Actions

Work Header

Coo Story Bro

Chapter Text

Eren was down on his luck. He hadn’t won a race in months. His racing pigeons were the one thing his parents left behind after they passed and he was determined to make a name for the Yeager bird lofts.

The last race he flew, his fastest bird came in 104th place. The gaps were only getting bigger with each race, no matter how well trained his pigeons were. It was like they outright refused to fly in a straight line, no matter how many times he practiced the same route with them.

Carla and Grisha had been avid birdkeepers and homing pigeon fanciers. His mother had a particular way with the birds which made them fly home in record times. Eren was sure they would be turning in their graves knowing what a state their lofts had turned into. He would often apologise to thin air while tending to the birds, as if somehow his parents could hear him from the afterlife.

Friends and competitors alike at the racing club had started to politely suggest that maybe he look for another hobby. It was a touchy subject to him, considering he felt it was one of the last connections he had to his parents. The final way he had of keeping their memory alive.

The suggestions, although made in his best interests (or as snide jokes in his friend Jean’s case), always made him feel bitter. He wanted to win so badly. He wanted to restore the family name to it’s former glory and prove to his parents that he had what it took to make them proud, even if they weren’t around to see it. It was a great matter of pride for Eren, one which he felt compelled to execute one way or another.

It was a fresh winter morning and Eren headed out into the back garden of his country home to tend to the birds. He had an impressive loft, almost the length of the house itself, stretching into the picturesque back garden. Like a modified aviary or garden shed, the purpose of the building was to house the racing pigeons. Eren had a total of sixty birds of varying ages. His youngest were a couple of weeks old and his oldest were nearing eight years. They usually raced for three or four years, but some of his older birds still flew and made it back in decent time. Pigeons could live until twenty, so Eren didn't have to worry about his livestock expiring of old age any day soon.

“Morning all,” Eren said as he let himself into the loft with a bucket of feed. The narrow walkway at the back allowed access to the different compartments, all separated by sliding doors and built with grated floors and pigeon holes, some laid with sand and straw. Even if they weren’t winners, his birds were happy and healthy. A few of them flapped around him to get out of his way, but most were well accustomed to his company so weren’t startled. All of the birds were fairly tame and very comfortable being handled for the most part.

He completed his morning rounds with the birds and headed to the far back part of the yard to tend to the two horses he kept. The stables were situated at the far end of his garden, and the eight acres of land nearby was also his, so that doubled up as a large enclosure for them to roam as they pleased. The house itself was an old tudor farmhouse built in wood beams and red brick, common for the area.

Most of the land was fields that Eren wasn’t entirely sure what to do with. On weekends he would tack up a horse, let his hair down and canter out into the fields where no one could bother him. He had space to be alone with his thoughts. No phone signal, no annoying Jean, nothing. If he wasn’t by himself, Mikasa, his sister, would join him. She didn’t live far.

Once said horses were fed it was into the Gator with a flatbed of tools, wood and wire, to mend a hole in the fence on the opposite side of the field. It took about an hour, but he was satisfied that nothing would be getting in or out of the reinforced patch.

Once he’d finished, it was about seven in the morning, so he headed back to get ready for work. He’d usually work nine ‘till five, come home and resume tending the animals before bed. Days off were spent training the homers. Other than the occasional trip into the fields with Mikasa, or his best friend Armin, Eren rarely socialised. He knew the squad down at the pigeon club, he had to meet with them a number of times a year for races, but otherwise he wasn’t a big socialite.

Needless to say his love life was also fairly lacklustre. He lived in what he considered to be the middle of ‘bumfuck nowhere’, the British countryside, relentlessly unforgiving in its lack of abundance of eligible, good looking bisexual or gay bachelors. There was next to no gay community out in his village, and most of the older generations preferred to live their lives believing that they didn’t exist. His village had a post box, a pub, and one bus stop. That was it. Blink and you miss the entire village.

He did want to move closer to a bigger city, but he didn’t exactly have the funds to afford a place big enough to keep the animals.

Where he was suited him just fine for the time being, living in his parent’s old cottage with plenty of space, even if it did mean a lack in options when it came to intimate company.

One day, perhaps.

What Eren knew for sure is he wasn’t going to meet the love of his life at his local farmer’s market in the closest town over.

He’d come down to the town center in his old land rover in his tatty jeans and the tops of his long knitted socks folded over the tops of his wellies, barbour jacket and a rollneck on to keep the early January chill off.

The same faces were always here, always the same people selling the same things to the same customers for the same deals at the same time on the same day of the week every week, come rain or shine. Unless of course Christmas Day fell on a Saturday. Tourism wasn’t big in this neck of the woods. It was miles from any airport and any traffic they did see was usually people crossing through to get to somewhere more exciting. Eren didn’t mind though. He hoped to meet up with some breeders to source himself some new birds. Hopefully he’d be able to find a good cock or two to breed with a few of his fastest hens in order to birth some sort of miracle squab.

He cast an eye upward toward the sky and pulled his hood up in anticipation for the rain, which was just starting to spit. When he didn’t spot any particular stalls that took his fancy, he found his feet taking him down an unfamiliar cobbled street lined with small bakeries and haberdashery shops. What caught his eye was the small pet shop at the end. It was on the edge of the town center and for having lived there for twenty-five years, Eren found it strange he’d never noticed it before.

The outside seemed clean and the name on the front looked freshly painted. Perhaps the place was new?

‘Kuchel’s Aviary’

‘Must be a bird specialist shop’, Eren thought to himself, taking himself through the front door with a gentle tinkle of the bell above it. The shop looked exactly as he would expect it would, shelves neatly lined with bird boxes, various types of feed, catalogues for lofts and aviaries. There were large rolls of chicken wire, budgie cages and a whole wall covered with various domestic pet birds.

The whole shop smelled of dusty, dry bird seed and there was no sound at the front of the shop other than the gentle chirping of small pet birds on the other side of the shop. The opposite wall was lined with built in bird cages.

There was even a cockatoo with a sign on the large, standalone cage by the window stating that he was not for sale. A white cockatoo which looked old and mean and scruffy. It gave Eren a dirty look as he walked by. It’s name tag read ‘my name is Kenny, I bite’.

There was a middle aged woman with long black hair sat behind the desk at the back of the shop reading a newspaper as the radio tinkled away quietly with some hits from the 60’s or 70’s. The sound didn’t travel well, the radio seemed to be tucked away behind the cash desk.

“Good morning,” she said with a smile as Eren looked up from the caged birds hopping around. He smiled in return and also wished her a good morning.

“Are you looking for something specific?” she asked, setting her newspaper down. Eren sighed and shrugged.

“Maybe a miracle?”

“Oh,” she said sympathetically as she rounded the cash desk. “It can’t be that bad, surely?”

“I’ve not got a winning bird out of forty racers. It’s bad.”

“Perhaps you just haven’t found the right one yet?”

“Eh, perhaps. I’ve been trying for ten years now though,” Eren said with a sigh. He was getting tired of losing and it must have shown on his face as clear as day.

“Well, if you could have a wish granted, would you?”

Eren narrowed his eyes a little. She must have thought him a bit pathetic to tease him like this.

“Trust me if magic existed, I’d be wishing for a winning bird every damn day.” Eren huffed and the woman just smiled at him.

“What if I told you wishes can come true?”

“Unless you have some award winning homing pigeons hidden in here somewhere I’d probably say you were nuts.” Eren frowned when the woman smiled and said nothing, beckoning him closer with the flex of a finger. Curiosity piqued, he followed her through the back into the garden space where she evidently kept the other, larger birds for sale.

There were a couple of owls and a small falcon in the aviaries in the back, as well as a pigeon loft. Eren noticed the compartment on the outside designed to clock returning race birds. This was a racing pigeon loft.

“Well I’ll be damned.”

The woman let Eren into the loft and the wall was adorned with newspaper clippings, all of the same bird. Different fanciers holding it, it was a black homing pigeon with a small white splodge on it’s breast and a couple of light grey stripes on it’s wings.

“This is Levi, and he does not lose races,” the woman said as Eren took in the images of all the countless races this bird seemed to have won. He’d heard of the elusive black racer that always came first, but never imagined it living so close to him. It had a history of being fickle, racing once or twice with one handler and then going missing and turning up again somewhere else with someone new.

“I’ve heard of this bird,” Eren said in awe, despite its reputation. It was a guaranteed winner. “It always goes missing though, do you know anything about that?”

Eren took a look behind him to try and spot the bird in question, but it must have been tucked away in a pigeon hole out of sight. Eren could hear a very gentle cooing of a content bird, but he just couldn’t see it.

“I suppose it depends on the fancier, young man.”

“It’s Eren.”

“Well, if you like Levi, he will stay with you.”

“Don’t you mean if he likes me?”

The woman shook her head with a strange, fond little smile lighting up her expression.

“No no, this isn’t how it works. If you like Levi, he will stay and win you races. He never loses.”

“Yeah, and what’s the catch?” Eren asked, skeptical. “A bird like that would cost a fortune.”

“Good fortune is often cheaper than people expect,” the woman said cryptically. Eren turned to look inside the loft, noticing it was odd the way the structure was set up. There were a few pieces of clothing strewn about on the floor and no other birds in sight.

“So, you’re saying you’re willing to sell me a winning homer for… what?”

“Oh, something small and meaningful. Perhaps an object with some sentimental value to you?”

Eren looked confused.

“You serious?”

“Completely,” the woman replied with a soft smile. It seemed genuine even if Eren was feeling skeptical. “Of course you don’t need to choose right away, if you don’t have anything sentimental on you at the moment.”

Eren wondered about it for a moment.

“Well,” he said carefully, wondering if he was making the right choice. “I do have something.” He pulled the house key tied to a string around his neck. It wasn’t a working key to the house as it stood today, he had since had the locks changed and modernised, but this last one he kept because it was old and ornate and the first key his parent’s had for the house. It was one of the few items of theirs that he carried on him at all times.

The woman gently held the key as it hung from his neck and looked him in the eye.

“If you are prepared to part with it, Levi is all yours. Your wish is my command.”

Eren shrugged. He had a house full of his parent’s belongings. While he’d worn this key around his neck every day since they’d died some ten years before, he was sure eventually he would feel better about it. Especially if surrendering it meant winning some races and restoring his family’s name to the glory Eren felt it deserved.

“It’s really that easy?” Eren asked, untying the string and allowing the key to fall loose in the woman’s hand. Her hand closed around it and she removed a small curved whistle from her pocket, blowing on it. Said pigeon from the photos flapped out from one of the lower pigeon holes and perched on one of the stands by the door, tilting it’s head to eye the pair with it’s unnatural grey eyes.

Most pigeons had orangey red eyes. Eren instantly noticed that this one was different.

“If you would like him, he is yours.”

“Okay.” Eren glanced once more at the many clippings on the wall. “How old is he?”

“That is not a question I can answer so easily,” the woman said, making Eren even more confused. She slid the door open and the small black racer flapped up to perch on her hand. The bird nodded it’s head in a gesture of affection and nibbled it’s beak at her sleeve. Eren recognised the behaviour as something close mated birds or family members did with one another. Some of his older pigeons would often do the same with him.

“Levi, this is Eren. Eren, Levi. You may inspect him if you like.” Levi cocked his head to the side and his eye focused on Eren, scanning him up and down quickly. He was an alert, healthy looking bird and Eren had a good feeling about this one. She wrapped her hand around Levi’s feet and lower body as was the norm for careful handling of pigeons, and handed him over to Eren who took a closer look.

He inspected the bird’s eyes, feet and stretched his wings out, testing for how strong the bird was able to draw it’s wing back against its body. All signs were good. Even if Levi wasn’t a good racer, Eren might still be able to breed some hens with the good specimen.

Eren handed him back over and the woman led him back into the shop with Levi in hand.

