Author : Tori Curtis
Narrator : Serah Eley
Host : Setsu Uzume
Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh
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PodCastle 643: Strange Things Done is a PodCastle original.
Content warnings for sexual content, mild gore, mention of injections, and imagery related to body changes.
Strange Things Done
By Tori Curtis
Audra was both proud and shy of her body, these days; she liked to be seen, but could barely stand to be looked at. She and Nicole lay in the bed that had once been Nic’s grandparents’, both of them naked, both of them staring down at her tits.
“Those are new,” Nic said, nodding at the pinfeathers scattered across her chest (inconsistently, like powdered sugar or freckles). They had come up all over her body, but especially between her neck and her navel, thick over her shoulders and chest.
Nic had no impulse control and she wasn’t used to denying her base desires; she sat on her hands to keep them to herself. The muscles flexed in her forearms and in her throat when she swallowed. “Does it hurt to touch them?” she asked.
Audra looked down, shifted her weight, spread her hair out on the pillow like a halo. The feathers were brighter than she’d expected. When she’d had hair across her chest, so long ago it wasn’t even a sense memory anymore, it had been dark and dull. The new growth was almost tropical: tiny dots of blue, violet, bright red. She looked up, making eye contact briefly, and said, “I don’t know. Why don’t you see?” Nic reached out and Audra added, suddenly panicked, “Gently!”, and they both laughed.
Nic was always gentle with her, and gentler when she realized that she was being given a gift of extraordinary trust. Her fingertips barely brushed the new feather shafts. Her nails scraped over Audra’s nipple, and Audra goosebumped all over, the feathers stood erect.
“I don’t think that’s what birds do,” Nic said.
Audra crossed her arms over her chest, careful with all the tender parts of her. “I’m not a bird,” she said. “I wouldn’t know.”
“Well,” Nic said. They were both unsure. “Didn’t used to be.”
Audra considered that and stretched, pointed her toes toward the long end of the bed. She scratched a spot on her arm where she thought a new feather was beginning to form. “It doesn’t hurt,” she said, “but I don’t think I like you touching them yet. Not while they’re still so new.”
“That’s all right,” Nic said, and spread herself on the bed next to her, languid and easy and casual to balance Audra’s nerves. “There’s plenty of other places I can touch for now.”
Earlier that summer, she’d gotten the chance to transform herself — again — in the most suspicious way possible. An old friend from middle school had called her up out of the clear blue sky.
“Audra,” her friend had said, “you won’t believe the opportunity I have for you.”
It was the first time Lacey had ever called Audra by her name. They had once been two boys on the basketball team together. They spent hours in Lacey’s basement doing all the normal things twelve-year-old boys do: talking about girls, drinking the dust from the bottom of Doritos bags, painting each other’s nails with shaky hands and stolen polish, scratching it off with their school IDs before anyone could see. They loved each other in an unsteady middle school way, fist fights and mutually assured destruction taking the place of feelings and trust. At the end of eighth grade they were separated, and Audra fell into a time of great hardship. She lived years in the hours between three and five A.M., staring into the gray and smashing empty bottles against the underpass and doubting she’d make it to thirty, doubting indeed that the victory would be worth the spoils if she did.
One day she saw on Facebook that Lacey was a girl now, and hated her for it, and six months later she made an appointment with Lacey’s doctor. They asked her what name she preferred, and she didn’t know. She was only out to two people in real life. They didn’t call her anything but baby, sugar, princess.
And then she got that message and she thought, oh God, can you believe the audacity? But she loved Lacey, even twenty years later, even suspecting that she was making a mistake in doing so. So she replied.
They met in a coffee shop because Audra wasn’t sure what she’d find if she went back to Lacey’s house. If her old friend had grown up to be more successful than she was, the jealousy would unmoor her. If she’d turned out worse, if she lived in a tiny scratched-up particle board apartment with beer and lotto tickets where the food should have been, Audra thought she’d be shipwrecked with guilt. They took a table in the back and ordered fancy drinks. They talked and fidgeted while they waited, and they each tried to guess who the other woman had become from what she got: matcha and foam, heavy cream and fresh strawberries.
