Even flying can't make you feel better.
The realization angers you to some extent; you've been grounded for almost your entire life, suspecting that flying must be the most fucking magnificent thing conceivable, and now that you've finally managed to crack the code by overcoming the odds and learning how to do it, your mind is too wrapped up in its own despair to let you enjoy yourself.
But you can't help it. You're pretty sure the kid hates you. This shouldn't matter to you, yet for some irksome, unidentifiable reason, it does. The best explanation you can come up with is that he's the only person in the joint who's one hundred percent on your side, you were too goddamn thick to realize it. And now that you do, it's too late. You already lost control and butchered that thug's face like he had it coming to him in a handwoven basket. Which, of course, he did. And you still went too far. But, because you're steadfastly idiotic, you didn't realize that either until John was staring at you in a way that made your stomach want to shrivel up and collapse.
He was—is—afraid of you.
The realization makes your wings shudder and threaten to buckle. Pushing the thought down to the bowels of your mind, you decide you might as well land. You have no motivation for staying airborne, and the muscles in your shoulder area are getting tired anyway. Lowering yourself closer to the earth, you slow the flapping of your wings as much as you can until you're close enough to land on the frost-covered grass. Far from sticking the landing, you stumble as your talons sink into the ground at too high a velocity, sending you stumbling and nearly faceplanting in the frozen dirt. Only now that you're back on land does the cold begin to get to you, biting into your exposed arms and chilling the backs of your legs. You decide for what is probably the umpteenth time that you fucking hate winter.
Hurrying just a bit, you scurry towards the back door and yank it open, stepping inside with a quiet puff of relief. You shove the door closed behind you with a quiet thump and start to head towards your room. Unfortunately, before you can get anywhere a figure steps in ahead of you. You grimace angrily.
"What the fuck do you want?"
"I had figured a request to deliberate with you wouldn't be too outlandish," your brother grumbles.
"Well," you snap, "it is." Moving to walk around him, you add, "You should really get out of here. Now."
Briskly, you tread past him. He waits for a second, then follows you. This action reignites your urge to kick him in his manhood hard. You repress it, though. He isn't worth the effort.
"I have no plans of evacuating my lonely ass at any point in the forseeable future," he persists, trying to catch up to you. "Now, if you'll just shed the whiny broad outlook you're wearing like an overcoat of shitty attitude, we may actually be able to progress in our reconciliation."
"Don't you get it?" You raise your voice, stopping and turning to face him. "I don't want to talk to you. I don't want to listen to your rainbow of ossified excuses." Your talons dig into the floor and your hands clench into tight fists at your side. "And I don't want to be anywhere near you for the rest of my fucking life!" The proclamation makes your throat sting. Your stomach, which never really settled, continues to lurch threateningly, and the rest of your body seems to be trembling just enough to make your hands shake. Still, but you absolutely refuse to acknowledge how much his presence is getting to you. He doesn't deserve the satisfaction.
"I know how you must feel," he claims.
The muscles in your face twitch. "No." The word emerges from your lips with enough hardness to cut through whatever rebuttal Dale had prepared. He's silent, so you go on. "You have no idea how I feel. Don't you ever fucking suggest that you do. You don't know shit about me." You look him in the eye, even though doing so makes you angrier than you'd care to admit. "Not anymore."
He's got no argument for that. Probably because you both know it's true. Before either of you can say something that will just make everything impossibly worse, you turn around and run. Out of the room, down the hall, and up the stairs. You close the door, then press your forehead against the cold wood with a loud exhale. Eyes scrunched closed, you tell yourself he'll be gone by morning. There's no way he's going to stick around. Lalonde will have him out of here just in time for you to make this a not-so-distant memory.
With that, you wobble towards the bed and collapse on it face-first. As the mattress presses against your torso, you can almost imagine you're going to run out of oxygen and just drift up into unconsciousness. That sure would be a real fucking relief after dealing with Dale.
Before long, you begin wondering if John will come up. Then you remember that he's terrified of you and your chest forgets to stop hurting. In the end, you still hold out for him. Your ears strain, trying to pick up the sounds of soft footsteps or a light tap at the door. Anything to tell you that he's not frightened enough to piss his pants at the thought of being in the same room with you. Unfortunately, no such sign comes. It's dark by the time you get sick of waiting for him and get to your feet, clacking to the door. You open it and peer outside, listening closely, but the upstairs is utterly silent. Traversing down the steps, you continue to look carefully for any hint of the kid, but spot nothing. All that happens is you stumbling upon his cousin.