“You’ll have to register his new leg tags, but other than that he’s all yours.” She packed a small cardboard box with some straw and placed the black pigeon inside. Levi went in with no complaints, seemingly very tame.

“It was good to meet you, Eren.”

“Yes, you too, uh…” Eren left the question hang in the air, hoping the woman would catch on.

“Kuchel Ackerman. Nice to meet you. Have a lovely day!”

Eren wished her well, thanked her for her time and prayed that as she said, miracles were a little easier to come by than people thought. He just hoped the box in his hand would prove true.

Once he got Levi home and placed him into a separate part of his loft, he watched as the bird perched itself on one of the shelves and tucked itself away into the back, presumably adjusting to the new environment. It would be a couple of weeks before Eren would introduce Levi to the rest of his birds.

He decided to introduce him in with the younger birds. That way, if they raced together Levi would probably arrive at the same time if not sooner rather than being out-flown by a bunch of his older birds who might be faster than him.

There was however a little bit of training to do, just to see how Levi responded to different things.

Over the next few days Eren tried out his usual training methods and found Levi responded best to almost all of them. He was attentive and obedient and got along well with the other birds, even if sometimes he was a little bit aggressive. He had clearly been through a lot of trainers and knew a lot of different techniques as a result. It was amazing how well the bird understood whatever Eren tried to portray. It was as if Levi knew what Eren wanted him to do before Eren had even thought of it. The bird was literally always one step ahead and it’s intelligence amazed and intrigued Eren to no end.

So, after a couple of weeks being cooped up, Eren decided, with his youngest batch of trained birds, to do a test run.

He caged them up, drove a few boxes of them out about five miles from home and tentatively pulled the latches to let them all loose at the same time. They flocked together as they twisted through the sky and Eren focused on packing the cages away more than watching the birds disappear above the skyline. A small part of him was concerned that Levi might be the only bird that didn’t return.

When he got home he checked the log thinking it was way too fast for his birds to have returned home so soon, thinking perhaps a stray homer might have returned to the wrong loft. He headed outside and let himself into the loft, finding not only Levi amongst all the grey and white pigeons, but the whole flock. Not only had Levi returned in record timing, but the others had seemed to follow him.

This gave Eren an idea.

Living in the lofts was grouped together males and females. Eren kept them separate as always unless he was breeding them. He let himself into the male pen and picked Levi up from his spot on his corner shelf. He tended to keep to himself and didn’t really interact with the other pigeons unless they interacted with him.

Eren returned through the loft and took Levi through to the female section, letting him go into the loft and closing up, returning back indoors.

If Levi had a habit of disappearing on people, then he was going to try and get some of his best hens bred.

However, after a solid two weeks of cohabitation, nothing had happened. Eren was mortified.

“Levi, of all world class, fast racers I could have picked up, you had to be gay, didn’t you?”

The pigeon he held gently pecked and nuzzled at his hand and he let Levi go, only for him to flap quickly to perch himself on Eren’s shoulder while he moved between loft rooms. Levi had shown zero interest in any female pigeon but an equally as intrigued interest toward his new keeper. Even when the female pigeons behaved like they might be okay with him mating them, he declined every last one. Eren could imagine the male pigeons were all watching enviously as a single bachelor was allowed to spend as much time as he pleased with the finest hens in the entire coop.

And all for nothing.

Levi was returned to his section and Eren sighed, heading indoors for the night.

Levi learned that Eren never checked the coop at night. The garden was fairly secure so they didn’t have any foxes come by. A few rabbits in the horse pen but otherwise a fairly good area for birdkeeping.

The only thing pigeons had to fear in these regions were peregrine falcons. Thankfully there were only a few in the wild nearby, covering a vast area which included only a few of Eren’s fly routes. The risks were fairly minimal and Eren rarely lost birds, which was good considering the average rates for bird loss were usually a lot higher. He had a good area to play with when it came to fancying.

Eren started increasing the fly distances each time he took Levi out for a test run, and before he knew it he’d taken him out multiple times over the end of winter and he’d made himself quite at home in the loft. It was time for their first race.

It was officially Old Bird season.

Eren had tested Levi out with both his young cocks and his old cocks and was confident he could win with either. Old birds raced between March and July and young birds raced together from July to September each year. The winter was the off season for rest and breeding.

Eren signed up his first batch of old birds and caged them all up. He was confident that even with a batch of twenty female birds, Levi would still fly in good time. The females never seemed to catch his attention, which was very useful.

He drove the cages out to the racing clubhouse and all of his bird tags were registered and loaded onto the release truck. After that he made his way home to wait for their return. He would receive notifications when the birds were released, the truck would drive all competing birds out to be released from the same location at the same time.

For once, all of his birds made it back the same day. Usually they took a day and a half or sometimes two. Their tracked routes on the maps he used always showed quite varied routes but with Levi amongst them the trip back was almost a straight line across the landscape and they didn’t dilly dally on the way back into the loft when he spotted them arriving back home that same evening.

He immediately went out to check on all of the birds, noting how the sun had only just set moments prior to their arrival back. He received a text from one of his racing rivals, Jean, asking how the hell he managed to pull off the time that his birds just achieved.

Eren wasn’t sure how they’d managed it but Levi must have been in a damn rush to get back to the loft. The birds must have been extra hungry, Eren supposed. He headed out to the lofts to check that all of them made it back in one piece, but what he wasn’t expecting to find in his loft was a full grown man, sat completely naked amongst the birds.

“The fuck?” Eren blurted.

The man was short statured and pale skinned with scruffy black hair. He honestly looked like a bit of a hobo, but naked. Even the homeless folk around these parts had the decency to shelter from the weather wearing at least clothes.

Perhaps he was drunk?

“Hello?” Eren asked, careful not to startle him if indeed he was drunk and perhaps a bit pissed off. “You alright, mate?” The bloke turned around and looked Eren up and down as he stood within the small space. His eyes were a light grey-blue and he didn’t look at all drunk. His balance as he stood seemed fine and he didn’t smell of anything other than birds.

“You gonna get me a towel or what?” The man said, rolling his eyes and standing there in the buff with his arms crossed against his chest. His voice was deeper than Eren had expected. He looked younger than he probably was. He looked pretty ripped so Eren didn't fancy getting on his bad side.

In his confusion, Eren couldn’t think of anything else to do other than to comply. He averted his eyes and disappeared back out of the loft, returning a few moments later with the smallest pair of pants he could have found in a hurry. They belonged to a friend of his, Armin, who was about the same height. Any of his own clothes would have drowned the guy.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Care to explain what you’re doing in my loft?” Eren asked as he handed over the garments, waiting patiently around the corner as he got dressed. The man slid the door to the side and slipped out into the narrow corridor, eyeing Eren cautiously.

“You put me here.”

“I don’t remember stripping anyone and dumping them in my loft.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t noticed sooner. Your shitty observation skills are amazing.”

“You what?” Eren spat, still confused as hell. “Care to enlighten me?”

“I live here thanks to you.”

Eren’s face went blank for a long moment so the man elaborated. “Levi?” The man held his hand out as if to be shook. Eren’s brain wasn’t exactly functioning in the way it ought to have at the news. He didn’t understand. At all.

“How about a cup of tea and I’ll explain why I’m here?” The man, allegedly called Levi, proposed when Eren didn’t shake his hand. Eren just frowned and nodded, gesturing to the loft door, praying this guy wasn’t about to rob him blind or murder him.

Eren let him in and filled the kettle, asking how Levi took his tea. He didn’t look away from the kettle as he heard shuffling behind him and the wait for the water to boil was probably the longest two minutes of his life. The tension was tangible. Eren didn’t know who this guy was or why he was in the pigeon loft, but what he did want was answers.

He turned to find the guy sat- no, perched on the arm of the sofa, the balls of his feet carefully balanced him there as he sat on his haunches. Eren narrowed his eyes at the peculiar behaviour and Levi took the mug of tea with a curt ‘thanks’. Eren watched him for a couple more moments and observed that he seemed a little bit twitchy and nervous. It was like he was trying to mimic one of his birds and Eren wasn’t sure how unsettled he ought to have been feeling.

“So what's your deal?” Eren asked, eyeing the guy’s near perfect sense of balance. It was eerie. Levi looked Eren up and down before sipping his tea. The mug was still steaming and Eren didn't understand how he was able to drink it straight out of the kettle. Asbestos mouth or what.

“I live here,” the man said, slipping off the arm of the chair when he realised Eren was staring at him odd. “Sorry. Habit.”

“Uh, right, but I'm the only one who lives here.”

“I live in your loft. I fly for you.”

“But you’re human,” Eren was convinced this guy was drunk or high or missing a few valuable marbles up in his head. Something about the intense way he stared at Eren had him unsettled. Eren was wondering whether he ought to just call the police or maybe the hospital and have this nutjob carted away.

“I am aware. I am also a racing bird. I live in your pigeon loft. I’m the black one with the grey eyes.”

“Bullshit. What have you been smoking?” Eren still didn’t believe him and the man could tell.

“You exchanged a key for me at Kuchel’s Aviary.”

“Eh?” Eren was listening now. He’d been the only person in that shop at the time, or so he thought.

“So that woman put you up to this huh?”

“No. She’s my mother. I’m Levi Ackerman.”

The name was familiar, but Eren’s mind was still reeling with confusion by the whole thing.

“I am a pigeon by day and human by night. My uncle cast a spell on me. Wait and see and I will turn back into a pigeon by sunrise.”

Eren narrowed his eyes and eyed the guy up and down again.

“Alright, so if you’re really Levi, you’re telling me if I watch you at sunrise, you’ll magically turn into a pigeon?”

“Correct.” Levi set his mug down on the coffee table. “Sunrise will probably be at around five. Will you be awake?”

“How do I make sure you don’t just bring a pigeon in the house with you and disappear into the sunrise before I wake up?” Eren accused, the confusion bringing out his stubbornness.

“Lock me in the same room as you?”

Eren’s face contorted into something akin to horror. “While I sleep?”

“I’m not an axe murderer. Tie me up if you have to.”

Eren squinted at him, still skeptical. A long, silent moment passed before his curiosity got the better of him and he grit out a curt “fine.”

“Were you hungry?” Eren asked him and Levi nodded. “I was thinking of getting takeout, I take it you don’t have any money on you?” Eren frowned at Levi who looked himself up and down and gave Eren an unimpressed look.

“Do I need to answer that?”

“What did you want?” Eren asked with a huff.

“Anything.”

Anything was exactly what Eren ordered, simply ordering more of his usual sweet and sour pork balls and spicy noodles.

The pair sat in relative silence until the food arrived and then proceeded to eat in silence, too. Eren was trying to figure out to the best of his ability, what exactly Levi was talking about. He drew from memories of the aviary shop and what Kuchel had said to him about wishes being granted. There was zero chance of that crap being real, Eren repeatedly told himself.

“I’m calling the police if you’re still here tomorrow morning.”

“As a human, you mean?” Levi asked as Eren led him upstairs to his bedroom. Eren grumbled. After his parents had passed away it had taken Eren a number of years to finally move himself into the largest bedroom of the house, formerly his parent’s room. He pulled a camp bed out from his closet in the spare bedroom and laid it out by the wardrobes in his own bedroom.

“You going to tie me up or what?” Levi asked, arms folded as he watched Eren lay some blankets out.

“I don’t exactly keep rope hanging around… wait. Hang on.” Eren turned around and disappeared into the next room, only to return with a pair of fluffy green handcuffs. Levi eyed them and an eyebrow slowly rose.

“Kinky.”

“Shut up, it’s all I could think of. And they’re not mine, by the way.”

“Yeah yeah, sure.” Levi snickered quietly.

