Apparently, crows are like snotty, gossiping girls, but I never thought of them that way.

Whenever I saw crows effortlessly flying or perched on a branch without a care in the world, I didn't think of those adolescents who do nothing but make light of others. I always thought of a crow as just another bird, living for nothing but himself and his family, paying no heed to the arbitrary stigma branded upon it by foolish humans.

The crows seem especially purposeful when spring comes along. I recall last spring when I stood near a squat evergreen listening to unfamiliar, unseen birds whose squeaks sounded not unlike the giggling of a clown. I assumed they must be a flock of tiny sparrows, peeping to each other during a search for delectable morsels. I spent a few minutes contemplating these little feathered friends until a black shape in the sky caught my attention. By the way it slid through the air on broad, tireless wings, I instantly recognized it as another crow. It was silhouetted brightly against a drab, cloudy sky until it suddenly landed in the bristly bush of the evergreen not more than a few feet from my eyes. Completely ignoring my presence, it readjusted its beak to gain a better hold of whatever unknown food it was carrying and gave a hop into the tree like the jump offstage of a famous dancer. I blinked at where it had just been and replayed the scene in my head. The squeaking from the inside of the tree silenced; baby crows, their identities previously unknown, were now fed and happy.

Curious, I tucked my head under the tree's lowest branches and looked up into a tangle of green and brown. The only telltale sign of a nest was a clump of darkness in the crook of a few strong limbs; the crow mother and her children were well hidden, cradled in the protection of that evergreen even from prying eyes such as mine.

You can't honestly insist that the mother and her young are snotty, gossiping girls waiting to attack. Human girls only seek their own enjoyment, even at the cost of others' dignity. They crouch in the shadows of hallways and whisper to each other, waiting for their next victim. They are more like vultures, but even then, vultures are more pleasant and selfless.

Even though that was last spring, the memory of the mother crow arriving home to her young ones is still fresh in my mind, almost as though it happened yesterday. I knew it couldn't have happened yesterday, though, because yesterday I was on a train, and I wasn't alone.

Upon setting foot back in the Black Order, Alma distastefully tore off his cloak as though it had been the stigma of a gossiping girl.

I gradually wandered back towards my room, occasionally taking outside routes as I did so. I never looked back as I walked, but the whole time I could feel Alma following closely, the inky smudge of a cloak draped over one forearm.

He stopped behind me on one of the balconies. By now Allen and whoever else had decided to watch had split off, so the outside world was bare and alone. Clouds relentlessly obscured the sun, dyeing the icy world below a flat gray. I felt his presence pause and I stopped too; I wondered what could distract him so easily.

He looked out over the undulating landscape of forest and silver land. An unexpectedly warm breeze rushed by us. It played amiably with his hair, and his fingers brushed the wind gently aside, like a bird's feathers stirring the sky in flight. For a moment, the simile became real: slim, graceful flight feathers swept over the sky-colored stripe flowing down his face: a tear frozen in time.

His spare hand lowered from his ear, and I realized I was staring again.

"It's almost spring," he murmured, his eyes flicking to mine. "Isn't it?"

I watched him for a while until another wind tickled the inside of my ears and I sneezed.

"I'll take that as a yes." Alma smiled gently.

I shook myself off and continued inside. At some point during my walk Alma disappeared; suddenly when I looked back he was gone.

It seemed as though, if only for an instant, Alma had been a crow, fluffing his feathers absently into the air if only to scatter the stigma that surrounded his kind.