People didn’t often notice the glint of metal that existed in between his wings, and it had never really been something he talked about. It was just something he had always lived alongside, feeling the cool metal brushing against delicate feathers, so there had never been a reason to mention it. If Phil was honest, he had thought they already knew. He couldn’t exactly hide the flash of metal on his back.
His parents had called his wings elytra when the metal finally poked through. Metal that they called a protective exoskeleton for his wings. They said to make sure to look after it. They said they’d teach him how. Then they died.
The metal was difficult to look after, but he grew used to it.
He didn’t mind, honestly.
His friends didn’t need to know that the metal was heavy and pushed him back to the ground faster if he didn’t have fireworks on hand. They didn’t need to know that sometimes the metal cut into his feathers and left them falling to the ground in uneven clumps. They didn’t need to know that he couldn’t reach the length of his own wings enough to adjust the metal so it didn’t hurt.
It was fine. The other hybrids he had met had it worse. Ranboo couldn’t touch water without burning. Niki couldn’t leave water without drying out. Wilbur burnt in sunlight. A bit of metal within his wings were nothing compared to what they had to deal with.
It was something he could deal with on his own.
It was nothing big. Sure, thunderstorms could get dangerous, and sure, asking for help would make sure his wings stayed healthy and didn’t become dangerous to his health. But that didn’t matter.
He was the oldest, after all. He wasn’t about to make kids deal with his meaningless problems.
Phil was well practiced in flying. He had been doing it since his wings had grown big enough to fit his body. He knew how to craft rockets to keep him in the air, he knew what moments to flap just enough to keep him hovering in the air even when he was too tired to throw himself into the air completely. He knew how to angle himself just right that the metal usually didn’t clip his wings.
It had been many, many years since he was last stranded on the ground.
Last time, he had been a child with wings not yet fully grown. But they had been big enough to still brush against the walls of caves, and he had thought he could fit. It was a ravine. It should have been simple. He tried to duck into a cave leading off the ravine. He clipped the metal between his wings against the roof of thatcave, and it had sent him tumbling to the rock floor, and the metal moved with the force and cut through his primaries.
He had sat at the floor of that ravine, staring up at ledges that he knew might hold monsters, and he had cried. He had been lucky nothing fell on him. It took him what felt like hours to get back up and climb out of the cave and out of the ravine.
It had taken months to heal, and he was lucky his wings length hadn’t been affected as they continued to grow.
He forced himself to train harder after that, making sure something as disastrous as that moment didn’t happen again. He didn’t like to be egotistical about it, but he knew he was good at flying.
He should have been paying more attention. He shouldn’t have let himself grow complacent alongside the other hybrids he met by the lakefront. He should have checked his wings and the metal within them before he left that morning.
There were a range of excuses he could make. There were a range of reasons as to why it happened.
But it didn’t change the fact that he decided to explore a ravine during a thunderstorm with misplaced feathers and misplaced, conductive metal on his back.
He had been exploring with Ranboo when the rain began. Ranboo had looked at him, shaking with particles and pain, and apologised. Before Phil had a chance to reassure him and make sure he was okay, Ranboo teleported in the direction of Wilbur’s house by the lake.
Phil had been left alone in the middle of a plains biome. He should have followed Ranboo back to make sure he was okay, but the call of adventure had been too much that day.
He had seen the ravine only a few minutes before the rain started, and he had only decided against telling Ranboo because the teen had been asking if they could go home even before the rain. He had an hour to waste, he wasn’t in that much of a rush to head home. He knew Wilbur was hanging around his house that day and would make sure the ender boy was alright until Phil came by.
Bringing home more ores would cheer Ranboo up, Phil had thought.
He had just jumped over the edge of the ravine when he heard the first crash of lightning nearby.
He would be in and out faster than the lightning would reach him, he thought. He wouldn’t stand exposed, and it wouldn’t hit him.
As soon as he hit the stone at the bottom of the ravine, his wings still lifted from coming down, the lightning struck.
He was lucky it hit the metal of his wings more than it hit the feathers but he was in far too much pain to think about that. He dropped to the ravine floor, wings shaking from the shock, and forced himself to try and breathe. It hurt. The aftershocks were worse than the actual lightning, and there was too much pain in his body for him to even consider trying to scream for help.
He heard fast feet moving over the loud thumping of his own heart and would have tensed if he could. All he could do was shudder, breathe, and wait for the inevitable.
“Oh shit, Phil?” He heard. Then he heard the sound of footsteps get faster and closer, and distantly he recognised the sound of wing beats.
And then he finally passed out from the pain.
There were hands gently adjusting the metal in his wings. There were fingers gently brushing through his feathers, carefully putting them in their right position. There was a quiet, panicked chirping that he wasn’t awake enough to recognise followed by a gentle rattling noise.
Phil fell back into darkness.
“Stupid old man… can’t take care of himself… is he an idiot? …yeah okay his wings are cool but–”
His eyes slowly reopened and he looked straight at the avian hybrid that was fixing up the ends of his wings.
Tommy looked up from the wings, and jolted backwards away from Phil’s wings immediately.
Phil’s entire body seemed to shudder with the loss of the hands on his wings but he forced himself to ignore it. By the way Tommy’s eyes narrowed at him, he didn’t do a very good job at hiding it.
With a confidence Phil wasn’t all that surprised by, Tommy walked back over and took hold of Phil’s wing once again. The way his body instantly relaxed was out of his control.
Tommy grinned at him, his own wings flapping constantly behind him.
“I think I’m going to preen your wings, Philza. And then I’m going to finish fixing the metal in them.” Tommy said, face determined.