Eren scooted the camp bed toward the radiator and as instructed Levi took a seat, allowing himself to be cuffed to the radiator. He was still able to lie down, just with an arm above his head. Eren wasn’t about to ask if an intruder claiming to be a magical pigeon was comfortable. He was just preparing to make the call to the police in the morning to ask if any crazy convicts or mental patients had escaped from anywhere nearby recently.

Levi didn’t make all that much noise in his sleep once he was comfortable, and Eren cautiously crawled into bed, ensuring his rifle was leaning against the wall by his head.

Chapter Text

Sleep came and went and before Eren had realised he’d even fallen asleep he was awake again. It wasn’t unusual for him to wake up to the gentle, distant cooing of his birds from the garden, especially with the window open, but he hadn’t opened his window last night and he certainly knew the birds didn’t coo that loudly. Realisation hit him like a brick to the face and he shot up in bed, remembering in an instant that he had a guest, and his eyes widened as he looked at the completely empty camp bed on the other side of the room.

“Fucking-”

Eren turned to find the source of the low, throaty cooing. His black racing bird Levi was sat on his headboard, legs tucked under his body as he watched Eren spaz out with his usual attentive grey eyes. He most definitely wasn’t human, and Eren wondered where the guy from last night went. He flung himself out of bed and gripped at the door which he’d locked last night, finding it still locked. Levi just sat on his headboard and cooed gently while Eren ran around the house and failed to find any clues of anyone leaving. Levi wasn’t in the pigeon coop either.

Levi flapped over to the camp bed and caught Eren’s attention when he returned to the bedroom and Eren noticed that the clothes he’d leant the man were still on the camp bed in the same position he’d been lying in. Even down to the detail of the cuff of the top still being wedged in the handcuff.

Eren wasn’t about to be fooled so easily. He sat on the ottoman at the end of his bed and glared at the little black bird perched there.

“Alright smartass. If you’re human half the time you can probably understand me.”

The pigeon just cocked it’s head and stared at him. Eren wasn’t expecting the bird to understand him any more than he’d been trained for.

“So if you’re actually human, Mr. so-called “pigeon”, then turn around in a circle.”

The bird turned around on the spot before tilting it’s head to eye Eren again.

“Turn around the other way,” Eren said, glaring at the bird. It did as it was told.

“Say something.”

Levi’s neck swelled up slightly as he cooed softly, still eyeing Eren patiently.

“Eat a dick,” Eren muttered. He couldn’t believe the bird might have been telling the truth. He went to rub his eyes with frustration and a flurry of black was flapping toward him, pecking at his crotch. He squealed in a very un-masculine way and batted Levi away.

“Fucking smartass.”

Levi cooed a few times, his beak opening and closing as his head bobbed. It was unusual behaviour to see from a pigeon. It was clearly laughing at him.

But then again, this one wasn’t completely avian. Eren glared at Levi as if his existence personally offended him.

He held a hand out and Levi happily flew up to perch and Eren took him back out to the loft. He let Levi loose with the other birds and quickly retreated to head back into the house to get ready for work.

Not that he was able to focus all day.

Kuchel’s words kept creeping into his mind. She said Levi would stay if Eren liked him. Is this why? She couldn’t tell Eren his age either. Is that because he wasn’t exactly a bird?

Who the hell was his uncle if he cast a spell on him?

Why was his mother so willing to sell her son in exchange for sentimental tat?

Why did this have to happen to Eren?

...and why was Levi so damn good looking? He had the body of an athlete, which made sense, considering he was a racing bird who ate nothing but protein and occasional carbs, but still. Had he been sleeping with the birds every night since he arrived?

Didn’t he get cold?

Fuck.

Eren felt bad for locking the loft religiously every night, not knowing that someone was inside, stark naked and sleeping with birds. Levi had been under his care for well over a month now and it was still winter. How Levi had not froze to death Eren didn’t know. The loft was mildly heated but it wasn’t anything like that of his house. It was suitable for the birds that had naturally high body temperatures but nothing warm enough for a human without any clothes on.

When Eren got home from work he did his rounds an hour later than usual. The sun had set and he went out to feed the horses first, then the pigeons. He was purposefully avoiding them, saving them for last.

He went inside and found Levi there again, the human Levi, buck naked and curled up in the corner sleeping. There were a few of the other male birds perched on his knees and shoulders and even one on his head. Eren felt his jaw tighten at how cute he found it.

“Wake up.” Eren said tersely as he approached. The other birds were all flapping excitedly as he shuffled in with his bucket of feed, filling up the feeders and topping up the grit. Levi opened his eyes and glared at him.

“Leaving me hungry, then?” Levi griped.

“No. You’re coming inside tonight.”

“Why?”

“Seems I missed the sunset deadline to feed you grit and bird seed. Did you want proper food or not?”

“Fine.” Eren tossed some clothes at Levi, the same ones from yesterday, and he slipped into them.

“Coming?” Eren asked. Levi followed him silently.

Once Levi was sat at the kitchen table, Eren leaned against the counter after getting a can of cider out of the fridge. He wasn’t a big alcohol drinker but considering the circumstances he felt it was apt.

“So you’re a pigeon.”

“Well technically I started out human,” Levi said with a minute shrug and a childish look of disinterest plastered across his face. Eren took a generous swig of his drink. At least it was cold and refreshing.

“So you’re a human, who turns into a racing pigeon by sunrise.”

“Correct.”

“And you said you had a spell put on you?”

“Yeah my asshole uncle, Kenny, thought it was appropriate to turn me into my least fucking favourite animal; the flying rat.”

Eren frowned at that. He’d grown up with pigeons and found them to be so far from the stereotype that Levi was complaining about. Yes, feral birds in cities weren’t pleasant, carried diseases and shat on everything, but all of his birds were well looked after and, probably most importantly, vaccinated.

“How long have you been this way?”

“Ten years or so.”

“Seriously? How old are you?” Eren asked, eyeing him carefully. He didn’t look much older than himself, guessing he was in his mid to late twenties.

“Thirty five.”

“Holy shit,” Eren mumbled. “Sorry, did you want anything to drink?”

“No but some food would be good,” Levi said. Eren would ask questions for as long as Levi would answer them. He made his way to the fridge to see what he had in.

“And can this spell be broken?” Eren asked.

“I dunno. It’s more a curse than it is a spell. If I lose a race I’ll stay a pigeon forever.”

“Oh, damn. I guess that’s why you always win, huh?”

“Yeah. I have to or it’s grit, seeds, and bird shit for the rest of my sad fucking life.” Levi practically spat the last few words.

“And you’ve only ever raced a couple of times with each keeper ‘cause they found a grown ass man in their loft and booted you out, right?”

“Right.” Levi sighed. Eren had the feeling he wasn’t telling him everything, judging by the look on the older man’s face. He looked morose as he ran his finger over the wood grain on the table. Eren started pulling some of the leftovers from last night’s Chinese out and prepping them for the microwave.

“So you can’t break the curse that you’re aware of, and you have to keep winning races to stay human overnight. Why did your uncle curse you anyway?”

“I stabbed him.”

Eren’s fingers slipped against the microwave button and he flung his head around, half expecting to find not an axe murderer but a knife murderer behind him. Levi’s bored expression didn’t change, just looking at him as if he was patiently waiting for his food to be done.

“He wasn’t a good man. Wasn’t very kind to my aunt so I tried protecting her before he could hurt her more.”

“So your uncle turned you into a pigeon. Can all of your family do that?”

“Most of us. It’s not something we advertise though. My mum turned him into a cockatoo once she found out what he was doing to her sister.”

“Can you? Do spells, I mean?”

“Not any more.”

“So you can just turn people into animals?”

Levi sighed. “It’s not quite that easy. If I’m still around after the racing season I’ll tell you.”

“Fair enough,” Eren said. Although still curious, he would drop it for now. The microwave sounded and he brought a couple of plates and chopstick pairs over to the table with him, sitting opposite to Levi.

“So you’re like, completely sentient when you’re in your pigeon form?”

“That’s correct.”

“So that’s why you didn’t bother breeding any of the females?” Eren asked with a snort, amused.

“I don’t swing that way.”

“What, women?”

“Birds, you moron.” Levi had an amused look on his face for a split second but Eren was just mortified he’d suggested this very human man was attracted to birds. Eren laughed awkwardly and Levi just rolled his eyes, tucking into his noodles. Once he’d shovelled down a couple of mouthfuls and wiped his mouth, he spoke back up.

“I don’t like women either for that matter.”

Eren was mid-swig of his cider as he choked, trying to cover it up as a cough. Levi was giving him an amused look that suggested he knew exactly that Eren hadn't been expecting that. Eren was suddenly super conscious of all the times he’d idly spoken to his birds while lamenting about his lack of ‘decent cock to suck’ in the village. He prayed to the heavens that Levi would never bring up some of the things he’d said in that loft.

“And neither do you, if I heard correctly.” Levi added, smirking. Eren’s face was bright red by now. Levi knew everything.

“Please, don’t mention it.”

“Some of the stories you told me though, phew. Got me wishing sometimes I wasn’t a bird in that moment.”

“Please, really. Don’t mention it.” Eren pleaded, face turning even brighter as he chugged the rest of his drink and got up to retreat away from Levi’s knowing stare and taking his dinner with him.

Levi apparently finished his dinner and Eren could hear the clink of crockery as he washed up after himself. He was sat in the living room curled up with a blanket when he heard Levi come into the room.

“Now what?” Levi asked.

“Eh?”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I’m not your master or anything, do what you want? I figured you might want to sleep where it’s warm, that’s all.”

“Well you are, technically.”

“Not when you’re human. That’s just weird,” Eren said, frowning. Levi must have been like this for long enough to alter his mindset.

“Right. Okay,” Levi said, coming closer to sit on the sofa at the other end. He pulled his feet up underneath himself and just sat there.

“Did you want to watch a movie or something?” Eren tried. Levi eyed him like he’d just suggested they take a shit together. His cheeks pinched up as he squinted at the younger man. Eren held out the remote as if questioning if Levi knew what the hell he was talking about. When Levi barely responded he flicked the TV on and chose a movie. It was a documentary that Eren didn't really pay much attention to because Levi was sat beside him looking cagey as fuck and twitching every so often.

“You alright?” Eren asked.

“Mind if I take a shower?” Levi asked. It was starting to get a bit late, so Eren had better get moving himself, too. Once the TV had been switched off, Levi seemed much more still, and he led him upstairs and showed him the guest bedroom and the bathroom.

“You can stay here as many nights as you want. I suppose you don’t have to stay in the loft as long as you don’t shit on everything in the house.”

Levi just stared at him and deadpanned, “don’t tempt me.”

Eren pulled a face which Levi smirked at. He told Levi where to find the towels and headed next door to sit by himself for a moment. He had to take a minute to get his head around everything. Process all of the information. His winning homer was human. By night. Magic was real, and most alarmingly, the guy his pigeon was, was pretty good looking to boot.

Eren realised that he wasn’t going to live very long and that at twenty-five years young, he’d begun his mid-life crisis.

Maybe it was time to buy a boat… and disappear into the horizon.

When morning came by again, following an awkward night of hearing strange noises coming from the guest bedroom down the hall - rumbly breathing noises - as if Levi were trying to comfort himself in some way by making his chest vibrate like pigeons coo.

Eren let himself into the guest room just before sunrise to find a head of black hair curled up in the corner at the back of the room. The position didn’t look at all comfortable. It was like he was sat on his feet at the head of the bed, leaning into the corner of the wall with his face pressed against it.

Eren decided this was a good moment to watch and see if Levi really did turn into a pigeon. He checked his watch. Sunrise was soon and Levi was still asleep.

The moment sunrise hit, Eren must have blinked and missed it, because one moment he had his eyes on a very uncomfortable human crumpled up into the corner, drooling on the wall, and the next minute he was looking at a mysteriously empty pile of clothing in the corner on the bed. There was no magic spark or flashing lights, it just sort of… happened.

