chapter nine

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night glo

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Levi watched as first Mikasa and then Eren landed in front of him, hair tousled and faces covered in sweat. The girl had completed the obstacle course with a surprising amount of grace and control, making only a few mistakes, while Eren… well, like much of what he’d done in the last couple of days, he managed through it with sheer determination and endless momentum – no wonder the brat kept making Levi forget that he was really centuries old. 

“Not bad. Bit more practice and a lot more polish, and you won’t shame the Corps too much,” he told the two, and allowed himself a small, pleased smile when Mikasa had to restrain her brother. 

“’Not bad’? How many new recruits can survive something like that,” the brat growled out while struggling against the arm his sister had thrown up against his chest. 

“How many new recruits join up already knowing how to use a gauntlet?” Eren became sullen at Levi’s retort, golden eyes cast downward as he slumped against Mikasa’s hold. She gave Levi a cold look while she urged her brother to step backward, clearly not over the drills Levi had put her through to ‘warm-up’ earlier, and the two took to huddling together, exchanging whispers too soft to be easily overheard.

He allowed them their break, a little miffed to see that they’d worked through the animosity that had been clinging to them since they’d shown that morning for training, barely looking at each other. Since Mikasa had clearly been pissed off at Levi again, he’d go out on a limb and say that his treatment of her precious brother last night probably had something to do with the foul mood clinging to the siblings, and he’d taken some delight in the fact that the bitch hadn’t been able to direct any of her anger into fighting him. Instead, she’d learned the hard way that a bad mood and rappelling didn’t go together very well; you needed a lot of concentration to work a gauntlet correctly. 

Petra stepped forward while the brats continued their little chat, a tender smile on her face while she observed them. “So what’s next? They really are progressing faster than anticipated through the training program.” 

“We still have an hour left before dinner.” Levi hated to break early when he didn’t know if they’d manage to get the course to themselves like this for another day – Erwin was pushing for new recruits to sign up as quickly as possible, and the current Corps members needed to keep on top of their skills. “How about you and Olou do a bit of tag-“ He stopped short when his comm went off, signaling that the message came from Erwin. “Yes?” 

“Levi, I’ve just had two new recruits show up,” Erwin informed him, sounding somewhat distracted. “I’d like for you and the latest additions to your team to join me in conference room D.” 

Annoyed to be bothered with something like this when he had better things to do, Levi huffed while he motioned to Petra to follow his orders. “I’ve better things to do. Have Mike-“ 

Erwin cut him off, a hint of anger in his deep voice. “Two recruits who say they know the *Stiegers*, so you’ll be here within five minutes.” He didn’t add anything else before ending the conversation, but really, what else was needed? Huffing again as he ran a hand through his hair, Levi glared at nothing in particular before stalking over to the brats. 

“Come on, Commander Smith wants to see us,” he informed them before he jerked his head in the direction of the main building. “Petra, let Mike know that the course is open if anyone wants to do some training.” She hurried to do as she’d been told, while the brats stared at him with open suspicion without moving. “Have I not made myself clear?” he asked in a low voice, his eyes narrowed in anger. 

Eren started forward, a bit more acquainted with his temper by now than Mikasa. She hissed out her brother’s name and scurried to catch up, once more sending dirty looks Levi’s way while she clutched at Eren’s left arm as if it was a life line. 

“So, any idea what this is about?” the brat asked as he fell into step beside Levi, his right hand busy tucking back the dark brown strands that had fallen onto his face during the gauntlet training. He sounded tired, more tired than he appeared at the moment, as if he’d reached the limit of surprises for the day. Levi was rather familiar with the sensation. 

“Honestly? All I know is that there’s two new recruits who claim to know about you.” He didn’t see any reason to keep it a big secret since they were only a couple of minutes away from reaching the conference room. “You’ve got any friends in the dome that you’ve forgotten to mention to us?” 

Eren’s reaction was a wince and a curse, which might have to do with the fact that Mikasa seemed determined to cut off all of the blood-flow to his lower arm with the way she was gripping it so tightly. “No one we’d consider a friend,” she growled out, her voice savage and her eyes glowing. “Definitely-“ 

“Mikasa! There are others around,” Eren admonished her before Levi had the chance. 

A bright red flush covered the bit of cheeks not already hidden by the scarf; she ducked her head as if embarrassed, her shiny black hair falling forward to help obscure her eyes. “Sorry,” she mumbled, her face pressed against her brother’s shoulder. 

Eren merely shook his head in response, and Levi noticed his eyes were a bit brighter than normal. “Keep it together, or I’ll be knocking more teeth out.” 

Fortunately for all of them, they had just arrived at the room because Mikasa had given up on hiding her face to send Levi the most virulent scowl possible, Eren was doing his best to challenge his sister in that regard, and Levi had enough of the two of them; maybe they weren’t really kids, maybe they were a hell of a lot older than him but he was still their captain and they needed to show him some respect. 

Opening the door with a bit more force than was necessary, Levi then stepped inside, unsure of what he was expecting to find. That Erwin was there, his expression stern as if he expected to subdue any issues by his presence alone… yeah, that seemed par for the course. The lack of anyone else from the Corps wasn’t too surprising, not if the brats were involved. What had Levi coming to a halt and causing Eren to run into his back was the sight of a familiar brunette and blonde. 

“Oi, it’s the rude guy,” the brunette girl remarked to her blonde friend, who was standing damn near close enough to be her conjoined twin. “Why aren’t I surprised to see you?” 

“Ymir?” Eren shuffled over to Levi’s left side and gazed in obvious confusion at the two girls. “What the hell are you doing here?”

The dark-haired girl – Ymir, apparently – rolled her eyes and gestured with her left hand, her right arm occupied with being draped over the blonde girl’s shoulders. “I told you that I needed to talk to you, right? Well, if Mohammed won’t go to the mountain, then the mountain will come to Mohammed.” 

“I guess this answers the question if they do know each other,” Erwin murmured, his attention riveted upon the ‘kids’.  

“You think?” Levi was about to say something equally sarcastic when Mikasa attempted to shove her way past him. 

“We don’t want anything to do with you! You should leave right now!” Mikasa appeared to be struggling to keep control of herself; she had the scarf tugged high over her mouth and her hair falling onto her face as if to hide the tell-tale aspects of her ‘fanging-out’, and her slender body was trembling with tension. 

All Ymir did was scoff and turn to better look at Eren, her dark eyes intent on the brat. “Go away, Mikasa, you don’t have anything that I need. This is between me and your brother.” 

“You’ll get *nothing*!” Mikasa lunged again at the other girl, her eyes aglow and the scarf fallen down her chin to reveal that her fangs were out. As if there were any doubt that these newcomers weren’t normal, the brunette simply laughed while Eren swore and did his best to prevent Mikasa from ripping out her throat, and the blonde huddled even more against her friend’s side.

