The Wind Beneath My Wings

It really wasn’t fair that Philip and Terui were immune to so many weird Gaia Memory effects, Shotaro thought to himself as he lay curled up on his side moaning in pain. Whatever the Evolution Dopant had hit him with, it felt like something was stabbing through his back with a rusty knife.

Akiko was at his side, pressing a warm compress against first one and then the other of Shotaro’s shoulderblades. She frowned; his back felt a lot... lumpier than it should be.

Philip was out in the garage, looking up the exact effects of that energy blast, but Shotaro didn’t give a damn about that research right now. He wanted his partner here with him.

Akiko got up for a second, only to return with a glass of water and a couple of small, white pills. “Hey, hey, Shotaro,” she said. “Try this?”

“Ugh...” He pushed himself up just enough that the water wouldn’t spill everywhere. Still, it didn’t help. He collapsed again and rolled onto his stomach, curling up like a pillbug. The lumps in his back throbbed angrily. “What’s taking Philip so long with that lookup? I’m dying out here!”

As if on cue, Philip emerged from the garage. “Shotaro?”

Shotaro groaned in response.

“Ah, there you are. I’ve found it!” Philip stood beside the bed and flipped through his blank book. “The Evolution Dopant induces a physical metamorphosis in its victims. This metamorphosis can be quite painful...”

“Metamorphosis?” Akiko repeated.

“A transformation. The people hit by its energy beam take on the qualities of other living beings.” Philip gestured vividly. “For example, tails, gills, or chlorophyll. Since Shotaro’s pain is centered in his back, I suspect—”

His explanation was interrupted by Shotaro screaming, rolling out of bed, and sprouting huge white wings.

Akiko shrieked. “I didn’t hear about this!”

Shotaro was still for a moment. When he finally pushed himself to his feet, he stumbled and fell against Akiko. His wings fluttered, knocking Philip into the dresser and sending the kitchen table crashing to the floor.

Feathers flew everywhere. One of them landed on Shotaro’s nose and he shouted. Not a scream of pain—instead, it was his usual shout of disbelief at what was happening.

As she righted the table, Akiko groaned. “Ryu-kun needs to hurry and and kick this Dopant’s butt...”

After he knocked over everything on his desk, everything on the kitchen counters (including Terui’s brand-new coffee maker), and half the things stuck to the walls, Shotaro was banished to the garage.

He sat on the metal grating and pouted, kicking his legs and fluttering his wings behind himself.

Philip was standing at one of the whiteboards, tapping his finger against his chin. He’d finished his research on the Evolution Dopant and had moved on to the current problem that plagued the Narumi Detective Agency: Those wings. This whiteboard was adorned with sketches of winged figures—birds and bats as well as humans that looked suspiciously like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man only with angel wings.

“Shotaro,” Philip said, “do you think you can fly?”

“Eh?” Shotaro’s wings stilled.

“Human muscle mass should be insufficient to allow flight,” Philip admitted. “But since your wings aren’t naturally occurring to begin with, it’s possible...”

Shotaro glanced over his shoulder at the wings. That would definitely be a plus to this terrible situation. He pushed himself to his feet and stretched. “Well, let’s find out.”

Philip was giddy as he watched Shotaro spread his wings. Shotaro was impressed, too. He didn’t have to think about how to move these things—it had just happened instinctively. When he thought about it, he figured that was a good thing. Philip had mentioned other victims growing gills, after all.

Deep breath, in, out. Yeah, he could do this. Shotaro nodded in determination, took a step back, and leapt off the grating.

For a moment it seemed like it would work. His wings spread wide and he practically hovered.

And then he started to fall.

“Whoa—whoa whoa whoa!” Shotaro’s wings beat desperately, but not desperately enough. He cringed and grasped at his chest and he fell—more slowly than he would without the added air resistance, but his landing was still far from graceful.

Feathers danced in the air as Philip rushed down the spiral staircase to the floor. “Shotaro! Shotaro, are you all right?!”

“Ugh...” Shotaro pushed himself up and brushed his hair out of his face. His wings curled in around himself protectively.

“Is anything broken?”

“Just my pride,” Shotaro said sardonically. “Just give me a sec, partner. I’ll be fine.”

Once Shotaro was on his feet, Philip helped him back up the stairs.

In metaphors, wings were supposed to represent freedom.

Shotaro had never felt more stuck.

The office was too small to contain a ten-foot wingspan and the garage was... cold and barren. This was far from Shotaro’s first time hanging out with Philip in here, but he’d never felt so trapped in here before. As he sat on the couch, wings curled around himself so as not to knock over anything on Philip’s workbench close by, he asked, “Are you sure you’re okay with this being your bedroom?”

Philip continued sketching pictures of birds on the whiteboard. “Of course. It’s nice in here.”

“It’s really... quiet.”

“I appreciate some quiet every now and then. That’s why I sleep in here and you sleep in the office.”

“I guess...”

Philip smiled. “It’s not like I spend all of my time in here. Remember just last night?”

