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The Tiger and the Songbird: A Collection of Alternate Universe Universal Horizons Oneshots

Chapter Text

It was the cold space beside me that woke me, the absence of the body that I expected to be there.  If it weren’t for the light dusting of crimson glitter on the pillow, I would have written off the events of last night as a dream.  Even without the crazy circumstances that had taken place hours before, the girl who had come back to my place with me was unbelievable.  She had been dressed as a succubus and I honestly couldn’t think of a more fitting costume for the mysterious woman who had showed up at the college party.

I fall back against the pillows and sigh.  I wish I had thought to ask her what had brought her to the party in the first place.  I had her name. While Valeriya was uncommon, I didn’t have an idea of where to even start looking.  She hadn’t mentioned a department or even if she was a member of the campus. I take one last breath before leaving bed, her scent lingering on the sheets.  Sharp and spicy with undertones of leather and frost.

As comfortable I was feeling, classes waited for no girl.  Looking at the time I realize I slept a bit longer than I should have.  There was a lecture I couldn’t miss at nine. I couldn’t spend any more time dwelling on the mysterious Valeriya.  It was an important day to attend. One of our assistant professors was returning from a sabbatical that had had her missing from the class so far this semester.  She was to lead the unit on abnormal psychology and its application within the criminal justice field. While it wasn’t a field of particular interest for me, it was going to be a vital unit for the class.

After speeding through my morning routine, I made it to lecture on time.  Professor De’Voche quickly wrapped up his unit before introducing our assistant professor.  I’ll admit I spent a good portion of his lecture doodling as we had already taken the exam for his unit.  Soon enough his lecture ended and he cleared his throat. “Now that we have wrapped out the previous unit, I would like to introduce your next professor.  As you all know, she has been travelling for the past few months. She just returned to our campus the day before yesterday. Assistant Professor Udinov will you please come up and introduce yourself.”

I hear a shuffle from the back of the room and turn my head.  A tall figure rises from the back of the lecture hall and makes her way to the front of the hall.  As I watch her walk towards the front, my stomach drops and my heart flutters slightly. Sure she looked different now, but that demeanor and stride was distinct.  Crimson eyes had been replaced with grey icy blues. Her attire was obviously different as well. The corset and skirt were gone, replaced by a casual blouse and slacks.  As she stopped at the head of the hall, her cool gaze swept over the room. It lit upon me for the briefest of moments but no recognition resided within within. Perhaps I had been mistaken.  My thoughts however kept turning back to the night before.  There was no way that I was wrong.  Every inch of me was certain it was the succubus from the night before.

She started to address the lecture but I couldn’t stop my thoughts from swirling.  My mind was dizzy with her scent and her eyes. But even more so with my realization.  She was a professor and not only that but she was MY professor.  The cliche of it all made me want to disappear.  I slumped down further in my seat and tried to weather out the lecture.  Maybe it wasn't too late to request a transfer to another class.

Before I realized it, the lecture had ended. I had spent the entire fifty minute period fretting about a woman who probably hadn’t even recognized me.  Meanwhile the introductory lecture on abnormal psychology had gone on and I had missed a great deal based on the notes of my classmates beside me.  A couple of them snickered, talking about daydreaming, while another gave me a look of pity.  He mouthed the words ‘I’m sorry’ before packing up his bags and leaving.  I made a mental note that he might be someone I could hit up for an overview of what had been talked about.  It seemed like Professor Udinov had hit the ground running and judging from the pitying looks around me, a fairly strict grader when it came to her exams.  Just my luck.

I waited until most of the lecture had left before I got up to leave. Both professors had retired to their office hours pretty much as soon as Professor Udinov had ended her first lecture. I hadn’t made eye contact since the first meeting of our eyes over the crowded lecture hall. Leaving the hall was where I made my mistake. I chose to avoid the crowded common hallways of the building and take the winding route back through offices and unused corridors. As chance would have it, someone had predicted that I would choose the route less traveled.

