chapter seven

*******

running up that hill

*******

Mikasa gritted her teeth while Hange babbled on about gastric fluids, Moblit and tests, soaked to the bone from the downpour which had started up about half an hour ago and anxious to get back to the night’s camp. They’d gone farther out than she’d like to find some Malform for the captain to feed upon, and Hange had been almost mindless once the scent of the creatures had reached her; her jacket and shirt were in tatters in several spots but at least the rain helped to rinse away some of the blood.

“-has to be some special enzymes to help break down the fluid so quickly and disperse it through the bloodstream to speed up the healing.  Not to mention there’s the fact that normal food doesn’t do much of anything for us, so-“

Ymir let out a savage growl and swiped her claws at the captain. “Look, I’ve just about *had* it with you for the night, okay? I’m tired, wet, and if I have to listen to any more scientific bullshit I’m going shove branches in my ears and leave them there!”

Hange blinked a few times as she wiped at the wet bangs plastered on her forehead. “Huh, that seems rather extreme, doesn’t it?”

Mikasa just managed to push the idiot forward in time to avoid Ymir clawing her, and bared her teeth at the vampire. “Behave,” she warned, in no mood to put up with this nonsense.

“Tell me you don’t want to gut her yourself right now!”

“Hey!”

“It’ll waste time,” Mikasa admitted. “Just focus on getting back.”

Ymir grumbled in acquiescence while Hange did that annoying sniffing habit she usually reserved for whenever Levi smacked her around – Mikasa was beginning to see why the Short Bastard took to doing it on a regular basis. The woman might be brilliant but…. Keep in mind that she could help Eren, Mikasa scolded herself. They needed her to figure out what the others were shooting into him, to find an antidote to it.

At least Ymir’s threat managed to shut up Hange so the last bit of the return trip to the cave was quiet, save for a few muttered curses as they leapt about the slippery branches. When they finally reached the clearing before the cave’s entrance, Mikasa jumped to the ground with a wave of relief… one that lasted for just a few seconds before she picked up on a strange scent which made her vision wash out into grey.

Beside her, Ymir began to hiss while Hange inhaled several deep breaths. “Hmm, that’s odd. What is it? Rather… tangy.”

“It’s a cat,” Mikasa explained as she took a cautious step forward while she searched about; the scent led into the cave, of all places.

“And a fucking big one, for it to be so strong.” Ymir hissed again and began to pace back and forth, reluctant to approach the cave. “What did those morons do?”

Hange stared at her for a couple of seconds before falling in step beside Mikasa. “Something wrong with her? I thought cats weren’t a problem.”

“They are for *her* if it’s a really big one.” Mikasa hid a smile beneath her sodden scarf when Ymir called her a bitch. As they neared the cave, Krista came running towards them.

“You’re back! Ymir, don’t come in!” Krista dashed into the rain to hug her girlfriend, and Mikasa caught a whiff of cat from the girl when she brushed past.

Sighing a little about how things were never boring anymore, Mikasa figured that there went a quiet night of changing into dry clothes and curling up next to Jean. She wrung out the ends of her scarf as she stepped inside, grateful that at least she should manage the first on her wish list, and nearly flinched from the overwhelming stench of cat and entrails. For a moment there was a sense of panic, of concern for Eren and Jean, but an uninjured Jean was waiting for her a few feet away and the relative lack of fear she picked up from him helped to calm her down.

He gave her a huge grin and pulled her in for a hug despite the fact that she was soaked. “I am *so* happy to see you.”

Despite the worry about Eren, she paused to hug him back. “Me, too.” About to ask where Eren was, she heard Hange crow in excitement, followed by a very loud rumble. “Ah, Eren?” she asked as she pulled away.

“Yeah, and a *huge* cat.” Jean shook his head, a look of disbelief on his face. “Your brother is insane, you know that? I mean, really, really insane.”

“He is a bit… unusual.” Mikasa began to shrug out of her wet jacket as she made her way further back into the cave, past a sleeping Sasha and Connie curled up in a protective manner around his unconscious girlfriend. Her nose wrinkled as the scent of cat grew stronger, and at first she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her when she caught sight of the grey and black shape.

The infamous cat in Siberia had been bigger, as had that one back around Lake Constance. However, those two wouldn’t have beaten this one by much, and there was no telling if it was fully grown yet. It lumbered onto its feet to stand behind Eren with its multitude of sharp teeth bared at Hange, who was bouncing around like an over-excited idiot while Levi snatched at her in vain.

“-rare to see them this big! There’s the supposition about how the environment, Malform predation and interbreeding’s affected them over the centuries to jumpstart their evolution, but they’re like phantoms, *phantoms*, Levi! The biggest felines reported during Corps’ expeditions have been-“

Levi managed to latch onto her arms while the cat issued a savage growl. “Shut the hell up, you lunatic,” he snapped. “Or else I’ll feed you to your precious research subject!”

While he attempted to calm down the crazy person, Mikasa abandoned a stunned Jean and strolled up to her brother, her gaze locked onto the cat’s the entire time. It stared down at her for several seconds, its teeth bared as she approached, yet when she stopped beside Eren it merely sniffed twice while she stared back unblinking and then huffed before looking away.

“Great, you’re just as crazy,” Jean muttered as he rubbed his hands up and down his arms. “Am I the only one afraid of being eaten by the thing?”

“Hell no,” Connie could be heard calling out in a soft voice.

“Why *isn’t* it eating you?” Hange stood up on her tiptoes to better peer over Levi and cocked her head to the side. When he gave her a rough shake, she stomped on his foot. “I mean, not like I want it to eat you, not unless I can set up some vid firs- ow!” She hissed at him for whatever he’d done to make her shut up, the harsh sound soon turning into a laugh. “Haha, that’s so fun, isn’t it?”

Levi pushed her from him as if disgusted. “I’d say dying made your brains all warped but you’ve always been like this.” He rubbed at his eyes for a moment before turning to face Mikasa and Eren, then clicked his tongue. “Figures ‘Flocki’ there would like you.”

Flocki? Mikasa glanced over her shoulder at the cat, which began to settle back onto the ground, and then at Eren, who shrugged beneath her regard. “Für mich sieht sie aus wie eine ‘Fluffy’,” he explained.

“Ich hätte mich für ' Schatten ' entschieden, aber ihr Fell ist schön und voll.” She reached out to stroke the cat, its fur soft beneath her fingertips, before switching back to ‘English’. “Guess Ymir could have picked a better cave, no?”

Eren chuckled a little and leaned back against Levi when the man came over to wrap his arms around him; he looked… he looked good just then, his eyes all clear for the first time that day and a true smile on his face. It was enough for Mikasa to overlook the fact that the barrettes in his hair were uneven, both his *and* Levi’s shirts were rumpled and untucked, and Levi’s scent emanated stronger than usual from Eren’s sun-kissed skin. “I know Flocki doesn’t care too much for Krista because of how she smells, so yeah, can’t imagine it’s a good idea for Ymir to come in here.” His smile slipped a little as he took in Mikasa’s drenched state. “You should go change.”

“Hmm, in a minute, I wanted to introduce myself first.” She gave the cat another pet before stepping aside. “Let’s hope that Flocki here doesn’t cause as much of a problem as Romeo did back in Siberia.”

Eren went stiff in Levi’s arms and even growled a little. “We’re not talking about that!”

A rather satisfied expression crossed Levi’s face as he held on tight to Mikasa’s brother, as if to ensure that Eren couldn’t pull away. “Oh, I think we *are*. Just what happened back then?” He glanced at Mikasa and arched an eyebrow while he waited for an answer. “It has to be good considering how freaked he gets over it.”

Mikasa chuckled as she made her way over to Jean and decided ‘why not’ – half the fun of being a sister was telling tales. “I don’t know what Eren’s all upset about, because I thought it was really cute, the way poor Romeo followed us around like an overgrown puppy for days,” she ignored her brother’s muttered curses and spoke louder, “leaving fresh kills at all of our camps.”

“He dropped a half-dead baby moose on me one day while I was trying to sleep!” Eren complained as he tugged at his hair. “Damn thing broke several ribs and nearly tore off an ear!”

While Jean and Hange took to laughing, Mikasa shook her head. “Could never figure out if the poor thing was courting Eren or just saw him as a scrawny, underfed kitten who needed attention. Romeo finally fell back when we reached the end of his territory, it seemed.”

“What, you didn’t keep him as a pet?” Jean teased as he bumped his shoulder into hers.

“No, would have made us stand out a little too much.” Mikasa did her best to hide a grin beneath her scarf as she folded her arms over her chest. “Plus, might have made Eren picking up some new dates a bit difficult with Romeo acting as his chaperone.”

“Oh fu-“ Eren let out a squeak when Levi gave him a rather forceful hug.

“Is our guest over there going to be any trouble?” Levi gave Mikasa a level gaze while Eren wheezed out a breath or two.

She returned it with a hint of heat before she shook her head. “I don’t think so, or else you’d be missing at least a limb by now.” The cat had taken to grooming a paw during their discussion, so she felt safe to say that its main interest had been either returning home or to a dry spot for the night; since the cave hadn’t smelled too strongly of the cat earlier, this might not be its main lair. “We should probably leave it alone.”

Hange took an arrested step toward the cat, before Levi let go of Eren to swipe at her arm. “But I want to study it, see if it’ll-“

“If you piss off a cat that can shit us out whole without any real effort, then I will tell Erwin about *you* found in Nedehl,” Levi warned.

She gasped as she clutched at her flat chest in an exaggerated manner. “You *wouldn’t*!” When all he did was give her a bland stare in return, she made a growling sound and threw her hands up in the air. “You don’t deserve a cutie like Eren!”

Mikasa agreed with that statement, but the main thing of importance just then was keeping a certain feline calm. “If you two want to fight, take it outside.”

Hange gave Levi a murderous glare, her eyes glowing gold in the cave’s dim light. “*I* want to choke a certain-“

“Coffee, I could use some coffee,” Eren called out as he slipped from Levi’s grasp and took a few steps away from his boyfriend. “Come on, join me,” he cajoled as he threaded their fingers together and tugged on Levi’s left hand.

Levi looked as if he wanted to resist at first, and then a slight smirk curved his thin lips. “Sure, and then we can mock Ymir for being stuck out in the rain.” He bridged the distance between them and gave Eren a gentle shove forward. “This’ll be fun.”

