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Unhinged, Yet You Make Me Whole

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We were all pretty fucked up. Undoubtedly in more ways than one. But we made it work after the rocky start.

I remember I was alone. After recovering from what they did to me, I was kept in a solitary enclosure to adjust to the changes. It hurt, god did it hurt, every inch of my body felt like it was dying, but unable to decay. I was given enough room to stretch my new appendages, but the pain was too much to bear at first. Only once I had grown numb to the agony did I finally test my wings. It wasn’t easy, learning to fly, but I could at least get myself off the ground. Once they saw I could handle myself, they moved me to a large enclosure with trees and plants. A habitat, of sorts. I grew accustomed to climbing my trees and gliding down to the ground occasionally, but I much preferred being above. Then, after what might have been weeks, something new arrived.

She was clearly not made as I was. Her face a patchwork of purple, her arms replaced with living, thorny vines. She giggled at nothing, her mouth a grotesque, gaping grin. Sometimes she purred or meowed. I don’t think she knew I was there, at first, giggling to herself and shuffling around on the ground. When I chose to descend for a better look, she hissed at me, lashing out a vine to attack, and I screeched in response. We were wary after that, and I kept to the tree branches. She would hiss and growl when she saw me cross from one tree to the next, occasionally circling like a predator. But I was comfortable at the height, and had no need for food to survive, so I did not see any threat. We did eventually grow accustomed to each other, and I finally ventured down to inspect her again. She did not lash out any more, and instead her vines caressed me with fascination. She took interest in the mask sewn to my face, in the metal claws embedded in my hands, in the unique details of my body. I was curious about her, too. Her hair was stained with shades of lilac, and thorns sprouted from beneath her hair and her cheeks, imitating ears, whiskers, and some sort of vine-wrapped decoration. Blood stained the base of each thorn, looking just as painful as my own additions, yet she only giggled when I touched them. Perhaps it was her way of coping. Or just how they had made her think. I wasn’t sure I wanted the answer.

We continued to interact after that, and I began to learn how to understand the meaning behind her movements and noises. She seemed to figure out my caws and chirps as well, to comprehend my posturing, and we developed a wordless language. Rose I called her. The flowers that grew from her thorny limbs brought distant memories of roses and their sharp stems. She was affectionate, always eager to greet me when I descended from my perches, and nuzzling me when I reciprocated in my own way. Having a companion was nice, and I found myself craving her presence after lurking above too long. When she was lonely, she would yowl and scratch at the base of the tree I was in, begging me to come back down. I found it hard to refuse.

They introduced another after we had grown fully accustomed to each other. She was a sickly color, arms attached in unnatural places, with ears and a tail. Embedded in her body were strange rocks, pulsing with a light that instantly put me on edge. She was unpredictable and aggressive, and while I could escape to the branches, Rose was not so lucky, getting chased around by the angry, barking one. I couldn’t stand by and watch her be attacked, so I would swoop down, screeching and swiping my claws at the intruder until she backed off, creating a den in a far corner where she would sleep. Rose appreciated my help, and I helped her construct a den of her own within a tree trunk, while I took up residence in its branches. It took much longer for this newcomer to adjust to living with us, and there were many confrontations between her and Rose, which I had to break up. But despite the bites, and a few lost feathers, she finally settled down enough to sniff us over. She was still guarded, and bared her teeth if we startled her, but she at least stopped chasing Rose. I figured I should think of something to call her, too, but the only thing that kept standing out were the strange rocks embedded in her body. I knew there was a word for them, but couldn’t remember it. I couldn’t think of any green rock names for a long time. Finally, a hazy memory surfaced. Jade . It wasn’t the name of these rocks, but it was at least a green rock. Jade struggled to understand us for a while, but with constant interactions, we began to learn her way of communicating. She was very expressive, if still prone to angry outbursts, but it was an interesting change of pace.

Integrating her into our routine was tricky, at first, but she was eager for attention, and her tail wagged when either of us gave her affection. She had moments where she would run around or chase us, but without any malice, simply wanting to play. She took delight in following me as I flew around, leaping up and trying to reach me, or wrestling with a stick she found. Rose would indulge in a chase now and then, but preferred to observe. We helped Jade move her den to the base of our tree, and expanded it by digging out some of the dirt around the roots. Sometimes, the three of us would settle in the den, becoming a tangle of vines and limbs as we talked about what we were feeling, falling asleep cuddled together with one of my wings draped over us like a blanket.

The last to join us was more timid, hesitant to approach us, at first. He looked the most human of all of us, lacking any animal tendencies or body parts. He only had one arm, which was stripped of flesh above the elbow, exposing the pale, off-white bone. The other ended abruptly in a severed stump below his shoulder, and one of his eyes was gouged out. Still, once he realized we wouldn’t attack him, he grinned and grew more friendly. He spoke in words, which sounded so strange to us, having gotten used to caws, barks, and mews. The language was almost alien to us, but he persisted, and the broken knowledge slowly returned. Clown , I decided. He reminded me of a clown with his ridiculous hat. Jade had the easiest time regaining speech, and the two chatted constantly, Rose’s deformed mouth made it difficult for her to form words, but she tried her best, relying on Jade for help. I didn’t try to speak. My mask was firmly sewn all around my face, limiting the amount of movement for my jaw, and talking required a lot of movement. It was just easier for Jade to translate until our new companion learned to understand our nonverbal communication.

Clown liked making jokes, or pulling pranks on us, and then falling into manic laughter. More than once, he would trick me into a compromising position, and then cackle like it was the funniest thing. I found myself not minding as time went on, and we settled into a familiar rhythm. Jade’s den was built bigger, and more often than not, I found myself drifting off with a wing draped over the three of them, listening to Rose purring, and our new friend snoring quietly in our arms. Some days were active, with Jade racing around excitedly, and one of us winding up the butt of a joke Clown had set up, but other times, Rose would pull us down into a lazy pile, and we’d spend hours looking each other over. Hands and vines would trace over one person, feeling the jagged edge of a glowing rock, or petting and smoothing someone’s hair. My favorite times were when the others would settle around me, stretching my wings out to stroke the feathers, preening a bent feather here and there, combing through the downy feathers at my shoulders. Jade’s hands would massage the aching muscles of my back, relieving the tension from supporting the heavy appendages. I loved familiarizing myself with their bodies again and again, hearing their soft sighs of contentment, seeing Jade’s tail wag as we worked together to get the mats and tangles out of her long hair, hearing Rose purr like a motor as we stroked her back and cleaned dirt from her vines, watching Clown’s face smooth into a relaxed smile, devoid of his crazed grin, as we lavished him with attention.

It might not have been ideal, being stuck in the enclosure of a place we didn’t want to be, mutilated and psychologically damaged beyond repair, but with the four of us together, we could tolerate it. We could handle what those people had done to us, and might do in the future.

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Things started to go wrong when we woke to find Clown missing. Jade sniffed the entire enclosure before coming back, whining that he and a foreign scent had left through the reinforced door at the back of our habitat. We waited for him to return, only making half-hearted attempts to try entertaining ourselves without our prankster. It took hours before we heard the door open, and rushed over to see Clown stagger in, his comically large hat askew on his messy hair. His hair and good eye were stained with a strange blue slime, and even though he was laughing, it was weak and unsteady, interrupted by hiccups. Jade immediately drew him into her arms, whimpering worriedly over him as she helped him back to the den. Rose and I followed, and I wrapped my wings around everyone once we were in the shelter, embracing them all.

“What happened?” Jade asked, rubbing Clown’s back while Rose cuddled up to his other side, nuzzling his shoulder,

“I-I-” Clown’s voice cracked, and his unsteady grin widened, despite the pain visible in his eyes, “They said I had one last addition I had to get.” His arm lifted, wiping some of the slime from his face, “I heard them say all of us will.” Jade’s ears flattened at the implication, and Rose nuzzled into Clown’s neck, visibly nervous. Even I felt dread pool in my gut. What would they do to the rest of us? We stayed in the den for the rest of the day, cuddling and pampering Clown as he continued to let out watery laughter, unable to properly cry. The blue slime leaked from his eye like tears, and Rose gently wiped the streaks away. She was getting better with her fine motor skills. I could remember when she could only clumsily swipe at objects, or had to wrap her vines around something a few times just to pick it up. I felt proud, but didn’t mention it. Now was the time to focus on our prankster, vulnerable as he was.

Rose was the next to disappear a week later, and Clown moaned in despair when Jade confirmed she had gone through the door. We waited with apprehension for her to return, Jade and Clown ready in the den, me perched in the tree branches above the door. The wait was agonizing, wondering what they would do to Rose, how bad she would look when she came back. It haunted my thoughts the longer I waited, but finally the door opened, and Rose stumbled in, the metal shutting as soon as her vines had cleared the frame. I dropped to the ground easily, and draped a wing around her, shielding her from the unseen threat. Just like Clown, pain was written in her posture and expression, but only her giggles, shaky as they were, left her gaping grin. She immediately pressed against my side, clinging to my mismatched shirt like a lifeline as I led her back to the waiting pair. We all cuddled up to her, rubbing her back and smoothing down her rumpled hair. Her giggling was interrupted when she coughed, and a purple liquid stained the vine she covered her mouth with. It seemed that, much like Clown, she had a strange substance added to her body. Jade and I didn’t look at each other, too afraid to ask the question on our minds. Which one of us would be next?

Another week passed by, and I found myself startled awake when something tugged me from my tree branch. The lights in the enclosure were dark, but I could see the figure was humanoid as it pulled me down from my perch. Its movements were jerky and unnatural, as if its limbs were not its own. I tried to call out to my companions, but the figure jostled me roughly, pulling me close to its chest, its breath an uneven staccato of gasps. It had no heartbeat that I could hear, which unnerved me even more. The four of us still had heartbeats, even if John and Rose pumped something other than blood through their bodies.

“Shhhh,” The thing hissed by my ear, “No need to fuss.” It dropped to the ground, its body rattling a little as it landed, and it carried me toward the door. It was strong, whatever it was, seemingly unbothered by the weight of my wings, despite how cumbersome they were. I twisted my head around, watching as we approached the wall, and the metal door swung open. Four figures in lab coats waited beyond it in the lit hallway, and I swallowed the lump in my throat. It was my turn. The thing’s grip on me prevented me from doing much more than squirming, helpless as it took me away from my enclosure and my friends. The door shut and locked, and the people in lab coats, lacking the grisly changes that the four of us had, turned to head down the hallway. I turned my head back toward the thing carrying me, and my blood ran cold. This was definitely not one of the scientists. It had a human shape, but its face was made of something that was not flesh. Clay, or maybe plastic, its jaw was slotted like a ventriloquist puppet, with bright red circles painted on its cheeks. It wore pointed sunglasses that were cracked so bad, it was a wonder they hadn’t shattered. One lens had already lost some of the tinted glass, exposing the thing’s wide orange eye that was staring right back at me. I shuddered in its grip, its frozen smile worse than Rose’s. Its body was covered with blue and orange fabric, sewn together as if it had been previously torn apart. I couldn’t bear to look at it any more, twisting away as much as I could to watch the ones in lab coats. They walked into a room, and the puppet creature followed.

“Put it on the table.” One scientist instructed, and it complied, laying me on my back. I squirmed, grimacing as I was forced to lay on my wings, but it wouldn’t let me adjust.

“Don’t struggle.” It crooned, its gloved hand coming up to stroke my hair in a gesture far too tender for the situation. I cringed away from the touch, and it laughed, an unsettling giggle that set every last hair on end, my feathers ruffling as much as they could, pinned under me. “Be good, now, okay?” I bit back a squawk of fear as the scientists closed in and strapped me down. Only once I was secure did the puppet thing let go of me, stepping back.

“That will be all. Go back to your room.” It straightened indignantly, and I could tell from its body language that it didn’t appreciate being ordered around, but it left without a word. Now I was alone with the scientists. Now I would find out what they had planned for me. One brought over a needle, and I gulped. I could just make out the tank of some kind of liquid coming into view, and I dug my claws into the table. They made no effort to numb me first, as the needle was inserted into my elbow, and I winced. I squeezed my eyes shut when a tube was unraveled from beside the tank, biting my lip beneath my mask. This was going to hurt.

It felt like days, long, agonizing days, as the substance was pumped into my body, feeling like liquid fire, and wrenching pained screeches from my throat. As the fire spread to every inch of my body, I could only writhe as every single twinge of pain I had grown used to doubled, maybe tripled. My shoulders throbbed, aching where my wings were attached, my talons shot pain up my arms every time I scraped them against the table, and the stitches holding my mask in place tugged on my skin, threatening to rip free if I opened my mouth too far. I couldn’t bear it, and yet I couldn’t escape it. I wasn’t given the merciful release of unconsciousness, and I couldn’t die. The liquid spread all the way to my toes, leaving me hyper aware of every nerve screaming at me. I sobbed, squirming uselessly against the restraints, only partly aware that the needle was leaving my arm. I felt like I was dying all over again. Just like when I first woke up. I gasped for breath, trying to stabilize myself, opening my eyes to look up at the scientists, who only watched with detached expressions. Bitter fury welled up inside me at these monsters who could treat us this way without batting an eye. I wanted to see them bleed. See them suffer even a tenth of what I had. I forced myself to go still, taking deep breaths to slow my hyperventilation. If I was calm, I would be fine. I could be released from the table if I seemed placid. They couldn’t see the anger in my face through my mask and shades. I would be patient, ignore the fire in my veins, and exact my revenge.

“A much better recovery than the last two.” One muttered, picking up a clipboard to scribble something on it, “Seems it can adapt faster.” I grit my teeth as my breath reached a normal pace. Imagining Clown and Rose suffering this pain, unable to handle the torturous agony, screaming, hoping for mercy that wouldn’t come… I would rip that one’s throat out for sure. Finally, my patience was rewarded, and they undid the straps. I waited, playing docile, until their hands fell away, at which point I rolled off the table, landing on the floor and lunging for the bastard with the clipboard. All four scientists cried out in panic as my metal talons raked across the man’s face, cutting down to the bone. He screamed in pain, and I twisted around, wasting no time in seeking my next target as they tried to recover from the shock and react. The second one got my talons to her eyes, exacting vengeance for Clown’s missing one. She screamed as well, staggering back and covering her face as I turned for the next one. He was trying to bolt, but I was between him and the door. With a grating screech, full of my anger and pain, I tackled him, my talons ripping deep gashes across his abdomen. The slick organs within oozed from the new openings, but I didn’t have time to linger. I could hear the last one clattering around the equipment for a weapon, and I couldn’t have that. I scrambled on all fours across the floor, flaring  my wings for intimidation as the last scientist stumbled back, a simple scalpel clutched in his hand. Pathetic. I scraped my talons along the floor, making him wince at the sound, and leaving red smears on the cold tile. I only waited half a heartbeat before charging again, the man shrieking and bolting to the side. Doing so only exposed his back to me, and I swiped, claws easily slicing through his clothes and skin, and then catching on the bones of his spine. I had him hooked, so I yanked my hand back, and he dropped like a stone, mumbling incoherently. Perhaps I damaged his spine. It didn’t matter.

I turned toward the door, and stood up. The painful fluid in my body had settled to a dull ache, and could be ignored, so I stepped over prone bodies of whimpering humans and tugged the door open. I was immediately met with the leering porcelain-like face of the puppet creature, which seemed to be waiting for me. Its visible eye flicked over my bloody appearance, and it cocked its head to the side.

“Well, you had fun.” Its posture was more relaxed now, its tone less unnerving, but I didn’t trust it, ruffling my feathers and flexing my talons warningly. It scoffed, but held up a keycard in its gloved hand, waving it as if it were some kind of treat, “You wanna leave, don’t ya?” I scowled behind my mask, shouldering past the doll creature and heading back the way I had been taken from. It was hard to catch the scent of my companions in the sterile hallway, but my own scent was still fresh, as was the scent of the scientists, so I tracked it back to the correct door, stopping when I was faced with a keycard reader blocking me from getting in. I hissed low under my breath, cursing my luck, only to jolt when the colorful doll appeared beside me, draping an arm around my shoulders.

“Don’t be rude, li’l robin. If you wanted go back to your mismatched flock, you only had to say so.” It seemed to be mocking me, so I imitated one of Jade’s growls at it, telling it to mind its own damn business. It didn’t seem to understand, or simply ignored the threat, swiping the keycard and opening the door. “There ya go, li’l robin. Back to your cage.” I pushed its arm away, slipping inside and letting the door shut behind me. Rose and Clown were waiting for me, relief turning their smiles genuine as they rushed forward to embrace me.

