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Evermore

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A dreary midnight, just as all the others had been since he’d settled down in this cottage by the woods. The walls creak slightly beneath the howling wind, the dusty windows wiped clean by sheets of pelting rain. The weather is always bleak. Dreary. But Yuuri often prefers it that way.

He prefers the quiet, the calm, the isolation. He tells himself this each night, each time the rusting grandfather clock croaks out the new hour’s chime, each time the sound of seconds ticking endlessly by worms into the back of his skull. He enjoys being alone. Only himself and his thoughts, and nothing more.

It had been this way since the day he’d left his home, so weighed down with expectations that he’d wondered how any boat could possibly keep him afloat. Everyone had been so proud to see him off, proud to watch him retreat as the sea and unknown lands swallowed him whole. Their Yuuri, off to travel the world in search of a greater purpose.

He’d written them weekly, at first, determined not to disappoint, careful not to give way beneath the heavy burden of their curiosity. But throughout his journey he’d grown lighter, bit by bit, as his purpose left him, as his sense abandoned him, and every week that he failed to reach out to those he’d left back home had been one less thing keeping him grounded. Until he was finally free from their worry, free from their care, free from their eagerness to know what he’d made of himself.

Because, in all truth, he’d amounted to nothing.

What a mockery of the life he’d been gifted, the foundations he’d been given, the support that had never been in short supply. A man in search of new beginnings, only to find himself stuck wandering the same listless path. Pointless. Useless.

And so he is alone in the woods, in his cottage, in his heart. And he prefers it this way. He tells himself this every night.

The steady patter of the rain is soothing, lulling him to sleep, though he fights to stay awake. The book across his lap is an interesting one, filled with the forgotten lore of faraway lands, and the unfamiliar but sorely missed feeling of curiosity is almost enough to spark inspiration within him.

But he nods off once more, book slipping from his grasp, and before he can make a clumsy grab for it, a sudden sound has him jerking awake fully, wide-eyed and wary.

Tap, tap, tap.

Yuuri freezes, listening. The only sounds aside from the rain are the settling of the dropped book’s pages as it falls shut and the gentle ticking of the clock. He ought to stand, ought to inch toward the windows to peek between the curtains and see just what sort of person would be tapping on his chamber door at such an hour and in such weather.

And surely that’s all it is. Someone tapping at his door, and nothing more.

Tap, tap, tap.

Yuuri jumps to his feet, not giving himself enough time to think and doubt his actions, and wrenches open the door. He hasn’t even anything to defend himself with at the ready, but luckily, the space outside his cottage is empty. He can’t see much beyond what the lamps inside illuminate, but there doesn’t appear to be anybody in sight.

Perhaps it isn’t so lucky, Yuuri thinks, closing the door quickly and peering around his cottage. He doesn’t want to consider any other possibilities regarding the mysterious tapping, and decides that it must have been the wind.

Tap, tap, tap.

The window, he realizes. Somebody is tapping at his window. In the dead of night. They must have hidden when he’d thrown open the door, but now they’ve returned. Why?

Yuuri once again doesn’t allow himself to think, striding over to the window to unlatch and open it. Whatever lies beyond it had better make up its mind, or he’d soon lose his.

He’s met with a flurry of flapping white and heavy rustling as something enormous brushes past the billowing curtains, and Yuuri forces the window shut once more to keep the wind and rain at bay. Brushing his hair out of his face and stepping back, his eyes dart around until a ruffling noise draws his gaze up to the shelf above his doorway.

There, perched atop his marble Eros bust, is a magnificent white raven.

Yuuri stares at it. It stares back.

Before his mind can do much more than sputter in alarm, a soft clink and a flash of light catch his attention. There, below the raven and glinting brightly in the firelight, is a gold ring. The bird must have been clutching it in its talons when it had come inside, and has now dropped it onto his floor.

For some strange reason, Yuuri smiles. He nearly laughs, crossing his arms and glancing back up at this rather self-important-looking raven that had so boldly barged into his home without permission.