It was about then that the door open to admit Hange and the brats’ friend, Armin, whose face blanched at the sight before him. The scrawny kid practically jumped when Erwin slammed the door shut to keep anyone else wandering into the melee. “Welcome. Perhaps you can shed some light on this situation,” he said to them – as if he’d been doing anything to help straighten out the situation that Levi could see since his arrival with Eren and Mikasa.

“Uhm… well, she’s sorta a friend of Eren’s and Mikasa’s,” Armin mumbled while doing his best to press against a wall, well away from the furious Mikasa.

“Yeah, we figured that out.” Levi joined Eren in hauling his sister back, seeing no need to be gentle about it. “Calm the *fuck* down, Stieger,” he ordered as he shoved her hard into a chair. “Do it before I kick your ass.”

“Oh, Shorty has some balls to him, doesn’t he?”

He whirled around to point a finger at the lippy bitch. “That goes for you, too. I don’t put up with assholes coming here to stir up shit.” The bitch – Ymir – stared at him with cold eyes until the blonde at her side tugged on her arm.

“Ymir, he’s right, we didn’t come here to cause trouble,” she admonished, her voice soft and pleading. “How is this going to get Eren to do us a favor, let alone get out of here alive?”

“It’s not,” Mikasa shouted, her eyes still golden even though Eren and Armin appeared to have calmed her down otherwise. “He’s not doing anything!”

Erwin finally stepped forward, his hands held up in a clear signal for silence. “I believe it’s time for some answers. Now, Ymir Tanzer and Krista Lenz, the two of you approached the Freedom Corps as potential recruits.” He lowered his hands and turned to regard the two ‘girls’. “Considering that you know of the ‘Stiegers’ and didn’t react in a surprised manner at Mikasa’s recent transformation, I believe that we can assume that there’s something unusual about you.” His hands continued to lower until they rested on the hilts of his blades. “Is there a reason why we shouldn’t allow Mikasa to remove your heads from your shoulders?” he asked with a slight smile on his lips, the expression in his blue eyes cold and calculating.

The smirk on Ymir’s lips was utterly wiped away by the question, to quickly be replaced by a red gleam in her eyes and a flash of sharp teeth. “Try to even *touch* Krista and I will gut you,” she snarled.

So the brats hadn’t been kidding about the ‘true vampires’, Levi thought as he drew his right blade. “As if you’ll even stand a chance.” Now that he had an idea of Eren’s true speed, he was willing to bet he could take the bitch down. Preparing to dart forward, he was stunned when Eren blurred into motion to put himself in front of the two girls.

“Will everyone calm the fuck down!” he cried out, his arms held out as if to hold back both Ymir and Levi. “Let’s hear why they came here, all right? Ymir’s not dumb enough to reveal herself without a good reason.”

Her fangs still out, Ymir scoffed as she forced herself to look away from Levi. “We figured if they hadn’t whacked you two, I should be fine.” She blinked a couple of times, her eyes slowly going back to normal, and grinned in Erwin’s direction. “Consorting with the enemy, Commander?”

“I fail to see anyone as an enemy when they kill Malforms,” he told her, his hands still on his hilts. “What about you? From what I understand, you’re little better than one.”

“Please don’t kill her until I can study her!” Hange wailed, pushing forward to get a better look at the brunette. Levi cursed the idiot and elbowed her back. “But she’s a true vampire! A real, live, true-“

“We know what she is, now shut up.” Levi shoved his obsessed friend over into the corner. He glanced back to find that the short blonde was now standing in front of her companion, clearly determined to protect her.

There was a fierce look on her pretty face as she glared at everyone in the room. “You’re not going to hurt Ymir!” Looking around, she focused on Eren. “I thought you were her friend!”

Appearing a bit sheepish, Eren tugged on his long bangs in a blatant sign of frustration. “Ymir, what the hell have you been telling this poor kid?”

“Aw, come on, Rebel, we’re the best of buddies, aren’t we?” Ymir grinned and wrapped her left arm around her… ‘friend’s’ waist.

“Just kill the lying bitch,” Mikasa muttered from across the room, still busy shooting dirty looks Ymir’s way. She didn’t even flinch at Hange’s anguished cry of denial.

Her cocky smile slipping, Ymir spared Mikasa a nasty look of her own. “Love you too, Sunshine.”

“Sure you do, that’s why you left us to fend for ourselves in Mosca.” Misaka jumped to her feet, yet this time she seemed content to stay where she was, her eyes back to their normal dark shade. “You didn’t care that we were counting on your help to set up the new identities, let alone get out of there!”

See, *this* was why Levi thought of these brats as ‘kids’, even if Hange kept insisting on the fact that they were centuries old – they sure as hell didn’t act that way most of the time; feeling a headache coming on, he clenched at the hilt of his blade as he sheathed the weapon and wished that there was something he could hit to take out the sense of building frustration. Then he noticed a hint of building panic on Eren’s expressive face.

“Uhm, Mikasa, now’s not the-“

Ymir cut him off as she gently pushed her blonde ‘friend’, Krista, aside and stalked toward Mikasa. “Look, you’re not the only ones trying to save your asses, alright? I couldn’t meet up with you guys for very good reasons of my own.” What looked to be a quick flash of guilt crossed over her face. “Besides, from what I hear, Eren took care of the situation for you just fine.” She managed a weak leer in his direction, seeming oblivious to the frantic shaking motion of his head. “Better not go back to that dome for a while, since it seems that Minister is holding out hope you’re still available, you were that good.”

It took Levi a moment to catch the insinuation – it didn’t help that Hange had crept up beside him, busy writing everything down in her notebook as if this was one grand experiment. “Did she just imply that Eren sold himself – ah, yeah, looks that way. *Interesting.*” Hange hummed as Mikasa first went pale, moaned low in her throat and then launched herself at Ymir.

“This is getting fucking ridiculous,” Levi grumbled, and was thankful that Erwin finally stepped in to grab the hyper bitch by the back of her jacket while Eren yelled at Ymir for being a loud-mouth idiot.

“Did you have to tell her that?”

“Sorry! I thought you didn’t keep anything a secret from Mommy there!”

Going over to the figure hunched in a chair, Levi grabbed a clearly miserable Armin by an arm and hauled him up. “Oi, are they friends or not?” He really wanted to know if the troublesome bitch should keep her head because she didn’t seem worth the headache right now.

“Yes, I’m wondering much the same thing myself,” Erwin remarked as he forced Mikasa several feet away from a now serious Ymir.

The true vampire straightened out the dark blue tunic she was wearing and glared at everyone except Krista. “Look, if I hadn’t have come here with peaceful intentions then you’d be dead. For the most part, I am Eren and Mikasa’s friend. Don’t really know Blondie too much over there, but that’s mainly because they’ve kept it that way.” For once there wasn’t any mocking tone to her voice.

