chapter twelve

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c'mon

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Eren hurried after Levi and Erd as they headed toward the conference room that Commander Smith had ordered them to attend, a sinking feeling in his stomach. What nasty surprise was about to be sprung on him this time?

Levi seemed to be reading his mind, as he shot a narrowed look over his right shoulder. “How many more ‘friends’ do you have lurking around this dome, brat?” 

“Before Ymir showed up, I wouldn’t have said any at all,” Eren admitted, his brows drawn together as he struggled to answer in as respectful a manner as possible. “It’s not like we’re in a habit of befriending a lot of people, *Sir*.” 

“Yeah, that explains your sister’s wonderful personality.” Levi clicked his tongue as he focused his attention on what was in front of him. “Still, if I find someone else with your… feeding disability waiting for us, your head is going to become reacquainted with my foot.” 

Eren sighed as he trailed after the sadistic bastard, wondering when he had become so masochistic that he found being in the man’s company somewhat comforting. “I know, I know, it’s been over twenty-four hours and you’re going through withdrawals, not being able to beat me up. Life is just *so hard* for you, Captain Napoleon. Sir.” 

Levi’s quick pace stuttered for a moment, as if he debated turning around and kicking Eren’s ass then and there, and Erd made a coughing sound as if choking back a laugh. 

“I’ll be certain to clear my agenda after this meeting.” Levi’s deep voice sounded particularly dark and threatening just then, and Eren had no one but himself to blame. Ah well, healing factor and all that. At least he could take some satisfaction in the fact he knew how to press the short bastard’s buttons – and that he was taller than someone, for once. Maybe he should point that out while Levi was wailing on him…. 

They arrived at the conference room before Eren’s mouth could get him into any more trouble, only for Eren to realize that it was the same one from the other day; a sense of déjà vu washed over him, not helping to dissipate the negative feeling that made him want to turn around and run far away, to avoid whatever was waiting for them inside. Having Ymir in his life was bad enough, as was seeing Bertolt the other day. Eren’s mother had always said that things came in threes, so what was this latest bit of bad news? 

“Oi, brat, get your ass in here,” Levi snapped at him, standing on the other side of the door with an exceedingly annoyed look on his face. 

Sighing again, Eren rubbed at his eyes as if he could wash away the ill feeling inside of him and did as he’d been bid. He felt some relief upon seeing only familiar faces inside – Mikasa, Commander Smith and Captain Hange – but it was tempered by the fact that Ymir and Captain Zacharius was there as well. The weird blond guy with the overlong bangs and scruffy beard made Eren nervous with the way he was always sniffing at him, while Ymir… well, somehow, he doubted that it was a good sign, her being here, especially since Krista wasn’t present. 

“What’s so important that you had to drag us back here,” Levi demanded to know, his arms folded over his chest while he glared at the commander; there were times when Eren doubted that the man knew he was supposedly a lower rank than Smith. “You forget how to take a shit or something?” 

Commander Smith appeared as if he might be suffering from a headache, with the way his brows were drawn together and his smile was tight. “No, I just felt that this recent discovery might deserve the attention of my most important Captains.” He glanced at Erd, who was hovering at Levi’s left side. “This might be best reserved to the higher levels for now.” 

Levi arched an eyebrow at the news, his grey eyes lingering on Mikasa and Ymir before he nodded at Erd. “Gather the reports on the rest of the squadron for me,” he told the reserved man, who gave him a curt nod before leaving the room. If Erd was upset at being dismissed while Eren, Mikasa and Ymir stayed behind, Eren didn’t notice any sign of it; the tall blond gave him what appeared to be a reassuring smile before leaving the room. 

Wondering if he could get away with sitting down during whatever would take place next, Eren eyed the rows of padded chairs with remorse and decided to stand along with everyone else. Levi must have noticed his wandering attention as the sadist snatched at his left wrist and tugged him forward, to stand beside him. That left everyone in a semi-circle around Commander Smith, who gave them a once-over to ensure that he had their attention. 

“Now then, I believe that Mikasa has some important information she has to share with the rest of us.” He motioned for Mikasa to step forward. 

Not expecting the focus to be switched to his sister, who had been standing there with her head lowered so that her black hair covered most of her face, Eren frowned in concern as he stared at Mikasa. She glanced at him, her eyes flashing gold for a moment, before she looked away. He took a step in her direction, worried about whatever had upset her, only to be checked by the hold on his wrist. Levi’s level stare met his own heated gaze when he turned back at the man, and the tightening of the grip around his wrist forced him to settle down. 

Mikasa pushed aside her long bangs as she looked up, her eyes flashing once more as they settled on Levi. “Captain Hange and I met with the Engineers to assist with their investigation into the use of the sewer system by the Malform in their most recent attack. During that meeting...,” she glanced once more at Eren while she paused in her explanation, “we were approached by a pair of MPs, one of whom I recognized.” She paused again to take a deep breath, as if hoping to calm herself. “The woman is a vampire.” 

As soon as Mikasa said ‘woman’ and ‘vampire’, Eren tensed up, his eyesight washing out to grey and his fangs pushing free. Levi’s grip tightened once again, along with a hissed ‘brat’ reminding him to control himself.  A few feet away, he could hear Ymir curse beneath her breath. 

“I’m going to assume that the two of you might know who this person is, whom Mikasa is alluding to, yes?” Commander Smith folded his arms over his impressive chest and fixed them both with a very pointed stare. 

“There’s been… well, there’s this one vampire in particular who’s determined to find us,” Eren explained, his attention fixed on Mikasa. When she gave him an infinitesimal nod in return, he knew that she was talking about Annie – which made sense, considering that he’d seen Bertolt yesterday. 

Ymir scoffed as she began to pace around in small circles, flinching away when she came too close to Captain Zacharius. “Yeah, and she’s a real peach, I can tell you that much. Like a dog with a bone, she is with you two.” 

Levi gave Eren’s wrist another warning squeeze before releasing it. “Are you telling me that there’s a fucking vampire in the MP?” His voice had taken on a deadly quietness and his eyes had narrowed while he stared intently at Mikasa. 

She met his gaze with a coldness that showed how she refused to be cowed by a mere human, her face an impassive mask that Eren recognized well after all this time. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.” She glanced once more at Eren. “It gets worse – she always travels with two companions. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect that they would also be MPs, especially since Eren saw one of them at the park yesterday.” 

Eren could almost count down the seconds until the point where Levi’s temper exploded, he was getting that good at gaging the man’s emotions; it was about the tensing of muscles in those narrow shoulders, the way those elegant hands clenched, the throbbing of a vein beneath a shadowed, steel grey eye. “You shitty, good for nothing *brat*!” Levi spat out the insult as he whirled around and grabbed at Eren’s jacket to yank him in close. “You knew about this and didn’t tell me?” 

“Hey! I knew about Bertolt but didn’t have a fucking clue about the MP thing!” Eren shouted back as he pried at the hands that were shaking him back and forth, while across the room Captain Hange and Ymir struggled to contain Mikasa. “And I told you about Bertolt.” 

“You told me that there’d been a shitty vampire at the park, not that you knew him!” Levi gave him one more violent shake before letting go. “Why the hell is that?” 

Commander Smith’s deep voice cut through the room before Eren could even try to answer the question. “Yes, why indeed is that?” He stepped closer, in front of a furious Mikasa, and looked back and forth between Eren and Ymir. “How do you know these vampires, Eren, and did you, Ymir, know about them before you came here?” Beside the tall man, Captain Zacharius stood at attention, his chin raised as he took a slow sniff of the air. 

