chapter five

*******

we know what we are, but know not what we may be

*******

Levi lay in bed for what felt to be a good twenty minutes or so, lulled into a sense of rare relaxation by the soft mattress, warm sheets and a certain brat half-sprawled on top of him, until his full bladder finally became demanding enough that he groaned as he slowly shifted out from beneath Eren and the weight of the blankets. Eren made a snuffling sound but didn’t wake up, just curled up in the spot vacated by Levi and settled once Levi draped the blankets back over him, and then Levi was free to hurry over to the bathroom. He scratched at the stubble on his chin while he pissed, but decided to wait until later to shower and shave; he pulled on some pants, a t-shirt and a robe, and considered himself decent enough to fetch a pot of tea and some toast to satiate his hunger until Eren woke up.

Careful to shut the door quietly behind him as he left the room, he found Eren’s friend Armin face down in a book that was open on the coffee table, and Hange about to fall out of the chair in front of her desk – it didn’t take a genius to figure out that they’d been up all night trying to learn more about Eren’s ‘key’ status. Levi shook his head as he crept toward the kitchen, and was a bit surprised to find Mikasa up and busy brewing some coffee.

She was dressed in a robe herself, one of Hange’s, and frowned once she caught sight of him. “Eren up?” For some reason she was still wearing the red scarf from yesterday around her neck.

“No, he’s still dead to the world. Probably won’t see him for another hour or two and then he’ll make breakfast.” Levi went past her to the stove so he could grab the kettle.

“He never was a morning person.” Mikasa directed her frown at the coffee machine and tapped her fingers against the counter. “Still, he must be happy to be able to cook for everyone like this – he takes after his mother in that regard.”

Levi paused in filling the kettle with fresh water for a moment, but waited until the kettle was filled and placed back on the stove to say anything. “Just know he likes to do it and he’s good at it.”

The comment made Mikasa spin around and glare, her arms folded over her chest and her right hand toying with the ends of the scarf. “What, don’t you bother to get to know my brother? You just-“ She waved in the direction of the bedroom, a hint of pink on her pale cheeks as she clammed up.

Yeah, he so didn’t need this first thing in the morning. “I know his mother was killed when you both were young and he blames himself for it. I know his father abandoned you and he’s still pissed off about it to this day, and he wasn’t happy about leaving you and Blondie out there behind but he did it because he didn’t want to watch you die. So yeah, I don’t pry, just like he doesn’t pry too much into my past. It’s called ‘boundaries’, which you need to learn.” He gave her a flat look then went to fetch some bread for toast.

That shut up the pest for about a minute or two, long enough for him to set the bread in the toaster. “I just… I don’t get the two of you,” she admitted as she poured coffee into a mug. “Everything I’ve heard about you… well, it isn’t good. You kill people.”

Couldn’t this wait until he had some damn tea first? Levi gave the kettle a gaze of longing and sighed. “First off, don’t believe everything you hear. Second, yeah I kill people – my talent doesn’t exactly allow me to do much else when a bunch of mages have me cornered and want me dead. In case it isn’t obvious, people don’t like necromancers. And by like, I mean they want to wipe us out.” The toast popped out just then so he paused to grab it and put it on a plate. “It’s why there aren’t that many of us running around, and why your father hid what he was. Considering that the Ackerman line is the most powerful necromancer line out there, we’re like walking targets so yeah, we tend to hit first and hit hard if we think there’s going to be trouble.” Ah, *finally*, the kettle began to boil; he turned off the stove and poured some of the hot water into a clean tea pot to warm it up, then added some tea leaves into the strainer and more water before buttering up his toast.

While he fixed his snack, Mikasa sipped her coffee and gazed at the floor as if deep in thought. “So that’s why the Ackermans’ are hated so much? Because you’re so powerful?”

Someone had to accept it wasn’t so much a case of ‘you’ but ‘we’; Levi grunted as he finished buttering his toast. “That’s part of it. All necromancers can gain some energy if a person dies around them, but the Ackerman line… I don’t know if it was bred into us or if we just had some damn genetic quirk or what, but for us, we can absorb more of that energy and so get a bigger boost than other necromancers.” He narrowed his eyes and pointed the knife at Eren’s sister. “You ever feel anything like that? A sudden rush when someone dies around you?”

At first it looked as if the girl was going to tell him ‘no’, was even beginning to shake her head, and then she paused as her dark eyes went wide. “I… there are times when we fight, when… yes, something hits me, makes me focus and I feel stronger, feel able to fight better, fight stronger.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.” He took a bite of toast before he continued. “Sounds as if you need some training, but you got both lines of magic in you after all.” ‘Lucky’ girl.

Mikasa began to shake her head again, only to stop and glance in the direction of the spare bedroom. “If it’ll help protect Eren….”

Yeah, that overbearing sister routine was getting on his nerves. “The brat’s fine, worry about yourself, especially if it gets out that you’ve Ackerman blood in you.” His lips twisted at the thought and he did some head-shaking of his own as he poured a mug of tea.

“Because I’ll be a target of mages, just like you?”

“That and people will want to see if you’re anything like me and Kenny.” He looked up to see Mikasa’s face whiten at the mention of his uncle. “Yeah, you think I’m bad? Be thankful you didn’t run into him.”

“The Butcher,” she whispered. “So he fights all those mages because of being a necromancer?”

Levi scoffed at that and nearly spilled his tea. “Hell no, he fights because he’s a murderous sadist, plain and simple.” Something dark rose inside of him at the memory of his uncle, of the harsh lessons the man forced upon him to teach him both how to control his magical talent and how to physically fight, how some days he hadn’t known who was his worst enemy – Kenny or the rest of the world. He’d hated the man after he’d been abandoned, but damn if it hadn’t been the best thing for him. “Meanest asshole out there, and I’ve known a lot of assholes.”

Mikasa stared at him over the rim of her coffee mug, her expression dubious as if she was trying to figure out if she could trust him or not. Levi didn’t really care – if she ran across Kenny she’d find out the hard way just how much of a malicious bastard the man really was, and how he lived to inflict pain upon anyone who crossed his path. Though Kenny would probably let her live because of her Ackerman blood – not without leaving a few scars in his wake.

“I still don’t see-“

“Mmm, choppy.”

Eren’s sleepy, congested voice made them jerk around, and Levi cursed as hot tea lapped at his fingertips; the burn of the tea was offset by the soothing wash of Eren’s magic as his lover shuffled toward him, dressed only in boxers and Levi’s t-shirt. The brat didn’t stop until he was an insistent, warm and near boneless mass pressed against Levi’s left side.

“Why me?” Levi griped even as he slung his arm around the half-unconscious idiot. “And what’s ‘choppy’?”

“Choppy,” Eren mumbled again as he flopped his right hand about in the vicinity of his head. “Woke me up.”

Levi set the mug aside so he could press the palm of his hand between his brows. “You make no fucking sense, but what else is new?”

“Your ‘motions.” Eren opened his eyes long enough to give a sleepy glare Levi’s way, then closed them again and rested his head on Levi’s shoulder. “Hmm, tired.”

“Seriously, we need to figure out a damn block for this shi-“ Levi was about to flick the brat on the ear when Mikasa’s sudden presence made him stop and glare. “What?”

“He’s sensing your emotions?”

