chapter four

*******

i see red

*******

“This is… this is just *unnatural*,” Connie whined as he wiped at his wet face. “How much longer is it going to go on?” He sounded utterly miserable, and Sasha couldn’t really blame him; the rain had ruined their sleep and even worse, *breakfast*, and was making the day’s ride even more of a burden than usual.

“It seems to be slowing down a little,” she tried to reassure him, but that didn’t seem to do much good as he only moaned and hunched over in the saddle even more. “It’s not that bad, really. One time when I was out with my father, there was all this thunder and lightning and-“

On the other side of Connie, Jean leaned forward so he could stare at her with pale brown eyes gone wide. “Wait, you mean we could be electrocuted any minute now?”

Sasha held up her right hand while she shook her head, causing water to fly away from the hood of her cloak. “No! That’s not what I’m-“

“Because it’s bad enough that my ass hurts and I’m soaked as well, but to be fried on top-“

“Oh *shut* *up*, you horse face,” Eren griped from a couple of horse-lengths up ahead. “We could only be so lucky as to have you get struck by lightning, so it’s definitely not happening, especially during a light rain like this.”

Jean’s long face turned red at the insult yet he glared at Mikasa’s brother’s back. “Oh, I’m so *sorry* that I’ve never been out in rain before, unlike some old farts!”

It was either the snide way he apologized or the fact that he was complaining at all that had Captain Ackerman twisting around in his saddle to glare back with eyes gone gold. “But some of us have, and the fact that we’re riding around like a bunch of prancing targets means you shut your fucking mouth before I really give you something to bitch about.” He continued to give Jean a narrowed, heated look until Jean made a gulping sound and ducked his head. “Asswipe,” he muttered as he turned back around.

It was a little scary, how sharp Eren’s and the captain’s hearing was; Sasha could tell that Jean really wanted to say something just then, probably a rude comment about the men, but was too afraid that it would be overheard as well. Instead he let out a harsh breath as he ran a hand through his spiky hair, which knocked back the hood of his cloak for a few seconds. “This really sucks.”

“Hey, that’s what I’ve been saying.” Connie hunched forward a little more and seemed to be trying to have his green cloak cover as much of his body as possible. “How much longer until we reach that supply station?”

“Mikasa said she thinks we can reach it today, if we’re not slowed down by the rain,” Sasha reminded him. So far they were keeping up since the rain wasn’t too heavy, but everyone was cold and wet so they might want to rest for a bit longer once it was time for a break. Sasha hadn’t considered herself anything special, but compared to her friends who had never stepped outside of the dome before other than via air transport, she was a lot tougher and better prepared for the mission so far. “Really, we’ve been lucky that it hasn’t rained until now.”

The looks she received from her boyfriend and Jean conveyed the message that they didn’t appreciate her attempt to cheer them up, nor the fact that she felt that today’s rain was in any way ‘lucky’. Rolling her eyes at their bad attitudes, she reached into an inner pouch of her cloak for the protein bar that Eren hadn’t wanted that morning and so had passed on to her. He was so nice – well, when he wasn’t all scary or sad.

One bad thing about the rain was that there probably wouldn’t be much for Mikasa, Ymir and Krista to hunt, so they’d be stuck with rations for another day – unless they could fish during lunch. Sasha smacked her lips in anticipation of something fresh to eat, something that didn’t have a chemical aftertaste or was just so *bland*. She’d seen what they put in the soil back at the agro-dome where she grew up, seen what got pumped into the cows and pigs so it wasn’t any wonder that her dad slipped out of the dome any chance he got to hunt something healthy and tasty for them – that and despite the food all around them, so little of it was *for* them. Even as a young girl, Sasha could repeat the Dauper dome’s ‘motto’ of ‘we strive to feed all’. It really should have been ‘we starve to feed all’….

But things were better now. She had escaped Dauper, had joined the Corps and made friends, had even managed to get outside of the sterile domes with their stifling rules and tasteless food. And yeah, maybe the rain had soaked into the parts of her uniform not covered by the water-proofed cloak and boots, there were vampires after them, and her saddle sores were finally healed because she’d drank someone’s blood, but she was *outside*, she had friends and a wonderful boyfriend, and fried fish tasted so *good*. What more could she ask for, really? Well, not dying, obviously, but the captains were really scary, especially Captain Ackerman, and Mikasa, Eren and Ymir had fought the vampires for centuries and won. Things would work out in the end – Sasha’s dad had always told her that one had to work toward the best because otherwise all one could do was endure the bad.

She certainly had endured enough bad while doing nothing, now for something good to come along. And if that good just so happened to be some fried fish or even better, more roasted rabbit, then she would be in heaven….

*******

“What do you think the chances are of Ymir slipping on a wet branch and breaking her neck?”

“Hmm.” Eren seemed to consider Levi’s question for a moment before he shrugged, the hood of his cloak pushed back from his face so that the rain plastered his dark hair to his forehead and skull; Hange had to admit, *purely* from an atheistic view point, of course, that it was a good look on him. Judging from the possessive scowl Levi shot her way, that admiring glance had been noticed so she ducked her head as she did her best to bite back on a smile. “Sadly, I think the odds are slim to none since she’s used to running around in these conditions, not to mention a broken neck is pretty easy to heal.”

A mixture of annoyance and smugness flashed across Levi’s face, while Hange wondered what it would cost her to get either Eren or Levi to prove that last bit to her. Oh, what she could *learn* from studying such an impressive healing factor….

“No, you insane monster,” Levi told her without bothering to glance away from his cutie. “Not going to happen.”

“Aw, but you didn’t even give me a chance to beg!”

“Don’t want to hear what disgusting things you come up with,” he told her while he waved his gloved right hand in Eren’s direction. “And aren’t you tired of being wet yet?”

Eren shook his head, which caused water to fling about and his hair to become even more disheveled. Oh ho, note to self, to make Levi really distracted, throw some water on Eren since the results were amazing. “No, the rain feels good.” He tilted his face into the falling drops and Hange swore she heard her friend begin to hyperventilate. Wait, was that her? Nope, there was a bit of an accelerated heart-rate on her end but Levi was the one with the glowing eyes just then. “Seems like it’s been forever since I’ve felt any – I really hate living in the domes.”

Levi seemed to get himself under control and shook his head. “Who doesn’t.” There was even a bit of a snarl to his voice. “But I think you’re the only one here who likes this weather, brat.”

The comment made Eren blink a few times before he wiped a hand over his face. “Really? It’s not that bad – at least it’s not too cold and there’s not mud everywhere. We just missed out on the rainy season and it’s not too hot yet so no major thunderstorms.”

“Yeah, I think we usually run into them when we come out here.” Hange grimaced as she thought about riding through pelting rain and being splashed with mud, not to mention sleeping in the tiny shelters that passed for tents; the last thing anyone wanted was to be wrapped up in a bunch of fabric if Malforms attacked so their shelters were basically just barely enough to keep most of the rain off.

“Now *those* are fun to be out in.” Eren grinned as he rose up in his stirrups and tilted his face up into the rain again; from behind, even Hange could hear someone, probably Jean or Connie, mutter ‘crazy bastard’.

“Why do you like the rain so much,” she asked while she watched him settle back in the saddle.

He was quiet for a moment, so much so that she worried that she’d brought up some bad memories, and then a slight smile curled his lips as he toyed with a lock of hair that had slipped free of those cat barrettes that Levi had given him. “It’s… well, we’ve talked about how bad things were after… after the collapse, right?” Once she nodded, he let go of his hair so he could hold out his hand and gather some rain in his cupped palm. “Yeah, things like running water – hell, *clean* water were hard to come by back then, even if we had the time to search for them. There were so many times we were grateful for something fresh, for something that just came and washed away all of the filth, from us and the world.” Eren stared at the water pooled in his hand for a couple of seconds before he let it slip free. “Plus, it’ll confuse the Malform for a little bit. It won’t completely throw them off our scent, but it’s probably why they didn’t track us down last night. The rain’ll slow them down a little since it weakens our trail.”

Levi clicked his tongue in disgust as he leaned over so he could grab onto Eren’s hood and yank it over his boyfriend’s head. “And people say *I’m* depressing.”

“No, they say you’re a grouchy bastard,” Hange clarified, safe in the fact that Levi’s hands were currently occupied at the moment. She beamed at him when he glared her way, but Eren, ever a cutie, gave a low chuckle and caught at his clawed fist before he could do anything. “But we love you anyway, sweetie.”

“Shitty glasses,” Levi shot back as he settled onto his horse, but there’d been no real venom in the nickname so Hange knew she’d won that round. “And I don’t want to hear any more disgusting shit about how you went ten years without a bath and stuff,” he told Eren. “It’s… it’s just *gross*.” He even shuddered a little as if trying to wrap his poor, obsessive-compulsive little brain around the concept.

Eren glanced skyward while he shook his head a couple of times. “Oh yes, I’ll just tell you about how everything was fluffy kittens and flannel blankets and nice old ladies making us tea and Lebkuchen while we- hey!” He just barely avoided a swipe from Levi’s right hand.

“Enough with the sarcasm,” Levi commanded, while Hange cursed herself for not downloading a few language dictionaries before leaving Trost and its precious databases. “Stop being such an ass.”

Eren pushed aside the hood of his cloak in a futile attempt to comb back his ‘trapped’ hair while an angry huff of air escaped past his pursed lips. “Well sorry, but I don’t know what you want from me when it’s obviously not the truth.” There was an unusual amount of bitterness to his words, which not only took Hange by surprise but Levi as well judging by the way her friend’s face went blank all of a sudden.

She caught a flash of grey as he glanced her way and could only shrug in helplessness; she was clueless as to what brought this sudden mood change in Eren. As the three of them rode along in silence, she attempted to puzzle out why Eren was so upset when he either seemed reluctant to talk about the past or came through with the necessary bit of information without much prompting. Hange had chewed on her thumb a few times when it began to sink in that yeah, it might be with some reluctance at first but he *did* talk to them about his past, a past that was often filled with a lot of pain and loss. A past that he’d kept hidden from almost everyone for various reasons, and now when he was finally opening up again, Levi – his *lover* - was bitching about how *gross* it was.

“*You’re* the ass,” she told her friend, causing Levi to stare at her in shock while she looked past him to smile at Eren. “Don’t listen to a word this socially underdeveloped idiot says, all right? Just-“

“*Socially underdeveloped*?”

“Just go on telling us whatever you want,” Hange continued while Levi glared at her as if he could remove her spleen with a dirty look alone. “And if it’s about how you couldn’t brush your teeth for months or had to sell yourself for a bar of soap, then we won’t judge.”

“Speak for your- fauh!“

When he started to bitch, Hange leaned down to swipe up some of the mud clinging to Percy’s side and smeared it along Levi’s nice, clean and wet cloak. The expression he made when he realized that he was *besmirched* by dirt of all things was just priceless, and she cackled as she kicked Percy into a run before the OCD psychopath regained his senses. The sound of Eren’s laughter and the cries of confusion from the rest of the team followed her, along with Levi’s muttered curses as he urged Stumpy to give chase.

