chapter fourteen

*******

unravel

*******

Levi could only stand there helplessly and stare at the three figures on the large bed with the white sheets, at the two faceless men who had Eren sandwiched between them and moaning in pleasure. The brat’s beautiful eyes were closed, his skin glistening with a sheen of sweat and strands of his dark hair clinging to his lovely face, to his slender neck and shoulders. That body, the body that Levi had felt beneath him as they trained, as they fought; so lean and lithe, gleamed in the room’s light, in contrast to the pale skin of the anonymous lovers who loomed over him. Their large hands pulled his hips this way and that, spread his long legs and roamed over that sun-kissed skin…

Levi *felt* it each time that Eren moaned, every time he begged for another touch, another stroke, another thrust. He felt a jolt through his body like an electrical surge when Eren opened his glowing golden eyes and looked over at him, his face contorted with passion as one of the other men loomed behind him and fucked him hard. Levi struggled to go over there, to pull Eren from the bed, to shove the man away hard enough to leave a bruise and could only watch impotently as the other faceless stranger grabbed Eren by his tousled hair to pull his face toward his erect cock. Eren lapped at it eagerly, his hands lifting to wrap around its base to hold it ready for his mouth. Both men thrust continuously into Eren, greedy hands grasping at him to hold him still, fingers tangled in dark hair or digging into his hips, rocking him back and forth as he groaned in pleasure, as he took them in, his burning eyes locked onto Levi – Levi who wanted nothing more to move, to yell at them to fuck off, to punch and hit and-

And then it was him on the bed, it was his hands digging into that firm, tan skin, his cock that was sinking into that delectable ass. If he thought that it was warm to sit near Eren, to feel the heat radiating *from* him, it was nothing like it felt to be *inside* of him, to feel it clench around him, to slide so tightly around his cock with each thrust in and out. He groaned in bliss as he sunk in deep, his head tossed back at the almost searing friction as he bottomed out. Rolling his head forward, he frowned when he stared down on tousled dark brown strands and pulled out quick, forcing a protesting squawk from Eren. A sly grin spread across his face as he grabbed hold of a long leg and used it to roll the brat over, revealing Eren’s flushed and furious face, those luminous eyes glaring back up at him. Sliding back in to that heat snatched the breath out of him, made him bite at his bottom lip while Eren arched up his back to meet his hips, and-

And the *fucking* comm went off, shattering the dream and wrenching him back to reality, where he sat up in bed, sheets twisted about his sweat-drenched body and cock so fucking hard it *hurt*. Levi sat there for a few seconds, fingers twisted in his hair as he tried to adjust to reality, to calm his frantically beating heart and over-sensitive nerves. As the damn comm continued to shrill at him, he slapped his hand on the unit to shut it up. “What the *fuck* do you want?” he snarled at the shitstain brain-dead enough to wake him up. “Fucking Malform better be fucking chewing on your damn spleen!”

There was silence on the line for a few seconds. “Uhm, Sweetie, did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed or what?” Hange actually sounded a bit subdued for once. “Did I bother you during your morning constitutional or something?

No, just during one hell of a realistic wet dream, featuring the damn *brat* of all people – not that Levi would admit it to Hange under the pain of death. “You woke me the fuck up, Shitty Glasses.”

“Oh.” There was another pause. “Oh! I’m sorry! You usually get by on such little sleep that I figured it was safe to call a bit earlier than is polite for most people. I just wanted to get together with you before breakfast so we could discuss the new training regime.”

Levi ran his fingers through his hair and stared down at his morning wood, which showed no damn sign of abating. Fucking brats with their damned eyes and threesomes with vampires…. “Give me… half an hour, okay?” This wasn’t going to be his usual three-minute morning shower routine, he was guessing. *Dammit.*

“All right.” Hange sounded curious, she also sounded a little leery about being yelled at again. “Meet me in my lab in half an hour. Mike will be here, too, since he’ll be involved. And Levi? I am sorry.” She didn’t wait for him to say anything else before hanging up.

Fucking wet dreams – he hadn’t had one in how long? And here comes Eren Jaeger with his sweet little ass, perverse sexual past and…. Levi forced himself to get out of bed and made his way to the shower. Dammit, at least he could get some payback for having to start the day out with defiling his clean shower later on in the morning’s training session.

*******

Eren poked at his breakfast with his fork, not even feeling up to the pretext of faking an appetite. He didn’t think his stomach could handle the egg/mysterious protein/hydroponic vegetable mash that passed for some sort of scramble, especially since he could smell it so vividly. Humanity struggled so much to survive the solar radiation and Malform attacks, only to do themselves in on their own food resources? It was truly pathetic….

“-going out, I better get a good dinner out of it,” he heard Sasha whine, cutting through his thoughts on how humanity was slowly killing itself via processed foods. “They *are* paying, right?”

“Wow, wouldn’t Gloria Steinem be so proud right now!” Ymir sneered at Sasha over the rim of her coffee mug. “What, you only killing Malform until the right guy comes along to take you away from all of this, puts a nice big sparkler on your finger and keeps you barefoot and preggers?” A nasty look sharpened Ymir’s narrow features. “Is the Freedom Corp the modern equivalent of going to college to hook yourself up with that pre-med or law school major and now you can coast on PTA meetings and margaritas for the rest of your lives after latching onto an MP?” She pointed a suspiciously long fingernail in Mikasa’s direction. “I always knew there was something sneaky about-“

“Ymir.” Eren was too tired for this bullshit this early in the morning, not after being subjected to a *makeover* of all things last night and then left to think about what that bastard Armin had told him instead of being able to sleep. He let a flash of fangs show when she glanced in his direction, careful to cover them before anyone else noticed, then bowed his head. “It’s too early for this shit,” he mumbled while he pushed aside his tray.

As intended, Sasha snatched up his food tray as a distraction, though she did manage a minor complaint before she descended upon the food. “You guys are weird – I never know half the stuff you talk about.” Yet she sounded cheerful before she began to stuff her face.

“Ymir’s not happy unless she’s making people confused. I think she believes that it gives her some sort of advantage in life, as if we’re all playing the same game,” Krista explained. Judging from the bit of heat in her voice, Ymir was going to be busy smoothing things out with her girlfriend later; Krista seemed big on keeping the peace, on blending in and getting along, from the little he’d seen of the girl. Considering the way that almost everyone at the table was smiling at and fawning over the pretty blonde, he’d say she did a damn good job at it.

He rested his head on the table and sighed when he felt Mikasa run her fingers through his hair. “Did you get any rest last night?”

“Not really.” He knew better than to lie since her senses were so sharp.

“Does it bother you so much, me going on the date tonight?”

His nose scrunched up at the thought of her going out with an MP, especially that horse-faced asshole, but he knew that she could take care of herself. Yet he shrugged, unwilling to admit that what had really kept him up all night was the thought of Levi, of how he was going to act around the short bastard and if it was possible that the man truly did have any romantic inclinations towards him. How did people go about this whole ‘like’ thing? What was wrong about just fucking someone, getting the pent up desire out of the way and moving on with your life? Why did there have to be something *more* involved? Why did his stomach clench and his heart beat so erratically whenever he thought about Levi?

“Eren? Are you all right? If there’s a problem I can-“

He sat up and grabbed Mikasa’s hand to hold between his own. “Just be careful, all right?” he asked as he looked into her eyes. “I know Sasha will be there, but… well, I don’t trust the MPs and things are still dangerous.” He couldn’t mention the trio when they were surrounded by others.

Mikasa gave him a tender smile while she squeezed his hand in assurance. “We’ll be okay. I promise.” The way she met his gaze meant that she wasn’t going into this without careful thought.

“Yeah, and even if it costs us the free dinner, I’ll kick their asses if they try anything, I promise.” Sasha held a piece of toast to her chest as if swearing an oath upon it – which she just might be doing, considering it was a piece of food. “I won’t let anything happen to a friend and a comrade!”

Ymir made a gagging sound in the back of her throat. “You mean you won’t let anything happen to your source of free meals.” She looked proud of herself until Krista turned to chastise her for the comment, which provide rounds of laughter from the table. Eren smiled and shook his head at the look of fear on the vampire’s face as she was taken down by a ‘girl’ so much younger and a good bit smaller.

He was working up the nerve to try his coffee when Armin called out Mikasa’s name. “Don’t you think that Eren’s hair looks much better today? The girls really did a great job on him last night.” Armin’s face lit up with a proud smile as he leaned over the table.

Eren shot him a very disgusted glower and pushed his coffee aside. “I’m still not talking to you,” he huffed before tucking back the strands of hair falling into his left eye – the now neatly trimmed strands of hair. The strands of hair smelling distinctly *flowery*. His eye twitched at the memory of how he’d been held down while the *purple* goop had been dumped on his head.

Mikasa hummed for a few seconds, her head tilted to the side as she considered his appearance. Then she reached out again to stroke his hair. “He does look a bit less bedraggled now.”

“Oh screw you both,” Eren muttered as he batted her hand aside, which prompted laughter from Armin. “Maybe you should let the girls give you a make-over before your date.”

That prompted a smile from his sister as she tugged up the scarf. “Don’t pout now, it’s unbecoming.”

“I’m not- argh.” He ran his hands through his hair and tugged on the strands. “Isn’t it about time for us to report for training?”

The amusement drained from Mikasa as she straightened up in her seat. “I suppose.” She waved goodbye to Armin, who would show up with Ymir to Captain Hange; since they’d given their trays to Sasha, they didn’t have anything to return to the dishwashers but their mugs, which the girl always offered to return as well. Eren also waved goodbye and left the dining room with his sister. They made their way to the small adjunct corner of the training grounds, and were surprised to find only Gunther and Captain Zacharius waiting for them there once they arrived.

