The Comfort of Routine

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The next thing he knew he was waking up to a warmly lit room of crates wondering how he got there.

Course, it didn't last long, and he unfolded himself, creaking and popping, out of the top bunk. Once he worked himself to and from the tiny bathroom, suffocated each way by crates and totes, he hurriedly stuffed his wings into his trench coat and shuffled outside, gnawing on a protein bar he had packed along the way. Late morning sunshine shone through the portholes.

Need to exercise, he thought belatedly. His wings felt more crunched than usual in the tiny space, and all the water around him wasn't exactly comforting.

As he neared the stairwell to the deck, a sailor came down, dressed in dark overalls and with a face-crowding beard. Kai met his eye and raised a hand, and the man stopped.

"Do you have a big space somewhere I could exercise? Preferably private." If a sailor should happen to glance at his wings, perhaps he could shrug it off as cabin fever, but he'd be stupid to risk it.

The sailor nodded and gave Kai directions to storage holds near the back and bottom of the ship. He'd just checked it himself, and the next inspection of it wouldn't be for another three hours.

"And it isn't like you could steal anything," said the man with a snort. "Shipping containers all locked and loaded, so I doubt the captain would mind. I'll let him know you're down there anyways." His eyes jumped down for a moment, then back up. "Are the feathers for something?"

Kai glanced down to find he had totally forgotten to stuff away his obnoxiously long tail feathers. Heart picking up a beat, he shrugged, made an off comment about some dance he intended to practice with as one of his exercises, and headed back where he came until he reached another staircase, this time going down. Fifteen minutes and more staircases than he cared to think about later, he found himself before one of the small, upper access doors of C6 holding. Despite being told that the captain wouldn't mind, Kai reflexively checked for any others before opening the door and stepping out onto a metal, railed walkway or catwalk of sorts painted a brilliant, caution yellow. Below, a story down, was the heavy metal floor of a vast, two story room filled, floor to ceiling, with shipping containers of various colors and age. A large loop of hose hung on the wall next to the door he had walked through, along with a large fire extinguisher. For some reason, this amused him, and instead of taking the stairs down, he tugged off his trench coat then and there and climbed onto the railing. The clearest space in the room was directly below him anyways, where a large walkway had been left clear of shipping containers.

He jumped. Stale, metallic air caught him, and he found himself banking hard to avoid crashing into the wall of trailer sized containers. Before his feet could touch the floor, he pulled up, and started to flap.

Balled up nerves he hadn't know he had began to uncoil as the familiar feel of burning muscles and routine settled in. Soon enough he had a comfortable blanket of heat about him, and he lost himself in the effort to keep moving.

He didn't know how long he worked. All he knew was that he didn't want it to end. Outside of the push and pull of his arms, of the laps back and forth, of the pain that followed from his hollow joints, to the fiery flaps of his wings, was a world that had changed drastically from what he had been raised for. But exercising—training—he knew that, and strength never went amiss.

When the door up on the landing closed with a loud, metal clack, Kai whirled around, a thrill of terror spiking up his gut. Had three hours already gone by? How would he explain this? What if it—

Ayah looked down at him, the off-white of the trench coat looking like a weak, chocolate milk compared to the whiteness of her hair. She flashed him a tentative smile.

"Could I join you?"

He pulled in his wings, wiping an arm across his forehead mostly out of habit rather than need, though the amount of heat he felt on his skin could have been a fire unto itself.

"I'm a little hot right now," he said, blushing at the double meaning and deciding not to make a fool of himself by address it. "So as long as you keep your distance..."

"Kay!" She all but shimmied out of her trench coat, and despite being fully clothed underneath, it gave him ideas he would much rather not have. She too climbed up onto the railing and spread out her pearly white feathers. As she jumped with a little yip, he braced himself to catch her. He mightn't have bothered, though, as she landed, not only without having to flounder from crashing into shipping containers, but as light and lovely as a flower on the water next to him. A second later, she stumbled back.

"You really are hot," she said, arms up to protect her face. "Wow!"

"Hn." Any response he could think of sounded like a bad attempt at flirting, so he just put more space between them and picked up where he left off. He felt her eyes on him for a minute or so before she tried to picked up the push/flap ups he had invented, where he did push ups while holding his wings out, to which he used to flap himself up every other push.

When she inevitable crashed face first on the floor, he paused in concern.

"Ow..."

"Maybe you should just do normal beats," he suggested, taking that chance to tug out his cheap cell phone to check the time. "We're going to want to wrap up soon anyways." He didn't know how long ago exactly the guy had inspected the place, so good to keep plenty of wiggle room between now and the next inspection.

As she pushed herself up, he checked for signs of bleeding. On finding none, he averted his eyes and pulled up. He glanced down at his arms, which radiated heat waves. No telling what this could do to his trench coat if he put it on now. There had been a hose up by the door, though.

Figuring it a good way to end a good exercise session, he pushed himself off and flapped to the landing, barely catching himself on the railing in time to stop himself from bashing into it.

"Whew! Way to go!"

He didn't respond to her cheering, even if it did make his stomach do stupid little flips. Like he needed encouragement.

Even as he reached for the hose, he noticed something missing. The trench coats. Frowning, he looked across the sea of riveted metal to where another landing was, exactly like this one, but with his and Ayah's trench coats hanging off it. How had I missed that? Figuring this hose would work as well as the next, he turned it on and braced himself before sticking his head under with a hiss that was loss in the hiss of water hitting his heated skin. Whoa.

He had just gotten the stream of water past his shoulders and pits when Ayah suddenly appeared beside him, launching herself at his arm.

"Hide!"

He didn't even have the time to shut off the water, which poured/tumbled the two stories through the grates to smack against the floor, before she tugged him through the door. Spluttering, alarmed that he might burn her, he tugged his arm free.

"An alarm is going off on the other end of the ship, and people are running towards here," she said in response to his look. "I can't tell which floor, though, freaking everything echoes on this freaking metal shi—" she froze, head tilted to one side. Then she started pushing him towards the stairs on the short end of the hall. "Someone's coming down the hall! Up! Up!"

Baffled, he allowed her to tug him up the stairs to, not another floor, but a short landing with doors on opposite sides. She gave each a glance before throwing open the door to the left and darting inside.

"In here! Quick!"

"They won't be looking up the stair—"

Her white hand grabbed hold of his wrist and yanked him in.

Then closed the door behind them.

R7

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