“Are you sure you’re alright with me doing this?”
Tommy exhales shakily, grinding his teeth together and digging his nails into his thighs. “I don’t have anyone else who can do it.”
He hears Sam inhale sharply from behind him, clearly not expecting that answer. The soft hiss that accompanies it releases the faint smell of gunpowder from the creeper hybrid, and Tommy nearly gags.
Gunpowder in a ravine, as cruel fingers dig into the flesh of his arm and jaw, whispering words about traitors and explosions. Dark brown feathers wrapping around him in an embrace that is not comforting, but entrapping.
Gunpowder on a battlefield, blood running down the wall from a diamond sword. Dark brown feathers stained red, black feathers shaking from the shape of his sobbing father’s wings.
Gunpowder on a beach. A green hoodie and a smiling, cruel mask. Pain in his shoulder blades as muscles that were being developed strained against his skin.
Gunpowder from a crater. Laughter from black feathers, from red feathers, from a smiling mask. His own white ones rubbing against his back, concealed by the brown coat that was not his, but he had taken to wearing as if it was.
“I’m sorry,” Sam apologized, the gunpowder smell fading from the air.
Tommy shook his head. “Don’t be. I just— I’m being a little bitch about it, I know. I gotta get over this.”
“You’re allowed to be traumatized Tommy, you don’t have to get over anything. You’ve been through a lot, you’re allowed to have triggers.”
“It’s a part of you, I can’t just ask you to stop,” Tommy retorted. “I need to get over it. I’m just being a little bitch about it anyway.”
Sam didn’t say anything, but Tommy could practically feel the amount of concern radiating from the creeper hybrid.
It was true that he didn’t have anyone else to do it. Tubbo was busy with his nukes and Snowchester, and whenever Tommy seemed to visit, Jack was always there.
Don’t get him wrong, Jack had been a good friend, once. But considering both Jack and Niki were failing at hiding their resentment towards him, and he suspected they had plotted to kill him and quite nearly succeeded, he didn’t exactly trust Jack anymore. He didn’t want to ask Tubbo to do this for him if Jack was going to be there, because he couldn’t trust Jack to cut him down once his back was turned, regardless of whether Tubbo was there or not.
He always imagine that he’d do this with Phil, Techno, and Wilbur. They were his family, and they knew how to do it just as well as he did, because he’d grown up helping them with theirs. But Wilbur was dead, and even if he wasn’t, Tommy wasn’t sure if he could trust him. Phil and Techno had made it clear that he wasn’t family anymore, so how was he supposed to trust them with this?
The only other person he might have trusted this with was Ranboo, but Ranboo was hiding up with Phil and Techno, so he couldn’t be trusted either.
So once the pain got bad enough, he sucked it up and went to the one person who had sworn to protect him.
“You’re going to have to show me how to do this,” Sam said, interrupting his thoughts. “I’ve never really...”
“Yeah, yeah I know,” Tommy mumbled, tugging at the coat he was still wearing. He was stalling, and they both knew it. He had a reason to be nervous, right? This was a valid fear, right? He had fucking asked for this, he had specifically gone to Sam for help, but he was terrified of actually going through with it.
Fuck, it hurt. He knew he had to do this, because he could ruin them if he didn’t. They hurt like a bitch, and it needed to be done. Like ripping off a bandage that was stuck because of dried blood. He had to do this. He had to do this. He had to—
Tommy jumped, eyes widening and refocusing. When had Sam gotten in front of him? When had his hand rested on his shoulder? When had he curled into himself?
“I can sit here, if you want?” Sam offered, eyes crinkling in a way that showed he was smiling beneath his mask. “So you can see my hands.”
Tommy took a shaky breath in and closed his eyes briefly before opening them again, sitting up straight. “Doing the undersides first might be easier,” he agreed quietly. “So you can see how to do it.”
Sam nodded, and Tommy could practically imagine that smile getting bigger.
Tommy tugged on Wilbur’s jacket, hands shaking too bad to really take it off. His heart was beating a million miles a minute and he was still so nervous.
He wasn’t nervous, he was still fucking terrified.
You have to do this, he told himself, digging his nails into his palms in order to stay focused. He didn’t notice his eyes slipping shut again as another wave of terror ran through him, hard enough to make his whole body shiver. You have to do this. You have to do this. You need HELP.
Hands found they’re way into his own, scales smooth as they pried his fingers from his palms and interlocked with his. Tommy was slightly embarrassed that he immediately latched onto them, holding tightly onto Sam’s hands in an effort to stay grounded, in an effort to keep himself from falling in the fear that threatened to drown him.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Sam reassured him, squeezing his hands slightly.
Tommy took a deep breath. You have to do this. Sam won’t hurt you. Sam doesn’t have a reason to hurt you.
He forced his eyes open, blinking a bit to clear the blurriness from his vision. He carefully disentangled his hands from Sam’s, reaching up to grab the edges of Wilbur’s coat. He took another deep breath, staring at his lap, before pulling it off his shoulders and down. Tommy pulled his arms from the sleeves and gathered the coat in his hands, balling it up and putting it in his lap.
His wings shifted, still pressed tightly against his back as they had been for so long, before slowly stretching outwards.
He saw the moment Sam saw them, the way his green eyes widened and eyebrows raised, his jaw falling slack beneath the fabric mask that covered his nose and mouth.