“Uhm, where’s everyone else,” Eren asked when he noticed that Levi and the rest of the private squad were missing.

Gunther gave him smile by way of greeting – since the fight at the park, the man had been a lot friendlier with him. “You’re to follow me to where they’re waiting for a private training session.” He glanced at Mikasa and motioned to the captain leaning against the wall. “Mikasa, the captain has assigned you to work with Captain Zacharius today.”

Eren and his sister exchanged a quick a look before he turned back to Gunther. “Why? I thought we both were supposed to train with Captain Ackerman together.”

“Because the commander wants the three of you to share your… experience with Levi, Hange and me in light of the new enemy,” Captain Zacharius explained. “Levi gets you, Hange gets Ymir and I get Mikasa.” He pushed away from the wall and approached the two of them, leaning forward to give Mikasa a quick sniff. “Yes, we’ll fight well together.” He turned away from a stunned Mikasa to give Eren a sniff as well. “Get going, Levi’s waiting for you.” For some reason, a knowing grin spread across his usually impassive face.

Still not sure what the hell was going on, Eren allowed Gunther to lead him away once he received a nod of approval from his sister. He wasn’t sure if he really trusted that odd captain, but he knew that Mikasa could look after herself, and it wasn’t as if they could so easily ignore an order from Commander Smith. At least she wasn’t stuck with Captain Hange….

Gunther led him back into the building and into a lower level, through a series of hallways until he felt that he was lost. They finally came to a door that Gunther needed to enter a code to pass through, and Eren was surprised by the size of the room inside – it looked to be a huge old storage room of sorts, with most of the boxes and pieces of furniture shoved against the wall. Cleaning bots ran back and forth across the floor, sweeping up the remaining bits of dust, while Olou and Erd inflated mats on the newly cleaned sections.

“It’s about time you showed up.” Levi stood in the center, appearing half-undressed without his grey jacket, blades and gloves, and with some sort of scarf tied loosely around his neck. While Eren watched, he untied the scarf while he walked over to them. “Figures you’d show up after all the hard work is done.”

“Uhm....” For some reason Eren felt his face become flushed and he rubbed at the back of his neck while he tried to figure out what to say.

Petra finished fussing with a stack of boxes, a piece of cloth tied over the bottom part of her face; she pulled it down as she laughed. “It’s not as if he knew what was going on, Sir.” She smiled at Eren while she motioned at the room. “What do you think of our impromptu training room?”

Eren remembered what Gunther had said earlier and frowned. “Yeah, what exactly am I supposed to be training you guys?” He wished he would stop blushing, especially since Levi was standing so close now.

“Erwin wants a few of us to get experience combat with vampires, so that means you, Mikasa and Ymir get to take off the kid gloves. In order to do that, we had to find someplace private to train.” He continued to stare at Eren, who fidgeted under the strain of his regard. “Something wrong? You feeling constipated or something?”

“I, ah, it’s the dust in the air.” Eren made a big production of rubbing his nose while waving his other hand in front of his face. Dammit, he was going to *kill* Armin for this.

“Uh-huh.” Levi looked as if he wasn’t believing a word of it; for some reason he seemed in a particularly bad mood this morning, judging from the scowl on his face. “So, we’re going to fight today, and this time you don’t have to hold back on the speed and strength. I want everyone to have a chance fighting you so they have an idea of what we’ll be up against.”

It was a relief to see that they were taking the threat of the trio seriously, though Eren wasn’t sure if this was a good idea. “I can give you some idea of what to expect, but there’s going to be a big difference between fighting me and fighting people who will gladly pull your lungs out through your nose if given a chance.”

Levi’s grey eyes narrowed and he leaned in closer. “You have any better ideas?” When Eren struggled not to react to his presence and merely shook his head, Levi huffed and smacked the scarf into his chest. “Yeah, thought so.” Then he turned around and began to pull on his gloves. “I’ll be your first sparring partner.

Great. Eren rubbed his face and wondered if he could claim that he’d inhaled too many chemical fumes last night from the make-over and needed to go to Medical or something. “Aye, aye, Captain Napoleon. Once more into the breach.” He trudged along, wondering just how spectacularly this was going to blow up in his face.

Since Levi wasn’t wearing his blades, Eren removed his, handing them off to a smiling Petra before joining the man in the middle of the mats. He eyed Levi cautiously for a moment, noticing the tension in the shorter man’s body. “You said you want to know how the others are going to fight, right?”

“I want to know how to take them down.” Levi’s scowl increased and the amount of animosity in his voice just then surprised Eren.

“Okay then.” Eren wasn’t quite sure what the hell was going on, but he figured he could handle doing his best to prepare Levi and his squad to fight the trio. Before Levi could react, Eren lunged to the left and upward, dashing past Levi at full speed. He heard the other man curse at him as he continued on, using his claws to cling to the exposed bits of wall and even the ceiling. Beneath him, Olou took to swearing while he climbed about, and he could hear Levi muttering about ‘damn brats’. He continued to race about, moving as quickly as possible to disorient the man. When he hit a patch of shadows, he coiled his legs beneath him and leapt in Levi’s direction.

To give the man credit, Levi managed to turn into the attack and raise his gauntleted arm up enough to partially block Eren. They rolled together onto the floor, Eren easily overpowering Levi and ensuring that he was the one on top when they came to a stop. He pinned down Levi’s right arm with his knee and held onto his left arm while his left hand hovered over the man’s throat, claws fully extended.

“Don’t forget that they’re not going to come after you from just the ground – they’re a hell of a lot smarter than Malform and they’re very good at having the lay of the land where they’re fighting. Mikasa and I have been ambushed more than once from above by those bastards.”

“That explains why you love rooftops so much.” Levi gazed back up at him, seemingly unfazed at being knocked to the ground and having claws posed at his throat. For the first time since Eren had seen him that morning, he appeared his normal self – at least, no more pissy than usual. “Now, unless you’re going to do some… ‘special’ training, we should try that again.” As he spoke, he shifted one of his legs, raising it between Eren’s until it rubbed against his groin.

Doing his best not to yelp in shock, Eren damn near jumped up from Levi, his face red with embarrassment. That had… surely it had been…. He stared at Levi, who had a definite smirk on his face as he stood up at a more leisurely pace, taking the time to dust off his uniform as if it were dirty. Did the smug bastard just deliberately rub against him? Surely Armin’s insane insinuations were driving Eren crazy to the point where he was imagining things.

“Come on, ‘Rebel’, show me what you’ve got,” Levi ordered, a taunting smile on his handsome face.

Eren wondered if he was going to get out of this session with anything remotely resembling his dignity *or* sanity intact.

*******

Levi took a sip from a bottle of water while he watched Gunther and Erd attempt to tackle Eren, who dodged the two men with ease and once again leapt for the walls. His squad was getting better at anticipating Eren’s speed, but they were also wearing out from the fast-paced attacks and calculated strikes. Petra and Olou were slumped against the wall a few feet away, Olou panting in exhaustion and Petra doing her best to sip her water slowly to prevent cramps, her face flushed and hair damp with sweat.

Levi felt in dire need of a shower himself, his white shirt sticking to his back with sweat and his bangs clinging to his forehead, not to mention the hot water would feel good on his sore body. The brat had managed to take him down a few times, moving with a swiftness that was almost mesmerizing; Malforms, although fast, were ungainly, ugly fucks. You never forgot that you were dealing with undead creatures, with bodies that were animated corpses. Eren, however, was alive, was as graceful as a cat stalking its prey – well, most of the time. Levi smiled as he recapped his water and set it aside.

“All right – that’s enough for today.” As soon as he called out, Eren dropped to the ground in a crouch while Gunther muttered in thanks and Erd slumped against a wall of boxes. Both of the men appeared sweaty and flushed, while Eren barely looked put out by the all of the exertion. That was, until Levi gave him an appraising stare, and then a hint of red spread out over his cheeks and he ducked his head.

Leaving the ongoing torment at that for now, Levi focused his attention back on his squad. “So, what is it that we’ve felt that we’ve learned so far today?”

Gunther huffed a few times before he spoke. “That those bastards are going to be slippery as hell to kill, Sir.”

Erd grunted in agreement. “No kidding. I’m hoping it’s a lot easier to take them down with our gauntlets.” He rubbed his left wrist as he spoke.

“Don’t count on that too much.” Eren tucked back the hair falling into his face, which Levi had noticed was less ragged today. “They’re too smart not to take an advantage like that away from you if they can.”

“I agree, which is why we practiced without blades or any rappelling today.” Levi approached the three and inwardly smirked when Eren flinched at his presence. It had been amusing as hell to get his revenge all morning long by taunting the brat as much as possible with carefully masked salacious touches; he figured if he had to suffer, then so should Eren.

Olou forced himself to his feet, his face red from exertion. “No worries, Captain. We’ll have those creatures’ heads in no time – we were just taking it easy on Eren here today.”

Before Levi could take the fool to task, Eren stepped in. “No, you won’t.” He ran his hands through his hair and clasped them behind his neck, his eyes glowing faintly. “Taking on any of the three isn’t something I’d want to do for the hell of it, and I owe them *centuries* of grief. They’re skilled, determined as hell and they don’t stop coming until either you hurt them enough or you run and hide where they can’t find you.” He let out a sharp breath and shook his head. “And you guys can’t regrow a hand or a liver, can you?”

Well, that was a cheerful way to put things, wasn’t it? Levi reached over to smack the back of the brat’s head. “I think they got the point.”

“Dammit!” Eren turned to face him, looking at him directly for the first time that day without any tentativeness or bashfulness. “Look, I’ve seen them kill way too many people I’ve known over the years. I don’t want to see them kill any more.”