*******

Levi glared at his cloak and resisted the urge to go track down Hange and throttle her; the crazy bitch just had to go and mess with his last clean cloak, didn’t she? If they didn’t reach the supply station tonight, then he really was going to string her up by her entrails and use her for Malform bait, yes he was.

“Oh come on, most of it washed off in the rain,” Eren chided as he tugged at Levi’s left arm. “Give it some time to dry.”

“It’s the principal of the matter.” Levi shook out his cloak as if it would make it any more presentable before draping it over his shoulder. “She really is a lunatic.”

“I would think the person who knocked her to the ground from a running mount and so got even more covered in mud would be the crazy person, but who am I to judge.” When Levi narrowed his eyes at the brat, Eren gave him that too-innocent-to-be-believed expression that made his teeth ache. “So why don’t you just come and have a cup of coffee?”

“In a minute.” Levi snatched at the front of Eren’s grey jacket and used it to pull him in for a kiss, one that was unfortunately kept short by the fact that there were too many annoying people around to interrupt. Still, it felt good to wring a needy moan from the brat, to soak in Eren’s warmth for those few seconds and feel those hands ghost along his body. Just when Levi’s hormones urged him to say ‘fuck it’ and push his lover to the ground, he forced himself to pull back instead. “Now I’m ready.”

Eren panted a little as he rested his forehead against Levi’s. “Oh, good. Because yeah, so want to deal with other people right now.” He sighed and closed his eyes as they stood together, and for a few seconds Levi entertained the idea of saying ‘to hell with it’ and grabbing the little shit before they ran off together – no Hange, no Mikasa, no baby asswipes slowing them down or interrupting things or – yeah, bad idea.

Instead, he gave Eren’s ass a smack with one hand before pushing against Eren’s chest with the other. “Get going – I want a nice view in front of me.” He managed a bit of a leer when Eren looked up at him and won a breathy laugh from his lover.

“Oh yeah, there’s that ‘sweet-talk’ of yours.” The smile on the brat’s face just then was one of the rare, genuine ones, was just a touch cynical but the rest wicked enough to make Levi wish he’d followed through with the impulse to grab and run.

“You know it, now get walking.” He made a shooing motion with his hands and felt an odd pang in his chest when Eren laughed before turning around.

So yeah, he’d been furious when Hange had rubbed the mud on him – still was a bit pissed off because *last clean cloak*. But he’d also been pissed off at himself for ruining what had been a good day so far between him and Eren, one not even spoiled by the fact that it had started raining not long after they’d woken up the night before. There’d been no fighting, no true snark between them… and then Levi had put his foot in his mouth when Eren had talked about how difficult things had been in the past. It wasn’t because Levi didn’t want to know about those things, he just hated hearing about them because it was too easy to imagine them thanks to his own past, to picture what Eren had gone through. Only it wasn’t just a few years, it had been decades, centuries even….

So even as Levi had knocked an hysterical Hange off her horse, he hadn’t been able to do more than shove her a few times into the wet ground since Eren had been laughing as he’d ridden up to them, his lovely eyes bright and a wide smile on his face. Oh, the lunatic had enjoyed that bit with the mud, but Levi knew she’d also done it for his sake… but his last clean cloak? He sighed as he smoothed his hand over it even as he eyed Eren’s pert backside all the way back to the makeshift camp.

Since the rain had come to an end, it had been decided that now was a good time to rest the horses and allow everyone a chance to change into some dry clothes. From the looks of it, everyone was down to the last of their clean outfits, with a few people even wearing their sleeping shirts. Levi really didn’t give a shit as long as no one smelled.

Hange, in a clean outfit but with bits of mud still clumped in her hair, handed him and Eren each a mug of coffee. “Enjoy it while you can, since we only have enough for one more stop today. The good news is, we checked the map and we’re still on target to reach the station tonight.”

Seated on a log by the small fire, Mikasa looked up from the datapad and nodded. “Yes, but we’ll probably not get there until sundown.” She frowned a little as she looked in the direction of the horses. “Can you pick up the pace any?” That prompted a groan from Jean, who was seated beside her. “You shouldn’t be so sore anymore, especially since yesterday.”

Jean opened his mouth and then closed it while he seemed to think for a moment; Levi kept any comments about being careful about straining a muscle to himself and noticed that Eren seemed to be struggling to do the same. “Ah, yeah, I did notice that there’s less aches today, but we’re still not the best at riding. How difficult is it going to be if they’re moving fast?”

Levi clicked his tongue in disgust and wondered yet again what he’d done to deserve being saddled with these incompetent idiots. “I’ll tie you to the damn saddles if I have to – you can swing around by fucking wires but horses moving faster than a canter scares you? Baby asswipes,” he muttered before focusing on Mikasa. “We should be fine – the packhorses are running light so we can swap out for them as well as the ones you three aren’t riding when ours get tired.” It wasn’t ideal, but there should be feed in the supply station to help the horses recover from the day’s hard ride.

“Will you be all right up in the trees,” Jean asked as he draped his right arm around Mikasa’s shoulders. When Eren made a slight gagging noise, which he was quick to cover up by drinking some coffee, the MP shot the brat a nasty look.

Mikasa seemed more amused by her brother’s antics than anything. “Yes, we’re used to running long and fast like this, and everyone fed the other night.” She shared a look with Eren for a moment as her hand rested against her chest, in a spot similar to where Eren’s pouch rested on his. “At least we’re not dealing with burning sunlight or anyone hunting us right now.”

Eren shivered as he pressed against Levi’s left side. “Don’t go jinxing us, or we’ll end up dealing with rabid hogs or something the rest of the way.”

That provoked a bit of a chuckle from Eren’s usually stoic sister. “Oh yes, I remember that time in Siberia with the one cat that really liked you. How far did it follow-“

“Not. Going. There,” Eren insisted as he tapped his claws against his mug. “The supply station – let’s talk about that instead,” he insisted with a bit too much fervor. Oh yes, Levi was going to find out about this cat story one way or another, even if it meant talking to Mikasa. He wondered if Ymir might know any of the details.

Still, since they didn’t have much time and Eren had raised an important topic, Levi let the other one go for the moment. “What about it? It’s filled with supplies, we need supplies, you figure out the rest.”

Eren snapped his teeth in Levi’s direction before taking another sip of coffee. “No, what about the *short wave radio* in the supply station. You said all of them have one, right?”

Ah, yeah, that. Levi nodded as he held the mug between both hands. “Yes, all stations are equipped with one in case an emergency message needs to be sent out. And before you ask, yes, Hange and I both know the codes to reach Erwin, Commander Shadis and several other commanders.” Not that he was going to risk sending a message to anyone but Erwin, and even then he had to be careful what he said to the conniving bastard.

Eren tapped his claws against the metal of the mug again as he seemed to consider something. “We think that the vampires aren’t monitoring that frequency, but we can’t be certain – it’s not something we’ve ever tried in the past.”

“It’s probably best to not send it during the evening,” Mikasa remarked as she sat forward with her elbows on her knees and both hands wrapped in the ends of her red scarf. “They’ll be awake then and preparing for an active night, so their attention will be at its sharpest. I would recommend sending it in the morning before we leave, when they’ll be exhausted and ready to retire for the day.”

The logic of that made sense to Levi, considering how much Malform were nocturnal creatures and vampires were adverse to daylight. While he knew that Ymir seemed able to function almost round the clock, she did seem the most sluggish in the morning and only kept so active in the day because everyone else was up and about. “Okay, so that leaves us with what we’re going to tell Erwin. We can’t exactly come out and say where we’re going in case the message is discovered.”

The siblings exchanged a long look, during which Eren raised his eyebrows and Mikasa shrugged. “Well, Armin’s there with Commander Smith, and we do have a code of sorts we’ve worked out with him,” Eren explained. “We can draft a message for you to send that won’t make much sense to anyone but him, and he can translate it for the commander.”

Beside Mikasa, Jean jolted as if something had just occurred to him. “Wait a minute, was it this Armin who sent that message on my datapad that one night? During our date?” He frowned as he looked down at Mikasa.

“Yes, he sent it to tell me that something was wrong with Eren.” Mikasa reached for Jean’s right hand and threaded their fingers together. “He’s ‘T’ – it stands for ‘trouble’. We used to call him that when he was younger.” A fond smile overtook her face and made her look years younger.

“Yeah, until he took the name a little too much to heart,” Eren grumbled. “So now we just use it in code for him.”

“Why do you – wait, do I even want to know why you have codes for each other?” Levi used his fingers to comb back his hair and pressed them against his scalp for a few seconds, the pressure a welcome relief against the thoughts buzzing inside of his head. Why did things have to be so complicated with these two? Why couldn’t he be attracted to someone normal?

Eren cast an introspective look at his claws, which kept flexing and unflexing as he explained things. “Well, we seem to have a problem with having our devices hacked, which is why we don’t have any of our own now. Never did find out how they kept tracking us down that way.”

“That Brazilian had some idea, if we’d only had some more time with him.” Mikasa’s eyes were a burning gold and her teeth flashed sharp whenever her lips parted. “Yet another thing to thank those three for.”

The look on Jean’s face just then made Levi wonder if the baby MP wasn’t thinking similar thoughts to his about their romantic choices, yet the kid just tugged Mikasa’s clawed hand onto his lap and forced a smile. “So we’re not gonna be sending sexy texts to each other, yeah?”

Eren threw his hands up in the air and made a spitting sound while Mikasa blinked in surprise at Jean. “Er ist nicht nur ein Pferd, er ist auch noch ein Idiot!”

She narrowed her still glowing eyes while she turned toward her brother. “Und du hast einen kleinen Bastard verwandelt, also will ich nichts hören!” The siblings glared at each other for a few seconds while Jean sat there confused and Levi wondered if he should start smacking the brat for each time he started babbling in a foreign language – this shit was starting to get real old, real fast – when Eren sighed and looked away first.

“Na gut, wir sind beide mit Idioten zusammen.”

“Nicht ganz worauf ich hinaus wollte, aber ich gebe dir zur Hälfte recht.” There was a half smile on Mikasa’s face as she picked at her scarf.

Whatever she said prompted a laugh from Eren, and he placed a hand on Levi’s left arm. “Come on, let’s leave these two alone.”

Allowing himself to be led away, Levi thought about the previous discussion – well, not Kirstein’s idiocy. He tried to imagine living so long on the run, to constantly be on the move not only because of the people looking for you but because of the secrets you kept, because of the fact that people would notice that you never aged while they did, that even technology could be used against you and if anyone found out that you had the power to make them as close to immortal as humans could get….

Then you decide to make a stand at a place and take a chance on allies, only to have that come crashing down again, to have those bastards who’ve been chasing after you catch up after all this time. To have someone whom you’ve let in and- “You trust Armin with the message,” he asked, not liking the path his thoughts were taking.

Eren came to a stop and studied him, his brows furrowed and his head tilted to the side as if he was confused by the question. “Of course I do, why wouldn’t I?”

This time Levi combed both hands through his hair as he tried to put his jumbled thoughts together. “I don’t know – this is important and he didn’t want to come rescue you.”

