The Wings of Wrath; Part OneA Gross Underestimation; Growing Up
Chapter 1; Pale Male
NEW YORK CITY, CENTRAL PARK
Fang had read an article in National Geographic about the falcon. He'd likened himself to Pale Male on many occasions and now it felt as though he and the falcon were the last remaining bit of untamable, ancient wild in the new, user friendly world.
There was a small crowd thronged around him on the sidewalk, which on any other occasion would have bothered him. He hated being in crowds, he hated being around people who were "normal". Part of him resented the "perfect" people. The ones who walked about and took airplanes instead of flapping their genetically implanted wings and flying off on their own.
It was these "perfect" people who had changed him. Who had spliced his human DNA with avian DNA, these "perfect" people were responsible for everything he'd been though, for everything The Flock had been through.
It bothered him on a very deep level, although he would never admit it to anyone.
He ran a hand through his hair and a woman with a video camera pushed in front of him, nearly knocking him back into the street.
He tore his gaze from the building long enough to step onto safer ground a few feet away from the crowd snapping pictures and whispering "isn't he beautiful" like a group of school children at a zoo.
That's all this is ... A zoo, a big, concrete and metal ZOO!
Fang looked over his shoulder at Central Park, disgust wrinkling his youthfully handsome face. The expression aged him, turning him into an old bitter man instead of a teenager. He hated the city ... This Urban Zoo ... Even the trees were on display here, trimmed and pruned into attractive shapes and sizes so as not to take away from the "beauty" of the big, hard, cold city.
The smell of car exhaust was thick, mingling with the stench of steaming sewer grates and briny wind coming off the near stagnant seawater in the harbor.
He wanted to fly.
He wanted to leap into the wind and fly away from this city, back into the wild, back into the mountains, into the open, welcoming arms of Mother Nature.
Fang couldn't help but smile at that. Who needed actual parents when you had Mother Nature?
Mother Nature who was constantly shrinking, receding into nothingness as Brother Development and Sister Technology ate away at her lush green expanses.
And where was Father Science?
Fang scoffed and turned back to the building, shielding his eyes against the sun as he peered up at the balcony Pale Male now perched on triumphantly.
Father Science was at work creating genetic-hybrids like Fang and The Flock. Father Science was running mad, creating things that were not born of Mother Nature, but were created in Madam Laboratory and kept in dog cages so they would never get to know Mother before Brother and Sister killed her.
The woman with the video camera bumped into him again and Fang ground his teeth together, his hands curling into fists by his sides.
Fine, I'm going! He growled in his head and briskly walked to the corner. Not like anyone wants me around here anyway.
He crossed his arms over his chest and waited for the little sign protruding from the side of a metal pole across the street to display the WALK light.
He heard the sound of cars and traffic diminish to a dull throb as he headed deeper and deeper into the park. He looked to his left and right warily to make sure no one was watching, and he left the path slipping into a dense grouping of bushes.
"Where have you been? We've been looking all over!" Max stormed up to him scowling, her lower lip out defiantly.
He smiled inwardly. He loved it when she got flustered. For some reason it amused him. Making her flush and splutter made him ... Happy.
It was as if seeing Max on unfamiliar ground, ground she didn't control made her seem all the more viciously attractive. Just a hint of feminine uncertainty, the slight pout of her lower lip, the way she twisted a loose tendril of her hair around her finger. The fierce, hunter/warrior like gleam to her big brown eyes.
He loved the way she could be vulnerable and menacing at the same time. She could loose all control but would never let the look of complete dominance leave her face.
She scrunched her eyebrows down and her eyes flicked to his midsection for half a second then back to his face.
He wasn't stupid, he knew what she'd been looking at, anyone with half a male brain would know what she'd been looking at. And it made him feel powerful knowing that he could distract her in such a way.
And the fact that she'd let her guard down long enough to throw a glance THERE on HIM, made Fang feel like the most powerful bird-boy on the face of the planet ... Though he'd never tell anyone.
