Untraveled Road

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chapter one

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Absolution Road

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There was something about the wilderness, about being out beneath a vast canopy of stars that glittered so brightly in the night sky, about the clean, *fresh* air that didn’t stink of chemicals and stressed, overcrowded humans, of the faint sounds of life rustling about in the distance that always put Ymir at ease… well, she could do without the idiots bickering over how many twigs they should feed to the fire to keep it going through the night, and whose turn it was to check on the horses. What the *hell* was she doing out here with this pack of morons?

“I’ll go check on them.”

Right, Krista.

“Hold on, darling, I’ll come with you,” Ymir called out as she pushed up from the fallen tree stump she’d been sitting on to follow her girlfriend. Hopefully girlfriend. Gah, why were things so fucked up right now? Yeah, because of Eren and Bertolt and Reiner and- no, she had to stop blaming her mistakes on everyone else. Jerking her hands through her hair, she let out a sharp breath as she trailed after Krista. For so long she’d managed to use every excuse but her own motivations for what she’d done, for feeding on humans or running away from the mass destruction she’d left in her wake to just taking the easy way out of… of *everything*. Funny how one little blonde girl with the deepest, bluest eyes she’d ever seen managed to whip her ass but good.

At least Krista didn’t seem to mind Ymir’s help with the horses, though Krista was awfully quiet as they both checked that the animals were properly hobbled for the night and had enough feed to keep them placid; it was also funny how things came about full circle – Ymir could barely remember how she and her family travelled about with horses before… well, shit happened, and now humanity was relying on the beasts yet again since they were trying to repair the damage they’d done to the ozone layer et all. While she was certain that the vampire bastards had probably exaggerated how long it was taking the earth to recover from all the fossil fuel damage *and* hampering any research in alternative fuel methods, she was sure that ‘Mother Earth’ was appreciative of the long-term pause in noxious emissions. From the little Ymir could tell, the past couple of centuries had seen an improvement in species diversification as if the world was finally moving beyond the recovery phase.

“I wonder what things will be like in another few centuries… well, if humans don’t fuck it up this time,” she said aloud while she combed her fingers through the mane of the grey and black gelding that Levi rode. “The one good thing about the vampires keeping everyone in domes is that it gives a chance for all of this to recover.”

Her musings made Krista pause in offering a water bucket to the horses – at least, until Hange’s gelding gave her an insistent nuzzle. “You really think that everyone will flood out of the domes once they know the truth? Look at how scared – well, the MPs wouldn’t have come out here if they weren’t really motivated.”

Ah yes, Mikasa’s fan club. “Oh, I don’t think everyone is going to leave at first – why would they when they have all the conveniences at home right there? But you’ll have people who see the chance to establish a name for themselves who’ll set out, and once they make it comfy enough for everyone else then others will follow to get away from the overcrowding, and then more people will set out to make a buck for themselves and….” Ymir left Levi’s horse alone so she could move her hands about more freely without the risk of setting off a grumpy horse and getting bit. “Give it a few generations and there will be dozens of new establishments out here.” That was humanity’s nature, after all – they wanted to try to stake their claim and build up their personal legacy, to rule their own little domain. How many domes had failed in those first few decades?

Krista stared at her over the back of the spotted horse with a blank expression. “So you think we should just be stuck in the domes forever?”

“I think… I think it’s a good thing that there are herds of humongous pigs out here, and nasty cats and a bunch of other wildlife that will give the people in domes nightmares when they dare to step out of their nice, environmentally contained little bubbles,” Ymir admitted. “And that you’ve lost most of the tech knowledge that you possessed, such as automatic, chemical and nuclear weapons. I may hate those vamp bastards for a lot of things, but maybe they were right about humans fucking up the planet and needing to be knocked down a peg or two.”

Krista continued to give Ymir a cool, assessing look. “And do you agree with them on anything else?”

Feeling as if her girlfriend was daring to ask genuine questions for the first time since Levi and Mikasa had brought her back to the camp, Ymir stared intently at Krista while she shook her head. “*No*. Dammit, Krista - *Historia* - I’ve been fighting those assholes for over a *millennia*. I know you can’t quite grasp that concept of time, at least not yet, but trust me, if I agreed with them on anything else I’d have gone over to the dark side long ago.” As usual, the old reference was lost on her lover, causing Ymir to sigh. “Humans may be fucked up, but vampires are even more fucked up, end of story. I… I only went along with them because I honestly didn’t see how I could get away with not giving them Eren and them not killing you and wiping out at least one major dome.” That last confession came out raw, her voice cracking and her fingers digging into the palms of her hands until blood began to drip onto the ground.

For several seconds all Krista did was stare back at her, the only sound that of the horses shifting about, and then Krista let out a shaky breath as she crossed the distance between them. “I’m so mad at you – I’m *furious*, and I’ve never been this mad at you for so long,” she admitted, her eyes shifted to a brilliant gold and her voice a rumbling growl. “You *promised* me, you promised that we’d fight together and for you to *leave* me-“ there was a sob to the words as she cut them off, a wet gleam to those shining eyes. Krista shook her head as she grasped Ymir’s chin with a bruising force. “You fucking *idiot*,” she cursed. “We’re no good apart, you understand?”

There wasn’t a way for Ymir to nod, not with that punishing grip but she tried. “Yes, *now* I do. But… would you allow anyone to threaten me,” she asked, a plaintive note to her voice because after all she’d done to Krista, to the one person she loved, she wasn’t certain if she could ask that anymore. When Krista shook her head, tiny teardrops glimmering in the moonlight as they flew from her long lashes, Ymir felt something in her chest simultaneously shatter and then piece back together, the pain so fierce and cleansing at the same time. “I couldn’t risk it, I’m so sorry. I just… I can’t think when you’re in danger.”

Cool fingers trailed up her face and burrowed into her hair. “You… you *fool*. I’m not so weak anymore, am I?” Krista forced Ymir to look down upon her, to see her golden eyes and sharp, white teeth until Ymir finally nodded in agreement. “We’ll face them together from now on, *yes*?”

Having the feeling that she’d lose more than a couple of handfuls of hair if she argued, Ymir chuckled as she managed a slight nod. “Agreed. My princess has grown some very impressive fangs,” she murmured as she leaned down as much as she could manage with the stronghold on her hair to brush her lips against Krista’s adorable upturned nose.

“I’ll show *you* those fangs if you ever leave me behind again,” Krista muttered, but her eyes were shading back to their lovely blue. “I wasn’t kidding about that ‘lots and lots of groveling’ bit,” she scolded as she released her hold on Ymir. “I’m still very upset.”

“I may have picked up on that by the way you’ve given me the cold shoulder these past two days.” Ymir grinned to show that she wasn’t too upset – she had left Krista behind, after all, and knew that she’d have to work to get back into her lover’s good graces once again. “I figured you wouldn’t be trying to sneak off during the third watch like Eren and Levi any time soon.” Well, hopefully Krista would get over it in the next few days, now that they’d finally breached the dreaded topic….

On her way to pick up the abandoned water bucket, Krista nearly tripped and cast an incredulous look over her shoulder back at Ymir. “Really? Is that why you insisted that we take the second watch together?”

“Hell yes,” Ymir snorted as she smacked one of the pack horses on the ass to get it to shift out of her path. “There’s no way we’re going to be awake during *that*.” Maybe Captain Napoleon wasn’t too bad, what with how he put Mikasa in her place and seemed to really care about Eren, but it didn’t mean that Ymir wanted to be awake to possibly hear or smell Eren and the man get it on.

“But… how do you… well, you know… the third shift?” It was adorable as hell to see that blush spread across Krista’s face.

“Because you want to pick a time when it’s least likely that the Malform or any other creature will attack, and right before dawn will be it,” Ymir informed her lover. “That or try for a quickie during a mid-day break. Maybe Hange has some advice on when the Corps usually gets it on, but predawn should be safest. Bet Mikasa and that MP are at it tomorrow.”

Krista buried her face in her hands as if to hide her embarrassment, which might have worked if her ears weren’t a brilliant shade of red. “I can’t – this is our lives right now? Rushing toward some hidden cure and everyone taking turns on when to have sex?”

Ymir laughed as she approached her girlfriend and draped her left arm over Krista’s tense shoulders. “That’s pretty much the one constant in life right there. No sense in putting up with all this fighting and shit if you can’t enjoy yourself, no?” That was as much a question as a statement.

For a moment Krista was stiff against her, and then she sighed and let her hands drop while she rested her head against Ymir’s left shoulder. “I suppose.” Then a steely expression came over her pretty face. “As long as your lover isn’t being an idiot,” she declared as she went to collect the water bucket.

Well, one of the things Ymir adored about Krista was that inner core of strength, she reminded herself as she trailed after her lover, a rueful grin on her face. It was clear that she still had some groveling to do… but that was fine, because now that they were both as close to immortal as possible, she could grovel however long it took to appease Krista.

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Levi sipped his coffee while he watched Eren head over to where Mikasa was sitting to go chat with the… ‘charming’ individual. She, Horseface and Marlo would be on duty for the final shift, while Rico was already bedded down in her spot around the embers of the campfire. Hange shuffled over to Levi’s side, exhaustion plain on her face as she fussed with her glasses, and attempted to pat him on the left arm. “Go get ‘em, sweetie. Just… not too loud, ‘kay? Didn’t pack my earplugs.”