“Yeah, what about it?” Levi tightened his hold on Eren when his lover took to nuzzling his neck. “Isn’t it a shifter thing?”

“Not if he can do it from another room while asleep.” Mikasa’s expression grew contemplative as she stood near Eren with her hands tangled around the ends of the scarf. “Are you always sensing Levi, Eren?”

“Hmm, grumpy.” Eren rubbed his cheek along Levi’s shoulder as if he was a fucking cat or something. “’cept when he’s not.”

“Like I said, no fucking sense from you.” Levi gave him a light flick to the ear, and then a harder one when he noticed that Eren had reached around him to snag the remaining piece of his toast. “Oi! Start making some breakfast if you’re hungry, you little shit.” He shoved Eren toward the stove and followed it with a swat to his barely covered ass.

The brat whined even as he bit into the toast. “Cold.”

Levi sighed as he shrugged out of his robe and threw it at Eren, a slight smirk on his lips when it landed mostly over the brat’s head and prompted a squawk of surprise. “Then cover your ass, and I want eggs Benedict for breakfast.”

“Slave driver,” Eren muttered as he began to slip on the robe. “That okay, Mikasa? I can make something else for you.”

“Hmm?” Mikasa shook her head a little, since she had been staring rather intently at the two of them before Eren had asked his question. “No, that’s fine. Anything’s better than fast food.” She watched as Eren held the toast between his teeth so he could tie the robe shut then went to check the fridge for ingredients; Levi was enjoying his tea without a boyfriend hanging on him when she returned her attention his way.

“Yes?”

“Know much about shifters?” There was an odd note to her quiet voice just then.

“More than I did a week or two ago.” He had an annoying suspicion that she was going to enlighten him on something.

Mikasa glanced back at Eren, her hands once more entangled in the scarf, before her gaze resettled on Levi. “Eren’s never formed a permanent empathic link with someone.”

“That we know of,” the brat called out from the fridge.

“*Never*,” Mikasa stressed. “So what makes you so special?”

His arms full of egg cartons and other things, Eren opened his mouth as if to say something as he backed out of the fridge, but one glance Levi and Mikasa’s way made him snap his mouth shut and shake his head as if deciding it was better to stay out of the conversation.

Levi took the time to finish his tea and pour some more before answering. “Maybe if we knew that, we’d have a fucking clue about this whole ‘key’ thing, no?”

Mikasa continued to study him for a few more seconds before nodding. “At least you’re honest.” It was sort of implied ‘even if you’re messing with my brother’.

Wasn’t she such a sweetheart? Still, Levi felt a bit of respect toward the girl for standing up to him for Eren’s sake, when most people ran in the opposite direction as soon as they heard his name. “I don’t much see a reason to lie. Erwin said something about Eren and I being of a complimentary nature due to our magic, so maybe that’s why the link is there. Maybe it’s just the Fates fucking with us, who knows.” He paused for a sip of tea as his gaze lingered on Eren, who was busy prepping for breakfast, and felt a thrum of magic between them when his lover looked up to offer him a lopsided smile. “Not sure I really care.”

Eren’s smile evened out even as he wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, says the guy who does the waking up because he’s all….” He waved his right hand about as his brow grew furrowed. “Choppy.”

“Seriously, what the *hell* does that even mean?” Levi looked to Mikasa for help. “Was he dropped on his head as a squalling brat or what?”

“Oh come on, they’re your emotions, what do you want me to say!” Eren slammed the pan he’d just fetched down on the stove with a bit too much force and glared at Levi. “All growly and dark and this one second and that and…choppy!”

“I’ll give you growly.” Levi stalked over so he could grab hold of the brat’s nape and rubbed his hand over Eren’s tousled hair, which prompted his lover to let out a loud yelp and attempt to give him a kick to the shin. “Utterly brain dead, you are.”

“Supposed to be sleeping,” Eren pouted as he twisted about in Levi’s hold until his back pressed against Levi’s chest. “Even making you breakfast, you old ingrate.”

“Hmm, don’t overcook the bacon.” Levi ran his hand over Eren’s mess of hair and noticed that Mikasa appeared to be stifling a laugh, her dark eyes bright and cheeks once more flushed. “Well, was he dropped on his head or what?”

“So mean,” Eren whined yet he didn’t pull away.

“I wasn’t there when he was a baby, but I’m pretty sure his mother wouldn’t have let that happen. I’m afraid it’s just Eren.” She smiled at her brother when he took to groaning.

“Thanks, Mikasa. And here I thought I could count on you.”

“Then you don’t want my help with making breakfast for six people?” She cocked her head to the side and smiled some more when Eren sighed and nodded. “I thought so.”

“You know what? The two of you are related after all,” Eren grumbled as he stepped away from Levi.

Levi clicked his tongue as he headed back to his abandoned mug of tea. “Should make for a fun practice session later, no? You can see how well you do against the both of us.” The look on Eren’s face just then was priceless and well worth all of the complaints he’d have to put up with the rest of the day.

“Should have just let Reiss capture me that day,” Eren mumbled as he began to cut up the bacon.

*******

Armin rubbed at his sore neck as he ate his breakfast; he really had missed Eren’s cooking these last few years. “This is so good.”

Eren snorted in amusement as he mopped up his plate with a piece of toast. “You say that about everything I make, but thanks.”

“Well, my grandfather did set the bar rather low.” Armin thought of his grandfather with a sad fondness before he shook his head. “That and years of fast food.”

“We’re all very grateful for Eren’s efforts in the kitchen, since this is the first time I’ve felt it safe to eat while at Hange’s.” Erwin helped himself to another serving while shooting their hostess a wry grin. “Even with Levi around to restore some sort of order to your kitchen.”

The blood witch didn’t appear too offended by the critique since she just grinned back as she poured herself more coffee. “There always seems to be something more important than cleaning.”

Levi’s face wrinkled in disgust as he pushed his empty plate aside. “You’re lucky we put up with your filthy ass.”

“Aw, but you love me, I know you do!” Hange beamed at him from over the rim of her coffee mug, and laughed when he gave her the finger. “Don’t worry, Eren-honey, our love is true but a platonic thing, it won’t stand in the way of your relationship.”

“Add bug-fuck crazy to the list.”

“And that’s why you adore me so, you grump.”

Armin watched the bickering with fascination while he ate his breakfast, while beside him Mikasa sipped her coffee, a calm presence; he wasn’t sure what had happened this morning while he’d slept, but she seemed a bit more at peace over Eren’s relationship with Levi. There was even a slight smile on her face as she watched over her brother, who sat rather close to the irate necromancer as he argued with Hange over having any friendly feelings at all for the woman.

Erwin appeared amused as well, his blue eyes bright and a smile lurking on his face. “Let’s hope you put the same energy you do into fighting each other into fighting our enemy.”

Levi shifted his glare from Hange to the blond mage. “Sure, I just have to imagine they’re a certain hellfire casting pain in the ass and I’ll do fine.” He leaned back in his chair, his left arm slung over it and across the back of Eren’s as well and held his mug of tea by its rim with the tips of his fingers as he drank from it. “They’ll be dead in minutes.”

“Perfect.” Erwin’s grin widened as if he was unbothered by – that or accustomed to – the threat. “Whatever motivates you.”

