Ichigo winced as he forced his eyes open. He was in a cage, surrounded by other cages, barely visible in the dark. He focused on what had awakened him. Outside he could hear shouting and the clang of metal wheels on concrete.
They must be bringing in more experiments, he thought, too exhausted to care. The fury and disgust that had filled him before had long since been worn out. He had nothing left; no fight, no strength. There were no other experiments human enough to communicate with, and the white coats were their own brand of monster.
The door slammed open and light streamed in. He shut his eyes tight against the glare and listened as a cage was pulled off the cart and slammed to the ground next to him. He whimpered faintly at the loudness of it. He waited until the white coats had gone and it was dark once more before before lifting his head. Well, trying to anyway.
Spots swam before his eyes. Letting out a small gasp, he slid to the floor of the cage again. His whole body ached. What had they done to him?
"Easy, easy," whispered a girl's voice as a small hand slipped through the bars of his cage, stroking his vibrant orange hair. As his breathing eased, the hand was withdrawn. Blinking spots from his vision, he tried to tilt his head towards where the voice had come from.
"Here." Small hands helped him move so that he could see into the cage beside him. A little girl with curly blonde hair sat indian-style in the dog crate.
The small act of kindness gave him the energy to form a question.
"What's your name?" he rasped weakly.
"I'm Angel. How about you?"
"Ichigo... Kurosaki," he managed.
Angel winced at his voice. She could tell how much it cost him to talk, but she could also feel how desperate for human contact he was.
Leaning down, she whispered, "You don't have to say anything. Just think it and I'll hear you."
He gave her a puzzled look.
"I'm a human-avian hybrid. Reading minds is one of my abilities," she answered.
Human-avian hybrid? he thought curiously.
Angel smiled. She usually had a much harder time convincing people of her abilities. She liked this Ichigo boy.
"My DNA was changed. I'm 98% human and 2% avian."
That's not strange at all, came the dry reply.
Angel giggled and covered her mouth, curls bouncing as she laughed. I bet he'd fit in really well in the flock.
Can... Can you tell me... What they did to me? he thought quietly. (Even in telepathy, you can whisper!)
"You don't know?" she asked, startled and little worried. Just how badly hurt is he?
A tentative 'no' came through her thoughts next. She could feel his fear, of what her answer would be, and his boiling frustration at being so vulnerable. Sensing a slight tinge of panic, she intervened.
"You're okay. You're alright. It'll take me a minute to figure it out. You look pretty normal, and it's dark in here, so it's probably a pretty small or hard to notice change."
She leaned closer, pushing her face up against the bars. Hmmmm... She reached for the tangle of bandages on his back and ran her hands over it gently. She stopped suddenly, making a little noise of surprise.
What is it? Ichigo's thoughts came over as frantic.
"It's nothing bad, don't worry," she assured quickly. "I think I've got it figured out, just hold on a second."
She felt him sigh in relief, forcing himself to relax.
"It's good actually." She giggled at his exasperation. "You've got wings!"
He went completely still. She placed her hand on the back of his neck, rubbing gently. "It's okay. I have wings, too! So does all my family, even my dog! They'll come for me, and you can come with us when we escape."
She noticed him perk up a little. Encourage, she went on, "And you're wings are really pretty!"
I'm pretty? his thoughts came off as strained.
"Pretty, cool, whatever. Don't get your feathers ruffled," she retorted airily.
The appropriateness of that comment struck them both a minute later and they laughed. Angel's was sweet and chiming, Ichigo's shaky and rough, but both held a sort of pure tone.
Angel smiled again. He was exhausted and injured, but he had a wonderful laugh.
"I'm keeping you!" she declared.
Ichigo blinked, staring at her owlishly. "Huh?" was the most intelligent comment he could come up with.
"When my family comes, you're coming with us no matter what!" she clarified.
"Thank you," came the soft whisper.
"There's no reason to thank me," replied Angel. I like having you around. Now, do you want to know what your wings look like?"
"Yes!" Ichigo jumped at the chance.
"Okay. They're mostly white, but the bottom edges are black and a little shimmery, like they were dipped in oil."
He sighed a little, seeming happy about her description.
They sat in a comforting silence. Angel was nearly asleep when she heard him whisper, "Do you think your family will like me?"
She sat up and looked him in the eyes. "I like you. Max wouldn't turn away someone in need, and I bet you'd get along with Iggy great. Dylan is nice to everybody, and Gazzy will love having another brother. Nudge will love you too, but she's a real motormouth."
"That's okay. I have two little sisters, so I don't mind. Tell you what: If they don't show up before I'm better, I'll break us out myself and we can go find them."
Angel smiled happily. The flock was going to love Ichigo.