******

chapter six

*******

changes

*******

Levi kept a tight hold on the brat’s arm as he hauled him to headquarters; there were only so many vehicle permits that were allowed in a dome, and right now all of the ones for the Corps would be allocated to truck the wounded from University Market. That meant that he got the privilege of escorting the brat and his friends back to the base on foot himself, through the streets packed with gossiping nitwits and fawning airheads. Joy oh joy.

“Warum sind wir setzen mit diesem?“ The girl spat out as they passed several people cheering on their passage.

„Weil ich weiß, dass Sie brüllen wieder dort anerkannt. Diese Arschlöcher sind wahrscheinlich auf uns wartet ein Lauf für sie zu machen, so macht es nur Sinn, etwas, was sie nicht erwarten würde," shot back the brat as he tugged at the hold Levi had on his left arm. The words that came out of his mouth were rough and guttural, almost familiar at times in a teasing manner.

„So gehen wir zusammen mit *diesen* Arschlöcher? Einer von ihnen sah, und ein weiterer Akt mag erkennt er-„

„Oi!“ Levi yelled to cut off their personal conversation. „Speak English or don’t talk at all.“ He didn’t like how they were carrying on their own little discussion, that they could talk to each other so privately or seemed to forget about everything else around them. The girl looked his way to glare at him, which was a huge surprise at this point, while the brat frowned and gave him an unreadable expression.

„Maybe if you start speaking it,“ the brat muttered, his head ducked low and his chin-length, dark brown hair hanging forward to cover his face. Hints of gold gleamed through the disheveled strands, leaving Levi with the impression that the brat was glancing upwards at the top of the buildings as if searching for something. Considering that no one with rappelling gear was left outside of headquarters or University Market, Levi didn’t have a clue what he hoped to find.

The crowds began to thin out as they neared headquarters; perhaps the people were smarter here and wanted to be somewhere better or safer when taking in the fact that a bunch of Malforms had just attacked a public place during ‘daylight’. Levi put the cleared path to use and hurried along, earning a curse from the brat as he stumbled at the quickened pace.

“What’s the matter, you forget how to walk?” Levi jeered at the kid as they made the turn that would take them onto the street that lead to the Corps’ base. 

“No, just not used to being hauled around like a little kid’s security blanket,” the brat shot back, his dark brows furrowed over those remarkable eyes. Levi stared at him for several seconds, temper rising at the implied insult, until Hange pushed the other two brats forward with a nervous laugh.

“Ah, isn’t it so nice to see the two of you bonding already? Now come on, we’re almost home, I’m sure everyone is tired and- well, we’re almost there.” She almost latched onto the girl’s right wrist, but the black-haired bitch gave her such a nasty look that Hange pulled her hand back instead and frowned as if upset at the obvious rejection. 

Glaring to let the brat know that he wasn’t forgetting about that ‘little’ crack, Levi continued on their way, his grip so tight around the kid’s forearm that he could feel the bones digging into his palm even through the clothes and glove. Uncaring if he was leaving a bruise, he dragged him along, pausing only long enough to be scanned into the front gate. There was more muttering from the girl when the gate closed behind them, but the brat remained quiet.  

The main courtyard was filled with medical personnel prepped to receive the trucks which should be arriving at any moment with the wounded, and a few of them nodded at Levi and Hange as they passed. He knew that there would be questions later about the kids, but for now everyone was focused on saving the fallen Corps and then tending to those who had given up their lives in battle – anything else was superfluous. Normally he and Hange would be out there with them, but right now he had the hope of getting some very important answers that might save future lives. 

“Isn’t it going to be cramped in there?” Hange asked when she realized where he was heading. 

“This isn’t a social event, and everywhere else is going to be busy,” Levi pointed as he made straight for Erwin’s office. “Don’t even suggest your lab.” He wasn’t going to put up with its stink and mess, not after participating in a literal bloodbath. What he wouldn’t give to be headed toward the showers right now….

The brat had been rather quiet, the jab at his height aside, but the discussion of where they were going to now had him tense and balk for a moment, his steps slowing down. Levi scowled as he gave the kid’s arm a harsh yank, prompting the kid to jerk forward and into his back. “Keep moving!” 

“Stop treating him like that!” the girl shouted as she rushed forward, her hands prying at his hold on what was probably her boyfriend’s arm. For some reason, that thought annoyed Levi and made him hold on even tighter, to the point that the brat winced and attempted to pull free. “You’re being an asshole! Let him go!” 

“Mikasa! Calm down,” the blond kid pleaded as he joined the fray, hovering near the bitch’s side with his hands waving about as if he was trying to decide what to grab onto. 

“This isn’t helping,” the brat gritted out as he was tugged back and forth between the bitch and Levi. 

“Just let me tear his-“ 

“Hands off, bitch, before-“ 

A loud slamming noise cut off Levi’s and the bitch’s shouting, and they turned to discover that Erwin must have arrived with the wounded. Despite being splattered with blood and wearing a torn uniform, he towered over everyone, appearing in control and ready to take on another Malform attack at any moment. “Is there a problem?” he asked, his voice deceptively quiet. 

Levi used the bitch’s surprise over Erwin’s arrival to elbow her away from the brat. “None at all. We were just about to enter your office.” He could swear that she hissed at him as he shifted his hold to the brat’s upper arm and propelled him into the small room. 

“Yes, it appeared as if everything was completely under your control,” Erwin remarked with a droll tone as he motioned for everyone else to proceed in there before him. Levi shoved the brat into one of the torture chairs and then stood by the door to make sure none of them attempted to leave; the bitch was quick to stand beside the brat as if on guard, while the blond kid sank into the spare chair with a looseness of limbs that equated exhaustion. 

There was an amused smirk on Hange’s face when she joined Erwin at his desk – the crazy bitch was probably loving all of this. Levi settled with his shoulders against the closed door, his hands resting on the hilts of his sheathed blades and his attention divided between Erwin and the brat. 

