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You’re not a fan of the opening shift. You’re never fully awake until after ten, and even then you’re usually mainlining caffeine until well into the afternoon. As you make the long walk to the corner coffee shop you work at, your brain feels mulled and heavy. Beside that,  it’s cold. It’s been snowing steadily since last night, and although it’s a slow, gentle shower, enough has accumulated to make the walk absolutely miserable. You bundled up as much as you could. A sweater, a cardigan, a pair of fleecey mittens, your best parka, thickest scarf. You blame the last for shortening your field of vision. You’re like a horse with blinders on in that thing. That’s why you don’t see the car making an illegal left, heading straight for you.

Hawks has just gotten off patrol when he spots you. It’s been a long night, with almost back to back incidents. He’s feeling harried and half-awake. His feathers are beginning to dwindle. He decides to walk, save himself the trouble of flying with naked wings in the cold, and he sees you when you turn the corner a block up from him. He doesn’t mean to be weird, really, but something about you, the shape of you under all that fabric, the shuffling cadence of your steps, entrances him. He’s not even aware that he’s following you, mind shady with exhaustion and an urgency he doesn’t understand. He wants to see your face. That’s it. Just the color of your eyes, the curve of your lips. Then he’ll be satisfied, then he can go home and wash off the mess of the night. 

Gradually he closes the distance.

In the end, he’s grateful for his (creeping) temporary insanity. You obviously don’t see the SUV that’s barreling towards you and you obviously would have been flattened had he not been right on you, gripping you a little too tightly as he pulls you away from imminent doom. It all happens in less than a second. 

You twist instinctively to look at him. And your face – god, the sight of you– it’s like unfettered sunlight, like the first sip of coffee in the morning, like a hot shower after a long, long day. 

He opens his mouth, floundering for words, any words, to fill the blooming silence between you. Instead he just stands there, hand around your wrist. Just stands there. Holding onto you.

Finally you take it upon yourself to speak. Heart in your throat, you try to play it off with a smile. “Thanks for the save, feathers,” you laugh, halfheartedly. “That was… yikes.”

And Hawks. He’s elated. He doesn’t think he’s ever been this happy before, so fierce and cloying he almost dreads the comedown. Those words are his words, the ones he’s seen every day for his whole life, scrawled across his right pectoral in your messy, wonderful chicken scratch. 

He can’t stop his grin. He can’t let go of your wrist. He’s imagining what your wedding will be like, the color scheme, the kind of cake. He can’t wait to find out your desert preferences. 

“Believe me, Angel, the pleasure is mine.”

Your cheeks tinge the slightest shade of pink, but other than that your expression remains unchanged. You rub a bashful hand up and down your coat sleeve. You seem surprised to see Hawks’ hand on you still. 

You swallow.

 You say, “Well…”

Just a filler word. Just to placate him.

Hawks’ smile falls. He knew – of course he knew – that it wouldn’t be like in the movies. He didn’t expect you to leap into his arms, or break down into tears (although he feels close, at this point). He just wanted acknowledgment. Some assurance that you aren’t disappointed with him, maybe even a little excited about the prospect of becoming one another’s everything. He just wants something. Anything

But your smile is blank. Polite. Your body is growing rigid as you stare at the place where his hand has been gradually tightening on you. You almost seem–frightened? Not terrified, but clearly uncomfortable. 

And–no. This is all wrong

You say, “I guess I should let you get back to hero stuff.”

When he doesn’t release you, you tug. Just the slightest upward pressure, but it’s enough. You don’t want his touch. 

You don’t want him.

He peels his fingers off you. It takes a long minute, a gradual unhooking that he almost has to trick himself into. You’re just as surprised as he is. It’s a lot for anyone to handle. When he lets go of you, you’ll talk about it. The two of you will get through this together.

But then he’s detached from you and you’re stepping back. You’re saying, “Thanks again. Really. I mean, I know it’s your job or whatever, but… yeah. Um. Thanks.”

And then you’re walking away, slightly put off by his absolute silence. Snow is still falling, but barely. It shimmies down, gentle as cattail fluff, blurring your form as you recede.

Hawks isn’t cold, not anymore, but his whole body shivers. The air tastes sour as he takes in big, heaving gulps. It burns his throat, his eyes. He feels like he’s suffocating, like he’s dying.

His soulmate just rejected him.

