When she first woke up, she barely spoke. Not long after they told her what happened and what was next, she slumped and groggily asked for her supplies. They exchanged looks, wondering if she had understood, but they gave them to her. Better to start getting used to it now, the doctor agreed. It might even help with the physical therapy.
Her drawing hand trembled. To steady it, she focused and tightened, and it worked momentarily but sent a cramp up her forearm. She had some luck using her off hand to hold the other, but small motions were still beyond her.
She worked in indistinct shapes and long, coarse lines that radiated out from the page and turned back inward. She finished a sketchpad and started another to stay busy. The lines gradually grew more consistent, going from an abstract mess to converge into elegant pinions ready to lift a vague frame off the page. She retreated to stare at them after the first therapy session, when she learned how far away the future was.
Both her legs hated her. The right leg hated bearing her weight down the hallway, leaning in the elevator, and that last flight of stairs. After so long in bed, the muscles burned and seized. Just above the knee, the residual limb screamed at her through the medication in confusion as she awkwardly swung it through the rooftop doorway.
She clumsily loped to the ledge, her shoulders numbing as the pads of crutches dug into them. To see if she could, she forced her right leg up onto the concrete barrier and straightened, haltingly, teetering on the crutches, jaw tight with pain. She looked out at the rest of the world. The evening light would make this perspective a good drawing. The motions were all but imperceptible from this high up, and if her hand steadied enough, she could sketch what she saw.
The wind picked up and she leaned into it a bit. Her hair, grown too long, blew about her face.
Something in her beheld that miniature set below and reached out to rejoin it. The sensation left her immobilized. The choice took advantage of her hesitation, and her legs walked forward as if both still carried her. Without a thought, her left leg took a phantom step, and the toes of her right leg pushed her away. The crutches clattered behind her as her journey down began, somehow slower than she would have expected. She once read somewhere that people often regretted the decision after they started falling, that they changed their mind far too late. Only a story or so down, she didn’t know if she could claim any regret.
She tried to relax, but she didn’t want her hands and feet flailing about. She wanted to look as dignified as possible for anyone who might happen to look up and see. Her thoughts in this moment, light and at ease, cast a nervous smile to her face. She loosened and her legs quieted. The rushing air pulled tears from her eyes, across her temples. The smile wore away before long.
She watched as long as possible, but the wind and the momentum and the waiting pulled at her, became more than she could bear, and her eyes screwed themselves shut against inevitability.
There was someone next to her.
About a story down, her eyes opened to a man beside her. It irked her that he could not have waited a day or at least picked a different spot. But he wasn’t falling. He had wings, three pairs that she could see, broadest at the shoulders and shorter and slimmer further down his back. They moved slowly, gracefully, incandescent, trailing a white light in the orange sunset peeking from behind the growing skyscrapers and reflecting off the windows, those walls of compound eyes.
He wore clothes of frayed canvas, and he had dark, weathered skin and hair like charcoal that streamed behind him. His sharp features stood out in the glowing haze of his wings.
“I’m thankful you gave me these,” he smiled. She heard him perfectly through the howling air that surrounded them. He looked from the ground to her.
Everything slowed. Beneath her, the people on the sidewalk stopped entirely, and the lights from the cars blurred, leaving red and yellow tails. She looked back to him. Her heart stopped, her stomach told her that they continued to fall, but she saw them suspended in silence, a little more than halfway down from where she had started, with nothing but the slow, steady flapping of wings between the two of them.
“Do you want to fly?”
She only stared.
“Do you want my wings?”
She blinked, confused, suddenly scared for the both of them. She shook her head. “But you need them.”
“I can give them back to you.”
She looked from him to the city on the ground, then back. Nothing.
“You just have to ask.”
Even frozen, the world rushed towards her. She tasted the smog on the air, smelled the sea of waiting bodies below. She was tired. So tired, and almost empty save for memories and his time keeping. She counted, one, two, three, four…
A blue flare brightened everything in detail she had never known.
Her heart quickened and the world resumed, speeding to catch up.
A wing beat.
She rose, then dropped.
Resistance, the strain of gravity, a tension that spread across and down her back.
She rose again.
The man fell, eyes closed, face blank save an ethereal contentedness. Twin gashes ran down his back, bleeding blue tongues of flame that flared as they met the air, growing and shrinking rapidly, smaller with each heartbeat. Sapphire embers drifted out into the sky, the first stars of the evening. He diminished, soon lost in the people, then the buildings and the latticed streets.
She turned towards the dusk, the pink-rimmed clouds and the night sky beyond.