chapter thirteen

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jackie o

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Eren sat on his bed with its soft grey comforter, his knees drawn up to his chest and his chin resting upon them. He hated it when his parents argued, hated to hear his mama upset, but really hated it when he knew that it was all his fault. He hugged his knees tighter to his body in an effort to seek out some warmth, some sort of comfort and wished that she was in here with him and not out there with his papa, with all of the yelling and anger. 

“We need to get him into a special program, need to deal with this right away!” There was a loud thudding sound that added to the anger in his papa’s deep voice. “There’s a good one in Berlin-“

“No! I won’t let you send him away! Your answer is always to go away, to push aside what you don’t want to deal with, Grisha, and I won’t let you do that to our only child!” For once, Eren’s mama sounded just as upset as his papa.  

“This isn’t about me avoiding the issue, dammit! Did you see what he did to that child? That boy required medical attention, Carla! That wasn’t merely a childish squabble, those were serious lacerations that required stitches! Eren attacked him as if he were a savage animal, not a four year old child! The childcare center doesn’t want him back anymore, and I don’t blame them!” 

There was a sound a lot like what Eren was making, his crying stifled against his bare knees, and then his mama spoke, her voice sounding strange for some reason. “Then I won’t send him back, I’ll take care of him myself. He was just… he said that boy was picking on another child, that he was doing something wrong. Eren thought he was in the right, standing up for the other boy. He just… he went too far.” 

Eren’s papa sighed, long and heavy like he did sometimes when Eren did something that he wasn’t supposed to do. “Honey… this isn’t something you can teach him, like how to read or mathematics. I’m not a psychiatrist, but there’s indications that he’s not… he’s not right. That he might have… certain developmental issues, psychological-wise. We really should-“ 

“No! I won’t let you send him away! This isn’t one of your experiments, you can’t look at your son so detachedly! You try to take him from me and I’ll leave you, Grisha, I swear I will! I’ll take Eren away and help him out myself!” 

His mama sounded so upset, so angry that Eren wrapped his arms around his head and cried, scared at what was happening in the other room, scared that she would come in here and be angry at him. He rocked himself back and forth while curled up on top of his bed, seeking whatever comfort he could find and wished he could take back what had happened earlier, wished so hard that things would just go back to normal. Sobs wracked his body and he could barely breathe yet he remained tucked into a ball as if by being so small that all the bad things would pass him by and everything would be normal soon. 

The sound of his bedroom door opening made him still, his breath catching in his throat. “Eren? Oh baby.” His mama’s soft voice was followed by her footsteps, and soon the bed was rocked as she sat near him and her arms wrapped around him. “Oh baby, it’s all right.” She kept repeating that while rubbing her hands up and down his back until he finally had the courage to look up.

“Ma-mama?”

She was so pretty when she smiled at him and wiped at his face with her warm fingers. “Yes, baby. Oh, look at the mess you made.” She clicked her tongue and used the end of her soft sleeve to dry his tears, then reached over to his nightstand for some tissues so he could blow his nose. “Feel a little better now?”  

He hesitated before answering. “Papa…” Papa had sounded so angry…. 

“Don’t worry about Papa, it’s okay right now.” She leaned over to give him a kiss on the forehead. “We were just discussing a few things.” 

He hugged her with all his strength, his face pressed against her soft, blue shirt. “I’m sorry, Mama! I didn’ mean to be bad!” He didn’t mean to hurt anyone. He just wanted to stop that bad boy.

“I know, Eren. You’re my good boy.” She stroked his hair and rocked him back and forth while humming beneath her breath. “You’re going to stay home with me now, won’t that be fun?” She hummed some more when he nodded. “Yes, we’ll have fun.” She hugged him close and kissed the top of his head. “Now let’s get you cleaned up – a warm bath will do you good, yes?” 

He didn’t want a bath, but his mama smiled at him and wasn’t mad anymore, so he smiled back and nodded. 

******* 

Eren walked alongside his father, the long red scarf his mother had knitted for him wrapped around his neck against the autumn chill and his hands shoved into his black coat since he’d forgotten his mittens. He kicked at a pebble that lay along the travel-worn path that led to the cottage of his father’s patients, bored and wishing that he was still at home and able to play with his online game. 

“Now remember to be polite,” his father admonished. “The Ackerman’s have a little girl about your age who is very polite – her name is Mikasa. If you do well today, I’ll bring you along on my next visit.” He looked down at Eren, a stern expression on his face. 

“I know – Mama told me that I’m always supposed to be nice to ladies.” Eren struggled not to pout since he knew that it would make his father angry. He knew that this was a big deal, that it wasn’t often that his parents let him play with other children – children who seemed to avoid him anyway. Would this Mikasa avoid him as well? He kicked at another pebble to distract himself from the hollow feeling in his chest. 

“Yes, well, do your best to not forget and not lose – to behave yourself.” Eren’s father shuffled the black leather satchel he was carrying between his hands. “I won’t be here too long today, just to check up on some new medication that I gave Mrs. Ackerman, but we’ll see how it goes.” 

They were quiet after that, with Eren looking around him as he followed his father. He didn’t often get a chance to wander around far from his home like this, especially since he played by himself. Lake Havel should be to the north, and somewhere around here should be the old Wenzel farmhouse, he thought to himself. He had seen in some of the local chatrooms of games in which he played that kids said it was haunted and would dare each other to go there, but he hadn’t been able to go find out for himself since his mother never let him leave home for too long. All of the tall, looming trees around them and rustling of unseen creatures would make it a wonderful place for ghosts…. 

“All right, remember your manners,” Eren’s father told him *yet again* as they approached what looked to be an old converted farmhouse with new windows and roof, a mostly empty garden out front now that it was autumn and a wooden table where the family probably sat when outside. A few garden tools leaned against the whitewashed wall near the red-painted door, which stood slightly ajar and with something spray painted on it - Eren squinted as he tried to make out the word, it wasn’t one he recognized. Eren’s father held out his right arm to stop Eren. “That doesn’t look right. Wait here, okay?” 

“But-“

“Wait here.” This time he spoke in a harsher tone, and when Eren looked up at him, gave him a shaky smile. “Let me see what’s going on.” He didn’t wait for an answer, just approached the door while calling out. “Roger? Miyumi? Mikas- ah!” 

Hearing the shock in his father’s voice, Eren disregarded the order and joined him in the doorway, where he could look inside the small home. The door opened into a dining room/kitchen area, which was a big mess. There was red everywhere, which he realized was blood – blood from the man slumped not far from the door, his eyes wide open and his mouth tugged into a grimace, lying onto his side with his arms stretched out, and a woman with long black hair not too far away who lay crumpled on her stomach in a pool of blood. “Are they dead?” They weren’t moving, so they were probably dead or asleep. Eren hoped they were dead since he had never seen real dead people before.