“Crow!” Clown cried, his lone arm hugging me tightly. I immediately relaxed as Rose’s vines coiled around both of us, purring and nuzzling against my mask insistently. She was so glad to see me in better shape than they had been. Every ounce of her was happy, from how she rubbed against me, to how loud her purring was. Finally they pulled back, registering the new crimson stains, “What… Happened to you?” I shrugged at Clown’s question, playing it off as casually as I could. I wanted to see Jade. I needed her to know I was okay. The pair easily followed me to the den, where I found Jade in a fitful sleep, whining and twitching, her ears flattened against her skull, and her tail tucked tightly against her body. I crawled into the den, draping a wing over her, and the familiar warmth and weight eased some of her whimpers. I rubbed the beak of my mask against her shoulder, easing her out of her nightmare. Her acid-green eyes opened, and she blinked the sleep away, smiling when she saw me. Her tail wagged a little and she snuggled into my arms, tucking herself under my chin.

“You’re back.” She whispered, her voice quivering faintly with the threat of tears, “I’m so glad.” We lay there for a moment before her nose reminded her of the copper scent on my clothes, and she pulled back, looking me over properly. Her ears went back, and she frowned, giving me a hard look. Whose blood was on me? I sighed, and the other two climbed in, pressing against Jade’s back. I was always on one end of the cuddles; my wings too big to sandwich between the others and risk damaging them. I decided to explain what happened after they had finished giving me the liquid fire in my veins. They stared with rapt interest, mouths parted in awe as I told them of my revenge on the scientists. At the very least, those four would be incapacitated for a while. Maybe bleed to death, if they didn’t get help. I decided to leave out the creature, not wanting to leave them fearing the doll coming in and stealing them away, and they didn’t press me for any details, content to know that the humans who made them suffer were suffering too.

Jade looked the most relieved of all. I could tell she was hoping this attack would postpone her own unwanted trip outside the enclosure, and I found myself hoping that too. I didn’t want to see what it would do to her. We fell asleep in our usual tangle of limbs, and I couldn’t help but smile. I had done something about our treatment, if only a little.

Chapter Text

We all woke to the sound of Jade howling, fearful and begging to be let go. I nearly fell out of my tree trying to sit up, searching the darkness for her glow. She was halfway across the enclosure, and being pulled toward the door. I leapt from my perch and soared down, not wasting time on foot. She was struggling, digging her heels in the dirt and scratching at the arm of her captor. In her green glow, I could recognize the white glove and stitched orange sleeve. It was the doll creature. I tipped my wings, banking sharply and cutting ahead of them to land, flaring my wings to their full reach with a screech. I wouldn’t let this thing take Jade. It stopped, ignoring Jade’s futile efforts to escape, and regarded me,

“Get out of the way, li’l robin. You’ll only get yourself hurt.” I hissed and stood my ground, blocking the way to the exit. Rose and Clown were hurrying over, Rose’s vines twisting and lashing in agitation, while Clown lagged back a little, hesitating. The doll sighed, tugging Jade up into his arms, trapping her disjointed limbs against herself as she kicked and squirmed, crying and howling to be released. The doll’s eye flicked from me to Rose and Clown, then back to me, “You’re really gonna regret this, kiddo.” He warned again, but I wasn’t budging. He had my Jade, my playful, sometimes aggressive Jade, and she was panicked and trying to get enough wiggle room to get her teeth on his vulnerable neck. If I had to tear him apart, I would. Rose hissed behind the doll, lunging forward to snap her vines at its back, but it didn’t even flinch. As Rose continued her charge, it sidestepped, and hooked its foot around her ankle, knocking her off balance and sending her tumbling into the dirt. I lunged, using my wings to propel me forward, talons outstretched and aimed for its immovable face. I would have clawed its eyes out and cut its head off if the doll hadn’t shifted its hold on Jade and jabbed an unforgiving elbow into my gut. I wheezed, the wind forced from my lungs as I slumped over, collapsing to the ground and clutching my aching stomach as I tried to breathe again. The doll sighed, turning to Clown, “You gonna try now, or is it clear that I’m way outta your league? Li’l pups and kittens can’t take me down.” Clown whimpered a little, taking a step back, cowering. “That’s what I thought.” The doll turned and stepped around us, easily stepping over my grasping talons as I tried to stop it, watching through watering eyes as the creature took Jade out of the enclosure, leaving us in tense, bitter silence.

I paced the entire perimeter of the enclosure more times than I wanted to count, too agitated to sit in the den with Clown, too worked up to stay in the trees. There were scratches in the door from where Rose and I had clawed at it, desperately trying to move the reinforced metal so we could rescue Jade from the agony we knew she’d have to endure. Clown had apologised for not helping us, but we forgave him easily. It was hard to stay mad at Clown when he gave us puppy eyes. I passed the door again, throwing an angry glare at it. If only we had been better fighters, we could have taken the doll down and protected Jade. If only we weren’t so weak. If only I wasn’t so useless. I continued around the edge, staring at the path I had begun to leave with my footprints, silently berating myself for not being better at protecting Jade.

Rose intercepted me two laps later, nuzzling against my shoulder. I sighed and hugged her, letting her guide me back to the den where she curled up in my lap. I rubbed her back, and we spoke quietly. Clown was laying against one wall of the den, tracing meaningless patterns in the dirt as Rose reassured me that we did the best we could. The doll was older than us, more experienced. We hadn’t properly fought anything while we were here, not even each other. It made me relax a little, but I still felt awful for not being able to keep her away from the scientists.

It was nearly dark by the time the door opened again, and I immediately dropped from the tree, swiping at the figure in the lab coat before the door shut behind Jade. I turned to her, and the questioning chirp died in my throat before I could ask if she was okay. Her hair was a disaster, no doubt snarling on itself in her struggling, but her skin looked even more sickly, and she twitched and spasmed as shocks of electricity sparked along her body. Her eyes were dull, and she stood in a daze. I hesitated, then steeled myself for whatever would come as I moved to her side, touching her arm. Sure enough, as soon as my talons were close enough, the electricity leapt for the metal, sending a nasty shock down my arm, but I fought back a wince as I shook her gently, chirping her name. She blinked once. Twice. And then rapidly as she came to her senses and looked up at me. Tears welled in her eyes as recognition dawned on her face, and she sobbed, clinging to me desperately as she buried her face in my shoulder. I rubbed her back, ignoring the small shocks I got each time the electricity zapped my talons. I shifted her arms around my neck and lifted her thighs, using my wings as a counter balance as I carried her to the den. Clown helped me into the small space, visibly wincing when he was shocked, but not complaining. Rose joined us as we settled down to begin untangling the long hair. I let Jade keep her place in my lap, crooning and chittering soft reassurances that she was safe with us. She sobbed openly, the most vulnerable she’d been since her arrival, and I let her pour it all out into my shoulder. I cared so deeply for all three of them, I couldn’t bear to leave them to handle this kind of agony alone.

We stayed in the den all night working each snarl out of Jade’s hair until Clown could run his fingers through it without snagging, smoothing it down into wild waves, unable to be fully tamed like Rose’s straight hair. We couldn’t bring ourselves to sleep, not with Jade whimpering and twitching with the constant shocks. It would be hard for her to adapt to that, I guessed. It was more random, unlike the dull ache of the substance in my own body, and without a way to predict it, how could she adjust quickly?

By the time the lights came back up, we were all feeling a little numb from being so close to Jade’s new electrical field. I decided to stretch my wings, fly up to the branches and work some of the stiffness from my body. I wasn’t really focused on what I was doing, so I didn’t notice the little metal device until I had crushed it under my leathery palm. I pulled my hand back, blinking at the bits of metal and glass. A camera? It made sense, as there were no windows to look into the enclosure from, and the trees made it hard to see the whole terrain. I inspected it for a few minutes, picking bits of glass from my palm and leaving the debris on the branch, moving back to the tree where our den was. I settled into the familiar cradle of branches, watching Rose try to coax Jade into some sort of distraction. Clown was picking at a dead bush, feeling just as disinterested in our usual activities as the rest of us. I sighed, my gaze drifting toward the door that led to the hallway and the scientists. It was their fault. They had hurt us like this. Tortured us. I absently rubbed at some of my stitches, feeling the birdlike shape of my mask. I briefly wondered who thought up such demented ideas to transform us into these monstrosities, but quickly decided I didn’t want to know. Sighing, I climbed back down to the others, wrapping my arms around Clown and sullenly cuddling him as he picked dying leaves off the bush one by one. The day passed by slower than any other.

My first warning that something was wrong was Jade was throwing off more electrical sparks than usual. She’d begrudgingly accepted it as part of herself, and while it had only been three days, she’d at least gnawed on a stick with some semblance of interest. Now she was sitting tense, throwing off sparks like a tiny electrical storm, her ears almost flattened to her skull, and her tail stiff. Neither Rose nor Clown were willing to approach her, so I decided to break the tension. Rose pulled herself up into her nearly-abandoned tree hollow, helping Clown climb in with her, away from the potential threat. I took a deep breath, and moved around to get in Jade’s line of sight, sitting a foot or two away. She glared straight ahead, like a wire pulled too tight, and here I was, about to snap it.

I let out a soft chirrup, asking what was bothering her, and for a moment the world went white. I was bowled over by the sudden, powerful shock that hit me in the chest, reeling from what might as well have been a full-blown lightning strike at point blank range. Jade was on her feet, all bared fangs and snarls, her eyes now trained on me. I scrambled to my feet, trying to placate her, but she just barked and lunged at me, and I have to take to the air or risk getting a bite taken out of me. With a few strong flaps, I was airborne, and Jade chased after me, just as aggressive and wild as the first day she showed up. I lead her away from the den, and she followed in her blind fury, dropping onto her misplaced hands to chase me on her deformed version of all fours. She threw off bolts of electricity, scorching tree trunks and starting tiny fires in the foliage. Occasionally I see a bolt go somewhere random, and hear something pop, like breaking glass. Electricity is drawn to metal, so perhaps her rage is causing her to break more cameras. I circled around the enclosure a few times, keeping the chase going with the temptation of possibly dragging me out of the sky, but I know how high she can jump, and stay out of reach. The occasional zap to my foot is uncomfortable, but manageable. I just want to help her work out that aggression so she can calm down again.

Finally, she slowed to a stop, flopping onto her side with a pathetic whine, and I coast down to the ground, kneeling beside her. Her electricity has calmed down again, and she looks on the verge of sleep. I scoop her gently into my arms and carry her back to the den, curling around her for a nap. Clown and Rose looked comfortable in the tree, so I didn’t call them down. We all needed some rest.

We drifted back into our normal life as best we could. Rose noted that the roots of my hair had gone black, and it was spreading into the rest of my hair. I avoided telling her that, like her and John, I now bled a substance that was definitely not blood. It was black and slimy, and the only word I could think to name it was oil , which made me feel sick. Perhaps it was bleeding into my hair and unintentionally dying it black. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t stop the process, and just had to accept that my hair was no longer a pale color like Rose’s. Jade had more frequent outbursts, though not as severe as the first, and we came to understand that being constantly shocked by her own body was slowly driving her crazy until she got so furious, she needed to lash out. I became a favored target for those moments, something she could chase to burn the energy until she exhausted herself. It was good flying practice, so I didn’t complain.

Then, everything changed. The door opened early one morning, and I sat up, aware that whoever had entered wasn’t trying to be quiet about it. I moved to the opening of the den, my wings blocking the view of the other three as I searched the dim lighting for the intruder. I saw a flash of orange and blue, and I was immediately on guard, my feathers fluffing up in an intimidating display. Sure enough, the doll came strolling up to the den, casual as if it owned the place, and I bristled, growling warningly.

“Easy now, Li’l Robin.” It said, lifting its hands in a placating gesture, “I’m not here to hurt you or your little flock.” I could hear the others waking up behind me, and I kept my wings open to block them from view, “Just came to ask if y’all wanted to get outta this shithole with me an’ some friends.” I narrowed my eyes, not that the doll would know that, suspicious of its offer. I heard Jade growl at the sound of the doll’s voice, and felt Rose press against my back, reassuring me she would help however she could. The doll held up the keycard it had used to let me in after my torture, “Once we get outta this wing of the lab, the white-coats are gonna try and stop us. Me an’ my friends are good fighters. We clear a path, and you book it for the exit. Once we’re out, we leave this place to rot, and never look back. How’s that sound?” The now-familiar zap told me Jade had moved close to my back too, her low growl voicing her distrust of this creature.

“How can we trust you?” She asked, her voice still half growl. The doll shrugged,

“Cause I left the door open when I came in here.” It was true, I hadn’t heard it shut, only open. I turned my head, meeting Rose’s skeptical look, and Clown’s hesitant one behind her. Jade was wary, just as suspicious as me, and I chirped quietly to them, asking for opinions. Clown looked uncomfortable trusting the creature, but mumbled that he would like to get out. Rose shared the desire for freedom, and Jade seemed keen on ripping out throats if they did leave. The only problem was the doll. I looked back at it, trying to read its posture for clues its face couldn’t express. Finally I sighed and relaxed my wings slightly, chittering softly. We’d give it a shot. If it was lying, we’d bolt. Rose murred her agreement, and Jade let out a huff of consent. Clown reached over to grip the back of my shirt for a brief moment of comfort before I closed my wings and properly emerged from the den. The other three followed close behind, and I watched the creature closely, giving it a short nod. It relaxed, relieved, and gestured for us to follow.

The door was still open when we got to it, but I found myself hesitating as the doll pushed it further open. The first thing I saw was a woman with writhing tentacles sprouting from her body, and glowing, pupilless white eyes. It sent a chill down my spine. Rose immediately hissed at the inhuman woman, but she didn’t seem phased, just staring blankly at us. A tall man in a garishly colored patchwork clown outfit peered into the room, looking over each of us before stepping and moving down the hall.

“Trust you to get attached, Bro.” The tall one said over his shoulder, “Let’s go, they’ll notice we’re out before too much longer.” The woman turned and followed the tall one, the doll- Bro? What kind of name was that?- bringing up the rear. We hesitated before stepping out of the enclosure that had been our home. The three were walking in the opposite direction of the room I had been taken to, and I could see a few bloody corpses in that direction. I took a deep breath, leading my friends away from the room we had suffered in, following the older creatures. Jade let out a little whine, voicing her nervousness, and I reached back, letting her hold my hand. The tall clown glanced back, frowning a little, but the doll interrupted him before he could speak.

“You got a problem, old man?” The tall one sighed, exasperated,

“Are they even intelligent enough to survive out there? Three of them look more like animals than anything sentient.” Rose made a low noise, warning the tall one to watch his mouth, and I felt my feathers ruffle defensively. How dare this thing assume we were stupid. “They can’t even talk, Bro. Did you just want some pets?”

“Some of us can talk.” Clown spoke up, sounding angry at the condescending tone, “And all of us can understand the insults you’re throwing at us.” The tall one raised an eyebrow at us, the doll giggling a little as its voice pitched up into a falsetto,

“You really think I just grabbed some random specimens? Li’l Pierrot is pretty crafty. Li’l Kitten is quite adept with her vines, she nearly freed herself from her restraints. Li’l Pup shorted out a good chunk of the cameras in their enclosure with one tantrum. And Li’l Robin was the one to put four whitecoats in the hospital.” It glanced back at us, and I got the feeling it would be smirking with pride if its face could move, “They’re clever and protective of each other.” The tall clown sighed, but turned back to watch where he was going, saying nothing more. I could see the glowing exit sign and the end of the hallway nearing us, and I squeezed Jade’s hand. She squeezed it back, her jaw set as she pushed her worries away. I turned to look at Rose, and she too had a steely look in her eye as her vines coiled in anticipation. Clown looked giddy and nervous all at once, but gave me a determined nod when I inclined my head questioningly. We were going to get out together. We were ready.

“This is it.” The tall clown said, pausing at the door and peering through the narrow window, “There’s a lot of them moving around, but no one seems aware we’ve escaped yet.” The tentacled woman opened her mouth, and I flinched a little as garbled noise left her lips. I didn’t understand a word of the gibberish.

