chapter eighteen

*******

fly away

*******

Levi rubbed at his sore temples while cursing Hange the entire while – what the *hell* was in that vodka of hers that had made it so damn potent? It *had* to have been mostly alcohol content! He’d barely been able to stomach a pot of tea upon waking up and the thought of eating something for breakfast… yeah, food wasn’t an option.

He was walking toward the dining room in hopes of getting some coffee to help clear his aching head when he spotted Eren ahead of him, flanked by Armin and Mikasa. It was easy to tell the brat by his unruly hair and relatively short height even when he wasn’t accompanied by the other two, and Levi found himself hurrying to catch up, deciding that there were better things to do just then that suffer through whatever the kitchen was serving or dealing with Hange and Erwin.

“Hey, Twinkie,” he called out when he was a few feet away, and inwardly smirked at the way that Eren’s narrow shoulders hunched forward at mention of the hated nickname. As Mikasa turned to glare in an even more virulent manner than usual at him, her hands rising as if to lash out, Levi hurried forward to snatch at Eren’s left wrist to pull him away. “Let’s go talk somewhere.”

“Huh? What?” Eren’s bright eyes went wide with surprise as he was hauled away from his friends; Mikasa attempted to prevent him from being snatched away but was a little too slow, while Armin yelped out loud and did what he could to hold her back. “Oh, *come on*! This early?”

“What, you have plans already?” Levi dragged the brat along, not in the mood to put up with any protests after being ignored last night. He came across the nearest supply closet and keyed it open, grateful for the override access granted to anyone at Captain-level and above. “Now get in here.”

Ignoring the foreign muttering coming from Eren, he shoved the brat into the small room and followed him inside, closing the door behind them. The room was cramped but organized, with the cleaning supplies stacked on the shelves that lined the walls.

Eren stopped once he came upon the far wall and turned around, his hands on his hips and an angry look upon his youthful face. “A supply closet? Really? This couldn’t wait until after breakfast?”

“No, it couldn’t.” Levi leaned against a shelf just about a foot in front of Eren, cutting off access to the door. “Why didn’t you show up last night?” That came out a touch more peevish that he’d have preferred.

Letting out a huff of air that had his long bangs moving in front of his mesmerizing eyes, Eren flexed his hands before folding them over his chest as if showing off his claws. “I *tried* to stop by last night, but Captain Hange caught me before I reached your quarters and dragged me off to her lab.” The right corner of his mouth twitched upward for a moment. “She was rather trashed at the time, and indicated that you were *definitely* trashed, so I went along with her. She took me back to her lab and… well, I helped her with some experiments for a couple of hours.”

Levi was going to *kill* the bitch when he ran into her later. “What the hell did she do to you?” He stepped closer and reached out to grab hold of Eren’s jaw so he could better examine the brat.

Eren hissed in displeasure and caught Levi’s hand in his. “Nothing! Well, nothing too bad.” He tugged on Levi’s wrist to get him to let go. “She gave me something to drink, took some more blood and asked a lot of personal questions. She doesn’t do boundaries very well, does she?”

That prompted a loud scoff from Levi. “She doesn’t do boundaries at all, the lunatic.” He twisted his hand in Eren’s grasp until he was doing the holding. “I hope she at least woke up with a hangover this morning.”

“Hmm, last I saw her, she was passed out with her face pressed into a keyboard.” Eren grinned even as he attempted to tug his hand free. “So what about you? She said you were pretty out of it last night?”

“I think the crazy bitch spiked the vodka with something,” Levi complained, even if he didn’t care about the headache any longer. “I don’t remember anything after lying down.” He shifted closer to Eren, enjoying the warmth that always radiated from him. Was it a vampire thing? Levi didn’t recall that tall vampire he fought being so warm, and Mikasa was a cold bitch more than just personality-wise. He frowned when Eren attempted to pull free again. “Oi, you’ve got somewhere else you need to be?”