Erwin looked over at the siblings, his jaw set tight and his eyes hard, most likely from the indirect threat Ymir had just made. “Do you consider her a friend?” When Mikasa started to speak, he held up his right hand. “I think we better hear from Eren right now.”

The brat let out a slow sigh and glanced at his sister, shrugging in regards to her still angry look. “I know she can be an asshole at times, but for the most part, we trust her.” His expression hardened as he glanced back at Ymir. “What I don’t trust is whatever she wants out of me so desperately, and why she’s risking herself like this. She’s always looked out for herself first.” That addendum appeared to placate Mikasa.

“Get to the part about what she is!” Hange whispered, the sound coming out as a hiss. “I *need* to *know*!”

Erwin shot Hange a warning look to be quiet, which she accepted with a huff and then settled into one of the chairs, a pout on her face and still busy writing in her precious notebook. Then he turned his attention back to Ymir and her mostly quiet companion. “Not exactly the best praise for you.”

Ymir shrugged, seeming unaffected by Eren's opinion. “It’s basically true. I do tend to look out for myself first.”

“That’s not true!” Krista pushed herself forward again while wearing a fierce frown. “She’s always taken care of me! She’s kept me safe, provided me shelter and she’s here today because of me!” The look she gave everyone in the room made it clear that she thought very little of them. “I won’t let you insult her like this!”

Ymir tried to calm down her companion by running her hands up and down the smaller girl’s arms. “Now Krista, Eren did have some good reasons for what he said. He really doesn’t know anything about you.”

“This is the first time I’ve even seen you.” Eren frowned as he stared at the girl, his expression changing into one of shock. “Holy fuck, Ymir, is she who I think she is? Isn’t she supposed to be dea-“

Shut the fuck up, Rebel. Not another word on the topic right here,” Ymir snapped. “Or should I bring up how old Blondie is over there? Do they know that part yet?

Levi surged forward to snatch at Eren’s left arm once they started speaking in gibberish – he could sorta make out the occasional word, but it sounded distorted, the accents all wrong. Was it some strange code based on English? “Speak normal!”

Mikasa gasped and her sharp gaze darted between the two girls. “*You’re* what happened to the missing heir?”

“*Not* *another* *fucking* *word*!”

“I told you shitstains to speak English!“ Levi gave Eren’s arm a rough shake, and ignored the bemused look the brat gave him in return.

Hange jumped up from her seat and laughed. “Uhm, I *think* they are speaking English, Sweetie. Pre-collapse English.” She cocked her head to the side and bit her lip. “Oh, I’d give your left hand right now to be recording this!”

The sound of a blade being drawn again caused everyone to go still, along with a sharp hiss from Ymir. Erwin stood in the center of the room with his right blade held up high, a very, *very* annoyed expression on his face. “All right, so far we’ve determined that Ymir is a true vampire yet is to be mostly trusted, that Eren and Mikasa mostly consider her a friend, and that she and Krista are here with *mostly* good intentions and to ask a favor from Eren. Excuse me if I consider the amount of time we’ve spent reaching those answers rather excessive and that there’s a good bit more information I’d like to know before I decide if I’m going to continue to allow a true vampire to continue to exist inside my base.” There was a distinctly sharp bite to his words which made it clear that he was not exaggerating the situation in the least. “Now, start talking in a language we can all understand and provide me those answers that I require.”

He sheathed his blade and motioned with his right hand at a rather subdued Ymir. “Who exactly are you, why exactly are you here and what *exactly* do you want?” Before she could speak, he turned to glance at everyone else. “The rest of you,” he paused to linger on Hange for a moment, “will be silent while she speaks.” The authoritative tone to his deep voice broke no arguments.

Having been through this ‘he who must be obeyed’ mode before, Levi used his hold on Eren’s arm to drag him over to the row of chairs and sat down, figuring he might as well be comfortable for the upcoming explanation. Mikasa hurried to take the empty seat next to her brother and sent Levi a simmering scowl for his audacity, and then saved the rest of her foul mood for Ymir, who stood there in front of the audience at a loss of word for a moment until Krista gave her a reassuring hug.

Pausing to give the small blonde a hug back, Ymir took a deep breath before working through Erwin’s demands. “All right, you’ll need a bit of patience with me – I don’t know what those two have told you about my kind.” When Hange began to wave her left hand in the air in a frantic manner, Erwin saved all of them from some crazed, drawn out explanation with one extremely stern look. “I mean, ‘true vampire’, what is that?” She scoffed a little and made a face, wrinkling her freckled nose. “I’ve no idea what the definition of a real vampire is.”

Unable to hold back, Levi clicked his tongue as he folded his arms over his chest. “Try looking in the mirror.”

His helpful comment earned him disproving looks from both Ymir and Erwin. “Yeah, well you’d be wrong, Shorty.” It was his turn to receive the ‘don’t push me’ glance from Erwin when he nearly jumped from his seat to teach the bitch some manners, so he sunk back down and glowered at her instead. “Because you see, I’m not really a vampire.”

Hange made a muffled sound of pain as if desperate to ask questions, Armin and Erwin appeared stunned while Eren and Mikasa sat there as if they had someplace better they’d like to be – Levi included them in the glower for a few seconds before sending it back in Ymir’s direction; the snarky bitch seemed to be enjoying herself now.

“Yeah, thought that might get your attention.” She shuffled herself and Krista back until they could lean against a table. “The memories are a bit hazy, both because it was so long ago and because things were absolute shit at the time, but all I know is somehow I came across what apparently was the last of the pureblood vampires, one weakened by daylight, and… well, somehow forced him to change me.” Her cocky attitude vanished as her eyes became unfocused, her voice quiet. “I think I was so desperate to try anything….” She didn’t speak for several seconds, until Krista whispered her name, causing her to shiver and shake her head. “Anyway, next thing I know is I’m changed, and it took me a while to snap back to my senses.” Judging from the amount of guilt in her expression, Levi didn’t think she’d stuck to just Malforms as food, like Eren and Mikasa.

“So you’re a human who turned into a vampire?” Armin asked, his voice quivering a little, either out of uncertainty and fear. “I thought that was how a lot of them were turned, according to the legends.”

“*Exactly!*,” Hange shouted, nearly dropping her notepad out of exuberance. “I mean-“ Another stern look from Erwin had her clamping her mouth shut.

Ymir brushed back her bangs and shook her head. “I’ve been around a long time and I don’t really know how those assholes came about, all I know is once they found out that I was responsible for the death of the last pureblood, I’ve had a target painted on my back ever since. Also, do I like their ‘humans are food’ attitude? No. Believe that humans and ‘vampires’ can’t co-exist? Wrong again.” She looked over at Erwin. “I don’t have a problem with you protecting humanity – someone certainly has to do it. But it’s not all clear cut who the monsters are, human or ‘vampires’.