“She says this wing ran its own security. We killed ‘em before they could send out the alarm.” The doll, apparently, could understand her, and translated. “But that’s a good thing. Means they won’t know we’re comin’.” Its voice dropped back out of the falsetto, and it gave a low chuckle, “Let’s teach ‘em a lesson.” The other two nodded, and the clown took the keycard, swiping it through the reader and pushing the door open. I flexed my wings as the older creatures hurried out, and the screams began. Blood splattered everywhere, and I stepped forward, Jade slipping her hand out of mine. She rushed ahead, snarling and throwing off more electricity as she dove out the door. I followed her example, rushing out and following the carnage.

Scientists were scrambling to defend themselves or get help, or dying in grisly pools of their own blood. I screeched a battle cry and dove into the fight with the others, tearing apart the humans that came in reach of my talons. They wouldn’t be merely incapacitated now. I would slaughter them. I caught sight of Clown running from some guards, laughing maniacally, diving around a corner as Rose’s vines lashed out, thorns tearing through soft flesh. Jade was electrocuting one after another, her teeth closing around one scientist’s throat before she jerked her head to the side, ripping the flesh away as their scream became a dying gurgle. A guard charged at me, but I took to the air, making him slow in the gust caused by my wings before I dropped back down, landing solidly on his back and forcing him to the ground as I plunged my talons into the back of his neck, the deadly metal slipping between vertebrae and slicing his spinal cord. He spasmed once, then went still, and I leapt into the air again, soaring over the chaos. The doll was fast, almost faster than I could follow, darting from one person to the next, snapping necks or stomping on rib cages. The tall clown was possibly stronger, delivering powerful punches that left visible cavities in skulls. The woman just strode calmly through the carnage, her tentacles lashing out at any who came near her, stabbing eyes or strangling throats. Glass shattered in a case, and I turned my head, seeing the doll pull out a sword, giggling like a demented child as it spun around, deftly maneuvering the sword to slice someone in half.

I spotted a group closing in on Clown, Rose preoccupied with strangling two scientists, and I tucked my wings in close, diving down sharply. I landed on two, talons ripping through their throats as I spun around, screeching as I lunged into the group. They hadn’t expected the aerial attack, and were left scrambling to escape my fury. Clown cackled gleefully, picking up a heavy-looking hammer and swinging it into one woman’s head, knocking her down as blood blossomed from the wound. We dispatched the rest together, and then continued on, rejoining Rose as we followed the older fighters. Jade darted past, her face and clothes splattered with blood, looking like a feral dog hunting its prey. I smiled to myself, proud of my friends. We held our own pretty well against the scientists. We heard a sharp whistle, and I looked up, seeing the tall clown shove a limp body away from a door.

“Let’s go!” He called, and we hurried forward, tearing through a few more scientists on the way. Jade ran back to our side, breathless, but with a fierce grin. I saw the woman stride up to the door, only with a few more bloodstains on her, and the doll appeared from the other side, holding two bloody swords and giggling uncontrollably. The tall clown glanced us over as we approached, nodding slightly before pushing the door open and stepping out. I blinked at the bright light streaming in, but followed the others out, marveling at the wide, unending stretch of trees. Wherever we were, there were no metal walls in sight. A breeze ruffled my feathers, and I opened my wings a bit to feel it better. This was freedom. Clown’s hand slipped into mine, and I squeezed it. We were free. No more awful things would be done to us. No more walls. We could do anything we wanted. The tentacled woman spoke, her gibberish pulling me from my moment as I looked at her, then the doll.

“Wait, seriously?” It asked, propping one sword on its shoulder, “You’re actually considering-” The woman’s garbled voice cut it off with a sharp tone, and the doll tilted its head slightly, listening. “Well, if you think you can handle it.” The tall clown raised an eyebrow, and the doll sighed, “She said she wants to take Kitten with her.” I froze, staring at the grey-skinned woman. She wanted to take Rose away? The four of us pressed closer together, Rose wrapping a vine around my arm and growling low in her throat. She refused to go. The woman’s blank expression didn’t change, and she stepped toward us. Rose hissed, and I flared my wings out protectively as Jade snarled.

“I wouldn’t bother with all that posturing.” The tall creature said, “Once she makes up her mind, she won’t change it.”

“They’ve pack bonded.” The doll pointed out, “Of course they won’t want to be split up.” The woman moved closer, and when Jade charged her, the older one simply grabbed her throat, unaffected by the shocks, and tossed her aside. I stood my ground, imitating Rose’s hiss as I kept myself between my companion and the unnerving woman. She was undeterred, grabbing my arm and wrenching me to the side so she could grab Rose with her tentacles. Rose yowled and tried to attack, but the woman had far more tentacles than Rose had vines, and she was trapped. I screeched, Clown and I trying to pull the woman’s appendages off Rose. She spoke harshly, smacking us away, and I landed roughly on the ground. The woman turned, carrying Rose away from us. I scrambled to my feet, but before I could chase after her, a gloved hand grabbed my arm, holding me in place.

“Rose!” Jade cried, and I saw the tall clown holding her and Clown, preventing either from doing the same.

“Let her go, Li’l Robin. You can’t fight a woman like her.” The doll said, and I struggled in its grip. I was losing Rose. My Rose. My first companion in the lab. Tears stung my eyes, and I watched the woman, Rose helplessly struggling in her grip, disappear into the trees.

“I can look after these two.” My blood ran cold as the tall colorful man spoke, snapping my head around to stare at him. Jade and Clown both looked just as horrified as I felt. “You can’t handle three of them at once. I’ll take care of them.”

“NO!” Jade shrieked, and fought against his grip on her arm, and Clown tried to pull away too.

“You can’t take us away from Crow!” Clown cried, tugging against the strong grip. The older looked at them, unimpressed,

“The three of you alone can’t defend yourselves out here. Humans are far more dangerous than the ones in there, and there are animal predators that can outsmart and kill you. You need us to teach you how to survive.” He explained bluntly, but Jade shook her head furiously,

“You can’t take him away! You can’t separate us! It’s not fair!” I tried to pull my arm away from the doll’s grip, but it wouldn’t budge, so I opened my wings, flapping to try and free myself. We were supposed to live together. We had cared for each other for so long.

“Life ain’t fair, Li’l Pup.” The doll said bluntly, tugging me back down to the ground when I started to rise into the air, “But the old man’s right. Ya gotta learn to defend yourselves, and I ain’t equipped to look after three brats at once.” It gave a brief nod to the other, then pulled me close, forcing my wings down and pinning them to my back, preventing my escape, “Don’t break ‘em, old man. Li’l Pierrot’s too cute for that.” I screeched in protest as I was dragged away from the only friends I had, the closest I’d ever had to a family, helpless to prevent us being separated for what may be the rest of our lives. The smell of salt and oil filled my mask as tears escaped my eyes.

Chapter Text

The thud of a rock striking my shoulder jarred me out of an uneasy sleep, and I begrudgingly opened my eyes, looking down at the orange and blue creature from my place in the trees, ruffling my feathers with distaste at seeing his face again. Bro, as he insisted on being called, tossed the rock up and down in his hand.

“Mornin’ sunshine. Get your feathery ass out of that tree and let’s get moving.” I grumbled under my breath, stretching my wings and sitting up on my precarious perch. We’d been on the move for weeks, Bro insisting we get as far from the facility we’d escaped as possible. We had skirted civilization as much as we could, crossing wide fields of crops and navigating forests under cover of darkness, to hide our gruesome appearance from humans. The sun was just going down, from what I could tell, and Bro would insist we continue. I dropped easily to the ground, straightening up and falling into step behind the doll creature. He still carried the two swords with him, stuck through loops on his pants. Just in case, he said. I doubted he needed them, he was physically strong enough to snap someone’s neck if we were spotted.

I stretched my arms, letting the walking work the stiffness from my legs, and cawed questioningly, asking how far he thought we could go tonight. He looked back at me, shaking his head as he extended his arm to smack me upside the head. I squawked, ducking the hand, but he just followed the motion easily, and his elbow connected with my skull instead, making me wince.

“I told you a hundred times. No bird talk.” He scolded sharply, and I huffed, rubbing my head. Another thing he insisted on. Despite my mask limiting how much my jaw could move, he refused to learn what my cawing meant. “Say it again. In English.” I glared at him behind my mask, and formed my mouth into the shapes I needed.

“How far we going?” I preferred to keep my sentences brief, to avoid moving my jaw too much.

“Dunno. Ain’t seen the outside for a long time, so I don’t know where we are, or nothin’.” He rest his hands on the hilts of his swords, “I think we’re comin’ up on another city, though. Maybe we can nose around the outskirts, figure out where we are.” He paused, glancing back at me, “Well, maybe I can. You’re kinda conspicuous.” My feathers ruffled, which happened a lot when he made sideways jabs at my appearance being too inhuman to be around people. The trees began thinning out, and in the dying light, I could make out a clearing ahead. Bro walked a little faster, ducking between trees and looking around cautiously. He always made sure there were no humans nearby before we went out in the open, even after the sun was gone. Finally he waved me forward, and I caught up to him as we walked out of the treeline. It was another massive stretch of crops, a patchwork of fields sprawling out toward the horizon, which was dotted with numerous lights. Bro eyed them curiously, then pointed up, “Scout.” He commanded, and I kicked off the ground, taking to the sky.

As much as I hated being ordered around, I couldn’t deny that I loved every chance I got to fly. The wind in my feathers felt so liberating, and having nothing but open sky all around me, no walls or ceiling to keep me in, it was wonderful. I entertained the thought of how far I could get from Bro on my wings, gliding on updrafts and wind currents to find the others. My heart still ached for them. Clown and Jade and Rose, scattered to God knows where, growing farther away with every passing day. I shook off those thoughts for now, focusing on the task at hand. There must have been hundreds of tiny pinpricks of light, clustered together among dark shapes. Definitely a city. A little closer, I saw the familiar stripe of a road, cars and their little lights racing by. A few scattered houses lay between us and the city, and I let myself drift back down, landing near Bro.

“City. Road. Ten houses.” I reported, and he nodded a little, starting forward,

“They should all be inside by the time we reach them, but keep your head down and watch for livestock.” I nodded, and followed behind him. The first time I’d encountered a herd of cows, I’d spooked them, and sent them running, baying fearfully. We’d nearly been caught by the owner, forced to hide in the tall stalks of corn or risk being killed. Bro navigated the fields easily, walking between rows of corn and wheat, and I pressed my wings close, trying not to catch my feathers on too many plants.

It was fully dark by the time we reached the road, and Bro lingered in the last corn field, eying the cars speeding by at irregular intervals. Roads were always tricky. The threat of being hit by a mass of metal, the risk of being seen… I didn’t like roads. Granted, being forced to follow Bro all this time, he’d been pushing me to move faster and faster, to keep up with his speed. I had improved gradually, strengthening my body and learning to fight, if only because Bro would attack me randomly and force me to defend myself.

“Got a decent break comin’ up.” Bro said, crouching low to the ground. I braced myself, opening my wings partly. A car flashed by, and Bro took off, me on his heels, dashing to the other side and into the wheat field before the next car came too close. We continued walking, and I let my gaze drift up to the stars. I wondered if Rose was okay, stuck with the terrifying grey woman. If Jade and Clown were managing alright with the tall, colorful man. Travelling with Bro was difficult, constantly moving further from my friends, having to stay on guard, in case he chose to attack me suddenly. I rubbed an old bruise on my shoulder, nearly healed now, and looked forward again. Some of the lights were more defined now, houses sprawling out around the edge of the city. Bro was undeterred, even as the crops gave way to empty grass, still striding forward. I didn’t know how he planned to learn where we were from these houses, but I also didn’t want to ask. Bro skirted the edge of the suburbs, heading for a cluster of trees before finally pausing.

“You stay here.” He said, turning to me, “No wanderin’ off while I look around, got it?” I nodded, climbing into a tree to rest, stretching out on a branch. Satisfied, Bro turned and headed for the houses again. I rest my chin on my arm and sighed. Once again, I regretted trusting the doll creature.

The moon crawled across the sky, and I grew more and more bored the longer I waited. What the hell was Bro doing that was taking so long? Surely finding something to tell us where we were wasn’t that difficult. My thoughts were abruptly cut off as something shoved me off the branch, and I squawked, trying to right myself before I hit the ground. I landed heavily, glaring up at the permanently grinning doll that had snuck up on me yet again. He just tilted his head, feigning innocence. As if he didn’t understand my ruffled posture. Bastard.

“Be aware of your surroundings, kiddo.” The doll chided mockingly, climbing back down the tree. God, I wanted to break his stupid face. He landed next to me, pulling out some paper to show me, “So, according to this, we’re on the edge of a city called Houston. It’s pretty big, and near the coast, so we’ve gone about as far as we can go.” I looked over the map, the tangle of roads that converged on this one area, and frowned to myself. Now what? “I figure we can lie low around the edges of the city for a while. Properly teach you how to avoid humans and improve those fighting skills of yours. Maybe teach you to use a sword.” I eyed the blade on his hip, skeptical. Was it really necessary for me to use a sword when I already had my talons? “Plus, you can learn how to deal with coyotes out here. They like suburban areas like this. Plenty of cats and small dogs to hunt.” I grimaced, pushing the map away. Coyotes. I had seen plenty on our travels, but they had mostly left us alone, since we were bigger than them. A few desperate ones had tried to attack us, but between my talons and Bro’s swords, they had been nothing but bloody meat in moments. Still, it seemed like Bro had made his decision, and didn’t care what I thought. We’d be staying here.

Bro was a ruthless fighter. More often than not, I would be left battered and bruised, moaning in pain from one of his lessons. He showed little mercy, only pulling his punches enough to not break my bones. We’d been living on the outskirts of Houston for a month or more, and Bro had stayed true to his word. We fought every night, occasionally wandering past the houses so I could see how humans acted in their city life. But despite all the beatings, he insisted I keep learning.

“You gotta be prepared for anything.” Bro said as his sword clashed against mine. I grit my teeth and tried to force him back, but he had better leverage. “Don’t get complacent.” He twisted his grip, and wrenched the sword from my hands, snatching it away. I instinctively defaulted to my talons, slashing at him. He dodged me easily, flipping his sword around and using the blunt edge to force my hands up away from him, and I could only choke out a gasp as the blade of the other sword drove through my stomach. I coughed, the bitter taste of oil rising in my throat. He’d narrowly avoided severing my spine, but that didn’t change the fact that he’d just stabbed me. I fell to my knees, shuddering as I looked down at the sword in my gut. Black oil oozed from the wound, and Bro stepped back.

“Oh.” He said blankly, kneeling down to inspect the damage, “Kid?” I looked up at him, unable to read his body language or tone.

“N-nothing vital.” I choked out, swallowing back the oil in my throat before I coughed it up. The world pitched to the side, and I collapsed, the shock making me go limp. Bro sighed, pulling me against a tree and propping me up.

“Don’t tell me you’re gonna die from a minor wound like that.” He muttered, and I grimaced, closing my eyes. He stabbed me. Actually stabbed me. He’d only bruised me before, and now this. I couldn’t decide how to feel about it. I wondered if the others had moments like this with the adults who took them, if they were struggling to know how to react. Bro felt around the sword, then sighed, “No point in taking it out. You’ll just bleed more.” I nodded distractedly, cracking an eye open to look at the unmoving face over me. He didn’t even sound concerned. He looked around, then back at me, “Go ahead and rest. You need to heal.” He honestly wanted me to heal with a sword in my gut? I leaned my head on the tree, resigning myself to my fate.

Months passed, and Bro kept training me. He barely seemed to care when his sword cut me, leaving gashes on my arms and torso. Every sudden move he made had me on edge, prepared to pull the sword from its place in my abdomen if he tried to attack me. I healed quickly, but the scars left behind were constant reminders of how dangerous the doll creature was. I needed a break. I couldn’t handle being this jumpy all the time. We were skulking through the suburbs today, and I broke away from the routine of following Bro and jumped up, grabbing the edge of a porch roof, pulling myself up.