Levi gave him a blank stare for several seconds before he turned away and clicked his tongue, which only seemed to add to Erwin’s amusement. “So, did the two of you find anything of interest last night?”

It took Armin a moment to realize that Erwin was speaking to him and Hange, and noticed that Hange was shaking her head. “Uhm, no, I’m sorry to say that we didn’t find anything.” Armin laughed nervously as he rubbed at the back of his head, unsure of how the mage with the intimidating presence would take the news.

Hange let out a slow breath as she slammed her mug onto the table. “I hope Moblit gets back soon with those books from Pixis, because I don’t think we’re going to find much in these.” She narrowed her eyes at Eren. “I’m beginning to think that someone went through a lot of trouble to keep anything about a living ‘key’ from being documented.”

Erwin leaned back in his chair while the air shuddered and coalesced in silvery shimmers around Levi. “That’s quite an accusation, what makes you think that?”

“Because I know mages, and the magic community is a bitchy, gossipy lot.” Hange ignored the scowl Levi gave her with an ease that impressed Armin, considering that Mikasa was on edge beside him and probably one twitch away from sending out her threads while his left hand had dropped to a pocket of his cargo pants, where he kept a couple of ‘emergency’ vials. “And anytime one of us makes a discovery, we want everyone to know just how clever we are, so….” She propped her chin up on her left hand and batted her eyes. “You really think that if someone knew something about a ‘key’, they wouldn’t have told someone else or written it down?”

“Not if someone tore out their throat first.” Levi’s fingers brushed along the edge of Eren’s left shoulder and the spirits around him spun about in an obvious sign of agitation. “So why the big deal of keeping it a secret?”

“Yeah, why go through all that effort for someone like me?” Eren looked so forlorn just then that Armin felt sorry for his friend – he suspected that Eren was remembering his mother’s death, about how long he’d been on the run and Armin’s own injury. Before he could do anything, though, Levi’s hand lifted up to flick him in the ear, and Eren’s emotions changed into annoyance.

“Dammit-“

“Indeed, why?” Erwin’s lips twitched for a moment at the lovers’ antics before his demeanor became serious. “We know that Eren can absorb magic from others, and I don’t think it unlikely to make the assumption that with some training, probably benefit from that magic. He can also create a ward around his own body to protect himself from magic as well as a magical defense that is resistant to magic attacks. More importantly, Levi appears somehow tied to Eren’s abilities in that he is… I’m not sure if ‘immune’ is the correct word but he can counter some of Eren’s defenses and also receive the magic.” Erwin’s brows drew together as he continued to observe the couple. “Is the truth about a ‘key’ being hidden to protect them or to ensure that when one is in existence, only certain people know about them and so will benefit from their abilities?”

Levi’s scowl went up a notch as he sent a spirit to ruffle the mage’s immaculate blond hair. “As always, trust you to come up with the most disturbing hypothesis.”

“Yes, but *as always*, he does get to the heart of the matter,” Hange pointed out before she slurped her coffee.

“I don’t care – if someone wants to use Eren, they have to get through me,” Mikasa ground out as clutched at her scarf.

“I’m against that as well, we’re just trying to figure out a motive here,” Erwin agreed. “Because I’ve a feeling that these two things are interconnected – whoever hid the knowledge about Eren’s true nature and whoever is hunting down those who are after him.”

Well if the strong coffee that Mikasa had brewed for breakfast didn’t help to wake him up, Erwin’s theory certainly had Armin’s brain whirling about with various theories. He glanced aside to find Mikasa sitting ramrod-stiff beside him, her jaw jutting out and hands clenched as if she fought not to reach out and use her talent to pull Eren across the table to her. “That’s… that’s quite a conspiracy,” he said as he slipped a vial out of the pocket and held it up. “You know what I like about alchemy? There’s all these different compounds that you can mix together, all these possibilities, but you learn how to control them and predict the outcome. What you’re suggesting… that takes an insane amount of knowledge and resources, not to mention the magic….”

He looked away from the time to catch Erwin and Levi exchanging a significant look and then glance aside, one that raised suspicions inside of him in an instant. He opened his mouth to say something – and winced as Hange stepped on his foot. When he looked aside at her, she gave him a too-wide grin and poured more coffee into his mug. “Boy you must be tired, that was some yawn there! You didn’t have to stay up half the night with me.”

Armin stared at her in confusion for a few seconds while Mikasa patted her arm. “Maybe you should take a nap after breakfast while I help train with Eren.”

“Yeah, you have larger bags beneath your eyes than the old man over here,” Eren commented with a smirk that lasted until he got smacked on the back of the head by his boyfriend. “Ow!”

“Someone’s just begging to get his ass kicked today, isn’t he?” Levi drawled while Eren pouted beside him.

Eren slumped in his chair with folded his arms over his chest. “Why don’t you just stake me out with a neon sign saying ‘shifter here, come and get him’ and save me a lot of pain and aggravation?”

A slight smile transformed Levi’s face as he held up his mug. “Not nearly as much fun for me. I do so love the way you scream when the revenants are about to tear you apart.”

Everyone was quiet after that, until Eren made a frustrated growling sound. “You’re not joking. You’re seriously not joking. You – argh!” He reached over to snatch at the mug and slammed it onto the table before nearly crawling into Levi’s lap in an attempt to… Armin wasn’t quite sure what his friend was trying to do, but Hange was giggling while taking pictures with her phone and Mikasa began to push her chair away from the table while Erwin looked on and sighed. “Should just shift into a lion and eat you or something! Bet you taste lousy, though!”

“Funny, you had no complaints on the way I tasted last night,” Levi shot back as he caught Eren’s wrists so he could hold Eren’s arms up in the air to keep from being hit.

“My *sister* is right here,” Eren all but shrieked, his face a bright red.

“Uhm, I don’t really want to know this stuff, either,” Armin admitted.

“Haven’t you guys found the flavored lube yet?” Hange leaned over the table to get a better angle for the camera on her phone, while a also blushing Mikasa was on her way to Eren’s aid. “Aw, don’t interrupt!”

Mikasa let out a couple of threads but only waved them about in the air; she might be acting on the side of caution after the way Eren’s talent had reacted yesterday. “Let him go,” she warned Levi, “before things go too far.”

“Yes, let’s not spoil what was a nice breakfast and a serious conversation,” Erwin murmured into his mug.

Levi and Eren stilled at Mikasa’s warning, and then Levi clicked his tongue as he helped Eren sit up on his lap. “Later, brat.”

“Looking forward to kicking *your* ass for once.” Eren rubbed his wrists once they were released, but didn’t seem to be in a hurry to move from Levi’s lap.

“Yeah, like that’ll ever happen.” Levi reached around Eren for his mug of tea and frowned when he looked into it. “If we’re done here, time to start that ass-kicking.” He poked Eren in the ribs. “Go change into your robe.”

“Always so bossy,” Eren complained as he hopped off of Levi’s lap. “One day you’ll say ‘please’ and I’ll pass out from the shock.” Mikasa trailed after him, probably to get ready as well.

“Good luck with that – if Erwin and I haven’t taught our little grump manners in all these years, it’s a lost cause. But then again, we haven’t tried withholding sex from him as an enticement.” Hange laughed when spirits whirled around her and messed up her hair and glasses. “Aw come on, you should have a better sense of humor now that you’re getting some!”