Shotaro’s face turned red. “Uh... yeah.” True, Philip did sometimes share Shotaro’s bed.

“Are you uncomfortable in here, Shotaro?”

“A little,” he admitted. He stretched his legs out in lieu of stretching his wings.

Philip scratched his chin. “Why not go outside, then?”

“With these things?!” Shotaro sputtered.

“You’re hardly the only victim of the Dopant. The people of Fuuto are used to seeing strange things.”

That was fair enough. It wasn’t like going outside with wings would give away his identity as Double, anyway. Shotaro stood up and stretched his wings out, knocking Philip aside.

“Ah, whoops.”

Philip sighed. “Come on, partner.”

Shotaro had always been in love with Fuuto’s wind. The breeze as it caressed his skin and toussled his hair was to die for.

The way it ruffled his feathers practically made him melt.

Some people gave him strange looks as he and Philip walked down the sidewalk, but for the most part what Philip had said was true. This was a city plagued by monster attacks so frequent one could practically schedule appointments by them. A man with wings drew attention, but people quickly realized what was going on. In fact, much of the staring might have come from the fact that he had to go shirtless.

Just as that possibility occurred to Shotaro, Philip grabbed his hand possessively. Even without the Double Driver on it wasn’t rare for the same thoughts to cross their minds.

They turned a corner and the downtown Fuuto skyline, dominated by the windmill-like Fuuto Tower, came into view. Shotaro lit up. “Philip,” he said. “I know where we should go.”

Since Shotaro had to keep his wings wrapped around himself on the motorcycle ride downtown, and since that made maneuvering his arms awkward, Philip had to drive.

When they stopped at a red light he stretched his wings out. “Ugh... Wing cramps suck.”

“Would you like a massage?”

Shotaro raised an eyebrow. “Maybe later. You’re driving, partner.”

Philip laughed. He leaned back against Shotaro’s chest. “I’m a little jealous. Even if it’s only temporary, undergoing such a radical transformation must be thrilling.”

“Ah— green light, green light!” Shotaro folded his wings back around himself.

“Wh— ah, Shotaro!” Philip squirmed. He was stuck, pressed up against Shotaro by the feathery cloak that was his wings.

“Crap. Sorry! Just let me—” He cringed. “Ahh, damn it, I got another cramp!”

“Let me go!”

The car behind them started honking as they flailed uselessly. Finally Shotaro managed to unfurl his wings and free Philip, wincing at the cramped muscles.

Fortunately their destination wasn’t far.

Shotaro’s guess had been correct. The wind blowing past them as they stood on the observation deck atop Fuuto Tower was heavenly. He leaned against the guardrail, wings fully outstretched, and sighed blissfully. And even better, they had the place to themselves; Fuuto’s wind was legendary, but on an especially windy day like today people preferred not to visit an attraction this far off the ground.

Philip leaned against him, grinning with amusement. “Are you enjoying yourself, Shotaro?”

Shotaro cracked an eye open. “So what if I am?”

Philip chuckled, but it fell flat. Shotaro remembered what he’d said on the way there. He’d never before thought it was unfortunate that Philip was immune to so many physiology-altering Dopant effects, but if Philip was really jealous then Shotaro couldn’t help feeling bad.

He closed his wings around the both of them. Philip’s eyes widened in surprise. “What is this?”

“Shut up and let me hug you, damn it.”

“If you say so.” Philip nestled closer to him, wrapping his arms around his waist. “Ah... you’re warm, Shotaro.”

He definitely felt warm. His cheeks were on fire. He didn’t think he could take another sappy comment like that from Philip.

So before he could say anything, Shotaro kissed him.

Philip let out a muffled gasp. He planted his hands on the small of Shotaro’s back for a moment before letting them trail upward. He pressed himself up as close to Shotaro’s chest as he could get to allow his hands to move up between Shotaro’s wings and knead at the skin between his shoulders.

Shotaro just about melted.

This wasn’t the first time Philip had focused affection on that spot on his back, but it felt more sensitive now. And when Philip’s fingers trailed up to brush through his feathers, Shotaro let out a noise that would have turned heads if they weren’t alone.

As Philip’s fingers traced their way through Shotaro’s feathers, Shotaro started to think that he could get used to this.

And that’s when the wings detached from his back, hit the floor, and crumbled into dust.

Shotaro’s Stag Phone rang. He was too in shock to answer it. After the call went to voicemail, Philip’s started to ring. He managed to pick up after about ten seconds.

“Uh... hello? Oh, Ryu Terui,” he greeted. “Let me guess. You’ve defeated the Dopant.”

He paused; Shotaro could only guess that Terui was asking how he knew.

“The Dopant’s effect vanishes with the Memory Break,” Philip pointed out. “We’ll see you later.”

Philip hung up. Shotaro’s shoulders slumped.

“Will you be all right?” Philip asked.

“Yeah, yeah. Let’s go home, okay? It’s really cold up here.”

Shotaro didn’t stop pouting for a week.