Levi hated to be at a loss for words, but it was difficult to say anything after hearing that and being faced with Eren, his expression serious and huge eyes blazing with emotion. Levi stared back for several seconds before making a tsk’ing sound and looking aside. “We may not all be long-lived vampire hybrids, but we know what we’re doing.”

There was a sound of a heavy sigh from the brat. “Yeah, I hope so. Do you need me for anything else right now?”

“No, I think the squad could use a break.” Levi went over to retrieve his jacket and blades from the box where he’d left them earlier. “Eren, you, me and Gunther will be out on patrol later. Erd, I want you to shadow Mikasa tonight.” He looked up to see if the brat was going to object to the night’s plans, but was given a nod in return.

For some reason Eren didn’t stick around to chat, but considering how flustered he’d been the last time Levi’s hand had ‘accidentally’ come in contact with his ass, he supposed he couldn’t blame the kid. It had been fun to get some payback for that damn wet dream, but he was a professional and had more important things to do than tease some… whatever the hell Eren was.

Levi had almost reached his room and the much needed shower when one of his squadron tracked him down. “Sir, Commander Smith wants to see you right away,” Ramya told him, her shoulders thrown back so far the position had to be hurting the young woman. “He also said something along the lines of ‘where the hell is his comm’, but I’m not sure if that was part of the message.”

Cursing Erwin and his shitty timing, Levi dismissed the girl and spun on his heel to go see the domineering bastard. Was it too much to be clean before he put up with this shit? Apparently so. At least everyone got the hell out of his way so he made good time in reaching Erwin’s office.

“I didn’t bother with my fucking comm because I was busy *training*,” he told the asshole as soon as he entered Erwin’s office, not even bothering to see if the man was on the comm or not. “Last thing I need is a shitty, control-freak bastard like you pinging me while Eren’s trying to pound my head into the floor.”

“I’m beginning to see why Eren would want to do such a thing,” Erwin remarked with a pleasant tone, a placid smile on his face when he looked up from a datapad. “Maybe I can watch while he does it.”

“Oh fuck off and die,” Levi snarled. He was about to sit down in a chair and then thought twice about it, going with leaning against the door instead; maybe tormenting the brat hadn’t been the best of ideas, since the last couple of slams had been a bit… vigorous.

“Cheerful as always.” Erwin set the datapad aside and folded his hands together. “So I assume that training went well today?”

Levi tugged his damp shirt away from his body and grimaced. Five minutes for a fucking shower, was it that much to ask for, really? “Yes and no. We’ve an idea of how those fuckers will most likely attack and move, but Eren really drove home that they’re a class above Malforms. I’m hoping we get a few more sessions in before we run across them, because it’s not going to be easy, switching gears like that.” His people had fought Malforms for years – they did it well and were the best. It wasn’t easy to unlearn those skills in just a day, to adapt them for a prey that was smart enough to use that fact against you.

“We’ll have to see. My first impression is to try to unmask their presence in the MP, but it won’t do us any good until we find out who’s backing them there in the first place.” Erwin leaned back in his chair, his expression suddenly guarded. “Shadis agrees with me.”

It took a moment for the importance of what was just said to sink into Levi’s head – he was tired and still half-focused on taking a shower. “Shadis? You’ve talked to Shadis?” He waited for Erwin to nod before stalking over to the bastard’s desk. “Just how much did you tell him? About the vampires? About *Eren*?”

“Levi, I had to-“

“You shitty bastard! You promised them that you’d keep them a secret!” Levi shouted as he reached across the desk, hands intent on Erwin’s throat. “How many people are you going to betray?”

“No one!” Erwin roared as he jumped to his feet, his hands knocking Levi’s aside. “I *had* to do it, it’s not just about Trost anymore! Dammit, Keith Shadis is about the only other person I know we can trust, and he had to know! Maria and Bern are still too quiet, and we’ve vampires in the MP here. Something is going on, something big, and that’s not even taking into account the vampires twisting the solar radiation data.” Erwin stared at him, his blue eyes wide as if he was pleading with Levi to understand. “At the very least, if Trost falls we need someone to know the truth.”

Levi always knew that Erwin put humanity first and foremost, it just was hard to take when it seemed that it was him and those around him who paid the price of Erwin’s grand schemes all the time. “And what if Shadis tells someone he shouldn’t about Eren? What if that transmission got intercepted?” Why was it bothering Levi so much – why didn’t Erwin seem to care?

“It was a secure line, I promise you that.” Erwin seemed to reach out to Levi and then thought better of it, his hand falling back onto the desk. “And you should know by now that Shadis can be trusted.”

Should. *Should* know that the man could be trusted. Levi had also stood in this room and heard Erwin swear that Eren’s existence would be kept a secret, so he didn’t say anything else just then. Erwin was quiet for a few seconds before he continued. “Shadis is going to help us look into the solar radiation cover up and see what he can find out about Maria and Bern.” He paused for a second, which clued Levi into the fact that he wasn’t going to like what came next. “But he thinks – and I agree with him – that we need help here in Trost. I asked Hange to find out as much information she can about the solar radiation considering that she’s been researching it for years, and then I’m taking it to Pixis. We’ll need an ally if we’re going up against the MP.”

Erwin tensed as if waiting for an explosion, yet all Levi did was continue to stare at him for several seconds before speaking. “And what are you going to tell him,” he finally asked, his voice quieter than normal. “Are you going to tell *him* about Eren?” His hands clenched into fists, aching to reach for his blades.

There was a heavy sigh and Erwin shook his head. “Not if I can help it.” He glanced at Levi, perhaps warned by the shift in his stance. “I’m doing everything I can to keep Eren and Mikasa safe, but sometimes we have to back up our data with proof. So far, I trust Hange to do that while keeping them hidden.” He stood up and gestured to the various datapads on his desk. “We’ve vampires in the *MP*, Levi. You know how high up that has got to go. Everything… something needs to be done.”

“What I know is that they trusted you, Erwin. They stood here in this very office and took you at your word when you said you’d keep their secret and keep them safe in return for them helping you fight against the Malform and find a cure.” Levi pushed away from the desk and took a step back. “I’m just beginning to understand how much shit they’ve put up with over the years, and they took a chance on you, on *us*. I won’t just stand by and let you fuck that up.” With that said, he turned on his heel and headed for the door.

Erwin called out to him as he was just about to open it. “Is it that I’m betraying *them* or that I’m betraying *Eren* that bothers you so much?”

Levi didn’t dignify the cheap shot with an answer, he merely left the asshole’s office. As he made his way to his quarters, he found the question echoing inside his head and realized that for once he was afraid to admit the truth.

*******

Noticing that the hard drive had finished downloading, Armin began to manually check that none of the data had been corrupted; there was one more to go after this one, and then Captain Hange would have a copy of all of Eren and Mikasa’s data of Grisha Jaeger’s work – well, other than what he’d left them back in Shiganshina. Once the data transfer was completed, they’d hide the hard drives somewhere safe ‘just in case’, but it would be nice to work on the information from one main drive for a while.

Armin had just finished his check and debated on starting the final drive when Captain Hange arrived, appearing fresh from a shower and sporting a sore bottom lip. “Hello! Having fun today!”

“I think I can say more than you,” Armin replied as he looked up from the computer. “Good day at training?”

Captain Hange laughed as she fell onto the nearby chair. “Actually, it was.” She winced a little as she patted her lip. “I learned a lot about vampires today, and picked up some new moves. All in all, very productive.” She hummed a little as she jotted down notes in the small book she always carried around.

So, the captain had trained with Ymir and ‘learned a lot about vampires’ – somehow Armin didn’t think the training was covering rappelling since it wouldn’t be Captain Hange bruised and picking up new things – Mikasa and Eren were suddenly more tight-lipped than normal and Mikasa was going out on a *date* of all things tonight, with someone from the MP. He’d have to be an idiot to not figure out that something was going on, and he’d put every bit of information he’d gathered in the last forty years or so on it pointing toward the others, most likely the trio in particular, finally having tracked them down. Oh, and something to do with the MP as well. That might take a little longer to figure out…

“All right, so what have you been up to?”

The captain’s question startled Armin from his thoughts. He gave her a tentative smile while motioning toward the computer. “I finished downloading another hard drive. Almost all of the information is available to you now.”

“Great!” The energetic woman jumped to her feet and actually grabbed Armin to give him a hug. “Oh, dammit!” She released him and began to stalk around the desk. “Of course Erwin gave me an assignment to do! Now I won’t be able to look at the data for *hours* at least, maybe not even until tomorrow!” She tugged on the end of her ponytail with enough force that Armin winced in sympathy.

“Uhm, what project? Is it something I can help you with, maybe?”

Captain Hange paused in her hair-pulling to blink and then gave him a huge smile. “Maybe! What do you know about the solar radiation levels? The *real* solar radiation levels?” She rushed forward to get in his face, so close that he nearly fell out of his seat. “You’ve been outside, right? Eren and Mikasa have been outside, and you’ve been with them! Tell me you’ve been outside! Why haven’t I thought about this before?!”

Scooting his chair back a little to be further away from the scary woman, Armin managed a nervous laugh while he picked up a datapad connected to the computer network. “Ah, yeah, Mikasa told me about that.” He was amazed that none of the humans had figured it out before now, to be honest. Yeah, the vampires were messing with the instruments, but were people so *blind* that they couldn’t see things for themselves? Did they have to rely upon technical readings so much and couldn’t think for themselves even after stepping outside the domes? “I’ve been outside with Eren and Mikasa, but never during the worst of the radiation. They always make sure to come back inside the domes then, since I don’t have a healing factor.”