"Have you seen Johnny?" Jade asks after startling you out of your brooding. You glance over your shoulder, staring bleakly down the hall, then face her and slowly shake your head.
"It's just... I haven't seen him myself since this morning," she murmurs, still looking at you in a way that tells you she's searching for consolation. When you provide her with none she leaves, a concerned expression muddling her features. As you watch her retreat, you feel a tug from somewhere inside your gut. If anyone would have seen John recently, the most likely candidate would be his cousin, given that he recently took up avoiding the other snarky broad at all costs. This doesn't sit right with you at all. After a moment, you pace into the front of the shop, still looking for him. He's not there. The tugging in your chest increases. Your mind tries to calm you down, listing excuses and options as to where he might be, what he might be doing. He's probably just out taking a breather, like you were. Except, unlike you, he's taking a couple hours off instead of a couple minutes. Still, he'll be back any second now. No need to empty out a trouser log and burst into hysterical tears.
But your legs aren't listening to logic, apparently. You're headed out the front door before you can think. The street lights are on, but the cobblestone itself is deserted. The shops are all closed, the only windows lit up belonging to place you just came from. It's a good thing, too, since you didn't bother shoving on your disguise. Somehow, it's basically the last thing on your mind. Looking around once, then twice, you squint down the narrow streets, taking a few steps down each direction. You don't see anything.
Hesitantly, you call his name. "John?"
Your raise your voice. "John!"
A mintue passes. Nothing.
Then you step on something cold and foreign. It's enough to force you to lift your foot almost mmediately. You grab the object, which is stuck to the flat expanse between your talons, and lift it up to eye level. A slow exhale hisses between your teeth and you stare.
He wouldn't take them off while he's awake for anything. He's totally blind without them. The lenses in the frames he wears are thick enough to brain a particularly wily sewer rat. There is no reason for them to be lying on the ground, half-buried in a light snow and patiently awaiting your clomping gait so that they can be found. You hate to admit it, but this is actually somewhat worrisome. Instantly, you scrutinize the area with more detail. There seem to be no other noteworthy disturbances, nothing except a penny and an abandoned glove.
A familiar looking white glove.
Where have you seen it before? You pick it up and examine it. The glove is leather, expensive-looking, and smells of too-strong, disgustingly fruity perfume. You know that smell. And you know that perfume. But from where? You grind the glove into your forehead and close your eyes, frustrated at your inability to remember. Think, damn it... Think! The glove was in someone's pocket. Lazily tucked and hanging out of...
Your eyes fly open.
This glove belongs to Tabitha the police woman.
"Fuck," you immediately curse. Her glove is here. She would most likely only leave it if she were in a hurry. John would never leave his specs unless he had no other option. Or if he was in a scrape and nobody bothered to pick them up. Another aroma the glove is laced with hits your nostrils. You cringe, but force yourself to give it a small whiff. Your stomach heaves as you recognize the scent. It was often the last resort of circus employees for getting you to shut your yap. Swallowing, it finally hits you. "She took him." Shaking your head, you almost want to laugh at the absurdity, since this can't be happening. Instead, you kick the wall and then bite out another, "Fuck!"
"What are you doing out here?" a tired voice inquires.
A mixture of loathing and surprise twists in your abdomen. You turn just enough to see your brother's figure in the farthest crescent of your vision. "I might as well ask you the same thing," you mutter slowly, then ask, "I mean, are your ears clogged with the same bullshit your mouth is full of? Because I don't see any other reason for you to still be around after I keep telling you how much I can't stand you."
"Maybe if you would stop being a petulant little asswipe for any miniscule passage of time," he snaps, "I could actually convey my sincerest fucking condolences!"
"Will you shut the hell up?" you shout, seething. "I don't give a shit if you're sorry. It doesn't mean squat if it's flying out of your kisser. A piece of chewed up cockroach from between your teeth, flung onto my cheek after one of your oh so fulfilling 'meals-on-the-road' would be a fucking step up from an apology!"