“Other than Sasha’s probably in tears over the fact that she’s being deprived of one of her extra meals….” Eren sighed when Levi took to glowering even more. “It’s a supply closet, *Napoleon*.”

“*Captain Napoleon*,” Levi reminded the disobedient little shit as he shuffled closer, until their thighs touched together. “What’s your point?” He rested his other hand on Eren’s hip and smirked when the brat shivered ever so slightly in reaction.

“Just that, it’s a *supply* *closet*. As in, filled with cleaning supplies,” Eren protested, his voice thick with sarcasm. He closed his eyes and rested his head back against the wall, a blatant invitation to Levi if he ever saw one. “This place *reeks* of chemicals.”

“Mmm, I don’t know, I kind of like the smell of bleach.” Levi leaned forward so he could nuzzle that enticing arch of golden skin, following the caress with his tongue. Oh yes, this was much better than trying to choke down some awful breakfast.

“You… ohh… you’re weird….” Eren entangled his fingers in Levi’s hair as if to keep him from pulling away.

Giving in to the urge to leave a mark, Levi bit into the area he’d just licked the same time his hips rocked forward. Eren cried out in such an addicting manner and clutched at the back of his head, at his shoulder, and jerked his hips to meet Levi’s. “Look who’s talking,” Levi murmured as he trailed his mouth along Eren’s chin.

One thing he had to say about the brat – Eren knew when to quit with the snarking. Levi found himself kissed with an intensity that had him forgetting all about his headache – he was lost to the feel of Eren’s feverishly warm body pressing against his, Eren’s smooth tongue sliding into his mouth, Eren’s teeth nipping at his bottom lip and Eren’s hands scrambling at his belts. Eren… everything right now was the damn brat, and he wanted *more*.

The heavy sound of leather-wrapped metal hitting the floor snapped Levi back to reality, enough for him to realize that Eren had fumbled Levi’s belts off of his hips. Levi pulled away enough to find that Eren was now working on his own belts, his bottom lip caught between his teeth as he struggled with the buckles. “What are you doing?”

Eren’s brows drew together as he paused in undoing the buckle. “Uhm, what, this a first base only thing? I mean, you dragged me into a supply closet. Don’t tell me it was to play ‘twenty questions’.”

As usual, Levi didn’t have much of a clue what the hell the kid was talking about, but figured it might have something to do with sex – which was fine. “So this where I pay you back for the last time,” he asked, more than a little suspicious. Hadn’t he told the damn brat that *he* would take charge?

The sigh from Eren just then was more than a little put-upon, which didn’t help Levi’s temper any. “No, this is where we both have a bit of fun, or so I’d assumed.” Eren’s eyes became luminous in the closet’s dim light, most likely a sign of his own temper. “Are you always going to be so shitty when we make out? Because it’s *not* a turn on.”

Levi clicked his tongue at that bit of nonsense while he shoved Eren’s hands aside so he could yank the damn belt buckle free. “Right, that’s why you’re always doing your best to piss me off, *Twinkie*. So shut the fuck up.”

“Ooooh, such sexy sweet-talk, insulting me like that. Why don’t you insult my grandmother as well while you’re at it and *really* get me turned on?”

Levi looked up while he was getting rid of the damn weapons belt to find Eren staring with a bland expression at him and realized that he was being teased – when was the last time that he’d been provoked by a lover like this, where he could bitch at them and be bitched back at without worrying about pushing things too far?

He’d rather not think about such things right now. “Too much fucking talking,” he complained while he pulled off his gloves and shoved them into a back pocket.

“Now *that* I can agree with.” Eren put his enhanced speed to use to reach for Levi and pull him back in, to wrap his arms around Levi’s waist as if to ensure that he didn’t move away.

Making a rumbling sound in the back of his throat to show his displeasure over Eren’s impetuousness just then, Levi grabbed a handful of the brat’s tousled hair and yanked him into another fervent kiss. Mentally cursing over the fact that they didn’t have too much free time, he rocked his hips into Eren’s to savor the feel of friction and pressure against his hard cock and the way that Eren groaned into his mouth before fumbling with one hand to undo the brat’s pants.

