chapter five

*******

hush

*******

It felt a bit odd to be on a horse after the last few days up in the trees, but it was easier to discuss tactics down here with everyone else; the sho- Levi wouldn’t allow Eren off the ground or to leave his side, and for once Mikasa had to agree with the man. “If we ditch some of the gear, we can probably go faster.”

Levi shook his head. “We could use some of that stuff, and I doubt we can ride fast enough to really outrun those bastards for long.”

“Yeah, I agree with Napoleon for once.” Fitted with some new gear to protect her from the sun, Ymir rode behind Krista and didn’t sound so crabby about being active during daylight for once. “We don’t even know if they’re going to catch up with us tonight, so there’s no sense in wasting all that energy for nothing.”

Riding along beside Mikasa, Jean made a rude noise and shook his head. “Right, were you there when all those Malforms showed up last night?”

“Unlike others, I wasn’t asleep,” Ymir reminded him. “They tracked us down, but since no nasty vampires showed up to hack through the door’s security, that means they weren’t within a few hours’ radius of the place. Even if some of them got the message back about where we are, they still have to track us down again tonight.”

Eren fiddled with the strap around his neck while he glanced at Levi. “She’s making sense. Not that I think we’re safe tonight, but we *might* have some time.”

“Might?” Levi appeared skeptical of that and scowled at Ymir. “You willing to bet your girlfriend’s life on that theory?”

Ymir let out a huff of air which fluttered the material draped over her face as she tightened her arms around Krista’s waist. “Fuck no. Just saying it could be worse.”

That startled a laugh of out Captain Hange. “I must say, your guys’ sense of ‘bad’ and ‘worse’ certainly is fascinating.” She hummed for a moment as she chewed on a hangnail.

“Don’t get her started on worst case scenarios, or you’ll have nightmares for days,” Krista muttered even as she patted one of Ymir’s gloved hands.

“Not my fault that people these days lead such sheltered lives.”

Levi made that annoying clicking sound of his and scowled at the road ahead. “I’ve heard enough about how shitty things were when civilization collapsed, all right? We’re more worried about surviving the next few days, not what went down centuries ago.”

Mikasa did some scowling of her own as she wrapped the ends of her scarf around her fist. “Yes, and it’s the knowledge that we’ve gained over all of those years that we’re sharing with you *now*.” When Captain Hange chuckled over the point she’d just made, Mikasa forced out a slow breath in order to control her anger. “They’re definitely coming after us, but yes, the question is how quickly can they track us down? *I* believe we’ll probably deal with Malform tonight if anything.”

“As if they’re not deadly enough.” Jean shifted about in the saddled and then blanched when he appeared to lose his balance; he was still adjusting to the fast pace. “Why didn’t we just stay in the shelter another night?”

“Weren’t you paying attention? Those places don’t have enough defenses against being hacked, and their doors aren’t as thick as those at domes. Last thing we want is to see if enough Malforms can break into the place,” Captain Hange summed up in a much too cheerful manner, considering the situation.

So they were off and running, and Mikasa had to hope that they didn’t regret not leaving the humans behind and making a run for Shiganshina as quickly as possible. Yet as soon as they’d been woken up and announced about the Malform tracking them down, Jean and the others had pushed aside their fear and waited for their orders, had shown no sign of regret over their decision to leave the dome. Mikasa could smell their fear and tension, knew that they must be worried about the coming night, yet each time she glanced aside at Jean, he gave her a reassuring smile.

“We’ll find a place before nightfall where we can fight,” she offered, more for his benefit than anyone else’s.

“At least we’ll finally be able to put some of that training to good use.” There was still some uncertainty in his eyes, but she knew the show of bravado was for her sake.

“You know, for once I wish Erwin was here to come up with one of his crazy-ass plans.” Captain Hange now sounded rather mournful, which made Mikasa wonder just how bad the Commander’s plans could be, and if she should be grateful that he wasn’t here or not.

Levi appeared conflicted over the topic. “Maybe,” was all he said after about a minute’s deliberation. “It would probably work in the long run, but I’ve a feeling that in a shitstorm like this, the cure would be as worse as the disease.”

“And I think someone is mixing up his metaphors. What, inhale too much steam last night?”

“Someone’s about to suffer a really nasty case of sunburn, is what I’m thinking.”

Mikasa rolled her eyes over Levi and Ymir’s bickering and slowed her horse down so she could ride back with Connie and Sasha; Jean did the same as soon as he noticed, a genuine smile of relief on his face. Connie waved to them as their horses came parallel to his and Sasha’s then motioned to the group up ahead, while behind them, Marlo and Rico rode up a little closer as if to listen in.

“So, you decide to ride with the cool kids now or what?”

Mikasa shrugged while Jean attempted to swat at his friend’s head and failed since they were too far apart. “When the talk descends into general bickering, I think it’s a sign that they don’t need any more input from me.” She thought she heard a mumbled ‘unless you’re doing the bickering’ from Rico and chose to ignore it.

“We heard a little of the conversation back here.” Sasha smiled as she tucked aside a strand of hair that had slipped from her ponytail. “Do they think it’s going to be bad tonight?”

“There’s a slight chance that we’ll be fine, but most likely some of the Malform will catch up to us,” Mikasa summed up as she readjusted her scarf. “We’re not sure if there will be any vampires, but probably best to assume the worst.” She hated that she sounded so indecisive, but the only thing they knew for certain was that the vampires wanted Eren and were doing whatever they could to track him down.

Connie bit at his lower lip for a couple of seconds before he sat back with his shoulders squared and gave Jean a haughty look. “I bet I’ll kill more Malforms than you.”

A puzzled frown came over Jean’s handsome features for a moment before they twisted into something much more incredulous. “As if! I had a higher rank in training than you did! I’ll so own your ass tonight!”

“Nuh-uh! I’ll beat you by at least ten kills! No, fifteen!”

“Oh, please! A short shit like you will have no hope of killing that many undead freaks unless you poison them with your blood!”

“You’ll probably kill them with your ugly looks alone!”

While the two young ‘men’ exchanged a barrage of insults and retorts, Mikasa and Sasha shared a look of understanding between them about what they put up with for falling for two adorable idiots. Glancing back ahead, Mikasa caught a flash of gold directed her way along with a knowing smirk, and knew she’d be hearing about ‘idiot horses’ later that day.

*******

Eren could understand the need for some sort of stress relief, but Levi and Ymir were going to come to blows soon if they didn’t stop with the insults; at least Horse-face and his MP friend were going about it in a much more friendly nature. However, ‘friendly’ had nothing to do with his lover’s current squabble with Ymir.

“Oh come on, as if you’ll even get within reach to give me a decent fight. You need to stand on a stool just to be able to kick my ass!”

“Please, you’d have to stick around for the actual fight, you two-faced bitch. And that means-“

“Enough!” It wasn’t often that Krista shouted like that, but there was a rare blast of vitriol in her voice and her eyes were bright enough to shine even in the bright light of the morning sun. “I’ve heard enough of you two imbeciles! It’s not bad enough that we’ll most likely be fighting for our lives tonight that you’re at each other’s throats now?”

Levi appeared stunned at being taken to task by someone younger and smaller than himself, while behind Krista, Ymir shifted about. “But he-“

“*Enough*,” Krista repeated. “I don’t want to hear another word out of either of you!”

Ymir tightened her arms around her irate girlfriend but didn’t say anything else, while Levi clicked his tongue a few times in obvious anger, his eyes glowing as well. Hange bit at her thumb, her eyes sparkling with amusement and odd squeaks escaping her as she did her best not to laugh, and Eren ducked his head to hide his smile; he had a feeling that a certain captain would be livid with him if he laughed just then.

It was quiet within their group after that, save for the clopping of the horses’ hooves against the ground. Eren could hear the sound of laughter and teasing behind him and hoped that Mikasa was having a good time, and that the others found a distraction from their worries for a while. He had spent so many days knowing that come nightfall he would have to face down the others, would have to fight for himself and Mikasa and so knew how wearying the wait could be, how you could wish the hours over with even as you dreaded what was to come.

He was used to it, but he wasn’t used to having so many other people around him, so many other lives at risk beside his own and Mikasa’s. Levi should be fine, was a powerful fighter, and Ymir was one of the best out there at surviving. She would make sure that Krista made it through the night, and Mikasa… Mikasa was strong, was so good at fighting. Yet Mikasa would be worried about Jean and probably the others, and any distraction could be fatal.

When Eren had proposed to his sister and Armin that it might be time to find allies, this… this wasn’t exactly what he had meant. He hadn’t thought that fighting alongside people would lead to such entanglements, such responsibilities. For so long it had just been him and his sister, and even taking in Armin hadn’t prepared him for suddenly having all these new lives entangled with his own. How could he ensure that they made it through what was to come? He stared ahead as he rested his right hand on the bag that weighed heavily on his chest and tried to think up some way that would save Mikasa, Levi and the rest from paying too much of a price for something that was… well, that was his father’s fault. There had to be something that Eren could do to save them if it came down to it in the end.

*******

Ymir waited for her lover to dismount before she tugged at Krista’s right hand. “Come on.”

“Ah, okay.” Krista appeared a little confused at being dragged away from everyone else, but went along with her. “Don’t we need to join in with the others just in case there’s anything important going on?”

“Not really – they already know my thoughts on what’s going to happen tonight and we’re not gonna eat anything.” No sense in choking down protein bars since Napoleon was only allowing them to stop long enough to rest the horses and tend to a few basic needs, and it wasn’t as if she and Krista wouldn’t get a proper meal later tonight. “I want to talk to you in private.” They went a few more yards, just far enough away so no one could overhear them.

Now more curious than confused, Krista pushed aside the long bangs falling onto her face and waited for Ymir to continue; she was so beautiful, was everything Ymir could have dreamed in a lover that a part of Ymir wanted to grab her and run as far away from Eren and everyone else as she could, but she knew that the others would track them down eventually. No, best to stand their ground and finish this once and for all.

“Look, I wanted to give you some warning about tonight.”

Krista’s brows drew together and she glanced back at the camp, at the direction of the faint voices which drifted their way. “I understand that it’s not going to be good, that we might have a lot of Malform or even vampires to fight.”

“No, that’s not it.” Ymir shook her head as she attempted to figure out the best way to say this. “I know I’ve mentioned before about Eren, about how he gets… well, a bit crazy during some fights, right?” When Krista nodded, she continued. “Pay attention to him tonight, because if it does get bad, then he’s gonna… I hate to say ‘lose it’ because he’s never a danger to Mikasa or anyone close to him. But he’s definitely not all there, either. If he lets that side of him take over, just stay out of his way as much as you can, and definitely don’t go near Mikasa or Napoleon, all right?” She waited for Krista to nod again, then reached out to brush her gloved fingers along her lover’s cheek. “I’ll be there to watch out for you, even if… even if it looks like I lose it a bit myself.”

She was given a small yet loving smile as Krista captured her hand and kept it from pulling away. “You always do watch over me, but don’t forget that now I can watch over you, too.”

“The princess has some impressive fangs of her own, and woe to anyone who gets in her way.” Ymir meant those words, and knew that if any of those bastards thought to go through Krista to get to her, they’d be in for a shocking surprise.

“That’s right. I’ve lived with you too long not to have picked up some nasty tricks of my own.”

“And that’s why I adore you.” Ymir wished that the sun wasn’t out so she could lean in for a kiss, and had to settle for a caress to Krista’s lovely face.

As if reading her mind, Krista pressed a kiss against her own fingers and then touched those fingers to the cloth covering Ymir’s face. “Is there a reason why you wanted to tell me this in private,” she asked when Ymir pulled her in for a hug.

“I wanted to warn you so you didn’t freak during the fight, and I figured if Napoleon or Sunshine overheard us, they might get on Rebel’s ass.” She snorted in disdain as she let go of her lover. “They tend to get weirdly over-protective of him, and if they knew he’s planning on going all crazy on purpose, they’ll probably bitch.” Yeah, it meant he’d be in the thick of fighting but it also meant he’d be a more powerful fighter. Pros and cons, with the pros outweighing the cons.

“They care about him,” Krista pointed out as she wrapped an arm around Ymir’s waist. “I’ll worry about you during the fight, but in the end, I trust you.”

“Thanks, darling. The simple fact is we’re going to end up fighting, either tonight or tomorrow or whenever those bastards track us down. We either give it our all or we die.” Ymir wasn’t going to die, and she wasn’t going to allow Krista to die, either. End of story. So if it took Eren going all crazy and her letting loose the bloodthirstiness that she’d buried centuries ago to ensure their survival… well, it didn’t take her long to make up her mind. She just hoped that Krista didn’t end up frightened away by that side of her after seeing it unleashed.

*******

Levi surveyed the spot that Mikasa and Ymir and picked for their camp; there was enough open ground that the Malform and vampires would have to come down from the trees to attack, but the trees were still within distance of a rappelling dart if his people needed to take the fight into the air. “It’ll do.”