“Why didn’t you send her off with Mike and Nanaba?” Levi asked Erwin as he gave Hange a rude gesture.

“Because she’s of more use to us here.” It sounded as if Erwin said that a lot, the words came out in a rote manner.

Not wanting to get caught in a fight between the three, Armin offered them a nervous smile as he rose from the table, hands busy collecting his and Mikasa’s plates. “Ah, you know what? I think I’m going to take that nap now.” Maybe get a little rest while Levi tried to kill Eren and Mikasa tried to kill Levi for killing Eren, and Hange and Erwin did… well, whatever they did. Yes, a great time to be unconscious, yes indeed.

Hange waved goodbye to him as he backed away from the table. “You can crash in my room if you want – Erwin and I are going to dig through some spells. Rest up so we can pick your brain later tonight.”

“Okay.” Despite the weirdness of Eren’s new relationship and the fact that his new friends were, well, odd, Armin had to admit that it was so good to see Eren again and to feel as if he was doing something other than just running. After rinsing off the dishes, he followed Hange’s advice and went to lie down so he’d be well rested to help out later – he had a feeling he’d need the energy for whatever spells she and Erwin cooked up.

*******

Mikasa lashed out with her threads, yet the gleaming strands failed yet again to find any purchase around Eren’s giant shape, failed to wrap around it and bind him tight. Something about the crystal armor that encased his masculine yet sexless form fended off the strands, just like it resisted any of the spells she tried as well. Levi wasn’t having any more luck with the spirits that enveloped her brother, though the revenants that attempted a more physical attack appeared to be wearing Eren down.

“How… many… gah!” Eren tore off the arms of what appeared to have been a dead mage and threw them behind him as he kicked the rest of the body aside. “Hange’s a serial… killer.”

“True, but I do recycle these poor guys after I put them back to rest.” Levi called up a fresh wave of undead with a half-smile and sent them toward Eren. “Waste not, want not.”

Eren made an odd choking sound in the back of his throat as he fought off the most current wave, his eyes burning bright and wide jaw jutting with vicious fangs. It was around the last two or three of the revenants that Mikasa noticed that the crystal ‘ward’ he was ‘wearing’ started to crack, so she used her threads to pull the undead away from him while calling out Levi’s name. The necromancer clicked his tongue a couple of times as he motioned with his left hand, and the dead just… ‘melted’ back into the ground while Eren wavered about on his feet before the crystal vanished into steam and he shifted back into his normal shape. Well, normal except that he was still a few inches too short. There was also the fact that he was naked and no longer sexless; she averted her eyes upward as a slight heat warmed her cheeks.

“At least you lasted longer than half an hour this time,” Levi chided as he grasped Eren by his upper arms to help steady him. “Pretty soon you’ll be up to an entire hour.”

“Oh, yay.” Eren rested his forehead against Levi’s shoulder. “Thanks to… psychopaths like… you.”

“I seem to remember someone telling me he’d eat my liver when we first met, so shut it, pot.” Levi smacked Eren’s backside as he frowned at something in the distance. A moment later, there was a flurry of spirits as Eren’s robe lifted off of the ground and was flung in Levi’s direction, which he managed to catch and drape over Eren’s shoulders.

Eren sighed as he twitched about enough so he could look over at Mikasa, who offered her brother an encouraging smile. “It’s very impressive, that ward of yours. I couldn’t touch you at all with my magic.”

“Well, thanks for taking it easy on me.” Eren seemed to have caught his breath as he slipped his arms into the sleeves of the robe even though he continued to lean against Levi. “Not sure I could handle you and the zombies trying to tear me apart.”

Levi frowned as he tugged at Eren’s hair. “Don’t call them that.”

“Whatever.” Eren rolled his eyes. “Are we done for now? I’m about to let one of them gut me if it’ll mean I can take a break.”

“Is he always this whiny?” Levi shook his head as he poked Eren in the side, yet Mikasa noticed that he allowed her brother to be so clingy. “If it’ll get you to shut up, fine, we’ll take a break.” He looked over at her and cocked his head to the side. “Want to see just how much of the Ackerman magic you inherited?”

At first she felt inclined to say ‘no’, yet there was no sarcasm or sense of judging to the way Levi asked the question, and Eren stared at her with a curious expression on his face, not one of disgust or horror despite the fact that they were discussing necromancy. This was something that had to do with her father, a gentle man who had taught her to look at all facets of life including death, and it would be another way for her to keep Eren and Armin safe. “All right.”

Levi’s bland expression didn’t change upon hearing her answer, but he did grunt a little as he patted Eren on the back. “Give me some space, you’re worse than a damn cat.”

“’mm tired.” Eren rubbed at his eyes as he pulled away from Levi yet still hovered near the older man. “Your magic feels good.”

“Then stop bitching about me lobbing spells at you all the time.” Levi’s lips twitched when Eren made that choking sound again and tugged at his hair. “You’d make a shitty poker player, you know that?”

“Just… teach her how to play with dead things so we can go back inside.” A pout formed on Eren’s face but didn’t last for long as he glanced at Mikasa. “You really okay with this? Not worried you’ll turn into a grouchy old ma-ow!” Now he was glaring at Levi while rubbing his just flicked ear.

“I’ll be fine,” she assured him, grateful for his concern and amused despite herself. “I don’t really do ‘grouchy’. Or ‘man’.”

“Enough fucking around.” Levi held his right hand up, fingers ready to flick, in Eren’s direction as a warning for a couple of seconds until Eren pressed his lips together. “Now, I want you to think about your magic,” he told Mikasa, “but don’t do anything with it just yet. Let it build inside of you for a few seconds.”

Trusting in the necromancer because Eren did, she closed her eyes and summoned her talent, felt the cool rush of it in her blood and bones. Her hands itched, as always, a thrum of energy that wanted to spill forth in myriad threads that could lash and bind, wrap and throttle and weave, could do so many things if she just concentrated. Yet she didn’t focus on anything, she just let the magic build and waited for Levi’s instructions.

After a few seconds, his deep voice continued. “Think about those times when you fought and someone died around you, when you felt that rush of energy inside of you. Think of how that energy is part of you yet separate – that’s what it feels like to touch the dead. They’re going to be a part of you yet not. Animated, yet not alive. Part of the earth and air, yet something else. You’re going to be searching for that bit of ‘other’, both in your magic and the world around you. If you can’t fucking get what I’m telling you then the lesson ends here.”

There was a spark of anger that *this* was how the man taught her the heritage her father had given her, but Mikasa forced the emotion aside and concentrated on what Levi had said before the snide remark, the part about that ‘other’. She reached into her magic, dug deep and found a pool of something colder inside the coolness, something that she had never truly paid attention to over the years as she had relied upon her mother’s half of her bloodline. It scared her a little, to be honest, because yes, it was a sense of ‘otherness’, it led to something outside of herself instead of just what lay within… but the more she clutched at it, the more she forced her awareness on it….

The more the ‘world’ opened up to her, and she gasped at what her magic revealed to her.

They weren’t sparks or bright lights but more a sense of voids, of potential that had been snuffed out that lurked beneath the surface of the earth and in clouds of the lingering past that hovered about in the air. She could sense the bodies which lay in their graves, empty vessels that stirred as her awareness passed over them.