He shoved her aside while he clicked his tongue in disgust. “You mean you didn’t pack your bugs so you could film us, you freak. Go get some sleep.” He knew the shit that the perverts whom he was stuck with as colleagues liked to pull, which why there were usually a few basic rules while out in the wilderness – no drinking any ‘homemade’ brews, no eating any funny mushrooms, and no screwing around without scanning for any electronics first. He figured he was a bit safe on that last rule since he knew how ‘light’ Hange was packing, that and her comment back when he’d been checking Eren for bugs. For all of the cutthroat environment that he’d been raised in back in Tartarus, it was *nothing* compared to what the Corps could do to each other when bored, looking for amusement, and needing someone to do their grunt work – he blamed Erwin. Well, Erwin and Hange. Truth be told, Mike could be a sneaky as hell bastard at times, too. Oh all right, maybe Levi might have had *something* to do with it over the years….

“I second that ‘keep it down’ comment.”

Ymir creeping up on him nearly made him bite his tongue in half, and judging from the grin on the evil bitch’s face, she knew it, too. She continued to smirk as she led a frowning Krista away. “Some of us have better hearing than others, ya know.”

“Like I give a shit if I keep you up or not – you could do without some sleep after all of the crap you’ve pulled lately,” Levi pointed out even as she walked away. Judging from the way her shoulders tensed up and Krista gave him a dirty look, that jab had hit home. However, right about then Eren returned, so all the two of them did was give him the stink eye before heading off to bed.

Eren frowned a little as he watched the couple leave, and then he gave Levi a slight smile before approaching. “All right, Mikasa’s going to hold down the fort for us.” His golden eyes were luminous in the darkness and his hands fidgeted with the hem of his t-shirt.

Levi found himself torn between wanting to berate the idiot for spouting more nonsense and reaching out to tuck aside the stray lock of dark brown hair that had escaped from the barrettes that he’d put in place hours before. Instead, he reached out to latch onto Eren’s left hand and tugged him closer until he felt that unusual yet welcome heat which radiated from the little shit and grunted. “Good – then we can get out of here, yes?” His voice sounded a little raw to him just then, and all the color drained from his vision except for Eren.

For once, the brat didn’t struggle or dig in his heels, he merely allowed Levi to pull him from the mostly banked fire and their gathered companions. “Not too far away, okay?” Eren pitched his voice low so as to not carry too far… yet there was a similar rawness to it as well.

Smug that he wasn’t the only one a bit eager for their ‘alone time’, Levi grinned as he headed toward a small cove of trees that should allow them a suitable amount of privacy. “I’ve done this a few times before.”

Now *that* had Eren tugging on the hold of his wrist, even as the corners of the damn brat’s mouth twitched upward a bit. “What? You’re telling me I’m not your first? I’m offended, I am. Offended and cheapened.”

Levi scoffed as he tightened his grip on the little shit’s wrist and jerked him forward. “I think we’ve already established that you’re *not* cheap.” That comment earned him a bright bark of laughter from Eren that sparked an unexpected bit of warmth inside of his chest. “Notice I’m not saying anything about ‘easy’, though.”

“Well, you weren’t, up until then,” Eren mumbled. He waited until they reached the small grouping of trees to use the grip on his wrist to yank Levi toward him. “You really want me to stop being ‘easy’ right now?” His eyes were huge just then, huge and glowing, casting that whole ‘fey’ demeanor upon his face which made Levi’s throat go dry and his blood hum through his veins with desire – only this time… this time Levi could reach out to thread his fingers through the soft hair falling onto the nape of Eren’s neck and drag the idiot to him for a ferocious kiss. A kiss that was just as much about him claiming the addicting, annoying being who had blundered into his life and upset it to such a huge degree as it was the simple abandonment to pleasure. Dammit, the little shit could kiss….

He nipped at Eren’s bottom lip and smirked at the low whine of pleasure the action produced as he pulled away, delighted at the sight of Eren’s beautiful eyes blown with passion, the hint of redness to the normally golden skin on those round cheekbones and the now swollen lips. Levi had never considered himself the type to be attracted to ‘perv bait’, but the mix of Eren’s lovely, youthful features and that gleam of unworldly experience in those eyes of his was breathtaking. Besides, as soon as Eren’s eyes began to glow and there was that teasing prickle of claws along the back of Levi’s neck, how the fuck was Levi going to forget that his lover was some millennia-old vampire hybrid? No cradle-robbing going on here, at least on *his* part….

“I figure we have about five minutes before something goes wrong or Hange wakes up, so ‘easy’ isn’t quite the word.” Levi frowned as his own claws unsheathed just as he began to tug at the hem of Eren’s t-shirt. This hybrid shit was getting old….

“Ah, fast and filthy, in other words. I can do that.” Eren’s normally high-pitched voice took on a husky edge as he swatted Levi’s hand aside and yanked his own t-shirt up and over his head, causing his almost shoulder-length hair to become tousled. “To be honest, I’ll take whatever I can get after riding all damn day with the feel of your cock pressed against my ass.” He licked his lips as his right hand skimmed down his hairless, toned chest and then pressed against the front of his white jeans, which were beginning to sport a growing bulge.

Feeling his own jeans grow uncomfortable tight, Levi clenched his hands and allowed the bite of pain to center him; *fuck*, but hearing Eren – hearing words like that come out of such an innocent-looking face - *did* things to him. The shitty brat stood there half naked, one hand slowly undoing the zipper to his jeans while the other traced across a jutting hipbone-

He wasn’t certain when he moved, but Levi found one hand buried in Eren’s tangled mess of hair and another clenched tight on that delicious ass as he once more sought out the insolent mouth, that pink tongue that loved to tease him. The brat moaned as he surrendered to the kiss, seemingly docile even as he managed to undo all of the buttons to Levi’s shirt.

Flicking his tongue against the roof of Eren’s mouth, Levi stopped his lover from pushing the undone shirt off of his shoulders and pulled back a little. “No, leave it on,” he ordered even as he walked Eren backwards toward one of the trees, his left hand shoved down the back of Eren’s loosened pants. “Fast and filthy, remember?”

That earned him a narrowed look even as Eren shifted his hands to the button on Levi’s jeans. “Says the man who hates getting dirty.” The button unfastened, he started on the zipper, his frown turning into a smirk when Levi drew a sharp breath at the sudden loss of pressure on his hard cock.

“You-you’re gonna be the filthy one, I’ll be fast.” That wasn’t one of his wittier comebacks, but it was worth it to see the flush of anger spread across Eren’s cheeks and his eyes to glow even brighter.

Eren gave Levi’s cock a not quite so friendly squeeze. “You leave me hanging, Mr. ‘Fast’, and what I did to your mattress-“

Too much damn talking. Levi shut up the little shit with another kiss, mindful of the fangs that had flashed during Eren’s bitching, and put up with the sharp nip to his bottom lip since the hand wrapped around his cock took on a bit more gentle type of fondling. “Five minutes,” he reminded Eren with some regret.

“Yeah,” Eren sighed against his lips before resting his head back against the tree. “So, got any lube?” His smirk returned when Levi reached into his back pocket for a small packet. “And that’s why you’re the captain.”

Not about to remark that he’d actually gotten it from Hange – he hadn’t wanted to pack it and jinx finding Eren, but that lunatic hadn’t had any such qualms – Levi shifted his lips down to that wonderfully sensitive spot on Eren’s neck and smiled when it earned him a shiver in delight. “I’m a captain because I’m the best,” he murmured against damp skin as his palms stroked along his lover’s sides. Dammit, he needed to learn how to better control his claws during moments like this – that and they really needed to find some Malforms for the scrawny shit to feed upon. He could feel each of Eren’s ribs.

Eren’s breath caught as he squirmed against Levi, jeans pushed down to his knees and right hand busy behind him. “Best… at being an… asshole.”

“Thought that’s what turned you on, brat.”

“Ha!” Eren let out a particularly low moan when Levi bit gently on his neck and then pushed at Levi’s right shoulder. “Could think of some of your better qualities right now.” As Levi backed up a little, Eren’s hot, slick right hand wrapped around Levi’s cock and stroked up and down. “*This* one’s not bad,” he remarked with that cocky smirk.

Remaining still for as long as Eren continued to stroke him with those clawed fingers – fuck, that should *not* be a turn on, what was this bastard doing to him – Levi rushed forward as soon as Eren removed his hand. “I’ll show you ‘not bad’,” he snarled the same time he twisted the little shit around so that Eren faced the tree. “Try not to scream.”

“Big words,” Eren taunted, though he knew enough to leave it at that.

“That’s not the only thing that’s big,” Levi retorted as he lined up the head of his cock against Eren’s slick entrance and slowly rocked his hips forward; hoping that both Eren had done a good job of prepping himself and that he wouldn’t freak out over them having sex. Levi was determined to go slow at first despite the whole ‘fast and filthy’ teasing, at least until Eren mumbled something in a foreign language while he thrust back hard his hips.

“Ausgerechnet *jetzt* bist du ein Kavalier? Idiot.”