“You said you wanted to offer me something,” Audra said, shy but desperately curious, when they were done tracing their histories, so much overlap it felt like they were two trees grafted together. “But you didn’t say what.”
Lacey said, “You’re not going to believe this, but I can give you wings.”
Audra couldn’t breathe. She licked whipped cream off the top of her drink. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m not good at business or marketing or whatever. Is that a metaphor?” She was trying to think of a delicate way to ask. “Is there something I need to sell? A, um, a downstream?”
Lacey laughed. She was wearing one of those expensive charm bracelets, but the metal was turning orange where it touched her skin. A fake. “No,” she said. “I can’t believe you’d think I’d try to pyramid scheme you.”
Audra couldn’t make eye contact. “It’s been decades,” she said. And then she was angry, because it wasn’t an unreasonable assumption. They were white women in their thirties, born and raised in rural America. “And your mom literally dragged my mom to that Mary Kay party, remember? It was in the park, and we climbed onto the pavilion roof and watched them, and nobody even noticed.” Lacey had asked her mom to get her eyeliner and eye shadow and lipstick, because it was 2005 and boys could wear that stuff now. Audra hadn’t been brave enough to ask; she’d collected deposit bottles and gotten her supplies at the drug store.
Lacey was shaking her head. She’d barely touched her drink, she was so focused on their conversation. “It’s not a metaphor,” she said. “I had this weird opportunity, and I can give someone literal wings. And I thought of you.”
Audra didn’t think that could be true. But it didn’t surprise her, either. She had been the kid with long black hair and studded leather chokers and a wealth of cheap art supplies. She’d had wide ruled notebooks full of sad girls doodled in blue ballpoint: anime eyes, intricate fishnets, their vast, feathery wings eclipsing their bodies. She was a grownup and she still believed that if only one person in the entire world could get wings, it should be her.
“It’s not perfect,” Lacey said. “We don’t know what the timeline is, or how they’ll turn out on you, or—”
Audra interrupted her. She didn’t have time to waste hearing reasons she should change her mind. “Will it work?” she asked. “Like, at the end of the day, I’ll have real wings, and they’ll be mine? Like, right here?” She motioned self-consciously over her shoulders at where she imagined they’d be.
Lacey was grinning, a smile that felt oddly familiar after all these years. Was it excitement that they were doing something stupid and it was going to be awesome, or joy that she’d spent so much time picking out a present and it had gone over well? “Real wings,” she promised. “And they’ll be yours, you’ll be able to move them and you’ll have full sensation and everything. It’ll be — I mean, there’s a lot we don’t know, I can’t make a lot of promises. We have no idea what the side effects will be, and the process to get them is . . . intense.”
Audra knew she should have been worried about who ‘we’ was. Nic would have asked that. There were so many people in her life who would have tried to protect her. She said, “What do I have to do? Is it a terrifying experimental surgery?” Lacey was laughing so hard she knew she’d overshot, so she kept going. “Are they going to have to harvest bones from my arms and legs to construct the wings? Am I going to lose six inches?”
“You wish,” Lacey said. “You’ll grow them on your own, but you have to do injections. Twice a day for the first six months, then daily for a year after that. You can’t miss any, you probably shouldn’t stop once you’ve started. And it’ll be painful.”
Audra took Lacey’s hands from across the table. After everything else, this felt like a blessing. “That easy?” she said. “I’ll do it.”
“I knew you would.”
Nic found her on their bed the night she started the injections. She was naked from the shower, staring down the suspicious-looking vial she’d gotten from Lacey, wondering how crazy she’d be to go through with it.
Nic stopped in the doorway. She gave Audra a long chance to kick her out, then she sat down next to her. “What’s going on?” she asked. “Are you late?” They knew each other’s cycles, but it felt rude to admit it. Audra felt gauche when she knew Nic’s period was starting a day and a half before the blood came. Nic would comment on Audra’s pleasing softness, but not on its origin.
