When Martin was six he told his mum he wanted the growing wings on his back to turn metal so he could be an aeroplane when he grew up. She glanced around, kneeled down to his level, and said never to mention his wings or anyone else’s ever again. That the two of them were special and she’s been hoping he wouldn’t be. That seeing them wasn’t normal. Martin didn’t pay attention much until she said he could be the captain of an aeroplane instead of becoming one because, well, it simply wasn’t possible.
The wings are commonly giant, sweeping things that are slightly translucent. They aren’t on everyone, of course, but he knows the people that do are very good, very bad, or very, very important to the world or himself. He doesn’t quite know why he’s got wings though; now that he’s older and can see the pattern. He isn’t overly good or overly bad and he certainly isn’t important. It’s not as though he can just ask someone though, so he stares at his own wings and wonders.
Seeing them has helped a lot in his life. By the time he was twenty-four he could just about decode what each type of wing meant, the patterns reflecting personality types, integrity, and importance in Martin’s life (he has never met someone of truly great importance to the world, in the terms of curing a horrible disease or ending world hunger or similar).
When he got his first job he knew right from the start that he would be leaving within the year. There aren’t a lot of people with wings period, meaning they’re in the grey area. The few pairs of wings he sees aren’t butterfly wings (though he doesn’t expect to see much of those anyway) or even bird wings, which are much more common. There is a pair of wings similar to the kind you would see on a bat, pale underneath the fuzz on nonexistent fur which looked disturbing to see on a human. Two others are insect wings, clearly, but Martin can’t identify them besides the fact tat they are glossy and all together too slick.
Correct in his assumptions he leaves after barely four month because it doesn’t pay well, he puts in far too many hours, and by the end of the day he always feels vaguely used. It is soon after he starts up Icarus Removals to try and get some cash flowing in.
It is almost another year before he finds the job at MJN Air. He knows they will have a big impact on his life, he just doesn’t know whether it will be good or bad.
He meets Arthur first. The man doesn’t question how Martin never looks at his face, but always over his shoulder. Really though, Martin can’t help it. He has never seen wings like Arthur Shappey’s.
They are the largest pair of butterfly wings he has ever seen. They are huge, spanning above the younger man’s head and out a bit from his shoulders, nearly brushing the floor they are literally bigger than Martin is. Most butterfly wings are, maybe, half that size.
Next to catch Martin’s attention is the colour. The edges are orange, the tips a similar shade to Martin’s hair, so he knows this will be someone that will change him. The rest though… It looks like a rainbow exploded, still bright and vibrant despite not being quite there all the way. It hurts his eyes to look at them too long and he’s constantly blinking.
The last thing to cross Martin’s mind is the fact that these things are combined. Martin has seen butterfly wings before, small and fragile painted in pastels and he commonly sees them on people who work with young children often and enjoy their work. He has never seen a pair so large, to energetic, yet so powerful all at once. It’s clear that he has gone through things that would be traumatizing and came out stronger, brighter, more optimistic.
At long last Arthur takes him in to meet Carolyn (Douglas off that particular day) and Martin is shocked for the second time that day by someone’s wings. Once Arthur moves enough for him to them, of course.
They remind him of an angel’s wings. His mind refuses to draw up any other sort of comparison. They are soft and silky, ivory with scatters or a softer orange around the edges and centre. He has to resist the strong urge to reach out and touch them, as if they’re real. The woman in front of him is not pure, is not as bright as her son, but she is good and, hopefully, will be good for him.
He only realized he’d been staring for an inappropriate amount of time when she snapped that they have an interview to conduct, Mr Crieff, so would you kindly pick your jaw up off the floor and sit down.
It’s over far too soon and he hates it. He wanted to examine the two very different, very new types of wings he’s been presented. He wants to touch them, maybe get some of Arthur’s pure happiness or Carolyn’s strong will by maybe even passing through their wings. (He knows that isn’t possible because he tried to gain some of Simon’s confidence when he was seven by doing that. It didn’t work - if anything Simon’s confidence grew while Martin’s shrunk after that.