Something hardened in Eren’s eyes just then, something that turned them into a cold bronze color and sharpened his appearance in a way that Levi had never seen before – in a way that Levi wasn’t sure he wanted to see again since it made him scramble for the hilts of his blade while the world jolted into grey with a shocking speed. “Armin stayed behind because he realized that there was little he could do out here – he’s more than intelligent enough to know that he’d slow down you and Mikasa during a hunt, and that he’d just be another liability when it comes to a fight with the others – with the vampires. He’s seen us fight them over the years and knows the best thing he can do is be far away so he’s not used as leverage. Meanwhile, he *is* of value to the Corps where he is. We raised Armin to think for himself and that’s exactly what he’s doing, and he’s doing it very well.”

The implication just then that *Levi* wasn’t thinking at all, and Levi ignored the flash of anger as the insult hit home. Something told him if he gave in to it, if he lashed out just then, Eren wouldn’t be satisfied with a mere ‘swat’ in return; he’d never seen his lover so on edge like this. Ever since Ymir had goaded Eren yesterday, the brat had experienced some wild mood swings.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one affected by the shit that Ymir had spewed about. The more that Levi thought about it, the more pissed off he got about the possibility that he could be used against Eren, that he’d be one more way that those undead fucks tried to break the brat down.

“It’s just… I wanted to… *fuck*!” Levi threw his hand into the air as he tried to make sense out of his muddled thoughts. “How can you be sure about anything after everything they’ve done to you?”

Eren blinked a few times, and during that time his demeanor lost enough of that awful otherness that now he merely appeared ageless instead of some terrible monster. “I’m not sure about ‘anybody’ – in fact, there’s very few people I really trust. However, I do trust Armin, unreservedly at that. It’s not just because I helped raised him but because he deserves it.”

“And Ymir?”

“Ah, yeah.” Eren rubbed at his eyes with the palm of his hands as if they ached. “I trust her to a point, and that involves her own skin and now Krista’s.” When his hands fell down to his side, there was a sense of sorrow to his expression. “Believe it or not, that’s a decent basis for a partnership – the only way they really got her to betray me was Krista and now that won’t work because Krista knows.”

“Brat… no wonder you’re so fucked up,” Levi whispered as he rubbed along the shaved part of his hair. Even after losing… even after Isabel and Farlan were gone, there’d been Hange, Erwin and Mike; there’d been times when he’d cursed them, had tried to push them away, but those stubborn assholes had insisted on being there for him, even if they couldn’t replace his dear friends.

The smile Eren gave him then was a sad, self-depreciating thing. “What have I been saying all this time? There something wrong with your hearing or what?” Despite the cocky tone of voice, his arms were wrapped around his waist in a defensive manner.

Levi eyed him for a moment while he debated on continuing the discussion, if he really wanted to push on, but any moment now they’d have to get back on their horses and he wanted this settled before then. While he knew where Eren stood with Mikasa – any idiot knew where those two stood with each other – it still ate at Levi that anyone would seek to use him. To use him against someone… to use him.

“Yeah, there’s something wrong, all right.” He ignored the flash of pain in those gorgeous eyes and latched onto Eren’s hips so he could tug the brat in closer. “How about me?”

“Huh?” Eren’s brows became furrowed as he gazed back at Levi. “Are you fucked up too? Most definitely.” There was no doubt or hesitation at all in his answer.

“No, you little shit.” Levi kicked at Eren’s shin while he rolled his eyes. “Do you trust me, too?” Nice to know where he stood with his lover, wasn’t it?

Wincing a little from the hit, Eren bared his teeth yet didn’t pull away. “Trust you to always abuse me, yes!” When Levi made a slow show of pulling his right foot back again, the brat produced a low whining sound. “Yes, you friggen sadist, I trust you! Which just shows how truly fucked up I really am!” His right hand settled over the bag that was hidden beneath his white shirt while his left one gripped Levi’s right forearm. “Why? Why are you asking this?”

“Because I don’t think you really do trust me, or else you wouldn’t be freaking out like you did last night.” Levi looked away as he clicked his tongue so he didn’t have to see the way Eren’s eyes went wide with surprise. “Look, I know we haven’t been together that long, but-“

“That’s not it.”

A little annoyed at being interrupted, Levi fixed his lover with a narrow stare while Eren continued to explain, his hand still clutching at the bag while he gave up at holding onto Levi’s arm so he could run his fingers along Levi’s collarbone instead – just below where Annie had torn out his throat; the touch made Levi shiver in an odd mix of bad memories and reaction to the fleeting touch. “It’s not… look, I know how *they* fight, okay? When they found out about me and Mikasa, they… it’s like they wanted to prove to us how stupid we were for thinking we weren’t like them, that we could pass for humans.” Eren closed his eyes and shook his head, the sad smile from before returning. “So many died for just knowing us, for being near us. I think the only reason they’ve let Armin go this long is because it’s made us easier to track down, him being with us.” When he opened his eyes again to look at Levi, they were clouded and dark. “But the only value you’ll have is to break me. Annie got what she wanted, which was for me to turn you, and I doubt she expected you to be so strong.”

Levi captured Eren’s hand in his and gave it an almost painful squeeze. “They’ll keep underestimating me. I can kick your ass and I’ll kick theirs, too.”

The admission wasn’t meant to make Eren laugh – in fact that was a bit insulting – but at least it brought the light back to his lover’s eyes. “You know, somehow I do believe you.” Eren leaned in for a brush of lips. “I just... I know what fighting them can cost.” And just like that, the light was gone again. “There’s many ways to lose someone.”

“Then it’s a good thing we have Hange around to badger us, isn’t it?” Levi cupped Eren’s left cheek until the brat tilted his face into the caress and managed a trembling smile, warmth creeping back into his eyes until they regained their honey-gold hue. “I haven’t been able to shake her since I’ve joined the damn Corps.”

Eren let go of the bag so he could settle his hand over Levi’s. “You make her sound like some awful plague.”

“She’s worse, she’s like some disgusting kind of mold that you-“

“Levi sweetie! Eren! I know you need your smoochie-time together, but we’re getting ready to leave!”

“-that you need to completely eradicate from the earth in whatever manner possible,” Levi continued as the lunatic began to run toward them while waving her arms about. “We heard you,” he yelled as he snatched his hands from Eren and held them up in a hopeless attempt to stave Hange off. “People in the nearest dome heard you.”

“I just wanted to be sure, since the two of you looked really intense just then. And here I thought that rain just made you an even grouchier bastard than usual, not horny, too.” Hange beamed at Levi before she let out a laugh and raced in the opposite direction before the insult sunk in.

“*She’s* our best hope of coming through this sane?” Eren rubbed at his forehead with the palm of his right hand. “Can I just surrender my ass to the vampires right now?”

“Oh no, you don’t get out of this the easy way, you get to suffer along with the rest of us,” Levi informed the little shit. Maybe he needed to rethink the whole ‘Erwin as a friend’ thing after the way the manipulative bastard had let Hange tag along on this mission so easily….

*******

Eren wasn’t sure what he expected, but the single-story, almost lumpy building made of rough concrete and covered with moss reminded him of something out of those faintly remembered horror movies and games of his youth. He almost expected a billow of fog and an eerie music soundtrack to kick in at any moment…. “Are you sure this is it? It looks like an abandoned building.”

“Because technically it *is* an abandoned building.” Levi’s voice was thick with sarcasm, and the tension in his shoulders hinted that he had *had* it with questions – it probably didn’t help that the others had been asking ‘are we almost there yet?’ for the better part of an hour.

“It doesn’t look like much, but what do you expect when we have ‘bots slap ‘em together for us in a couple of weeks, eh?” Hange dismounted and rushed forward as if she could sense Levi’s simmering mood so she could fiddle with something near the doorway. “We should be able to access it with our codes.”

Great, so they came all this way and ‘should’ be able to get in. Eren kept any snide remarks to himself as he dismounted as well and went to stand beside Mikasa. “Denke wir können durchbrechen, wenn diese Genies es nicht hacken können,” he whispered to her.

She cocked her head to the side and watched while Levi went to join Hange and began to curse as she punched in a couple of different codes. “Hmm, es sieht aus, als wäre es gebaut worden um Malform standzuhalten, aber wir haben uns ein paar Tricks auf dem Weg angeeignet. Wir werden uns was ausdenken.”

Jean came up from behind them and stood on Mikasa’s other side while they watched Levi kick at the door as Hange continued to punch in various codes. “Please tell me you have a plan, because we’re cold, tired and hungry, and not in the mood to put up with Eren’s boyfriend when he’s all pissed off.” He winced when Levi let out a low curse and kicked the door again with enough force to dent it.

“I don’t think that’s doing any good,” Eren called out.

“Makes me feel better,” was Levi’s instant retort, so Eren just shrugged, until Hange sent him a pleading look while she kept tapping away.

Why him? Eren sighed as he went to calm the idiot, and grabbed onto Levi’s left arm before someone broke his foot. “Stop that before you warp it enough that it won’t open. How many possible codes do you guys have?”

“About a dozen or so, but you never know if someone got cute and personalized it.” Levi glared at the door as if to offer it a challenge but didn’t shrug off Eren’s hold. “Did you try the-“

“Ah!” Hange pumped her left fist in the air as a beeping sound could be heard followed by a low, grinding noise. The door began to creep open, and the rest of the group started to cheer as they and the horses pushed forward. “That did it!”

Levi held up his right hand as he urged Eren behind him. “Oi! Hange and I will go in first, so then follow us two by two with your horses. There should be a space inside to the right where they can be put up for the night; I want them settled in before we go checking things out.” He gave everyone an even look until they calmed down. “All right.”

Eren let him go and then fell in step behind him with Mikasa at his side as she led both of their horses. The building smelled musty and even the dim lights hurt his eyes at first, used to natural light as he was these last several days, but he didn’t sense any Malform or vampires inside so it should be safe. Other than the faded scent of humans, the faint reek of chemicals and the whiff of dust, he didn’t smell much of anything.

Everyone was excited as they tended to the horses, removing the tack and wiping them down with a sudden burst of energy. Hange found some water and grain for the tired animals, who seemed more than happy enough to be left alone to eat while their riders went to look around their ‘home’ for the night. The supply station was set into the ground, making it bigger than it appeared on the outside, with a large central chamber filled with cluttered shelves and what looked to be rooms set along the outer walls.

His horse cleaned and fed, Eren grabbed his saddlebags and then sought out Levi. “So, what next? I don’t think we’ll be able to get any practice in tonight.” The place was much too cluttered for that.

“There’s always hand to hand training, but everyone seems too tired for it.” Levi scratched at the shaved part of his head even as he shook it. “No, I think we could all use a break after today’s ride.” Off to the side, Eren noticed the relieved expressions on Sasha, Connie and Marlo’s faces. “We’ll concentrate on cleaning our gear and restocking instead. Should be able to get by with a skeleton watch instead, and allow most people to get a full night’s sleep while those of us who’ll be up anyway keep an eye on the monitors.”

“Really?” Sasha jumped forward when she heard that. “We can sleep in?” A wide grin spread across her dirt-smeared face and she appeared ready to grab onto Levi for a moment, before a sense of preservation kicked in.

