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There was little to be done the day Gary Unwin was born. Like any other child, he was born into the world small and weak. But unlike other children in his neighborhood, he was born different.

 

Both of his parents were marked with the coverts and primaries of their flock. The dun, muddy browns and ashy greys marked all of those born into the Nadir-flock of Homo avia as just that: the lowest. Given little in the way of education, training, or even social mobility, the numerous members of the Nadir-flock worldwide were the workers. They scraped, toiled, cooked, cleaned, scrubbed, repaired, and labored daily for little better than subsistence living. They were followers, the Nadir. They made up the majority of the enlisted ranks of every nation’s military, one of the few choices for upward mobility and the potential to break into the Ascent-flock’s middle class. They were the waiters and cooks, the sales associates (but never the managers). They lived within their means, having no other option. Crime rates among the Nadir were steadily rising, and the underworld Pinnacle leaders exploited members of this flock regularly.

All in all, being Nadir meant you were easily replaced, easily forgotten, and very easily cast off.



But on a rainy and cold Easter morning, Gary Unwin was not so easily forgotten or cast off.




“Push now, Michelle! One more good one!” The midwife at the foot of the delivery bed coached.

Labor for the poor woman on the bed before her hadn’t been easy. The babe was breech, and more worrisome, unfurled. Normally, an unfurled set of wings in the womb meant one of two things: the almost assured stillbirth of the infant, or the painful and oftentimes fatal injury to the mother. But for some miracle, the little one trying to come into the world wasn’t struggling. Though the waxy membrane that kept young nestlings’ wings tightly bound to their bodies until after birth was broken, the little one wasn’t fluttering them. If anything, the midwife mused, he was *listening* to the silent and muttered prayers of the delivery staff, begging him to just stay still until he was free.



“Yer doin’ fine, love. Jus’ keep it nice an’ steady. Our little egg’s almost here, yeah?” Lee Unwin, the babe’s father, stroked his wife’s brow. He was home on leave, the Royal Marines not expecting him back for at least another month. Glad as he was to be by his wife’s side, he knew what grim expressions were meant when they made the medical staff’s wings flick and twitch. His own dull wings were tense, sheltering his wife as best they could given the confines of the delivery room.



Michelle, beyond words at almost 30 hours in labor, groaned and nodded, pushing with as much energy as she could muster. With a cry of equal parts anguish and strength, she pushed her child into the world and collapsed back onto the bed. Her almost coal-black wings hung limply off the sides of the bed, their strength as wiped as the rest of her limbs. She lifted her head and smiled down at the midwife upon hearing her son’s first wails.



What she did not hear, however, was anything else in the way of vocalization.



“Wha- Lee? Lee, wha’s wrong? Let me ‘old him!” Michelle lifted two weak arms out, but received no answer still.



It would take the hospital staff almost five full minutes to do more than clean the small boy and perform their tests, and no word was spoken among them beyond necessary instructions.

Likewise, Lee said nothing beyond, “They’re cleanin’ him up now” and absently stroked his wife’s brow. All too soon, however, the reason became very apparent to Michelle for the silence in the delivery room.





Her son, her beautiful, perfect little egg, had wings. Golden, sparkling, Pinnacle-flock wings.





***



 

When Gary “Eggsy” Unwin was six, a Pinnacle man came to their small flat. He knew his father had gone away several months before, but his mum had said that he was with the Marines, and that he’d be back after his deployment was done. Eggsy didn’t know what a deployment was, but he figured it was like the sailing trips the pirates went on in his fairy stories book. He and his father would read a story every night, and while all the witches and ghosts were nice, his favorite were the stories about the knights. Eggsy thought they were even better than the dull-winged pirates that would swoop in and steal the enemy’s gold. They’d find a dragon, or a monster or even a terrible king, and they’d fly down on silver and golden wings that matched their shining armor, and slay the foul beast. Then they’d be honored and celebrated by the kind kings and queens. Eggsy figured that that was just about the best thing one could hope for, especially someone odd like him. To be liked by everyone, to be treated the same as everyone else, these were highest hopes of the young nestling.



But now, he wasn’t sure at all.



The Pinnacle man had wings the color of a shiny new two-pence piece. They were coppery-gold, and shone softly in the dim lamp light like all Pinnacle wings seemed to do. Eggsy’s own golden wings were strapped tightly to his back under his shirt; his parents had decided from the get-go to keep his wings hidden. Eggsy didn’t know why, since their own matte wings hung free behind them, and what other children he saw had much the same as his parents. He supposed it was because they were the wrong color, but he couldn’t be sure.



He watched quietly as the Pinnacle man sat with his mum and made her cry. And when the man turned to him, he responded as softly as he could, not wanting to make the man upset.



The man had eyes the color of his apple juice, Eggsy decided. A kind, shiny brown. They matched the kind, shiny wings which seemed to be arcing over Eggsy in a protective, but passive sweep (as if their owner didn’t realize that he was stretching them out). It made Eggsy feel safe, safe enough to tell the man his name. His scent was intense, but calming. Spicy and warm, with a touch of tea and something undefinable. When the Pinnacle man asked his to keep a firm hold on the little medal he’d originally offered his mum, Eggsy readily agreed. His little fingertips touched the man’s warm hand when he showed him the snow globe and when he took the medal. There was nothing in the man’s demeanor to make Eggsy feel scared or upset like his mum was, and when the man finally stood and turned to leave, Eggsy didn’t feel particularly wrong in reaching out his little hand to touch a trailing copper primary.



The effect was instantaneous.

And it was glorious.

It felt like the sun on his skin, like the day his parents had taken him to the beach at Brighton. It felt like the rush of joy he got on Christmas morning, and the soft smell of his mother’s perfume when she would dress up for dinner out with his dad. It burned and chilled and bowed within him and it felt right. His wings itched against their straps, and the shivering burn traveled from his fingertips to the very tips of his bound wings, leaving little licks of heat along its path.



Eggsy’s mum called out in worry to him and in his peripheral vision, he could see her throw out a shocked hand as if to stop him from across the room. The man stopped and turned his head sharply back at Eggsy who pulled his hand back as though he’d been burned. The Pinnacle man’s eyes looked darker, and his brow was pulled tightly together. Eggsy shrank back under the man’s heavy gaze and offered a timid look up.



“I’m sorry,” he all but whispered.



The man breathed in heavily and a sad sort of smile graced his face.



“Quite all right, my boy. But we mustn’t touch others’ wings, yes?”



Eggsy nodded, his face blazing with shame. It was the first and oldest rule he’d ever been taught: no touching another’s wings. Occasionally he’d see his mum and dad touch each other’s wings, preening and straightening the skewed feathers after a rough flight or a windy day, but it seemed limited to married people as far as Eggsy could tell. He knew it was something special, because the feathers that his mum and dad would most often touch were the small coverts that matched their own wings, a coal black set of feathers buried in his father’s grayish brown coverts, and an opposite set nestled in the secondaries of his mother’s wings. Maybe if it always felt like that, he’d like someone touching his wings. But he didn’t really know.