Eren whispered something back, but the words were too faint for Mikasa to hear, especially since Hange called out Levi’s name at the same time and ran after the two; she felt the urge to follow as well, but held back for a few seconds to ensure that ‘Flocki’ remained curled up. The cat was now swiping a damp paw over its face, so Mikasa assumed that it was settled for the night and shouldn’t be a problem unless something set it off.  Made uncomfortable by the clammy feel of damp clothes drying on her skin, she reached for Jean and gave his arm a squeeze. “Well, unless Hange sneaks back here, I think it’ll be okay for the rest of the night. What do you say to us getting some sleep?” The thought of curling up next to Jean for the remainder of the night, of feeling his warmth next to her, was comforting.

He smiled as they made their way over to where Connie and Sasha lay; Sasha was still asleep, but Connie rose up a little while Mikasa picked through her gear for some dry clothes. “Not gonna get eaten tonight?” he asked, his voice a bit slurry with exhaustion.

“Not by the cat,” Mikasa assured him. He grunted a little and fell back down by Sasha, and when she returned after stepping away to change, was already asleep. Jean had spread out some blankets for the two of them a few feet away, so she stretched out beside him on the padded ground.

She could hear voices toward the front of the cave: Hange’s excited tone, Levi’s deep rumble, Rico and Eren’s higher pitches. Once certain that her brother was all right and not too far away, she allowed herself to focus on Jean’s heartbeat as she shifted closer, grateful for his presence and the comfort it provided. To have someone other than Eren or Armin hold her close like this… She did her best to forget all of the worries, all the fears that would be there in a few hours and enjoy this moment while it lasted.

*******

Rico jerked awake, her hands scrambling for her weapons while her tired mind attempted to catch up to the situation – her body ached, it was dark, and the humid air reeked. “What?”

Captain Ackerman, his pale and impassive face gleaming in the faint light, grunted once then jerked his chin in the direction where the yellowish light emanated. “Thought you might want to tag along so get your butt into gear.” Without saying another word, he turned away and left.

Captain Ackerman. The cave. Vampires. Huge cat. Rico groaned as she forced her sore body to sit upright; sleeping on the ground was getting tiresome, especially when she’d barely gotten a couple of hours of sleep last night. First there had been the nightmares of the fight from the other night, of seeing those undead bastards ripping poor Marlo apart, and then it had been the fact that there was a huge cat curled up at the back of the cave. Pushing onto her feet, she glanced around but didn’t see any sign of the thing, though she could still smell the remains of its dinner.

It only took a minute or two to get dressed, and after pulling on her boots, she headed to where there was a small fire burning near the entrance of the cave while strapping on her belts; everyone else seemed huddled there, including a rather irate Ymir. “So where’s our guest?”

“Flocki took off about an hour ago,” Mikasa informed her, a hint of a smile lurking on her lovely face for some reason.

“About fucking time, too. I swear I was starting to grow mushrooms out there,” Ymir snapped as she inched closer to the fire, a mug of coffee held between her hands.

“Hmm, you could have come in and asked her to leave any time you wanted.” Mikasa sounded a bit too sweet just then, so Rico assumed that she was teasing the vampire and had scored a hit when Ymir’s eyes flared red.

“Very funny, Sunshine. I’ll remember that when-“

“Oi, enough with the shit.” Captain Ackerman’s deep voice cut through the burgeoning fight, his now golden eyes glowing in the dim light. He crouched near the fire with Eren next to him busy tapping on a datapad, a cup of coffee held by his fingertips as he gave everyone a stern gaze. “We got a break last night so everyone should be ready to ride hard today, right?”

Somehow, Rico didn’t think that was really a question, a feeling which was echoed by the others. “You giving us a choice?” Jean had a defiant look on his face as he stared back at the captain.

“Yeah, you keep up or else,” Captain Ackerman informed him. “We really were lucky last night but I don’t want to keep pushing it, so we’ll make sure we’re somewhere with better security than an overgrown pet tonight.”

Beside him, Eren finished tapping and handed the tablet to his sister. “I think we can make it by late afternoon if we don’t stop too often.”

“That might be a bit generous.” She frowned as she studied the map on the screen. “Hmm, definitely before dark, but the horses will be tired. At least the ground looks open.” She gave Jean a sympathetic smile as she handed back the datapad. “Be grateful that you’ve gotten some practice in with riding, at least.”

“Oh great,” he moaned as he rose up to stand. “Come on,” he urged Connie, who was busy snacking on what looked to be a protein bar. “Let’s get those torture devices ready for the day.”

“Maybe I can tie a blanket to my saddle for extra padding,” the short kid mumbled as he followed his friend. Meanwhile, Sasha continued shoving a bar in her face as if unbothered by the day’s plans. Rico dared to snatch at a sealed bar by the girl’s knee so she had something to go with her cup of coffee.

“You going to be all right?” It took her a moment to realize that Mikasa was asking the question to her brother, who was refilling his mug.

“Yeah, I feel a lot better today.” He rubbed at his eyes for a moment and sighed. “It’s… things are still a little mixed up but it’s better.” For a moment it looked as if Mikasa was about to reach out for him, but Captain Ackerman snagged him by wrapping an arm around his upper chest and pulled him close, freeing a squawk from the poor guy.

“He’ll be fine since he’s riding with me again, so keep Ymir and that lunatic out of trouble.” The captain switched his glare from Mikasa to Captain Hange, who beamed as she hovered around Eren.

“Aw, I’m all right now that I had a snack last night. Now let me check this cutie right here, I wanna see if-“

Ackerman fended her off with his mug of coffee, the hot liquid sloshing about in the cup. “Back off, shitty glasses. Go pack up your crap!”

“But I just want to-“

“Uhm really mu’ bettah!” Eren insisted as he attempted to wiggle free. “Except tha whole breathin’ thin’....” His face was beginning to turn a bright shade of red the longer that Ackerman held onto him.

“Eren!” Mikasa hissed as she darted forward to pry him free, and Rico managed to snag another bar for breakfast while Sasha blinked at the hybrids’ antics. After a bit of hissing and rather possessive behavior on both the captain’s and Mikasa’s parts, Eren was freed and left gasping for air; Rico took that as a sign that it was time to go get her stuff ready.

“Wow, impressive set of lungs there!” Hange made to pat Eren on the back and received a dual set of glares for her trouble, while Eren just shook his head and brushed off both his sister’s and his lover’s attempt to fuss over him.

“I need some fresh air,” he insisted and stomped outside, leaving Mikasa and Captain Ackerman to scowl at each other before they found something else to do, all the while Ymir chuckling until Krista punched her in the arm to make her behave.

Yeah, it was going to be one of those days. On the off chance that they did manage to find a cure and make it back alive, the historians were going to have fits figuring out what could get past the censors, Rico was willing to bet. Oh well, it wasn’t her problem – no, she just had to somehow stay alive, help find a cure and get it back to a dome. At this point, she’d given up on the whole ‘retaining a shred of sanity’ part.

Finished with breakfast, she got up to grab her gear; might as well get the start on another fun-filled day of whining, muttered insults and attempted homicide out of the way. Then see if the Malforms decided to attack tonight.

Still, she supposed it was better than trudging through sewers.

*******

“Remember to knock on the door when you want to leave.”

Armin nodded in an absent-minded manner at the familiar instructions; he’d heard them every time he’d come to ‘visit’ Annie and so knew what was required of him by now. As soon as he entered the room where they kept her sequestered, he searched out the chrysalis, anxious to see if there was any new damage to it.

He thought there might be a couple of new scratches on the hard exterior, but the lines were so faint that it was difficult to tell. “You still putting up a good fight?” He spread his right hand out over in front of Annie’s chest. “Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that you can be so difficult by doing nothing at all.” He smiled as he leaned in closer to the ‘stone’. “Are they still so frustrated over the fact that they have a vampire in their midst, a chance at ‘immortality’ and can’t do anything about it?” He hadn’t seen Hitch in the last couple of days he had stopped by, so he wondered if perhaps she had overstepped herself that one time; he always made sure to talk to Annie in an older dialect of English or in German, but it was pretty clear what his discussion with Hitch had been about.

For about a minute he didn’t do anything but stare into the chrysalis, stare at the motionless form ‘floating’ inside. Like the time before last and the time before that, he wracked his brain and compared the image to the one in his memory – did Annie’s brow seem a little more furrowed now? Were the corners of her lips turned down a minute bit farther? Had her fingers curled more into a fist? Armin knew how likely it was for a person to imagine things, how stress could affect the mind, but… why would he want Annie to move? Hadn’t they agreed that it wouldn’t be a good thing if she broke free? That it would be a sign that the vampires would be ready to move against Trost if that happened?

Yet each time Armin walked into the MP’s headquarters, he couldn’t help but think that Annie didn’t deserve to be here, that as much as he knew the vampires were the enemy, he didn’t really trust the MPs either. He knew some of them were in league against the Freedom Corps, while Annie….

Okay, so she was after Eren and she had helped tear apart the Corps. Yet she had also spared Armin’s life, and he couldn’t help but wonder how much of her actions had been of her own free will and how much had been because of what she was – because as a vampire, she had her own masters to answer to in the end. Yes, people had died and the 104 th had suffered, but Trost was still standing, unlike Ragako and Utgard. If the vampires had been so certain of Eren’s location, why hadn’t they just flooded Trost with Malform and taken him by force?

“Sometimes it hurts to try to think this all through and figure it all out,” he admitted to her as he stared up at her face. “I know I shouldn’t trust you, but at least I know what you want, what you’d do if you got out of here. I know what you want from Eren.” He thought back to what waited for him at the base, at the growing anxiety as each day passed without another message from Captain Ackerman. Commander Smith obviously wanted the best for his people and humanity, but Armin worried about what would happen to Eren and Mikasa when they returned. Would their secret be revealed if they came back with a cure? How would the Commander go about explaining things while protecting them?

“It’s getting so complicated now, and I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon. Everybody seems willing to risk so much… these high stakes make me nervous, because people are going to suffer one way or another.” If the vampires threw everything they had in an attempt to capture Eren, to prevent him from bringing back a cure, things would get very bloody before they got better. If Commander Smith trusted the wrong person, then Eren, Mikasa, Captain Ackerman and Krista could find themselves hunted because of what they were even if they did bring back a cure. And if the vampires won… well, no need to ponder on that outcome. “Sometimes I wonder if we should have just run all those weeks ago, but it would have just delayed the inevitable.”