“Eren!” His father snatched at him, picked him up and carried him away from the door. “Don’t look at that! Stay here”! He gave him a shake as he yelled. “Don’t look at that, okay!” He gave him another shake. “I need to… to check on them!” His father shoved the leather satchel into his arms before hurrying back into house. Eren stood outside in the chilly air, surrounded by the tall trees with their changing leaves and scowled at the dark doorway. Why did his father have to treat him like a baby? The blood didn’t scare him – he looked through his father’s medical books all the time, even though he wasn’t supposed to be in his father’s office. There was so little to do when he was stuck at home every day, other than play his games, study with his mother and help her with things like shopping, cleaning and cooking. It was fun, going through his father’s things, to listen in when his father talked about what happened at work – even though his mother complained that the stories were too ‘gory’ and ‘unsuitable for a child’. He didn’t care the people who died, or were too sick to live long, or any of that- 

His father came out of the small house cursing under his breath. “I can’t find Mikasa anywhere, and it looks as if those sick animals did something to cut the phone cable before they attacked.”

He grabbed at the satchel and rummaged through it for a few seconds before pulling out his phone. A frown formed on his face then he shoved the phone into the pocket of his brown coat in disgust. “I’m not getting a signal at all, dammit.” He continued to frown as he stared at Eren for several seconds, his brows growing more furrowed the entire time, and then glanced over his shoulder at the house.  

Eren took a step back when his father went down on one knee in front of him and grasped him by the shoulders, afraid that he’d gotten in trouble somehow. “Eren, listen to me.” He was given a gentle shake as if for emphasis. “I need to go find some help so the police know what’s going on and can save Mikasa, but I need to move fast. Also, there’s a chance that Mikasa might be hiding and will come back here, yes?” He waited for Eren to nod in understanding. “So I want you to stay here – it should be safe now, but hide in the bushes and don’t come out until you see me, okay?” 

“Okay.” Eren looked back at the house. “Dad, did animals really do this?”  

“Monsters did this. Monsters who look like men.” His father released him and stood up. “I have to go now. Don’t forget what I said about hiding.” He handed Eren back his satchel. “Keep this safe for me.”

“But if it’s monsters, then they would-“

“Stay hidden!” His father didn’t bother to listen to him, he just began to jog back down the trail the way they had come. Eren stared after him with growing anger for a few seconds before moving off of the path. Why didn’t his father ever listen to him? If his mother was here, she would listen to him, would stand there with that tender smile on her pretty face while he told her about the haunted house, which *surely* would be the first place where monsters would think to hide, wouldn’t it?  But as always, Eren’s father was always in a hurry or was busy and just wanted him to be good and quiet and not get in the way. That was, when he even was at home. 

Eren opened the silver clasp on the leather satchel and dug through its contents, pushing aside the stethoscope and other odd instruments, the packets of gauze and bandages. Toward the bottom was a long slender case of hardened leather which he pulled out, smiling as he opened the tiny metal hook; inside were several shiny scalpels that his father always yelled at him to never touch, to leave alone because they were so sharp. He closed the case and then the satchel, which he hid behind a large chrysanthemum bush that was planted near the house’s front door. 

Tucking the case into the right pocket of his coat, he began to hurry down the path, his sneakers crunching on the small stones beneath. What had the one post said about the haunted house? Wasn’t it west of the lake? Shouldn’t he be able to see towers of the big church if he headed in the right direction? He continued to run in what he thought was the proper direction, veering off on a rougher path where the lower branches of the trees brushed against him, and smiled when he saw the dark grey towers loom in the distance. His right hand pressed against the case to make sure it didn’t fall out while he ran, he continued along the path and refused to be frightened by the sounds of leaves rustling, birds calling and the occasional rough cough of some unknown animal. 

He passed an old, rusted hunk of oblong metal and knew he was on the correct path so began to slow down, to move quieter. Further along he found a pink slipper, something that a girl would wear, which he left lying there. The path curved after that, and once around the bend he came across a stone cottage. Pausing near a tree, he opened the leather case to pull out one of the sharp blades and held it tight in his right hand. Monsters, his father had told him. Bad men. His mother said never to hurt ladies. That had been a lady back there, right? And that slipper belong to a little girl, probably Mikasa. Then it was all right that he stop these bad men, these monsters. The knife was small, but it was sharp, and Eren’s father always said that a job could be done with the right tools. He remembered the story from the other day, about how the ‘drunken fool’ had ‘bled out’ from just being injured in the thigh, had remembered seeing the pictures of all those red lines in those books with the human body. He knew what to do. 

*******

Mikasa shivered as she lay on the cold stone floor, her hands tied behind her and scraps of her own dress wrapped around her eyes as a blindfold. A dress her mother had made for her, sewing together the fabric they’d picked out, teaching her how to embroider the flowers and elaborate knot-work. Her mother- 

She choked back a sob when she thought of her mother, fighting against the three strangers who had showed up at their home, who had smiled as they killed her father… her daddy…. She tucked her face against the hard floor, grateful for the spike of pain from where she’d been struck on the mouth, because that pain was so much better than what she felt inside of her. Daddy… Momma… 

Her breath caught when she felt a hard toe nudge her in the side. “Be quiet! I don’t want to hear your whining! Fuck, should we gag her or something?” 

“Leave the little bitch alone for now. She’s being pretty good for a half Chink.” 

“I thought Kre-“ 

There were sounds of scuffling and flesh being struck, and then someone cried out in pain. “No names, you moron,” the deeper voice berated the others.

“All right! It’s not like the little half-breed bitch is going to get to talk, right? I mean, isn’t K- aren’t we going to make an example out of her?” 

“We were supposed to do that with her Chink mother, you psychotic little shit, but you messed that all up.” 

“The cunt came after me with a knife, what was I supposed to do! I’m not about to let some filthy Asian whore stab me!” 

Mikasa forced back another sob and curled up as much as she could with her hands tied behind her back and her body sore from being punched as the men argued, hoping that they would just forget about her. Images of her father falling to the floor, his chest covered in blood, of her mother screaming as she charged at the strangers filled her head. Her mother had been so brave – why couldn’t she have run like she’d been told to do, or to help fight them as well? All Mikasa had done was just stand there while they’d killed her parents. 

“- go try the radio in the truck to see if they’ve heard anything yet. Damn forest, what happened to the communication towers? 

“Find out how much longer we have to be here, sitting on our asses!” 