Not liking the piercing stare directed his way, Eren fussed with his hair, running his fingers through the strands as he tucked them back from his face until he felt his left foot get kicked. “Dammit,” he hissed at Levi, picking up on the ‘subtle’ hint to stop stalling for time. “We’ve known the trio for a long time – that’s Annie, Bertolt and Reiner,” he explained in a rush when it looked as if Levi was going to kick him again. “They were the first vampires we realized that we came across, and yeah, it’s like Ymir said, they’re pretty determined to track us down.” For a moment he thought back to when they first met, to how well they’d all gotten along. Reiner and Bert had made him feel so good, had gone out of their way to prove that he could just be himself with them, to enjoy the moment… he should have known that it was too good to be true. 

“And why is that?” 

Internally, Eren cringed at the frostiness in Commander Smith’s voice and shifted a little closer to Levi, his fingers curled inward to hide the fact that his claws were beginning to unfurl. “Because somehow they found out about Mikasa and me – look, we told you about this,” he snapped. “We told you that those bastards were after us – do we have to give you a detailed list of how exactly they’ve hounded us over the centuries?” He took a step forward, his claws digging into the palm of his hands, through the leather of his gloves. “You won’t live long enough to listen to all of it, *old man*,” Eren taunted as the world washed into grey. “You don’t know what it’s like, to constantly be chased, to keep walking away from the little bit of home you’ve found, to see your sister’s heart constantly be broken or to be betrayed by people you thought you could trust. To have this happen *year* after *year* for so fucking long you can’t imagine a life without it.” He stalked closer to Smith, his fangs bared and eager to tear into flesh. “No, you live your pathetic little lives just waiting for those mewling Malform to rip out-“ 

A harsh slap knocked his head to side and put an end to the vicious tirade, leaving his left cheek stinging and an odd sense of calm flowing through him. “Enough, Eren,” Mikasa told him, her voice quiet and her eyes shining with a rare understanding. “It’s not their fault.” 

“Yeah… I… yeah.” He lifted his hands and forced the claws to unclench, to unbury from his flesh. Steam rose from the wounds, and an excited cry burst forth as Captain Hange rushed forward and literally shoved Mikasa aside.  

“Amazing! Is that steam? How is that possible? Does this always happen? Oh! They’re already healed! Dammit, I wish I’d recorded this,” she babbled as she twisted Eren’s now-healed hands back and forth. “I really need to get you into the labs and-“ 

She cried out again when Levi elbowed her in the ribs to force her aside. “Shut it, Shitty Glasses. We’re in the middle of something here.” He glared at her until she pouted and went back to stand beside Ymir, then took hold of Eren’s left arm in a punishing grip. “As for you, start something like that again and I’ll break your fucking jaw. We all got our issues, we just don’t go about vomiting them up.” 

Oh really? Eren was about to make a scathing retort about that remark, but one warning look from Mikasa had him sighing instead. As it was, Ymir couldn’t hold back a derisive snort. 

“Yeah, right, Napoleon. You’re the master of well-adjustment for all to see and worship.” She rolled her eyes while making a jerking motion with her right hand. “So mature that I-“ 

Commander Smith threw up his left hand to stop Levi from stomping forward to do some ‘ass-kicking’ and stared down his impressive nose at Ymir. “We haven’t heard from you yet on just how you know these vampires.” That wiped the smug look off of her freckled face. 

She drew herself up to her full height, which still fell short of the commander’s, and tried for a nonchalant look while she hooked her thumbs into the grey leather belt of her uniform. “Of course I know the three assholes – it’s impossible not to once you cross paths with Rebel and Sunshine. Plus, they’ve come sniffing after me a time or two, but I’ve got a couple more centuries experience hiding than the Wonder Twins over there.” She jerked her chin in Mikasa’s direction while Commander Smith’s brow furrowed at the ancient reference. “Now, if you’re asking did I know if they were in the dome? Yes, I suspected once I got here and noticed the Malform acting so weird.” She lost some of her aloof air and hunched her shoulders forward. “It takes a lot of effort to control them in a dome this big, so that would require a few vampires at least. Those three work together very well and are strong – it made sense that it was them if Eren was here as well, since he’s their main target.” She forced her back straight once again and looked the commander right in the eye. “But did I know they were in the MP? Hell no. That takes more balls than I’d give them credit for, because of the ID checks and everything.” 

The room was quiet for a moment after her confession, then Commander Smith nodded, as if to himself. “I see. So you came to us not only because of wanting something from Eren, but because you knew three powerful enemies were inside the dome.”

Ymir didn’t appear pleased with his evaluation of the situation, but she wasn’t one to shy away from the truth once confronted. “Yeah, that’s basically it. Their main goal may be Eren and Mikasa, but I know they’d be only too happy to drag my gutted corpse back with them as well.” Eren knew that they’d kill Krista before they did that, both to punish Ymir and to silence a witness. 

There was more of the strained quiet before the commander nodded again. “So we know where you stand.” He took a step back as if he wanted to better see everyone. “Now, we’re left with the issue of vampires in the MP. As Ymir just remarked, I find it difficult to believe that they could so easily infiltrate the organization.” He glanced back and forth between Eren and Mikasa. “What are the skills of this threesome?” 

That question made Ymir snigger, a sound she did a poor job of stifling with the back of her right hand. “Excuse me, did I say something amusing?” Commander Smith asked while Eren grinded his teeth together and Mikasa glared at Ymir, a hint of gold in her dark eyes. 

“Oh no, nothing at all.” Ymir waved her hand at the Commander, a very wide grin on her face. 

The look he gave her just then was rather dubious, yet he cleared his throat to continue. “Now then, we need to know what exactly the threesome-“ 

“Ha! Hahahahahahahaha!” Ymir clutched at her sides and doubled over, tears sparkling at the corners of her tightly closed eyes. “The-thre-three-haaa!” 

That was it – Eren lunged at the laughing bitch, determined to rip out her throat, only to find the weird sniffing guy standing in his way. He pulled up short, for a second debating if he should shove him out of the way or tear right through him, and then snarled as he was yanked back by the collar of his jacket. Dammit! 

Levi’s brows were drawn together over his cold grey eyes as he once more hauled Eren in close. “Listen you little shit, calm the fuck down.” He gave Eren’s collar a shake to emphasis his point before he turned his ferocious glare Ymir’s way. “As for you, fucking behave for once – what are you, two years old? What’s so funny about the word ‘threeso…” Something seemed to occur to him just then, and his head slowly turned in Eren’s direction. For some reason, the scrutiny of those grey eyes made a hot blush spread across Eren’s face even as he met the look straight on.  “*You*,” Levi said with another shake for emphasis, “and I are having another discussion later,” he ordered before he released his hold on Eren’s jacket. 

Across the room, Commander Smith stood there with a puzzled expression on his face while Captain Hange was cackling something about ‘definitely doing that study’ and was busy writing something down in her notepad, and Captain Zacharius merely shook his head. Mikasa went over to Ymir to smack her hard on the left shoulder, and for once the vampire just accepted the blow with a muttered ‘sorry’. 

This was his life now? Eren tugged on his hair and wondered if it wasn’t too late to just run for the hills and not talk to another soul besides Mikasa for several centuries – at least Armin wasn’t here to witness this and tease him for the next few years. “Can we *please* get back to the important topic, and that’s the *trio*?” 