He sighed as he rested his forehead against the smooth surface of the chrysalis and wondered if this sense of bone-deep exhaustion was a small taste of the ancient weariness that weighed down Eren and Mikasa from time to time, a side effect of living too long. Soon enough he would return to the Corps’ base and report to Commander Smith that Annie’s condition hadn’t changed, to resume his study on Ackerman’s drugged blood, but for now, he needed some sort of peaceful respite. How odd was it that he found it here, in the presence of a vampire.

*******

There you go, my girl. Hold yer hands up like this.” Hands roughened by weather and callouses engulfed Annie’s tiny hands with a firm gentleness until they moved into the right position. “Thumbs out, always thumbs out, and watch yer face. Don’t go leaving yer guard down, ye hear?”

Pain washed through Annie as the memory bubbled up, so fresh and real despite all the years separating her from her youth in Carlisle, the days of her father raising her alone, a simple soldier stationed in what was basically a garrison town and doing his best to ensure that his daughter knew how to protect herself, that his daughter could walk around with her head held high instead of some meek little thing. Maybe if she’d been a little less sure of herself, a little less headstrong, she wouldn’t have dared to set out after him once he’d been sent across the border, when she’d heard the stories of the awful fighting and grown worried about an aging soldier too gentle for his own good….

What have you there, Miriam?”

“Something that decided to fight back. Hmm, I like a bit of feisty dinner. I think this is going to be fun….

There was more pain, only this was sharper, was the type that flared through the nerves rather than one that ached through the chest. After all this time, anger still welled deep inside of her at the memory of being toyed with, at being turned for amusement sake, at being little more than a ‘pet’ to those older and more powerful than herself. She wanted to-

“Sometimes it hurts to try to think this all through and figure it all out.”

The plaintive voice shook Annie from her furious thoughts, from the endless cycle of memories. She knew that voice, didn’t she? A face drifted to the front of her mind: young and handsome, golden hair framing kind blue eyes and a shy smile. Armin? Yes, Armin. His voice reached out to her so much lately, instead of Bert’s or Reiner’s, broke through when it seemed that the past would become unbearable, when it circled….

Ringed….

Oh, yes, the ring. The fight. Mikasa knocking her down. Eren. The orders. That would mean-

“Sometimes I wonder if we should have just run all those weeks ago, but it would have just delayed the inevitable.”

No, no that wouldn’t have worked, wouldn’t have been wise. *They* would have been waiting, would have torn him to shreds and taken Eren away. There was another flash of pain, but why… why Annie didn’t know. Didn’t know except that she needed Armin’s voice to drive away the memories. Needed his much like she needed the boys, needed Bert and Reiner. Except they weren’t here and Armin was.

“-have to go, but I’ll be back. I promise.”

She wanted to scoff at that, because what good were human promises? Yet he’d kept it so far, hadn’t he? Hadn’t his voice returned again and again? Confused and uncertain, she focused on what he’d said, on the sound of his voice in an effort to keep back the painful memories. There were so many of them, too many, lying in wait to drag her down again.

*******

“That’s a lake! You said that there’s a lake where we could fish near your camp, so we’re here, right? And we can fish, right?” Sasha stood up in her stirrups and waved her left hand about, a huge grin on her face as she looked ready to jump off of her horse to go running toward the water at any moment.

“Yes, we’re almost there and I think we should get settled in first before we do any fishing,” Eren told her as if speaking to a very young Armin, even as Connie urged his girlfriend to sit back down. Up ahead, Mikasa, Hange, Ymir and Krista stood waiting for them since the trees had thinned out; from the hunched set of Ymir’s shoulders, she was probably unhappy about being in the ‘open’ like this, but there wasn’t much Eren could do about the location. Over the years the trees had grown up around the destroyed city, but the fact remained that this had been a thriving downtown once so there was still some cleared area. “It’s probably best to dismount here- while the ground’s mostly settled now, there still might be a soft spot or two to trip up the horses,” he warned even as he prepared to swing out of the saddle.

Behind him, Levi cast an odd look even as he dismounted first, then all but hauled Eren down next to him on the ground. “What is this place?”

“Yes, the ground looks a bit weird,” Rico remarked as she pushed up her glasses; the late afternoon sun cast long shadows on the uneven ground and gentle swells of small hills that were covered with large bushes. Because of all of the concrete, asphalt and steel that had marked the former city, it had taken the land more time to break down, for nature to reclaim the area – but nature had won out in the end.

Eren rubbed at the back of his neck, which felt stiff from a long day spent riding hard and fast, especially when he was still somewhat tired from whatever that vampire asshole had shot into him. “It used to be a city at one time, one that people just up and abandoned. Unlike others, as far as Mikasa and I can tell, it wasn’t cannibalized for materials to either build refugee camps, interim cities or domes, so it was just left to rot.” He gave up on the massage so he could wave his hand around while they led the horses forward. “Stuff starts to break down after a while, though Malform digging around helped to speed things up, as does the fact that there were all these underground tunnels for transportation, sewers and cables. No regular maintenance and some of the nasty weather we had….” He shrugged as he gestured even more around him. “Stuff falls down.”

Rico stared at one of the mounds for a few seconds. “We study as much information on pre-collapse architecture as we can, and it’s so infuriating, what they were able to do that we can’t. Buildings that can reach into the sky, so big that everyone would have more than enough room to live in. Transportation tunnels underground connecting locations where you can reach your destination in mere hours.”

“Yeah, well, it’s in part thanks to those tunnels that Mikasa and I have found some nice hiding holes.” Eren tugged on his horse’s reins so the gelding skirted around what looked to be a small hole in the ground – sometimes those holes ended up being bigger. Sometimes nasty things lurked in those holes. “Us and the vampires. A lot of the old subway systems left behind nice hollow sections in the earth – well, when they don’t collapse, that is.”

“And that’s what this is, a ‘subway’?” Levi kicked at a rock as he frowned, his attention focused ahead of him to where Mikasa and the others waited.

Eren nodded and almost ran his free hand through his hair before he remembered about the barrettes. “Yeah, we came across a station that was in decent shape… oh, several centuries ago and made it a project of sorts.” He stared at the ground for a moment as memories rushed forward, of him and Mikasa stumbling across the entrance one day when looking for a respite from the punishing sunlight, of how they had used the ‘project’ of making it safe and livable to keep them both busy and somewhat sane for several years, of how that time had been so peaceful…. He started when a sharp pain flashed in his forehead, to find Levi walking near him, his hand hovering near Eren’s head as if to flick him again. “What?” he snapped.

“You losing it again?” Levi demanded to know as he made a threatening flicking motion with his fingers.

“How could that be, when I lost it entirely the moment I took up with you?”

Levi made that damn clicking noise with his tongue and looked ahead. “Sanest moment of your shitty life, brat.”

About to start arguing over this, Eren forced his mouth shut and shook his head as he rubbed at his eyes. “There should alcohol inside,” was all he said instead.

“Thank god,” Rico moaned. “I’m going to be as bad as Pixis by the time we get back to Trost, and I don’t give a damn.”

“That’s something to look forward to,” Jean commented as he hurried past so he could reach Mikasa, his horse nodding its head as if in agreement. Eren had to bite his lip before he said something that Mikasa would overhear, and glanced aside to see Levi smirking as well. They shared a look before continuing on in a peaceful silence.

Sasha whined about having fish for dinner, while Ymir threatened to dunk her in the water if she didn’t shut up. That caused Connie to come to his girlfriend’s defense, and Krista to yell at everyone for behaving like immature children; Eren could tell that Levi was impressed by the young woman’s temper and cursing just then, it was all in the way his lips twitched and the slight gleam in his grey eyes. By the time the bickering was done, they reached the grassy knoll which housed the entrance to the ‘camp’.

Everyone huddled around when Mikasa motioned for them to stop walking, then took a few steps forward. “The horses will probably be a bit cramped, since we’ve never housed so many inside. We’ll need some supplies for them, too.”

“Ymir, you and Krista can scavenge some grass after we get them inside, right?” Levi gave the couple a heavy look while Mikasa appeared to hold her hand out to a shrub.

“Yeah, we can gather some cuttings without it being too obvi- what the *hell*, Sunshine, you got tech like that out here?” Ymir shoved a stunned Connie aside as the image of dense greenery faded away to reveal a large steel door.

“Amazing, the people who are willing to help out if you ask nicely.” Mikasa flashed a smile over the top of her scarf before she pressed her hand against a glowing panel. Meanwhile, Levi took to glaring at Eren in an all-too familiar manner.

“Hey, don’t look at me,” Eren told the grouch. “That one was Mikasa’s girlfriend.” He shoved his lover forward as soon as the door opened.

Jean, who up ‘til that point had been smirking either at everyone’s stunned reaction or Levi’s furious one, nearly stumbled upon hearing the ‘girlfriend’ part. “Wha- you- guh-girlfriend?” His eyes were huge as he stared at Mikasa’s back.

“Jiao was really smart, she worked on the Luxemburg dome.” Eren took a deep breath as he crossed into the threshold of the ‘safe house’. All around them was metal and scuffed concrete, with a few remaining tiles of when the dwelling used to be a subway station. “Watch out, there should be a ramp over to the left where you can lead the horses down.” As they entered, the lights above flickered to life.

Ymir snorted as she looked around, her hands tugging away at the UV protection to reveal an impressed expression. “I’d say the girl was smart, if she could help rig as detailed a holographic screen like that. I thought tech that complex was mostly lost to humans at this point.”

Not too far behind, Hange’s entire body seemed to thrum as she jumped from one various point to another, so much so that Rico gave her a disgusted look and hurried to get the horses she was leading away from the scientist. “Oh my, *oh my*, this is *amazing*! The architecture! The tech!” She paused to run her hand over the security screens that lined the doorway, at least before Mikasa yanked her away in case she set off their alarm system. “Those air panels set above? Can I see them?” She was about to start climbing the concrete walls and was once again yanked about by Mikasa. “Come on, I want to see! I want to explore! This is so incredible!” She pouted for all of two seconds before something else grabbed her attention. “Where does that cable lead? How is the electricity fed into here?” Before anyone could stop her, she was off and running.

Mikasa made a furious spitting noise and rubbed at her face. “Horses go down the ramp and into the chamber on the left, there’s a faucet where you can get some water for them.” She gestured with a clawed hand in the general direction.

“Come on,” Eren urged Levi as he led his horse in that direction. “Like I said, it’ll be a tight fit since we usually just had a few of them for us and whatever supplies we dragged along.” They had never dared to steal any air transport, not when it was much too traceable, and were paranoid about most mechanical devices as well.

Rico pushed her way up close to Eren and Levi as they neared the large chamber that had been set aside as a basic stable. “So, Mikasa dated a dome engineer and what, the two of you dragged her here to help set this place up?” She glanced around the dust-filled room for a few seconds before she began to remove the tack from her horse.