“Won’t ‘appen again, sir.”



The man smiled a bit more fully, and replied, “Of course, lad. Now, keep an eye on your mother, and remember: ‘Oxfords, not brogues.’”



Eggsy found himself nodding again, and the man left as quietly as he’d come. Eggsy looked back to his mother and she rose to scoop him up in her arms and hold him close.



“My sweet Egg. I’ve got some news, and yer not gonna like it. It’s ‘bout yer dad…”

After that, Eggsy knew what the kind man with the beautiful wings had meant when he’d said, “take care of your mother.”

 

***

 

The only good thing to ever come from Dean was Daisy.



When Eggsy was 17, his mother had called frantically about three-quarters of the way through his Royal Marines training, sobbing into the phone. He couldn’t make out much, but he understood enough. His mum was pregnant, and in a moment of clarity she knew she couldn’t be alone with Dean during the pregnancy and birth. So Eggsy made the same sort of sacrificing decision he’d always made (to take care of your mother) and came home.



Out of the frying pan and into the fire, as it turned out.



The moment he arrived home he was greeted with the same sort of scene as always, a timid and bruised Michelle sitting meekly to the right of Dean on the now-dirty sofa. What was different, though, was the other man sitting there. A large man, wings ragged and dirt-dull, sat in a chair near the sofa. He was dressed much as the other lowlifes that hung around Dean, a low-end track suit and scuffed, off-brand track shoes. He leered as Eggsy came in to the flat, but said nothing.



Dean, as always, said plenty.



“Well now. Look who’s fuckin’ back ‘an all. Wot’s the matter, yeah? Can’t ‘ack it in the Royal Fuckalls, then?”



Eggsy, having learned at a young age to simply stay silent when Dead got into one of his rants, said nothing. His lips were in a tight line at the sight of his mother’s injuries, but he’d learned that lesson as well. Nothing good came of fighting back against Dean, and though he’d dearly love nothing more than to kick the man’s teeth in, the accompanying prison sentence wasn’t one he was willing to endure. Not while his mother needed him still.

“Right. Well then, ‘bout time to start earnin' yer fuckin’ keep, then. Yer mum here’s been workin’ ‘hard fer me. Time fer you to do the same. ‘Specially since no one wants it wif a sloppy bird wif an egg on the way.”

Dean ran his hands intimately up Michelle’s leg with one hand, the other lazily flicking open and shut a switchblade. Eggsy bit the inside of his cheek to prevent himself from breaking the man’s hand. The coppery flavor made him think of the Pinnacle man from all those years ago, and the medal he still wore. But now was not the time to worry about days long gone. Not now.



“The fuck you on about, Dean?” Eggsy finally spat.



“What I’m on about is you, on yer fuckin’ back and on yer fuckin’ knees. Make more offa yer arse and mouf in a night than I would in a week of havin’ you runnin’ fer me.”



Eggsy looked at his mother.



“This why you called me home, then?”



She didn’t answer. Her eyes seemed unfocused, and Eggsy knew it wasn’t any sort of emotional despair preventing her from speaking. Whatever Dean had her on was doing its job admirably.

“Oi! Fuckboy! This ain’t up fer fuckin’ discussion. You want to stay here, you want a fuckin’ bed and to eat my fuckin’ food, you gonna fuckin’ earn it. Got yer first paying customer right ‘ere, an’ all,” Dean pronounced, a smug look on his filthy face. His smoke colored wings seemed to shiver as he spoke, belying his excitement.



The other man stood up and reached a hand out to try and Stroke Eggy’s face. Eggsy slapped his hand away and took a step back.



“You come near me, mate, and we’re gonna have a fuckin’ go,” Eggsy ground out.



Dean was on his feet faster than Eggsy would have imagined, pressing the switchblade to Eggsy’s throat.



“See, you seem to fink that this is a fuckin’ choice. It ain’t. Either get suckin’ or I’m gonna make yer mum do it in front o’ you after I get done beating in yer fuckin’ ribs. Then I’m gonna turn yer queer little arse out anyway, and you’ll be fucked twice as ‘ard, twice as long.”

Something within Eggsy snapped. He brought his hands up and shoved Dean as hard as he could, catching the older man off guard with his strength, now honed by months of military training. The switchblade skittered across his collarbone, drawing a thin line of fire across the thin skin there, but Eggsy barely felt it. He kicked Dean square in the chest, but before he was able to turn to face the other man in the room, a dirty, ragged wing buffeted him across the back. Eggsy groaned and tried to turn into the next blow.

‘Shoulda’ fuckin’ known better’n to turn me back. Fuck’s sake,’ he thought, hitting the filthy floor roughly.



Having kept his golden wings tied and strapped to his back for most of his life, Eggsy knew in theory how to defend or fight offensively with them, as many Nadir-flock were liable to do. But his parents’ insistence on keeping them hidden, and then his own fear of Dean discovering them, had meant that Eggsy never really tested out the violent motions now raining down on him alongside meaty fists. Sure, he’d unfurled them at night to fly before, and kept them free when he was able so they didn’t atrophy. But there was something to be said for the hefty man’s brute strength in his dismal wings. Soon enough, shoes at his ribs joined the fists, and between Dean and the larger man, Eggsy was soon reduced to groans of pain and twitching wings under his jacket.



Thankfully, though, the kicks stopped. A hand grabbed him roughly and hauled him up to his knees. Eggsy felt warmth on his brow, and the blood in his eyes made his vision swim. His chin was jerked up and Dean’s hatchet-like face grinned darkly down at him.



“Now wot did I fuckin’ say, Egg? You asked fer this, yeah?” Eggsy was thrown back onto the ground, though he was able to press a shaking hand out to prevent his complete fall. He started to rise again, but the clammy, calloused hand of the larger man held him down on his knees. Eggsy watched in dawning horror as Dean grabbed Michelle from the sofa by her arm and all but dragged her, unresisting but limp, to the ground in front of him. This close, he could see her eyes were glassy and unrecognizing. Whether she was truly lucid enough in her own mind to realize what was happening on front of her, he didn’t know. To be sure, though, he didn’t really want to know.



Dean’s hand fell heavily on Michelle’s shoulder and she sagged against the man’s leg, seemingly unable to hold herself upright. He smirked down at Eggsy.

“Now then. My friend ‘ere is gonna ‘ave a nice time wif ya, and if yer lucky, I’ll let ya keep some o’ yer earnin’s.”



Eggsy struggled against the hand on his nape, but the flashing shocks of pain in his ribs and kidneys told him that struggling further wasn’t going to end well. Still, he put up quote the effort when the large man’s other hand grabbed the zipper of his jacket and yanked it down harshly. Eggsy knew what was coming, but he refused to allow it to happen without a fight.