“It better do, since we’re running out of daylight,” Ymir reminded him, a slight snarl to her voice as she paced back and forth. “There’s no telling how far away those bastards are, if they-“

Krista cut off the ranting with a simple hand on her girlfriend’s arm. “Enough, we all know what’s at stake here.” She spoke in little more than a whisper yet her blue eyes had turned golden and a hint of fangs poked past her lips. “You and Mikasa did well.”

Ymir scoffed a little as she draped her left arm over the petite blonde and hugged her close. “This is one of the few times when I’d rather be in a dome; there’s a lot of hidey-holes there and weird scents to throw things off your trail.” She grew pensive for a moment before she shook her head. “But this’ll have to do.”

“Yes, it will.” Levi turned toward Eren, who was rather quiet as he stood near his sister. “What do you think?”

The brat chewed on a claw a couple of times before he spoke, his eyes dull and downcast – he’d grown more and more quiet as the day had dragged on. “We’ll have to do our best to take them out as quickly as possible – drawing out the battle won’t do us any favors since we don’t have the numbers or the enhanced speed and strength, for the most part.” He hesitated for a moment as his right hand went to clutch the bag hidden beneath his white shirt. “If… if it gets really bad then… I can always let them take me.”

“No!” Mikasa grabbed onto her brother and shook him while her eyes flared gold, the same time that Levi lunged at the idiot; his fingers dug into the grey jacket which Eren wore and he added a few shakes of his own.

“Did you shit out your brains this morning or what? There is no fucking way that we’re letting those undead assholes walk off with you!”

“Why not?” Eren’s eyes burned with something intense and hostile as he glanced back and forth between Levi and Mikasa. “They’re not going to kill me, which can’t be said for anyone else here. If it- if it looks bad, just let them take me and run away. You can always figure something another-“

Unable to listen to another word of this shit, Levi smacked him across the mouth to shut him up. Mikasa snarled over the hit but otherwise didn’t react, and Levi jerked the brat forward before Eren had any time to do more than blink. “Listen, you little shit, that’s *not* going to happen. We kick their asses or we go down fighting, it’s a strictly either/or outcome at this point.”

Eren bared his fangs as he shook his head. “But you *don’t* have to-“

The sound of a blade being drawn shut him up before Levi could hit him again, and Mikasa let go of her brother’s arm in order to take a defensive position at his side while Hange approached them, a naked blade held loosely in her right hand. Gathered behind her were the rest of the ‘squad’, a mix of apprehension and anger on their faces as they waited to see what would happen next.

Hange twirled the blade a little while she smiled at Eren. “I really do appreciate the fact that you’re willing to sacrifice yourself for me, but I believe you’re missing the point here, cutie. You think they’re just going to snatch you up and leave?” She pointed the tip of her blade in Levi’s direction, and he had to fight to not react to the weapon, to not hiss or knock it from her hand. “They thought there wouldn’t be a problem the last time they had you all drugged up and in their possession, and your sweetie and your sister proved them wrong. Something tells me that they’re not going to make that mistake this time.” Her smile grew grim as she gave the blade a twirl. “No, I’m willing to bet that they’re going to want us all dead so we’re not a problem anymore, and once they have you….” Her smile hardened even more as she shook her head. “Well, I’ve heard Ymir say it already that you’ll be the one wishing for death.”

“For fuck’s sake, you lunatic, do you-“

“No, she’s right, Napoleon.” Ymir pushed the protective goggles up onto her forehead and tugged down the cloth covering her face, now that she was safe within the shadows the setting sun cast upon the cleared space surrounded by trees. “Our kind… we adapt fast and we learn from our mistakes, it’s how we survive for so long. Reiner and Bertolt underestimated you once as a human and then again as a hybrid, they won’t do it a third time. They’ll have warned the rest about you, and the orders will be to take Eren at all costs and then make sure that no one can follow, I’m willing to bet.”

A low snarl slipped past Eren’s lips and Levi thought that the one MP, Marlo, might lose whatever remained of his lunch, but everybody remained quiet as if waiting to hear what he had to say. Dammit, this part was Erwin’s job, was when that manipulative but brilliant bastard would come up with a plan that would leave them battered but somehow get most of them through the night alive; death was a part of Corps, was a fact of life, but usually it wasn’t quite the suicide mission like this.

“Dammit,” he said out loud while he yanked Eren closer. “Okay, I want fires scattered all around the clearing so this place is lit up bright enough to make a shitty Minister feel safe. Make sure the horses are untethered and clear of all gear – if those undead fucks go for them, they should be able to defend themselves well enough and they tend to come back if they wander off.” When Eren made to pull away, he hauled the brat back to his side. “We brought a few boxes of flares with us for a reason, everyone pack at least two pouches of the damn things since I’m assuming a face full of chemical fire will piss off anything with fangs.”

That startled a chuckle out of Ymir and even made Mikasa smile. “Oh yeah – it’s safe to say that you’ll mess up their night that way and buy a minute or two to get away.”

“I think everyone should have a fresh dose of blood, too,” Mikasa offered. “Vampire bites are highly infectious, and it’s likely that these Malform were turned by them. Another dose should slow down the infection from any scratches or bites you get while fighting and help you heal faster.”

“Good thinking!” Hange beamed while she sheathed her blade. “You want to do that before or after we get the fires going?”

Ymir sighed as she rubbed at her left arm. “Let’s get some coffee on first, so that’ll be after the fires.” She glanced up at the setting sun and shook her head. “I’m willing to bet that we have an hour or more before our ‘guests’ arrive, since they still have to track us down.”

“Don’t take anything for granted,” Levi warned everyone. “Ymir, I want you and Krista stationed by the horses, see if they can’t mask your presence a little. Mikasa, I want you in the middle of the camp.” When she fixed him with a golden stare, he motioned to Jean and the others. “The three of you are to take out as many of the enemy as you can while protecting the rest of the squad.”

“And what about you?” Mikasa’s fingers dug into the red scarf she always wore as she took a step toward her brother.

Levi gave her a smile that was all sharp teeth. “I’ll be watching over Eren.”

Both of them ignored Eren’s muttered ‘I can take care of myself’ while they locked gazes. “He’s *my* responsibility,” Mikasa hissed as she attempted to snatch Eren away, only to miss when Levi jerked him closer.

“He *was* your responsibility, but not any longer.” Off to the side, he noticed that Horse-face moved as if to intervene, but Hange was quick to put out an arm to stop him. “You’re both under my command so do what I say.”

“You can shove your-“

“Mikasa, *nein*.” Eren rubbed at his face with his free hand then shook his head. “No, okay? He’s right – the others need someone to watch out for them, and you both can’t worry about me.” He gave a pointed stare over his shoulder at Mikasa’s boyfriend for a moment before he looked back at her. “Worry about yourself for once, okay? Wenn sie von Levi wussten, besteht auch die Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass sie von deinem Idioten wissen?”

Whatever the brat had told his sister, it made her choke back on a sob for a second and drop her head. When she finally looked up, it was at Levi and with her eyes blazing in the growing twilight. “Guard him with your life, because if you fail I will gut you and light your hollow insides up with those damn flares. You will beg for mercy for *weeks* before the agony ends,” she hissed before she stalked off into the direction of the forest.

Ymir whistled in admiration. “Damn, Mikasa went all hardcore.”

“Yeah, I seem to bring out the best in her.” Levi rubbed at the back of his neck while he thought once again what he’d done to deserve this shit. “And I don’t see people moving their asses, so unless you *want* to become Malform bait, just go on standing there.”

“We’ll tend to the horses!” Sasha patted her boyfriend’s shoulder and then they were off and running, while Jean cast a look in the direction where Mikasa had gone off in before heading that way. Hange said something about coffee, so Levi decided he’d handle unpacking the flares.

“Come on, let’s go play with the flammable shit,” he told Eren.

The brat was quiet on their way to where the supplies had been dumped, and it didn’t take too long to find the metal boxes which held the flares. Levi motioned for Eren to grab one while he set aside another, and then Levi took some time to hide the other two in hopes of them being left alone during the upcoming fight. “All right, we’ll take these back to camp and start divvying them up.

“One moment.” Eren set aside his box and held out his hand to stop Levi. “I want to say something.”

Levi clicked his tongue and folded his arms over his chest. “If this is about you giving yourself up, I will *kick* your head so hard the dent won’t heal tonight, I swear it.” He was still pissed off about that – why the hell had he come out here if the brat was just going to give in and go back to the people who had abused and doped him up? What was the point to any of this?

Eren’s gorgeous eyes flashed in the growing darkness and he cursed in some intelligible language as he jerked – or attempted to – his left hand through his hair. When his fingers snagged on one of the barrettes, he tore it free and made to throw it aside, before his fingers folded around it and his hand pressed against his chest. “I… dammit.” His eyes drifted shut as he took a shuddering breath. “I don’t want people to die because of me, can’t you understand that?” When he opened his eyes again, they were dimmed with so much sadness and pain that Levi felt as if someone had punched him in the center of his chest. “I’m tired of there being all these deaths because of me.”

They both stood still for several seconds before Levi reached for Eren’s hand and tugged at it until it opened up. “People are always going to die,” he told his lover, his voice gruff and low. “Everyone out here knows that they’re expected to lay down their life fighting, that this job can be the end to them. They knew coming out here meant they might never get back home. Don’t belittle their choice because you don’t like the odds.” He picked up the barrette and slid it back into Eren’s soft hair, his fingers lingering in the strands even after it clicked into place.

There was a sobbing sound as his lover inhaled, and clawed hands clutched at his shoulders while Eren rested his forehead against Levi’s. The brat was feverish in his warmth, and the desperation on his face made him appear so young it was heartbreaking. “I don’t… I don’t know how much more I can stand to lose. If they- Mikasa… Mikasa and you… that’s all I have left.”

There was that awful punching sensation again, but this time… somehow it was bearable because Eren had said ‘you’ along with Mikasa; it had always wore at Levi, how much Eren adored his sister, and to know now that he was just as valuable…. “You’re not going to lose me,” he told the idiot as he tangled his fingers in those chocolate dark strands.

“They took everything else.” Eren closed his eyes and frowned, then went utterly still for the length of several breaths. Just when Levi was ready to give him a shake to make him do *something*, he inhaled a deep breath and nodded once. “I want to give you something.”

“This isn’t you getting me back for the barrettes, is it?” Levi grew wary as he released Eren’s hair and took a step back.

“No, but don’t think I’ve forgotten that I owe you for them.” A little bit of light crept back into the brat’s eyes when he smiled, even as his hand slipped into his shirt. While Levi watched, he pulled out the pouch that he always wore and slipped it over his head. “Here, take this.”

Shocked that Eren was handing over the bag that he was never without by choice, that he’d freaked out over even when all doped up, Levi shook his head and held up his hands. “No, you can’t, just put it back on.”

“*No*, take it.” Eren shoved the small bag, warm from his skin, into Levi’s hand.

“Is this you thinking that you can just let yourself be caught by those assholes or what?” Levi glared at his lover and made to throw the damn bag back at him, before Eren tightened his fingers over Levi’s.

“That’s not it!” Huffing a little as he skimmed his fingers over his hair, Eren scowled then shoved Levi’s hand back. “We’re pretty sure that they already have a copy of the key, so it shouldn’t matter if they get their hands on mine anymore. But if they do get a hold of me….”

Levi growled at the mere thought of that. “They’re *not*!”

“I said *if*!” Eren glared back before he flattened his hand against Levi’s chest. “There’s more in there than the key, you know. It’s all important to me, and… and well, I’ll come back for it.” He ducked his head as he spoke, and there was a flush of pink along the usual tan of his cheeks. “I just want you to keep it safe for a while.”

Levi’s fingers clenched around the bag for a moment, until he forced them to loosen up. Lowering the bag, he used his left hand to undo the laces enough that he could look inside; he remembered the one time he had checked it for bugs, and sure enough, there were the diamonds he had seen, and what looked to be a small tooth coated in plastic, along with a few reddish threads also sealed in plastic. “What are these things? And why are you carrying a fortune in diamonds on you?”

The brat rubbed the heel of his left hand into his eye as he tilted his head back. “They used to be set in gold, but… well, as much as we didn’t want to do it, there were so little food to be found anywhere.” When his hand fell to his side, Levi wasn’t surprised to see that terrible sense of age weighing down on his lover’s features. “We had to melt it down so Mikasa had enough to eat. But we refused to do away with the stones, since they belonged to the jewelry that my mother had given us. It’s all we had of her, really.”

Levi held up one of the stones, which had to be at least two carats, and thought about what he could have gotten with it back in Tartarus, thought of how long he could have fed Isabel and Farlan with even one of the smaller stones. “You kept these things even when you were selling yourself for IDs?”

