neighbors. Him being a full head taller than you and a bit thicker despite his slightly-starved appearence, supporting Dave proves itself to be a cumbersome task. His large, taloned feet nearly squash your own barefoot toes several times, and his left wing continually flutters against your shoulder as if struggling to fold itself. The claws on his hand dig into your upper arm with enough pressure to make you hiss in pain, but you force yourself to keep going without complaint. If the ragged breathing gusting against your ear is any clue, he's getting worse.
By the time you see the light of your porch, you're nearly crying in relief. You hobble up the driveway and ascend the three steps to the front door. You manage to get it open and guide Dave into the kitchen where he drops into a chair and lolls his head upon the table. You almost shake your head at this sight, but know there are more important matters to attend to. You hurry out of the kitchen, nearly tripping on the trail of tawny feathers you've helped create, and stumble into the bathroom. You then rummage through the cabinets, breathing in relief when you find both the first aid kit and a mostly-full bottle of peroxide. Hurrying back, you quickly instruct Dave to "hold still", then douse a rag with as much of the mixture as it will hold.
"This might sting," you warn, then mutter, "... a lot."
You press it against the space between his wings and the response is immediate. He squawks loudly once, the whole of his back arching tensely, then emits a series of throaty warbles. You stare, half alarmed, half amused. His muscles relax a bit and he chokes out a ragged, "Fuck."
"Sorry," you offer.
"Could've given me more of a warning," he snaps, but doesn't berate you. He stays perfectly still as you attempt- and mostly fail- to bandage the wound working around his wings, staring straight ahead and not saying a word. When you're finished, you plop down on the chair beside him with a relieved sigh. You desperately want to say something, but you can't seem to think of anything appropriate. You're used to this, honestly, but it's never bothered as much as it does now.
"Won't your folks be balled up if they come home and find me here?" he asks hoarsely, surprising you.
"Not really," you mumble. "I don't really have a mom anymore, and my dad works real late."
"Oh," he murmurs, and it sort of sounds like he's trying to be sympathetic. You have no idea why, since you're positive he's got it worse.
"Are you tired?" you implore.
"No," he snaps, then yawns counterproductively. You smile.
"Think you can make it upstairs?" You get up and offer your hand again. "You can have the bed."