“No,” Audra said, “I’m on track with that. This is something new.” Nic touched her cheek and she leaned into it, enjoying the moment before she had to say what she’d decided. Nic’s hands were weathered like old wood, covered in rough patches and healing wounds no matter how many times Audra rubbed lotion into them. Her nails were thick, strong, a little too long for a lesbian. She scratched Audra’s scalp and Audra thought maybe she’d just flop into her lap and they’d skip the conversation altogether.
“Is something wrong?” Nic said. “I would’ve gone with you to the doctor.”
Audra kissed her, because Nic was right, she would’ve, and Audra explained and she tried not to lie even though it would have made things easier. “You have to love me,” she said after, “even though I’m so stupid.”
“That’s a hell of a lot of fine print,” Nic said. But then she hugged Audra and pulled her close, limbs every which way and wet hair soaking through her undershirt. “Are you sure this is, um, real?”
Audra laughed. This was why she hadn’t wanted to talk about it. She wanted Nic to think she was sexy in an effortless, shy-girl-at-the-library sort of way. She wanted to be sunny and sweet and desirable, a trifle or a pavlova. They’d been together too damn long now and Audra still preferred ‘girlfriend,’ avoided the heft of ‘partner.’ She wanted to be insubstantial, she wanted to melt in Nic’s mouth. Watching Nic worry about her, watching her think, my baby’s been scammed or worse, she felt reality crash into them. She imagined that they’d be capsized by her bad decisions, and that she’d drag them down until they’d never find air again.
This was catastrophizing. She could stop it if she just made better choices, or if she believed that she’d survive no matter what choices she made.
Instead she hedged. “No, obviously I’m not sure. I’m stupid enough to try it, I’m not so stupid I believe it.”
“Okay.” They were both quiet, just Nic’s breathing and the owl outside. Nic didn’t want a fight and Audra did, so there was no way they could both be happy. “Do you think it’s safe, though? It’s just, I’m kind of sweet on you, I’d hate to lose you.”
That was what Audra wanted to hear, so she felt safe being cruel. “I signed over my death benefits to you,” she said. “You don’t have to worry.”
Nic choked. Her throat made a quiet noise as it closed. That felt good, too. “That’s not what you mean to me,” she said.
“My friend Lacey was the one who told me about it. And gave me these.” She held up the vial. It was big, unsettlingly so. She held it in her fist like a lemon, not between two fingers like all the other medicines she’d injected. But she’d need to use a lot of it, and neither of them were sure how often Lacey would be able to resupply her. “And I trust her.”
Nic turned to try and see her face; Audra hid behind her hands. “I don’t remember her,” Nic said. “She can’t be that good of a friend.”
“Of course you do,” Audra said. “We were friends in middle school, I’ve told you about her. She’s the one who sent Zoe all the love poems I wrote about her? You know, the one where I rhymed scone with bone?”
Nic sighed hard, like an old dog settling in the back corner. “Yeah, she sounds like a bottom-dollar kind of girl. I can’t believe you fell out of touch.”
“Middle school friendships are weird.”
“Yeah.” She bent down and kissed Audra’s neck, relaxed into it. They both knew that Audra had made up her mind, and there was nothing left to do. “I’m surprised she didn’t pick Samantha. Or Sarah or Sally. There are lots of good S names.” It wasn’t the sort of comment Audra would have tolerated from a lot of cis girls, but Nic had been there through so much she knew she didn’t mean anything by it.
She said, “When we were kids, we went on a field trip to Old Stone Fort. We were bus buddies, and we had a tour guide named Lacey. She was . . .” She tried to think of how she would describe her: the leather vest, the messy eyeshadow. But the things that had enchanted her childhood self could never be so glamorous to adult eyes, so she gave up trying. “She was perfect. I’m sure that’s why.”
For a long time nothing happened except that she was exhausted. She was exhausted and her body had once again become something she dreamed of, something she hoped for, and was no longer just the place where she lived. The blood feathers grew down her wrists and up her neck. She looked at herself every minute of the day, so that she felt vain in her preening, and in the same hour she would see herself beautiful, a girl and worth having, then grotesque, a monster to be crushed with whatever tools were available. She didn’t know if she was so tired from all this growing or just the whiplash.
