It’s Snake who discovers the feathers near Smile’s body where it lies on the grass, immaculate and still. The ruins that border Phantomhive manor are scattered with them, glinting blue-black in the early morning sun. While the others grieve the loss of their master and beloved, Snake collects the feathers and secrets them inside his coat where his snakes--except Emily, who curls about his neck--tangle with them, curious.
Black is not at his dead master’s side. Emily says she smells him in the ruins.
And on Smile.
Snake finds a pool of brightening sunlight among the ruins and leans back against some rubble. His friends uncoil and slither out to coil again in the sun. Emily drapes his neck, and Donne curls above his ear. Snake reaches inside his coat and scoops a handful of feathers, soft and tickling against his scale-patched skin.
It’s been seven years since Snake came to Phantomhive Manor, seven years since he began serving the young earl with the promise of finding his family--Joker, Dagger, Beast, Doll… Seven years of hope and building doubt.
He can hear Finny’s childlike sobs behind him and closes his hands, the feathers poking out from between his fingers, their shafts sharp in places. He’s looked nowhere, at no one, since seeing Smile’s lifeless body, only hearing the cries and exchanged words of disbelief and “Where’s Mister Sebastian?” as he spotted the strange feathers. Vision wavering, he hadn’t felt so odd since the time that man played the flute during an egg hunt years before.
He hasn’t felt odd or unwelcome or lonely in a long time. He doesn’t know when he stopped longing for his old family and started thinking of these people as his new one.
Now he’s been left again.
A branch snaps nearby, and he startles. Lady Elizabeth approaches, face splotchy but composed, and Snake hurries to his feet, dropping the feathers.
“L-lady Elizabeth. Is there something you need? asks Oscar.”
She gives him an indecipherable look, part confusion, he thinks, but confusion about what he doesn’t know. She shakes her head and clutches a handkerchief tight between her bare hands. “No, Snake, thank you.”
Snake remains standing stiffly while his friends wriggle closer at his feet. The movement draws Lady Elizabeth’s eyes and she points. “What are those from?”
Thinking she means his snakes, he’s momentarily befuddled. He looks to the ground, flushing at his inability to answer, and sees the feathers.
“I don’t know what sort of bird, my lady, says Wordsworth.” He stares at the feathers as if they’ll reconfigure into a new creature that will answer her question.
“Bird?” Lady Elizabeth wonders, but it doesn’t sound like wondering. Snake looks up into her open face and sees in her green eyes that she understands, just like he did, even before Emily whispered it. The thing that made him gather the feathers to himself.
Dressed in her nightgown and robe, Lady Elizabeth bends and extends her arm to Bronte, who’s been grazing her ankle. She twines up her arm, and Lady Elizabeth smiles.
“Snake, you should know that I wish for you to stay on at the manor with the others. Of course, if you’d like to leave, you may. I’m aware that Ciel--” she pauses, a hitch in her breath--“made provisions for you in his will.” She reaches out and touches his arm. Snake jumps and flushes, hoping she won’t take his reaction as a sign of displeasure.
“We thank you, my lady, says Bronte.” He nods at the snake on her arm. “We would like...to stay.” Snake gives a little bow.
Lady Elizabeth smiles more. “So cute,” she says and rubs Bronte gently on the head. Snake marvels at her composure but remembers the Campania.
“Come,” she beckons, turning. “Leave those behind. There’s so much to do, and I could use your help.”
“O-of course, my lady, says Keats.” He gets rid of the rest of the feathers in his coat, and they scatter in the spring breeze.