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Songbird

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“Selfish brat!” The child winced as an open palm connected with his left cheek. The right one already a blaze of crimson from the previous attacks.

He fell back onto the floor in a heap, wincing as rumpled feathers pressed against the sticky linoleum. The chips he had held in his hands ripped from his grasp.

“I told you to stay out of the apartment until after 8pm!” A clack of plastic bracelets breaks up the woman’s words as she repeatedly jabs a finger into the boy’s shoulder. She grabs him and pulls him up, shaking him as she slaps against his cheek yet again.

“Mama, I’m so-“ another slap wrenches a cry from the boy as his ears ring. She’d hit him closer to his temple and now his world was spinning. Her constant shaking tipping the room until it was a blur of greys.

“All you ever say is sorry if you say anything at all! God! Selfish and useless like your goddamn father and near mute!” She shrieked as she started pulling him toward the door, strawberry blonde hair swaying in front of him as she dragged his body.

He started squirming, hiccupping sobs bubbling from his throat as she continued to pull him. She yanked open the door and shoved the boy out. The sunset coloring the peeling paint of the front of the apartment, a mix of reds and oranges.

“P-please, Okasan!” He blubbered “I just wanted some chips. I haven’t eaten all day” he couldn’t help himself as his whole body shuddered, sobs wracking his tiny body, thin arms reaching up to rub dirt dusted palms across his eyes, streaks of dirt staining his skin. Fat tears, dripping from long eyelashes in never ending rivers.

He had only gone back for food. He had forgotten to pack something in the morning when his mother had started her usual bellowing about getting out of her way for the day. The whole day had been spent trying to swipe something from any of the stores but they already were keen on his usual tricks and the minute he had stepped through the door with his scuffed sneakers he had been shooed right back out. So that’s how he had decided just to sneak home real quick. Real secret like. Just for some snacks and then run back out.

He had been good too! Had ignored the weird noises from the bedroom and the banging on the walls. He was such a good boy! He knew that making a single sound would lead to mom not getting money for doing her job...whatever that was. And no money meant no food and no booze and ‘adult treats, don’t fucking touch that’ for mom.

But he was only a kid, he’d be in kindergarten if his mom would actually enroll him. Said he didn’t need to go to some ‘stupid school’ that asked ‘stupid questions’.

And kids were clumsy. Specially kids with bright, fluffy, fire engine red wings. His wings had brushed against a flower vase. One of mom’s friends had brought it home and when he had brushed past it the whole thing, flowers, water and all went crashing straight to the ground, shattering on impact, water rushing everywhere.

It had been silent for a whole beautiful minute. Enough time for him to think maybe mom hadn’t heard him. Maybe they’d continue with the bang-bang/moaning noises. Maybe-

The boom of the bedroom door opening had crushed all his dreams. He had stared wide eyed, chips crushing in his hands as a lanky, dark haired man had stepped out, hair disheveled, eyes widening on seeing him. Mom had stepped out right behind him, eyes widening on seeing the his form. Fury had ignited in her golden eyes as she glared at golden haired boy standing in the kitchenette, frozen.

The shouting had caused him to crawl to the corner of the room, wings coming up to shield his face and cover his body as the man started yelling at mom, adjusting his pants and his tie, marching to the door with a curse. Something about ‘he wasn’t fucking with kids around’.

Come to think of it, what did fucking even mean. Everyone used the word. Maybe if he could sneak into the library. Use the computers, find out what it meant...

His thoughts had been snapped back to the scene before him by a frustrated grunt. His eyes darted between the man and his mom. The male now trying to pull his arm out of his mother’s grasp as she had pleaded, begged for him to stay, to pay her. Her eyes had been shiny, body half curled as she kept trying to pull his arm. The man had managed to break free, thrown a look back at the kid, his wings flexed around him even more defensively, cowering behind the shield of red.

“You get fucking forty bucks and it’s only because the kid looks like he hasn’t eaten in a week. At least feed the fucking brat you lazy whore.” And with that he had thrown a few bills at his mom’s stunned face and pushed out the door.

His mom had taken literally half a second to turn her anger onto the tiny golden boy in the corner before she had dragged him outside.

Where he now stood, crying about chips.

“Look, brat.” She grabbed his jaw and shook him violently, finally tilting his head up to stare into her golden eyes. Same shade as his. All sparking yellow with iridescent shades of near white and flecks of orange. “I said fucking 8pm and it’s 6. You wanted food you should have thought of that this morning before you left. But since you don’t seem to have a brain inside that skull of yours now you don’t get any food.” More tears started pooling in his eyes as his stomach contracted painfully. The gnawing pain of hunger wasn’t going to leave any time soon. No now he wasn’t going to eat at all tonight.

Stupid stupid brat. That’s what he was. If he had only listened to his mom, he could have eaten after she was done with work. Maybe he could have even gotten some ramen, the one she made when she was in one of her better moods. Maybe with some spicy chicken.

But now, because he had been selfish, only thinking of filling his stomach with some quick chips  to quiet the hole in his abdomen; now he wasn’t going to eat at all.

