“Fuck!” Pete hit the ground with both his fists, lifting his eyes to glare at Patrick. “What are you, a fucking angel?”
The younger boy gave a scared shake of his head and finally moved forward to hold his hands out and help Pete to his feet. The older wasted no time in circling behind Patrick to tentatively stroke the feathered edges of what were surprisingly substantial wings. They weren’t white or black, but a very muted blue that looked almost gray. “Are you they supposed to match your eyes?”
Patrick shook his head again. “They change,” he whispered. “I guess that’s their scared color.” He could feel Pete’s hands grow gentler at that, even though every touch felt like a million fingers. He didn’t want to tell Pete how sensitive they were, not when he was reacting so well.
“Are you an angel?” the older repeated.
“I’m a guardian.”
“Like a guardian angel.”
“No.” Patrick turned, the wings twitching again before tucking themselves together on his back. He pulled his shirt back on. “They’re higher up. I’m just a guardian. I have to stay here and I can’t talk to God any more than you can.”
“Are you my guardian?” Pete’s brown eyes were wide and hopeful. His own angel. His own Patrick. He had two. How could he have gotten so lucky?
It didn’t really work that way, but Patrick didn’t want to tell him that either. “Yeah,” he lied softly, trying to make it sound like a big secret Pete had forced out of him. Pete liked secrets. “I’m supposed to help you.”
“With what?” The brown eyes narrowed in suspicion and Patrick laughed.
“With whatever. Now don’t tell anyone.” He grabbed Pete’s shoulders and squeezed. “Not a word. To Joe or Andy or anyone, okay?” His mind raced frantically for a lie that would bind Pete to his word. “They’ll fall off if too many people find out.”
He felt bad for the fear that masked Pete’s features, but the boy gave his word and Patrick hugged him when did, letting Pete’s fingers trace the outline of his wings through the thin shirt.
“How do you shower?” Pete plopped down on the foot of Patrick’s bed and crossed his legs, leaning forward on one elbow and waiting for an answer.
The younger boy looked up at him from his notebook, a single eyebrow raised. “With water?” he tried, confused.
Pete rolled his eyes dramatically. “No, I mean, like, because of your …” He flapped his hands at his sides.
Blue eyes flashed and Patrick swore as he felt his shirt rip and his wings unfurl through the torn fabric. “God dammit, Pete!” he snapped, pushing himself off the bed and hurrying into the bathroom, nearly hitting Pete in the head with one of his wings. The older boy followed him to see Patrick standing in front of the mirror, frowning and pulling off the remains of one of his few clean shirts. Their eyes met in the reflection and Patrick sighed. He hadn’t meant to yell at Pete. It wasn’t his fault.
“Don’t make them mad like that,” he said softly. “They’re really sensitive about it.”
Pete tilted his head to the side. “They have feelings?”
Patrick nodded. “It sucks. They’re a lot more dramatic than I am.”
The older boy laughed at that. “Wings? Dramatic? Never.” As he said it, one of them reached out to him and tickled his nose with the feathered tip. Pete giggled again and Patrick scowled.
“Stop that,” he hissed. “You’re fucking shameless.”
“Are your wings hitting on me?”
Patrick’s scowl deepened. “Don’t read anything into it. They’re a huge slut.” He reached back and flicked the one still nuzzling against Pete’s cheek. “Back. Now.” Sulkily, the two wings tucked themselves back against Patrick’s shoulders and he hurried to dig another shirt out of his bag.
“Your wings have a crush on me,” Pete teased him from the doorway. Patrick didn’t say anything, just pulled a black shirt over his head and ignored the tickling on his shoulder blades. They were restless. They could feel his heart pounding in his chest.
Pete didn’t know the half of it.
Patrick rarely let them out, even if he was home alone. He didn’t like sitting around with his shirt out. He didn’t like how they would get restless and knock things off the counter. He really didn’t like it when they rubbed against him and tried to convince him to do things to stave off their insane sex drive. It was a lot easier to just leave his shirt on and only let them out when they started getting restless under the fabric and scratching him.
Pete complicated that routine, however. Patrick assumed it was only human to have such a curiosity about them. Pete would stare at him quietly for a few minutes, trying to communicate what he wanted with his eyes and the pull of his lips. Patrick knew exactly what he wanted, but he pretended he didn’t, ignoring the twitching between his shoulders.
“Can I see them?” Pete would ask finally, in a soft voice, trying to ensure no more of Patrick’s shirts ended up in tatters. “Just for a minute?”
Patrick would do his damndest to not sigh as he turned his back to the older boy, pulling his shirt over his head and crossing his arms protectively over his chest as they unfurled, flicking a few times to stretch (and definitely to show off). Almost immediately, the feathers were rubbing against Pete’s face and he was laughing, gentle fingers reaching out to stroke back.
Patrick could feel the warmth in his back and the pounding of his heart and Pete’s laughter deep inside of him, vibrating through his teeth, setting them on edge. He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for it to be over.