"You don't even know what you're saying," he snarls in response. "You haven't the slightest when it comes to all the tribulations I had to endure because, contrary to what that feces-clogged load recepticle you call a brain is telling you, I actually give two fucks about my little brother!"
"And I might actually believe that," you burst, now using your full lung capacity, "if you hadn't sold me to the fucking circus!"
You both glare daggers at one another, chests heaving and hands clenched. Then a dog howls mournfully from the lot a few houses down, and a couple lights from across the street click on. It's then that you realize the two of you have been―more or less―screaming at each other in an empty street at night. You shake your head, furious at yourself for more reasons than you'd care to name.
"It's John," you admit after a small silence.
"What?" He's confused.
"You know him," you grunt. "Shrimpy. Thick, square specs. Hair you could lose small animals in. He was the kid kind enough to keep you from dying in an alley, though I have no fucking idea why he―"
"Yeah," Dale interrupts tersely. "I assumed that's who you were referring to. So..." He very slowly steps up to your side. "What about him?"
You unfold your fingers, revealing the neatly folded pair of eyeglasses. Why you're admitting it to your brother of all people escapes you. "He's gone."
"Left?" Dale inquires.
"No!" you instantly shoot down the suggestion, apalled. "They took him. Some loony fucking policewoman." You swallow. "It's because they're looking for me."
Dale whistles one long, low note. The two of you stand there, the silence reforming as you reflect over how this is all your fault, how much you hate that woman, and how stupid you are for letting this happen in the first place. Dale's the first one to break the long pause. He grunts, stretching his arms heavenward, holding them there for a moment before letting them fall at his sides.
"Well," he says, "let's go get him."
"What." It's not a question, more of a statement. "I'm not going with you."
"Do you even know the route to the police department?" he asks.
"No," you grumble, then defensively retort, "Do you?"
Dale blinks at you, frowning just slightly. You watch as the frown reshapes itself into a smirk with an unsettling amount of smugness attached to it. "As a matter of fact, little brother," he drawls, "I do."
The pounding of your head finally breaks you out of unconsciousness.
A groan falls from your lips and you shift, trying to bring a hand to your temple in a futile effort to soothe the pain. You give a few good tugs, eyebrows furrowing in confusion. Why can't you move your arms? The light overhead is searingly intense, and when you try and open your eyes so much as a sliver the pressure in your skull nearly doubles. You take a few deep breaths, collecting your thoughts and coherency. Panic slowly starts to grip you as the memories from what feels like mere seconds ago resurface. A sickening grin. The sensation of falling. A bitter smell and strong arms trapping you. Your heart lurches and your try again to move your hands. They're pulled behind you, fastened at the wrists. You're in a chair, the soles of your shoes slipping a bit as they try to find traction on the smooth floor.
Angling your eyes down and opening them in tiny increments, you shift your head away from the light. Swallowing sharply, you squint and desperately try to make out any details that could possibly tell you where you are. Unfortunately, everything that isn't shrouded in blackness is consumed by the light. As far as you're aware, inside this room is a chair, a lamp, and you.
Your heart just about stops. You know that voice the second your hear it. Turning towards the light slowly so as not to overwhelm your vision, you do your best to make out the figure you know must be lurking just out of sight. The bridge of your nose feels oddly light and it's only then you realize your glasses are missing. This sends a cool trail of anxiousness down the back of your throat. As stupid as it is, without your glasses you feel vunerable. You might argue that it's justified since, without them, you're nearly blind, but at the moment this admission does nothing to slow your panicked heartrate.
"Good." A loud squeaking tells you another chair, probably on the opposite end of the table supporting the lamp, is being pulled out and put to use. You wait for another word, maybe a set of questions. Something to confirm that she's going to start doing her absolute best to weasel all the information you have about Dave and the Speakeasy out of you. Instead, you're met with silence. The seconds tick by. Your heart beats faster. You count to thirty before you hear footsteps. She gets up and walks towards you slowly. Then stops. You peer up at her blurry form. Her glasses look like nothing more than a red smear. She leans down towards you. From what you can tell, her face is utterly and completely expressionless.