At a point sufficiently hidden from the busier walkways, I found myself grabbed and pinned against the wall by a tall figure. My first reaction was panic and I opened my mouth to scream. But recognition of the figure stopped the yell in my throat. Standing over me was the very woman I had been trying to avoid. And now the full force of her intimidating gaze was turned on me.

My brain told me I could get out of this, I could turn and run. While Valeriya had pinned me to the wall, there was only one point of contact between the two of us. Her hand had yet to leave my wrist from where she had initially grabbed it. And even with that, it was her presence alone that kept me there. I could have slipped her grasp easily.

It was a weakness for her eyes that kept me pinned there. That kept my heart fluttering and my breaths shallow and rapid. Those eyes that were so mesmerizing despite the stern disdain that burned there. She leaned closer, I watched her arm bend as she brought her torso forward, those two blue fires burning ever closer to me. It was only once they were level with my own that I notice their depth and darkness. Where I had first only seen ice, now I could see the ocean beneath. Dark limbal rings surrounded the pale ice of her iris. An iris that I noticed was very thin at the moment, as her pupils had expanded a great deal.

Paying further attention to the woman’s body language, I could hear that her breathing had sped up as well. So I wasn’t the only one being affected by our proximity. And she was definitely remembering last night, even if she did a better job of hiding it than me. Her next words confirmed it, “You told me you were an excellent student. Yet today I watched as you tuned out my entire lecture. I expected more of you Veda.” Her tone is dark and dangerous yet it stirs my stomach into butterflies. I can feel the blush at being caught rise to my cheeks, and I know she is playing with me.

I stumble over my own thoughts, trying to formulate a response. I immediately lose it as Valeriya leans closer yet, her lips brushing my ear feather light as she whispers, “Am I not interesting enough for you? I would have thought last night would have proven otherwise. In fact I remember you being quite focus on what I had to show you.” She draws back and gives a predatory grin at the sight of me. I could feel the flush on my cheeks and could guess at my expression. Because this woman was wrong, she had been my focus all day. It just wasn’t her lecture that had my focus. And now she knew it with absolute certainty.

She releases her grip on my wrist and slips her hand into my back pocket for a moment. I nearly jump at the quick squeeze and her smirk grows slightly. “I’ll just have to do my best to keep interesting then, seeing as you appear to be getting bored in my lectures. You have two months left in the semester after all. Let’s make a deal. I have my reputation to uphold after all. If you can get the top grade in your discussion section for the last exam, I will give you my phone number.”

I frown, “But Professor, I already have your number. It was on the syllabus.”

“My personal number little bird. One that I can be reached at any time.” She gives a wink, emphasizing ‘personal’ and ‘any time.’ With that her hand slipped out of my pocket, leaving something in its place. I reach back to find a flash drive. When I look at her quizzically she just shakes her head. “My lecture notes from today. Figured you would need a head start little bird. Don’t get used to me going easy on you. You will be graded just as harshly as the rest but today was a surprise you were not ready for so this is the only time I will let you tuning me out slide.”

With that she turns away from me and begins to walk down the hall like nothing had transpired between us. After a few minutes of processing, I call after her. “What happens if I get the highest grade in the class?”

She turns for a minute and flashes her brilliant smile, “That is a reward that I leave up to you to decide Veda.” With that she turns into her office. I clutch at the flash drive in my hand and turn to hurry home. I had two months to learn everything I could in this class. I had an exam to ace and I couldn’t let anyone beat my score.

Chapter Text

“Ah Maka, glad you could join me.  Would you like to observe two of our newest students?  They are currently out on a mission but I do believe they are doing well.”  The woman who had just entered Death’s chambers strode forward to stand beside the headmaster.  She looked at him quizzically, “A new meister and weapon pair? I hadn’t expected any new students until the start of next year.”

“The meister is new.  The weapon not so much.”  Death watched the pair stalk through the alleyways of the city, looking for their prey.  He looked back to the woman and sighed. “It’s a long story but I figure as one of their possible teachers you should know about them before they get sprung upon your class.  Let’s start with the weapon.”