Tommy’s wings ached terribly, the muscles weak from the lack of use. He wouldn’t be surprised if they were completely atrophied, considering he had never used them since they came out.
Horrible, excruciating pain that radiated from his entire back.
He was curled in a ball on the floor in Ghostbur’s little cabin in Logstedshire, sobbing. Dream wouldn’t be here until tomorrow, Ghostbur had disappeared days ago. No one was there but he still cried out for someone, anyone to come and save him from this. It hurt so badly.
Breathing was impossible, his ribs expanding against the muscles in his back was agonizing. His breaths were fast and shallow in order to make it less painful, near hyperventilating as tears ran down his cheeks and his nails scrabbled for purchase on the wooden floors.
He screamed until his throat was raw and he could taste blood. He cried until he had no more tears left to give and his head pounded from dehydration. His back arched and trembled and he just wanted it to stop.
Even jumping into lava had to be a better fate than this. At least the lava would kill him quicker.
It was too early for this. His wings weren’t supposed to come in until he was eighteen. He was too young. This wasn’t supposed to be happening now.
He wasn’t supposed to be alone.
He was supposed to have Wilbur humming him songs as he stroked his hair. He was supposed to have Phil holding him and shushing him through every contraction. He was supposed to have Techno running cold water over the hypersensitive, hot skin of his back and telling him he was doing well, that it wouldn’t last long, and he’d finally be able to fly with them once he was done.
He wasn’t supposed to be alone.
Tommy wasn’t sure when his body gave up on him. All he knew was he woke up in a puddle of blood, soft downy feathers rubbing against the irritated skin of his back and sticking together in clumps.
Tommy wasn’t sure how long he had lain there, trembling, before he forced himself up and onto the beach. Plopping himself into the water and washing the blood off of himself, ignoring the sharp sting of salt when the water ran down his back.
Tommy wasn’t sure when he had picked up Wilbur’s coat and hidden his wings, barely two feet long each at the time, beneath the warm fabric.
Tommy wasn’t sure how long he sat there, on the beach. A series of soft, pathetic, raspy chirps and coos left his mouth, akin to those made by a baby bird. His mind made him call for his flock, his family. But no one came.
The very next day, Dream blew up Logstedshire.
His wings were trembling from the strain of being spread so much. They were bigger than he remembered, having been tucked into his coat for weeks, never being let out, not even to sleep. The only times they were out was when he bathed, and he refused to look at them during that, trying to avoid the inevitable.
But they were still tiny. Much too small for any real flying. They weren’t supposed to be this small, weeks after coming out. They were supposed to be full grown by now, up to ten feet each. Not a little over four feet each.
The ache was growing stronger the longer he tried to keep them held up, so he let them droop, dragging on the stone floor of Sam’s base.
The feathers were badly unkempt, many broken or bent. They were a soft off-white color, with the tips of his primaries and secondaries a bright red that faded to white.
They were pretty.
Or they would be, if they had been cared for properly.
He was supposed to be proud of them, proud of his coloration and proud of how big they were. But he couldn’t be. Not when their growth had been stunted by his refusal to use them, not when he would probably never fly with them.
“They’re gorgeous,” Sam whispered, awe in his tone.
“They’re ruined,” Tommy croaked out, feeling tears prick in the corners of his vision and falling before he could stop them. He ruthlessly scrubbed at his face to get them to go away. “They’re too small. I didn’t take care of them properly, so they didn’t grow as big as they should. I won’t ever be able to fly.”
Sam didn’t respond for a moment. “Says who?”
“They’re full grown,” Tommy said bitterly. “They should be, anyway. I didn’t use them at all, didn’t build up any muscle in them, so they’re smaller than they should be. They won’t hold my weight.”
“How do you know they won’t get any bigger?”
“They stop growing after a few weeks.”
“You’re sure that if you take care of them now, you still won’t be able to fly?”
Tommy hesitated. No, he wasn’t sure. He only had Techno and Wilbur’s wings to go off of, since Phil had gotten his ages and ages ago. They had both taken care of theirs immediately, exercising them and preening them. They stopped growing after a few weeks, because that’s what they were supposed to do.
He had no idea, really.
“Here,” Tommy changed the subject, lifting up his right wing and presenting the underside to Sam. A soft voice in the back of his head cooed at this action, since you only present the underside of your wings to flock, but Sam was just helping, that’s all. Stupid hindbrain or whatever the fuck it was called. “You straighten ‘em like this, see? And if any look like this, just yank ‘em out, they’ll do more harm than good...”
Tommy trailed off, fingers combing through the soft feathers and making sure each of the barbs were interlocked correctly.
This was so weird. It felt weird, and it was weird to be doing it to himself instead of Techno, or Wilbur, or Phil. These were his feathers, not Techno’s blood red that faded into pale baby pink, not Wilbur’s dark brown and gold, not Phil’s black and white. These were his.
He pulled his hands away and clenched his jaw, his fingers curling and uncurling. “You can try, if you want.”
Sam blinked at him, before reaching forward uncertainly and brushing his fingers up against the feathers gently, clearly trying to get Tommy used to the touch.
The minute that they mind contact, his hindbrain reared up and crooned happily, and Tommy had to fight down the urge to mimic the noise as Sam started to sort through his feathers.
The scattered scales on Sam’s hands were surprisingly warm, not cool like Tommy had been expecting. They were also rougher than he had thought, but in a good way.