“What are you doing?” Bro hissed at me, but I ignored him, climbing onto the roof while trying to keep my footsteps light and my talons from scratching too much. “Get back down here!” He was trying to be quiet, to not wake up the humans, but I didn’t care. I was going to explore on my own. I reached the peak of the roof, opening my wings as I scanned the area. No one went out much after dark in this neighborhood, so no one would see me. “Kid, don’t you dare-” I pushed off the roof, taking to the air before he could finish. With powerful wingbeats, I was high above the ground, and away from Bro. He couldn’t reach me now. I hovered for a few moments, then dipped my wings, soaring toward the city. We’d only seen the outskirts, I wanted to see the actual city nightlife. Closer to the tall buildings was more active, and even if I couldn’t get too close, I wanted to watch. Cars moved along the crisscrossing roads, and the tiny figures of humans passed between buildings, lit only by the artificial light surrounding them. I glided above it all, marveling at how they clustered together around some places, or drifted from one to the next. I glanced ahead of me, seeing a tall building with a flat roof, and coasted down to land on it, folding my wings as I looked out over the edge. Far below me, the humans continued about their life, completely oblivious of my existence. I pulled my sword out of my stomach so I could lean against the low wall keeping me from falling, and just watched the humans. Had Jade and Clown encountered humans since we left? Was Rose learning how to avoid being seen by them? I missed my friends so much. I just wanted to curl up in our den and fall asleep with them again. I sighed, closing my eyes and just listening to the dull roar of the humans.

A door clicked loudly, squealing on its hinges behind me, and I jolted upright, gripping my sword as I turned. A boy in all black stepped out onto the roof, grumbling under his breath as he shouldered the door almost shut again. He had darkly tanned skin, and wild black hair. I felt my heart leap into my throat. A human. Bro had said to kill any human that spotted us. But he hadn’t seen me yet, having turned the other direction, stomping to the opposite edge of the roof and slumping gracelessly onto the edge. I held my breath, trying to decide what to do. If I made any noise, he might hear me. If I dropped off the edge, I could maybe fly away before he noticed me, but that was risky too. And meant flying back to Bro, who would no doubt beat me black and blue for running off. The boy dug around in his pocket, pulling out a small rectangle that lit up in his hands. His thumbs tapped at the light as he settled, and I watched, curious. I had never seen this glowing rectangle before. I started to move forward, but a crackling sound froze me in place as a voice spoke from nowhere,

“Oi, brat!” The voice was distorted and rough, and the boy groaned when he heard it, pulling out another device, “Where the hell did you fuck off to now? I told you to stay put!” The boy sighed, and brought the device closer to his mouth,

“I’m getting some fresh air, jackass. The stench of you old farts and your smoking was making me gag.” The boy’s voice was almost as harsh and grating as the one he was talking to,

“Oh, well pardon me , princess.” The voice replied sarcastically, “I forgot your delicate lungs are too sensitive to being inside all the time. Which you do at home anyway!” The boy scoffed,

“At home, I can open a fucking window. Unless you want people to notice the one random window open in what should be an empty building, you’ll quit your bitching! I’ll come back in a few minutes, just calm your tits.” There was silence for a moment, and then the voice spoke again,

“Fine. Just don’t get caught.” Caught? I blinked, staring at the boy. What were they doing that meant they had to hide? There was nothing unusual about this human that I could see. The tanned boy went back to tapping at the glowing rectangle, and I finally gathered my courage, slowly crossing the roof, trying not to make too much noise as I approached the smaller figure. Halfway across the concrete, the boy straightened up, and I stopped abruptly. My stomach dropped as he turned, and his dark eyes rose up to meet my mask. Shit. The boy’s eyes widened, and his lips parted slightly. I didn’t move, even holding my breath. Shit shit shit, this was bad.

“Holy shit, dude.” The boy finally said, awed, “Either I’m hallucinating, or that is one seriously crazy costume.” Costume. He didn’t think it was real? “Where did you even come from? No one else is in this building, and the door squeaks… How long have you been up here?” My throat was too dry to answer, and I bit my lip. What should I even say? The boy stepped closer, and I instinctively backed up. He frowned, staring at me through the dim glow of the world below, “Hey, idiot, are you mute, or what?” He stepped forward again, with more purpose, and the panic hit me hard. I turned and bolted, launching off the side of the roof and falling a ways before snapping my wings out, passing between some other buildings and away from the boy. I should have killed him. He’d seen me, seen me fly away, by all accounts I should have killed him, like Bro said. But I couldn’t. I took my time going back to the trees Bro and I had been living in, delaying the inevitable as much as I could. I gripped my sword tightly in my hand, taking deep breaths. This would be brutal. Bro might actually skin me alive. Finally, I tucked my wings close and dropped into the branches, landing on one and grabbing another to stop my momentum. I dropped down to the ground, bracing myself. I heard Bro’s steps seconds before I brought my sword up, and his sword clashed against it.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Bro demanded, shoving me back. I stumbled, but continued to block his angry strikes, “You could have been seen. You could have had humans hunting you! You could have been killed!” I blocked his sword again, bringing up a hand to rake my talons across his chest, forcing him back.

“I just wanted to fly.” I snapped, dodging his next slash, “I was too high up for anyone to see me, and it’s too dark anyway.” Bro backed me against a tree, and I barely managed to get my sword between his before it pressed to my neck,

“That was reckless. I taught you to be more careful than that.” I tried to ignore how the bark was digging into my wings, twisting to kick Bro’s leg, diving to the side when he was forced off balance, and whirling around to press the tip of my sword to his neck,

“No one saw me. Back off.” The doll stared at me for a long moment, then sighed, lowering his sword.

“Fine.” He relented, and I stepped back, pushing my sword back into the hole in my stomach with a grimace. It had healed around the blade, leaving a permanent opening, and I as much as I didn’t like having a sword through my body, having an empty hole was worse. I climbed back into the tree, curling up in the higher branches and wrapping my wings around me. I wasn’t willing to tell him someone had seen me when he was already this mad. I decided to sleep early, to avoid talking to Bro. As I closed my eyes, the boy’s face appeared in my mind. He hadn’t been terrified, or anything. He didn’t even try to call for help. I wondered what he’d say if I ever ran into him again, only to shove that thought away. Bro would probably keep me on the ground from now on. I’d never see him again. Or if I did, Bro would kill him. I sighed quietly, and settled in to sleep.

Chapter Text

As I expected, Bro kept a close eye on me after that, and we didn’t go toward the humans for almost a month. I was starting to get agitated, being stuck in the woods so long, and I was seriously debating whether it would be worth facing Bro’s wrath to fly off alone again. Before I could come to a decision, the doll approached me,

“Alright, listen. I’m gonna go look for somewhere more permanent for us to sleep instead of some trees. If I find out you went and did something stupid again, I’ll finish what I started, and gut you like a fish. Got it?” I cringed behind my mask, but nodded anyway. “Good. I’ll be gone for about a week. Stay out of trouble.” He turned and left, and I waited for about ten minutes before heading toward the neighborhood. Screw it. If he was gone, I wasn’t gonna hide in the trees all week. I climbed a tree that hung over the edge of a fenced in yard, looking around carefully. It was scattered with children’s toys, the house’s lights dark. I dropped down inside the fence and skirted the edge of the yard until I could leap over the other fence that would lead to the road. I paused in the shadow of the house, crouched low to the ground as I looked around again. The crickets were the only ones awake, it seemed. I crawled forward on all fours, pausing by the front of the house to look around again. No cars had their lights on, and the few house windows with lights on were nowhere near me. Satisfied, I stood up and darted down the road, opening my wings and kicking off the ground to get airborne. I flew up and up and up, wheeling around in the cold air and admiring the crescent moon that peeked between clouds. Being in the sky helped me relax again, and I allowed myself to smile a bit as I caught a gust of wind and let it take me toward the city a bit. I angled my wings, swooping back toward the neighborhood again, just playing in the wind. I wouldn’t stray too far tonight, just in case. I stayed aloft until my wings ached, gliding down onto a roof and landing as softly as I could. I pulled out my sword and flopped onto my back on the peak of the house, stretching my wings out on either slope. It wasn’t the most comfortable, but it let me relax my wings. I took a deep breath and sighed, looking up at the stars and trying to make designs out of them.

The sound of a car pulled me back into reality, and I tipped my head to the side, watching the black vehicle come closer. My breath hitched in my throat as it slowed down, turning into the driveway of the house I was on. I didn’t dare move, waiting and listening as the engine went silent.

“Quit yer bitchin’!” A voice snapped as doors opened, rough and grating, “We still got it, who gives a fuck if a couple things didn’t go perfectly to plan?” Another voice, thick with an accent I’d never heard, replied in a similarly sharp tone,

“It wouldn’t have deviated from the plan if you didn’t trip the alarms, idiot.” The bickering continued on the way to the door, and became muffled inside. I waited until the door shut, after a couple more humans quietly went inside, and then finally dared to fold my wings and flip onto my stomach, scooting toward the edge to peek over it. The driveway was empty. I sighed in relief, and sat up, looking toward the woods nearby. Maybe I should go back. I’d never seen humans up so late out here, and it made me nervous. I crawled to the back of the house, dropping into the mostly empty yard and starting toward the back fence, only to freeze when I heard a window open. Shit. Shit. I waited for the sound of panic and screaming.

“Uh…” Was the only thing I heard, and I chanced a glance over my shoulder. The light of the room backlit the person, but I could make out their wild hair. “Wait… I remember you. You’re that crazy fucker that jumped off a fucking 20 story building.” I blinked, and the voice clicked in my head. It was the guy from the roof. “Who do you think you are, fucking Batman? I thought you splattered on the sidewalk, but there was never a news story about your dumb ass smeared on the pavement.” I turned slowly, trying to get a better look at him as he rambled, “How’d you even do that, anyway? What kind of bullshit did you put in those wings to keep you from dying?” I hesitated, looking around nervously. Someone would hear him, for sure. Either the people in the house, or one of their neighbors. “Oh, don’t worry about the cops. I won’t call ‘em.” That startled me a bit, and I focused on him again, “Dad’s got a strict no-cop rule. However, you are in our yard, and that’s trespassing.” My feathers ruffled a little, and I shifted my grip on my sword, the boy seeming to finally notice it, “Wow. Your sword is filthy. What the hell have you been doing with it?” He straightened up, holding out his arm, “Give it here, I can clean it for you.” I stepped back again, pressing against the fence. The boy sighed, and I could almost hear him roll his eyes, “Okay, yeah, that did sound weird. Look, I promise I’m not gonna take it or anything. I honestly just want to clean all that black crap off it. Like, seriously, it looks like you stabbed a car engine or something.” I hesitated a little longer, then slowly moved toward him, prepared for a potential attack, either from him, or somewhere else. When I reached the house, and nothing happened, I flipped my sword around and offered him the hilt. His eyes fell on my hand as he took it, and he paused. I pulled my hand back quickly, but he’d already seen it. “Dude, what the actual, shitstaining fuck ? Are those metal?” I stepped back again as the boy got a proper look at me, “Are those stitches in your face?” I was really tempted to just bolt. But where could I go without him knowing where I was? “Jesus dickchafing christ, you’re a real piece of work.” The boy sighed, pulling a box onto the window sill and opening it as he looked the sword over, “Did you actually stab an engine? This thing’s covered in oil, and it’s got all kinds of knicks in it. Gonna need a complete overhaul on it… I’m Karkat, by the way. You got a name, weird silent guy?” I shifted my weight nervously, glancing around again. Bro wasn’t around. This guy said he wouldn’t alert anyone.

“...Crow.” I finally said, and the boy- Karkat- paused, eying me skeptically.

“What a totally original, and not at all obvious name.” He said sardonically, rolling his eyes. At this range, I could see his eyes were a rusty red color. “It’s also a stupid name. If you wanted something that was unoriginal and boring, you could have gone with something like Dave or Chad.” I blinked, looking up at him, tilting my head slightly, “What?” He poured some kind of liquid on the blade, and set to scrubbing it fiercely, “It completely subverts the whole creepy bird of death look if you have a really average name. Makes you seem less intimidating.” I pondered over this as Karkat scrubbed the oil and grime off my sword,

“Dave…” I tried it out, trying to picture what a Dave might look like. He did look pretty uninteresting. “Not a bad name.”

“See? What I tell you. It works way better at making you sound boring. So what’s with the getup, anyway? I’ve seen some elaborate costumes, but this takes it too far.” I shifted again, flexing my hands nervously,

“It’s not a costume.” I countered cautiously, “It’s real.” To prove it, I opened my wings, and then closed them again. Karkat’s hand slowed to a stop in its scrubbing. He stared at me just as he had on the roof, and I looked away.

“Then… those stitches…?” He asked slowly, and I nodded, lifting a hand to carefully pluck at one of the threads that held my mask in place,

“The talons, too.” I added, self-consciously examining myself. I was filthy, covered in old, dried blood and oil stains, with torn clothes, holes sewn unevenly with thread Bro had scavenged. My wings needed a thorough preening, and I became acutely aware of how I smelled, stepping back a bit as I drew my wings closer to me.

“Jesus christ.” Karkat breathed, looking me up and down carefully. “How the hell are you even alive , looking like that? The mask, the wings- you literally have metal spikes embedded in your fingers!” I flinched a bit, but shrugged lamely,

“I heal fast?” I offered lamely as Karkat went back to scrubbing. He frowned, clearly not buying that. “I don’t know how. I just know it hurts.” Karkat glanced up, his scowl deepening,

“Well no shit, you have a mask literally stitched to your face, I can imagine that hurts like hell.” I stepped closer, moving to lean against the wall beside Karkat’s window, the silence stretching between us for a few moments as Karkat focused on cleaning my sword. Finally the boy spoke, his tone edging on gentle, “Who did all that too you?” I flinched, wrapping my arms around myself. Bro had said not to tell anyone about the facility we left behind.

“...Doesn’t matter. They’re dead now.” Karkat was quiet again, and he sighed,

“Well, good. Cause they sound like assholes for treating you like that.” I looked up at him, trying to understand why he wasn’t freaking out, or running off to tell the others about me. Karkat glanced at me, staring hard for a moment, before huffing, “Man, it’s hard to get a read on you with that mask covering your face. Haven’t you tried removing it?” I cringed away a little, shaking my head.

“It’s part of me.” I murmured, looking at my feet, “I don’t remember what my actual face looks like, any more.” Karkat raised an eyebrow at that, flipping the sword over to clean the other side,

“How long have you been like that?” I shrugged, lifting one hand to inspect my talons and how they gleamed in the light,

“I know I wasn’t always like this, but I also don’t remember anything from before.” I paused, looking away, “Also never had a way to keep track of days, so… I don’t know how long it’s been.” Karkat snorted a bit, but held back whatever comment he’d been about to make. We remained in silence, and I watched Karkat scrub the metal with stubborn determination, bringing back the shine underneath. Once it was clean, he dug through the box again, bringing out some kind of rectangular stone. I watched in fascination as he set it down and began to slide the blade’s length along it, frowning a little.

“Never done this with a full sword before. It’s kinda awkward with how long it is.” I smiled a little behind my mask, barely refraining from laughing. Despite the scraping sound, each time he paused to examine the blade, it did look better. He worked both sides of the edge, and then examined it again, grabbing a strip of paper. I watched in awe as the blade cleanly sliced through it, and he nodded, offering the hilt to me. “That’s better. You should take better care of it, though.” I glanced away, taking the sword back and leaning it against the wall. I couldn’t tell him I stuck it through my chest to keep from losing it. Karkat put his things back in the box, and I looked up at the sky. It would be getting light out before long. Karkat yawned wide, stretching before leaning on the windowsill, “Well, it’s been interesting to meet you, Dave,” I looked up at him when he said the name. Had he given me that name? “But I really need to go to sleep. It’s late, and I got shit to do tomorrow.” He looked me over, “Probably best you go back to… Wherever you live. Maybe we’ll run into each other again.” I picked up my sword, nodding,

“...Tomorrow?” I ventured, and he nodded,

“Sure. Tomorrow night.” He waved at me, starting to pull the window shut, “Seeya.” I waved back, then made my way out into the yard, taking to the sky to fly back to the woods. As I landed in the trees, I instinctively looked around for Bro. I was only met with silence, and I settled down in relief. He really was gone for the week. I lay down, and closed my eyes, letting my thoughts drift around the human boy. There was still a chance he’d tell someone, but with how incredulous he’d been of me, would they even believe him? I dared to hope that he’d keep to his word and no one else would know about me, and maybe, just maybe… I had found a new friend.

My chest ached, homesick for my friends, wondering what they were doing now. Were they okay? Were they even still alive? Worry began to cloud my head, and I fell asleep, sinking into fitful dreams.

Chapter Text

I dropped into the fenced-in yard well after dark, glancing around as I stayed low to the ground, and then crept over to Karkat’s window. I hadn’t seen any sign of Bro when I woke up, which I was grateful for, but I still waited until the houses went dark before flying over the neighborhood to see my new friend. Honestly, I was hesitant to call him friend , but I couldn’t think of a better word to describe him. I sat on the grass under the window, leaning my shoulder against the wall. I hadn’t seen the light in Karkat’s window yet, and didn’t want to risk being caught by someone else by tapping on it. I would just wait for Karkat to come open the window. It didn’t take long for light to shine on the ground around me, and the window to open.