"Was out," He shoved his hands into his pockets and brushed past her, his elbow barely grazing her arm.
She turned on him scowling. "We thought you'd been captured or worse! You shouldn't just DISAPEAR like that!"
He shrugged again, throwing an innocent glance over his shoulder.
A slight red tint crept into her face and Fang knew that if he hadn't seen it grow there he never would have noticed the slight change in her skin.
She pursed her pink lips and tried to give him a scathing look, but it came off more as a 'I can't believe this is amusing me' half grin.
She didn't talk to him for the rest of the day, which didn't particularly bother him. In fact, it pleased him. Not because he couldn't hear her voice, but because he'd caused her to become so emotional she couldn't speak to him. He loved knowing he could cause such a reaction in her. It made him feel like he knew her better than the rest of The Flock. He knew that this silence was his and his only. He was the only one of the six of them who could get THAT silence.
They slept in the thicket that night. Hiding as best as they could among the sparse brush and prickly pines. Fang was on watch when it happened.
He was perched in a tree, invisible from the ground, which for him was not that difficult. He was dressed entirely in black, as usual, and had the hood of his sweatshirt up, shadowing his face. He completely blended in with the darkness in the tree, a feat he'd perfected in the short expanse of his pseudo-freedom.
He heard the slight whooshing of night air on wings and turned his eyes to the right scanning the clearing just beyond the trees.
Big pale wings fluttered and something landed on the branch beside him.
Fang stiffened, it wasn't a bird-kid, it was a regular bird, but not just any regular bird. It was a falcon, a pale falcon with bright golden eyes. He thought of the hawks he and Nudge had flown with a few days before and his chest tightened.
The bird turned his head, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. He clacked his beak and ruffled his feathers, lifting his wings to appear larger, more menacing.
Fang felt himself shrink back eyes dropping to the ground so as not to seem intimidating. He may be able to fight, but he was no match for a falcon. Falcons had talons all Fang had were dirty little half-chewed fingernails and teeth that hadn't been brushed in two days.
The falcon sidestepped toward him, its head down a soft almost chirping sound shivering in its throat.
Fang felt the little feathers on his wings stand on end and he realized which particular falcon was on his branch.
Pale Male lifted his wings a bit higher and bobbed his head his beak partially open the spear of his tongue exposed.
Fang had a fleeting thought that Pale Male was trying to communicate with him.
The falcon twitched his wings again and bobbed his head.
Fang imitated him warily not particularly sure why Pale Male wasn't in his nest instead of having a rudimentary conversation with him on a tree limb.
The falcon's head cocked to the side and he extended his wings and flapped twice coming off the branch before settling back onto it closer to Fang.
He felt a smile creep over his face and he slowly raised his hand his fingers out.
Pale Male hissed at him and lifted his wings as if to say, 'HOW DARE YOU!'
Fang lowered his hand and realized he'd just tried to touch the 'pretty birdie'. He had shown no respect to Pale Male, he'd acted ... Human. Pale Male was NOT human, therefore he didn't understand.
Fang raised his hands again and slid the hood of his sweatshirt off his head. A lock of his black hair fell into his face. He slowly eased his wings open so the bird could catch his scent and see that he didn't mean any harm. He dropped his eyes, showing submission. This was, after all, Pale Male's turf, not his.
The Falcon's wings lowered slightly and the beak closed. He turned his head from side to side and the soft chirping sound began again. The flaxen feathers on his throat swelled as he breathed and the soft, leathery lids flashed twice over his golden eyes. He studied Fang intently, the no doubt complicated workings of his brain scrutinizing the part avian creature perched beside him as if he were something startlingly familiar yet frighteningly alien.
Pale Male twitched his wings and jumped onto Fang's back, his razor sharp talons cutting into the hood of his jacket, yet amazingly never scratching Fang himself.