She craved protein and salt. She bought a rotisserie chicken (lemon and thyme) and ate it herself over two days. She filled her freezer with cheap mozzarella sticks and pizza bites. She made grand plans for dinners to feed Nic, and then she ate the nacho cheese before she could dip the nachos into it, ate the ground beef and lamb stuffing before she could fill the peppers, ate Nic’s portions before she could plate them.
Nic smiled and kissed her and spread cream cheese and pâté on a bagel, and then made another when Audra stole that one off her plate, and said nothing. Nic found a chest freezer that had been hard done by, bought a share in a hog, got a license to hunt deer. Audra wondered what would happen if Nic got mad at her for all this, and imagined herself dying as a cockerel dies, her neck snapped by the force.
The transformation was visible to strangers before it was satisfying to her. Customers asked what was wrong with her, if she was going to be okay and, most damning, if she’d done it on purpose. Audra pretended she didn’t know what had happened. She gawked at her own skin, new as a fiddlehead, and agreed it was disgusting, and performed as much fear as she thought they wanted. She denied herself every day, and felt like Peter in Luke, and hated herself for thinking it and for what she did.
She wore long sleeves and turtlenecks; she promised worried strangers she’d go to the doctor. She scratched the keratin caps off each individual feather and watched them unfurl and cried from wanting something so badly and getting it. She printed “A Litany for Survival” in size six font so that no one could read it over her shoulder. She folded it to the size of a prayer card and kept it in her wallet and took it out on the bus, took it out when she went to the bathroom at work to cry, took it out when her eyes blurred from fatigue and when she was sure her fears would swallow her up.
She imagined herself running for the door, slipping and breaking her nails on the doorknob like a girl in a movie, shredding herself to escape from she knew not what. She imagined herself slipping through doorways and falling out doorways and hiding in doorways, remembered all the doors that had been closed behind her. She imagined one day she would find a brave self who could exist in a room with all of her fears. That day she would lead them in and lock the door and finally be alone. Her wings would unfurl and she would be home.
When the wings started to grow in earnest, she was bowled over by pain and exhaustion. It was worse than anything she’d ever experienced. Worse than breaking her ankle, worse than the dry sockets she’d got from having her wisdom teeth out in some man’s basement “home office,” worse, she was sure, than plenty of things she couldn’t remember. She woke up before dawn and texted Lacey that she was dying, woke up with her alarm and texted her boss, “Real sick. Not gonna be in for at least a week, maybe two.”
Nic offered to stay home with her, but they both knew she couldn’t. Nic didn’t have that kind of job; they didn’t have that kind of life. Besides, how could she have helped? Neither of them really knew what was happening.
Instead she called every hour, almost on the hour, although she didn’t have that kind of job, either. She put her phone on speaker and told uneven, prattling stories on the drive to work and the drive home, reassuring Audra every three minutes that yes, I swear I’m on hands-free, I promise I won’t get pulled over and blow up our life.
Lacey never responded to the text, but she came to help, delighted as a scientist and sympathetic as a friend. She said, “You’ll outlive this, you’re tough,” but Audra didn’t want to be tough anymore, so Lacey said, “I’m right here, babe, I’ll hold your hand through this whole thing and you’ll be glad you made it this far.”
The wings erupted slowly, over many days, and then quickly, painfully, her skin splitting like a cocoon, the bruising so bad that it stretched up to the nape of her neck and then fell all the way to her hips and ass. She was glad the pain was too intense for her to remember anything else clearly. She was glad Nic couldn’t be there to see her like that. She was glad to have Lacey, who had grown into a single-minded, even-tempered woman. Lacey wrapped the open wounds in bandages. Lacey said, “Don’t worry about the bleeding. It looks bad, but it always looks bad. There’s never substantial blood loss. It’s never dangerous.”