Despite his resolve, that came out sharper than he’d intended, and Eren had noticed. “Yeah, I put up with some guy pawing at me for an hour rather than sell the stone to the engagement ring of the woman who sacrificed herself for me,” he spat out, his eyes gleaming brighter than the gem in Levi’s hand. “Sex is easy, is *cheap*, the last bit of my mother *isn’t*.”

The sharp edges of the stone bit into Levi’s fingers as he clenched his hand around it, for a moment lost in the memories of his mother telling him to be quiet, to be good, that she had something to do for a little while so they could eat, so that everything would be fine…. “I’m sorry,” he whispered as he fought back the memories.

Eren let out another shuddering breath and shook his head. “I- yeah, it’s fine. You haven’t said anything that Mikasa hasn’t once or twice. She… there were times when I think she would rather just have the memories than watch me go off with… well, you know.” He took to tugging on a lock of hair. “That stuff you don’t like me talking about.”

“Yeah, I wonder why.” Levi shifted the contents of the bag into one hand so he could reach out and give the idiot a gentle flick to the forehead. “What’s this other shit? The key and the diamonds I can figure out, but a tooth and some lint? Now you’re being creepy.”

“So fucking abusive,” Eren whined as he rubbed his forehead, but he stepped a little closer to Levi and there was slight smile on his face as he trailed a finger along the bag. “The tooth is Armin’s.” At Levi’s disgusted look, he laughed a little. “It’s one of his baby teeth. I don’t know, I guess I just wanted to keep it as a reminder that he was cute and little at one point.” The smile slipped for a moment. “We lose a lot of people over time, and even with giving him our blood, we know we’ll lose him one day, too.”

But a fucking tooth? Levi didn’t get it, but what else was new when it came to his lover. “You couldn’t snap a pic like most people?”

“Too traceable,” Eren reminded him. “Someone like Hange could always figure out the timestamp or details that’ll identify when and where it was taken. Better to keep mementos that are much more generic, so to speak. As for the ‘lint’, it’s from the first scarf I ever gave Mikasa.” The sad smile from before returned. “My mother made it for me, and I gave it to my sister on the day we met. It didn’t last long, considering how rough things got after the collapse, but we kept what we could of it.”

Why wasn’t Levi surprised that there was a story behind that damn thing? He also found it interesting that the only item of Grisha Jaeger in the bag was the key, was more an obligation than anything that Eren had kept out of choice. He chose to keep something of his mother out of great cost to himself, and clung to scraps that would remind him of his sister and his friend. Levi wondered if the plain metal and plastic key would remain in the bag once they found what had been left behind for Eren. “What’s in Mikasa’s bag?” he asked as he replaced everything and then hung the pouch around his neck, where it felt oddly heavy on his chest.

“The rest of the diamonds from my mother’s bracelet, a ring and a necklace that’re all she has left from her own mother, a similar tooth from Armin and a scrap of wool, and one or two items she’s kept from lovers she truly cared about.” Eren reached out to touch where the pouch hung and then slid his fingers along Levi’s body until his right hand came to rest on Levi’s left hip. “Maybe a couple of other things, since I don’t really go digging into it; they’re personal, after all.”

It really came home to Levi, just how closed off Eren had been over the centuries, just how few people he’d allowed to get close to him. The brat really hadn’t been kidding when he’d said that he’d basically moved along a string of one night stands and never bothered with a true relationship. Levi might have had tried, thanks to Hange and Erwin’s insistence, but he’d never allowed anyone that close, not after losing Isabel and Farlan. To be honest, he’d never allowed anyone that *close*, period. “How many centuries, and this is all you have to show for it?” He rested his hand on top of the pouch while he gazed into Eren’s shadow-filled eyes.

“Well, we’ve a couple of hideaways with things we’ve saved over the years, but yeah, for the most part that’s all we’ve really cared about. You carry with you what you can’t stand to lose.” Eren’s left hand raised up to rest on top of Levi’s. “So if you have it, I have to come back.”

Levi twisted his hand around so that his fingers could dig into Eren’s. “You’re not going *anywhere*. I don’t care if you’re afraid of anyone dying or if you think we’re outnumbered, I’m not letting them take you.”

Eren’s face darkened at the denial and he opened his mouth as if to argue, before he shook his head again. “All right, whatever, if you-“

“There is no *whatever*,” Levi ground out as he snatched at the back of the brat’s hair. “You’re not going *anywhere*. I got you back, and you’re staying with me until we return to the domes. If… if you want to leave then, fine, but I’m not letting some shitty vampire take you away again.”

Eren’s hand pressed against his chest but didn’t push away. “I hope you give them half as much grief as you do me, you sadistic, arrogant… oh, Arschloch!” The darkness finally left his eyes as they blazed with anger.

“Hey, I know what that means now,” Levi reminded the little shit as he bridged the space between them.

“I’m gonna switch to another language then, maybe Russian.” Eren began to pout as his arm slid around Levi’s waist.

“And does that Ymir know that one? Because I bet she’ll teach it to me if I leave her and Krista out of a watch or two.” He smirked when Eren muttered a word that hadn’t been part of their lessons yet. In all of the uncertainty, it was nice to know that he could count on Ymir’s self-motivation. “So do you know any languages that she doesn’t know?”

Nails scratched along the small of his back. “I hate you so much right now.” Eren’s pout became even more pronounced and he took to staring over Levi’s right shoulder.

“Yeah, I can tell.” Levi used his hold on the brat’s hair to pull him in for a kiss; at first Eren kept his mouth closed until he sighed after a couple of seconds. Mindful of everything that still had to be done and how much time they’d wasted talking, Levi barely deepened the kiss before he broke it off. “Lot of hate right there,” he murmured as he indulged in a brief nuzzle against that one spot on Eren’s neck.

“I’m… oooh… humoring a delusional man.” There was another scrape of nails before Eren let out a long breath. “Do we have to go back?” There was a pleading note to his voice as he whispered in Levi’s ear.

For a moment Levi wondered what would happen if they made a run for it, if they attempted to draw the vampires away from everyone; maybe they could stay ahead of the undead fucks and- no, best to not even go down that road. “Yeah, we do.” He pulled away from his lover and motioned toward the boxes. “Let’s go.”

The sigh from the brat just then was way too exaggerated for the situation. “You’re not helping with the whole ‘hate’ thing.”

“I’m just playing to my strengths.” Levi managed a flick to Eren’s ear and keep his face bland when the brat yelped from the sting. “Now pick up the damn box.”

“Just how much longer until we get back to a damn dome and I can find a Chairman?” There was a bite of anger to Eren’s words, yet when Levi glanced over, he found a smile lingering on his lover’s lips and the light back in those beautiful eyes.

“Who’s delusional now?” Levi hefted his box of flares up over his left shoulder and grabbed Eren’s wrist to drag him along. “Maybe I should let those fucking vampires get their hands on you again – listening to you whine for ten minutes will probably kill off the whole shitty species.”

“Hey!” Eren looked ready to swing the box of flares at Levi before he remembered what was inside. “No wonder I’m willing to hand myself over, anything to get a break from you.”

“Yeah, yeah, poor little brat.” Levi rolled his eyes to show what he felt about that and did his best not to smile; at least Eren had gotten over his fit of… ‘whatever’ and was back to his old, pissy self. “They must keep you drugged in order to save themselves from your damn mouth.”

“It’s official, I really am senile for even putting up with you for a minute.” Eren closed his eyes and shook his head as Levi pulled him along.

“My heart bleeds for you. Not.” Reaching the camp, Levi let go of him so he could take in the progress so far – and found only about half of the fires they needed had been built so far. “Speaking of blood, I’m about to spill some right now.” He shoved his box of flares into Eren’s arms. “Start divvying these up for everyone,” he ordered as he stalked over to the idiots who appeared more interested in what was being made for a snack than ensuring they lived through the night.

*******

The stench of tension and fear was so thick in the air that Eren wanted to gag, wanted to borrow Mikasa’s scarf and bury his nose in it to attempt to mask the odor. He didn’t need to look at the others to know that they were afraid, to see the strain on their face or the way that they clutched at their blades as if the weapons were their most prized possessions. Part of him ached to go over to his sister’s side, as ingrained as it was to fight with her, but the moment he shifted Levi would pause in scanning the tree-line to glare at him; it was getting to the point where Eren just wanted the damn Malform to attack to get this horrible night over and done with already.

The sound of Sasha’s stomach rumbling startled a curse out of Rico, who whirled around with her blades held high at the sound, and even across the camp Eren could hear the poor girl mumble something about it not being fair that she was facing death while starving. Beside her, Connie had just begun to pat down his pockets as if searching for a protein bar for his girlfriend when the faint breeze brought a whiff of ‘other’ to Eren.

As his fangs descended and the world around him sharpened with a crystal, grey-toned clarity, Levi leaned in to whisper in his ear. “That’s them, right?”

“Yes, and a lot of them since I can’t make out any individual scents. Get ready.” Eren didn’t bother with any blades of his own; he was barely holding the madness at bay as it was, and only fought it because he was waiting for *them* to arrive, to make it matter the most; he knew that Ymir had argued that the vampires might not show up tonight, but something inside told him that she was wrong. Looking out over the camp, he caught his sister’s golden gaze and knew that she’d noticed the scent as well and passed on a silent warning to the rest of the squad.

It only took another minute for the prey to arrive; one moment there was a faint rustling of the wind through the leaves of the tree, and the next it was as if those leaves exploded outward as a few dozen Malform burst forth from the forest. It didn’t escape Eren’s notice how they paused for a precious second or two as they hit the ground, their flattened noses raised in the air as they drew in ragged breaths, and as if they were tied together by the same strings they turned as a whole in *his* direction.

About a third of them surged toward him while the rest split off, toward the rest of the squad, and Levi let out a savage growl as he raced forward toward the Malform, already spinning in the air with his blades out. For a moment Eren allowed himself to watch his lover rip into them, to put all that graceful speed and strength to use. There was a reason that Levi was the Freedom Corps’ best, and now that he’d been turned… all of the man’s insistence that he could keep Eren safe, that he could fight back against the vampires didn’t seem like so much empty talk.

Which was good, because what Eren had been waiting for, what he’d held himself back for, other than to lash out to tear his claws through the throat of a Malform that had managed to slip past Levi’s guard, was happening as several dark shapes leapt from the trees, followed by more Malform. Eren recognized at least two of them, the stocky man with black hair and the small, delicate woman with the mocking smile; the madness pushed at the restraints that held it back as coldness seeped into his bones, coldness and the urge to destroy, to rend things apart.

“Oh, you are a strong one, aren’t you?” The woman called out to Levi as she stepped over the form of a decaying Malform. Off to the side, Ymir cursed as she tore out the throat of another which had nearly gutted Rico. “Maybe it’ll be fun to keep you for a while. But not you, traitor.” She was still smiling while she produced a low growl, the sound a deep grumble that made Eren’s bones ache to hear it, which made the Malform pause for a moment before they screeched and renewed their attempts to rip apart his friends.

The vampires fanned out as if to close in on him, him and Levi, so Eren looked up – not at his lover, not at his sister, but at Ymir. She panted as she stood over yet another fallen Malform, a bloody scratch over her face and an even more bloody Krista behind her, her eyes a burning red and her fangs bared, and there was no hesitation as she nodded once.

That was all he needed as he let the madness take over.

*******

Jean did his best to keep up with Mikasa once the fighting started, but everything moved so fast, including her. It was as if one moment the Malforms were at the edge of the camp and the next they were in his face, all fangs and glowing red eyes. It… it hadn’t ever been like this back in the MP, hadn’t been waves of Malforms and crippling fear and oh fuck move your arm, idiot, get the damn blade up *higher* - he had fought two Malforms before and only one at a time, with Connie at his back. Now the idiot was swinging through the trees while whooping it up, and – “Dammit, don’t drop a flare on my head!”

“Sorry!”

Jean gritted his teeth as he sawed his blade through a Malform’s neck, turning just in time to swing his left blade up to keep another one from tearing out his kidney. And wasn’t it just his luck that while he took that one down, another one got him in the leg, causing him to bite back on a cry. He swung his blade down, only to find the damn thing jerked away and literally ripped into two by Mikasa. She stood there, splattered with blood and worse, her eyes these bright sparks of gold and her teeth… yeah, Jean’s eyes darted back up, away from them as he forced a smile. “Thanks.”

“Sorry, I got distracted.” Mikasa jerked her chin over to where things sounded, well, bad. “Stay over here, okay?” She reached a clawed and bloodstained hand into one of her pouches to fetch a compress patch, which she handed to him.

“Uh, okay.” Jean had barely accepted the bandage before Mikasa snarled and dived after a Malform which must have been attracted by the scent of blood, so he fumbled to smack it on so he could resume fighting. As he did, he turned around in the direction where she’d indicated, and started swearing anew at the carnage he witnessed.