Erwin met her eyes, his gaze even, before he looked over at the siblings. “Is what she said true?”

Eren shrugged, the fingers of his right hand busy tracing along the cuff of his gauntlet. “As far as we know, yes. Part of the reason we’ve trusted Ymir is that we’ve an enemy in common.”

Erwin took a moment to consider that before turning back to the girls. “So how is Krista involved in this?”

The smaller girl started at the question, her blue eyes going wide. “Ah, well, Ymir helped me out at a difficult time, after my mother died.” Levi thought he saw Mikasa twitch at the revelation. “I’ve been with her ever since.”

Neither of them were exactly forthcoming with detailed biographies here, but Levi supposed it was difficult to trust in people who had threatened to cut off their heads a few minutes ago. Still, he knew when people were keeping something important from him, and these two were doing just that – and he was willing to bet a few pounds of tea that a certain brat had a good idea what some of that back-story happened to be, judging from the earlier exchange. He shot Eren a narrowed glance from the corner of his eye, and got a wide-eyed look in return.

Hands now resting on his hips, Erwin nodded in satisfaction as if pleased with the way the discussion was going. “So that brings us to the why of you coming here.” His gaze flickered to Eren. “It clearly wasn’t to join the Freedom Corps.”

Ymir’s brows drew together while she looked hard at Eren and Mikasa sitting next to Levi, her gaze seeming to linger on their uniforms. “Look, I won’t lie to you, we mainly came to wherever Eren was. But you know about him and Mikasa, you’re not harming them, and you’re taking me at face value. You know about the real vampires out there. They’re a big part of why we’re here. If you can accept Rebel and Sunshine, then I’ll meet you halfway.” A shaky grin spread across her face. “I mean, what’s another vampire helping the cause, right?”

“I’m not a fucking vampire,” Eren muttered, his face drawn into a scowl.

“Oh, get over yourself,” Ymir shot back. “You drink blood and you don’t age. That sure as hell doesn’t make you-“

“Enough,” Erwin snapped in a rare show of temper. “Us accepting you depends on why you’re really here.”

Ymir glared at him for a few seconds, showing that she really did have more balls than common sense, and then sighed. “Other than looking for a safe place to be, because we want Eren to turn Krista.”

It was official – Levi had reached his quota of idiots and drama for the day. He merely sat there while Mikasa *yet again* lunged for Ymir, shouting that there was no way in hell that she would allow her brother to be used like that, leaving it to Erwin and Armin to calm the spastic bitch down. Meanwhile, Krista was shouting, too, showing that she had a rather healthy set of lungs for someone so petite, claiming that she wanted this, that Mikasa shouldn’t deny her the right to ask Eren for something that Mikasa had been given herself. And if it wasn’t already enough of a clusterfuck, Hange joined the fray going on about that if anyone was going to be ‘turned’, that she deserved to be there front and center, recording the event for the benefit of science.

The only other person sitting out all of the bedlam was Eren, who didn’t move a single muscle – it was downright creepy how still he was – until Ymir started on about how controlling Mikasa could be and how she needed to back off ‘or else’. Yet to Levi’s surprise, instead of joining the burgeoning fight, Eren got up and quietly left the room. Intrigued by the brat’s behavior, he stood up as well and followed, only to find an empty hallway once outside. Cursing idiot kids who should know better about moving too fast, he headed in the most deserted direction he could find, hoping that Eren had the sense to avoid running into other people. The path eventually led him outside.

Great, where would an ancient yet bratty, perpetual teenager go hide? Levi took a few steps forward before he remembered the first time he saw Eren and thought to look up, and caught a hint of movement on top of the building. Hoping the damn brat had used the gauntlet to reach the roof, he raised his left arm and fired a rappelling dart, launching himself with ease upward until he landed beside a sitting Eren.

“So, did you suddenly decide to become antisocial or what,” he asked as he grimaced with distaste, eyeing the dark surface of the slanted roof. The fabricated tiles were going to be hell on his pants, he just knew it – the environment inside the domes was controlled, but that didn’t mean that shit like dust and exhaust didn’t make its way up here. Where was a dust rag when you needed one?

Eren’s head remained bowed but his shoulders twitched a little. “You know, the point of coming up here was for me to be alone. By myself. Without another soul. Hint, *hint*.”

“Tough shit.” See, that ‘poor me’ crap annoyed him enough that he didn’t care – too much – about the dirt as he sat down. “You’re stuck with me now.” His right shoulder brushed against Eren’s as he settled on the roof. Hmm, it wasn’t a bad view of the dome from here, maybe he’d have to come up more often, with a blanket or something. “Now why did you ditch your darling sister and best friend?”

Letting out a strangled noise that sounded half snarl, half laugh, Eren ran his fingers through his hair, which only served to make it more tousled. Really, did the brat ever learn the concept of ‘brushing’? “I believe that Mikasa is more than adequate at looking after herself and Armin. I’m sure they’re just fine.” His high-pitched voice caught a bit when he spoke his sister’s name.

Levi rested his elbows on his bent knees. “Okay, I’m going out on a limb here, but something’s going on between you and Mikasa, right? She sure as hell wasn’t happy when that Ymir bitch brought up Mosca.” He’d tackle one topic at a time.

Running his hands through his hair again, Eren brought his palms back to his face and pressed them against his eyes, as if trying to block out the sight of something. When he dropped his hands to his lap, he turned to face Levi, his unusual eyes were shadowed internally, the golden color somehow dulled from its usual brightness. “My turn for a question – where are you from?”

Surprised both by how… how *old* Eren appeared just then and by the question, Levi couldn’t speak for a moment. “Why does it matter,” he asked once he could.

“Because it pertains to what I’m about to say.” The left corner of Eren’s mouth twitched up into a sardonic smile. “Come on, you know so much about me, and all I know about you is you like to swear, you hate to be dirty, you seem to like tea and you can fight. Well, and you’re a bit of an asshole. Now, give me something concrete about your past.”

Asshole, eh? Levi snorted in amusement and reached over to flick his fingers at the brat’s forehead – the fact that Eren didn’t move meant that the brat allowed him the reprimand. “You’re no prize yourself, you know.”

“See, asshole.” A pout formed on Eren’s face as he rubbed his forehead. “Now spill.”

Wondering why he hadn’t just stayed in the conference room and watched Erwin smack some shit out of Ymir and Mikasa, Levi sighed while he rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m from Tartarus,” he admitted with a slight hint of hesitation.

For some reason, the brat didn’t look too surprised. “I thought it might be there, that or Mosca,” Eren said after a minute. “You have this… air about you.”

Uncertain about if he’d just been insulted, Levi reached for a handful of the brat’s shirt and yanked him closer. “You care to explain that?” He’d left Tartarus behind a long time ago, had worked hard to better himself. No one knew where he was from unless they’d been in the Corps back then.

