the ghost of you
“-haven’t been home for more than three nights in the past month! You move us here and then you’re never around, I don’t understand why we couldn’t have just stayed in Wannsee if you’re never going to be around.”
Eren forced himself to stare at his tablet, the English words on the screen blurring before his eyes as his mother’s upset voice rose and fell. He hated it when his parents argued and wished that his father would just stay away if all that happened when he came home was arguments like this, his mother becoming even sadder than when he was gone. Beside him, Mikasa hunched over as if trying to make herself invisible.
“Because it’s safer here. Just remember to keep the packs nearby like I told you. Now I have to go, the driver is already waiting for me.” There was a shuffling sound and the snapping shut of a briefcase, and the familiar soft scoff his mother made when she wanted someone to know that she was still upset with them. Eren’s father murmured something to her, and a moment later his arms, covered with a tan trench coat, wrapped around Eren’s upper chest. “Look after your mother and sister,” he told Eren as he gave him a quick hug. “Don’t get into too much trouble.”
“I never get into too much trouble,” Eren grumbled, but his father had already moved on to Mikasa, hugging her as well and urging her to watch over Eren, which she promised to do. Feeling out of sorts that everyone thought he was so troublesome, he sat there in a bad mood until his mother came over to tousle his hair.
“How’s the English coming along,” she asked, a knowing smile on her lips while he mumbled that things were fine. “Mikasa will be helping you later, yes?”
He slumped down in his chair and pushed the tablet away. “I suppose.” About to make a snarky comment on how her homework was always perfect, he caught his sister giving him a slight, shy grin and sighed. “It makes the assignment go by faster.” It wasn’t her fault that she was brilliant and great at everything. At least she took the time to help a hopeless case like him.
“Good. Dinner will be ready soon.” His mother smoothed out his hair, as if it would help any, and returned to the kitchen, the skirt of her yellow and white dress swishing around her legs. “Finish your lessons by then and we’ll do something fun tonight, once the sun goes down.”
Energized with the promise of a reward, Eren refocused on the day’s lessons, stumbling through the chapter in English thanks to Mikasa’s occasional assistance and then some boring history reading. More than once he wished that he could attend school like normal kids his age, but at least he wasn’t alone anymore as Mikasa was here with him. Taking classes online made the move from Wannsee to Köln easier, too, since there wasn’t any missed classes or new school to attend.
It smelled as if his mother was making a baked chicken and roasted vegetables for dinner, and she had turned on the tv screen in there while she cooked. Busy with his school work, Eren caught snatches of what sounded to be a news program from time to time.
“-UV levels predicted to be at dangerous highs in upcoming days. Experts advise-“
“-homeless reportedly gone missing. Police are investigating, noting that past leads-“
“-tasteless pranks involving cows blood and-“
“Done!” Eren cried out in relief as he turned off his tablet and jumped up from the dining room table, finished with his lessons for the day. Mikasa laughed as he ran away, through the spacious apartment that their father had insisted that they move into, and followed him to the glass sliding doors that looked out over downtown Köln. He was mindful about pressing against the glass and leaving smudges, holding his fingers a mere breath away from the grey UV coating. “Where do you want to go after dinner?”
Mikasa stood by his left shoulder and fussed with the ever-present red scarf. “Let’s go to Oldtown.”
Knowing it was one of her favorite parts of the city, he agreed, looking forward to an evening spent wandering around with his mother and sister. He missed Wannsee, with its lakes and trees, but the streets, shops and river in Köln were fun, too. He didn’t understand why his mother was so upset about the move, and it wasn’t as if their father had been around much the last few years anyway.
Going to change before dinner so they would be ready to leave right afterward, Eren and Mikasa dressed for the outing: him in a nice pair of jeans and a tan jersey, her in a blue skirt and white blouse. Then they set the table just in time for their mother to serve the chicken and vegetables. She laughed when she saw them and paused to give them both a kiss on the cheek. “My, how mature you look. To think just the other day you were wearing a t-shirt with a toy on it.”
“Mom! Argon isn’t a toy, he’s a- argh!” Eren flopped down on his seat and gave up explaining games to his mother. “You’re doing it again,” he complained.
“Yes, son, it’s a mother’s privilege to drive her children crazy.” She smiled in pleasure as she served them dinner. “Now eat something before you tell me what we’re doing tonight – in English.”
Rolling his eyes at her trick to get him to practice the language, Eren swallowed his food and did as he was told. Maybe he wasn’t as smart as his sister and everyone despaired over his temper, but he knew when to give in to his mother, and this was one of those times. Something about his father had her upset lately, more than him being away so much, so Eren focused on his pronunciation and resolved to cheer her up as much as he could.
Growing bored, Eren tossed the game console aside and slid down to lay on the
couch; none of his online friends were available to play ‘Blades of
Freedom’, and he didn’t want to deal with any idiots if he joined a random
match. “What are you doing?” he asked Mikasa as he tilted his head back to
look over the arm of the couch.
“A bunch of cars are stopped in the street,” she called out from her spot by the sliding doors overlooking the city.
“So, traffic’s usually bad this time of the day.” The one or two times their father had been home during the week since moving here, he’d complained about being stuck in it. Eren rolled onto his back and toyed with a lock of his bangs as he wondered where their father was now – was he working at the lab in Leverkusen or had he gone overseas to London? Eren hoped he’d gone out of the country, because that usually meant that he’d bring back gifts. “What do you think he’ll bring back this time? Dad, I mean.”