“Until daybreak, at least.” Levi eyed her with disgust for a moment before clicking his tongue. “Where is everyone? I want Rico and Marlo to handle cleaning the uniforms, and Hange can show Mikasa and Jean the supplies to restock while Ymir and Krista help. Connie and Sasha, you’ll work on checking our gear while Eren and I fix something to eat.” Levi threw one of his saddlebags at Marlo while fixing the couple with a pointed look. “Understood?”

Sasha nodded while she gave Eren a hopeful smile. “Come up with something good even if it’s rations, okay?” She latched onto Connie’s arm as they hurried away, while Marlo frowned at the bag of what was probably dirty laundry. Eren felt a little sorry as he handed over his saddlebag filled with dirty clothes as well.

“I’m sure Rico knows what to do with these,” he told the poor kid.

“Of course, it’s why I gave them the task,” Levi snapped. “Now come on.” He didn’t wait for an answer as he grabbed Eren’s left hand and dragged him away.

“Are we going to the radio?”

Levi shook his head. “Thought you said that the vampires would be too active right about now. No, we’ll leave it until morning like we agreed and concentrate on feeding the hungry horde.”

Since his lover seemed to have a clue where to go among the labyrinth of shelves, Eren allowed himself to be dragged along this way and that even though he was a bit tired from the long day of riding and would like to just rest for a little bit. They eventually came to a stop before a long row of stacked can and sealed bags, and it took him a couple of seconds to focus on the fact that the containers were marked with names for food. “Oh, joy, more porridge, beans and dried beef.” Eren grimaced a little as he thought about the roasted birds they’d had last night, and the fish he hoped they could catch tomorrow – better yet, if they got up into the mountains, some deer or goat would be wonderful.

Levi knocked an elbow into his side for the sarcasm. “There was a time when I would have gutted someone for all of this food.”

There was a time when a small war would have started out for all of this food. “Yeah, I know,” Eren mumbled as he rubbed at his eyes. “But would it kill you guys to stock a few spices as well?” He sighed as he began to pull a couple of cans and bags down. “At least you have rice, so I think I can make something decent.”

Stepping forward as if to help him with the supplies, Levi pressed Eren against the shelves until his back bit into the cold metal. “I was thinking-“

“Yeah, strain anything there?”

The snide comment earned him a scowl and a smack to his right hip. “I was *thinking*,” Levi repeated as gold began to creep into his grey eyes, “that we could take the first shift tonight.”

“And?” Being this close to his lover, being able to smell Levi’s scent even beneath the odor of horse and the sting of chemicals made Eren’s heart race, made his jaws ache as his fangs pressed to descend. He shifted forward a little so his face was closer to Levi’s, shifted his legs wider apart so his lover could nestle between them.

“And then we could take advantage of the fact that this place has a working shower… with locking doors.” Levi’s voice was little more than a whisper just then, his breath warm across Eren’s face.

The cans nearly fell to the floor as a strong jolt of desire rushed through Eren, making him want to wrap his arms around a certain smug bastard and pull him close, yet instead he leaned forward a little more until their lips brushed together. “And here I thought you were letting everyone sleep because you’re such a nice guy.”

“I am a nice guy,” Levi murmured before closing his eyes and giving Eren a proper kiss, one that didn’t last nearly as long as Eren would like. Still, it was enough to make his hair tingle and cock start to grow hard, for one of the cans to start to slip and a low moan to build in the back of his throat. “I’m also horny as fuck and can’t wait to have you on your knees in front of me,” Levi continued as he pulled away, his eyes glowing in the shadowed space between the tall shelves.

Eren licked his lips in anticipation of later tonight. “If you’re lying about that lock….” As he spoke, he shoved one of the large cans of beans into Levi’s chest. “I’m going to tell Sasha and Connie that you know where a freezer full of prime rib is hidden.” There was no way he was getting his hopes of some privacy between the two of them only to have yet *another* person interrupt their ‘fun time’.

Levi snatched away the can before stepping back. “Your mouth is going to be too full to say anything.” He looked rather proud of that taunt so Eren figured he’d let the smug bastard have the last word on the matter – well, for the most part.

“Just as long as we’re clear on things.”

“Perfectly.” Levi flashed a rare show of teeth as he led the way to what Eren assumed to be the kitchen, and along the way they ran into Ymir and Krista, who were both laden down with arms-full of uniforms. “So, that shitty glasses show you where everything was, I take it?”

Ymir growled a little as she hitched her load of material a bit higher. “Yeah, if you consider waving her arms about and going ‘clothes, Levi’s precious soap, wire, eh… I forget, you guys are smart, figure it out’ to be ‘showing us around’.” She rolled her eyes, probably in reaction to dealing with the eccentric captain. “Then she ran off babbling about precious blood samples.”

“It’s really not that bad.” Krista’s face could barely be seen above her stack of clothes, but her smile appeared genuine. “There does seem to be a pattern to the layout of the shelves.”

“Yeah, they tend to keep all of the stations organized the same way.” Levi glanced around with his eyes narrowed as if looking for Hange before he shrugged. “Knowing that lunatic, she managed to find some equipment and she’ll be useless all night, unless it’s to ask for more blood samples.”

Ymir and Krista exchanged a worried glance over that assessment. “Great. So, we heard that you’re giving the poor schmucks a break tonight but we’re still stuck with watch duty, is that right?”

Levi clicked his tongue a few times while he hefted the large can of beans as if ready to throw it at Ymir. “Please, as if you’re not up most of the night anyway.”

“Yeah, but we’re safely locked inside and I noticed that this place has rooms.” Judging from the pleased grin on her face and the sudden blush to Krista’s pale cheeks, Eren would say that Ymir had finally been forgiven for being all backstabby and that Levi wasn’t the only one with ‘romantic’ thoughts on the mind. “What shift are you two taking?”

“First,” Levi snapped out, making it clear that there was not going to be any argument over that.

“Great, we’ll take the second one.” Ymir’s grin became even wider as she looked around. “Don’t be surprised if we disappear after dinner.”

“Ymir!” Poor Krista’s face was a brilliant red by that point, and she shifted her armload of clothes to one side so she could smack her girlfriend. “They don’t want to hear… any of that!”

“It’s not like they don’t have plans of their own.”

“Yes, which we’re not talking about,” Eren informed the nosy pain in the ass. “Also, we need to get to work on dinner, or we’ll never get any peace and quiet tonight.”

That prompted expressions of annoyance from both Levi and Ymir and some amusement from Krista. “I’m *not* putting up with a bunch of whining tonight,” Levi snarled while Ymir muttered something about ‘bottomless pits’. Eren felt his shoulder be grabbed and then was propelled forward, leaving Ymir and Krista behind as he once more headed along the narrow pathways between the stocked shelves.

The kitchen wasn’t too far off, and it wasn’t that surprising that it was little more than a stove powered by gas canisters, a basic sink, some cupboards and a long countertop. “Where does the water come from,” he asked as he found some large pots.

Levi wiped the cans clean before he opened them, then set them aside for Eren. “Reservoirs – they collect rainwater and filter it clean for use, so there should be more than enough for us and the horses. I don’t think anyone’s been out this way for years since we’ve lost a couple of domes in the area.”

And it had only gotten worse since then. Eren felt an old, familiar anger simmer inside of him while he rinsed off the beans and rice, then soaked the meat. For so long there’d been nothing but death and destruction, the vampires shaping events to fit their needs, and he’d been helpless to stop it. No longer, he promised himself. They weren’t going to keep taking from him any longer.

Strong, calloused hands pulled him away from the stove and cupped his face. “You look like you’re ready to poison our dinner, you little shit.” Despite the words, there was a gentleness to Levi’s voice, a glimmer of understanding in his hooded eyes.

Eren reached up to clasp the hands grasping his face. “We’re going to win this fight – I don’t care what Ymir thinks or how hopeless it seems, we’re going to win.” He rested his forehead against Levi’s and took a deep, shuddering breath as his eyelids fluttered shut.

“Damn right we are, there has to be something good coming out of me babysitting a bunch of asswipes like this.” Levi sounded so chagrined just then that Eren had to open his eyes and laugh.

The smile that Levi was giving him at the moment was mostly wry with a bit of ‘you are such an idiot’ to it, but Eren appreciated it anyway. He brushed their lips together before he turned around to resume preparing dinner. “Your life is so hard,” he teased as he added the meat to the beans, along with a precious few other seasonings that he found.

Levi made an amused grunting sound as he pressed against Eren’s back and rubbed his crotch against Eren’s ass. “That’s not the only thing that’s hard,” he murmured against the side of Eren’s neck, his lips skimming along sensitive skin.

Clutching at the edge of the stove since his knees suddenly became weak, Eren tilted his head back as a moan built in the back of his throat. That felt so good, and for a moment he allowed himself to enjoy it, the feel of Levi’s cock rubbing against him, the nip of sharp teeth against his neck followed by the soothe of rough lips. His right hand left the stove to thread its way through Levi’s thick, straight hair, both to encourage and to ensure that the bastard didn’t pull away, and-

“Don’t know why I thought you might care to know that the laundry’s well under way.”

-and of course it didn’t take long for someone to spoil the moment; this time it was Rico, who appeared rather disgruntled about something.

Levi snarled into Eren’s neck before he looked up but didn’t move away. “Great. Dinner should be ready soon, right brat?”

“Yeah.” Eren’s voice cracked a little on the word and his hand shook as he readjusted the heat beneath the boiling rice, but at least it looked as if everything was doing all right. “Just fine.”

Rico made a snorting sound and stepped a little closer to the stove. “Oh yes, that makes me hungry all of a sudden.” She seemed to attempt to crane her neck to see what was cooking in the pots. “There’s not going to be anything freaky in there, right?”

“We’re saving the dildos for dessert,” Eren told her as he gave the bean mixture a stir.

“Right.” Rico shoved up her glasses so she could pinch the bridge of her nose for a second. “Please tell me there’s some alcohol in this place, because I’m not sure how much more of this shit I can take sober.”

Levi gave the side of Eren’s neck one more nip before he pulled away. “That’s not a bad idea, actually. Let’s go see if there’s any ‘emergency rations’ stashed away.”

“You actually think it’s a good plan to break out the alcohol with this bunch?” Eren paused in checking on the food to stare with astonishment at his lover.

“Eh, we’re locked in for the night, I’ll confiscate their gauntlets and maybe it’ll get them to stop bitching for a couple of hours.” Levi shrugged as he went over to Rico. “If not, at least I’ll feel better after a few shots.”

Oh, someone hadn’t tried to drink since being turned, had he? Nothing like learning the hard way that one’s alcoholic tolerance had just gotten a very annoying boost, Eren thought to himself as he waved his lover along.

*******

Levi clicked his tongue in disgust as he had to step over Blouse and Springer, who were *cuddled* together on the floor – at least he thought that’s what they were doing – limbs tangled together and… was that drool? “Disgusting,” he muttered as he fought the urge to kick them awake; it would just be a waste of energy at this point as they were passed out from the cheap vodka they’d found stashed behind a pile of cloaks.