“Do I pull out this one?” Sam asked, picking a soft off-white feather that was so broken Tommy was surprised it was still hanging on between his thumb and forefinger.
“Yeah, here,” Tommy laid his hand over Sam’s. “You don’t have to pull very hard, just—” he cut himself off with a gentle pulling motion downwards, guiding Sam’s hand. The shaft snapped with a gentle pop, and the spot burned only slightly. “Doesn’t take much to yank out the bad ones. Just a little pressure. If you have to do any more than that, it’s probably still a good one and you just have to straighten it out.”
Sam cradled the feather for a moment as Tommy released his hand, inspecting the off-white color, before laying it on the ground beside him.
“If you’re not sure if you should tug it out or not, just tug on it like I showed you. If it’s still good, I’ll tell you.”
Sam nodded, returning to combing through the feathers on Tommy’s wing.
The whole time, Tommy’s bird brain was cooing and letting off soft, contented chirps. It chanted “flock flock flock” in the back of his head as Sam worked, and Tommy was struggling hard to keep the stupid thing down.
Sam was just helping. He was being nice. He wasn’t flock, because Tommy didn’t have a flock. The bird brain was just stupid.
Once Sam got the hang of things, he actually worked quite fast. He was methodical with each feather, making sure each one was neat and smooth. He got pretty good at which ones were good and which weren’t by the time he shifted to behind Tommy to do the backside of his wings.
“Thank you,” Tommy blurted out, unable to handle the silence anymore. “I— You didn’t have to do this. I know I’m paying you to build the hotel and all, but you didn’t have to agree to help me with this.”
Sam’s hands paused for a moment, before resuming. “I’m glad I could help.”
“I’m serious,” Tommy insisted. “This— I’m not even paying you to do this. I could, of course, maybe add a few more diamonds to what I gave you for the hotel—”
“You don’t have to,” Sam cut him off. “It’s nice, actually. Uh... knowing you trust me enough. I know this has to be hard for you.”
It was hard. It was hard to be sitting on the floor, his back presented to Sam. It was hard to trust Sam not to send a knife through his back. It was hard to be relaxed, even when his hindbrain trusted Sam wholeheartedly. It was so hard.
But he was doing it.
Tears were in his eyes, and he didn’t even know why. His heart was beating fast, but not from fear. It was from something else that Tommy refused to name because this was Sam. Sam who had only been protecting him because Tommy paid him to.
His hindbrain disagreed. It said that Sam was flock, that Sam cared, and that he was safe with Sam.
He knew what he was feeling, but he was terrified to be feeling it. He didn’t want to feel it. WHY THE HELL WAS HE FEELING LIKE THIS? This was Sam, and he was helping just to be nice. Stop it brain, stop right now!
“Are you okay?”
Tommy’s breath hitched, blinking and realizing that he was trembling all over and that Sam had withdrawn his hands. His feathers had puffed up, not in a content way but in a nervous one, drawing closer to his back instead of spread out like they’d been before.
He curled in on himself, hunching his shoulders and curling his hands into fists in the fabric of Wilbur’s coat.
“Hindbrain’s being weird,” Tommy mumbled, only half-lying. The hindbrain was part of it, but part of it was his normal brain too.
“Do you want me to stop?”
“Just... I don’t know. Give me a minute?”
“What the fuck happened to your wings, Techno?”
The man in question turned, glancing at the ruffled, disarrayed feathers and shrugged, turning back to his book. “I suppose they got a bit messed up when I was fleeing L’manburg after they tried to execute me. They’re fine, I’ll preen them later.”
“No need to be a bitch about it,” Tommy flicked Techno’s ear, making his older brother snap around with a glare. The blonde just barely managed to hide his flinch at the sudden movements. “I didn’t forget how to preen during exile, dickhead. Scoot. You can still read your nerd book while I clean you up.”
Techno let out a long suffering sigh before turning in his chair, presenting his wings to Tommy. The teen sat down in his own chair at the kitchen table, dragging it over until he was sat behind his older brother.
Starting the preening felt normal. Tommy had done this dozens of times for his brothers, so this was practically routine for him.
But as he continued, there was something off. He noticed it in Techno before he realized something was different to him as well. The way Techno’s feathers were stiff beneath his hands, and his wings were subconsciously twitching closer to his back, but Techno almost seemed to be forcing them to stay open so Tommy could work.
Tommy’s hindbrain hadn’t been as strong back then, having only shown up two or three days before, but it kept telling him the same thing as he preened Techno’s feathers. The longer it went on, the stronger it seemed to be getting.
The bird brain was happy about the preening, but unsure of Techno himself. It kept whining about betrayal and Tommy not being safe, and it was getting harder and harder to ignore.
He sucked in a breath and suddenly yanked his hands away after a few minutes of this, heart beating so hard it felt like it was going to burst right out of his chest. Techno also scooted away, drawing his wings closer to himself and clearing his throat nervously.
Tommy stood up and pushed his chair back where it had been before he moved it, feeling a shiver going through his tiny, sore wings that were still tucked beneath Wilbur’s jacket.
“You pulled away first,” Techno said accusatorially, looking towards him with a question in his eyes.
Tommy hesitated to respond, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt and feeling his wings flutter. He stilled them, glad his back was facing away from Techno so his older brother couldn’t see the movement. “It felt weird,” Tommy finally said. “Different. Plus, you seemed tense the whole time. I thought I better stop just in case.”