Mikasa gave a non-committal grunt and shook her head; after a minute she came over and sat down near Eren’s legs. “I think something’s going on down there, I saw some flashing lights.” She picked up the remote and switched the tv over to cable, then turned on a local news channel.
“Do you think it was an accident?”
“Maybe.” Then Mikasa made a hushing sound as the newscaster, some stuffy old guy with a fake tan, began speaking. His voice was high as if from stress and his eyes wide as he went on to talk about some sort of disaster in the downtown area, and how police were encouraging people to remain away from the area if possible. Public transportation such as the trains and buses were being diverted away until the accident was cleared, and people who lived in the vicinity were encouraged to stay inside.
“Mom!” Eren sat up as he called for his mother, who came out of the bathroom busy folding a clean towel.
“You don’t have to yell! I swear, the neighbors can hear you!” she chided as she approached the couch.
“Mom, look at this.” Mikasa turned up the volume as the newscaster basically reported the same instructions over again. Eren watched his mother and waited for her to roll her eyes and say that someone was certainly overreacting, and instead was stunned to see her drop the towel and race into her bedroom. He looked over at his sister and found her appearing just as confused.
“What’s that about?”
“I don’t know, but it can’t be good.” Mikasa stood up and went to follow their mother, who came running out of the bedroom with three small backpacks in her shaking hands. She grabbed Mikasa and pulled her toward Eren.
“Here.” She shoved a pack first at Mikasa and then at Eren. “There’s vests inside, put them on!” Her voice was sharp with fear, the same emotion making her tan skin appear ashen and her brown eyes wide. “Do it now!”
Not used to seeing his mother so upset, Eren did as he was told and unzipped the pack. Inside was a folded, bright orange square which he assumed was the vest, along with a small envelope, a change of clothes, two bottles of water and a couple of other packaged items. He unfolded the vest and pulled it on, the fabric bright and stiff, and slid the pack over his left shoulder.
Mikasa and his mother did much the same thing, and once they were ready, his mother paused to pull off her wedding rings, the diamond bracelet their father had given her for an anniversary gift two years ago, and the locket that Eren had always seen her wear. “Here.” She put one of the rings and the bracelet into Mikasa’s pack, and the other jewelry in Eren’s. “Just in case.”
“Mom! That stuff’s yours!”
She ignored Eren’s protests and pushed him toward the front door of their apartment. “And it still is, I’m just letting you two hold onto them for me.” Upon opening the door, she paused and peeked out for a moment. There was a loud noise down the hall, a banging sound and faint yelling, which caused her to curse under her breath and pale even more. “Come, quickly and quietly,” she urged them.
Following her orders, Eren held onto Mikasa’s hand as his mother led them to the emergency stairwell. Instead of going down, as he expected, she went up the stairs, toward the roof. Confused even more over what his mother was doing, he paused on the steps, but one look at fearful expression on her face when she turned and whispered for him to hurry up convinced him to obey. Fortunately, they only had about five flights of stairs to go up.
Once they were on the roof, she closed the door behind them and then
scrambled about looking for something, which turned out to be a scrap of wood
that she used to jamb the door shut. “Come away, that won’t hold for
Joining his mother on the middle of the roof, Eren threw his arms up and gestured around them. “What are we doing here? What’s going on?”
“Quiet!” His mother dug through her pack in search of something, only to pull out a thin, reddish stick. “We’re waiting for help to arrive.”
They were on top of the roof of a twenty-five story building, where the sharp wind bit into the thin material of Eren’s long-sleeved shirt. Beside him, Mikasa was shivering as well, her loose sweater not being much thicker, and they huddled together as their mother lit what turned out to be some sort of flare. She held it up in the air with her left hand, her right arm draped over Eren’s shoulders as she held him close. “They’ll see it soon – your father promised that he’d send someone to get us if something bad happened.” The light of the flare reflected off of the vests.
He wanted to ask what that ‘something bad’ was, but soon after his mother had lit the flare they could hear the muffled sounds of screams. Looking over at the door, Eren began to shiver in earnest as the screams grew louder. His mother took to praying under her breath and her arm tightened around him.
He wished that he’d taken the time to grab something from the kitchen, one of the long carving knives or even a cleaver, his hands clenching into fists. His father had made him promise to leave the knives alone, to never touch them again, but what was the point of such a promise at a time like this? He had only ever done such a thing to protect-
The sound of a helicopter nearing startled him from those thoughts, and his mother cried out in relief as she pushed Eren and Mikasa farther from the door. They could see the helicopter approaching; it shone a spotlight onto the roof and tracked them within seconds.
“Here!” His mother waved the flare several times before tossing it aside and shoving Eren and Mikasa in front of her. Behind them, there was a pounding noise on the metal door, which prompted her to impel the two of them forward. “Take them, quickly!” she shouted.
“Mom!” Eren yelled at his mother, desperate to be heard over the whipping wind as the helicopter hovered above them. He thought Mikasa did the same, saw her mouth moving, and then there were arms reaching down for them to pull them up.
He twisted about, reached down for his mother, in time to see a wave of something pale move so fast toward her that at first he thought that he was imagining it. Then it formed into arms and claws and twisted faces with dark, gleaming eyes and huge mouths filled with so many sharp teeth, several… several *things* that latched onto his mother just as he’d grabbed her right hand and was trying to pull her up. Her beautiful eyes widened with fear and then she smiled, so sad and heartbreaking, as her hand slipped from his and the creatures pulled her under them. The scent and sight of blood filled Eren’s senses as the helicopter rose into the air, and all he could do was scream for his mother as the warmth of her touch faded from his hand.