For the span of a heartbeat, he seriously considers confronting you. Going and yelling, crying, demanding to know what’s so wrong about him. That’s during the worst of it, a few hours after he finally stumbled through the door of his apartment, half blind with despair. He throws up, once. Mostly he just lays in bed, staring up at the ceiling, feeling un-whole. 

He dreamed of his soulmate since he discovered their existence, someone to love him unconditionally, someone to enjoy him as much as possible. 

Why didn’t you want him? He knows the tabloid articles don’t exactly cast him in a flattering light as a long term partner, but that’s all just fluff, sensational, not the real him. He’s funny. He’s charming. He’s rich enough that you’d never have to work another day of your life. And he has so, so much love to give.

What will he do with it? He’s been hoarding it all for his soulmate, for you. He only ever had flings, trysts. It all seemed empty compared to the real thing. Now that all seems like romantic twaddle, a dumb fantasy. And all of these feelings he’s been saving saving saving – maybe they’ll just fester, rot him inside out. Maybe they’ll get so big and gross they’ll just kill him. 

Fuck, he hopes so.

You refer to that morning with Hawks as The Incident. You recount the tale (minus some choice details) to your coworkers, and they get a kick out of it. In the great scheme of things, however, it isn’t that big of a deal. You weren’t held up at gunpoint, or taken hostage by some big baddie. You were just – yanked. By Hawks. 

But you can’t stop thinking about his hand. You didn’t get to see it, but it felt so large, so strong through the layers between you. You were almost unnerved by how much you liked the feeling of him holding onto you. Way to perv out on a man while he’s on the clock, you chastise yourself. But what unnerves you more is that the strange fascination seemed to be shared by the two of you, between you. Heat and something deeper. Something soft.  So you did your usual and turned tail. 

It isn’t that you aren’t interested (desperate) for romantic attention, you just know better than to seek it out. You’ve had all of two boyfriends and the relationships lasted, collectively, less than two months. They both met their soulmates before things got serious; you never even visited their apartments. 

You don’t resent them for breaking it off with you. How could you? That’s just the way of the world. Anyone before the Big One is just filler, something to pass the time. Unfortunately, you aren’t willing to settle for being someone’s romantic fluffer. Even more unfortunate, anything else is just not in the cards for you.

You are, according to you doctors, one of the rarest creatures in the country. Born quirkless and without a soulmark, your brand of unlucky makes up less than .01% of the population. Your existence is almost miraculous. And it sucks.

It’s so fucking lonely knowing you exist just outside a world made up of people who are perfect for each other. And yet – you’re not perfect for anyone else. You’re no one’s top choice, no one’s absolute priority. Ouch. 

You tried dating apps for markless people, but nothing came of it. It was clear that you were all just looking for a substitute for what you really wanted, and none of you would live up to the expectations. 

You’ve long accepted your lot. Single forever – it’s not the worst thing that could happen. You have your friends and family, and they’re pretty awesome. You fill your life with platonic love, people who bring you joy, make everything feel less heavy, make you forget what you’re missing.

For a while.

You can never truly get over the yawning emptiness inside you. It’s no one’s fault, and it’s hard to feel horrible without someone to blame. Ignoring it works best. Keep focused, keep going. You’re fine.

Except– you keep thinking about that look on his face, the tension in his grip. Hawks. He made you crave. For the first time in a long time, you miss all the things you can’t have.

You go on an internet binge, reading all the articles about him, some of them mindless and pointless, some of them endlessly fascinating. One in particular shakes you to your core. 

Work Magazine: You’ve seem to be an eternal bachelor, Hawks, or is there a special someone you’ve been hiding from the world?

Hawks: Ah, no. You see, I’m actually a closet romantic. Just been waiting on the one, y’know? I’d wait forever for them.

It’s a stern reminder. This man has a The One. This man is not for you. 

You do your best to forget about him, about all the feelings he stirred up. But the thoughts come without warning, glimpses of his eyes, his honeyed hair, his slanted lips. He called you angel. The memory makes your chest squeeze.

You wish you could have talked to him. You wish you didn’t just leave. You want to know what his favorite color is, and what he dreams about at night. You want him to take your wrist in his hand again and– and what, you don’t know. Maybe he would. Maybe it would make you feel better.

So, when you see him standing on the corner where The Incident occurred, looking miserable as snow continues to pile up around him, you can’t help yourself.

“You know, if I had wings I wouldn’t be hiking through the snow like some peasant.”