Ymir and Krista had ‘excused’ themselves well over an hour ago, Marlo was unconscious in a chair and been tied up with some loose wire the drooling idiots had found before passing out on the floor themselves, Rico had enough sense to stop after a few shots (not to mention save a bottle for later) and had already gone to bed, eager to ‘enjoy’ the comforts of a cot, while Mikasa and her horse-faced boyfriend had also vanished. Levi really didn’t give a shit where anyone else had gone, as long as Ymir and Krista showed up soon for their shift.

Continuing his patrol around the station, he came across the ‘medical’ room and knocked. “Oi, you better be decent in here, you shitty glasses.”

“More decent than you ever will be!” Hange laughed as he entered the small room, her ponytail even more of a mess than usual and a bunch of stains all over her white lab coat. “How was the party?”

“Damn baby asswipes can’t hold their liquor,” Levi informed her as he handed over a bottle of vodka that he’d saved for the pain in the ass. “You should have been there.”

“Hmm, too much to do and too little time. Speaking of which, roll up your sleeve and give me some blood.” After accepting the bottle, she picked up a syringe and waved it in his direction, a serious expression on her face for once.

“Fuck you,” he told her with no real venom. “I am not-“

“Oh yes you are,” she snapped back without a care for the fact that she’d just cut him off. “Your cutie was nice enough to provide a sample when he dropped off dinner, so don’t give me any of your shit.” When all he did was give her a cold stare in return, she arched an eyebrow. “What if I told you that I took some precious time out of my very busy evening while some tests were running and you were drinking to make sure that a certain shower room was nice and clean, hmmm?” She waved the syringe around in the air. “Now roll up that sleeve.”

“Dammit, what did that brat tell you?” Levi gritted his teeth together as he yanked up the sleeve to his white shirt on his left arm.

“Nothing, I just know you well enough and how few of these rooms have working locks.” Hange waggled her eyebrows a few times while she prepped an alcohol wipe. “Privacy *and* cleanliness? You wouldn’t be able to resist.”

He waited until the needle was free from his arm before he gave her a tap to the back of the head. “Pervert. Why do you want the blood?”

Hange sniffed a few times as if hurt before she hurried over to some weird piece of equipment with the tube of blood. “I want to compare your blood with Eren’s to see if there are any strange compounds still in his system – and yes, I did get a sample from Mikasa as well since she wasn’t shot with anything. And I also want a little extra in case I do isolate anything to try testing for an antidote.”

Levi wiped his thumb over the spot where the needle went in and found unblemished skin. “You think you’ll have a result so quickly?”

Hange’s shoulders slumped forward as she typed away on the machine. “Honestly? No. I’m hoping to at least isolate a few more compounds and ascertain that if anything *is* still in his system, to maybe whip up a temporary fix at best. But even if I work all night there wouldn’t be enough time.”

He hesitated for a moment before he went over to where she was working on whatever crazy shit she did and gave her hair a rough tousle. “Don’t stay up *all* night – you’re one cranky bitch if you don’t get any sleep.” His hand lingered for a couple of seconds before he pulled away.

Hange’s brown eyes were wide beneath her glasses as she stared back at him. “Okay, who are you and what did you do to my sweetie?”

“Oh fuck you.” He gave her the finger as he headed for the door.

“Now *that’s* more like it. Have some nice wet sexy time with your cutie,” she called out to him before the door shut.

Levi continued his rounds, mindful of any more closed-off rooms considering the ‘missing’ couples. He made sure that the horses were settled for the night and that the outside doors were still sealed and locked tight, then headed back to the monitor room; Eren was seated in front of the wall of monitor screens with his feet up on the console desk and a cup of coffee in his hands.

“Get your dirty feet off of there,” Levi commanded as he entered the room.

Eren sighed and wiggled his bare toes before he did as told. “How is everyone?”

“Hange’s doing the usual obscene things in her lab, we’re the only one with fangs not having sex, and there’s going to be a few hangovers tomorrow.” Speaking of which, Levi went over so he could lean against the back of the brat’s chair and flicked him on the left ear. “When were you going to tell me the part about the alcohol?”

“Seriously? I thought you’d have figured it out after that time in Commander Smith’s office. Not my fault you’re slow on picking things up.” Eren pouted as he rubbed his ear. “It’s something to do with the healing factor as far as we can tell – it takes a *lot* of liquor to get us drunk.”

At least that meant no more terrible hangovers after a night of drinking with Hange, Levi told himself. Still, it had been a bit disappointing to have a few shots earlier and barely feel a buzz. “Any other surprises I should know?”

Eren shrugged before he leaned back in the chair, his face tilted up at Levi. “Think those are the main ones – you drink blood, you don’t age, you heal from a lot of damage and you don’t get drunk easily.”

Levi threaded his fingers through Eren’s disheveled hair and gave the strands a gentle tug. “And the fantastic sex part.”

“Yeah, the fantastic yet slightly kinky sex part.” The smile on the brat’s face just then was completely indecent, was a promise for things that would make Levi fall apart in all the right ways. Dammit, how much longer was left on their shift, he thought as he leaned in to lick along Eren’s bottom lip.

Forcing himself to pull away before he did something he regretted, he straightened up and rested his arms along the back of the chair. “See anything out there?”

“Hmm, a few cats but that’s about it. They probably have a nest or warren or whatever somewhere nearby.”

“Hange would know what it’s called.” Levi reached over for the controls so he could flick through the screens; the station had to have been built fifty or more years ago and could really use an upgrade on the security cameras. “You think it’s going to rain again?”

“I know everyone hated riding in it, but it helps dilute our trail.” Eren pulled his feet up on the chair and hummed a little. “Hopefully those Malform are out there wandering around in circles, trying to pick it up.”

“Hopefully.” Levi didn’t put too much faith in that – he didn’t put too much faith in anything, to be honest. Judging from the wan look on Eren’s face just then, he’d say his lover didn’t, either.

Things were quiet after that, with Eren finishing his coffee and Levi playing with his lover’s hair as a mild distraction, fussing with the cat barrettes and smiling when that earned a mild growl or two from the brat. All the while, the screens displayed little more than the occasional cat wandering back and forth, sometimes with a kill in its mouth, and a few smaller mammals such as rodents scurrying about.

He was just about to head to the kitchen for some coffee when Ymir and Krista finally showed up, reeking of sex and with a huge grin on Ymir’s face. “It’s about fucking time, and couldn’t you have washed off or something,” Levi snapped at them while pulling Eren’s chair away from the monitors.

“We thought about that, but there was this lovely note on the door to the showers.” Ymir shoved a piece of paper at Levi, and he recognized the handwriting as Hange’s. ‘Do not enter on pain of death – grumpy captain smexy-time room only’ the damn thing read, and a certain four-eyed freak was *so* dead come morning.

“I’m going to assume that I don’t even want to know.” Eren sighed as he got up out of the chair and waved at Krista. “Have fun watching the cats.”

“Thanks – I’ve a feeling my main problem is going to be keeping Ymir from doing anything mean to those poor kids out there.” Krista grabbed hold of her smirking girlfriend’s arm and shoved her into the chair. “Sit down, you.”

“Oh come on, someone needs to teach them the dangers of alcohol! I’ll be doing them a favor!”

“You’ll be traumatizing them for life, if I recall what happened in the Bern dome correctly. Now-“

Levi didn’t stick around to hear anything else, he propelled Eren in front of him and kept shoving until they were out of the room. “Shower, *now*.”

“You better not be all hot and bothered about getting clean,” Eren complained as he hurried along.

“Two birds, one stone,” Levi pointed out. “Now shut it and hurry up.”

“If I wasn’t so horny right now, I’d tell you were to shove that stone.” Despite the snappish tone to his voice, Eren was smiling and his eyes gleamed in the dim light of the station’s hallways. They made it to the shower room within a minute, and Levi’s hands trembled as he closed the door behind them and locked it.

“Eh, it’s bigger than your shower at least,” Eren remarked even as he was stripping off his shirt; the ‘room’ was about the size of Levi’s bedroom, with four showerheads along one wall, three soaking tubs along another and a long bench with several shelves containing towels above it on the third wall.

“It’s a supply station, not a base or even a hotel. You’re just supposed to get what you need and then get out of here,” Levi reminded the brat.

“I thought seeing to some ‘needs’ were why we were here.” Eren’s voice took on a husky edge as he dropped his shirt onto the bench and then he began to undo his pants. Levi felt his throat go dry as he watched the way his lover stripped, movements so fluid and unembarrassed of his nudity. “Well, what about you?” Eren gave Levi a heated look as he stood there naked, his hands moving along his bare chest and down to his half-aroused cock.

“Just making sure this place really was clean,” Levi lied as he started on the buttons of his shirt. The damn things seemed to torment him by slipping through his fingers until he wanted to rip the garment off, but finally they were undone and the shirt flung at the bench without his usual regard for folding, and next came the belts and then his pants. The damn claws slowed him down a little, but at least he had removed his boots earlier, along with his gauntlet, jacket and blades, so it only took another minute before he was as naked as Eren.

The heated, assessing gaze he received from the brat just then made something burn in his chest, made him smirk as he grabbed Eren’s chin for a kiss that had too much pent up desire behind it to be anything but harsh and forceful – not that Eren seemed to mind. Fingers slid through his hair to hold him close as if Levi even *thought* to pull away, when all he wanted to do was savor the feel of Eren’s wonderfully warm, solid body against him, the way those bony hips jerked against him when he flicked his tongue so that their hard cocks slid together….

“Shower first,” he breathed against Eren’s lips as he ran his spread fingers along the brat’s back, enjoying the feel of smooth skin and twitching muscle.

“Fuck, you and your cleaning kink,” Eren moaned as his long eyelashes fluttered a few times.

“You really want to go down on me before I wash off? After riding all day?” Levi grinned when Eren’s nose crinkled at the mental image that provoked. “Yeah, thought so.”

“There is hot water, right?” Eren pulled away so he could head over to the wall of showerheads. “If it’s all gone, I’m going to throw out some drunken ingrates for the Malform and cats to feed upon.”

“I told you, there should be plenty even if the others took some showers earlier.” Levi went over to his belt to retrieve a couple of things from a pouch, which he then put on the small shelves near the showerheads. Eren was busy examining the old-fashion knobs before giving one a twist then a pull.

“Ah!” He jumped to the side as water shot out above him, and smiled a moment later. “At least it doesn’t take long to heat up.” He checked the temperature again before standing beneath the water.

“Here, use this.” Levi gave him some soap to use, and turned on the shower for himself. The feel of *hot* water was heavenly, especially after riding for so many days; the accelerated healing helped a lot, but there was still some strain from being on horseback all day and then sleeping on the ground at night. Most importantly, he was getting *clean*, was scrubbing away all the sweat and grime that felt as if it had soaked into his skin these last several days.

As usual, he didn’t take long to wash himself off, and once he was done he watched Eren finish rinsing off the soap suds clinging to all that delicious golden skin; feeding the other night had helped Eren regain a few necessary pounds so he didn’t look as emaciated as before. Another feeding or two would be good, but for now, his ribs were much less prominent and he’d regained a little muscle-tone.