Breaking off the kiss after a few frantic jerks, Eren stuttered out Levi’s name and arched his neck while he helped Levi undo the buttons and zippers of both their pants, his hands shaking and his breath coming out in gasps. His voice took on a husky, needful quality that made Levi feel smug just to hear it when he spoke Levi’s name or complained about how long things were taking; Eren didn’t seem to feel any shame in making it known just how much he wanted Levi, in either voicing his wants or the way his hands clung to Levi’s body, both greedy and almost reverent at the same time. It was almost confusing, the juxtaposition of youthful looks and experience that Eren provided, the innocent face and talented touches. It drove Levi on with a need to dominate, to press the brat more forcefully against the wall while his mouth latched on to that slim neck, just to hear the lascivious cries that poured out of Eren’s mouth while that taut body undulated against his.

A curse slipped free when Eren’s hand slid into Levi’s loosened pants and wrapped around his cock; dammit, how could the little shit be so warm all of the time? He pulled back enough to see the heavy-lidded look of amusement that Eren was giving him, golden irises appearing all the brighter because of the blown black pupils. “What, are you going to tell me that I’m doing *this* wrong?”

“No, I’m going to tell you to get on with it.” Levi slid his slid his hands around Eren’s ass to yank his hips closer, then shifted his right hand around so he could push the white pants and underwear down enough for him to gain access to the brat’s cock. He wasn’t quite sure what he was expecting, if he thought he’d be disappointed or shocked, but Eren’s turned out to be on the normal side if a bit slender, surrounded by a light dusting of hair.

“It gets better if you touch it, like this.” The sarcastic bastard illustrated his point by jerking his hand along Levi’s cock, provoking a pleased hiss from him. Dammit, but Eren’s palm was so smooth as well as warm; everyone in the Corps developed calluses after a while even with wearing gloves from the constant weapons and rappelling practice.

“Ha… ha.” Levi scowled as he returned the favor, his fingers wrapped around Eren’s hard cock – and then something occurred to him. “Wait.” He fumbled around the shelf beside him until he found a clean towel and then used his grip on Eren’s firm ass to pull the brat closer, until their cocks brushed together. Smirking at the hiss of pleasure that provoked from Eren even as he shivered at the sensation, he draped the towel over their erections.

“For fuck’s-“ Eren rested his head against Levi’s shoulder. “Would it kill you to get a little dirty?”

Levi scoffed at that even as he wrapped Eren’s hands around both of their cocks. “I don’t even put up with being sweaty, you think I’ll going to go out there with some shitty brat’s spunk on me?” He reluctantly released his hold on Eren’s delectable ass so he could thread his fingers through the tangled but silky dark brown hair and use it to force the idiot to look at him. “Shit for brains.”

“Such a romantic,” Eren murmured against his lips before twisting his hand while he pumped it along their cocks, provoking a groan from Levi. “Next time, find a supply closet with lube.”

“You’re the one who heals, asshole,” Levi taunted back, even as his hips jerked into Eren’s fist. Dammit, Eren was so warm against him, almost enough to make him feel like he was burning up. He continued to hold Eren close, their mouths hovering near each other’s; for once he was with someone who didn’t give him a damn crick in the neck from being so much taller.

Eren smiled, the expression oddly tender for all of his sarcasm and snark from earlier. He closed those eyes of his and shivered, as if lost in the sensations just then, his teeth catching on the bottom of his lip. Levi tightened his grip around Eren’s hand to see what would happen, prompting him to move faster; he already felt a tightening in his lower body, his nerves tingling from the pleasure as it grew with each touch. Their hands moved faster, their cocks growing slick with pre-come and sweat, while Levi used his hold on Eren’s hair to hold him close so he could watch his expressions. “Open your eyes.”

Eren shook his head for a moment before he obeyed, his eyes as luminous as Levi had ever seen them. “So… bossy,” he breathed out, a becoming flush on his cheeks and the dark strands falling onto his face damp with sweat. He didn’t look like a kid just then, he looked… he didn’t look quite human, but he didn’t look like a fucking kid.