“Yes, the damn *trio*,” Levi reiterated. “And what you… know about them.” For some reason, the expression on his face just then was exceedingly virulent. “In a *tactical* sense.” 

“Oh, I bet it can be ‘tactical’ as hell,” Captain Hange crooned as she continued to scribble down notes. “It’s just been too long for you, Sweetie.” This time it was Eren’s turn to hold back a furious Levi. 

“And we wonder why we haven’t been able to defeat the Malforms yet,” Commander Smith muttered while pinching the bridge of his nose, a rather disgusted look on his face at the moment. 

Beside him, Captain Zacharius took a sniff another sniff of the air while eyeing Levi and Eren. “I’m smelling a lot of se-“ 

“I don’t particularly want to know that right now,” the commander snapped before turning toward Levi and Eren. “Get yourself under control,” he ordered Levi, who had a rather murderous look on his face as he continued to scowl in Captain Hange’s direction. “The rest of you will act like the mature adults you’re supposed to be. And anyone with the ability to produce fangs will answer questions, or *else*.” A rather scary look overcame his handsome features, to the point where Eren found himself scooting behind Levi for protection on pure instinct. Even Mikasa appeared cowed for a few seconds and crept over to stand by his side. 

Then Commander Smith took a deep breath, as if to calm himself. “Now, how could these vampires have gotten into the MP?” 

Eren exchanged a long look with Mikasa, his right hand seeking out her left during the interval. She shrugged, clearly leaving it up to him to answer. “Okay, we know these guys can blend in pretty well – they’re obviously a lot older than us and have more experience in pretending to be human,” he began to explain, a little uncomfortable thinking about how easily the trio had fooled them so long ago. “Reiner’s got the worst temper out of the three of them, but he can control it enough to hide what he is. In that aspect, as long as they’re not forced to eat ‘normally’ all of the time, they can pretend to be human.”

Ymir surprised him by speaking up. “Yeah, like the rest of the vampires, they’ve got that part covered. But in order to control the Malform, that takes a lot of time and effort. At least one of them is out there often, subduing them, creating new ones… so that means they’re covering for each other, and covering up the missing people.” She held up her right hand, the claws unsheathed and particularly sharp under the lights in the room. “If they are in the MP, they’d have access to the missing people reports, so that makes sense. On the other hand, someone has to be excusing them from their shifts.” 

There was a loud smacking sound as Captain Hange repeatedly tapped her pen against her notebook, which made Eren, Ymir and even Levi flinch. “Exactly! And as you said, there’s the matter of the ID’s – we checked into yours, and while they’re very good, they have one or two discrepancies that would raise flags if you wanted to join a formal organization like the Freedom Corps or the MPs. You just can’t accurately reproduce actually having lived eighteen years or so under one identity, the accumulated credit charges, the security checks, the medical inoculations and the such.… It once again points to someone having approved the three’s applications.” 

Commander Smith went over to one of the long tables in the room and loomed over it, his large hands formed into fists and resting on the surface. “In other words, all of the evidence is pointing to someone – someone with authority, allowing three vampires into the MP.” He pointedly looked in the direction of Eren and Mikasa. “You understand the implication of that, don’t you? Especially since it recently came to our attention that it is at least to the level of Ministers that they’re conspiring to keep us sealed in the domes?”

“Dammit, Rebel, you told them that?”

“What! What do you mean?” 

Eren flinched at the dual shouts from Ymir and Captain Hange, grateful that he was somewhat sandwiched between Levi and Mikasa at the time. Captain Zacharius moved to calm down the frantic scientist while Mikasa stepped forward to glare at a furious Ymir, going so far as to pull down her scarf. 

“It needed to be done,” she said, her voice quiet yet containing that warning edge of iciness. “They need to know the extent to which the vampires are controlling them.” 

“Yeah but….” Ymir looked ready to tear into something, her fangs peeking out past her upper lip, and then she threw her hands into the air and cursed in Spanish beneath her breath. “Fuck it,” she said a moment later. “I’m dead anyway if we’re caught, and Eren’s going to be locked up and forced to turn as many people as he can while you’re tortured as incentive, Sunshine. Don’t see how this situation can get any worse.” 

Eren started forward at the mention of his sister being tortured, but Levi’s grip on his arm halted his progress. One look from those assessing grey eyes made him settle back, grumbling under his breath as he did, and watch while the commander and the weird captain continued to try to placate a wailing Captain Hange. “What’s her problem?” he asked Levi. 

“Other than she’s fucking insane? Probably that she wants to rush outside right now and prove to the world that she’s a genius.” Levi shrugged. “I say let her go and be eaten by Malforms, it’ll be a lot quieter around here.” 

Uncertain if the man was joking or not, Eren gave him a nervous smile and edged a little closer to Mikasa. The Freedom Corp was proving to be a strong ally, but these people were *insane*. Considering the fact that Eren drank blood to survive and wasn’t considered too stable himself… yeah, the situation was fucked. “Is it too early to start drinking?” 

Levi eyed him as if he was speaking a foreign language for a few seconds, and then a slight smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, washing away some of the habitual sternness from his elegant features until Eren felt something catch in his throat. “I just so happen to know where Erwin hides the good stuff. Not much left, but should be enough for a few rounds.” 

Shaking off the odd feeling that had overcome him, Eren tilted his head in Mikasa’s direction. “You coming?” 

“No way I’m letting you get into trouble without me. That’s a definite recipe for mass destruction.” She smiled to take the sting out of her words, and a familiar warmth spread through him, replacing that odd fluttering. 

Before he could come up with a suitable retort, Ymir shouldered her way into their little group. “If there’s drinking going on, count me in.” She shot a look back at the still squabbling officers. “I’m not sticking around here and being offered up as a scientific sacrifice by way of distraction.” 

“I can always blame this on your shitty brats.” Levi made a tsk’ing sound as he led them out of the room. 

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Levi stood with his back to the wall and his arms crossed over his chest; everyone who walked up and down the hallway skittered away from him by at least several feet, looks of fear on their face as they hurried away. He continued to keep watch until he sighted his delinquent prey, strolling along with his bitchy sister and annoyingly cheerful friend. Those unusual golden eyes went wide when they spotted Levi and the brat faltered, appeared ready to turn around to head in the other direction, but Hange was walking too close behind him to allow him a chance to flee. That was all the opportunity that Levi need to pounce on the brat and drag him off by the wrist.

“You go, Sweetie! Take your prize and ravish him!”

He ignored Hange’s insane rambling and what sounded to be Armin doing his best to restrain a furious Mikasa, while Eren let out what was probably a few curses in that old guttural language. People scattered before him once again, determined to be somewhere other than in his way, which was fine with him – it made getting to his quarters much faster than usual. After a minute or two, Eren gave up with the bitching and just sighed.

“Couldn’t you wait another fifteen minutes? We just finished dinner,” Eren asked as they approached the door leading to Levi’s quarters. “I was going to come by soon.”

Levi glanced at the brat over his right shoulder. “Pardon me if I couldn’t shake the suspicion of you finding the nearest roof to hide on.” A slight smirk curved his lips when he noticed Eren’s tell-tale faint blush. “Yeah, I thought so.” Someone hadn’t looked particularly pleased to have been ordered to report here after dinner, after all, and had been making excuses when they’d parted ways after finishing off Erwin’s whisky. “So I figured you could use an escort.”

