As is becoming a trend, the title comes from a Shakespeare quote:
Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.
A note about this AU: it is biologically inaccurate. In order to fly, humans would need very different biology as well as a wingspan of around thirty feet. However, this is fiction and an AU, so that doesn't matter. Along with that, Justine is Alexander's lover in this AU, though I know she isn't in the original storyline. I just like to imagine she is.
I have based some of Daniel's behavior off of actual bird/butterfly behaviors, and some of it is a mix between bird and human behaviors. I'd like this AU to be a bit more extensive, but I'm not sure how much I will be able to fit into this story. Maybe if this one turns out good I'll write a spin-off.
Of all the stupid things they have done…
This was ridiculous. Why was Alexander, Baron of Castle Brennenburg, out hunting in the woods for a lost prisoner? Wasn't that the servants' job? No, because it was a servant who lost him! The damn things were too easily tricked. He'd have to work on that once he'd finished tromping through the woods like a lowly peasant. His anger was so great he was certain his skin would burn anyone who dared to touch him in such a state.
Quiet panting drew him out of his thoughts. He paused, head cocked like a bird's as he listened. It wasn't the rough, rattling breathing of his prisoner. These breaths, though quick and labored, were light and easy, with no sign of any ailment except being short of breath. His prisoner always sounded like he was breathing through shallow water.
As he tried to listen, a distant rumble from the receding storm clouds—the last evidence of the violent storm that allowed his prisoner to escape—temporarily obscured the breathing, along with a strong gust of wind. He barely held back his annoyed sigh and refocused on his new target. The breaths had faltered a bit with the thunder, but now returned quicker than before. He only had to take a few steps before he found the source.
There was a man sitting on the ground. A man with wings.
The poor creature was huddled against a bush that offered next to nothing in terms of protection from the elements. His wings were wrapped around himself in a pitiful attempt to provide what the bush refused to, though the soaked feathers only brought the cold closer to his body. His eyes were squeezed shut, and he shivered miserably as another gust of wind rocked him, none too gently.
Alexander was fascinated. He'd heard of these winged people, but he'd believed them to be nothing but fiction. Yet here he was, staring rather rudely at a man with wings who obviously needed his help. He purposely stepped on a twig, snapping it beneath his foot and grabbing the shivering man's attention. He jolted, and one of his wings quivered. Alexander wondered, for less than a second, why only one wing moved before he saw the blood caked in the other one's feathers. So he was injured, then. Was that why he was alone? He'd heard enough about these strange humans to know that they rarely, if ever, left their colonies.
The baron slowly lowered himself until he was at eye level with the other man. "Hello there, little one. You need not fear me. I will not harm you. Allow me to help you."
He extended a hand, and the winged man regarded it with no small amount of suspicion before hesitantly grasping it with his own. Alexander rose to his feet, moving slowly so he didn't startle his new companion as he pulled him with.
Alexander would never admit it, but he was excited. This poor creature was alone, cast out of human society and (apparently) his own colony. None would look for him, nor would he search anyone out. He could live in Brennenburg with Alexander, and the baron would no longer be alone. He would have a companion, one he could share everything with—tales of his home realm, the struggles of finding and controlling an Orb, his experiments leading to the Gatherers, the loneliness of being separated from his lover. Everything. He was looking forward to it.
The man clutched his hand in a death grip all the way to the castle, his grip only tightening when Alexander stopped and ordered a servant (a human one—no need to scare his guest) into the woods to retrieve the escaped prisoner. Then they continued uninterrupted to the guest rooms. A fire was already burning in the fireplace, and Alexander led his guest to the chairs in front of it. The man settled uncomfortably into one of them, slouching when the fire's heat reached him. The baron sat in the free chair, smiling as he studied the newest addition to his castle.
"What is your name, little one?"