“You get the fuck offa me, fuckin’ prick! I’ll fuckin’ kill you fer this!” he shouted in vain. The hand on his zipper rose and grabbed a fist full of Eggsy’s thin cotton t-shirt and ripped. Unbeknownst to the man, however, was the fact that he had grabbed the front of Eggsy’s wing-straps. Eggsy realized this in stilted horror as he felt his wings bracket outward swiftly and angrily, ripping his tattered shirt and jacket to shreds in their rush. They shoved the rough man backwards with their force and their span, and the extreme motion there Eggsy forward into his hands and knees. Feathers the color of sunlight ruffled in distress and Eggsy was sure that the look of shock and awe on Dean’s face was mirrored in the rougher man’s.


It was not, as it were.



“Fuck no, guv. I ain’t goin’ to the fuckin’ Hutch fer takin’ this little cuckoo.” The large man’s voice was roughened from years of smoke and alcohol, but there was no mistaking the real fear of the prison known to most simply as "the Hutch" in it to Eggsy’s ears. He could feel the vibrations in the floor of the man getting to his feet and moving around, but it wasn’t until a feeling like every worst sort of violation came over him that Eggsy realized what was happening.



The man was touching his wings.



And none too gently, really. Eggsy cried out in a broken moan of shame-sadness-hatred-wrong and felt himself pitch sharply away from the violating hand. It didn’t matter. The man’s hands were buried in Eggsy’s feathers, and the extension of his wing was forced.



Dean’s eyes widened and then narrowed.



“So yer a fuckin’ cuckoo, then. A fuckin’ mated cuckoo. Shoulda’ fuckin’ known yer slut of a mum wasn’ no good. Bet yer dad was right chuffed to see them toffed up wings o’ yers.”



Eggsy looked blankly at Dean, the feeling of violation still echoing around his head. Each twitch and shuffle of his wings against the large man’s hands sparked a new wave of nauseous misery in him, but he focused long enough against the emotional turbulence to let Dean’s words register.



“Ain’t a fuckin’ cuckoo. Me dad was me dad. ‘Ad the tests ’n all to prove it,” he spat out, trying and failing to keep the disgust out of his voice. “An’ what the fuck d’you mean, mated? Ain’t ever ‘ad a fuckin’ mate, now ‘ave I!

”

Dean’s mercenary laugh made Eggsy’s blood feel like ice.



“Look fer yerself then, cuckoo.” Dean gestured at the outstretched wing, and Eggsy turned his head to see. Hissing at the pain in his shoulders at the strange angle, Eggsy dared to take his eyes off of Dean and glance at his wing. It took him longer than he would like to register what he was seeing.



There, buried among the primaries of his wingtip, were three burnished, coppery-gold feathers.

The furthest was the darkest, and the other two faded gradually back into the sun-shot gold of his own wings, a beautiful sort of ombre. It made his wings look as if he’d dipped the very tips of them in copper-colored ink, soaking into the lighter feathers further up.



“No mate then, Egg? Then wot the fuck are those?”



Eggsy had no answer. He turned back to face Dean, but it was his mother’s face his eyes sought. Her own wings, though drooped, still bore the greying brown of his father’s wings in them. But, as was always the case with a dead mate, they were tipped in white. Michelle’s eyes flickered a bit under Eggsy’s questioning gaze, but shuttered soon enough and she drifted away again. A shattered mate-bond was no laughing matter, and she’d been dealing with it for years.



Dean’s hand slapping across his cheek snapped Eggsy out of his musing.



“Well don’ fink this changes any of it, yeah? Might not be able to take it out o’ yer arse now, but ain’t no mate-bond able to tell wot you do wif yer mouth. An’ if I can’t touch ye too rough to make me point, well then. ‘Ere’s yer mum.”

To drive home his point, Dean drove his fist into Michelle’s face, causing both her and Eggsy to cry out. Michelle dropped where she leaned against Dean’s legs, her arm outstretched towards Eggsy.

“That one’s fer yer back talk.” Dean struck his mother again, this time a sharp kick to her unprotected ribs.

“That was fer yer fightin’ back.” Dean delivered another kick, the toes of his trainers catching Michelle in the soft part of her stomach. She gurgled a pained moan and lay still.



“An’ that’s to remind ye not to try nothin’ funny. Every time ‘e feels teeth, yer mum is gonna feel it too. Get to fuckin’ work.”

Eggsy’s eyes never strayed from his mother’s face as she was kicked, and seeing the tears that welled up made up his mind for him. He ruthlessly shoved down his bile and got to work.



Much later, after he had retched, twice, cleansed his mouth with burning rotgut filched from Dean’s liquor stash, and had showered within an inch of his life, he helped his mother to bed. He’d retied his wings after his shower, and very pointedly did not look at the copper tips. Whoever, wherever his mate was, he or she didn’t need to intrude on this private hell. As he turned out the light and made to head for his own room he heard her soft voice.



“You fly from ‘ere, my sweet Egg. It’s alright.”



Eggsy shook his head derisively.



“No mum, I’m ‘ere fer good. Got to keep you safe, yeah? You an’ the little one.”



“Won’t be a little one, my sweet Egg. Never lets me keep ‘em.” Michelle’s voice petered out as exhaustion and narcotics overtook her.

Eggsy’s face darkened, and he left without another thought.



True to her word, there was no nestling. Eggsy’s second day was spent with his mother at A&E, a simple lie of “a terrible fall down the stairs trying to get the groceries up to the flat, doctor,” and pitying glances as words like “miscarriage” and “strain of another pregnancy could be devastating to your mother’s health” were tossed about. Dean didn’t bother accompanying them, (“never does,” says Michelle, clear of all but the hospital administered painkillers) but he was back at the council flat when Eggsy returned home. Another “friend” sat in the chair from last night. Dean’s eyes narrowed at Eggsy, and he nodded his head towards the man. Eggsy dithered for only a moment before swallowing his bile once more and got to work, "take care of your mum" ringing in his head.

 

***



 

Eventually, however, Dean did let a little one stay.

Four years after he’d come home from the Marines, Dean’s fortunes had risen somewhat. He no longer brought “friends” home for Eggsy to entertain, though the threat always remained. Eggsy found himself putting his skills into practice a few times a month for spare cash, what jobs there were to be found in the squalid neighborhood didn’t pay enough to be worth the hassle. But as he grew out of the gangly limbs and awkward strength of his teens into something a little more adult, Dean put him to work in all sorts of other ways: thefts, carjackings, breaking and entering, and one memorable occasion, dressing up as a novice priest of the Anglican church (apparently Dean needed the solid gold cross adorning the wall of the elder priest). The only jobs Eggsy ever turned down were those that involved selling drugs or trafficking drugs. Dean wasn’t into human trafficking, really, so he simply used mules and lackeys to move whatever cut-rate product he was tasked with selling.

Though he never involved himself in the actual sale or distribution of the drugs, Eggsy was an excellent point-man and scout. He picked up free-running from a YouTube video, matching his gymnastics skills and natural aerial grace with the pounding steps and leaps made popular by the adventurous flightless from within the Ascent-flock.