He had to cover his ears just then as Captain Hange let out a loud squeal. “What’s it like? Is it amazing? It must be amazing! They only let me out during the two months and I just *know* it’s better than that, that there’s seasons and-“

Armin waved the pad about to try to stave off another insane, rambling rant. “What do you need to know? And yes, it’s amazing. I love autumn, personally, when the leaves change.” He smiled at her as he started to access the encrypted files ‘hidden’ amongst the downloaded data. “Eren told me the trees used to be a lot smaller when he was little, so it’s much more impressive now, seeing them change.”

The captain moaned and swayed where she stood, her hands clutched to her chest. “The breaking down of chlorophyll…. I’ve always wanted to witness that! I’ve read so much about it! Trees raised in artificial environments just don’t do it properly!” She seemed to stare off in the distance and moan.

Did he just break her now or what? Was he going to get in trouble for this or was it fine since she’d had a ‘quiet’ mental snap? “Captain? What did you need?”

“Huh?” Captain Hange shook herself and blinked several times. “Oh, yes!” She bounced toward him and nearly snatched at the datapad. “You have something?”

“I have the readings I’ve been taking over the years from a recalibrated sensor,” he admitted, hoping that Mikasa and Eren were suffering through at least something as half as uncomfortable as this right now. “I don’t know how official it’ll be, it’s that and a bit of dendrochronology as wel- oh hell, please don’t choke m-agh!” He squirmed as he was damn near throttled again, the captain’s arms incredibly strong for such a lanky woman. At least she seemed so excited she couldn’t manage to get that high-pitched squeal of hers out.

Just when it seemed that he was about to expire from the lack of oxygen, he was finally released. As he slumped over and gasped for air, Captain Hange snatched the datapad from his hand and began to scroll through it. “So it’s all here? Where is it?”

He heaved a few more deep breaths before leaning over and snatching back the device. “I wasn’t finished,” he grumbled before resuming what he’d been doing before the ‘attack’. “It’s not all Grisha Jaeger data that was downloaded – there’s a couple of personal projects of mine on there as well, such as this one.” He finished decrypting it. “It’s nothing too important or personal so I don’t mind sharing it, it’s mostly encrypted so it’s not mixed up with the other research.” Figuring out what was coming next, he held out the datapad.

It was promptly grabbed from his hands and Captain Hange immediately began to dance around with it held up in the air. “Oh how I adore you, you wonderful thing! Come with me now as we make beautiful science together, my darling!”

And Armin was back to the whole ‘snapped’ theory. “I think I’m going to go get a snack,” he said in a quiet, even voice as he was careful to not make any sudden movements while he eased off of his chair. No sudden movements to set off the crazy lady, yep, that was the wisest thing to do just then. Just get out of the lab and then find either Mikasa or Eren and then smack them for putting him through this….

*******

Eren eyed Levi as he accompanied the man along on patrol; was this all some intricate ploy to drive him insane? First there was the abuse, the smacks and threats to kick his ass, and then there was the… well, there was the sexual harassment. He couldn’t think of anything else to call the out-of-the-blue fondling, the inappropriate touching, the pats and smacks and… dammit, he was blushing again, wasn’t he? Eren felt his cheek with his gloved right hand and fought the urge to whine, which would only attract Levi and Gunther’s attention. Why was he acting like this? He never got flustered when some guy found him attractive or made a pass, not unless it was some act – a lot of them liked it when he played the whole ‘innocent’ routine.

There was no sense in trying that with Levi, not when the bastard had talked to him about the whole Reiner and Bertolt mess. Was that why Levi was doing this to him? To tease him even more about the fact that he’d screwed two ‘vampires’? It really had seemed to bother the prickly bastard last night, which made no sense – Eren had screwed a lot of unsavory assholes over the years, and had dozens of threesomes. Hell, he’d even participated in a few official orgies in his time, enough to make him *damn* grateful for his healing ability. Two guys at once he could handle without a problem, but three or more and someone usually got too impatient and jumped the queue-

“Oi! Shitty brat! What the hell are you doing, other than paying attention while on patrol?”

Levi’s annoyed voice cut through Eren’s thoughts, and he realized that he’d fallen behind the two men. Eren shrugged in embarrassment and hurried to catch up.

“Well,” Levi snapped, his fine brows drawn over his narrowed eyes and his lips pressed together in annoyance.

Considering how much the man had harassed him earlier in the day – this time without Mikasa around to beat his ass into the ground - Eren saw no reason why he shouldn’t tell the truth just then. “I was contemplating how much of a pain it is when two men decide to fuck you in the ass at the same time, Sir.” He paused for a moment to enjoy the way that Levi’s left eye began to twitch. “Literally.” He gave his ‘superior officer’ as innocent a smile as he could manage.

Gunther’s face became bright red and he spun around while producing muffled choking sounds, but Levi continued to glare at him, the twitch becoming more pronounced. “That’s nothing compared to the pain your ass is going to feel when my foot’s up it,” he snapped before turning around.

“Uhm, Sir, that’s not a kink I’ve come across before-“

“Ja-Stieger, *shut it* if you want to live through this patrol.” Levi’s voice was particularly deep and vicious as he spat out the threat, his pace quickened as if he was desperate to get away from Eren. Continuing to smile, Eren followed behind, his thoughts less distracted this time now that he had managed to fluster the bastard.

Things were a bit tense after that, with Levi refusing to look at Eren for at least half an hour and Gunther continuing to stifle laughs every now and then. Eren wisely kept quiet, as he’d been ordered, and did a better job of paying better to his surroundings. They were beginning to leave a more commercial district for favor of a residential area when he thought he caught whiff of Malform scent.

“Hey, wait a second.” He held up his right hand in a request for them to stop while he took several deep breaths. “I think I smell something.”

Levi’s pissy demeanor fell away in an instant, his expression smoothing out into almost boredom and his hands falling onto his blades. “What is it?” Beside him, Gunther lost all traces of amusement and echoed Levi’s pose.

“I….” Eren frowned as he inhaled again. “I think it’s Malform – at least two of them.” He twisted about to try to pin down where it was coming from, and decided that it was from the south. “Mix of fresh and old.” Something was off about the scent – there was Malform, but there was also blood and death. It was like there was so much being thrown at him that he couldn’t ‘read’ it properly. “I don’t like this,” he admitted.

Levi continued to gaze at him with that bland expression for several seconds before nodding slightly, then spoke over his comm that they were about to go investigate a potential Malform sighting and that they might need backup. Once he was done, he motioned for Eren to lead the way.

Heading in the proper direction, Eren forced his hands onto the hilts of his blades and felt his fangs descend; something about this was bothering him, had his nerves on edge. He didn’t fight it when his vision turned the world grey, allowing his senses to heighten as it sought out prey.

It didn’t make much sense, where the ‘trail’ led him, other than it was a quiet area with the overhead lights dimmed and no people out and about. The buildings were lacking windows, probably as a safety feature, and were spaced close together for space efficiency. Eren looked about to see where a potential Malform was lurking, on edge because nothing seemed to ‘fit’ what he expected for a normal Malform hunt.

He was just about to motion for Levi and Gunther to use their gauntlets so they could investigate the roofs when two Malform came charging down the sides of the nearest building, moving with a frightening speed that signaled an intent to attack. “Captain!” Eren called out the warning even as he launched himself up the wall, forgetting about his own gauntlet at the moment. He heard the hiss of a rappelling dart being launched and saw Levi fly up to meet the other Malform right as he slammed into the one he’d targeted, claws and teeth sinking into leathery skin as he was knocked into the air. Part of him remembered his gauntlet in time and he fired off a dart while falling, bracing for the impact even as he used his teeth to rip out the creature’s throat. It let out a gargling hiss as it fell to the ground, where Gunther was quick to finish it off.

Running out the wire to lower himself to the ground, he grunted when he landed on his feet, smoke rising from the wounds on his arms and shoulders. Levi landed a few feet away in a more graceful manner, right arm slashing outward to flick away the blood from his blade. “Is that all of them?”

“I’m not sure.” Eren took a deep breath but all he smelled just then was blood – his own and the Malform he’d just killed. “I need clear-“ As he spoke, he caught motion from the top of another building. “More!”

This time there were three of them, and he struggled to use his blade to take out the Malform crawling down the building, to spare himself more wounds and the chance of being discovered. He had just sliced through its neck and was swinging back from the building when he finally caught a whiff of it, that elusive scent that revitalized and enraged him at the same time. “Fuck! Levi, they’re here!”

“What?” Levi scowled at him as he spun away from the building. “The hell you’re-“

He didn’t get a chance to either question or chastise Eren, as two dark shapes came bounding down the side of the opposite building, using strength, agility and claws to descend. Both wore dark clothes with hoods pushed back, revealing human features twisted all the more with the glowing red eyes. The large, broad-shouldered one leapt the span between the two buildings to land on the wall not too far away from Eren.

“Hey, long time no see. You doing well?”

“Fuck you!” Eren snarled at Reiner and fired a dart to take him within reach, but the man moved too fast, laughing the entire time.

“Already did that, don’t you remember? But don’t you worry, we’ll pick up from there soon enough.” He leapt again, left hand swiping against Levi’s wire and causing it to swing rapidly, altering the man’s arc and making him spin out of control. “You guys his latest fuck buddies? That how he’s suckered you in?”

“Reiner, I’m going to tear out your fucking throat and drain you dry!” Eren abandoned his blades and gave up on his gauntlet – it wasn’t any good to pretend to be a human when fighting a damn vampire. “Gonna rip you apart, gonna-“

A dark shape blurred in front of him, making him leap back before his arm was caught. “I can’t let you do that. Come along quietly and no one gets hurt,” Bertolt told him, doing his best to herd Eren back.

