March 2006, Miami
‘Only you could make winning the genetic lottery sound like a disaster,’ Jamie grumbles when Andy calls to tell him. He’s in Memphis for a 500 series event, tired and nursing a sprained ankle, while Andy’s melting on a bench in the sticky Miami heat waiting on his practice court to come free.
Andy almost hadn’t called to tell him because, of either of them, his brother was the one everyone thought might get lucky; he’s the right kind of slender and broad-shouldered, if a little tall. Jamie’d never acknowledged it but Andy suspects he’d been disappointed when nothing grew before he turned nineteen.
There’s a faint bitter edge now when his brother says; 'Of course it won’t stop you playing tennis. The next few months might suck but knowing you, you’ll just play through it.’
‘Sorry,’ Andy says. He feels obscurely guilty, for all that he didn’t ask his body to sign him up for this. For- for wings, making himself think the actual word that he still shies from, uncomfortable. He’d been actively relieved when last Christmas came and he was almost too old, watching New Year slip past and thinking that’s that then.
He’s not quite sure how to process this sudden new facet of himself, the mysterious ache between his shoulder blades that isn’t from over-practicing his serve after all. He’s never liked his body making decisions without his input – it feels like he’s already spent most of his life cursing it for refusing to cooperate, for staying fragile and capricious while Rafa steamrollered his way through the tour looking like he was already at his physical peak – but sprouting a new set of limbs is a whole new level.
Jamie snorts over the line. ‘Sure you are, whatever. It’s just something you’re born with dumbass; you didn’t do it on purpose. Have you told Mum yet?’
‘Yeah. She cried, it was awful. She wants to throw a Fledging Party when they show but it’s not like I can go gallivanting back to Scotland from the tour any time just because I’m turning into a chicken.’
‘You said it, not me,’ Jamie says and pauses. Anticipating teasing chicken noises, Andy closes his eyes in resignation. The sun’s too bright anyway, the buttery-yellow slick of Miami that makes the air feel like wading through treacle, sweat already pooling at the dip of his back. He aches all over and the tournament hasn’t even started yet. Stupid fucking wings.
Instead of taking the piss, Jamie seems to guess how he’s feeling. His voice dips into the softly awkward tone they use only on each other, on the rare occasions when they’re trying to be nice but afraid of getting mocked for it; it always makes Judy roll her eyes at them affectionately.
‘Hey,’ he says in it, this time, ‘you know it’s going to be fine right?’
‘Is it?’ Andy asks and voices the fear that’s stalked him ever since the doctor said congratulations, how do feel about flying? ‘What if I can’t play tennis any more when they come in? You know the stats on tour; barely ten percent of players have them and most of them scrape along in the two hundreds. They weigh a ton, and they’re always in the way – Monfils tripped on his last week and had to retire because he yanked a feather or something. It’s a major handicap.’
‘I also know that two top top players in the world right now have them, and they’re doing pretty well for themselves,’ Jamie points out, running over Andy’s despairing protest. ‘And don’t say stop comparing me to Rafa because you need to stop talking yourself down. They have wings, they play fucking amazing tennis, you’ll do the same yeah?’
Andy stares down at his trainers. They’re a standard tennis design, good grip and durability and he’s always liked them, but wings change weight distribution and balance, with extra cushioning needed at the heels. He’s going to have to ask Adidas to send him some options from their specialised line to try out, along with redesigning his entire kit for the season. He needs to look at nutrition supplements to make sure the fine wing bones grow in flexible rather than brittle. He has so much to do and he still has to play tennis.
‘I can hear you freaking out all the way in fucking Tennessee, you idiot,’ Jamie complains, obviously abandoning the softly-softly approach. ‘Will you start being excited about this instead of miserable, so I can get on with resenting my lucky little brother like in any normal family? Isn’t there anyone there yelling at you to get over yourself? What did Novak say?’
Andy knows that his intake of breath is sharp enough to give himself away, so he may as well be vocally honest. ‘I haven’t told him yet.’
Jamie's bewilderment echoes in the crackling silence over the line. ‘Why the hell not?’
With a shrug, Andy stands. Behind him the practice court is emptying, Cañas hefting up his tennis bag and joking with his winged coach as they stroll off; they both nod to Andy when they pass, the coach cautiously shifting his trailing crow-black pinions away from Andy’s feet. Staring after them Andy can’t help noting the lambent shades of green and purples in the feathers, the layers that catch the sunlight in a shifting rainbow as the man folds them closer to his back to keep them out of the way.
He’s built heavy; Andy catches himself wondering if he can fly, if he can step into space and have it catch him before he falls. If he resents having to maneuver two extra limbs around if he can’t.
It's stupid; worrying about flying should be the last thing on his mind right now. Brad will be arriving any minute and Andy still hasn’t worked out how to tell his coach about how complicated his job is about to get. In truth hasn’t had the heart to face the yelling, because they’ve barely worked together and he already knows that Brad doesn’t like anything not doing what it’s told. That’ll almost certainly include biology, born with it or not.
Novak is- well, Novak is an entirely different problem on top of everything else, one that Andy has even less idea how to handle than his coach.
‘I’ve not had time yet,’ he says gruffly, and, to cut Jamie off before he can launch an interrogation, ‘I’ve got to go, my court’s ready. Try not to trip over your doubles partner again in your next match yeah?’