“Look, they’re switching me to 3/14’s, so you won’t see me for a few days,” Hannes explained, his hands clasped behind his back and a guilty expression on his weathered face. “If you need anything, just go to Dietrich. He’ll help you out.”
Eren forced a weak grin onto his lips and nodded. “Yeah, okay, thanks.”
Hannes frowned a little as he glanced back and forth between Eren and Mikasa, who was curled up on one of the room’s two cots, then sighed. “Don’t get into trouble while I’m gone.” He pulled his beret out of the back pocket of his fatigues then turned to leave, his shoulders slumped either from exhaustion or guilt, maybe even both. Eren wasn’t sure what he’d feel guilty about, but imagined that any solider would be exhausted to try to hold back the wave of the mutated bloodsuckers that were overtaking all of the major cities – or ‘malforms’, as the online community had taken to calling them, after some silly old webcomic. Considering the vampires he’d seen on tv and in movies, he could understand why people were calling them something different. After all, the things that had killed his mother didn’t sparkle or wear the latest fashion, or look like-
He came to himself to find Mikasa clutching at his hands, forcing his fingers to unfurl. His palms stung from where his nails had bitten into the soft skin.
“Sorry.” He leaned forward until their foreheads touched. He felt bad whenever he worried her like this; ever since – it was just the two of them now, so Mikasa had made it her purpose in life to look after him. “Do you want to get something to eat?”
She shook her head. “Not right now.” She went to the bathroom to fetch a small medkit and cleaned the wounds, which were little more than a scratch. “You can go if you want.”
It wasn’t that he felt very hungry then, just that he needed to get out of the small room they shared for a little bit. “Okay. If they have any sandwiches, I’ll bring something back.”
The helicopter had dropped them off at some secret research facility they weren’t allowed to know the name or location of, just the fact that it was a good bit away and that their father worked there sometime. They were only allowed there because of him, given a tiny room to share and two meals a day on sufferance because he was someone important; Eren knew that his father did something with infectious disease and made enough to afford the house back in Wannsee and the apartment, but it wasn’t like he’d been really rich or at all famous. Realizing that the only person who seemed to care at all about them was Hannes, an Army soldier, Eren and Mikasa did their best to keep to their room as much as possible and only ventured out for food and necessities when necessary. Most of the time Hannes brought stuff to them; just because they were only thirteen years old didn’t mean that they needed to be treated like kids, but Hannes had been on the rescue helicopter, so it seemed that he felt some responsibility for them.
Rolling up the sleeve of his ‘borrowed’ shirt, Eren kept his head bowed as he turned down the corridor toward the cafeteria and didn’t pay any attention to the people in white lab coats who walked past. So he was surprised when someone grabbed him and enveloped him in an almost painful hug. “Eren! My god, I can’t - you’re-“
Realizing it was his father who was embracing him so tightly and stuttering in his ear, Eren stopped struggling and hugged him back as much as he was able, tears stinging his eyes. Ever since he and Mikasa had arrived, no one had been able to tell him where their father was, just that he had left for a very important assignment and would be back soon.
“Dad… Mom….” To his horror, Eren found himself crying as he remembered his mother and that evening on the roof. He clutched at his father’s back as the sobs wracked through his body, the pain of her death still so fresh and awful.
“I’m so sorry.” Large hands rubbed along his shoulders and his head as he cried, until the sobs lessened, and then Eren’s father pulled away. “Come along.” A handkerchief was pushed into Eren’s left hand, his right hand held tight as his father led him down the hallway to a section of the facility that Eren hadn’t been before.
“Dad, Mikasa’s here, too. She’s-“
“I know, Eren. I’ll… I’ll see her later. Right now I don’t have much time.” He spoke in a rush as he keyed open a door and hurried inside, and Eren noticed that his father was dressed as if he was ready to travel again, in a long, grey windbreaker that bore a logo he didn’t recognize, some sort of cargo jeans and sturdy boots. His dark hair was tousled and his face covered with stubble, his moustache uneven.
Once inside the small examining room, his father urged him up onto the paper-covered bed. “But Mikasa-“
His father cut him off once again. “Not now!” He reached into the right pocket of his coat and pulled out a filled shot needle and an alcohol packet. He set the needle aside while he tore open the packet, then grabbed hold of Eren’s right arm and shoved up the overlarge sleeve of his shirt. “Stay still for this,” he ordered, his deep voice rough and low.
Used to his father giving him shots, Eren found himself obeying
automatically, even though he was filled with apprehension over his father’s
strange behavior. “What is it?” He and Mikasa had been checked when they’d
arrived at the facility and declared in good shape, so why was he getting a
shot? “Will Mikasa need one too?”
“Just stay still,” he was ordered again as his father found a vein in his arm and pressed the needle into it. Eren felt a burning sensation immediately and tried to jerk away, yet his father clenched his arm tightly enough to hurt. “Don’t move! You can’t waste any of this!”
“But it stings!” Eren tried to push his father away and couldn’t – his father refused to stop injecting the shot and with each passing second, Eren’s body felt hotter and weaker. His head started spinning and he felt himself be lowered on the medical bed.