Through accident or atrophy, not all people could fly. Some were born with defects of the wings, others had their wings contract diseases that caused them to drop the necessary feathers for flight. The worst, in Eggsy’s opinion, were those who just stopped using their wings and let the muscles wither. He was careful with his own bound wings, taking care to exercise them whenever possible, and whenever he was far enough away from his neighborhood to not attract the wrong kind of attention. Dean had never again commented upon his golden wings, but he knew that it was not forgotten. Perhaps it was filed away to be used against him later, perhaps he simply didn’t care. Whatever the reason, Eggsy remained on guard and refused to let his friends and neighbors see the golden expanse across his shoulder blades.



The thrill of free-running was one he thoroughly enjoyed. Those flightless from the Nadir-flock were simply forgotten and pitied. They rarely had the time to play or enjoy life the way the Ascent- and Pinnacle-flocks did, and it showed in this activity. The leaps, tucks, rolls and pitches of free-running were freeing in a way Eggsy had only felt in flight. And if he couldn’t fly during the day, he sure as hell could run. He was good at it, too. Every leap and landing, every twist midair and footfall was placed instinctually, as if he knew before he even moved exactly where he’d be.

It was quite the skill, and Dean put it to good use. Eggsy was nearly silent as he moved, and while people always kept their street level doors and windows locked, they forgot about the upper floor. The Nadir-flock was inclined to take off from their own room’s window ledge or fire escape, and thus had learned that it was just as likely an entry point as it was an exit. They kept them locked when not in use, accordingly. Ascents and Pinnacles, however, were civilized; they took the front door and left their bedroom windows and balcony doors unlocked without a thought. Even if they did think about flighted thieves coming through the windows, the higher flocks anticipated seeing or hearing the wings of their intruders in enough time to alert the authorities; they never expected someone who’d just crawl up the downspout or pull himself up by the balcony ledge and over the balustrade. It made breaking and entering incredibly easy, and Eggsy was the best of Dean’s crew at it.

This meant that finally, Dean was pulling in enough money to be a magnanimous prick about Michelle’s latest pregnancy:



“Fink it’ll be good to ‘have a little one around. Y’know, someone to raise up like I want.”

Dean kept his hand possessively on Michelle’s stomach whenever he’d start spouting off about the coming nestling. Michelle, for all her faults, managed to get and stay clean during the pregnancy. Dean even managed not to strike her more than a few blows about the face, superficial but colorful.



Eggsy didn’t trust the stalemate of domesticity one bit. With that in mind, he started taking outside jobs from other street kings. Again, no drugs, but he put his non-sexual skills through their paces taking jobs left and right. He was whisked all across London, from fine homes to dockside warehouses. Plenty of fistfights and knife fights broke up the monotony of scavenging for information, and the cut he demanded was low enough to warrant repeat business from others.



When the heat got too bad from the Met, or Dean got especially pissed about him working for someone else’s interests, he’d lay low for a week or two, and head back to Smith Street to earn extra on his knees.



Smith Street was an education on its own; the pros and the amateurs like himself working different corners and getting into regular fights. It was there that he learned he’d have better luck in clubs (less split lips from angry rivals, as well). So Eggsy spent his off-time in some of London’s finest clubs, earning his drinks and more. He was safe at least; after the first “client” he’d insisted on condoms. Somehow is argument that he’d make more of a profit clean and without needing expensive treatments that were only partially covered by the NHS had made it through Dean’s thick skull. It only took one bloodied and beaten client who had tried to insist on a raw job for word to get around to most of the regulars he saw. The men he pulled in clubs wanted to keep it clean as well, so he rarely ran into issues there.



The only real trouble he found himself in was with the police. He’d been picked up and released a few times in his teens, mostly for underage drinking, but now he had a few actual charges in his file. A couple of thefts gone bad, three turns with a john that ended up being a sting operation, and a never-ending series of fistfights outside the club with johns that didn’t feel like paying what they owed. His arrest record had doubled the summer Michelle was pregnant, and doubled again by the time she was ready to give birth in mid-Autumn.



He was readying himself for another job for Dean when his mobile rang. The number was unfamiliar, but that wasn’t really anything new.



“Yeah?” he answered after a couple of rings.



“Is this Mr. Gary Unwin? I’m calling from East Street Hospital.”



“Yeah, I’m Egs- Gary Unwin. Everythin’ alright?”



“You’re the listed family member for Michelle Unwin? We’ve got her here in our maternity ward. She’s headed into surgery for a cesarian-section. We’ll need you to come down and sign some paperwork as her medical proxy.”



“The nestlin’s comin’ now?! Yeah, I’m on me way.” Eggsy stripped out of the black hoodie and put on one of his regular track jackets and a snapback. No need to look completely rough at the hospital building, he figured.



He made his way to the building his mother was resting in. It took a chunk of cash from his coffee-tin-in-the-wall-behind-his-headboard savings account, but it was worth it when he saw his mother being wheeled out of the long ward and into surgery. The tired smile she gave him made him smile in return.



He was led to the family area to sign off on paperwork, and made the decision to go ahead and call Dean to tell him about the birth. He pulled out his mobile from his track jacket and dialed.



“Yeah, wot?”



“It’s Eggsy. Mum’s in ‘ospital ‘aving the nestlin’. You want to come down?”



“Why the fuck would I do that? S’not my cuckoo, not my problem. And don’t take too fuckin’ long either. Job’s still on tonight, innit.”

Dean left the conversation as quickly as he’d answered.



Eggsy stared at his mobile for a while, shaking his head. If the prick didn’t want the little one, good riddance. It’d make getting out of there easier, legally-speaking. He knew, of course, that Dean forced as many men on his mother in her drugged fugues as he had on Eggsy. She’d stopped resisting years ago. But to be so callously referred to and summarily dismissed made Eggsy’s blood boil. He could feel his wings twitch under his shirt, straining to break free and take him flying to where he could beat Dean’s face into the curb.



His dark thoughts were interrupted by a nurse touching him lightly on the shoulder. Eggsy shook himself free of the shadows and looked up at him, pasting a smile on his face for the man.



The nurse smiled down at him and said, “Your mum’s out of surgery. She and the babe are doing just fine. Your mum’s gonna be out of it from the medication for a few hours, and the babe needs fed. Want to come back and see to it, big brother?”



“Y’know, I really do.” Eggsy gave the nurse a blinding smile and followed him back to the ward. Eggsy saw his mother sleepily looking at the little nestling in the bassinet, and she smiled wanly at Eggsy when she saw him.



“Gonna have to look after ‘er, sweet Egg. She’s gonna need ‘her big bruv.” Michelle wasn’t yet strong enough to lift the little girl to Eggsy’s arms, but she kept a tired hand on her little ankle as Eggsy took the small girl up. She had Eggsy’s hair, and Michelle’s pointed nose. Her eyes had a shape all their own, but the color was so similar to his own that Eggsy couldn’t help but smile widely down at the little girl. There was nothing of Dean in her, and Eggsy wasn’t surprised given Dean’s pronouncement on the phone earlier. Whoever her father was didn’t matter. She was theirs now.

