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hope is a thing with feathers

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They're already freefalling when it hits her.

He has no daemon. It’s enough to send a jolt of adrenaline – of horror – through her, because at first she’d assumed his daemon was something small or shy or hovering outside the building. At first, it had been absolutely unthinkable that he'd lack a daemon. It doesn't matter that he's from space, for they share the same genes and species and Wise had even mentioned daemons in passing during their conversation. The man walks and talks and functions, after all, which should be enough to assure her that he does have a daemon.

In the open air, however, there’s no escaping or ignoring reality.

Caine Wise has no daemon, and the idea terrifies her almost as much as the men out to kill her.

Makya settles late for a Skyjumper trainee. He’s not perturbed by it – a lot of things worry him, but blaming Makya for being slow to settle is akin to blaming the stars for the seasons. Idiotic, for one, and a complete waste of time for another.

When she curls around him, tail plumed white and teeth razor sharp, he shivers. She’s all legs in her wolf body, but it’s obvious she can fight as well as she can run. She grins at him, tongue lolling out from between her canines, and he smiles back. It's an odd feeling, the curling of pride in his chest, but he looks at Makya and in her, there's a trace of who he's meant to be.

“Sir,” he says the next day to his training CO, back straight and eyes steady. “I need to file paperwork for a Settling.”

The commander glares at him, glares at Makya, then lets out a low growl at the both of them. “Another wolf,” he says, but sounds almost pleased. He pauses, growls again. “A little runty, isn’t she? She’ll grow, but can't fix her being an albino. Albinos are bad luck, Trainee.”

Caine locks his back, raises his chin. Makya curls up one lip, teeth flashing ever so slightly at the man, and shifts her weight as though she expects a fight.

Their CO grins at her – not a friendly grin, but a baring of teeth just like her own – and then offers her a hand. His wings flare out slightly behind him, his wolf eyes waiting for her to back down from the challenge. For a long moment, Makya refuses to cede - simply stares back at him and sees if he's willing to fight. He outlasts her, in the end, and she butts her head under his palm with a low whine of apology.

(“What was that about?” Caine asks later.

Makya blinks slowly. “He seemed… sad.” A long silence between the two of them, until she sighs. “Caine, have you ever seen his daemon?”

Caine stops scratching her ears, thinks a moment. “No,” he decides at last, and the thought makes his breath catch and throat tighten.

“Have you seen any of the other trainers’ daemons?” She asks.

Caine doesn’t answer.)

Despite her complete and utter terror, the gravity shoes are cool. Yuri seems to agree; he catches their tailwind and sails in their wake, sometimes so close his feathers brush her hair and other times so far her breath catches despite herself.

Yuri’s exhausted by the time they steal the car, but he watches Caine with more puzzlement than suspicion as the stranger drives. Jupiter runs her fingers through his glossy blue-black feathers until the raven hops off the dashboard to perch on the seat rest between them, and her empty hand falls back into her lap. 

“You feel strange,” he says, and Jupiter flinches before she can stop herself.

Caine lets out a whuff of breath, eyes fixed on the road and obviously refusing to look at either of them. “My training manual states taboos between daemons and other species also exist on planets such as yours. Or is such conversation common?”

“You don’t have a daemon,” Yuri says loudly over Jupiter’s hiss for him to shut up. “So I have to speak with you.”

Caine’s knuckles tighten on the steering wheel as Yuri speaks, and Jupiter almost misses how he gives them both a quick half-glance despite himself. 

“No,” he says, and there’s such a strong note of finality in his voice that Yuri and Jupiter both drop the subject. He says the word again, so softly she almost misses the curl of pain around the word. “No.”

He’s shaking when they walk into the lab, he’s shaking and sixteen and they’re about to graduate after they finally get their wings and their commission and their freedom.

Makya’s three years settled and the wolf presses against him, her cool nose bumping under his throat. He scratches her ears, letting loose a long breath and locking his tension away. He inhales, slowly, counting moments as they pass.

“We got this,” she says. She’s almost fully grown, still white with pink eye,s but he’s grown into her too long legs by this point. “Officer material here, after all.”

They’ll earn a rank and they’ll earn a pack, they decided years ago. This is their chance to get both, Caine knows. Makya's just as nervous as he is, by the way she sniffs the air as they enter the lab and how she growls under her breath.

“We’ll be fine.” It’s his turn for reassurance. We always are, he doesn’t say. One of the doctors gesture them over and he releases the breath he didn’t know he’s been holding.

This is it, he knows. The moment they’ve spent a lifetime working for. The moment they get their wings and a rank and –

The restraints lock into place. Makya lets out a low whine, and suddenly something is wrong, something hurts and he’s screaming and she’s howling and they’re both begging for them to stop, but no one listens, the doctors don’t care, it doesn’t matter to them because he’s bought and paid for and suddenly his voice is the only one filling his room because –

(This is the splicing.)

She’s still getting over the shock of Wise’s lack of a daemon when they meet Stinger Apini.

Correction: when Wise’s face meets Stinger Apini’s fist.

At this point, it’s only with a dulled moment of shock that Jupiter realizes Apini also lacks a daemon.

Their fight is a quick, brutal thing that boils over with the force of their fury. Caine snarls intermittently and on occasion, they exchange words as forceful as their blows, but mostly they fight in deadly silence.

“Do you not have daemons?” Jupiter asks Kiza.