Fang sat absolutely still, terrified that perhaps Pale Male thought he was a female, or maybe something that would taste very good if eaten. His fingers dug into the limb and he contemplated calling for Max to look at him and perhaps help but then Pale Male shifted, his tail swiping the side of Fang's face as he turned.
The soft chirping didn't waver as the falcon lowered his head, his eyes inches from Fang's wings. He inspected the shafts as if appraising them in their quality. Then to Fang's surprise Pale Male took one feather in his beak and gave it a slight but firm tug.
Fang slowly turned his head and tried to see exactly what the falcon was doing to him. The golden eyes connected with his for a moment before Pale Male simply hopped off his shoulder and side stepped along the branch facing the clearing.
The big ashen wings spread and he lowered himself on his powerful legs, readying his body to leap into the air as his kind had done for hundreds if not thousands of years. But he hesitated, turning his head to the dark bird-boy beside him. For a moment there was no sound and the keen intelligent, hunter's eyes probed Fang's.
Fang turned on the limb slowly his wings lifting, ready to propel him into the cool night air on the down stroke.
The Falcon almost seemed to smile and he sprang forward sailing off toward the moon.
Fang followed silently, knowing that he shouldn't have left The Flock there alone, guard-less, but a sense of peace stole over him as he ascended and slowed to a glide beside Pale Male.
Some kind of primal link had been created between them and Fang knew this link was a bond. As long as he and The Flock were in Central Park, no Erasers would get near them. Pale Male would make sure of that.
The golden eyes turned to him and he looked back into them confidently, knowing that to the falcon he was small, despite his size. He was young, inexperienced ... A fledgling.
Pale Male folded his wings and dived, rolling over in the air and Fang followed, imitating him, feeling the cool air rush up past his face and knowing that this time it was somehow different. It was like the first time he'd flown, the first time he'd maneuvered in a hairpin dive. The first time he'd spread his wings and shot upward so fast he had to close his eyes for a moment to keep the wind from drawing tears from him.
His wingtips brushed the dew damp grass and he wanted to laugh, to hear the wild joy he felt from flying with Pale Male. He wanted Max to feel this ... Feeling this happy would do her some good. Maybe lighten the load of finding the New York branch of the School. Give her a moment's respite before she had to go back to work, before she had to face THEM.
He glanced over at the falcon and flicked his eyes downward at the thicket where The Flock slept. Pale Male seemed to understand him because he tucked his wings and dove, rolling over in the air.
He landed as softly as he could on shaking legs and turned to watch the falcon gallop across the grass to him, wings raised. Pale Male stopped, folded his wings and cocked his head at Fang, chirping in his throat.
Max rushed out of the shadows her eyes wide. "Fang? What are you doing? Is it Eras-" She stopped mid-sentence and stared at the falcon her brown eyes squinting, "Is that ... Is that a-"
Fang raised a finger to his lips and motioned her forward, "Be quiet."
Max lowered her head and slowly crept to him staring at the big raptor uneasily. "What's going on?"
"SHH!" He scolded, "Sit down, wings out."
She glanced at him untrusting but complied.
Pale Male turned his head side to side and flapped his wings at Max clacking his beak.
"What's he doing, Fang?" She hissed nervously out of the corner of her mouth.
Max didn't move until the falcon began to circle her. She stiffened and her feathers stood on end.
Fang watched as Pale Male took one of Max's feathers in his beak and drew it across his tongue and a smile came to his face when he realized what Pale Male was doing.
"What is happening?"
"He's preening you, just don't move, you might offend him."
"Why is he preening me?"
Fang nearly laughed but was able to bite back the sound. "He's accepting you ... Kind of ... Uh ... He's making friends with you."
"And he preened you?" She cast him a rather disbelieving look and cocked an eyebrow.
Fang nodded, and nearly jumped out of his skin when Pale Male flapped a few feet away and began beating his wings impatiently, jumping upward with a kick before closing his wings and settling back onto the ground.
Fang crouched slightly and sprang upward seeming to hover about six feet off the ground, swooping this way and that waiting for Max and Pale Male to join him.