Audra didn’t ask questions. She didn’t say, I thought you’d never done this before on a real person, and now you’re acting like you know how it goes. She said, “I feel so weak, Lace. Last time I felt this bad, I was—” She didn’t want to say it. She didn’t like to talk about that time. She focused on symptoms. “I feel sick to my stomach, and every time I try to stand, my vision fades out from the edges.”
None of that bothered Lacey. It was the pain; it was the amount of energy, broad and bleak as a chasm, that her new wings demanded from her body. “You felt like shit after Dr. Bobby was done with you, didn’t you?” she asked. They’d had the same surgeon. “It’s hard on your body, but it’s worth it.”
Audra couldn’t keep up with her injections. The pain was too severe. Nic would have done it. Nic had gotten a nurse to show her how. But lots of people had seen Audra as a patient or a client or an experiment; she didn’t want Nic to join them. So Lacey did it. She injected her from the vials in Audra’s medicine cabinet, from the vial in Audra’s bedside table, from the vials in Lacey’s toolbox that they didn’t talk about.
Lacey focused on signs. “Your wings are growing in beautifully,” she said. “Look at how strong and well-feathered they are.” She took Audra into the bath, both of them naked in the water. She used a plastic cup and baby soap to rinse dried blood from the pockets where the wings had grown. She pulled out paper-wrapped packets of gauze and needles and fishing line and she sewed the skin into something akin to a back. Audra held still and didn’t cry at all, and when Lacey was done, she said, “There, there, it’s all over. I knew you’d be good.”
Nic came home in the evenings and cooked for them and watched Lacey as a dog might have, ready to bite but holding back until given her owner’s command. They ate dinner together, the three of them sitting on Nic’s hand-me-down bed. Lacey inhaled whatever was put in front of her; Nic fed Audra by hand and apologized for being gone all day, went back to her own dinner only after it had gone cold. “I can take care of you tonight,” she said, but Audra shook her head.
“You work so hard, baby,” she said. “You need to rest. And Lacey’s an expert, she lives for this.”
She was certainly an expert, though they didn’t talk about how. She taught Audra how to condition her wings. She palpated each of the strong, delicate bones to make sure they’d come in as they were meant to. She rubbed oil into her feathers, starting at the shaft and moving up along the grain. “You’ll have to do this every day when I’m gone,” she said. “Since your body doesn’t produce the right oils.”
“Store-bought is fine,” Audra joked, and they both smiled thinly.
They were both tired by that point, but Audra was also excited, and Lacey was also proud. “I’ve never seen them grow in so nice,” she said, shaking her head, spreading the feathers from Audra’s skin. “They’re such pretty colors. Your wingspan is going to be — God, once you’ve healed you’ve got to let me take you in so we can get you measured and x-rayed.”
“No,” said Audra, nervous because Lacey’s hands were deep in the part of her that was newest and most precious. “I think I’ll stay here, instead.” She had already more than once been measured and photographed.
“You don’t understand,” Lacey said, “what it’ll do for my career.”
Audra didn’t think she could say no twice. She didn’t think she had it in her. But she didn’t need to. Nic came to the doorway, and she said, “Hey,” and her voice was as low as a man’s when she was angry. “I hope you’re being a friend in there.”
They never discussed it again. She thought about that conversation as the moment she finally became an adult, or the day her life started, or the way she finally pulled herself out of the slush of a youth spent trying to erase herself. She let Nic hold her that night in bed, and she said, “I know you love me,” and Nic reacted like it was an actual compliment.
The next day she got a voicemail from her boss, and she thought, well, this was a good run while it lasted. I was going to be out of this job soon anyway. Audra had lost so many jobs for so many stupid reasons that she had started to think of it as just something that happened to a person every few years, will he, nill he, like moving.
She went through the whole mourning process before she listened to the message. She cried. She broke a plate. She looked at new job postings with Lacey. She seriously considered camming (“You definitely have a niche,” Lacey said) and the military and three different MLM cosmetics companies. She texted Nic: “they fired me!!! the bastards fired me!!!!”