“Yeah, I’d say you got it. You wanna try to bring one of them up or what?”

“Oh.” She opened her eyes and frowned as she tried to ‘grasp’ at one of the undead with her mind, yet nothing happened. Frustrated by how she failed to bend the corpse to her will, she narrowed her eyes and focused more on her magic but nothing happened.

Levi did that annoying clicking thing again while Eren stood behind him, his chin on the necromancer’s left shoulder and eyes bright with curiosity. “Her magic is all over the place.” He unwrapped his right hand from Levi’s broad chest to snatch at invisible things in the air. “If this was you, I think I’d be trying to fly away right now.”

“And I’d just use some spirits to catch your ass, unless you can ward yourself in the air.” Levi caught at Eren’s hand and replaced it around his chest. “Something for us to try later.”

“Slave driver.”

“Lazy brat.”

Mikasa grit her teeth together in growing frustration. “I’m trying to concentrate here, and your flirting is *not* helping.”

Eren’s cheeks heated up and he hid his face in the curve of Levi’s neck, yet Levi merely arched one of his eyebrows at her. “Just letting you flounder around a bit to see if you could figure it out – your brother made you out to be a bit of a prodigy.” When she bared her clenched teeth at him, he rolled his eyes and sighed. “You need to push the energy *into* the undead, not just *at* them, got it?”

“That doesn’t make… oh, wait.” Her temper faded as something about what Levi said ‘clicked’ in her mind, and she stopped trying to ‘grasp’ the revenant in the ground and allowed her magic to ‘soak’ into it instead. A gasp escaped her as she felt it stir and then slip up from the earth as if water flowing between the grains of dirt. “Oh… that’s amazing.”

Eren lifted his head to beam at her, his expression one of pride. “Knew you could do it.”

There was even a bit of grudging respect from Levi just then. “Have to say, not many catch on so fast – you’re definitely an Ackerman.”

Her first impulse was to take the comment as an insult, before she remembered that her father was an Ackerman – it would take some getting used to, the truth about her father and that side of her family. “Thank you, I think.”

The twisted smile Levi gave her led her to believe he understood the uncertainty behind her words. “Yeah, it’s a bit like those mixed blessings – ‘may you lead an adventurous life’ and shit like that. We may have targets pinned to our backs and be considered bastards by most if not all of the magical community, but we’re powerful as fuck.”

“Mikasa’s not a bastard,” Eren mumbled as he rubbed his cheek against Levi’s shoulder, much like a sleepy cat.

“You saying that *I’m* one?” When Eren just continued to rub his cheek against the wool of Levi’s coat, Levi reached back to give him a light smack to the head. “Least I come by it honestly, brat.”

“Nice life goals there, old man.” Eren blinked past Levi’s shoulder at the hulking revenant a few feet away. “You going to do anything with it?”

“Me?” Mikasa glanced away from her brother to stare at the revenant she had just raised. “Uhm, I don’t know?” She was happy that she’d managed to this much, really.

Levi sighed as he hauled Eren around to stand in front of him to reverse their positions. “Yeah, I can tell you two are related somehow.” When Eren opened his mouth to protest, he gave Eren’s ribs a squeeze. “Fuck, why am I stuck training the two of you?”

“You must have done something very special in the past,” Mikasa insisted as she used her threads to tug her brother free – however, the shift in her magical talent broke her control over the revenant and its lumbering toward her distracted her enough that Eren shrugged them off.

“Okay, I think this is a good time for a coffee break or something.” Eren tugged on the belt to his robe as he cast a longing gaze at the house. “The two of you can play with the dead things while I put on clothes and watch a movie.” He twirled the end of the belt around a little and began to walk away. “Have a nice bonding experience.” As he past it, Eren wiggled his fingers in the revenant’s face.

Mikasa and Levi watched Eren saunter away, then Levi turned to Mikasa. “Seriously, there was some sort of mental damage, right? Insanity run in the family?”

She buried the bottom half of her face in the scarf even as she shook her head to hide her smile. “His parents were perfectly normal.” Then her smile faded away. “At least, until his father disappeared.”

Levi’s incredulous expression changed to his usual blank stare as he gazed at the front of the house for a few seconds. “Grisha, huh?”

“Grisha Jaeger.” Mikasa paused for a moment before she continued. “He worked as a doctor at various hospitals in Shiganshina and Utgard.” Somehow, she didn’t think it was betraying anything to tell the man about their past, not when it was clear that Levi was working hard on protecting Eren.

“Eren’s mentioned that he was a doctor, but he gets upset talking about the man.” Levi tucked his hands into the pockets of his coat and shook his head. “Was always more willing to talk about you, the little he did discuss anything about growing up so we didn’t push.”

Despite the chill to the air, Mikasa felt a warmth suffuse her at the thought of Eren holding on to their childhood and time together. “He’s very dear to me.” She wondered if he’d told Levi how it was that they’d met – it hadn’t sounded like it when he’d prevented Hange from asking questions about her parents.

There was an inelegant snort from the necromancer as he stepped closer to the now still undead. “Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Still, let’s work a little more on this and then head inside – Erwin will be happy to have a new lead to follow if he hasn’t gotten the information out of your buddy already.”

Mikasa nodded, more than happy to wrap up the lesson with a useful skill and then go inside where it was warm – not to mention where her brother and best friend waited for her. She did her best to clear her mind and focus on the ‘new’ sense of magic before she reached out with it and pushed it inside of the revenant.

*******

There was something about running and mandrake roots and gold kittens of all things, and then Armin found himself jolted awake at the sound of grumbling. “Hunz?”

“*OW*. Oh! Sorry.” Hange laughed, the sound a bit self-conscious, and hobbled over to sit at the edge of the bed. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”

“That’s okay, I was sorta drifting in and out as it was.” Armin wiped at his eyes and cleared his throat as he sat up in bed. “What’s going on?”

“Well, we’re running low on supplies so I figured I’d run some errands, get some more food and a few other things.” She pushed back her glasses and looked over at him. “You want to come?”

He debated the question for a moment and decided it might be good to get out of the house for a little bit – it was great to be with Eren again, but yeah, the place wasn’t meant for six people – he was grateful that Mike and Nanaba had left last night after dinner. “Okay, just give me a couple of minutes to get ready.”

“Yes!” Hange pumped her right fist in the air as she jumped off of the bed. “It’s always nice to have slave labor for these things!” Her smile faded after a few seconds. “Usually it’s Moblit, but I don’t know what’s taking him so long on this latest errand.”

She’d mentioned her assistant a few times already, and between what she’d said and the comments from Levi and Erwin, Armin had to wonder if the poor guy wasn’t deliberately dragging out the task for a break from Hange’s weird demands. “Well, promise to take it easy on me, all right.”

That prompted a return to her good humor. “Hmm, yeah, we won’t break you on the first trip.” She grabbed a sweater that had been thrown on top of a pile of clothes and began to pull it over the white t-shirt she wore as she left the room. “Dress warm, since it’s getting colder out there.”

