Summary: When James was little, he could fly.
Spoilers: S4 finale
Word count: 1800
Note: Wing!fic, as requested by lostsquee queen zelda_zee! I had something entirely different I planned to write for you but then your prompt led to this instead! Also giving you some angsty!Sawyer here. This amazing icon, btw, was made by the wonderful deej240z as illustration for my previous wing!fic, White Wings.
When James was little, he could fly. Not all the time, and not when anyone else was around, of course. The gorgeous white wings that spread out from his back when he willed them to were something he knew he should keep secret.
It was hard not to tell anyone about so exciting a talent, but the secrecy gave it all that much more of a forbidden thrill. He savored every second of this wings' appearance, from the intense itch on his shoulder blades as the wings grew in, to the moment when they were whole and he could stretch them out, just like he stretched his arms over his head every morning when he woke.
The wings were sometimes wet when they came in: he'd seen baby birds, their pin feathers not yet grown in, and he guessed it was a little bit like he was being hatched each time. He had no idea why he had wings and no one else did, although he suspected there were probably other boys -- and maybe some girls -- who had them too, only it was something you couldn't ever talk about.
He'd wait until the middle of the night, or very early morning, slide open his window and perch on the window sill, gathering himself for that first leap towards the sky. There was nothing else like it on earth, the rush of the air under you, the trees and fields and rooftops flashing by below your feet. It was like riding a bike real fast down the hill: kind of scary and there was always that feeling that you were seconds away from crashing, but that was part what made it so exciting. He loved the sky at night, when he felt close to the stars, or those early mornings when he was the only one besides the roosters to see the sun come up, breaking through clouds little by little until it hurt his eyes. When it got too bright he knew it was time to go home, and he always returned with a sinking heart, sorry that one more flight had come to an end.
He'd sneak back into bed with no one the wiser, but all day he'd have a sort of secret smile that made everyone ask what made him so happy. He'd just smile and raise one eyebrow, the way his mama did when she didn't want to answer a question. A secret wasn't a secret once you told it, he knew that much.
Secretly, he worried that when he grew up, the wings wouldn't be there anymore. Sure enough, when he was about seven, he had trouble for the first time getting off the ground. Where the wings used to just appear on silent command, now he had to concentrate really, really hard. He figured it was because the house was so noisy now, with his mom and dad yelling at each other. And the silence when they stopped screaming and slamming doors and throwing things was even worse than the noise.
He wanted more than anything to fly away from all the angry words that were shouted on the other side of his bedroom door, but it felt wrong to leave his mama when she might need him. So even if the wings did come, he still wouldn't fly most nights. Instead, he'd lie wrapped in the safety of his soft, white feathers. If he flapped them a little, the wings made a little whooshing sound that helped drown out the shouting. But sometimes it was better to lie still, straining to hear every noise in case things got really bad. He imagined how it would be if he rushed to interrupt an argument when he had his wings: His mother would gasp and his father's mouth would fall open and then the arguing would stop. In Sunday School, they saw pictures of angels fighting dragons and he thought, if he really needed it, maybe he could wish for a lance, like St. Michael had, and, so armed, he could fix everything that was wrong.
He summoned up his courage one day, when his dad was at work, to tell his mom about his wings. He held his breath waiting for her reaction, to see if she'd demand proof or laugh at him outright. She gave him a long, sad, look and then she reached out to ruffle his hair. "That's sweet, hon. They sound real pretty."
He hadn't known what to do with those words because he knew that she didn't really believe him, but he was glad she hadn't laughed, at least.
Then came the night when she told him to hide under the bed and to not come out, no matter what he heard. The shouting was worse than ever and he lay, as still as possible on the floor, barely breathing. His wings had come tonight but he dare not fly away, but stayed put, like his mama said.
He knew what the gun blast meant and when he heard his daddy come in the room with heavy, deliberate footsteps, the knew hat his daddy meant to kill him too, shoot him down just like a bird in the sky.
From between the down of his wings, he peeked out and saw that the boots had stopped right by the bed. He didn't breathe at all, didn't move a single muscle or feather, for fear of being found. When the shotgun roared loud and frightening above him, when he saw the boots fall limply at loose angles, he had the wild urge to flee, even though the danger was over now. But when he tried to spread his wings, they weren't there anymore. They had gotten wet and when that happened, he couldn't fly. It might have been his daddy's blood or his own tears that made the wings go away, but they were gone.