Eventually they negotiate that he won’t be paid but at least he’ll be Captain. Martin only accepts because he knows that, if he says no, he will miss out on so much even if he doesn’t know what yet.
When he meets Douglas the man’s wings don’t seem like anything special at first - Martin has seen crow’s wings a millions times and if four feathers on each wing have a red tint he certainly doesn’t notice at first.
After three flights he figures out the wings belong to a raven, not a crow, which certainly suits Douglas with his sharp wit and slightly devious nature.
After nine flights the eight feather on each wing are completely red.
After ten flights Martin notices the tips of some of his feathers are turning black or rainbow or ivory and he’s incredibly happy he is where he is. He may be an unpaid Captain and there may be teasing and taunting… well, it feels more like a family.
After three years he can hardly tell whose wings are whose (even his own) because of all the colour melding and even if he might not like it some days he would never want to be anywhere else.
Martin doesn’t often find colour melding, not even in families. With elderly couples he sees their wings are perfect mixtures sometimes, but usually the farthest it goes are hints of his own reds and oranges so he knows someone will be important to him. It seems MJN is closer than that though, a perfectly tight knit group of people.
Before MJN his wings had been rather plain. A light brown with the tips of each feather orange or red or auburn. They’re small and commonly curled into his spine, the feathers looking ruffled and matted; it had taken everything Martin has not to preen when he saw them because they aren’t actually there.
He never knew if someone’s wings could grow in size once they were an adult until two years of being at MJN. They haven’t grown much, but they have grown and the colours are brighter and he’s taken on some of everyone else’s. They’re finally smoothed out, which he can only assume represents shows his own self confidence. (He’s never quite figured out what smooth or ruffled feathers mean on someone with bird wings. He’s seen people who oozed confidence out of every pore with ruffled feathers and people who are shy and nervous with feathers so silky that rain could have slid right off.)
Overall he is happy about his gift, happy with where it has brought him, and even living alone in a crummy attic seems okay for now.
After all, he has family. What more could he want?
They met on a train to London.
Martin was heading out to see his sister for the week and a train ride there and back seemed to be a much better idea than drive his gas guzzler of a van. There are a couple stops on the way but he doesn’t mind. He has a few good books and when they head off he is alone.
On the second stop someone asked if they could sit with him. Barely looking up from his novel Martin said yes. Looking at how he was dressed he seemed on the wealthier side and, at first he doesn’t seem to have any wings to speak of. He was hansom as well but
Martin tried not to think abut it.
Martin happens to glance up at the exact moment the stranger twists to get something on his right and suddenly Martin can see them.
His wings are small and fragile, stretching out slightly and they aren’t bigger than the man’s back, the tips just peeking above the shoulders. They’re slightly ruffled, a single combing of fingers through the plumage enough to straighten them out. What Martin likes best is the exact pigment.
They’re a soft blue-grey, the tips of some a brighter blue, some a soft orange in a way that reminds Martin of a painting or a poem; something beautiful but tragically underappreciated. The wings he’s looking at speak of fear, of anxiety, but also of an inner strength. Something which, against all odds, had kept the man before him running and alive.
They also shout at Martin to talk to this mysterious stranger while he has the chance to do so.
“I’m Martin Crieff,” he blurts out nervously. The other man glanced over his shoulder all warm eyes and adorable ears but Martin has a hard time taking his eyes off the wings.
Immediately he glances away, a light pink spreading across his cheeks and he just knows he’s messed this up.
“Oh,” the other man said. “Uh, I’m Henry Knight. It’s a-a pleasure to meet you.” Martin looked back up again, slightly startled. He hadn’t expected a response.
The tension seemed to drain from his body and he could almost feel his wings droop.
They ended up chatting for most of the ride. Those moments they weren’t were mostly spent with Martin trying to catch another glimpse of Henry’s wings.
As it turned out Henry was visiting an acquaintance, John Watson, after the recent death of a mutual friend. Just staying for a few days, checking in on how the man was doing. Martin had been sure the reply would be ‘oh I’m visiting my girlfriend’ or ‘I’m just here on business’. Still, he doesn’t let his hopes up too much.