His head whips at the sound of your voice. He–shudders? Then he regains his composure, he’s the sauve, cool guy from the interviews. You think you’ve seen that particular smirk on a magazine cover.

“And miss the chance to talk to such a pretty girl? Dove, I’d walk a hundred miles through the tundra for you.”

He’s been better, after that first day. Every breath feels less like drowning. He got out of bed with a renewed sense of purpose; he’d show you how well he could love you, how perfect it could be, and then everything would be better. You just needed convincing. 

The following morning he went to the spot where you met, already decided on what he would say, the particular inflection of his voice, the angle of his brow. He would not gawp at you like a horny school boy. He would certainly not cry. Plan established, he stood and waited.

You didn’t show.

Apparently, your schedule changes on the daily. It took him a full week of just standing around, increasingly frantic but with no outlet as he loitered, hoping you would just show up one day.

And he can’t stop himself from tearing up as you approach. You just– you look so perfect, coming toward him with the light at your back like you’re emerging from it, like you really are an angel

He clears his throat. “Can I walk you home? Just to prevent any more SUV related accidents.”

And you say, “What about buses?”

His chest feels so warm at the sight of your sly smile, like a days old sunburn. “Ah. I suppose I can add those to the list.”

So you walk. And it’s…nice. Hawks flirts, but you know it’s empty. You flirt back, less empty, but still. You make it to your front door with minimal damage to your psyche or heart. 

Hawks lingers, like he’s waiting for something.

“Thanks for being my traffic shield again,” you say. He doesn’t laugh. He’s still waiting.

Finally, he asks, “Can I walk you home again next time?”

Hiding your giddiness, you exchange numbers, parting quips, smiles. As you open your apartment door, you look back to find Hawks’ eyes already on you.

He’s busy, hero work and all, but he always texts you day of, to tell you he’s coming or apologizing for not being able to. He brings you food, most days, take out, various snacks, sometimes warm, spicy drinks. One day, he brings a second bag, this one for himself.

You don’t even invite him in, just leave the door ajar. He doesn’t hesitate to follow you. You dig into what he got you (weird that he always knows what to get, what you’ve been craving all day), but Hawks meanders around your apartment, looking at everything, taking it all in. He even goes into your bathroom for a second. 

You don’t find it creepy. If anything, you think it’s rather endearing that he’s so curious. Satisfied somewhat, he settles down next to you on the couch, tearing into his own food.

He asks you questions about nearly everything, which you casually oblige. It seems like more than small talk, though. He pauses after your answers, like he’s taking it in, really thinking about it. The intensity of his stare makes you warm. 

“All your shelves are full,” he says. You understand what he means. Usually, people who haven’t met their soulmates yet have blank space in their homes, places where another person’s things would go. It’s instinctual, natural. That he noticed makes you flush with humiliation. You don’t want Hawks to know what a dud you are. You don’t want his pity.

“Got a lot of stuff,” you say through a mouthful of food.

He stares at you, as if he could divine more answers from your evasive gaze. 

You say, “Aren’t birds supposed to like, nest, or something? You should relate.”

Hawks takes the time to inform you that, no, he’s not a literal bird. He describes his own apartment to you, watching your face for reactions. He says you guys should go to his place sometime so he can make you dinner. He glows when you accept.

“You’re spoiling me, Hawks.”

“Keigo. Call me Keigo.”

He knows you. He knows something is wrong – or not wrong, but not the way they usually are. Not easy. Not simple. And that’s fine, he likes that you’re intricate, that you have some miles on your soul, a couple secrets to be unveiled. So he doesn’t press. He doesn’t try to force you into some mold, make you behave the way soulmates are supposed to.

He can be patient, if the situation calls for it. 

He can be patient for you.

Your relationship with him is different from the ones you share with anyone else. He makes you laugh so easily. He’s extremely sensitive to your moods. Just one look on one of your bad days and he knows to coddle you, to praise you for being strong, or assure you that everything will be alright. 

Skinship is also very important to him. The first time he grabs your hand while walking you home from work, you both pause, coming to a sudden halt in the middle of the cross walk. It had been so natural, just slipping his fingers between yours, but Keigo looks terrified as he stares down at you, awaiting your response. With a mental shrug, you give his hand a squeeze and tug him to keep walking before the light changes. He’s positively beaming. Now he holds your hand every time, and even inside either of your apartments, just to drag you to wherever he wants you. 

He rubs your back when you complain about soreness. He even braids your hair once. 