He carefully approached and eyed the small lump of clothes, peeling the shirt away to find a small black lump of feathers curled up inside. An ordinary looking racing bird curled up to sleep, looking just as adorable as all the others did when they rested together.

Levi noticed the change almost instantly and was awake and alert. Eren helped him out of his human clothes which were piled atop him and Levi perched on Eren’s hand, trying to stretch out and yawn while Eren walked him downstairs.

Levi made a beeline for the back door and landed beside it on the kitchen counter, eyeing the door and then eyeing Eren. Eren understood and in his too-tired-to-notice state, opened the door as if he were letting a pet cat or dog out for a wee, not even thinking that Levi might actually not come back.

“Crap,” he muttered as Levi flapped past him and flew out of the door, disappearing in a flash above the house. He left the door open, just in case he’d want to come back in. It was cold but Eren wanted to see if Levi would return to join him for breakfast. He had to come up with something that would be suitable for a pigeon to eat that wasn’t necessarily seed. He settled on a few greens from the cabbages he’d bought from the farmer’s market, as well as a few carrot leaves and various other green things that he himself wouldn’t eat.

He also laid out a few berries, too. The birds often liked those as a treat now and then. He got to start on his own omelette and made himself a cup of tea when he heard flapping again and tapping feet on the kitchen table. He turned his head to spot Levi back, hopping up to perch on the backs of one of the dining chairs.

“I only had some green stuff and fruit if you wanted anything,” Eren explained as he gestured to the plate he’d left at the table. Levi started in on some of the greens while Eren finished off his eggs and joined the strange little black creature at the dining table.

Eren watched as Levi ate, picking only at the few bits he fancied and leaving the hard bits of greenage. He devoured the raspberries Eren had left for him. He supposed there wasn’t much point in making conversation.

“I’m signing up for the big race this year, think you’ll be able to handle it?” Eren asked. Levi just cocked his head and eyed Eren before returning his attention to the raspberries beneath him. He cooed softly and Eren didn’t really know what to make of the response.

“I guess I’ll have to wait for tonight to speak to you,” he said before finishing off his breakfast and heading upstairs to get ready for work. Once he returned, he let himself back into the loft and the sun was still up. Thankfully the days were still short, so Eren still had time to catch Levi in his avian form. He made sure to feed the birds first thing, but Levi showed no interest in the grains.

Eren was ready today with a fresh change of clothes for Levi. He’d run by the local shopping outlet to pick a few things out in a smaller size. He said nothing as he paid for items two sizes too small for himself and made a swift exit to make his way home.

“Hope these fit, I had to guess,” he said as he rested the freshly laundered and folded clothes on the small shelf at the back of the loft hallway. The sun hadn’t set yet, so Levi was still sat on his perch as he waited.

By the time Eren had popped out to tend to the horses, Levi had let himself out of the loft on foot, dressed and finishing off the buttons of his new shirt. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and waited in the middle of the yard beside the bird feeder. Eren closed the stables and found Levi bent over said bird feeder, picking at bits and tasting them.

“Um, Levi?” Eren asked as he approached. Levi straightened up and looked in Eren’s direction as if he hadn’t just been picking at bird food. Maybe he forgot he was human sometimes? Eren found the notion strangely endearing and was quick to remind himself that just because Levi was half human, and definitely not straight, that he was the first piece of ass Eren had to jump.

Eren was painfully inexperienced anyway, he’d never feel confident enough to make a move on Levi.

The circumstances were too weird to begin with.

Eren had spent years around pigeons and various other domesticated birds. He knew their behaviour well. How they interacted with one another and showed each other their feelings and intentions. Translate that into a human body however and the behaviour was very hard for Eren to get his head around. Eren observed how Levi would sometimes have moments of very human behaviour and other moments where his actions were very clearly avian in nature. Humans tended not to preen feathers that were not there. Sometimes Levi would forget that fact.

He would also sometimes forget that he had a mouth. He would stick his lips into a glass of water and try to suck and then quickly remembered he didn’t have a beak. It took him a few weeks to grow fully used to spending time as a human in the evenings. It was only for a few hours each day, as lengthening days shortened the time the two could spend together.

The pair inevitably grew closer in a platonic way at first, and whatever races Eren signed Levi up for were won with record times. They weren’t just record times for his local club, either. He was suddenly the country’s number one racer and Eren Yeager was the name attached to all of these miraculous wins. Kuchel had said Levi would stay if Eren liked him and so far she was true to her word. The old bird season had come to an end and Levi was the top ranking bird amongst the entire country. It had earned him a number of new fans and he was excited to see how his young birds would perform throughout the summer.

It was a late, mid-summer evening, when the days were at their longest, and Eren was sat in bed with his window open, listening to the birds round off their days with their evening songs. He was just about to tuck into a book when a flutter at the window caught his attention. Sure, the days were growing longer, and so Levi was bound to his avian form a lot more, but that didn’t stop the two from spending time together.

Levi had started to join Eren on his summer evening horse rides, flying around nearby or perching atop Eren’s shoulder as he walked the fields and exercised the horses.

He had also started to exhibit some of that peculiar pigeon behaviour in the evenings too. Eren’s pigeons were very social, very gentle creatures that thrived on attention. They loved being petted and stroked and they equally adored nuzzling against Eren’s hands or shoulders - whatever they could reach. That’s partly why Eren loved them, they were so affectionate in ways that his own life was sorely lacking.

So Levi had started to migrate toward Eren’s bedroom in order to get a better night’s sleep indoors. If left by himself, he would just curl into a corner and barely sleep. Beside Eren however, he seemed much more at ease. He was probably accustomed to spending the night with the other pigeons nearby, having bodies close to reassure him.

Eren found all the little things Levi did increasingly more sweet and endearing. It was even more special knowing that there was a human behind the feathers with relatively full knowledge of what he was doing.

Levi let himself in through Eren’s bedroom window and landed on the floor, only to lift himself up as a human sat on the floor on the opposite side of the bed to Eren. Eren passed him a blanket and patted the bed beside himself. Levi didn’t speak all that much but Eren figured Levi enjoyed his company just as much as he enjoyed having Levi around.

Levi wrapped himself up and scooted up onto the bed, curling up onto his side and inspecting what Eren was reading.

“It’s been so long since I read a book,” Levi said.

“Was that something you enjoyed?” Eren asked, gently stroking Levi’s hair as if he were some sort of large dog. Levi didn’t move away since it was no different to the way in which Eren would show his avian form affection by stroking down the back of his folded wings.

“Yeah, I used to read and write a lot at school. Even did an English degree at Uni.”

“Oh wow, what did you want to work as?”

“I wanted to teach English.”

“I suppose you still could?” Eren suggested weakly. Levi just shrugged and huffed into the bedding.

“Yeah, at night school maybe. My circumstances don’t really allow for many night time activities though.”

“Well I’m sure you could just take a few power naps during the day like the other birds,” Eren said. Levi just shuffled closer and closed his eyes. He wasn’t particularly good at staying awake when it was dark, only because he had been conditioned to sleep with the fall and rise of the sun for ten long years like some sort of permanently ingrained alarm clock.

“Read to me?” Levi asked quietly.

Eren smiled and nodded, getting himself comfortable before opening his book back up.

“That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. "Your father’s right," she said. "Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy…”

As Eren read his novel aloud for Levi to enjoy it didn’t take too long to feel Levi’s breathing even out and he soon fell asleep. When Eren was sure that Levi was completely asleep he made sure to get up and close the window a little bit, leaving it open just enough to ensure an avian Levi would be able to get in and out in the morning if he so pleased. He made sure he was wrapped up warm and then gently laid another blanket on top of him before getting into bed and switching the light off.

He woke up early to the strange sensation of an arm around his middle and breath on his neck.

It wasn’t a sensation that he particularly opposed, either.

He lay there, pretending to be asleep a little while longer and then shifted to check the time. When he did move, he felt Levi roll off him and onto his back. It was still very early and it was still very dark out. They still had time before sunrise.

“You awake?” Eren asked. Levi had fallen asleep before it had gotten really dark, so he was probably bound to be awake.

“Yeah. Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay.”

Levi shifted a little to cover himself a bit better, given that his feet poked out of the blanket when he stretched out. In a moment of feeling bold, Eren rolled over to face Levi’s side and rested his cheek against the side of his arm, gently placing his own arm over Levi’s midsection. Levi didn’t move.

“Sorry I can’t be more normal,” Levi said softly, staring up at the ceiling. Eren shifted a little bit and leant up on his elbow to get a better look at Levi in the dark. His hair was getting a bit long and Eren was half tempted to hire someone to come out one evening to give it a cut and a freshen up. Like hell did he know how to cut hair himself. He wasn’t sure Levi knew either.

“It’s okay, I guess. Oh,” Eren said, his tone surprising Levi a little. “You said if you were still around you’d tell me something else about yourself? Something about your ability to perform magic?”

“You remember that huh?” Levi sort of chuckled. It felt more like he was trying to clear his chest of stubborn phlegm than laugh, but Eren knew him by now to know he was amused.

“I’m not that forgetful.”

“It’s sort of like a family trait. We each have a particular bird we’re attuned to and can shapeshift into.” Eren listened carefully as Levi seemed to pick up on any questions he might have. “Mine is a gyrfalcon.”

“Oh, so you usually transform into one of those instead? Beautiful birds, those.” Levi smiled slightly at that before he continued on, his expression dropping a little into something closer to sadness.

“Well, I used to. My uncle obviously changed that. I used to hate pigeons, but I suppose you spend ten years in someone else’s shoes and you learn some appreciation.”

Eren huffed with amusement and agreement. “I guess you’re right.”

“My mother can turn people into birds and can take the form of a goshawk, but willfully. She’s like I used to be. She can control it. We don’t usually use it often, not as much as our ancestors used to.”

“Oh, wow. That’s fair enough. Didn’t goshawks go extinct way back?” Eren asked. Levi nodded.

“Yeah they re-introduced them to the UK about sixty years ago but what they didn’t tell you about were the witch hunts that sent them extinct in the first place. They’d get collared in their human forms and burnt at stakes back in the 1800’s. We’re more cautious these days.”

“Understandable.”

“Did you have any other questions?”

“Was there anything else about your curse that you hadn’t told me? Any clues maybe on how to break the spell?” Eren was getting much closer to Levi than he’d bargained for, so naturally he was keen to see if there was a way of making them both even happier.

Even if Levi was a human again and he lost all his races once more, he was sure he wouldn’t mind with Levi by his side for good.

“Eh, I don’t really know. All I was told is I better not lose a race or otherwise I’ll be no good for nothing. Pretty sure I’ll stay a pigeon for good if I lose - without the ability to turn back during night.”

“Oh right. Nothing else?”

“I mean, a few of the spells my mum taught me involve true love’s kiss, but my uncle was never that sentimental to add a clause. Knowing him, if there was a clause it will be fucking difficult to find.”

“Couldn’t you just ask him?” Eren suggested.

“About that. Mum was in such a rage when she found out what he’d done to both me and my aunt, the state she put him in is permanent, indefinitely. He’s a grumpy ass, scraggly fucking cockatoo for good.”

“Oh, damn,” Eren said softly and Levi hummed an agreement. “So is there nothing I can do to help? Are you sure about that true love’s kiss thing?”

Eren hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but Levi’s face was priceless. His eyes had gone wide and his cheeks were tinted red even in the dim lighting of the room. Eren instantly recognised his mistake and felt his face heating up in return. Neither of them spoke for what felt like a long time. Eren just remained the same distance away and noticed when Levi swallowed thickly and licked his lips.

“Did you want to try it?” Levi asked so softly it was practically a whisper. Eren was close enough to hear it though, his eyes flicking up to the dark window for a moment, just to check his timing.

“It’s worth a try I guess?”