“Dammit,” Levi hissed as his cock pushed past the initial resistance and into gripping, shocking heat. His left arm immediately went to circle Eren’s waist as he pulled the little shit against his chest then rested his chin on Eren’s shoulder, for a moment savoring the wonderful warmth wrapped around him, the feel of smooth skin and soft hair and… *shit*, he missed how damn good this was. He tilted his head to nuzzle Eren’s neck, fangs *throbbing* as Eren’s pulse beat in a staccato tempo against his lips and then his hips began to move because if he didn’t… if he didn’t….

“Fuck, *yes*,” Eren moaned, his voice even huskier than before as he rocked back into Levi’s thrusts, one hand braced against the tree and the other reaching behind to grasp a handful of Levi’s hair as if to keep him from pulling away. Levi swiped his tongue along Eren’s neck the same time he cautiously wrapped his right hand around the brat’s neglected cock, mindful of the claws. He didn’t know if it was either of the two actions that produced the full-body shudder from his lover just then, or from the harsh snap of his hips when something inside of him urged him on to an even more frenetic pace as the pleasure grew stronger, as Eren’s pulse raced faster.

Surprised a bit by the new impulses, Levi blew aside a lock of hair and then shifted his mouth to the nape of Eren’s neck, away from that tempting, pulsing vein, and groaned when he felt the brat buck back against him *hard*. “Lev-ah!” Eren didn’t seem to care about how much noise he made as he cried out, his right hand now clawing deep into the tree.

Feeling Eren tighten around him like that made Levi groan and close his eyes for a moment, so close to the edge from a pleasure that was almost painful in its intensity. Yet he wanted more of it, wanted to feel it bite even deeper into his nerves, to burn through every last part of him. How the hell did this one brat make him feel so alive?

Eren was damn near a trembling mess between him and the poor tree, gasping as if starved for air even as he thrust back against Levi with an almost frantic need. All it took was a gentle bite to the nape of Eren’s neck and he cried out again as he came, and when his body clenched even tighter around Levi it was the final push to make that pleasure sear Levi to the core.

His throat felt raw from the yell that he struggled to hold back, his teeth bit down once more on Eren until he tasted a hint of blood and he shivered as he came. Feeling weak at the knees, he had to reach out his filthy right hand to rest it against the tree to help stay upright, and huffed when he felt the prickling of shredded wood. “Fuck….”

“Yeah, exactly.” Eren sounded a bit worse for wear just then, his voice scratchy and tired, yet he hummed a little as he leaned back against Levi. “Oh, I’d say can we do it again but-“

“But don’t press our fucking luck,” Levi finished for him with more than a little regret; that had been… dammit, why weren’t they somewhere other than in the middle of a forest surrounded by Malforms and vampires? He pressed a kiss against Eren’s nape, relieved to see that it was already healed and then pulled away with some reluctance and a slight hiss. A couple of folded clothes were fetched from another pocket, one of which was used to clean himself before he pulled up his pants and tucked himself away, and the other was handed to Eren – who shook his head and indicated at the come smeared on his stomach and streaked down his thighs. “Hey, you all were for this,” Levi reminded him before he could even start bitching.

“There’s all types of filthy, and on that note I’m going to need to wash off a bit, now that we managed to get through the fun stuff without any attacks.” Eren cleaned himself up as much as possible before removing his boots and remaining clothes – Levi almost yelled at him for walking around naked, but then he figured they had just over an hour before sunrise so it probably would be all right. If not, he could harass the little shit about this *forever*, fighting off Malforms while stark naked.

Besides, it was an excuse to check out the brat’s ass, and Eren did indeed have a rather fine one even if he was more than a little underweight at the moment. Falling in step beside him, Levi handed over the t-shirt that Eren had left behind. “So, can’t you put on any weight from regular food?”

Eren juggled his boots over to his right hand and accepted the shirt with his left, his eyes still glowing faintly in the darkness but his claws sheathed and his expression more rueful than anything. “It doesn’t seem to work that way – Mikasa tried more than enough times once we actually scavenged some decent food, but all eating a lot of it does is make us feel sick. Maybe we could gorge on blood, but hunting usually takes a lot of effort as well, and often we get a few injuries during the hunt so it’s a vicious cycle. I… I’m not sure I’d want to find out what it takes to really gain weight that way.” His eyes darkened for a moment, leaving Levi to wonder if he was thinking about what had happened in some of the domes that had been overrun with Malforms.

“But you will stop looking like a skeleton once you get a good feeding or two in you, right?” Levi snatched at the hand holding onto Eren’s uniform and held it up so Eren could see how prominent his wrist bones were at the moment.

Eren allowed him the hold for a few seconds before shaking it off. “Yeah, I should be good once I get a hold of some *real* blood.” His tone took on a bit of a bite for the last two words.

Okay, Levi figured he deserved a rebuke for that, even if they’d been doing their best to keep the brat safe by restricting him to the base and a diet of human blood, and so not allowing him to hunt Malforms. Funny how that hadn’t really stopped those vampire assholes in the end, ha ha. “What, you don’t want to keep sucking down Mikasa’s?”

It looked as if Eren might have thrown a boot at him for the lousy joke, but fortunately they reached the stream just then so it got tossed onto the ground instead. “There’s that wonderful sense of humor of yours,” Eren drawled as he dropped the rest of his gear and then undid the barrettes holding back his hair. Once done, he bent over and reached into his pockets to retrieve a small bar of soap, then did a fake shiver of exaggeration before stepping into the cold water. “Would you feed from her?”

Levi’s response was instantaneous. “Hell, *no*.” It was bad enough to feed from undead freaks, but from *Mikasa*? “Just the idea… fuck that’s disgusting.” He did some shivering of his own as he began to shrug out of his still unbuttoned shirt so he could wash off the dried sweat and scent of sex that lingered on his skin.

Eren laughed a little as he lathered up his body. “I didn’t think so.”

Now naked, Levi joined his lover in the cold water. “Speaking of feeding from each other.” He waded in near Eren and reached out to touch him at the nape of the neck, brushing aside the damp strands of hair. “Earlier… it was different.” Unsure of how to put what he’d felt during sex into words, Levi huffed a little and shook his head. “Shit, this is weird.” He noticed how his vision changed just remembering it.

Eren caught Levi’s hand and gave it a quick squeeze before letting go. “What, during sex? The bite?” His smile just then was a little nervous and he slicked back his hair. “Uhm… something like that happened a few times with… well, *you* know.” He looked aside when Levi began to glare, having a *damn* good idea what, no, *who* that ‘you know’ meant. “I think… maybe it’s like… a vam- I mean, a hybrid thing?”

Levi took a step closer to the little shit, but Eren threw the soap at him while he ducked beneath the water to rinse off. Distracted by the soap, Levi caught it and then growled, pissed off that he’d reacted without thinking and let the bastard get away. When Eren resurfaced, he managed to put a few extra feet between them.

“Are you seriously telling me that besides letting those two *fuck* you that-“

“Quiet!” Eren splashed water at Levi to get him to stop yelling, his eyes bright with… well, probably anger though the brat should be fucking *ashamed*, dammit. Mortified. Downright humiliated, and… and whatever other words Levi could think up when he wasn’t so pissed off. He needed Hange…. “Enough already with the ‘you fucked two vampires’, okay? Yes, I did. And the sex was great, and I think part of the reason was that they were-“

“You fucking imbecile, do you really want to be telling *me* this,” Levi snarled as he got ready to cram the bar of soap down the bastard’s throat.

Eren held up his hands even as he glared right back at Levi. “Are you listening? I was saying that I think there’s something about our nature, okay? Something that makes sex between *us*… really great,” he hissed.

It was the way Eren said ‘us’ that finally got through to Levi’s anger. He still continued to scowl at the little shit, but he no longer threatened him with the soap. “*Us*, right?”

“Nach noch nicht einmal einem Monat treibst du mich schon verdammt nochmal in den Wahnsinn,” Eren muttered, once again falling back into that foreign gibberish as he stalked out of the stream. “Is *that* what you’re focusing on here? We’re in the middle of nowhere being chased by vampires-“

“Your fuckbuddy vampires,” Levi couldn’t help but point out as he began to wash himself, perhaps with a bit too much force as his skin began to sting. Eh, fuck it, it would heal.

“Verdammt, not now,” Eren snapped as he used his t-shirt to dry himself off. “Middle of nowhere, chasing vampires, trying to find what my asshole father left before the others do, Mikasa’s after me to turn a bunch of idiot MP’s, and *you* are harping about my past sex life?” He waved his jeans in Levi’s direction before he began to pull them on without his boxers. “Maybe I really should just go find a quiet cave somewhere and hide for a few centuries.”

Okay, first, Levi wondered if Hange could help him learn some of those languages that the little shit kept spouting off in like that, because he had the impression he’d been insulted a time or two. Second, what the hell had gotten into Mikasa? Before she was all ‘my brother isn’t going to turn anyone’, and now she seemed to be all for it? Was that what had made Eren upset earlier tonight? Give the bitch a chance of a sex-life of her own and she was just like Ymir? Third, of course Levi saw the big picture, he just had enough weird shit going on his life that he wanted this one thing settled. “Look, you shitty brat, you made me like this, you better be willing to deal with the fallout.” Figuring that he was as clean as he was going to get, Levi joined Eren and grabbed the damp t-shirt to help dry off as well. “So yeah, *us*.”