Levi reached over to run his hand along Eren’s left side, along his ribs and down the dip of his abdomen, the valley of his hip that led to his groin, the dusting of hair there before Levi’s fingers wrapped around his lover’s erect cock. Despite the heat of the water and the steam filling the room, he could still feel the warmth radiating from Eren as he pressed the brat against the tiled wall for another kiss, this one a little less ferocious than before. Eren’s hands combed aside the wet hair falling onto Levi’s face and then continued along his back, a faint skritch of nails along his spine that made him shiver in pleasure.

As much as he enjoyed kissing the brat, of feeling that mouth open up to him, the slide of Eren’s tongue against his own and the slight nips to his bottom lip… he adored even more the feel of Eren’s pulse against his lips, the moans he could wring from him when he scraped his teeth just so when he found that certain spot on the brat’s neck. “Fu-huck,” Eren stuttered out as he jerked his hips against Levi in response. There was a quick sting in Levi’s right shoulder for a moment and then he felt fingertips dig into his upper arm.

Mindful of his own claws, he palmed Eren’s ass as he pulled his lover closer to him, their hips grinding together as he sucked hard on that golden skin. The air grew more humid and the hot water continued to fall down on them while Levi drove the little shit crazy; it was only fair, considering how often Eren made his head spin round these days….

“Fuuuck.”

Levi chuckled as he nuzzled the brat’s ear. “You said that already.”

“Hmm, maybe because it’s not happening yet.” Eren rested his head against the steam-slicked wall, his eyes glowing like beacons and heavy-lidded with desire, his face flushed and lips swollen. While he talked, his left leg came up to hook around Levi’s hips.

“Maybe… if you do something for me,” Levi gave the brat a wicked grin as he rocked his hips forward, “I’ll do something for you.”

“Oh really?” Eren’s left eyebrow arched as he thrust up against Levi. “I wonder what you could want….”

Levi’s eyes drifted shut for a moment while he enjoyed the sensation of Eren’s feverishly warm body sliding against his own. “I’m sure you can figure it out.”

“Mmmm.” There was warm breath against the side of his neck as Eren nuzzled beneath his ear for a moment and then all that warmth and sinuous, golden flesh was shifting against him, was sliding downward as Eren went to his knees while leaving a few nips along the way. Levi cursed as he flinched from the not-quite bites, one of them at his left nipple, which caused Eren to smirk up from him as the damn brat settled on the floor, his long hair darkened by the water and plastered to his skull, some of the strands falling onto his face so that his remarkable eyes gleamed through like embers trapped in darkness.

His left hand braced against the wall, Levi reached down to slick back some of the hair so he could better see Eren’s face, his fingers tightening in the strands when Eren’s warm hand wrapped around his cock. “Huh, maybe I’m on to something here,” the bastard teased right before he swiped along its length with the tip of his tongue.

“Ha, ha.” Levi rolled his hips forward while he glared. “Remember, my turn soon enough.”

Eren made a spitting sound as if to get the last word right before he parted his lips and slid them around Levi’s cock, taking it in almost all the way. He kept his eyes focused on Levi’s the entire time; his tongue curled around Levi’s cock as his lips slid up and down its length, pulling back now and then to give it a swirling lick around the tip and then engulfing it again, a little hum in the back of his throat and his hand tight around its base…. ‘Fuck’ indeed, Levi thought as the pleasure roiled inside of him both from the feel of that moist slickness sliding around his cock, sucking it in again and again, and the sight of those lust-darkened eyes staring up at him. He jerked his hips a little and clenched his hands in wet hair, felt the orgasm build inside of him as the ecstasy bit deeper, stronger, until he let out a harsh breath as he released his hold on Eren’s hair.

“No, want to-“ His hand fumbled downward right when the orgasm begin to hit to cup his lover’s chin, and cursed as he pushed Eren’s face away. “Shit. Shit, shit, shit.” Sensitive, so damn sensitive, the scrape of Eren’s tongue and lips over his cock, his hand on it, but it was worth it to see his come splash on that gorgeous face, over those red lips and flushed cheeks as he kept the brat from pulling back too far. Eren’s eyes fluttered closed for a few seconds while his hands raised up to rest on Levi’s hips, and when he opened them again, there was a drop or two sparkling on his lashes. “Shit,” Levi mumbled, feeling spent and relaxed and so good.

Lifting a hand to wipe at his eye, Eren’s lips twisted in a lopsided smile. “Okay, didn’t see that coming, not from a clean-freak.”

Not entirely sure why he’d done it himself, Levi used his hold beneath Eren’s chin and exerted a little pressure to urge the brat to stand up. “Improvising is a good thing.”

That earned him a startled laugh. “Yeah, I guess.” Eren hovered a couple of inches away, as if uncertain, so Levi bridged the space between them for a kiss, one where he could taste himself on his lover’s lips. When they parted, Eren twisted away enough so he could rinse his face clean beneath one of the sprays of water. “So, my turn now, right?”

“Give me a few minutes.” Levi reached for Eren to pull him in for another kiss, but the little shit danced out of the way.

“Nope, I said it’s my turn.” Eren held up something in his right hand, which ended up being the bottle of lube that Levi had brought over along with the soap. “Let’s see if we can’t speed things up a little, okay?” He turned off the running water at the showers as he read the bottle label. “Uhm, looks like Hange knows her stuff – this should work out fine.” As he spoke, he headed over to one of the soaking tubs and turned on the spigots.

Curious to see where this was leading, Levi leaned against the wall to support his trembling legs and watched what the brat was doing while he began to stroke himself, his wet hand sliding along his cock and tugging on the foreskin. “Wonderful, be sure to tell her that.”

“Yeah, I’m sure it’ll make her day.” Eren flashed him a bright show of teeth before propping his right foot up on the rim of the tub. “She’ll probably ask for a demonstration in return,” he joked while he poured some of the lube into the palm of his hand.

The thing was, it wasn’t much of a joke – Hange probably *would* want a demonstration or a vid in return for her ‘foresight’. “Damn lunatic is a menace,” Levi complained before his attention was snatched up by something much better, such as Eren’s slick hand slipping between his thighs as he bent forward with a look of concentration on his face.

Oh yes, this was doing the trick; Levi shifted a little more to the side so he could see Eren’s hand at work as a slick finger slowly sunk inside, the two pert cheeks held apart by Eren’s left hand as he worked with patience effort to finger himself. It took a moment for Levi to realize that the moan that echoed around the tiled room was his own when a second finger pushed past that tight ring of muscle, as eager as he was to feel it for himself, to sink his now hard cock into that amazing friction and heat. Pushing away from the wall, he stalked over to the tub and had to resist just shoving the brat into the water.

His hands shook as he turned off the spigot, the tub now filled with hot water from which faint curls of steam drifted into the air. When he turned back to Eren, he was shocked to see steam rising from the little shit’s face as well from where he was biting into his own lip, while his fingers were spread wide apart as they pulled almost all the way out before plunging back inside.

“Enough.” The word came out like a snarl as Levi gripped a handful of wet hair and pulled his lover in close, enough to cause Eren to wobble on his one foot. “We fuck, now.”

“Bossy… bastard.” Eren panted a few times before he straightened up with his hands held out at his side. “Gonna last a little longer this time?”

“Who’s got the body of a teenager?” Tired of this shit already, Levi wrapped his arms around Eren, picked him up and swung him over into the tub, where he dropped the little shit. He got splashed and scratched up all along his arms for his trouble, but the wounds were already healing when he climbed into the tub as well, grateful that it was large enough to fit two… well, two people. Oh, and that they hadn’t knocked aside the lube. Levi made sure to put it to good use.

“Arschloch!” Eren spluttered as he pushed aside his wet bangs, and probably would have more to say if Levi didn’t grab him by the back of the neck for a kiss. Okay, more for a bitten lip considering how pissed off the little shit was just then, but by the time he let Eren go, the swearing had stopped and he was able to turn his lover around in his lap. “A damn Chairman,” Eren sighed as he rose up a little, his knees on either side of Levi’s hips.

“You’d be bored within a week,” Levi informed the brat as he held onto his hips to guide him back down, his teeth clenching as the tip of his cock met resistance and then bit by bit pushed past it. Shit. Shit this felt so good; he rested his face against Eren’s back and had to breathe for a few seconds. “If you… you even lasted that long.” Oh, it just got better and better the deeper he sunk in.

Eren shuddered against him as he bottomed out, so fucking hot and tight and *perfect*. “They say that ‘interesting’ is a curse.” His voice was so raspy just then, as if he fought to hold back a growl, and his left hand reached back to stroke along Levi’s undercut.

“Fuck ‘em.”

“Hmm, not before me.” The damn brat did that thing with his hips, that *thing* where he shifted them and things got even tighter and – Levi felt as if the heat was sinking into him, the heat from Eren and the water and the very air in the room, was making it so hard to breathe yet he didn’t care. He ran his left hand up along Eren’s stomach then splayed it across his chest beneath the leather bag to make sure he stayed close, stayed pressed against Levi, while his other was clamped onto Eren’s hip to pull him back down into each and every thrust.

Levi’s mouth was latched onto the side of his lover’s neck, where he could taste the sting of sweat and feel the rapid flow of blood against his tongue. The urge to bite was there, but wasn’t as strong as the last time, was more a buzzing thought in the back of his mind than a strong craving. No, tonight what burned through him was the heat, was the ecstasy, was the feel of Eren against him and around him, the perfect sense of friction and tightness.

“Dammit… so nah… Levi….” Eren sounded near tears as his fingers tugged at Levi’s hair, his other hand working furiously at his own cock. Water splashed everywhere from the frantic pace of their motions, and a rare growl slipped free from Levi as he wrapped his arm around Eren’s waist and shifted to his knees, causing Eren to curse some more in German and fling his left arm out to brace against the tub in order not to fall face first into the water. There. *There*. Now Levi could fuck even harder, could feel Eren’s body clench even more around him while his lover tossed back his head and moaned long and hard.

“Fuck, *yes*, so good, I’m going to-“ Eren gave a strangled gasp as his head dropped forward and his body shuddered while he came. Levi’s body stuttered for a moment, the pleasure so intense as Eren’s body tightened even more, his nerves so close to overloaded that it felt as if one more touch, one more sensation could do him in.

He managed to move a little more, a few more snaps of the hips before it all came too much, the pleasure coiled inside of him so tight that it finally burst forth in a pulse so intense that for a few seconds all he wanted to do was just rest there, pressed against Eren’s back as his feet and hands tingled and his breath evened out. The brat allowed him the moment to come back to his senses, remaining sprawled out beneath him with his arms folded on the rim of the tub.

After about a minute, Levi grimaced as he pulled away, causing Eren to groan. There was another groan when he flipped the switch to drain the water out of the tub. “Oh come *on*! We can’t soak after that?” Eren turned his head to glare at Levi over his shoulder.

“Not in filthy water.” Levi splashed the draining water around to help ‘clean’ the tub. “You know what we just did in it.”

“Oh for-“ Eren rubbed at his temples and took several deep, even breaths. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. Be thankful I’m not making you scrub the tub down before we refill it. Now get over here.” Levi motioned for Eren to join him at his end of the tub while they waited for the last of the water to drain out.