As if no one wanted to be the one to talk first, everyone was quiet: the kids sat there with their heads bowed and their hands in their lap except for the girl, whose hands were on the brat’s shoulders while she glared around the room in an open challenge, especially at Levi. He glared right back before making a tsk’ing sound and glanced over at Erwin, who was busy typing something on a datapad, thick brows almost forming a ‘v’ from the intense look of concentration on his face. After a minute or so, his expression smoothed out and he leaned back in his wooden chair. 

“So, I apologize but I just realized that there never were any formal introductions between us, were there?” He managed a ridiculously apologetic grin that would have the entire Corps scrambling for cover when the blond kid stuttered out a ‘no’. “Allow me to start – my name is Erwin Smith, Commander of 104th division of the Freedom Corps. To my left is Captain Hange Zoe, and next to you is Captain Levi Ackerman.” 

Levi noticed that the blond kid started a little at his name for some reason while the other two merely sat/stood there as if made out of stone, and that Erwin’s smile increased an infinitesimal amount as if pleased by something. When the silence stretched on again, Levi thumped the hilt of his right blade against the wooden door. “Hey! It’s polite to introduce yourself in return.” 

The blond kid jumped a little in his seat while the bitch amped up her glare even more. “Ah, yes,” the kid stuttered. “Well, my name is Armin Aubert, and my friends are Mikasa and Eren Stieger.” He gestured toward them as he spoke. “We’re, uhm, pleased to meet you?” There was a bit of a question to his voice, as if he wasn’t entirely sure of the situation. Levi pegged him as the weak link in the chain for the threesome.

Regarding the brat and the girl, Levi puzzled over them sharing the same last name; they didn’t look at all alike, as it was clear that she had some Asian blood in her with those eyes and that face, and their skin and eye coloring were totally dissimilar.  Considering that the brat could barely be fifteen years old and the girl was maybe a year or so older, he doubted that they were married. 

Hange must have been thinking along the same lines as she leaned forward as if for a closer look and pointed with her right hand between the two. “So, are you cousins or what?” 

“He’s my brother,” the girl snapped as her hands tightened on the brat’s shoulders in an obviously possessive gesture. 

The brat reached up to pat her right hand. “My parents adopted Mikasa when we… when we were little,” he explained. “I guess you could say we’ve been inseparable ever since.” There was a heaviness to his words, an extra meaning to them, something that made the bitch wrap her arms around his shoulders and amp up the glare at Levi, Erwin and Hange in such a poisonous manner that made it clear that she was warning them away from her ‘brother’ while the blond kid smiled on in blatant fondness over their antics as if he was used to her batshit craziness. What the hell? Levi wanted to pry her off of the brat with an iron bar and hose her down. 

Still, something about the scene was making Erwin very, very pleased. He kept the datapad close to him and rested his elbows on the desk, his chin rested on his intertwined fingers. “So you’ve been in the Trost dome all of your lives?” 

There was a quick flash of exchanged looks before the blond kid shook his head, shoulder-length hair flying about. He smiled, big blue eyes wide, and Levi had to wonder if he put on this sickening ‘cute’ act a lot. “No, sir, we’ve only been here this latest cycle. We came from Karanese before this, and the Mosca dome before that. We tend to move around a lot.” 

Huh, the Mosca dome was just a step or two up from Tartarus; there was definitely more to these kids than met the eye. Levi shared his own significant look with Hange while Erwin made a placating sound. “That doesn’t sound like the easiest life for three young people.”

The brat stirred at that statement and patted the arms wrapped around him to get the girl to loosen her stranglehold. “We’ve been on our own for a while now, as our parents and Armin’s grandfather died during the Influenza outbreak at Ehrmich. We’ve learned to look after ourselves.” He was doing the whole guileless routine as well, golden eyes wide and sparkling and appearing as if he couldn’t harm a damn fly. Too bad for him that Levi had seen him in action. 

Again, Erwin seemed sympathetic in regards to them, as if he was one big softie. Right, and Levi would kiss a Malform – tongue and all. “You’re obviously well-traveled. So what brings you to Trost?” 

The girl, Mikasa, tugged at her scarf as if nervous. “Armin is trying out for the university exam,” she explained, her left arm still wrapped around the brat as if she was shielding him from something. “We really need to go soon so he can finish preparing.” 

Hange clapped her hands at that news. “Ah! No wonder he sniped my books! I’m sure he spends a lot of his time studying.” She beamed at the kid, who hung his head in what looked to be embarrassment, his face turning a bright red shade. 

Erwin waved aside the weak attempt at escape. “I’m sure this won’t impact his studies too much. We still haven’t discussed your very impressive fighting skills.” That remark made the blond kid, Armin, snap his head up while the brat, Eren, tensed in his seat. Mikasa once more took to radiating possessive danger, her arm loosening from around Eren… probably so she could be ready to lash out. Levi’s hands tightened on his hilts.

Acting as if he wasn’t aware of how much he had put the room on edge, Erwin smiled as if amused by something and picked up the datapad. “You know, it’s funny when you say that the two of you are siblings, Eren, and adopted at that. Because as soon as I saw you, I was reminded of another pair of siblings I’ve seen that I must say, you two look an awful lot alike. The most interesting part?” Erwin flipped up the datapad and displayed a scanned photo to the room. “They look exactly like the two of you, give or take a couple of years.” 

There was more swearing in that guttural language and then Mikasa was lunging for Erwin, only to be stopped as Eren wrapped his arms around her waist. “Nein!” he shouted as he struggled to hold her back, and Hange leapt to put herself between Erwin and the hissing girl. Beside the two teenagers, Armin sat huddled in his chair, his face pale and eyes blown wide as in shock. 

Leaving it to Eren and Hange to handle Mikasa, Levi went to better see what had set off the possessive bitch; the photo must have been taken a couple of years ago, when the kids were about twelve or so years old. Eren’s unruly hair was cut short, closer to his head except for the dark brown bangs falling into his eyes, unlike the even, chin-length strands that he wore now. The first odd thing that stood out in the photo that Levi noticed was that Eren’s eyes weren’t their startling honey golden color but an equally unusual blue-green. Then he realized that Mikasa appeared about the same age as her ‘brother’, even though the squalling, demented bitch in front of him was at least a year older. 