Eren made that adorable as hell whining sound and began to tug on his hair, a sure sign that he was frustrated, and sank to sit down on the grass. Figuring that he had won that round, Levi got dressed and picked up the barrettes, which he dropped onto the brat’s lap before he sat as well and did up the buttons on his shirt. “Oi, you having a nervous breakdown or what?”

“I’m seriously considering it.” Eren whined for a few more seconds then heaved a dramatic as hell sigh; once finished, he frowned at the barrettes before he combed his fingers through the tangled mop of his hair. “’Us’. Doesn’t sound anywhere near fucked up enough to describe you and me.” He grimaced at the barrettes before he snapped them into place.

“No, but we’re stuck with it,” Levi told the little shit. “Explain what happened tonight.”

Done fussing with his hair, Eren sighed again and leaned against Levi’s side. Since the brat was so warm, Levi allowed it. “Look, I’m not saying that the sex wasn’t fantastic before –wouldn’t put up with your grouchy ass otherwise.” When Levi reached behind to smack Eren’s own ass for that comment, he was given a cheeky smile in return. “But… well, we’ve mostly been fooling around after you’ve turned, and even then, I think you’ve only really become comfortable with what you are these last several days, so hence tonight. And… yeah, it’s a bit different than sex with humans. It’s… more intense. More… freeing. I guess it’s another way I should have realized that something was different with… well, ‘them’.”

Levi had to admit that things did seem more intense since his… ‘change’, but then again, he was screwing someone who had a lot more experience than usual. Still, he couldn’t help but smile a little as he once more gave Eren’s ass a pat. “’Fantastic’, eh?”

Eren made that whining sound again as he buried his face in his hands. “I am *so* missing those drugs right now.”

“No you’re not, though I’m about to use Hange as bait so we can find a Malform for you to snack on.” Levi stood up and grabbed onto Eren’s bony left arm to haul him onto his feet as well. “We need to get back to the camp and change into a decent pair of clothes before someone comes looking for us.”

“Yeah, yeah. Next time, we’ll have to bring something to change into, and some towels.” Eren squeezed the ends of his hair and wrung out some water.

At least they weren’t going back to camp smelling like sex, even if everyone knew what they’d been off doing. Levi waited for Eren to gather up his wet t-shirt and wrap it around his boxers before they started walking, appreciative of his enhanced vision which made finding his way in the dark no problem at all. “So I don’t have to worry about doing something all weird next time?” When Eren glanced at him in evident confusion, Levi bared his teeth by way of better explanation.

“Oh, that.” Eren rubbed the back of his neck, where Levi had bit him. “I… well, I don’t think so - I’ve never been tempted to drain anyone during sex, even if it’s a big turn on, the whole neck thing. Mikasa and I usually don’t fool around with people if we’re starving, either, so that’s something we should probably watch out for since our blood is better for each other than humans.”

Levi was beginning to understand what Ymir had told Hange about why ‘vampires’ didn’t go about feeding off of each other, especially since it was clear that they slept together. “So we really need to get you fed sometime soon.”

That earned him a particularly wicked grin from the brat. “Yeah, I’d say so. Though tomorrow is Mikasa’s turn and I’m sure Connie and Sasha will want a shift for themselves, too. And as soon as Ymir’s back in Krista’s good graces then….”

In other words, everyone would be queuing up pretty soon. Levi growled a little bit as he combed back his bangs. “Should have just come out here with Mikasa and Blouse, dammit.”

“Hmm, would have made things easier, I’m thinking.” Eren continued to grin at him and even bumped his hip into Levi’s. “Let’s hope that nothing happens between Hange, Rico and Marlo.”

That prompted a gagging noise from Levi. “Please, Hange would devour the poor kid alive and… well, I’m not sure the world is ready for her and Rico getting it on.” That might actually be an interesting match-up since it could go either way, except Levi would be stuck with the fallout.

“Funny how the more things get all fucked up, the more people want to fuck,” Eren remarked as they approached the camp.

“For once you’re talking sense, brat.” Levi smiled a little at Eren’s quiet laugh, and they made their way over to their ‘sleeping’ area, which had their bags. He noticed Mikasa glancing in their direction and gave her a cool look in return before she finally turned away while tugging up the damn scarf, allowing them to grab a change of clothes before they retreated a little to dress in semi-privacy. Once that was finished, they went over to the fire so Eren could drape his wet shirt for the remainder of their stay.

They had just sat down together on a large rock that had absorbed some of the heat from the fire that someone must have started building back up in anticipation of cooking their breakfast when Mikasa’s boyfriend gave Eren an antagonizing look. “So, you two have fun or what?”

Levi felt Eren’s body stiffen beside him, yet his lover didn’t move away – in fact, he curled up even closer to Levi’s left side. “Well, it’s not exactly a five star hotel out there, but we managed to… enjoy ourselves.” The brat’s voice had gone down into that husky range again, and Levi had a feeling that if he could see Eren’s face, the expression on it would be similar to that time back in his office – to something surprisingly debauched for someone seemingly so young. Hell, Eren felt practically boneless against him at the moment, just a very warm, supple pile of flesh that was halfway onto his lap… and judging from the stunned looks on Jean and Marlo’s faces, they had no idea what had just ‘hit’ them.

Levi sighed as he reached up to give a not quite gentle tug to a handful of the brat’s hair. “Oi, behave yourself.”

At the same time, Mikasa approached with two mugs of what smelled to be coffee. “Take it easy on them, Eren,” she chided. “We don’t want a repeat of the Bern dome.”

Huh, Levi figured he needed to find out more about that particular story since it managed to make Eren sigh and seem to regrow some of his bones; he still remained curled up against Levi, but since he was providing more warmth than the fire and the baby MPs couldn’t look their way without blushing, Levi was fine with the situation.

“I’m not the one who started it,” Eren mumbled as he accepted one of the mugs.

“How old are you?” Levi clicked his tongue in disgust as he took the second mug, and barely resisted the urge to sniff it to make sure Mikasa hadn’t spiked it with something nasty.

“Like *you’ve* been a bastion of maturity tonight, Mr. Never Let’s Anything Go.”

“Who needs to be mature when they’re *fantastic*,” Levi shot back, and hid his grin with the mug when Eren just barely avoided spitting out a mouthful of coffee.

Mikasa, who was still standing just a couple of feet away, shook her head while she stared at the two of them with a slight frown. “I think I prefer it when you two don’t get along. This seems… unnatural.”

Levi gave her a flat stare while he slid his left arm around Eren’s waist. “As if I care about what you prefer, so get used to it.” He just barely kept his voice civil as he spoke.

Eren stirred a little against him but didn’t pull away. “You know, I’m finding it difficult to believe that the two of *you* got along well enough to rescue me.” When neither Levi nor Mikasa replied, he sighed and shook his head. “Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Mikasa, thanks for the coffee and taking the last watch tonight. Just let us know when we can return the favor.”

*That* seemed to finally get a reaction, and from the horse-faced baby MP at that. “Damn right you’ll be returning the favor,” he insisted even as he blushed when he looked at Eren. “If you… if you can-“

“Jean, please be quiet before you wake everyone up,” Mikasa urged as she turned toward him and gave his right shoulder a gentle push. “Let’s get started on breakfast.”

“But-“

“*Jean*.”

Well, it certainly looked as if she had the poor kid pretty whipped, since the MP gave Levi and Eren one last sullen glance before he trudged along at Mikasa’s heels like a scolded puppy. As for the other baby MP… Marlo stood there with an idiotic look on his face before he stammered out some excuse and followed the other two.

Eren swirled around the last of his coffee as he tilted his head back to look up at Levi. “You really couldn’t find anyone better to bring along for my rescue? Like… I don’t know, a litter of puppies and a geriatric parrot, maybe?”

“Beggars can’t be whiney-ass choosers,” Levi told the brat as he flicked him on the forehead. “That’s what you get for letting yourself be kidnapped in the first place.”

“*Letting* myself?” Eren’s eyes flashed brighter than the flames for a moment, yet he sounded more incredulous than angry. “Oh, sure, I was all for the dismemberment and mindfuckery that went on. Things just got too boring so I thought to myself, ‘eh, losing a few limbs and being pumped full of drugs is a *fine* change of pace’. Arschloch.”

Levi did another flick, which earned him a low growl as his hand was batted aside. “I’m thinking that last bit was an insult, wasn’t it?”

“Oh *now* you’re thinking, you-“

“Aw, this is just too damn adorable.” A very sleepy Hange wandered over to them, hair as much of a rat’s nest as Eren’s on a bad day and her glasses askew on her nose as she rubbed at her eyes. “You two are downright sappy – well, for what passes for a pair of sociopaths - the sex must have been good, yeah?”

“It was *fucking fantastic*,” Levi deigned to inform her while managing to get another flick in. “Not that it’s any of your business, you pervert.”

“Yet you tell her anyway.” Eren finally shoved Levi’s hand aside and then made this half huffing, half laughing sound. “Seriously, my life, so fucked.” He made to run his fingers through his hair and hissed when he remembered about the barrettes, then chose to yank on a long strand instead. “So. Fucked.”

Hange hummed for a second or two and then beamed at Levi. “He’s crazy about you, it’s obvious. Way to go, sweetie! Knew you had it in you.”

“Of course he is,” Levi scoffed as he stared into his mug of coffee and tried to mentally will it to turn into tea. “He’s not quite as dumb as he looks.”