The pair went quiet again, both holding their breaths in anticipation for whatever was about to happen. Eren found it absurd he was this nervous about kissing someone. There were butterflies in his stomach and he couldn’t fathom just how this peculiar, intriguing and gorgeous creature that was Levi had ended up asking him such a question.

After another long beat Eren finally started to slowly move forward. He spotted Levi’s tongue dart out to wet his lips and he felt a hand move up to his cheek as their lips met. It was a brief kiss at first but Eren didn’t pull away entirely, keen to try again. After a few short, sweet, closed mouth kisses, both parties keen to avoid morning breath, Levi stroked Eren’s cheek and scooted up against the pillows.

“We don’t have much time before sunrise.”

“Maybe we should do this again sometime?” Eren asked quietly, leaning back into his own personal space.

“I’d like that, curse or not.”

“Heh, me too.”

And do it again sometime they did. The same night, after Levi had turned back into a human and joined Eren again for another chapter of his novel. Eren had barely finished it and Levi had rolled over and pulled his neck down so their lips could meet again. Eren’s book fell from loose fingertips and tumbled to the floor without a care in the world as Levi’s soft, warm lips melded against his own.

Levi kept the tongue to a minimum and Eren didn’t dare take things any deeper unless Levi made it clear he wanted it. Levi seemed content with lazy, slow kisses and on occasion he would gently nip at Eren’s lower lip, sucking it into his mouth and swiping the tip of his tongue against it.

Eren was too nervous to initiate anything more than what Levi would give him, but he was embarrassed to admit he felt himself growing a little bit aroused from simply kissing. It had been so long, after all. Before Levi had started spending his evenings with Eren, he had always dealt with his tension in the evenings. Now Levi was usually always around, he found it difficult to find a moment alone and felt too awkward to do it when the older man was around.

It did pique his interest, though.

“So, as a bird, do you ever get like, horny?” Eren asked between kisses. Levi seemed content to just sprawl across Eren’s chest lazily like some sort of large housecat. Pigeons tended to enjoy keeping close company with their closest family and friends, preening themselves and gently grooming each other. It was more common in coupled, mated pairs, but bachelors spent time together too, just not so intimately. Either way, Levi was growing more and more attached to Eren and refused intimacy with any other birds in the loft.

“Sometimes,” Levi said softly, pecking Eren’s lips. “Do you?”

Eren’s face flushed slightly and he swallowed at the prospect of this gorgeous creature doing anything remotely unsavoury to him. He was brought back from his thoughts when Levi kissed him once more and shuffled down to nuzzle up against his chest and hold himself close to Eren’s warm body. Levi spent most of his evenings nude, after all. He gravitated to warmth and Eren was often the closest thing available.

While Eren tried to rationalise the behaviour as something simple minded birds would do naturally, he was quick to remind himself that Levi was first human and that whatever choices he was making to get closer to Eren, were being made entirely out of choice, not from instinct. The thought made Eren’s chest feel strangely warm in ways that only newfound fondness could.

The quiet evenings of gentle kisses and cuddles carried on that way throughout the rest of the season and Levi kept racing. He was permitted to fly both in the old and young bird categories. It must have been something to do with his spell, but when inspected by the race agencies, his avian physiology appeared naturally appropriate to whatever age group he was meant to be flying in. Eren would be endlessly amazed by that.

Sure, Levi looked the same, and he insisted Eren put a different leg band on him for the new summer season of young bird races, but otherwise he kept winning. The single black Yeager bird that stole all medals and trophies away from all other competitors. Some of which had been training their birds for just as long as Eren, if not longer, and as full time hobbies.

Eren was eager to not sign Levi up for any races he might have trouble with, but when Levi assured him that he had flown from Italy back home one time in a single day, Eren didn’t worry so much. Levi was the best. Levi being the best also attracted attention.

Naturally, for as many new fans Eren received through Levi’s stellar successes, he earned just as many who would rather see him fail in the wake of their own birds winning instead. Greed did ugly things to humans susceptible enough to it’s allure.

The release trucks had driven out some three thousand birds to central France in early August, nearing the end of the racing season. There were a number of races still planned, including a huge, three to five day flight from Morocco, for any fanciers brave enough to pit their birds against that particular test. The further from home their birds were released, the less chances they had of making it home.

“We’ve only got one problem with Morocco,” Levi said. “They have to get me there during the day and release me the same day.”

Eren understood Levi’s concerns. The truck’s release crates weren't human-friendly. They were just big enough to house Levi in his human form but it most certainly would not be comfortable.

“The schedule says to drop the birds off the night before for the first flight from nearby. They’re not driving them out to the city airport, just the local one. I’ll see if I can speak to someone about the crates since they seal them overnight.”

“Alright.”

The pair made their way upstairs and got comfortable curled up against each other. Eren woke to a few clanging noises coming from the garden but his sleepy mind didn't register what it was for a few seconds.

Levi was still lying next to him and he stirred when Eren sat up to look at the time.

It was 1:14am.

Something was wrong.

Chapter Text

Having been woken up in the dead of night, Eren was frustrated.

He got up, glanced out the window and spotted movement down in the back garden. He turned on his heel quickly and flung a housecoat on, picking up his rifle as Levi sat up, tired and a little confused by the sudden movement. Eren flung himself out the back door and raised his rifle as he approached the open door of his bird loft.

“Come out slowly if you don't want to be shot,” Eren warned. He never usually used his rifle except for scaring the odd fox away when he caught them sniffing around. It was more for a sense of security to scare them off than to actually do harm. Years of clays shooting had taught him a very astute aim though, so his threats were far from empty.

He heard shuffling and two bodies came out of the bird loft with their faces covered and their hands raised. Levi had since woken up and phoned the police, shuffling outside in a loose blanket with bare legs and a neck covered with hickeys. The pair must have looked a right sight.

Eren didn't notice Levi behind him since he was too busy focusing on the pair before him.

“What were you doing eh?” He demanded of them as quietly as he could, given his anger. His neighbours weren't exactly nearby but he’d still had moments when they had thought someone was being beaten up whenever he exercised by himself in the garden.

Given his rocky teenage years following his parents’ death, he was well accustomed to visits from the police.

What the police weren't accustomed to however was receiving phone calls from the Yeager household itself.

The two men exchanged looks and one nudged the other when Levi’s appearance distracted Eren for a short moment. Neither of them said anything.

“What were you doing in there?” Eren asked again, louder this time. Levi shuffled up to Eren to whisper about his phone call for some authorities to come and collect their intruders. Eren thanked him and Levi moved to duck into the loft and check on the birds. He popped back out and moved beside Eren to inform him of what he’d found in a hushed tone.

“There's some pellets on the floor. Probably rat poison judging by the smell.”

Eren’s brow furrowed as his heart sank and a steady hand on his shoulder kept him from filling the two guys with a few new holes. It was a tense, long moment of silent waiting where all of them stood there, two at Eren’s gunpoint, before Levi disappeared to answer the front door following a single police car’s arrival.

The pair were led out to the back of the police car by one tired looking officer and the other officer who accompanied him stayed to take Eren’s statement in the living room. It was about an hour after waking up that Eren was sat in the living room while Levi showed the officer out and wished him well, thanking them for coming by so late.

Levi returned and Eren had his head in his hands, rubbing his temples.

“Come on Eren, we have to check the loft,” Levi insisted. Eren nodded and got up straight away.

“Get dressed first, I’ll be outside.” Eren made his way outside and thankfully the lock wasn't broken too badly. The idiots had done themselves a favour by being noisy and in part, if it weren't for Levi, Eren might not have had his bedroom window open to hear it.

He shone his torch into the loft compartments and the birds thankfully were all too sleepy to notice exactly what had happened. If Eren hadn't have caught them, the birds likely would have woken up at dawn and started eating the mysterious new pellets.

Eren turned the lights on inside the loft and worked through his tiredness to start brushing the little dark green pellets off into the grated flooring.

“Looks like we caught them at the start, I don't see any toward the back,” Eren informed Levi as he stepped through wearing a pair of sweatpants and one of Eren's sweaters with a dustpan and brush in hand. They worked quickly and thoroughly together, getting rid of any little pellets they could find.

Eren did a quick headcount and all birds were still accounted for.

When the adrenaline had calmed down and Levi had led Eren back indoors to calm down and go back to bed, Eren groaned and gladly went along.

“Thanks for earlier,” Eren said. “I probably would have lost my temper if it weren’t for you.”

“Lost your temper, and with a rifle too,” Levi mentioned as he started undressing for bed again. Eren approached him slowly and stopped him from taking his sweater off, smiling a little bit.

“What?” Levi asked, frowning.

“You look good in that,” Eren said with a smile. Levi huffed and stripped the sweater off, leaving himself bare aside from his boxers.

“Get to bed,” Levi said, prying Eren off him and crawling into bed. He waited for Eren to lay down so he could drape himself over the young man. Eren received a quick kiss and Levi was straight back to business, getting comfortable again.

Thanks to the early morning intrusion, Eren overslept. He usually liked to wake up just a little before sunrise but he didn’t always manage it when he was tired like today. He woke slowly with the sunlight and groaned, stretching his arms above his head and tucking them under his pillow. He felt a small weight on his chest and peeled an eye open to find Levi perched on his chest, wings folded neatly and his neck squished comfortably down against his body. His eyes were closed and he seemed fast asleep. Eren was grateful that it was his day off. He could afford to stay there a little while longer before the animals would begin to wonder where their breakfast was.

Levi was making tender little cooing noises as he slept, as if it were the bird version of quiet snores, and Eren found it incredibly adorable. His heart swelled up with unrestrained fondness and he struggled to stop the smile that curved his lips. Eren used a single finger to stroke down Levi’s back, gently smoothing over the slick black feathers. Levi nuzzled into himself, as if rousing from his sleep and his neck puffed out minutely as he cooed and vibrated with satisfaction.

“I gotta feed the animals. Levi, c’mon, get up.”

Levi huffed and hopped off Eren’s chest, moving back into the warm spot on the bed after Eren had gotten up to curl back up into himself and sleep.

Levi joined Eren out in the yard later that day, sitting in the bird bath, flapping around contently, and leaning to the sides to air out beneath his wings. He’d sit in the sun with his feathers all puffed out and half submerged in the bath. Eren was busy gardening when Levi flapped over onto the short grass and caught his attention with the way he was cooing at him.

Cooing. And puffing his neck out… flaring his tail feathers out. Bowing and turning around in circles.

Eren knew a horny pigeon when he saw one.

“Levi!”

--

Two more races in the young bird season passed and naturally Levi came in first place. He couldn't afford to remain a pigeon forever. Not when he had Eren to keep his company each night now.

Eren had managed to figure out what the birds would be transported to Morocco in, and found the crate size a decent size, enough so in order to house Levi for an uncomfortable night if they absolutely needed. Eren didn’t want him to go through with it, but Levi insisted he would be fine. He’d done more miles in a single day when he wasn’t even at his peak ability, so the race itself would be no issue even after a shit night’s sleep.

The two goons he found were buddies of a rival bird fancier who would rather interrupt Eren’s winning streak by poisoning his birds than actually produce a bird that could beat Levi. Eren chose not to press charges because none of his birds had actually suffered any ill from the stunt, but Eren soon regretted that choice.

Zeke was a much older chap who’d been in the pigeon races for far longer than Eren had been alive, and was not the best sport. He had shown no signs of expressing any friendly sportsmanship to Eren ever since the old bird season had begun and he'd started winning. Eren didn’t want Levi to worry, so he’d kept their little spats at the bird clubs to himself. Eren would drop his birds off to race and Zeke would give the crate a warning kick for ‘good luck’ as he scowled in Eren’s direction.

‘It’s a shame they seal these so soon. I’d be half tempted to switch our numbers,’ he’d said to one of the others who had accompanied him to the clubhouse to register for the race, gesturing to Eren’s birds.

