“I’m so fucking confused,” Tony muttered into his hands, his body attempting to block out the myriad of sensations barraging him all at once.
There was the quiet but aggravating chitter of the guys standing around him, their voices sharp, piercing through the air like darts,
The smell of copper, the metallic scent of blood lingering even after several attempts to scrub it away,
An unfamiliar ache in his back and shoulders that avidly persisted,
The humiliation blooming in his chest from the knowledge that the crew was eavesdropping from the other side of the studio, eagerly peering at him,
The nauseating awareness of having too many eyes on him (and only him),
And of course, the huge pair of wings protruding from his back.
“Does it hurt?” Layne asked, prodding one of them not-so-gently. Tony hissed, swinging his shoulder back to move the wing away from Layne’s curious hands. It wasn’t that it necessarily hurt, but being able to register the feeling, to acknowledge that they were attached to him, was jarring.
“I guess not,” Tony replied dazedly. He flexed his shoulder blades to relieve some of the soreness, yelping in surprise when the movement triggered some sort of reflex in the wings. They burst open, displaying their full span and flaunting the colours that painted its feathers. All five of them gaped in awe, revelling in the phenomenon.
Jet-black ink spilled over the wings, matching the shade of Tony’s hair exactly. They shimmered with a royal purple sheen, nearly glittering when tilted at different angles, nebulas and galaxies trapped within. A speckling of stars splashed across them, like droplets of liquid gold splattered over an onyx canvass. From tip to tip, they extended past his outstretched fingertips in a confident presentation, and Tony could sense an underlying strength in them, one that promised him the sky.
“Holy shit,” Tony breathed, reaching out to stroke a wing in disbelief. They were beautiful, they were powerful, and they were his.
“They’re amazing!” Geoff laughed, leaning back and forth to get a better look at the opalescent hues.
“Can you move them?” Eli asked, his eyes wide in wonder. Earl stood next to him, completely slack-jawed in astonishment.
“Um…” Experimentally trying to tap into his new appendages, Tony focused on the point where the wings connected into his back. It took a few moments of floundering, but it didn’t take long for them to start twitching, then jerkily take a few shallow flaps. Exhaling to steady himself, Tony relaxed and tried again. This time, instead of physically trying to move the wings, he thought of them as an extension of himself, as normal as his arms or his legs. They were no different, just new.
It seemed to do the trick. The wings complied, and Tony had somewhat better control over their movement. He barked out a laugh, opening and closing them gently, the feathers ruffling and shimmering in the harsh lighting.
“If you can move them,” mused Layne, “then can you fly?”
Tony blinked. Theoretically, why couldn’t he?
“Um, I hate to interfere with this… with whatever this is, but we should probably wrap up the shoot first.” Geoff smiled apologetically, gesturing to the set and equipment behind them.
“Buzzkill,” Layne grumbled jokingly, but nonetheless they all got up to help tear down the set and put away their cameras and lights. Luckily, they had only been filming an extra take just in case when Tony had collapsed in agony, and were able to stop the shoot to help him through the sudden disturbance of feathers and blood without having to worry about the video.
It had been a very long hour of confusion, yelling, and panicking. They had been a mad scramble for paper towels and water, and Layne hadn’t moved from Tony’s side until he had stopped hyperventilating. Fortunately, the pain was over relatively quickly, but the shock of finding an entire pair of wings fused to his body was overwhelming.
They got everything packed up in record time, though Geoff had sent Tony outside to wait for them after his wings nearly knocked over a camera. Huffing in frustration, he maneuvered his way out of the studio (the doors were almost too narrow for him to get through) while the crew finished up.
Now that he had a moment to himself, Tony examined the wings and practiced moving them. They were truly magnificent, a stunning work of art that would make the Louvre’s inhabitants shudder in shame. Pulling them close to his body, he ran a hand over the gossamer down, loving how silkily soft they were, then spread them as wide as they could go. To his delight, they were almost double his arm length, yet felt weightless, like they belonged in the air and defiantly disobeyed gravity. Sunlight fell upon them, drawing out the golden accents that refracted onto the pavement in a hypnotic spiral.
Warmth seeped into the wings, and Tony swore that he had never felt anything so wonderful. It was like falling asleep to the smell of lavender and vanilla, with the evening sunset casting a honey glow through your hair as the breeze nipped at your clothing.
It felt heavenly.
Squinting at the sky, Tony regarded the fluffy yellow clouds with a newfound interest. Temptation and longing oozed down his spine, an insatiable itch that he knew wouldn’t be satisfied until he broke through the very clouds he was looking at, until he became a part of the impasto sky so high above.
Subconsciously, his yearning caused his wings to shiver in anticipation, which turned into flapping hard enough to throw him off balance. Stumbling forward, Tony halted the fluttering of his wings just before the guys came out of the studio.
“Do you think I could fly?” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, the idea of soaring through the air too thrilling to withhold. He was giddy, wearing a smile of fervour that he had never worn before.
