I hope you all had a nice week off! I spent my time off rereading some of my favorite fics from my favorite authors, which meant that I had an excellent rec for this Friday. A couple weeks ago I offered up Growing Wings as my Throwback Thursday. Though it’s a book I still love, it honestly lacks much of a plot, and its true strength, its worldbuilding, wasn’t allowed enough room to grow into a full-length novel. However, what it did come up with is fertile ground for any fanficcer looking to write a great wingfic AU. And who better to write a wingfic AU about than our very own Falcon, Sam Wilson?
Hollow and Honeycomb is roughly set in the world of Growing Wings; however, it advances the fledgling ideas of that story and sets us firmly after the winged civil rights movement has made significant advances. Winged folk are now allowed to keep or alter their wings as they wish, and there are protections in place to keep them from being discriminated against. Unlike the book, which left it up to interpretation, Hollow and Honeycomb’s winged folk can definitely fly; that’s part of the reason Sam Wilson, from a family of winged folk, signed up to be in the 58th Pararescue with fellow winged Riley.
Sam’s adult plumage came in all gunmetal grey, his primaries trimmed neatly in black. His covers are a softer grey than the rest, like a rock dove’s, and he stands in front of a storefront window on Lexington Ave and spreads his wings to their full length, looking at them, really looking at them. Tip-to-tip, they stretch six and a half feet, and Samuel Wilson looks at his reflection and feels the kind of centered calm most people only get in the middle of a deep mission.
The Air Force didn’t have to work hard for a sales pitch. It pretty much went: “So you’ve got wings now and you’re allowed to keep them. Want to do something useful with them?”
In Hollow and Honeycomb, Sam’s culture and African-American heritage are the lens through which we learn about the post-winged-integration era. We follow him and his sister as they grow wings and are allowed to innocently struggle with finding clothes that fit them, chairs they can sit in, and the ignominy of taking a yearbook picture while one’s wings are molting everywhere. It’s a far cry from the repressive, lonely world of Growing Wings, where one had to either hide away from society or cut their wings off entirely. But as the fic summary says, Sam’s world is one which “remembers when it had been different”, and the story tackles the generational differences in discrimination through excellent use of Steve Rogers’s time travel shenanigans:
“What did you do to hide the weight changes, in your day?” […says Sam.] “After you cut a person’s wings off, I assume those body modifications didn’t just reverse themselves. So how did you hide the fact that you weighed a lot less than other people in your percentile, or that you had muscle in places most people don’t really need it?”
“Oh,” says Steve. “That’s easy. We’d put rocks in our drawers before going to the doctor’s. You never needed to fake it for long, fortunately, and if someone had to lift you for some reason and found you light as a feather, well — misdirection comes easy with practice. It was hardest at the recruitment office, where they had you stripped to your skivvies. Not a lot of places to hide weights there. We sewed lead into our waistbands, if you can believe it,” he grins, mouth all pulled up on one side. “Whatever it took to give you that extra ten, twenty pounds to tip you into really lightweight, but humanly acceptable.”
Sam feels his brows hunch together at the inclusive note in Steve’s voice, because surely — well, he wouldn’t know, would he, not if Erskine’s formula reversed the changes and erased the scars.
“You’re not a cutwing, are you, Cap?” he asks flatly.
“No,” Steve answers, immediate and firm. “The wing gene doesn’t run in my family.”
The amazing worldbuilding of Hollow and Honeycomb is exactly what I was looking for after being let down by Growing Wings. However, you certainly don’t need to have read Growing Wings to enjoy this fic; it stands on its own with outstanding characterization and prose that should appeal to all fans of Sam Wilson and of the Cap universe. You can find it here on AO3!