They are all given their cut after the raid. Evgeni’s is in a finely made box. It is pointed out to him with a laugh; but if it is a joke, Evgeni doesn’t understand it. He is still new. New to the crew, and new to this life. Even the name his crew-mates call him is new; bestowed when his given name proved to unwieldy to be said easily.
The joke and the laughter makes sense when Evgeni unlocks the box. Inside it is not gold or silver, but a raven wrapped in wet newspaper. It is very still when he unwraps it. Evgeni wouldn’t think it was alive if not for the rapid beat of it’s heart and the rise and fall of it’s fragile chest.
It is beautiful. Like a Faberge jewel.
In the muted lights of the hull of the ship, it’s feathers shine black and purple and blue. With care he touches them, but as he does, the raven makes a hurt sound.
One wing is broken.
Oh, he thinks to himself.
Evgeni has many names, and long nimble fingers. With scraps of fabric, he makes a brace and sling.
“You’re not keeping it, are you?” Kris asks, his mouth twitching like this too is part of the joke.
A proper cut of the treasure is offered. When that doesn’t work, Jake tells him how raven’s are bad luck; an omen of Apollo himself, while Patrice tells Evgeni ravens are messengers of Odin and it needs to be released in order to deliver the news it has gathered.
But they forget Evgeni is easily offended and stubborn - a fault that the sisters’ in their habits at the church orphanage he grew up in never managed to correct.
“Jealous,” he accuses them.
He has a fine companion and what do they have? Gold that will not sing to them and silver that does not shine half as prettily as the feathers of his raven do in the morning light.
The fine, hollow bird bones take an age to heal. Evgeni takes to tucking the raven inside his shirt, to the warmth of his skin. He seems to like that; trilling against Evgeni’s throat when he climbs up the rigging. At mealtimes the raven makes low clucking sounds and he accepts bits of food from Evgeni’s fingers.
There is not much free time at sea, Evgeni has discovered. Yet sometimes when there are moments of quiet on the ship, he will pull the raven out and watch as he stretches his wings and ruffles his feathers, grooming them fussily.
Today a long, jet pin feather has molted out of his tail. Evgeni watches as his raven pulls it free. Perched on the ropes, it would be nothing for him to let the wind catch the feather in his beak and carry it away. Selfishly, Evgeni can’t help but eye it. For a moment, he feels his raven look back at him. Then - hopping up onto Evgeni’s wrist, he leans down and places his feather into the palm of Evgeni’s hand.
“Thank you,” Evgeni tells him.
The raven makes a bell like sound that becomes a rattle when Evgeni tucks the feather away into the pages of his journal for safe keeping.
He is a funny creature. Sometimes it almost feels as if he can understand Evgeni. Everything Evgeni says is given a response; a cocked head, a croaking call, a prettily sung song.
He doesn’t have a name.
Evgeni has more than enough to spare.
He is not much of a pirate. He likes the crew. He does. He is very far away from home, but he feels it less, with an arm around his shoulder.
Although he found an escape from the orphanage and then from the military, his body still wants to run. Forever restless, his fingers twitch and his eyes keep returning to the horizon. This is his escape, he tries to remind himself, he is free now and there nothing he needs to run from.
The raven fusses with Evgeni’s fingers when he can’t stay still. He pecks gently at Evgeni’s nails and makes small happy sounds when Evgeni gives in and smooths his hand over his jet feathers.
“I can’t do this all night,” he tells the raven.
It isn’t a thank you, but it’s close enough.
Sleep has never come easy to Evgeni. When he does sleep, he dreams old familiar dreams. Of faces that he thinks may have been his family, and a place that might have been him home. He’s never quite sure if the dreams are based on anything real, but they are comforting. Maybe that is why they are so hard to wake from in the morning.
His raven chirps when dawn comes, and Evgeni can only groan.
“”Go back to sleep.”
But his raven never listens. He is a vindictive creature at times.
There is a lot of magic in the world. There are creatures with teeth who leave claw marks on the bottom of the ship when they stray too far in inhospitable waters, there are sirens who live in rocky coves and there is Evgeni with his many, many names.
“You’re such an idiot,” Flower says when Evgeni sees him, three months after he last saw him.
They are on land and their respective crews are spread to the wind. Most are probably drinking somewhere. However Evgeni is sitting outside the port, watching as his raven snaps and tugs at the bright silver buttons of Flower’s brilliantly embroidered jacket.