Then she hit play. “Hey,” her boss said, “it’s me. I hope you’re on the mend. I just wanted to let you know you’re almost out of sick time.” Audra had the phone on the bed next to her, her face hidden in a pillow. “I can dip into vacation,” it continued, “but I know you’ve already got time scheduled in August. Um, if you want, I talked to Joe and under the circumstances we’ll let you work from home.” His voice wavered a little, like he was uncomfortable. He’d called from his cell, and she imagined him standing in the corner with the door closed, looking out the window and scratching his ugly scraggly beard. “We’re all worried about you, Audra. We’re all hoping you get better soon. Just reach out and let me know what you want me to do.”
She cried for a long time and she called him back and she dragged her laptop (heavy, because it was old and because Nic liked to play Warcraft on it) into bed with her and replied to emails for eight hours. “Surprise,” she told Nic. “They didn’t actually fire me?”
Nic said, “I knew it had to be a misunderstanding,” and she didn’t correct her.
That night she lay prone in bed and let Nic rub aromatherapy oils into her shoulders. They ached from the new growth, and from being so scared and tense, and Audra had spent so much of her life afraid to let anyone touch her, more afraid to like it. Nic rubbed the base of her skull and the base of her new wings, scraped her nails down her back and her sides. Audra sighed and moaned and stretched out on the bed, and finally she relaxed enough that her spine popped. “You’re so beautiful,” Nic said. “You have no idea how sexy you are.” Audra shivered, and her wings flexed.
“I just can’t stop thinking about work,” she said. Nic laughed, long and quiet and broken as a city leveled in a storm. “What? Am I not supposed to talk about it now?”
“No, baby girl, you’re fine. Don’t you worry about a thing.” But Audra didn’t really trust her until her hands started moving again, gentle fingers over the line where her bra snapped.
“I’m just, like, I have to ghost them, you know? God, I don’t think I’m brave enough to go in like this. I have to just disappear and let them mail me a check.”
“Are you even listening?”
Nic sighed and flopped on top of her, gentle as a falling leaf, her weight firm and reassuring. Audra tried to turn her head to look at her, and found she couldn’t. “I just don’t know what you want me to say. You love this job. And I love you, I don’t want you to lose it.” Audra was crying. Petulant, she reassured herself that she’d make Nic take the wet pillow when they went to sleep. “But you’ve had to work through a whole lot, so if you want to just, I don’t know, say no this time and back out, I’ll support you. I’m a real high roller, I’ve got sugar baby money.”
She wasn’t, and she didn’t. Audra thought that if she left this job, they’d lose their apartment and then they’d starve and she’d have to cut her beautiful new wings off and sell them to science to buy a day’s bread, and wouldn’t that be a waste of suffering in a life full of it.
But she never actually found out. The offer was all she needed to be brave.
The first day she felt well enough to run errands again, they got home and Nic said, “Oh, sweetheart,” and Audra opened her mouth and shrieked like a buzzard caught in telephone wire. She’d been having a panic attack for an hour and a half, but she’d been too stubborn and too proud to tend to it until they’d finished everything they needed done.
She stood in the center of the room with her shoulders hunched forward miserably, the same way Nic contorted to hide her breasts. Nic kept a few paces away. Some days her touch was a comfort. Others, Audra couldn’t bear comfort.
Nic said, “I don’t know what to do.”
Audra would have preferred her to pick something, then deal with the consequences if she was wrong. It was a cruel craving, but it was the one she had. She stopped screaming. “Do I look like I can be trusted to make decisions? They ought to assign me a keeper.”
“I want to make you better,” Nic said. It wasn’t good enough. “I’m gonna make you better, but I need a hint about how.”
Audra shrugged and let her head loll to one side, and that was enough of a clue that Nic came by and put an arm around her. “I thought being home would help.”
Nic said, “It seems like it helped a little.”
“At least I can’t feel them looking at me anymore,” she said. “But.” She couldn’t describe it while she was in it. Later she’d be able to talk about the strange, pervasive disconnect, the sensation of floating. Not of flying, but falling, her wings snapping back to catch her, then cracking like an umbrella’s skeleton. She snatched at the only thing that might anchor her, a knotted line just out of reach. Audra closed her eyes and hid her face and whispered, “Maybe if we made love or something I’d remember myself.”