Eren glared at the hand holding his wrist captive. “Is that what you call this?” He balked for a moment, and let out another curse when he was nearly jerked off of his feet. “You’re such an asshole, you do know that, don’t you?”

“You might have mentioned it once or twice, *Rebel*.” Levi’s smirk intensified when Eren’s glare went up a notch. “Now come on, I’ll even make you some tea.” He paused to open his door and then snapped his arm to swing the damn brat inside.

Sputtering in what sounded to be anger, Eren stumbled forward and just barely prevented himself from falling onto his knees; he stood for a moment in the middle of the office area hunched over with his hands on his knees, his tousled, dark brown hair falling onto his face and his golden eyes blazing through the strands. “Are you seriously not happy unless you’re tormenting the shit out of me?”

Levi leaned against the closed door for a few seconds, his head tilted to the side while he considered the question. “It has become the highlight of my day, lately,” he admitted. There was something about how wonderfully responsive Eren was, how he could take all of Levi’s shit yet still have the spine to dish out his own.

“You….” Eren threw his hands up in the air while he straightened his back. “Gah!” As he brought his hands back down, he ran them through his hair and gave the strands a rough tug, a clear tell of nervousness or exasperation. “One of these days I’m going to mistake you for a Malform, I swear. You’ve got about the same personality.”

Levi rolled his eyes and pushed away from the door. “Quit being such a whiney, dramatic brat,” he ordered while he went over to the small cabinet where he kept his bottled water and the hot water kettle. He set it up to boil before heading to the desk to prepare the teapot, and noticed how Eren watched him measure out the fine tea leaves. “You going to behave now?”

“I suppose.” The brat settled in the chair in front of the desk, looking his physical age for once with the way his long legs were bent in different directions and his hands gripped the front of the seat, his eyes almost abnormally large as he stared at what Levi was doing. “You really get into this whole tea thing, don’t you?”

“If you’re going to do something, do it right.” The wire basket filled with tea, Levi carried it and the pot over to the cabinet, where he used the now hot water to rinse the porcelain pot quickly to warm it up before placing the wire basket inside and then filling it with the filtered hot water. That finished, he returned to the desk with the pot, then went back to fetch the jar of sugar and the small bottle of milk from the mini-fridge. “I don’t believe in half-assing it.”

Eren made a small sound of amusement while he waited for Levi to sit back down. “No, I’ve definitely picked up on that fact.” He smiled while waiting for the tea to steep, the expression transforming his face until, combined with the huge golden eyes and the tousled dark brown hair, he appeared almost as if a fey creature. “We used to have all these big tea and coffee stores when I was younger – it seemed you couldn’t go anywhere without finding one on almost every block. In a way it was nice because you could stop in and have something good to drink at any time, but my mother always liked someplace quiet and unique.” His charming smile became smaller, sadder as he continued to talk. “She was so happy to find a privately owned tea shop. I didn’t understand it back then – a coffee shop was a coffee shop, but looking back… it was so special, the scents, the flavors, the look of all those jars with the leaves and flowers in them….” His eyes darkened the slightest bit as he became lost in the memories.

Levi wondered what it was like to live in a world where you could walk down a street and walk into a store filled with so much tea, to not have to steal it from the world’s wealthiest people. Eren may have suffered more than he could have imagined, but the brat had also lived a life of ‘wealth’ that no one else could grasp – well, other than Mikasa, Ymir and those damn vampires.

With that thought, Levi was reminded of why he’d wanted Eren here tonight. He poured them both a cup of tea and had to control himself to set it down gently in front of the still reminiscing brat.

The soft ‘click’ made Eren snap back to the present. “Oh, thank you.” He was quick to add the sugar and milk, but waited until Levi was finished preparing his tea to have a sip. “This has to be among the best tea I’ve had in… well, a long time. Thank you.”

Levi grunted in acknowledgement of the thanks and nodded once before enjoying a few sips of his own. Then he set the cup aside. “I didn’t invite you here so you could suck down my stash of tea. What’s the deal with you and those three bloodsuckers?” He gave the brat a cold stare, refusing to be put off by a pretty face. “The *real* story.”

The slight smile of enjoyment on Eren’s face vanished at the question and he set aside his unfinished cup of tea as well. “There goes that moment,” he muttered before rubbing his left hand over his eyes. “Look, can we just leave it at once we were friends until Mikasa and I found out the truth about them?” There was a pleading note to his voice.

Like hell they would. “Not after the way you and Ymir reacted earlier today.” Levi’s frigid tone made it perfectly clear that he wanted answers and he wanted them now; he didn’t know why this was bothering him so much, why he felt the need to push the issue, but something was driving him to find out the truth. “Tell me before I-“

“Before you kick my ass. I know.” Eren slumped back in the chair, his expression bitter as if he’d been given something vile to drink, not some of the finest tea in the world. “Honestly? I think I’d rather have the ass-kicking right about now.”

Levi put his hands flat on the desk and began to push up from his chair. “If you think for one second I’m joking….” He left the threat hanging and let the vicious intent he felt – which he knew was showing in his expression - speak for itself.

Eren stared back at him for several seconds before letting out an explosive breath of air and once more tossing up his hands. “You’re a fucking asshole” he snapped, his eyes glowing and his fangs starting to show. “Why does it matter so much?”

“Because there are three motivated vampires who made it into the MP and may have some fucking Ministers at their beck and call out there who are after your ass, and I want to know just how damn literal that is!” Levi slammed his hands onto the desk to emphasis his anger just then. “So start talking!”

“Dammit!” Eren burst into motion, but before Levi could grab onto his blades, the brat was out of the chair and away from the desk. He paced about the room, his right hand jerking through his hair as if the pain helped to center him. “It’s… gah!” He finally came to a stop. “What’s the damn point of the present if you have to keep reliving the fucking past?” There was a peculiar note to his voice, a mixture of confusion and pain.

Feeling oddly drained of adrenalin, Levi sunk back into his chair and reached for his tea. “Don’t ask me, brat, I’m still trying to figure it out myself.” He drained the cup dry before motioning with it to the empty chair in front of him. “Sit. Talk. Now.”

Eren made a huffing noise but did as he was told, for once. “Captain Napoleon.” It probably was meant as an insult, but there was an almost affectionate tone to the words. Practically falling into the chair, Eren tucked back the strands dark like a proper tea falling into his eyes with a trembling hand. “Just… keep an open mind, all right?”

“You know that things never turn out good when someone asks that question,” Levi pointed out. When he was given a virulent glare for his troubles, he heaved a sigh of annoyance. “Get on with it.”

“A bossy asshole at that,” Eren grumbled while he reached for his tea. After a few sips, he set it aside. “It’s true – Mikasa and I thought that Annie, Bertolt and Reiner were friends at first. We ran into them when we were looking for someone we knew, someone who had known about what we really were but who had gotten old and senile. We’d paid for people to look after him over the years, and the last update we’d received was that he was losing his mind and saying stuff that he shouldn’t.” Eren frowned at the desk, his attention no longer on Levi. “He’d run away from the person taking care of him, so we went looking for him.” He took to running the fingers of his right hand along the exposed wire of his gauntlet.

Levi wanted to ask what they had planned to do with the old man, but thought better of it – Eren and Mikasa didn’t seem the type to kill humans, at least not casually. They also didn’t seem the type to just go about revealing their secret, so this must have been back when they were still relatively young.