There was the sound of laughter and the stomping of boots, followed by the door closing. Mikasa shivered as a draft blew past her, wishing that she were still home, wishing that her father could come to rescue her, wishing- 

Footsteps approached, but instead of another harsh nudge to her side, there was the tug of clothes and then a cold hand shoved beneath her dress. “Hey, you want to entertain us? It’ll be good practice for what’s in store for you.” The hand gave her thigh a painful squeeze. 

“Oi! Don’t touch her!” 

“Come on, I’m bored! Besides, it’s just what’s gonna happen when we hand her over to Kr- to those Russian bastards.” 

“Yeah, and they’ll pay more for her if she’s still intact. Now back off, you pathetic asshole.” There was a grunting sound as the hand was wrenched from Mikasa’s thigh. Fresh tears flowed from her eyes yet she refused to cry out, to let them know how much they frightened her. This was all some horrid nightmare and any moment now, her mother would wake her up. Any moment now…. 

There was more shoving sounds and angry muttering while she prayed for her mother to come for her, but it moved away. She struggled against the rope that held her hands tied, her wrists already raw and bleeding, the cloth tied around her face soaked with her tears. The right side of her body was becoming numb from lying on it for so long. 

The sudden knocking sound at the door almost startled another cry out of her, and one of the men let out a curse. There was more muttering from them as the knocking continued, something about ‘get rid of them’, and a few seconds later one of them began to walk, their boots heavy against the stone floor. Mikasa thought back to earlier, to her father welcoming these monsters inside only to die and bit her lip as she wondered what new nightmare was about to begin again. 

“What do you want?” It sounded like largest of the three had answered the door, his voice deep and surly. “Eh? What are you doing here?” 

“Is… is Thomas and Die..Dieter here?” The new voice was young and confused, as if a boy around her age. “I-I looked all over for… for them.” 

There was a pause and then a loud sigh. “I think you’re lost, kid. Let me take you back to the main path, I’m sure your friends are waiting for you there.” 

“Th-thank you.” Mikasa heard a sniffling sound and then suddenly there was a piercing shriek. She could hear the other man stumble to his feet and call out as something heavy fell to the floor near her. 

“Seb? Sebastian? What’s wrong-“ 

There was a high-pitched shout of rage and more yelling, followed by the sounds of repeated impacts. Something warm and wet touched Mikasa’s legs, causing her to flinch away, and she began to pant, to wish that she could see what was going on despite the fact that it sounded horrible, whatever was happening. It was as if a wild animal had gotten into the deserted house, was snarling and growling as the thuds continued, as the faint sobs by her faded away, as the other man cursed and cried out, bumped into something and sent it scraping against the stone floor, only to crash down moments later. 

She could hear a harsh panting sound for several seconds, followed by the tread of light footsteps through something wet. When something brushed against her bare legs, she flinched, but the following gentle touch was warm if sticky. “It’s all right. You’re Mikasa, right? It’s okay.” It sounded like the boy who had come to the door, his voice now raspy. He placed something cold against her hands, and she gasped when the rope was pulled tight. It hurt for a few seconds, until she realized that the rope was being cut. 

She was pulled upright once her hands were freed, her hands tingling with pins and needles as they fell to her sides. “You’re okay now,” he repeated as he tugged off the blindfold. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the light, to make out his face; she didn’t recognize him, this boy with the messy dark brown hair and beautiful deep green eyes, but she was so grateful then that she wanted to hug him and not let go. She was about to do that when she noticed the pool of blood around her and the two bodies collapsed on the floor. 

The boy made a slight motion, as if shrugging. “It’s all right, they deserved that. Now let’s go.” He held out his right hand, which was covered with blood and smiled.

Two bodies. “No… no, there’s one more of-“ she didn’t have a chance to finish her warning when there was the sound of a door creaking behind them, of heavy footsteps, and she looked up to see the third one of her parents’ killers standing there in shook. The boy looked up, too, then went reaching for the tiny knife he’d used to cut Mikasa’s hands free, but the monster was faster. 

“You little shit! Did you do this? I’ll kill you!” He held the boy up in the air by the throat, his face red with rage as he slowly throttled him. Mikasa stood there paralyzed with fear while images of her mother and father dying flashed through her. No, not again….

“Fight.” 

The boy’s voice was rough and cracked as he forced the word out past the hands choking him, but it shook her free of the awful memory. She looked up to find him staring down at her, his hands scratching at the grip that was slowly killing him.

“Figh-ght… to… live…” 

She continued to stare up at him as his face darkened and his beautiful eyes became bloodshot. As he gasped for air, the loud noise shook her free from her paralysis, enabled her to move. She glanced around and at first could only find the tiny knife that he had used – until she noticed one of the large blades that the men had stabbed into her father lying on the floor, not far from the knocked-over table. She snatched it up and then became still again as she wondered what was she supposed to do now?

Staring at the back of the man who held the brave boy up in the air, she tried to force herself to take a step forward. The man’s back seemed too broad, so tall. Could she really do this? How could she do this? As she clenched the knife’s handle, images flashed through her mind: her father’s face as he was stabbed, her mother’s eyes as she pleaded with Mikasa first to run, then as she threw herself at the men who had invaded their home. That was followed by the sight of a dead rabbit being eaten by ants, the pheasant that her father had brought home, its beautiful plumage before it was plucked, the butterfly trapped in the spider’s web…. 

Reminded of the inherent struggle of life, she focused her gaze on the attacker’s back and poured all of her strength in driving the blade into it, racing forward with speed and intent. The knife sunk in so easily and deeply, the tip angled upward as she strove for his heart. He let out a roar as it pierced his body, his arms flailing and the boy dropping to the ground, gasping and wheezing for air. The man managed to spin partially around before his knees gave out and he fell face-first onto the floor.

Mikasa stared at him for several seconds, before the coughs and gasps of the boy reminded her of his presence. She shook herself, hands rising to rub at her cold and aching arms, and gasped herself when she felt the warm stickiness soak into the thin sleeves of her dress – blood, there was blood on her hands. It was from the man, who was lying in a spreading pool of it. More blood also soaked the skirt of her dress, the white and yellow material stained with it and dirt.

A soft touch to her left arm made her cry out and cringe, but it was just the boy. “Are there more of them?” His voice was rough and his throat was bruised, but he otherwise appeared to be all right. Standing this close to her, Mikasa noticed that his eyes weren’t just green, that they were a bit blue as well, like the stones in the one necklace that her mother sometimes wore. She choked back a sob as she thought about her parents.

“N-no.” She rubbed at her nose with the sleeve of her ruined dress. “That’s all of them.” She looked at their slumped bodies and wished that their deaths had been more painful, that they had suffered longer. “Thank you.” At least this boy had made sure that they’d paid for what they’d done to her parents.

