Maybe Sprout Wings

by Dira Sudis

Notes:
Disclaimer: I have developed an algorithm which conclusively demonstrates that I do not own David, Colby, or Numb3rs, but you're just going to have to trust me on the math.

Beta thanks to Miss Molly Etc and Julad!


It had been about fifteen minutes--Don had finished the presentation after an awkward pause, and now he and Megan were debating points of the psychological profile--when Don looked up at David and said, "Uh, maybe you should..."

"Yeah," David said, standing up immediately.

Colby had bolted five minutes into the presentation of crime scene photos for their latest case, looking pale. David knew it was best if he was the one to go and check on Colby--not just because nobody really wanted their boss to find them puking, but because he knew firsthand that Don... tended to sympathize.

David checked the men's room first; there were feet in one stall, wearing completely different shoes than Colby's. Whoever it was also still had his pants up, so David backed out quickly, shut the door and left him to it.

The unisex bathroom was just down the hall, before the ladies' room. There was a line of light under the door. David leaned close to it, knocking softly.

"Colby?"

No response. David leaned closer, pressing his ear to the cool metal, and then he could hear a low voice, murmuring something rhythmically. It sounded like Colby, and it didn't sound good. David rapped his knuckle against the metal again. It was like a gong in his own ear, but the voice on the other side didn't change at all.

David tried the door handle, and wasn't too surprised to find it unlocked. Hurrying in to puke, you didn't really stop and think about the lock. David held up one hand to block his own view as he eased the door open, and kept his gaze trained toward the floor.

"Colby?"

With the door open, he could hear what Colby was saying, a low monotone chant of "Come on, come on, come on, come on..."

The first thing he saw was Colby's suit jacket, tossed carelessly on the floor, and beyond it, Colby's feet, not at all where David would have expected them. He was standing with his toes to the corner of the room, well away from the toilet or sink. There was some kind of white fuzz scattered across his shoes and jacket and the floor between, which was what made David drop his hand and look up.

Colby turned his head and met David's gaze, eyes going wide as he did. David's mouth fell open. He didn't think he could have managed a word, but Colby said it for him.

"Oh, motherfucker."

"Yeah," David heard himself say. He forced himself to move, stepping inside and pushing the door shut. David clicked the lock even as he backed up against the door, and it was stupid not to want to turn his back on Colby right now, but--

Colby wasn't looking over his shoulder at David. He was looking over his motherfucking wing.

Colby's wings were huge, with white feathers that went sort of sandy-colored at the tips, a shade or two lighter than Colby's hair even at their darkest. Even under the flat fluorescent light they had a kind of shimmer to them. David had barely managed to process that they were there, actually there, when they moved in a freaky not-quite-bird-like twitch. David couldn't help plastering himself tighter against the door.

"Sorry, man, I'm sorry," Colby muttered, sounding miserable.

David dragged his gaze up to Colby's face. He was red as a brick, staring at the floor, and as David watched he turned awkwardly, dragging his wings in tight against his back, so he was facing David. He was trying to hide his wings behind his back, but they didn't really fit.

"No, I just--Jesus Christ."

Colby gave him a shaky smile at that, looking up and back down. "Not quite. Gabriel, maybe."

David swallowed hard, blinking. "Really?"

Colby shrugged, and behind him David could see the wings echoing the motion. "That's what my Granddad told me, but I don't know, I mean... what would you say? Your family is a bunch of bird-man freaks, or your family is descended from angels?"

David couldn't resist taking a step closer. Now that Colby was facing him, still Colby after all, the wings seemed less overwhelmingly strange and more... interesting. "Are they--I mean, have you always--?"

Colby looked up again at that. The first painful-looking blush was fading, but his cheeks were still bright pink. He was smiling again, though, and if the expression was half sheer nerves, it was half an actual smile, too.

"I don't hide 'em under my shirt, if that's what you mean. They're sort of... part time. One of my aunts, even when hers show up she can't use them, they're almost like a hologram or something. I've got a third cousin who has wings all the time, lives up in the mountains. But mostly they just... come and go. They show up when I really need them."

"So there might be something to that angel theory, huh?" David took another step closer, within arm's reach of Colby now. "They show up when you want to do some avenging?"

Colby's smile disappeared, and his wings twitched again behind him. David managed not to flinch this time, letting his gaze flick over Colby's shoulder for just an instant before he looked back to Colby's eyes, gray as a storm cloud.

"Yeah," Colby said. "That and when I need to--well, let's just say fight or flight takes on a whole new meaning. I'm usually better at keeping them under control, but..."

But this was a case that made you want to get out and throw some thunderbolts around.

"Yeah," David said. "I hear that. What about the Army? How did you--"

Colby jerked his chin up, not quite at attention but almost. "Practice, mostly. I drilled myself on it like crazy when I was getting ready to enlist, and there's nothing like high school to teach you to keep secrets anyway. I lost it once in a firefight, but--"

He put on his best dumb-farmboy face, one David had seen him whip out on the job a few times. It was scarily good. "I dunno what happened, Sarge, it must've been my guardian angel."