Eren grasped the hand wrapped in his shirt and smiled, the expression a touch sad. “You remind me a lot of Mikasa and myself, and even Ymir. There’s something about being raised in an environment where you have to struggle so much for everything.” His hand went slack and he pulled away as much as Levi’s grip would allow. “When you do whatever you can just to survive. It’s the hard edges and all, a certain look in the eyes. That and you can fight dirty as hell.”

What the kid said made sense; Levi had stolen and worse back in Tartarus to support himself and Isabel and Farlan. He was beginning to understand some of the things that Eren and Mikasa had done to survive over the years.

“So you’re saying I’m a bit like you?” He relaxed his hold on Eren’s shirt.

“I’m saying that you probably understand us better than anyone else here.” Eren let out a slow breath and leaned back on his elbows when his shirt was freed. “Captain Hange knows in theory that life was hard after the solar flares and the Malforms started attacking, but she doesn’t know what it’s like to not be able to trust anyone, to know that everyone who looks at you sees you as something they can use in one way or another – that or you’re utterly disposable. I think it was that… as much as the changes to our nature which kept us away from humans for the longest time.”

Levi could only imagine how difficult it must have been, living in a time when everyone sought to use each other and looking the way Eren did. However…. “What does this have to do with what’s going on downstairs?”

Eren’s fingers tugged at his hair in a nervous gesture, his gaze cast out over the courtyard. “It’s all about survival. You have to fight, to be willing to anything, to live. We’re used to that.” His eyes drifted shut for a few seconds. “Well, for the most part. Mikasa handles the fighting part easier, she’s good at it. Something happened in the past, when we were little… she doesn’t like it when I use sex to solve our problems.”

Ah, back to the Mosca topic, when Mikasa had been set off. “You do that often?” Not that Levi was curious or anything.

“It’s not a habit or a preferred method of solution, but it’s not like we’re able to carry around lots of credit.” Eren scoffed as he picked at the roofing surface. “Sometimes it’s been the only way we could deal with certain people.” There was a frown on his face when he looked back at Levi. “You telling me you or your friends never slept with anyone for a nice meal or a safe place to sleep? That those people down there don’t trade sex for a fun night out?”

That prompted a short, bitter laugh out of Levi. “I’m sure they don’t think of it that way, but yeah, it’s all about a system of exchange.” He thought about it a bit more. “So you’re saying it all comes down to sex and violence in the end.” Yeah, he doubted anyone else would be following this conversation.

His rough summation earned him a bittersweet smile from the brat. “Yes, in a way. Some of the few constants we’ve had in our very long lives.” Eren pulled his knees to his chest and hugged them close, his chest resting on top of them. “Not that it makes accepting them any easier. If I go back down there now and talk to Mikasa, she’s just going to say stuff about how I ‘shouldn’t have done it’ and ‘how bad it is that I had to do it’, that she couldn’t find out another way. She’s just looking out for me, and it’s hard to get angry when I know she’s upset and trying to keep me safe.”

“So you do the mature thing of running away.” Levi reached over to tousle the brat’s hair. “How old are you again?”

“Oh fuck off.” Eren shoved Levi’s hand aside and scowled, his gaze focused out over the courtyard. “Those new IDs would have cost me three hundred thousand credits. Instead, I just let some old bastard go at it for twenty minutes, on top of a blow job.”

“Three hundred – dammit, I’m in the wrong business.” Levi’s hands clenched into fists when he thought about some perverted-ass Minister skimming more money and benefits from an already lucrative position. “Oi, brat, want to overthrow a government or two?”

Eren glanced at him over his arm and smirked. “One thing at a time, okay? You help me find out what Grisha stashed away and then I’ll help you take down the domes.”

“Deal.” Three hundred thousand credits for three new IDs – it sure as hell had gone up since Farlan had looked into – damnit, Levi cut off the thought before he became maudlin. “Not like it’ll do us much good, as we’d still have to deal with the fact that the world is mostly shit outside of them for a good part of the year.” Since he was looking at Eren at the time, he noticed when the brat ducked his face into his arms as if to hide it. “All right, I’m thinking you’ve got something to say, and this isn’t the place for me to kick it out of you like back in the alley since you’ll end up falling onto the ground. Erwin’s in a bad enough mood already.”

Making a whining noise that was almost adorable, Eren shook his head several times then mumbled something. “Try saying it so I can understand it.” Levi reached over to grab a handful of mussed brown hair and yanked until he could see the brat’s face.

“Ow! Dammit, why do you have to be so sadistic!?” Eren glowered at him while batting aside his hand. “Are you not happy until you get in your quota of the day of smacking me around?”

“… pretty much. Now talk.”

“Arschloch,“ Eren hissed while fussing with his hair. After pouting for a few seconds, he huffed once and started the explanation. “So, the Freedom Corps spends the two months that the domes are open outside testing the open spaces to see how the world is recovering from the solar flares, finding new food sources and generally preparing for the time when mankind can leave the domes, no?”

Levi rolled his eyes at stuff that even an idiot knew. “Yeah, while doing our best to not be killed by Malforms.”

“Ever wonder who makes those machines you use for testing?” Eren gazed at him, face perfectly blank.

Feeling as if he was talking to an idiot, Levi began reciting the answer that had been drilled into him when he joined the Corps. “It’s a prestigious firm that dates back before the decline of civilization, one known for scientific discovery, a small yet renowned – why the fuck are you staring at me like that?”

“Because you’re not thinking about what you’re saying, *Captain*.” Eren leaned in close, his eyes glowing bright. “Say the first part again.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake – it’s a prestigious firm that dates back before the decline of civilization….” Levi realized that he was gazing into the luminous eyes of something, *someone*, who ‘dated back before the decline of civilization’. “Are you telling me that the shitty company is run by vampires?”

“Score a point for Captain Napoleon.” Eren sounded worn out as he once again rested his head on his knees. “The others have always had their hand in stuff – you need money if you’re going to survive for so long. Guess one of them had the sense to realize that solar radiation sensors would benefit them somehow, seeing how they’re restrained by sunlight. Now, do you think you can trust what that equipment tells you?”

Pushing up onto his knees, Levi grabbed the frustrating brat by his shoulders and shook him. “Are you telling me that there’s no need for us to be trapped in these fucking domes,” he shouted.

Eren flinched from the volume and shook his head. “No, it hasn’t gotten that good out there yet – I’d say you still need the domes at least two months out of the year. But it’s getting better. Armin thinks that in another generation, two at the most, maybe you can start leaving the domes entirely.” He bit his lips while he pushed back the hair falling into his eyes. “Maybe that’s why they’re attacking now, because they know their time is running out. If they want to claim the outside world, they need to do it soon.”

And to do that, they had to be able to withstand the sun. Levi thought about Ymir and her ‘need’ for Eren, for him to turn her girlfriend. If he did that, then there would be another ‘vampire’ who could go outside in the daylight. “Do you think that’s why Ymir is here?”