Eren was spending his Sunday afternoon at the village pub, with his best friend Armin, his sister Mikasa and her tolerable boyfriend Jean, enjoying a drink in the sunshine when Zeke had shown up with some friends of his own. They were people Eren recognised from the bird club and seemed to work with him and his birds. They were full-time bird racers and some of their pigeons were worth thousands to the right breeder.

Eren’s birds, with Levi’s direction, were easily within the top tiers of the competition too and thus heavily sought after. Eren had multiple letters asking for sales. He was holding off until the race season finished to see if he would be interested in selling any of his now very valuable birds. He’d grown quite attached to all of them lately.

Zeke gave Eren a dirty look when he passed to get to the door and Eren scowled right back at him. He didn’t have to worry too much about being out and about during the day - he’d installed cameras and alarm systems to his house and garden and Levi usually came out with him whenever he could. If he couldn’t, Levi would usually stay in the house with a roof window open for avian access.

“Eren, don’t,” Mikasa warned him. Whenever they crossed paths, Eren was never particularly good at keeping his temper at bay. Naturally Eren had grown even more bothered knowing that Zeke and company meant harm to his winning homer, Levi. Just, they didn’t know he was human or knew him in quite so much detail as Eren did. This gave Zeke an advantage over Eren and Eren loathed him for it.

Eren grit his teeth and sipped at his pint, glowering. “I won’t start anything unless he does first.”

Mikasa rolled her eyes.

“What’s his beef anyway? Sore loser or what.” Jean griped. Eren was mid-gulp so Armin filled Jean in before they could receive a biased account from Eren.

“He’s obviously the last five season’s winner. He doesn’t like that someone much younger than himself has something that is able to beat him. He’s invested time and money to the nines into winning again this year… and each year, for that matter, that it’s really irked him that Eren’s winning every single race. Which, Eren, how are you doing it?”

“I told you already-”

“The old lady in the bird shop down town?” Jean remarked with a smirk.

“Precisely.”

“It still doesn’t explain everything, but I’m happy you’re seeing wins for a change,” Mikasa said with a shrug. Eren gesticulated exaggeratedly at Mikasa with one hand.

“Thank you!”

Eren’s eyes flicked to the side when Zeke came outside with his chums, pints in hand, taking up the next available bench and sitting down. Eren rolled his eyes and huffed, trying to keep his focus on the people at his own table.

“Don’t drink so fast, Eren,” Mikasa reminded him as Armin and Jean were chatting either side of her. She was more of a mother figure than a sister to Eren at times, which annoyed and endeared him in equal parts. Eren just grunted and glared over at Zeke who was smirking around his pint glass at Eren until Eren got up and stormed back into the pub for a refill.

Eren was waiting for his pint to be filled when he noticed a body move up to stand beside him at the bar. It was Zeke.

“Eren.”

“What?”

“Just saying hello, is that a crime?”

“You’re lucky I didn’t press charges against your two asshole buddies,” Eren spat.

“You don’t seem to have caught on, though?” Zeke turned with his drink in hand to eye Eren as he impatiently waited for his drink, itching to pay for it and get away from the asshole as soon and quickly as humanly possible.

“Caught on to what?”

“I’ve sent you a very clear message, so I suggest you listen.”

“Are you threatening me?” Eren felt the anger boiling up inside him, threatening to blow.

“Just a friendly reminder that you’re treading on thin ice. Wouldn't want to see you fall through.”

Eren glared at Zeke who looked fairly nonchalant about the whole conversation. The guy had the arrogance to waltz over to Eren as if he owned the skies.

“It’s fair game, so what if my birds are faster than yours? Breed something faster or face the facts that you’re not the best anymore.” Eren had been handed his drink but his inability to turn down an argument had him forget all about it bubbling away on the counter beside him. He was just barely coherent enough to tap his card to the PDQ machine.

Zeke took a step closer and the gesture was not innocent. He had a menacing look in his eyes behind round rimmed glasses that dared Eren to keep talking.

“You still don’t understand. If you don’t back down, I might have to pay you a much more personal visit. This time it won’t be the birds we try to get rid of.”

Eren was just about to thrust a fist into Zeke’s smug face when Mikasa’s voice distracted him from getting any angrier.

“Eren! Levi’s outside.”

Eh?

Eren glared tensely at Zeke, took his pint and followed Mikasa outside. The threat lingered in Eren’s mind as he settled back at the table to find Levi standing on the edge of the picnic table, preening his feathers.

“Did you leave the loft open or something?” Jean asked. It wasn’t like Eren could tell his friends he’d started living with a magical racing pigeon each night. They’d have him carted off to the psych ward.

“No, I mean, Levi doesn’t go anywhere so I let him out sometimes.”

“What did Zeke want?” Armin asked. Eren sank into his shoulders and grumbled, trying to wave them off while Levi was there. He didn’t want him to worry.

“Yeah, Eren. What’d he want? I doubt he’d follow you in for a friendly chat,” Jean wasn’t helping by insisting Eren share the details.

“You guys looked seconds from beating each other to a pulp,” Mikasa, why? Eren groaned and rubbed his face with frustration.

“He just wished me luck for Morocco,” Eren lied. None of them bought it, eyebrows raised and skeptical looks on their faces.

“Bullshit he did,” Jean called out. Levi just stood at the end of the table and tilted his head to eye Zeke as he came out, clearly listening to their conversation. Eren seemed flustered and Armin wasn’t convinced, which only made him feel worse.

“He said I’d better back off winning else he’ll be paying me a visit.”

“He threatened you?” Mikasa’s eyes darkened, a quieter, more precise form of rage compared with Eren’s explosive variety. Her eyes shot to the side to Zeke’s table. Levi puffed out his feathers and shook his head in distaste. Eren groaned.

“I guess? I think he just wants to win a race and we’ve only got like three left in the season.”

“Let him have one then?” Jean suggested with a shrug. “You’ve won literally all the others in both seasons. Sounds fair, right?”

“I can’t though, I can’t lose.”

“Why not? That asshole wants your head if you do, just give him one win this season and he’ll back off ‘till next year, I’m sure,” Armin said with a confused look on his face, not seeing the issue regarding Eren’s prized bird.

Eren had already registered Levi for the final three races of the season.

He had to fly them and Levi had to win them, or he’d be stuck as a pigeon forever.

--

It was two hours after Eren’s next success that Zeke showed up with a small troupe of brawn at Eren’s front door. There was little Levi could do, cooped up in the loft in the back yard and unaware as the three men forced their way into Eren’s house and held him up while Zeke delivered a few punches to his gut, knocking the wind out of him.

When they let go, Eren coughed and slumped to the floor. Before he could get up and fight back their boots were connecting with his body all over, giving him a thorough kicking. He curled in on himself and tried to protect his face as best he could, but a stomp to the back of his head left him dizzy and disorientated.

When they stopped, Zeke shoved Eren onto his back and pressed his boot against his neck. Eren wheezed and his bruised hands came up to try and relieve the pressure, not to much luck.

“Tell anyone we were here and I’ll come back and finish the job. Also if you think about winning the race next week, I’ll come back and break something else.”

Eren didn’t feel like anything was broken so thought Zeke was getting ahead of himself. That was until Eren realised he wasn’t finished yet and his boot moved from his throat to his right arm, stomping down on his forearm after kicking it away from his neck. The pain was deep and Eren almost wretched at the pain as he curled over on himself, lip split and bruised all over as he clutched at his now likely broken arm.

He barely registered Zeke and his men leaving, but he did manage to roll over enough to call Armin. He was worried that they might actually be serious after this, that calling an ambulance would only raise questions he’d rather not answer.

“Armin I need you to drive me to A&E. I think my arm is broken.”

“What? I’ll be over as soon as I can, is it not bad enough for an ambulance?”

“Nothing is bleeding,” Eren lied, feeling the iron taste of it in his mouth. He wasn’t bleeding severely at least. “Just hurts.”

“Put some ice on it to stop it swelling, I’ll call you once I’m there.”

“Alright.”

Eren hauled himself up to his feet and staggered to his bathroom to clean himself up. He straightened his clothes out and gingerly changed his shirt after blotting the blood from his chin and forehead. He wasn’t prepared to let Armin see he’d just had the crap beaten out of him, though he’d probably notice in the way he limped, but Eren hoped to lessen the impact as much as he could. He knew the outcome was going to be bad.

It was a case of choosing to win, keeping Levi but maybe losing himself, or choosing to lose and saving himself in exchange for Levi. He groaned and sat on the sofa, gingerly tying himself a makeshift sling for his broken arm.

Armin called as promised and Eren directed him through the open front door.

“What did you do?” Armin said, looking worried. Eren tried to shrug but winced as pain shot through his forearm. It was like a dull throb that radiated throughout his whole arm.

“I called you, not Mikasa, ‘cause Zeke came by.”

“What?! Eren, we’ve gotta-”

“We can’t tell the police,” Eren interrupted swiftly. “Zeke said he’d be back if we did. Or, he’d probably send someone in his place if he got nicked.”

“Was this about the race again?”

“Yeah. I won again.”

“Eren, didn’t we tell you not to?”

“I have to fly Levi. I’ve already signed him up and if I don’t enter him-”

“Then Zeke won’t come back to finish you off. Eren.” Armin was practically pleading with his friend, not understanding Eren’s irrational desperation to keep the black bird in the races. “You gotta listen to us for once,” Armin went on, heading to the kitchen to fish out some ice since Eren hadn’t bothered. He crushed some ice up in a sandwich bag and wrapped it in a tea towel, handing it to Eren to hold against himself.

“Would you mind checking on the loft before we go?”

“Aren’t you in pain?”

“It can wait, just make sure everything’s locked, please? Tell them I’m sorry I won’t be home for dinner.”

At least it looked like Armin understood the request. He disappeared into the back garden to check on the birds - not that he knew what he was looking for. Either way he returned and reassured Eren that they had water and seemed to be happy with the amount of food that was still in their feeding trays. The loft and the back door had been locked.

“Did you tell them?” Eren asked as they left, locking everything up as they went.

“Yeah, told them their keeper was an idiot and broke his arm.”

“Really?” Eren’s face paled, although he knew that Levi would notice eventually. He felt awful for leaving him in the lurch, out in the loft. He didn’t have a choice though.

It was nightfall by the time Eren made it home. He’d been sitting in the waiting room for a couple of hours before he’d been seen to, and it had taken another hour to get processed and his wrist wrapped in a cast. He dreaded returning home for the simple fact he’d locked his lover in a bird shed all evening without any explanation. Eren was nervous when he approached the back door, fingers hesitating on the handle before he unlocked it and slipped outside.

As soon as Eren approached the loft he heard movement inside. Levi was at the door in a heartbeat wearing his standard housecoat they kept in the bird loft for the evenings. Changing in and out of clothes got old fast, so he just spent most evenings in a robe or a sheet.

It was peculiar seeing Levi’s expression as anything other than neutral or slightly sarcastic and snarky. His brows were knitted ever so slightly and his eyes shone with an unexpressed rage toward Eren’s attackers. He was no idiot, that much Eren was certain of. Eren could tell by the look on Levi’s face, he knew who did this to him.

He felt sore and tender all over and even as Levi tried to give him a gentle hug, he winced.

“Let's go inside.” It was an order, not a request.

Levi had Eren sit on the bed and he brought a warm, damp towel to gently clean him up. He had a couple of cuts on his face and his body was bruised and battered. Eren didn't particularly feel like talking with how exhausted he was, but Levi seemed to have other plans.

“It was that asshole Zeke, wasn't it?”

“Yeah.”

“They’re pissed ‘cause you won again right?” Levi’s state was tough to avoid. He wanted answers, so Eren just nodded.

“Then,” Levi said quietly, undeniable sadness lacing his words despite the conviction in the delivery, “I’ll just have to lose.”