What puzzles him the most the whole time is the amount of orange on the wings. He’s only encountered small amount at first, steadily growing through the relationship. He simply hadn’t expected to see that much.
By the end of the time they arrive in London Martin notices the tips of some of his own feathers have gone Henry’s bluish grey.
When they get off Henry shifts from foot to foot awkwardly, looking anywhere but at Martin. It isn’t hard considering the younger man has a good three inches on him.
“Do you want to have coffee?” Martin blinked. “I-I mean not right now, just, do you want to go have coffee later with me and John? Or just me but I was thinking John could come as well since he’s the reason I came here in the first place-” He cut himself off, glancing just above Martin’s head instead of at his face.
With perhaps a bit too long of a delay Martin responded with a rather high-pitched affirmative and that was that.
(Well, that was not that because there was the swapping of phone numbers, the awkward goodbye, and internal screaming from both parties the second the other walked away but… once that was finished that was that.)
John Watson’s wings are golden.
When the two men step into the café (Martin saying it was fine if Henry brought the ex-army doctor) he briefly doesn’t notice Henry is there - that anyone else is there - because of the wings.
Martin has never met anyone important to the world before. He’s seen them on telly and things, but never actually met them. So to the very least he knows the wings have hints of gold or silver.
If anything, John’s wings have hints of colour beneath. Of tan and sapphire and through each feather is a streak of crimson. Not Martin’s own dull red or soft orange, but crimson. The type of red that speaks of blood seen, blood taken, blood on hands that can never be washed away.
They aren’t large, aren’t particularly obtrusive and spread out as they are they go, maybe, a foot total past John’s shoulders.
But they are radiant. Martin can barely see through them and just their presence seems to brighten the room, fill it up and suffocate him all at once.
They approach and Martin is having trouble breathing. By the time John is within five feet Martin gets up, an excuse rushing from his mouth as he bolts out of the café.
He decides he never wants to be around someone like that again. Some people - people like him - might be able to stand it. Be able to be in the room with someone like that and act like everything is fine but he… can’t. He just can’t. John Watson is good, but not pure. All at once he is powerful and brave and so, so important and Martin simply isn’t.
(John Watson also feels like half of a whole. Like because he lost that other half he is cracked - Martin can see it in the way his wings seem worn and his feathers look like they want to fall out. He can’t stand seeing that either.)
When Martin has finally calmed himself down enough to breathe properly Henry comes out, fidgeting and nervous. He seems surprised to find Martin is still there.
“I thought you’d changed your mind,” he said softly, leaning against the wall beside Martin as people passed by.
The shorter man raised an eyebrow. “Do people often run out when they change their mind?”
“They’re usually more subtle about it,” Henry conceded, a light tone of humour in his voice. Martin chuckles, a hand over his mouth as his shoulders shook against the wall and Henry was quick to join in/
“Sorry,” he said once the laughter had died down. “For running out, I mean. It’s, um, anxiety and there were too many people and…” He bit his lip, catching the sight of his wings twitching out of the corner of his eyes. “D’you think John would mind if we left? Just the two of us? I mean, not like this is a date, unless you want it to be a date in which case it kind of is, it’s just-”
“This is a date?” Henry interrupted, voice raising slightly in pitch on the last word.
The shade of red Martin went put his hair to shame.
“I, uh, I-I-I mean th-that’s not what I said!” Oh dear God, how did he fix this. “I mean, if-if you wanted it to be then, yes, I-I suppose this would be a, um, date but, uh-”
“So this is a date,” Henry responded slowly, the question clear in his voice. Can this be a date?
Martin took a moment, a ridiculously long moment, to reply. This was mostly due to the fact that his vocal chords had seems to briefly die and his heart was in his throat trying to bring them back to life.
And that really was that this time.
After eleven months of being… together (Martin still isn’t sure how to term it in his head. Boyfriends? Partners? In a relationship?) Henry asks.