“*He* is sitting here and wondering why *he* ever thought getting rescued was a good thing in the first place,” Eren grumbled as he tapped an extended claw against his mug.

Hange made this weird murmuring sound that Levi had overheard being directing to various culture samples in her lab from time to time. “There, there, cutie-pie, it’s okay, you don’t have to be jealous about the overshare or anything else – there’s nothing going on between Levi and me. I’m not his type and he’s much too anal about everything for me.”

“And by ‘not my type’ she means I wouldn’t touch her even after she spent a week in decom,” Levi muttered, which caused Hange to blow a kiss his way.

Still, the bantering didn’t seem to put Eren at ease, since all he did was stare at Levi and Hange as if *they* were the crazy ones before he shook his head and resumed mumbling in something other than English beneath his breath as he got up and stalked off in the direction of the coffee pot, his eyes glowing and his claws out. Levi might not be an expert at the whole relationship thing, but he figured he’d give the brat a bit of space.

“So, looks like he’s recovering nicely. Just how ‘fantastic’ was that sex, eh?”

Levi actually paid some mind to how much force he put into the kick to the lunatic’s ankle due to his enhanced strength, so there was no need for Hange to carry on the way she did in such a dramatic fashion, wailing and clutching at it as if it was broken. “Stop being such a pervert and go brush your teeth or something, your morning breath could kill a Malform.”

“I swear, you’re the only bastard I know who gets even grouchier with the more sex he has,” Hange accused as she hobbled away.

*******

Rico sipped at her coffee and glanced over the rim of the cup at the two… whatever they were across the fire. Hybrids. Vampire-hybrids. She still found it difficult to believe that the renowned Levi Ackerman, strongest fighter to ever come out of the Freedom Corps – hell, one of the strongest fighters *ever*, would allow himself to be turned into something so close to what so many people died fighting… well, she didn’t know the full story. All she knew was that he managed to kill the damn things a hell of a lot better than she did, and had some clue as to what was going on.

As for the other one – she also had some trouble believing that someone so young-looking, someone who should barely be in the Corps’ uniform, was responsible for… for all of *this*. For the destruction back in the dome, for them leaving it, for people dying. Yet if he really was as old as Levi and Hange claimed he was, if he was *Grisha Jäger’s* son... if there was a hope for curing people…. Rico had come along with Levi because she was tired of watching people die because the only choices in life seemed to be to die complacently or die fighting, and for once it seemed as if someone had an idea of why there wasn’t a better way than that. For once someone seemed determined to do something *different*. Maybe she’d be fried to a crisp once she stepped outside because he was a raving lunatic, but at least… at least it would be *different*. At least she’d be *trying*.

And now she was stuck outside and *not* fried to a crisp, in the middle of nowhere, headed *away* from home, all on the say-so of some kid who really wasn’t a kid, all in some hope of finding a cure before a bunch of vampires killed them first. “I really wish that Pixis was here,” she mumbled as she lowered her mug.

Beside her, Marlo jolted when he heard her voice. “Huh? What, do you miss your commander?”

“No, I miss all of the alcohol he always had stashed on him, the lush,” she complained with a fair bit of fondness. Considering everything that he’d lived through over the years, he had every reason to drink, and he never drank too much while on duty. Then again, ‘too much’ for that degenerate was enough to get several cadets wasted….

“Oh-okay.” Marlo gave her a weird look before he resumed sipping his coffee. That was the nice thing about the kid – he knew when to keep his mouth shut. Well, most of the time….

“Please, at least *my* commander isn’t some vampire lackey,” she teased, just because the kid was so fun to wind up.

As expected, Marlo nearly spilled his coffee in an effort to straighten his spine and glare back in offended indignation. “Commander Dok- I mean- he’s not my-“ seeming to realize that he was being teased, he deflated a little and began to pout. “That’s not funny.”

“My, someone’s certainly frisky this morning!” Hange laughed as she approached them and shoved a bowl of what looked to be porridge at a glowering Marlo. “Must be something in the air.”

Marlo’s sour mood transformed into something much more flustered as he glanced over at the couple sitting across the fire, heads bowed together as they appeared engrossed in a private conversation. “Uhmm… something.” His cheeks became even redder as he fumbled with the bowl in his hands.

Hange gave him a knowing smile and then turned her attention to Rico, who accepted her breakfast with some trepidation. “Who made it today?”

“Mikasa did – though she did say that since tomorrow it’ll be Levi and Eren’s turn at last shift that Eren will cook, which apparently is a good thing.” Hange motioned toward the bowl in Rico’s hand. “It’s… eh, it’s rations. Maybe Sasha and the others can scavenge something better for lunch.”

“Yay.” Rico scrunched her nose as she lifted a spoonful of the mush to her mouth; as expected, it was rather bland and gritty but it was food so she choked it down. “So what, can the kid cook?” she asked as soon as she swallowed.

“Eh? Oh, Eren.” Hange shrugged and rubbed at the back of her head, beneath her unruly ponytail. “From what I hear, he’s supposed to be pretty good. Guess he has lots of experience.” She chuckled at that as if it was a joke, and Rico supposed in a way it was.

Glancing again at the… well, was ‘kid’ the right word? Rico shook her head. “That’s a bit surprising, since I barely see Levi, Mikasa and Krista eat.”

The look that Hange gave her just then was a bit unnerving, since the woman’s smile went from being friendly to possessing a rather sharp edge, and there was a bit of a too focused gleam in her brown eyes. “Hmm, noticed that, did you?” Then she laughed, the sound not at all bright, and waved her hands a little before settling them on her hips – right above the hilts of her blades. “You don’t have to like something to be good at it – I mean, Levi’s the most anti-social bastard around, yet here he’s snagged himself a prime cutie of his own. Life’s weird like that.”

“Oi! I heard that, you shitty-“

“See?” Hange ignored the insults being hurled at her from across the fire and continued to smile on. “He also doesn’t like-“

Rico nearly dropped her breakfast when the surly captain was at Hange’s side in a blur almost too fast to track and smacked the back of her head. “Shut. It. Or else I’ll gut you, you lunatic.”

“Ow! You really are supposed to be in a good mood after getting some, dammit!” Hange sniffed as if ready to cry while Levi glared up at her. Beside Rico, Marlo cursed and tried to brush off the coffee he had spilled on himself, his freckled cheeks once more a brilliant red. “I take it the post-orgasmic rush of endorphins is over?”

“It ended as soon as I saw your ugly face,” Levi groused, and then he frowned at Marlo. “Something wrong? You look like you haven’t taken a shit in two weeks.”

“No! No-nothing, sir!” Marlo seemed to remember his set-aside breakfast and began to eat it fast enough to choke.

Levi continued to study him for a few seconds before he turned his attention to Rico. “You going to be ready to leave soon?”

“All ready to go,” she informed the grouch. “You going to tell us *where* we’re going?” she asked as she scraped at the last of the lousy breakfast, her tone a little sharp.

“Nowhere in particular at first, just in case we’re being followed. We,” and here he gestured to himself and Hange, “figure it’ll be best to lay a false trail a little longer before we let Eren and Mikasa take the lead.”

Rico held the empty bowl cradled between her hands as she stared up at the man and considered what she wanted to ask next – it wasn’t often that he was so forthcoming with the answers. “And have you ever been this far from the dome before? I mean, we’re what, several days out at a hard run? How much longer are we going to keep charging on ahead?”

Hange stirred at Levi’s side as if to speak, but he remained still as he stared back at Rico. For a moment she didn’t think he’d answer her, and then he did that clicking thing with his tongue. “We’ll probably hit unfamiliar territory in a couple of days at this pace, but this *is* part of our job. And from listening to Eren, Mikasa and Ymir, they’d rather be out here than in a dome any day so I think if you’re worried about getting lost or wiping your ass with the wrong leaf, you could be in worse hands.”

“But what will we do for supplies?” Marlo motioned with his bowl as if to illustrate his point. “We’re already running low on a few things and-“

“And we should be able to swing by a supply station along the way – just because we’re reaching the edge of what *we’re* familiar with doesn’t mean that other Corps’ haven’t been out this way before.” Levi’s tone implied that he was dealing with idiots and the look he was giving Marlo was one of utter contempt. “Didn’t you listen to anything I said when we left the dome?”

Suddenly there seemed to be something of great interest inside of Marlo’s bowl. “Uhm, well, we were outside and… uhm….”

“Fucking babies,” Levi muttered as he folded his arms across his chest. “Just be ready to leave soon – I don’t want to waste any daylight,” he ordered Rico.

“I’ll be ready – what about you and your boyfriend?” She gave Levi an arch look and managed not to flinch when his eyes flashed gold. “Is ‘fun-time’ over?”

Hange bent over and laughed while she smacked the irate captain on the back. “’Fun-time’, I like that. Yeah, right, he’s probably gonna keep groping his cu-“

She was cut off as Levi snatched at her hand and twisted her arm behind her back. “*Everyone* will be ready,” he informed Rico with a particularly nasty tone. “Including certain busybodies who better have all of their shit packed or they’re being left behind.”

“But I’ve been looking at Eren’s bloodwork and even though I don’t have any decent equipment out here, I think there’s several very interesting compounds that if I can isolate them, we’ll-“

Rico didn’t get to hear the rest of Hange’s statement since Levi practically shoved her off in the direction of where her gear was stored, but she was certain that the discussion would be continued during the ride today. Figuring that she could use some more caffeine before they started out for the day, Rico let out a slow breath and rose to her feet. “You might want to hurry and go change since I don’t think he’s kidding about getting an early start,” she warned Marlo while motioning for him to hand her his dishes.