It was obvious that a good bit of the Malforms were targeting Eren, and Jean felt a bit guilty in admitting that there was some relief in that – he wasn’t sure if the rest of them could face a full onslaught of these things. At least Eren had Captain Ackerman, Ymir and Krista at his side, though to be honest, it looked as if the kid and Ymir were… fuck, they were killing machines in their own right.

But would that be enough to stand against the dark-clad figures who’d just shown up? Jean wasn’t an expert on these things, but he’d take a wild guess that the vampires – well, other than Ymir – had just arrived. For a few seconds he was able to fool himself into thinking that they were just normal people, that there was nothing special about them since they didn’t have grey, too tight skin or talon-like claws, and then their eyes began to glow a fiery red and their mouths distend to reveal too many jagged sharp teeth. One moment they were standing there, and the next they were blurring toward Eren and Ymir, were slashing with claws at least as wicked as those aiming for Jean’s own throat.

“Shit!” No more time to allow himself to be distracted, not when there were more than enough dead things to fight; he managed to keep on breathing by crossing his blades in front of his neck and pushing forward, and the Malform shrieked as it lost an arm. Too bad it wouldn’t remain wounded for long, so Jean gritted his teeth as he finished the job. Warm… *something* splashed onto his face, blinding him for a few precious seconds as pain lanced along his back.

He gritted his teeth and nearly dropped his blade, lashing out instead to force the Malform back. Seeing several of them just out of reach, he drove his left blade into the ground tip first as he grabbed at one of the flares shoved into his belt and struck the fuse before throwing it at them. The undead freaks hissed as if a bunch of drenched cats and scattered – two of them right into Mikasa. It was almost beautiful, seeing her take them down.

“How many more of these things are there?”

“Less than before,” Mikasa told him, her expression grim as she lashed out her right blade with enough force to nearly cut a Malform in half. “Don’t count, just keep going.”

That was easy for her to say, when she healed almost immediately and didn’t seem to grow tired; Jean could barely move his left arm anymore, from a wound he didn’t even remember picking up, and his breath was starting to come in heavy pants. Yet Mikasa was staying closer now, whether to lend protection, encouragement or both, so he forced himself to keep moving, to keep swinging his weapons.

It was difficult to keep track of everyone else when all too often his world narrowed down to the few feet around him, on the distance between himself and the attacking Malforms. He at least knew that Connie was doing all right because he could hear the idiot, and caught sight of him and Sasha swinging about now and then, along with Captain Hange. The last time he’d spotted Marlo, the poor guy looked as sliced up as him, while Rico just appeared pissed off that there were still Malforms left unliquified; Jean did his best to not to look over to where the others were fighting, not when he could hear those awful squeals and snarls of rage, the muttered curses from Captain Ackerman and Krista’s pleas for Ymir to be careful.

No, he focused on what was in front of him, on the comforting presence of Mikasa at his back, on staying alive. He would get through this, he would. There was no way a bunch of shitty Malforms were going to take him down, not when he was better than them. He was better than them, and he would survive this. Clinging to that thought, he pushed forward.

*******

“Eat *that*, you ugly fang-face!”

Marlo didn’t know how Connie found the energy to laugh and make jokes while fighting, or for Sasha to flip about against the trees while evading the monsters. His right side burned in agony and blood kept dripping into his eyes, blood and sweat as he struggled to keep swinging his blade, to lift it enough to block slashes that seemed to come faster and faster.

“Freudenberg, watch your damn back!”

Jolted to attention by Rico’s shout, Marlo managed to twist in time and avoid a blow that would have cost him a good chunk of his spine and instead just took out part of his right shoulder instead. Crying out in pain, he stumbled a few steps in a red haze, his teeth biting deep into his bottom lip while something landed in front of him, following by a wailing shriek which was cut short. He flinched when something squeezed his right arm, the pain almost excruciating, and then his vision cleared enough to allow him to see Rico’s worried face.

“You all right?”

No, no he wasn’t, but he managed what felt like a grin and nodded despite the nausea. “Yeah.”

“Maybe you should head up higher, like those two idiots.”

“Maybe.” He didn’t have the heart to tell her that a blow from a Malform had damaged his gauntlet, even if he had the strength left to use it. “I’ll be-“

Rico let out a curse and shoved him away with her injured left hand, the words turning into a grunt of pain even as she swung about to kick the charging Malform away with her right foot. It gave her enough time to spin around with her blade, the momentum all the force she needed to take off its head. She didn’t stop moving, just kept going as more of the monsters came after them.

He had to do the same, had to hold his own. Struggling to breathe even, Marlo readied his blades for the next onslaught, for the next Malform; everyone else was fighting on so he couldn’t quit. Even Ymir and Eren were fighting with their bare – well, were doing more damage than anyone else. So he continued to fight on, to help out where he could, even when the injuries kept piling up. This time it was Captain Hange who dropped from a wire to save him from two Malforms who nearly pinned him against a tree, and threw down some patches for the wounds before she swung away. He supposed that he must look rather bad, since Captain Ackerman, face smeared with blood, handed over a bag of flares while on his way to chase after Eren, who was in the middle of a fight with a vampire at least twice his size.

Touched by the show of concern, Marlo shoved the pouch onto his belt before he clenched his hands around the hilts of his blades and looked around for someone to help out in return, and noticed Rico halfway up a tree as if taking a moment to regain her breath.

Then he spotted a trio of Malforms about to climb onto the tree, so he let out a yell and charged at them, his blades swinging downward as he cut into the one closest to him. His left blade snagged as he went to pull it free, but his right one was already up and in place to cut into the second creature. He met the arm it swung towards him for a blow and then brought his left blade in for the kill, already turning in preparation for the third one, to-

Pain. Pain tore through him, so much of it he wasn’t even sure where the monster had gotten him, just that it was bad. His left hand spasmed as he stumbled forward, his knees hit the ground and there was screaming, was someone shouting his name and then there was an awful shrieking as the pain, the pain-

*******

Facing down the vampires while his squad did their best to fight off the Malforms, their shouts echoing in his ears over the terrible sounds of growls, snarls and the impacts of blades on flesh, Levi glared as he held up a bloodied blade. “Just you try it, you undead fucks.” He thought that he heard Hange shout out encouragement as she swung about, but he couldn’t look away from the vampires attempting to stare him down. “I’ll show you fu-“

All of a sudden there was an awful roar behind him, a sound of rage and pain and hatred, and before he could wonder how the hell a Malform had snuck up on him, something barreled *past* him, a blur of grey and white, and the smug looks on the vampires’ faces changed into panic as that grey blur leapt onto the lead asshole. It was only until the two figures hit the growl with a screech of yowls and flash of claws when Levi realized that *Eren* had tackled the vampire, and that the other vampires weren’t helping their buddy – oh no, they seemed to be doing their best to get the fuck away from the fight. Well, maybe the fact that Ymir had turned into her own whirling dervish of claws and fangs explain why.

“Oi, brat, snap out of it!” Levi took a step closer to the tumbling figures and caught sight of his lover with his fangs buried deep in the vampire’s throat before he was yanked away by Mikasa. “What the hell?”

“Leave him alone, we have enough problems right now.” She hauled him away from a feeding Eren, her bloody hand clenched tight around his arm. “You’re not going to get through to him when he’s like that, trust me.”

“But-“

“No! He’s… he should be fine once the fighting’s done. Just… worry about the others.” Mikasa let go of Levi so she could lunge at a Malform, and the sound of Connie screaming made Levi curse as he spun off in the other direction. He found the baby MP doing his best to fend off two Malforms, his face contorted in rage even as he stank of fear, and Sasha swung in from a wire to take one out while Levi used his blades to cut off the head of the second one. There wasn’t much time to make sure the kid was all right, however, because around then a vampire came charging at them, fangs bared and eyes red as flames.

Levi supposed that they must seem like easier targets than Eren and Ymir, who had a pile of melting bodies around them as they tore through Malforms with ease. Still, if this dumb fuck thought that he was going down without a fight, then it was time to prove him wrong; Levi raced forward to meet him while Sasha and Connie headed for air, and ducked the last second to get below his guard, razor-sharp claws swiping where his throat had been moments before. This close in, he dropped his left blade so he could thrust his clawed hand deep into the asshole’s abdomen and angled upward, the same time he gave in to the instincts that told him to find the beating pulse and *bite*. Pain laced along his back, his shoulders, but he kept tearing, kept pulling out handfuls of hot, squishy things while he drank deep, kept ignoring the awful keening until the sound finally stopped and the blood no longer flowed down his throat.

Steam rose from his upper body as he bent down to retrieve his dropped blades, which he used one to behead the dead vampire; he felt *alive*, felt so strong, the stolen blood thrumming through his veins. Part of him wanted to just stand there, to enjoy how good it felt, but the screams around him jolted through the euphoria and made him whirl around, made him remember that his squad, his *people* were fighting for their lives.

Mikasa was covered in blood, her hair plastered across her face as she fended off a Malform which attempted to claw out the spine of an injured Jean, who none-the-less continued to fight with his one good arm. Sasha and Connie, covered in slashes, were working together, bouncing about in the trees and firing off flares at any Malform which got too close to them as well as dropping them onto the ground. One of the dropped flares gave Rico a needed moment to slip away from a group of Malform intent on blocking her in; it looked as if several fingers on her left hand were broken but she still managed to fire off a wire and swing away far enough to take out a Malform attempting to climb up a tree to where the two idiots were resting for the moment.

On his way back to Eren, Levi paused to check in on Marlo, who had taken a few blows to his left side. “You holding on?”

“Ye-yes, sir.” Marlo nodded, his face covered with sweat and tightened his hands on his blade. “Capt’n Hange tossed some patches to me.”

That would have to do for now, since they couldn’t exactly pause for medical aid at the moment. Seeing a giant-ass vampire charge at Eren, Levi had to hope that Rico at least was watching over the kid and tossed his bag of flares toward Marlo before he raced off to save the brat.

Krista, just as covered with blood as Mikasa and her pretty face contorted by the sharp fangs filling her mouth, joined him as they neared the heart of the fighting. “You ever seen her like this?” Levi gestured with a blade at Ymir, who was appeared to be dancing with another vampire, all spinning kicks and lashing claws as she twirled around a pale man at least twice as broad as her. He would attempt to grab onto her arm or leg, only to snatch at air while she slipped away and land a blow or slash a second later, her eyes as bright as burning coals and her mouth a nightmare of sharp fangs.

“No, she just warned me that Eren could go all berserk, not that she could, too.” It sounded as if Krista broke off a sob as she stared at her girlfriend. “I better get her back.”

“We gotta win first.” Levi grimaced as he sheathed his filthy blades; the fighting ahead was too close to use the weapons, so time to rely upon his claws. “Leave Eren to me.”

Behind him he heard Rico let out a harsh cry but he didn’t have the time to see what had happened, not when Eren managed to take out Giant-ass only to have several Malforms rush him at once. His eyes so fiercely gold that they glowed like twin suns, Eren let out a feral roar of rage and refused to go down, his hands – so twisted and distended just then that they no longer appeared human – shredding into grey, decimated flesh as they sought to knock him to the ground. Levi cursed and joined the fray, his own claws tearing at a Malform to pull it away, and for a moment his eyes met Eren’s. There was no recognition from his lover, no sense of ‘Eren’, of anything but rage and hate, yet those wicked, razor-sharp claws passed by him without harm and sunk into the Malform attempting to sink its fangs into his shoulder instead and hauled it away. Hauled it away and pulled it apart with a show of strength that left Levi stunned and one of the remaining vampires cursing as she fumbled with something in her hand.

He recognized the syringe gun as it was leveled at Eren and swore as he flung himself at his lover, since he was closer to the oblivious idiot than the tiny woman. “They’re fucking shooting at you!” He really hoped that Eren wasn’t too far gone as to attack him for this.

There were several expulsions of air as the two of them tumbled to the ground, followed by Eren yowling and some insane cackling, and the first thing Levi saw when he righted himself was two darts sticking into Eren’s left shoulder. He jerked them out as fast as he could, his fingers trembling as he dropped the darts to the ground. “You okay?”

For a moment there was a hint of recognition on Eren’s face, a lessening of the intense rage. He leaned against Levi as if tired and sighed before they heard a terrible hissing sound from behind, and the fury and hate washed away that brief glimmer of self. Levi allowed his lover to scramble away, and turned to find that the small vampire who’d shot at Eren was now fighting Hange.

“What the fuck?” He ran after Eren as his friend used her blades to keep the smaller woman from gutting her, a tired grin on her scratched face as she spun around and managed to slash a long cut along the vampire’s back. The vampire let out an ear-piercing shriek, and before Hange could whip her blades around to finish her off, at least four Malforms rushed forward en masse to tackle her.