Levi wanted all of him just then and surged forward to claim his mouth as his hips jolted up into Eren’s touch, so close to the edge and determined to drag what was becoming his own personal tormenter along with him. Eren clutched at his shoulder as if for support and stumbled back against the wall, panting into Levi’s mouth as he began to tremble.

Keeping their eyes locked on each other, Levi sucked on Eren’s bottom lip for a moment before letting it go, just in time to hear Eren cry out his name. Those golden eyes flashed even brighter as Eren shuddered against him, his cock twitching as he came, and Levi thought he felt pricks of pain against his shoulder for a moment. The brat’s hand paused for a moment, then resumed stroking along Levi’s with a shakiness that could be felt.

Not that Levi needed much more to finish him off at that point – the feel of Eren shuddering against him and hearing his name cried out in passion added to the ecstasy already tearing through him, and when Eren leaned in to nuzzle near his right ear…. He bit into his bottom lip as he came, conditioned to remain quiet, to give little away, even as his fingers continued to clutch at the brat’s hair….

He fought to breathe evenly as the aftershocks of bliss twitched at his nerves, his body feeling languid after his release. Eren remained still, almost inhumanely so, and after a minute Levi shifted back, his fingers almost sore when he forced them to let go.

Eren’s face was blank at first, and then he managed a weak grin. “Not sure if you’re still ‘spunk-free’ or not.” He moved his hand so he could grasp the now stained cloth and used it to wipe himself clean.

Levi clicked his tongue while he snagged another cloth to tend to himself and took a step back, almost shivering from the lack of Eren’s body heat. “If I’ve got any one me, you’re doing my laundry – you’ve already ruined enough of my uniforms.”

“What, do I look like your personal maid?” Eren tossed the dirty towel aside and scowled while he made himself presentable – well, as presentable as he could be, considering his hair was even more fucked up than usual and he still appeared flushed.

For a response, Levi gave him a particularly pleased smirk.

“Oh, fuck you.”

He reached out to grab onto Eren’s ass and gave it a proper squeeze, prompting a cry from the uppity brat. “That’ll be later,” Levi informed him, his body once more flush with Eren’s as his lips brushed against that sensitive neck. “You’ll come to my room once I’m done with the patrol tonight and I *will* fuck you.” He’d gut Hange if she got in his way this time.

Eren did that alluring little shiver of his and then shoved Levi away, his eyes glittering as if filled with tears. “No.”

Startled first with being pushed aside and then with being denied, Levi wasn’t in the mood to put with this shit. “What the *hell*?”

“No.” Eren sniffed, actually *sniffed*.

Was the brat crying? Levi halted in the process of grabbing hold of his shirt and shaking the stupid out of him to try to figure out what the hell was going on here. “What-“

“No sex without a date first,” Eren told him, those huge eyes still shimmering as if ready to burst forth with tears at any moment. “I need to be wined and dined before I put out.”

-the hell…. Levi stared in… he didn’t *know* what the fuck he was thinking just then, until his brain kicked back into gear. “*Fuck* *no*,” he shouted while he did grab hold of the bastard’s shoulders and used that to shove Eren back against the wall. “You really expect me to buy this ‘date’ shit? Like you, the guy who *fucked two vampires at the same time*, really need that shit?”

A look of annoyance flashed over Eren’s face. “I keep telling you, that was a one time thing!” He sighed as he swatted at Levi’s hands. “And I have too gone on dates… uhm… hmm.” He stopped resisting as he seemed to think it over. “There was that obnoxiously sweet kid in Berlin… and that rich guy in Stockholm… the one minister in Arven? That might have been a date, technically… so about… five times?” He gave Levi a nervous grin, all sign of the false tears now gone. “Maybe I’m not really a date guy.”