“She was part of a matched pair once.  Similar to Liz and Patty, though she and her brother were far closer to being symmetrical.  Two weapons, perfectly in tune with each other’s wavelengths. It helped that they were twins.  A fierce and beautiful pair. They entered the academy a few years ago. Neither attracted a meister so they resolved to act as meister for the other twin.  I had my doubts but they quickly proved me wrong with their skill. They were both excelling as weapons and meisters. But then they began to slow down. She was ok with it, he was not.  He began disappearing for long periods of time. And for a time he began to grow rapidly again. It wasn’t until he sought to help her resume her rapid growth we found out why. The boy had been feasting upon human souls.  He was only a few steps away from becoming a Kishin. We saved the girl before she became corrupted but with his closeness to a Demon Weapon the boy needed to be put down. It was one of the hardest things I have had to do since becoming the headmaster of this school.”

“Needless to say, the girl was heartbroken.  She had lived and breathed for her brother and suddenly he wasn’t there anymore.  She didn’t have a purpose anymore all. All she knew was how to fight. Relating to others without her brother was hard, and she was closed off to all but a select few.  We kept her here at the academy in hopes that a familiar surrounding would help her out of her defensive shell. It didn’t. At least not for a long time.”

They pause to watch the students for a moment.  One, a tall blonde, takes point and walks a few feet before the other.  The second is shorter and of darker complexion than the first. The blonde tenses for a moment before taking off and it is all the smaller one can do to keep up with her.  “It wasn’t until last year’s meisters and weapons came to register that we found a solution. As you well know Maka, we had a surplus of meisters last year. Most who didn’t bond with a weapon right away left the academy in hopes of returning and meeting their weapon this year.  However young Veda was forced to stay due to extenuating circumstances. It was during this time that she met our broken weapon. Neither knew what the other was at the time but they did form a bond. I won’t say it was easy at first, young Udinov our weapon wasn’t the most friendly.  But Veda persisted. And slowly Udinov began to acknowledge the younger girl.”

In the viewing glass, Maka could see the two girls standing side by side.  Before them was a Kishin Egg. It had earned itself the nickname “Casanova” from the way it lured its victims to their doom.  Neither of the two young woman showed an ounce of fear when Casanova stalked toward them. Before he could reach them however, the tall blonde leapt up and transformed.  Maka gave the man beside her a confused look. “I thought you said she was part of a matched pair? That girl is a long range sniper rifle.”

The man beside her snickered, “Remember Tsubaki?  They share a similar ability. That young woman can assume multiple forms but is limited mainly to ranged weapons.  Specifically guns though with time she might be able to unlock other forms.” A shot of wavelength energy bursts from the muzzle of the rifle and blasts toward Casanova.  Two more follow in quick succession before the weapon shifts back into a girl and the meister and weapon team dances out of the way of a wounded foe.

Casanova moves more quickly than the team expected however.  A swipe of its claw like hand moves like a scythe towards the younger of the two girls.  Meister has no time to react but her weapon does. The blonde darts between the attack and her meister.  Two voices scream as one across the viewing glass. Briefly all that Maka and Death can see is the bright crimson of blood.  The view soon clears to show a panting weapon defending her meister. Maka makes a pained noise and looks at Death but he shakes his head.  “I cannot interfere, and even if I could help would come too late on this one. They need to work together to solve this. Their wavelengths need to be synced if either wishes to succeed in this academy and I fear that the best way to do that was throwing them into battle.  It was the easiest way to get Udinov to form the bond. As such she has made more progress than she has in a year. Before Veda connected with her, we were considering sending her home. She refused to even talk to other meisters. That transformation you just witnessed? The first one since her brother died.”  Maka looked at the man beside her in disbelief, not only at the information that he had just given her but at the fact that he had sent two students into a potentially lethal situation so callously. But then she noticed the quake in his hands and the tremor in his voice. This hurt him too. He still lacked the confidence of his father, was still partly that boy she had known in school.  It had gotten harder for him since Liz and Patty had retired. She looked back to the pair fighting before her. Perhaps this Udinov would be a weapon worthy of the gun-meister shinigami. Only if she and her current meister survived that was.