“No!” Levi leapt at the writhing mass, fangs bared and claws lashing out, tearing into the undead fuckers who covered Hange, who were biting at her and pulling and- no. No. He wasn’t letting this happen again, wasn’t losing her like he’d lost Isabel, lost Farlan, wasn’t going to come across oozing piles of flesh bearing their uniforms and a few scraps of hair and-

There was another shriek, this time cut off with a strangled whimper, just as Levi tore out the throat of the last Malform and threw it aside. Lying on the ground was Hange, broken and bloody, half of her face clawed off and her right arm gone, so covered in blood that she gleamed red in the wan moonlight. “No, no, no, no!” Levi tried to think of what to do, tried to think of what would make it better but Hange was the one who did that, who put him back together when he lost everything. He needed Hange to fix this, dammit.

About to pick her up, he instead turned toward Eren, who was draped over the frame of the small vampire, now immobile as he fed. All around them were piles of dead Malforms, puddles of ooze with some of them still rotting away, while that last shriek seemed to have sent the remaining ‘live’ ones running away. Ymir was feeding as well, her arms wrapped around a vampire as its struggles grew weaker. Levi ignored her as he rose up and staggered toward his lover.

“Eren! *Eren!*” Calling out the brat’s name as he stumbled to his knees, he pried Eren away from the vampire and smacked him across his blood-smeared face. “*Twink*!” Using the hated nickname seemed to finally get through to the brat, causing him to hiss for a moment before a confused expression settled over his face. “Wake the *fuck* up!”

“Leh-Levi….” Eren shook his head as if confused – or if the drugs from earlier were finally taking effect. “Wha….”

“No fucking time.” Hauling a trembling Eren away from the vampire, Levi dragged him to where Hange lay and prayed that she was still alive, she *had* to be alive. The shitty lunatic was indestructible, had put up with his abuse for years so there was no way that a few Malforms were doing her in. “Save her, you saved me so fucking save her, all right?”

“Save? Save who?” Eren stumbled along and nearly slipped on the Malform goo surrounding Hange. “Is that…?”

“It’s Hange, so fucking save her already.” She was lying so still, and for some reason she *reeked*. He shoved Eren down beside her.

Eren inhaled and then cringed away from her, a grimace on his face as he shook his head. “No, I don’t-“

“Listen to me, you little shit!” Levi grabbed onto the remains of Eren’s grey jacket and gave him a shake. “She put her fucking life on the line for you so do it!” he spat out in his lover’s face.

Eren continued to shake his head in denial. “But, I don’t-“

“I’m not going to lose her like this, dammit!” Levi was just about screaming by then, and shoved Eren onto Hange’s mangled form.

They both were still for a moment, and then Eren let out a shuddering breath before he hunched over Hange’s upper body much like he had been with the vampire moments before, only this time the expression of rage was gone, replaced by one resembling dread. His fingers trailed along the undamaged side of her face for a moment before he placed his lips against her neck and bit into it.

While Eren fed, Levi heard a shuffling sound and glanced to the side to find Mikasa staring in shock at her brother. When she made to rush forward, he threw out his arm to stop her. “Is he-“

“Leave him,” Levi snarled as he shoved Mikasa aside.

“He’s not feeding, is he?” She clawed at Levi’s arm as she attempted to get past him, but Levi refused to be budged.

“Fuck no, he’s healing her!” He damn near threw her away this time, and when she stumbled back to her feet, Eren leaned back onto his heels, his mouth gleaming with fresh blood and his eyes a dull gold.

“It’s done.” Eren’s voice was quiet and tired, a raspy whisper as if his throat had been scraped raw.

“What, already?”

“You turned her?”

Eren shook his head as he slowly straightened up, minute trembles wracking his body. “Not much blood left in her.” His eyes were unfocused as he wavered on his feet for a few seconds and then took an unsteady step forward; when Levi went to help him, he twisted out of his reach.

“Eren?” All his lover did was shake his head again and step away. “Is she going to be all right?” Was Eren all right?

“Maybe. Watch her and see.” Eren continued to walk away, his steps still unsteady, his body still trembling as if pierced with cold.

“Wait, where are you going? There might be-“

A broken, desperate laugh cut off Levi’s concern as Eren kept walking away. When Levi cursed, torn between following his lover and keeping watch over Hange, Mikasa shot him a virulent look and hurried after her still laughing brother.

Fuck. *Fuck*. Levi jerked his blood-smeared hands through his hair, the pain from running into the various tangles a welcome relief to his confused thoughts just then. There’d been the fighting, the need to keep Eren safe even though he’d turned into some bloodthirsty killing machine, and then Hange… all he could think about was how he’d lost Isabel and Farlan, how he couldn’t lose someone close to him like that again. Dammit, he hadn’t thought that he’d let the lunatic in that much, he’d believed that he’d been better with his walls this time, but she just had to go and prove him wrong.

As he squatted near Hange’s prone form, he surveyed the clearing and found Sasha and Connie huddled together, Jean seated not too far away on a log and applying what looked to be some pressure bandages on his wounded arm, and Rico stalking in his direction. When she caught sight of Hange, the angry expression on the Engineer’s face changed into something a bit more sympathetic.

“A vampire?”

“Sort of – one of them sicced a bunch of Malforms on her,” Levi explained.

“You going to take care of her, then? You can’t waste any time.” Rico’s right hand fell onto the hilt of her right blade.

Levi shook his head. “I had Eren take care of her.” When all Rico did was stare at him in confusion, he sighed and went to rub at his eyes, before he remembered that he was covered in gore. “He turned her – seems to be taking since she hasn’t changed into a Malform yet.” Was it his imagination or was that a hint of steam coming from her missing arm?

Rico continued to stare at him for a few more seconds before she cursed beneath her breath. “You mean she’s going to become just like you? She going to be happy about that?”

“She’s going to be fucking ecstatic about it, just wait.” Levi reached out to flip Hange over onto her back and yeah, that was definitely steam rising from her damaged face and missing arm, and – leaning forward a little more, he noticed a metallic gleam sticking out of her belts, toward the left side. “Fucking shitty glasses, should have let you rot, you fucking lunatic,” he muttered as he noticed the syringe gun shoved into the belts. “No wonder that undead bitch wanted you dead.”

“I am drinking that entire bottle of vodka as soon as it’s daylight,” Rico mumbled while she pressed her uninjured hand against her forehead, right before she sighed. “They got Marlo, and no, he’s not smoking and coming back right now.” There was an acerbic bite to her words as if she meant them to be weapons.

Levi went still as he looked up at the Engineer and gave it a few seconds before he responded. “Who took care of him?”

Rico dropped her hand to her side, and despite the snap to her voice, there was a redness to her eyes as if she struggled to hold back tears. “I did.”

“Thank you.” Levi meant the words; he know how difficult a duty it was, and how important, too. “He was a good kid.”

“Yes, he was.” She all but spat out the words. “He was a good kid, even if he was an idealistic fool. He shouldn’t have been out here.”

“No, but he still came.” Levi felt so old just then, so old and tired and had no clue how Eren managed to get up every day after living for so fucking long. “Oi! Everyone else all right?”

Sasha jerked upright from where she was bent over her boyfriend and shrugged. “Ah, we’re mostly okay.” When Levi glared at her, she gave a nervous laugh and held up Connie’s hands. “There was an accident with a flare.”

Those shits had faced off with vampires and Malforms and came out of it with burns? Levi was half-tempted to kick them in the ass on the principal of it alone. “Well sorry, but Hange’s sort of busy regrowing her face and a limb right now, so you’re going to have to improvise.” The comment provoked some odd stares for a few seconds, but on the whole everyone appeared too tired to care much.

“Well, I, ah, have a bit of medical training, sir.” Sasha blushed a little and tucked back a matted strand of hair that had escaped the ponytail which held about half of it back. “If you don’t mind me using her supplies.”

“Mind? Fuck, get to work, Blouse! And where the hell are Ymir and Krista?”

Jean hopped onto his feet and hobbled over to Levi. “Sir, they went running into the forest, I think they were chasing after something.” He motioned into the direction around where Hange was lying – no, just past it.

Confused, Levi glanced over his shoulder, and felt as if he’d been punched in the stomach when he noticed that there wasn’t a pile of goo where Eren had been feeding from the one small, dark-haired vampire before Levi’d pulled him away to heal Hange. Dammit, the bitch had appeared drained to the point of death, what were the chances that she could get up and run away? “Fuck.”

He told Jean to let Sasha tend to his wounds while he checked out the rest of the camp, just to make sure there were no more ‘surprises’. The rest of the vampires and Malforms were indeed decomposing puddles, and when he found Marlo’s remains he took the time to dispose of them properly as well as strip the jacket of one of its wings emblems, which he would place with the boy’s personal items. Two of the horses had been killed, which there wasn’t much he could do about other than leave the remains for the cats to feed upon come daylight, and a few of the others had wandered off during the fight; hopefully they’d return by morning, as they were trained to do once they calmed down. By the time he returned to check on Hange, her face was mostly healed and her arm was restored all the way to the elbow.

It was around then that Ymir and Krista returned, their clothes wet and leading three of the horses. “You find that undead freak?”

Ymir gave Levi a sour look as well as a rude gesture. “And hello to you, too. Sorry to say that we ran into a few Malform so no, she got away.” She let the horses return to their pack and seemed determined to head over to where the supplies had been set aside as if for a dry change of clothes, until she noticed Hange. “What the hell? You had Eren change someone else? That his idea?”

“Not exactly,” Levi admitted as he took a protective stance by his unconscious friend. “But it’s done.”

“Wow, it must be true love if he did it for you, since he’s so against it.”

That wasn’t anything Levi wanted to hear at the moment, not with a damn pouch weighing heavy against his chest. “It doesn’t matter why he did it, just that we don’t lose a valuable fighter.” The look that Ymir gave him just then was highly derisive. “What I want to know is what the hell was it with the two of you – how did you fight like that? You tore those vampires apart, in both sense of the word.”

That wiped the mocking smile off of Ymir’s face and made her seek out one of Krista’s hands. “I… well, l told you I’m a little different from the others. If I let go, I… that doesn’t happen often, okay? It hasn’t happened in *years*. As for Eren, he’s always been different. From what I’ve seen and know, you don’t want to be around when something he cares about is threatened, like tonight.” She shrugged as if that weak explanation was enough. “Just be thankful we could help out and there weren’t too many of them, otherwise the bloodbath would have been on our end.”

As if Marlo’s death and Hange’s mutilation hadn’t been bad enough. Levi clicked his tongue as he ran his hands over his filthy hair. “You going to be able to keep that up in the future?”

Ymir shrugged again. “It felt good to let go, but that one vamp got away. I warned you that they adapt, so they’ll know what to expect now. That’s not good.” She heaved a sigh and pulled at the wet, stained shirt clinging to her chest. “I know we were expecting an attack, but this… this didn’t seem right. I expected better from them, to be honest.”

That startled a laugh from Levi. “You don’t think this was bad enough?” He’d nearly lost one of the few friends he had left in the world, maybe had driven his lover away and one of his squad was dead, how could it be worse?

Ymir tugged Krista closer and glanced down at her quiet girlfriend. “No, it could always be worse.”

“You’re too much of a pessimist,” Krista chided as she reached up to skim her fingers along Ymir’s chin.

“I keep telling you that I’m just being a realist,” Ymir shot back as she captured Krista’s other hand to place a kiss against its fingertips before letting it go. “Now come on, let’s get into some dry clothes.” To Levi, she motioned into the woods. “I’d go find your boyfriend before Mikasa convinces him what a total ass you are – you’re not her favorite person. As far as I can tell, the Malform and that vamp are running as far away from here as possible.”

“Thanks.” There was only a tiny bit of sarcasm in the word for once.

“Hmm, probably going to be fun finding something for Dr. Who to munch on tomorrow, but that’s not my problem.”

That was another thing Levi didn’t want to think about at the moment, but he’d deal with tomorrow when it arrived; right now Hange was alive to worry about how to feed her. So that left him with making sure that the rest of his squad was all right, and then finding out what the hell was going on with Eren.

*******

“I can go get a blanket or something, do you want that or a cloak or maybe even a fire?”

Eren snatched at Mikasa’s fussing hands and made her sit still, made her stop touching his face and hair. “I’m-“ He couldn’t say he was fine, couldn’t lie that well just yet, so he sighed and bowed his head toward her shoulder. “Just stay here, okay?” He couldn’t stop trembling, couldn’t stop the shivers that racked his body but he didn’t think another layer or two of clothing would help any.

A small cry escaped his sister as she scooted closer to him, her hands pulling free so she could wrap an arm around his shoulders; for a moment he cringed to think about how filthy he was just then, but she was just as much of a mess even though they’d discarded their shredded jackets and Mikasa had used the scraps along with some fetched water to wipe off as much dried blood as she could from their skin and hair.