Having a feeling he was going to receive more than a few ‘flicks’ for this, Eren sighed and rubbed his left palm against his already sore forehead. “Sorta.” Oh yes, that answer made Levi’s spine stiffen. “It’s not like she picked up Jiao with the intent to bring her here, they just… hit it off. We learned a lot from her over the years… and others.” He winced as Levi’s eyes flashed gold and his lover took a step closer.

“Others?” Levi folded his arms over his chest as his now glowing eyes narrowed. “Just how many of Mikasa’s dates helped fix this place up?”

A nervous chuckle slipped free as Eren ran his hands through the horse’s black mane. “Ah, well, there was one who knew a lot about solar panels, but on the whole….”

Another step closer put Levi within striking distance. “Let me rephrase that – what’s the ratio of Mikasa’s lovers to your fuck-buddies, hmm?”

Oh yeah, he was in serious trouble now. “Why are you so obsessed about the past?” He didn’t understand it, didn’t see why it bothered Levi so much when all of… well, *most* of his lovers were dead and gone. “I’m with you now.”

The muscle beneath Levi’s left eye began to twitch. “That bad, huh?” He flexed his hands as if he wanted to latch on to something, or lash out.

Feeling the need to claw something up himself, Eren pinched the bridge of his nose and took a few deep, calming breaths before he started cursing. “Look, so I may have dated-“

“You don’t ‘date’.”

“*Dated*,” Eren continued with a bit more heat, well aware that everyone had given up on settling the horses in for the night to watch the ‘show’ going on, “a… some guys who knew about things like electronics and security systems and stuff like that. Other than Jiao, we couldn’t exactly keep dragging people here and our other places because that would have been a danger to us and them. So we’d find these people and Mikasa and I….” He shrugged as he resumed playing with the gelding’s mane. “We picked up a lot of useful skills, okay?” Mikasa was naturally brilliant and could often figure things out if she watched an expert at work long enough, while Eren had no qualms about raiding someone’s hard drives if they had necessary information. Then Armin had come along and things got a lot easier. “We did what we had to do.”

For a moment it looked as if Levi had tasted something bitter with the way his thin lips twisted and his eyes narrowed, and then he shook his head. “Some day real soon we’re going to have a nice talk about that definition of yours for ‘have to do’.” While he spoke, he reached out to grab onto Eren’s left arm and began to drag him away from the horses. “Blouse, you and Springer can finish up here.”

“Uhm, but sir….”

“You want your precious fish, you’ll obey the order without any more complaint,” he warned Sasha, his eyes still a brilliant gold.

“Yes, sir!” Sasha managed a perfect salute, even if she held a brush clutched in her right hand at the moment.

Eren allowed himself to be ‘led’ past a sniggering Ymir and a sympathetic Krista, and somehow wasn’t surprised to notice that the pack horse with all of Hange’s stuff had basically been abandoned after having its gear removed. Levi continued out of the ‘stable’ area and onward, until they came to a secondary set of doors where Mikasa, Jean and Hange were waiting.

Busy examining the seals around the doors, Mikasa paused to give Levi a blank stare, her attention lingering on the hand wrapped around Eren’s arm. “It looks all right,” she told Eren before she placed her hand on the scanner.

“Someone’s a bit paranoid,” Levi remarked in a sarcastic tone, which earned him a glare from both Eren and Jean.

“Yeah, see how happy you are if a vampire leaps out at us,” Eren shot back, while Hange made a squealing sound and hopped from foot to foot. “I don’t think that’s really going to happen,” he told the scientist.

“I want to see what you have in there!” She appeared ready to shove Mikasa out of the way to be the first one in the new ‘room’, but a warning look from Eren’s sister made her calm down. “Oh come on, the suspense is killing me!”

“No, it’s not, but I can manage something.” Levi tapped a couple of clawed fingers against the hilt of the blade on his left hip.

Ever the mature one, Hange stuck her tongue out at him, then ducked behind Jean before Levi could retaliate. Feeling a headache coming on, Eren took a long stride closer to his sister, which caused Levi to stumble forward as well, and then a few more steps until they were inside the ‘residential’ area of their hideaway.

As with the inner chamber, the motion sensors picked up their presence and powered up the lights, while fresh air began to be pumped inside. Due to both the location underground and a lot of the artifacts stored inside, the temperature was kept cooler here than it had been out in the forest. Eren noticed that Jean began to shiver, but it wasn’t cold enough to affect him or the others.

“Huh.” Levi trailed a finger along the railing of the stairs as they descended, but there wasn’t any dust in such a controlled environment. “Least this place looks clean.” He glanced around, and Eren guessed that he was taking in the size of the oblong room with its arched ceilings, the remaining tile-work between the patchwork of filters and lights, the snaking of wires that covered the walls in-between the paintings and screens.

Jean wandered over to one of the paintings. “What the – didn’t we see this at the show I took you to?” He turned to Mikasa while his hand hovered over the protective glass which encased the painting of a pale woman in a revealing black dress. “This… this doesn’t look like a holo.”

“That’s because it’s not one,” she explained as she urged him away from the fragile masterpiece. “I told you our mother liked art, didn’t I?” She guided him around the golden ram’s head statue that was set up on a pedestal near the painting.

Levi let go of Eren so he could turn around to look over the room a couple of times. “That’s an impressive amount of nice stuff on the walls.” Eren swore his lover’s eye twitched each time he spotted a new piece of art. “How much would you say this stuff is worth, Hange?”

Busy hovering near a shelf filled with various bits of damaged early 21st century tech that Eren couldn’t force himself to throw out in case he – well, Mikasa or Armin – could figure out how to get the data from it one day, the scientist shoved her hands behind her back as if caught doing something she shouldn’t and blinked a couple of times. “Uhm, what? Oh, the artwork?” She fiddled with her glasses for a moment as she glanced upward at a Monet. “I can’t even begin to put a price on this stuff – I mean, most Chairmen might be lucky enough to have one or two of these pieces, but all of them?”

“I’d say you’d have enough to buy a dome or two,” Ymir called out as she approached, with an amazed Krista at her side. “And this is just part of the collection, right Rebel? You keep saying you’re not a vampire, but you sure do have their hoarding tendencies down pat.” She let out a whistle as she trailed her fingers along the glass protecting one of the Picassos.

Eren’s vision shifted into grey upon hearing that taunt, and across the room he heard Mikasa growl. “I’m not a vampire!”

“Didn’t say that, just that you sure do act like one.” Ymir came to a halt in front of him with her arms folded across her chest, while behind her, Rico stared in wonder at the paintings and Jean muttered “a fucking dome?”.

“What were we supposed to do? Let them rot like everything else? Or worse, for your *friends* to keep snatching them up and hiding them away?” Eren slashed his clawed right hand through the air. “Everything was getting destroyed, was being ruined, so we saved what we could!”

“Hmm, that and there was a nice trade and barter for the stuff for some years after the collapse, right?” A cruel grin spread across Ymir’s face as she looked past Eren at Levi. “Don’t let him fool you into thinking that they just scooped all of these off the ground or from some abandoned museum. No, ask him-“

“Sei verdammt- halt’s Maul!” Eren lunged at Ymir, but found himself held back before he could get more than half a step forward.

“No, let her finish,” Levi growled as he held onto both of Eren’s arms. “I want to hear this.”

Mikasa was snarling as well, but Jean had his arms wrapped around her while Krista bared her teeth in warning.

“Ask him which ones were ‘bought’ and paid for,” Ymir continued, as if there hadn’t been any interruption. “The good ol’ Rebel way.”

Eren wasn’t a match for Levi’s new strength, but Mikasa managed to shake off Jean and dodged past Krista to land a punch which knocked a grinning Ymir to the concrete floor before Krista shoved her aside. “Why? Why would you say such a thing, you traitorous-“

Ymir was back on her feet in an instant, smoke rising from her bloody mouth. “You think the others don’t know *everything* about the two of you? That they won’t hesitate for a moment to use it against you? Three times now Napoleon’s come to Rebel’s rescue, so if they can’t tear him to pieces the bloody way then they’ll fuck with his head – just like they’re doing with Eren’s!” She dodged another punch from Mikasa, but this time there wasn’t as much force behind it as it seemed her words were sinking in. “So yeah, time to do more than reveal a hidey-hole or two, Sunshine.” She wiped away the blood as she glanced over her shoulder at Eren, a hint of remorse on her face. “Look, maybe that was a bit shitty, but it needed to be done. Obviously the two of you have a few issues to work out still.”

“A *bit*?” Eren hissed at her and flailed about with his legs in an attempt to kick in her face, but Levi continued to hold him back. “What if I told the princess there about that chick in Monaco?”

Ymir’s face paled enough to make her freckles stand out as dark spots on her face before her skin flushed with anger. “You wouldn’t dare, you little-“

Before she could finish, she was jerked back by Krista’s hold on her ponytail, an eerie grin on the girl’s face. “Ah, ah, ‘darling’, remember what you just said about not giving the ‘others’ any weak spots.” She yanked again when it looked as if Ymir was about to say something. “We’re going to go collect the stuff for the horses now. That might take a while.” She kept that frightening grin on her face as she all but dragged her wincing girlfriend away by her hair.

Rico stood by and watched it happen with a blank expression on her face. “I might be reconsidering which of you freaks is the scariest right now.”

“I don’t blame you,” Connie added, his arms wrapped around Sasha as if she was a living shield. “At least I have a normal girlfriend.”

Jean scoffed at that while he rubbed at his left wrist, as if it was sore. “I’m not too sure about that.” He ignored the nasty glare his friend gave him to go over to Mikasa. “You all right?”

“I should be asking you that.” She fussed over his wrist, while Eren felt Levi give him a rather painful squeeze.

“Stop it,” he hissed, his arms pushing against their restraints as he twisted back to glower at the asshole holding him bound. “Let me go!”

Levi gazed back at him with a bland expression – except for the fact that his eyes were gold instead of silver-grey. “You going to behave anytime soon?”

“At least until Ymir shows her face again,” Eren muttered. He couldn’t believe what she’d said, even if she believed that she’d had a good reason for it.

There was that annoying clicking sound right before Eren found himself carried away from everyone else. “What now?” he almost wailed.

“We’re having a little chat,” Levi informed him. Out of the corner of his eye, Eren caught a jerking motion from his sister, but Mikasa stopped herself before moving too far when he shook his head; it was best to let the idiot get this out of his system first.