From the mirror, the meister cursed,  “Pirobo, get up!” Her voice was cracking and the poor girl was shaking.  Maka knew what she was going through, she pushed down memories of when Soul had been hit by Chroma in their first meeting.  Watching one’s weapon take damage for you was not an easy experience by easy means and this was the duo’s first run. The blonde straightens out of her protective hunch and Maka can’t hold back her gasp at the bloody gash running across the girl’s torso.  The girl hisses in pain but looks at her meister and shifts back into weapon form as Casanova comes running forward for a kill. Maka prepares for the worst but Death puts a hand on her shoulder in a comforting gesture. “It’ll be ok, just watch.”

She turns her attention back to the glass and her eyes widen in surprise.  As Veda catches her weapon, she can already see the souls of the two resonating closer together.  She looks to Death and he nods. He knew that this was going to happen. The stress from the battle wounds had brought the pair closer together in their desperation.  Unbeknownst to both of the observers, Valeriya Udinov had made a resolution the day she had accepted Veda as her meister. She wasn’t going to lose another. Not after her brother.  And if that meant dying for her meister so be it. On that fateful day Veda had run into her in the hallways of the academy she had known. This was her meister. She had gone straight to Headmaster Death’s office afterwards and looked him straight in the eyes.  “She’ll do,” was all she had told him but he had known exactly what she meant. And it would all be for not if she didn’t win on this day, didn’t prove that they could work together. So she focused on resonating with this tiny meister who wasn’t nearly as strong as her brother had been.  But she was smarter and not as hard. And that meant something. It inspired Valeriya to be better. She let the last wall between her and her meister fall. Veda was hers now, just as she was Veda’s. They were one.

The resonance locked into place, and both Maka and Death turned their eyes at the flash as another bullet discharged from the muzzle of the rifle.  It flew straight and true, meeting its mark head on. The injury to a vital spot was enough to put Casanova down. Veda dropped her weapon and slide to the ground in exhaustion.  Valeriya transformed back and rested a hand on her meister’s shoulder. Death and Maka shared a knowing glance. Perhaps there was hope for these two yet.

They watched as the weapon walked away from her meister towards the remains of the Kishin Egg.  She knelt down and grasped the egg in her hands, pulling it toward her chest. She was shaking slightly.  Death knew this was her first time taking a soul since she was in her brother’s care. Tears streaked down the girl’s face as she absorbed the soul and whispered, “For you Alexi, I’ll do you proud.  I’ll redeem our family.”

Chapter Text

When we first met her, Valeriya’s massive wings had been broken and tattered beyond belief.  Occasionally we could see a glimmer of their once magnificence now deeply hidden within the shadow of their current ruin.  We didn’t know her or their story beyond the fact that it was one of tragic loss. No one had wings that mangled without some tragedy in their past.  Some severe heartbreak that had shattered their heart just as it had their wings. After all losing a soulmate did terrible things to a person.

I didn’t have wings.  Not everyone did. Some of us just hadn’t been lucky enough to have met our soul mates.  I counted myself among the lucky ones though. Because if I had found my wings, they would surely be as tattered as Valeriya’s were now.  I hadn’t always felt this way about the idea of having wings but after what had happened, I was thankful. I wasn’t always grateful for my lack of wings however.

I had always been jealous of those who could fly as a kid.  I think every kid could say the same. The brightly colored wings, of feather or scale or membrane, that grew in accordance to their host’s soul were the envy of every child within my compound.  I can still remember my parents’ wings. My mother had fairy like wings in rich hues of purple and pink with golden veins running through out. My father’s were full of deep emerald feathers the brought to mind the forest surrounding us.  I was always so jealous of their wings. Of what they symbolized. My parents were blissfully in love with one another. After they thought I had gone to bed, they would spend the evenings flying in the moonlight together. I would watch them for hours spellbound as they danced across the night sky.  And every night I would dream of having wings of my own. I would soar through the sky on a rainbow of colors. Every night they were different but they were always spectacular.