“And what is this? A token of apology for trespassing?”

The bird cocks its head, swiveling it to stare him down with one beady white eye. It puffs itself up very impressively and cracks open its beak to speak.

“Something gold, something new.”

Such an ugly croak from such a handsome creature, but Yuuri is more taken aback by the words themselves.

“I… I don’t think that’s quite how it goes,” he says cautiously, as though worried he might offend the bird. It’d spoken so confidently, Yuuri has to convince himself that he knows the old bride’s rhyme correctly -- ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.’ A strange but interesting little ritual meant to bring luck to a bride-to-be. Yuuri had filed it away in his ‘fascinatingly odd tidbits’ collection as part of his travels.

The particular tidbit occurring this very moment is definitely high among the other oddities he’s experienced thus far. Unsure what else to do, he seats himself in his chair and stares at the ring, then at the raven, trying to make sense of it. Surely, all birds are attracted to objects that shine? That’s all there is to this mystery, and nothing more.

“Something gold, something new,” the bird squawks again, and if Yuuri hadn’t known better, he’d say that it’d sounded the slightest bit impatient.

A sudden thought crosses his mind, so absurd that he has to muffle a snort of laughter. He imagines some unhappy master -- some head of ceremonies, perhaps -- making countless attempts to instruct this rare and prized raven to speak clever words and present treasured items, only for the stubborn creature to make off like a thief in the night. How hilariously unfortunate. But how had it ended up here, so removed from civilization?

Whatever business this bird has, no matter the intended recipient, Yuuri decides that it cannot remain here indefinitely. The torrent outside has slowed somewhat, and so he doesn’t feel guilty when he eventually stands and raps his knuckles against the window, trying to catch the bird’s attention. He isn’t expecting a reaction when he opens it at last, but the flutter of wings has him ducking aside as the raven swoops out and into the darkness.

Yuuri retires to his bedroom soon after, and it isn’t until he’s nearly drifted off to sleep that he recalls the gold ring still lying on the floor, untouched.

*

He’s in the kitchen preparing tea when his nighttime visitor calls on him again, startling him so badly that he nearly spills boiling water all over himself.

Tap, tap, tap.

It hasn’t been more than a few days since that very first visit, and the memory of it is still fresh in his mind as he hurries to unlatch the window. His heart pounds faster when a familiar streak of white flashes past his head, and he turns slowly to see exactly what he had remembered.

“Hello… again,” Yuuri says with a sigh, watching the white raven settle on the back of his armchair and trying not to wince as its talons dig into the old and cracked leather. But a glint of gold quickly distracts him when the bird drops yet another ring from its beak. It bounces slightly in the seat and rests there, shining so tantalizingly that it’s no wonder the creature had been so attracted to it.

Without much further ado, the raven speaks.

“Something gold,” it caws, so very loud in the quiet room. Yuuri can’t remember the last time his home had ever been so noisy. But he doesn't really mind.

“Right,” Yuuri says, inching closer to the chair cautiously. “What poor bastard did you steal this one from?”

The raven tilts its head, saying nothing. It watches him reach for the ring with such intensity that Yuuri withdraws his hand as though burned once he grabs it. Holding it up to the light, he sees that it’s perfectly average. No inscriptions or embellishments. Only an ordinary but very well-kept ring. Whatever sorry soul the bird had taken it from must be missing it very dearly.

Yuuri has the strangest urge to slip it onto his finger, noting that it seems to be around his size. Perhaps a little too big. But he’s certain it would fit.

Instead, he deposits it next to the previous ring in the drawer of the small desk beside the armchair, slamming it shut and jumping back in alarm when the raven begins to flap its wings in agitation. Yuuri frowns at the creature, puzzled at its seeming annoyance. Has he offended it by rejecting its gift?

“Madness,” Yuuri mumbles, hurrying back to the kitchen to rescue his boiling tea. He isn’t about to waste his night fretting over whether or not a strange bird is peeved at him.