She's staring at you in a way that makes your skin crawl. Breath hitching, you squint right back, not daring to move. She's going to say something any minute, you tell yourself. And you have to be prepared for that. Prepared to lie or stay silent or reply with something totally unrelated. You're ready to do all of the above and more, as long as it will protect your friends.
But you're not prepared when she slaps you.
Your head is tossed brutally to the side. Your cheek stings and begins to throb while hot tears bubble up in the corners of your eyes. Raggedly, you gasp. She does it again, making you cry out in a mixture of pain and shock. Breathing raggedly, you turn your face away from her blindly. A single tear drips over the rawness of your cheek and you bite your lip, horrified that she's managed to make you cry. Your mind is a panicked mess, begging you to realize why she's doing this, insisting you have to be strong, and snidely informing you there's no way Dave would let this get to him. He wouldn't cry after a couple blows. You doubt he's shed a single tear in his life.
This thought makes something in you harden. Tabitha wants to take him back to the circus. To the place where he was in pain every day, yet he somehow found the strength to keep fighting. You grunt once as you straighten up, then turn to glare furiously in Tabitha's direction. She's unfazed. Her only response is to stand straighter herself and cross her arms.
"You look very dapper tonight," she says.
You keep glowering, trying to mask your confusion.
"Wouldn't want to get that delicious vest of yours dirty, now would you?" Her lips curl upwards, exposing a sneer. "And neither would I. And if you cooperate, I won't have to."
Swallowing once, you crease your mouth and don't answer.
"Oh, come on!" she prompts, faking enthusiasm. "Don't turn into a wet blanket. We have so much to talk about." She reaches out, bringing the light closer to your face so that you're forced to close your eyes. "Like your little torpedo, the Bird Man."
You don't move an inch, forcing yourself not to acknowledge a single word she's said.
"I know you know him," she purrs. "What's the fun in hiding it? Nothing, unless you count a sore face."She places a hand on top of your head. You shiver, disgusted by the touch. "Don't clam up on me now, kid. I don't want to have to hurt you."
"I don't... know..." You cough. "I don't know... anyone called that."
"Yes, you do," she announces calmly. "I have proof. So does everyone here at headquarters." She ruffles your hair once, then her hand retreats. "All we need is for you to tell us where he is now." Sighing theatrically, she murmurs in a way that suggests she wants you to hear despite her lowered voice, "Our undercover work came so close to figuring it out, too. Now it all depends on a skinny, runaway brat."
"Undercover work?" The words slip out of your mouth, unbidden.
She cackles. Literally throws her head back and laughs, loud and fierce. When her mirth simmers down to mere giggles, she coos, "Oh, did I forget to mention that?" Lifting a hand, she scrutinizes her nails and then grins hugely at you. "How forgetful of me. You see, Mr. Egbert..." Tabitha begins to pace, circling round the back of your chair slowly. "If a member of a circus escapes, and that member happens to be their property, it's our duty to get him back under their care, even if this particular circus doesn't always strictly follow the law." She sniffs once, as though repulsed by the mere thought, then continues. "Therefore, the circus may not want our assistence. So why should we bother helping, you ask, if we don't care for the circus, and they are already looking for their little freak themselves?"
You blink, eyes straining in the glare of the light.
"Incentive," she breathes. "The circus wants their birdy back. We want to get the likes of them out of our fair city. The sooner this happens, the sooner we can go about investigating our local cases. Such as things relating to..." She exhales deeply, pausing for a moment. "Prohibition. And this time, we're lucky. Why?" She licks her lips quickly, tongue flicking out of her mouth like a snake. "Because this time, two such cases happen to be related."
Your skin feels like it's crawling. She knows.
As you think this, she slams both palms on the table, nearly making your heart stop. "Where is he?" she shouts.
You shake your head and insist, "I don't know!"
"You do!" she barks. "Now tell me!"
"I d-don't know what you're t-talking about," you stutter.
She tsks sadly. "You seemed like a smart boy, John."
Breathing heavily, you try and make out her expression in the dark. You're met with blackness as she turns off the light. Her footsteps cross the room. A door opens and shuts quickly, letting in a pale sheet of light for only a moment that flickers as Tabitha exits the room. You realize you are alone as time begins to pass and all you can hear is your own breathing. It occurs to you that you are doomed. No one knows where you are. Your father is miles away, unaware of your whereabouts and current distressed situation, and no more capable of helping you than your friends. You doubt anyone has even realized you're gone. When your absence is finally noticed, it will be too late. You tell yourself you won't cave, but you have no idea what Tabitha plans to do to you. The fear of not knowing breaks over you like a downpour.
