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and we dance like angels do

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He doesn’t mean to be down here.

 

That’s misleading. Yes, he did intend to visit Earth. He did not intend to get lost. He did not intend to miss the opportunity to return. He may have meant to be on Earth, but he didn’t mean to get trapped for another century. And he certainly didn’t mean to be enjoying his time on earth.

 

He didn’t, not at first. Enjoy his time, that is. He was sent to Earth on a mission. A very important mission. And it had been fulfilled, but not before he was sabotaged and trapped. He had no choice but to blend into human society. It was difficult, at first. He didn’t know their customs or how they worked, especially since every culture was entirely different.

 

Eventually, a kind family took him in. He supposes his youthful, charming face has helped. They taught him the wonders of cooking. Before he met them, he considered food to be a burden. Something necessary in order to maintain the quality of this meat suit. But they taught him differently. It’s not a difficult thing to learn. Within weeks, he was crafting masterful works, focusing on making them taste as good as they look. Naturally, he was drawn to pastries and the way sugar can make anything delicious while maintaining a supernaturally flawless appearance.

 

They also taught him the fundamentals of ice hockey, but he discovered ice dancing on his own. The sparkly costumes and the long twirls reminded him of being able to fly. On the ice, he felt closer to home. In every leap, he shone a little brighter than usual. No one his “age” should have been able to learn new tricks so quickly, but he had spent millennia gliding gracefully. His family wasn’t surprised when he qualified for competitions. Winning them didn’t mean a thing to him; so long as he was performing, he felt his bond to home strengthen. The feeling vanished every time he left the ice. He wanted to spend his life there.

 

He didn’t expect to get enrolled in high school, much less college. He didn’t expect to age so quickly, either. Apparently, on Earth, his outward visage aged with the years like any other human’s body. He only wished he said he was younger when he met his family, because his own form seemed a bit more underdeveloped when compared to the humans his “age.”

 

There seemed to be no choice but the obvious one when it came to colleges. He wouldn’t have survived the same way without being able to skate, and he knew about aggression in both concept and practice. He applied to hockey teams across the nation. Even if he didn’t become a member of the team, there would still be rinks. He could still skate.

 

By the time he arrived at Samwell University, he was almost enjoying his time as a human. He developed mild success on the Internet thanks to his natural charisma. He found multiple pastimes he enjoyed.

 

The only downside was his lack of attraction to humans who identified as female. It had never been a problem for him before, but apparently, on Earth, it created one. People learned not to mess with him eventually, but that didn’t mean he escaped their malicious intent. Burns would appear on their knuckles where they hit him, but they always chalked it up to “being in a fight.” It took them a while to make the connection. Once they did, they stayed away. Not that it mattered; they couldn’t hurt him. Not really. He almost didn’t notice the dirty looks thrown his way or the muttered words behind his back. They didn’t matter.

 

He can’t help any of it. It’s not as though he chose to be somewhat effeminate in appearance.

 

It’s part of being an angel.

 

•••

 

He learned how to hide most of the major clues before he came down to earth. His wings were carefully tucked away and only ever manifested as hazy outlines or slightly darker shadows in the nighttime. No one had ever commented on them except for one man, who was very drunk on the Fourth of July and was easily convinced he wasn't seeing anything at all.

 

Sometimes, when he felt particularly out-of-place, the pair that covered his face would blur out his features. He became someone no one could quite remember the appearance of. After all, they were given to him for self-defense.

There were parts he couldn't hide. Even in the dark, he emitted a soft glow. Any time someone touched him maliciously, they developed burns in the same places their skin had met. His pastries were better than any a human could make, and he could skate faster than anyone he'd met. He always knew what was going on behind him, but he could never explain how.

 

The worst was when spring rolled around and he began to molt. There were always feathers falling off him. During all times of the year, he would occasionally wake up with white fluff stuck in his hair. But the frequency increased during the spring. He would sneeze and feathers would float down around him, or he would take off his hockey helmet to a shower of lightweight tufts. It would be annoying to anyone else.

