Title: Flight
Rating: T, for minor gun violence and some physical violence

Summary: An encounter with an unpleasant group of people leaves the strange angel Lucinda shaken, and it is up to her partner Matthew to snap her out of it. One shot.

Author's Notes: This story takes place in an "Alternate Earth" fiction universe, one assuming the existence of humans with avian features known as strange angels. This is the first of a number of strange angel stories I've written; if the reception is good, I'll put up more. Enjoy!

They flew. Great mountains rose into the sky ahead of them, forbidding blotches on the horizon that promised unpredictable winds and unnavigable flying conditions. Behind them, the plains rolled away, endless grasslands broken only by rain-washed gullies or the clusters of building and fence that marked a farm or a town.

For a time, they had flown hard and fast, beating their wings constantly and ignoring the currents and cross-currents that promised easy gliding in favor of putting distance between themselves and the last town they'd stayed at. That had been over an hour ago, though; confident in the safety promised by the distance they'd achieved, they'd slowed their pace and taken to soaring the great, billowing thermals rising up from the baked expanses of grain and grass below.

Lucinda was better at it than Matthew; her broad wings, patterned after a hawk's, were ideally suited to just drifting. Matthew had a little more trouble--he was working with the wings of a falcon. He'd have been happier if they were climbing and diving, wheeling and soaring and maneuvering, instead of just gliding.

Matthew canted his wings and slid sideways through the air. He tilted his head and looked up at Lucinda, maybe a hundred feet above him. Something was wrong, he could tell. As a rule, they preferred to stay close to each other when they were airborne; neither wanted to be too far in case of an emergency.

He had an idea what was bothering her. The two of them had run into trouble that morning, and it had been bad. Though Matthew wasn't overly dramatic by nature, even he agreed that they'd barely escaped with their lives.

They had both heard the stories, of course--stories about mobs, about conservatives or fundamentalists or even just small-minded ignorants, about people who couldn't bear the idea of change and took it out on those who embodied it, in the worst possible way.

They'd heard the stories, but this was the first time they'd been confronted with the reality of it.

Lucinda Kay and Matthew Anderson were Explorers, part of a group of angels who were committed to roaming the nation, living for a few months at a time--if they could--at towns all across the country. It was an attempt to catalogue the places where their kind had the best likelihood of living in peace. As Explorers, they'd met a lot of people, both human and angel, and had been exposed to a lot of different opinions about their kind and what they represented.

There were cities where they had been welcome, suburbs where they'd lived in peace. There had been towns where they were tolerated, but weren't really accepted as members of the community. There had been places where it had been implied that they weren't wanted, and that they should leave, and then there had been towns where police chiefs or mayors had specifically asked them to go.

But this was the first time they'd actually been driven out.

They hadn't been in the town more than two or three days--they were staying at a small hotel on a credit card furnished by Lucinda's parents. Their tentative inquiries into apartments or rooms for let had been rebuffed strongly, but they had dealt with that before. It wasn't a new experience. What had been new was the group of men who had surrounded them as they had breakfast in the hotel's dining room, and told them, roughly, to leave. When Matthew had protested that they didn't have any supplies packed--that they hadn't even finished breakfast!--one of them had punched him. The bruise along his cheekbone still hurt, and he suspected it would be tender for days, even if he couldn't see it against the dark blue flush of his skin there.

He and Lucinda had been hauled outside forcefully and ordered to leave. He had been willing to go, but Luce didn't want to abandon their stuff--some of their gear was expensive, specially tailored to fit their unique bodies without interfering with their wings and tails. She had been a sight to see, with her huge broad wings mantled up and out, and her crest and tail raised. It was easy to forget that she was barely five feet tall when she was in a full threat display. Matthew had been proud of her then. He didn't doubt she would have launched herself, claws first, at anyone who had denied her what she had wanted right then.

One of the mob had relented, and retrieved their stuff from the hotel room. They'd taken flight directly from the road in front of the building once they'd gotten it, but it hadn't been enough for the town. Two shots--both badly aimed--followed them west.

It was only after they were airborne that Matthew saw Lucinda wasn't as collected as she had seemed. Following in her slipstream as they powered through the air, he was able to see her hands shaking; he knew her well enough after all these years to tell that she had been terrified. She refused to talk to him, though he'd called to her a number of times. Even now, more than an hour and many miles removed from the danger, she remained aloof. He had to snap her out of it!

An idea occurred to him, a memory of a game they sometimes played together surfacing. Grinning to himself, Matthew abandoned the easy gliding of the thermal and began to climb manually, leaving Lucinda far below him. It was hard work--the higher he climbed, the thinner the air was, and the less it felt like he could breathe. He'd done this before, though, and knew how high he could go before he went too far and started getting dangerously lightheaded. For a moment, Matthew paused, allowing himself to appreciate the unparalleled view up this high up. He located Lucinda, little more than a dark tan blotch against the lighter gold of the fields below her. Skills that were unconscious to the avian part of his mind surfaced as he lined himself up with his companion, sighting her so far below. He folded his narrow wings and dove.

