It was like someone flicking tiny bits of sandpaper away from her skin. Feather by feather, it didn’t feel like much, but as Kirito worked her wing relaxed, like a hand that’d gripped a sword too long.
The oil did feel a little like shampoo, as Kirito kept wetting the tips of metal claws and working it into tough feathers. Its scent was limes, with a faint not-quite-there hint of morning glory.
He moved a little closer. She didn’t say no.
“Go ahead and use some of the oil,” Kirito offered, still working. “Get in around the base of each shaft, and get out anything that’s been caught in there. Then pull the feather between your thumb and finger, so you oil the outside and zip up the leading edges. Slow and easy.”
Hesitantly, Asuna drew a feather between her claws, just as she remembered doing as a younger girl with fallen crow feathers. Only back then the marvel of barbed filaments catching on each other to form one thin, air-catching surface had just been a wonder she could see. It hadn’t brought this quiet, steady sense of relief, like brushing out tangles she hadn’t realized were there. “You learned to do this on cockatrices?”
Kirito ducked his head, the system painting his cheeks flaming red. “The tame ones can be friendly. If they know you won’t hurt them.” His voice dropped. “They’re warm.”
Something warm, that didn’t want to attack you. That didn’t want to manipulate you, the way she had to push and cajole and almost threaten people, every day. Asuna swallowed a sudden lump in her throat. “Could I see them?”
Kirito’s hands went still on her wings. He glanced at her, eyebrows up; are you serious?
Whatever he saw in her face must have been yes. “I can ask.” He opened a message menu, typed up something brief, and sent it. “I don’t know how long she’ll take to reply.”
“She?” Asuna raised a startled brow. “Argo?”
“No.” Kirito shrugged. “She likes her privacy. If she says yes, I’ll tell you.”