“Ich werde für etwas bestraft, ich weiß es – darum habe ich jetzt so einen Sauberkeitsfanatiker am Hals,” Eren muttered as he scooted over.

Levi waited until Eren was more or less settled against him and the foul water was gone to close the drain and start refilling the tub with new, hot water. “Oi, I was serious about you teaching me some German,” he told the brat while giving him a poke in the side.

“What? When did you say anything about teaching you German?” Eren batted Levi’s hand aside while he frowned, his hair once more falling onto his face.

Maybe he’d said something to Hange? Or was it that he’d meant to ask her about dictionaries? Either way, the topic was raised now, so might as well go forward. “I’m saying it now – enough of this shit of listening to you insult me all of the time, or you and your sister or Ymir talk about stuff behind my back.”

Eren’s frown deepened as he tucked back the chunk of hair. “I’m not always insulting you.” He sounded a bit petulant then.

“’Not always’ isn’t the same as ‘never’,” Levi argued, and judging from the flare in those golden eyes, he’d scored a point. “So let’s start now. You can tell me what ‘Arschloch’ means.”

“Uhm….” Eren developed a sudden interest in splashing water about, which was a sure sign that Levi had hit upon one of those ‘insults’.

“You little shit….”

“Hey, keep thinking about the fantastic sex just now! And how you call me ‘little shit’ and ‘brat’ all of the time, okay?” Eren glared back as he took with fiddling with the bag hanging on his chest. “It could be worse, you know. Honestly. I never called you Schwanzlutscher or Hurensohn.”

Having a feeling that this would be a long and interesting conversation, Levi kept an eye on the water level and settled back against the wall of the tub with a certain little shit firmly encircled in his arms.

*******

Ymir smiled at Krista when her lover handed her a mug of fresh-brewed coffee. “Thanks, darling.”

“Say that after you taste it,” Krista warned, but there was a pleased smile on her face as she sat down in the chair next to Ymir.

Okay, so maybe her lover had sat down next to her and not cuddled in the same chair with her (well, it would have been a tight fit but they both were on the thin side, so it was doable), they were on watch in the middle of some concrete bunker while running from a bunch of vampires, and it was clear that Ymir still had some ‘groveling’ to do because yeah, she’d betrayed what were probably her best friends left in the world. Which, to be honest, there really hadn’t been that many of them to begin with, between her personality and the fact that she was a vampire herself, but semantics, really. What did matter was that the woman she loved had just made her some coffee, that the two of them had just had sex – and pretty great sex at that – and that for the moment they were safe. So what if Krista had probably forgiven her because she didn’t want to chance one of them dying while they were still fighting with each other, what mattered was that Ymir got her second chance. A second chance with ‘benefits’ was even better.

“I don’t think I like that smirk.”

“What smirk?” Ymir sipped her coffee and made sure her expression was under control by the time the mug was lowered. “I know not of this smirk you speak about.”

Krista gave her a suspicious look before huffing and pointing a clawed finger at her. “I’m on to your tricks, you know. There’s quite a lot of them, but I know them all.”

“Hmm, well you certainly like the one that I do with my tongue on your-“

“Ymir!” Aw, it was just so cute, the way Krista still blushed like that after all these years. “You’re incorrigible,” the poor girl chided while she attempted to sink back into the padded chair.

“I thought that’s what you liked most about me.” Ymir gave her a wink before she enjoyed more coffee. When the mug was empty, she set it down on the metal console and began to flip through the various monitors. “You gotta hand it to these ‘Wingers’, they do take their job seriously. I mean, building a station like this just so they have supplies for the few weeks they’re out here a year – you at least see where the money from their contracts is going, unlike the prissy MPs.”

Krista leaned forward to watch the screens, her arms wrapped around her waist as if she was cold. “Probably because they don’t need to worry about things like pensions.” She was quiet as she spoke, yet there was a rare harshness to her tone as the darkness that she hid from most people slipped to the front.

“True.” Ymir paused to watch a striped kitten that would probably come up to her knee pounce on what looked to be a badger and break its neck before trotting away with its prize. “I thought the armies back when the Malform first broke out were suicidal bastards, but those idiots have nothing on the Corps.” It had certainly been a bloodbath back then, but nobody had really known what they were fighting. They knew now, and these morons still strapped on their blades and stepped up to the frontlines, so to speak. As much as she’d wanted to rip out Napoleon’s throat yesterday when he’d grabbed her and got in her face, she had to respect what he’d said.

Krista stared at the screens for another minute before she shook her head. “So when do you think we’ll be able to take a bath? I want to soak while everyone’s sleeping.” There was a clear note of longing in her voice, and Ymir had to admit that the idea was a sweet one.

“Huh, it’s been about two hours already, so hopefully soon.” Healing factors aside, Eren *did* have to ride tomorrow. Ymir snickered to herself over that thought, which earned her a warning glance from her girlfriend. “At the least, I’d think they’d want to be out of there before Mikasa’s shift.” She didn’t think that Sunshine would appreciate putting up with their antics going on in the background.

Rising up from her chair, Krista picked up Ymir’s empty mug and swooped in to give her a quick kiss on the forehead. “I’ll stop by for more coffee while I check things out. Hopefully Captain Hange will have gone to bed by now.”

“I can-“

“*No*, you stay here.” There was a hint of gold in Krista’s eyes as she issued the command, so Ymir just sighed and did as she was told – it wasn’t like she’d do *too* much to the sleeping morons out there. Maybe give that Sasha girl a haircut and see if there weren’t any bleach around here for the boys to turn them into blonds, stuff like that. It was all meant in fun, honest. To keep from getting bored, she played with the settings on the monitors while Krista was gone, tweaking this and that, changing the angles of various cameras and various filters.

“Having fun there?”

“Think I just saw some owls getting it on, which is a new experience for me.” Ymir fell back into her chair and smiled at her lover. “Sorry, haven’t figured out the record option yet so you missed out.”

Krista rolled her eyes as she hitched her left hip up onto the console, a mug of coffee in each hand. “Somehow, I’ll find the will to live on.”

“That’s my girl!” Ymir scooted the chair closer so she could wrap her arms around her girlfriend’s hips and beamed up at her. “Anything exciting happening out there?”

“Captain Hange is passed out in her lab, I just heard what sounds to be talking from the showers so there’s hope we’ll get our baths sooner rather than later, and everyone else is asleep.” Krista smoothed her hand over Ymir’s hair and held out one of the mugs. “Here you go.”

“Hmm, perfect.” It wasn’t that she really was tired, but the coffee was nice and warm, was something to do during the long stretch of night and didn’t upset her stomach as much as human food sometimes did. “I wonder if Dr. Who found anything in Eren’s blood toni-“ Something flashed on the monitor, something rather big for the cats and birds of prey she’d been seeing during the shift so far. Ymir frowned as she set the mug aside and gave Krista a gentle push away. “One moment.”

Moving off of the console without a word, Krista stood behind Ymir, her right hand a light touch on her shoulder while Ymir retweaked the settings to zoom in on the one monitor. When the camera readjusted, both of them sucked in their breaths and Krista’s hand clenched on Ymir’s shoulder. “Go get Eren and Levi,” Ymir ordered.

Krista fled without saying anything, her bare feet barely making a sound on the concrete floor. While she waited for the three of them to return, Ymir recalibrated all of the cameras, the sick sense of dread building with each passing second.

She was cursing beneath her breath in about every language and dialect that she knew by the time that Krista arrived with the two lovebirds, both of them with wet hair and clothes in disarray. “What the hell do you want,” Levi demanded to know, while Eren must have picked up on Krista’s tension because his eyes were already glowing and sought hers out, his expression one of resignation when she flicked her fingers at the wall of monitors.

“Sorry to interrupt your bath time, but I thought you might want to know that we’ve company knocking at our doors.” She hit a button that zoomed in on the camera posted above the main doors, which showed in painful clarity the dozen or so Malform sniffing around the metal barrier. “Take a look – they’ve basically got us surrounded.” Each of the cameras showed more of the creatures, anywhere for a few to another dozen or so… meaning that there were well over a hundred overall outside.

“*Verfickte Scheiße*,” Eren muttered as he pushed back the dripping hair that had fallen onto his now-haggard face. “Those all can’t be from the other night.”

“And there are people who say you’re just a pretty face, Rebel.” Ymir zoomed in the one camera a little more. “I’ve identified at least three different tattoos while I waited for your asses to show up – can’t make out the details, but they’re distinct shapes and in different locations so I’ll say it’s safe to assume that they belong to different assholes.” She thought one of the ‘brands’ might be a horse or something, but couldn’t be certain.

The expression on Levi’s face just then promised an excruciating death for whoever had sent the Malform after them; his eyes were an incandescent gold sunk in dark circles and his lips pulled back from a mouth filled with sharp teeth. Ymir had to say she was impressed for once with Rebel’s choice even if the guy could be a bastard most of the time, and almost felt sorry for the others - *almost*. “I don’t care if they’ve had friends join in, it’s not going to do them any good.” His clawed right hand settled on his hip, around where the hilt to his blade be if he was wearing them.

Eren shook his head with enough force that drops of water flew through the air while he reached out to touch his homicidal boyfriend on the shoulder. “Look, they can’t get in here, right? We just wait them out and then run like hell in the morning.”

It was only a stopgap, a temporary solution and Rebel knew it, judging from the darkness in his eyes. So did Levi, since he snorted and reached out to flick Eren in the forehead. “And what about tomorrow night? You said that the rain probably slowed them down, what if the weather is clear all day?”

“I….” Eren sighed as he rubbed his head. “I don’t know,” he admitted in a quiet voice. “We run until we find a good place to fight and then….” He looked over at Ymir, and for a moment she saw his face go blank and his eyes ablaze, and she knew that the fight tomorrow would be like the days of old – would be savage, gory and dripping with blood, would be about tearing and ripping apart those who would hurt you, would hurt your heart so you would eviscerate them first. Something burned in her as she gazed back at Eren, something that made her want to dance as her heart began to thunder inside her chest. Oh yes, tomorrow night would be *wonderful*.

“Tomorrow we show them why it was their biggest mistake ever to think we’re prey,” she finished for him. She reached out to thread her fingers through Krista’s soft golden hair; this is what she would protect, what she would shatter the world to ensure would never be harmed. Let those fools try to take it from her.

“Tomorrow,” Eren echoed as he bowed his head so his forehead rested against Levi’s. The surly captain appeared confused for a few seconds before he clicked his tongue a couple of times.

“Fine, I could use a good fight.” He cupped the back of Eren’s neck and whispered something too low for Ymir to catch. “We’ll give the baby asswipes some more time to catch up on their sleep, but I want the horses packed and ready to go at first light. We’ll also need to pack as much grain as we can carry if we expect to do some serious running. Eren and I will take care of that while you two keep watching the monitors – the doors *should* hold, but all we need is one of them getting clever or their masters to catch up for some sort of nasty surprise.”

“Always the bright side with you, Napoleon,” Ymir teased as she pushed Krista toward one of the chairs. “You going to wake up Mikasa?”