“What? No!” The surprise from the suggestion had Eren’s retort forcing its way from his body a little more forcefully than intended and he groaned with the full pain of movement. Levi gently pushed his good shoulder to have him relax back against the bed, but Eren was still tense.

“You can't, though.”

“Well if I win and they come back to finish the job I'm not sure I’d be able to remain human if I tried.” Levi gave Eren’s free hand a light squeeze. Not that it reassured him at all.

“I’ll just lock myself in the house and call the police if they show up again,” Eren suggested.

“Not good enough.”

“Levi, please don't?” Eren had resorted to begging. LevI looked so determined in his choice that Eren wasn't sure he’d be able to convince him. “Can't we talk to your mother and see if there's a counter spell? Or maybe, I don't know, get a bodyguard or something or, or…” Eren sniffed as his breath caught in his throat, the tears now falling from chuck hazel eyes. Levi tightened his grip on Eren’s hand and gently stroked his cheek on the side that was least injured.

“If you don't find a foolproof way of keeping yourself safe for this next race, I’m going to lose.”

Eren whined pathetically but nodded. “I just don't want to lose you,” he said softly, sniffling and wiping his nose.

“And you won't. But, if you go and die on me I’d say that's worse than being a bird. At least I won't die. Besides,” Levi added with a small smile, “who else would be crazy enough to fall for a fucking flying rat.”

Eren huffed out a laugh and smiled fondly at Levi.

“You’re not a flying rat. You’re my flying rat,” he teased with a playful smirk, earning himself a gentle shove from the older man. “Watch it!” He complained, only to have Levi lean down to peck him quickly on the lips before he rolled off and laid beside him.

Levi stretched out to get a tissue and dabbed it against Eren’s cheeks before Eren took it from him to blow his nose. Once comfortable, Levi curled up as close as he could get without outright draping himself all over the lad as usual, getting ready for another night of sleep.

Chapter Text

Eren didn't sleep well.

He didn't want Levi to lose the race and surrender his humanity for him. He wasn't worth it. The years Levi had endured with his curse, only to give it all up on something as pointless as Eren didn't make sense to him.

The worry kept him restless for the remainder of the week. While his arm wasn't too badly broken and healing quickly, his bruised torso didn't help much when it came to feeding animals and hauling hay.

Mikasa naturally found out what had happened and Jean had to try and hold her back from tearing Zeke a new one. It took Armin a solid hour of convincing to sway her choice to end him. She agreed to keep her silence in the end, although reluctantly. She wasn't very good at keeping Eren's antics to herself though, naturally being very honest.

It was even harder for Eren to keep Levi from sneaking out at night in nothing but his skivvies with a crowbar.

Race day came by the following week and Eren had checked all of his birds in at the clubhouse and returned home with Mikasa, Armin, Jean and five other friends under the guise of a house party celebrating Eren’s good race season. The underlying reason was the four of them ‘in the know’ would keep an eye on everything, make sure no one got too drunk and more importantly made sure no uninvited guests decided to show up.

Mikasa rounded everyone up and stuck a movie on to keep them all occupied.

Then they all waited for the birds to return.

--

In the release truck, Levi was itching to get back to Eren. He shifted from one leg to the other and cast his attention around to the rest of the flock in the crate with him.

Part of him wanted all of Eren’s efforts to be in vain, for him to lose the race and guarantee his safety. However, the team he’d been paired up with were all at a close skill level to himself now. There was nothing guaranteeing that one of the regular homers would take the lead and win in Levi’s stead, rendering his own efforts void.

It was a tough call, but Levi was adamant on ensuring his new lover’s safety above all else, regardless of what form he took thereafter.

He would hold back and fly alongside a different, slower flock of birds. He'd already clocked the location of Zeke’s flock and planned on following them instead of his own. They would be somewhat slower without him leading them, so hopefully they wouldn't create any surprises and beat the rest.

He had even snuck some grain into the loft the day before the race so Eren’s birds were less hungry and a little bit heavier. If Eren knew, he’d have thrown a fit, so Levi did it quietly.

Eren would learn to forgive him.

The two guys in the large transport truck came out and clocked their release time and one by one slid the crates open, the birds within instantly flocking out at the first gasp of freedom. It was mostly instinctual, the way homing pigeons returned home, trained to return to where they knew they would find familiar shelter and food.

Levi cocked his head to the side and crouched in anticipation of his crate doors sliding open and as soon as they scraped across he projected himself up and out into the air, wings beating quickly to gain speed as swiftly as always.

He struggled to keep pace with the rest of the birds. He was amongst some of the country’s best pedigree breeds and yet after so many years of consecutive, necessary wins, the pace he was going at almost felt like slow motion.

Today’s race was 220 miles. He would usually be able to complete that in just over one hour. It was the equivalent of getting a sprinter to walk to the finish line. The slow speed gave him an unusual amount of time to think.

He focused instead of letting his thoughts wander too far and lined himself up behind Zeke’s flock which were gaining altitude to avoid the big ass trees ahead of them. There was little more frustrating than his own flock getting distracted by the temptations of land, so he too led them upward to avoid distractions. Zeke’s flock did the same, only without singular leadership.

Levi got himself to a suitable altitude and started lengthening the beats of his wings, as if swimming through air in large, strong thrusts. If he got blown too high he would glide back down again, tucking his wings against his body and spearing himself through the air to get back to his desired altitude. Flying was a constant analysis of the air Levi flew through. There were turbulent pockets here and there and it was Levi’s honed ability to fly through the calm patches that helped to improve his speed. He’d had practice in his true form before being cursed.

He must have followed closely to Zeke’s flock for about half an hour when he noticed his own birds, Eren’s birds, had been flying closely behind him the whole time.

He allowed himself to fall back and slow slightly now he knew he had Eren’s birds following him. His heart was beating hard in his chest and the wind sounded louder than usual. He made a point of pushing Eren from his mind and was grateful when he caught a flash of black and gold from his peripherals. He tilted his head just enough to get a glance of a peregrine falcon diving through the sky with it’s beak sunk into one of Eren’s birds, talons sharply dug into it’s body before letting go and shooting back through the sky toward the flock.

Fuck. Not good. Peregrines, the fastest creature of the animal kingdom when in a stoop, was attacking his flock. They would never outfly it. Pigeons could hit maybe 110mph whereas the falcon wouldn’t even break a sweat hitting double that.

Levi pushed on faster, not wanting him or his flock to become falcon lunch. Everything in his being was flashing alarms pointing to foul play. It wasn’t often they would kill for sport much like this one seemed to be. It swooped beneath the flock and shot up and through, piercing the group of now panicking birds like a spear, taking another piece of the puzzle with it and letting the body fall toward the earth.

There were only fifteen birds racing today and they dropped like flies to the falcon. If Eren was going to lose all of his birds he’d rather try and disrupt the bird of prey as much as he could. He had knowledge that regular racing homers didn't so he’d have the best shot at distracting it and then getting away from it alive enough to tell the tale.

If only he had use of his true form. His own falcon was much bigger than a peregrine and would easily be able to at least wound it, allowing for an easier escape.

He dove downward and thankfully the flock didn't follow him. They were too scared. He looped around until he was behind them. The pigeons pushed on forward. He flapped quickly to catch back up and ducked and dived as close to the bird of prey as he could. A flash of cold silver in the falcon’s eyes gave Levi a peculiar feeling as he dodged by it, successfully distracting it. In that split second where the falcon flew past Levi and their eyes connected, it was like staring into the eyes of another being exactly like himself.

That’s when it hit him when the falcon dove and flew above them once again to prepare for another dive.

This wasn’t any ordinary falcon.

This was a human with the ability to shapeshift. It didn’t take long for Levi to get the feeling that it was Zeke picking off the birds himself. He might have been wrong in his assumption but it was the best he could surmise in such stressful circumstances. That and Zeke had motive.

He dropped his altitude as quickly as he could, tucking his wings in as close as he could get them so he could dive down toward the earth. As soon as he was below the clouds, the falcon pierced through them just as fast as earlier, shooting past Levi and only barely missing him with his razor sharp beak. Peregrines went for the neck, their beaks designed to sever the spinal column. Shapeshifter or not, this falcon was no exception to his own physiology.

Just like Levi knew in his natural avian form, he had restrictions based on biology. Likewise, as a pigeon, he felt even more handicapped. It was like racing a Ferrari against a bicycle. Levi had to gain an advantage or he would be taken down quickly. He flew as fast and hard as he could, plunging deep into a forest below and using the canopy as cover. It didn’t seem to deter the peregrine, who circled above until it found an opening in which it would plunge itself back down into the trees to try and claw or bite at Levi again.

Levi felt a swoosh behind him, followed by a stab of pain on his rump. He slowed his flying and didn’t even need to look to be able to feel his balance off center, missing a few tail feathers. He slowed to a halt in some heavily bushy foliage toward the forest floor, as deep in as he could get, and perched haphazardly inside the plant. It was a thick thorny bush with plush green leaves that covered him from view, so hopefully he’d evaded the bird for now.

He hoped he had bought his companions enough time to return home.

It took him a number of minutes to return his breathing back to normal and the pain eventually subsided as his body tried focusing on keeping alive rather than a few missing feathers. There was a small amount of blood but nothing worth worrying about.

What Levi was starting to come to terms with however, was his timing.

Any minute now, he would probably be bound to the life of a pigeon.

He kept his wits about him though, head constantly moving to keep an eye out for the falcon. The longer it looked for him, the safer Eren’s birds would be. He would already be missing six. He didn’t want any more to die pointless deaths because of him.

He didn’t have to wait long. He must have caught sight of the falcon circling around and looking for him for the next half an hour. It was persistent, if not anything else.

‘Good’, Levi thought to himself. He’d seen the same spark in Levi’s eyes and they both knew what each other were. It was just a matter of playing cat and mouse without the mouse getting caught. He would remain in his bramble bush until it got bored and moved on. He had already lost the race thanks to it’s interruption, but he’d rather still lose and make it home alive too. Eren would worry if he didn’t make it back. He would do his utmost to return in one piece.

What Levi wasn’t expecting however, was for his vision to suddenly shift to the front and his weight to change suddenly, branches cracking beneath him and sharp spikes poking into his bare skin.

His bare, human skin.

“The fuck?” Levi couldn’t hold it in. The surprise had him wide eyed, mouth open and gawking at himself. Buck naked and stuck in a fucking bramble bush in the middle of some farm woodland somewhere. It wasn’t sunset. Levi didn’t understand.

What the hell was happening to him?

He’d lost, surely he should have remained a pigeon?

Levi couldn’t fathom it, but all he knew was he had an opportunity to get away now. Sure, he was stark naked and would probably get arrested for streaking, but a peregrine wouldn’t be able to do him a terrible amount of harm even if it tried. Levi had quicker reflexes as a human than he did a pigeon. He clambered unceremoniously out of the hedge, scratching himself almost everywhere as he did so and managed to stand up and take a look around.

“Uh…” Levi had crawled out of his bush to meet face to face with an old couple, dressed head to toe in their hiking cargo pants and quick-dry sweaters, backpacks on and walking sticks bound to their wrists. Ramblers. “Hi,” he said awkwardly as the pair looked utterly shocked to be seeing a naked man crawl out of a bush on their leisurely weekend stroll through the woods.

“I uh, I’ll just be…” Levi pointed awkwardly in a vague direction - any direction would have done, and quickly walked off into the woods.

Wait.

If he was human now, of all times. That must have meant.

Levi smirked with pride and excitement as he made the long overdue shift into his natural avian form. Black cropped hair shortened into dark slate grey, spotted feathers which stretched all down his breast and coated his back as arms shifted into wings and toes into talons. He’d changed in a second and stretched his long, strong wings out, revelling in their breadth. His feet were more akin to talons now and his beak was no longer a gentle little thing designed for eating grains and vegetables.