Then it sunk in who were the two people standing behind the kids. The woman wasn’t anyone too remarkable, she was more known for the fact that she often cropped up in photos at the man’s side. *He* was the one who was noted in all the scientific articles, the historical footnotes, whom Hange worshipped damn near like a god – Grisha Jaeger. Levi nearly dropped the datapad because his left hand was trembling so much as he scrolled down enough to see the caption beneath the picture: Grisha, Carla, Eren Jaeger and Mikasa Ackerman. “What the fuck?” He glanced up at Erwin, who was appearing much too smug at the moment. Was this what had made him snatch up the kids back at the market? 

“Grisha Jaeger,” Erwin said out loud, which made Hange squeal and snatch at the pad, all interest in calming the raving bitch forgotten. “I must say, it’s quite the coincidence that two teenagers, siblings at that, show up looking exactly like his children nearly fourteen hundred years later *and* sharing their names.” 

Mikasa made a futile swipe at the datapad then allowed Eren to pull her into a close embrace. He whispered something that seemed to calm her down, although she continued to glare daggers at Erwin while Eren tucked back the tousled hair that fell into her face and wrapped the scarf that had come loose around her neck. Fuck, she even wore the same scarf as in the picture? Levi hauled Hange’s left arm over so he could scan the photo again – the pattern was different, but yes, the Mikasa there was wearing a red scarf as well. 

“Uhm, if you consider the law of averages,” Armin began to explain, his high-pitched voice trembling nearly as much as Levi’s hand.

“Don’t even try, kid.” Levi cut him off and snatched back the datapad, earning a displeased whine from Hange. “They look the fucking *same*, down to wearing that stupid scarf, except for his eyes. How do you even try to sell that shit, especially when you add your friend here snacking on a Malform and the two of them fighting better than people who’ve trained for years.” 

He hadn’t meant to let the ‘snacking’ part slip out, but the photo had rattled him, as did the sight of Eren just standing there, face blank so as to give nothing away, being so fucking impossible if the shit Erwin was insinuating was true. Hange gasped at the revelation, Armin moaned and he knew he had made it straight to the top of Mikasa’s *and* Erwin’s ‘I’m going to gut you’ list, but the majority of his attention was focused on the brat, Eren. 

Finally, that blank mask began to crack as he let go of his sister; he pushed her to sit down in the empty chair, not moving on until she stayed there. Then he turned toward Levi, those remarkable eyes of his blazing with emotion. “Why should we fucking trust you? Why?” he spat out, his hands clenched into fists and body trembling as if he struggled to contain whatever it was that he felt. “I let you go when I should have killed you for our sakes, we helped you fight the Malform and we didn’t resist when you dragged us here, which we could have.” He leaned closer to Levi, highlighting the inch or two he had to his advantage. “It would have meant more blood, but we could have escaped. We still can. Now, why should we *trust* you?” 

Pissed off when the damn brat was making *him* out to be the bad guy, Levi grabbed onto Eren’s rumpled tunic and used it to haul him in close. “Listen, you little shit, maybe you’ve failed to notice that we just fought a shit ton of Malforms less than an hour ago, and that a lot of my colleagues died while doing so. Something’s going on here – not only here but at other domes, too – and I’ve got this nagging feeling that you, a smart ass who feeds off of those freaks, might have a fucking clue as to what that is. And that was *before* that damn picture.” Holding onto the shirt, he gave it a rough shake to emphasis his words. “The fact that I’m not beating your empty head in for being such an inconsiderate ass is why you should trust me.” 

Then he shoved the datapad into the brat’s face. “Now, how the *hell* do you two look just like Grisha Jaeger’s spawn? Cloning? Someone manage to get a damn cryo-chamber to work?” 

Something about his improbable guesses made the blond kid start laughing, the sound growing louder and more unhinged with each passing second. Armin folded over in his chair, his face once more flushed and tears streaming down his face. “Cl-clones!” he stuttered out amid outbursts. Even Eren seemed to lose some of his anger and became amused. 

Hange coughed into her right sleeve, a slight flush spreading across her cheeks as she pried the datapad out of Levi’s hand with a bit more force than necesary. “Cryo-freezing such a large specimen for an extended period of time is impossible,” she remarked as she flicked her fingers across the screen. “And much of the skill for cloning complex life-forms was lost centuries ago. You might as well try for time-travel as a workable theory, next.” 

“So then the brats can tell us how they’re here.” Levi felt his left eye twitch as he pushed down the urge to stab a blade through the science-obsessed moron. “I don’t care if they shat out a magical lamp and made three wishes,” he muttered as he continued to scowl at Eren. “People’s lives depend on the information they’re holding back.” 

“I happen to agree, so if we could all calm down and discuss this like rational adults, it would be to all of our benefits,” Erwin just had to go and interject in his deep, ‘I mean business’ voice. Levi was certain that if he glanced over at the bastard, he’d be standing there like some image from a recruitment poster. 

„Eren, ich glaube wirklich, wir sollten einfach töten und-„ 

“None of that gibberish!” Levi barked as he shot a glare at Mikasa over Eren’s right shoulder.  “Talk so we can understand you!” He could feel the brat’s body become tense whenever he yelled at the bitch, and looked back to see those huge eyes begin to glow. “You don’t like that? Then behave, the both of you.” He didn’t care if the kid had a couple of inches on him and could sprout fangs – this wasn’t a dark alley and he knew what to expect now, so Eren was going down hard and fast if he tried any shit. 

Erwin came over and put his hands over Levi’s as if to restrain him from violence. “I believe that was German they were speaking, and a rather archaic dialect at that. Isn’t it interesting, Eren, that German was Grisha’s native tongue?” He managed to wrench Levi’s fingers free from the brat’s soft brown tunic; once Eren was released, Mikasa moved with inhuman speed to snatch him back toward the wall. So, the brat wasn’t the only one who could move like that, huh? Another interesting little fact was that her eyes, which used to be a shade of brown so dark as to be almost black, were now the same golden hue as Eren’s. 