“Eren, it’s important that you remember this, all right?” His head was lifted and something was slipped over it to hang around his neck. “In case something happens to me, you’ll find everything there. Now, you need to know that you’ll have to trust your instincts, that….”
The words washed through him, a soft murmur that merged with the pounding of blood through his veins and the heat that simmered beneath his skin. The world seemed so far away and so near at the same time, a white blur all around him, and the next thing he was clearly aware of was Mikasa leaning over him.
“Eren?” Her face was pale and lined with worry, her long dark hair falling forward as she leaned forward to hug him, a muffled sob escaping as she pressed her face against his chest.
“Mi-mikasa?” His throat felt dry and his body weak, as if he’d suffered a fever. From what he could tell, he was in the room they shared – hadn’t he been somewhere else? “What happened?”
Slowly pushing herself upright as if it hurt to move, she wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand and reached for a bottle of water, which she opened and then gave to him. “You were gone for too long, so I went looking for you. I found you delirious, wandering the halls and brought you back here.” She had to help him sit up to so he could drink. “You’ve had a fever for the past two days. A doctor who checked on you said it must have been brought on from stress.”
A fever? Was that right? He drank all of the water, feeling so thirsty, and wiped at a trail of water that had escaped past his lips – only to stop when he felt something on his chest. Dropping the empty bottle, he lifted the small leather pouch that he’d never seen before.
“Did you get that to hold on to things? It’ll be useful.” Mikasa sat close to him on the bed; he could tell that she was trying to act normal, but she must have been frantic with worry at the thought of losing him so soon after-
Pushing the painful thought aside, he focused instead on what had happened after he had left here, on going out for something to eat… the sensation of heat, of something being placed around his neck…. He opened the pouch to find what looked to be a small metal key with the numbers ‘23’ stamped onto it on one side, and ‘PSD’ on the back.
“What’s that?” Mikasa twisted around so she could see what he was holding. “Is that a key? It looks like… hmm, like something to a bank deposit box, an old one. I thought most of them used thumbprints now.” She took it from his fingers and he allowed her, mind too busy to resist. “Where did you get this?”
“Dad.” The word came out quietly, little more than a whisper, yet she heard him, her eyes sharp and expression disbelieving for several seconds. When all he did was stare back evenly at her, she shook her head.
“We haven’t seen him since before… before we came here. I know you didn’t have this with you then.”
“No, I ran into him!” Pushing up to sit on his knees, he clutched at her arms as he tried to make sense out of the muddled memories. “He said he didn’t have long and then he did something to me, gave me some sort of weird shot.” He let go so he could rub at his arm where he still remembered the burning sensation; there wasn’t even a mark from the needle. “He said something about it being important in case something happened to him, and… and….” Hadn’t there been something else? Eren tried to remember, but everything was so hazy.
Mikasa stared at him as if ready to push him back onto the bed, and then studied the key in her hand. “We never thought that he was involved in something as big as this.” Her voice was hushed, as if she was voicing her inner thoughts. “Yet even Mom knew something-“ She bit her lip and took a shuddering breath in an attempt to hold back tears, her eyes pressed shut and the key held clenched in her hand.
Not wanting to think about their mother and how he’d failed to save her, to pull her to safety, Eren scooted forward so he could embrace his sister. “We’ll figure something out, we won’t just sit here forever.” Maybe they could help Hannes out somewhere, could stand watch or… or *something*. It would just be until they could fight back those damn vampire things themselves.
“I know.” Mikasa sniffed and rested her head on his shoulder; the two of them sat like that until Dietrich came to bring them dinner.
His body reacting on command, Eren threw himself to the ground and covered his head just in time for Mikasa to fire a shot at the Malform chasing after him. Not wasting any time, he staggered to his feet and raced toward it, right arm raised to bring down the heavy Army-issued blade to decapitate the thing before it recovered from the head shot. It took two attempts before he cut through its neck, exhaustion and hatred causing his breathing to come out in shuddering pants as he slammed down the weapon with all of his strength, and then Mikasa was yanking him away from the liquefying corpse.
“Hurry, there’s probably more of them,” she whispered as she slung the rifle over her left shoulder.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Eren took a deep breath and then forced himself to move, stumbling for a moment on the weed-covered ground. They needed to find somewhere safe to hole up before sunrise, somewhere out of the blistering sunlight and free of Malforms.
His right hand ached from clenching onto the sword so tightly, his shoulders were sore from carrying the pack containing most of his belongings, and the last time he’d eaten was right before sunset; if he didn’t know that Mikasa felt just as tired and hungry, wasn’t used to being so sore and worn down, he’d spare the breath to complain. Tonight wasn’t any different from yesterday or the day before that, and tomorrow wouldn’t be any better – as long as they stayed alive. So far they’d managed longer than they’d expected after the fall of the research facility, especially after Hannes had been an idiot and sacrificed himself for them.
Sniffling back tears at the thought of their former guardian, Eren forced himself to pay attention to his surroundings instead; it was dangerous to travel at night, but they lacked the protective gear that would allow them out during daylight. “How many bullets do you have left?”
“Eight.” Mikasa frowned as she looked over her left shoulder, in the direction of the Malform attack. “I’m hoping we can resupply soon.”
The trouble with that was supplies usually meant other people, who saw two teenagers and felt they could take advantage of them, or risking Malform nests to gather them on their own. Eren thought that he preferred dealing with Malforms, as you already knew what they wanted and could kill them outright.