You sag in your chair, biting your lip to keep your emotions at bay while praying she won't come back.
After twenty minutes of excruciatingly slow progress, Dale finally makes the correct turn.
He holds out his arm, stopping you from progressing wordlessly. You halt, not bothering to ask whether you've actually arrived this time, and turn towards the building ahead of you. It's misleadingly unremarkable, made of gray brick piled up to form two stout levels nesting between taller and more imposing structures. The windows are small, thin, and rectangular. There are only a few lights on, and even though you don't think the front door is locked, you severely doubt you'll be going in that way. Dale lowers his arm and beckons to you, walking briskly and carefully between the reach of two streetlights' illumination. Following him, you press your wings tightly against your body, moving as quickly as you can without making too much noise.
He leads you around the back, past a row of discarded boxes and trash cans, then pauses at one of the windows. Your ears immediately strain, sensing the mumur of conversation eminating from the other side of the glass. Shoving Dale and ignoring his grunt of annoyance, you usurp his position, getting as near to the window as you can without pressing your face directly against it.
"...hope you've had more success," a low voice is grumbling. "How long has it been? Two hours?"
"Three," a second voice pipes up, a leer audible in its tone. You know instantly who it belongs to.
"Is he close to cracking?" the first voice inquires.
"Patience, sir," Tabitha orders. "It will happen. You just have to trust in your best detective." She chuckles, making your throat close up with anger. "I haven't failed you yet, have I?"
There's a murmured negatory, but you don't bother listening to the response. They have John here. That confirms it. These sick fucking bastards are keeping him locked up somewhere in this building. Your teeth grind together on their own accord, and the tips of your wings bristle. You waste no time in lighthearted conversation.
"How do I get in?" you demand of your brother.
"Unless you're itching for the chance to be ensconced by the writhing bodies of muscular law enforcement men," Dale states snidely, "you don't. In case you've once again dropped the important details into the repugnant clog of your fucking nasty mental state, I will refresh your memory: they're all after you."
"Believe it or not," you hiss through your teeth, "I remember that." You brush the bangs from your forehead quickly, scrutinizing the ground as you desperately try and think. "But there has to be a way inside."
Dale taps your shoulder to make sure you see him when he rolls his eyes. Just when you were sure you couldn't possibly hate the puss spewing asshole more. "There is a way inside," he tells you. "It's known as, among the more intelligent, 'a door'." You open your mouth, but before you can protest he cuts you off. "What you require is an adequately captivating distraction."
"Like what?" you prompt slowly.
"Wait here." Dale stands up and starts walking back around the building,. You watch him go, insides squirming with indecision as your brain flips between refusing to trust him and giving him another chance just this one time. In the end, it's your inability to make up your fucking mind that keeps you grounded. You're still crouched beneath the window, wondering if you should let Dale create a distraction, when there's a massive crashing noise that instantly tells you Dale is out there making a distraction. You leap to your feet and peer in the window. You can't see anything but open doors and the retreating backs of police officers, coupled with some extremely loud shouting. Heart leaping into your throat, you stumble over to the back door and twist the knob frantically.
It doesn't budge.
You curse under your breath, wondering how in the name of all that hates your repulsive, feathery ass you and your brother were both too stupid to unlock the rear entrance beforehand. Deciding you can't waste time blaming Dale, you jam your claw into the keyhole, wriggling it desperately as you twist the handle. When it doesn't seem to work, you try even harder, twisting back and forth as brutally as you can. You hear a click, then yank your finger free. You're forced to bite back a cry of pain when a good portion of the finger's claw doesn't make it back out.