“What? No. Mean,” Evgeni tells him in rapid succession.
Flower ignores him.
“Stop it,” he tell Evgeni’s raven, shooing it away. “I just fixed them.”
Evgeni’s raven makes a mocking sound and flaps his wings. They have healed nicely and the feathers shine brightly in the sun.
But now Evgeni looks at them, he does notice a hint of gold to the tips of them.
“Oh,” he says.
“Yes ‘oh’,” Flower mocks.
“So not just a raven?”
Flower rolls his eyes. “No.”
Later, with a bottle between them and a fine meal, Flower flicks a scrap of potato to Evgeni’s raven.
“Are the myths true?” Evgeni asks.
Flower shrugs. “There is truth to most things, even myths.”
The raven squawks.
“I know,” Flower says. “But it’s not like Geno knew what he was getting into.”
“What am I getting into?”
Flower’s eyes twinkle. “Not the right question.”
The right question; what has Evgeni already gotten into?
Apparently Evgeni is married. Technically.
He took the raven in, he cared and protected it with no expectations or motivations behind wanting to help. And when offered a feather, he accepted it. Apparently to the gods, and to magic, that is as good as a wedding ceremony.
“Don’t worry,” Flower tells Evgeni. “James Neal accidentally wedded a swan maiden once.”
That can’t have gone well. James Neal is an idiot. Everyone knows that. There are still stories told about his time on Evgeni’s ship - few are flattering.
“He’s still alive,” Flower counters.
Flower works with him. They are buying and selling luck. No one thought they could make a business of that, but the bright silver buttons on Flower’s coat say otherwise.
“But a bird?” Evgeni has to ask. He is married to a bird?
“He can transform into a human,” Flower says, and then yelps when Evgeni’s raven - his husband - goes to bite his hand.
Apparently he did not want that information to be shared.
“He was locked away in a box” Evgeni finds himself telling Flower. “When we raided the villages off the coast of Iceland.”
They both look at the raven, who ruffles his feathers in displeasure.
“Do you think -?” Evgeni asks.
Flower nods. “Probably.”
Clearly the raven who is not a raven has a message that someone didn’t want him to deliver.
“Best not to worry,” Flower says when they part. “These things have a way of working out.”
But he would say that. He sells fortune by the barrel.
Mario Lemieux, the captain of the Pittsburghese ship, gives his crew a week of shore-leave. Evgeni has six days left to figure out what to do.
It also means the ship is empty when Evgeni returns to it.
“If you are human, this would be the time to prove it,” he tells his raven-husband, but he is ignored.
Evgeni isn’t very good about being ignored. Swan maidens aren’t the only ones who can be fractious.
“If you’re going to be difficult about this,” his raven-husband says eventually, “I might as well leave.”
Evgeni opens his mouth -
His raven-husband has a face, a pair of hands and hazel eyes flecked with gold. He is beautiful. He is god chosen, and he radiates their many blessings.
His name is Sidney -
“Sid,” Evgeni breathes.
At the sound of his name in Evgeni’s mouth, Sidney flushes; the colour painted across his cheeks and bridge of his nose.
(Sidney doesn’t go anywhere.)
There is a message. (But Sidney won’t tell).
There are people hunting him down.
There is a god, searching him out.
“I don’t usually do this,” Sidney tells Evgeni.
Get married? Get kidnapped/hunted down? Choose a life on the sea with Evgeni over his duty of delivering the messages of deities?
Sidney makes a face.
All of the above, Evgeni thinks.
It works differently for deities, and deity adjacent bird/humans, than it does for mortals. But then - Evgeni doesn’t really hesitate when Sidney asks if he wants to go with him.
“I can’t fly,” he reminds Sidney, so they travels as a pirate and his pet raven across the ocean then depart and travel via by horse across unfamiliar countries.
They run and they run. They go to places Evgeni has never heard of, and places he thinks mortals have never stepped foot.
Sidney says he knows where he is going.
“Don’t worry,” Sidney tells him. “I won’t let you get lost.”
As a guide, Sidney is horrible with directions and seems to always be going in circles. He talks a lot of crap about fate, too. But he keeps Evgeni entertained. He tell stories of ages from before Evgeni’s time and shares endless complaints about prophets who annoy him and soldiers who try to shoot him down when he’s just trying to do his job.
“Is that what happened?” Evgeni asks, gesturing to Sidney now healed arm.
Nothing is quite like Evgeni could have ever possibly imagined.