No matter how hard he wished for them in the coming years, when he desperately needed to fly to safety, they wouldn't come. He thought maybe it was because he couldn't help crying at night. Or because his foster dad liked to whip him across the shoulders, and the wings got hurt.
As he grew older, he stopped believing that he had ever really flown at all. It was just a nice daydream that little boys have, before they grow up and realize that such things aren't possible.
The first time in decades that he thought about the wings was the night he killed the man in Australia. He recalled his boyhood fantasy of having a lance to slay his enemies, like St. Michael. But it was raining that night and the wings wouldn't have come anyway. And so he shot the man, feeling brave and strong, like an avenging angel. But he'd been tricked and shot the wrong man. He was as opposite to an angel as you can get in this life or the next. That night he dreamed that his wings had come back, only this time they were black and when he spread them, there was an ominous, dark smoke that enveloped him. He woke with the sound of gunshots echoing in his ears.
He didn't think of the wings again, not until he was on a plane that was falling to earth. He prayed they wouldn't crash, that the plane would right itself, but he knew that wasn't going to happen. The image of himself with his wings spread wide and proud, came to him like a flash. He saw himself flying free of the plane and treading on air as he watched it go down, down into the water. He blacked out seconds later, waking to a hell of twisted metal and fire and screams of agony and terror.
James figured it was the last time he'd ever fly, but when he boarded the helicopter that was taking them off the island, he had that same giddy rush he'd had as a boy. It was something magical and completely impossible, and yet it was happening. He looked around at the others in the chopper and had the wildest urge to tell them but he knew they'd never believe him. Instead he just smiled that old, secret smile, enjoying again the feel of the wind whistling through his hair.
He barely hesitated when it became clear he'd have to jump from the plane so it wouldn't crash and kill everyone else. He just had time to whisper to Kate about his little girl, the one he'd never even met. She looked at him in confusion and then, in that split-second before he jumped, came the shocked realization of what he was going to do. He wanted to tell her he'd be safe, that she shouldn't worry, but there wasn't time.
He'd never fallen this far before, or this fast, and it scared him. And then, suddenly, he was flying, not falling. Looking over his shoulder, he saw, for the first time in 30 years, those beautiful white wings of his, protruding proud and strong from his back. He whooped at the sight, delightedly turning an aerial somersault without effort. It was like his wings had never gone away.
Now he could fly after the copter and join them all on the boat. He was grinning like a kid, thinking of how surprised and astonished they'd all be to see him alight on the ship with this magnificent set of wings, how'd they'd all stare at him like they'd never seen him before.
He didn't make it to the freighter. There was a huge blast and then flames and black smoke consumed the ship. Minutes later, to his horror, he saw the chopper go down but, as fast as he flew, he couldn't make it before it crashed into the ocean.
Even before he hit the water, his wings had vanished. Without them, he fell headlong, like a stone, into the sea. He breathed in water and gasped out air as he shot to the surface. He treaded water for a few seconds, just getting his bearings, his head still reeling from the fall and the shock of seeing both the boat and the chopper destroyed, of so many lives lost in mere minutes.
He considered giving up, of going down with everyone else, but, without conscious thought, he started to swim back to the island. Swimming was harder work than flying and he wasn't sure he would make it, but he just kept at it and though it seemed an eternity, he finally reached the beach. He wasn't aware of how tired he was, of how much his arms hurt, until he waded up to the sand and collapsed.
Juliet sat there, an oddly blank look on her face. He thought maybe she'd seen the whole thing, that she'd seen him fly, and then seen him fall, but she stared past him, to the thick smoke on the horizon.
She wordlessly handed him the bottle and he drank deep, still trying to figure out why he'd lost his wings just when he'd needed them most. A tear rolled down Juliet's cheek and Sawyer touched his own face. That was it. He must have cried when he saw the chopper go down. Shedding just one tear would make the wings vanish. He should have remembered that.
His shoulder blades ached and the sand felt too solid beneath him. With nothing but sea and sorrow surrounding him, he knew they were never coming back.