“Where’d you learn to do this?” You ask him, nearly purring under his delicate brushing.

He has to swallow a few times before answering. “Summer camp.”

You don’t mind all the touching. Obviously it’s his way of showing affection, and a secret, devious part of you likes it. A lot. More than a friend would. 

It leads to a lot of bodily awareness. You see things about him that make your insides heat, that make you squirm inside your own skin. One day you’re walking home, negligibly staring at him when you notice his wings are a bit bent out of shape. He must have had a rough patrol. There aren’t a lot of feathers missing, but some of them are bent, a couple of spines cracked. 

“What happens to the broken ones?” you ask. “Do you shed them?”

He hums, flexing his wings as if remembering their state. “No, they need some TLC. I’ll have to pull them out tonight.” He laughs at your horrified expression, reaching up to pinch your cheek. “It doesn’t hurt. But it is hard to reach some of them.”

This last is followed by a wistful sigh. You can imagine him standing in front of his big bathroom mirror, body contorting uncomfortably as he tries to reach. 

“I can do it for you,” you offer.

When you look up at him Keigo’s mouth is slightly agape. He’s staring at you. A soft blush is creeping up his cheeks.

Seeming to shake off his stupor, he nods. “Um, yeah. If it doesn’t gross you out or anything. That would be great.”

It doesn’t gross you out. 

The sight of Keigo laying face down on his giant mattress, chin propped on his folded arms, wings open to their full spread– it almost makes you gasp. He’s beautiful, there’s no other word for it, his body perfect in its sheer functionality, the muscle all toned, powerful. But there’s an elegance to him, too. The firm lines, the curvature of him. The wings draped over his back like a cape, the feathers glinting in the low light of his room like a million crimson daggers. You wonder if they’ll be soft to the touch. Shivering with anticipation, you realize you’re about to find out. 

Upon entering his apartment, Keigo handed you a literal toolbox he fetched from under the bathroom sink. To your relief, most of the contents look like standard beauty things, some fancy tinted bottles, a pair of tweezers, a tiny pair of scissors. Was this all for his wings? The upkeep must be exhausting– you almost pity him. But Keigo never expresses any grief over his wings. Even when they get torn up, or he loses most of his feathers, his reaction is at most an insouciant shrug. 

Keigo directs you to a particular tool. You have to dig for it, kneeling on the floor by the foot of the bed, letting out a victorious “Aha!” before gapping at the thing.

They’re just normal, hardware store pliers, nothing special about them. And they’re the heavy duty ones, which makes them extra intimidating. 

Growing concerned at your sudden silence, Keigo glances at you over his shoulder. “You doin’ okay down there?”

“These things look like they belonged to Norman Bates,” you deadpan.

Keigo lets out a quiet chuckle. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, y’know.” He takes a moment to examine your expression. “It won’t hurt me. I promise.”

Only slightly reassured, you climb onto the bed beside him, pliers in hand. You realize once you’ve ascended that you’re not sure how to position yourself. Right now you’re sitting by his calves, inside the bottom curve of his wing, but you can’t reach very much from down here. You extend a hand, just to test. Your palm lands on soft, soft quills, stroking gently. 

Keigo coughs delicately. “You uh, you’re gonna have to straddle me, sweetheart.”

Oh. Fuck. His voice is so deep you can almost feel it, and – you think about warning him off saying stuff like that to you, but some wicked part of you wishes he would keep talking in that low rumble. 

You do as he instructed, tossing a leg over, hovering above the back of his thighs, afraid of putting too much pressure on him.

Keigo huffs a laugh. “A little higher, dove. You’re gonna tire out real quick if you keep yourself up like that. You can put your weight on me, it’s alright.” 

Tentatively you wiggle up his body until you’re above his lower back, then you drop down until you’re sitting on him. Your face is on fire–you’re glad he can’t see– but the long shuddering sigh he releases makes you feel a little better. Not strained, but pleasured. Content.

The position is so intimate, so close. A mean little voice in the back of your mind tells you his soulmate will probably do this for him when you’re gone.

“Yeah, that’s it.” His voice is hoarse, like he’s just woken up. You can feel the vibrations of his through his shirt, between your thighs. “Now just choose one and yank.”

It’s much easier to reach from this position. You spot a particularly ruined feather and secure the pliers around it. You’re hesitant at first, but with encouragement and a bit of goading from Keigo, you manage to exert the right amount of pressure and the feather comes loose without fanfare.

