The day Schmidt wakes up with wings is a Saturday. Which is lucky because none of his slim-cut non-iron work shirts are really equipped to handle this and he'd hate to ruin one by cutting holes in it.
In retrospect, he should have known something was going on. He's been all on edge lately and neither a big run or an evening alone with his favorite lube (the tingly one) had been enough to get rid of the feeling.
He'd decided maybe he just missed Elizabeth, that she'd been gone long enough on her stupid business trip, but now he's pretty sure it was probably this whole wing situation.
The wings are huge. They attach somewhere around his shoulder blades and go from above his shoulders just about to the floor. No one has to know about the embarrassing squawk he made when he first realized what was on his back, or the way he yelped in surprise at their size and definitely knocked a few things over the first time he spread them. (He is def going to have to swap out of the small room if this lasts.) He's not sure what kind of wingspan someone his height should be targeting but this seems pretty impressive.
It's only been an hour but he's starting to like the feeling of them. He may have to change his walk a little bit to accommodate them, but a few minutes checking himself out in his full-length mirror and he's decided they're pretty dope. Actually kind of great looking if he says so himself (and he does): mostly black, tres classic, but with this shimmery dark green thing going on when the light hits them directly. Kind of a Marc Jacobs Fall/Winter runway thing.
This leads of course to the next question, which is: what kind of grooming regimen do you want when you're dealing with feathers?
He's at the kitchen counter Googling just that when his roommates find him.
"WHOA," Nick yells when he walks into the room, stumbling over his feet as he backs up quickly. He stares at Schmidt from behind his half-raised arms. "What. The hell?"
"Hey Nick," Schmidt says, working his nonchalant voice. "Oh, yeah, by the way, I woke up with wings today," he adds, as Nick gives him a look of abject horror and irritation.
"What-- you-- you can't-- people don't just wake up with wings, Schmidt," Nick says, his voice rising on the last part.
Winston frowns as he shuffles into the kitchen, heading for the coffee pot.
"Isn't it kind of early to be trying out Halloween costumes, Schmidt?" he asks, grabbing a mug out of the cabinet.
"It's not a costume," Schmidt says. He's kinda enjoying this. "They're real."
Winston looks back over at him, then does a double-take and almost drops the coffee pot.
"Dear God in heaven," he yelps out.
By the time Jess wanders in in her pajamas, Nick and Winston are both peering at Schmidt's back, where his skin ends and the wings begin.
"Hey guys!" she says, dumping an armful of empty tea mugs in the sink and turning to face them. "Whatcha doing?" There's a pause as her eyes go wide behind her glasses. "Hoh my god. Are those real?!"
Nick runs a hand up and over the curve of his right wing, muttering something about structural integrity. It feels-- nice. Kind of sexy nice. Not that Schmidt's going to tell Nick that.
"Fascinating," Nick murmurs to himself and carefully unfurls it, examining the way the primary regimes layer over the secondaries. (Schmidt also spent some time looking up wing anatomy this morning.) Schmidt shivers a little against the calluses on Nick's hands and tries to ignore it.
Winston has taken over Schmidt's computer and started searching.
"Okay," he says. "It seems like this has happened before." He squints at the screen. "According to the message board poster wingandaprayer82. But they don't really say why or what happened next."
"I hope you don't use those crack research skills around the radio station," Schmidt says and squirms a little in his seat as Nick runs a hand over the small downy feathers on the underside of the wing, where it meets his body.
Jess is leaning against the counter, still staring at him.
"You could be a really convincing angel in a Christmas pageant," she says. "Or-- a Hanukkah pageant?"
"Please," says Schmidt. "Hanukkah's not for pageants, it's for giving people blanket immunity to stuff themselves with oil-fried foods for a week. And oh my god, Nicholas, you might as well have your hand down my pants, either just go all the way or stop being such a tease about it!"
His voice cracks a little at the end and everyone stares at him. Nick slowly lets go of his wing. Schmidt clears his throat.
"Excuse me," he says, with as much dignity as he can muster. "I have to look into something."
He spends a really long time in the shower and when he's done no one will meet his eyes, especially Nick.
"Well," says Elizabeth. "You'll always be able to get a good view at concerts."