“Oh, you’re already- Jesus christ! ” I jolted at the sudden outburst that had barely been quiet enough to be called hushed, looking up at the tanned human, who had a look of  disturbed horror on his face, “What the hell, did you fucking impale yourself?!” I blinked, then looked down, where my sword was blatantly sticking out of my gut. Right. He hadn’t seen that yet.

“It happened a while ago.” I admitted awkwardly, “It was just easier to leave the sword there.” Karkat sighed heavily, rubbing his eyes and shaking his head,

“You’re a real piece of work, y’know that?” I nodded, looking down at my hands and the talons on them. I knew that pretty well. I froze when I heard a door open, heart lurching into my throat.

“Karkat, me and the guys are headin’ out. Don’t burn the house down.” I heard Karkat turn, and slowly relaxed. The person wasn’t outside, and hadn’t seen me.

“Yeah, whatever, old man. Get lost, and don’t crash the car.” There was a scoff, and the door shut again. I waited, and sure enough the front door opened, and I listened to the idle chatter as car doors opened and shut. The engine roared to life, and the sound drove away. Finally, I let out the breath I’d been holding. I jolted when Karkat spoke again, “You really don’t like being seen, huh?” I looked up at him, his chin propped on his hand as he leaned on the windowsill.

“No.” I replied, folding my wings close, “People panic when they see something like me.” Karkat scoffed, rolling his eyes,

“It’s gonna take a lot than some bird mask and wings to get me to freak out.” I eyed him skeptically, standing up to lean against the wall next to him,

“So you didn’t freak out when you saw me a few minutes ago?” I could see him bristle defensively, only for his expression to give way to disgusted fascination when I pulled the sword out and turned my back to the wall,

“You really are a sick piece of work.” He muttered, and I shrugged. “You’re also filthy. Haven’t you heard of bathing?” I looked at him, tilting my head to the side in silent question. He groaned and straightened up, “Okay, no, if you’re gonna hang out with me, you’re gonna take a fucking bath.” He pointed to the door along the back wall, “Go wait by the door, I’ll let you in while no one’s home.” I glanced around, unsure, but followed the direction and went to the door. I listened to Karkat’s heavy footsteps, and the lock clicking before the door opened and Karkat scowled up at me, “I hate how tall you are.” I shrugged again, and stepped inside, nudging my shoes off per the shorter one’s insistence before following him down the hall. The house reeked of smoke, and was scattered with objects along the walls. The walls had seen better days, if the random gashes and holes were anything to go by. Light flooded the hall when Karkat stepped into one doorway, and then came back out. I glanced in, and pressed my wings closer together,

“Kinda small.” I murmured, squawking when Karkat shoved me in,

“You have stupidly huge bird wings, dumbass. Everything’s small for you.” I pressed as close to the wall as I could as Karkat shut the door and scowled at me, “Now. Let’s get that shirt off you for starters.” I blinked and looked at my clothes. Two different shirts had been stitched down the middle, as had my pants. I looked back at Karkat,

“I don’t think I can. They’re kinda… Around my wings and all.” Karkat groaned, digging around in a drawer and pulling out scissors,

“I can fix it later. But it’s coming off now.” I opened my mouth to protest, but Karkat was already pushing me to turn around so he could attack the shirt’s back, pausing briefly, “Holy shit, that’s a tail. I thought it was just some bullshit decoration.” I tried to look past my wing, but the space was too cramped. Karkat sighed, and I listened to the scissors snip away, the shirt loosening gradually. “Who the fuck designed this outfit, anyway? Two different shoes, two different pants, two different shirts… It looks stupid.” I would have shrugged, if not for the scissors so close to my wings. Karkat pushed the shirt over my head, and I let it fall to the floor. Karkat made a disgusted noise, snatching it up quickly. The scissors brushed against my lower back, and I tensed up a little until my pants started to slip down. “Pants too, ya freak. I’m washing this shit.” I looked back at him, finding him looking away from me with a hand held out. I didn’t really get why, but I tugged my pants off and handed them over.

“Are you sure-”

“Just stop that question right there and get in the tub.” Karkat ordered, and I ruffled my feathers, huffing as I stepped into the tiled space. I wondered if this bath would be a good idea with my wings. Karkat dug around under the sink, pulling out a bottle before glancing at me, scowling, “Do I have to help you bathe?” I lifted my hands in a helpless shrug.

“I’ve never taken a bath. Or been in a tub.” Karkat rolled his eyes so hard, I wondered if they’d roll all the way back in his skull, sighing loudly. He came over, turning a knob, and I twitched at the sudden rush of water, watching Karkat fiddle with the knob before pulling something that cut off the water as he stepped back. I squawked indignantly when cold water suddenly sprayed on my head, stepping back to look up. Water poured out from another spot, more spread out. The water warmed up quickly, and I relaxed, leaning into it.

“There. Wash all that nasty crap off you. Seriously, you look like you rolled around in a mechanic’s garage.” Karkat grumbled, pulling a plastic sheet across the open side of the tub. I closed my eyes, quietly basking in the soothing heat, feeling my muscles relax as the water rinsed the oil and dirt from my skin. I rubbed my arms, careful of my talons, scrubbing off layers of grime I forgot existed. My skin was a lighter shade now, and I examined it, fascinated. I ducked my head under the water, scrubbing it as well. My hair was stringy and itchy, and the hot water soothed the itch. I scrubbed my legs, and then leaned on the wall to let my wings get rinsed off, stepping back and shaking myself. I felt so much better, pulling the sheet back slightly to look at Karkat. He was glaring at my shirt, scrubbing it fiercely in the sink. I watched him, curious, but he looked up and turned his scowl on me,

“You ain’t done yet! There’s a plastic bottle, got a red liquid in it. It’s shampoo, you wash your hair with it.” I huffed, but looked for the bottle, carefully opening it to pour some of the liquid on my head. Scrubbing my hair again, I could feel it foaming up a bit, and I wondered if my hair would lose some of its oily black color. Or if I’d ever get my lighter color back. I rinsed the bubbles from my hair, but saw no black following the foam. Disappointed, I looked at the other bottle sitting beside the shampoo. This one wasn’t see-through like the other, just a white bottle with a colorful label.

“Karkat?” I began, getting a noise that I assumed meant he was listening, “What about the white bottle?”

“That’s soap. Wash your skin with it. And be thorough, I don’t wanna smell your nasty ass funk.” I wanted to point out that the metal talons on my hands would make that difficult, but decided it wasn’t worth arguing. I poured some of the liquid in my hand, and started the process of washing the rest of my body. Karkat was grumbling obscenities at my clothes, and I wondered if he was always this grouchy, or if I was just seeing him at his angriest.

The soap rinsed off easily, and I rubbed my arms again, amazed by how clean they looked. Even when I first came to, they had been covered by my sleeves, stained with my blood. It was strange to see them absolutely bare. I looked at the knob Karkat had messed with to turn on the water, unsure, but decided to attempt. I twisted the knob around, and the water died away, leaving my ears ringing in the silence. I shook my wings, trying to get most of the water out of them before pulling the sheet aside and stepping out. Karkat glanced me over, nodding.

“That’s better.” He gestured to a pile beside him, “Dry yourself off, then put the pants on. I need to dry your stuff before you can wear it again.” I picked up the cloth on top, a towel, and began the process of drying off. I wished I could stretch my wings out to let them dry, too, but the space was still too cramped. I pulled the pants on, frowning when they got caught behind me. I knew I had a tail, I just constantly forgot it was there, especially since I had never changed clothes. Now I had to wear the borrowed pants precariously low on my hips to accommodate for the feathers that were attached to my spine. I watched Karkat scrub my shirt vigorously, tilting my head a bit. It looked much cleaner now. He rinsed it in the sink, wringing out as much water as he could before finally opening the door. I followed him to another room, pausing. This was Karkat’s room, judging by the open window. I never really looked at it while talking to him. Pictures littered the walls, and shelves full of books and other things sat in one corner, a bed by the window. I stepped in, turning my head to take it all in.

“Nice place.” I murmured, if only to break the silence. Karkat snorted, draping my shirt and pants on the windowsill to dry out,

“It serves its purpose.” He flopped onto the bed, and I picked a spot in the middle of the floor where I could preen my feathers and start to dry them out. Karkat watched me, and I tried not to look at him, concentrating on my wings. “How do those even work?” He finally asked, “And how the hell did someone manage to get bird wings that big? There is literally no living bird I know of that is the same size as a fuckin’ human.” I shrugged, stretching out my wing as far as I could to examine it, and then closing it to work on the other one.

“Dunno. Never bothered to ask.” Karkat huffed at my answer, leaning back,

“Well, we’ve already established they’re assholes, so why would you even want to ask them anything?” He glanced out the window, staring into the darkness, and I continued preening until I was satisfied that my wings were well groomed. “Y’know, people around here kinda freak out when they see something unusual, and I haven’t heard any rumors about giant bird people.” I huffed a short laugh, looking up at Karkat,

“That’s because I know how to hide.” He rolled his eyes, returning a wry smirk,

“Yeah, you did a real great job hiding on that roof and in my yard.” He countered, and I ruffled my feathers, offended,

“You caught me off guard is all. I could have killed you on that roof.” Karkat’s smirk faded, and I watched his eyes turn dark,

“You could have tried.” He said, his voice low, “And I would have sliced your throat open.” A shiver ran down my spine involuntarily, and I brought my wings closer to me, suddenly unsure if it was a good idea to hang around this human. His tone reminded me of Bro in some ways. But the threatening look was gone in moments, and he inspected my shirt, “This thing is in rags. Did you try patching it yourself or something?” I shrugged, but didn’t answer, he didn’t seem to want one. He got up, going to dig around in his closet and bring out a small box, “Might as well fix it while I’m waiting on it to dry.” I watched with interest as the tanned human set to undoing the sloppy patch job Bro had done on the holes, and sewed them up with much smaller, neater stitches.

“Thanks.” I murmured, and he glanced over, rolling his eyes,

“You’re lucky this didn’t just disintegrate as soon as I tried washing it. Blood’s hard to get out of white fabric.” I nodded a little, hesitating before venturing into uncertain territory,

“What’s your family like?” Karkat paused on one hole, glancing at me, and I almost retracted the question, but he started talking before I could.

“They’re not really my family. Just my dad’s friends who live with us and share the costs of the house. Dad’s an asshole, eternally cranky, with zero filter between his brain and his mouth. Passed that on to me real early. Claims my first word was ‘fuck’, but I doubt that.” He tied off the thread, and examined my shirt again, “The others are… Well, let’s just say I have an eclectic set of guardians. I’d rather not get into it too much.” I nodded, looking over my wings again,

“I think I’ve dried off completely.” Karkat frowned to himself, but nodded,

“Alright, I guess I’ll sew these back on you, then.” I moved over to stand with my back to Karkat, opening my wings partly as he handed me the shirt to put back on. The patched holes were almost invisible with Karkat’s handiwork, and I smiled a little, holding still as he worked to sew up what he’d cut before. “This is so stupid.” He muttered, but I didn’t think he was talking to me, “Whoever made your outfit is an idiot. It would have been so much more practical with a low-cut back so your wings weren’t surrounded with fabric and you could take your shirt off .” He scoffed, and I felt the shirt close around one wing before he paused, “How’s that feel? Not too snug or anything?” I rolled my shoulder, flexing my wing a little,

“It’s fine.” I replied, and he finished that side, starting on the other, again checking that I wasn’t restricted in my mobility. I was glad to kick off the borrowed pants and pull my own on again, even if they weren’t fully dry. At least these could fit me properly. Karkat sewed them around my tail, and I relaxed a bit, feeling the familiar fabric on my now-clean skin. I sat on the floor again, looking over my shirt. The holes were patched really well, and I smiled a little behind my mask. “Thanks.” Karkat shrugged offhandedly, putting the needle away again.

“So what exactly do you do? I mean, besides sit on the roof of a skyscraper or skulk around my backyard.” He asked, and I had to pause. What had I done that hadn’t been just following Bro around? Training to fight was important, but lurking in shadows and watching humans go about their lives at night wasn’t exactly a productive use of my time. I shifted slightly, glancing around the room,

“...Nothing, really.” I admitted quietly, and the boy snorted,

“Fascinating.” He replied, sarcasm dripping from each syllable, and I clenched my fists slightly. What was I thinking? I should have bolted from the doll the first night, followed the scent of my friends, rescued them from the other adults. I stupidly let myself get taken further and further away from Rose, Jade, and Clown. We had promised to run at the first sign of danger, and then we got separated. “You should probably fuck off. Dad’s probably gonna be back soon.” I looked up at Karkat, then sighed and nodded, getting up to make my way back to the door and retrieve my shoes.

“See you later.” I said, and Karkat nodded,

“Later, weirdo.” I grabbed my sword, and took off back toward the trees. Had I just been too scared to defy the doll because it was stronger than me? Or maybe I was just too complacent. Either way, the realization left a bitter taste in my mouth. I needed to rethink my goals.

Chapter Text

I spent the rest of the week planning what to do when Bro came back. I knew he would come back for me. He wasn’t stupid enough to leave me alone forever, and if he did find somewhere for us to live, then I’d be stuck with him even longer. I flew over the city, scoping out places to hide if my plan didn’t work, hoping I could at least make it that far. Once I had my escape worked out, I practiced. I needed my reflexes to be absolutely perfect if I wanted to survive. I could use the trees to my advantage if I was fast enough. I was tentatively confident that this would work, but if it didn’t… I flew by Karkat’s home late one night, crouched by his window to say goodbye. I didn’t want him wondering where I was if I had to run.

I woke with a start at the sound of leaves rustling, and pushed myself up into a crouch. Nothing had moved in these trees but me for the past week. It had to be Bro. I cautiously looked around, listening to the quiet, uneven breathing. That was Bro for sure. I took a slow breath and pulled out my sword. This was it.

“Hey, kid.” The doll called, but I kept my mouth shut. No need to waste air trying to talk to him. I just positioned myself in the trees, watching the gleam of his unnatural face move through the shadows. He was coming closer, sword already out. “I know you’re here, brat. Get your ass out here.” No doubt he intended to jump me with training again. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. I waited until he was close enough, then dropped down, lunging for him. The doll twisted and our swords clashed. I darted to the side, avoiding the swipe of his blade as he tried to counter. He turned again, almost a blur, and I ducked behind a tree to avoid him. I heard the crack of wood as the tree trunk took the full force of his blow. I set my jaw, coming back into view on his now-vulnerable side. My sword sliced through his side, but instead of flesh, it cut into the same stiff material his face was made of, making an awful scraping sound. I tried to ignore it, cutting as deep into it as I could before darting away again.

“God damn, kid, what’s got you all worked up?” Bro asked, ignoring the gaping hole in his shirt as he turned to follow my movements. I kept my mouth shut, blocking a few blows before ducking behind a tree and scaling it to get out of reach again. “And why ain’t you sayin’ nothin? You upset at me for bein’ gone so long?” He watched me perch on a branch, my wings spread for balance as I stared down at him in return. His expression couldn’t change, but his posture did as he straightened up slightly, “How’d you get all the stains off your shirt?” The pieces were connecting in his head now, and I dove for him again. Swords clashed together, but my claws continued, raking across his face with an awful grating sound. “You showed yourself to a human?” He sounded angry, and the force he used to push me back was rougher, “You let them near you?” I ducked behind a tree, wincing at the sound of crunching wood as I backed away, “Do you realize how dangerous that is? You could have been killed!” I huffed a breath, dropping low to avoid a sweeping slice, and lunged for him again, cutting into his other side. Again I hit only the same hard material, but I put as much of my strength into it, and was rewarded with getting my sword deep enough for a liquid to ooze to the surface. It was a strange orange color, but it didn’t matter the substance. He could bleed. That meant he could probably be killed.

He struck ferociously, but I was more practiced within the trees and could dodge out of the way. He tried to stab through a tree as I ducked behind it, but only succeeded in getting the sword stuck. I took the chance to tackle him, getting him away from the weapon and pinning him to the ground as I flipped my sword around. The doll opened his mouth to speak, and I drove the blade into his chest as hard as I could. I felt the hard outer shell crack and give, and Bro choked and shuddered as the sword plunged into whatever organs were beneath, another cracking sound giving way to dirt beneath. I went still, panting a little as I stared down at Bro, his mouth still open, giving him the impression of being shocked.