The tea is salvageable, but just barely. A rustle of wings has him, once again, nearly sloshing it over his front as he jumps in surprise. No, he certainly isn’t used to so much unexpected noise in his cottage. It had been several months since his last visitor -- his last human visitor, he amends, frowning down at the raven that had boldly flown across the room to land beside his stove.

There’s a short and tense silence as they eye each other. Then the raven hops nearer, craning its neck out toward Yuuri’s teacup.

“Ravens don’t drink tea,” Yuuri says a bit uncertainly. He doesn’t believe that this is any ordinary raven. If it were to suddenly magic itself into another beast entirely, Yuuri doubts he’d be very surprised. And so drinking tea seems much more mild in comparison.

The raven hops closer again, promptly shoving its beak into his cup. Yuuri wants to snatch the drink away, unsure if it’s safe for the bird, but its sudden proximity is far too distracting. Its feathers are so pristine, so perfectly white and unmarred, and at this distance, Yuuri can see that its white eyes are actually the lightest shade of icy blue. Slowly, so very slowly and carefully, he reaches out to it, fingers brushing against the short fluff at the top of its head.

It continues to drink as Yuuri strokes its feathers, and when it’s had its fill, it puffs up and struts out from under Yuuri’s hand, talons clacking loudly over the stone countertop. It settles in a spot and starts to preen rather extravagantly, and Yuuri watches in amusement, feeling as though the bird is showing off for him. He absently brings his teacup to his lips before remembering that the bird had drank from it, sighing and shoving it aside.

“Well, my friend, it’s been an exciting evening, but I think you’d better be off now.”

The raven’s head snaps up at the sound of his voice, then tilts curiously at him. It approaches him in just a few strides, pecking lightly at his fingers until Yuuri realizes that it’s demanding to be pet once again. Yuuri complies, rubbing its beak as gently as possible, then trailing back to its head and neck. The raven quorks softly, and Yuuri starts to lose himself in quiet and lulling calm before a flurry of feathers signals the bird’s sudden flight from under his touch.

It pauses in the sill of the window, still open to the chill night air, and turns its head to fix him with a piercing eye.

“Something new,” it calls to him.

As Yuuri latches the window after the bird’s departure, he squints up at the sky, high above the tall trees of the woods. But even under the moonlight, the brilliant flash of white is nowhere to be seen.

Something new, indeed.

*

Yuuri’s new friend begins to visit him more often, to the point that he begins to leave the window open at night while he goes about his business, ear carefully tuned for the sound of approaching wings.

It’s strange, having isolated himself for so long only to suddenly find himself with the most unlikely of companions. The raven likes to perch by him as he reads in his armchair, likes to poke about his sitting room, likes to watch him cook -- occasionally stealing bits of food when he isn’t looking. Yuuri, much to his own surprise, isn’t bothered by this at all. In fact, he finds himself comforted by the presence of his feathered friend, even going so far as to converse with it regularly.

“What’ve you got for me today, friend?” Yuuri asks, not looking up from tending to the fireplace as he hears the familiar swoosh through the window and over his head.

The loud clatter of a ring being dropped is his answer. Yuuri doesn’t even have to turn and see it to know that it’s gold, just like the others piling up in his drawer. He really ought to sell them at the nearest market, but something about them is very dear to him, strangely enough.

Yuuri places this new one in his pocket, already making his way to the kitchen, noting that the raven has grown quieter during these moments. It no longer clicks its beak or flaps its wings at him, instead seeming content enough to present its offerings and let Yuuri do with them as he wishes. A relief, as Yuuri still hasn't puzzled out the meaning of the gifts.

He sets out tea for the two of them -- something he’s had to convince himself isn’t absolutely foolish  -- and settles into his small chair at the kitchen table as the raven lands neatly beside his cup. He smiles at it, stroking its head and neck while it happily dips its beak for a drink.