He felt her little wings flutter under the swaddling, and he poked a finger around the back of the blanket to sneak a peek at them. Eggsy almost dropped her in shock when what he saw was a mass of fluffy, pure white.

True white wings were rare. They weren’t understood, they had no discernible genetic or scientific explanation, but they were as rare to Nadirs and they were to Ascents and Pinnacles. White wings were almost a commodity, a thing to be displayed rather than used. Those born with fully white wings were, in some ways treated more like the Nadir-flock than anyone would care to admit. They were kept out of higher learning and the military. Medical training and the sciences were denied them as well. Most became overfed local celebrities, the idea that their wing color made them somehow special in a way that no other flock could muster. Encouraged to explore artistic and musical pursuits, homemaking, child-bearing and rearing, and generally non-thinking domestic roles, they were as trapped in the gilded cages of class warfare as the lowest Nadir. Fashion trends bleached feathers white, and some people had streaks or whole swaths of white because of injuries or medications. But a full set of white at birth was beyond compare.



Eggsy’d known one other child in their neighborhood with white wings growing up, but his were attributable to a cancer treatment he’d received as very, very young boy. Small smatterings of his original brown could still be found in the coverts closest to his body, but given that those were almost always covered by clothing, they weren’t often seen. The poor kid had been gawked at at primary school, and finally had resorted to dyeing his wings a brown closer to his original coloring when he’d moved to a different school.



But now, as he held his little sister, he felt none of the gawk and curiosity that had plagued his thoughts about the other boy. Now all he felt was a fierce protectiveness and a rush of love so intense he thought it would stagger him.



“Sweet lil’ thing. All that yellow hair and them fine white wings. What ever are we gonna call you?”



“Your mum called her her ‘Daisy flower’ when she saw her,” said the nurse from behind him. Eggsy turned to the man and raised an eyebrow in interest.



“Oh yeah? ‘Daisy.’ Think that fits, m’love? My lil’ flowah.” The nestling in his arms gurgled.

The nurse came to Eggsy’s side and handed him a small bottle of baby’s milk. “Your mum indicated on her intake paperwork that she wasn’t planning on breastfeeding the little one. Do you have formula at home, or would you like us to send you home with a bit until you can get to the shops?”



“Got a can at home waitin’, yeah. Weren’t sure when this one was comin’ y’know. Figured it were a good idea to stock up ahead of time. Got a box of nappies, too.”



“Good. Always good to be prepared. Now, I’m not trying to pry, but your mum also indicated this was her second birth with… different wings. I’m assuming you were the first?” The nurse had the good grace to at least look a bit embarrassed by the question.



“Er, yeah. M’wings aren’t the same color as most. Nothin’ weird, just the wrong color. ‘Ad a bunch of tests run when I was this one’s age and they couldn’t find nothin.” Eggsy motioned to the girl in his arms, and tipped the warm bottle into her waiting mouth.



“Right. We just thought maybe there was some sort of genetic component. But if they’re sure yours aren’t… well it doesn’t matter. I’m sorry to bother you about it.” The nurse ducked his head and apology, but gave Eggsy a look that said he had further questions.



Eggsy sighed and sat down by his mother’s bed.

“Go on then. Ask. I can see ‘em questions in yer eyes, mate.”



The nurse nodded shortly and asked, “So what’s wrong with yours?”



“Nothin’ wrong, like I said. Just, me folks are Nadirs. Everyone ‘round the estate is Nadir. Suppose that makes me Nadir too, but if you’d tell me wings that, they’d not believe you.” Eggsy shrugged his jacket neck open a bit and tugged at his t-shirt collar with one hand, his other cradling the baby and the bottle awkwardly. A flash of gold feather peeked through the neckline of his clothing and the nurse’s eyes widened bit. His own reddish Ascent’s wings, patterned with a mate’s bright orange, shook a bit in shock.



“Oh. I, uh. I didn’t realize.” The nurse tried to look anywhere but at Eggsy. In response, Eggsy chortled a bit.



“M’not a cuckoo. Like I said, ran tests an’ all. I’m me dad’s son. Got the papers at ‘home to prove it. Just, weird colored.”



“Can I be frank?” The nurse looked around to see if others might be listening, and finding none, moved closer to Eggsy.



“Course.”



“Don’t tell people. If anyone knows, make sure they don’t tell either. There have been a few reports like yours, where an otherwise normal child is born with wings the color of a different flock, without any explanation as to why. It almost never ends well for the child. The…” The nurse trailed off and dropped his voice to a whisper. “the Pinnacles would see you and anyone else like you with ‘wrong wings’ disappear. It defies the idea that they deserve their positions because they’re ‘the best.’”



Eggsy nodded slowly, digesting the information. He’d wondered as a child why his parents bound his wings, had avoided putting his wing color information on school forms and physicals. But it made sense, if what the nurse was saying was true. The world was removed from a time period where Pinnacles were treated as kings, and theoretically equality was a law in most developed nations, but it was only on paper for Nadirs and Pinnacles. The Pinnacle-flock was tightly knit into tradition, and despite the romance novels and soap operas that said otherwise, nadirs did not magically jump up in class just because some Pinnacle with dirty brown mate-feathers said so. He didn’t think they’d ever go so far as to kill someone born with the wrong wings, but what did he know? He wasn’t anyone.



The nurse looked at him and continued, “Your parents did you a favor keeping your wings pinned. Just… just be careful. My mate’s sister was like you. Born to Ascent-flock and wings that matched some blue bloods up in Pinnacle-flock. She ended up, well, nowhere good at any rate. Just be careful, please. I know you don’t know me from Adam, but I don’t want to see someone else go down that path.” The nurse clapped a friendly, warm hand on Eggsy’s shoulder and Eggsy found himself nodding in agreement with the man in front of him.

He glanced down at the little girl in his arms. Her eyes met his, and he knew in that instant he’d do whatever it took to keep her safe, the world be damned. She could be whatever she wanted, and he’d never let anyone tell her otherwise.



Then she vomited formula and whatever else it is that infants vomit all over his track jacket.



Truly, it was love.

 



***

 



When Daisy was just a year old, Eggsy knew something had to change. He had come home from a night-time drop early in the day to see her in her playpen, face red with snot and long-shed tears. Her onesie was soiled beyond belief and a rancid bottle was tucked away next to her, drained of its milk and reeking of yesterday’s dinner. Her white wings were streaked with her own night filth, the scent of them stale in the warm flat. Dean was absent. His mum was passed out on the sofa, her hair a rat’s nest and the clear foamy spittle of her nightly drug binges crusted around her lips. Eggsy watched her long enough to see she was breathing, and he turned back to Daisy and picked her up.