Five dates. Over a millennium old, and five fucking dates. Fuck – Levi was *terrible* at this relationship shit and he’d gone on more than that, mostly because of Hange sticking her damn nose where it wasn’t wanted and setting him up whenever she felt he was being ‘too much of an anti-social psychopath with pent-up sexual needs’. “Yeah, no date. Your twink ass, my quarters, we’ll fuck there. Consider yourself lucky if you get any tea after pulling that shit.”

Eren rolled his eyes and folded his arms over his chest. “Always with the sweet-talking. Ever think you’d get farther with me if you weren’t such an asshole?”

“Didn’t know I needed it with you.” Wasn’t the point of all of this that the damn brat was a sure thing? He shook his head and reached down for his weapons.

There was a flash of gold as Eren made a deep growling noise. “It’s easier to get *in* my ass if you’re not pissing me off!” He bared a mouthful of too many sharp teeth and before Levi could move – could *think* - captured Levi’s mouth.

The first thing he *did* think was ‘fuck, there goes my tongue’, but there wasn’t any pain, just Eren’s tongue as it stroked along the roof of his mouth and then the kiss gentled, Eren’s hands coming to rest against his chest. Levi did some growling of his own as he gave the brat’s ass another squeeze, equally pissed off and turned on just then; it was so easy to forget how deadly Eren could be, to take him at that too young face value, and to know that just a few minutes ago he’d had the ‘kid’ broken down….

Uncaring that they really had somewhere else to be just then, Levi pulled Eren closer, reveling in the feel of him, the warmth soaking into his body even as that sense of pleasure and want stirred back to life. He deepened the kiss, chased after Eren’s tongue and… and almost jumped back when he realized that his mouth was flooded with blood. Before he could spit it out, Eren pressed a hand over his mouth, his eyes huge and luminous once more.

“No, it’s fine! Just swallow!”

Figuring it was the easiest thing to do so he could yell at the bastard, Levi did just that, and wiped at his lips as soon as Eren removed his hand. “What the hell?” He didn’t feel any pain and there wasn’t any new blood, now that he’d- He glared at a too innocent Eren. “Do *not* tell me I just drank more of your blood, you shitty brat!”

“Why? I swallowed the other day, seems to me it’s only fair.” Eren shrugged as he took to leaning back against the wall. “Look, it’s been a while since you last had any of my blood, so I figured that you could use a refresh.” He motioned to Levi’s left leg. “If I can’t be out there with you on patrol tonight, at least let me do this much for you. If you get wounded, it’ll help you heal and slow down any Malform infection.”

Levi ran his hands through his hair and wondered if he could get Erwin to assign him somewhere without any people for a year or two. “So you force-feed me more blood.”

“Oh, stop being such a drama queen. It was just a little bit, and there’s no negative effects,” Eren scoffed. “It should work even better this time since you’ve already had some in your system, but that’s it.” He seemed to be annoyed with Levi’s ungratefulness… but Levi noticed the way that his claws kept flexing and unflexing, a sure sign that he was upset.

So the brat had done something without asking, he supposed that he should look at the intentions behind it and leave it at that. He’d benefited from the fast healing before and could use any possible advantage against those undead vampires at this point, even if he felt a bit guilty that he was the only one ‘gifted’ with it – well, him, Armin and Krista. “Next time, *ask*. I don’t like surprises.”

Eren’s hands stilled and he smiled; with his disheveled hair falling into his golden eyes and the tension gone from his wiry body, he looked like so much fucking jailbait that Levi felt as if he should be ashamed of himself just then. Fuck, what the pedos wouldn’t have done to have gotten their hands on this brat back at Tartarus – and probably lost those shitty hands if not more, between Eren and his sister.

“Come on, the squad’s probably waiting for us.” He blamed the thickness in his voice just then due to the fact that he just drank vampire-hybrid blood.

“Yes, Sir.” Eren executed a perfect salute as he pushed himself away from the wall. They paused to put back on their weapons belt and then they were ready to go.

They received a few odd looks when they left the supply closet, but all it took was for Levi to stare down the curious shitstains for them to realize that they had much better things to do.