Why was he hiding his wings? He didn’t know. Maybe it was because he didn’t want Techno to feel guilty for not being there when they came in. Maybe it was because he was ashamed of them, ashamed that he was alone when it happened. Maybe it was because his hindbrain was insistent that Techno was not flock and he wasn’t safe here.
Whatever it was, he kept them underneath the coat.
He was avoiding eye contact, he knew, but he could picture the look Techno was giving him. He knew his older brother didn’t believe him.
“Okay,” Techno relented, turning back to his book. “They’re fine now anyhow.”
They weren’t. Tommy had barely finished one wing before he pulled away, the other was still a mess. But he couldn’t bring himself to finish the job.
Tommy slid down the ladder, down the levels of the house until he was in the little hole he’d carved for himself when he first arrived.
His bird brain didn’t like it down here. He was too far down, too far away from the sky.
It was safer down here though.
The same thing that happened back then was happening now, but the situation had been turned over on it’s head, a reversal of before. He was the one being preened, not the one doing the preening. His hindbrain was insistent that Sam was safe, and that he was flock, while his regular brain didn’t trust him. A reversal of with Techno, with his regular brain wanting to trust his older brother and his hindbrain thinking otherwise.
Tommy took a deep breath, annoyance rippling through him. The difference in thought processes were confusing, two halves of his mind trying to rip him in two different directions. The bird brain was strong too, and he knew it wasn’t going to give into his rational one.
“You can start again, if you still want to do it,” Tommy mumbled, forcing his wings to open once more. His bird brain seemed satisfied with this action, chirping appreciatively when Sam’s fingers started combing through his feathers again.
There’s a startled laugh from behind him, and Sam’s hands still for a moment. “Is that a good sign?”
Tommy flushed. “What?”
“I— I fuckin’— fuck. Uh... yeah, I guess. I didn’t—” laughter was bubbling up in his mouth and escaping without him noticing. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
“But it’s a good thing, right? Means I’m doing this correctly?”
“Yeah, it’s a good thing.”
Sam resumed his previous actions of laying the feathers properly, gently tugging out the ones that were broken. The bird brain continued to coo at this, but Tommy tried his best to make sure they weren’t audible. Based on the laughs Sam gave every now and then, he correctly assumed he wasn’t always successful.
He still wasn’t able to fully relax, because the bird brain was still chanting “flock” in the back of his head and that is NOT what he needed to start saying just because he didn’t have a filter. Techno, Wilbur, and Phil had all done that before, but Tommy refused to do that in front of Sam. Sam was just helping, nothing more.
Despite his thankfulness that Sam was helping him, it still felt bad, in a sense. At least, to his rational brain it felt bad. His bird brain disagreed, but that was beside the point.
His first preen should’ve been done ages ago, back when his feathers first grew in, and by Phil, Wilbur, and Techno. That’s how he always expected all of this to go. His family was supposed to stay and help him.
But look how it turned out? He was alone for his manifestation, he was relying on someone he barely knew to preen his feathers for the first time, and his wings were stunted and disfigured. Hell, Wilbur, Techno, and Phil wouldn’t even be around to teach him to fly, because he’d never even get that far.
“You know, even if your wings don’t grow bigger, maybe I can make something that’ll assist you with flying,” Sam said, half to himself, as if reading Tommy’s thoughts. “Not like a prosthetic, I guess, but like... a harness?”
Tommy furrowed his brows as Sam’s hands stopped laying his feathers and ran down the top of his wing, feeling the muscle on the outside edges.
“I’d have to study wing anatomy a bit more,” Sam mused. “But if I lay a wire down following the same shape as your wing, and use leather to create proper folds... I think that could work. I’d have to make it comfortable, too, use something to prevent irritation...”
“What are you saying?” Tommy croaked out, feeling his hands start to shake slightly, but he tried to hide it by burying them into Wilbur’s coat.
“I’m saying that regardless of whether your wings heal properly or not, I think you will still be able to fly,” Sam told him confidently. “I’d probably need your help with measurements, and anatomy, and how flying actually works for you, but I think I could make a harness of sorts. It’ll add a few feet to your wingspan, I think. You’d have to build up more muscle in them in order to get them to keep you up, but the harness might be able to keep you stable in the air.”
As nice as that sounded, Tommy knew better.
He yanked his wings away from Sam’s grip and stood up, folding the stupid things close to his back.
“Don’t,” he said softly, anger leaking in his tone. “Don’t do that. Don’t give me hope.”
Sam’s eyes were fully of pity when Tommy turned around to face him. “Tommy—”
“Why would you even do that?” Tommy whispered, his voice cracking as he tried to suppress a sob. “Why would you build me a thing to fly if it won’t even work? Why would you waste your time? Why are you helping me, Sam? What are you planning? What do you want with me?!”
His voice had gotten louder and more desperate the longer he had continued, breaking at the end as he desperately tried to hide his tears.
The bird brain made unhappy noises in the back of his head,
Sam’s eyes softened. “You’re a kid, you’re sixteen, Tommy. Sometimes I think everyone on this server has forgotten that except for me. You’ve been through so much, cared for so little. You shouldn’t have had to watch your brother die, or experience the betrayal of your family on more than one occasion. You shouldn’t be on your last life when others, much older than you, still have all three. You shouldn’t have to be dealing with this on your own. You deserve to be happy. To have someone to run to without strings attached, to help you and care for you unconditionally. Philza, Technoblade, Wilbur, Niki, hell even Tubbo, they’ve all proven that they will not be that person for you. So I want to be.”