“You’re welcome.” He smiled at her, the expression the first good thing she’d seen since her father had gone to open the door. “Oh! I’m Eren.” He was still smiling as he held out his blood-stained hand. “Eren Jaeger. My dad is Dr. Jaeger, we were visiting when….” A slight blush colored his cheeks. “Uhm, I’m sorry about your parents.”

Hearing someone else talk about her parents brought a rush of tears to Mikasa’s eyes, a flood that she couldn’t hold back. Eren’s expression became panicked as she sobbed, and he patted down his pockets until he could hand over a couple of crumbled tissues, which she accepted with a shaky nod. He left her after that and she cried in peace, standing in a filthy, strange house while surrounded by the bodies of the men who killed her family.

Eren returned after a couple of minutes, startling her by draping a scratchy blanket over her shoulders. “I found this in the truck.” He stood about a foot away, an uneasy look on his face. “My dad went to get the police, so they’ll probably be here soon.” He shifted back and forth on his feet a few times. “Oh, I found this, too.” He handed over her missing slipper.

“Thank you.” It seemed as if she was constantly thanking him. “Ah, I’m Mikasa. Mikasa Ackerman.” Had she properly introduced herself before then? Her father had always said that introductions are important. Tears threatened to spring forth again but she forced them back.

Perhaps it had been silly to tell him her name when Eren already knew it, but he smiled just then as if given a gift. “It’s nice to meet you, Mikasa.” He seemed about to say something else but shook his head instead. “Let’s go outside, it’s starting to smell in here.”

She followed him out of the awful place, and was stunned to see that the sun was just beginning to set – it felt as if it had been so long ago that she sat down at the table with her mother to begin preparing supper. Eren sat down on the stone landing that served as the abandoned building’s front stoop, so she joined him as well, grateful for the warmth and safety that his small body provided. Neither of them said anything, they merely sat beside each other as if that was enough; for Mikasa, it was. She felt so drained just then, so cut off from everything but Eren’s warmth.

The sky had darkened a little more when she heard the harsh blare of a siren break the wonderful stillness of the forest and saw the flash of lights scatter through the pillars of the trees. Eren tensed beside her yet reached over to give her hand a quick squeeze, then waited with her for the police to approach. The path leading to the abandoned house wasn’t the biggest, yet soon a police car similar to the hatchback that Mikasa’s father drove pulled into the clearing and stopped. Mikasa flinched when the headlights flashed in her eyes.

There was the sound of a door opening and then quickly slamming shut. “Eren? Eren! My god, we’ve been looking everywhere for you! Is that Mikasa?” The man who was shouting ran toward them, while Eren sighed and slowly stood to his feet. Mikasa rose as well, not wanting to be parted from the boy. “Are you two all right?” Farther away, the person at the car spoke something into the radio.

“We’re fine, Dad.” Eren barely got the words out before he was picked up and hugged, and Mikasa thought she saw tears on Dr. Jaeger’s face. The man held his son tightly for several seconds before setting him down.

“We’ll talk later about you running off,” he told Eren before he turned toward Mikasa. He hesitated for a moment before giving her a gentle smile. “Now, how are you?” He reached out to tuck back a lock of hair that had fallen onto her face, his smile turning into a frown when she flinched from his touch. “It looks as if you’ve been hurt. Are you injured anywhere else?” His hand reached for the blanket.

“I- I’m fine,” she told him, but in her haste to avoid his touch, the blanket had slipped from her shoulder and fell open. She could tell when he saw the bloodstains because of the sudden hiss of breath. “It’s not mine.”

“She’s safe now.” Eren fussed with his scarf, which Mikasa knew hid the bruises on his neck. “We took care of the bad men.”

“What?” Dr. Jaeger looked away from Mikasa, his face paling when he stared at his son. Mikasa didn’t know what caused him to swear like that, until he snatched at Eren’s hands, which were still flaked with dried blood. “What did you do?”

Eren gazed up at his father, his dark brows drawn together as if he was puzzled. “I helped save Mikasa, that’s all. They were bad men, you said so yourself.”

Not wanting Eren to be in trouble, Mikasa reached out to tug on Dr. Jaeger’s coat. “I helped, too,” she admitted, her voice quiet. “They killed Momma and Dad.”

Dr. Jaeger looked back and forth between her and Eren several times before cursing under his breath and rushing into the house. There was silence for about a minute, and then he called out, which caused the police officer to go running into the house as well. It sounded like more shouting after that.

Eren came over to hug Mikasa and urge her away from the door. “Grown-ups are weird.” He seemed confused and a little angry.

She nodded in agreement as she leaned against him, grateful for his support and warmth. Her family was gone, but Eren was here, was holding her close while she closed her eyes and just let the emptiness wash through her. She felt so tired, so tired and cold, and so apart from the world. The only thing keeping her tied to anything just then was Eren.

They stood off to the side while the police officer ran back to his car and then returned to the house, and soon more cars arrived. People were talking and rushing about, but it seemed to happen from a distance, didn’t seem to matter to Mikasa. She just stood there with Eren during the chaos and let it happened.

The occasional words sunk in, such as ‘psych ward’, ‘therapy’, and ‘child services’. She thought that they might be talking about her, though she thought they also mentioned Eren. At several points she heard Dr. Jaeger’s raised voice. Yet throughout it all, Eren stayed by her side, until his father finally came over to them.

“Eren? I need to speak to you.” When the boy hesitated, the doctor cleared his throat. “Come here, son.”

Eren huffed as if annoyed and let go of Mikasa. “Yes?” He only stepped a few feet away.

“Do you understand what you did here tonight?” Dr. Jaeger sounded very upset. “That you… that you ended the lives of three men?”

Eren toed the dirt in front of him with his right foot yet continued to look up at his father. “They were bad men and would have hurt Mikasa. I had to do it, Dad.”

“You were to wait at the house like I told you so I could-“

“You were late!” Eren snapped, his small body tense with anger and his eyes bright in his dirt-smeared face. “I tried to tell you but you didn’t hear me. You never listen to me! All I did was save Mikasa!”

Dr. Jaeger looked ready to yell back for a few seconds until he sighed, his large hand rising to rub at his face. “Eren… you could have been killed. Both of you could have been killed.” His deep voice was gruff as he spoke the words. “As it is, they’re going to want you to take more therapy, after this.” He gazed at Mikasa after his hand dropped to his side. “Both of you. I imagine Mikasa will start as soon as Child Services-“

“No!” Eren’s high voice cracked as he shouted. “She’s not going anywhere! She’s coming with us!” He turned to face her. “You want to come home with us, right?”