Rubbing his face again, he took a moment to enjoy the warm sheets before he pushed them aside and crawled out of the bed, then went over to the corner where he and Mikasa had left their bags; Hange had been nice to allow them her room since she claimed that she and Erwin kept weird hours between the research and ‘bossy stuff’. Not that the two of them had much to store away, other than the backpacks that he’d been lucky enough to whammy with a displacement spell he’d found which allowed him to triple the bags’ capacity; Erwin had been impressed and wanted to compare notes with him about it. Eren had been given a similar backpack, but had admitted last night that he’d lost it a few months ago while on the run, which explained why he was mostly wearing Levi’s clothes at the moment.

Thankful that they had access to a washing machine once again, Armin pulled out one of his remaining clean sweatshirts and pulled it on over the t-shirt he’d worn to bed along with a pair of comfortable jeans then grabbed his satchel. All that was left was to grab his coat and shoes by the front door, so he left the room and found everyone else out in the living room.

“-to look up a few things with some contacts of mine,” Erwin said as he removed his trench coat from the hook near the door. “I should be back by dinner.”

“I don’t see how you’re going to find anything about Grisha at this point.” Eren had that particular look on his face, a mix of stubbornness and resentment that was the norm when discussing his missing father. “It’s why I didn’t say much about him in the first place. You don’t think we tried finding him when he disappeared in the first place?”

Erwin paused in wrapping a plaid scarf around his neck while Mikasa made a soothing rub of her hand up and down Eren’s left arm. “Probably not, but sometimes there’s telling details in how well a person’s hidden himself and the means he went to in order to cover his trail. I also know some people who’ve helped others disappear, which I doubt you do.” He held Eren’s attention until Armin’s friend huffed and looked aside. “That, and there’s a few other matters I need to look into, so I wish you a good day.” Erwin nodded to Levi, who was standing near Eren.

“Cover your damn back – if anyone follows you, I’ll kill you.”

Erwin smiled at the threat. “Yes, thank you, I’ll take care. See you soon.” He waved goodbye as he headed out of the door.

Levi grunted as he looked over at Hange and Armin, and pulled out a piece of paper from the front right pocket of his black jeans. “Same goes for the two of you – anyone manages to follow you home, I’ll slit your throats myself. Forget anything on that list or sub something cheap and generic for it, my foot will be so far up your ass you’ll shit out my boot a week later, understand?”

Hange wrinkled her nose as she accepted the shopping list. “Seriously, it took me over an hour to find that one brand of bleach for you last time.” When Levi’s brows drew together in an impressive scowl, she sighed and flapped her left hand about. “Fine, fine, it’ll be an adventure, yes? And a lesson to Armin about the perils of OCD’ness.” She spun around just as Levi lunged for her, his face twisted in anger, but luckily Eren managed to get in his way and more or less restrain him.

“Let’s go make some tea,” Armin’s friend called out in a voice a little high as he pushed Levi toward the kitchen.

Meanwhile, Mikasa shook her head and helped Armin with his coat. “They’re hopeless.” Yet there was a hint of a smile on her face despite that judgment call.

That wasn’t what he expected to hear from her. “Oh, so you’re okay with them?”

She paused while holding on to the back of his coat as if to consider the question. “Oddly enough… yeah.” That was all, she didn’t elaborate but continued to smile just a little.

Well, if Levi had Mikasa’s approval then who was Armin to judge? “That’s good.” He wanted Eren to be happy, even if his choice in men was a bit scary and seemed to drive Eren crazy half of the time. “Need anything while I’m out?”

“Some new socks and if you could pick up a new sweatshirt and a pair of gloves, that would be great.”

Used to buying for each other as they were over the years, he nodded as he zipped up his coat. “Okay, I’ll probably pick up a couple of things for myself as well.” He almost called out to Eren to ask if his friend needed anything, but figured that Eren would have said something by now. “Be back soon.”

Mikasa waved goodbye as she made her way toward the bedroom, probably to rest since she appeared a little tired; maybe the practice session had worn her out. He’d have to ask her how it had gone, Eren’s new ability and all.

Once outside, Armin shivered and hurried over to the beat-up hatchback that Hange had idling in the driveway. It was covered in mud and dust, but thankfully was clean on the inside; something must have showed on his face since Hange chuckled as she shifted it into first gear. “Yeah, Levi cleaned it out the other day.” There was a sense of her magic as the car hurtled forward, which he put down to some sort of protective or diversion spells.

“Uhm, yeah, he’s big on that, isn’t he?”

“Just a little. I know Eren’s a keeper because the boy actually pitches in and helps out with the house.” She hummed a little as the car sped up down the road as soon as Armin was seated inside. He shivered a little, but the heat began to kick in so that at least helped with the cold – fear from Hange’s driving was another thing entirely. “Almost makes you believe in that true love crap, Levi finding someone who will put up with… well, *him*.” She paused to squint at something ahead on the road. “Not to imply that he’s an ogre or something, I mean, he’s one of my best friends and I adore him, there’s lots of reasons for someone to scoop his finicky ass up – I mean, there’s his  *ass* and let’s not even get started on those abs of his.” She shook her head as if to clear it of something and swerved around nothing that Armin could see. “Not helping. Where was I, right. But yeah, one or two drawbacks.”

“Like him being a feared necromancer and an Ackerman?” Armin offered as he made sure his seatbelt was secured.

“Hmm, yeah, stuff like that.” Hange took both hands off of the wheel to wave them about. “And a grumpy bastard. People need to see past labels and being yelled at for not sorting their laundry properly.” She grimaced and jerked the car out of the opposite lane just in time to avoid hitting another car head on. “Eren’s good for him.”

“I’m so happy for them both,” Armin managed to get out through gritted teeth as he forced his fingers to unclench from the dashboard. “Really. So, while we’re still in one piece, do you mind if I ask a question?”

“Hmm?” Hange stopped giving the finger to the car blaring its horn at her to glance his way. “What? If it’s about me and Levi, nope, never did the dirty deed with him.”

“Gah, no, it wasn’t that.” Armin scrubbed his hands over his face and debated reaching into his satchel for a potion to make him forget about the time spent in the car. “I was hoping you could tell me what it is the three of you are hiding from Eren.”

It was quiet in the car for about a minute or so, as Hange appeared to concentrate on the road for once. Then she hummed a little and turned onto the highway. “What makes you say that?” Her tone was light, but there was a tightness around her eyes and the way her hands clutched at the wheel.

Armin forced himself to remain relaxed in the seat. “I noticed the way you, Erwin and Levi were acting at breakfast, and it was as if you were avoiding coming out and saying something. That leads me to believe that you know something you don’t want to say something in front of Eren.”

“Huh.” Hange cut off a lorry as she pulled onto the highway. “You’re definitely a bright one, aren’t you?” There was a grudging respect to her voice as she ignored the rush of cars around them to flash him a grin. “You gonna go rushing off to tell Mikasa if you find out the truth?”

He considered his options as he did his best to ignore how close they came to the other vehicles as she wove in and out of traffic. “Ah, I guess it depends on what you tell me, to be honest. I’ll probably talk to Mikasa about it because she has Eren’s best interest at heart… why, is there a reason I shouldn't”

Hange took her left hand off the wheel to cock her finger at him. “Well, you know her best so we'll trust your judgement on that, but Eren tends to get obsessive about stuff so Levi's been doing his best to distract Eren from thinking about it too much. So, Mike and Nanaba found a bunch of slashed up bodies that didn’t seem right, and called Erwin. Erwin dragged Levi off to look at them… and they concluded that Eren’s not the only shifter out there.”