It seemed that Levi wasn’t the only one to notice that change, as Hange had gasped and yanked out her notebook to begin jotting something down, while Erwin sat back on the edge of his desk. “So, you’re almost identical to the children of Grisha Jaeger, a scientist from almost 1400 years ago renowned for his research into Malforms, you speak the same language that they did, you can fight Malforms as well as some of the best of my Corps and you have a few… unusual features.” Erwin crossed his arms across his chest, appearing to be at ease and deep in thought yet his hands were never too far from his blades. “What are you?” 

Eren stood across from them, his back against the wall with his left arm draped around his sister’s waist in a clear effort to hold her back, his right hand resting on Armin’s shoulder as if in comfort. An angry expression flashed across his face, prompting Levi to prepare for another rant, and then Armin reached up to pat his hand. That seemed to calm him down a little, since he took a deep breath and shook his head. 

“What are you prepared to do if they tell you the truth?” Armin asked, surprising Levi and, judging from their startled reactions, his friends as well since the kid had been mostly quiet the last few minutes, save for the hysterical laughter. “You don’t seem to be giving them much incentive to do so, other than threats.” He narrowed his eyes in Levi’s direction as he spoke. 

Well, so it seemed that the pretty boy had a bit of spine after all. Levi glanced in Erwin’s direction and shrugged, leaving it to him to come up with a suitable response. 

“I would think that everyone would be interested in the fate of humanity when faced with such obvious danger, but I can understand why you would want some assurances for your own safety.” Erwin once again pulled on that ‘you can trust me’ façade that made Levi want to step as far away as possible. “From what I’ve seen, you’ve no interest in harming humans since you’ve taken great pains in protecting your friend and you fought to save the people back in the market,” he told Eren and Mikasa. “Also, I surmise that you’re behind what happened to Levi and the Malform that one night.” The emphasis he put on Levi’s name made it clear that Levi would have some explaining to do in the near future, which would be such a fucking joy, wouldn’t it? “All of that indicates that you’re not an enemy. I see no reason to treat you as one as long as you feel the same about us.” 

“So you dragging us here, holding us captive and having that short asshole push us around is your way of making friends?” Mikasa muttered into her scarf as she continued to send dirty looks Levi’s way, as if she could flay him with her eyes alone. 

Erwin cleared his throat when Levi took a step in her direction to beat the attitude out of her. “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” When the two of them continued with their glaring contest, Erwin cleared his throat again. “Now, that explanation? I believe that none of us can afford to waste any time at the moment.” 

Mikasa managed to break off trying to disintegrate Levi with the visual potency of her hatred and disdain to gaze at her brother; after a moment she gave a reluctant nod and bowed her head, a sheet of her shoulder-length black hair falling to cover her face and her once more dark eyes. When Eren turned toward Armin to stare at him for a few seconds, the kid smiled in a reassuring manner before reaching over for one of Mikasa’s hands to entwine their fingers together. 

Eren rubbed both of his hands over his face and then ran his fingers through his hair, tucking the disheveled strands behind his ears. His eyes had stopped glowing at some point, leaving him to appear so young just then – just a tired, scrawny teenager who needed a good meal and a day or two of sleep. “You’re probably not going to believe this,” he mumbled as he rubbed at his left eye, adding to the illusion of being little more than a tired, underfed teenager. 

“Kid, I’ve seen you feed on a Malform, there’s not much I *won’t* believe at this point,” Levi shot back as he joined Erwin to sit on the desk. Something told him that this story wasn’t going to be a quick one. A couple of feet away, Hange made muffled little squeaks and kept writing, all but bouncing on the tip of her toes. 

“Yeah, who could forget that part.” For someone who barely looked old enough to know how to wipe his ass, the brat did sarcasm really well. He leaned against the wall, with his bitch of a sister quick to curl up at his side. “So, we’re not clones, there’s no time-travel involved, and we didn’t sleep for nearly fourteen centuries.” The corners of his mouth twitched as he shot down Levi’s absurd theories. “But Grisha Jaeger was our father.” 

At first there was the obvious bitterness in the way Eren said the renowned scientist’s name along with the word ‘father’, and then it sunk in that the kid had just admitted to being over a millennium old. What… the… hell…. “How-“ 

Hange let out a squeal that he *swore* would render him partially deaf and rushed forward to latch onto the kids before he could stop her. “Really! You knew the great Jaeger?! Oh my- that’s just- there’s so much I have to ask you! You must know so-“ 

Jumping to his feet, Levi lunged forward to grab the lunatic by her ponytail and yanked her away from the ki- the- what the fuck were they? “Oi! Shitty glasses! Calm down before I break out the hose!” 

“But we’re talking about a scientific miracle here! Two of them!” Hange wailed as Erwin wrapped her in his arms and forcibly sat her behind his desk. “I need to knoooow!” 

“Later,” Erwin promised and gave her a pat on the head, his action a bit absentminded as most of his attention was directed toward the- the brats. Armin was huddled on the chair as if terrified of Hange, which was a rather sane reaction, while Mikasa had shoved Eren back against the wall and had taken guard in front of him, her eyes once again a glowing gold and her lips pulled back to show off a mouthful of razor-sharp fangs. As for the main trouble-maker, Eren just looked embarrassed, as if he wanted to find a place to hide. 

“Mikasa, it’s okay. I think the… uhm….”

“Crazy bitch” Levi supplied for him, and snorted in amusement when Eren’s lips twitched in a smile. 

“I think they have her under control,” the brat finished while he made soothing motions along his sister’s back to calm her the hell down. “At least she didn’t try to stake us or chop off our heads.” 

“Noooo!” Hange wailed from her spot behind the desk, once more busy scribbling down notes. “You’re much too precious for that! I want to touch you, to get inside your head, to-“ 

“See, crazy bitch,” Levi repeated as he resumed his seat, reaching back to smack Hange quiet. “Now, how the fuck can you be so old?” 