Tommy stilled, trembling as he stared up at Sam, practically having to crane his neck up since the man was a good foot taller than him.
“I will be,” Sam promised. “If you let me.”
Tommy swallowed, glancing down as he felt his wings droop, no longer being held so stiffly.
Before he even knew it, he was throwing himself into Sam’s chest.
The creeper hybrid let out a soft “oof” as Tommy clung to him, hands coming around and latching tightly onto the back of Sam’s hoodie. Tears were pricking his vision and soaking into Sam’s shoulder, and he couldn’t stop the hiccuping sobs that escaped him.
“I just want everything to go back to normal,” he croaked, feeling his wings shakily wrapping around them both as well. “I just want them to be happy. I want everyone to be happy again.”
Slowly, hesitantly, he felt Sam hug him back. Arms coming up and wrapping around Tommy protectively, one hand ending up in between Tommy’s shoulder blades, in between his wings, and the other cradling the back of Tommy’s head.
And there, that’s what the bird brain wanted. Once Sam started to hug him back, his rational brain and hindbrain were aligned. Despite the tears running down his cheeks, this was the happiest he’d felt in weeks, maybe even months. Because there wasn’t any reason to be afraid, here with Sam.
“I can’t promise that everything will go back to normal,” Sam admitted. “But I can promise that you’re safe here, with me. No strings attached, I promise.”
And even though Tommy didn’t want to believe him, even though he didn’t think he could believe him, all the tension went out of his body all at once as soon as he heard those words.
“That’s all I want,” Tommy admitted. “Just to be safe with no strings attached.”
Sam pulled away enough to look down at Tommy. His eyes were crinkling again, in the way that meant he was smiling. “I can do that.”
“Sam, big man, Big S, Awesamdude, when you said we were going to build up muscle in my wings, this is NOT what I thought you had in mind,” Tommy laughed nervously as the wind buffeted him. They were so very high up, and he didn’t like this ONE BIT.
After weeks of research, tying rocks to his wings and making him hold them out to strengthen them, stretching them, and essentially staying in his base the majority of the time, Tommy’s wings were slowly starting to improve.
He wasn’t allowed to hide his wings under the coat, in fear of losing their progress, so Tommy didn’t exactly go outside much. They were doing this at night, where no one could see them, because Tommy still didn’t want anyone seeing his wings until he was ready, which Sam supported.
And now he was being shown the next step in their plan to build a harness to help him fly.
A plan that involved a massive tower with a level platform at the top, that Sam had built for this intended purpose these past few weeks.
“It’s safe, I promise,” Sam was busy hooking some kind of leather cord to some clamps in the center of the pillar. “It’ll help you build up your flying muscles, and will help me try to figure what shape I’m going to need for the harness.”
“The minute I open my wings up here, I’m going to get blown off!” Tommy shouted over the roaring wind. “And then I’m gonna go splat!” The tower had been lit with glow stone, the gusts from this high up would probably blow out any torch or lantern.
“There’s water at the bottom,” Sam reminded him. “And you’re not going to get blown off. Put this on.”
Tommy was handed a leather chest piece, soft yet sturdy, with room for his wings in the back. It had a metal hook dug into the front.
With a bit of trial and error, he managed to pull the thing on.
“How’s it fit? Not too tight? You can move your wings alright?” Sam asked, holding the other end of the cord that also had some kind of hook on the end.
“Good,” Sam hooked the cord to the front of his leather chestpiece, tugging on it for a moment before nodding. “Do you trust me?”
“Of course I do.”
Sam’s eyes crinkled at him, and he took few steps back. “Spread your wings, then.”
Tommy glanced at him nervously, shifting his wings. In the weeks that he’d spent with him, the creeper hybrid hadn’t lied to him once. If Sam said he wouldn’t fall, then he most likely wouldn’t.
Ignoring the fear that plagued his rational brain, Tommy oh so carefully extended his wings.
With a screech, he was, as predicted, swept off the platform by the wind.
The cord pulled tight, and he yelped as he was stopped from plummeting to his death. The wind was blowing hard enough that he wasn’t even below the top platform of the ladder, nor that far from it. But the frantic, useless beating of his wings to keep himself aloft was just making him sink.
“Spread your wings!” Sam shouted over the wind.
“That’s what got me into this mess in the FIRST PLACE!” Tommy retorted.
“Just lift them up! Keep them level, like you’re gliding. The wind should carry you up! Don’t flap.”
Tommy, reluctantly, did as he was told, stilling his wings and tilting them upwards slightly to catch the wind.
He yelped again as the wind practically shot him upward, the cord pulling taught again. He flailed for a moment, before righting himself and keep his wings in the same position as before, open and not daring to move them.
Despite the wind howling in his ears and buffeting his clothes and feathers, he was actually staying upright. And not, y’know, falling to his death.
“Holy shit,” he whispered, barely able to hear himself over the air rushing past him.
Stars glittered above his head, and he could practically see the whole SMP from this high up. There was the crater, the hotel build site, the prison, Eret’s castle.
He was flying.
Maybe he wasn’t flying in the true sense of the word, but fuck it, he didn’t care. Neither did the bird brain. He may not be flapping his wings or actually going anywhere, but dammit, he was flying!
