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A Lungful of Smoke

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The stink of burning metal and smoke fills your nostrils, so strong you can actually taste it on your tongue; a sharp metallic taste that makes you think of blood.

The cop with the megaphone down below keeps repeating at you not to move and that someone will come get you shortly. Easy for him to sound so calm when you’re the one sitting in a car, teetering dangerously over the broken overpass, staring down at a twenty-thirty-forty-you-didn't-even-know-how-far-drop. It feels kind of like he’s talking to you in a dream, or from a TV screen, so far removed from your circumstances that you can’t really connect to what he’s saying at all.

You still haven't taken your hands off the steering wheel. You can't. Ever since the bridge shattered into a million pieces and the ordinary day dissolved into a nightmare, you've been sitting rigidly in place like a statue. Your fingers are starting to hurt from being locked in one place for so long. It reminds you uncomfortably of corpses who have their limbs frozen in odd positions after rigor mortis sets in. If this car does take the plunge and nosedives into the abyss, no doubt the paramedics will have to break your fingers to get you out of the car. If there’s much left of you at all, after being crushed from such a high fall.

A low moan leaves your throat, like an animal in pain. The car creaks ominously with every tiny motion. The animal, fight-or-flight side of your brain was raging, screaming at you to run, get out, save yourself, before the car falls. But you can't. You feel like you've been encased in ice - one wrong move and everything will shatter. Plus the cops keep repeating their mantra at you not to move. You try to focus on the voice amplified by the megaphone to ground yourself back to reality, bring you out of your terrified inertia, but it's easier said than done. It's such a long way to fall.

You shut your eyes as the car groans again, sucking in a shaky breath. Despite your efforts to calm yourself down, tears well up behind your closed eyelids and spill down your otherwise blank face, hot against your skin.

Fuck. You think, despairingly. Fuck! FUCK!

"Hey," a voice suddenly says and it startles you so much that you stop crying. "Looks like you could use a hand."

You slowly tilt your head up, squinting.

At first, backlit by the sun, all you can see is a figure with a pair of gigantic wings. It seems like such a cliché, but for one crazy moment you find yourself distantly wondering if he's an otherworldly being who has come for your soul or something. Maybe the fumes from the cars are making you hallucinate.

"It's alright," the voice says again, moving a little closer than before. "You won't fall, my feathers can hold up the car. Now, I just need you to take my hand, okay?"

His tone is easy, almost casual, and you stare at the figure incredulously as he drifts a little closer, air from every leisurely flap of his wings licking your cheeks. As he comes better into focus, you recognise that carefree grin, that peculiar tufty hair.

It's like a sunrise in your chest.

"Hawks?" you say, jaw clicking like a rusty hinge.

"Take my hand," he says again, reaching out to you, his gaze unwavering and he sounds so certain, so sure of himself, that you find yourself reaching out to him. His grip is form but not painful, and the next thing you know he sweeps you up, out of the car, and then you're in the arms of the number two Pro hero, one hand supporting your back, the other hooked under your knees.

Your face floods with heat, but given the sheer, paralysing nature of your fear while you sat motionless in that dangerously teetering car and already imagining your funeral, it's actually nice to be feeling any other emotion besides blinding terror.

"Atta girl," Hawks says, his voice a pleasing vibration in his chest. "You're doing really well. Just hang on."

You nod vaguely, and cautiously loop your arms around his neck. You're close enough to smell his aftershave - sharp and fresh, like pine needles or lime, and something else warm that makes you think of sitting around a fire on a beach somewhere. You lean against Hawks, listening to the smooth rhythm of his heartbeat. He's not scared at all - why would he be? He is quite literally in his element.

"Don't drop me, okay?" you say without thinking, voice just loud enough to carry over the wind.

Hawks laughs like this is the funniest thing he's ever heard, casting you an amused look, those greenish-gold eyes of his glimmering with a warm mirth from beneath his visor.

"Never," he grins, boyishly, like he's flirting with you in the line at a coffeehouse, not holding you in his arms like a princess while casually hovering some fifteen feet above a decimated bridge. You're starting to think he might have a couple of screws loose when he says, "Now hold on tight - scream if you wanna go faster!"

And he dives.