Eying Hange as if to make sure that she wasn’t about to attack them again, Eren urged his sister to move aside. “Uhm, good genes?” When the pathetic joke only earned him a potent scowl from Levi and put-upon sighs from Erwin and Armin, Eren shrugged and scratched at the back of his head. “No, maybe that’s part of it, I don’t know.”

“I could probably figure it out,” Hange mumbled, and then squeaked when Levi smacked her once more. 

Motioning for Levi to stay where he was when he leaned forward in a hostile manner, Eren shrugged again, as if he was uncertain. “Look, it’s not as if we have all of the answers ourselves, okay? One day the world was mostly normal, except for the fucked up weather. Sure, you couldn’t go outside much when the sun was out, the coasts were flooding and they were dealing with the food crisis, but it wasn’t anything new by the time I was born. Then the solar flares hit and as far as we could tell in hind sight, it mutated an almost unknown population of vampires.” 

“Tell us something that’s not in the history files.” So far, Levi wasn’t seeing the point in all of this. 

Eren scowled at him and jerked his right hand around to indicate himself and Mikasa. “Because it’s *our* history, not some damn file! We lived it! We were there when the attacks first started, we saw our-,” he paused for a moment and clutched at something beneath his shirt while his sister hugged him close, her eyes once more shooting daggers Levi’s way. “It was real for us. We were evacuated to one of the hidden research facilities in Germany where Grisha did some work, and as far as we can tell, it was there that he injected me with something.” The longer that Eren spoke, the flatter his voice became as if he was trying to disassociate himself from the past. 

“Dr. Jaeger gave you some sort of serum? But he never invented a cure,” Hange shouted as she leapt to her feet, boxed in behind the desk by Levi and Erwin. 

“It’s not exactly a cure.” Once again, there was a flash of something dark, as if Eren held something against his father. “He never fully explained what it was to me, and we didn’t find out about it until about two years later, when I was attacked by Malforms. As far as we can tell, I should have died and been revived as one of them, but whatever he put inside of me made me into this, instead.” His hand released whatever it was that it had been clutching and splayed out across his chest. 

Hange shoved her way between Levi and Erwin so she could lean forward. “You’re saying that he invented a serum that protected you against Malform bites? And that it arrested your aging? Eren, you *have* to let me examine you!” she shrieked.

“Damnit, I will *kill* you if you make me deaf, you crazy bitch,” Levi told her as he smacked her back into the chair. “Now stay there before I gut you and be quiet!” he growled out, in no mood to put up with her crap. 

“But Levi, I don’t think you understand the importance here of what your cutie is saying!” Hange was damn near hyperventilating as she waved her notebook about. “Studies on captured Malforms have revealed that their cells are in a constant state of rejuvenation, which implies a… a type of immortality, which is why you have to remove the head to kill them. Any attempt to transfer that trait to humans leads to an infected state that transforms the subjects into Malforms themselves, but only under certain conditions, such as them losing enough white blood cells to no longer stave off the infection.” She made another lunge in Eren’s direction, only to be shoved back by Levi’s booted foot. “Yet somehow, Grisha Jaeger produced a serum that protected his two children, allowing them to retain their humanity while passing on all of the benefits of being a Malform!” She was so giddy at the moment, she was practically dancing in place. “I need to study them!” 

“You need to have your head exa-“ 

“You consider this a benefit?” 

Levi and Erwin turned back to face the brats at the sound of Eren’s cold, furious tone. He had stepped forward from the wall, his eyes once more glowing and fangs peeking from beneath his lips, his hands held up to reveal sharp claws. At his side stood Mikasa, her eyes a similar eerie gold and a dangerous aura radiating from her. “You think there’s an actual *benefit* from watching everyone you know and care about die? From constantly moving on, year after year, changing who you are, being hunted, never having a home?” 

For the first time, Levi could see the weight of the years weighing on the kid, could imagine that he was more than just some teenager and felt sorry for him – for them both. What would it be like to live so long and through so much death and destruction? Behind him, he heard Hange shuffle about and set something down on the desk. 

“I think I would give just about anything to live that long and have the time to learn so much,” she replied, her voice little more than a reverent whisper. “Besides, you weren’t entirely alone, were you?” 

A wave of emotions flashed over Eren’s face at the question, moving too fast to be interpreted, before settling on a heavy weariness that seemed to weigh him down. His shoulders slumped and his head hung forward, his hair falling onto his face. “It’s not as easy as you think,” he tried to explain even as his left hand sought out Mikasa’s right. “At the least, it would have been nice if we’d been a little older before… well, we stopped aging.” 

“We did all right, considering everything,” Mikasa assured him, clasping his hand between both of hers. 

Touching, but this wasn’t getting them anywhere, Levi thought as he shifted about on the desk. He leaned forward and was about to break up the ‘intimate’ scene, but Erwin beat him to it. 

“Yes, I’m sure you did.” Erwin was holding a datapad and typed something onto it. “I’m curious about a couple of things, though. First, Eren said that *he* was given the serum, not Mikasa, yet both of you are standing here. Second, he mentioned something about being ‘hunted’. Who’s hunting you? I would think that if others had found out about you, there would be some record but all I can find about you two is that you disappeared shortly after that photo was posted.” He kept his tone friendly during the questions, careful not to come across like Hange’s deranged scientist manner, yet something still set off the brats. Eren and Mikasa went into that inhuman stillness that Levi was beginning to recognize, while Armin, who had been quiet during the explanation, shifted about in the chair and shot his friends a nervous glance. 

“So which is it that’s making you the most upset, how Mikasa got turned into the un-aging teenage bitch that she is, or whoever’s chasing you?” Levi asked as he rested his hands on his knees, deciding to cut to the heart of the matter. “Or is it both?” He ignored the way that Armin winced and Erwin let out a weary sigh. 