More tears rolled down his cheeks as his mom stared at him in disgusted, finally pushing his face away. He stumbled back at the force, thin legs buckling as he fell to the ground; his eyes rising up to meet hers. Her gaze hardened as their eyes locked, anger still boiling as they kept their eyes locked. A hand swept back too quickly, cracking against his face in the next instance, whipping his face to the side with the force.

“Don’t fucking look at me with that fucking face! You selfish piece of shit! You think you’re better than me, huh? You mad, huh kid? Whatcha gonna do about it, you good for nothing rat with wings?” Her voice kept rising with each word as Takami cowered behind his hands, gaze completely averted, wings rising to curl around him in defense. “Of course you’re not gonna do anything, you little fake angel. Think you’re good when all you are is a demon. A fucking devil.” She breathed out noisily, a threatening growl escaping her. He watched her face through his arms and wings, watching her straighten, hands running through her hair, lips scrunched in distaste.

“I have a few more clients brat. You get the fuck away from here. Make yourself scarce. Come back before 8pm and I’m going to sell you to the pedophile down the street.” She spat out her words with a snarl. His eyes widening at her threat, skin going white. He started hiccupping, struggling to stand on knees that threatened to give out, feet stuck in place as he visibly trembled. “Do you want that, brat?”

“N-no!”

“Then get moving!” She swiped at his head with a loosely closed fist. Barely dodging, he started running from the apartment, darting down the moldy stairs and out of the complex, legs flying as he obeyed his mom.

It wasn’t until he was a block and a half away that he remembered that he had left his backpack at home. His books and his essentials all in there. He huffed finally barreling to a stop, hands grabbing onto his knees as he heaved and tried to catch his breath.

He looked up and sighed, rubbing his left cheek, swollen from the beating. An image of her angry face floating across his mind. He sighed, guilt twinging in his heart. Mom was just trying to teach him, he reminded himself, feet already taking him to his usual haunt, the park a few blocks from his house.

Mom had a lot on her plate ever since dad decided to use his wings and fly into the sunset. She was by herself and doing stuff was hard. She worked a lot and sometimes she wouldn’t come home for days, sometimes a week or two. Sure, she would slap him and cuff him but that’s only cause he was such a brat.

He entered the quiet park through a creaking gate and made a beeline for the swing set at the back, near a line of trees. Sitting with a pained huff he kicked his feet out, swaying in the swing as he watched the rapidly darkening sky.

Besides mom was great when she was happy. Sometimes he’d come home and everything would be clean and sparkly. A candle burning in the living room smelling of sugar cookies. On those days his mom would hum some melody as she cooked in the kitchen, gracing him with one of her rare smiles.

Those days were the best. Food filling his belly as he curled on her lap, soft hands carding through his wild blonde hair; her voice singing him to sleep.

A soft smile spread on lips as he swung higher on the swing, feet lifting off the ground.

He had to be good. He just had to. So mom would give him one of those smiles.

But today wouldn’t be one of those days.

His feet hit the ground, swinging stopping as he buried his face in his hands. Today he’d get home to darkness. To closed doors and a quiet apartment. If he dared to eat anything, she’d know. If he made too much noise, she’d beat him to sleep.

No today all he would have was the hole in his stomach and the sting in his cheeks to lull him to sleep.

As if on cue, his stomach started growling. He sighed and rubbed his belly, trying to get the ache to go away. It didn’t help.

It was almost pitch black now. Got dark here in the fall pretty quickly. The streetlights started blinking on as the darkness rolled through. The boy shuddered softly. His eyes were avian, he could see better than most in the dark. Still, he hated not being able to see into the shadows that grew around him. He got up with a start, eyes flickering to the trees as the darkness played tricks on his mind. Imaginary monsters and ghouls swaying in the corners of his vision as he sped walk to one of the benches by a streetlamp. He curled up on the edge of the bunch, knees to his nose. Keeping his eyes wide open, he scanned his surroundings. Small fluffy wings coming to curl around him in a defensive halo. He frowned at the fluffy red things, frown deepening as he tried to sharpen them and point them outwards for protection. But that was hard and they always wanted to fall back to their regular, fluffy form when he stopped concentrating for even a minute.

He knew, logically that there weren’t any monsters in the dark. He’d learned that quickly. One time crying to his mom about monsters under his bed had sent him scurrying back to that same bed with a swollen lip. Honestly, he was still surprised he could cry. He had gotten beaten so many times he sometimes didn’t feel anything, disappearing into the corners of his mind from the pain.

But he always felt hunger. He hated hunger. Stomach growling again.

“Shut up.” He grumbled, flinching at his own voice. Wings ruffling and curling more tightly around him.

Hunger made him cranky and weak. He’d do anything to eat. He’d cry and beg for food. The gnawing pain in his stomach wouldn’t let him focus.

He was dying, he thought. This was his body’s way of telling him he was dying, slowly. That he would die if he didn’t eat. That at this rate he wouldn’t last very long. His hands gripped his knees tighter as he curled into a smaller ball.

He didn’t want to die. Mom would hate that. She’d have to pick up his stuff and clean up after him. He could imagine her disgusted face. Her eyes would be cold and angry as she threw his stuff away. Him dying would be just one more thing she’d have to do for him.

A tiny sob left his throat as he let more tears run down his cheeks, wings closing completely around himself, pushing the world off. A wall of red feathers protecting him from the horrors of his life.