“Very soothing, isn’t it? This one’s chamomile. I make it when I’m having trouble sleeping.” He pauses, fighting down the familiar embarrassment at confiding in a wild animal as though it were human and might respond with friendly advice. “It’s been happening more often as of late. Trouble sleeping, that is. I feel as though…”

He trails off, staring into the depths of his cup until a steel gray beak darts into view to sip at his tea. Having finished its own, the raven is now helping itself to his, and he smiles wider and rubs its feathers gently for a moment, feeling the will to carry on return to him.

“It may be time for me to move on,” Yuuri says quietly. “Continue my travels, wherever they may take me.”

The raven looks up at him in what Yuuri swears must be alarm, feathers puffed out and head bobbing. Yuuri tries to stroke its feathers to calm it, but the bird only seems to grow more distressed, the hackles at its throat raising as it paces back and forth.

“Gold,” it caws, nipping gently at Yuuri’s fingers.

Perhaps the tea isn’t as soothing to the bird as Yuuri had supposed, but it’s working well enough on himself. He stretches to his feet and, despite his feathered friend's odd tantrum, the combination of chamomile and resolve has put him in the mood for bed. Yes, he may just have to leave, may just have to pack up his meager belongings and find a new start elsewhere. If those rings truly are gold, he could buy a horse and be on his way before the week is out.

He pauses on the way to his bedroom to glance out the window, noting with some surprise that the rain is coming down rather hard tonight. He’d barely noticed the rapid drumming against the roof, nor had he registered the howling wind just outside his threadbare walls. Can he really send the raven on its way in such a storm? A foolish thought, as a wild animal is more than capable of handling itself, but as the bird follows him -- hopping from furniture to furniture until it lands at the windowsill -- he finds himself unable to do something so cruel. The raven is his friend, after all.

“You may stay the night, if you’d like,” Yuuri offers, before realizing that he isn’t exactly about to receive an answer.

But the raven gives one. It flies up onto his shoulder, talons gripping his shirt tightly and wings flapping about his face as it finds its balance. Yuuri sputters in surprise, amazed at this unexpected move. The bird, having never been this close to him before, is now a comforting and warm weight on his shoulder as he makes his way to bed.

Staring around the room, he isn’t very sure where the raven intends to sleep, but it once again answers him by hopping onto the headboard, lowering its head, and going still after a few moments. Yuuri grins and hopes to fall asleep just as quickly. He prepares himself for bed, and in the middle of stripping his trousers for his nightclothes, he hesitates as he remembers something from earlier.

He withdraws today’s ring out of his pocket, holding it to the dim light of the lamp and admiring the brilliant flare. This one is by far the most finely made of them all. Yuuri still can’t imagine just where the raven steals them from, but, as he rolls the band of gold between his fingers, he decides that he doesn’t really care. This belongs to him now.

His eyes never leave the sleeping raven’s form as he slips the ring onto the fourth finger of his right hand, and he wishes the bird were awake so that he could see its reaction. Though, he’s certain it would involve the word ‘gold’ and much flapping.

After he settles into bed and buries beneath the blankets, he squints at his ring in the dark. He’d almost expected something profound to happen when he'd put it on, but it feels like any other accessory he’s ever worn. Still, the meaning is special enough to him to feel significant on its own, and he presses his lips against the cold metal before drifting off to sleep.

*

He’s warm. He can’t remember the last time he’d ever been so warm. He must have gotten tangled up in blankets overnight, because he feels a mass draped over his middle, so he wiggles sluggishly and paws at the thing weighing down on him.

His fingers brush a familiar texture. Something soft and sleek tickles against his skin.

Feathers.

Yuuri blinks awake, squinting in the morning sun filtering through his curtains, and looks down to see a feathered arm across his waist.

A human arm. With feathers.

He jerks up with a shout of surprise, the warm and comforting presence ripped from behind him as he scrambles away, too terrified to turn around but also too terrified not to. The slow rustle of sheets makes his decision for him, and he whips back around to see who -- or what -- is occupying the other half of his bed.

A stranger. But deep in his heart, Yuuri knows that isn’t true. There’s something too familiar about the pristine white feathers jutting from his arms -- his wings -- and the silver bangs that fall over his smooth brow are just as dazzling in the light. Silver like the lashes fluttering against his cheeks as he stirs again, and an odd heat in Yuuri’s stomach flares anxiously as he watches the man awaken.