It took him a moment to get the gist of the gesture, and he bobbed his head in gratitude as he handed them over. “Thanks. You would think that he’d be in a better mood… well, you know.” The blush from before returned.

“Some people are just assholes,” she informed the kid, even if she wasn’t that much older than him. “I’m thinking Ackerman’s one of them.” Still, the captain seemed rather content whenever that Eren was with him, so maybe it was just dealing with anyone else who made him such a prick. “Now get your ass in gear.”

“Sheesh, you’re sounding an awful lot like him just now,” Marlo teased as he hurried for his own gear.

Just barely resisting the urge to throw one of the mugs after him, Rico shook her head and went over to fire, which Jean was tamping down with a small shovel. She handed Connie the dirty dishes, which he set in the collapsible bucket filled with water and a cleaning agent, then noticed that Eren, Mikasa, Ymir, Krista and Sasha were busy talking.

“-think you can find them?” Sasha was excited about something, so it must be food.

Ymir and Mikasa nodded. “Yes, there should be some this time of year, certain species will lay eggs multiple times,” Mikasa explained as she fussed with her scarf.

“Just have to hope we come across some that are nice and fresh – not quite the same as picking ‘em up at the store or raiding a hen house, but hopefully we’ll grab enough for some scrambled eggs tomorrow.” Ymir smacked her lips, the hood of her green cloaked pulled forward to shade her face from the breaking sun.

“Now that we’re not searching for Eren’s trail, we can look for nests.” Mikasa spared a bit of a dirty look Ymir’s way before smiling at Sasha. “It shouldn’t slow us down at all.”

“I can-“

Both Mikasa and Ymir cut off Eren’s offer of help, Ymir by making a rude noise as she pulled down the goggles resting on her forehead and Mikasa by shaking her head. “No,” Mikasa insisted when her brother glared at her. “You’re not going to be running around in the trees until you have a proper feeding.”

“Yeah, with our luck you’ll miss a jump or slip, and then Napoleon and Sunshine will *really* be fun to deal with,” Ymir griped before she pulled a piece of cloth across the lower part of her face as if a mask.

Appearing furious at their overprotectiveness, Eren wave aside their protests. “But I can-“

“Nope, just keep your ass where it belongs, which is near Napoleon’s dick,” Ymir joked, which earned a savage hiss from Mikasa, what sounded to be a curse from Eren and a punch to the shoulder from Krista. “Ow! Come on, that was funny,” Ymir protested as she rubbed her abused shoulder.

“You shouldn’t say things like that,” Krista chided, a faint hint of red to her cheeks even as she glowered at her… girlfriend? The two did seem to be on better terms lately.

“Yeah, even if it’s true,” Sasha added, then let out a startled yelp when Mikasa turned her furious expression on the poor girl. “What? He’s barely been two feet away from the captain since you two got him back, that’s all I’m saying!”

“My point exactly!” Ymir waved her gloved right hand about as if in excitement, and only settled down when Krista resumed glaring at her. “Okay, maybe I could have said it in a less crude manner.”

“You think? Oh, wait, that’s *not* one of your strong points, is it?” Mikasa might look the quiet, stoic type but she sure could be a snide bitch when she felt that the moment called for it, Rico was noticing.

Any signs of appeasing that she’d been doing were now gone, as Ymir put her gloved hands on her hips and leaned forward in a threatening manner toward Mikasa – meanwhile, Eren was rolling his eyes and stepping away from the small group of women and closer to Rico. “Well how about this? Just put a fucking leash on your brother – no, have *Levi* do it since it would make *you* too damn happy, and that way all of us will be relieved knowing where the walking piece of bait is, all right? Because if he wanders off, he’ll likely get us all killed!”

“Ymir! That’s enough!”

“No! It needs to be said, and-“

“Let her speak, Krista. Better we have an idea of what’s going on in that little rat brain of hers now and-“

Rico glanced at Eren, who was shaking his head as he walked away. “You going to stop that?”

“Why bother? If they can’t even notice that I’ve left, then I doubt they’ll listen to anything I have to say.”

“Good point.” Rico fell in step beside him and winced at the raised voices behind them – it sounded as if Sasha and now Jean were trying to defuse the three… vampires? vampire-hybrids? from fighting, and all it was doing was creating more of a ruckus. “So, what would happen if they put a leash on you,” she asked, just out of curiosity’s sake.

Eren frowned as he glanced askew at her, and then huffed a little as if almost laughing. “If it involved sex? I wouldn’t mind too much. But anything other than that, even if it’s Mikasa, and they’ll find out how good the damn thing tastes.” His eyes did that unnatural thing where they flashed gold, but with him it was more a… well, a ‘burning’ thing since his eyes were already the unusual color. Rico found it oddly fascinating.

“Okay, so you’re a bit kinky but otherwise have control issues. I like to know who I’m dealing with,” she explained when he gave her another sidelong glance, followed by the odd little huffing laughter.

“And I’m beginning to see why you tagged along with Levi.” He went to run his fingers through his bangs, only to hiss and then tousle the back of his hair instead. “Ah, it’s nice to meet you – I don’t think we were ever properly introduced.”

She thought on that a little and nodded. “Nice to meet you, too. Guess you were all doped up and everythi-“

“What the *hell* is going on here? Do you want to wake up every fucking thing in this forest and invite them to come bite your asses? Because I will let them, just watch me! I’m about to string you up by your own fucking intestines and leave you here for them if you don’t *shut* *up*!”

“Ah, I see your boyfriend has decided to settle the argument.” Rico turned to watch a furious, golden-eyed Levi scowling at most of their party – the only ones not involved in the squabble besides her and Eren were Hange and Marlo, who were over by the horses. Mikasa was glaring back at the captain and Ymir… well, one couldn’t tell with her sun protection on, but everyone else appeared suitably cowed so Levi pointed at the remaining gear left to be packed and then the waiting horses. “Get this shit stowed and then get your asses on the horses *now*. Whoever’s not ready in five minutes is left behind, do you hear me?” He waited a couple of seconds and then repeated the last few words, causing everyone to answer him back in a rather loud ‘yes, sir!’.

“Damn baby assholes with shit for brains,” he muttered as he stalked over toward Rico and Eren, not slowing down in the least as he reached out to latch onto Eren’s left wrist. Rico heard Eren sigh as he was dragged away and caught a quick wave from the… what, should she stop thinking of him as ‘kid’? ‘Poor guy’ was beginning to come to mind, considering what he’d gone through and now had to put up with from Levi and everyone else.

Fetching her gear, she went over to her horse, which was already saddled, and quickly fastened the bags before mounting.

“What was that all about?”

She shrugged and picked up the reins before looking at Marlo while she mounted. “We may or may not have eggs for breakfast tomorrow, if Mikasa and Ymir don’t kill each other.”

“All that was over eggs?” Marlo didn’t seem convinced, and Rico couldn’t blame him. However, she wasn’t going to go over the real reason for the fight with Hange and Levi just a few feet away – it could wait until a break or even nightfall.

At least it seemed that Ymir, despite what she had done before, was earnest now about keeping Eren safe. Maybe it was like she’d claimed and she had to betray him to protect Krista and keep the other domes from being destroyed, or maybe she felt she had a better chance of getting that cure out of Eren himself than from the other vampires. If she was just playing the odds and going with whomever would allow her the best chance of survival, she wouldn’t be so desperate to keep Eren safe from harm – at least, that was Rico’s belief. She’d continue to keep an eye on the vampire, though. The… hybrids or whatever they were, they seemed… well, mostly normal if you ignored the whole glowing eye and claws thing. Normal enough. It was hard to demonize people who were going crazy out of desperation to find someone they loved, someone who was in danger – Rico had lost too many people she’d cared about over the years to not be swayed by that emotion.

“Give it time, you’ll learn that too many fights start over the stupidest of things,” she told Marlo as she prepared for another long, hard day of riding ahead. As they left the camp, she saw Mikasa, Ymir and Krista leap ahead in the trees and so assumed that the three women had gotten over the fight from earlier – that or were sick enough of the rations to put aside their differences for now.

“Look for some mushrooms, too! Maybe we can have mushroom omelets,” Sasha shouted out to them.

The idiot was calling out an ingredient list while they were on the run from vampires. Rico was beginning to understand why Levi Ackerman was in such a foul mood all of the time.

*******

Mikasa handed over the last few eggs she had found to Sasha, who was practically drooling as she stored them away in the cool pouch that would keep them until the next morning. “Oh, I can’t wait! Between these for breakfast and the two rabbits I’ve caught so far for dinner, we’ll be eating like Chairmen!”

“Maybe Ymir and I can catch a few more animals since two rabbits won’t go very far,” Mikasa offered – even with five of their group mostly abstaining from the meals, they needed more food than that – especially with Sasha and Connie around.

“Oh, that would be perfect!” Sasha gave her a quick hug before pulling out a few packs of some rations that would probably be everyone’s lunch. “I better get going if we’re to have time to eat anything.” She glanced at something that was behind Mikasa’s back.