But soon those childhood dreams turned into nightmares when my home was attacked.  I watched those wings become soaked in crimson and tattered beyond recognition. I saw rent emerald feathers for a long time before I found my parents.  I knew my father had died first, as my mother’s wings had dulled. It meant she had been aware of his death before she herself had died.

It wasn’t anything a child should ever witness.  I can say that it changed my view of the world. I no longer wanted wings.  They represented far too much pain for me. I didn’t want to ever love someone that much and then lose them.  So I closed myself off, didn’t form attachments.

That is, I didn’t until I met this group.  Not all of them had wings. Only Ted and Valeriya at the time.  Valeriya’s wings were broken even then. Ruinous tatters and bleeding wounds.  Beaten beyond belief. Yet she was still standing. Ted possessed whole wings. Those of a great eagle.  He spoke of how he had received his wings when he found his god. They suited him, were regal in their strong golds and browns.

He seldom flew though, where Valeriya moved so fast it was almost as if hers were still whole.  When she was moving, fighting we could almost see the old majesty of them. It was almost as if she was healed again when she was fighting.  She was free. Happy almost. That is until she had to come down from the adrenaline high that she experienced while fighting. Then she closed off again.

But as time passed I began to notice things.  Valeriya’s wings began to heal. Not to the point of being able to fly again or even fully regain plumage.  But the breaks and the wounds began to heal. They were less distressing to look at. As the wings began to mend, so did she.  She began to open up to us. Not much at first, only a slight smile when interacting with our team. Valeriya would talk more and engage when we were trying to figure out problems.  Once she even threw herself in front of the rest of us when we were attacked by some thugs. Slowly she was coming to think of us as family.

Eventually I gathered the bravery to ask her about her wings.  She looked at me in silence for the longest time before she answered.  “I gained the ability to fly when I was very young. According to my parents, my brother grew his wings when they first brought me home from the hospital.  It took me a few years before mine too developed. But it was then they knew we would be the perfect siblings. We were bonded together as perfect platonic soul mates.  He grew up always looking out for his little sister. Even when,” here she paused. A tear slipped down her cheek and I could see more welling in her eyes. She angrily wipes them away.  “Even when he shouldn’t have. He did something, something that I should have been responsible for. It got him killed. Honestly if either of us was to die, it should have been me. But it was also a job suited for me.  He was never good at cloak and dagger, ever the charismatic one. He excelled in the light where the dark was my domain. So I lost him to the dark. And I lost my wings. I could no longer fly. But my wings were still whole, not broken as they are now.  They stayed whole until I decided to try to avenge him. I made a mistake, and in my error an innocent paid for it. I don’t know if he was felled by my hand or another but the responsibility was mine. I had started the firefight and his blood was on my hands.”

I looked at her in shock.  She had just admitted to what seemed to be a fairly violent past.  One that had at least resulted in some blood upon her hands. I couldn’t help but shutter as memories resurfaced but I pushed them down.  This conversation wasn’t about me and my past but about hers. In lieu of a way to comfort the woman, I started doing what I did best. Crafting and weaving.  Soon I had made a flower crown out of a bunch of wildflowers that I found nearby. Without a further idea of what to do, I placed it on the sad Russian’s head.

For a moment she gave me an angry look but then her face softened.  She looked she was about to cry again. “Stop, whatever happened it will be ok.  This wasn’t your fault and judging by your wings, you haven’t forgiven yourself for it.  It was a mistake. Whoever you hurt, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think you have repented enough.”  I looked her squarely in the eyes. “You have payed for the blood. I have watched you fight, you throw yourself into dangerous situations.  You put the lives of others before your own. Perhaps it’s time to give yourself a break. For the first time in a while I think you are healing and you are scared.  You can’t forgive yourself and seeing you wings coming back, I think you are afraid it’s too soon. It’s time to heal.”