It was clear that Mikasa wasn’t going to be buddies with him any time soon, but he could live with that, especially when he managed to startle such a clueless look from Eren for several seconds. Then the insult began to sink in and he glowered at Levi, thick brows pulled together. “Don’t call my sister a bitch.” There was a hint of a rough snarl to his voice. 

About to say that he called them as he saw them, Levi settled at the warning gesture from Erwin and merely shrugged instead. “You’re not answering the question.” 

What he got was Armin asking another one in lieu of an answer. “Guys, is it possible that they really don’t know about the others?” The kid squirmed about in the chair again, one knee still gathered against his chest. “They really should, considering what’s happening to the other domes.” 

“Armin….” Mikasa drew out the kid’s name in a warning tone, but the cat was out of the bag. Erwin pushed onto his feet, his eyes narrowed in suspicion and his hands clenched at his side as if he fought the urge to grab onto something. The motion immediately had the siblings on guard, which made Levi want to kick his friend for his hastiness. 

“Who are these ‘others’? What should we know?” Erwin took an arrested stop forward, obviously catching himself before he spooked the brats any further. “Look, we don’t mean you any harm, I swear, but we need to know what’s going on before more lives are lost. We’re sworn to fight to protect humanity!” 

Something in what he said, or the fervor in the way said it, seemed to get through to the siblings, as they huddled together and exchanged a few significant looks for a minute. Then Eren sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, making it an even more of a tousled mess. “It’s… complicated.” 

“And dealing with two brats who’ve been alive since the collapse of civilization isn’t?” Levi pointed out with a good dose of sarcasm. This needed to hurry up so he could go wash the stink of battle and Malforms off of him *sometime* today. Still, his comment earned him a surprised grin from the brat, a flash of non-pointy teeth and bright eyes which was… rather pleasant. Huh. 

“Good point.” Eren tucked back a stray strand of dark brown hair and lifted a shoulder in a weak shrug. “So Grisha gave me the serum and I changed after a Malform attack. Not too long after that, Mikasa was attacked and… instinct took over and I bit her before she died of the wounds.” His smile faded and once more the siblings sought out the other’s hand in a clear sign of comfort. “She turned like I did, and we’ve been like this ever since, not growing any older and healing from any wounds.”

Hange scooted onto the desk to kneel beside Levi. “So you both can turn people? Have there been others?” This time she made sure to speak in a normal volume, though she eyed Levi warily as if expecting to be punched at any moment. 

A blank look came over Mikasa’s face, which she hid by tugging up the scarf until it reached the tip of her nose. “I tried once, but it didn’t work. We think that Eren’s the only one who can do it.” 

“Eren?” Hange eyed the brat as if she could devour him whole; Levi would have to watch out that she didn’t haul him back to her lab when his back was turned and chain him up there. 

Eren shrugged again, the habit growing annoying, his eyes focused on his hand clasped around Mikasa’s. “I haven’t tried anyone else. We… well, we don’t trust too many people with what we are, and the ones who usually *want* to be changed are ones that it seems shouldn’t be.” He glanced at Armin and smiled, the expression tinged with sadness. “Then there are those who can do the most good if they stay as they are.” Armin smiled back in kind, a suspicious gleam in his eyes. 

It was a bit of a shock when Mikasa resumed speaking, since it had appeared that she preferred to leave the explaining to her brother. “We spent a couple of centuries doing whatever we could to survive, keeping largely to ourselves. When they started to build the walled communities that became the precursors to the domes, we took advantage of the returning stability but we could never stay in one place too long. It was then that we realized that we kept running into some people that we had seen before.” She paused to adjust her scarf, her dark eyes unfocused for a moment as if she was seeing something that wasn’t there. “A lot of the old stories about the vampires – the antecedents of the Malforms – talked about them as if they could appear as normal. They’d pass for humans, they just couldn’t go out in sunlight.” 

That got an excited reaction from Hange, who crowed as she flipped through her notebook. “Yes! I found some material about them during my research, but it’s rather conflicting. Some notes mentioned them as beautiful, others as if they were bald and had pointy ears, and another that they had diamond-like skin.” She squinted at her handwriting. “Is that supposed to be attractive? Maybe if you’re greedy, I suppose.” 

Levi elbowed her in the ribs to get her back on track. “Let the girl talk, you can go off-topic later.” He nodded at Mikasa so she could continue. “What’s the big deal about vampires? They were all changed into Malforms.” 

Mikasa shook her head, the violent motion causing her scarf to slip down as her hair flew about. “*No*, that’s just it. Not all of them did change!” Levi, Erwin and Hange stared in shock as Mikasa gripped the ends of her scarf with fisted hands and Eren looked as if he wanted to tear something apart. “Somehow, some of them survived the flares! Eren and I found that out when a few of them befriended us – they thought we were like them at first, until they realized we were feeding off of Malforms and not humans! And then….” Her eyes flashed gold and she latched onto Eren’s arm in that possessive, annoying matter. 

“Let me guess, they’re hunting you because you’re not like them?” Erwin prodded after a minute of tense silence, while Hange scribbled like a madwoman. 

“Not… exactly.” Hand clutching at his chest again, Eren let out a slow breath and shook his head. “We think that might have been it at first, that or they wanted to know more about us. Then they came across someone we had trusted, who knew too much about us, and they discovered that I had turned Mikasa and that both of us can exist out in daylight. After that….” 

The latest revelation had Hange thrumming on top of the desk as barely suppressed squeaks and hisses slipped past her lips while she struggled to not shriek in a demented manner; Levi raised a leg to kick her off if she failed to contain them while looking back and forth between her and an obviously shaken Erwin. “Is that why they want you? Because you’re immune to daylight?” Erwin asked, his face pale and deep voice cracking from the shock. Levi didn’t blame him, since it was a huge thing to wrap one’s head around – a bloodsucker who could wander around in sunlight. Being out in artificial light was one thing, but humanity’s last hope against the undead freaks was a time when the solar radiation died down enough and they could leave the domes for good.