After a couple of minutes out in the hallways, Eren spoke up. “So, you were kidding about the whole tea thing, right? You really wouldn’t refuse me a cup, would you?”

A piss-poor practical joke and then a mouthful of blood on top of it? The brat was lucky that his head wasn’t caved in from being kicked so hard. “You’re shitting me, right?” In fact, he reached over to smack the back of the idiot’s head.

“Aw, come on!” Eren pouted as he rubbed his head. “At least give me a chance to make it up to you.”

Levi was about to say ‘hell no’, but the salacious grin on Eren’s face just then prevented him from speaking. He frowned as he considered the offer, the expression smoothing out as he remembered the blow-job. This had some possibilities…. “Maybe.”

Judging from the smirk on Eren’s face, the damn brat knew that ‘maybe’ meant ‘fuck yeah, let’s see what you can do’. Damn, tonight’s patrol was going to be *hell* to get through.

*******

Eren caught Mikasa as she was headed back to the common room. “Have a good workout?”

She smiled at him and fussed with her scarf. “Yes I-“ The smile faded as she took a deep breath. “Why do you-“

He held up his hand and switched to German, figuring that it was better to be caught speaking in some weird language than anyone overhearing what they were about to say; there were still some people who retained a few ‘native’ languages here or there, long bastardized over the years so it wouldn’t seem that odd. “It was an interesting… ‘breakfast’,” he admitted with a shrug.

Her eyes flashed gold for a moment, but it seemed to be the only loss of control. “You’re seriously putting up with someone who’s *insulting* you? Isn’t there someone better you can find if you want a fuckbuddy?”

One thing he had to say for his sister, she certainly cut to the chase. Eren rubbed the back of his neck and sighed over her directness. “Look, we talked about this last night-“

“Yes, and I get that we insulted him. The thing started out as a joke because he was a rude asshole in the first place, and he’s not getting any better.” Her eyes flashed again and she reached out to grab onto Eren’s left arm. “Does he get how people used to call you it all the time? How they’d look at you and me, the ‘twink’ and the ‘chink’?” Bitterness colored her voice. “People used those names to hurt us, to avoid seeing us as human.”

Of course Mikasa would remember the hurt better than he did; Eren never held on to the pain so much when it was directed at him, not when the pain of his loved ones was so much more potent. “I didn’t… I really didn’t make him understand.” He stopped in the hallway so he could reach out and grasp at her hands, to hold hem between his own. “I figured I’d give him a few days to let him cool off and then I’d set him straight. When both of us are angry… it gets messy and violent.”

She stared at him for a few seconds and then nodded, more than familiar with his temper. “I just think that if he cares about you, if he’s *worthy* of you, he wouldn’t call you that.” She somehow turned their hands about until she was holding his. “He’d be treating you a lot better.”

And there was his sister, in all of her amazing glory. Eren smiled up at her, full of love and pride. “You don’t think anyone is good enough for me.”

She smiled back, a faint hint of pink on her pale cheeks. “That’s because no one is,” she whispered.

“So what makes you think that some horse-faced MP is worthy of you, when you’re a million times better than me,” he asked, just as quietly.

The blush strengthened and Mikasa ducked her head. “Jean’s not that bad.”

Oh, *Jean*. Eren bit back a teasing remark that his sister seemed to have fallen for the idiot and sighed again. “You’re a better judge of people than I am,” was what he said instead and resumed walking. Knowing that he was making his sister uncomfortable and not wanting to fight about Levi, he changed the subject. “Have you seen Armin?”

“Not since breakfast.” She frowned, the blush fading from her cheeks. “He was very quiet then, and ate quickly.”

“Yeah, I noticed that he was busy most of yesterday.” They shared a worried look. “I’ll track him down after I wash off.”

“Thank you, that’ll make me feel better since I have to leave once I get ready.” Mikasa fussed again with her scarf.

So he wasn’t the only one who had noticed their friend’s odd behavior. Eren ran a hand through his hair and wondered what was going on with Armin. Had he found out something with the research? Come up with another crazy scheme?