Ignoring the pain, you open the door and barrel through it. The noises are even louder on the inside, and you can hear Dale's voice, raised and hysterical-sounding, intermingling with those of the fray. Closing your eyes, you block out the noise and hurry past a few doors. They're nothing but offices, so you determine whatever it is you're looking for is most likely on the second story. You locate the stairs and dash up them, anxiousness needling you the whole while. Thankfully, it's absolutely silent on the landing, and it would seem everyone is more than occupied downstairs. You dash down the hall, glancing in each room. Only one door is shut, and it doesn't resemble the rest of them. Made of darker wood, it stands tall and imposing. When you run your fingers over its surface, it's cold to the touch. Reaching out, you try and turn the knob. Predictably, it's locked.
Not all that eager to break another claw clean off, you opt for quickly searching for the key. And if worst comes to worst, you're not so overly attached to your scratch-factories that you can't bear parting with a second one. You start down the hall again, and this time keep your eyes peeled. Without much effort, a name plaque attracts your attention within seconds.
T. Pirone, it reads. Private Investigator.
The office is small and cramped, and when you push your way inside you're nearly overwhelmed by the smell of fruity perfumes. Many stuffed animals line the walls and shelves, but more numerous are eerie charcoal drawings and law books big enough to neuter any man unlucky enough to have one dropped on his lap. A desk is wedged close to the window, every inch of its surface coated in paperwork with every blank area covered in some of the shittiest doodles you have ever seen. Shaking your head, you spare a second to mourn the death of your respect for artistry, then squeeze behind the desk and open several drawers. The third one down produces the proper jangle when slid out, and sure enough when you reach inside your fingers detect the cool grooves of several keys. Fast as you can, you lift them out of the drawer and leap over the desk, rushing back down the hall and towards the door at the end.
You try the first key with no luck, but the second opens the door with a beautifully soft click.
Not even allowing yourself a breath of air just in case you're mistaken, you swing the door open. There's a soft shuffling, a sound that reminds you of a mouse frantically trying to hide from view when the lights come on, then silence. You step inside, talons clacking softly on the frigid floor. Squinting, you can barely make out a shape slouched weakly against a chair. Eyes beginning to adjust, you decipher a thin neck, a trail of darkness leaking from a rounded nose, and numb blue eyes.
"Dave?" he croaks.
"John..." You swallow. Your thoughts still can't decide on what emotion they ought to be reeling with: rage or guilt. What you get in the end is an uncomfortable combination of the two.
"They... brought me here..." He takes a trembling breath. "Tried to... get me to talk."
"Tell me later," you order, rushing to his side. His hands are bound behind his back, so you quickly rip up the woven strands with your nine uninjured claws. As soon as the rope falls to the floor, John gets up. He immediately wobbles. You hop to your feet and steady him, hunching down and pulling one of his arms over your shoulders. Hobbling quickly, you guide him out the door and into the hall, planning to sneak back the way you came.
"The door's open!" someone shouts, drawing your attention to a policeman hurrying up the stairs towards you. "The circus freak is here and he's got the boy! I need back up!"
"Get ready to jump, kid," you coach, stumbling in the opposide direction.
"What?" John gasps. You ignore him and unlock the nearest window, shoving it open with your free arm. Then you leap over the sill and fall, dragging John with you.
Despite spreading your wings, your descent is rapid. You both smack into the ground below and lie there, stunned and hurting, until more shouts force you to stand back up. You pull John to his feet just as footsteps begin thundering towards you. Telling yourself there's no point in looking back since Dale can take care of himself, you pull John's wrist and order, "Run!"
He obeys, nearly tripping several times as he does his best to pick up the pace. Feet pounding against the ground, you hurry blindly forward, the buildings melting into a forest in the peripheral of your vision as you go. Soon the pavement has shifted and become moss, but even though you're both moving at top speed, the noises of pursuit don't get any quieter. John's breathing is labored, but he keeps going blindly. Just like you, fear is pushing him onward. Neither one of you can afford getting caught, especially since John looks to be in no condition for self defense. Your legs start to ache, and your feet begin to feel numb from dashing over the frozen dirt. After you don't think you can stand to run any more, the sounds finally begin to die down. You slow your pace, expecting John to do the same. He doesn't, instead jolting past you. Lungs burning, you chase him, then stumble stop altogether. There's a river here. The sounds of water are muffled in the frigid air, but you hear them loud and clear now that your heartbeat is no longer defeaning. Peering into the darkness, you try and see where the it is, but all you can make out is a dark strip just ahead. You squint, stepping forward, then freeze as you comprehend. You can't see the river because it's deep in a ravine. John can't see this. You briefly recall how utterly sightless he is without his glasses, and remind yourself his hearing is half as good as yours at best. He has no idea the ravine is even there.