Tears welled up in her eyes as she thought about leaving Eren, the person who had saved her. “I don’t have a home anymore.” She shivered from the cold, not just outside in the autumn night air but inside as well. Eren rushed forward, his hands busy removing the scarf from his bruised neck and to wrap it around her own; it was so warm, its softness soaked in the heat of his body. She paused to breathe in his scent and to let its heat diffuse into her chilled skin. “Please, I’d like to go home with you,” she admitted.

Dr. Jaeger started when he saw the bruises on his son’s neck, but Eren gazed back in defiance and motioned toward Mikasa. The man looked back and forth between the two of them several times before letting out a long sigh, then approached Mikasa and went down on one knee before her. She did her best not to cringe at his nearness. “Mikasa, would you really like to live with us?”

She nodded, too overwhelmed at the moment to trust her voice. “Then I’ll go talk to Child Services and do what I can.” He offered her a tender smile. “I’m sure my wife will love to have another young lady in the house, she’s often complained about being outnumbered.” When he stood to his feet, Eren slowly approached him and gave him a quick hug. He leaned down to give his son a kiss on the top of his head.

Eren watched his father leave before coming to stand at Mikasa’s side. When she made to return to him his scarf, he smiled and shook his head. “It’s yours now.”

Mikasa felt her cheeks warm at the offer of the simple gift and buried her face in the soft fabric. “Thank you,” she murmured.

He reached for and clasped her hand in his. “Dad will get them to let you come home with us – he’s really good at that stuff. We’ll be leaving soon.”

Mikasa squeezed his hand, unwilling to let it go.

*******

Mikasa wiped the blood from her mouth with the back of her hand and licked it clean before she tended to the drained Malform, a slight grimace on her face as she twisted its head free with savage force. Moving away as its shriveled body began to disintegrate, she wondered if Eren had finished feeding yet, anxious over the fact that they had to hunt apart while in cities. How would it be when the ‘domes’ were completed? Everyone they talked to appeared eager to move inside the enclosed cities despite the infrastructure limitations she’d heard about, to at least get away from the solar radiation. She thought they were being unrealistic in hoping to keep out the Malform, especially after learning the truth about vampires-

Shaking her head, Mikasa headed toward a more active part of the city, leaving behind the dark, deserted streets with their broken lights and empty buildings. What would happen to this city? Would Samara disappear like so many other cities already had after the initial collapse? Would it become a dome, its streets bulldozed into rubble so artificial walls and ceilings could encase new structures?

She gazed about her at the stone and concrete buildings, many of them in need of repairs, and realized that so much would soon change. They already saw so many ruins, her and Eren, when they traveled about, and now many of the remaining cities would be torn down as humanity tried in vain to seal themselves off from the monsters in the dark. There was a pain inside of her chest as she tucked the scarf higher against her face. When would they learn that it never really worked, hiding from monsters?

A few of the people she passed along the way called out offers for her to join them, some out of kindness for a ‘young woman’ being out alone and some rather salacious in nature, all of which she ignored. She huddled in her dark grey jacket as if cold and was grateful for the presence of the Military Police on patrol, the recently reformed organization doing its best to restore order in the cities. Doing what she could to blend in, she let her black leather boots scuff along the cobblestone streets and acted as if she were merely a teenager out on a stroll; she even stopped to buy a few pieces of fried sweet pastry from a roadside seller. She managed to eat a few bites of one along the way to Galina’s apartment.

Ever since running into the trio and finding out about vampires, Mikasa and Eren were more careful about revealing the truth of themselves to people. They were rather certain that they could recognize vampires by their scent, but that didn’t mean that the vampires didn’t have human associates – there was still so much they didn’t know about the race. It was decided that their best course of action was extreme caution, especially since it was clear that the bastards were after them – Eren in particular. Mikasa’s fists clenched in anger when she remembered the way that Annie had spoken her brother’s name, how Bertolt and Reiner had paid Eren such close attention. The only thing they could think of that might deserve the vampire’s ‘attention’ like that was the fact that Eren had been ‘turned’ into… whatever he was by his own father, and had turned Mikasa as well.

So they hadn’t told Galina Zaytsev who they were, just that they were interested in her research on Grisha Jaeger and had some information they could share. The woman was proving very helpful in providing answers that Mikasa and Eren hadn’t known about their father. Perhaps some of those answers might help them figure out what they were and why the vampires were so interested in them.

Mikasa ran up the stairs to the apartment, the bag of fried dough clutched in her hand. Another resident hurried down at the same time, brushing a little too close to her, which put her on edge. She fought the urge to bare her fangs at the stranger’s proximity and continued up the worn steps, grateful for her enhanced vision which allowed her to see even in the dim light of the stairwell. Despite reaching the floor of Galina’s apartment, she still felt unsettled and used the key that her new friend had given her to go inside. “Galina? Yuliya? I brought some pastries. Has Eren returned yet?” No one answered her, neither Galina nor the researcher’s young daughter.

Tugging down the scarf, Mikasa took a deep breath and dropped the bag as she was immediately hit with the scent of blood – it made her fangs descend and her claws to elongate as the brightly painted walls of the apartment faded to grey. Then she realized what she had failed to recognize before, what it really was that had put her on guard, that faint hint of ‘otherness’, of *vampire*.

“Galina!” She dashed into the apartment, through the small foyer and into the living room filled with bookshelves, children’s toys, a couch and a large desk. Sprawled out on the floor was Galina, her brown sweater soaked in blood and her blue eyes glassy in death. Her throat had been torn out, the obvious cause of the large pool of blood in which she lay – so much blood that whoever had done this to her hadn’t fed much. No, they hadn’t fed, but judging from the bruises on Galina’s face, her twisted and bloody fingers, the bedraggled strands of light brown hair fallen out of her normally neat braid, they had treated her roughly before her death.

Part of Mikasa screamed at her to leave, to go find Eren and ensure that he was safe, but she continued further into the apartment, haunted by the memory of another mother lying so lifeless on the floor. “Yuliya? Are you here?” Had they taken the child? Why would they be interested in a child? Surely they wouldn’t harm her. Mikasa followed a faint trail of blood, hoping that she was wrong, and pushed open the door leading to Yuliya’s bedroom.

A whimper escaped her when she saw the tiny crumpled body lying on the bloody bed, half covered in the purple and white bedspread as if hiding. Rushing forward to the bed, Mikasa gasped when she heard a shuddering breath and realized that the child was still alive. She flung back the bedspread and found the girl covered in bites – the oozing wounds were all over her neck, her shoulders and her arms. Had the vampires used the girl to break Galina? How could they do that to a child? “Hold on, you’ll be okay,” Mikasa told her as she stroked back the damp hair falling onto Yuliya’s face, so much like the poor child’s mother. “It’ll be all right.” Yet even as she spoke, the child’s heartbeat faltered.