“We came across the trio while searching for Thierry – the old guy. The three of them offered to help and… there was something about them.” A blush spread across Eren’s face. “Later Mikasa and I learned that it was a way to recognize vampires, but back then, it was something that drew us in. Since it had been a while since we’d been around humans for any length of time, when Reiner and Bertolt showed an interest in me… I didn’t see a point to turn them down.” His blush deepened, especially when he glanced up at Levi.

“So let me get this straight, you started… ‘dating’ two vampires at the same time.”

“Uhm, it wasn’t really… dating since we never went out anywhere.” Eren managed a nervous grin and continued to toy with his gauntlet. “Do I really need to talk about this with you?”

Shit, no wonder Ymir had laughed so much when Erwin kept saying ‘threesome’. “You mean you fucked both of them at the same time? Repeatedly?” A brat who barely looked like he should know what to do with a cock in the first place? Levi needed more tea – hell, he needed something stronger than tea, but it would have to do for now.

The blush started to fade as Eren’s brows drew together. “Yeah, is there a problem with that? I mean, it’s not the most conventional relationship, but what’s wrong with it?”

“What wrong with it? Other than the fact that you fucked two vampires and all? At the same time.” Levi didn’t need that mental image right now. Was it getting hot in here? Suddenly uncomfortable, he leaned over the desk to glare at Eren. “What, you decide to just fuck anybody when you became a bloodsucker?”

“I didn’t know they were vampires!” Eren’s voice grew louder and his eyes brighter, but at least his fangs remained hidden. “All I knew was that two hot guys were interested in sex without any strings attached. And you know what? It was *great*, the sex.” His smile made a return as he leaned back in the chair, his back arched as he lifted his arms above his head. There was suddenly an… an ‘edge’ to Eren, was the only way Levi could describe it, a sharpness to his expression, his gaze, the lean lines of his body…. “Reiner could fuck forever, while Bertolt could make me come again and *again*.”

Why the *hell* was this bothering Levi so much? He wanted to jump over the desk and smack some manners into the brat, to… to…. Shit, he didn’t know *what* exactly he wanted to do, and that was the most frustrating, terrifying part. The one thing he did know was that he didn’t want to hear anything more about Eren fucking those two undead bastards – or anybody at all. “Shut the hell up about them, I don’t want to hear about how they got your sick ass off,” he snarled. “That’s not why you’re here, to tell me about your filthy sex life.”

Eren let out a long breath as if he’d been holding it in and shook his head, the sharpness instantly gone. “Hey, you’re the one asking the questions, I’m just answering them.” He sat up in the chair and once more ran his hands through his hair, holding back the dark strands from his face for a moment to reveal a weary expression, his eyes huge and shadowed. Dammit, Levi hated it when the golden color darkened like that.

The question slipped out before Levi could stop himself. “How can you care so much about casual sex?” From the look on the brat’s face right now, this topic wasn’t a happy one. So why did he keep putting himself through it? Why did he risk pissing off his sister so much?

“Eh?” Eren reached for his teacup and seemed to have forgotten that it was empty. He stared into it until Levi clicked his tongue and snatched it so that he could refill it. “Casual? Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it that when sex is just sex.” He accepted the refilled cup and paused to fix it. “We learned early on that it was a bad idea to reveal the truth about ourselves to anyone – Thierry being a point – so it’s difficult to have a real relationship with anyone when you’re keeping such an important secret from a person. And we’re constantly moving on, so it’s never long term.” He paused again to sip his tea, his eyes rising to meet Levi’s. “So it’s always a short-term relationship, and when you live so long… everything’s the equivalent of a one-night stand to me at this point, be it actually a few hours or a few weeks. I don’t see why I should make the effort to have anything more. To be honest? I don’t know if I ever did.”

Levi tried to see things from Eren’s point of view – he had enough experience with people dying on him, of being the one to survive. Erwin and Hange were among the oldest friends left to him at this point, and all of them were living on borrowed time. Each of them had their own set of walls built around them to deal with the constant death and loss, so who was he to mock what the brat had done to keep marginally sane for *centuries*.

“Yeah, but did you have to fuck *vampires*?” His expression of disgust was exaggerated but his tone mild as he picked up his own cup of tea by its rim with his fingertips.

“Oh fuck *you*, Captain Napoleon.” There was a hint of a smile on Eren’s face as he set aside his own cup and rested his elbows on the edge of the desk, his chin propped up in his right hand. “I keep telling you that I. Didn’t. Fucking. Know.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Levi sipped his tea for a moment. “So, is there going to be a problem because of all that ‘amazing’ sex?” He didn’t spare the sarcasm just then.

“Ha! Yeah, I’m sure Reiner and Bertolt will surrender in hopes of picking up where we left off.” The brat rolled his eyes and shook his head to emphasis the sarcasm. “I’m pretty sure the main reason they picked me up in the first place was just to get to know Mikasa and me better, and in hopes of us going along with them peacefully. That didn’t happen – Annie did something to spook Mikasa and we ran away before they could get us to drink the kool-aid.” When Levi stared at him in confusion, Eren just shook his head again. “Uhm, their plan failed. Anyway, I don’t think they like me so much anymore.” He didn’t appear bothered by that fact.

That was good to know, Levi supposed. The last thing he wanted to worry about was the brat harboring any tender feelings toward the enemy, creating a conflict of interest. Still, it was best to be certain. “So there won’t be any problems with you chopping off their heads if given the first opportunity, right?” He held his cup close to his chest and stared intently at Eren while he asked the question.

Eren sat up and stared back, his eyes glowing faintly as he met Levi’s gaze without any qualms. “Hell no, there won’t be. Those assholes have chased Mikasa and me around the fucking world for the last millennium, do you think I won’t relish the chance for a bit of peace?”

Momentarily distracted with the thought of seeing the world, Levi continued to gaze at Eren’s lovely face and the fervent expression on it, the light in his unusual eyes. What would it be like to travel the world? To be so free, to be able to walk out under the sun whenever you wanted, to feel the wind on your skin, through your hair and turn to see some smiling, insolent brat at your side….

He forced himself to move, to set the cup of tea back on the desk. “Good. Because we’re taking those shitstains out the first opportunity that presents itself.” His voice was rough for some reason, making him frown at the top of his desk.

“Look, Cap- Levi, I’m not trying to defend them, but all of them are pretty skilled fighters, Annie especially.” Eren sat back in his chair. “Don’t underestimate them, and definitely don’t hold back when fighting them.” His tone turned grim. “Even then, you’re going to lose people.”

Levi forced himself to look up, to find Eren looking at him with something akin to pity. That stopped him from making some sort of snarky comment. “We’ll still take them on.”

“I know.” Eren closed his eyes and rubbed at his face as if tired. “They need to be stopped, especially if they’re creating Malform.”

They both were quiet for a couple of minutes while they finished their tea. When it looked as if Eren was getting ready to leave, something finally occurred to Levi. “Hey, brat, I thought you said that you realized that vampires were out there when you kept running into people who didn’t age.”

Judging from how wide that Eren’s eyes just went, he knew that he’d scored a direct hit – he smiled in anticipation of how the brat would try to get out of this one.

“Uhm, I think Mikasa is waiting for me….”

“Rebel….”

“Dammit!” Eren’s cheeks became flushed and he almost slammed the cup down before he remembered that it was fragile. “Did you really think we’d stand there when we first met and say ‘yeah, we ran into these vampires and after having sex with two of them, hung out for a while until one day they revealed their true selves’?” He folded his arms over his chest and gave Levi a challenging glare.