“Well…” He choked out, the orange fluid welling up through his shirt and starting to stain his mouth, “Not what I was expecting…” He gasped for air, the sound even more strange now, “But I guess you’re on your own now, Li’l Robin.” I stood up slowly as he went quiet, just trying to slow my breathing and get the twisting knot out of my stomach. This was it. I did it. I felt sick, seeing him pinned to the ground with the sword, and turned to wrench the other one out of the tree. I lay it near him, chewing on my lip uncertainly before turning and leaping into the trees. I needed to get away. Just in case he did survive that somehow, I needed to get as far away as possible. I took to the sky, flying high over the sleeping suburbs and towards the bright lights of the city. There were mazes of dark alleys I could hide in- away from humans, away from pursuit. I brought my wings in close, diving down onto a building and climbing down the metal stairs into the shadows below. Down here I would be relatively safe. I curled up in a corner and wrapped my wings around me, trying to force the image of Bro from my mind. I was alone now. No one to answer to. No one to talk to. My chest ached for my friends, and I curled up tighter.

I was startled from a restless sleep by the sound of something hitting a trash can, and moved into a low crouch, sticking close to the wall as I searched for the source. A man stumbled further into the alley, leaning against a wall to steady himself. A foul stench wafted from him, and I recoiled slightly as it assaulted my senses. Alcohol . A distant, foggy memory surfaced to give the smell a name, and I scowled at the human intruding on my hiding space. He was too out of it to see me, barely able to stand on his own. No one would notice him back here, and I doubted anyone would look for him. I crawled beside the wall slowly, keeping out of sight until I was close enough, getting up and grabbing him by the throat. He cried out drunkenly, but a quick twist of his head cut off the sound abruptly, and he went limp. I retreated back to the shadows, carrying the body over a fence to a large metal dumpster and tossing him in. If his body ended up far away from me, that was fine. I looked around, then sighed, moving on to a new alley, deeper in the maze. I curled up again in a new corner, staring at the dirty pavement. Humans were so fragile. So easily broken. I wondered why I still feared them. The doll had tried to make me afraid, tried to keep me from taking my own steps. I clenched my fists and scowled. No one to stop me. I could do whatever I wanted. I stood up, squaring my shoulders as I walked through the tangle of alleys. This would be my domain, and I would kill the humans that intruded on it.

I spent weeks in those alleys, lurking in the dark and killing humans that strayed too far into my home. Sometimes I just snapped their necks, but every now and then I let myself indulge, raking my claws across their bodies and leaving them a bloody mess. It felt satisfying to know they couldn’t stop me. I was stronger, faster, and knew the darkness better. I hid away from the police that came sniffing around when a body was discovered, lurking close enough to listen to them. They called me a serial killer, even though they had no idea who I was. They speculated motives, but I knew they were all wrong. I felt smug that they couldn’t figure out who I was, since I didn’t exist to humans. People were warned to stay away from the alleys, and stories of a murderer began to spread, which was fine with me. The less humans in my home, the better.

Things changed one night. I heard shouting, the sound of trash cans being hit or knocked over, and I knew something was happening in my alleys. I kept to the shadows, closing in on the noise and scaling a set of metal stairs to look down into an alley. A group of four was crowded around someone who huddled against a wall, kicking and punching him as he tried to protect his head. They were shouting insults and laughing at him. I frowned to myself, moving to perch on the railing of the stairs. No humans were allowed in my domain, and I wouldn’t let these ones think they owned the place. I spread my wings and leapt off, gliding over the group and dropping down. I landed on one easily, sinking my talons into his neck as he dropped to the ground under my weight, standing with my wings flared. The other three turned to me, seeing my bloody appearance only seconds before I lunged for them. I drove my claws into one’s side, feeling them slide between his ribs before wrenching them across his chest, letting him fall with a gurgling cry as I grabbed the next by his jaw, twisting sharply to snap it and advancing on the last. He fell back, scrambling backwards and pleading for his life as I loomed above him. He backed against the wall and I crouched over him, taking in the terror on his face, the smell of alcohol on his breath. I stayed there for a few moments, listening to him whimper before deciding to let this one go. I was curious what rumors would spread now.

I stood up again, closing my wings and turning back to the corpses I’d made, picking them up and depositing them in a dumpster as I listened to the man scramble to his feet and run away. Finally, there was quiet. Until I heard movement behind me, turning my head to look at the sorry lump they had been attacking. His clothes were filthy and full of holes, and his hair was a stringy, untamed mess. He winced as he sat up, an arm holding his stomach as he looked up at me. I looked at him, waiting for the fear to set in, for him to scream or try to run, but he just gave a weak smile,

“Thanks.” He croaked, using the wall to get to his feet, “I thought I was a goner for a minute there.” I turned slowly, regarding this strange human that seemed unbothered by my appearance. It reminded me of Karkat in a way. I stiffened when he stuck his hand out to me, looking at it, then his face, “The Mayor of Can Town appreciates your help.” I blinked at that. Mayor? Can Town? What the hell was he talking about? He waited for a few moments with his hand out, then glanced at my hands, realization seeming to dawn on him, “Oh. Huh. Guess shaking hands isn’t a good idea.” He lowered his hand, but still smiled, “Still. Saving me like that, I gotta do something in return…” He wobbled away from the wall, starting toward the opening of the alley before pushing an old door open and waving me over, “Come on, I’ll show you Can Town.” This man was strange and confusing. I couldn’t help being curious, and followed him inside the old building, empty and dusty. A collection of old cans and dirty books were arranged in a corner, with chalky drawings littered around the strange display. The man shuffled over to it, giving a sweeping gesture as he beamed with pride, “Welcome to Can Town, friend. A humble town of simple people, but we do our best.” I walked closer, confused by this human. Did he really think these rusty cans were a town? He sat down by it, wincing a little, but kept smiling, “As Mayor, I name you an honorary member of our little community, for your great act of heroism in saving my life.” I stared at him for a long moment, then sat down with him, and he dug out a box of half-used chalk, “Whaddya say we look into expanding the town, make room for new residents?” I found myself starting to smile a little at this strange human, relaxing as I carefully picked out a piece of chalk and listened to him ramble on. Maybe I could let this one stick around.

I spent a lot of time with the Mayor, listening to his strange stories of goings-on in Can Town, of how I was seen as a local hero, and helping him collect more cans and books to expand his little creation. It brought a sense of normalcy to my life, sitting in that abandoned building with the Mayor each evening and drawing on the concrete with chalk, arranging little structures out of cans. When he curled up in a pile of ratty blankets to sleep, I would slip out and prowl the alleys, listening for intruders. Not many came to the shadowed streets after the night I murdered three and let one run. Stories of a crazed man rambling about a giant bird killing his friends became rumors of an angel of death when the three bodies were found and added to the list of deaths in the alleys. No one wanted to meet their end at the hands of a killer, so I was pleased to see my home empty for a while. Of course, nothing could ever stay the same, and my peace was disturbed late one night by the sound of arguing voices inside one of the rarely used buildings I passed by. I slowed by a window, listening to the muffled voices inside, curious who had intruded in my home this time.

“I told you already, it’s not my fucking fault!” One voice snarled, another snapping back in a thick accent,

“It’s always your fault, idiot! You get reckless, and that costs us.” I leaned against the wall, wondering what they were fighting about as the first voice got louder,

“Blame him!!” He shouted, “That ditzy fuck nearly blew us up and tripped the security!” A new voice cut in, sounding much closer,

“Shut up!” There was silence for a moment, and then I heard quiet words that made my stomach drop, “Someone’s outside.” I backed away from the window, scaling the worn wall and crossing the roof to another alley, dropping down into the shadows behind a dumpster and waiting as I listened to the door open on the other side and footsteps move around. They were searching for me now, and I silently cursed at letting myself be noticed. Their shoes crunched over old paper and gravel, searching the alley I vacated, and slowly moving further into the darkness. I grit my teeth, pressing my wings close and trying to stay silent, hoping they would retreat. I didn’t know what they looked like, and they were already on guard. There was no way I could manage a sneak attack on them.

“Hi there!” My head snapped up, and I froze when I found myself staring at the barrel of a gun, a short man on the other end, smiling pleasantly, “Let’s have a chat, shall we?”

Chapter Text

The next few minutes were chaos.

Basic instincts kicked into overdrive, and I screeched, lunging for the man with my claws, forcing him to scramble back or be gutted. I barely missed disemboweling him as he ducked behind a crate, and had to dart away as he began firing at me. The others rushed around the corner, and I hissed, using my wings to help propel me towards them. Caught off guard by the sight of me, they were too slow to raise their own guns, and I barrelled into them, forcing two off their feet, and sending the third and biggest stumbling back against the wall.

“What the fuck is that?!” One shouted as I skidded to a stop, crouched low as I turned to look at them again. The short one behind the crate had stopped firing with his friends between his gun and me, and I wanted to keep it that way, leaping towards the scrawny-looking one, whose face twisted in a snarl as he pulled something from his pocket. I saw the gleam of metal, and my hand lifted to catch the knife before it could get near me, my other hand grabbing his throat and squeezing. He glared at me, struggling to free his weapon, but I barely felt the resistance. His eyes flicked to the side briefly, and I let go to dive away, the big one’s fist only grazing my feathers instead of connecting with my head. I rolled back into a crouch, my sights on the big one now. If he only had fists, and I had sharp talons, I had a good bet of who would win. I screeched again, charging him as he came for me, huge and lumbering. I flapped my wings, changing my momentum to dart around behind him and rake my claws across his back. He swore loudly, twisting to knock me away, and I was shoved back into a wall, bouncing off of it and trying to ignore the huff of breath it forced out of me. Another gunshot rang out, and I stopped, pain blooming in my thigh. I blinked, looking down at the hole in the side of my leg, black oil leaking from the new wound. I looked back up, meeting the hard gaze of the only one I hadn’t focused on. He held his gun steady, raising its sights to my chest, and I dropped to all fours, charging for him now. He cursed, trying to shoot me again, but only hitting the ground behind me as I shoved him against the wall, claws ready to tear his throat open.

“Pin it down!” One called behind me, and suddenly the one I was holding grabbed my wrists and forced them back, the big one’s arms wrapping around me from behind and pinning my wings to my back, my arms to my sides. I screeched in anger, struggling to break free, but his strength matched my own, and I could only struggle uselessly as I was pulled down to the ground, his legs forcing mine down. I was trapped against him as he sat on the ground, panting a little. The other three approached as I squirmed, hissing at them furiously.

“Damn.” The one with the knife began, looking me over, “That’s one fucked up fucker.” The other two nodded, and the short one stepped closer, gun trained on my chest now,

“So, about that chat,” He smiled a little, forcing pleasantness into the moment, “Do you understand English, or do you only talk in bird squawks?” I glared at him, knowing it was ineffective with my mask hiding my face and my wings unable to flare out threateningly.

“No.” I hissed out, and they almost looked surprised to hear words come out of me. The short one smiled wider,

“So you do speak English. Wonderful. Do you have a name?” I squirmed again, but the big one wasn’t budging.

“No.” I snapped back, unwilling to give them any satisfaction, but the answer didn’t seem to bother the small one.

“Pissy lil fucker.” The knife-wielding one muttered, twirling the blade in his hand a little, “I say we cut him open and be done with it.” I strained against the unyielding grip, talons stretched out, wishing I could tear them to shreds.

“We aren’t killing him.” The one who shot me spoke up, the unrecognizable accent from earlier coming out strong, “He took a bullet to the leg and kept going. He’s tougher than most.”

“Got an old hole in his gut, too.” The short one commented, leaning closer, “Looks like he survived a nasty stabbing, too.” The knife one leaned in to get a better look, barking out a laugh,

“God damn, stabbed through the stomach and still walkin’. Now that’s impressive.” I hissed again, and the short one brightened up,

“Hey, if he’s that tough, we could use a little extra muscle to help Boxcars.” The big one scoffed behind me,

“You want the crazy bird guy who tore up my back to help us?” I thought it was pretty stupid too, but the small one seemed undeterred,

“We did startle him. He seems kinda feral, so maybe it was a fight-or-flight reaction and things just got out of hand.” He looked at me, smiling again, “Sorry about that.” I narrowed my eyes, suspicious,

“You had a gun aimed at my head.” I stated bluntly, and he shrugged, looking a little embarrassed,

“You’re a giant bird monster with razor claws. I was a little wound up from-” He stopped himself, then shrugged offhandedly, “Well, I was understandably wary of strange people hiding in the dark.” I frowned, but decided not to argue that point.

“You were snooping around our hiding spot.” The big one said, “We didn’t know who you were or what you wanted.” I snorted derisively, rolling my eyes,

“You were in my territory. I wanted to know why.” That brought some surprise to the small one’s face,

“You live back here? Even with all the murd-” He stopped again, and realization dawned, “Ohhhh, so you’re the one who has been killing people and dumping them in the garbage. That makes more sense, now that I know what you look like.” The knife one raised an eyebrow, scoffing,

“This guy is the so-called angel of death?” He rolled his eyes, but the accented one gestured to me,

“Black wings, claws, bird mask. A drunken man could easily mistake him for a giant bird or a murdering angel.” The short one pondered for a moment, then brightened up again,

“Why not come with us? We can soothe ruffled feelings, you can have a place to sleep away from nosy cops, and I’ll make you some nice food!” I stared at his hopeful face for a moment, wondering if he was really that stupid.

“I don’t eat.” I deadpanned, and his smile faded as he focused on my face, looking sheepish.

“Oh. Right. Mask. Sorry.”

“How the fuck are you even alive?” The knife one eyed me critically, looking at my leg wound again, “Your blood is black. Are you alive?” I shrugged slightly in my confined spot,

“Dunno.” There was a moment of awkward silence, and then the short one straightened up, lowering his gun,

“Anyway! You can at least have a warm place to sleep instead of in the trash.” I didn’t really mind the trash, or sleeping on concrete. My mind drifted to the Mayor, curled up in his abandoned building with Can Town. Would he miss me? Would he think up some strange story to explain why I never came back? I sighed, pushing those thoughts aside. It wouldn’t be the first time I lost a friend. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten so attached to a human.

“Fine.” I answered finally, “I’ll come with you.” The short one grinned, looking proud of himself as the big one slowly released me. I got up, flexing my wings and smoothing down some of the feathers. I’d need to preen again. The short one practically skipped ahead while the other three watched me warily, just as I eyed them cautiously, following them to a large black car. The short one was waiting by the back of it, pondering a little,

“Try not to scratch up anything, okay? We’ve got some important stuff in here.” The knife one said, scowling at me. I nodded, and they opened the doors on the back, letting me climb in. I placed my hands carefully, always aware of my claws, and settled delicately over the lumpy bags stuffed in the space with me. With me in place, they went around to the other doors and got in, the accented one starting up the car to drive away. It felt strange to be in a car, moving without moving my body. I watched as the car emerged onto the street and joined the other cars, passing all the bright lights of the city. Things started to blur by, and I looked away again.

“So!” I jolted a little as the short one spoke up, “My name’s Deuce. Clubs Deuce, but everyone just calls me Deuce.” He gave me a chipper little wave, “The big guy is Hearts Boxcars, or just Boxcars.” He gave a brief nod, but nothing more, “In the passenger’s seat is Spades Slick-”

“Just Slick is fine.” The knife one spoke up, turning to scowl at me again, “And you better fuckin’ behave, or I’ll slit your throat.” The accented one reached over and smacked him upside the head,

“Don’t get blood in the car, stupid.” He scolded, and Slick grumbled something under his breath, sulkily turning forward again.

“And that’s Droog. Diamonds Droog.” He waved briefly, but otherwise ignored me. I had to brace carefully over the lumpy, uncomfortable bags, or risk sliding from side to side when the car turned. My stomach twisted a little the longer I was jostled around, and I grit my teeth against the feeling. I decided I didn’t like riding in cars when I could just fly.

The ride seemed to last forever, and if I had the ability to eat, I felt like I might have heaved any food up. I was completely nauseated by the time the car stopped and turned off, and I gingerly sat up, swallowing hard to fight back the feeling as the four humans got out of the car. The short one, Deuce, opened the door to let me out, and I had to brace on the open door until I felt stable enough to walk.

