My father looked up, as if he sensed me watching them. He gestured with his hand for me to come closer. Warily, I pushed the door open. Angela looked up at me, her strange eyes rimmed red from her tears. My mother tied off the last stitch to the girl's thigh, running a critical eye over her work. My father finally prised free a small bullet from Angela's back, dropping it into a tiny ziploc bag. Confusion and anger gripped my mind. Who would shoot Angela? Who could shoot her? She had done nothing wrong! My mother's words broke into my internal ranting as she handed me a bowl of warm water and a soft cloth.
"Someone needs to clean off her wings before the dirt dries and glues the feathers together," she murmured. "She'll probably trust you more than us to do it." I glanced at the girl, hunched over, tear tracks staining her cheeks. Nodding to my mother, I took the bowl from her hands, setting it down on the table.
"Angela?" I asked softly, holding up the cloth. "May I?"
For a moment, she tucked her wings in tightly against her back, protecting them instinctivly. She then let out a shaky breath, perhaps coming to the same conclusion as my mother and let the fantastical limbs droop. In the slow, trembling way of tired muscles, she extended one to its full, two metre length. I squeezed the excess water from the cloth, starting to wipe the blood, dirt and dust from the feathers, combing through them as gently as I could. I couldn't help but marvel at the way they had been put together by nature. The limb itself was light, with articulations at the shoulder and the middle of the wing, probably centred by a hollow bone like a bird, envelopped in steely muscle, the skin covered by fine hair. A sheet of membrane was stretched out between the two bones, protected by the feathers on both sides. Even the feathers were different from what I had imagined in my childhood. The feathers close to the limb and stretching out maybe ten centimetres from it were short and soft. The next section, covering most of the rest of the membrane, was composed of longer, stiffer feathers, more like I had imagined them to be, but still soft to the touch. The feathers, in a single row along the edge, were the longest, hard and almost crystalline.
"That's called the arc," Angela said quietly as I ran the sponge over the limb of the wing, chasing the last of the mud. She raised a hand, now clean of the clood and dirt that had coated it, to touch the plumage. "The smallest feathers are called down, the longer ones are called clips, and these ones," she touched the hard feathers, "are called directionals. Without them, it's impossible for any of us to fly." She had to take a steadying breath as her eyes began to fill with tears again. "They pulled out my father's directionals to stop him escaping them. I saw them on the floor."
She shook her head. "They're like teeth. An angel has an infant set and an adult set. For us, you only become an adult once your last adult directional has grown in."
"I still have three to go." She pointed out three of the feathers that I had noticed were softer than the rest. I had dozens of other questions to ask her, but I realised that now was probably not the time to ask them. I fetched some fresh water, contenting myself with cleaning the other wing, trying not to think about the tears starting to crawl down her face again. Anger boiled up in my mind. The hidden laws about MCs had always been a little abstract. They'd never really applied to me. Now, I had Angela to think of. Everytime I thought of what the government had done to MCs, I thought of Angela, of what they must have done to her family. I gently patted the feathers clean with a clean towel, marvelling at the white plumage.
"So... the bruises you came to school with?" I asked tentativly. Angela snorted softly, wiping her eyes and sniffing.
"From flying. It's hard to control a flight path when you're missing directionals I kept crashing or landing badly." She managed a faint smile at me. "I couldn't tell you before without exposing my family, but I found out that your parents were on the list of friendlies. I realised that this was the only place where I would be safe to go."
I stared at her for a moment, trying to process the information. All it did was raise even more questions that itched in the back of my mind. I still couldn't get my head around the fact that she was an angel! But, in a strange way, it did kind of make sense. It explained the bruises, it explained wht she didn't like having people standing behind her, why she favoured baggy clothes and messenger bags where the strap could fit between her wings. As my mother poked her head around the kitchen door to tel Angela that she had prepared a bed for her, I resigned myself to asking about her tomorrow.