The brat had a point, but it was fun to rile him up. “Why not? Would have been amusing to see Erwin’s reaction.” It was worth keeping a straight face to see Eren’s jaw drop at the remark.

Eren stared at him for several seconds before shaking his head. “You know what? I think I’ve had enough for tonight. Thanks for the tea, but I’m going to gather what remains of my dignity and find a place to hide for the next several hours.” He rose to his feet as he spoke and turned to leave without waiting for permission.

“Just be prepared tomorrow to go out on patrol after a bit of training,” Levi warned him. “Oh, and you might want to watch out for Hange.” He smiled some more when he noticed the brat’s shoulders slump.

“Maybe I should just hand myself over to the vampires now,” Eren mumbled as he left the room.

It was nice to know that some people were so easy to torment, Levi thought to himself as he finished his tea.

*******

Eren made his way back to the sleeping quarters he shared with the other new recruits, hoping to find Mikasa there so he could talk with his sister.  The conversation with Levi left him feeling… he didn’t know exactly how he felt just then. The emotions inside of him were so muddled, so potent and malleable that he couldn’t get them to hold still and be analyzed. It didn’t help that he wasn’t very good at figuring things like this out at the best of times. 

There were dozens of people in the large, cavernous room, young Freedom Corps recruits resting after a hard day of work and training or preparing for their late shift. Several called out to him in greeting: Sasha, Daz and Mina among them, and he managed a weak smile in return. He didn’t see any signs of Ymir and Krista, and supposed that they had gone somewhere else to find some privacy. Continuing deeper into the room, toward the sleeping area, he felt a pang of disappointment when he didn’t find his sister’s familiar scent. Mikasa wasn’t there, but Armin was curled up on the lower bunk of the bed they shared, reading from a datapad. 

“Eren! You were gone longer than I thought.” His friend smiled at him while marking his place on the datapad before setting it aside. “I thought you were just giving Captain Ackerman a brief summary.” 

Eren wrinkled his nose in disgust at how well that ‘brief summary’ turned out. “Yeah, well, you know what they say about assumptions.” He shared a quick grin with Armin. “Where’s Mikasa?” 

“Eh, she went out with Petra and Olou, something about wanting to see what turns up around headquarters.” Judging from the sharp glint in Armin’s blue eyes, he was aware that something was going on, but he’d wait a little while longer to see if he was let in on the secret before he dragged the truth out of them. “Why, is something wrong?” 

Running his fingers through his hair and wincing a little when he encountered a knot, Eren shrugged. “I just… well, I wanted to talk to her.” When those blue eyes became wider as if from hurt feelings – a tactic that Armin had perfected as a child and had no shame in performing well past his adolescence – Eren sighed and jerked his head in the direction of an emergency exit. “But you’ll do.” 

“I should certainly hope so.” Armin had also perfected the art of sarcasm over the years, so much so that Eren couldn’t hold back a rueful grin. Levi had asked why wouldn’t they ‘change’ their friend? Well, other than the concern of what a life of constant killing would do to someone like Armin, Mikasa and him had to admit there was a very real fear that they’d wake up one day to Armin ruling the world. Maybe that would be good, maybe not, it all depended on if the darkness ever took hold in their dear friend. They just knew they wouldn’t be a match for him if it did. 

“And what nonsense are you thinking about now, hmm?”

Eren shook his head as he held open the door that led outside. “Oh, just that Mikasa and I didn’t know what we were getting into when we took pity on this snotty-nosed little kid all those years ago.” 

There had been a time when they never brought up how they’d come across Armin, since it had been one of the more tragic days in their lives. But there was a tiny kernel of truth in the idiom that ‘time heals all wounds’. Oh, the pain was still there – Eren would *never* forget the agony of losing his mother – yet there was some sort of perspective gained. Armin was most likely dwelling on memories of his grandfather, of how the honorable man had to his dying breath strived to ensure that the boy was in good hands. What was lessened over the years was the obvious fear that Armin felt at being ‘handed over’ into the care of two strangers – and frightening ones at that. 

Armin snorted in derision as he followed Eren to a quiet corner of the training grounds. “It didn’t help that you and Mikasa seemed little more than snotty kids yourself.” He seemed to think about something for a moment. “Well, at least you did.” 

“Gee, *thanks*.” Eren knocked his left shoulder into his friend, startling out a cheerful laugh that echoed through the empty space around them. Armin laughed a few more seconds before growing more serious. 

“All right, we didn’t come out here to reminisce. What’s going on? Somehow I think it has to do with a certain captain.” 

Well, there went the good mood that Eren had strived to establish. He sighed and smoothed his fingers over the ends of the gauntlet that poked out from the end of his left sleeve. “Is it that obvious?” He leaned back against one of the wooden pillars used for rappelling training. 

Armin laughed a little more, the sound a bit darker than something that should come from someone looking his physical age. “Don’t you realize how much time you’ve been spending with him? Between the training, the patrols and the private talks?” He tilted his head to the side while giving Eren a scrutinizing look, his hands fisted on his hips. “I hear a lot from Mikasa about how the ‘short bastard’ is monopolizing you.” 

“Levi’s really focused on finding-“

“*Levi*? Since when is Captain Ackerman ‘Levi’?” There was a slight smile on Armin’s face and a high arch to his right eyebrow; those were *never* a good sign, as it meant that he was on to something and wouldn’t give up until he followed it through. “What happened to ‘Captain Napoleon’?” 

When had he started calling the man ‘Levi’? Was it after that night in his office, when Eren had been given permission to do so? When he’d seen a more informal side to the normally infuriating bastard? But there’d also been that night up on the roof, when it had been so nice to just sit and talk, to feel the presence of another person at his side…. “Uhm, he said I could….” Eren rubbed at his eyes, feeling very confused at the moment. Why did this one particular person make him feel this way? 

Armin stepped closer until he could tug at Eren’s hand and pull it down. “What did you want to talk to Mikasa about?” His voice was quiet, his tone soothing, as if he could sense how upset Eren was inside. 

What *did* he want to talk to his sister about? He hadn’t really told Levi anything important this time, hadn’t revealed any big secrets for once, so it had just been to try and work out his thoughts, right? “I don’t know what I’m doing,” Eren tried to explain. “I thought it would be so simple, just come here, get the Freedom Corps to help us and win against the vampires for once. Why is it all mixed up right now?” 

“So you’re confused.” Armin gave his right hand a squeeze. “You’re really confused about something. Am I wrong to think you’re confused because of Levi, since you just came from seeing him?” 

Eren thought about the question for a moment. “Well, Captain Hange doesn’t help, and that other Captain is really weird as well, but yeah, he confuses me the most. I should hate him – he’s such an asshole and won’t deny it, he treats me like his favorite punching bag at times and yet… I can talk to him. Do you know how rare it is to find someone I can talk to? I mean, other than you, Mikasa and Ymir?” At least he knew how he felt about the three of them, be it good or bad. 

There was a look similar to pity on his friend’s face. “Well, the three of us are friends, more or less. I get the feeling that ‘Levi’ might be something different entirely, and that’s what has you so perplexed.” Armin seemed to consider something for a moment. “Eren, in all the years you’ve lived, have you ever cared for someone in a romantic sense?” 