Colby shook his head, his own personality reappearing. "Worked fine. I mean, what else are they going to say? Hey, Granger, I saw you grow wings out there? Some secrets kinda keep themselves."

David nodded, edging closer. "That's... kind of a big one, though."

"Yeah, well," Colby said, looking away again. "You get used to it, you know. It's not that bad."

David nodded, because he did know, actually. He also hated that as fast as this was stopped being terrifyingly weird it became disappointing. "Man, I'm sorry--I always figured you were, uh..."

Colby looked up, the pink on his cheeks brightening again. "In the closet?"

David smiled a little, feeling his own face go hot, and nodded. Colby gave him a small smile back.

"Well, that too."

David nodded, trying to convey me too, but you already knew that, right? because if he hadn't been wrong about the content of the conversation they hadn't had about this, he knew Colby wouldn't have missed it either.

Colby nodded back, and his wings moved a little, flexing.

David couldn't resist. He moved slowly--plenty slowly enough for Colby to push him away--but Colby stood his ground as David reached over Colby's shoulder to touch one cautious fingertip to the top edge of his wing, close to where it emerged from Colby's back.

Colby sighed, almost in his ear. David took that as permission, stroking his thumb up, along the grain of the feathers. Colby's chin dropped, his forehead resting on David's shoulder, and David's left hand curled around the nape of Colby's neck like it belonged there. He was hypnotized by the warmth of the muscular flesh beneath the ridiculously soft feathers. It seemed impossible that it was Colby he was touching, but it was Colby's short hair against his palm and Colby's breath against his shoulder.

It was Colby who suddenly tensed and whispered, "Oh, God, David, stop--stop--"

David jerked his hand away, taking a quick step back, far enough to see that when Colby raised his head his eyes were wide, pupils huge and dark. He was breathing hard and trying not to, and he ducked his head, looking away.

"Sorry," he gasped. "No one ever, I never--"

It had been a secret, one he'd kept so long and so well he'd tell you keeping it wasn't so bad. He'd never let anyone see before, so no one could ever have touched him like that before. David folded his arms, fought down the stupid reckless happiness glowing in his chest, the pride of he let me, he trusted me, he liked it.

David turned his own face away, staring at the bathroom wall. They were at work, Don was waiting for them.

And Colby still had wings.

"Sorry," Colby muttered again. "They, uh--they won't go away if I want them to be here, I have to--"

David took another step back and watched as Colby rubbed his hands over his face, muttering to himself again. The wings flashed out for just a second, defying the solid walls at Colby's back and flashing brighter than just reflected fluorescents. Then they were gone, and Colby was stumbling forward, off-balance. David caught him by the arms, and Colby leaned against him heavily, unresisting, gasping in an entirely different way now.

David looked down at Colby's back--just his back--like anybody's back, apart from the ragged holes in his shirt--but it looked strangely flat and empty. David would have put an arm around Colby to hold him steady, but he was warier of touching Colby's back than he had been of touching Colby's wings--like this was the mirage, and if he touched it, it would disappear.

David cleared his throat. "You're gonna need a new shirt, man. You got one somewhere? I can--"

Colby shook his head. "Suit coat, s'why I took it off. I got safety pins."

David eyed the back of Colby's shirt. "I don't know if this is really a safety pin job."

"No, I--" Colby moved against him, reaching into his pocket. David looked down to see him holding a handful of safety pins in a shaking hand.

"Let me," David said, closing his hand over Colby's. "Quicker if you don't have to take your shirt off."

Colby gave him a shaky smile--the flush was all gone now, leaving Colby sickly-pale under the unforgiving lights. He let David turn him around, crossing his forearms against the wall and resting his head against them.

David closed his left hand around the cool metal of the safety pins, and forced his right to rest flat against the center of Colby's back, the spot between Colby's shoulder blades where his shirt was undamaged. To either side of David's hand, two symmetrical slashes cut Colby's shirt, both edged in brown, like they'd been not just torn but scorched.

He could feel the pounding of Colby's heart under his hand, and couldn't resist rubbing his hand up and down a little. Colby pushed back into the touch just a little. David flexed his fingers in reply, then got to the business of pinning what was left of Colby's shirt together. His fingers brushed the exposed skin of Colby's back--warm, almost fever-hot, and muscular under soft, pale skin, not unlike the feeling of his wing under David's hand. It already seemed crazy to remember that a minute ago Colby had had wings.

Colby shivered when David's fingers brushed his skin, and David had to force himself not to do it on purpose. They were at work. There was a case.

He cleared his throat. "Okay. You're all set."

Colby picked his head up, lowering his arms and looking over his shoulder at David. He looked painfully uncertain, exhausted as if the last ten minutes had been an all-nighter. "I, uh--"

David closed his hand on Colby's shoulder, stepped in close and kissed him lightly, just enough to stop him from saying things he didn't need to.

"Come on," David said. "We've got work to do."

"Yeah," Colby said, turning away from the wall with a loopy smile on his face and a light in his eyes that reminded David of the shimmer of impossible feathers. "I know. No rest for the winged."