He rolls onto his back and stretches languidly, the blanket around his chest slipping down as he does so, and Yuuri can see that he isn’t wearing any sort of shirt. Somehow, he’s willing to bet that the man isn’t wearing anything at all. The thought only makes him more anxious, heart fluttering in his chest like a caged bird as the man’s head tilts toward him and his eyes open at last.

Startling blue, those eyes. Entirely unlike the icy whiteness Yuuri recalls, but just as familiar to him.

The man speaks, and his voice is nowhere near the hoarse rasp Yuuri has grown accustomed to. It’s low and deep and thick with sleep, and it’s everything Yuuri’s never known he’s wanted to hear.

“Yuuri.”

Transfixed, Yuuri can only stare at him like a fool, eyes wide and mouth hanging slightly open. Everything within him is screaming that this is impossible, that he must be dreaming, and yet the man who sits up gingerly and peers down at his own clawed hands in amazement is all too real.

“What?” Yuuri finally says, voice small and lost. “What… what is this? Who are you?”

The man tears his attention away from examining his new limbs long enough to favor Yuuri with a warm smile.

“Viktor.”

Viktor. An ordinary name for an extraordinary creature. Yuuri shakes his head in disbelief.

“You… you’re the… the, er,” Yuuri falters, unable to make himself say the words. They’d make this reality all too true for his mind to bear.

“I’m the raven,” Viktor says, shattering the illusion with apparent glee.

“Well, you aren’t really -- not anymore? You’re the man-raven now, I suppose, though I’ve no idea why, or what is even happening,” Yuuri babbles, losing his tenuous grasp on sanity. He wants to tear at his hair, and he does so, running his fingers through his messy dark locks and, apparently, drawing Viktor’s sharp attention.

“That ring,” he says, scooting closer. He moves a little clumsily, as though unaccustomed to his body, and Yuuri has to force himself to stay incredibly still while he reaches out for his hand. “You wore it, finally?”

“Finally?” Yuuri echoes, frowning. “I… yes, I slipped this one on before bed last night. What of it?”

“You’ve lifted my curse,” Viktor says slowly, the excitement starting to bubble in his voice as he continues. “You’ve lifted the curse, as I always knew you would. I knew you were the one, Yuuri! I’ve known it since that day!”

“What curse?” Yuuri asks, brows knitting together. “What day?”

Viktor’s grin falters, and a mild look of alarm takes its place. “You don’t remember?”

“Please,” Yuuri sighs, having given up all attempts at retaining any semblance of sanity, “enlighten me.”

“The day you went into the woods. You… weren’t well. I sensed dark intent from you, a hopelessness that doesn’t often survive the night. You don’t remember?”

The blood drains from Yuuri’s face as he grips the sheets nervously, unable to meet Viktor’s gaze now. Yes, that night. The one that had nearly been his last. Hopelessness is too kind of a word to describe what Yuuri had felt that night. Deep in his cups for hours, his wavering resolve had melted into a deeper sorrow -- one from which he’d been certain there would be no return.

As Yuuri had stumbled out drunkenly into the night, into the woods, what he had felt had been despair.

He recalls venturing deeper and deeper into the trees, away from marked and familiar trails, away from the careful distance he’d always kept between himself and the wild unknown. He had no patience for fear any longer. Let the night take him, let the unfamiliar and the dangerous shred him limb from limb.

But there had only been the moon, and nothing more.

How bright and full of life it had been, mocking his own bitterness with its beauty. He can remember shouting, remember slurred and nonsensical words that had startled even the night creatures from hiding, even the birds from their roosts. He had yelled until his voice had strained and faded, and he tastes the words now like bile in his throat as they come rushing back up to meet him.

‘Is this all? Is there nothing more? Nothing more for me? If I’m meant to live, show me some sort of sign! Bring me something new! New and shining, shining like gold, like the sun! Gold and new, like another day!’ He can remember the taste of the tears running down his face, and he blinks them back now before they can fall anew. ‘God, let me live to see another day!’