“What about my tech,” Hange wailed. “You know, the pretty machines that’ll let me figure out all that nasty stuff in a certain cutie’s blood? Doesn’t anyone care that I haven’t found my lovely machines yet?”

There was a loud sigh followed by some shuffling, and then Mikasa let go of Jean’s arm so she could stalk over to a sniffling Hange. “Come on, I’ll show you where we keep the equipment so you can see if there’s enough here for you to work with – anything to shut you up.”

A huge grin spread across Hange’s face and she hugged the saddlebags draped over her left shoulder to her chest. “Yes! Now for some quality time with these samples! They’re gonna spill their secrets to mama, oh yes they are,” she crooned while Mikasa led her away.

Eren felt Levi shudder against him and had the urge to rub his face to try to wipe away the image of Hange’s depraved expression just then from his mind, but the interruptions weren’t over yet; Sasha skidded to a halt near them before Levi could drag him another two steps. “What?”

“Uhm, sir, the horses are done so about the fish…?” She gave Levi a hopeful smile, her brown eyes wide and bright as she twisted her hands about the hem of her jacket.

Levi made a growling sound for a couple of seconds before he waved his free hand about in the air. “You’ve got what, half an hour before sunset? Catch what you can, but if you end up Malform bait then I’m letting them eat your dumb asses.”

“Thank you!” Sasha clapped her hands together before whirling around to snatch at a grinning Connie’s arm so she could drag her boyfriend along with her. Rico trailed after them, hopefully to make sure the front door was sealed closed once they left.

“Baby asswipes and their stomachs,” Levi muttered as he resumed dragging Eren along, though to where, Eren had no clue.

“Uhm, maybe I should go with them and help catch-“

“Shut. Up.” Coming to a halt in front of several impressionistic paintings, Levi gave Eren a rough shake before he let him go. “Now, about what Ymir said back there, start talking.” He rested his hands on the hilt of his blades and fixed a narrow gaze on Eren as his eyes shaded into gold once more.

Wishing Ymir was here so he could claw out *her* eyes, Eren huffed in anger and would have jerked his right hand through his hair before he recalled the damn barrettes. Cursing beneath his breath, he tugged the right one from his hair despite the pain it caused and went to throw it at the demanding asshole in front of him… and ended up curling his fingers around it instead when Levi continued to stare at him. “Why does it matter? All this stuff happened so long ago.” He didn’t understand why Levi cared so much about any of this.

There was a low snarling sound as Levi caught Eren’s hand between both of his and pried the fingers open to retrieve the barrette. “Because that pain in the ass is right – we can’t allow those bastards any weapons to use against us.”

“But this, it’s not like it matters.” Eren stood still as Levi’s fingers combed through his hair then slid the barrette back in place. “Any of that- well, I’m with *you*.” There was no way he’d ever go back to Bert and Reiner, not after what they’d done to him, not knowing what they were.

Levi’s fingers lingered in his hair, causing Eren to tilt his head to the right side. “Because it *does* bother me,” Levi hissed. “Maybe if I live for a few damn centuries it won’t, but right now it does. I don’t like hearing about how you had to treat yourself like a fucking *thing* to survive, not like….” He closed his eyes and tugged Eren’s head down so that their foreheads touched. “Not like *she* had to, all right?”

For a moment Eren was confused by the words, by how affected Levi was to admit them, and then there was a flickering of memory, of them talking in the forest the other night. Things were a bit hazed because of the drugs, but he could recall his lover talking to him about his childhood… and his mother. About ‘her’.

Letting slip a low sigh, Eren reached out to slide his fingers into the back of Levi’s hair and rubbed gently along the soft undercut. “It… it wasn’t as bad as that, okay? I mean….” He sighed again as he attempted to organize his thoughts. “Sometimes we had the things we scavenged to trade, and sometimes… sometimes they didn’t want stuff like that. They wanted… well, young and healthy was in demand, and it was so much easier for me to do it than Mikasa because… well, because. So yeah, we got a few things that way, and sometimes we picked nice things up because the guys were in a generous mood. Okay?” So maybe it hadn’t always been quite as bearable as Eren made it sound, but it was over and done with, was in the past, so what was the point? The thing was, Eren had made his choices back then and still stood by them now. He’d gotten himself and Mikasa through hell, and putting up with some horny bastards was a small price to pay in the end. It was nothing that Mikasa hadn’t repaid him for in one way or another a thousand times over, with the way she’d kept him whole and mostly sane.

Levi stirred under his touch and gazed at him, his eyes burning bright and his lips pressed in a thin line. “You expect me to buy that shit? That you just handed yourself over?” His fingers tightened in Eren’s hair as he spoke. “Maybe anyone else would know better, but not me.”

What was it with this… why Levi? Eren didn’t know why the man drove him so crazy, or why the insanity felt so good. “I… it’s like I said the other day, sometimes we didn’t have much of a choice, not unless things were going to get bloody.” He closed his eyes and shuddered as memories he did his best to suppress pushed to the surface and were shoved back with a savage speed. “Sometimes it did get bloody,” he admitted, “but if we could get out of the situation with me on my knees instead of us tearing out people’s throats? Sorry, but I took that option. And then I took whatever the hell else they had, too,” he admitted with a bit of vicious pride as he opened his eyes. “We kept what we could over the years because it reminds us of our mother, of something that made her happy, but we traded some, too, back when it didn’t draw too much attention. A Renoir for safe passage, a Vermeer for some tech – things like that.” That came to an end around the time of the domes, when the majority of the wealth ended up in the hands of a few.

“You do realize if you even *think* of trying that shit now, of handing yourself over to someone else, I’ll gut them and then you. Then do it again once you heal.” Levi tugged on Eren’s hair as he spoke as if to reinforce the warning.

It should piss him off, should spur Eren on to lash out, hearing such possessive talk, yet all he did was close his eyes again. “What, kicking my head not good enough anymore?” He winced as his head was tugged down again, but settled when he felt warm lips brush along his forehead.

“Too damn thick-skulled for it to mean anything, it seems. Plus, no brains.”

“Bastard,” Eren muttered as he opened his eyes. “Whatever I have, the poor things have been battered too much to do any good, lately.”

Levi scoffed in a dismissive manner as he let go of Eren and turned to face the paintings; Eren gritted his teeth as he fought back the urge to smack the asshole. “So, basically you got a lot of this shit because what, perverts were handing it out left and right? Things really were fucked up after the collapse.”

Eren rubbed at the back of his neck as he looked up the bright blurs of people walking in the rain. “There was a lot of looting back then, not so much people stealing precious items at first but the basic necessities since the primary goal was survival. You don’t think of stuff like art or jewels when blood-sucking monsters are after you and you’re taking what you can just carry. But later, when everyone was scavenging for supplies, that’s when you picked up anything of value and could be traded for something else. Artwork wasn’t as important as medicine or weapons, but people still wanted them because they figured if the world ever got back on its feet again, they might be worth something again.”

“Enough to trade it for a piece of ass, huh?” Levi’s voice sounded calm, bored even, but his claws scraped along the hilt of his weapons.

“For a piece of ass that appeared disease-free.” Eren shrugged. “Despite what Ymir said, most of the stuff here and at the other places we either scavenged or bartered for other supplies.” But yeah, Reiner or Bert could have thrown Eren’s past in Levi’s face if Ymir hadn’t brought it up; Eren hoped that Krista was giving her hell about that poor girl back in Monaco, the one she’d shacked up with for a few weeks, had led on and then abandoned when the trio tracked them down.

Levi tapped the hilts of his blade while he narrowed his eyes. “Still, you know what even one of these things would fetch today? We’re not talking about a piece of ass, no matter how ‘amazing’ it is,” he drawled. “Probably could cover the cost of our contract this cycle and then some. Sure Erwin could put all of that to good use.”

Eren went still for a moment as he stared up at the artwork, at the wash of brilliant and pastel colors against black. When they had started collecting all of it, he and Mikasa had done it because of their mother, with the memory of the days spent in her presence at the art museums and galleries. They had also imagined a time when they could return the masterpieces back to the world, when the museums would be rebuilt… but it hadn’t happened, not when the domes had appeared, along with the Chairmen and Ministers. Whatever remaining artwork that was still out in the world, that hadn’t been destroyed or claimed by the vampires had found its way into those ‘chosen’ families, and only went on display with their permission.

He shrugged as he made a decision, one he didn’t think Mikasa would mind. “Well, these are too fragile to move about on horseback for very long, but we have some drawings that should hold up to travel as long as they’re packed properly,” he told his lover as he crossed over to a set of drawers. “Hope you don’t mind the more modern stuff.”

When he didn’t hear Levi following along, he glanced over his shoulder to find the man staring back at him with a stunned expression on his face. “What, you do? Sorry, but can’t exactly hand over the Renaissance stuff unless you want it to be confetti within a day or two. You can’t imagine how much of a pain it was to get the stuff out of Rome.” He winced as he remembered creeping along with those fragile bundles.

Levi blinked a couple of times before he rushed over to join Eren. “Renai- wait, you’re serious?” He grabbed Eren’s left arm and continued to stare at him for several seconds before scoffing. “Let me see this stuff, it better not be some lame shit that Armin drew.”

“Hey, I’ll have you know that Armin was a fantastic artist when he was a kid!” Eren tried to pull his arm free and huffed in annoyance. “Sure, he kept drawing me like a girl for some reason and gave Mikasa all the muscles, but he put all these amazing details into his pictures. I’m sure we have a few around here somewhere.” Mikasa could never throw any of them out.

“Are you- no, of course you are.” Levi pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose and let out a long breath. “Artwork, now.”

Someone sure was grumpy, weren’t they? Maybe Eren should find some of Armin’s artwork to cheer him up.

*******

Levi couldn’t help but clutch at the cylindrical container which held the priceless drawings that Eren had handed over to him. Fuck. *Fuck*. He really hadn’t thought that his lover would do that, would go still in that freaky way he did at times and then give a slight shrug before agreeing with Levi. Growing up as he’d done, he didn’t know most of these artists, but he knew rich people, knew merchants and Ministers and Chairmen, and if – no, *when* he got the ridiculously fragile slips of paper back to Trost, Erwin was going to be able to use them to better fund the Corps. No more disgusting meals. No more praying that whoever supplied their blades hadn’t cheated them on decent metal. No more listening to Hange rant about needing equipment. No more…. He blinked, shaken from his thoughts, as Eren came to a halt before a closed door.