“Yeah.” He appeared rather happy about that. “She can patrol while we prep the packs.”

“Some people have all the fun jobs.” Levi smirked at her while he grasped Eren’s left wrist and hauled him out of the monitor room as if eager to go drag a certain someone out of bed.

It was quiet for a couple of minutes after they left, while Ymir continued to fiddle with the cameras to do get the best coverage just in case the Malform’s ‘masters’ did decide to check up on what their faithful dogs had tracked down; she was rather certain that the undead fucks would just keep them pinned down for the rest of the night while a few others had gone to report back their location, so they should be safe for the time being, but it was best to never take anything for granted. At least the night was past the halfway point, so unless the vampires were close by, they should be fine. *Should be*.

A deep sigh from her lover made Ymir glance aside at a pouting Krista. “What, don’t tell me you wanted to go out and fight them now as well? It’s not like you’re starving.”

“No, it just occurred to me that we’re probably not getting that bath now.” Krista glared at nothing in particular while she folded her arms over her chest. “And I was really looking forward to it!”

Someone was so adorable when they got all pouty. “Well, we’ll just have to make sure that *we* reserve the shower room next time.”

Krista sighed again as she hugged her arms around Ymir’s neck. “You really think there’s going to be a next time?”

Ymir gave her lover a fierce hug in return. “Hell yes I do – it’s not going to be pretty, but we’ll be fine, you’ll see.” For a moment she was worried about Krista seeing the darker side of her tomorrow… until she remembered that Krista had a similar side herself. “Those assholes won’t know what hit ‘em.”

And if any of the humans survived… well, then they would understand why their weak race hadn’t really been in charge of things for centuries, why they’d long lost their place at the top of the food chain. It would be a rude but necessary awakening.

*******

Armin had just pulled on his shirt while in the ‘locker’ area of the men’s side of the communal showers when he heard several startled yelps and raised voices in complaint.

“Oh come on, it’s not like you have something – well, okay, maybe that is rather embarrassing. Sorry.”

“Ca-captain!”

“Don’t worry, you’re still growing.”

Feeling a headache coming on and he still hadn’t had any breakfast, Armin ignored the buttons of his shirt in favor of pulling on his boots just as Captain Nanaba came around the bend of lockers near him. “There you are!”

“Captain,” he said in way of greeting for her and grabbed his grey jacket.

“Oh, you can call me ‘Nanaba’,” she informed him while she snatched up his belt. “Come along now.” All around him, the rest of the guys clutched at their towels or the bits of clothes they were pulling on to hide their nakedness – well, not the one new recruit from Mosca, who certainly had no reason to hide his ‘impressive’ physique. Nanaba arched her left eyebrow at him but didn’t say anything in passing.

“So, is there a reason for this or are you just traumatizing people for the fun of it,” Armin asked as he finished buttoning up his shirt.

“Eh?” Nanaba handed over his belt and shook her head, her blond hair still damp and slicked back close to her skull. “While it was a bit fun, there’s a reason for it all right – Commander Smith needs you in his office.”

Well, that sounded more important than getting up early to grab a bite to eat and spend most of the day in the lab. Armin hurried up, which seemed to make the new captain happy, so it only took them a couple of minutes to reach the commander’s office.

Despite the early morning hour, Commander Smith looked wide awake and was bent over some device behind his desk, and Captain Zacharias was leaning against the wall next to the door. “Sir, I’ve brought Armin,” Nanaba announced as soon as they entered.

“Good.” Commander Smith waved at them, so Armin approached the desk; he was surprised to see that the device was a rectangular black box with perforated sides, a partial glass front and numerous silver knobs…. “Is that a shortwave radio?” He hurried over to stand beside the tall man, his hands itching to touch the device; there’d been the old relic at Lake Geneva, but it hadn’t worked in centuries.

“Why am I not surprised that you what it is?” Commander Smith’s right hand hovered protectively in front of the silver knobs, a clear sign of ‘do not touch’. “All of our divisions and supply stations have one, though we keep them out of sight of visitors.” He nodded to the black case that was set on the floor, and Armin realized that he’d overlooked the radio in all of his previous visits to the office because of it. “We only use them in time of emergency, and a message came through just a short while ago – it’s been repeating for the past twenty minutes for every ten minutes. Give it another minute and it’ll come through again.”

“Who’s sending it?” Hope began to build in Armin’s chest as soon as he heard ‘supply stations’.

“It’s Levi’s voice, but it’s in code.” There was a coolness to Commander Smith’s eyes as he gave Armin an assessing look. “We don’t normally bother with-“

Just then there was a crackling sound over the radio, which caused Armin nearly jump in his skin in surprise and for Commander Smith to bite back a muttered curse. Captain Zacharias shoved away from the wall and loomed over the desk, his hands in fists on top of the surface, while Nanaba was an anxious presence at his side.

The crackling stopped and for a moment there was a stomach-dropping silence that filled the room before Captain Ackerman’s voice came through the box’s speakers. “Tell T that there’s lots of brambles everywhere; the thorns run deep and there’s a lot of *pricks*. Everyone is scratched and bloody, and ready to come home.”

The message wasn’t long, and once more there was that nervous silence in the room before Commander Smith turned toward Armin. “Well? I’ve never heard Levi speak like that – it’s no code that we’ve set up.” There was almost an accusation to the words.

“Yes, but I know it,” Armin admitted. “It’s one that Eren, Mikasa and I use.”

“Told you,” Captain Zacharias mumbled.

Commander Smith took a deep breath and some of the tension seemed to leave his broad shoulders. “So I see.” He reached for the carafe of coffee on his desk and filled two mugs, one of which he offered to Armin. “So he’s using a known code after all. I’m a little disturbed by that, I admit.”

“Yes and no.” Grateful for the coffee, Armin took a few swallows before he continued. “It makes sense once you decipher the message. The brambles means that they’ve run into trouble, and the thorns means vampires, which explains why they’re using code – clearly they’re afraid of the message being picked up and overhead. The pricks stands for Grisha.” A weak chuckle escaped him as he thought of Eren’s choice of a ‘code’ for his father. “So yes, there’s definitely a reason he doesn’t want anyone but you to know what he’s talking about.”

“Grisha?” Commander Smith set his mug aside and folded his arms over his chest as he stared with that uncomfortable focus at Armin. “What does Grisha have to do with things?”

Wishing that there was something a bit stronger in his coffee, Armin took a few more swallows to have the time to gather his thoughts. “Well, that’s where the rest of the message comes into play – Captain Ackerman said ‘everyone’ so everyone should be all right even if they’re seeing some fighting, but he also said that they’re on their way home which means the opposite, it stands for the fact that they’re headed in a different direction.” When Commander Smith continued to stare at him, Armin sighed and shook his head. “My thoughts? I think something happened with the vampires that’s making them go after Grisha’s research. Maybe the reason Annie came after Eren this time is to get at it, and Eren and Mikasa figured it would be best to retrieved themselves before the vampires did. Captain Ackerman also said ‘runs deep’, which is they’ve a long way to go. The research is pretty far from here.”

It was rather unnerving, the way that the commander’s blue eyes regarded him, and just when Armin was about to give in to the impulse to fidget, the man finally looked aside, at Captain Zacharias. “Trust Levi to go running off like this when we need all of our fighters here.”

“You did let Hange out with him, you should have expected this,” the reticent captain reminded him. “She’s probably dragging the whole team along just to get at that research.”

“Don’t even mention her right now. I’m slashing her budget by half, just you watch.” The commander pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes for a few seconds. “Armin, can you send a message back to stop Levi from broadcasting?”

“Yes, sir.” Armin took an eager step closer to the radio. “What do you want me to say?”

“Just that… dammit, that we understand and to hurry his ass up. To be careful and to keep us informed as much as possible.” There was a haggard set to the commander’s handsome face when he dropped his hand. “We need him here, but we also need that research.”

“Understood.” Armin finished his coffee while he thought about what he wanted to say, then set the mug aside as he approached the radio; Commander Smith handed him a small receiver to speak into, and twisted something when Armin indicated that he was ready.

“CN, we hope you all make it home so watch out for the thorns and everything else. Be careful to check for any unwanted pests before you come back.”

Things were quiet again as they waited for a response; Armin’s hands grew damp from nerves and he thought that the commander might break a tooth, he was grinding his teeth so hard. After what felt to be several minutes, there was more crackling over the speakers, followed by Captain Ackerman’s voice. “Understood, T.” There was another pause, and the captain’s voice was a bit more irate when he next spoke, and it sounded as if Captain Hange was shouting something in the background as well. “CN out.” Oh yes, there was a definite bite to the words just then.

“CN?” Commander Smith leaned back against his desk, a hint of a smile hovering along his lips.

“Well, I needed a code name for him, and his nickname is ‘Captain Napoleon’. I figured I’d go with that for now.” Armin handed over the receiver and shrugged. “When do you think we’ll hear from them again?”

“Levi probably didn’t say anything in case someone picked up the message, but I’m hoping he tries to send along something whenever he’s at a supply station.” The commander reached for one of the datapads on his desk. “They’re scattered about, but if they’re riding hard, which any sane person would be to avoid vampires, then they should reach one maybe once a week or so.” He powered on one of the tablets and pulled up a map. “Where do you think they’ll go for the research? Didn’t the three of you say something about an old dome?”

Figuring that it wouldn’t hurt to reveal the general location now, Armin looked at the map and minimized it enough to show the surrounding area of Shiganshina. “It’ll take them over a week to get to the dome, maybe even two. The thing is, Eren and Mikasa have a bit of history in the area, so the vampires will suspect them of being in the general vicinity. It might be easier for them to flee to one of the surrounding domes than to come back here.” And then pray that the vampires didn’t overwhelm the poor dome with a wave of Malform.

Commander Smith must be thinking along the same lines as he expanded the area on the map to show the existing domes, the muscles in his jaws twitching as his eyes flickered over them. “I can warn them if Levi gives me a head’s up, but it really would be best for Eren and Levi to bring it back here if possible. We’ve some experience with the enemy at least.”

That wasn’t saying much, but Armin wasn’t about to argue at the moment; he’d sent a warning along to his dear friends to be careful heading to *any* dome with the ‘pest’ comment, something that either Commander Smith hadn’t picked up on or had assumed meant as a warning about vampires or Malform. Now Armin would devote all of his time and energy to figuring out an antidote and wait for the next message to see what he could do to help out his family – because they would need help, after including ‘bloody’ in the message. Commander Smith hadn’t asked Armin about that, so he hadn’t said anything. He really hadn’t wanted to say anything.

Everyone was fine for now, but Armin feared what news the next message would bring.

*******

A rough translation of the German:

Not only is he a horse, but he’s an idiot!

And you turned a short bastard, so I don’t want to hear it!

Fine, we’re both dating idiots.

Not quite what I was going for there, but I agree you’re half right.

 

Think we can break through if these geniuses can’t hack it?

Hmm, it looks as if it was built to withstand Malform, but we picked up a few tricks along the way. We’ll figure something out.

 

I’m being punished for something, I know I am – it’s why I ended up with this clean freak.

*******

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