Blood – he could still smell it, could taste it in his mouth. Could taste Hange’s blood mixed with that of the vampires and the Malform, the odd wateriness with the addictive metallic tang that coated his tongue and throat. Despite how full and lethargic he felt at the moment, a voice whispered inside of him about how exciting it had been to fight, to let loose and sink his fangs into the prey that fell with such ease into his claws, the way they screamed as he-

“I don’t want to think anymore,” he hissed as he pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. “I- I, I need to do something.” He attempted to stand up, to walk around, but his body betrayed him as his feet refused to obey and he tumbled toward the ground, the descent happening as if in slow motion as he watched the grass grow closer and closer to his face. What was wrong with him? Why was everything so messed up?

“Eren!” Mikasa was quick to pick him up, her strong arms once more wrapped around him as she held him close and resettled him on the log. “Did something happen during the fight? Are you all right?” She patted her hands up and down his arms as if feeling for any damage.

“It’s nothing, I just got hit with something.” He pushed his right hand against his forehead and waited for the world to stop spinning. “Levi… he knocked them out.” Hadn’t he? Things were jumbled up from back then, but Eren recalled flashes of Levi yelling at him and jabs of pain, of fire in his blood and familiar hands brushing over him much like Mikasa was doing. “I hate this.”

“It’ll be okay, you’re with me now.” Mikasa gave him a quick kiss on his temple and urged him to rest his head against her shoulder. “I’m here now – should have never let *him* watch over you.”

“It wasn’t-“ Yeah, no, it was that bad.

“Don’t try to cover for him. He was supposed to protect you, not let you get shot up and then have you turn someone! I saw him yelling at you, he shouldn’t have done that! He doesn’t respect you!”

And Mikasa would have been so much better than Levi if it had been Jean lying there on the ground, bleeding out and moments away from dying, from becoming a Malform, Eren thought but kept to himself. He agreed that Levi was a bit of an ass for forcing him, for not even giving him a chance to argue – as if there really had been a chance with Hange so close to death – but Mikasa had brought up him turning people just a couple of days ago so how was she any better? All Eren knew just then was that he was so tired, so drained despite the blood thrumming through his veins, and wanted to sleep. He just wanted to be somewhere safe and quiet, somewhere warm, wrapped in arms to hold him close and shield him-

“Eren?”

“Huh?” He jolted upright and shook his head in an attempt to push back the fog that muddled his thoughts. “What?”

Mikasa smiled, the expression tender and a little sad, as she tucked back a lock of matted hair that had fallen onto his face. “You were half asleep. Do you want to go back to the camp?”

The thought of dealing with everyone just now made him cringe even if his clothes reeked and stuck to his skin. “No. If you wanna go see how Horse-face is doing, tha’s fine, though.” He just wanted to stay here where it was quiet for a little longer.

“I’m sure he’s fine.” Mikasa remained by Eren’s side, even if she hadn’t sounded rather confident just then. “He did a decent job of fighting, you know.”

All Eren could do was grunt in response, since he hadn’t been paying much attention to the others during… well, to the others. There were flashes of Ymir in his memory of blood and rage, her face twisted with the same bloodthirsty fury that had filled him during the fight, and of a scowling Levi, and little else. The rest was hatred, was hunger, was the need to tear into anything that smelled of death, that was *prey*… and then there had been Hange. Eren hated that she was jumbled all up in there, that he could still taste her on his tongue, that he was so *confused*. “I think I’m goin’ mad,” he whispered as he grasped at his hair and gave the strands a painful yank.

“No,” Mikasa gasped. “No, you are not!” She slipped down to kneel in front of him, both of his hands held between her own. “You’re just- it’s whatever they shot into you, all right? You’re always a bit mixed up after you, well, whenever you come back from that, and this is just making it worse. Things will be all right, you just need to rest.” She slid her hand along his cheek until her thumb stroked beneath his right eye. “You’ll be all right.”

He’d heard those words so many times over his life, from her, from Armin and from his mother, but had they ever been true? He tried to smile for her, to let her know that he agreed, but his face felt broken like the rest of him and what it showed only made Mikasa shake her head and pull his head down until their foreheads touched. “You’ll be fine.” The words came out as if a challenge, as if she was daring the universe otherwise. Darling Mikasa, ever one to throw herself into hopeless battles for his sake….

They sat hunched together like this, with Eren content to be quiet and breathe in his sister’s scent, to let her presence still the tumultuous thoughts in his head, until the sound of grass rustling startled them apart. Mikasa hissed as she twisted around to face whatever it was that dared to approach them, while Eren merely sighed over the loss of the precious bit of peace and quiet.

“What the hell do you want?” she snarled at Levi, who paused in strolling toward them to arch an eyebrow. For some reason Mikasa’s pale face became flushed and she repeated the question, only this time in English, and it was then that Eren realized that they had been speaking in German before then; dammit, he really was out of it.

“I thought that Eren might appreciate a change of clothes around now, and for you to know that Jean’s worried about you. He’s ready to start searching the woods for your bitchy ass.”

Mikasa’s scowl faded as she glanced back at Eren. “Go,” he urged her. “I wanna to stay out here a lil’ longer, but go check on the horse.”

She sighed at the insult to her boyfriend as she leaned in to kiss Eren on the cheek. “Remember to bury the body deep if you kill the short bastard, okay? The cats are circling because of all the blood and will dig him up in minutes.” The angry look returned as she give Levi a wide berth on the way back to the camp, and he seemed only too pleased to meet it with one of his own while clicking his tongue.

“People like her make me so happy I’m an only child,” he drawled as he approached Eren. “And why the fuck are you still wearing that shit?” He must have found some clean water to wash off some of the blood, since his hair was free of blood and he was dressed in a new uniform.

Eren shrugged as he picked at a spot of clotted… something on the knee of his left boot. “Nothing else to wear?”

“Take it off. *Now*.” Levi dropped the stack of clothe that he’d carried over onto the bench, which turned out to be some of Eren’s spare clothes. “It’ll do until we find somewhere to bathe.”

That prompted a weak chortle from Eren as he forced himself to stand up, his body swaying back and forth for a moment as he fumbled with the buttons of his shirt. “Far cry from last night, no?”

“Don’t remind me that we left behind some perfectly working showers, you little shit.” Levi watched Eren fail at a simple task of undressing himself for several seconds before he clicked his tongue. “Let me do that.” He shoved Eren’s hands aside and began to attack the buttons himself. In the end, the shirt more or less got ripped off, but since it was in tatters from all the claw slashes, it didn’t matter. Eren shivered a little as the slight breeze blew over his tacky skin, and then some more when Levi’s rough hands skimmed along his abdomen to settle on the button of his pants. “Ah, you going to manage these?”

He gulped in air and rocked back and forth as he scrubbed at his eyes. “Yes? I don’t-“

“Just lift your feet when I tell you, okay? How strong was that stuff they pumped into you?”

“Everything is… cotton candy.” Eren picked at air with his left hand. “You know that stuff?”

“Not a fucking clue, which is the usual with you.” Levi bent down a little with his left arm around Even’s hips for support as he undid Eren’s pants and shimmied them down his legs. “Right foot.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah.” Eren lifted his leg enough for the boot and pants to be pulled off. “It’s… uhm, sugar. Solid sugar. Spun out. You eat it. Sticky stuff.”

“Sounds disgusting,” Levi commended as he tapped Eren’s left leg. “Left.” When Eren stood there and wondered who had gone, his lover sighed and hit him harder on the leg. “Left *leg*. Obviously that stuff was strong as shit.”

“Hmm.” Eren remained standing while Levi wet a cloth and then ran it over his chest, neck and arms. “Not just the stuff. It’s… everything.” He waited until Levi was done wiping him down to rub at his face again. “’M tired.”

“We all are.” Levi urged Eren to hold out his arms so he could slip a soft t-shirt over them and then his head. Next came some clean boxers to step into along with a pair of pants. “You’re not asking about Hange.” He sounded as tired as Eren felt.

Eren smoothed the shirt along his chest as he sank back down onto the fallen log. “Should I? I mean, she turned, didn’ she?” Levi had been in much the same condition and pulled through, after all.

There was silence for about a minute, and then Levi joined him on the log, for once not bitching about dirt or mold or any other obsessive-compulsive crap. “Yeah, she should be all right.” He was quiet again as he kicked at Eren’s abandoned boot. “How about you?”

The question startled another pathetic chuckle out of Eren. “Oh, fine, just fine.” He ran his hands through his gnarled hair and frowned when he realized that he must have lost one of the barrettes during the fight. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I don’t know, maybe because you look like utter shit? Because you’re sitting there shaking when I know for a fact that you don’t really feel the cold, not that it’s that cold out.”

Eren let his hands fall back down to his lap so he could wrap his arms around his waist. “Yeah,” he whispered, because what else could he say?

It was quiet in the forest, not an uncomfortable silence where you had nothing but the dangerous thoughts in your head but a quiet without annoying voices, a white-noise quiet where the background was the hum of insects, the rustle of leaves and grasses, the occasional purr or growl or chirp of some animal or bird. It was a rhythm without any sense, was something you could focus on and lose yourself into instead of the darkness that prowled inside. Eren had just settled into the ‘beat’ when Levi cleared his throat and jerked him out of it.

“Look, I probably shouldn’t have asked you to turn Hange like that.”

“’Ask’,” Eren murmured as he dug a claw into the soft bark of the log. Figures Levi would see it that way.

The interruption earned him an annoyed click and a calloused hand settled on his left knee. “Okay, so it was more like a demand.” When Eren tilted his head to the side and huffed at that ‘like’, Levi’s hand tightened in warning. “Let me talk, all right?”

Fine, the man wanted to talk, Eren would let him talk; he slumped against Levi’s side, so tired and filled with the suspicion that by ‘talk’, the bastard meant ‘suffer through a long-ass story’.

Levi paused for a few seconds, as if either startled or making certain that Eren was going to remain silent. His hand tightened again on Eren’s knee before letting go and curling up a little higher on Eren’s thigh. “All right. So, maybe I shouldn’t have asked you to do that, but… I told you I grew up in Tartarus.”

Eren murmured a little in agreement, not quite a word but an acknowledgement in case Levi wanted some sort of answer.

“You know how it is there, how it’s a struggle for… well, for everything.” Levi paused again to look up at the night sky. “No one really thinks about getting out of there, they just do their best to survive. That’s what I did for as long as I could remember. My mother died when I was young, and some guy took me out of the whorehouse where she worked and… not quite sure you could say raised me.” He shifted about a little to look down at Eren as if waiting for him to say something. All Eren did was complain as his warm resting spot moved.

Levi sighed and gave Eren a flick on the forehead. “Stay awake for this, dammit. So Kenny gave me a last name and not much else – I never did figure out what he really was to me, just that he had cared about my mother. He taught me how to fight, and how to kill; you know how it is in Tartarus. If you want to survive, if you want to be your own person and not someone’s… well, you have to fight back. He taught me that. He was good at that, if not much else.” There was a clear pain in Levi’s voice just then, as if he was recalling something unpleasant; considering that Eren had spent a few years in Tartarus and even longer in places like it and worse… he could well imagine what Levi had suffered while growing up there. “All I knew is that he worked for someone powerful, and it wasn’t until right before I left the Trost that I found out that those ‘someone’s’ were vampires.”

That admission helped Eren to push back the fugue that bore down upon him. “Huh? He works for them?” He lifted his head so he could look up at Levi.

“Yeah, apparently he was one of those assholes Ymir helped to grab your ass.” Levi’s fingers dug into Eren’s thighs for a moment. “Small world, eh?”

“More like fucked up.” Eren rested his head back against Levi’s shoulder and sighed. “So he taught you to fight. Explains why you’re so good.” Eren recalled the man being very fast for a human, and the vampires would only work with someone exceptional since they could afford to be choosy.

“Yeah, and then he up and vanished one day, probably to run off to help out those shitty vampires.” Levi took a deep breath as he wiped a hand over his face. “It was just me for a while, until I made some friends. Then it was the three of us.” He dropped his hand and stared down at the ground. “It’s funny, but when I saw you, Mikasa and Armin, the three of you reminded me of those times with… with Isabel and Farlan. It was the three of us against everyone else, and we were determined to get out of Tartarus at all costs. I guess we were lucky it was Erwin who found us instead of some vampire or Minister, but basically, we ended up in the Corps. And you know what happens there.”

Eren didn’t need to look at Levi to see the pain on his lover’s face, he could hear it in his deep voice, could feel it in the way his body tensed up and the fingers that bit into his own flesh. “I’m sorry.” The words were so inadequate, but they were the truth.

Levi shook his head even as he reached up to cup the side of Eren’s face with his left hand. “I wasn’t there when… well, I let them go out on a patrol without me and by the time I arrived, it was too late. I’m always too late.” It was as if he attempted to laugh but what came out was too jagged for any sort of amusement.

Eren canted his face into the caress. “So you wanted to save Hange.”

“Yeah.” Levi leaned until he rested against Eren as well. “She’s a righteous pain in the ass and I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve wanted to kill her myself, but… yeah. I never wanted to care again about anyone as much as Isabel or Farlan, but… I guess I fucked up.”