“What, you get carsick?” Slick scoffed, and I frowned a little, my wings ruffling defensively. Stupid humans thinking they were better than me. I could snap his stupid neck if I wanted. I chose not to respond, looking around to get my bearings while the four gathered the bags, and any nausea vanished as my stomach dropped in dread. I recognized this neighborhood. Turning to the house, I cringed. I knew that house. I pulled my wings close, following the humans to the door and inside. I hadn’t seen this part of the house, but I knew the light coming from the hallway.

“We’re home!!” Deuce called happily, bouncing away to turn on other lights. I bit my lip as footsteps thumped to the door, and a familiar small frame emerged and came closer. I shrank slightly as rusty red eyes locked onto me, and I lifted a hand in a small wave,

“Hi, Karkat.” I said quietly, and his face twisted in a familiar anger, his shoulders rising.

“You goddamn piece of shit!! ” He shouted, and I stepped back as he advanced on me, pulling a knife from his pocket. It only took a few steps before my wings hit the wall, and I pressed against it as Karkat put the blade to my throat, fury burning in his eyes, “I should slit your fucking throat!!” I shrugged lamely, trying not to move too much,

“I had to leave.” I tried to explain, but he just shouted louder,

“And yet here you are! Crawling back to me like a kicked puppy! With my dad!!” The sound of someone clearing their throat intruded on Karkat’s tirade, and we both looked to the four men, Droog’s eyebrow raising up as his eyes flicked between us,

“You know this thing, Karkat?” Karkat sighed loudly in exasperation, stepping back and lowering his knife,

“Yeah. He used to hang around here before all that bullshit downtown.” He shot me a scathing look, “Had a feeling that was you, fucker. So much for not being seen by humans.” I shrugged again, and Karkat put his knife away, looking me over with a scowl, “And you went and got yourself covered in filth. Again. Only now you reek of garbage, too.” I pressed my wings closer, cringing a little,

“Does that mean-” Karkat’s arm jerked up, pointing to the hallway he emerged from,

“I told you last time, you are not hanging around me like that. Go.” I sighed, kicking off my shoes and stepping around Karkat to the hall.

“What the hell is goin’ on?” Slick asked, “You got that freak whipped?” Karkat snorted derisively, and I paused by the door I remembered, looking back at the short human,

“Call it what you want, I just make him bathe.” He turned to come down the hall and I ducked into the bathroom, Karkat flicking on the light, sighing in annoyance, “God dammit, you put more holes in your clothes. And- Jesus, did they shoot you? How the fuck are you still standing?!” I looked down at my thigh again, the oil staining all around the wound,

“It doesn’t really hurt?” Well, it did hurt, but no more than any other part of my body. I’d gotten so used to ignoring pain, what was one bullet compared to the constant ache of my wings and claws? Karkat made a disgusted face, but crouched down to examine the hole in my thigh, sighing and digging out a box. He pulled out some long tweezers, frowning at the injury,

“Well tough guy, you’d better hold still so I can get this bullet out.” I watched in morbid fascination as Karkat slid the tweezers into my leg, beginning to pull out the bit of metal. I winced a little, but held still to allow the human to get the bullet free. I felt like I was being watched, and I looked up to see Boxcars scowling at me from the doorway. We said nothing, and Karkat dropped the bullet in a little bin before standing up, turning to see who was looming over him, “What do you want, Box?” The silence broken, Boxcars turned his attention to Karkat,

“Your friend there tried to make mincemeat of my back. Need to get it stitched up.” Karkat sighed and passed over the box, letting Boxcars take it and leave while Karkat cleaned off the tweezers.

“You got in a fight with them and survived. Consider me slightly impressed.” I scoffed a little, turning my back to Karkat when he pulled out scissors,

“I know how not to get killed.” I pointed out simply, and Karkat only responded by cutting open my shirt so I could take it off. I looked at it, and saw that he only cut the stitches he’d made last time, sparing my shirt from needing extra repair. He cut the stitches off my pants, and I pulled them off too, stepping into the bathtub and fiddling with the knob. I could start it up without Karkat’s help this time, and allow him more time to clean the stains off my clothes.

I felt a little better after I was clean, sitting on the floor of Karkat’s room preening my wings. He sat on the bed patching the tears and holes I had gained since I last saw him, the silence comfortable between us. The other four left us alone, talking quietly in the big room we had first entered. Once I was satisfied with my wings, I lay on my back, easing the strain on my shoulders of supporting my wings, staring up at the ceiling. What would I do now? Deuce seemed to want me to help them with something, but the others didn’t seem to like the idea. Karkat had been angry at me coming back, but made no further mention of it. And then there was a question that worried me the most. What about Bro? Was his body still in that forest? Or had he survived and was looking for me? Would he kill me for trying to kill him? My thoughts were interrupted when my shirt was suddenly tossed in my face, and I squawked indignantly, sitting up to glare at Karkat, who ignored my ruffled feathers and just went back to sewing up my pants. Figuring it was a lost cause to let him know I was annoyed, I just pulled my shirt back on and waited for my pants. Karkat stitched them back up, and I was properly dressed again, sitting on the floor. Karkat looked me over critically, and sighed,

“There’s no way we’re gonna have the room to look after you here. What the hell was Deuce thinking?” I shrugged at his question, figuring he didn’t want an actual answer, and he continued, “Why’d you even leave in the first place? Seems to me you were doing better staying hidden out here than downtown.” I paused, trying to think of an excuse, but nothing seemed right. So I just sighed and chose the truth,

“I didn’t come here alone. I was traveling with someone else. Another creature like me, but not the same. He was much older and more experienced than me, and wanted to teach me how to survive. But then I met you, and I knew if he found out about you, he’d try to kill you. So I had to kill him first. But…” I took a deep breath, gesturing to my stomach, the hole Karkat had sewn up, “We’re really hard to kill, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to actually kill him. So I had to get away from here, in case he came looking for me. He can’t fly like I can, so I could reach the city without being seen by more humans and hide from him.” Karkat nodded slowly, processing this, “But the alleys are close to a lot more humans, and I couldn’t use just the darkness to hide from those who wandered into the alleys at night. I had to get rid of them.”

“So instead of being found, you became a serial killer. That logic is fucked up, but so’s my family.” He sighed, leaning back on his hands and looking up at the ceiling, “So there’s more than just you. Although he may or may not be dead somewhere near here.” He mulled that over a little longer, then glanced at me again, “You said the people who did that to you are dead. But if you and the other guy got out… Were there others?” I bit my lip, shifting uncomfortably,

“...Yes. I was with three others when three older creatures helped us escape. But they got taken away from me by two of them while Bro took me. They separated me from my friends.” Karkat’s expression darkened a little, and he got off the bed, going to his desk. I watched him turn on something, and it lit up brightly as he tapped away on another piece. I couldn’t remember what that was, or what it was called. If I ever knew it. I moved closer, fascinated by the strange pictures moving on it.

“Let’s see…” He murmured, leaning in and staring at the rows of symbols. They meant something to him, but the meaning had been lost to me. I just waited as he looked over it all, wondering what he would find. “This is mostly bullshit like bigfoot sightings, but a couple of these look legit. I’ll see if I can find your friends, or at least what direction they went.” I smiled a little, leaning back,

“Thank you.”

Chapter Text

The crunch of dead leaves under my feet was the only noise as I walked through the trees I hadn’t visited in… A month? Time meant little to me, but Karkat said I’d been gone for around a month. I stopped when I saw a gash in a tree trunk, tracing it with my claws and looking around. Scars of my fight with Bro. That meant his body should be around here. I climbed the tree, crouching in the branches and looking around from the better vantage point. I saw no gleam of a porcelain-like face, no bright blue fabric of his poorly stitched shirt. Not even a stain of his orange blood. Where was his body? I climbed through the trees, stopping above a bare spot in the leaves. There. I dropped down, touching the beak of my mask to the dirt and sniffing. A faint orange stain, and his scent barely lingering in the leaves. He left, but I couldn’t tell where he went. His scent died here. I stood, turning in a circle to look for more signs, but there was nothing. He was gone. Lacking answers, I decided it was best to return to the house, climbing the trees and soaring back to the light of Karkat’s window, slipping inside through the back door. Slick paused in the hallway, throwing a scowl at me, but said nothing to me, turning to head to his room. I kicked my shoes off and went to Karkat’s room, giving him a soft chirrup of greeting when he turned to see who was invading his space.

“Hey, Dave.” He answered, turning back to his machine- he called it a computer, but the word brought memories too vague to provide a good reference. “Any luck?” I leaned against the back of his chair, shaking my head,

“Gone.” Karkat hummed, sounding vaguely disappointed, tapping away,

“Well I might have something. Some guy’s been compiling reports of monsters around the states. Sightings, rumors, things like that. He found the news reports about your angel of death thing, but without pictures of more than your handiwork, you’re still only speculation.” I smirked a little at that, quietly smug. No one had any photos of me. “There’s one on here, a tentacle monster, wanted you to check it out.” I leaned closer, curious as Karkat clicked on a picture for me to look at. I hissed, backing up and flaring my wings out, glaring at the image.

Her. ” I growled. I remembered those white eyes and unnatural grey skin. The black tentacles all over her body. “She took Rose.” Karkat glanced at me, then at the picture again, closing it,

“She was seen way up north, New York state. Nothing about anyone with her, but it’s a start.” He sat back, sighing, “I sent the guy a message, see what all he knows about where they come from. As far as I can tell, the lab you guys wrecked isn’t public knowledge, completely off-grid.” I huffed, smoothing down my feathers and going to sit on Karkat’s bed. Figures. The humans outside the lab didn’t seem like they would allow those kinds of experiments to happen. A ding came from the computer, and Karkat turned to it, scanning the words.

“What is it?” I asked, wiping some dirt off my mask,

“He… Wants to talk in person? Says he wants to swap info.” I tilted my head confused,

“What?” Karkat shrugged, typing a response,

“I don’t trust it. Some random guy wants to meet just cause I asked for some details he might not have put up? That’s suspicious. And it’s unlikely he’s even in Houston.” Moments later there was another ding, and Karkat stared at it, “Wh… You’re kidding. He’s trying to get info about the angel of death.” I sat up straight,

“He’s what?”

“He says he’s exploring downtown and asking the locals about it.” My stomach twisted and I gripped my knee. Locals. If he ran into the Mayor…

“There was one human who knew about me.” I said slowly, “A homeless man. I don’t know if he’s right enough in the head to give a good answer, but…” I glanced at Karkat, “It would be proof that I’m real.” Karkat sighed, rubbing his eyes,

“This is a stupid idea. If it means finding your friends, then I’ll tell him to meet us somewhere safe, but the second anything goes wrong, I’m gonna cut him open.” I nodded, my wings fluttering in agitation. Karkat eyed them, then frowned, “And you’re gonna stay hidden. I don’t need this guy shitting himself when he sees you.” I nodded, and Karkat turned back to the screen.

Waiting in a tree. That was something I was very good at. Karkat had chosen a park that had some decently sized trees to hide in. He had at least two knives hidden on him, maybe more, and had told Slick and Droog where we were going, just in case. I waited, carefully positioned so my wings could help me balance without giving away my hiding spot. A large car, like the one Droog drove, pulled up to the park, and a tall, broad man got out, making his way over to Karkat and shaking his hand. They spoke quietly, Karkat practically dwarfed by the man’s sheer size, and at my distance, I couldn’t hear what they were talking about. Karkat’s posture was growing more tense, and it put me on edge. Something was wrong.

The tension broke abruptly when the man grabbed Karkat, trying to pull him toward the car. Karkat produced a knife and slashed at the man, who stumbled back, cursing as he dug in his pocket. My wings tensed, and it was all I could do not to leap out. Karkat could- But a cloth was pressed over Karkat’s face and the man held him tightly to his chest. It reminded me of when Boxcars trapped me, the way the smaller one struggled, trying to get his knife in the man’s body, even as his efforts grew weak. The fury overcame my restraint, and I leapt from the tree with a screech, claws aimed at the man’s face. He yelped, diving to the side, but his eyes were still on me.

“There you are!” He cried, and the triumph in his tone only infuriated me more. I hit the ground and flapped hard to bounce back up, charging him again. He still had Karkat. He darted aside, jogging backwards toward the car with him, “He’s a lively one! My rifle, love!” The other car door opened, and another human stepped out, handing a long gun to the man as he passed Karkat to the other. I hissed furiously as my friend disappeared into the car, taking to the sky and diving toward the man. He raised the gun, aiming for me, but a twist of my tail curved my path away just in time for the shot to miss me. He took aim again, and I turned the other way, watching the barrel follow me. He was trying to keep his shot, but I was getting closer. I flared my wings out, the momentum letting me swing my legs down and kick the gun off course and land on him, forcing him on his back. He grunted in pain, and I reveled in it. I would tear him apart and get Karkat back.

Suddenly there was a heavy weight on my wings, and flapping them, I found a thick net tangling around them. The man shoved me back, and I had to twist awkwardly to avoid falling on my now-trapped wings. I hissed, trying to shake the net off as the man stood over me, the other, possibly a woman by her shape, stood beside him,

“Thank you, love. Tricky, this one. Help me get him bound.” They stepped closer, and I screeched, trying to get away, but with my wings tangled, I was completely off balance and couldn’t get far before the man grabbed my wrists and clamped heavy metal restraints around them, trapping them together. “Blimey, look at those talons. No wonder his victims were such a mess.” I tugged on the restraints, only to caw in surprise when the woman tugged my legs out from under me, trapping them together too.

“If you’re done oglin’ maybe we can get goin’ ‘fore he wakes up the whole neighborhood?” The man hauled me up on his shoulder, and I struggled uselessly,

“Right you are, m’dear. We’ve got to get back to base and see what his little friend knows.” I was dumped unceremoniously in a cage in the back of the car, and some squirming righted me enough to see Karkat unconscious beyond the bars. I hissed, fighting with the restraints, but the man’s too-happy voice interrupted from the front of the car, “Best not bother, chap, I had those made specifically to withstand your kind’s strength. Not a monster alive that could break them. I glared at him, but he turned to face the road, starting the car. The woman turned to eye me, and I wished she could see the hate I was aiming at her. She sniffed derisively, looking at Karkat,

“Kinda cute. For a shrimp.” She reached over, rolling him on his back, “Got a babyface.” Her long nails traced his cheek, and I snarled at her, getting her to glance at me and arch an eyebrow, “What’s your deal? He’s practically an infant compared to me. Once we have the info we want we’ll put him back where we found him.” She turned forward again, and I was forced to lie there, bracing my feet on the bars so I wouldn’t slide around each time the car turned. I vehemently despised this man for capturing us, and I silently cursed the fact that I was stuck in a car. The ride was long, and it took all my energy to keep my nausea in check, watching Karkat’s limp body getting jostled around. If I wasn’t bound with these stupid restraints I could reach him, try to wake him up. The car finally stopped, and I glared at the two humans as they got out and went around to open the back. I hissed at them, but they ignored me, just pulling the heavy cage down onto a platform with wheels. I twisted around, trying to figure out where I was, but the room was huge and mostly dark. The cage stopped beside another, and I turned to look at it, only to jolt back against the bars furthest from the piercing orange eye I would never forget. Bro lay in the cage, unmoving, still stained with his orange blood. He wasn’t breathing. They hadn’t bound his arms and legs like me.

“Don’t worry about that one, lad, he’s been dead for a while.” I looked up at the man who crouched by the cage holding Bro’s body, reaching in to brush some hair away from his face, “Found him with a sword through his chest. But he’s quite a handsome beast, don’t you think?” I didn’t answer, just staring at the lifeless body a little longer before turning away to figure out where Karkat had ended up. The woman was setting him in a chair, putting his hands in restraints behind him. I squirmed around to sit up in the cage, twisting my arms to start trying to free my wings, glancing at Karkat now and then to make sure he was okay.

It felt like hours, but Karkat finally woke up, shaking off the grogginess and focusing on the man seated before him, the woman standing behind him like a guard. I pressed closer to the bars, cawing at my friend. Karkat turned, craning his neck to see me, his eyes narrowing as he turned back to the man.