She looked at me, “I’m not sure if it’s time for that yet.  My wings may be healing but I think it will take more time for my soul to heal as well.  I can forgive myself for my brother’s death, in the end he made a stupid choice. He went on a job that was not meant for him and died.  I forgave myself for that a long time ago. It is the forgiveness for the taking of an innocent that I will not forgive myself.” She pulls her wings closer to herself.  I can see the shame. I sigh but it was very clear that Valeriya would not be healed quickly. She needed time. And it was time we would give her because just as she had come to view us as a source of comfort, she had become family to us.  We were a dysfunctional family but she was like an older sister. I think that for us she had taken up the role that her brother had always taken for her. It may have been the only way she knew how to relate to a family. Family was protection for her.  While she protected us, we would protect her. She would soar with our aid. She would be whole and free. I knew pain, and I could see it in her. I would see that the color came back to her wings. I didn’t want to see the dead muted colors of wings who had lost love any more.  I couldn’t restore color to my mother’s wings nor could I take the crimson from my father’s but I could perhaps help save the colors of my big sister’s.

And maybe, just maybe with the aid of this group I would find my desire to fly again.  Perhaps I will search out my wings again with time. And I know these people will be there, to teach me how to soar.  To catch me when I fell. Maybe not yet but perhaps sometime yet to come.

Chapter Text

Valeriya’s wings became a favorite topic of conversation among our group when the blonde was not present.  When our scout was out stealthing around and investigating our next course of action, it was a frequent enough subject to theorize upon.  We each had our opinion and possible behavioral evidence to back it up. Each theory was examined to the most minute detail and holes within them were discussed at length.  We all knew that her wings originated from her bond with her brother but as to what form they had taken before they had become their shadowy and amorphous lifeless grey, none of us had any concrete reasoning.  Valeriya herself never touched upon the subject. Nor did she divulge any clue in her personal lifestyle or behaviors. The woman clung to her mystery as if it were a life preserver. Even I struggled to get close and she liked me.

Over the course of our various snippets of stolen conversation about her wings, each of us had vocalized our theories.  They covered a wide range of variation; of form, of color and of function. I think we all agreed on some things. No matter the size or shape, her wings would be silent when she had flown in the past.  We all were away of her perchance for stealth and how much she valued to go unnoticed. I knew that some of her behaviors had changed since she had lost her brother and left her family but I don’t think something that rooted in her consciousness was a recent change.  They would have also needed to be strong. Valeriya had always pushed her limits since we had met her, always strove to be better. Wings that had a clear and defined limit would not have suited her in the least. She needed something that would be able to keep up with her and her constant pushing.  The others all believed that her wings would have taken the form of something predatory. I tended to disagree on this last point. While I do not think she had the wings of a butterfly or some small colorful bird, I didn’t know if I believed that she had the wings of a raptor or bird of prey either.

Clyde’s theory was that her wings had been those of a large vulture or condor.  Great wings of black that could sustain their bearer for long distances. He also theorized that they were suited to her due to their nature.  The birds themselves were associated with death and he felt what better wings were suited to our resident sniper than those. We all pointed out that such large wings would make too much noise, something that would be a detriment to such an occupation.  He challenged us to figure out wings more suited for her. I can see why he believed that they were best for her, she had grown up on the West coast so a native bird fit. And such large sized wings would have helped with intimidation. Still I think they were too large and bulky for someone like her.  Their unusual size would have hampered movement and that wasn’t something that I could see her dealing with very well. Some people had wings that weren’t an obvious match to how they were on the surface but surely she would have changed the way she moved long ago if her wings had in fact been that big.

