Methos had watched the tiny apartment for a week from his vantage point on the roof of the building opposite. In the week he had been on this roof, for about sixteen hours a day, there had been no movement, and he was satisfied his caution had been unnecessary; it was deserted. Maybe the occupants were on vacation. Maybe they were dying in a hospital. It really didn't matter to him, as long as they didn't come back while he was in there.
With the buildings crowded together like they were, it wasn't hard for him to get to the next roof; the hardest part was getting the space for the running start. He landed lightly enough and paused, listening for any sign that he had been heard or seen. There was none. With a small nod to himself, the lanky brunet twisted back and looked over the edge of the roof, down. He was right above the balcony with its glass doors and closed blinds. He hung onto the rough edge of the roof, with its tiny lip, and swung down. He was grateful for his long limbs when his feet were less than half a meter above the floor, and he could let go without fear of accidentally tumbling over the edge of the balcony to the ground almost a hundred meters below.
Once again he landed with a thump, and once again he paused, playing, as ever, cautious. Where intelligence failed caution must take over, and he knew his intelligence was lacking. Caution had never failed him before, though, and he waited longer than he needed to before he stood up and tried the balcony door.
For some reason, it was unlocked. He didn't even need the fancy magnet that would have canceled out the electromagnetic security measures, which now sat heavy and useless in his deep pocket. He parted the vertical blinds and slipped inside almost silently, shutting the door behind him so that nothing would look amiss from the outside... just in case he wasn't the only one watching the building.
The lights apparently weren't set to come on automatically when someone entered the room, as they normally were when most people went away. He didn't argue with that - nothing was quite as annoying as breaking into an apartment and having the whole place light up like a billboard, advertising you were here. Maybe the place was uninhabited.
It certainly looked inhabited, though. There was the platform where the tri-V would project, with its pale couch and a single chair accompanying it. It was dark and dead for the moment; he would have bolted again if it were live, of course, because that would mean there was someone here after all, and that would be bad. You didn't have to be genetically engineered to know that.
He cautiously explored the apartment, keeping his ears trained for movement. The decorations were few and simple... Here a pair of peacock feathers decorating a wall. There a statue of an angel on the edge of a shallow alcove in the wall... He picked it up, curious, and set it back down again once the light weight assured him it was plastic, just worthless plastic.
There weren't even any pictures for him to see. Sometimes he liked to look at the pictures, get to know these people... other times it just made him jealous and lonesome and put him in a bad mood, so maybe it was good that there weren't any. Still, it was strange not to see a little cube with its flickering images, changing from one smiling scene to another. With the spartan interior design and monastic decorations, though, the idea began to form in his mind that this was a showcase apartment. The one they showed potential lessees. Ironic and annoying at the same time.
The kitchen was spotless and bare, just like the main room. It wasn't a large apartment and the kitchen was actually tiny, but all the open space made it feel a lot bigger. Almost definitely a showcase. He sighed to himself, and considered the idea of just sleeping here tonight and finding another target in the morning.
Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, anyway. If it was a showcase, there shouldn't be anyone to catch him in the bedroom come dawn... He might even be able to camp here overnight for a while. It was a lot nicer than his trashed up apartment in the dumpy end of town, where he was surrounded by loud, stupid, ugly people like himself. It would be nice to get away from society's trash and pretend to be normal for a couple nights. At least until they realized something was wrong and started locking the balcony.
Caution had pretty much deserted him as he walked down the short hall. The bathroom door was closed and he didn't even bother looking; it would be tiny and empty and spotlessly white, like the rest of the apartment, waiting for curious potential owners to come admire it. The only other room was the bedroom, across from the bathroom, and that door was flung open.
Methos's mind lagged behind his eyes for a long moment. Everything so far had been empty and unobstructed, and he had expected no more, so the feathers in the bedroom doorway were a wall to his brain. Of course, they, like the rest of the apartment, were white and clean, but they were also moving. His eyes continued to move down while his mind stuck on the feathers, and a couple centimeters below his own eyes he found another pair.
His paralysis broke and he jerked backward in the second it took his brain to leap ahead and catch up with his eyes. Pale blond or white hair, Long. A face - oval and smooth. Small, delicate body. Clothes. And not just feathers but wings. It was occupied after all, not only by a normal person, not just by the genetically engineered but the genetically modified, he broke into an Aerie's house, not a show house. No wonder it was so spacious and empty.
"Find what you were looking for?"
The voice was surprisingly mellow, and froze him again. He should be running his ass out of the apartment and back into his slum, but... well... Who found a burglar and started a conversation?
At least it was an Aerie. They were made so delicate... at least she couldn't hurt him.
Wait, was it a she? He honestly couldn't tell. He looked down the Aerie's body once and it looked like a woman with no breasts and a lithe build. Then he looked again and it was a slight man with long hair. The effect was disconcerting and distracting.