Kiza gives her father a quick glance and says, “We do.”

Jupiter closes her mouth, and later when Caine’s out of the room, asks Stinger about the wings.

He fumbles over himself for a moment, and Jupiter watches the way he watches Yuri and how her raven watches him back.

“They’re made out of Dust,” Stinger says, and Jupiter stares at him.

“You don’t have a daemon,” she states.

He smiles, but it’s a sad, solemn thing and his rapid fire moments stutter briefly. “No,” he says, and he and Yuri continue to watch one another. “Not anymore.”

“Where is she?” Caine snarls, shaking with rage and fury and throwing himself against the bars of his cage. The iron presses against his skin, sure to leave bruises, but it’s hardly more than a glancing blow. “Where is she?”

“Wise,” comes a clipped voice. Caine sniffs at the air, growling slightly and shaking his head as the scent reaches his nose. His wings flare at his back as he searches the darkness for the newcomer. “Stinger Apini, your new commanding officer.”

“What did you do with Makya?” he demands, ignoring Apini’s words.

Apini crouches down beside his cell, wincing slightly as his knees bend. “I did nothing to your daemon,” Apini replies. “You’ve been Spliced.”

“What does that mean?” Caine demands.

“Your daemon was a wolf, wasn’t she? They performed an intercision on the two of you, and used her Dust to give you your wings and new senses. You’re just as much daemon as you are human, now.”

“They killed her?” Caine asks, and he snarls again, fresh fury giving him energy to leap forward. Apini doesn’t flinch as Caine crashes against the bars. He falls back, hitting the ground once more. “All our trainers-”

“She’s not dead,” Apini replies, and his mouth twists. He’s probably quoting some company line meant to justify this to them both. “She’s just…” he waves a hand over his chest. “Inside, like some species have it.”

Caine doesn’t rise from his crouch, and Apini sighs, jingling the keys in his hand. “You’re being released under my command,” the man says. Caine stands slowly, head titling. On his back, the wings that he’d once looked forward to receiving flex and rustle. “Do you consent to obey my orders, to serve as a Skyjumper, to protect the Entitled, and to obey the laws until the day of your death or the termination of your service, whichever comes first?”

Caine hovers at the edge of the choice. We’ll get our rank and our pack, he’d promised Makya. Apini watches him with that blend of empathy and pity, his own wings peeking out from under his uniform jacket, and maybe it's the underlying thread of guilt that makes him speak.

“Unlock it, then,” he says, and Apini does.

“I have more in common with a dog than I have with you,” Caine says, and Yuri laughs at him.

“He’s a raven,” Jupiter has to explain. Caine still looks confused and she rolls her eyes. We like playing with wolves.”

(Caine gapes at them then, and Yuri's laugh - this time aimed at her - filled the air as Wise goes).

Caine’s already numb by the time they take his wings, numb and half out of his mind. There’s something unraveling in him, the last remnants of Makya calling for a pack she’ll never receive. It hurts when they take his wings, but he has no strength in him left to beg.

He'd held on as long as he could and found his breaking point.

Apini falls with him, and maybe that’s what he regrets most of all.

Yuri’s name means earthworker, Jupiter knows. Perhaps that’s why it’s so ironic that he’s a raven, that he’s the reason the Abrasax children know her as mother. Yuri’s name means earthworker, but he’s always been one to look to the sky than at the earth below.

Maybe they’ve always been destined to hold the Earth’s title in their hands, maybe Yuri is the reason why she stands with the power to abdicate the Earth to a genocidal sociopath and why she hates housekeeping almost as much as she hates the cycle of poverty she's been trapped in her entire life. Maybe they’ve just stumbled into this by bad luck, maybe she was just at the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up with the right amount of power.

(She’s most inclined to go for the last explanation. There's no fate or destiny in a universe where three siblings held the power to destroy entire civilizations.)

Yuri and her stand poised for battle, and it’s Jupiter who says no.

It’s Yuri who attacks Balem, Yuri who swoops down and screams defiance at their enemies, and it’s Yuri who swoops at Balem's daemon.

It's Jupiter who fires the gun and lowers the pipe at Balem's head.

Earthworker, he had been named, and that’s the thought Jupiter holds as they fall.

“Makya,” he whispers one night as his wings fold around them both and his chin rests on her shoulder. She doesn’t stiffen, doesn’t turn, just melts back into him. “That was her name.”

“Makya,” she rolls the name around on her tongue and he likes the sound. Yuri does a little hop that ends up with him settled on Caine’s shoulder. There’s no sense of taboo between them – there never has been between Caine and daemons, not since Makya was cut away. The weight of her raven’s a comfortable one, by now. “It suits you.”

“Thank you, your Majesty,” he says, smiling around the words. Yuri’s beak runs through Caine’s highest flight feathers, a preening motion that never fails to bleed tension away. Her head turns so that she can look him in the eye. Yuri pauses, his own motion stilling. Both of them - Yuri and Jupiter - stare at him with a fierce gaze, one more suited to a hunting bird than a scavenger.

“Do you miss her?” she asks, the words dropping into the conversation like a weight between them.

Caine turns the words around, considering them. Anyone else that asked the question – even Apini – would have received merely silence as an answer. He thinks of long nights huddled alone, of solitary hunts, of pack.

“Not as much as I used to,” he says, as Yuri’s beak begins to run through his feathers once more.