They struggled on for what felt to be a couple more hours, nerves on edge at every unexpected sound, and finally came across what looked to be some sort of rest station, the cheerful paint of its exterior fading and covered with rude graffiti. Mikasa immediately came on alert, the rifle gripped in both of her hands and held at ready, and Eren’s fingers tightened around the handle of the sword. If the rest station was clear, they could probably stop for a little while and catch their breath – if it really was clear.
They had just began to skirt around it, cautious of it already being occupied by other humans or worse, when they heard the sound of multiple steps clattering against dirt. “Run!” Mikasa shouted at him, already turning around to take aim with the rifle.
“There’s too many of them!” he yelled back, grabbing hold of her torn jacket and using it to pull her along. He’d heard that sound before - dozens of claws dragging on dirt and rocks - and it was when Hannes had thrown his gear at them and ordered them to flee, swearing that he’d give them enough time. No way in *hell* was Eren letting Mikasa do the same damn thing, not the only family he had left – he wasn’t going to lose her. Pulling hard on the dirty fabric, he managed to shove her in front of him, toward the small building.
The damn things weren’t far behind them, but they were desperate and determined, and so just managed to reach the door of one of the bathrooms in time. Eren almost sobbed when he found it unlocked, and actually prayed that the room was empty. “Go!” he shouted at his sister and shoved her inside, figuring that she was more than capable of handling whatever was in there. About to enter himself, he screamed when something sharp dug into his right side.
He could see Mikasa, could hear her screaming his name despite the agony of claws and fangs piercing into him, yet somehow he found the strength to tell her no as he pushed away from the door and slammed it shut. The last thought he had was if this was how his mother had felt that night, and then it was as if he was being torn apart.
Feeling hungry and tired, Eren groaned again and moved his head aside, trying to avoid the damp cloth that was swiping along his forehead. He forced his eyes open to see Mikasa leaning over him, and for a moment thought he was back in the research center – then he realized that her black hair was shorter, that her face was dirty and older, that the room was smaller and dirty, comprised of broken tiles with a toilet and sink, of all things. It also smelled horrible.
Tears streamed down her face as she tugged him up into a bone-crushing hug. “You… you *idiot*,” she hissed at him inbetween sobs.
For some reason he felt so weak, his body unwilling to obey as he attempted to lift his arms to return the embrace. After a few attempts he managed, and it was then that he noticed that the sleeves were missing from his right arm. In fact, his jacket was gone, and from what he could tell, his remaining clothes were torn and rather sticky with… with what smelled to be blood.
“Mikasa?” He went to pull away, but she clung to him as if a leech, still sobbing like she hadn’t done since they’d lost their mother. “What happened?” His last memory had been of his mother, of the Malforms….
“I’d lost you,” Mikasa sobbed against his neck, her scarf scratchy against his skin. “You *stupid* fool, I lost you. They took you even though I tried to fight them off and… and it was *awful*. Then they left you after tearing you apart, and I thought…” She paused to cry for a minute, seeming to be too upset for words. “I thought I’d at least stay with you until sunrise, and then you began to heal.”
This had to be a dream, Eren thought as he ran the fingers of his right hand, his *clean* hand, through her shoulder-length hair. “But… I’m fine.” What did she mean that they’d torn him apart? He still had everything, right? All limbs were accounted for, his pack, appearing a bit worse for the wear, was over in the corner, and…. He panicked for a moment, until he realized that he could feel the leather pouch pressed against his chest.
Finally pulling away, Mikasa snatched at his right hand and shook her head. “No, they pulled off your arm and your leg, below your knee when they were fighting over you. But as soon as they all started feeding on you, something made them stop and they left you there. They all left.” Her voice quavered when she recounted the events, as if she was ready to cry again at any moment.
“That’s not possible!” Eren moved his fingers, his supposedly vanished fingers, and both of his feet. “How am I not dead, or worse, turned?”
Her lips pressing together in a sign of anger, Mikasa rose to her feet and hauled him up as well. “I don’t know, but something’s changed in you.” She pushed him toward the broken mirror hanging on the wall above the cracked sink. “Look at your eyes.”
At first he noticed the smeared blood and dirt on his face, and then how much his hair had grown in the past several months; it wasn’t often that he came across his reflection like this. Then he saw what Mikasa wanted him to notice, which were his eyes.
All his life, people had commented on his eyes, about how big they were and their unusual color. Were they teal? Turquoise? Oh, how pretty they were and how they stood out against his skin tone, embarrassing things like that. His mother had fussed over them and bought him shirts to ‘bring out the color’, which only made him more self-conscious about them, which was why in part he always let his bangs grow so long. However, now the familiar blue-green color was gone, replaced by a glowing gold – fuck, his eyes were *glowing*.
That’s when he realized another thing – the bathroom had a skylight to help provide some natural illumination, but with the door closed and a lack of windows, it wasn’t anywhere near enough light for him to be seeing things so clearly. Yet he could see his reflection, the room, Mikasa, *everything* as if it was only a bit dark out. When had his night vision improved to such an extent?
“What’s wrong with me? Am I… am I turning into one of them?” He clutched at the sink for support as his knees grew weak at the thought of turning into the things that had killed his mother and that were wiping out humanity, the things he hated more than anything else.
“*No*, Eren.” Mikasa stumbled over to him and wrapped him in her arms, no sign of fear at all I being near him. “You’d have turned by now if that… you wouldn’t have woken up. We’ll figure this out.”