Eren ducked his head for a few seconds and then looked over at Armin. “Again, we’re not entirely sure. Maybe they think I can turn people for them, or that I can somehow change them so they’re immune as well. They also know about Grisha, that he’s the reason I’m like this, and they found out that I have a lead on his research, that- OW!” Both Eren and Mikasa dropped down into a crouch with their hands over their ears when Hange finally lost it and let out an incredibly high-pitched scream at that last bit of news. “Is she insane?” 

“She’s fucking dead!” Levi snarled as he kicked her off the desk, swearing that he felt blood dribble from his right ear. 

“Grisha Jaeger research!” Hange raved, completely ignoring the kick to her ribs. “This is incredible!” 

Levi cursed when Erwin hauled him away from the lunatic before he could kick her again. “Hange, go stand in the corner and be silent! Levi, no killing or maiming, all right!” He shoved Levi over to the opposite side of the desk. “Behave, and I’ll forget about the fact that you kept Eren a secret,” he whispered before resuming his spot in front of the brats. 

Grumbling about the blackmail and his sore ear, Levi rubbed the right side of his head and gave Hange one more nasty look before concentrating once more on the brats. Eren was gazing at them as if they were all insane, Mikasa was obviously ready to grab her brother and friend and run away at any second, and Armin appeared amused, of all things. Nice to see one of them had a sense of humor, but none of this was getting him closer to a shower and a cup of tea. “Grisha Jaeger’s research,” Levi snapped, his patience well past worn thin. “What about it?” 

Glancing at Hange as if expecting her to attack again, Eren pressed his right hand against his chest, where Levi just noticed was a slight bulge as if a hidden pocket or bag was there. “Yeah, before he vanished, Grisha gave me a key to a safe deposit box to a bank in Koln.” When Levi continued to stare at him as if that was supposed to mean something, he sighed and shook his head. “It’s buried beneath the Shiganshina dome. We’re pretty sure it’s his research material in there.” 

This time it was Erwin’s turn to swear. “You’re telling me there might be a possible cure to Malforms, or at least a way to keep people who’ve been bitten by them from turning into new ones, and it’s in one of the first domes overrun by the creatures?” he asked, voice tight with anger. 

“That’s about it.” Eren slumped back against the wall in what seemed to be exhaustion. “The asshole wasn’t really clear with his instructions when he gave me the key, and it took a while before I understood everything he told me. By the time Mikasa and I were in any condition to retrieve whatever it was that he left behind, construction had already started on the initial dome. We’d check back occasionally to see if there were any ways to access the underground, but there were too many humans about back then.” 

“Not to mention we were left with the issue of what would we do with the information once we retrieved it,” Mikasa added as she rubbed a hand up and down Eren’s arm. “If it contains data on creating another serum, then we might be turning it over to people who will only ensure that the rich and powerful will be able to live long and healthy lives.” The way she was eyeing Erwin made it clear that she wasn’t certain if he belonged in that group or not, despite her brother’s decision to tell them the truth. “Or it might fall into the hands of the others, who would use it for their own species and wipe out humanity. We’d given up all hope until we ran into Armin, the only person who rival’s Grisha’s intelligence.” 

Armin’s face turned a bright red and he laughed, the sound nervous and a bit high. “Well, I can only hope to live up to their expectations.” 

“You will,” Eren assured him as he reached over to tousle his hair. “That’s why we came here, to get him into the University. Once he finishes a formal education, Mikasa and I were going to Shiganshina to find the box, then give him the information. If we have it in our hands, we can control what’s done with it.” He gave Erwin a defiant glare as he spoke. “There’s no way we’ll let it be misused.” A hint of fangs peeked out as he spoke, a clear warning that put Levi on edge.

“That’s… a very admirable plan, and one that I – and the Freedom Corps – can fully support and ensure is followed per your wishes.” Erwin placed his right hand over his heart as he spoke. “So you think these ‘others’ that you told us about, the true vampires, are behind the attacks at Ragako and Utgard?” 

Both of the siblings nodded. “We’ve a bit of a past at those domes, and if we were in trouble, we might head there.” Mikasa glanced at her brother, who stood there with his jaw clenched in evident anger. “The last few years, we’ve been rotating through the major domes, so we think they hoped that we would come to either here, Bern or Maria as one of our next choices. If they could cause enough problems, they would flush us out to the open and we wouldn’t have any place to go to ground.” Judging from the way her eyes flashed gold, Levi would say that Mikasa wasn’t the type to run and hide.

Anger built inside of Levi, an urge to take his blades to someone and render them unrecognizable. “Are you saying that these shitstains basically wiped out two domes and caused what happened today just to get at you? That they’re getting ready to do the same to two other domes as well?”

Eren’s anger faded, replaced by nervousness as he eyed Levi with some concern. “It might not all be about us, we don’t know everything about them and what they’re trying to do, but… yeah?”

So many members of the Corps dead, along with so many humans, all because some undead freaks wanted what this brat could do, what he could get his hands on…. Levi strode forward and grabbed hold of Eren’s tunic again to pull him in close, their faces almost touching as he stared into those mesmerizing eyes. “Then I’m not letting you out of my sight.” He ignored Mikasa’s enraged hiss and gave the brat a harsh shake. “I keep you, then that means they bring the fight to us.”

“You don’t get to *keep* my brother, you little bastard!” Mikasa hollered as she snatched at his hands, only to be pulled back by Armin.

“No! This might- this might actually work, us working together!” the kid insisted as he put himself in front of her as if a rather suicidal barrier. “At least, it’s better than us being on our own!”

As for Eren, he continued to stare back at Levi, his expression stunned at first and then slowly smoothing out. “Mikasa, he’s right – they’re both right.” He reached up to pry Levi’s fingers from his shirt, frowning a little at the effort it took. Levi released him with a huff but didn’t back away much. “It won’t do us any good to stand on our own this time, and I think we both could use some help.”

“That’s *if* we can trust them,” she spat as she danced around Armin to come to her brother’s side, shoving Levi away once there. Levi nearly took a swing at her, but his arm was caught by Erwin.