“There’s my lovely flowah! My Dais! Let’s you an’ me go get a nice bath goin’ and we’ll get you all cleaned up! Doesn’ that sound nice?” Eggsy kept his voice soft and jovial, though it was a false sort of happiness. He took her to their little bathroom and stripped her efficiently from her filthy things and got a warm bath running. Eggsy got her clean, and let her play a bit while he texted his friends to see if they’d be up for a pint later that night. He was spending less and less time around the flat, only really returning to sleep and keep track of Daisy. Finally, he lifted Daisy out of the bath and set about drying her off and getting her redressed with a clean nappie. He used the extremely soft brush to brush her wispy hair and fluff her feathers gently and she cooed in glee at the sensation.



“See now, my love? All better.” Eggsy put Daisy in his room at this, and went back to the small living room to clean the playpen’s soiled bedding. They had no washing machine and dryer in the flat itself, so he put the linens into a laundry bag, returned to his room for Daisy, and carried her, the bag, and himself down the flights of stairs to the communal launderette. He’d learned quickly which machines required no coins (and which could be tampered with to swipe the coins therein), so he set about getting things cleaned quickly.



Eggsy played a bit with Daisy waiting for the wash, and when she started to tier, he simply picked her up, tilted his chair back against the wall so she could recline on his chest, and pulled out his mobile to play around while she napped peacefully. He kept his free hand on her back just under her little wings, and every so often he’d smile down at there as he felt and saw her little wings twitch and flutter with dreams. He was disturbed about halfway through her nap when a neighbor came in with her own basket of laundry, but her kind smile at the scene before her didn’t disrupt him beyond a returned grin.



The time came to change the laundry from the wash to the dryer, and the woman was kind enough to let him place Daisy down in her laundry basket to rest while he finished up swapping the wet fabric. He hopped up to sit on an unused machine and offered the chair to the woman. Time passed with Snapchats and videos on YouTube, until Daisy shuffled a bit. He set down his mobile and looked in on her. She settled back down and returned to napping. Pocketing his mobile, he looked around a bit. His neighbor’s voice interrupted his aimlessness.



“You can just keep ‘er in there fer now if ye want, love. Give ye a chance to stretch a bit and fer her to get her quiet time in.” The neighbor smiled again as she said this, her eyes crinkling up only the way a grandmother’s might, half in mischief and half in love.



“Ta. I could use a bit in the loo. Mind keepin’ an eye fer a mo’?” Eggsy stood and rolled his shoulders, shaking out the tension that had developed from leaning on them awkwardly and from perching uncomfortably on the machine.



“Not at all, lad. Go on then. We’ll be safe as ‘ouses.”



Eggsy gave a short nod in thanks and ducked out to the hallway. There was a bathroom near the launderette and he made quick use of it. As he washed his hands, he noticed that in the shuffling and motions of the day, the chain which held his father’s medal had come untucked from his polo collar. He tucked it back in gently, the feel of the metal hot against his palm. Every time he touched it, he remembered copper wings, spice, amber eyes and a kind voice telling him “Oxfords, not brogues.” He wasn’t really entirely sure why he remembered this, but as best he could tell, it meant something important. His memories from before his father died were sketchy at best, and those from the half-year after his father’s death were almost gone in grief and confusion. He shook off the trip down memory lane and headed back out to the hallway.



He returned to find Daisy napping as peacefully as he had left her, and the kindly neighbor watching her in between poking around her mobile. Her dark wings were folded high over Daisy in a time-honored position of protection, one almost every mother used instinctively with a nestling.

“Napped just like an angel, that one. Sweet little thing she it,” the woman mused, watching Daisy’s chest rise and fall, her small snores barely noticeable over the rumbling machines around them.



“Thanks.”



“Anytime, love.” The woman dithered a bit, but caught Eggsy’s gaze. “S’not my place to say nothin’, but if you need a place to take ‘er… I’m just a few doors down, aren’ I?” She looked at Eggsy with a pointed expression.



He let out a breath more raggedly than expected, and nodded more gravely than before. “I… thanks. I promise, I’ll take you up on it if I need. Mum’s good most days, but… you know ‘ow it is.”



“That I do, lad.”



The buzzer of the dryer sounded, and it woke up Daisy, who whimpered a bit and sat up in the basket.



“Oh, ‘ush now, my lil’ flowah. That nasty old buzzer won’t bother you anymore.” Eggsy knelt by Daisy and gave her a small hug before rising and opening the dryer door. He removed the warm, dry bedding from the machine and folded them neatly and swiftly on the machine top he had sat on previously. Stuffing the folded stack into the laundry bag, he turned and watched Daisy trying to use the walls of the woman’s laundry basket to stand up. He slung the now full laundry bag over his shoulder and bent to pick up Daisy one handed. She clambered up obligingly into his arms and grasped his neck with strong little arms.



“Thanks again fer watchin’ over ‘er. Means a lot.” Eggsy thanked the neighbor again.



“Weren’t nothin’, love. Just keep that little one safe and ‘appy, yeah? And come on by if you need to.”



Eggsy shot her a sunny smile and went back upstairs.



The rest of the day unfolded as usual; Dean returned from wherever it was he went, drunk and stinking. Eggsy’s mum awoke, made something to eat for herself and Daisy, and spent the rest of the day quietly at Dean’s side or performing meaningless tasks about the flat. Eggsy stayed in his room, sleeping for several hours before awakening to the alarm he had set on his phone. He showered in cold water, and got ready to go out with his friends in record time. After settling the snapback on his head as the final piece of his outfit for the night, he grabbed the medal from where he’d set it down before his shower. He stared at himself in the mirror for a bit, slipped the medal on, and studied it. It was a garish sort of pink enamel, twined metal in what Eggsy always thought looked like an open book in profile. The back was stamped with the date his father had died, and if it was supposed to be a telephone number like he thought it might be, it needed a few more numbers.



He searched his own eyes in the mirror and nodded absently before heading out for the evening.



 

***

 



“We hope we have not lost you as a loyal customer.



What the fuck was that supposed to mean?


The harried looking Ascent with the wine-colored wings that had tried interrogating him had gotten under his skin. The squalor he’d found Daisy in that morning, coupled with the fear that he’d have no home to return to once he got out of prison was enough to prompt him to use the half-formed memory and the number off the medal around his neck. He couldn’t leave her alone in that family, or he’d never see her again, he was sure of it. Much as Eggsy loved his mother, he knew she was unfit to care for Daisy without some sort of sober adult in the mix of people coming and going from the flat. Dean wouldn’t do it. Eggsy was sure that he’d ignore her just as much even if she were his true flesh and blood. The fact that she wasn’t made it no less callous, but could be rationalized easier in the dark parts of Eggsy’s mind.


Now, though, he was desperate. If nothing came from this wasted phone call, he’d beg the officer for a second one, one to Family Services. As much as the man might dislike Eggsy and his ilk, no one could turn down an earnest plea like that, he figured.