Levi was a carnivore once more. This body was not designed to be preyed upon. He was the hunter, now.

And he had a peregrine falcon to catch up with.

With a great swoop of both dark mottled wings, he brought his legs up against his body and took flight from the cover of the forest floor. Sharp black eyes were quick to scan the skies above the trees and thank fuck a falcon’s vision was far superior to a rock dove’s.

He had to fly out in the direction the homing birds had been travelling. Levi’s direction was less guided by his old homing ability now, and more by his sense of sight and smell. He wasn’t able to catch up with the homers, but he did spot a high flying falcon circling above Eren’s village. Levi could see a bunch of people in Eren’s yard from his vantage point. Seems they were having a barbecue as promised. He’d agreed to surround himself with people in exchange for Levi’s win and thus return to human form each night.

Levi couldn’t wait to tell Eren his curse had somehow been removed.

But first, he had eyes on the peregrine falcon shapeshifter ahead.

--

Naturally when Eren’s birds returned without Levi, he lost his shit. His guests had gravitated to the garden and decided to stoke up a grill fire for burgers. A couple of the guests were smokers, so they lingered outside for the nice weather.

He was surrounded by people who had no clue why he was so upset. Losing birds wasn’t uncommon and they’d all known Eren since high school. They’d had enough conversations about pigeon racing. While Eren always seemed disappointed and a little bit angry at first, he’d always be quick to get over it with an overwhelming sense of determination and passion to succeed, even when overwhelmed and underskilled.

He counted six birds return. Six out of fifteen. Nine were missing including Levi. His fastest bird ranked fourteenth overall. He had most definitely lost. Where was Levi though? Was he hurt? He wouldn't have got lost, of that, Eren was certain.

He cast his eyes to the sky where the clouds parted just enough for him to catch a glimpse of something gliding through the air casually. It was a bird of prey.

“There's a falcon up there, that's probably what's taken out my birds,” Eren said as he grabbed his binoculars from the loft, pointing them toward the bird above to get a better look.

“What is it?” Jean asked as he stood beside Eren, idly sipping his beer.

“Can't tell. It’s too far up.”

“Let me have a look,” Jean snagged the binoculars from Eren’s grasp as the sun shone through the clouds and obstructed Eren's view while Jean looked toward the sky.

“It's big whatever it is,” he said.

“Didn’t look that big to me,” Eren argued, feeling frustrated at Jean’s insistence to butt in.

“No, that one,” Jean pointed to a bird Eren had not seen, flying much lower and gliding carefully. He tore the binoculars away from Jean and took a better look.

This one was much lower and had a breast of dark spotted feathers and broad wings. It was definitely a falcon, but it was quite a large variety. It was too far away and Eren’s hands were too unsteady to focus on whether the bird had an ankle tag or any other distinguishing features.

“Looks like a-” Jean started, only to be cut off by Eren’s realisation.

“Gyrfalcon?”

“I was gonna say a peregrine, but I guess you’re right. The one above looks like a peregrine though. Maybe the gyrkin’s out for lunch,” Jean laughed and left with a shrug, returning his attention to the others as they disappeared back inside together.

Eren however had his eyes stuck upward. Levi said his true form was a gyrfalcon and he was seeing one flying in an area he usually never saw them. They weren’t rare in this neck of the countryside, but wild ones were definitely not common.

A small part of Eren was hoping that the bird above was Levi, but in reality when he’d lost so spectacularly and Levi was nowhere to be found, two birds of prey flying above his village, his odds even as a skilled pigeon, were looking slimmer by the minute.

Eren watched as the larger of the two falcons picked up speed and started ascending, disappearing into the low clouds. It took a couple of minutes before Eren spotted it again, but when he did he realised it was making a beeline for the smaller bird. His binoculars were fixed to his face and he watched as the larger, darker falcon flew straight into the path of the unsuspecting peregrine, latching onto it and sending the pair of them tumbling toward earth in a mess of wings and legs.

The pair broke apart and flew away from each other, only to circle back and collide violently again. They repeated their fighting for two more significant drops before Eren could see clearly without the binoculars. He could hear the two birds screeching at each other too.

By the looks of it the bigger falcon was indeed hunting the smaller peregrine, and had caused a significant deal of damage. The pair only split when a gunshot fired through the air and the nearby trees to Eren’s farmhouse scattered in a panic. His neighbors in the farm over the field must have fired a warning shot to keep the two clear of the pigeons returning from their races. It seemed to do the trick because both birds of prey scattered in different directions, disappearing behind the trees and out of Eren’s sight.

Eren spent as long outside as he could, waiting for any more birds to return.

He waited for hours, paying very little attention to his guests who by now had figured that he wasn’t all that up for socialising and thus left him to his own devices.

Mikasa suggested everyone leave early. It wasn’t like they had to worry about Zeke showing up since Eren had lost as threatened.

She still locked the door after the last person though, and had Jean and Armin prepared to stay the night as planned. She let Eren know around ten that she and Jean were going to bed and Armin had already fallen asleep on the couch. He told her he’d be in soon, sounding very sombre in the wake of what had happened.

It was strange going to sleep without that familiar, gentle touch of his newfound lover. Without the tender caress of his fingertips against Eren’s bare skin and without the wispy, warm breaths on his neck when he managed to wake before sunrise. He forced himself to sleep longer, determined to not face the reality of losing Levi just yet. He forced himself to sleep, but failed at the commotion he heard coming from downstairs some moments after 8:00am.

“Eren! Get your ass down here! Where’s that gun of yours?” Jean was yelling. “Unless you want to lose the rest of your damn birds get your ass-” Jean flung his bedroom door open. “-out of bed!”

Eren blinked the sleep away and sat bolt upright, flinging the covers off himself and grabbing his rifle, checking it was loaded on the way down the stairs.

“There’s a huge fucking bird on the loft.”

Armin was outside in the yard, waving his hands and trying to scare the thing off and Eren spotted a large slate grey, spotted gyrfalcon perched out of human reach at the top of his pigeon loft. His mouth fell open in shock as he tried to register what was happening. Either it was Levi or the bird of prey from yesterday responsible for Levi’s demise was stood on his loft looking for some breakfast too.

There was only one way to find out for sure so Eren quickly told his friends to calm their tits and headed into the shed at the far end near the stables, returning with a thick gardening glove he slid onto his left, non-broken hand.

Jean and Armin watched with curious expressions as Eren stood in the middle of the yard, eyeing the large bird.

“Dude it ain’t tagged that thing is wild,” Jean said.

“Shut up horse face, I’ve got an idea.” He held his arm out. The falcon twisted its head and eyed Eren, head bobbing slightly as it contemplated it’s next move. It crouched and it’s wings unfolded to flap over toward the glove, perching on Eren’s hand after a little bit of a wobble and tucking it’s wings away. It chittered happily when it was perched and Eren frowned at it.

“Levi?” he whispered, hopeful. The falcon made a content clicking noise which almost sounded like some sort of purring. It chirped and ruffled its feathers and bobbed its head at Eren.

“Yo Eren, it’s tame?” Jean asked as he approached.

“Yeah. It’s not tagged though.”

“Maybe the shelter knows about it?” Armin asked as he too arrived, although a little more cautiously than his friend. Mikasa was still indoors cooking breakfast.

“Yeah, I’ll uh, take him over after breakfast I guess. I have a spare cage around back,” Eren explained just before Mikasa called them all in for food. He turned to take the falcon down to the end of the yard and kept his voice low.

“I’ll come back after breakfast with some clothes, alright?”

The moment Eren had gotten his friends to go home and escaped Mikasa’s cleaning regime, he was practically running through the back yard where he’d left Levi, clothes in hand as he bounded through the gate and into the stables. Levi was sat on a hay bale, as a human, during the day. Eren was ecstatic. He pulled Levi into as tight a hug as he could, given his aches and pains and Levi all but threw himself onto Eren, landing them both in the straw and hay as Levi’s weight caught Eren off guard.

It hurt when they landed with a loud thud but neither of them had time to complain as Levi’s lips were on Eren’s in a heartbeat, kissing him as if this were the last meal he’d be having for centuries.

--

Eren told his friends that he’d met Levi, his new boyfriend, at the hawk and falcon sanctuary when he dropped by with the gyrfalcon. They had supposedly bonded over their love for birds and hit it off straight away.

With the off-season now in full swing and Eren’s birds recovering from coming third in the Morocco race, it was time to truly relax. Zeke had shown up for the Morocco drop-off with a large bandage across his neck and face. Eren and Levi overheard that when asked about it he said he’d been attacked by a falcon and Levi just smirked with satisfaction.

Levi shared his story with Eren and explained that he’d somehow broken the curse by in fact losing a race instead of winning. That bastard uncle of his really had an idiot’s sense of humour and Levi couldn’t help but laugh at it all. For years he’d been winning when really failing was the solution to his troubles.

His mother, Kuchel, had made an appearance at the house to personally thank Eren for sticking with Levi, even when he thought he’d be a pigeon forever. She took a couple of guesses at what might have broken the spell, suggesting it could have been an act of selflessness in the end. That was another common spell clause.

The winter months crept by and Eren watched as the leaves on the trees started to turn all different shades and the temperatures began to drop. Fortunately now though, he’d have a warm body up against his own for as long as he wanted on their days off. Although no longer a racing pigeon, Levi still held all of that ingrained tenderness and gentleness from his years living as such. He was affectionate if not a little sharp around the edges at times, revealing his slightly truer, predatory form.

Such predatory moments especially came out in the bedroom. When they’d first had celebratory curse-breaking sex, Eren realised that Levi was, like a gyrfalcon, both aggressive and vocal in the bedroom and thanked every god that would listen for the fact he lived in the middle of nowhere.

Eren gave Levi a particularly amused look when he appeared one night with a certain pair of handcuffs and a long, delicate feather in which to play with. Eren loved how ticklish Levi was. Not that Levi would ever let him close enough to tickle him of course. His hands had a death grip that Eren couldn’t escape from if he managed to wrap himself around Eren’s body, rendering him still and useless as he laughed.

“Are you racing next season?” Levi asked Eren as they were both curled up in each others arms under the thick winter duvet.

“Eh, you know, I was actually thinking of selling a few and using the money to move closer to the city. If you want, that is.”

“It’s an idea, at least,” Levi said, rolling up onto his side so he could drape himself over Eren’s torso as if telling the younger man he wasn’t allowed to move. Eren brushed Levi’s freshly trimmed bangs away from his eyes, trying to tuck them behind his ears although they weren’t long enough and just fell back into place to frame his face.

“I was thinking maybe get something half the size, still enough room for the horses, maybe a smaller house though. We’d only need one or two bedrooms, and it wouldn’t be too far for Mikasa or Armin to visit.”

“That’s a good idea.”

“Have you given any thought into what you want to do now you’re not a racer?”

“Well I was thinking if you were gonna race next season I’d probably supervise your birds to make sure they don’t get eaten. If you’re not racing them though,” Levi said, letting himself trawl off.

“Then?”

“I could get a job at the school,” Levi said with a shrug. Eren’s face split into a massive grin.

“That’s a great idea.”

“That or a job at the falcon sanctuary. There’s at least two other shapeshifters that work there.”

“Really? Who?”

“Uh, Erwin, that tall bloke that runs the place and his batshit assistant manager Hange.”

“You know that actually makes sense. I think they live on site. Married too, right?”

“Yeah I think so. Anyway, I figured it would be super easy to get a job there since, you know, it’s been years since I so much as read a book.”

“Well, whatever makes you happy.”

“You know what would make me really happy?” Levi asked, looking deathly serious. Eren swallowed thickly and his eyebrows raised in question. “You. Right now.” Levi’s hand drifted south and it didn’t take a moment of genius for Eren to catch Levi’s drift.

Eren chuckled and rolled himself over, taking Levi with him and pinning him to the bed.

“Your wish is my command.”