John first wishes for wings when he is eight, five hours into the twelve hour car trip to his grandparent's farm; his uncle's funeral is in two days, and the car is full of a brittle silence instead of his parents' usual banter.
He stares out the fingerprint-smudged window at the passing sky, and pictures himself with wings--not white ones, like angels are always drawn with, but the purple/green/black ones of the grackles that eat all the birdseed out of the bird feeder in the front yard. If he stares hard enough, wishes long enough, he can almost feel the wind in his face and the feathers on his back.
His class studies magic when he's sixteen. All the labs this year are prefaced with don't try this outside of class, but he's alone in the house a lot--his dad's been promoted, and spends even more time on base than before--and.
And he wishes, sometimes. Most of the time.
So one Saturday he takes paper and ink and a handful of rich earth, does all the hand-cramping preparation, grits his teeth and pushes things into a different shape.
He keeps the feather in the same box as all the photographs of his mother.
When he actually gets wings, he's long since boxed away that dream. He flies planes now, hard wings of metal, and it's good enough. Close enough, even if he still can't touch the sky.
But Deb, who he loves, leads him one evening to an ink shop, and tells the inker to give John what he's always wanted--even though the cost of it will leave them with empty pockets. And if John had loved her before, he would cut out his heart for her now.
It's not quite what he'd wished for, at age eight--no iridescence, no taking to the skies at a whim. These wings will taste the air only if something goes wrong, if both plane and parachute fail him, and will vanish again once their purpose is served. He's still earthbound, still looking up (except when he's looking down, and oh, how he cherishes those times), but there's the possibility now.
The inking takes hours, though not as long as it once took him to bring a single feather into being, requires blood and sweat, brings him to tears as his being is ever-so-slightly stretched. At the end of it, the inker looks like he's about to collapse, John's back feels like it's on fire, and the air around him smells burnt.
But he has the skeleton of flight now; has wing bones, one feather, and the sky waiting under his skin.