“HOLY SHIT!” Tommy crowed, glancing down at Sam, who was looking up at him. “I’m flying! I’m flying Sam!”
Sam had his mask off, the scales adoring his cheeks like freckles reflected the light of the glow stone. He was grinning up at him, fangs on display but not in a threatening way. “You sure are!” he called up to Tommy, who grinned in response.
It felt right. It felt perfect. He was where he needed to be, up in the air without a care in the world. Despite the slowly growing ache in his wings and the tug on his chest from where he was tethered to the tower instead of soaring free like he longed to, he was having the time of his life.
If he was this happy with just gliding, how would real flying feel?
For the first time since he had grown his wings, he couldn’t wait to start flying for real.
“Hey Sam?” Tommy asked, glancing down at the creeper hybrid again. “How do I get down?”
Sam blinked. “I hadn’t thought that far ahead,” he admitted guiltily.
“I need to stop by my house for a few things,” Tommy told Sam as they walked back from the build site of the hotel. “It’ll only take a minute.”
“Sounds like a plan,” the creeper hybrid agreed, reaching out and ruffling Tommy’s hair. The teen let out an indignant squawk, wings flaring in protest, but Sam only laughed.
“Rude,” Tommy huffed, folding his wings back into a more comfortable position.
They had taken to being out during the daytime more, since hardly anyone was around anymore. Tubbo, Niki, and Jack were all in Snowchester, as far as Tommy was aware. Ranboo was hanging out with Phil and Techno still, and everyone else was either holed up in their own bases or had left the SMP lands entirely.
So with no one around to see his wings, Tommy didn’t care much about walking around with them out.
As they walked along the Prime Path to Sam’s base, Tommy took the necessary detour to his old house, somewhere he hadn’t been in the weeks since moving in with Sam. Was he slightly giddy when the creeper hybrid followed him? Maybe. Because he fully expected Sam to keep going, but instead he was following him and making sure he was alright.
Tommy hummed as he entered his old base, rifling through his chests for what he wanted and leaving the rest to collect dust.
What caught his eye, however, was a book laying on top of his old ender chest that he didn’t remember leaving there.
Tommy picked it up, brows furrowed in confusion as he brushed a thin layer of dust off of the leather cover. It didn’t have a title, nor an author.
When he flicked it open, there was writing on the first page.
He swore his heart skipped a beat when he recognized who’s handwriting it was. His feathers twitched and hands shook as he read the page.
In these few weeks since the destruction of L’manburg, I had hoped you would’ve come to your senses and come home. Techno thought differently, claiming you had too much pride to do such a thing. Techno’s always right, it seems.
This whole situation is ridiculous. You’re sixteen now, Tommy, not a toddler. Stop acting like a child and throwing a tantrum just because you didn’t get your way. It’s time to come home and stop these useless antics.
Ranboo asks about you a lot. He misses you, I can tell. He wants to see you again, but you haven’t come to see him. He’s your friend, isn’t he? What kind of friend doesn’t even send a hello every now and then via communicator?
I understand that you’re upset about what happened. I thought you would have realized by now that it was for your own good. I thought Wilbur
You’re welcome here. Techno has agreed to forgive you when you come home, but only then. However, unless you’re ready to swallow your pride and apologize for betraying your brother and I, don’t bother.
When you come home, bring Techno’s axe. It needs to come back to it’s rightful owner.
“Tommy?” Sam asked, sounding worried. “Tommy, what’s wrong?”
He didn’t answer, staring at the book with dull eyes. A violent, sticky mass of emotions was roiling around inside of his chest. He didn’t even know what he was feeling over this, let alone if he was going to be able to keep those feelings in check.
The teen felt a hot wave of rage interlace its way into the mass of emotions, stronger than the rest of them. His grip on the book tightened, and he felt the feathers on his wings puff out of anger. His shoulders stiffened, and his teeth gritted.
Tommy screamed, and threw the book across the room, wishing it would shatter into a million pieces so he didn’t have to look at it anymore. He wanted it gone. He wanted the words inside of it gone. He wanted them out of his head so he didn’t have to keep thinking about the implications of them.
Tears were rolling down his face, and he was sobbing, but anger still burned its way through him, not ceasing at all.
“Cocky son of a bitch thinks I’m supposed to apologize to him?!” he yelled, burying his hands in his hair and tugging sharply on the strands, relieved in the sharp sting of pain it brought, as it distracted him a bit from the despair that was threatening to overtake his anger. “After everything he did?! After everything they did?! He thinks I’m gonna crawl back to them like a misbehaving dog?! FUCK YOU, BITCH! DICKHEAD! ROT IN HELL!”
And just like that, the anger was gone. Replaced by anguish. Because his family, the people that were supposed to be his flock, had practically admitted they wanted nothing to do with him unless he was sniveling at their feet.
He refused to be that to anyone again. Not to Techno, not to Wilbur, not to Phil, or Tubbo, or Niki or Jack or anyone. He wouldn’t even do that for Sam, and he’d never, ever be that to Dream again.
But that didn’t make it stop hurting.
Tommy was curling in on himself, wings wrapping around his body as he dug his fingernails into his scalp. He was hyperventilating, and each breath seemed to have less and less oxygen in it. The sobbing was louder now, and he fell to his knees, shaking.