Eren shrugged, his narrow shoulders moving up and down beneath Levi’s fingers. “Do I think she realizes what’s going on with the others and what they want? I wouldn’t be surprised since she’s pretty smart and can figure things out. But I think it’s basically that she’s found someone she wants to be with and she doesn’t want them to die on her, so she thought she’d do her best to guilt-trip or harass me into turning them.”

It was funny – in the last couple of days, Levi had hauled this kid around, fought with him, sat on top of him, nearly been emasculated by him – generally been close to him enough to harass the hell out of him. Yet this was the first time he really noticed how warm Eren’s skin was, how heat seemed to radiate out of him. It was… comforting.

Dammit, *focus*. “So will you do it?”

Eren tensed at the question, not moving for several seconds, and then his body slowly relaxed. He looked away from Levi, his eyes once more shaded. “I’m going to say ‘no’, because that’s what I’ve always said. I didn’t know what I was doing with Mikasa and I’m not sure I could do it deliberately.” His mouth moved as if he was going to say something else, yet no sound came out. After a few seconds, he sighed and closed his eyes.

Forcing his hands to let go of the brat, Levi resumed his position next to Eren, their shoulders and thighs touching. “So why don’t I believe you?”

That prompted a startled reaction from Eren, him whipping his head around with his eyes wide and bright once again. After staring at Levi for what felt to be at least a minute, he sighed again and shook his head, his chin-length hair flying about. “I don’t know… maybe because I look at Krista and wonder what it would be like, going through life without Mikasa. I’ve had a few people ask me to turn them, back when we let them know what we were, and it was easier to say ‘no’.” He picked at a strand of his hair and pulled it out straight, his eyes fixed on it as he twisted it about. “They were just afraid of death.”

Levi was startled to find himself laughing, truly laughing in reaction to the answer, his arms wrapped around his sides. When Eren gazed at him in surprise, he shook his head a few times until he could speak. “Who the fuck isn’t, kid.”

That earned him an amused snort in return. “So claims the man who routinely fights Malform with nothing but a bad attitude and two shiny blades.” Eren arched an eyebrow over one of those damn eyes of his and dared him to disagree.

Dammit, Levi hated it when the brat had a point. “And style, don’t leave out the fact that I have style,” he bitched while he kicked the bastard in the ankle.

“Okay, I’ll give you that.” Eren did that pouting thing while he rubbed at his scuffed boot. “It’s about degrees – yeah no one’s crazy about dying, but you and the others down there suck it up, risk your lives for others and face death head on, especially when you deal with those infected by Malform bites. The rest….” His lips pressed together in a frown.

Yeah, the others would stab you in the back if they thought it would save them a minute longer. Levi brushed a speck of dirt off of his right knee and tried to keep the frustration from boiling up into senseless rage just then, when there was little point to it. “So what about Krista? You think she’s one of us or one of them?”

“I guess I’ll find out soon enough, if Commander Smith let’s her stay. But if Ymir’s picked her, she’s probably the former since I can’t see Ymir choosing someone so weak.” Eren stared off into the distance for a moment. “Argh!” He yelled in frustration before falling back to lie on the roof. “There’s something to be said about wandering around the ruins of a civilization for a couple of centuries. Lack of hot water and plumbing aside, things were a hell of a lot simpler.”

Levi shuddered in horror at the thought of the lack of basic sanitation. “Keep your horror stories to yourself, you hear?” He sat there for a minute looking out over the base and the part of the dome before him and thought about how peaceful it was up here, at how so few people were outside. “Hey, I think it’s still dinner. You going to go down and find your sister?”

Eren made a non-committal noise before sitting back up, his shoulder brushing against Levi’s. “I’m not hungry, and I don’t feel like dealing with anyone just yet.” He once more bent his knees and rested his chin on them, his arms wrapped around his legs. “I think I’ll stay up here for a while.”

There was a ton of paperwork that Levi needed to review, and Erwin probably was waiting to talk to him about Ymir and what her arrival meant for the Corps while Levi needed to tell him about the whole outside thing, but Levi found himself unwilling to move. Perhaps it was that moments of peace like this were so rare, as was finding someone to talk to who understood him and his background. Whatever the reason, he figured he could always grab a snack later, deal with the documents while staying up with a pot of tea and just stay here a little longer.

“Yeah, well, just be sure not to ruin my view while you sit there with your little pity party.” Levi shifted about to settle a bit more comfortable. Yes, next time he was definitely bringing a blanket up here.

Eren snorted once and shook his head. “Oh yeah, *such* an asshole.”

“Don’t forget the captain part, ‘Rebel’.”

Eren growled beneath his breath. “Don’t you start that shit, too! I’m going to kill Ymir.”

Smirking, Levi propped an elbow up on his left knee and enjoyed how the lights began to dim out through the dome. If he let his mind wander enough, he could imagine he was staring out over a mountain range instead of walls and roofs, thoughts lost on a time when he wouldn’t be so constrained.

*******

Armin walked after Mikasa, worried about how quiet she had become – if you knew the signs to look out for, you could tell when she was withdrawing inward: the scarf was tugged a little too high, her shoulders hunched a little too forward, her head hung too low. He reached out to grab hold of her left hand and began to lead her through the crowded hallway of fellow Freedom Corps members headed toward the dining room. 

“Mikasa! Armin! Are you meeting Eren for dinner?” There was a big smile on Sasha’s face as she barely halted in time to avoid crashing into them. 

“Ah, we’re going to find him,” Armin told her, feeling how Mikasa’s hand tightened around his own at the mention of her brother. “We might be late for dinner.”

Sasha’s expression turned crestfallen at the possibility of her missing out on her additional meals, then she rallied another smile. “Well, I’ll save you some seats just in case.” She gave them a friendly wave and was off and running, no doubt intent to reach her dinner as quickly as possible. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who loves food as much as that girl does,” Armin remarked while he shook his head. He glanced at Mikasa and found her still staring down at the floor, and a small sigh slipped free; she was really obsessing over Eren this time. “All right, let’s find someplace quiet.” 

Everyone else should be at dinner right now, so he figured it would be safe to go to their sleeping quarters. If anyone came upon them, Mikasa’s enhanced senses would give them some warning, but the large, communal room should be abandoned right now. 

Armin had to admit that he had been a bit spoiled living with just Mikasa and Eren all these years, and his grandfather before that. He had a few memories of his parents – hazy, cherished ones – and had always been a part of a small circle of attention. That circle might not have had a lot of possessions, either because of few resources or constant relocation, but he hadn’t felt a lack in his life. A lot of other people had larger families and were used to living in close quarters with little or no privacy due to the limited resources of the domes, so this whole ‘communal’ style of rooming wasn’t too big of a deal for them. It took some getting used to, the cavernous space with its rows of bunk beds, storage units and shared desks. 