Keigo is silent and still after that, but you keep going until there’s a circle of discarded feathers around you, and his wings look pristine again. 

“Now what?” you ask, voice a whisper. A strange, tense quiet has settled over the afternoon like a blanket. It’s almost stifling.

“Oil,” Keigo whispers back. It’s clipped, like he can barely get the word out. “In the places you took the feathers out.” 

He doesn’t say anything else, so you climb off and select the bottle of oil that smells the best before returning to your post above him. At the first touch of your oil-wet fingers on his tender skin, he lets out a growling moan.

You pull away, mortified, intensely aroused, but put them back just as quickly when Keigo demands, “More.”

He doesn’t make anymore sounds after that, but his breathing grows increasingly heavy and ragged until you’re finished and he’s panting beneath you like he’s just run a marathon. 

“Okay,” you say, though you’ve yet to remove yourself. You can’t help it. You’re enamored. Your hands continue to run through the soft bristles, teasing as the base of spines. “I think I’m done.”

You force yourself to stop, lamenting the loss. It will probably be cold without him between your thighs. You shift to clamber off when he twitches beneath you.

You barely register what’s happened when suddenly you’re beneath him, his hands on your shoulders and then your waist, his wings arced behind him, massive, magnificent.

He lowers his hips until crucial places are touching, until you feel something – hard. There are so many layers of clothing between you still, but you roll up against him nearly groaning at the shock of pleasure it gives you.

Then – it’s like Keigo’s arms give out. His whole body sinks against yours, his weight substantial, perfect. He breathes into the curve of your neck, “Angel. Oh, fuck.”

So you do it again, testing him. His groan is delicious. You can feel it in the tips of your toes, in your moistening folds. Again, your body is calling to you. Again.

Keigo’s hands are on your hips, stilling you. He whines, deep and soft, right against your ear. His lips nibble at the shell. “Angel. Baby. You gotta stop, or–”

Searching for any kind of stimulation, you reach around him and grope his wings, blindly curling your fingers into the feathers near the base. His reaction is knee-jerk – he grinds against you, a continuous roll of his hips that leaves you straining against him, grasping harder at his wings, spurring him on with your panting breaths.

“That’s it baby, just like that. You’re doing so good,” Keigo coos. His hands tighten on you, bringing you up against him, your whole body sinking into the mattress with each of his ruts. “Keep pulling on my feathers. Oh, fuck. Fuck.”

His hands are gripping, groping. He finds all the bare skin he can, his strokes are relishing and deep. He cups your throat, not tight, but a gentle, reassuring pressure – he’s here, he’s the one above you. He nuzzles his cheek against yours, his breath so warm warm warm. Even that small amount of contact drives him wild.

“Oh god, you feel so good. Always. Please.” His words don’t make any sense, just high, keening tones that make you sweat, make you clench around nothing. “Baby, oh sweetheart. You’re so fucking soft.”

Even harder. Even more. The feeling builds, driven by the endless motions of the man above you until you shatter, gripping onto him anywhere you can, arms, hair, wings.

He follows you down, letting out a broken groan against the very corner of your mouth, his wings fluttering. 

You stay like that for a few minutes, just breathing each other in. When he finally pulls away, it’s just barely, only so he can see your face. His grin is sloppy, almost silly, but so, so bright. Suddenly you’re jealous of the woman who will get this, him, whenever she wants.

“So?” Keigo hums, trailing a finger up your throat, chuckling when you shudder.

It’s a leading word, you know. He just waits after you reply with your own, “So.”

The silence begins to grow cold between the two of you. His expression turns serious the longer you hold out, slightly pained. He’s waiting for you to speak, so he can respond accordingly. He doesn’t want you to feel bad. But you know how this part goes – you have the interview memorized. I’d wait forever for them.

You press a hand against his chest. It’s meant to be soothing, but one of his own flies to it, gripping. “It doesn’t have to mean anything,” you assure him.

He scowls down at you. His eyes are glassy. He shoves your hand off. 

“Right,” he says, lifting off you, pulling away. You miss his heat. Your throat stings. “Okay. I should take you home.” 

You don’t know what went wrong. That certainly wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but what else could you say? You aren’t delusional, you know that this was just a fling, just biding time before the real thing. 

“You don’t have to…” you murmur, but Keigo shuts that down.

“Like hell you’re wriggling out of it,” he huffs.