Steak had a similar theory that Valeriya’s wings had a function in intimidation but envisioned the form as quite different.  Instead of large black wings, he theorized she had vibrantly colored bat like wings. Wings that looked almost demon like. I think this was when I started to wonder what exactly had transpired between him, Clyde and Valeriya on Mori de’Bache when it had just been them fighting against the gangs there.  Something had altered their perception of Valeriya to the point that they did fear her a bit. Steak’s only reason for the demon look to the wings was that he believed that her past was darker than she let on. He stated that he could see it haunting her eyes, it was something he had seen in soldiers who had been forced to do things they didn’t want to in the past.  I don’t know who pointed it out but even if that had been true, her wings had come in as a child. Theoretically long before any of those terrible events he was surmising could have occurred. He only shrugged and muttered something about how cruel children could actually be. Then he looked us with sad eyes and said one of the worst things I had ever heard. Sometimes we were already born with a fate would could not change and in some situations darkness is ingrained in one’s heritage.   We never pried into this portion of his theory after that. I think we all forgot that each of us had parts of our past that the others didn’t know about, that we didn’t want them to know about.

We stopped discussing things for a while after Steak made his opinion known.  I don’t think any of us were prepared for how dark he got. We all knew there was a fair amount of darkness in the world,  I think we just liked to be blissfully ignorant of it within our own ranks. Eventually Ted brought the topic back. In his typical fashion he asked us why we thought Valeriya’s wings had to have been any different than they currently were.  Perhaps they had always been shrouded in shadow. Perhaps they were a little less vivid now than before but wings completely changing shape when a soul mate died was rare. I almost agreed, after all my mother’s had remained the same save for their lack of color.  But my mother had not continued to live with the loss for years after my family died. Had not also had to live with the loss of her entire family as well. Ted listened when I voiced my opinions and thought hard when I reminded him of the broken bones we occasionally saw form in the shadow.  He asked why she couldn’t have wings of shadow and bone. Endana pointed out that Valeriya had mentioned flying in the past and how even the wings of soul mates were subjected to the laws of physics.

Endana’s opinion was probably the most grounded in science save for one thing.  The color. Pale blue wings with almost midnight barring didn’t exist in nature but that was her pick for the color.  She thought the wings may have been that of a snowy owl, we were all over looking the woman’s Russian heritage. She also stated that the wings of said bird would make logistical sense for a sniper who specialized in stealth.  Silent flight would have behooved the woman greatly, at least in her time as an agent. Most of the team wondered why she had thought the blue shading appropriate for Valeriya’s wings. Endana had simply shrugged and stated that she felt warm colors never quite suited the other woman.  Snow, ice and the night sky seemed more fitting for Valeriya, at least in objects to derive color from. Aside for the topic of coloration, we debated what cool colors suited Valeriya best for several conversations, we came to the conclusion that Endana’s theory was the most suitable of all of them.

As for my opinion I never voiced it.  It wasn’t really that I didn’t want to but more so that I debated if the others would even attend such an idea.  I saw an innocence in Valeriya, one the others seemed to miss more often than not. She wielded her secrets as protection for her soft inner self.  As such I wasn’t entirely sure a bird of prey or even a scavenger was the best option when considering her wings. Nor were the wings of skeletons or demons.  There was a much gentler side to our intimidating Russian but it was one that she hid from most. I knew she would never be described as fluffy or overwhelmingly kind but I had seen her softer side.  Her smiles at kids when she thought no one was looking or how taking the life of an animal out of necessity when hunting saddened her. Or how gentle she could be with animal outside of the hunt. I personally believed she had wings of the purest white in the past and that was why they were so hidden by shadow now.  Because she had trusted and loved with all her heart and watched her world shatter around her. She wouldn’t let that happen again so she hid her softness behind a steely exterior. She hid it in shadows and in pain. I knew enough about that pain to recognize it in her features.

We had resigned ourselves to never knowing the truth of the matter when Valeriya walked in on one of our conversations.  We didn’t notice her at first. A polite cough was how she chose to reveal herself. I know when I realized that she was there the color drained from my face.  My expression was mirrored by several of the others. She simply cocked her head at us and gave a small frown. “You know you could have just asked, da? Instead of guessing behind my back?”  She sighed and took a spot beside us.