Leading Mikasa over to the bunk bed that he shared with Eren, he set her down on the lower bed and then sat beside her. “All right, what’s going on?” Well, besides the obvious, which was that Ymir being here had caused several new problems for them. “Do you need me to track down Eren?” 

“No!” The denial came out strangled and low, as if Mikasa was in pain. She shook her head in a frantic enough manner that the scarf loosened around her face, and Armin swore that he saw a glimmer of tears in her dark eyes. 

“Mikasa…” He gave her a fierce hug, desperate to make her understand and to provide some comfort. “You know he’ll come back, don’t you? He always comes back. He just… he needs a little time to clear his head since I’m sure Ymir upset him with her request.” Armin couldn’t believe that the woman had stood there and asked such a thing – especially someone who claimed to know Eren at all. 

Mikasa hugged him back, her arms almost painfully tight around his upper body. “I know. I know.” She pressed her face into the crook of his neck. “I know he does, it’s just… sometimes I feel like I’m chasing after the sun with him. He’s… he’s so bright, so bright and warm, always there, and I *need* him so much. It’s as if I’m in the dark running after him and he’s just out of reach….” She made a sniffling sound as if she was trying to hold back tears, and Armin smoothed his hand over her hair. “This is one of those times when it seems like he’s too far away. I just want to keep him safe but there’s so much in the way.” 

Including Eren himself, Armin suspected. He loved his friend, he truly did, and owed him so much, but sometimes Eren’s biggest enemy was himself. As it was, Armin felt a bit guilty for suspecting what Eren had gone off to do back in Mosca and not saying anything to Mikasa then – if he had, it would have spared the shock of Ymir being the one to bring it to her attention. “Are you upset over what… what Ymir said about Mosca,” he dared to ask. 

“I’m pissed about *everything* that bitch said.” Mikasa pulled back so quickly that Armin’s arms were yanked apart as she sat further away on the bed, her eyes flashing gold and her mouth set in a grim line. “But yeah, he goes too far, he *always* goes too far. I wish he’d just stop to *think* for once about what would happen if one of those assholes try to hurt him, or decides to keep him, or… or….” 

“But Eren wouldn’t be Eren if he didn’t go off in a mad rush to do something to help us out,” Armin pointed out. “And if things didn’t somehow work out.” 

Mikasa’s expression softened, her eyes returned to normal while she gathered the ends of the scarf in her hands as if cradling something infinitely precious. “Yes, you’re right. I just hate this feeling that I can’t help him out as much as I’d like. I can’t do anything to keep Ymir away from him since Commander Smith has accepted her, and I can’t protect him from the others.” She glanced around the room. “We’ve had to accept help from strangers – rude, abusive, intrusive strangers – to help us fight our own battles. What kind of sister am I?” She sounded ready to cry again. 

He reached out to give her shoulder a shake. “Hey, you’re the best sister I’ve ever seen! And they’re not all bad, these people.” He wasn’t surprised that she felt so negative toward the Freedom Corps, considering that she was so used to it being just the three of them. “Captain Ackerman can be a bit harsh at times, but he really seems to care about protecting everybody. And Captain Hange is really smart! I’m learning a lot from her.” Judging from the indifferent look he was being given, Armin decided that Mikasa really didn’t care to hear about the Freedom Corps’ better qualities. “You’re not a failure, Mikasa. Eren didn’t decide to join the Freedom Corps because you let him down, he did it because not even the two of you can defeat everyone.” He gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze. “Sometimes even the best of warriors need allies. I believe Eren would rather accept help than risk losing you.” 

She bowed her head and seemed to consider what he said, then slowly nodded after a minute. “I understand. I’ll work harder, will make sure he has all the support he needs. And if Ymir thinks she can force him to do something he doesn’t want, then she’s mistaken.” She flashed a hint of fangs as she raised her chin. 

There were times when Armin wondered what exactly it was that had bonded Mikasa to Eren’s side so strongly – he knew that the bond had been there before the siblings had lost their parents, before the world had changed so drastically and they had turned into human/Malform hybrids. He’d heard hints over the years, something to do with the death of Mikasa’s birth parents and why she was so against Eren using himself as barter, yet never a full explanation. Whatever it had been, all he was certain of was that Mikasa seemed unable to live without Eren, that Eren considered Mikasa as family yet sometimes failed to grasp just how vital he was to her, and that the scarf that Mikasa wore was a symbol of the tie between them. 

“Well, I’m putting my money on you.” He smiled at his half-joke and was pleased to see her respond in kind, an eyebrow arched as if to say who else would he expect to win? He had just begun to elaborate on all the ways she could put Ymir and Captain Ackerman in their places when Mikasa sat up straight and held up her hand in a signal to be quiet. 

In a few seconds he could hear the sounds of footsteps approaching, which turned out to be Captain Hange leading Ymir and Krista, both of whom were now dressed in the Freedom Corps uniform and holding a large stack of clothes in their arms. “Hello!” Captain Hange waved upon spotting them, a very pleased grin upon her face; she reminded Armin of the illustration in that one ancient children’s book that Mikasa had shown him, about the girl who fell down a rabbit hole. “Guess who joined my squad?” 

Ymir had a distinctly sour look on her face. “Is she always this fucking hyper?” 

“Ymir!” Krista chided, a blush spreading across her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Captain.” 

“Oh, no worries, I’m used to it!” Captain Hange kept beaming in that demented way of hers while she motioned to the empty bunk bed two down from Armin’s. “You’ll be sleeping here, and yes, I’m usually this energetic.” 

Ymir gave Mikasa a wary glance as she made her way to the bunk bed, while Krista smiled and thanked the captain. “We should head to dinner while there’s still a bit of food left.” Captain Hange looked Ymir over as if examining a specimen. “Can you manage to eat some food?” 

“A few bites, enough to pass for human.” Ymir shrugged, her manner nonchalant, as she set her new belongings on the top bunk. “A lot of our kind complain about being picky eaters or stomach ailments to get by.” 

“Well, you’re going to make Sasha’s day.” Armin stood up and brushed at the wrinkles in his pants. “Whatever food you can’t eat, she’ll be ever so happy to take care of for you.” 

A sly grin spread across Ymir’s face. “Depends – what’s in it for me?” 

“Isn’t that always what counts for you?” There was a hint of malevolence to Mikasa’s quiet voice as she joined Armin. “Never do anything for the sake of just doing it?” 

Armin expected another fight to break out between the two women, yet an oddly tender look crossed Ymir’s face when she turned toward Krista, who was the only one who appeared angry at what Mikasa had just said. “No, not always.” Ymir reached out to gently touch Krista’s left cheek. 

The room fell quiet after that, with Mikasa and Armin glancing everywhere but at the couple and Captain Hange quickly jotting down notes. “All right,” the captain said after a minute. “A quick dinner and then I can show the two of you around.” She cocked her head to the side and once more seemed to examine Ymir. “You don’t need to go ‘out’ for a meal anytime soon, do you?” 

