Chapter 18, Part 1
Cassie was up first. She dressed in her workout gear and slipped out without waking Abby. She was headed toward the stairs until a faint rhythmic tapping caught her attention. She turned back up the hallway past the rooms where her friends still slept up to the railing that looked down into the training area below. She wondered who would be up this early and working out. Usually Josh would go running first.
It was Declan. He was effortlessly jabbing and kicking the punching bag that hung in the corner. In the three days since he’d been there, he hadn’t seemed anxious to participate in any training. He was nice enough but he didn’t say much about himself. Which was fine, since they didn’t exactly reciprocate any information themselves.
From the way he was moving, he didn’t seem to need any combat training. A faint unease stirred. He could take care of himself. That much was apparent from the way he carried himself. Cassie wondered just what exactly he could do. She got more of an idea a few seconds later as he backed up. She finally noticed that he had modified a shirt, much like she had, to accommodate his wings.
They burst from his back, propelling him forward to deliver a punishing kick to the bag which slammed it into the wall with an echoing thud. The wings disappeared and he reached out to steady the dancing bag. The punching started again and Cassie backed away from the wall, debating with herself. Should she go down and talk to him? She still couldn’t get much of a read on him and talking would help. And she wanted to know how he was able to control his wings so well. She was nowhere that coordinated. She finally decided and descended the stairs.
He broke off the routine as she stepped through the door.
“Morning.” She offered a smile. He nodded in return.
“Didn’t wake you up, did I?” he jerked a thumb over his shoulder to the bag.
“No. I’m usually the first up.” She paused to gather up some courage. “Where’d you learn?” she glanced at the punching bag.
“My…old boss. One of the employees was a…former fighter. He’d had some training in different types of martial arts, so he trained me when they found out I was a bit of a brawler. Thought it would be a way to focus me.”
There it was again, Cassie thought. A brief hesitation when he talked about his past life, specifically his job.
“Did it?” she asked.
“You could say that. I picked it up pretty quick. Must be a side effect of whatever made us like this.”
“Why don’t you train with us then?”
He grabbed a towel and a water bottle as he shrugged.
“Still trying to decide what to do. I guess I’m considering this a bit of a fresh start.”
There was a wealth of unshared information behind that statement but Cassie could see from the set of his shoulders that he wasn’t about to start sharing.
“What about your wings? How did you learn how to use them?” Maybe he’d answer that.
“Practice mostly. It wasn’t easy to find a place where nobody would see. I eventually found an abandoned airfield outside of the city that I’d go to at night.” He glanced at her. “You don’t know how, do you?”
Heat seared across her face. “No. I’m trying to now. I’ve kept them bandaged up for most of my life.”
“So no one would find out.” Wasn’t that obvious?
“You don’t need bandages to keep them where they are. You don’t do that now.”
“People here know what we are. It’s easier now.”
He shrugged. “I suppose. But why did you never try before?”
“I did. And failed rather spectacularly.”
“So you didn’t keep practicing?”
She shook her head. She wished he wouldn’t keep pushing. Maybe he didn’t want to be normal, but she did. That’s all she had wanted after…
“Did your parents know?” she asked.
“Yeah, they both did. Mum called me her little Angel. Though devil might have been more appropriate considering the little terror I was.” A smile crossed his face. “Yours?”
She nodded. She wished her parents had been like that. She could still see the looks of terror on their face when they discovered their fourteen year old daughter had golden wings. “I’ve been on my own since they found out.” She glanced up to see his compassion.
“I’m sorry. You ran away?”
“Yeah. They freaked out pretty bad. Figured they wouldn’t want me around anymore.”
“My Da said that after all the missions he flew and after Novum, nothing really surprised him anymore.”
“Your dad was a fighter pilot too?”
“Yeah, that’s why he got picked to go to Novum.”
“Mine too.” Cassie paused and an idea teased her mind. “Do you think that’s why we have wings?”
Declan frowned. “I hadn’t really thought about it like that. Makes a bit of sense though.”
Cassie agreed. It might be something to mention to Braxton. Maybe it was important somehow.
A door slammed upstairs. Declan’s gaze flew upward in brief alarm. Cassie only smiled.
“That’s just Caleb. He’s determined to beat Josh down to breakfast one of these days.”
Declan laughed. “I’ll be sure to ask how that goes.” He spread his wings.
“Where are you going?” Cassie stepped back.
“Upstairs to change.” He smirked a little. She glanced up. He would be able to fly up to the railing around their floor without any difficulty. “Come on. There’s room for both of us.”
“I don’t know.” She backed up another step.
“Look, all you have to do is fly up and grab the railing. Then you climb over.”
It did sound simple enough. And didn’t entail any form of landing. She hesitantly opened her wings, emboldened a little by his encouraging smile. He launched first, reaching the second floor in two great flaps. He grabbed the rail and jammed a foot in the bars before looking down at her.
“Up you come!”
It took her several extra flaps to make it and she gripped the railing, swinging one leg over before her shoulders shook with the effort of retracting her wings. She thought for sure he’d be laughing at her poor attempt, but he only nodded.
“Not bad,” he said.