“Unlike Steak and Endana’s theories, and I would hazard a guess Violet’s, my wings were not brightly colored or light in any way.  Those were my brother’s wings. Giant reaching eagle’s wings of gold and crimson, bright and terrible as the sun. His wings were like him, flashy and charismatic.  Distracting people from looking into the shadows where I often was. You were all right to guess that my wings favored silence. Like an owl’s they had a silencing leading edge as well as the diffusing back feathers.  But unlike an owl’s they were also made for speed, so I could get in and get out of situations quick. Their abyss black coloration also aided in my ability to blend in with others. They weren’t flashy or noticable but they got the job done.  Even so they were beautiful in their own right. They had little silver fleck-like barring that looked like stars if you got close. Normally though I darkened that with charcoal so very few actually knew about them.”

Here she paused and looked off wistfully.  “And they were beautiful and stronger than anyone could imagine.  There was no one who could catch me once I took to the air and soaring was the best thing I could ever have experience.  It was even better than sex. Though I learned that much later in life and much to my disappointment.” She got a few snickers at that.  She also turned a blind eye to the exchanges of money and other bet items going about the room as she told her story. Our guessing had been going on for a long time and the logical result of that was the exchange of coin and favors.  She may have even regretted not telling one of us so we could make bets for her.

It was a few months after this conversation that we gained a new team member.  I hadn’t thought much of the woman at first, had found her a bit annoying in all honesty.  The first thing I noticed besides her annoying behavior though was that she had wings. Wings that were fairly new judging by how she reacted to them.  They were a hyacinth in color that faded to a light blue at the tips. Of moderate size, they were still large enough to regularly get in her way. So they were very new.

Still it was their appearance with a visual resurgence in Valeriya’s wings that was what peaked my interest.  It took a few days for us to notice anything. A few days for her to notice anything. But when she did, we were all awakened to a slew of angry Russian curse words.  Or what we guessed to be Russian curse words from the context and her inflection because very few of us spoke the language.

All of us emerged from our individual rooms blurry eyed and confused.  The sight that greeted us confused us even more. Or at least it confused me, I can’t truly speak for the others.  Valeriya was standing in the hallway in sleep shorts and a tank top, giant wings full of vibrant feathers on full display.  Feathers of sparkling gold and pearl with dark onyx barring that was the exact shade of abyss she had described months before.  But fully formed and appearing to be more than capable of flight. They were of the same form she had described before as well.

She was shaking when we came out and muttering almost hysterically.  Kept going on and on about how the wings were wrong, that they were not hers.  I stepped forward and placed a hand on her shoulder and she jumped. Concerned I asked her what was wrong about them.

“They aren’t right, they are too big, too bright.  How can I hide like this? My wings were liquid moonlight.  They could hid me in any shadow. I could blend in anywhere.  Now look at them. They will draw attention wherever we go. And why now?  Why are they back Violet?”

I had no answer for her but I had a suspicion.  I nodded in the direction of our newest member. “Perhaps she is the reason?”  Valeriya glared at me and then at the woman in question. She then looked to her wings and shook her head again.  “But it hasn’t been recorded. Wings changing color so drastically once they appear. Losing love and regaining it, even in the cases where it happens there is only a slight change.  I don’t know if I have heard of anything this big.” She also gave a huff, “And why her? I don’t even like her.”

“I don’t have a definite answer but Valeriya, I know animals.  And your wings do tend to follow natural laws for the most part.  Granted the colorations are a bit unusual but still within a more natural spectrum.  And some species of birds have something called alternate plumage, where specific events can trigger a temporary or permanent change in their coloration.  They might change back to their old coloration eventually. This might even be a seasonal or situational thing.”

She stares at me and tries to analyze what I am saying.  She gives a frown trying to fit the pieces together. “What kind of situation?”

I physically turn the Russian to face our newest member. “When they are attracting or finding a mate Valeriya.”