He rested his forehead against hers and sighed, filled with desperate hope that she was correct. They stayed like that until his stomach rumbled, so she let him go to fetch what remained of his pack.
“It’ll be sunrise soon,” she told him as she handed over a candy bar
and a half-empty bottle of water.
“Good.” He wanted to make sure that he could still stand sunlight, especially when each bite of chocolate did nothing to appease his hunger. The water helped, but Eren still felt drained and craved… something. At least he was able to change into cleaner clothes, though they really would need to find a place to restock soon.
As soon as they could tell that the sun was rising, he was careful to unlock and open the door, Mikasa on guard beside him. He didn’t go out very far, just enough to feel sun on his skin and confirm that he could tolerate it as much as he had in the past. A knot that had been strung tight in his chest loosened while Mikasa scolded him to get back into the grimy bathroom.
“The last thing we need is for you to come down with cancer,” she chided as she re-locked the door, but he could tell that she was just as relieved. “Now can we get some rest?”
Feeling bad at how much he had put her through during the night, even if being snacked upon by Malforms and miraculously healing had been the last of his plans, Eren gave a tug to her scarf and nodded. “Yeah. I’ll take first watch, since I already got some sleep.” She looked as if to argue, then gave in after a moment.
The day passed quickly, and by sunset, Eren’s stomach was cramping from hunger; the energy bar for ‘breakfast’ didn’t do anything to calm the pangs. Mikasa’s brow was furrowed from concern, but there wasn’t anything she could do for him. There weren’t any doctors they could go see, and if so, what would they say? ‘Hi, I just got attacked by a pack of Malforms yet somehow survived and even managed to grow back two limbs, what do you think?’ If the doctor didn’t cut off Eren’s head, they would probably want to dissect him for a cure. No thanks.
Mikasa studied the map provided at the rest station. “If we follow the road, we might find something of interest in the nearest town.”
“Hopefully something of interest is still left.” Eren wouldn’t hold his breath, but one never knew how fast a town or city was evacuated once the Malforms had started attacking, or when the solar flares had hit hard. They might get lucky.
His sister gave him a look that clearly read ‘I’ve put up with enough shit lately, we’re bound for some sort of break’. So he merely shrugged and allowed her to lead the way, doing his best to try not to dwell upon how he could see so clearly in the fading light and how his hunger grew with each passing minute. At times, he swore his mouth would begin to hurt and that his sight would go weird, that the world would take on a greyish tinge while Mikasa would seem to glow. Clearly whatever had happened last night had fucked him up more than the obvious ‘dying, coming back to life and regrowing some limbs’ thing.
It was more dangerous to follow a defined path like a road than to cut across country, and now they didn’t have any more bullets left in the rifle because of last night’s attack. The two of them kept an eye out for any signs of Malform and moved as quietly as possible, yet it came as no surprise when Eren heard a screeching sound from a grove of trees ahead and saw a glowing shape leap down toward them.
He acted without thinking – he tossed the sword toward his sister while he launched himself at the Malform. Pain spiked in his mouth and along his fingertips, yet it was almost subsumed by the intense rage and hunger that consumed him just then, virulent emotions that drove him forward without any concern for how he was facing a Malform with any weapon. The Malform screeched again as it slammed into him, claws digging into his shoulders and sending them both rolling onto the ground.
It snapped at his throat, but he managed to roll them around before its fangs could find any purchase. Somehow he had the strength to fight against the creature, to push against its chin to shove its head up and to the side, and the next thing he knew, he was diving forward, salivating mouth open and tearing at its throat.
His teeth tore through flesh as if it was nothing, spitting out leathery skin and tendons and then fastening down so he could drink the thick, hot, *sweet* fluid that pumped out of the ragged hole, so delicious, so fulfilling…. His world narrowed down to that liquid, drinking it in, feeling it flow through him, keeping its source pinned down until there was no more to be had.
“-en? Eren? It’s me, Mikasa. Eren? Please, Eren. Come back. Come back to me, Eren. It’s Mikasa. Come back. Eren.”
Letting go of the Malform, Eren sank back on his heels, his hands rubbing at his eyes as he heard Mikasa plead with him. “I-it’s….” What could he tell her? That it was okay? What the hell had he done? He lowered his hands to see her kneeling on the other side of the Malform, tears sparkling in her dark eyes and appearing too old for the fifteen or so years they were supposed to be now.
“Are you finished?”
It took him a moment to realize that she meant with the Malform, and as soon as he nodded, she pulled out the blade. At first he thought she meant to use it on him and he couldn’t even work up the strength to defend himself, but all she did was cut off the head of the Malform. “Are you better now?”
A strangled, weak laugh escaped him at her question. “I just… I just fucking ate a Malform! I-“ He shook his head and forced himself onto his feet. “I’m not so hungry now,” he admitted, not wanting to lash out at his sister. “But how does this make me anything other than… than one of them?”
She dropped the blade to the ground and leaned over to grab his hands. “You didn’t attack me. Did you want to attack me?” she asked, the question rushed as if she was nervous about the answer.
“No!” He squeezed her hands back as he grimaced at the thought of doing what he’d just done to the one person he had left in the world. “I’ve been hungry since, well, since waking up but it wasn’t until I saw it that I….”
Mikasa smiled in relief and led him away from the liquefying corpse, pausing to pick up the dropped weapon. “Then you’re not one of them – they feed on humans. I don’t know what you are, but it’s not one of them. Plus, there’s the whole sunlight thing.”