What was she to do? She could sense the child growing weaker with each passing moment, so there was no time to hope that medical help could arrive and save her. There were also so many bites, would help even be enough to keep her from turning? Mikasa stared at the young girl and hated the thought of her dying, of the vampires taking away another innocent. She also felt immense guilt – wasn’t this in part her own fault?

Moving before she thought any more on what she was doing, she bent down and bit into Yuliya’s neck, the poor child too far gone to even flinch from the new pain. Eren had said that he had drained Mikasa dry when she had been attacked, so this should work. Would it work? All she could do was try it, to hope that Yuliya would live and not hate Mikasa for what she’d soon become.

Human blood was so different from Malform – it wasn’t as thick, wasn’t as potent or rich. Mikasa forced herself to swallow it down, though there wasn’t that much left in the little girl. After a minute or two, Yuliya shuddered in her arms and her heart stopped beating. A tear ran down Mikasa’s face as she lay the child down on her bed and began to wipe away the blood while she waited to see if she woke up.

How long had it taken for Mikasa to awaken, back at that hospital? Hadn’t Eren said something about her wounds healing? His had – she had watched while smoke had formed and slowly his arm and leg had regrown, during that awful hour or two when she’d thought that he might be dead. Yet Yuliya remained unchanged.

Mikasa had wrapped her arms around herself and begun to rock back and forth when a familiar scent reached her senses. She looked behind her to find Eren standing in the doorway to the room, his blue jacket torn and his hair disheveled more than usual, a solemn expression on his face. “You need to do something about her, she’s going to turn any minute now.”

“Eren!” She jumped up to go hug him, relieved that he was all right. “What happened? Are you-“

He gave her a quick hug and then gently pushed her aside. “Yuliya first. I can do it if you can’t.” He approached the bed, his expression growing more grim with each step. “You don’t have to watch,” he told her as he grasped the girl’s head.

“What?” It occurred to Mikasa what he meant to do. “But… I tried to… what you did to me.”

“It’s not working, she’s about to become a Malform.” Eren was swift about it, and Yuliya was small: when he was done, he covered her body with the bloodstained bedspread. “I took care of Galina as well.” His motions were slow when he moved from the bed, as if he were exhausted.

Mikasa had been so focused on Yuliya that she’d forgotten about the girl’s mother. “I-I’m sorry.”

He gave her a tired grin before he returned to her side for another hug, this one longer than the previous as if he needed the comfort. “I know.”

She felt the tears in his coat as she hugged him back and caught a hint of vampire clinging to the material. “What happened? Are you all right?”

“We need to get moving. Find what you can of Galina’s research.” He gave her another gentle shove in the direction of the living room. “I think whoever did this tracked me down while I was hunting, but I’m not sure if he was alone.”

The vampire had probably tortured Galina about Eren and Mikasa, but Mikasa couldn’t blame the woman if they used her daughter against her. She held onto Eren’s hand as they returned to the living room, only letting go of it there. “He’s not a problem anymore?” She didn’t think so, not if Eren was here, but if that wasn’t the case, then she’d go out hunting.

This time Eren’s smile contained a sharp, feral edge. “Yes,” was all he said, but the way his eyes glowed just then was all the reassurance she needed.

“Good.” Mikasa went over to the desk to gather up whatever hard drives, disks and other material she could find, and pushed aside the grief and guilt she felt to be dealt with later. What mattered just then was that Eren was alive and an enemy neutralized. They would have to be more careful from now on, have to rely on others even less. This just proved to them how little they could trust other people – not just for their sake, but for the sake of others. In the end, it really was just her and Eren.

*******

Biting back on a growl as he pushed aside some idiots just *standing* there, Eren held on tight to Mikasa’s hand as he wove through the crowd, his head ducked low and his eyes downcast. Damn domes and their bland architecture – everything looked the same, smelled the same, even felt the same, being built with the same damn materials. He thought that they might have lost Bertolt a couple of blocks back, but that would only be a temporary reprieve since the bastard would only retreat long enough to get the other two and return that much stronger.

“Do you know where you’re going?” Mikasa asked, her voice pitched low enough that only he would hear.

“Not really, just trying to get us away from the crowd and someplace quieter.” He kept dodging through the busy streets while looking for a suitable hiding spot, and began to head toward the smaller side paths. That should lead them to the back alleys, away from the main traffic and where the direct light was, and then they could figure out their next step.

“We’re going to need to get out of here.” Eren flipped up the hood of his light grey sweatshirt as they hurried along, his hands clenched into fists to hide his claws.

“Yes, but I can’t imagine that they’re leaving our way out unguarded.” Mikasa kept pace at his side, her legs longer than his thanks to that extra couple of inches, and pulled up the hood of her green jacket as well. “We might have to chance messing with the seal.”

“At least it’s rough terrain out there, so they won’t want to mess with us during the day.” If they had to get caught by the trio, the Marrakesh dome was one of the better places, Eren supposed. Though it would mean they’d be scrambling for transportation themselves, considering the severe restriction on air transportation. Hopefully there would be a smuggler out there with a boat and a thing for younger guys….

“Let’s worry about getting out of here first,” Mikasa chided, as if reading his thoughts. She motioned down a quiet side street before picking up speed, leaving Eren to hurry after her.

They darted down an alley that was much less occupied and illuminated than the previous streets, the beige cement walls stretching above them several meters without any windows. This was the type of area where they could usually find Malform, as there was normally a person or two strolling around for bait but not often enough to scare away the undead predators. Sniffing the air to see if he could sense any of the creatures, Eren thought he picked up the scent of something….

They came around the bend and it washed over them, the scent of blood and otherness, and not more than a few feet away stood what looked to be a young woman about Mikasa’s age with skin a little darker than Eren’s, with black hair pulled back in a ponytail and brown eyes. She leaned away from the dazed blond man upon whom she’d been feeding and cursed. “Ever hear of privacy?”

“Great, another fucking vampire,” Eren snarled as he launched himself forward. Were the trio working with others to catch them? That certainly was new and *not* a good thing.

“Eh? You know- heh!” The strange vampire just barely managed to dodge the kick to her head, her eyes glowing red and claws held out. “Wait! I know about you two!” She blocked another kick from Eren, pushing his leg aside with an annoyed hiss. “Stop fighting! I’m not your enemy!”

“Yeah, right, I bet you just wanna fuck, too.” He slashed at her throat and snarled when she danced back out of the way, the blow having sliced open her shoulder instead. “Not falling for that again.”

“Is that how- dammit, stop fighting!” She lashed out with her left fist and made him step back to avoid being hit, but Mikasa was there to take his spot even as he retreated. “I’m not like the-oomph!”