“Go to *hell*!” He wanted to rip Bertolt and Reiner into pieces, to tear off their heads and watch them melt away at his feet. Rage boiled inside of him, burning hatred at the people who had betrayed him, who had hunted him down, had driven him from every home he’d ever known. “Fucking die already!” He lunged forward, intent upon reaching Bertolt so he could sink his claws into him and rip him apart, unwilling to allow himself to be chased any longer.

“Reiner!” Bertolt’s eyes went wide when Eren slashed at him, and there was soon a rough, loud bark in response as the tall vampire scurried to get out of his way. Eren felt his claws tear into fabric and flesh when several more Malform came rushing in his direction.

“Dammit!” He leapt out of the way just in time, and noticed that Levi and Gunther were breaking off on their attempt to pin down Reiner to deal with the undead creatures. They shot off new wires and split apart to take on the new threat, probably before the Malform could move on into the dome. Eren went to help them and had to scramble back when Reiner landed above him.

“Sorry, we can’t have you go join your new friends just yet.” Reiner twisted on the wall to face Eren. “Besides, I would have thought that you would have learned better by now.” He didn’t sound as deliberately taunting as before, this time there was a serious expression on his face as he closed in. “Do them a favor and just give in.”

“No way in hell.” Eren debated taking this fight to the roof, but before he could, Bertolt plowed into him, causing his claws to scrape along the wall before he lost traction and went tumbling through the air. This time he wasn’t able to get his gauntlet ready quickly enough, not with Bertolt latched onto his left arm, and he couldn’t do anything but brace for impact. As with every fall in the past, the drop through the air felt like forever even though he barely had the time to dig his claws into Bertolt’s arms and lunge forward to sink his teeth into the traitor’s shoulder even as Bertolt’s claws ripped into him. The blood had just begun to flow into his mouth when intense pain exploded through his upper back and shoulders, the first part of his body to slam into the ground. Bright lights sparked through his vision before everything went dark.

He came back to his rather befuddled senses to find himself lying on the ground, his body refusing to obey his command to move and his vision double. Around him was yelling and cursing, the voices somewhat recognizable – he thought he heard Levi? And wasn’t that Reiner? Dammit, he needed to heal faster and fight.

“-some fucking back-up here now!”

“Bertolt, get Eren out of here, I’ll handle these two!”

Large, warm hands began to pick him up, causing Eren to hiss both in pain and from anger. He pushed feebly with his right arm, the only arm that worked just then, at the large, dark shape that loomed over him and blinked his eyes to force them to focus.

“It’s all right, we won’t hurt you. Just stop fighting us,” Bertolt pleaded. He tugged Eren into an upright position and wrapped his arm around his back. Eren struggled as best he could while he was lifted, his body slowly healing from the impact, but he only managed to land a few scratches.

“Sir! I’ll handle this one,” Gunther called out, and soon after there was a metallic ‘thunk’ as something impacted near Eren and Bertolt. Eren looked over in time to see Levi sliding down a wire fast, spinning the last few feet so he could lash out at Bertolt.

This time the drop wasn’t too far, and Eren managed to land on his hands and knees when Bertolt dropped him, the impact knocking the breath out of him. Yet his body was a bit more responsive now, although nothing like normal. He struggled to his feet, stumbling to the wall to use it for support while he completely recovered – where was a fucking Malform when he needed one? All there were right now were scattered piles of goo.

Several feet away was Levi spinning through the air while he fought Bertolt, actually holding his own as the tall, lanky vampire did what he could to avoid the man’s feet and blades. Levi did his best to use his speed to prevent giving Bertolt an opening even though he didn’t manage to land any hits. Meanwhile, Gunther twisted about in the air, using his wire to try to keep up with Reiner.

The blond vampire snarled in frustration of being forced higher up the wall and glared down at the ground. “Eren, I’m giving you one last chance – come with us or things are going to get nasty.”

Before Eren could reply, Levi made that annoyed, tsk’ing sound of his while slashing at Bertolt’s neck. “Forget it, the brat’s not going anywhere.”

Reiner sighed and shook his head, as if upset with Levi’s declaration. “You’re only delaying the inevitable, human. It’s your death – that’s how this always ends, right Eren?” He gave Eren a lingering, pitying look before he sprung out in the air.

“No! Reiner, no!” Eren attempted to scramble up the wall, his limbs still weak and unable to lift him more than a foot or two. “Dammit, fight *me*!”

“Eren, get your ass back down and stay out of trouble!”

Reiner grinned, the expression more pained than amused, as he flew through the air and caught the wire that Gunther hung suspended upon. Both of them swung about from the added weight and impact, and as Eren watched, something sharp flashed in Reiner’s right hand. The next thing he knew, both Gunther and Reiner were falling through the air, the wire holding them up sliced, and just like Bertolt had done, Reiner made sure that Gunther took the brunt of the impact.

“No!” Eren fell to one knee as he dropped from the wall and had to force his body upright, to move in the direction of the fallen Freedom Corps fighter. He watched in horror as a visibly stunned Reiner shook his head before leaning down and biting into an immobile Gunther’s throat, drinking deeply several times before pulling back sharply, tearing out flesh with a jerking motion. “NO!”

Off to the side, he heard a scream of rage; Reiner sat upright at the sound, his mouth covered with blood. He turned his head off to the left and then to the right, where he caught sight of Eren and slowly stood up, Gunther still lying bleeding out at his feet. Reiner limped the first few steps he took toward Eren, his motions growing steadier after a few seconds.

Eren stumbled forward to meet him, the rage giving him the strength that his broken body needed. He had only gone a couple of feet when he heard the whir and thunk of rappelling gear, of worried voices calling out his, Levi and Gunther’s names.

Anger flashed across Reiner’s face as he pulled back. “Bertolt,” he shouted as he dove for the wall, crawling up with less speed and agility than he’d shown earlier. There was a cry of pain and then another dark shape joined him, rushing for the roof and over it.

The savage, blood-thirsty part of Eren wanted to chase after them, to slake his hunger in their blood but the scent of fresh blood nearby shook him from his rage. He forced himself away from the wall and toward the enticing aroma. “Gunther!”

Levi, his uniform slashed around the arms and his black bangs plastered to his forehead, rushed over to the fallen fighter as well. “Dammit! Gunther!” He reached the man before Eren and dropped to his knees, his blades falling to the ground beside him as he reached for Gunther’s shoulders, while around them several other members of the Corps began to arrive.

Eren more fell then knelt on the other side of Gunther, his hands trembling as he fought back the need for blood. He knew without looking that Gunther was dead, could smell the stench of death and approaching change. “Levi….”

“Dammit!” Rage twisted Levi’s features and made his grey eyes blaze almost as bright as a vampire’s; he pressed his gloved hands against the gaping wound in Gunther’s neck. “Dammit, don’t do this! You’re a fighter, one of our best!”

Eren thought he heard Captain Hange whispering to someone but focused on the man in front of him instead. “Captain… Levi, I’m sorry.” He was – he was so tired of the people he knew being killed by those fucking vampires, of being in this position where he could do nothing but kneel over their corpses. When would he fucking learn? Why did he have to keep giving Reiner and the others new targets?

Levi trembled for a few seconds before shaking his head. “It’s not your fault, brat. Gunther was a good man, he died trying to make a difference.” He slowly removed his hands from Gunther’s throat, the flow of blood having stopped.

He died because he came near Eren, but there was little point in saying that now. Eren rubbed at his face with his right hand, mindful of his claws, and dared to broach what needed asked. “Uhm… do you want… me to take care… of him?”

At first he thought that Levi didn’t hear him and was about to ask again, his intentions a bit clearer since he knew that Gunther was going to change quickly, and then Levi shook his head again while picking up his blade with his right hand. “No, he was one of mine, he’s my responsibility.” He paused to remove his bloodied left glove so he could tear free a patch from Gunther’s jacket, then rose up enough on his knees to have a clean strike.

Eren looked away while it was done and struggled to his feet, his body mostly healed but incredibly weak; he would have to feed soon, but didn’t know how he would manage that with Levi appearing so dazed just now. Once Eren was standing, Captain Hange came over, a sorrowful expression on her face; behind her was Ymir, who stared intently at Eren.

“Oh Levi, Sweetie, I am *so* sorry,” the bespectacled captain told him, daring to even lean forward to give him a quick hug. “Gunther was a great guy.”

“Why the fuck did it take so long for you to get here?” Levi pushed her away with his bloody right hand, a grimace on his face when he realized that he was still wearing the stained glove which he immediately began to remove.

Captain Hange didn’t seem offended by the brush-off. “Because we were attacked by a pack of Malform while on the way – we couldn’t let them alone and have them kill civilians, could we?”

Levi looked ready to argue but closed his eyes again. “No, you couldn’t.” He combed back his bangs with his fingers and let out a slow breath, his shoulders slumped forward. “They planned this – they did their best to get Eren from us.”

Ymir spoke up for the first time since she’d arrived. “They’ve probably been watching for a bit, figuring out your pattern. If I were you, I’d keep him confined to the base as much as possible.” She gave Eren an apologetic look when he glared at her for the interference; what game was she playing now?

Looking as if he wanted to say something, Levi opened his mouth yet shut it a moment later. He shook his head as he shoved Gunther’s patch into a pocket inside of his jacket. “Let’s get back to headquarters,” was what he finally said as he began to walk away, his pace lethargic.