The guys stopped, looking at each other hesitantly. Tony’s heart sank and the smile slipped off his face.
“With some practice? No doubt.” Hefting a box of various equipment, Layne shot him a lopsided grin. Tony returned it, relieved.
“I think the first step is getting you home, though. You’d be spotted if you tried it here,” Eli added, glancing at the street just beyond the alley. He was right, as there were cars and pedestrians alike hurrying by, and fortunately none of them were looking very closely at the man standing in the parking lot with his large wings partially hidden by the rented U-Haul truck. Tony sighed, and the guys took their cue to start loading the truck and preparing to depart. Crossing his arms, he gazed wistfully at the alluring sky. He reproachfully folded his wings and began walking to his car.
The sky would wait for him.
Everyday tasks were becoming increasingly difficult with the added variable of his wings. Just driving home was a challenge in of itself; getting into the car was a feat of contortion, the discomfort of having his wings scrunched up between him and the backrest had him squirming the entire time, and he was constantly paranoid that someone would notice the not-so-subtle feathers peeking out from behind him.
It was a relief to finally shut the door to his house and shake out his wings, stretching the pins and needles out of them. Fletcher greeted him at the door, eagerly sniffing the wings with fascination.
“Hey there buddy.” Tony reached down to pet him, then headed to his room with the little dog in tow.
For the next few hours, he practiced maintaining control over his wings. Fletcher watched from the bed as he worked on tucking them in as tightly as possible, then flapping them gently but surely, then shifting them minutely until he was confident that he could move them as easily as he could move his fingers.
It was exhausting, and by the time he was satisfied he was drenched in sweat and aching. Flopping face-first onto the bed, he dropped his wings upon the duvet, letting them rest after so much strenuous training.
Despite the massive energy drain, Tony felt better than he had in a while.
It was only a matter of time before he could push his wings to their limit and see just how high they could take him.
Autumn was a gift, one that offered cool air and a whirlwind of colours, a snapshot of what paradise might be.
Tony stood alone in the grass, the wind rifling through his hair as he stared over the horizon. Night was creeping out of the sky, crawling back into the trees and into the earth as the stars began to fade ever so slowly, grasping for time, fighting the light that threatened to steal the precious territory.
It was very, very early in the morning, and Tony had taken advantage of the hour by venturing into an obscure park while it was still dark, ensuring that there was absolutely no one around for several miles. Cedar, oak, and cypress trees encircled the field, closing it off from the rest of the world and giving Tony his stage, the moon his limelight.
Still observing the lavender and cobalt clouds, Tony unfurled his wings, letting the crisp breeze drag through them like running water between pebbles. They felt lighter than ever, radiating with an energy that urged Tony to lift off the ground, to fly away and never look back. A puff of vapour suspended in the air when he exhaled, and he steeled himself as he lowered into a readying stance.
His heartbeat thrummed, pulsating in his ears, a rhythm to music that only he could hear. The universe itself was holding its breath, waiting for him.
The instant he moved, the earth around him sprang into motion as well. Leaping in long bounds in a challenge to the wind that was trying to hold him back, Tony raced through the tall grass, drops of dew clinging to his clothes as he brushed past like a wolf tearing after a rabbit. A smile drew across his face even while he panted, loving the exhilaration of running wild and running free, plants and stone alike urging him to go faster, faster, faster.
Something in him clicked; it was an instinct, a knowledge imbedded deep within his mind that blossomed and entwined his body with what he needed, what he wanted to have. As he opened his wings, adrenaline pumping through his veins and anticipation bursting out of his chest, he felt them catch the wind; and in the most tantalizing moment, his feet lifted off the ground.
Starlight and mist curled in a dizzying waltz around Tony as he flapped his wings once, twice, thrice. Propelling up towards the moon, he let out a carefree whoop, climbing into the sky just enough to taste the silver clouds before turning onto his back and letting himself freefall back towards the earth.
Laughing breathlessly, Tony let his eyes slide shut, relishing the force pulling him down and knowing that it had no command over him. He flipped over once more, splaying out his wings right before he could collide with the ground, pure ecstasy lancing between his fingers and crackling like electricity. The energy lifted him as if he were tied to a string, bringing him back up into the sky. Eyes wide, he watched the milky clouds deviated into a mixture of creamy peach, warm orange, and luscious gold as the sun raised her tired head.
Tony flew high, beating his wings as hard as he could, breaking through the clouds with a soft puff. He was free, hovering in a space belonging to him and only him, seeing what no other person would ever get to witness. The sun shone just below the sea of sherbet clouds, dousing them with rippling sunlight and bathing the sky in colours that Tony never knew existed.
And though life was continuing on without him down on the ground, Tony couldn’t seem to bring himself to care. He was alone, but he wasn’t lonely. He was exactly where the universe wanted him to be, where his wings needed to take him, where he had always dreamed he could go.
Gazing out at the endless expanse of sky in every direction, Tony picked one and took off. He beamed into the sky, and the sky beamed right back.