She's sitting next to Jess on the couch and they're staring at him with almost identical expressions of unsettlement and amusement. Which reminds him that they've been spending a worrying amount of time together lately. The last thing he needs is his girlfriend and girl roommate being buddy-buddy enough to team up against him.
"Oh!" Jess says. "You can skip the elevator when it's being really slow."
"Ladies, please," Schmidt says, holding up his hands. "I've been gifted with an unearthly transformation previously unknown to humankind. I'm not going to use it to get to the seventh floor quicker."
"What are you going to use it for?" Jess asks, biting into one of the peanut butter chocolate chip cookies she made yesterday.
Schmidt frowns and looks at the plate of cookies and looks away and looks back. He watches Elizabeth reach over to grab one.
"I'm still deciding," he says, trying to sound like maybe he has several mysterious options.
"No," says Elizabeth, reaching out one hand to grab him by the back of his jeans as everyone's heading out to the bar. "Hang on."
("Sit in a dark corner," Nick had ordered him. "A really dark corner."
"Oh!" Jess said. "I'll wear one of my fake beards and we can pretend we all just came from a costume party." She'd dashed off.
"She owns multiple fake beards?" Winston asked the room, then shrugged like it wasn't actually that surprising.)
Now Schmidt turns back and raises his eyebrows at the way Elizabeth is looking him up and down.
"I've never done it with anyone with wings before," she says and he feels his spine start to tingle.
"… oh," he says and she gives him a wicked grin and pulls her shirt over her head as she walks backwards toward his room.
The next few days are pretty crazy. Someone sees him and then someone else and people start tweeting about it. (#LAwingdude) The press shows up, and he starts getting all kinds of crazy propositions on his voicemail: the booking agent for Ellen, the booking agent for Conan, a wide range of conspiracy theorists, several fairly worrying marriage proposals and an invitation to do ads for Orbitz.
He still can't fit into any of his shirts, but he doesn't mind. He started to like going shirtless sometime after Coach had made him cry for the 93rd day in a row -- which was also around the time that actually objectively hot girls (…and guys) had started eyeing him at the gym. He'd had more of a two-pack than a six-pack at that point, but the feeling had stuck 'cause hey, he likes to be appreciated, okay?
Now people aren't even noticing the six-pack or all the work he's put into his triceps and pecs. It's all wings wings wings. But he still loves the thrill when he spreads them to their full width and gets a loud gasp from everyone in the room who hasn't seen it before. (Nick and Winston don't even look up from their video game anymore. "Don't knock over the wine glasses," Jess says absently as she turns a page in her book.)
He hasn't actually tried to fly with them. It seems like it might be terrifying.
The thing is, though, he also really wants to.
He tells Elizabeth this one night in bed at her place, when it's dark and they're lying face to face, legs tangled together and his fingers toying with the edge of her pajama shirt. (Sleeping has been a bit of a challenge but they're working on it; he definitely can't be the little spoon anymore.)
"Hey," she says. "We can make that happen, you know."
"Yeah?" he says, feeling warm and relieved.
"Of course, dummy," she says and kisses him.
They drive to the desert, way outside LA and far enough from the highway that nobody can see them. It's windy and bright and Elizabeth leans against the side of the car and folds her arms to watch him.
"I figure jumping off high stuff is where things could get hairy," she says. "So you'll be okay here."
She sounds so sure about it that it's easy to believe her too. He walks away ten paces and turns back around to face her. She gives him a little smile and a double thumbs up, just like she used to do before a big exam in college. Schmidt takes a deep breath and spreads his wings and pushes down.
It takes a while to get the mechanics right: He needs a running start. He needs to lean into it before he tries to take off, get almost horizontal to the ground so the wings get the right angle for leverage. Once he's up he has to flap hard and fast, just when it's scariest, to keep from crashing right back down.
But it's like the wings know what to do. Like they want to work, to make things go right for him, if he'll put in the time and Schmidt's nothing if not a hard worker.
The first time he actually gets off the ground he yells in shock and delight and hears Elizabeth whoop off to his right. Then he immediately comes down hard, stumbling and ending up on his knees (totally scuffing his 7 For All Mankind jeans).
It takes a few more tries 'til he finally gets the hang of it, feels comfortable enough to stop staying so low and close to Elizabeth and the car.
This time, he heads up.