Sam was there, suddenly. He was kneeling on the ground and pulling Tommy against his chest. He was telling Tommy to breathe, urging him to match Sam’s own breathing. His hands were grabbing Tommy’s and pulling them away from his head, squeezing his fingers gently.
It took several minutes for Tommy to calm down, to pull back into reality instead of staying in the panic-inducing confines of his own mind.
The first clear thing he heard was: “Let’s go back and see Fran, how does that sound?”
And later, if he had sat on the floor with Fran laying in his lap, and tossed that stupid book into the fireplace, watching it burn with cold anger in his eyes, that was his and Sam’s business and not anyone else’s.
“You want to try them on?”
Tommy ran his fingers over the soft, leathery material stretched out on the table. They’d spent so long on them, he was kind of afraid to put them on. But anticipation thrummed in his blood, flowing through his body with every beat of his heart. He was practically vibrating with excitement, feathers twitching.
Sam was being nice in calling them harnesses. The leather and wire was clearly prosthetic wings, tailored to specifically fit over his own. Tommy’s wings still hadn’t grown much, despite it being two months since he’d first gone to Sam for help. They were both now a little under five feet, and had been for three weeks. They weren’t getting any bigger.
The growth made his wingspan just under ten feet, still much too small to actually support his weight. Phil had a wingspan of fourteen feet, and he was the shortest of all of them. Techno had eighteen feet, and Wilbur had eighteen and a half.
Despite his wings still being small, the muscles in them had built up significantly. Tommy could glide for an hour and a half up on the tower before his wings started to get tired, and they were definitely less thin than they had been two months ago. Plus, his feathers were smooth and glossy instead of the wrinkled, crumpled mess they had been when he first came to Sam for help.
“Yeah I fucking want to try them on,” Tommy breathed, glancing at Sam with a grin. “Making sure you made them fit properly isn’t the same as trying on the finished thing.”
Sam laughed. “Turn around.”
Tommy spun around, spreading out his wings as he shook out his hands in excitement. It took all of his willpower not to rock back and forth on his feet, or to flap his wings. He wanted to get them on as soon as possible.
He felt the moment smooth leather slid over his right wing, and he wanted to burst into a pile of feathers from how exciting it was. Sam helped guide his wing through the harness, the inside of the leather almost as soft as his own feathers.
Tommy could hardly hold still as Sam buckled the straps, only responding in hums of “mhm” or “mm mm” when he was asked if the clasps were too tight or if anything was bothering him.
As soon as Sam stepped back, Tommy spun around in a circle, trying to look at the prosthetic properly. He shook out his hands again, grinning as he flapped his wing experimentally. It was an odd weight that’d he have to get used to, but he didn’t care.
Sam was laughing, sounding delighted. “Can I put the other one on?”
Tommy immediately stilled and turned to him, his grin growing impossibly wider as he practically thrust his wing against the creeper hybrid in his excitement.
Another laugh, and Tommy shook out his hands a third time as he felt the leather of the second prosthetic slide over his wing. Sam’s grip was gentle as he once again guided his wing into the proper position and started to fiddle with the clasps.
Another round of hums as answers as Sam asked about the various straps being too tight.
Once again, as soon as Sam stepped away, Tommy started flapping his wings to test out the weights of the prosthetics. They didn’t get in his way, they weren’t too heavy, and they creased and folded the same way his real ones did, without uncomfortably rubbing up against anything.
“Is the leather a problem at all?” Sam asked. “I’m worried about it chafing, since you’ll be wearing them so often. I can weave some wool into it to prevent that, if the leather’s too rough.”
“It’s fine. Better than fine. It’s great!” Tommy laughed, still moving his wings into various positions to test how well the prosthetic moved.
“There aren’t any wires poking you from the framing?”
“And they’re moving fine—?”
“Sam,” Tommy stilled his spinning so he could grab onto Sam’s shoulders, still grinning his head off. “They’re perfect. Thank you. Thank you.”
Sam smiled, his fangs glinting as light reflected off of them. “Want to go try gliding with them?”
Tommy lit up. “Hell yeah!”
“I’m still skeptical about how well pushing you off the tower is going to help you fly,” Sam glanced at Tommy, who stood on the edge of the platform, practically vibrating in excitement. “I know it’s how regular birds do it, but still.”
“Instincts!” Tommy chirped, a grin on his face. “This is how Techno and Wilbur learned to fly. You just gotta push me off and the bird brain will take care of the rest. Flying’s mostly instinctual anyhow, I’m pretty sure.”
It’d been a week since they had fitted the prosthetics, and Tommy only ever took them off to shower. They were comfortable enough to sleep in, and they didn’t chafe at all, so Tommy hardly ever removed them. They’d been coming up to the tower every day to practice gliding with them, cord attached.
“I’m concerned about the harness though,” Sam pointed out. “We know it helps you glide, but we still don’t have a clue about how flying’s going to work with it.”
“It’ll be fine!” Tommy insisted. “You said it yourself, water’s at the bottom. So if I don’t get it on the first try, I still won’t be hurt.”
Sam still seemed hesitant, so Tommy sighed.
“I’ll be fine,” he repeated. “But you gotta push me or else it doesn’t work. Like, if I just jump, the instinct won’t kick in. I have to be pushed.”
“Alright,” Sam agreed reluctantly. “Be careful.”
“Careful’s my middle name, big man.”