Eren couldn’t help but smile as he slid his hand over Levi’s. “I know the feeling.”

“Little shit.” Levi was gentle as he knocked their heads together before he sighed, the sound low and weary. “I should be used to it by now – it’s like you said, all my life there’s been death. I’ve gotten so used to dealing it out, but I’m shit when it hits home.”

“You think the rest of us are any better?” Eren reached out and twisted his right hand about so he could rest it against Levi’s chest, where the pouch now hung around his lover’s neck. “I couldn’t let Mikasa go all those years ago, not after… not after failin’ my mother. I thought she was enough, but then some bastard captain had ta come along an’ prove me wrong, after all these years of me watchin’ the people I know die. It doesn’t make sense, it never does.” It still didn’t, but Eren wondered if part of what scared him about turning people was that he was getting farther and farther away from doing it for himself, for his own desperate need. Seeing Mikasa about to die had shattered him, and the thought of losing Levi was as if his heart was being torn out. He liked Krista and Ymir was… had been… no, *was* a friend, but he’d done it for Ymir in the end. Hange… Hange had been done for Levi, and while Eren was happy that the crazy scientist would live, it terrified him that he’d done such a thing while in a state where he’d cared about so little at the time. “I… I don’ know, everythin’ is all fucked up right now.”

Levi didn’t say anything to that at first, he just stroked his fingers along the side of Eren’s face as if the texture or the touch was soothing. “So what, you’re saying we’re both fucked up or something?”

“Well, yeah, that an’ we both have things we’ll kill for, that we don’ want ta lose.” For a moment, Eren thought of his mother and how the one memory of her never faded with time; sorrow washed through him and leeched away the remaining bit of energy that remained. “So while I really, *really* don’ wanna turn anyone else right now, guess I understand why you were sucha ass back there.”

“Huh.” Levi continued to stroke his fingers along the side of Eren’s face a couple more times, and then Eren found himself tumbling forward onto the grass once again. “An *ass*?”

Sputtering as he righted himself, Eren twisted about and glared. “A *huge* ass!” He pushed back the hair that had fallen onto his face and decided the hell with getting up. “Oh, fuck off.” To hell with going back to the camp, with dealing with anyone else, with *everything*.

Moving in a blur, Levi straddled Eren’s legs and slid his hand into the nape of Eren’s hair. “No, don’t think so.” He made Eren look up at him and didn’t seem to care about being glared at, in fact managed an even stare back in return. “Why do you put up with me, then?”

“Did’ja hear the fucked up part?” Eren allowed his head to loll back against the bastard’s hand. “All the… the drugs don’ help, either.” He felt so tired just then, tired enough to just lay down on the grass and not wake up until sunrise. “Just… not turnin’ anyone else for ya, ‘kay? Got your one ‘get outta death free’ card.”

Levi sighed as he rocked backward while he shifted his hand down onto Eren’s shoulder and yanked him up. “You’re making less sense than normal, which is a sign that we need to get some coffee into you.”

“M’king perfect sense,” Eren complained as he rubbed at his eyes, which felt as if they were full of sand. “’m tired.”

“You’re stuffed full of blood and doped on top of it.” Levi slid his arm around Eren’s waist and pulled him close to press his lips against Eren’s forehead. “Ew, you also have Malform shit in your hair.”

“Hate you.”

“Yeah, I know.” Levi removed his grey coat and draped it over Eren’s shoulders. “Hate me some more after I pour a few cups of coffee down your throat.

“Don’ wan’ coffee, wanna sleep.” Eren hugged the warm coat around him and breathed in his lover’s scent as they made their way back to camp, his feet dragging with each step.

“Sorry, brat, but I don’t think that’s happening tonight. Fuck, but Hange picked a bad time to get her ass kicked by a vampire since you really should be checked out to see what they shot into you. Those darts were barely in you.” Levi had his arm around Eren’s waist and was half-carrying him at that point.

Eren had some very bad thoughts about his boyfriend for the rest of the way to join the others. He could easily smell the camp as they approached, even though it looked as if someone had taken the time to throw dirt onto the various piles of disintegrating Malform and vampires.

Busy talking to a bandaged Jean, Mikasa noticed their arrival and hurried over to one of the fires, where she picked up a pot of coffee and filled a mug before nearly running to Eren’s side. “You don’t look any better.”

“Thanks.” He nearly dropped the mug when she handed it to him since his fingers didn’t want to cooperate. Levi clicked his tongue as he caught the mug and made sure that Eren had a decent grip. “Feel even worse, too.”

Red began to creep along Mikasa’s face as her eyes darted back and forth between Eren and Levi. “But… I didn’t… I meant-“

Eren sighed as he reached out with his free hand and gave the ends of her scarf a tug. “’s fine.” He sipped the coffee and winced a little at its heat, but was grateful for how it cut through the taste of blood in his mouth.

“How’s Hange? She up yet?”

Mikasa shook her head as she reached out to tuck some of Eren’s bangs behind his ear. “No, though it looks as if she’s all healed now. Considering the damage done to her, it’ll probably be a little longer.” She didn’t look away from Eren until he finished his coffee. “Do you want some more?”

He still felt full, but the bit of caffeine helped to push aside some of the fuzz in his head so he nodded and held out his mug, which she took before she returned to the fire. As he waited, he glanced around and found Sasha busy with a shovel while Connie, his hands wrapped in bandages, trailed after her. Rico was over by the horses while Jean seemed to be tasked with keeping an eye on whatever was cooking at one of the fires. Eren didn’t see Marlo, Ymir or Krista at all, though he was thought he remembered catching sight of Ymir before Mikasa had dragged him away earlier, and there was no way that Ymir would be all right and not Krista.

As Mikasa returned with some more coffee, Ymir and Krista hopped down from one of the trees; like Levi, they had cleaned up as well. “Wow, Rebel, you look like shit. Remind me not to get dosed with that stuff.”

Krista groaned as she punched her insensitive girlfriend’s left arm. “Really? That’s how you greet him?”

Ymir rolled her eyes as she rubbed her arm. “What, you want me to start off with ‘wow, think you had a higher kill count than me, you psycho?’ Which you did, you know. I’m gonna have to up my game next time,” she added as she grinned at Eren. Krista groaned again and buried her face in her hands.

All Eren did was sip his coffee while Mikasa hissed in anger at Ymir, and Levi gave her one of his bored looks. “If you’re done being an offensive shit, tell us what you found,” he ordered.

That made Ymir roll her eyes again, but she more or less obeyed. “We didn’t smell or see any signs of Malform or vampires around the camp, so I think you should let these poor schmucks get some sleep before daylight. It’s my honest opinion based on how few vampires showed up that we probably got hit with the advance party and they’re either gonna run back for reinforcements or try to hide their failure now. Both buys us some time.”

“And like I said before, you being wrong means we’ll be caught short-handed if they return,” Levi pointed out as he ran his thumb along Eren’s hip.

The comment prompted a rude comment from Ymir. “We’re down two people until Dr. Who wakes up, and Rebel’s barely standing as is – he gets one more dose and he’s down for the count, too. Even if they were awake, the humans are too tired and dinged up to be any use to us right now, so let them get some rest and a chance to heal.”

“As much as I hate to admit it, but she’s right.” Mikasa’s voice was rough with obvious anger, which also shaded her eyes to gold. “Jean and the others need a chance for the nanos and our blood to take effect if they’ll be any good in another fight. Let them eat and then sleep for a few hours.”

“You shouldn’t need Mikasa’s word to validate Ymir’s.” Krista’s eyes were glowing as well as she shoved forward to glare at Levi and Mikasa. “She knows what she’s talking about, and she fought just as well as the rest of us – hell, even better than most!” She stood there with her hands balled onto her fists as if daring for anyone to contradict her, while behind her Ymir stood beaming with pride.

Eren sighed into his half-empty mug while the idiots glared at each other. “Jus’ listen ta ‘em and let people sleep. Let *me* sleep,” he whined.

His complaint prompted Levi to end the stare-off as he clicked his tongue and snatched away the mug. “Fine, the others can get some rest but I’ll kick your ass if I see you drifting off.” He narrowed his eyes when Eren whined again. “No sleep until Hange wakes her lazy ass up and checks you out – I don’t like how you’re acting this time.”

“Yes, it seems to be making him very depressed.” Mikasa accepted the mug from Levi and turned it about in her hands as she frowned. “He’s not himself.”

“What, why would Rebel be depressed? He just has a fuckton of vampires after his ass, a boyfriend who keeps threatening to kick his head in as part of the foreplay, and an overbearing as hell sister.” When both Levi and Mikasa turned to glare at Ymir, she threw her hands up in the air. “Fine, I’m butting out – you’re on your own, Eren.”

Upset to see his one ally leave, Eren gave her a small wave in goodbye before the exhaustion won out and he sank down to sit on the ground. “Sucks,” he muttered as he once more rubbed at his tired eyes.

There was a gentle touch along the top of his head, fingers combing through his hair, only to stop as he heard a retching sound. “Mikasa, watch him and make sure he doesn’t fall asleep while I go get a bucket of water.”

“Why?”

“I’m going to wash that shit out of his hair, and the cold water should also help snap him awake a bit.” Eren felt a quick tug to his hair and then Levi’s voice was closer. “Try to fall asleep while I’m gone and I’ll dunk your shitty head in the damn bucket, you understand?”

Eren summoned a weak hiss as he pushed the asshole away, or at least attempted to do so, but Levi moved too fast. At least he was left alone after that… until Mikasa was shoving another cup of coffee in his face. “Hate you, too,” he mumbled.

“You sound like Armin when we wake him up too early.” She smiled as she wrapped his fingers around the mug. “Now finish it all like a good boy.”

What were the chances that he’d been killed during the fight and was in some sort of hell?

*******

Wet. She felt wet, and it was hard, whatever she rested upon, and shouldn’t there be pain? Pain and a nagging thought, something about chemical levels, increases of… of…. “Dimethlyltryptamine!” Hange shouted as she jerked into an upright position, the blanket draped on top of her falling onto her lap. “My DMT levels should be going through the roof!” It was about then when she realized that she was laid upon the ground with a blanket draped on top of her, in wet, torn clothes, and appeared to be alive. “Huh, yeah, that would explain this current hallucination. Wow, this shit is good.” Still, it was a rather odd ‘dream’ to have before dying, couldn’t she be in a threeway with Erwin and Mike or something? Or watch as Levi flailed about in a mud pit? So far, the afterlife sucked.

Speaking of her OCD, psychotic sweetie, he was headed her way and, no big surprise, didn’t appear too happy. “Great, you finally wake up and you’re already spouting nonsense.” He hunched down on his heels next to her and gave her face a gentle for him slap. “Did all of your brains pull through?”

“Hey! That’s no way to treat the dead!”

“Wonderful, because you’re not dead.” He swung his hand back as if to slap her again, and to Hange’s surprise, she managed to catch it before it made contact with her face again.

“Huh.”

“You connecting the dots yet, shitty glasses?”

It was then that she realized that first off, she wasn’t wearing her glasses yet her vision wasn’t too bad – at least, not out of her left eye. The eye that a claw had raked through when those Malforms had jumped on her like her lab rats on a pile of treats. Then there was the fact that she’d stopped Levi with her right hand, and yeah, it was a bit difficult to forget dismemberment when it hurt like a *bitch*. So if she wasn’t dead, which would really suck, then that left one other option.

“Eren, cutie, I *love* you! Come over here so I can-ack!” She ended up shoved back onto the ground by a furious Levi.

“I am going to gut you!” He rubbed at his ears while his eyes turned gold, ooooh, she couldn’t wait until hers did, too. Did you feel it when they did? What was it like when your vision changed? She wanted to *know*. “Sensitive hearing, you crazy bitch!”

“But I’m just so *happy* right now!” She sniffed as she scrambled to sit up again. “So everything healed? Of course it did!” She began to pat herself and yanked at her shirt to look at her chest; it was amazing how there weren’t even any new scars from all the damage she’d taken. “Uhm, why am I wet?”

Levi sighed as he rose up. “Because you were beginning to reek; I dumped some water on you to wash off the worst of the blood and goo. Look, get into some new clothes and then come check Eren. He took a couple of darts of some shit and considering that I pulled them out almost immediately, he’s still really out of it. That’s not good.”

Mention of the drug made Hange gasp and forget about checking out her restored arm. “That’s right! I managed to snag the gun from that fanged bitch! Where is it?” She felt around her belts for where she had shoved it during the fight and then began to wail when she couldn’t find it. “Oh no, don’t tell me those fuckers took it away from me!”

Something hard hit her in the head as she fumbled around. “No, I did.” She looked up to see that Levi held the gun in his hand. “Don’t do something stupid like shoot yourself with it.”

“Sweetie, I love you, too!” She wrapped her arms around his legs, which made his face twitch with disgust and earned her another hit to the head.