The man jerked in surprise. He just stared at Alexander for a full minute with wide eyes, his brown hair flopping into his face. He made no move to brush it away, and gradually relaxed again when his host only sat there and waited for an answer he was no longer sure would come. Then he sighed, and the remaining tension left his body. In a quiet voice tinged with an English accent he murmured, "Daniel."
Finally. "Hello, Daniel. My name is Alexander, Baron of Brennenburg. If you'd allow me to, I can heal your wing."
"My…?" Daniel glanced at the wing in question. "Oh…no, it's alright. It's not as bad as it appears, I assure you. It's only a little sore. I will recover."
Alexander eyed him doubtfully for a moment before accepting that and sitting back to enjoy the fire's warmth. He felt Daniel's eyes on him but feigned ignorance. Daniel did not speak up, if that was even his intention, and they sat in silence.
Over the next week Daniel took to tailing Alexander, stuck to him like a second shadow. Alexander thought he would want to go outside and stretch his wings occasionally, but the injured one appeared to be permanently damaged and Daniel had no desire to exercise it. It made certain that he wouldn't leave, so Alexander didn't question it. He avoided the dungeons and other unsavory rooms to preserve his new companion's innocence about the place, and as such was set almost dangerously far back in his work. He needed to tell Daniel soon, or he'd never get the portal open. He could not spare the winged man's morals—and possibly his sanity—any longer. Hopefully Daniel wouldn't hate him afterwards.
He chose to do it in the library, where Daniel was most at peace. They settled in a pair of armchairs, each with their book of choice. Alexander did not open his, simply set it on his lap and watched his guest. His wings were stretched out and slightly curled in towards himself (the same dusky brown as his hair, Alexander belatedly realized), and his jaw worked as he ground his teeth, something the baron learned early on meant he was content. His green eyes flitted happily over the pages of his book (with pictures, because Daniel couldn't read more than a few words, though Alexander intended to fix that). He was loathe to break the peace, but it had to be done.
"Daniel?" he ventured. Daniel glanced up, and his jaw stilled.
"What is it, Alexander? Is something wrong?"
Alexander took a moment to just study Daniel and wonder if this was truly the best idea. Then, with a deep breath he refused to believe was born of nervousness, he began his story. He described his magnificent but barren home, his beautiful Justine and his separation from her, being trapped in this realm. He told Daniel about his quest for an Orb, creating his Gatherers along the way, the horrible but necessary rituals needed to collect vitae and drive the Shadow back. All of it spewed forth in a flood of words he was helpless to stop, and all through it Daniel sat calmly and listened, fluttering wings the only outward reaction he showed (that couldn't be that bad, could it? He needed more information on these bird-people). Daniel was silent even after Alexander finished. He forced himself to sit still and wait, even though the anxiety was eating him alive. Then Daniel nodded to himself and closed his book. "So you wish to continue these rituals?"
Taken by surprise, Alexander needed a moment to gather his thoughts. "Ah—yes. I know you dislike being alone, but I need to gather the vitae. I would not be bothered if you were present, but I felt it would be unfair to bring you along without a warning."
"Yes, I think that would be very unpleasant." He was too calm. Why was he so calm? Alexander did not voice his multiplying questions, but, unfortunately, Daniel noticed.
"Alexander? What's the matter now?" He was smiling now.
"You're too calm." The statement tumbled past the baron's lips before he could catch it. Daniel laughed.
"Would you rather I panic and run screaming into the night? Really, I've seen people do much worse to my kind than what you are doing to them. I think it should bother me, but it really doesn't."
Alexander couldn't formulate a response to that, but he was saved from having to do so by a maid knocking on the door. He shook himself.
"Yes—yes, what is it?" he called gruffly. The maid was unperturbed.
"The escaped prisoner has been returned," she answered emotionlessly. Seconds later, footsteps trailed down the hallway and faded out. The two men looked at each other for a moment, and then Alexander rose and extended a hand towards his astounding house guest.
"Shall we, then?" he asked unnecessarily. Daniel smiled and accepted the proffered hand.