Nic laughed, but she held her very tight as she did, so that Audra was contained within her laughter rather than shaken by it. “I can’t tell my friends I decided to fuck you because you were having a panic attack. They’d say I was a monster.”
Audra was too scared to scowl, dripping bitterness like ink from a well. “Poor baby,” she said. “I don’t care what your friends think. Maybe if you were a better girlfriend, you wouldn’t, either.”
“Easy,” Nic said, “Easy.” She laid her palms flat on Audra’s skin under her shirt. “There’s a person here you’ve got caught in your talons, so be gentle.” She held them both still until Audra’s anger subsided unopposed, until she stood there trembling. “All right, let’s see if we can get you back on the ground.”
They made it as far as the hallway before Nic, always eloquent, said, “Heck, but you’re pretty, though,” and kissed her. Their apartment wasn’t big enough to justify hallways, but it had them, anyway, and they had to find something to do with the space they were paying for. Nic pushed Audra against their bedroom door and it gave a little before the latch caught them solid.
Audra was cold all the time since HRT, but Nic was always warm, she always made sure to warm her hands before she touched her. Audra felt heat in her chest and it was Nic’s hands against her bra, felt heat on her thighs and it was Nic’s hands spreading her legs. She touched Audra under her clothes and over her clothes at the same time, so that her hands between Audra’s legs were muffled as though through crinoline, so that the feel of her fingertips on feathered skin was as bright as lemon balm and winter time. Audra’s clothes pulled at her shoulders and her neck, and she leaned into it, focused on how it felt to be restrained by something other than the tightness in her chest. Good, she thought. She spread her wings so that her back was flat against the door, so that she could be surrounded on all sides.
“You think you can stay up?” Nic asked. Her lips were soft and sticky against Audra’s neck.
“Mmhmm,” she said. “I’m good.”
“Hate for you to fall,” said Nic, teasing, and lying, too, because she thumbed over Audra’s nipple and Audra’s knees gave out and Nic was ready to catch her, a strong arm around her ribs like they were dancing.
Audra whined. She felt misaligned, like if she moved the right way her whole self would pop back into place and she’d stop hurting so bad. “Please,” she said, and she closed her eyes but she could still see Nic’s smirk, “just wanna feel you inside me, is all.”
“Like this?” Nic traced her nails over Audra’s bottom lip so gingerly that it was electric, and Audra wanted so much to bite, to take the whole hand. She could feel it already in her teeth without having to do it. The snap of her jaw and the jangle of bones down her throat. It wasn’t the only thing she’d ever wanted that had scared her.
Everything was so intense right now, so raw. Audra had to take herself firmly in hand to keep from acting. She opened her mouth, unlatched her jaw and presented her tongue. Nic’s fingers were hot and salty, and she sucked and slurped but did not bite.
Nic said, “Oh, wow,” and Audra fluttered her eyes open. Her pupils were so far blown it ached. She was starting to see in new colors, and she wasn’t sure if it was the drugs or the migraine building at the base of her skull. She was sure she was a sight: debauched, needy. For once, she didn’t worry about ‘beautiful.’ She licked Nic’s fingers. She licked her lips.
“Yeah,” Nic said. “Okay. Christ, baby.” Audra laughed. “I just really want to-” She stopped. She put her hand on Audra’s waist under her blouse, rucking it up like it was a skirt and they were two straights in a bar. Her fingers were still slick with spit. “I’m gonna need you to take some of these clothes off so I can show you what I wanna do.”
Audra just looked at her. “God gave you hands, didn’t he?” But then she realized the problem, and swallowed hard so she wouldn’t cry. “You don’t have to be afraid, of course you can touch them, come on. Obviously I only grew them so you’d have something pretty to play with when you — while you were undressing me.” They were both laughing and they were both tender, and Nic stepped over so Audra had room to turn around. She reached back and gathered her long hair into a high pony, held it there out of the way, her elbows splayed. She pressed her cheek and her chest into the door, and Nic unhooked the clasps of her shirt, and her new wings stretched over them both.
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