There was nothing cooler than this, in Matthew's opinion. He pitied the daredevils and thrillseekers who spent their lives trying to simulate a stoop like his. There was nothing else like it, allowing gravity to seize you and freefalling from thousands of feet up, knowing that only your own body stands between you and a painful, messy death. It was the height of exhilaration.

Lucinda grew rapidly in his view, still so absorbed in her own introspection that she didn't notice his shadow fall across her. He opened his wings and tail a tiny bit, cutting his speed just enough to give him a little more control. He had to orchestrate this just right, or he'd end up killing them both. He watched her bank on the thermal, following the broad curve of warm air. He judged her speed, estimated where she would be in the next few seconds. Yes...that was it.

She was life-size now, and smack dab in the center of his field of vision. He buzzed her, slicing through the air right off her right wingtip, loosing a high-pitched cry not unlike a falcon's as he did so. Craning his head just enough to look back, he saw her falter, her carefully controlled glide disrupted by his unexpected passage. Screaming her fury, she collapsed her wings and fell after him, but she was too slow. He'd built up too much speed for her to catch up easily. He continued to fall, but he broke his steep angle of descent to shoot away parallel to the ground instead of straight at it.

Suddenly, he snapped his wings open to their full span, braking sharply and dropping ten feet in the air. Lucinda arrowed overhead, just above where he had been an instant before. Laughing, he turned and descended again, his time in a much shallower and far more controlled dive, since the ground was a lot closer this time. Lucinda followed behind; he could hear her laughing uproariously, and knew that any anger she'd had at him had dissipated with her depression. They landed in the middle of nowhere, only a few feet apart.

"Man, what did you do that for?!" Lucinda demanded without preamble.

"You were sulking," Matthew retorted, grinning jauntily. "You're boring when you sulk."

"Yes, and my entire purpose on this trip is to keep you entertained, is it?" she said sarcastically, crossing her arms and arching one black eyebrow at him.

"Well...yes. That and cook, right? What good would you be otherwise?"

He'd hoped to get a rise out of her--he tended to take control of the cooking, since her skill at it was less than optimal--but it didn't work. Lucinda smiled a little, but her shoulders slumped and her wings sagged. She turned away from him, taking a step or two towards the east.

"Not much, I'm sure," she said softly. Matthew stepped up to her, carefully putting an arm over her shoulders and pulling her against him.

"Don't talk like that, Luce," he admonished gently. "I'd be nowhere without you."

"Yes you would," she retorted, not looking at him. "You'd be somewhere else, somewhere...permanent. Safe."

"Safe? Lucinda, safest place in the world is right next to you."

"How can you say that?!" she exploded, suddenly angry again. She tore free of his arm, nearly clubbing him across the face with her wings as she stormed away. "Look at me! Look at us! We can't be safe anywhere!"

Matthew followed her, staying just out of the range of her wings. "So?"

That threw her. She stopped and half-turned, looking at him over her shoulder. "So?" she repeated.

"Well, I don't know about you, but don't you think safe would be a little...boring?" he asked.

"Boring?" she repeated, in that same flat voice.

"Yeah," he said. He stepped a little closer. "I mean, I've had a lot of fun so far, doing what we do together. It's interesting, and it's unique, and it's important. We do what we do so others like us can be safe, remember?"

"I...didn't think about it like that," Lucinda admitted, looking down at her taloned feet thoughtfully.

"Hasn't it been interesting?"

"It has."

"Hasn't it been fun?"

"Sometimes. But what about...about today, Matthew?" she asked, looking up at him despairingly. "What happened back there could easily happen again! We could have gotten hurt! Really badly!"

"But we didn't," Matthew said soothingly, reaching out and taking her into his arms. "Besides, you looked ready to bust heads; I wasn't worried about us for a second!"

"Jeez, I think I was," Lucinda admitted, looking abashed. She grinned wryly. "I just got so...so angry at them, you know?"

"Believe me, love, I know," Matthew said, squeezing her tightly for a moment before letting her go. He knew that this probably wasn't the end of the issue; he'd been shaken by their encounter with the mob, and knew she had been too, but at least he'd alleviated her depression for the time being. He turned again to the west, raising his face to the midday sun.

"What do you say we get on our way, then?" he asked, looking at her out of the corner of his eye.

"The more distance between me and them, the better."

"I agree."

And together, they spread their wings, and they flew.

Author's Notes: All feedback is welcomed; let me know what you thought! Thank you for reading!