Mikasa managed to get beneath the vampire’s reach and slammed her into the wall, but oddly enough merely kept her pressed face-first against the hard surface instead of going in for the kill. “What are you waiting for? Kill her,” Eren hissed.

“In a minute, I want some answers first since she’s not attacking.” Mikasa tightened her hold on the vampire’s arms, which she had twisted back and immobilized, and caused the stranger to hiss. “Why are you trying to trick us?” Her eyes glowed and her fangs were out, a clear sign that this vampire’s strange behavior bothered her.

The vampire managed a mocking laugh despite her precarious position. “Because it’s not a fucking trick! You think I’m trying to lose my head here?” She pushed back a little so she could turn her face in Eren’s direction. “Dammit, if you two are here then that means this dome is crawling with those old bastards.” Her face wrinkled in pain when Mikasa twisted her arms a little more. “Hey, ease up there a bit.”

“What do you know about us?” When the vampire was quiet, Mikasa repeated the question again, using a bit more force.

“I said to ease the fuck up,” the vampire spat out as she did her best to look over her shoulder at Mikasa. “You’re a fucking ray of sunshine, you know that?” When Mikasa glared at her, she rolled her eyes and tilted her head back in Eren’s direction. “Look, you two aren’t the only ones those bastards are hunting down, all right? I used to be number one on their shit list until you came along.” She was quiet for a few seconds. “Thanks for that.”

Eren wasn’t buying this at all. He crossed his arms over his chest and jerked his chin in the direction of the poor idiot passed out from blood loss a few feet away. “Sure you were – why would they chase after a fellow vampire?” This was a big waste of their time, they needed to get as far away from where Bertolt had seen them.

“Because they blame me for something.” The vampire closed her eyes for a moment. “It’ll take too long to explain, and we don’t have the time if you’re running. Let me guess, you two just got spotted, right? Was it Annie and her boys or one of the others?” When Eren and Mikasa didn’t say anything but Mikasa tightened her hold on the vampire’s arms, the vampire grinned. “Yeah, I thought so. How are you going to get out of here?”

“It doesn’t matter to you,” Mikasa told her, pinning her against the wall as she prepared to immobilize the bitch. Eren stepped closer so he could help her take off the head and be done.

“Oh yeah? What if I told you that I knew a way to get us all out of here, without using the tunnel entrance that I’m sure they’re now watching?” The vampire’s grin grew stronger when Mikasa hesitated. “The name’s Ymir, by the by.”

“Eren…”

He glanced at his sister and frowned when he noticed her expression. “You seriously think we can trust her?” Mikasa was the one advocating this? Usually it was him who came up with the bad ideas – he didn’t want to think about what happened the few times when Mikasa did. It usually meant him regrowing a limb or two.

“She wasn’t really trying to fight you before.” Mikasa shrugged, which caused her scarf to coil loosely around her shoulders. “If it’s a trap, we’ll kill her at the first obvious sign of betrayal.”

If it wasn’t too late then – his left arm began to itch, as if he could feel it regrowing already. Eren stared at the vampire – Ymir – and tried to figure a way out of the situation. They were pretty much screwed just then, so they might as well take a chance; that was probably Mikasa’s line of reason. “What’s up with this alternate route out?”

That seemed to act as a signal to Mikasa for her to release Ymir. The vampire groaned as her arms were freed and took a few seconds to straighten her back and neck as if she had gotten some kinks in them. “Well, think of it as a detour to the tunnel – it’ll sneak us into it about halfway in through an alternate entrance. That should get past where the others are – well, that and a bit of luck.”

Eren felt like doing a bit of groaning himself. Yep, might as well say goodbye to a hand and maybe a foot right now. “Great, I can’t possibly imagine what could go wrong here.”

“Relax, it’s how I snuck into the dome in the first place, so it should work in sneaking us out. After that, you two are on your own.” Ymir tugged her baggy black sweater into place and nodded at the wall. “It’ll probably be best if we do a little climbing and take to the roofs, avoid being seen as much as possible.”

“I guess so.” Eren held up his claws and was about to start climbing when he remembered the guy a few feet away. “Uhm, what about your snack?” He glanced back at the unconscious blond.

“Eh, he’ll be fine, I don’t drain ‘em that much. He’ll wake up and think he got mugged or something.” Ymir didn’t act too concerned about her victim, and it wasn’t as if Eren could be too bothered at the moment considering that he had several vampires after his ass. Mikasa shrugged to show that she wasn’t particularly bothered, either. “Now, we going?”

“Yeah. Just remember – try anything funny and you’ll lose your head so fast you won’t know which of us took it.” Eren grimaced internally at the cheesy threat, thinking that he much preferred dealing with Malform than vampires – you didn’t have to *talk* to Malform, you just drained and killed them.

Ymir didn’t appear too cowed by the threat, either. “Yeah, yeah, I got it. You know what? Why don’t we kill the time it’ll take to reach the tunnel entrance by you telling me all about that ‘fucking’ you did, kiddo.” She grinned over her shoulder at him. “It was you and Annie’s gang, right? You go, you rebel, you!”

Maybe they could kill the annoying bitch after they escaped the dome. Eren bared his teeth at her while he struggled to control his temper, not helped in the slightest by the amusement he could sense radiating off of his sister. Just reach the tunnel, escape the dome and you’ll never have to see this Ymir person ever again, he promised himself.

*******

People were running about in a panic, screaming in fear as the Malform hunted them down with the ease of sharks swimming through a school of fish. Mikasa stilled for a moment, lost in the memories of the past, of times lost to mass destruction and death as the acrid stench of fear/blood/burning overwhelmed her – until Eren snatched at her left wrist and pulled her along.

“The seals have to be breached in this madness, we’ll leave through one of them,” he yelled over the din of cries and loud crashes. “The western one should be nearby!”

She nodded when the words sunk in; the tunnels would be too treacherous right now, since all of these Malform had to have come from somewhere. Had they been created by vampires? Were the ‘others’ down there waiting for Eren and her to attempt to flee? How had things gotten so out of hand? Mikasa gasped as they ran past the body of a Freedom Corps fighter lying in the street – they were everywhere once you paused to look, the familiar uniform of white and grey bloodied and tattered, its members having sacrificed their lives in a vain attempt to defeat the overwhelming tide of Malform. More would be on their way soon, but it would be too late for most of Klorva’s residents.