Eren’s smile to her for that comment was a touch condescending, which caused her to recoil slightly and hang her head. The smile was still in place as he glanced around the room, at Erwin, Hange and finally at Levi. “I think it’s a little too late for that,” he explained, his right hand once more pressed against whatever it was he was hiding beneath his shirt. “We let them bring us here for a reason, and I think this is it.  We have to stop running at some point.” He let go of whatever it was it was and reached out to fuss with his sister’s scarf, this time his expression tender, more open. “Say you’re with me on this.”

She looked up at him and after a few seconds returned the smile, hesitant at first. “You know I always am.”

Levi was once again spared having to break up the touchy-feely shit by Erwin, who stepped forward to clap his hands on each of the siblings’ shoulders. “Then I think it’s best that we have you join the Corps – it’ll explain why we brought you to the base and why we’re keeping you here, where you’ll be under our protection.”

“We’ll assign you to my squad.” Levi gave Erwin a warning look that he wouldn’t be challenged on that decision, to which his friend nodded after a moment’s consideration.

Hange let out a muffled groan as she left the corner and thumped her notebook onto the desk. “But I wanted them! How can I study them if you’re making them do drills all day long? That’s not fair! Erwin, tell Levi he can’t have them both!” she whined, a pout on her face as she threatened to throw a datapad in Levi’s direction. “The meanie. He just wants the cu-”

Erwin snatched the datapad to safety and pushed the lunatic away from his desk. “You’ll be assigned Armin, and give him a better training than the University ever would.” He turned toward the stunned kid, who looked as if he’d just been handed a death sentence. “Truly, Hange is a brilliant scientist, I’m certain that the two of you will get on well,” he tried to reassure Armin. “She’s been studying Grisha Jaeger’s work for years.”

“Just think of the fun we’re going to have!” Hange hurried from around the desk to go over and latch onto the poor kid, who was sending pleading looks Eren and Mikasa’s way. Considering that they had just gotten out of being the insane bitch’s full-time lab rats, all they did was give him sympathetic glances and tried to shift further away.

Judging that there’d been enough answers for now and that the brats weren’t going anywhere, Levi wasn’t going to spend any more time covered in sweat, dirt and Malform blood. “Erwin, I’m sure you’ve a million things to do now, so I’ll get these three settled in.” He snagged Eren’s right arm while the brat was distracted, and figured that the other two would follow. “Let’s go,” he ordered him when all Erwin did was nod in acknowledgement and headed for his desk.

“Hey! Where are we going?” Eren attempted to dig in his heels, but while he might have the height advantage, he definitely didn’t have the mass to go along with it. Levi yanked him off of his feet with ease and dragged him through the door and into the hallway, with Mikasa, Armin and Hange not far behind.

“You can’t keep doing this!” Mikasa insisted, right on Eren’s ass. “What gives you the right to treat him like that!”

And here Levi thought she was the brat’s sister, not his mother. “Did you miss the part where you joined the Freedom Corps? You answer to me now, so that means I have every right,” he shot back over his right shoulder, a slight, pleased grin on his face as she glowered at him.

“Muh-maybe it’s not a good idea to make him angry,” Armin stuttered out.

“Maybe he should stop treating my arm like it’s a damn leash!” Eren attempted to pull his arm free again, and let out a yelp when Levi tightened his grip. “Come on! Where are you taking us?”

“To your new quarters. Seriously, do you have a brain in that head of yours or did it turn to dust from old age?” Levi sneered at the brat and resumed heading toward the living quarters of the base.

“But we already have a place to live! What about our stuff?” Eren’s free hand scrambled at Levi’s for a few seconds while he muttered in that other language beneath his breath. “Are you even listening to me?”

“We’ll send someone out later to collect your belongings. Better not be anything disgusting there, like old people porn.”

“Oh, Sie steuern Arschloch – Mikasa and I need to feed soon!” Eren yelled, his voice rougher than it had been a moment before. Levi turned to look at him and noticed that his eyes were once more glowing. “Will you have someone else do that for us, too?”

He stopped in the hallway and used his hold on Eren to pull him in close, until they stood only centimeters apart. “First, you will *not* talk about that when there’s a chance anyone other than myself, Hange and Erwin is around, understood,” he hissed out, struggling to keep quiet in case someone walked by even though he was furious by how clueless the brat was acting just then. “Second, you’re my responsibility now, and I’ll take care of it. You’ll go with me on a patrol later or something.” He’d have to talk to one of his personal squad, someone he could trust, and have them tag along.

Hange, who had been hovering nearby, let out an excited moan and jumped up and down several times. “Oh! Let me help! I *have* to see them eat! Please, Levi? *Please*!”

Feeling a headache coming on and just wanting to get to his quarters where it was clean, quiet and lunatic-free, Levi pinched the bridge of his nose and took several deep breaths to prevent himself from killing someone. “Fine, you can help.” She could handle Mikasa, because right now he’d reached his limit of shit that he was going to take for the day. “Now, one more word from *anyone* and my foot will be so far up your fucking ass that you’ll taste leather. Is that clear?”

Armin appeared ready to sink into the floor and disappear, Mikasa was once more trying to flay him alive with glares alone, while Eren must think he actually looked scary when he glowered like that. Yet all three of them nodded when Levi repeated the question. Hange, happily lost in a scientific daze, was sent off to get the brats their new uniforms while Levi shuffled the Corps’ newest recruits toward the showers.

One thing was certain – if it really had been his bright idea to leave the fate of humanity in the hands of two teenagers, Grisha Jaeger was a fucking moron who had a lot to answer for, in Levi’s opinion.

*******

Translations:

Why are we putting up with this?

Because I know you recognized that roar back there. Those assholes are probably waiting for us to make a run for it, so it only makes sense to do something they wouldn't expect.

So we go along with *these* assholes? One of them saw you, and another act likes he recognizes-

Eren, I really think we should just kill them and -

*******

Return to Archive

Next Chapter