It's unreal and scary and pretty amazing all at once. He gets so high he can see LA glittering in the distance, all shiny metal and glass, like the unreal place he and Nick always talked about moving in their dorm room at Syracuse. The same way they talked about which girl on Charmed they'd do it with. But then Nick had actually gotten into law school there and Schmidt started getting job interviews with SoCal marketing firms and it had actually happened. And he'd realized he could say he was going to do things and then actually do them. Like come to a city full of people who didn't know him at all, where he could decide who he wanted to be.
The desert stretches out all around him and when he looks back down Elizabeth is a tiny smudge, a smudge who's maybe craning her neck and shielding her eyes to look up at him. He realizes how far from her he's actually gone.
Schmidt folds his wings and dives, catching himself, then circling, circling all the way down 'til his feet hit the ground hard and he has to run forward with the momentum.
When he reaches her, Elizabeth is laughing: not at him, but like she's happy and kind of doesn't believe this is happening, her hair blowing in long, light strands across her face.
They headbang to System of a Down all the way home.
"Hey, Schmidt," says Jess, pausing as she twirls angel hair onto her fork to tilt her head at him. "Are your wings getting smaller?"
"What?!" Schmidt says. He twists around in one direction, then the other, trying to see. "Are they??
Nick frowns and looks up from his own plate, squinting over at Schmidt.
"I think you're right," he says. "They used to be-- wingier."
Schmidt lets out a yell and pushes back from the table to dash to his mirror.
Winston calculates his wings are shrinking at six inches per hour. At this rate they'll be gone by tomorrow, absorbed back into his body or wherever they came from.
"Schmidt?" Jess says cautiously as he stares at himself in the bathroom mirror. "Are you okay? Do you want some hot cocoa?"
"I'm sorry, man," Nick says, and stops himself with a wince just before slapping Schmidt on the back.
He's on the roof when Elizabeth finds him, which goes to show how bummed he is. Usually he refuses to face the feline scourge of the rooftops alone.
He's perched sideways on one of the lounge chairs, shoulders slumped, twirling a feather in his hand. His wings are already noticeably smaller; their tips are only just brushing the chair.
"Hey, kid," says Elizabeth and he looks up at her.
"Hey," he says mournfully and lets her sit down beside him.
She's quiet for a few minutes and he's glad she's not trying to make him say anything. Instead he runs his thumb over the edge of the feather and enjoys having her thigh pressing against his.
"You knew it couldn't last forever, right?" she says gently and Schmidt sighs and looks up at her.
"But they were so cool," he says plaintively. "Everyone loved me with them. Everyone thought I was--" He stops and looks away. "They thought I was someone cool."
"Hey," Elizabeth says and puts a hand on his knee so he looks back up at her, frowning. "You are someone cool," she says fiercely. He always loved that about her: she never said anything just because it's what people wanted to hear, only things she really completely meant. You knew you could trust her. "You're someone cool whether you have wings or-- or horns, or a six-pack or look exactly like you did junior year, the day you won the pie-eating contest."
Schmidt feels something in his chest get tight and he slides his hand over hers, where it's still on his knee.
"Besides," she adds. "Who else could handle this kind of thing without freaking out completely? Plus you got to meet Anderson Cooper."
Schmidt's eyes light up in memory.
"The Silver Fox," he says, hearing the respect in his own voice. "Hey, do you think I should dye my ha--"
"No," says Elizabeth quickly and he laughs. Suddenly he's overwhelmed with the warmth he feels for her; her smile and the sweet, clean smell of her hair and how she's always seemed smarter than him in a way he couldn't put his finger on, both then and now.
"Hey," he says, and puts an arm around her, drawing her in close so her head's against his shoulder. "Thanks for not giving up on me."
She looks up at him questioningly and he takes the opportunity to kiss her. He likes kissing her off-guard, likes whenever he can be half a step ahead of her on anything. It's only fair: she's always surprising him.
Elizabeth laughs against his mouth and wraps her arms around his neck, one hand tracing the curve of his wing in a knowing way that makes him shiver. When she pulls back he rests his forehead on hers.
"That demon cat is over by the door, isn't it?" Schmidt says without looking away.
She laughs and stands, tugging him up by the hand.
"Come on, Big Guy," she says. "Let's go be brave."