Eren watched after him with concern and went to catch up with him, but Captain Hange caught his arm and shook her head. “Give him some space,” she warned, her voice pitched low and a gleam of pity in her brown eyes. “He’s not going to listen to anyone right now.” She waited until Eren let out a sigh and nodded in understanding, then made sure to fall in step at his right side. Ymir edged in on his left, and the other two people who had come with Captain Hange – Moblit and a strange man whom Eren had never seen before – followed behind. Eren felt caged in by them, felt as if he couldn’t be trusted to walk around by himself but was too tired and sore to argue just then. He wasn’t about to draw things out and risk another attack, not when he merely wanted to return to where it should be safe and curl up somewhere quiet. His hunger could wait a little longer.

He trailed after Levi and wondered how many more people would die – people he’d been foolish enough to let in close, to befriend. Maybe he was growing senile with old age.

*******

“So where are we going?”

Mikasa found it very telling that Sasha was more focused on where they were dining that evening than on whom she’d been set up with for her blind date. Biting back on a smile, she did her best not to fuss too much with her scarf, having been ordered by Armin to leave it looped loosely around her shoulders instead of in its usual position around her chin. “Some little café not too far from headquarters. Armin’s eaten there several times, and he says the food is very good.”

“Huh.” Sasha didn’t look too convinced of that fact, though it might be some discomfort over the outfit that Mina, Lakshmi and Nayara had forced her to wear; Mikasa thought she appeared rather fetching in the deep orange tunic and dark brown leggings, with her hair tied loosely at the base of her neck – at the least, Jean’s partner shouldn’t have any complaints. “But does Armin have any good *taste*.” Well, maybe she wasn’t so bothered by the outfit after all.

“I can assure you that Armin is used to food much better than the swill that the Corps has been feeding us lately.” Mikasa reflected back upon Eren’s cooking for several seconds, to the meals that their mother would make for them so long ago, the fancy dinners they would attend with their father and the even more distant ones that her own mother used to make. She forced herself to stop before the profound sadness would take over. No, tonight wasn’t the time for that, tonight was when she would focus on the future, would take steps to bring it about. She would force herself to be as charming as possible, would do what she could to get the answers that she and Eren needed.

Sasha appeared hopeful as she tugged at the hem of the long, loose tunic. “Really? I mean, I don’t think it’s too bad, it’s better than the rations back home. But a *really* good meal…” A goofy smile spread across her face.

“Yes, and all you have to do is put up with Jean’s partner for a couple of hours.”

Sasha skipped beside her for a few steps. “Yeah, about that. Why are you really dating an MP?” She backed away a little when Mikasa turned to look at her and gave her a nervous smile. “Uhm, I mean, you can have your choice of a lot of the guys in the Corps, you do know that, right? A lot of them were so happy to know that Eren’s your brother and Armin a cousin.”

Mikasa shrugged as she smoothed down the front of the fitted red sweater that Armin insisted that she wear instead of black. “He was the first one to ask me out,” she admitted. It was the truth, though Sasha didn’t appear to really believe it.

Fortunately, they arrived at their destination just then, sparing her any more questions. Mikasa looked around before she entered the small café and caught a glimpse of Erd sitting near the window of the coffee shop across the street. He must have left a little before they did to avoid notice, and once he caught her attention, he shifted back more into the shadows before Sasha saw him as well. Mikasa felt a little better in knowing that there was a skilled fighter waiting to provide support in case Annie and the others had heard about the ‘date’ tonight, even though she had planned on arranging the dinner close to headquarters so more back-up could arrive in a timely manner.

They had just stepped into the café when she heard her name called out – looking across the half-filled room, she could easily spot Jean because of his height, standing at a table not too far from the door. “Mikasa!” He hurried toward her, leaving his partner at the table. “You made it!”

“Was there some doubt?” She gave him a small smile and felt amused at the way he blushed. He seemed to have put some effort into tonight, dressing in what appeared to be nice grey dress pants and a white shirt, with a black belt and shoes. His hair was combed and brushed back, and she could catch a whiff of a spicy cologne. If Eren were here, her brother would no doubt be making jokes of trying too hard, but to her surprise, Mikasa found it endearing. When was the last time that someone had tried so hard to impress her on a first date? When was the last time she’d had a ‘first date’? “Are we late?”

“Ah, no, we just got here a little early.” Jean bowed his head as if embarrassed, but grinned when he looked back up. “We’re a bit happy to have a night off, finally.” He looked over at Sasha before motioning them toward the table. “So, you are?”

“Sasha Blouse.” She barely paid him any attention while she glanced around the café, focusing particular attention to the plates of food on the other tables.

“It’s nice to meet you.” He paused for a moment, a hint of red returning to his cheeks. “You both look very nice.”

Mikasa murmured a ‘thank you’ before sitting down, having to pull on Sasha’s tunic to get her friend to settle as well, since the girl was distracted by a tray of passing food.

“Connie, this is Sasha Blouse. Sasha, this is my partner, Connie Springer.” Jean appeared hopeful as he made the introductions, his partner staring in wonder at Sasha from across the table. Connie had dressed a little more casual than Jean, and he seemed suddenly uncomfortable with his green jersey while he continued to stare at Sasha.

“Uhm, it’s nice to meet you.”

Sasha smiled back at him, seeming oblivious to his sudden nervousness. “Nice to meet you, too. Are we going to order any appetizers?”

A big grin spread across Connie’s face. “Yeah, I’m starving. What do you want to eat?”

Those appeared to be the magic words for Sasha, as she snatched up the nearest menu and shared it with the young man, eagerly pointing out several options. While they concentrated on picking out some food, Mikasa waited to see what Jean would do next.

“So, have you been in the Corps for long,” he asked as he fiddled with the menu. “I mean, you said that Captain Ackerman is training you and your brother looks really young.”

Interested in seeing if the questions would center on Eren for much of the night, Mikasa shrugged as she picked up a menu as well and perused the drink list. “We just joined recently.” If he was one of Annie’s pawns, he would know that already. “We wanted to do something worthwhile with our lives.”

“You can do that in the MP, you know.” A fierce look came over Jean’s face. “I know that you Win- that the Freedom Corps doesn’t always think much of us, but we do more than just stand around. We-“ He was cut off by the young man dressed in black and white who asked if they would like anything to drink or some appetizers.

Sasha and Connie were quick to speak up and place several appetizer orders, and judging from the irate look on Jean’s face, she was under the impression that he was the one footing the bill for the night. When it came time for something to drink, Jean hesitated, his attention on the wine list, and Mikasa took pity on him. She told the server a name of a bottle of a decent red wine, nothing too expensive but still good, and he only paused for a moment to examine her before leaving to place the order. Once he left, she gave Jean what passed as a shy smile. “I hope you don’t mind me doing that.”

“No, not at all.” He smiled back as he set the menu aside. “I never know what to order, to be honest.”

“Yeah, last time we went out, he picked something that tasted like really sweet grape juice.” Connie shuddered in exaggerated horror. “And wouldn’t let me order anything else unless I was going to pay for it.”

“*Someone* likes to be free with my money.” Jean reached over to run his hand over Connie’s closely shaved hair, wringing a laugh from his partner; Mikasa was under the impression that these two were as much friends as partners, which was refreshing to see.

“I have to have something to-“ All of a sudden Connie’s good mood came to an end. He glanced down at the table and fidgeted with the menu he had been sharing with Sasha. “Well, I used to send my money back home.”

The expression on Jean’s handsome face turned serious as he stared down at his clasped hands. “Connie’s from Ragako.”

Sasha gasped at the news and offered her sympathies to Connie in a hushed voice, while Mikasa bowed her head. “It’s terrible, losing your family like that,” she murmured in a quiet voice, her hands wrapped in the ends of her scarf.

The background noise in the café wasn’t too bad, so Jean was able to hear her. “Is that- did you join the Freedom Corps because of that?” He gazed at her intently, as if her answer truly mattered to him.

It was still very early on, but she was doubtful that this young man was caught up in Annie’s machinations; her instincts weren’t quite as sharp as Eren’s could be at times, but she was also the better judge of human relationships than her brother. “Yes.” She closed her eyes for a moment as she thought about that awful day so long ago, when she’d first found out about Malform. “Yes – Eren’s my only real family left, him and a distant cousin.” She forced herself to let go of the soft material.

Jean looked ready to say something, but the server returned with their bottle of wine just then, along with glasses and a pitcher of water. He promised to be back soon with food and to take their dinner order. That led to Sasha cheering Connie on to help her pick something from the menu while Jean poured them all a glass of wine.

“I guess I’m lucky in that my parents are alive and back at the Maria dome.” Jean filled Mikasa’s glass first and waited for her approval before continuing. “I did lose a good friend right before we left for training – somehow a Malform got him right outside his own apartment without anyone hearing a thing.” Jean’s face became flushed with anger and the wine sloshed in his glass as his hand trembled with the emotion. “Stupid fool, who gets killed two days before leaving for the MP?”

The table was quiet for several seconds before Connie laughed, the sound forced and brittle. “Yeah, I mean, the slots are in such high demand that his position and a couple of others were already filled by the time we arrived here for our training. I hear there’s a waiting list *this* long!” He gestured wildly with his hands, spreading them as wide apart as he could. “We’re the best of the best!” A huge grin split across his face as he thrust out his thin chest.

“Please, you mean you’re the best, second to the Freedom Corps!” The teasing grin on Sasha’s face took out the sting in her words, but fortunately their server had arrived just in time with the appetizers to prevent any real fight. As for Mikasa, she forced herself to sip her wine to ensure that she didn’t reveal any telling emotions just then; so it sounded as if a few MP recruits had ‘conveniently’ died right before Jean and the others had arrived to start their training? Somehow, she doubted that it was a coincidence. She was left to wonder how many recruits had been killed in total so that the vampires could ensure that there were enough of them embedded in the MP to cover a sufficient amount of domes where she and Eren might go during this solar flare cycle.