What the hell did this have to do with anything? “I thought we were talking about me being messed up, not something hypothetical.” Eren tried to tug his hand free, but Armin could be stubborn when he wanted. “Look, it’s probably… I don’t know, Stockholm Syndrome or something, right? He’s got me so turned around between the kicks to the head and then offers for tea that I don’t know which way is up.” 

“I can certainly see why someone wants to hit you in the head,” Armin muttered under his breath, well aware that Eren could still hear him. “Look, in my opinion? It’s been centuries since you and Mikasa have been able to tell anyone what you are, and now you’ve done just that. You’ve also done it to someone who is good-looking, intelligent, and – his temper aside – has a few traits that I can see being attractive to you. I think you’re interested in Levi.” 

And Armin was supposed to be the intelligent one out of their group? The one they counted on to cure humanity? They were *doomed*. “I’m interested in a *lot* of people,” he pointed out with more than a hint of talking down to an idiot. “I could name ten people right now that I wouldn’t mind dragging someplace semi-private and having sex with them. Is Levi on that list? Yeah, he’s fuckable if you look past the sadistic nature. I don’t mind the occasional rough partner. But I could just as well fuck Erd or Commander Smith or-“ 

“That’s enough.” A rare spark of anger colored Armin’s high-pitched voice and glimmered in his blue eyes. “You know that’s not what I’m talking about. I’ve witnessed you using enough men over the years to get things that we need or as outlets for sex, and I can honestly say that *none* of them have affected you like this.” He made a sound in the back of his throat as if he wanted to shout but was mindful of his surroundings, and lifted his fists to smack them into Eren’s chest. “Dammit! Sometimes I honestly believe that you don’t give a shit about anything but Mikasa and me! That if the others and the Malform wiped out everyone else, you’d be able to carry on as if nothing happened!” 

Eren caught at his friend’s hands yet didn’t push them away. “That’s not…” What? Wasn’t true? He hated the Malform and the vampires with a passion, wanted them gone for what they’d done to his mother and his world, for all that he and Mikasa had suffered. He hated that they had ripped apart Armin’s world. But sometimes… sometimes everything else was so far away. “I don’t….” 

Armin stepped closer and slid his arms around Eren to embrace him. “You don’t let people in, Eren. Not really. Those of us you do, we’re so special, so lucky and we know it, but you need to let others in as well. Don’t be afraid to let Levi in. I think you’ve already have a little bit, and that’s why you’re feeling so uncertain.” He pulled back a little to give Eren’s forehead a tap. “It can be frightening, I know, but did you ever regret letting Mikasa and me in?” 

“I don’t think you want to hear that answer right now.” Eren scowled at his friend while he rubbed his forehead to fend off the beginning of a headache, and the smug bastard merely smiled back at him. 

“You just hate the fact that I’m always right.”

“Not helping things.” Eren tucked back the hair falling onto his face and sighed. “You really think I’m… for *Levi*?” The concept was just so… he needed another drink. Dammit, maybe Commander Smith had some more whisky tucked away somewhere. 

“Yeah, I think you’re finally developing feelings for someone. Maybe it takes centuries instead of years for you to reach emotional puberty.” Armin smiled at his joke and laughed when Eren punched him on the arm. “Oh come on, I thought it was funny.” 

“You would.” Eren rubbed at the back of his neck since the forehead trick didn’t work and wondered if it was at all possible for his life to become any more messed up. “What am I going to do?” 

Armin shrugged. “What everyone else does when they develop a crush, suffer through it, try not to make too much of an ass of yourself and hope that the person likes you back.” When Eren groaned at the thought of *Levi* liking him, Armin grinned. “I don’t think you need to worry about that last part – not when I’ve caught him checking out your ass several times and if Captain Hange’s comments are anything to go by.”

It took a few seconds to process that. “What?” There was no way Levi might like him, the man lived to torture him. “He’s too busy beating me up to like me.” 

“I believe that we’ve actually found someone who is even less romantically and emotionally developed than you. Congratulations,” Armin remarked, his tone perfectly dry. Dammit, the bastard was *enjoying* this, wasn’t he? See if Eren made him apple tarts in the near future….

“Ha, ha. You’re just loving this, aren’t you?” Eren glared as he pushed himself away from the rappelling pillar. 

“Hmm, I must admit it’s some of the best entertainment I’ve seen in years. It’ll only get better once Mikasa figures out what’s going on.” Armin looked remarkably chipper at the thought of imminent bloodshed – there was no doubt about it, being raised by two… whatever Eren and Mikasa were had definitely warped the kid. 

“And here I thought *I* had problems,” Eren muttered. “*You* need help,” he told his friend. 

“I need a lot of things that are none of your business, but I’ll settle for standing back and watching you flail about at your first real relationship. I get my amusement where I can.” Armin grabbed him by the left arm and began to drag him back to their sleeping quarters, an evil smirk on his face. “Now, let’s see about cleaning you up a bit so we can speed things along – when’s the last time you ran a comb through your hair? Hmm, we’ll get the girls to help out with that. Oh, I know! We’ll call for a make-over session, Mina said that they were a bit bored tonight, that’ll give them something to do and help you to make some new friends-” 

Eren was wondering what it said about his own parenting skills in that he’d helped raised such a manipulative, slyly sadistic brat with a falsely innocent façade. Maybe it was all Mikasa’s fault?

*******

Mikasa trailed after Petra and Olou, her right hand pressed against her scarf as if to keep it from slipping away from her face. Instead, she used the soft fabric to hide the slight smile as the petite, auburn-haired woman repeatedly put her foolish partner in his place, snapping in annoyance at each ridiculous comment that he made. “The Malforms aren’t hiding because they’re terrified of your presence. Your cologne, maybe, as it’s the most hideous thing I’ve smelled this side of a decomposing body, but definitely not your presence.”

“Oh Petra, you’re trying much too hard to hide your true feelings for me, as always. Don’t be shy just because we have a third wheel with us tonight.” He paused to look over his shoulder and ‘smile’ at Mikasa, the expression making his face resemble that of a corpse caught in rigor mortis in her opinion. When Mikasa allowed a hint of her true nature to shine in her eyes, he nearly tripped over his own feet in his haste to hurry away from her. “The-there’s no need to be sh-shy!”

“Why would I be shy? I’m just exercising good taste. Now be quiet – we’ll never find anything if you keep jabbering away all night.”

“I’m not ‘jabbering’, I’m speaking in an elloqu-ack!”

Mikasa scented blood in the air and sighed into her scarf; really, how did the idiot man manage to still have a tongue with as often as he bit into it? Judging from the exasperated groan that Petra made, she must be thinking along the same line. Used to the half-hearted chiding that took place whenever Olou hurt himself, Mikasa tuned it out so she could pay attention to her surroundings.

So far, there hadn’t been any signs of the trio in the vicinity around the Freedom Corps’ headquarters; if it was being staked out at all, then the vampires must be using human accomplices. Mikasa hadn’t picked up any vampire or Malform scent, which put her partially at ease – humans would be easier to fight, but she’d rather have an enemy who was easier to detect.

Now they were several blocks away from headquarters, and she worried that the risk of running into either Annie, Bertolt or Reiner would increase. Yet a part of her relished the idea of fighting them, especially when Eren wouldn’t be involved. If she could take out one of them, eliminate part of the threat…

Olou seemed to get over his pain so they resumed their patrol, strolling through the streets. People began to withdraw as the lights dimmed for the night, returning home for the false safety it provided; many gave them deep nods in passing, an added respect that Mikasa had noticed since the attack in the park.