“Now I’m about to shoot you with it!”

“Nah, it’s a waste of precious research if you do.” Still, she was quick to snatch away the gun; this enhanced speed was *amazing*. “Though it might not be a bad idea to shoot someone with a dart, just as a control test. We could-“

Focused on the gun as she was, she didn’t see Levi’s hand come around to smack her on the side of the head. “Are you- wait, of course you are that insane. *No* *shooting* *people*. Eren just got a few drops into his system from what we can tell and that stuff’s messing with him big time. He’s a hell of a lot older than us, so it’ll probably put us down for weeks.”

That was true. For a moment Hange allowed herself the thought of having *centuries* to research, to work on projects, and had to bite back on a squeal before she was smacked again. “So, how is everyone else?” she asked as she jumped up, her hands wrapped around the precious syringe gun. “Last I recall, Eren and Ymir were taking on most of the vampires themselves, but it was a close fight.”

The surliness on Levi’s face was replaced by his mask of boredom, which wasn’t a good sign. “We lost Marlo.”

“Ah.” Hange knew that her friend hated platitudes like ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘you did all you could’, so all she said was “he was a good kid”, which was the truth. Too good for the MP, which was probably why Nile Dok had chosen him for his messenger, and the poor kid had deserved better than to die out in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, most of the Corps deserved better, but it was a sad testament that those who were willing to sacrifice for others often had to do just that.

“But everyone else is all right?”

“More or less.”

“Good. Let me check Eren first and then I’ll change and give everyone else an exam if they need it. Just give me my pouches so I can grab a blood sample, okay?”

Levi stared at her for a second as if trying to decide what to do, before he sighed and shook his head. Then he pointed to the ground as if ordering her to stay still before he stalked off, and came back after digging through a pile of stuff with Hange’s gear in his hand; they were wet, too, but it looked as if someone had made the effort to clean them up a bit. “Thank you,” she told him as she did a quick check of their contents before strapping them on.

“Thank Jean, now come on.” Levi appeared to be leading her toward one of the fires scattered about the clearing, where Ymir, Krista, Mikasa and Eren were seated. “Sasha’s actually pretty decent at patching people up and took care of everyone, but you can check them out in the morning when they wake up.” He gestured to another fire, closer to the horses, where several sleeping forms could be seen.

She assumed that meant they should be all right for the night, even if the slight tinge of grey on the horizon meant that daylight was only an hour or two away. “Okay.” Reaching their destination, she grinned at everyone and waved with her new right hand. “Heya!”

“So the prodigal finally awakens.” Ymir raised a mug of what smelled to be coffee in Hange’s direction; oh, was she really smelling that? Hange took a deep breath and yeah, she was picking up the scent of coffee along with the acrid tang of sweat and dried blood and something really unpleasant. She was about to inhale again when Levi shoved an elbow into her left side.

“Oi, sniff later, check out Eren now.” He was back to glaring, but Hange picked up a note of concern in his deep voice.

“Go ahead and spoil my fun.” She looked around and found Eren hunched over a few feet away with a blanket draped about his shoulders, and Mikasa kneeling at his side with a mug of coffee in her hands. When Levi knelt down on his other side, Eren seemed to stir a little, his eyes golden but surrounded by dark circles.

“Annoyin’,” he mumbled as he reached for Levi’s shirt.

Mikasa’s eyes narrowed and the coffee sloshed about in the mug as she shoved it closer to Eren’s face. “He won’t drink anymore.” She sounded more than a little pissed off at the moment.

“Too full.” Eren turned his face away from the mug and made a noise that was half gag, half hiss.

“See what you’ve been missing, sleeping all night,” Ymir called out from across the fire. “Best entertainment in- ow!”

“Just shut up and behave,” Krista hissed. “Help me get started on some breakfast.”

While those two shuffled away, Hange squatted next to Levi and reached out to grasp Eren’s chin so she could better see his face, and yeah, she could *see* his face; night vision was *amazing*. “All right, his pupils are a bit dilated, but his breathing seems to be normal. How do you feel, cutie?”

Eren blinked a couple of times before he answered. “Full. Tired.” He glared for a few seconds, his eyes flaring bright before they grew dull once more. “Wanna sleep.” His hand came up to touch the side of his head, and Hange noticed that his hair was damp and neatly – well, for Eren – combed for once and pinned back with those cat barrettes. “Stuffy up here. Mixed up.”

“Mixed up how?” Hange felt Levi become tense while Mikasa appeared ready to snatch up her brother hand and hold him close.

Eren made a spluttering sound and closed his eyes. “Just… mixed up.” His shoulders slumped forward. “Old… new… old.”

Someone like Eren would have an awful lot of content in his brain, and a lot to sort through at any given time. Hange hummed a little as she leaned in to give him a quick hug, which earned her another smack from a certain possessive boyfriend.

“Hey!”

“Aw, come on now, I just wanted to thank him! I’m not trying to poach or anything.” She beamed at Levi as he fussed with the blanket around Eren’s shoulders. “All right, I’m gonna take a blood sample, but honestly? I think you should just let him sleep.” When both Levi and Mikasa stared back in shock, she shrugged as she reached into a pouch for a syringe. “I can’t do too much out here without most of my equipment, but I’m willing to bet they seriously upped the dosage after finding out he fought back under the other stuff. They might have even added some type of psychotropic drug to mess with his mind and make him a bit more confused, to help soften him up, and you’re just making things worse by keeping him awake. It’s not a concussion, you know.” Seriously, they needed to leave the medical stuff to the experts, she thought as she urged Eren to extend his left arm. “Give him some time to shut down his brain and let it reset back to normal.”

He didn’t even flinch when she took the sample, and all but collapsed with his head in Levi’s lap when she was done. As for Levi, her friend didn’t look too happy despite having a lapful of unconscious, adorable boyfriend. “Just how much did they ‘up’ that shit?”

Hange sighed as she tucked away the blood. “I don’t know, and won’t really be sure until we hit another supply station – the few instruments I brought with me can probably give a rough estimate but that’s all. I would hope that they’re not trying to kill him with this stuff.”

Levi flicked his fingers in front of an already unconscious Eren’s forehead. “Yeah, because those undead fucks are all about safety first.”

“Yeah.” Hange tugged at a tear in her pants, where the one she’d fought had sliced through to her thigh. “Anyway, I’m betting he’ll be better when he wakes up.”

“And if he’s not?” Mikasa leaned over so she could stroke along her brother’s back.

All Hange could do just then was shrug. “Head back to the supply station so I can work out what they shot into him? Speaking of which, did you pick up those darts?”

Levi gave her an assessing look for a moment before he slid his free hand into an inner pocket of his jacket; the darts were wrapped up in a scrap of material. “You’re not going to just walk around and jab people, are you?” He held them back just out of reach as she grasped at them.

“Aw come on, would I do that?” Both Levi and Mikasa gave her identical looks that clearly said ‘of course’. “You guys are no fun.” She pouted as she crossed her arms over her chest.

“And you’re a menace to society,” Levi insisted.

“Quibbles, sweetie, quibbles. Now hand over the good stuff.” She made grabby motions with her hand. “Mama wants.”

“And here I thought this night couldn’t get any worse.” Levi’s nose wrinkled in disgust.

“But it’s an amazing night!” Both Mikasa and Levi cringed at the loudness of Hange’s voice, and even Eren stirred a little. “I mean, look at me!”

“Maybe you should let her try those things on herself,” Mikasa muttered as she rubbed at her ears.

“I’m seriously considering it.” Levi tossed the darts toward Hange, who laughed as she caught them. “Have fun.”

“You know I will!” She unwrapped them and was careful to uncap the end of one to see how much fluid it contained. “Wow, you’re right about poor Eren barely getting dosed.”

“Yes, so what are you going to do with them?”

Hange wrapped them back up and went to put them in her jacket before she remembered that it was little more than rags at the moment. “Well, I need something to study, but I’d like to have plenty left over.” When Levi pinched the bridge of his nose as if in pain and Mikasa buried the lower part of her face in her scarf, Hange glared at both of them. “Come on, I’m not going to do anything bad with it, I swear! Didn’t either of you think that maybe we could use these against the vampires?”

“Huh.” Mikasa tugged down her scarf as she cocked her head to the side. “If it’s knocked Eren out this much, it should really hit them hard.”

“Great. Almost makes me look forward to the next time there’s a mass slaughter.” Levi picked at a strand of Eren’s hair and twisted it around his fingers

“There’s my cheerful little sweetie!” Hange grinned at him and was about to say something else when her stomach rumbled; she’d been feeling hungry ever since she’d woken up, but guess it was starting to get a bit insistent. “Wow, that was loud, wasn’t it?”

“You should probably have some coffee,” Mikasa advised. “Food won’t do much for you now, but something warm to drink will help a little.”

Hange held up the darts as she shook her head. “I think I’ll tuck these safely away first and change into some clean clothes, then I’ll have some.”

“Try not to wake the others with your stomping around,” Levi warned as she got up to leave.

“Yeah, yeah.” Hange waved aside her friend’s ‘concern’ and had to stifle a laugh over how as soon as she left, Mikasa began to complain to Levi about him fussing too much with her brother and how it was going to wake up Eren. Hange had to wonder how soon it would be before the poor cutie was begging her for another dose of this stuff just so he could get a break from those two….

All kidding aside, it sucked that her theory that the vampires would up their pharmaceutical game against Eren had proven true; she was surprised that they hadn’t tried to use anything against Levi and the others as well, and wondered if there were something special about these darts. Limited supply? Tailored chemistry? Lethal to vampires and so not something they wanted to just throw around in a fight?

Too bad she couldn’t test one out on Ymir in case it was the latter – at least, not while Ymir was on their side for the time being. Hange was limited with what she could do while out in the field… but damn if nearly dying didn’t work wonders for the creative spirit. She’d figure something out, and prove to those undead shits that they weren’t the only clever bastards with fangs anymore.

*******

Krista winced as Ymir more or less threw a little bit of everything into the pot. “Uhm, are you sure that’s even going to taste good?”

“Please, you saw what they served back in the dome.” Ymir threw in another handful of protein powder and gave the mix a stir. “They need something that’ll get them back on their feet and keep ‘em running all day, screw their taste buds.”

“Says the person who gorged on blood last night.”

“Hmm.” A pleased smile tugged at Ymir’s mouth as she whacked the spoon once against the side of the pot. “It was all nice and yummy.”

Krista had noticed over the years that instead of getting all lethargic, as Eren had the other time, Ymir tended to get more along the lines of… well, ‘punch-drunk’ when she ‘over-indulged’ in blood. It explained her mouthing off to Captain Ackerman and the others – mouthing off more than normal – and now her insistence on making breakfast. A breakfast that Krista wouldn’t touch even if she’d still been human after witnessing what all went into it. “Well, at least we got a nice meal out of it. Not sure it makes up for losing Marlo.” She felt bad over his death; it wasn’t that she had known him for long, but he had been nice to her when she had been upset over Ymir’s disappearance. He had been a nice person, over all.

“Honestly? We’re lucky he’s the only one to die last night.” Ymir frowned at the point as if debating to add something else before she shrugged and left it alone. “Granted, Eren and I were able to handle the vampires by ourselves, more or less, but I doubt we’ll be so lucky next time.

Krista really didn’t want to hear about how there should have been more deaths, not when they had lost someone who had seemed so earnest about making the world a better place. So she placed her fists on her hips and gave her lover one of her sternest looks. “I don’t think luck should have anything to do with it – no, hear me out,” she insisted when Ymir was about to complain or contradict her or just be the usual pain in the ass know-it-all. “You’re so wise, so experienced so *do* something. Figure out a way to help save lives instead of just point out how this is all one big exercise of futility, all right?”

Ymir snapped her mouth shut and stared back for at least a minute, her expression sullen as she ran the pads of her thumbs over the claws of her fingers. “I *did* do something, didn’t you see me fight those vampires?”

“Yes, and you were… amazing.” Krista stepped in close enough so she could wrap her arms around her lover’s neck. “But you’re more than that, or else you wouldn’t have made it this far.” She stood up on her tiptoes so she could give Ymir a brief kiss. “You’re clever, too, so why don’t you show everyone that side of yourself and help them out, okay?”

Ymir’s sigh just then made it clear that she found this to be more trouble than it was worth, yet she’d go along with it. “Only for you, princess.”

“There’s my grouchy hero.” Krista beamed with pride at her girlfriend.

“They just better show their appreciation by letting *us* have the first shift next time we’re at a supply station, and *we* get to lock everyone out of the shower.” Ymir waggled her brows as she patted Krista on the ass.

“Hmm, I’d have them agree to that before they eat your breakfast.” Krista had to laugh when her girlfriend tried to defend her cooking skills.

*******

Rough translation:

If they knew about Levi, there’s a chance they know about your idiot.

*******

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