“What the hell is this?” He asked curtly, and the man smiled,

“I’d like to know what else you know about these creatures.” He replied, “Apologies for the rough handling, it’s not something I want to discuss out in the open.” Karkat snorted, twisting his arms to feel the metal around his wrists,

“Handcuffs. Dark warehouse. Middle of the night.” He didn’t sound intimidated at all, “Movie cliche kidnapping. Sorry, old man, but that’s not gonna get me talking.” The man chuckled, sitting back,

“If you’re thinking I’m going to torture you for information, I’ll have to dash your dreams of grandeur. I would just like to have a civil conversation without you trying to put a knife in my ribs.” Karkat scoffed, glancing over at me,

“You trying to keep them hush-hush? That why you set up the blog? So you can track them down and make sure no one knows where they come from before you make them disappear from public knowledge? You’re still sounding like a movie villain.” The man sighed, shaking his head,

“No, nothing like that. You’re the first person to meet one of these beasts and befriend it. I was hoping to find out if there are more around here, seeing as I found two in the same neighborhood.” Karkat rolled his shoulders, sighing loudly in exasperation,

“Well one of them looks dead. Doesn’t say much.” The conversation was interrupted by a loud ringing, and Karkat looked down at his lap, then up at the man, as if waiting.

“Who is that?” The man asked, and I could almost hear the smirk in Karkat’s voice,

“That would be my overprotective dad, calling me to make sure I’m not dead. It’s advisable to let me answer.” The man sighed, gesturing to the woman who moved around to search his pocket and pull out his phone, holding it up to Karkat’s ear, “Hey, Dad. Yeah, I know. Yeah. No idea, but it’s a big warehouse. Uh huh. Course it is. The bird’s in a cage. Yeah. Dunno for how long, but- Yeah, that’ll be great. Mhm. Bye.” Karkat leaned away, and the woman ended the call, setting the phone on the table between them as she scowled,

“The hell was that?” She demanded, and Karkat barked out a short laugh,

“I suggest you get to the point.” The woman glared at him, drawing back a fist,

“You little-!”

“Easy now, let’s not hurt him.” The man stood up, placing a hand on her arm, looking at Karkat, “What has the creature told you? Are there more?” Karkat shrugged, dismissive,

“He makes bird noises. You tell me if you can understand chirp chirp squawk.” The man sighed, sitting down again,

“Do you know anything about the other one?” He pressed, and Karkat shrugged,

“Like I said, it looks dead. Never seen it before.” He answered casually, glancing over at me and Bro, “Kinda looks like a life-sized puppet, not whatever the bird is.”

“Not all of the creatures have animal features.” The man said, and Karkat turned to him again,

“Huh. News to me. So who are you, anyway?” The man gave an exasperated sigh, rolling his eyes,

“Let’s just say I’m… A collector.” He said, and Karkat tilted his head a bit,

“So you’re not gonna release the bird.” The man shook his head and I hissed, scraping my claws on the metal cage floor, making the humans grimace at the screeching sound,

“It’s for the best. Left unchecked, these creatures could be devastating. Your avian friend has already killed multiple people. I keep them safe, away from the populace.” Karkat didn’t respond for a long moment, then sighed,

“So you abduct them and lock them in cages. Never mind that they used to be human. Because they have the means to attack people, suddenly it’s your responsibility to lock them up? Like some kind of bullshit vigilante?” The woman glared at Karkat,

“They’re abominations. All they know is to kill.” She spat, but Karkat remained unaffected,

“Yeah, not like they were mutilated and turned into what they are by fucked up people. No, don’t blame the assholes that made them, blame them for existing. Totally makes sense.” He scoffed, his tone turning sharp, “ Not. ” The man sighed, standing up,

“This is going nowhere. We’ll be going now.” He said, walking over to my cage. I hissed at him, seeing Karkat try to get up, but the woman pushed him back down in his seat, holding him there. The man crouched down in front of me, and I snarled at him, “Sorry, lad, but we can’t have you causing a fuss. Time to sleep.” He pulled out a small gun, and I hissed again, trying to get my hands through the bars to get my claws at him, but the restraints prevented it. The gun fired something into my thigh, but I ignored it, trying to get at the man. He stood, pushing my cage toward the car again, and I turned, seeing Karkat struggling to get out of the woman’s grip. My vision started to blur, and I struggled to keep my focus on Karkat, the cage containing Bro’s body stopping next to mine as the world went dark.

I woke up to strange smells, my head still fuzzy, groaning a little as I tried to focus on the blurry shapes before me. The shapes became slowly more defined and I found myself staring at bright lights on a white ceiling. The strange smells found names as my head cleared up. Chemical. Sterile. Medicine. I pushed myself up, looking around to confirm my fear. A medical room. The lab. The men in white coats. My breath came in short, frantic gasps and I climbed off the stiff bed, searching for the door. I had to get out. I had to get away before they hurt me again. The door wasn’t locked, and I tugged it open, looking down the halls. Empty. Where was the exit? The smells were foreign, confusing. I bolted down one hall, only to find a dead end, forcing me to turn back and run the other way. I reached stairs that spiraled down, and I opened my wings partly to help me leap down and slow my fall as I glided down the curve. I reached the next floor, pressing against the wall when I heard voices. They would find me if I wasn’t careful. I peered around a doorway, confused when the human I saw wasn’t wearing a white coat. Their back was to me, but another was nearby and would see me. I backed up, unsure what to do now.

“Someone’s hiding.” The voice was sharp and grating, and my stomach twisted with fear. I was vulnerable. I didn’t have the element of surprise.

“Oh! Our new friend must be awake!” A chipper voice replied, and I stepped back, readying my claws. A girl poked her head around the wall, her long hair tumbling over her shoulders as she grinned at me, “Hi there! You must be a bit confused, please, come join us, we’ll get you up to speed!” She disappeared into the other room, and I hesitated, then slowly moved to the doorway, seeing the girl standing by the other person, who turned to look at me. My feathers ruffled in horrified surprise when I saw them. Stitches went all the way down their body, as if they’d been cut in half from head to toe and stuck back together. They scowled at me, crossing their arms,

“The fuck are you looking at?” They demanded, and I flinched back slightly. It was a kind of gruesome I’d never seen before. I tore my gaze away from them, looking at the girl instead, and she smiled at me,

“Hello! I’m Feferi, I help look after everyone here. This is Cal, one of our residents. Do you have a name?” I looked between them, uncertain of what to make of this place and these people,

“D… Dave…” I answered cautiously, and Feferi brightened up,

“Wonderful! It’s nice to meet you, Dave! Welcome to the island!” Island? Fuzzy memories of land surrounded by water surfaced, and I frowned, looking around. There weren’t any windows in this room for reference, but Feferi just kept going, “I know this is all very disorienting, but we’ll be sure to make your stay here as comfortable as possible, okay? You have free reign of most of the island, but Mr. Harley has expressed that no one should go beyond the fence. This is a large house, if you would like a room and bed to sleep in, but that is not required. If you need anything, please let me know and I will do what I can.” I stared at her for a long moment, then Cal cleared their throat, their expression changing from a scowl to a pitying smile,

“Sorry, she tries to sugar-coat it so it doesn’t sound so bad.” Their voice was soft now, warm and gentle, “We can’t escape the island. The fence is electrified and the man who captured us only comes by private plane beyond that fence. Feferi does her best to keep us comfortable, but this is just a glorified prison.” That made much more sense, and made my shoulders slump, “This house is specifically for us, and Feferi maintains it so we can have a clean living space if we choose, but the island is also ours to wander and live in if you prefer living in the trees or such.” Cal continued, getting up. I got a better look at them, their right leg below the knee was exposed, replaced with a fake leg, their hands had sharp claws, and while they were talking, I was sure their teeth were sharpened too. They offered a hand, smiling a little, “I can show you around, if you like.” I hesitated, then set my hand in theirs, letting them lead me past Feferi and through the winding halls to the outside. Feeling the wind settled my nerves slightly, though the salty smell in the air was strange and new. I looked back at the house, a tall structure with many windows.

“It looks like shit. I know.” I turned back to Cal, who was scowling again, tugging their hand away, “But the beds are half decent. Come on.” I followed after them, trying to decide if I should ask about what happened to them. “Welcome to the freak zoo.” They said, gesturing around. I looked past them, seeing more grotesque people wandering through the trees, “The asshole kidnaps us. Flies us to this island. And we spend the rest of our disgusting lives here.” Cal turned to me, scowling fiercely, “And before you ask. I’m Caliborn. She’s not me. We share a body. But we are not the same person.” I blinked, tilting my head slightly as I tried to understand the brief, curt explanation, but their expression softened, and their posture became less aggressive,

“What my brother means is we were originally twins, but we were sewn together, and rather than meld personalities we remained separate within our shared brain. My brother’s name is Caliborn, I am Calliope, and while he prefers you address him by his own name, I don’t mind if you just call us Cal.” I nodded slowly, feeling pity for them. I couldn’t imagine having to share my thoughts with someone else like that. We continued to walk through the forest, but I stopped when I saw a flash of a purple flower. I searched for it, seeing a vine uncoil from behind a tree, covered in thorns and flowers. I moved toward it, navigating the bushes until I rounded the tree. There she was, with her patchwork purple skin. Rose looked up, her permanent grin opening in surprise as she gave an unbelieving mew. I chirped back that it was really me, and she leapt into my arms, wrapping her vines tightly around me and mewling with relief. I didn’t mind the thorns pricking my wings, embracing her tightly as she nuzzled against my neck and face, laughter bubbling from her throat as tears streamed from her eyes.

My Rose. I finally had her back in my arms. Tears stung my eyes too, and I chittered soft reassurance that I was here, I was safe. She couldn’t believe I was okay. I stroked her hair, nuzzling my mask against her shoulder, and she slowly eased her grip, leaning back to look me over, and I took the chance to look her over too. Her outfit was stained purple here and there, but otherwise she looked unharmed. Her hair was more purple than before, possibly how my hair had turned black, but I didn’t mind that. Her vines moved to touch my hair, petting it fondly. She liked the black, it matched my wings. I smiled, wrapping my wings around us both to close us off from everything else as I hugged her again. I missed her, and she missed me. But we were alive and we could hold each other again.

“Oh, there you are.” I turned my head, regarding Cal- Caliborn as the grouchy one insisted- who crossed his arms, “Getting all touchy-feely with the bitch? Guess you know each other.” I hissed warningly at him. I wouldn’t let him insult my friend, but she caressed my hair soothingly. He was harsh to most of the female creatures, she said. I huffed, choosing to ignore him as Rose guided me to her little den, purring happily as I climbed under the bush to curl up with her. I missed this so dearly, so I had no complaints with draping a wing over her and letting her purring lull me into a nap.

Days passed lazily on the island. Rose and I mostly lay in her den sharing stories of what happened after we were separated, how we managed with what the older creatures taught us. I told her how I managed to kill the puppet, and she described watching the man who had captured us as he was forced to kill the tentacled woman to get Rose. I couldn’t help the bitter satisfaction knowing she was dead, and Rose shared the feeling. When we weren’t sharing stories we went on walks, exploring the island with her vine loosely held in my hand. It was comforting to be touching her, to know she was there. We found the fence, and Rose assured me the shocks were quite painful, so we didn’t touch it. Looking beyond, I could see a wide bay that circled a tall tower-like building, and a stretch of black pavement. No doubt that was how we got here, but the pavement was barren now. Our walks went all over the island, even to the summit of the mountain, looking out at the endless ocean beyond the shore. Nothing but this island. With nothing on the horizon there was no point in trying to fly away, especially if I couldn’t bring Rose with me.

Feferi left us alone, mostly staying in the house, and I had no interest in going back to the house and its too-white walls. Rose and I improved the den, making it bigger, wondering if Jade and Clown would be caught too. Cal wandered by now and then, checking on us or just saying hi. On rare occasions the man, Harley as Feferi called him, would arrive on an airplane, coming up to the fence to observe us, but his presence was never welcome. Rose hissed at him when we passed, and I fluffed my feathers defensively. Caliborn would shout obscenities and insults and others would display hostility or avoid him altogether. He never stayed long. That changed when the back of the plane opened after one landing, and three cages were rolled out. I paused by the fence, Rose coiling her vines around me with a worried mewl. I couldn’t see what was in the cages very well, but I knew they would be more prisoners to join us. Others gathered by the fence, whining sadly when they saw the cages and moving on. Rose ushered me away, wanting to go back to the den. Whoever it was, they would be taken to the house to recover from the drug that knocked them out. I agreed, and we curled up to wait.

We were startled from our lazy snuggles by a loud bang, and I sat up. I knew what thunder sounded like, but this was no storm. I climbed out of the den, listening to more pops and bangs. It was coming from the house. Rose wrapped a vine around my hand and I gave it a little squeeze, heading for the building. There was shouting that sounded like Caliborn and Feferi, but also a feral snarling and barking. It sounded like some dogs I’d heard. Feferi burst out of the door, her hair a mess, looking frantic and breathless as she backed away,

“This way, Cal! Hurry! Before they wreck the whole house!” She called, and Caliborn emerged not long after,

“Come on you crazy bitch! Come and get me!” He shouted behind him, diving away from the door. A blur of black, white, and green burst from the door, landing on all fours and snarling. I hissed a gasp as I recognized the glowing rocks and disjointed limbs on her. Her skirt was torn off at the knees, allowing her to move around better as she crawled toward Caliborn. I took a step toward her, only for something to come flying out the door and nearly hit Feferi, who squeaked and scrambled away from the object. I could have cried when Clown emerged from the door, clutching a heavy hammer in his hand. He was cackling hysterically as he advanced on Caliborn, who snarled, raising his fists. I didn’t think, just screeched loudly to pull their attention to me, flaring my wings out wide. Jade’s snarling died when her acid-green eyes found me, and Clown’s laughter grew quiet.

“Ha ha… Crow…?” He asked slowly, and I folded my wings again. Clown’s bright blue eye flicked to my side, and his smile quivered, “Rose…?” Rose mewed, and both of us were pounced by Jade, whining about how glad she was to see us. I winced as her electricity shocked me, but hugged her tightly anyway, drawing Clown in when he rushed over.

“Oh thank goodness.” Calliope breathed, lowering her fists in relief, “They didn’t take well to waking up in the medical room. Blew out the power and broke the door down.” I nuzzled my mask into Jade’s hair, breathing in her distinctive scent and how it differed from what I remembered,

“I’ve never heard of one producing lightning. That’s never happened before.” Feferi said quietly, picking up the broken chunk of door Clown had thrown at her. I didn’t really listen, more interested in Jade sniffing us over and Clown asking what was going on. I did my best to explain where we were around Jade wiggling insistently against me, what the island was and how the man was keeping us here. Jade paused when she heard about the electric fence, her eyes narrowing with a growl.

“From one cage to another.” Clown sighed, petting Jade’s head, “Figures.”

“Um, if I may?” Feferi stepped a little closer, and both Clown and Jade turned to look at her, Jade growling louder, making Feferi step back again, “I just wanted to say hi! I’m Feferi.” Clown looked her over, his lips curling in a cruel smirk,

“You look like a regular human to me.” He said slowly, hefting the hammer over his shoulder. Rose’s vines curled around Jade’s arm, mewling for her to stand down. Feferi wasn’t here to hurt us. Clown didn’t look convinced, so I nuzzled the beak of my mask against his shoulder, insisting that she hadn’t hurt us when we arrived, she just looked after the house. He still eyed her suspiciously, but leaned back against me. “What do you want?” Feferi relaxed again, clearing her throat,

“I wanted to welcome you to the island. I know it’s not the best situation, but no one is going to hurt you here. So long as you stay away from the fence, the rest of the island is yours to explore. Rose and Dave can show you around.” Jade’s nose scrunched, looking at me. She didn’t like the name. I just shrugged and told her a friend gave it to me. She huffed, her tail flicking in agitation. The older clown called Clown John. She didn’t like that either.

“Fucking hell. All this nonverbal talk. It’s impossible to know what you’re saying.” Caliborn grumbled. Jade snarled at him, flattening her ears back.

“None of your business.” She snapped, and Cal almost looked surprised to hear her speak words, but didn’t respond.

“Sorry, that’s Cal. They can be a bit of a handful.” Feferi cut in again, trying to keep a fight from breaking out again, “So, do you have names?” Clown frowned, but huffed,

“John.” He muttered, “She’s Jade.” Feferi smiled despite the sour tone,

“Nice to meet you both. I hope you can come to enjoy your stay here.” Clown- John scoffed, but turned away from her, Rose and I leading them both back to our den where we could curl up and enjoy being together again. They had been captured after Harley killed the older clown. When they woke up here, Jade had panicked, causing her electricity to get stronger and blast the lights out. John had broken down the door and found the hammer, ready to attack anyone they thought was a threat. Rose and I reassured them that they would be safe here with us, promising to show them around later.