Armin waited for the blood witch to continue, for there to be something else, for her to laugh and add ‘I’m kidding’, but Hange continued to wreak havoc on the road and hummed along to the sound of screeching tires and blaring horns.

“Wait, are you serious?” He twisted about as much as he could in the seat while still wearing the seatbelt and stared in disbelief at Hange. “Shifters? Are you serious?”

She nodded and flicked on the wipers as a light rain started. “Yeppers, as serious as the black plague, which really isn’t that fun. Levi did this neat trick he has of reading the dead’s memories and says that there’s at least three of them out there.”

Armin paused to consider that, his worldview rocked by the fact that Eren, his best friend, wasn’t the only shifter anymore. “But why? I mean, all of those mages are tearing things apart to get at Eren – what if they find out about the others?”

“See, I said you were bright.” Hange tapped her fingers against the steering wheel and smiled. “So either those other mages know that Eren’s a key, they have no clue about those other shifters, both, or, or there’s something about those shifters that scare away those mages. Considering that we’ve never heard of them before, I’m thinking it’s one of the first three.”

He chewed on a hangnail as he considered things as well. “It might also be why we’re not finding out anything about a ‘key’ – if they can hide themselves so well, they can bury the truth about Eren’s nature.”

“Uh-huh, which is what I think has Levi even grouchier than normal – if they have that much pull, they’re going to be nasty as fuck to fight. And while he’s usually all in for a drag out, bruiser of a fight, I think they’re going to be hard to pin down.” Hange’s mouth twisted as if she wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of an elusive enemy, either.

All things considered, Armin couldn’t blame her, not after watching Eren in action all these years and knowing some of the things his friend could do in a fight. “Are we even sure that there’s only three more of them?”

“That’s what Erwin’s trying to find out, along with maybe where Eren’s dad went off too – I’m pretty sure that Grisha’s also a shifter after reading Eren’s blood.” Hange shook her head and sped up the wipers. “That gene was just too dominant in the boy.”

“It would explain how Grisha vanished so easily.” For all they knew, he could be living as a woman or even a child somewhere and not the middle-aged man everyone was looking for – or even be in an animal form if he was as talented at shifting as Eren. “He could be almost anything or anyone.”

Hange let out a high-pitched squeal as she pounded her left hand on the steering wheel. “It’s so exciting! I’d kiss Eren for bringing all this wonderful stuff into my life, but Levi probably would gut me.”

Armin gritted his teeth as they just avoided rear-ending another car. “Just ask Levi to do it for you. So, how much longer until we reach the store?” Please let it be soon.

“Hmm? Oh, another ten or fifteen minutes. You wanna get lunch while we’re out?” Hange grinned at him while she cut off an SUV twice the size of her car.

Armin shook his head as he cringed down in his seat and hoped that they made it back home in one piece.

******

Eren sat on a pillow on the floor with Levi on the couch behind him, tucked between his boyfriend’s legs as they shared a pot of tea. “So what, now there’s three Ackermans?”

Levi’s fingers in his hair stilled for a moment, and then gave a gentle tug before continuing to comb through the strands. “Unless there’s another surprise like your sister, yeah, that should be about right.”

Holding onto his own mug of black tea with both of his hands, Eren chewed his bottom lip and wondered if he should say anything else; he could feel Levi’s emotions, the guardedness and sense of pain, along with some resignation. There was a heavy sign and those fingers massaged at his scalp. “Like I said, never play poker, you little shit.”

“Hmm?” Eren tilted his neck so he could glance back at his lover. “What do you mean?”

“You want to know about my family, right?” Levi’s face was revealed nothing, but there was a hint of amusement to his emotions now.

Eren frowned a little as he twisted around to rest his left arm and chin on Levi’s thigh. “Uhm, well, not too much, really, but there’s that… uncle, right? Kenny?” Levi had called him his uncle at one point, hadn’t he?

“I thought so.” Levi had some tea before he set his mug aside. “There’s not much to say, really, other than he’s the nastiest fuck alive, more or less. He took me in when my mom died,” there was a spike of pain and loss there, “though why he bothered, I really don’t know. Some fucked up sense of familial obligation maybe, because it wasn’t that he wanted to raise a kid.” Now there was anger and a simmering sense of hate. Eren frowned as he reached out and touched his fingers to Levi’s chest.

The gesture made Levi smile, ever so slightly. “Must be a pain in the ass, to feel what I do, huh?”

“I don’t know, it’s nice to not be stuck just inside my head all of the time.” Eren thought about what he said and grimaced. “I mean, sometimes I get so angry and caught up in things that it’s good, having these other emotions. It jolts me back.” Like when he thought about his father or when he was fighting.

“You really are a brain-dead brat,” Levi teased as he tucked aside the hair falling onto Eren’s face, his fingers lingering for a few seconds. “But back to Kenny.” Levi’s grey eyes grew unfocused as he stared past Eren while he talked. “I think it got to be too much for him, how people treat our bloodline. Think he’s out there determined that if people are going to fear necromancers and Ackermans in particular, he’ll be their worst nightmare.”

Eren had heard a few stories about ‘Kenny the Butcher’, about the necromancer who always added to the coterie of dead around him wherever he went. The necromancer willing to kill with his own hands as well as that of the revenants he could summon as easily as breathing. Those stories also said that the ‘great’ Levi was cut from the same cloth, that Levi was just as deadly if not more so…. Eren closed his eyes and let out a slow breath. “So he trained you?”

“Yeah, have to give him that much credit, he taught me what I needed to know about necromancy and how to fight before he fucked off.” There was a bitterness to Levi’s voice and emotions that didn’t last for long. “Probably did it so I didn’t slow him down, but it was for the best, really.”

“Hmm. Well, don’t think you’re anything like him.” Eren scooted a little closer so he could drape both arms over his lover’s thigh. “You’re not a monster.”

Levi stared at him with that blank expression for several seconds, his emotions once more ‘choppy’ but different from in the morning, not a mix of darkness and anger and other things but more disbelief and incredulousness and… and… bah, Eren wasn’t good at this stuff. He was still trying to figure it out when Levi grabbed onto the nape of his neck and pulled him upward enough for a kiss, one that was surprisingly gentle. “Brat… you’re such an idiot,” he murmured as he broke it off.

“Oh, screw you,” Eren grumbled as he sank back down on his knees. “Forget it, you are a monster.”

“Nope, too late for you to take it back,” Levi insisted as he ran the pads of his fingers along the back of Eren’s neck until he shivered. “Besides, you’ve already told me that I’m ‘great’, right?” A hint of a smile hovered on his lips as he gazed down at Eren.

“Right, you’re an egotistical bastard, if anything,” Eren complained as he reached for his tea, hoping the hot beverage explained why his face felt a little warm – and grateful that Levi couldn’t sense *his* emotions.

“Most great men are.” Levi didn’t seem bothered by the insult. “Not that a simple brat like you would understand.”

“You….” Eren set the mug back on the floor and shook his head. “Tell me again why I’m putting up with this?”

Levi didn’t reply, at least not verbally – he just gave Eren a heated look with those hooded eyes of his while the sense of his magic increased, and Eren sighed as he settled back between his lover’s thighs. “You’re such an asshole,” he muttered even as he wanted to climb up on the couch and tuck against the bastard.