He can’t remember a single thing after that. Only darkness. And then, like an answer to his prayers, or like a curse of his own, he’d awoken to a brand new day.

A scaled knuckle rises carefully to wipe at his tears, and Yuuri doesn’t even flinch, gazing up at the strange man so tenderly caressing his cheek. The strange man who knows something he doesn’t.

“What happened after that? I don’t remember.”

“I don’t know what you’d intended to do that night,” Viktor says, hand still against Yuuri’s cheek. “But I was there. Watching. I had been for some time. You were shouting, though I only just barely understood it, and I’d decided that it was enough. I flew at you, and you must have thought that I was a sign from the heavens, because you followed me. I guided you back to your cottage.”

“I…” Yuuri’s voice cracks slightly. “Thank you. I owe you my life.”

Viktor’s tone flattens, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly, and he withdraws his hand at last. “Don’t thank me yet. My intentions until then were not so kind.”

A sickening chill seeps into Yuuri’s stomach, and he steels himself for Viktor’s next words.

“As a human, I had everything I’d ever wanted. Almost. It was enough for me to pretend. To act as though I were happy. My misery was well-kept from others, but when alone, I would let it consume me. Let it poison me. I begged for a release I was too cowardly to bring about. And so I waited. Waited for a freedom that would never come.”

Yuuri is quiet with disbelief. That this man, so beautiful and so kind, could have a past so bleak and so crushing seems like a cruel trick by a crueler god.

“One day, however, something did come. Something unexpected. A raven.”

Yuuri’s breath catches. A raven?

“A raven that came tapping at my door, at my window, until I let it inside. Some poor bedraggled thing seeking shelter from the rain. Or so I’d thought. It began to speak to me, although it only ever said one word -- ‘nevermore.’”

Viktor’s lip twitches again, as though the word itself were poison on his tongue. “I spoke to it, having no one else to share my sorrows with, and every question, every thought I’d ask aloud were all met with ‘nevermore.’ Over and over, again and again, and the raven would not leave. I went mad. Until the day I woke, trapped in feathery white, destined to spread this curse of insanity upon the next host.”

Yuuri is silent for a long moment, mind reeling at the thought of magic ravens and wicked curses. Nothing about it seems possible, though he’s seen enough during his travels not to rule out superstition entirely. But this is the first and only tangible thing he’s ever had before him, wrapped in crisp white linen and shining in the light. Shining like gold, like something precious.

“The rings,” Yuuri says after hesitantly finding his voice. “Why did you bring them to me? Are they…” he pauses, swallowing hard, “cursed?”

“No,” Viktor says quickly, feathers ruffling in alarm, “they aren’t! I swear on that. The night I saved your life, I watched you through your window. You were unconscious in your armchair, so desolate and alone. And I realized that I no longer wanted to curse you. I wanted to love you.”

Yuuri’s face blooms into heat, heart skipping faster than it ever has, and he’s so certain that he’d misheard, certain that this ethereal creature could not have possibly just confessed to wanting to love him. He wants to ask him to repeat it, just to hear it again.

“The rings were scavenged from various places,” Viktor continues, looking a little mischievous. “I brought them as a sign of my love. You had shown very little interest in them, however, which puzzled me. In the depths of my animal mind, I thought perhaps that they weren’t polished enough, weren’t pure enough to deserve your acceptance. But I continued to bring more, hoping you’d someday understand.”

“And,” Yuuri says slowly, desperately trying to comprehend, “I was meant to wear these rings to break your spell?”

Viktor tilts his head much in the way the raven often did, looking away thoughtfully. “I can’t say for certain. But somewhere in my mind, in the last remnants of human thought, I knew that I must keep trying until you did. The last ring…” he trails off, offering his hand out in careful questioning and gazing down at him with a peculiar expression.

Yuuri holds out his hand in answer, the ring catching the light beautifully, and Viktor takes it in his own, brushing a thumb across his knuckles and eliciting a small shiver down his spine.