His thoughts were interrupted when a different Ascent came in and motioned for Eggsy to stand up.



“C’mon kid. You’re going home.”



“What?”



“You heard me, you fucking dodo. Get out of here.” The man pointed at the open door, and Eggsy went through it, fully expecting to be handcuffed or halted somehow.



But, much to his surprise, it never came.



“Eggsy.”



Eggsy stopped. The voice that called his name seemed familiar somehow, as if from a dream.

“Would you like a lift home?”

He turned, and saw a man leaning against the stairway wall. He wore a dark suit, and his wings spread out in what Eggsy could only describe as “nonchalant.” Eggsy stared a moment before his mouth caught up with his brain.

“Who are you?”

“The man who got you released,” the man said dryly. His copper colored wings flicked in almost imperceptible annoyance before settling back down far too stiffly to be anything other than on purpose. Eggsy hadn’t been raised in the council flats for nothing, however. Tracking the kinds of minute shifts in expressions and wings was one of the first skills he’d picked up after Dean showed up on the scene. It kept more than one broken bone or savage beating from happening, and to Eggsy, it was a skill well worth having learned. This tiny flicker told him several things about the man, chief among them that whoever this was in front of him, he was possessed of incredible self control. However, Eggsy knew, there was something off about the man, though it didn't immediately register as a red flag of danger to him. If we were pressed, he'd almost say it felt safe.

Whether he was familiar with the man or he was simply reticent of strange Pinnacles, he couldn’t say. So he squared his jaw and shot back, “That ain't an answer.”

What he received in return was a pointed look and another flicker of wings.

“A little gratitude would be nice.”

Eggsy smirked a bit at this. He rarely found people readily willing to snark back to him, and finding that kind of trait among a member of the Pinnacle-flock was a bit of a coup. The man pushed off from the wall, his umbrella hanging from his left arm and his wings folding up demurely behind him. It was then that Eggsy was given the full view of the man’s wings. Copper feathers, shining and vibrant, from the man’s back to almost the wingtip flashed in the sunlight dimly. But what caught Eggsy’s eyes was the tip of each wing, and their final three feathers. From the coppery shade of the man’s primaries fading into a sunlit gold, the man’s last three feathers on each wing were almost an inverted match to his own pinned wings.

“My name is Harry Hart. And I gave you that medal. Your father saved my life.”

 

***

 



‘And to think,’ Eggsy mused inwardly as he caught sight of Dean’s boys, ‘we were having such a delightful time.’



 

Eggsy looked to Harry, and told him to go. There was little to be gained by having the man who had gotten him out of such a large scrape get right back into one alongside Eggsy. Though, if Eggsy were being honest with himself, he was a bit disappointed when harry so readily gave up and stood to leave.

But this disappointment soon gave way to liquid ice when he heard Rottie say, “If you're looking for another rent boy they're on the corner of Smith Street.”



Eggsy closed his eyes in shame. While he’d never really been too ashamed of doing what it took to keep his mum as safe as he could (despite Dean making her sell her body even after Eggsy got back from the Marines, Eggsy took the more violent clients away from her), he was filled with something burning and wrong in his gut knowing that Harry had now heard as much. But when he heard the click-click of the pub’s locks engaging, and Harry’s tenor sounding almost bored with the proceedings, Eggsy knew something drastic was going to happen. He felt a very real and visceral fear for Harry in the three-breaths’ worth of time it took Harry to transform from a vaguely attractive, sardonic older man into some kind of wild creature from the darkest recesses of Eggsy’s most deeply buried fantasies. It wasn’t the violence that made his heart stutter or his old jeans become too stifling. No, it was the almost leonine grace that Harry used. He moved like some sort of lethal cat playing with its food. He was all sinewy grace and lean motion, lithe muscles built not in a gym or on a weight bench, but from the work of his own two hands.



And what beautiful work it was. The phrase “poetry in motion” had always seemed a little trite to Eggsy, but if ever there was a time it applied, he figured this was it.

Eggsy knew he must look like the worst sort of dumbfounded idiot, his jaw opened and his eyes as wide as Daisy’s at Christmas time. But, if he were honest with himself, he couldn’t really be arsed to care. He felt something profound in his soul shift watching Harry move back to the table, and seeing him all but collapse into the seat and look so lost for a moment made something deep within his very being all but scream into his mind help-heal-comfort-protect-avenge!

Eggsy’s eyes tracked the long line of Harry’s neck as he swallowed the last bit of his Guinness, but he was unable to bring himself to stare anywhere else until Harry was pointing the god damned knock-out watch at his face.



As quickly as his protestations fell from his lips, his hands shot to the air in surrender. His heart rose in his chest and the need to help Harry devolved into a repeating,disquieting tangle of don’t leave don’t leave don’t leave don’t leave me please don’t leave me here alone.



“Much appreciated, Eggsy,” was all he heard. Anything else was lost in the twin sensations of Harry’s hand on his shoulder and the piercing shot of despair at seeing him leave.

Eggsy sat there, waiting for his heart rate to fall and for his painful erection to wilt, all the while trying to silently memorize every detail he could recall about how Harry moved, how Harry spoke. The touch to his shoulder felt like a brand even though the thick jacket, and he became aware of the fact that his wings were making his torso all but vibrate in their twitchiness to escape their strapped confines. After what seemed like hours, but must have only been a few minutes, he heard the first stirrings of Dean’s goons and he snapped out of his fugue. He bolted from the pub, head whipping back and forth to see if Harry were anywhere outside, but all he saw were the usual cars and neighborhood people. He stood there for a moment more and finally jammed his hands inside his jacket pockets.

“Yer a stupid fucker, Eggsy Unwin. Lettin’ all that walk away without even a word.” He shook his head as he muttered to himself. Shrugging his shoulders up a bit and hunching into himself, Eggsy began the walk home, unknowing that the small tracker and microphone attached to his jacket was already transmitting.



 

***

 

Merlin, Eggsy decided, was either going to be trouble or his best friend. He had all the mannerisms of a polite aide-de-camp, and the mercenary steel core of his hardest instructors at the Royal Marines. Eggsy had approached the man after an hour or so of arriving at the Kingsman barracks with a question burning in his mind.



“Is there a private bathroom, sir?”



Merlin stared at him with all the same kind of affable amusement that a glacier might. Then he laughed. A full throated, deeply disturbing cackle wrenched its way from his mouth and he affected the motion of wiping a tear from his eye as he calmed down enough to glare at Eggsy again.

“No. You’ll be wanking in front of the group, I’m afraid.”



Eggsy’s mouth twitched, but he held back his annoyance long enough to say, “It’s not that, Merlin, sir. I… don’ feel comfortable changin’ in front of everyone. It’s… it’s me wings. I keep ‘em tied, but I’d rather not flash ‘em to the whole group is all.”



Merlin studied the lad for a moment.



“Some sort of religious issue, Unwin?”