“Hmm, guess that’s your type, then.”

“And smug, at that.” Eren glowered at nothing in particular as he picked up his mug. He shivered when he felt Levi’s fingers once more comb through his hair. “What?”

Levi slid forward on the couch so he could murmur in Eren’s ear, his breath warm and emotions a heady mix of desire, anticipation and something else. “We still have some time before Hange and Armin return with the groceries.” His touch skimmed down along the side of Eren’s neck to settle against his beating pulse.

“Uhm.” Mikasa was still resting after her training so they would have to be quiet… but okay, quiet was good. Eren set aside his unfinished tea and rose to his feet, Levi’s hands trailing along his body as if his lover didn’t want to lose contact. “Yeah, okay.”

Levi gave an amused snort as his long fingers wrapped round Eren’s left wrist to lead him to their room. “Eloquent as always, but good enough.”

Part of Eren wanted to snap back, but the rest of him didn’t care, not when Levi felt like this, when *he* felt like this, so he just swallowed past a throat gone dry as he followed his lover, lost to their anticipation of what was to come.

*******

Annie huddled inside of the old Army coat of her father’s and wished that they’d stopped for coffee after all since this was taking longer than anticipated. A few feet away, Hitch shoved her phone into the pocket of her fancy, too thin jacket and shivered. “How much longer?”

“However long it takes,” Annie repeated for what had to be like the eight time. “I warned you that this might take some time so it’s your own fault if you’re cold.”

Hitch’s finely plucked brows drew together as if she was about to complain, but Reiner coughing into his right hand made her frown and shove her hands deeper into the pockets of her jacket. Judging from the unhappy frown on Bertolt’s face, he was probably a couple of minutes away from removing either his nice leather jacket or the wool sweater beneath it and offering it to the necromancer – at least, until Reiner put a stop to his foolish kindness.

“Is everything ready?” Annie asked as a distraction, cold herself and more than a little bored.

Hitch sighed, the sound much too annoyed and weary for the situation, and Annie had to remind herself that there were precious few necromancers out there if they did away with this one. “Yes, I’ve prepped the ground so I’ll have plenty of resources to call upon as well as know if anyone follows the target.” She pulled her right hand out of the pocket of her jacket so she could buff its nails in such a cliché gesture.

Reiner rolled his eyes at her actions before he nodded at Annie. “We’re ready with the spells. Even if he’s under geas, we got that one potion from-“ The sound of a familiar ringtone cut him off and made him go pale, just as Annie’s spine straightened and Bert gasped in surprise.

Reiner reached into the inner pocket of his coat even as he stepped aside, a flush spreading across his face to replace the pallor. “Ah, sir?” He nodded even though the person on the other end couldn’t see him. “Yes, sir, this is Reiner. Yes.” Even with Annie’s sharp hearing, she couldn’t make out much on the other end of the phone.

“Hmm, it’s rare that you see the big guy jump to anyone but you,” Hitch cracked as she glanced back and forth between Reiner and Annie.

“Don’t,” Annie warned the girl. “I told you from the start that there were some things you were to keep out of, and this is one of them.” Something, either her tone or the expression on her face, made Hitch hold up both hands and shake her head.

“Fine, it was just a joke – consider me butting out.” Yet she cast a curious glance Reiner’s way before looking aside. “Should have figured that you answered to someone higher up.”

It was a shame that the girl was talking herself into an early grave, but she was uncovering too many secrets. Annie shared an unhappy look with Bertolt before she caught the tail-end of Reiner’s discussion, which really made her wonder what else could go wrong just then. “-we know, we’re doing what we can to bring hi- to finish it. Just a little longer.” Reiner’s jaw clenched as he listened to what were probably more orders. “Yes, it’s understood. Whatever it takes. Yes, sir.” He flinched just then, and looked as if he wanted to throw the phone aside instead of lowering it from his ear as he ended the call. “How much longer until this guy shows up?”

Annie ignored the churlish tone to his voice since she knew it wasn’t really directed at her. “You were there when we received the intel – he should be coming along this way any time now.” It had been a nightmare to track down any leads on Levi Ackerman himself, but they had been able to find out a few known acquaintances of the infamous necromancer – including a blood witch by the name of Hange. She might be as elusive as Levi, but after some persuasion, an earth mage had admitted that she had an assistant who usually came along this way when out on errands for her. They’d already taken care of the shop owner inside, and now all they had to do was wait for the assistant to arrive.

“Well, if he doesn’t show up soon, we’ll have to try another of the leads.” Reiner took to pacing in front of the herb shop. “Maybe the air mage we heard about in Karanese?” There was a note of stress of to his voice that as his claws began to grow.

“He’ll be here soon,” Bert assured him as he hurried over to his boyfriend’s side. “It-it’ll be fine.”

Not that they had much choice in the matter, not if *he* was getting impatient. Annie rubbed at the back of her neck and thought of home, thought of her dad’s encouraging smile and wondered why it seemed that things were getting out of control. “Just give it some time, the owner said he’s supposed to pick up an order today.”

“Well, it’s going to get ugly if any other customers show up,” Reiner snapped.

About to point out that they were *shifters*, Annie stilled when a spirit swirled around Hitch and caused her brown hair to blow about in its created breeze. “There’s someone coming,” she warned. “It might be your guy.”

Annie motioned for Bert to go inside the small shop to pretend to be the owner while she, Reiner and Hitch milled around their SUV as if customers hanging out before they drove away. She made a show of opening the door when a small sedan pulled up to the shop and came to a stop. As soon as she recognized the face through the windshield, she nodded to Hitch.

They pretended to climb into the vehicle, and just as the doors closed, their target seemed to glance around as if checking things out before he exited the car. He barely got a couple of feet away before hands reached up from the ground to grab onto his legs and spirits whirled around him to trap him into place. His brown eyes went wide and he attempted to shift, until Annie threw open the SUV’s door and hit him with a spell that would prevent that from happening.

“He’s here?” Bert came rushing out of the store, his shape shifting back to normal as he hit the ground running.

“Yes, you have the potion ready?” Reiner rushed to stand in front of their target, his claws fully extended and his body encased in armor just in case the were knew any spells.

Bert nodded as he patted the front of his coat twice. Meanwhile, Annie joined Reiner and turned to look over her shoulder at Hitch. “Call back the spirits but keep them ready – and watch out in case you need to read his.” Hopefully the potion would work to break any geas on the were, but they had Hitch if he died without telling them what they needed.

“I aim to please.” For once Hitch didn’t sound all sarcastic, and she motioned away the spirits with a simple wave while having a revenant rise more from the ground to hold the were captive.

The were wasn’t much to look at, his light brown hair soaked with sweat and plastered onto his face, his physique lacking when compared to Reiner’s. But there was intelligence in his eyes and a stubborn set his jaws as he refused to speak – even to ask what was going on - which warned Annie that he wouldn’t give up the information that they needed without painful incentive.

She huddled inside of the overlarge jacket as she regarded him in silence for several seconds and nodded once, then pulled out her right hand to show a set of claws which rivalled Reiner’s. “You know we can make this quick if you just tell us what we want, right?”

When his jaws clenched even tighter and he closed his eyes, she sighed and motioned for Reiner to step forward.

*******

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