“This ring… I woke up one day clutching it in my talons. I don’t recall having stolen it from anywhere. It was different, this ring. Dazzlingly bright, undeniably pure. And I knew that this would be the one to change everything. Yet, when you put it aside, as you had done with all the others, I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t impatient. In that moment, I was simply happy to be by your side, in whatever form, and to expect nothing in return.”

Slowly, never tearing their gazes apart, Viktor lifts Yuuri’s hand to his lips, pressing a light kiss to that very same ring. Yuuri allows this, stunned but secretly pleased. He’s having trouble grasping just why this man’s touch has his pulse racing so wildly, but he quells those thoughts, content enough to bask in this newfound affection. Viktor speaks softly now, warm breath ghosting against Yuuri’s fingers.

“Then… you surprised me. You accepted the ring, and my love with it.”

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Yuuri blurts, face reddening. “I-I just… it just felt right to do it, and so I did.”

“I know.” Viktor’s smile is a little sad, and he releases Yuuri’s hand, careful to mind the lengthy claws of his own. “That’s why I’ll leave, if you’d like me to. The ring does not bind you to me. I want nothing more than to be by your side, as whatever you’d like for me to mean to you. But I can also leave, if that’s what you wish.”

Yuuri tries to imagine an evening without the raven perched close by, without the comforting rustle of feathers, without the bright blue eyes peering through to his soul as their gazes lock, and he springs forward to throw his arms around Viktor’s shoulders without warning. This surprises both of them, but Yuuri regains what little composure he has, pulling back far enough to gaze down at a flushed face struck with wonder.

“Please stay, Viktor!”

Strong arms wrap around his waist, drawing him closer into their embrace, and Yuuri tries not to shudder at the odd feeling of feathers brushing against him. Viktor shifts to fit their bodies together more comfortably, his movements pulling away at the sheets that had been so modestly covering lower half, and Yuuri nearly has a moment of embarrassed panic before something new catches his attention.

“You have a tail! ” he yelps, leaning over Viktor’s shoulder for a better look. Long white feathers fan out in a wedge-like shape at the base of his spine, twitching and fluffing up before his very eyes.

“Interesting,” Viktor murmurs against Yuuri’s skin. “Wonder if it’s permanent. I suppose we’ll have to see.”

Silence settles as they hold one another, and it’s the most blessed sort of comfortable quiet. Yuuri’s fingers find their way into Viktor’s hair, scratching and rubbing just the way he knows he likes. Behind the ears, trailing back to the neck. His hair is just as soft as those feathers, almost as pale, and Yuuri loses himself in it, wishing they could stay like this forever.

But then Viktor makes a soft and pleased sound in the back of his throat and shifts slightly against him, and Yuuri is suddenly far too aware of just how nude he is. He scrambles from out of his lap, sliding off of the bed and rummaging through his dresser until he finds trousers to toss at him.

“I’ll make tea,” he says, hurrying out toward the kitchen without looking back. But he can tell that Viktor is grinning.

For what feels like the hundredth time, he’s nearly splashed with boiling water when he feels a chin rest on his shoulder from behind. Familiar tickle of feathers as arms encircle him and hold him tight.

“Smells delicious,” Viktor says with a sigh, nuzzling Yuuri’s neck. Yuuri sputters and almost drops the entire kettle when he realizes that Viktor had ignored the trousers entirely.

An affectionate bird is one thing, but this will take some getting used to, he thinks, setting out their teacups and taking a seat across from his first human visitor in months. The cottage seems much less dreary with one more person occupying its space, filling it with a life it’s never known before.

But the memories that haunt this place will always lurk within the shadows, and so Yuuri comes to a decision once more.

“It may be time for me to move on,” he says, amused at the look of shock on Viktor’s face. “To continue my travels, I mean. To begin anew. Will you stay by my side?”

Viktor smiles and takes his hand, raising it to gently kiss the ring, to press his lips to the sign of their new love.

“Evermore.”