Not long after that Fang felt his heart leap when Max gave a short, enraptured laugh as she rolled over in the air following Pale Male on another bombing run across the clearing.
He watched her break from the dive and sail up toward him majestically the falcon's slightly darker wings casting a perfect shadow across her back. For a moment Fang envisioned a second, black falcon flying along with them and that strange sense of peace fell over him again.
There were no worries, no cares, no problems as long as this moment never ended. As long as Max's laugh never ended...
The pre-dawn glow was lightening the sky and Fang found himself sprawled on his back in the grass watching Max and Pale Male swoop over him again, their wings beating in near synch to thrust them upward into the air. She was smiling. A rare, genuine smile and he wanted to capture the raw beauty of it and never let it go.
Girl and falcon circled the park once more before landing in the clearing. Max approached him, her arms dangling, a thin layer of sweat making her face, arms and the exposed 'U' of her neck and chest shimmer. She turned her brown eyes to him and the intensity in them nearly burned Fang into a cinder of need.
Max lowered herself beside him on her stomach panting her eyes closed, face flushed. She smiled again and sighed, a soft, delicious alto sound that rumbled deep in her chest and throat and Fang could think of only one word for it...
He wondered absently if perhaps she made that sound when she was alone, thinking private, feminine ... Special things. When no one was looking and idle hands wandered...
What would that sound taste like...
She opened her eyes and gave him a hungry look that told him exactly what that sound tasted like and he had to sit up, his legs crossed shoulders hunched to hide what it did to him. That was a new look, and Fang wasn't entirely sure if it was for him or the falcon.
Fang looked around searching the clearing but Pale Male was gone-
Papers, falling like rain, drowning him. Envelopes and, stamps all lined up and ready for him ... Endless hallways of cold, empty mailboxes... The dumpy little postmaster standing behind the desk shaking his head...
"Dear, Mr. Hutchinson ... My name is Nick-"
Chapter 2; Flying in The Dark
Fang woke from the dream. It was a good dream, he'd had it before but not recently. He rolled over in bed and stared at the rain streaking over the window.
How long had it been since that night in New York? Five, six months ... A year, two?
He sighed and pressed his left forearm over his eyes. So long ago ... Such a short time...
His hand drifted down under the blankets, over his bare chest, over slightly raised scars across his stomach. Scars that hadn't been there that night in New York, scars that shouldn't have been forced upon him at all.
But, he was glad it was him and not Max.
Fang lowered his left arm and his eyes turned to the wall his bed was sitting against, that was Max's wall. On the other side of that wood and plaster was Max. Sleeping in her bed, her soft long hair splayed out on her pillow, her even softer pink, sassy lips parted.
Calm, slow breathing, big brown eyes closed, long lashes fanned on her cheeks...
He turned away from the wall, away from Max and yanked his hands from under the blankets clasping them behind his head, tangling his fingers in his hair.
He'd begun letting his hair grow just after Itex fell. At first it had been because they were too busy to stop and get hair cuts and he didn't like the idea of Max holding a knife that close to his neck but then it was because Max gave him looks over it. Deep needy, 'you are so annoying' looks. He liked those looks ... They amused him.
It was just long enough to curl into his mouth when he tried to eat, which got annoying sometimes, especially at the public school he and the flock attended with Ella. And there was nothing like Max's mom's chocolate-chip cookies topped with hair.
He let out a sigh and started rubbing a few strands of his hair between finger and thumb a grin starting to form on his face. High School... It made him proud, made him feel important somehow that he was in High School now... It almost made him feel normal.
He only had this last year ... This final year and he'd graduate. Something that, two years ago when Itex fell, hadn't mattered that much to him... But now ... For some reason it DID matter. He yawned and wondered what Iggy and Max thought of Graduation...