Behind him, a short shulker hybrid nodded – Tubbo, if he remembered right. He looked just as serious as Tommy did, even though he had never talked to the boy before.
All Phil could do was nod.
By the next day, when Tommy was done with Phil’s wings, Tommy and Tubbo dragged him out by the hands until he stood at the lakeside. All the hybrids that lived by the lake were there, even those Phil hadn’t spoken to as often as he wished he could. They were speaking to one another, smiles on their faces that hid the confusion Phil knew was there.
And when they spotted the two boys dragging him along, all conversations ceased.
“Mate, this really isn’t necessary–” He whispered to Tommy, wings stiffening. Tommy let go of his hand and brought it behind Phil’s back, gently combing through the back of the wings.
Phil slumped and nearly dropped to the ground before Tommy removed his hand.
“Okay, okay, okay.” Phil muttered.
He breathed in and walked towards the waiting group of hybrids. His wings remained tucked behind his back where the lightning damage could not properly be seen.
Up close, he could see the worry that was in their faces. Up close, he could see the relief on their faces as they scanned him for injuries and couldn’t see any.
Niki, head poking out of the water, her tail flapping anxiously. Wilbur, fiddling with the bucket hat Phil had gifted him not that long ago, sitting in the shallow end of the lake. Jack, blaze rods rattling.
Ranboo, water burns along the side of his neck, very obviously trying to force back tears. From the faint burn tracks along his cheeks, he hadn’t been very successful. Phil felt his own worry and guilt burning him from the inside.
Ranboo, who shot forwards with all the grace and speed of a teenage endermen and pulled Phil into a tight hug.
“You’re okay.” Ranboo whispered into the top of Phil’s head.
“I’m okay.” Phil whispered back.
Eventually, Ranboo pulled away.
Slowly, Phil looked away from Ranboo. He looked back at the hybrids by the lakefront that were waiting for him.
His first instinct was to protect them – to lie and say nothing was wrong. It was unimportant and none of their concern and–
A body leaned against his side, and Phil turned to once again see Tommy.
There was a knowing glint in his eyes as the teen shook his head. Phil slowly exhaled, and then he extended his wings. Tommy’s grooming had gently moved the metal so it was once again over the top and in between his feathers, and the light of the sun immediately reflected off it.
There was awe in the eyes of each and every hybrid’s faces as they looked at his wings, followed by realisation and shock as they spotted the metal. And then horror as they spotted the rips and cuts the lightning and metal caused to them.
Phil’s wings drooped to the ground.
“…Phil. What happened?” Wilbur asked, moving to get up from his spot in the lake, adjusting the bucket hat on his hat as he did so. His body was already flickering in and out of existence with worry.
The guilt Phil felt only worsened.
“I–” Phil inhaled, hardening his resolve, “the lightning. The metal in my wings. I thought… I can handle it by myself-”
His head moved towards Ranboo, who was wrapping his arms around himself awkwardly.
“Why didn’t you tell us? We’re your friends… right? We’re meant to help each other, right? We don’t need to handle things that hurt us on our own. That’s what you told me.”
Phil sighed, covering his face. His wings dropped further, laying flat on the ground. He could hear Tommy’s annoyed grumbling beside him.
“It’s different, Ranboo–”
His hands were gently moved away from his eyes.
“How?” Wilbur asked, standing in front of him half translucent, “You help us all the time. You’re our friend. How is it any different?”
“I’m the oldest. I’m able to take care of myself. I’m meant to be looking after you all. That’s what’s different.” Phil snapped. And then he closed his eyes and breathed in heavily, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap.”
When he opened his eyes back up, Wilbur was frowning at him. And the bucket hat Phil had given him was in his hands, and he was no longer translucent. The sun was directly on him.
Wilbur was burning.
Phil’s wings snapped up without second thought, lifting above Wilbur’s head.
“Phil, it doesn’t matter if you can take care of yourself or not. You got hurt and sure, Tommy was there, but what if he hadn’t been? None of us knew you could get hurt out there. You shouldn’t have been hurt out there. Fuck, Phil. What if you died?”
Across the lakefront, every single hybrid inhaled sharply at the words.
“I would have been fine–”
“Phil, you were still shaking from the electricity from the storm when I brought you to my place. You were throwing up. I had to treat the electricity burns with gloves on because I couldn’t touch you. I thought you were going to die, man. You would not have been fucking fine.” Tommy interrupted, anger on his face. Behind him, the avian hybrid's wings fluttered irritably.
“Mate…” Phil began.
“No.” Tommy said, pursing his lips. “You should have told us Phil. We care about you, dickhead. And you just have to deal with that.”
Collectively, all the other hybrids nodded in agreement.
Phil’s throat felt unnaturally dry.
Wilbur stepped forward, still shielded from the sun by Phil’s wing, and wrapped his arms around the older man.
“We love you, Phil. You take care of us all the time. We want to be able to do the same for you.” Wilbur whispered into his shoulder.
Phil closed his eyes tight, but he couldn’t stop the tears that fell before he did so.
“These are so interesting, Phil. What did you say they were for again?”
Phil laughed, wings buzzing with life.
“They’re meant to help support the weight of my wings and protect the feathers. Also helps with making sure the feathers don’t get wet when it’s raining, at least when it’s not storming–” Phil stopped, recognising the look on Niki’s face.
Phil sighed. Niki grinned.
“I know. Don’t go out during storms and try and get home if I can. If I have to go out, make sure I have someone with me. I remember, Niki.” Phil recited. The frown on his face cracked as he laughed, Niki joining in.
“Good.” She said, looking so very proud of herself, “Now, Wilbur said he wanted to help fix your wings this time. I said I’d help him. Want me to call him now?”
“Of course, Niki. I’d love the help.”