Turning, Mikasa found Eren and the Short Bastard headed their way. “I want to be out of here in less than an hour,” Levi warned. “There’s no sense in wasting sunlight.”

As if they hadn’t heard him say that at least ten times already that day. “We need to give the horses some time to rest,” Mikasa pointed out while doing her best to keep her tone civil, her right hand clenched tight in the ends of her scarf.

When it looked as if Levi was going to say something, Eren touched him gently on the left arm. “Come on, I want to see if I can find some herbs to go along with those eggs.” When Levi gave him a disapproving frown, Eren rolled his eyes and tapped his fingers against the water bottle stashed in one of the pouches on his belt. “You can fill up our canteens at the same time while keeping an eye on me, all right? We won’t go too far away from the camp, *Dad*.”

Levi grimaced in distaste as he pushed Eren away, in the direction of the small pond. “Gah, don’t tell me that’s one of your kinks, you little shit. Never call me that again.”

Eren’s laughter trailed after them as they left; Mikasa struggled with the urge to follow, to make Eren talk to and *laugh* with her, not Levi. She knew that she’d upset him last night with what she’d said, with bringing up the possibility that maybe… maybe he should be turning others, but Eren had appeared willing to move past it this morning. At least, he had until that stupid fight with Ymir.

No, to be honest, her insisting that he stay where it was safe was what had upset him, though the fight probably hadn’t helped, either. Couldn’t he understand that after nearly losing him, after seeing what those… those *bastards* could do to him that she wouldn’t risk him at all? Yet she was also afraid of losing the few good things they’d found since daring to reveal themselves as well?

One of those ‘good things’ approached her as she sat a little farther away than everyone else. “Hey, you all right? You didn’t wear yourself out looking for those damn eggs, did you?” Jean stared down at her with evident concern.

She smiled at him as she tugged on the sleeve of his grey jacket to invite him to sit next to her. “No, it wasn’t too bad,” she admitted. “It’s actually rather nice up in the trees. You get to see all these interesting birds and animals, and the world… well, it’s beautiful up there.” Back before Armin had come into their lives, she and Eren had taken to travelling that way when outside of the domes. You could… there were times when you just saw everything open up before you, when the forest would break apart and reveal so much beauty. Mikasa had wondered at times if anything good would ever come out of so many people dying, and when she looked down upon miles of untouched land spread before her, so colorful and unspoiled, she would think ‘this is it’.

“Yeah, says the person who hasn’t spent the last several hours bouncing on the back of a horse,” Jean groused even as he smiled down upon her.

She laughed a little and leaned against him, so grateful for the way that Jean could make her smile, could make her happy. “And you didn’t have to put up with Ymir.”

“… okay, I guess you have a point there.” Jean grimaced in an exaggerated manner and then laughed. “But then, you didn’t have to ride with Captain Ackerman.”

That made Mikasa sit up a little. “Was he that bad?” Had the Short Bastard done something to her brother?

Jean seemed to pick up a little on her anxiety and was quick to shake his head. “Eh, he wasn’t too bad. Mostly he griped at Hange for being a nosy pervert, yelled at all of us for being lousy riders and falling behind, and then just talked to your brother. I think they were arguing about something, but it wasn’t serious.” A faint hint of a blush tinged Jean’s cheeks. “I mean, you could hear them bickering, but they… well, they sound like my parents when they fight.”

Mikasa supposed that she should be grateful that there was no real animosity to the fighting, but part of it still hurt, knowing that someone was growing so close to Eren like that. She tugged the scarf over the bottom half of her face and sighed as a sense of uneasiness washed through her; why did it have to be Levi Ackerman? Yes, he might be serious about protecting Eren and everything, but… but….

“Is everything all right?”

Mikasa forced a smile onto her lips as she allowed the scarf to fall back down around her shoulders. “I just wish that Eren had better taste in men,” she admitted, which caused Jean to laugh.

“Yeah, you won’t hear any arguments from me.” He hesitated for a moment before he leaned in for a kiss, one that lingered for several sweet seconds. “Uhm, that’s not a family trait, right?”

She smiled at him as she brushed her fingers along his chin, enjoying the rasp of his barely there beard since he hadn’t shaved that morning. “No, it isn’t.” To reinforce her point, she leaned in for another kiss.

Maybe Jean wasn’t the best kisser she’s known in all of her years, but he was one of the most enthusiastic. He was also kind and considerate, never pushing too far with his hands – which was good considering that their friends weren’t too far away. Despite the lack of privacy, they had just begun to toy with the buttons on each other shirts when Sasha had called out that lunch was ready.

Panting as he broke off the kiss, Jean rested his forehead against Mikasa’s for a moment and groaned slightly. “I guess-“

“Yes,” she answered for him, certain that the others would track them down if they didn’t return to the group.

“Dammit.” Jean groaned again as he rose up and then held out his right hand to help her to stand to her feet. Mikasa couldn’t help but smile as she jumped up and gave him one more kiss; she had to stifle a laugh into her scarf when she noticed how he tried to surreptitiously adjust himself once they started walking.

Everyone was gathered around the small campfire, including Eren and the Short- Levi. Mikasa couldn’t help herself from rushing to her brother’s side, even as Jean grumbled as he was dragged along. Busy talking to Levi, Eren looked up at their approach and spared a slight smile her way. “Hey.”

“He-hello.” Mikasa found herself blushing slightly for some reason and ducked her head into her scarf.

“I found some sweet woodruff and garlic.” Eren held up a small cloth that was filled with the herbs. “That should help with dinner tonight and make some tea.”

Beside him, Levi didn’t look too convinced. “I’ve never heard of this ‘woodruff’ stuff before.”

Mikasa gave him a cool look before smiling once more at Eren. “Too bad we don’t have any wine.”

“I know, that’s what I was thinking.” Eren’s smile grew as he set the herbs aside. “Maybe we’ll keep some just in case.”

Since they were headed for Shiganshina, then they might pass close to one or two of their hideaways…. “Es gibt immer noch unsere Verstecke,” Mikasa offered.

Eren’s expression softened and he shook his head. “Lass uns erst einmal abwarten und sehen was notwendig sein wird, okay?”

Beside him, Levi scowled and knocked his elbow into Eren’s side. “Oi, quit it with the funny talk, okay? Speak in something we *all* can understand.”

Before Mikasa could say something, Eren hissed and gave him a dirty look. “It’s not my fault that you people can’t speak more than one language.”

“Because there is only one language, brat.”

“Spoken like a true egocentric. I bet that-“

It was around then that Captain Hange bounced over, with a huge grin on her face. “Oh, oh! Does this mean that if I’m willing to learn, you’ll teach me? I’d *love* to learn one of those older dialects of English!”

Eren shot Mikasa a pleading look, so she took pity on him as she shook her head and hid a smile behind her scarf. “Didn’t Sasha say it was time to eat?”

“Yes! Lunchtime! Wow, am I *hungry*!” Eren latched onto Mikasa’s arm and half-ran with her over to where Sasha was busy fussing over a pot of something rather foul-smelling.

Mikasa felt a little bad about leaving Jean behind, but it was worth it to glance back to see the disgruntled expression on Levi’s face.

*******

Reiner grabbed onto Bert’s arm and pulled him closer. “Not… too much farther,” he encouraged his lover, forcing a smile even though he felt so tired just then. More than anything he wanted to drop the packs he was carrying and sling Bert’s arm over his shoulders, but they needed the gear so….

The wavering smile that Bert gave him was almost painful to see, weighed down by exhaustion as it was yet still so tender, and it made him so damn furious - furious at that traitorous bitch, furious at Mikasa for failing to see what was right in front of her and even furious at Eren for being so damn stubborn. He even was pissed off at Annie for somehow letting herself get caught – there was no way she was dead, he’d have felt it, would *know* after all of the shit the three of them had been through. There was no way someone as pigheaded and tough as she was could go down to a bunch of *humans*.

“I th-think I see… the marker.” Bert’s soft voice stirred Reiner from his thoughts and he looked away from his lover to see the described outcropping. Feeling an odd mix of relief and shame, he managed to find a burst of energy and half-dragged Bert along with him to the cave’s entrance, desperate to get inside before the sun rose. Yeah, this wasn’t a conversation he was looking forward to, but it was better than being fried – their protective gear wouldn’t last another day of sunlight. Dammit, why did Mikasa and that annoying captain have to show up? Why couldn’t Annie have just killed the asshole when she had the chance?

Reiner could smell the others as soon as he stepped inside of the cave, and judging from Bert’s hiss, so could he. At least they wouldn’t have to sit around and wait, dread building the entire time, for their ‘partners’ to arrive, so that was one thing. But Zeki would know within minutes that they didn’t have Eren, which would be bad. Reiner could only hope that Zeki would give them time to explain what had happened.

They had to feel their way around as it got completely dark within a minute or two, no trace of light whatsoever, but the others’ scents helped a bit and after descending what seemed to be a good couple of hundred feet below sea level, a faint glow of light appeared ahead of them. They eventually came out into a large cavern illuminated with a few lanterns, and Reiner recognized Zeki immediately, along with a couple of other ancients – Shen, Fatima and Indira.

Zeki didn’t even give him and Bert time to adjust to the lights or to say anything before speaking. “So you’ve already lost Jäger,” he accused, a disapproving look on his face as he stood in the middle of the large cavern, the hood of his grey robe pushed back to rest on his broad shoulders. The other three stood behind him, also dressed in similar robes and with the same expression on their faces – well, Indira appeared a little interested, as if excited to see how this would turn out.