“Can you fly?” Pete asked suddenly, not sure why the idea had never occurred to him before. Patrick wasn’t surprised to feel his left wing jerk in a motion similar to a slap. They retreated in Patrick’s back, not quite laying flat, but on edge and almost glaring ate Pete. There was no better way to describe it.
The older boy had his hand to his check and one of the wings had left a cut with just a few droplets of blood showing through the skin. Patrick turned to look at him and sighed heavily. “Sorry,” he mumbled, and he meant it. “They’re really sensitive about that.”
Pete nodded. “So you can’t fly?”
Patrick sighed as they reopened to their full wingspan. “Didn’t we just say they were sensitive?” he asked pointedly as they began flapping aggressively, papers flying from the desk and the curtains blowing wilding. “Stop that!” Patrick all but yelled. They stopped flapping but remained in the same position. They spanned well past the tips of his fingers when he had his arms outstretched and they hovered there, menacingly.
The older boy swallowed and held his hands up in surrender. “They’re beautiful no matter what.”
‘Better,’ Patrick mouthed as they shook slightly, drinking in the compliment. “Down?” he tried and they slowly curled back up so he could put his shirt on.
Pete slipped his fingers under Patrick’s shirt while he was sleeping and let his hands run over the very bottom of the folded wings, where the feathers were more sparse. He could feel the skin underneath, warm under his fingers. Patrick made a small noise in his sleep and Pete froze, then let his hands slip higher, now tangling in the feathers.
Either they were sleeping, too, or they were mad at Pete for something. There was no response to his touch, even when his hands slipped underneath, resting against Patrick’s back and feeling the warmth of the wings enveloping them. He pressed his face to the other boy’s neck and inhaled deeply. Just five minutes. Then he might be able to sleep.
“Pete?” Pete’s eyes opened to Patrick’s whispering and a soft rustling against his fingers. He remembered where he was and what he’d done and he yanked his hands away liked they’d been burnt.
Patrick hissed and then gave a small whimper and Pete immediately leaned back in, feeling the wings shaking against his chest. “‘Trick?”
The younger boy took a shaky breath, trying not to let his voice tremble when he spoke. “They’re really sensitive.”
Pete sounded like he was going to cry. “I’m sorry.” He could still feel them underneath him and he recoiled, wrapping his arms around his stomach and squeezing his eyes shut. He broke everything. He felt tears stinging in his eyes but he forced them back down.
He heard rustling and then Patrick whispering, “I know, I know.” Pete felt Patrick shifting and then fingers were slipping under his chin and Pete’s eyes opened on instinct, shining. “It’s okay. You’re too hard on yourself,” he added with a small shake of his head. He twisted his right shoulder suddenly and Pete could see the movement under his shirt. “They’re really worried about you,” Patrick told him.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Pete whispered, trying to figure out how everything had gone so wrong.
The younger boy nodded. “So it helped?”
Two tears spilled over and Patrick wiped them away gently. “Its stupid,” Pete insisted.
The younger boy shook his head. “It’s not stupid. It’s not.” He took a deep breath and pulled his hands back so he could tug his shirt over his head. The wings opened slowly before sneaking over Patrick’s shoulders to shyly rub across Pete’s face. “They understand. They’re … they know, like, what helps.”
The older boy stilled for a moment, letting them flutter over him and feeling that same warmness start to spread through him again. “You don’t mind?”
Patrick shook his head. “That’s what they’re for.”
Pete laid the box on Patrick’s bed and then seemed to get stage fright and ran down the hallway to his room. Patrick could hear the accidental slam of the door and he sighed, opening the flaps on the box Pete had probably dug out of the trash and expecting the worst. It was a black hoodie with no design and rips up the back.
Patrick rolled his eyes. Had Pete stolen a hoodie of his and cut it to pieces? That wasn’t the worst thing he’s ever done to Patrick’s clothes. Why the stage antics? He was just getting ready to push himself up to go check on the boy when his fingers skimmed over the stitching on one of the tears.
He pulled it closer to his face to look and realized Pete had deliberately cut two strips in the back, high in the neck and through the shoulder. He’d meticulously hemmed them with black thread so it wouldn’t show. A small noise of realization escaped the back of his throat and he dropped the hoodie on the floor as he scrambled up from the bed to find Pete.
The older boy was on his bed, face buried in his pillow. He didn’t move when he heard the door open or the bed sink when Patrick sat on it. “It’s stupid.” His voice was muffled but patrick could still understand him.
“It’s not stupid!” Patrick hit him in the arm. “I came in here to tell you I love it, you dumbass.” Softness replaced by annoyance and he could tell his wings were mad at him for giving Pete shit but that was their problem, not his.
Pete turned his head on the pillow so Patrick could see his face. “You really like it?” he asked, clearly not believing it.
The younger boy nodded, rubbing the spot he had punched. “Yeah. I do. Idiot.” But he smiled and Pete sat up, scooting to sit next to him, their legs just touching. He ignored the rustling sound.
“I just know you don’t like taking your shirt off,” he said, voice shy.
Patrick flushed slightly, ducking his head down. Was he that obvious?
Pete nudged him with his shoulder. “Its okay. I just wanted to help.”
Patrick smiled again.