It’s a nice, relaxing sort of day. Martin has the weekend off from both MJN and the van so he stays at Henry’s apartment in Fitton. Martin is making breakfast (or, to be more accurate, pouring two bowls of cereal) and Henry is setting up the Doctor Who DVD. As far as Martin can see it is going to be a lazy day spent at home. He’s been having a lot more of those since they started dating.
He walks back in the room with a smile on his face, setting the bowls down on the coffee table before plopping down next to Henry.
They are finished with breakfast and the ending credits of Midnight are rolling Henry takes Martin’s hand, his thumb sweeping over the knuckles. The gesture is a familiar one and commonly precedes uncomfortable questions. Questions like “why doesn’t Carolyn pay you?” and “how do you stay afloat if she doesn’t?”
This time it’s much more vague.
“Why do you always stare at people’s backs?”
Because even if seeing wings on people is normal for me it’s still interesting and is a far better way to judge character than listening to
them talk, he almost said. Instead he shrugs nervously as though he doesn’t know what Henry is talking about
Henry shifts on the couch, trying in vain to look Martin in the eyes. “It’s just… whenever someone turns around you star at their backs. Or when their facing you you’ll look over their shoulder or just to the side of their arms…” His brow furrowed slightly. “Now that I think about it you never really look at people’s faces.”
Writing it off as a tick or his own social awkwardness would be easy. Almost ridiculously so and Martin knows that. He knows that if his mother had never told his father or Simon or Catlin about her gift. He knows the giant risk he’d be taking if he mentioned it. Henry might end up thinking he’s insane or lying and leave him or call a specialist or all these things…
But at the same time he’s been honest with Henry. Completely honest in everything he says, everything he does. Wouldn’t it be nice to share this part of himself with someone? Tell them how their wings look, how the wings of people around them look?
He looks at Henry’s wings. They’ve grown since the two of them met, still curled inward but even then they stretch just beyond the
shoulders. He looks, admired how the blue-grey, the sapphire, and Martin’s own orange and red mix so beautifully, a few more feathers in Henry’s colours than Martin’s.
He thinks of his own as well, thinks of how they’d looked in the mirror. How the auburn and orange striped brown feathers had mostly dominated the wing, but how Henry’s colours had stood out. How rainbows from Arthur had splattered themselves near the bottom, and Douglas’ smooth black was near the top. Of how, every once in a while, there is a ivory feather.
Not for the first time Martin makes a terrifying decision that he isn’t sure will pay off in the end.
“I’m not sure how to say this,” he muttered. Stupid, useless words which have no other point than to fill the gap of silence. To let Henry know he will talk eventually.
Henry nodded. The sort of “take you’re time, I’m in not rush” nod but in Martin’s mind always mean he’s being stupid and should just spit it out already.
“It’s from my mum’s side of the family,” he started slowly. Honestly, how are you supposed to explain to your boyfriend that you see wings that aren’t there? “It’s just a little… thing, it doesn’t affect anything really. And-and it’s been passed down through generations so we’re either all crazy or none of us are and I’m really hoping you agree it’s the latter-”
Henry’s hand is suddenly on his should, the other tilting his chin up so their eyes meet. “Relax.”
Surprisingly, just hearing the word coming from Henry - Henry who he loves and is loved in return who he never thought he would meet - is enough to ease the tension. It doesn’t make trying to sort the words in his head any easier but it does… help.
Blunt seems to be the best path to take at that moment. “I can see wings, proper wings, on people and I know it sounds mad-” Quite suddenly more words are escaping his mouth and he’s trying desperately to describe things that were never really explained to him in the first place.
When he finally, finally shuts up Henry doesn’t seem worried or scared for his mental health. He looks a bit shocked, yes, but so had Martin’s mum so surely it can’t be that bad of a reaction?
There is a minute of silence. A minute or terrifying, heavily silence and Martin just wants to crawl back to his attic and never leave.
Slowly, a smile spreads across Henry’s face. His eyes brighten and he loses that sort of shocked air. He looks a bit shy, a bit nervous,
but that’s sort of Henry-norm and Martin’s quite used to it.
“What colour are mine? If I, uh, if I have any, I mean.”
Martin refuses to stop hugging him for a full ten minutes, shaking from relief and laughter.