“Here, let’s get something to drink before it closes for the night.” Olou still had slight lisp from his bitten tongue and probably wanted something to wash away the taste of blood; he motioned at a small store selling refreshments and take-away food.

Petra looked as if she was about to disagree, her eyes narrowed and lips pursed, then glanced at Mikasa with a bright smile on her face. “Do you want anything? It’s Olou’s treat.” Her smile strengthened when Olou practically squawked in protest.

“No, I’m fine, but thank you. I’ll wait out here.” Mikasa watched the two of them enter the store, Olou still complaining about having to buy the drinks, and leaned against the building’s glass front.

After a couple of minutes of idle observation, her heartbeat raced when she recognized the colors of the MP uniforms in the distance, until she realized that there was no familiar vampire scent and that the builds of the two young men approaching were completely wrong. She thought that they would walk right past her, but as they came closer, the taller of the two slowed down and stared.

“You!”

She straightened up and frowned as he approached, on guard despite the fact that he smelled human. Was he associated with the trio? Did he know about her somehow?

The MP continued to approach, despite the fact that the shorter MP hissed at him to be quiet. “I recognize you,” the MP proclaimed, an intent look on his long yet handsome face. “You were at the park with the other Wi- ah, the rest of the Freedom Corps.”

He was there? She tried to recall seeing him but couldn’t remember. All that came to mind was making sure that Eren was all right, getting him away from the short bastard and then finding out about Bertolt. “Yes, I was there.”

“I thought so!” A wide grin broke out over the MP’s face for a moment, and then he suddenly became serious. “Ah, yeah, so, what’s the deal with your boyfriend?”

She stared at him in confusion for several seconds and even glanced beyond at his partner, who merely looked back and shrugged, his expression clearly saying she was on her own. “Ah, my boyfriend? I don’t have one.”

He frowned at her for several then his grin crept back. “So the young kid with the weird eyes isn’t your boyfriend?”

He was asking about Eren? She pushed away from the wall and grabbed hold of his black and green coat. “What do you want with my brother,” she demanded to know, struggling to keep control of her eyes and fangs.

“Jean!”

The MP – Jean – flung out his left arm to hold back his partner while he stared down at her, a bead of sweat sliding down the left side of his face. “He’s your brother, but you don’t- A quick shake of his jacket made him yelp. “Okay! I just wanted to know about him! It’s odd, always seeing him with Captain Ackerman! That guy is one of the Corps’ best, he’s never assigned to personally train the new recruits from what I hear.”

She studied him for a few more seconds to determine if he was lying to her and didn’t think this was an act. Letting out a breath, she forced her hands to unclench from his jacket. “It’s none of your business, why he’s with Captain Ackerman.”

For a moment it looked as if he wanted to complain, but then he seemed to think better of it. “So you and your brother joined the Freedom Corps? Oh, I’m Jean – Jean Kirstein.” He held out his hand.

She stared at for a moment before accepting it. “Mikasa Stieger. And yes, we both joined.” An idea was forming in her head as she recognized the signs of interest in this MP; she tugged down the scarf and gave him a slight smile. “We’re both in Captain Ackerman’s personal squad.”

That revelation made the MP’s – Jean’s light brown eyes go wide in surprise. “Really? How could someone so- no, I know, none of my business.” He laughed a little while he rubbed the back of his head, where the darker hair was cut close to the scalp. “You must be really good if you managed to make Captain Ackerman’s squad at such a young age. I’m stuck running errands for Captain Dok, myself.”

“You shouldn’t limit your potential,” she murmured while her eyes were downcast; Eren was better at the seduction routine, could play the innocent much better, but she had realized over the years that a certain amount of shy aloofness was attractive in its own right. Between that and her exotic looks, it seemed to be enough for some people. “I’m sure you’re very good at what you do.”

A slight flush colored Jean’s face and he produced a nervous laugh – he really was good looking, was someone she’d normally find attractive if it wasn’t that he came across as so *young*. “Thanks.” His expression hardened after a few seconds. “Though I think… maybe there’s still a lot I have to learn. I was hoping to talk to your brother.”

She forced herself not to react to that statement. “Unfortunately, he’s rather busy at the moment.” She pushed away as if she were about to go into the store. “I should join the others, we still have a patrol to fin-“

“Ah! That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love to spend time with you!” Jean once more appeared flustered, his face red and slightly sweaty. “Mikasa, right! What do you say to meeting up with me when you’re off-duty one night? Maybe tomorrow? Would that be all right?” When she seemed to hesitate, he forced a nervous grin and gestured to his partner who stood back a few feet, a bored expression on his round face. “Look, you can bring a friend, all right? I’ll bring Connie with me so it’ll be like a group outing. No pressure!” The partner – Connie – opened his mouth to probably protest being dragged along, but a quick glare from Jean had him shutting it and shaking his head instead. “Please say yes,” Jean pleaded when he turned back to Mikasa, a hesitant smile on his face.

Taking a moment to pretend to think about the offer, Mikasa finally gave in with a bit of grace. “All right, I suppose it’ll be fun.” She held out her right hand, and after a few seconds Jean seemed to realize what she wanted; he handed over his datapad so she could type in a time and place for them to meet. “Don’t be late.”

“We won’t be!” He clutched the datapad in his left hand as he backed away, keeping her in his sights for several feet. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” He nearly tripped in his attempt to walk backwards before he finally turned around, a silly grin on his face. Once he reached his partner, the shorter MP chided him about being dragged into a blind date and how he better not end up spending his night off with an ugly girl.

Mikasa watched the two young men walk away, down the rest of the block and then onto a side street, and then turned toward Petra, who was holding out a small bottle of flavored water.

“I know you said that you didn’t want anything, but I thought you might want something after all that talking.” There was a sparkle of amusement in the petite woman’s light brown eyes.

“Thank you.” Mikasa accepted the bottle, opened it and took a sip, nodding once in appreciation of the crisp lemon flavor. “How long have you been listening?”

“Oh, the last minute or two,” Petra explained. “I didn’t want to interrupt anything.” She motioned to Olou, who came out of the store as well with a sulky expression on his face and a small bottle of what looked to be iced coffee in his right hand. “So, you’re going on a date?”

Mikasa nodded again. “I believe that MP – Jean Kirstein – might be the one that Eren mentioned to me, now that I think about it.” Her brother had said something about two MPs following him to the park, and one of them being a ‘horse-face’. “He seems rather interested in Eren, which is reason enough for me to want to know more about him, and it’s a good opportunity for me to ask questions about some new members of the MPs.”

“You’re not supposed to talk about that, per the Captain’s orders,” Olou hissed.

“Talk about what? She can say the word ‘MP’.” Petra shook her head and shifted so that her back was turned toward her partner. “I think it’s a great idea. Just be sure to be careful.”

“Hmm.” Mikasa finished drinking her water and disposed of the bottle in the recycle bin set out in front of the shop. “I will be, that’s why I made certain to pick the time and place.”

Petra finished her drink as well then motioned for them to resume their patrol, leaving Olou to hurry up to follow. “And what about a date for his partner?”

“I figure that Sasha owes me for all of the meals I’ve given her.” Mikasa smiled as she tugged up her scarf. “The least she can do is tag along and let a stranger buy her dinner.”

That set Petra off laughing as they walked down the street and discussed where she should make the MPs take them out to dinner, Olou trailing behind them as if a lost puppy.

*******

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