The creeper hybrid cracked a smile, took a deep breath, and then shoved Tommy forward.
The ground disappeared beneath him, and Tommy yelped as he was now suddenly rocketing down towards the earth.
The wind was absolutely roaring in his ears. Louder and harder than it had ever been when he glided at the top of the tower. No, this was something fierce and alive, pulling at his skin, feathers, and hair, threatening to tear him apart.
He was falling too fast, too fast to breathe or think.
So he acted purely on instinct.
His wings snapped open, and he slammed to a stop.
The air rushed out of his chest and his wings throbbed from the sudden change in velocity. But the wind was not yanking him in every direction anymore. In fact, a gentle breeze buffeted his feathers and hair, nipping at his clothes and at the prosthetics.
He blinked, eyes flicking below him. The ground was still a ways away, but he was aware that he was slowly drifting down towards it.
But that’s not what he wanted. He wanted to go up.
He shifted his wings, instincts rushing through him as he angled them differently. Tommy snapped them upwards, and then forced them down, angling his body towards the sky.
Adrenaline was rushing through his veins, because something had slotted itself into place. This is what he was looking for, the last piece of the puzzle. It felt right. He was FLYING.
“I’M FUCKING FLYING!” He called as he shot past the top of the tower, a big dumb grin on his face. Laughter was ringing out in the sky, from him and from Sam, who was now below him.
Tommy flipped over in the air, his back now facing the ground as he stilled his wings and let himself fall. The wind was roaring again, trying to ensnare him in it’s clutches.
But he didn’t let it, only falling for a few seconds before righting himself and propelling himself upwards once more.
Sam was grinning at him from the tower, one hand raised to block the sun from bothering his eyes. And Tommy grinned right back, because he was FLYING. HE WAS FLYING!
Another laugh erupted from him as he banked hard left, trusting on his instincts to tell him how to fly. He turned sharply in the air, just as he wanted to.
When he dipped his wings down, he went into a dive that could steepen when he folded his wings closer to him. Pushing one wing down and the other up sent him sideways into a tight turn. Tilting his wings up just a bit made him slow down. Flapping wasn’t necessary all the time to stay aloft, as it turned out that gliding was easy with how much length the prosthetics gave him.
Up in the air, it was more clear how much larger his wings seemed to be was with the leather harness. The leather put each wing at what he assumed to be roughly seven feet long, making his wingspan around fourteen feet.
But he wasn’t worrying about that. He was flying.
Once his wings started aching, though, he knew the jig was up.
It turned out, flying took a lot more work than just gliding, obviously. While he could glide for about an hour or more without breaks, by the time he was twenty minutes into flying, he was getting tired.
As much as Tommy loved it, he really would rather not go plummeting to the ground because his wings were too sore to keep him up.
So he dipped down once more, flying maybe a foot or two above the water and dipping his fingers into the surface as he went, leaving tiny waves in his wake.
Tommy wiped his fingers off on his shirt, tilted himself upwards, and shot upwards toward the platform of the tower.
He landed unsteadily, making himself fall over with a thump, wings twitching as they folded shut, grateful for the break.
Before Sam could ask if he was alright, Tommy sat up with a grin. “That was awesome.”
Sam smiled. “So they work then?”
Tommy raised an eyebrow, before lunging and tackling Sam into a hug. The creeper hybrid stumbled back with a laugh, but hugged him back regardless.
“They work,” Tommy confirmed, trying to hold back the tears in his eyes as he buried his face against the taller man’s chest. “They work. They’re perfect. I was flying. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea what this means to me. Thank you. Fuck, thank you Dad.”
The teen immediately froze as soon as the word slipped out, his jaw snapping shut with audible click. He knew Sam heard it to, based on the way he stiffened in the hug.
“Sorry,” he immediately started to apologize. “Sorry. It slipped out. Sorry. I’m sorry. Sorry.”
“No, uh, it’s fine,” Sam laughed quietly. “It’s fine. I just wasn’t expecting it.”
Tommy pulled away, wringing out his hands nervously and keeping his eyes to the floor. “Thanks again, for the— the things,” he mumbled.
“You’re welcome,” Sam reached out and ruffled Tommy’s hair, making the teen look up. “Son.”
“Don’t call me that, I will cry,” Tommy threatened weakly, wiping away the few tears that managed to slip out.
But he couldn’t stop himself from looking up and meeting Sam’s eyes, a soft smile spread across his face that the creeper hybrid mirrored.
He couldn’t stop the warmth bubbling up in his chest because Sam called him son, he was okay with Tommy calling him dad.
Tommy could fly, and Sam cared about him. More than Phil had, and Phil was his biological father.
But in the end, Wilbur had raised him anyhow. Phil had been a positive point in Tommy’s life for all of a couple weeks, when Tommy was still staying with Techno.
Maybe things would be alright.
He had Sam by his side. Maybe even Tubbo too, if Jack Manifold ever decided to fuck off. Ghostbur, if he showed up again. Puffy had been around lately, helping him and Sam and offering him advice, was she on his side?
Maybe Tommy wasn’t as alone as he thought he’d been.
Maybe he could rely on other people.
Maybe he could finally cut all of those who didn’t truly care about him out of his life. He’d thought it was just Dream, but it was clear now that Phil and Techno were too, Jack and Niki as well.
It’s time to move on. Time to move forward.
Time to fly.