He wasn’t sure that he could feel as confident as Mikasa seemed that he wasn’t turning into a Malform. “I don’t know, right now it seems like I’m running on instinct here.” He came to a halt as that stirred a memory, his right hand pressing against his head.
“Eren? What is it?” Mikasa held onto his left arm, her expression growing worried when he didn’t answer. “Are you in pain? Is there another Malform?” She held the sword at ready and looked around as if expecting another attack.
“No, I just remembered something. Back at the research department, when Dad stopped by and gave me that shot.” Mikasa lowered the sword and stared at him, her gaze intent as she waited for the explanation. “He told me something about trusting my instincts when the time came, that they would guide me best.” Dammit, why were his memories so fuzzy, still? “There’s more, but it’s like grasping at smoke. Something… something about passing on the change, being a carrier.”
Mikasa was quiet, as if considering what he had said, and then urged him to continue walking. “Dad was working on something with researching the mutation and spread of vampirism, we found out that much. Considering the fact that they allowed us to stay at the research facility until it was breeched, he probably was one of their best hopes in finding a cure.” She sounded a little uncertain, as if she was thinking things through as she spoke, her chin buried in the ragged red scarf she refused to let go of despite everything. “Perhaps he injected you with something he was working on.”
That theory prompted a bitter laugh from Eren. “Great, he uses his own son for a test subject? There’s better ways of saying ‘I love you’ than turning me into a freak, especially when he wasn’t the greatest dad in the first place.” The man had put his career first his entire life, and what, he decided to do something special for Eren one time? Of course it would turn him into a blood-sucking monster.
His sister looked as if she wanted to say something but thought better of it. She frowned and was quiet for several minutes, which made Eren think that she had dropped the subject. “At least you’re still alive. If he hadn’t of done it, I’d have lost you,” she said in a small voice, her shoulders hunched forward.
Okay, now he felt like a real shit. There wasn’t any way he could hate on his father right now, when whatever the man had done allowed him to survive through the attack and still be with Mikasa; she didn’t deserve to be left all alone in this hell of a world. “You’re right, I’m grateful for that,” he admitted as he bumped into her side. If being a monster was what it took to stay with her, to keep her safe, then he would accept it. At least it meant that the other monsters had a reason to fear him.
Eren eyed the shuttered doors in front of him and frowned. “I don’t know, this seems like one of my stupid plans. It’s not like you, Mikasa.”
His sister wrapped her scarf tighter around her face while she glared at him, bundled up against the autumnal chill in scavenged clothes. “It might not be the best plan, but we need to find some medicine so we can trade it for the necessary supplies. Winter’s coming.”
“I know, I figured that out when the leaves started changing,” Eren snapped back. He hated arguing with his sister, especially when he knew she was right, but this plan *sucked*. First there was the part of going into the abandoned hospital, which he could tell was infested with Malform even from here. Even if they did find some medicine or other useful supplies, then they would have to go to an established camp to trade for goods, and the last two times that hadn’t worked out very well. He and Mikasa were still considered easy marks because of their ages, and it didn’t help that it appeared that he… well, he hadn’t aged since the ‘incident’.
Unfortunately, they needed more bullets, better camping gear, some food and new clothes to last them through the winter. Eren found that his new ‘condition’ meant that he could handle temperatures better, but the last thing they wanted was to explain to strangers why he was running around in the snow in jeans and a tshirt, so he was still stuck with a winter coat. At least they only needed food for Mikasa, now.
“Let’s just get this over with. Keep your gun up, since I can smell the bastards from here, okay?” he told his sister as he forced the busted door to open. His teeth ached from the sound of metal grating against concrete, which he was certain let the Malforms know that dinner had arrived.
Mikasa let him lead the way, since his night vision was much better than hers. The hospital showed signs of a frantic evacuation – there was rotting linens along the hallways and on the beds, broken monitors at the stations and in the rooms, tablets scattered about…. If there was still working electricity outside of a few rumored generators, the equipment left here would probably be valuable, but it would take a lot of manpower to come here and remove it. Considering that they were saying that over half of the population had been wiped out, Eren wasn’t counting on them moving stuff any time soon.
“Where do you think it’ll be?” he asked his sister as they slunk down a main hallway, on alert for any type of trap.
Mikasa pointed at a sign. “There, pharmacy.”
Hoping that there would still be something there, Eren couldn’t help but notice the bloodstains on the wall and the stench of death. He motioned for his sister to be ready, not liking the feeling he was getting just then. This felt too much like a set-up – Malforms didn’t exhibit higher levels of intelligence, but they could probably figure out that if their prey always seemed to head this way, that this was where they should lie in wait for them.
They were coming to a corner when Eren smelled the bastards; he let out a growl the same time he shoved Mikasa behind him, toward a room they had just passed. At least ten Malform were charging toward them, fangs bared in hunger.
His own fangs extended as he leapt at them, a growl breaking free from his throat as he knocked two of them into the ground. The feral sound seemed to stun a couple of them, making them pause and even retreat a little, which gave him the chance to tear out the throat of the first Malform, then slash his claws across the neck of the other. As it fell to its knees, he used his anger-enhanced strength to rip off its head.
Seeing one of their own die slowed down the others. They screeched at him, uncertain of what to do, leaving him the opportunity to slash all the way through the neck of the other wounded Malform. Its death only fed the fury inside of him, made him want to kill more of the bastards, so he sought out the others, lunging for them, sinking his claws and teeth into them, feeling their blood rush down his throat and their flesh tear beneath his hands until they were no more.