“Ah, it’s not as big as the one at the supply station and it doesn’t have a lock, but I figured a shower about now would be nice, right?” He offered Levi a small smile as he pushed open the door to reveal a tiled room, the lights flickering above a couple of times before settling in a bright glow. The room was partitioned in half, with what looked to be a couple of toilet stalls set behind a low wall, and a shower with an overhead faucet along one wall with a small basin-like tub nearby. “Why don’t you wash off while I get our stuff?”

Levi nodded and had taken a step forward when he felt Eren tug at the container he was holding. “What?” He realized that Eren was trying to take it from him and glared.

“Look, I’ll put it in my room, where it should be safe,” Eren reasoned, his brows drawing together with a frown. “You can’t keep it with you when you bathe.”

The brat was right, but Levi hated to admit that. “Your room?”

“Yeah, we each have one – Mikasa, Armin and me. There’s even beds in them.” Eren’s smile returned and he wrapped his arms around the thick tube to cradle it against his chest once Levi let it go. “I’m willing to bet Ymir and Krista will snatch up Armin’s room in the end, but it should be interesting to see the others fight over it since that’s it for the beds.”

Levi scoffed as he began to shrug out of his jacket. “Like I care as long as *I* have one.” He didn’t mind sleeping on the ground while out on survey duty, but if he had an option, a bed it was. Eren kept smiling as he walked away, so Levi made quick work of stripping off his clothes.

There were some containers of what looked to be soap by the shower, though he had to add a little water to them since they’d dried out, leaving him to wonder when was the last time Eren had been here. Still, it smelled decent, like mint, and lathered up to wash off the dirt and sweat, and the water was hot so things were fine. By the time he’d finished up, Eren had returned with some towels, clean clothes and his shaving kit.

Since they’d left in such a hurry that morning, Levi took the time to shave and even trimmed up the ends of his hair while Eren showered; it wasn’t often that he could enjoy hot water, a mirror and decent light while on the road.

Once that and other needs were attended to, he got dressed and waited for Eren to finish getting ready as well, and clicked his tongue at the tangled mess that was his lover’s towel-dried hair. “One of these days I’m just going to shave it off,” he threatened, even as he combed his fingers through the thick strands; they’d grown since leaving Trost, to the point that they now reached past Eren’s shoulders. “It’s like a weed, this stuff.” He tugged on a handful of damp hair before doing his best to smooth it out.

The brat whined a little but otherwise remained still. “Think it grows faster when I’m healing all of the time. It’s part of the reason I just leave it alone and then hack at it now and then.”

“Lovely.” Levi looked around and spotted the barrettes on the ledge near the soap, and snapped them back in place. “Maybe I should call you ‘kitty’ – never did come up with a suitable nickname, after all.” He smirked at the glare directed his way for the joke.

“Do that and it won’t be the mattress that gets gutted this time.” Eren bared his teeth and held up his right hand, which sported an impressive set of claws. “If Pita wasn’t taken by Ymir, I think that would be *your* new nickname.”

“Very funny.” Levi attempted a flick for that, but Eren managed to dodge it this time. “Maybe I will go with ‘honey’, because you’re so sweet,” he drawled, the words thick with sarcasm.

“Yeah, there’s something about a certain sadist who brings it out in me,” Eren grumbled as he draped his arms over Levi’s shoulders. “Surprised you don’t have diabetes yet.”

“Give it time.” Levi stifled Eren’s laugh by claiming his mouth, grateful that the little shit had brushed his teeth… mmm, minty toothpaste as well. Claws pricked at the back of his neck for a moment, but it seemed not so much as a warning as Eren sliding his right hand along his head to help hold him in place to ensure that the kiss didn’t end any time soon. Levi was fine with that, more than fine as he rubbed his tongue along sharp teeth and just avoided their jagged edges, his own hands sliding down to-

“Okay, not again boys, I want to clean up before dinner.”

Mikasa sounded annoyed, which was nothing new, and way too close. Levi cursed even as Eren jumped away and found the killjoy standing just a couple of feet away, her arms wrapped around a bundle of clean clothes and an impressive glower on her face.

Before Levi could make a snide remark, Eren grabbed at his hand and pulled him forward. “Please, I’ve seen you do worse with Horseface out in public! But we’ll go see if Sasha’s back yet with some fish.”

They just made it to the door when Mikasa shouted at them. “Eren! Wie alt bist du eigentlich? Und ich muss *noch immer* deine schmutzige-“

“Kroketten!” Eren shouted back as he speeded up, a flush of red on his golden skin. Mikasa had sounded furious back there, but when nothing came flying at them, Levi assumed that whatever Eren had said must have calmed her down. They passed Rico along the way to wherever they were heading, also with a bundle of clean clothes tucked under her arm. “Did Sasha and Connie make it back yet?”

“Yes, as well as Krista and Ymir, unfortunately. The door’s all locked up for the night.” Rico didn’t bother to slow down as she answered Eren, but Levi couldn’t blame her, not with a functioning shower at the end of her destination.

His assumption in that they were headed toward the kitchen proved true, and the room was better stocked than the one back at the supply station even if it was just a set of cabinets hung on the concrete wall over a sink and gas stove, along with a couple of small ovens set in one of the wire shelves that framed out the space. In some of the other shelves were various pots, pans and other cooking utensils, and Eren fetched a couple of boards from there to place on the counter. “All right, start cleaning them,” he told Sasha, who was waiting for them in the area.

Connie stared at his girlfriend in confusion, but she just grinned and held out her right hand until Eren opened a drawer and handed her a long, thin knife. “Where do you want the guts and stuff?”

He fetched a large pot and set it on the counter near her. “Put them in there, so they can go into the incinerator. How many did you get?” He peeked over at the impromptu buckets that the two had made out of the horses’ water pails and grinned. “That many?”

Sasha crowed with delight and nearly slashed Connie’s face with the way she waved the knife about. “The lake was *full*! We could have caught even more if it wasn’t dark outside.”

Uncaring that he’d almost been blinded a moment ago, Connie gave his girlfriend a quick kiss. “She was amazing! Who would think to use rappelling darts to catch fish?”

Rappelling darts for fish. Levi was about to yell at the idiots but figured it was just a waste of breath – he could always give them his spares until they reached the next station, and it wasn’t as if Eren used his much either. But still, fucking idiots.

Eren seemed to figure out his thoughts, because the brat winced as he dug through the cabinet for some supplies. “Ah, well, we’ve a couple of fishing poles around here, so how about you use them next time, okay? Not as much fun I’m sure, but probably quieter. Now then, there should be enough to fry up the bigger ones and then I can make croquettes with the rest.” He began to hum as he set out various sealed containers around the countertop.

Seeing that his lover was going to be busy for the time being and not about to stick around now that he could smell fish guts, Levi grabbed Eren’s chin for a kiss. “I’m going to track down Hange.”

“Mmm, tell her dinner will be ready in about an hour.” Judging from Eren’s quirky smile just then, he knew that Hange couldn’t care less about eating and that one of them would have to take her a plate later.

“Yeah, I’m sure she’ll be jumping with joy to hear that.” Levi got a lucky flick in and left with the sound of Eren’s whine following him and a smug smile on his face.

The layout of the place wasn’t too fancy, there was the large inner chamber with its covered walls, scattered shelves which helped to section off spots for what looked to be various work or lounge areas as well as store the ton of shit that Eren and Mikasa had collected over the years, and along one wall were a series of doors. One of them had been the bathroom, and next to it was a thicker door from which Levi could hear faint humming and whirring sounds behind; he surmised that the room stored whatever machines that helped run the electronics and plumbing for the place, which meant to leave it alone. Further down the doors were grouped farther apart, and one of them was cracked open.

It wasn’t surprising to find Ymir and Krista inside, with Krista sitting on the bed while Ymir poked around. “-really shouldn’t be doing that!” the blonde chided with a pissy look on her face.

Ymir just grunted in response and continued to dig through a shelf of what looked to be books and datapads. “Come on, where’s the fun in leaving stuff alone?”

“I don’t know, maybe not getting a blade shoved in your gut?” Levi told her as he leaned against the door jamb.

Ymir waved his answer aside as she pulled out a book. “Who cares when you can heal from something like that? No, precious Armin was raised by Rebel and Sunshine, so he has to have all of these *marvelous* suppressed kinks. I’m not gonna rest until I sniff out at least two of them.”

“Ymir!”

Levi left it to Krista to handle the pest and continued on, his lips twitching when he heard a cry of pain echo behind him. He skipped the next room since the door smelled a bit too strong of Mikasa, but the next he opened to reveal what looked to be a comfortable bed covered with just a pillow and a duvet along with several saddlebags, some more shelves filled with various junk, and what looked to be a dresser upon which rested the container of artwork. Content that the place wasn’t too dirty and that he had a decent bed for the night, Levi closed the door and continued on his search for Hange.

The corridor continued on a little longer, and he could tell that this section seemed to be a more recent addition than the rest of the living space; the walls were rougher and a little uneven, with some empty spaces left at the tops and bottom. He didn’t bother with checking or knocking on the door, he just opened it and went in to find Hange hunched over a long counter on the other side of the room.

“So what type of perverse shit are you up to now?”

She didn’t even flinch or look up from whatever had her attention on the small screen in front of her while she fiddled with some device. “I’m figuring out a way to mutate you into a decent human being.”

“Yeah, good luck with that.” Levi looked around and found a chair to sit in that seemed clean. “So, I take it that this place has the stuff you need?” There were more shelves, of course, what appeared to be a couple of computers, lots of datapads, and some equipment that seemed familiar due to long-term exposure to a deranged scientist.

Hange finally raised her head and turned around enough to flash him a grin. “It’s better than the supply station, even if it’s lacking that phase-contrast microscope. The one here is pretty good though, enough that I should be able to isolate whatever it is they’ve been shooting into our cutie.”

“What’s this *our* shit,” Levi muttered as he tugged at the sleeves of his shirt.

“Aw, you’re so adorable when you get all possessive. Wait, no, I mean psychotic.” She chewed on her lip for a moment then shrugged. “Hell, it’s the same thing when it comes to you.”

Levi gave her the finger before he folded his arms over his chest. “Very funny. Does the lunatic care that dinner will be ready soon, or can we just leave you to starve and save us the trouble in the end?”

Hange laughed as she turned back to her precious samples. “I think I’m good for a while, that ‘meal’ last night really helped with the hunger pangs.” She paused again and appeared to be lost in her thoughts. “It’s incredible, how the blood really does appease the appetite, how ‘normal’ food doesn’t hold much allure anymore. That’s a sign that there has to be some rewiring done on a neural level….”