 

But he loves his feathers.

 

And sometimes, he loves being human.

 

•••

 

He had always found enjoyment in human life thanks to skating and baking, but he didn’t truly enjoy being forced to act human every day until he attended Samwell University. The hockey team made him feel welcome in a strange way. They were raw pillars of human emotion. There was no holding back and no lying, and he found it comforting. A little loud, perhaps, but never wicked. Some days, they reminded him of home in the way that they formed a family. Separate, but together.

 

His first year went as smoothly as it could. It took a little while for everyone on the men’s hockey team to warm up to him, but he was good at charming people so long as he had a little time. They folded him into their ranks easily, as though he was always meant to be a part of this family. They trusted him. In thanks, he baked foods they’d likely never have eaten otherwise. He considered their relationship to be symbiotic.

 

Thanks to an error with the housing department, he was in a single dorm throughout his freshman year. Most of his quirks went unnoticed, or else were noticed so infrequently that no one seemed to think twice about them. The arrangement worked perfectly for him. The last thing he needed was a roommate questioning how he always woke up looking like a swan coughed on him.

 

The problems arose in the late spring. The goalie wanted to give up his room in the Haus as part of a graduation ritual. He happened to be the recipient, but he didn’t know why. Despite years of being one of them, parts of human culture remained elusive. Not knowing what else to do, he confronted his other friends on a hot day.  

 

“Hey! I wanted to talk to y’all about something.”

 

Everyone looked up at him.

 

“What is it, Bits?” asked a petite girl named Lardo. She was the team manager. Apparently, that was okay, even though she was a girl. Yet another arrangement he figured he would never understand.

 

“Johnson told me something weird.” His brows furrowed together. “Something about how he wanted me to have his… dibs?”

 

His announcement was met with a profound silence.

 

Ransom was the first to speak. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

 

“Um,” he said. He fiddled with the drawstring on his tiny shorts.

 

Holster, the other half to Ransom’s defense position, looked past him at their captain. “Jack, is that even allowed? Like, I had to work for mine.”

 

Jack shrugged. Bits liked him.

 

“Nothing in the bylaws says you can’t,” Lardo confirmed. She knew the bylaws (a made-up set of rules scrawled by the water heater in Sharpie) better than anyone, besides Shitty.

 

With minimal grumbling, Ransom and Holster explained the idea of “dibs” to Bits. His head swam at the concept of being forced to do an unspecified number of favors in exchange for residence. It was only a house. He had been in many and had seen many more.

 

He tuned out once he realized he was going to be living in the Haus the next year. He was too focused on the feeling of dread pooling in the pit of his stomach. It was going to be much more difficult to hide his true self if he lived and played with these boys. He was reassured by the thought that he would at least have his own room. A small semblance of privacy was all he could ask for, but it was better than none.

 

He thanked them for their help and turned to head back to his dorm. He’d taken only a few steps when Jack grabbed his arm, stopping him. His instinct was to fight the touch. Jack’s hand would be raw and red in a few hours. There was nothing Bits could do to stop that from happening. Not when his initial response was alarm. As if he could tell, Jack dropped his hand quickly.

 

“You’ve got- There’s a feather in your hair, Bitty.” Jack carefully removed it, hardly ruffling any of the hairs surrounding it. Bitty would know. An eye, hidden in his curls, opened to stare at Jack. He forced it to close before Jack noticed.

 

“Oh, thank you,” he said quietly. It seemed like the only thing to say. Apparently, it was the right thing, too, because Jack nodded.

 

He was so focused on keeping all his “abnormal” eyes shut, he didn’t see Jack behind him. Not even when Jack shook his hand out and rubbed at the palm. Not even when Jack thought he made a connection between Bitty and his smarting hand. Not even when Jack stared after him in confusion, trying to figure out how he’d done it.