A newly turned Malform launched itself at Eren as they ran, making him release Mikasa’s hand as he fought it off with claws and a savage desperation. He only hesitated for a few seconds to sip from it before tearing off its head, aware of how they needed to escape as quickly as possible; if vampires were behind this attack, then they would be out hunting for the two of them. Mikasa managed to scare away a pack of Malform that had a family pinned in a doorway but could do little else for them, and had to hope that they could reach a safe haven before more of the undead happened upon them. There were just too many of the predators for her and Eren to save everyone. There were too many Malform, possibly too many vampires and too many people about for them to do much of anything than run. The hopelessness of the situation ate at her almost as much as all the death around them.

They were almost at the western exit/seal when there was a high-pitched cry for help. At first they continued to run, but the shouting continued, and Mikasa caught sight of an elderly man doing his best to fight off three Malform. He managed to fend off two of them with some sort of broken pole, but the third lashed out at him with its claws, prompting another shrill cry from the small figure that was huddled behind him.

She glanced over at her brother to see that he had noticed the two figures as well, and caught the grim look of determination on his face. As one, they changed direction toward the small group, Eren going for the two circling Malform and her leaping at the Malform that was attacking the old man. The creature had just ripped its claws along the man’s side when she pulled it away, using her own claws to tear deep into its spine to cripple it. Not far away, there were snarls followed by hisses and yelps as Eren took care of the other two, finishing quickly after Mikasa decapitated her prey.

The Malform destroyed, Mikasa approached the old man, who was kneeling on the ground, his white shirt soaked in blood and his bearded face covered in sweat. Despite his grievous wounds, he held on to the improvised staff with his right hand, his left arm draped around the small child huddled against his side and stared up at Mikasa and Eren. “You… what are you?” he asked, his deep voice cracking as he spoke but his gaze even.

Mikasa supposed that they must look a lot like monsters just then, with their eyes glowing and clawed hands dripping blood. “We’re not like them,” she tried to explain, about to fuss with her scarf but stopping just in time before she touched it with her bloody hands.

Eren stepped forward, busy wiping his hands on his jeans. “Come on, old man, we need to get you someplace where they’ll look at your side.” He tried to smile, but the expression was false enough that made it plain that he knew the wound was fatal. “Maybe that kid of yours can help.” He held out his hands, seemed to notice that the claws were still out, let out a slow breath and forced the claws to retreat. “It’s not safe outside.”

The old man stared intently at Eren for several seconds and then back at Mikasa. She did her best to smile as well. “Let us get you and the boy somewhere safe.” They could ill afford to spare the time, but at least they would have saved the child; they knew all too well what it was like, to live through this nightmare.

“You’re not... not like them?” The old man gasped in pain yet refused to move, to let go of the little boy.

“No, we’re not.” Mikasa glanced at Eren, hoping that her brother had an idea of how to hurry this along.

He tried to smile again, his face appearing so young just then. “Look, it’s not safe for you or the boy out here. We really should-“

The old man began to cough just then, blood flying from his lips. Beside him, the little boy cried out and clung to him, murmuring ‘pap-pap’ over and over again. The old man held him close with his one good arm, his eyes closed tight for several seconds, until he opened them and pressed a kiss against the top of the boy’s blond head. “It’ll be all right, Armin.” He looked back up at Mikasa and Eren, spots of blood staining his lips and grey-shot beard. “This is my grandson. Please, take care of him.”

Mikasa stared in shock at the old man. “Sir… we’ll get you somewhere-“

“No!” He seemed to struggle to stand up but couldn’t find the strength. “You helped us out, no one else would. You’re… you’re helping. Help me out some more. Take him.” He shuddered a little. “*Help* *me*.” Somehow, she thought that he didn’t say those words lightly.

Eren knelt down in front of the man. “You’re asking *us* that? After what we did?” He sounded incredulous, which was exactly how Mikasa felt just then.

“Yes.” The old man nodded, while at his side the little boy continued to cry. A wry grin twisted his bloody lips. “Who better to watch Armin in these days, no? I think God has listened to me, finally.”

A harsh scowl overtook Eren’s beautiful features. “God has nothing to do with us.” Yet he glanced back at Mikasa, his expression smoothing out into one that she recognized with ease; he thought that the man was crazy, thought that this whole situation was crazy, but he’d follow her lead. Her brother’s faith in her filled her with that bubbling sense of warmth, as always, and she almost nodded over that fact alone before giving the matter some serious thought. In the end, it was the fact that here was another orphan, another lost soul set adrift by violence and Malform that made her give in to the old man.

Eren sighed and rubbed at his face with his hands before running them through his hair. “All right, we’ll look after him.” He didn’t sound too pleased, but he managed to smile at the boy.

“Thank you.” The old man slumped forward, as if his strength was running out “Armin, I need you to listen to me.” He tugged the boy forward, and Mikasa finally got a good look at the child – he could only be a few years old, was small-boned and had blue eyes to match the blond hair. They would have to pass him off as a cousin or adopted sibling.

The old man whispered to the boy, and while she could hear what he said if she tried, she allowed him some peace to say his goodbyes. The boy cried even harder as the man spoke and shook his head, clearly upset, but the old man held firm. After a minute, the old man looked back at them. “Please, take him now.”

Eren bent down to grab the boy, who continued to cry and even kicked in resistance to being taken away from his grandfather. The struggling earned a grimace from Eren, but he didn’t reprimand the little boy.

Mikasa hesitated before leaving the old man. “You know that you’ll turn, don’t you?” She didn’t know if she should offer to prevent that or not.

“I don’t want him to see you doing such a thing to me,” the old man said. “It’s not a fate that I want, but best you leave with him now.”

She nodded once to show that she understood. “We’ll keep him safe,” she promised before turning to leave.

“That is all I can ask of you. But please, make him happy as well.”

Mikasa nodded again and then hurried after Eren. The boy, Armin, was still calling out for his ‘pap-pap’, his arms held out over Eren’s back as if he could reach the old man, his face covered with tears and snot. The expression on Eren’s face just then was one of extreme unhappiness, yet he stroked the boy’s bright hair as he jogged along the streets, eyes glowing and intent on any sign of danger.

“You’re feeding him,” he snapped as soon as she caught up with them.

“You’re the one who knows how to cook,” she pointed out as she adjusted her scarf.

“You… argh!” A slight smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “I should have seen that one coming.”

“Yes, you should have.” She rushed forward to drive off an approaching Malform and then fell back to his side. “I suppose I’ll handle baths, then.”

“It’s the least you can do.” He glanced down at the kid – Armin – who was finally subsiding to quiet sobs, his small head resting on Eren’s shoulder. “This is going to make things more difficult until he grows up some.”

It certainly was. Yet she noticed that Eren was planning on what to do with Armin, not how to get rid of him. So difficult or not, they now had the added responsibility of raising a child for the next ten years or so. Considering everything else they’d done over the centuries, surely it couldn’t be that hard?

*******

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