Levi clicked his tongue a couple of times as he smoothed out a wrinkle on his left sleeve. “Whatever, as long as I don’t have to look at your ugly face during dinner tonight.”

That startled Hange from her thoughts and prompted a grin from the lunatic. “Hmm, love you too, sweetie.” She pushed up her glasses and hummed a little more. “But I bet a certain cutie will bring me a bite to eat.”

“Because he hasn’t learned yet that it’s best to avoid crazy people, not humor them.”

“Maybe, yet you didn’t take your chance to get rid of me.” Hange’s voice took on a serious tone as she resumed fiddling with the equipment. “I mean, I’m so unbelievably grateful that you did have Eren change me, but… well.” She was still for a few seconds before she shrugged as if she didn’t know what else to say.

Levi hated shit like this, hated being put on the spot when he didn’t know what to say either, when he could feel his heart pounding in his chest and his emotions were a confusing tumble that made his throat tight. So instead, he clicked his tongue again and looked aside. “Please, like anyone else could make any sense out of all that shit,” he drawled as he motioned toward the vials of blood and drugs that were lined up in a metal rack, “other than someone as hopeless as you.”

The grin returned as she reached for one of the vials and began to prep what looked to be a new slide. “That is true, and if these preliminary results are right, then you really are going to want to fuck up those assholes the next time we run into them.” She pushed away from the counter and groaned a little as she rubbed at her eyes beneath the glasses. “I think one of the compounds is completely new because it’s giving my program fits, and a couple of others are *nasty* little buggers that were outlawed centuries ago – at least, they resemble those outlawed drugs, given a tweak here or there. Put it all together, and yeah, they’re serious about scrambling poor Eren’s brains.” She dropped her hands to give Levi an even look. “Honestly? I’m shocked that he’s able to say two sentences in a row that make a bit of sense right now, let alone function as well as he is. Way to go, hybrid healing factor.”

That was encouraging as fuck to hear, wasn’t it. “So what, they’re trying to fry his brain?” Levi shifted over so he could pick up one of the empty glass vials scattered about. “Can they do that? Why would those sick undead fucks want to do that?”

“Considering how much of his, well, our behavior goes on instinct, they may not think of it to be much of a disadvantage. Especially if they want him to turn other people.” Hange rested her left elbow on the counter and propped up her chin. “Be grateful that he’s bounced back so far, but there has to be a breaking point.”

He thought about the French creeping into Eren’s speech this time, about how Eren had just wanted to sleep as if he had no energy or will of his own. “Maybe they’re trying to reach some sort of default setting or something. To strip his mind back to something specific.”

“As theories go, it’s not bad. They might be trying to regress him to the past where he forgets about them being enemies.” Hange reached out to click something on the keyboard. “Or to where he acts purely on instinct, which won’t be good for humanity.”

Levi rubbed at his throat as he thought about how his hunger would take over at times, at the odd emotions and urges that crept up at him when he least expected it. “So hurry up and figure out a solution, yeah?”

Hange made a rude noise as she typed some more. “What do you think I’m doing here?” She sat up straighter in the chair and fixed him with a solemn look. “Okay, time to give you the good and the bad news.”

Oh great, this was going to be a repeat of that time in Karanese, when she’d figured out how where the Malforms were nesting but it meant that Levi had to spend hours crawling along the *filthy* vents of the abandoned battery plant…. He sighed as he tucked back the bangs falling onto his face. “What the hell is it, and it better not involve samples of bodily fluids.”

Hange pouted as she folded her arms over her chest. “I still think that an example- no, never mind,” she huffed when Levi’s clawed hands dropped to the hilts of his blades. “I’m getting close to something here, I really am. The new equipment is helping, along with the stuff I grabbed from that vamp.”

All that, yeah that sounded like the good news. Or at least that better be the good news, or the lunatic was going to lose some of her precious toys. “And the bad news?”

She made a face as she tapped the index finger of her right hand against the monitor. “Uhm, it’s going to take me longer than tonight to give you something.” When Levi didn’t answer right away, Hange summoned up a nervous smile and waved her hands about. “But I *will* give you something, I promise! I’m really close to cracking this, to figuring out something to help Eren! Just… just promise me we can stay another night, all right! Everyone could use a break and a supply station won’t be stocked like this and- eek!” She stopped with the babbling when Levi’s right hand lashed out to grab her chin.

He stared her right in the eyes, his own having shifted into gold since she glowed before him. “You get one extra night, all right? Figure out this shit and give me something to keep him safe,” he ground out before he let her go. It wasn’t ideal, staying here that long, but he had to hope that whatever Ymir had done back at the camp with the dead horses, the trick with the nanos and then the rain on top of that had thrown the Malforms off of their trail; at least the doors here seemed secure, too. What it came down to in the end was that Levi didn’t think Eren could take another dose as strong as this last one without dropping in a fight at best and being fucked up for days… well, that might be second best. More fucked up. Fucked up enough that a couple of slaps and being held close couldn’t bring him back from the edge. Levi clenched his hands into fists despite the pain from his claws biting into the meat of his palms as he thought of losing Eren into the drug-induced madness.

He started at Hange’s touch and cursed as he fought to keep from lashing out. “Hey, I’m not going to let those fanged assholes beat me at this,” she assured him, her own eyes burning with a fiery gold. “I’m going to crack this and turn it against them, watch me. So get your grumpy ass out of here and leave me to it, all right?”

Levi sneered as he looked aside, an odd warmth in his chest from his friend’s fervent assurance. “I’m just leaving because your stench is starting to turn my stomach. Now get to work, the clock is ticking.”

“Hmm, so much to do, don’t I know it.” Hange hummed a little as she sat back down. “If you’re not too busy molesting your cutie later, send him down with some food, okay?” She leered up at him before she started typing away.

Beat her *after* she figured out a cure, Levi reminded himself. “You’ll get whoever’s not afraid of dealing with your crazy ass,” he told her as he headed for the door.

“In other words, yep, you’ll be too busy with his. Ah well, the testosterone and endorphins might help negate all that stuff in his blood,” Hange mused.

Later, Levi repeated to himself. Give the lunatic forty-eight hours and then she could have a ‘fun’ lesson on how well her hybrid body healed….

*******

Eren watched as everyone laughed and teased each other over dinner and felt… he wasn’t quite sure what he felt. Everyone was pleased to know that they could rest up tonight and tomorrow, and so Mikasa had retrieved several bottles of wine to go along with the meal that they were enjoying with evident delight – well, everyone except Hange, who was busy in Armin’s makeshift lab. Still, scenes like this were so foreign to Eren, even after the last few weeks in the Corps. He wasn’t used to people knowing what he was, wasn’t used to having people other than Mikasa and Armin in places he considered *his* or complimenting his cooking, wasn’t used to… wasn’t used to….

“Oi, if you’re finished, let’s get out of here.” Levi urged him from the chair where he’d curled up to eat his meal of fish croquettes.

“Uhm, what about the-“

“Leave the shit for everyone else to clean up, since you cooked.” Levi didn’t give him a chance to pick up his empty plate and just pulled him along, but did pause to snatch up an opened bottle of wine. “Rico – take something to that shitty glasses so she doesn’t mix up some chemicals from starvation.”

“I guess,” the Engineer replied while she went to fetch some more fried fish. “Better do it now before it’s all gone.” She eyed Connie and Sasha, who were piling more food onto their plates.

“But it’s so good,” Connie said in defense as he ladled more rice onto his plate.

Levi clicked his tongue in response and continued to pull Eren away, as if he’d had enough of everyone’s presence for the night. Considering how quiet he’d been during dinner that might be the case, so Eren allowed himself to be led to what ended up being his room, which was no big surprise. The door was closed behind them, and Levi frowned when he realized there wasn’t a lock. “Sorry, not much call for privacy when it’s just the three of us,” Eren explained.

“Guess I should be impressed that you have a fucking door at all,” Levi complained as he snatched up the saddle bags and stacked them in front of the door.

“We may love each other, but when you spend so much time together, you learn to appreciate a bit of space. Plus, Armin went through puberty.” Eren cringed when he recalled those years and sat on the bed while he kicked off his slippers. “Think that’s enough said on the topic.”

There was a slight smile on Levi’s face as he joined Eren, his hands busy stripping off the tall grey boots. “Puberty, huh? What was it like for you and Mikasa?”

Eren toyed with the bottom left cuff of his white pants while faint memories bubbled to the surface. “Well, for me and Mikasa, it was… everything was a mess, back then. It was right after the collapse, so we were stuck on some research base with no other kids and only one adult who really seemed to care about us, and he was away killing Malform most of the time.” He shrugged to try to lessen the impact of what he was saying. “Everything was so stressful, was… ahh, I don’t know. It wasn’t really living, I guess. It barely was surviving. Then the base got breached and we were on our own, and things got a thousand times worse.” He could still remember the hunger pains, the bone-deep weariness, the utter desperation and fear. “So we had no fucking clue what to do about Armin when he became this emotional ball of hormones, no fucking clue at all.” A wry laugh escaped him as he recalled how confused and terrified he’d been of the boy – give him a dozen vampires to face down any day than raising another thirteen year old.

He started when he felt Levi’s fingers slide through the hair on the nape of his neck, then use the hold to pull him closer. “Things were rough in Tartarus, but not quite that rough. I couldn’t wait for it, myself. Kept thinking I’d grow overnight or something.” The disgust was plain to hear in Levi’s deep voice. “All that happened was some hair sprouting all over and I got a few more measly centimeters, and my voice cracking like cheap glass every other word for three fucking months.” He clicked his tongue a couple of times while Eren fought not to laugh. “Bunch of shit, it was.”

“Sorry to hear that.” Eren bit into his bottom lip while he felt his hair be tugged upon some more. “Too bad you can’t kick those poor hormones’ asses or something. Show them who’s boss.”

“Little shit,” Levi grumbled as he let go of Eren’s hair to push him down onto the bed. “Sounds like you’re making fun of me.” He loomed over Eren, his hands resting on either side of Eren’s head as he straddled Eren’s lap. Black hair framed his handsome face, his eyes still their familiar silvery grey for now even if Eren swore he saw a hint of fang whenever Levi spoke.