The wind roars in your ears and your eyes sting (so that's why the visor and earphones) and for a moment your heart seems to have made its excuses in your chest and jumped into your mouth as the city comes rushing to meet you in a sickening fast-forward, the tiny buildings looming life-size as the altitude plummets. You feel like Alice in Wonderland after eating one of those little sweets.

But Hawks. Hawks is not only not scared, the man is gleeful, like a teenager on a joyride, his grin wide and sharp. The sound of the wind whistling and those great wings beating fills your ears and you think, this is what it's like for him all the time.

His arms tighten around you just a little as he gracefully descends, stopping just a few feet away from a slew of police cars and ambulances. Despite being firmly on the ground now, he doesn't put you down straight away, supporting your weight with total ease. You hate to admit it, even to yourself, because it seems to frivolous after staring death in the face, but you're happy to wring a few extra moments of being held like this - it doesn't exactly happen to you a lot, being rescued from danger by a hot babe like Hawks.

"Hey! Here's the last one!" he calls out and a couple of paramedics snap to attention and come jogging over to you both, weaving inbetween cars. Despite yourself, you wriggle indignantly.

"I'm not even injured!" you protest as they approach.

Hawks snorts inelegantly at that, setting you carefully down on your feet, though he keeps a steadying arm wrapped around your waist; he must have rescued enough people by now to know that the legs tend to give out after such an ordeal. You try not to focus on his fingers squeezing your hip - you don't want to start obsessing over whether it's on purpose or not.

"No, but you're probably in shock," Hawks replies, "Believe me, I've seen it before. You feel fine right not, 'cause of the adrenalin, but in a bit you'll start to feel it."

You grumble a bit at that - it's not that you don't believe him, but you'd still rather not have the rest of your day wasted by being chivvied off to hospital when you're sure that there are people around you who need it way more. Hawks chuckles and gives your waist a squeeze - okay, that was deliberate flirting and you can full the bulge of arm muscles nudging the bottom of your ribcage.

You swallow.

"Thanks, Hawks-san!" one of the paramedics says as she reaches the pair of you. "You were a real lifesaver back there!"

"Aw, shucks," Hawks grins cockily, running a hand through his hair and thus making it even messier. "Hey, take this one for me, would you? I gotta go report back to Tsukauchi-san."

Disappointment blooms in your chest, which you know is ridiculous because he's only doing his job and it's not like you expected him to stay anyway, but still something compels you to look back as the paramedics flank either side of you and start walking with you towards the ambulance. You can't dispel emotions with logic, after all.


He's standing nearer than you realised and that boyish, mischievous grin of his is blinding. He reaches out and you feel your pulse quicken.

"Stay outta trouble," he winks - honest to god winks - and then he boops your nose. "See ya 'round, Chick!"

And in a flurry of feathers, he's gone, soaring up into the skies, the wind ruffling his hair and clothes, silhouetted by the late afternoon sun like an angel with those wings of his, before he flies off to his next call of duty. You hate the twinge in your chest at his departure, and the way heat sweeps across your cheeks from his touch.

Get a grip on yourself. you tell yourself, sternly.

You let the paramedics lead you to the ambulance after that, exhaustion descending on you like a shadow - it's probably the adrenalin that's kept you upright and reasonably lucid for so long. Their urgent chatter washes over you as you sit on the edge of the opening hatch of the ambulance, a shock blanket discarded beside you (you refuse to keep it on). Your hands were cupping your face, elbows on your knees as you looked at the city skyline. You can still smell smoke from where you're sitting and there's a distant wail of sirens. A shiver creeps over you despite the heat - as soon as the paramedics give you the all-clear, you intend to head home straight away so you can freak out in the privacy of your own home. Preferably with a bottle of something alcoholic.

Something brushes your arm and you glance down to see a feather, resting gently on your knee. You pick it up, twirling it between your fingers. Idiotically, you look up as if you expect to see Hawks there, but of course he isn't, because he is a busy Pro with much more important things to be doing. You look back at the feather and the memory of his arms hoisting you up and his voice in your ear engulfs you;

"Stay outta trouble."

You groan and bury your face in your hands, feather tickling your cheek. A near death experience, a totalled car...and a big fat crush on the rising star, number two Pro hero in the country.

You really need a drink.