Standing in a pool of liquefied Malform, he panted for several breaths before the haze of killing left him and he remembered Mikasa. Running toward the room where he’d last seen her, he almost slipped on more liquefying Malforms and let out a roar when he saw one bent over the slumped form of his sister, feeding from her.
He raced forward, claws extended as he drove them deep into the creature to tear at its spine. It let out a screech and slumped to the side, ignored by Eren as he bent over his sister. “Mikasa!”
Face covered with splattered blood, her eyes fluttered open, pupils dilated and unseeing. “Eren?” She could only mouth his name – her throat was torn from the creature’s feeding and she was pale, so very pale and cold. Her heartbeat was slow and unsteady, her eyes drifting shut as Eren clutched her against his chest.
“No!” He couldn’t lose her, couldn’t fail someone he loved again. This was his fault, how could he let her go? He buried his face in her hair, tears streaming down his face as he refused to let her go. She couldn’t leave him.
He didn’t realize he was moving until he found himself pulling her closer, and part of him screamed in horror as he lifted her torn throat to his mouth. There wasn’t much blood left, only a few swallows, and she tasted different than the Malforms, not as sweet. Even as he hated himself for what he was doing, his body kept at it until he felt Mikasa’s heart still and her breathing stopped.
Then he lay her back down and sat back, unable to move away. The wounded Malform had crawled away at some point, yet he sat there, watching and waiting. After a while, smoke rose from Mikasa’s throat and other wounds, leaving unmarked skin in its place. He stared in fascination as it occurred, hope stirring within him. Not too much long after that, her chest began to move, shallowly at first and then she took a shuddering, deep breath.
“Eren!” Her eyes flew open and she clawed at her throat.
“It’s okay,” he told her as he rushed to help her sit up. “I’m here.”
She leaned against him as if she lacked the strength, her arms snaking around his waist. “But… there was a Malform.”
“I know.” He tenderly brushed aside the hair falling onto her face and
realized that her scarf was missing – it was a few feet away, torn in several
pieces. “I got here too late.”
Mikasa tilted her face to look up at him, her right hand at her healed throat. “So how am I still here?”
Feeling a bit guilty, Eren wiped the back of his hand along his mouth. “I think I figured out that ‘carrier’ part. Something took over and made me bite you.” He was still freaked over drinking his sister’s blood, but if it meant that she was still here, that he hadn’t failed her like he had their mother, then he’d deal with it. “I think… you might be like me, now.”
She continued to look up at him, her hand held at her throat. “Did my eyes change, too,” was the only question that she asked him after several seconds of silence. If she was upset over his failure to protect her or the fact that he’d changed her without her consent, she showed nothing.
There were times when he really couldn’t figure out his sister – this was one of them. A startled burst of laughter escaped him as he hugged her tight. “No, oddly enough they’re still the same.” He gave her forehead a quick kiss. “I’ve always liked your eyes.” Their dark brown color, almost black, was so pretty and suited her, made her appear even more exotic.
She made an odd, pleased sound and rested against him for a few seconds before pulling away. “But I like your eyes.” She stilled for a moment. “I feel hungry. You said you were hungry when you… changed.” As he watched, her eyes changed from their dark brown to a glowing, golden hue, and she let out a startled gasp.
“Let me guess, the fangs came out, huh?” His lips curved into a rueful grin as she nodded; part of him felt a big smug to be the one who had all the answers for once. He forced his sore legs to straighten up and held out his hand to help his sister stand. “I know there’s at least one Malform still around here, how about we track him down so you get a bite to eat and then we’ll see if there’s any medicine left?”
“Yes, that would be good.” She took a step forward and then noticed the scattered remains of her scarf, an anguished sob escaping her as she rushed forward to gather up the scraps.
Really, it was a miracle that the length of wool had lasted this long, Eren thought as he helped her with the task. He’d given her the thing years ago, when they’d first met, and it had lasted through so much – but it hurt him to see her so sad over the loss of the memento, even after so much else. “We’ll find another one,” he promised her as he handed over the pieces he gathered. “I know it won’t be exactly the same,” he said in a hurry as tears gathered in her eyes. “It’s the meaning that counts, right? I’ll find another one and I’ll give it to you. Then it’ll mean the same.” There had to be another red scarf out there in the world, still. If not, he’d take up knitting, just to keep Mikasa happy. Something told him that they’d have the time, now. He was just pleased that she wanted to stay with him, and that such a small token still mattered to her.
She clutched the tattered remains to her chest and nodded while sniffing back the tears. “As long as it’s from you, then yes.” There was a slight waver in her voice, as if she was forcing herself to accept the situation, yet she smiled through the tears.
For a moment, Eren desperately wished they were back in their home in Wannsee, that the world was still normal, that Mom was still alive and there was no such things as vampires or Malforms or solar flares – nothing that had destroyed their world and left it so that all that Mikasa and he had were each other. Yet that was their reality now, a world breaking down more and more each minute, the few remaining humans turning on each other and whatever Dad had done that had changed him and Mikasa into freaks. Somehow they’d deal with it, and they would do it together.
“Come on, let’s feed and then get what we need.”
Mikasa’s tentative smile blossomed; she gathered the remains of her scarf into the left pocket of her soiled coat and latched onto his arm as they hunted down the Malform together.
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