“No, not at all,” Eren reassured as he slipped his arms around the arrogant bastard’s neck. “If there’s ever anyone who could kick a hormone’s ass, my money’s on you. Though might be a bit difficult figuring out where its hea-“

Warm lips cut him off as Levi leaned in, mouth ardent and even a little bit punishing. Eren welcomed the kiss, welcomed its ferocity and passion as he moaned and pulled Levi down; he wanted this, wanted the feel of that strong, solid body against his own, wanted Levi’s scent to invade his senses, wanted *Levi*. Things were still a little confusing, a little muddled in his head, yet Levi never failed to help center him.

There was a slight prick of pain as fangs nipped at his bottom lip, a hint of blood until the broken skin healed but by then Levi’s mouth had moved on to left corner of Eren’s jaw, lips nibbling  at and tongue stroking along his skin while Levi’s hands tugged at his shirt. Just as he began to shift so the material could slide free from the press of their bodies there was a tearing sound, followed by Levi muttering a curse. Eren laughed as his lover continued to tear the shirt off and twisted his head to the side. “Huh, fine to rip my stuff up but not yours?” he teased as he bunched up Levi’s white shirt.

“You’ve already ruined enough of them,” Levi shot back, even as a hint of red spread across his pale cheeks. “Fucking claws,” he muttered as he shifted back enough to allow Eren room to get at the buttons of the shirt.

“Bit of a slow learning curve there, Captain.” Eren grinned up at his lover, and had to laugh when he felt hands latch onto the waistband of his pants right before his hips were jerked up and the material began to rip as well. “Hmm, someone in a hurry?” He liked this impatient, demanding side to Levi.

“Someone’s about to cram a damn shirt into that smart mouth of yours to get it to shut up. You have any damn lube around here?” Levi’s breath came in short, heavy pants as he made quick work out of the rest of Eren’s clothes then pulled away to – carefully, the bastard – shed his own.

Rolling his eyes at the hypocrite, Eren stretched his right arm over his head and fumbled about in one of the shelves on his headboard until he felt a familiar bottle; the stuff should still be good as long as it had been sealed properly. “What’s the hurry? We’re not on duty until the last shift.”

Levi huffed a little as he accepted the bottle then closed his eyes as he seemed to concentrate; when he opened them again, his claws and fangs had retreated. “Because we have a real bed for once, and I intend to put it to good use. We’re both fed, no Malform or shitty vampires better be able to get inside here, and….” He set the lube aside as he slid down to kneel between Eren’s legs, the leather bag swinging forward as it hung from his neck. “The last fucking thing you’re going to think about by the time I’m done with you if any of that shit in your veins flares up again are those two undead assholes,” he all but spat out as he stared up at Eren.

Some of the happiness and desire that Eren felt faded away at the mere thought of Reiner and Bertolt, causing him to frown and shake his head. “I don’t… that’s-”

Levi dug the fingers of his right hand into the muscles of Eren’s left thigh for a moment before he draped the leg over his shoulder. “Don’t say their names, don’t even fucking think about them,” he ordered as his left hand wrapped around Eren’s cock and began to stroke it into hardness. “All I want to hear from you is my name and how damn crazy I’m making you.”

His breath catching in his throat at the feeling of pleasure skittering along his nerves from the firm touch, Eren wet his lips before he responded. “Ah, strong words.”

“’Levi’, ‘fuck me harder’, and ‘so good’. Remember them. Scream them. Maybe I’ll listen.” There was a quick flash of a smirk before Levi bent down to lick along the length of Eren’s cock, the slightest scrape of teeth which made Eren hiss from the jolt of pleasure/pain and then the arrogant bastard sucked him in all of the way. When the hell was the last time someone had done this to him? Eren tried to think for a few seconds, then the sound of a plastic lid clicking scattered his already fragile thoughts. He moaned as Levi’s mouth did a slow glide along the length of his cock, followed by a firm, calloused grip, and then he drew in a sharp breath as slick fingers rubbed against him. “Fu-fuck,” he stuttered as he grabbed at Levi’s thick hair.

Fighting not to rock his hips too much, he whined as a finger pushed inside with a slight burn the same time that Levi sucked hard on the tip of his cock. He closed his eyes as he thrashed his head about, the pleasure coiling tighter inside of him with each thundering heartbeat, each rough stroke and smooth glide along his cock. Another slight burn and soon he felt Levi’s fingers twist about as they spread him open, a counterpart to the bastard sucking him in and… fuck. *Fuck*. Eren’s body trembled as the pleasure sharpened and sparked inside of him, as it grew all-consuming like the worst hunger, the strongest madness. “Levi, no, I’m-“ He let go of his lover’s hair as his claws sprouted and fangs snapped out, his eyelids flying open as the breath gasped out of him. Pain flared in his hands for a moment, quickly subsumed by the wracking waves of ecstasy as he came.

He locked on cool grey that flared into glowing gold as he stared, almost mindless from the orgasm, and as he shivered from the aftershocks, Levi allowed Eren’s softening cock to slip from his mouth and only paused to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand before reaching for the discarded bottle. Still a bit stunned, Eren could only watch during those few seconds, until there was the sudden loss of fingers from inside of him and then Levi shifted closer between his thighs. “Wait, I- oh, *fuck*!”

Still sensitive from just coming, his back arched off of the bed as Levi pushed inside, not stopping until he bottomed out. “Close, but not quite,” Levi breathed as he hovered over Eren. “’Fuck me harder’, remember?” He caught at Eren’s clenched hands and forced them to open, steam rising from the wounds as he entwined their fingers together.

“You fucking bastard,” Eren ground out, even as his hips rose up as much as he could in the current position to meet Levi’s. He could almost reach the bastard’s neck, could imagine how that pale skin would taste with the sheen of sweat, how it would feel to run his tongue against that beating pulse, and Levi’s *scent*… ooooh fuck, his scent just then.

The smirk was full-blown on Levi’s flushed, handsome face as he snapped his hips with enough force to make Eren groan and close his eyes for a few seconds. “Fuck you through this wonderful mattress. Only seems fair, right? Now come on, say it.” His lips hovered over Eren’s mouth as he bent Eren damn near in half, his hands trapped near his head.

The pleasure was building inside of Eren again, but too slow, too languid, as the asshole kept his hands pinned and *just* missed that spot inside of him. Eren whined as his head tossed back and forth, as his hands fought to pull free from Levi’s, and then he opened his eyes to glare. “Fine, *fuck me harder*, you damn sadi-“

Levi cut him off with another savage kiss, one that left his bottom lip bleeding, before letting go of his hands. However, before Eren could smack or claw the shit out of him, Levi’s mouth shifted to the side of his neck the same time that one of his hands wrapped around Eren’s cock and his other pushed Eren’s right leg up and out to the side; the slight shift meant that now almost each hard, fast thrust sparked electric bliss along Eren’s nerves.

“Dammit, Levi! Ooh…. Ja, mehr!” Eren clutched at his lover’s back to urge him on, to pull him closer and… ooooh, yes. He arched his neck and whined at the nips of pain that blossomed, uncaring when everything felt so good, felt… felt… the maelstrom of pleasure built again, stronger this time, more destructive as it washed away everything but euphoric emotion.

Eren was still trembling and catching his breath from his second orgasm when he felt Levi stiffen against him and nails dig into his hips, heard the sudden inhale of breath even as his lover’s face pressed against the crook of his neck. Forcing his hands to shift from Levi’s steaming back, he flexed his trembling fingers until the claws vanished and buried them in the sweat-soaked black strands while he felt as if he could just melt onto the surface of the bed since his body was so relaxed. Having a sweaty, heavy lover draped on top of him didn’t help just then, even if the weight was oddly comforting.

Smiling a little when he felt lips brush along the left side of his neck, Eren made a pleased sound reminiscent of a purr and scrubbed his fingers along Levi’s scalp. “Okay, I’ll give it to you – ‘sooo good,” he crooned while he arched his back a little, which caused Levi’s softening cock to slip out.

“Damn right it was,” Levi muttered as he lifted up onto his forearms, sweaty bangs plastered onto his forehead and a smug smile on his lips. “Took strips out of my back to prove it, you shitty brat.”

Eren ran the fingers of his left hand along healed skin and hummed a little. “But the bed’s all right, so what do you care?” His flippant answer earned him a smack to his left flank. “What?”

“Next time, let’s see if you can manage without clawing up *anything*.” Levi shifted up onto his knees and fetched a piece of Eren’s torn shirt to clean himself off. While he was up, he threw another piece at Eren and then leaned over to grab at the bottle of wine he’d brought along.

“What ‘next time’,” Eren grumbled as he wiped at the mess on his chest then between his legs; he’d have to replace the duvet before they went to sleep but there should be a spare in the bottom drawer. He’d just wrapped his other hand around the wine bottle which Levi’d held out to him when he felt warm, calloused fingers curve around the back of his neck and was tugged halfway across the bed. “Hey! Don’t spill the-“

“I told you that we’ve plenty of time until our shift,” Levi reminded him, the gold bleeding back into the cool grey of his eyes. “And that I’m going to make sure that shit and all the fucked up thoughts that go along with it are out of your even more fucked up head by then,” he growled, the possessive note in his deep voice doing something to Eren’s heart-rate even though he should be too blissed out right now to give a damn about anything.

Pausing to take a long swig from the bottle before leaning down to set it on the floor, Eren scooted forward until he could straddle Levi’s lap with his arms draped over the man’s powerful shoulders. “Eh, haven’t we discussed just how fucked up my head is?” He brushed his fingers along the bastard’s undercut just to enjoy the feel of the soft hair.

Of course Levi had to smirk in agreement. “Monumentally fucked up, I’d say.” When Eren hissed in annoyance, he gave Eren’s ass a gentle squeeze. “Which is why we shouldn’t be wasting time like this *talking*.” He nuzzled along Eren’s sensitive neck the same time two of his fingers slid along the crack of Eren’s ass. “Unless it’s you begging.”

“Arroganter Huren….” Eren’s breath hitched when Levi’s sharp teeth scraped along his neck, though all he did was give the smug bastard a warning scratch along his spine as he moaned and arched his neck; he didn’t know why Levi was doing this for him, why the man was so determined to tear him down yet still be there when Eren snapped back to this pathetic shambles of reality. To be honest… he didn’t care. All that mattered anymore was that Levi *was* there, in all of his ferocious, bitchy, protective, amazing glory, because for all the short time they’d been together, Eren was growing terrified by the thought of a future without him. So he pressed in even closer, the bag he’d handed over trapped between their chests, and held on as Levi once more took him apart.

*******

She looks like a Fluffy to me

I would have gone with ‘Shadow’, but her coat is nice and full

You damn- shut up!

Eren! How old are you and I’m *still* picking up your dirty-

Arrogant son of a...

*******

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