She - or he - was a little bit shorter than him, but the wings - enormous wings, really, with the first joint almost on the floor, the second brushing the ceiling, and the end of the feathers whispering along the floor again - added height and solidity, and he-or-she seemed regal and almost imposing. Something in the pale gaze, colorless in the dim light from the window, pinned him to the wall.
"I didn't think so." She, or he, pushed past him. His-or-her wings pressed against him and he could feel that they were actually quite strong; he stepped backward to avoid being pushed out of the way, still entranced by the sight of the occupant and still trying to get his mind to focus on something other than the mystery. Without looking back, the Aerie walked down the hall away from him, and he got a clear view of his back. The shirt he was wearing was loose and fastened with probably micro-velcro around his lower back, and neck, leaving plenty of room for the wings where they grew from between his shoulder blades. Feathers littered the smooth back, small downy growths pushing their way through the skin, trickling into a single line down the spine that disappeared back into the shirt. It was both disturbing and beautiful.
The Aerie broke his hypnosis by lifting her hair with one hand and dropping it smoothly behind her, where it fell like a pale waterfall between his-her wings, obscuring the view that entranced him. He lifted his head and watched him-her walk away, then looked into the bedroom, feeling guilty but still needing to see if there was anything he could grab on his way out.
A net-hammock. A mirror on one wall. Piles of pillows. Literally, nothing else.
"You won't find anything," the smooth voice promised him, and he jerked back toward her. S/he wasn't even looking back at him. "I've nothing here to steal. Nothing you'd be interested in, anyway."
That tone struck a nerve and he frowned, following finally, his lanky legs catching him up quickly. "What do you mean by that?" he demanded, though he knew perfectly well. People like him weren't capable of appreciating fine things, with their inferior intellect and base animal desires. Stupid pathetic Nonnen were only interested in drugs and money and things they could hock for one or the other.
He wondered how much of that was his mockery of the Aerie and how much of that was his own opinion.
"I don't have any money here," the Aerie informed him. "Nor valuable jewelry nor portable electronics." She or he, the mystery was driving him mad, perched lightly on the arm of the sofa with hir wings carefully spread for balance, looking at him calmly with an unreadable expression. So collected while lecturing a burglar. Methos felt an inch tall and hated him or her for it. "I assume you came looking for money, to buy food or rent or whatever it is you people spend your money on these days?"
One slim eyebrow arched and Methos this time got the feeling that 'you people' didn't refer to his kind, the pathetic Nonnen he was, but the human race in general. And it made sense. No pictures, an intrusive body modification, living high above the city and not leaving for a week or more at a time... This wasn't someone who wanted to be part of the human race any longer. He wondered why it hadn't been obvious from the start when it was such a parallel with himself...
It felt strange to be lumped with not only Nonnen, like normal, but the Gennen who disowned him and the Mods who disowned everyone. He didn't think he liked it as much as he had thought he would.
"Yes," he said. "If you don't have anything, I'll leave." He raised his hands. "I won't touch anything. Don't call the cops and you'll never see me again."
The Aerie stood up again and locked the balcony door. "Feel free to leave by the front door this time," s/he said.
Methos had the chance to leave, repercussion-less, but he didn't move just yet, watching the Aerie pick up a fallen feather and dispose of it in the kitchen. He wanted to blurt out that he knew this person, that he understood him more than either of them could ever have imagined. Yes, he was forced to struggle along with his natural genes and imperfect brain, and this Aerie was the pinnacle of human innovation, a perfectly created work of art more than mere homo sapiens, but he knew they were the same.
He couldn't say that, though. That was the sort of thing you could think, even the sort of thing you could write, but in real life, it was not the sort of thing you could say to a person. In real life chances breezed by without anyone even realizing and opportunities for great personal breakthroughs were usually ignored because real people just didn't do those things, and no one wanted to look like an idiot by being the first to seize that opportunity.
But the Aerie was already walking past him, leaving a soft whiff of some sort of flower scent in his/her wake, and going back to the bedroom without further acknowledging him. Methos turned to watch unconsciously, like a flower turning its face to the sun, and knew that he didn't want hir to just disappear, just like that. His mind scrambled for something to say and what came out of his mouth was singularly uninspired. "I don't know, uh, how to say thanks..."
The Aerie paused and glanced over hir shoulder, wing shifting with unconscious grace out of the way of that piercing pale gaze. "Frankly, my dear," he - Methos knew he would always think of the beautiful Aerie as a 'he', because he felt the yearning to be like and be with him that he had never felt for any woman - said, not without a touch of something that might have been fondness, "you don't know anything about anything." Methos had the unsettling feeling that his thoughts had been read, and even though he knew it was impossible, it seemed plausible. Before he could say anything more, though, he turned away again with a rustle of feathers and disappeared into his bedroom. The door closed behind him, leaving Methos alone in the dark, empty room.
After a long moment, he turned and slipped silently out the front door, but he didn't leave empty handed. He stepped out into the street and walked away, gently running the discarded feather over his fingers.