The ocean becomes the land becomes landscapes that drift around him, becoming a blur in the corner of his eye. At night they camp under the stars, finding each other while they are asleep and waking tangled together. Evgeni wakes to Sidney’s mouth hot on his skin, and his hands bunching up the fabric of his shirt.
Under a grove of oak trees, they kiss for the first time, and Evgeni feels desperate for him. For his hands, his mouth, the curl of his smile.
“You’re always in such a rush,” Sidney complains afterwards.
Evgeni has to kiss him again. So he does.
Sidney does not complain about that.
In the past, Evgeni often imagined getting married, and being someone’s husband. It was a secret he held as a child, and something he cradled protectively as an adult. This, now, with Sidney isn’t quite what he dreamed of. But -
“I imagined what it would be like,” Sidney offers. “To be loved.”
Evgeni’s breath catches.
Everyone wants power. Everyone wants to be a god and everyone knows the only way to become a god is to kill one. It’s the same old story, Sidney says.
“But this time is different,” Evgeni says.
Sidney doesn’t deny it.
The day start getting longer and longer, until one day the sun does not set.
“Where are we?” Evgeni asks.
Sidney wrinkles his nose. “Almost there.”
There is a trap. They escape, but only just.
There is blood. There is a battle.
It is close. Very close. They could have lost everything. But they don’t - they escape.
“Fate,” Sidney crows.
He always says that.
Evgeni grumbles; he was the one who rubbed his wrists raw in the process of getting out of the ropes they had been bound with. He was also the one to pick up the fallen sword and fight their attackers off.
That wasn’t fate, Evgeni thinks, that was all the pirating skills he was taught coming in handy.
He keeps the sword. Maybe one day he will show it to Kris and boast about how that too is better than any of his treasures. He is fixing it to his side when it spots it.
On the horizon there is something white and gold. Something bright. Evgeni can only just see it. They are almost there. Evgeni can feel it. Yet the closer they come to it, the more Evgeni finds himself worrying. He can’t put a finger on why. They have been running for - weeks, months, but he was running for years before that. He escaped nuns, military officers, pirates, and now god hunters.
Why should he feel so nervous?
When they pause by a river to refill their canteens with water, Sidney touches his wrist. In this place, this place that isn’t quite part of the mortal realm but might be the Elysian Fields, his dark hair has grown long enough to curl, and his eyes glitter with flecks of gold.
In the bright, golden light, all of the angles of his face come together in a way that Evgeni sometimes can’t look at for too long, but does anyway.
They were strangers to each other once, Evgeni thinks, but now Sidney knows him better than anyone.
For such a long time Evgeni was lonely, then he was given a raven wrapped in wet newspaper.
“You were,” Sidney says softly, when Evgeni retells the story. “And you chose me over my weight in gold and silver, over jewels from foreign lands - above all things.”
“I did,” Evgeni tells him. “I do.”
And he looks at his raven-husband and -
Of course Evgeni loves him. How could he not?
One day they reach a small village, situated in a brilliant ocean cove. After so long away from water, it feels almost as if they have traveled the entire circumference of the world and have come home.
“We’re here,” Sidney says.
His hand finds Evgeni’s.
He does not let go.
The gods finds them like that. Glittering and golden and - Sidney speaks;
“I have your message,” he tells them.
No. Not them.
Three of them. Just three. Three Athenians who step forward; their faces raw and terrible. Evgeni looks at Sidney - waits for him to speak, to deliver the message he had refused to share a word of. But Sidney is silent. Evgeni doesn’t understand.
“Zhenya,” they say, their voices tearful and incredulous.
The feather Sidney had given Evgeni, and Evgeni had accepted.
A promise made and kept.
“I told you I’d never let you get lost,” Sidney tells him later, after his reunion with his family.
“You found me,” Evgeni says. Because he did. Sidney found him and brought him home.
“I would have spent every day, every hour, of eternity searching for you,” Sidney tells him, and Evgeni knows it’s true.
Sidney doesn’t lie because he isn’t a liar.
He looks at the feather in Evgeni’s hands - and takes it in his own.
“Was it fate?” Evgeni jokes.
Sidney laughs - bright and loud and Evgeni is filled with joy.
“Do you believe in it now?” Sidney asks.
Evgeni shakes his head.
No, he doesn’t think it was fate.
“Stubborn,” Sidney says.
Maybe. Or maybe he just believe in something greater than fate.