It took a moment for Ymir to figure out what the woman was asking. “Uhm, yeah, I’m good. Wasn’t sure how okay you guys would be with that so made sure to eat before we came.” 

“You do realize that you need to stick to Malforms from now on,” Mikasa hissed as she strode forward, acting as if even being in the vicinity of Ymir was too much for her. 

“I’ll have you know, Sunshine, I’ve been good for *years* now,” Ymir snapped back. “For crying out loud, no wonder Rebel acts the way he does, with a mother like you hovering around all the time.” 

Armin snatched at Mikasa’s hand and kept her moving forward, before another fight could begin. “Come on, we don’t have much time before they stop serving the food!”

“Is it a… well, your type of thing to call each other nicknames?” Captain Hange sounded more excited than curious, hunched over her notebook and avoiding walking into walls probably by memory alone. “Eren calls Mikasa ‘Miss Perfect’, you have your own names for Eren and Mikasa, and they call Levi ‘Captain Napoleon. Is it a trait? 

“Oh hell…” Armin muttered. 

“Captain Napoleon?” Ymir came to a stop in the middle of the hallway and stared at Captain Hange in astonishment. “*Captain* *Napoleon*?” She turned to look at a blatantly nonchalant Mikasa before she burst out into laughter. “Shorty? Captain Napoleon? Oh, too good!” She bent over and began to slap at the wall. “It’s perfect! I can’t wait to see the short bastard again!” 

Her brows drawn forward in confusion, Captain Hange glanced back and forth between the hysterical Ymir and the silent Mikasa. “Oh-kay, am I missing something here?” 

“Nothing, Captain. You’ll soon come to discover that Ymir can be extremely unstable. Think nothing of it.” Mikasa tossed back an end of her scarf over her shoulder and resumed walking toward the dining room as if Ymir’s reaction was perfectly normal. 

“Oh! Why do you have to be *such* a bitch!” Krista snapped at Mikasa and stalked forward, her hands balled into fists. “That was completely uncalled for!” 

Ymir snickered and pulled her girlfriend back to her side while she wiped at the tears from the excessive laughter that streaked her face. “Relax, she can’t help herself. She’s going to be like that until widdle Eren comes back to be fussed over.” 

Armin pressed his palms against Mikasa’s back to keep her from turning around. “You know, I’m beginning to see why they never properly introduced us, Ymir. It definitely was much more peaceful before you showed up – and this is *with* the Malform attack the other day.”  

“Not bad, kid. I understand now why they’ve kept you around so long.” There was a grudging note of respect in Ymir’s voice. 

“Your kind’s relationships are so fascinating!” Captain Hange sounded giddy with excitement – Armin wasn’t looking forward to spending the day with her tomorrow and what would be an endless barrage of tests and questions. “The hostility, the bickering and insults… Levi would be a natural if he was turned!” 

Armin could feel Mikasa cringe at that comment, and he stumbled a bit himself when the mental image of Captain Ackerman with fangs and glowing golden eyes flashed through his mind. “Hasn’t humanity been through enough,” he whimpered. The man was bad enough as a *human*.

Captain Hange appeared to consider that for a moment before nodding. “You may have a point. He's rather vicious as is.” She made a few more notes then motioned for everyone to continue on their way.

Ymir strolled forward, Krista at her side and their hands clasped together. “So, Blondie, is it me or did we just sign up with a bunch of self-sacrificing lunatics?” She didn’t bother to pitch her voice low enough so Captain Hange couldn’t hear her.

Armin felt his face heat up as he struggled not to look back at the captain, while Krista just sighed and bore an expression of long-suffering. “Uhm…”

“Yeah, I thought so.” Ymir squinted hard in Mikasa’s direction. “Trust Rebel and Sunshine to lead the way into the path most likely to involve mass chaos, high body count and the dissolution of at least four social conventions.”

Mikasa didn’t bother to look over as she responded, her voice possessing an icy coldness that made Armin wince to hear it. “I don’t remember inviting you to join in.”

“Don’t worry, I consider that among your better features.” Ymir smirked before looking straight ahead.

“Are you sure that snarkiness isn’t a trait of your kind?” Captain Hange called out as she followed along.

*******

Eren snuck in the dorm room, past all of the sleeping people. There was a slight stirring of hunger at the scent of them, not so much from the lack of feeding but from the opportunity of so much easy prey, which Eren pushed aside with ease. He continued down the aisles of bunk beds until he found the one he wanted and climbed up onto the top bunk.

Mikasa was lying down, so he stretched out beside her, on top of the blankets. “I’m sorry,” he murmured and draped his right arm over her waist.

She hugged his arm tighter to her body. “It’s all right,” she whispered back. “I’m sorry, too.”

He pressed his face against her back for a moment, content just to be near her, to breathe in her scent. Being up on the roof had helped clear his head, as had talking to Captain Ackerman, someone who wasn’t so caught up in his world; having an outside, unattached perspective was good at times, considering how insular his life had become. Now that he’d calmed down, he could better understand why his sister had been so upset earlier.

“I guess I should-“

“Eren, don’t say anything.” Mikasa’s hand tightened around his arm. “Just – let’s just move on from it.”

He smiled and rested his chin on her shoulder. “Okay.” It wasn’t the best way to solve their problems, as he was certain the situation would come up in the future again, but he didn’t want to fight with the person he loved best in this world, didn’t want to see her upset and hurting over something he felt had been right at the time and wouldn’t stop doing if it meant keeping her and Armin safe. So yeah, he was fine with ‘moving on’. After living so long, they’d gotten good at doing just that. Well, mostly.

“You do know that I have every faith in you kicking Ymir’s ass if it comes down to it, right?” he whispered, feeling that it needed to be said. “No matter what Commander Smith wants.”

Mikasa made a pleased, humming sound. “Hmm, yes.” She snuggled back against him, body warm and relaxed, save for the arm that was pressed against his own.

From a few beds down there was a muffled ‘yeah, right’ which sounded like Ymir’s sleepy voice, but he chose to ignore the comment in favor of being next to his sister, of feeling safe and whole once again. They would need to sneak away before daybreak and talk about why they really thought Ymir was here, besides wanting Krista turned, but it could wait a few more hours. Right now, Eren didn’t want to think about the possibility of the people he once thought of as friends tracking him down to use him, of getting so close that they drove another ‘friend’ to the desperate act of trusting humans in order to find safety, he just wanted to lie next to his sister, breathe in her scent and feel secure enough to sleep for an hour or two.

“Get some rest, I’ll watch over you,” Mikasa whispered, seeming to read his thoughts as always.

“Thanks, Mikasa.” He hugged her close as his eyes drifted shut and sleep washed over him.

*******

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