"Stop!" you cry out.
He doesn't seem to hear you. Only when he gets to the edge does he see the river and make a move to stop, but he miscalculates how far he is from the cliff. The rocks, covered in a thin slick of snow, make him slip. You jump towards him, stomach heaving as his ankle twists with a nauseating pop. His balance is utterly gone and he falls backwards. Skidding onto your stomach, your torso hits the surrounding rock hard and pushes the air right out of you. Your hand, sweating and hot, snaps out and closes around John's wrist with enough tightness to harm another bone. His eyes, massive and pleading, beg you not to let go.
"I got you," you pant, promising shakily. "I got you."
Pumping your wings, you drag yourself up, pulling John towards you even as your muscles scream from the strain. Seconds become undetectable as you take one arduous step after another. After several eons, John is lying face-down on the snow, shaking and panting hot clouds of steam into the night, but safe.
"C-can't... get up," he tells you. "Think... I broke it."
You don't bother with a retort, snappy or otherwise. The shouts are approaching once again, pounding against your ears like the voices of vengeful spirits. Several cracking noises that could be gunshots shatter the stillness of the woods. You need to get away. Now.
Instinct takes over. You lean down, no longer feeling a single scrap of sinew anywhere in your body, and lift John up. His body knocks against yours, and though you've carried him like this once before, you can't find an ounce of similarity. Last time he was drunk and limp and you weren't fearing for your fucking life as well as his. Now he's tense, wound as tightly as he possibly could be, arms looped around your neck in an attempt to help provide support. You take a deep breath and start backing up in the direction of the police station.
"Dave?" Panic is clear in his voice.
"Hang on," you whisper, and start running towards the ravine.
For a split second you're pounding over snow and rotted grass. But before you realize it, your feet are stranded in midair and you're gliding over the trench, wings spread and heart hammering with so much intensity you can no longer tell one beat from the next. You're half certain you are going to kill yourself—and possibly the kid as well—by smacking into the opposite ledge with enough force to send you flopping like a ragdoll into the river.
What actually happens is your body takes over for you and crunches into the dirt on the other side, jarring you so much that, for a moment, you're shaking like a gong. Without truly comprehending how you're managing it, you race away from other side of the river as fast as your legs will carry you. John's head bumps against your shoulder frequently, but he doesn't say a single word. If it weren't for his ragged breathing and the ocassional pained moan, you might think he'd traded places with a cadaver.
After your mind thaws enough to finally begin to feel the cold of the outside, your destination comes into view. It occurs to you that returning to the first place Tabitha thought to search for you isn't the most pants-soakingly brilliant idea, but your other options are nonexistent. Dizzy and numb, you push your way into the back entrance and seek out anybody you can find. Snarky Broad comes to the rescue, and for once you both refrain from being total fucking bowel nuggets. You explain what happened to John and that the fuzz is no doubt hot on your trail. Rose tells you what you already know: staying in your room tonight is out of the question. She surprises you by holding the trap door open for you and insisting she will take care of it. You descend briskly as she promises to send down blankets, pillows, a first aide kit and an accompanying pair of capable hands as soon as she can.
The entire downstairs is dim and barely discernable. You choose a nearby booth, the one closest to the only light that's turned on, and gently deposit John on the cushioned seat. It's only then that the aching in your arms reaches your brain. John hisses softly, sharing your pain but on a much deeper level. His ankle is a sickly plum color, and his face is slightly bruised. The caked blood under his nose remains there. Only just now is he managing to catch his breath. He turns and somehow, fucking miraculously, manages to smile at you.
"Thanks, Dave," he mumbles.
The reply of No problem, kid sits ready in your throat. You don't say it out loud. You don't say anything at all. Instead, you lean down and gingerly press your forehead against his. Holding the position for only a moment, your eyes flutter shut and an odd prickling trickles down your spine. You pull back quickly, unable to take your eyes off him as you gauge his reaction.
"Is... Is that some kind of bird thing?" he asks after a pause. He has no idea why you did it.
That makes two of you.
You shrug and answer, "Probably."