“No, sir. Nothin’ like that.”



“An injury, then? Because we don’t have flightless Kingsmen, Unwin. If you cannae fly, you’re out.”



“No, sir, please…” Eggsy bit off his plea and squared his jaw. “Never mind, sir. I’ll figure somethin’ out. Apologies fer botherin’ you with this.”



Eggsy returned to the barracks, not catching the expression of sheer curiosity on Merlin’s face as he left. He did, however, find the looks of curiosity and contempt on the faces of his fellow candidates to be the exact sort of thing he had been trying to avoid.



“What’s wrong, Eggy? Afraid to show off your dirty little wings to your betters?”

Eggsy drew in a calming breath and promised himself that at some point before training was done, he’d break Charlie Hesketh’s Pinnacle nose.



“Nah. yer mum already knows what they look like and she seemed to like grabbin’ ‘em over an’ over again just fine.” He threw a smirk that didn’t reach his eyes to Charlie, who’s face turned a mottled sort of purple. Charlie’s silver wings shuddered in disgust, his inability to hide his emotions in his wings making Eggsy smirk a little more honestly.



“As if any of us would willingly touch one of you. Fucking dodo Nadirs. Did they put you in here as a joke on the rest of us? Or are they just trying to accustom us to the stench of failure and shame before this all begins?”



Eggsy felt Roxy’s hand on his arm, holding him back gently from the rising anger within him. Her rosy-brass wings shifted slightly behind her, as if she wanted to enfold him for comfort but was trying to restrain herself.



“Enough.”

The candidates whipped their heads to the door, where Merlin’s icy voice was heard. The business end of ballpoint pen was thrust in their general direction, each point Merlin making causing another jab of the pen.



“Whether you are here because of your connections, your education, your skill, or some other undefinable trait, I don't particularly know. I don’t particularly care. But what I can tell you is this: not a single one of you is here because of the color of you fucking wings. If you dinnae like it, keep it to yourself.”

With that, he made to leave the room.



“But sir, honestly! You cannot expect us to compete with this!” The nasal voice of one of Charlie’s cronies sounded distraught at the very idea of having to share a planet with Eggsy, let alone a barracks room and training facility.



Merlin paused at the doorway without looking back at the candidates behind him. To Eggsy, the intimately familiar sound of wing straps being unsnapped and the slight twitch in Merlin’s back were enough of a tell that when Merlin’s wings erupted through the tailored slits in his jumper, he didn’t jump back the way the others did.



They were as white as the snow, pure and solid, and nearly as wide as the room itself at their full extension.


Merlin turned his head to the side so that they could hear him.

“Now. If that’s all, you’d best get some sleep. Tomorrow isnae going to be fun. If anyone else would like to venture an opinion on wing colors and exactly how they feature into one’s worthiness, I’ll be up most of the night. Dismissed.”



With that final pronouncement, Merlin swept from the room, his wings trailing haughtily behind him, not deigning to touch the floor.

“Bloody hell.” Eggsy looked at Roxy, who shook her head in agreement.

Soon, though, the incident was put to the back of everyone’s minds. Sleep beckoned, and with it came the chance Eggsy needed.

Eggsy waited until the others were asleep to unsnap his wing straps. He hissed a bit at the burn of unused muscle and stretched them out, shaking each feather that he could. Someone in the barracks shifted as if awake, and Eggsy pulled his wings in as tightly as he could to prevent them from being seen. Nothing happened for a full five minutes before he felt safe enough to relax them. He extended them as much as possible, and made up his mind. He stood quietly, and made his way to the door. It wasn’t locked, so he grabbed a slitted t-shirt and slipped it over his head. He tucked his wings back and out of the way and silently crept down the hallway outside the barracks room. He swept around corners and did his very best “stealth act” trying to find a way to an aerie.



As he passed another door with no name plate, a small light blinked on to his left and Merlin’s scratchy brogue came through a tiny speaker underneath it.



“Aerie’s four doors down to the left. Dinnae want to be up for longer than about an hour. Enough time to get your flight in.”



Eggsy let out a shuddery breath.



“Thanks, mate.”



“Oh and Unwin?”



“Yes Merlin, sir?”



“You’ll need to deal with this some time. Cannae keep skulking about at night. You’ll be training all of you, including your wings, lad.”



“I… I understand sir. I… Thanks.” Eggsy felt like a chastised lad of 6 rather than his true age, but it didn’t stop him from nearly sprinting to the aerie. It was exactly where Merlin said it’d be and it was enormous.



Eggsy’d been in aeries before, both in school and during his gymnastics days. But this was easily double the size of the largest he’d ever seen. Hoops, rings, columns, vines, all manner of obstacles and traps were set up on one end, and the other seemed to simply bee open air for free flight. It was currently unoccupied, and Eggsy’s face split into an almost beatific grin as he hastily pulled off his t-shirt. He ran a couple of laps, and on the third, picked up speed. He took a running leap and soared.



It felt like scratching an itch in the center of his back, or finally drinking water after days in the desert. Flight was home. Flight was safety.



Eggsy had never been a showy flyer, preferring to simply move through the air as swiftly and easily as possible. Keeping his wings tied most of the time meant he hadn’t really practiced the same kind of stunt dives and soars that his fellow competitors might have, but it didn’t stop him from being fast. He’d never clocked himself properly, but he knew he could outfly the Met’s finest, so he figured he must be pretty quick.



He always flew the same way each night. He’d start with strength building exercises he’d plucked from YouTube, taking anywhere from a half hour to a full hour to complete those. Then he’d see how fast, how high, or how stealthily he could fly. Occasionally, he’d do a combination of the three, and those were always the best flights. Tonight, he chose to spend roughly 40 minutes on the strength exercises. Hovering, basic maneuvering that children learned, and an amalgamation of rehab and occupational therapy exercises comprised his routine, and when he was done he felt like dropping from the air. It burned his chest and back to work as hard as he was, and yet he knew he needed to push further. Since the ceiling of aerie prevented a height flight, he opted instead to practice the kind of quick banking and diving that urban cities trained flyers to know.

Each swift beat of his wings in the air felt like heaven. The fiery burn of his flight shuddered through his body, making him feel alive in ways that he only got when free-running. It came as a disappointment then, when a soft chime sounded throughout the aerie and Merlin’s voice rang through.



“Time’s up, lad. Back to bed with you. And dinnae for one moment think you’re getting away with this again. I only let you do this now because I know better than most that sometimes you just have to stretch them. This is the exception, Unwin, not the rule. You understand me?”



“Yes sir. Thank you fer this.”



“On to bed with you.”



Eggsy grinned to himself and picked up his t-shirt from the aerie’s mats where he’d dropped it earlier. Slinging it over his shoulder, he pattered back to the barracks and slipped inside. No one was awake and Eggsy, unthinking, simply slipped into bed without rebinding this wings.


Not, of course, that it mattered much when one's bed was swiftly slipping under water.