He stifled a groan and covered his face, scratching the little hairs growing on his jaw and chin, trying to focus on anything but Max. He tried thinking of the post office, his new favorite place. Or of the letter he'd sent out three weeks before, his very first letter. The letter that had somehow found its way into his dreams... But that distraction didn't help, it only made him even more edgy. He looked back at the window and was glad to see the rain had stopped finally.
He nearly jumped out of bed, tossing back the sheets and creeping, bare footed across the rug to the window. He thrust up the sash and stuck his head out into the cool Arizona night air. It smelled clean, slightly like moist dirt and leaves and the sound of night insects softened the harsh darkness into a cool, soft velvet.
It was a perfect September night...
He didn't care if he was only in his boxers, being out of the house, away from Max's wall, away from his idle hands and thoughts of 'The Letter' made being practically naked seem less important. Besides, he'd be back before anyone realized he was gone. Just a quick cruise around the forest...
He perched himself on the sill his wings raised and pushed outward. He felt a sharp tearing sensation in his right wing and hissed, turning his head in time to see a few of his feathers see-saw to the roof.
He shook his head and struck out, sailing over the Martinez house, car and yard and he swooped down into the forest. He felt stray raindrops falling from drying brown leaves strike his body, cold little taps on his skin and he zigzagged around trees, barely able to see them until he was practically rubbing his nose on the bark.
Okay, a rain drenched forest on a moonless night ... Great idea! He thought and angled himself upward toward the night sky ... only to bash the top of his head against a rather large tree limb.
He bit down hard on his tongue and everything went white for a moment then began fading into gray. He felt himself falling head over heels and he awkwardly opened his wings trying to flap his way out of the dive, hoping to slow his fall but he hit hard and his left wing crumpled like paper, bending completely backward until he could see his feathers by his ear-
He felt a vicious pop and pain exploded in the wing, knifing up and down its length and into his back.
That didn't feel good... And everything went dark.
Max woke with a start. Her whole body tingled unpleasantly, her mouth was dry and a name was on her lips.
She'd been having a wonderful memory/dream of a night nearly two and a half years ago in New York. The night she and Fang had flown with Pale Male. That had been a good night. She'd seen a familiar look in that falcon's eyes. A look she'd seen in Fang's on many occasions. Some of them when he was fighting Erasers, or Flyboys, others when he was alone thinking and believed no one could see him sitting in his bedroom window staring out over the treetops.
She'd been dreaming of that night and that look when suddenly something white had exploded in her mind. Not one of her Brain Explosions, but something like it. She had felt pain, a great deal of it only ... It was someone else's pain.
Her chest felt hollow as if part of her was being pulled away, through her wall and to the northeast. She crawled out of bed rubbing her arms not because she was cold, but because she was scared.
Something was wrong.
She walked across her room, decorated with maps whereon little colored dots were drawn, scratched out or circled. Little messages were scribbled beside each scratched out dot but one in particular in Germany had been scratched out multiple times in different colored ink and a little smiley face with wings drawn above it, its tongue out.
There were also pictures all over the walls. Pictures of Max, her younger sister Ella and their mother, pictures of The Flock enjoying cookies, playing baseball, having their first real birthday parties. Silly pictures of Fang, Gasman and Iggy having a food-fight while eating hotdogs, mustard and ketchup smeared on their faces and in their hair. And one Fang had taken of himself where he was grinning widely, his hair in his eyes.
And there was of course Max's favorite picture of Fang. He'd also taken this one of himself and he was reclining in his bedroom window. His eyes were distant, yet incredibly intense, hungry for something Max was sure was NOT chocolate chip cookies, no matter how heavenly.
She paused under this picture and tapped gingerly on the wall, "Fang?" She whispered and pressed her ear to the map she'd pinned up, "Fang, are you OK?"
He didn't answer and she couldn't hear the uncharacteristic soft snoring sounds he made when he slept in a safe place.
He wasn't in his room.
Max walked to the window and opened it, staring across the way to his. Hoping to see him perched on the edge of the roof as she had many nights before, but all she saw was four little black feathers.
Fang was gone.