I tilt my head up to scan the sky, darkening from slate gray to black as night settles in. I ignore the raindrops which hit my face, catching in my eyelashes and running down my cheeks. It's been raining, to different degrees, for over a year now. I barely even notice anymore.
There's a loud clanking sound from behind me and I glance back. "Cor," I whisper in warning. My friend ignores me, continuing to rummage through the heaps of trash around us and dislodging more glass bottles and aluminum cans, which knock against each other painfully loudly. He's searching for anything that might be useful to us, but he's being so careless about it that it makes me cringe.
"Brilliant," I mutter, yanking the hood of my jacket up over my tangled red hair and shaking my bangs out of my eyes. I automatically go to look at my watch, before remembering for the hundredth time that it broke last week.
I close my eyes entirely, trying to hear over the clinking of glass on glass and the rustling of old newspapers and plastic bags. The sounds are distracting me; I can't pick up on any noise outside the alley we're in, not for sure.
"Corey," I hiss again, my hand going to the strap on my shoulder and swinging my shotgun around so that my fingers rest on the trigger.
He looks up now, an annoyed expression on his face. "Mags," he mimics, straightening up and rolling his eyes. "What is it?"
I hold up a hand to silence him. He makes a face, but he listens like he always does. And now I can hear the difference in the air at the mouth of the alley, the slight change that is to me just as loud as footsteps or voices. I can sense, more than see, that there's someone nearby.
I flatten myself against the cold brick of the wall behind me, reaching out to grip Corey's shirtfront and yanking him back as well. I can hear my heart thudding in my chest, and feel Corey's slower heartbeat under my splayed hand. Neither of us breathes or moves for the beat of several seconds.
Then a figure walks past the alley, a dark silhouette against the rapidly fading light. 'Walks' isn't the proper word, though. It implies some sense of purpose, or direction. This figure is almost drifting – there's no indication that he sees or hears us.
It looks like a man, but we both know it's not – namely because of the huge wings arcing from his shoulder blades, solid black outlines cutting crisp lines against the gray of the sky.
I exhale, and Corey sighs. "Downer," he says unnecessarily. There's no way I wouldn't have recognized the creature for what he is. Wings aside, there's no other being on the planet who looks so lost.
"Come on," I say in an undertone, grabbing my backpack and starting in the other direction, away from the Downer.
It's Corey's turn to call me back. "Mags! What the hell are you doing?"
I pause and look back at him. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
He shakes his head and turns around, striding towards the winged figure.
"It's a Downer, Mags," he says shortly, without even turning around. "What is he possibly going to do to me?"
I suppress a string of curses and walk after him, leaning against the wall at the mouth of the alley as Corey steps out after the Downer.
"Hey," he calls softly.
The man turns, looking startled. His wings rustle nervously. "Hello," he says in a voice like a melody. The word almost doesn't fit, the way he says it – as though he hasn't had practice, and is trying it out for the first time.
Corey puts his hands up slowly, palms facing outward. I scan the Downer's body quickly. He's shirtless, wearing too-big dirty jeans which ride dangerously low on his slim hips. Several scrapes and bruises mar the smooth skin of his arms and torso. His wings are white; they gleam even in the encroaching dark. The right wing has some bent and bloodied feathers, but it's the left that's the problem: the entire wing is twisted at an angle that's just slightly wrong, with several of the feathers sticking up oddly. Blood mars the pure white, spreading from the injury down to his shoulder blades. Even I can tell that he can't fly with those wings.
"You're hurt," Corey says quietly. "Will you let me help you?"
Now I'm just all kinds of irritated.
The Downer stares at Corey for a long moment, and then his mouth pulls down into the most heartbreaking frown in the world. "I don't like it here," he says, as if it answers the question.
"Sit down," I say too sharply, and his wide eyes get wider. But he does glide forward to sink onto one of many discarded wooden crates in front of Corey.
My friend gives me the disappointed look I'm too used to getting, and I just cross my arms. Downers are hard to reason with. They're like children; they don't understand the world they've somehow landed in. A lot of the time, orders are easier, but Cor isn't likely to admit it. To him, I'm being a bitch for no reason, and it's as simple as that.
The Downer's curly blonde hair spills into his face as he looks down at his open hands with a puzzled expression. "It hurts," he manages.
"I know," Corey answers, crouching down next to him and looking back at me. "Do you know how to bandage wings?"
"Oh, gosh yes, I'm an expert."
"Give me your bag, then," he says impatiently. I know why he's upset with me, but it's a serious waste of time to try to help a Downer who'll probably be ripped apart by Rizzes in a matter of days, or even hours. I don't move, and my friend gives me a piercing look. It seems heartless, but we don't have much in the way of medical supplies. I'm not about to hand them out to random people on the street just because Corey has a weird fixation with fixing anything broken – objects and people alike.
The Downer looks past Corey, his eyes fixing on my face with an unnerving strength. "It's alright," he murmurs in that strange, musical voice. He touches the tip of his own bent wing. "I don't really need them anymore."
I can see Corey set his jaw, and I recognize the stubbornness in his voice as he says, "I'll try anyway." He pulls at the drawstring of his own backpack and digs in it for several seconds, coming up with a roll of bandages.
"Oh, good," I interject. "Maybe this way every Riz, basher, and bandit left in the city will have time to find us."
The Downer doesn't look away from me. His expression is thoughtful, solemn. "And we don't want them to find us," he says after a long pause. He sounds almost proud, like he's figured out something important.
Corey turns and meets my eyes. "No," he says, tearing off a strip of bandaging with his teeth. "We definitely don't want that."