“Oh, this looks so good!” Sasha began to help herself to the food immediately, startling to the two MPs at the table. The young woman’s ‘healthy’ appetite prompted a wry smile from Mikasa as she watched, well familiar with the scene by now.

“Miss? What would you like for dinner?”

“Hmm?” Mikasa glanced up at the server and set aside her menu. “Just a cup of your crab bisque will be fine, thank you.”

The server nodded before continuing around the table to take everyone else’s order. As soon as Jean had placed his and ordered some more wine, he hurried to refill her glass. “You can order some more, you know. Even if those two gluttons are determined to order one of everything on the menu.”

“No, it’s all right, I don’t have much of an appetite.” Mikasa tugged at her scarf and wondered if she should use Ymir’s ‘food allergy’ excuse right about now, but then Sasha came to her rescue.

Quickly shoving a piece of bruschetta into her mouth, Sasha nodded twice as she swallowed. “She’s always like this whenever she trains with Captain Ackerman during the day. I think he wears her out too much or something.”

Grateful for the girl’s quick thinking, Mikasa gave Jean a reassuring smile. “His sessions are… very intense. I learn a lot, but I am a bit sore right now.”

Connie groaned as if in sympathy and used the hand not holding onto a piece of something deep-fried and battered to twirl about in the air. “Damn, that shortie is amazing. Has a really shitty attitude, but he can do incredible things with a gauntlet.”

Jean lifted his wineglass and drained its content in a rush, his expression unreadable when he set the empty glass on the table. “He’s… he’s a hardass, that captain.” He stared intently at Mikasa. “Him and your brother.”

She remembered Eren telling her that Jean, or ‘horse-face’ as he called him, hadn’t been able to do what was necessary when it came to those infected by the Malform. “They do what’s needed to keep everyone safe. We all do – that’s part of our job.” She fingered the fringe of her scarf as she thought about – no, not here.

Jean let out a loud sigh and ran his right hand through his hair, tousling the gelled strands. “I guess. It’s just-“ he paused while the new wine bottle was dropped off at their table. “I guess it’s just so fucked up that we live in a world where it needs to be done, is all.”

“It’ll be even more fucked up if it’s not done when it’s necessary.” Mikasa grabbed the bottle so she could refill everyone’s glasses, grateful for the distraction. “Trust me on that.”

“You know, there are times when you seem much older than you look.” Jean pointed the index finger of the hand holding his wineglass at Mikasa. “I like that about you.”

If only the poor boy knew the truth. Mikasa resisted the urge to fuss some more with her scarf just then, a little embarrassed by the flattery. She was just about to turn the conversation back onto Jean and hope to learn a bit more of what was happening at the MP base when there was a loud beeping noise from across the table.

Both Jean and Connie let out curses and fumbled for something in their pockets, only to pull out small personal datapads. Connie’s expression crumbled while Jean’s hardened as they flicked their fingers over the screen to reveal whatever the message was that the devices were broadcasting; Jean leaned over the table and pitched his voice low to keep his words from carrying. “There’s been another Malform attack.”

Mikasa slammed her glass onto the table, instantly concerned about Eren – he was out on patrol tonight, with only the Short Bastard to watch his back. “Where? We have to go!” She pushed back her chair and rose to her feet, determined to go help her brother.

“Wait!” Jean lunged across the table to grab hold of her wrist – she nearly snarled and lashed at him in return, only catching herself at the last second. “There’s nothing you can do, I’m sure that the Corps and the MPs are already rushing to the scene. It doesn’t sound like a bad attack.” He smiled just then, as if to reassure her.

What were the odds of it being just a ‘minor’ attack after the last two big ones? Especially when Annie had revealed herself to Mikasa? No, she *had* to leave, *now*.

“We’re really sorry, but it’s protocol for us to return to headquarters during any incidents like this.” Sasha stood up as well and reached over to pat Connie’s hands. “I wish we could stay, but we’d be in so much trouble if we did. We’ll make it up to you next time!”

That seemed to placate Connie, who nudged Jean in the side. “Come on, let them go. Just because we’re always in trouble doesn’t mean that they should be, too.”

Jean was frowning at nothing as if torn over what to do, so Mikasa pulled at her arm while offering him a slight smile. “It’ll be my treat to make up for leaving through dinner. We’ll meet back up at the shop to arrange another night.”

“All right.” He didn’t appear happy just then, but he let her go. “I suppose we can always track you down at the Corps headquarters if we don’t run into you again,” he teased.

“Ha! Be prepared to have your MP butt kicked,” Sasha teased back. She gave them a wave and then followed Mikasa out the restaurant; Mikasa felt that she had spared enough time on social pleasantries and needed to find out what was really happening. She looked for Erd as soon as she was outside but couldn’t find the man.

“Mikasa, slow down!”

Sasha’s cry made her realize that she was moving a little too fast along the street, so Mikasa forced herself to a more ‘human’ pace. “Sorry.”

Huffing a little, Sasha caught up with her, her face flushed and her expression curious. “Something bad is happening, isn’t it?”

Not quite sure what the girl meant just then, Mikasa shook her head. “It’s never good when Malform attack.” She tugged her scarf up higher about her neck.

Sasha made a rude noise and waved her right hand about. “No, that’s not what I meant.” She was quiet for a few steps. “Look, I know there’s something different about you and Eren. Oh, and Ymir, too. It has something to do with what’s going on right now, I bet.”

Mikasa stumbled a little before she caught herself. “I don’t-“

“I mean, you just can’t *not* eat like the way you three do. Or not do. Whatever.” Sasha waved her hand about again. “And don’t tell me that you grab something to eat later on, because I should know – they don’t let you grab more than a bite here or there unless something happens to make us all miss a meal. It’s not enough to make up for you guys basically drinking at the meals and nothing else.” Her features hardened just then. “I grew up in the Bayern agricultural dome, and despite what people think, there’s barely enough food to go around for the people doing all the work. I know all the tricks of sneaking food… or not, so you can hoard it for later or save it for someone else.”

There wasn’t much that Mikasa could say just then, so she just shook her head once more. “We’re a lot like you, pretty much.” Why had Sasha come tonight if she suspected something?

“I know. You’re a good friend.” Just like that, Sasha was back to the smiling young woman she almost always appeared. “I mean, it’s obvious that the commander and the captains trust you, so it’s all good, I just wanted you to know since it seems you might need some help with those two back there.”

“Thank you.” Mikasa had to wonder how many people saw just the smiling, friendly façade and underestimated Sasha. She’d have to make sure she wasn’t one of them from now on. “I think I will need your help, and to answer your question, yes, I think something bad did happen tonight.”

“Figures. Right before dinner arrived, too.” Sasha sighed and pushed back her sweaty bangs. “Oh well, at least I got something to eat.” She beamed as she wrapped her arms around her stomach. “Better luck next time!”

Not quite sure what to make of that statement, Mikasa shook her head and hurried down the block leading to headquarters. She could see Captain Hange waiting by the front gate and waving to her, which gave her some hope that it couldn’t be too bad, not if one of the main captains was back at base – until she noticed the grim expression on the woman’s face.

*******

Eren made his way into the common room, hoping that he’d find Mikasa returned from her date and waiting for him. He almost stumbled from exhaustion and rubbed his eyes while he steadied himself against someone’s bunk bed, disappointed when he didn’t pick up her scent. All around him were chattering voices, people laughing and talking, calling out each other’s names as they rushed about. Part of him hated them just then, these people he’d chosen to fight alongside, these… these *young* fools.

“Eren? Eren, are you all right?”

He forced his eyes open and found Armin standing a few feet away, a horrified look on his face. He barely managed a weak smile when Armin let out a mangled sound, half like a sob and half like a laugh, and pulled him toward the nearest empty bed.

“You look terrible! Your uniform is all torn! Were you involved in the Malform attack we heard about?” Armin fussed with his ruined jacket as if he could make it look better.

Feeling bad about how he was probably dirtying another person’s bed, Eren tried to rise up, only to be pushed back down by an insistent Armin. “Well?”

“Fuck,” he muttered as he did his best not to fall onto his back, scrambling up onto his elbows to stay as upright as possible. “Yeah, sorta.” He managed to sit up again and ran a hand through his tangled hair. “Gunther’s dead.”

Armin’s blue eyes narrowed and he leaned in closer, his right hand latched onto the frame of the top bunk bed - more as if to keep Eren pinned down than to hear his quiet voice. “Those most of been some nasty Malform, huh.” When Eren didn’t say anything, he let out a slow breath. “*They’re* here, aren’t they?”

Somehow, Eren wasn’t surprised that his friend had figured it out. “Yeah,” he repeated, too tired to keep things secret like Commander Smith and Levi wanted.

“Of course.” Armin was quiet for a minute, yet his attention stayed focused on Eren the entire time. “You look like shit, you know.” When Eren laughed at the comment, his expression didn’t change. “Seriously, you’re completely ashen – I’d say you’re pale but I don’t think it’s possible for you.”

“Thanks a lot.” There were days when Eren missed the respectful little kid he’d helped raised. He tugged his fingers through a particularly stubborn knot, the pain helping to clear his muddled mind. “Go ahead, stroke my ego a little more.”

Armin rolled his eyes and raised his left hand as if tempted to smack Eren. “I’m beginning to think there’s a correlation between advanced age and being an immense smart-ass.” He scoffed once and reached out to brush something from Eren’s cheek. “In all honestly, you look like you need to eat.”

Yeah, like that was going to happen any time soon. Eren hung his head forward and groaned at the mention of ‘food’. “I don’t think they’re going to let me out anytime soon.” Between Reiner and Bertolt’s attack and Ymir’s ‘advice’, he’d probably be lucky to be able to peek outside headquarter walls for the foreseeable future.