Bert pressed against Reiner’s left side and threaded their fingers together as Reiner cleared his throat. “Look, we got him out of the dome! Even got him most of the way here, but there were… complications.” When Zeki and the others remained quiet, Reiner took it as his cue to continue. “Something happened to Annie so we were stuck with the *traitor* to help us out, and that… yeah, that was a mistake, I see it now. Should have just taken her head when we had the chance but we thought there was no turning back for her and….”

“And there might be a use for her blood yet, considering she is the last progeny of Jens,” Indira finished for him. “That is the only reason she still walks this earth. She is of the pure bloodline.”

He could feel Bert nodding behind him. “Ye-yeah! Exactly. An-and she seemed to help keep Eren calm so….”

“So we let her stay with us, but made sure to keep an eye on her. Unfortunately, it seemed that Annie wasn’t able to take out Mikasa, so she and this guy Eren turned showed up-“

“Wait.” Zeki held up his right hand, claws fully extended, so Reiner snapped his mouth shut and obeyed. “Are you saying that Jäger *turned* someone? Willingly?”

Reiner smiled a little and reached into a pouch on the bag slung across his chest, feeling as if they might not be in so much trouble after all. “Yes, he’s turned not one but *two* people in the last few weeks. Annie noticed that he’d taken a liking to one of the Corps’ captains and infected the guy, and Eren took the bait rather than let ‘em die. Then Ymir used that to make Eren turn the human she’s been dragging along the last few decades.”

Clicking the claws of his right hand together as he stepped forward, Shen exchanged a long look with Zeki for a moment before turning his face toward Reiner and Bert. “How was this progeny of his?”

“Scary,” Bert said before Reiner could speak up. “Fast and strong.” He rubbed at his chest as if he still felt the wounds from the other day.

“Like Bert said, he’s just as strong as Eren and Mikasa – which is frightening considering that he’s so new to it. I saw a little of Krista and she looks much the same.” Reiner hesitated for a moment before he continued. “Both Eren and the captain had a resistance to the knock-out drug, too.”

That earned a furious clacking from Shen before Zeki gave him a warning look. “So Ackerman and this neophyte captain managed to track you down and what, the traitor joined their side? They fought you to take back Jäger?” He spoke in that smooth, dispassionate manner of his that made Reiner want to do… *something* to make him show some emotion. Something that would get him gutted and probably beheaded. Dammit, Annie was always better at dealing with the older vampires….

“Yeah, that’s basically what happened. We were using the drugs to win Eren over and it was mostly working – the captain was more of a complication than we’d expected, but Eren was responding to us. If it had just been Mikasa showing up, it probably would have been fine.” Reiner clenched at the key held in his hand and shook his head as he pushed aside the anger. “Bert and I ran, rather than risk being killed.”

“You think the little bit you’ve told us so far was worth the chance that you could have won back Jäger?” Zeki cocked his head to the side and stared at the two of them with a chilling coldness. “You were to bring back Jäger.”

Bert was trembling now, and Reiner couldn’t blame him since he had to fight back a shiver or two himself. Instead, he somehow summoned a grin that wasn’t all teeth and held out the key on the palm of his hand. “Maybe this isn’t ‘Jäger’, but it’s the next best thing, no? It’s a copy of what his dad gave him.”

The four vampires went perfectly still, and then Shen resumed clacking his claws while Indira crossed the cavern to pick the key up from Reiner’s hand without making a sound, the expression on her lovely face definitely amusement now. “How did you manage this,” she asked before returning to Zeki’s side.

“I made it when Eren was doped up from the drugs – he didn’t know about it.”

For the first time since they’d arrived, Fatima spoke up, a strange cadence to her voice as she pushed back the hood of her cloak from her elaborately braided black hair. “How much of the drugs did you give him?” Like Indira, she moved away from the others to approach Reiner and Bert, her dark eyes flashing red as she was made to wait while Bert dug through one of the packs for the drug kit.

“We had to give him a lot,” Bert explained, sweat beading down his face at the petite woman with the fierce demeanor hovered near him. “He se-seemed to burn through it very fast.” As he spoke, he held open the case with the injector, most of the ampules now empty.

“Hmm.” Fatima poked at one of the empty bottles and narrowed her eyes as if she seemed to think about something. “You said he was responding while under the influence of the drugs?”

Reiner nodded and rubbed his damp hands along the sides of his legs; Bert wasn’t the only one made nervous by this interrogation. “Yeah – we were trying to make him trust us again, to think things were like they were back in New Paris before… well, you know. It was working somewhat, he was reacting a little to us and not fighting all of the time.”

Fatima gave an empty ampule another poke before she stepped back, her eyes now returned to their dark brown, almost black color. “Good. Considering how much of this he had in his system, even with his special nature something should have taken effect. We can use that when we catch up with him.” She told that last bit to Zeki.

Reiner stumbled a little back against Bert as a wave of relief washed through him – they hadn’t messed up entirely, it seemed. “So- so you know where he’s going?”

Zeki accepted the key from Indira with a slight bow of his head. “Now that he’s out of the dome, there are probably a few places he’ll try to run. We’ve people scattered about just in case things got out of hand – Jäger has proven too unpredictable over the years for us to expect things to work out as we’d like,” he explained as he rubbed his fingers over the key and caught Reiner’s eye.

“Does Jäger know about this copy?”

It took Reiner a moment to realize that Shen had posed the question to him, and only when the man clacked his nails a few times in annoyance. “Ah, he knows I took the key from him – Ymir snatched it back during the fight.”

“Hmm, so there’s a chance yes.” Shen arched an eyebrow as he shared another look with Zeki. “The best way to find the den of thieves is to follow one back to it, yes?”

“We have extensive knowledge of Grisha Jäger, so should be able to narrow down where this key leads – but yes, in the end we’ll need both Jäger and whatever this key hides.” Zeki appeared to scowl at the key as he held it up. “So… so *common*. How typical of the man to continue to be so frustrating, even this long after his death.”

“His duplicity was only matched by his brilliance,” Indira remarked as she brushed the knuckle of her right forefinger along the edge of her full bottom lip. “And he was a very, very brilliant man, which can benefit us in the end.”

“*If* we retrieve both his son and his research,” Zeki stressed. “We need Jäger and his blood to be cured, and we can’t risk that research falling into the wrong hands else it could be used against us.”

Reiner hadn’t thought of that – he’d been too focused on winning back Eren, on making the stubborn fool realize that they didn’t have to fight each other, that it was *humans* who were really the enemy. “But… Grisha made Eren….”

“He made his son *better*, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t see us as threats,” Zeki explained. He folded the key into his palm and nodded once. “Shen, go back to the Elder and let him know about this latest development. Indira, you will meet up with Pedro and begin searching for any signs of Jäger in that area, while Fatima, you will work with Zyanya to search in her section.” He then turned his attention back to Reiner and Bert. “The two of you will be with me, and between all of us, we should manage most of the ground that Jäger will take to the cities were Grisha probably left behind his research.”

Shen snapped his fingers together before he slid his hands into the sleeves of his robes. “I detest traveling during daylight.” As soon as the words were said, he was a grey blur that vanished from Reiner’s sight within seconds, into the darkness of the far corner of the cavern.

Fatima and Indira were a little slower in their departures. “It does make things uncomfortable and cumbersome, but it’s the only alternative. For now.” A hungry look overcame Indira’s dark, lovely features for a moment. “We will have Jäger soon.” From the certainty in her voice, it left no doubt in Reiner’s mind that Eren’s freedom was only a temporary setback.

For a moment he allowed himself to think of the possibilities that would open up, being able to travel freely during daylight; no more domes, no more fear of sunrises, no more *hiding*. The little power that humans had over him and those he cared about would be gone, and so should the fear of losing those he loved to them as well….

“How should we contact you if we capture him – Jäger?”

Fatima’s question shook Reiner from his thoughts and made him pay attention once more.

“Feel free to send a message over the airwaves,” Zeki announced, and at everyone’s incredulous expressions, a rare smile flittered across his smooth, dark face. “It won’t matter if the humans intercept it, then it’ll be too late for them.”

Reiner watched as Fatima and Indira left as well, Bert’s hand once more clutched in his own. “Eren… this doesn’t sound good for him,” Bert murmured, low enough so Zeki didn’t overhear.

No, it didn’t, but they’d done their best to win Eren over, to make him see that his clinging to his ‘human’ nature was pure foolishness. “We did what we could,” Reiner whispered back while giving his lover’s hand a comforting squeeze. “Now we have to look out for ourselves.” That meant working with Zeki and doing whatever needed to be done to recapture Eren, and this time there would be no gentleness in breaking him. Reiner felt a little guilty about that but… but they needed to get Annie back, and they needed to get whatever it was that Grisha Jäger had hidden away before the humans did, needed Eren’s blood to make themselves immune to sunlight before the humans figured out that there was no longer a need for the domes. Time was running out – not just for Eren, but for them all.

*******

Rough translations of the German:

*Now* you’re a gentleman? Idiot.

You are going to drive me fucking insane and it hasn’t even been a month.

There’s always our stashes.

Let’s wait and see what’s necessary first, okay?

 *******

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