“But that’s not going to work out for you!” Armin appeared indignant at the thought. “You need-“

“I need some air to clear my head.” Eren forced himself onto his feet, being careful when he pushed Armin aside. “Look, can we talk about this later?” He didn’t want to risk anyone overhearing a conversation like this.

That thought must have occurred to Armin because for once he gave in without any fight. “Just be careful, all right?” He leaned in to give Eren a brief, forceful hug that left Eren swaying when he was released. “I don’t want to get yelled at by Mikasa if you do something stupid like usual.”

“You used to be such a good kid,” Eren complained as he made his way to the nearest exit. Along the way he passed Krista, who gasped when she saw him but left him alone when he shook his head. Other people called out his name as well, but seemed to accept his wish to be left alone when he waved them off – they were probably used to people coming back from difficult patrols and needing some peace and quiet.

The air outside felt good on his face, never mind that it was still recycled air and that he’d been outside just a short time ago; it didn’t smell so strongly of other people and it moved more freely than the stifled air inside the building. After checking to make sure that there weren’t any witnesses nearby, Eren used his claws to climb up onto the roof.

Once on top of the building, he settled down as comfortably as he could with a barely healed body and a heavy heart. Why the hell hadn’t he expected something like tonight would happen? Had he really thought that the Freedom Corps could stand up to the others like… like equals? Sure the organization was good at killing Malform, but they still suffered losses and they were only human. Annie, Reiner and Bertolt… Eren always fought best against them when he lost himself to the anger inside of himself, when all rationality faded away and he became little more than a monster. Otherwise, he risked injuries as bad as today if not worse before he and Mikasa could escape; they’d long ago given up on trying to outright fight and would just run, saving any stand for less determined vampires they’d have a better chance of taking down.

He rubbed his fingers over the shiny metal of his gauntlet and wondered if this hadn’t been some huge mistake, if they shouldn’t have just broken a seal that night when he’d stumbled across Levi. Gunther would still be alive, Levi wouldn’t be acting like a man aged before his time and the Freedom Corps wouldn’t have a huge target painted on their backs. The trio would leave Trost as soon as they were certain that Eren and Mikasa were gone – Armin was old enough that he could stay behind and enter the University on his own.

Eren was trying to figure out which of their ‘rainy day’ stashes they could head for – the Lake Constance one? maybe up by Dusia - when he heard the sound of claws on concrete. Since he *did* hear someone approaching, he knew it wasn’t an attack – no one intent on taking him down would be so obvious – so he wrapped his arms around his knees and waited for Mikasa’s arrival.

She appeared several seconds later, still dressed in the black pants, white shirt and red sweater she’d worn to the ‘date’ earlier, the scarf looped loosely around her neck and shoulders. A relieved smile blossomed across her lips when she spotted Eren, fading quickly after she took in his appearance. “Armin was right.”

“When isn’t he?”

The comment didn’t seem to amuse her, and she rushed to his side. “Here, drink this.” Mikasa reached into the back pocket of her pants and pulled out a fair-sized flask, which she shoved into Eren’s right hand. “It should still be warm.”

“Well, there goes hoping that it’s something alcoholic, I suppose.” Eren waited until his sister sat down beside him and leaned against her, grateful for her presence and her warmth. The flask did indeed feel warm to his touch, possibly from Mikasa’s body temperature, and when he unscrewed its top his fangs immediately descended because of the scent that rushed out. “Blood?” It smelled a bit familiar….

“Armin and Krista donated a little for you.” Mikasa reached over to push his hand wrapped around the flask upward, toward his mouth. “Now drink it quickly, before it coagulates.”

Not a fan of thickening blood, Eren grimaced and did as he was told; he much preferred Malform blood to human, but beggars couldn’t be choosy when they were starving. The blood was already cooling off and getting a bit clumpy, yet it tasted *wonderful* just then, was just what his poor body needed to help it heal and to push back the hunger pangs. He drank down every drop he could and licked inside the flask as far as his tongue could reach.

Once he was finished, he handed the flask back to his sister. “Thank you.” He’d have to thank Armin and Krista later, and probably Ymir as well, since he was certain that the vampire hadn’t been happy over her lover volunteering what had been at least a cup or two of blood like that.

“You’re welcome.” Mikasa pulled back enough so she could give him a proper look-over before fussing with her scarf. “You already seem a little better now.” She settled back beside him and ran her fingers over a tear in his pants, her touch ticklish. “Just how bad was it?”

“It wouldn’t have been too awful if it was just the Malform, but Bertolt decided to drop me off a fucking wall, digging his claws in me on the way down and making sure that I landed on the bottom.” Eren laughed a little then, busy twisting a strand of hair around one of his fingers. “Wait until Ymir finds out, the ‘bottom’ jokes will never end, I bet.” He let out a yelp when Mikasa gave him a light whap across his stomach.

“It’s not that funny.” She glared at him for a few seconds before shaking her head, a hint of a smile peeking out past her scarf. “Okay, maybe it’s a little funny. You’re such an idiot.”

“It might have been remarked upon, a time or two.” Eren gave up on his hair so he could rest his head against his sister’s. “So, how was your date?” He didn’t want to talk about his night any longer. “You get kissed by a horse?”

Used to his way of changing the subject, Mikasa snorted in amusement and gave his forehead a slight flick with her fingers before she answered. “It wasn’t too bad, before I heard about the Malform attack and ended it early.” She was quiet for a few seconds. “I’m so sorry that I wasn’t there for you.”

“It’s okay – I actually thought it was a good thing, them not trying for both of us tonight,” Eren assured her. “Even if it meant you were stuck with that horse-faced asshole.”

Mikasa moaned and gently knocked their heads together. “You’re *such* a stubborn ass. Jean’s not too bad, I’ll have you know.” She fell quiet again for several heartbeats. “I’ve had much worse dates in my life.”

“Mikasa, you’ve been on an awful lot of dates, so that’s not saying much,” Eren pointed out while being a helpful brother. “That’s like me saying that ‘eh, the sex wasn’t *too* bad, in comparison’.”

That earned him another whap to his stomach but a true laugh from his sister. “Definitely an ass.” Her dark eyes sparkled in the dim light and her lips curved widely with a smile. “All right, it was a nice date. He was so eager to do everything right – it’s been a long time since I went out with someone who was trying so hard to make me happy.”

Eren bit his tongue before he said something that would ruin the moment, such as the fact that this Jean was a hell of a lot younger than Mikasa, and that she was just using the poor kid for information. In the end, what mattered was that his sister was gaining some enjoyment out of this whole mess… well, real life was going to fuck it up soon enough, so who was he to step in before that? “I’m glad you had a nice time.”

“Thank you.” Mikasa settled back against him. “We’re going to try again, since tonight got interrupted.” She played with the ends of her scarf for a minute. “Sasha knows about us, though.”

“Huh.” Eren stared out over the training ground and took a few seconds to mentally digest that fact. “She knows who we are?” How the hell had she found that out?

Mikasa shrugged, her hands wrapped around the soft material of her scarf. “No, she just figured out that we’re not… that we’re different. She’s smarter than she seems, and she swears that she’s not going to tell anyone.”

This really wasn’t his night, was it? Eren rubbed his forehead, which still ached despite the blood he’d just drank. “Okay.” Sasha seemed the type to do what she said, so he was willing to take her at her word. “Do you think we should tell Commander Smith about her?”

“I’d rather not, just in case it would get her into trouble.” Mikasa let go of her scarf. “She confided in me, I’d hate to make it seem as if I betrayed that.”

“It makes sense.” Eren let out a weary sigh and laid back to stretch out on the roof. “This has been one hell of a long day. Makes me scared to see what comes along tomorrow.”

Mikasa turned enough to look down at him, her expression tender just then. “It’ll be all right, you’ll see. Armin and I are here for you.”

He wanted to ask her if she thought that they should just run away, should just leave everything behind and go before there was more blood, more death, but he couldn’t do that when he’d gotten her into this mess and she was planning dates and being the hopeful one for once. Maybe he was just being stupid, maybe he was just too tired and worn down right then. Maybe she was right and tomorrow would be better. “Yeah, I know.”

“You coming back down?”

“No, I think I need a bit of space tonight,” he told her. “I’m going to stay up here a while longer.” When she hesitated to leave, he waved his hand toward the ledge of the roof. “Go on, there’s no need for both of us to be doing a gargoyle impression tonight.”

“You know, I miss those things. Dome architects have no sense of imagination.”

Eren smiled while he watched his sister descend back to the ground, then let his thoughts drift to back to the past, to all of the wonderful buildings they’d seen over the years, the cathedral and mosques, the skyscrapers and castles and everything inbetween. So much had been destroyed, both deliberately and by neglect, and he supposed that the one good thing about the ‘others’ were that they had seen some of humanity’s greatest achievements before they had turned into dust – Eren certainly didn’t rate the domes up there with Notre Dame or the Taj Mahal.

He was trying to figure out if there really was any significant architectural styles between the domes when he heard the impact sound of a rappelling dart sinking into concrete, followed by the soft ‘whir’ of the wire winding up. Pushing up onto his elbows, he waited out the arrival of whoever was about to disturb his solitude. When Levi’s head appeared over the edge of the roof, he wasn’t too surprised except that he had expected the man to want to be alone tonight. Judging from the way that Levi’s grey eyes widened upon seeing him and then narrowed as if annoyed, Eren figured out that maybe the man hadn’t planned on finding any company up here.

Levi paused at the edge of the roof for a few seconds before pulling himself over and onto the tilted surface. While he did so, Eren sat up, his arms resting on his knees, and waited to see what would happen next.

*******

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