They were quiet the rest of the way back to the common room, where Eren wished his sister a nice afternoon out with Sasha and her ‘date’. He headed to his bunk to gather some clean clothes for his shower when she called out his name. “Yeah?”

Mikasa’s eyes flashed gold for a quick second. “I still haven’t forgotten about my talk with Captain Ackerman.”

Well, shit. Eren went off to his shower wondering just how the hell he was going to dispose of a body while stuck on the base, comforted by the fact that at least Levi wasn’t too big….

*******

Something was wrong. Krista wasn’t sure what exactly, if it was this place or the threat of the vampires finding them, but something was wrong; Ymir was usually in a good mood after a special training session with Captain Hange and her private squad, yet here she was – quiet, almost sullen to the point of introspective as they headed to the showers. Krista had finished her training with Sasha, Mina and the other new recruits almost half an hour ago and been waiting for her girlfriend, and not even the sight of her standing in the hallway had done more than prompt a weary grin from the older woman.

She reached out to rest her hand on Ymir’s left arm. “What is it? What’s bothering you?”

The question seemed to startle Ymir from her thoughts, her left hand jolting away from the pouch it had settled upon. “What?” She gazed intently down on Krista for several second and sighed before switching to the dialect she’d taught her over the years. “It’s nothing, darling. I’m just… it’s not easy, teaching people useless crap that’s just going to get them killed.”

One of the things that Krista loved about her girlfriend was how Ymir was so honest with her, how she never danced around the issue or tried to sugarcoat things. Most people considered Ymir as being too blunt or purposely hurtful, but Ymir didn’t see the point of wasting time by masking things when the truth would just come out at the end. Were there times when being a bit more… diplomatic would help? Sure, and that’s when Ymir said Krista was there to balance things out, that they made a great team. Yet as much as Krista loved that trait, right now there had already been enough death, so it stung a bit to hear how little faith Ymir had in their new friends. “Do you really think it’s that hopeless? I thought Captains Ackerman and Hange were really good at fighting.”

Ymir seemed to consider that for a moment, her left arm snaking around Krista’s waist as they continued on their way. “All of the captains are really good – for humans. That Hange is just *nuts*, so that’ll give her an edge in a fight, while Ackerman is the best I’ve seen in… well, he might be the best I’ve seen.”

Krista slowed down and pulled her girlfriend over to a quiet corner of the hallway. “And that’s good, right?” It wasn’t often that Ymir handed out praise like that.

“That’s two people out of what, over a hundred?” Ymir grimaced to show what she thought of those numbers. “Three when you count the weird sniffing guy. There’s a reason why there’s so few captains in each of the Corps – most don’t live long enough to get that good or are talented enough in the first place. The trio are going to tear through them.”

“Then why bother training them?”

Ymir open and closed her mouth a few times while her arm tightened around Krista’s waist. After a minute, she sighed and shook her head, a look of extreme weariness settling over her sharp features. “Because it’s better than doing nothing. Because at least they’ll go down fighting. Because it’ll make Eren happy, and right now I need him happy so he’ll turn you.” She sounded as bleak as she looked.

For someone so independent, Krista was stunned to learn that Ymir was putting out so much effort for people she usually cared so little for - with the possible except of Eren. “But… is it so important, us coming here? We were doing fine on our own.” If her lover was so unhappy, they could just leave.

A tender smile broke through the weariness and softened Ymir’s features. “Yes, it is.” She pulled Krista closer. “Once you’re like me – once you’re *better* than me, nothing can stop us.”

“I don’t see why it’s so important that I have to become like you.” Why was Ymir pushing the matter so much? Yes, Krista agreed to be turned because she would do anything to spend however long she could with Ymir, but if it was making her lover this miserable….

The hold on her waist became uncomfortably tight. “Because once Eren turns you, *very little* will be able to touch you,” Ymir hissed, a flash of red sparking in her dark eyes. “How do you think I’ve survived this long? Even with me sharing my blood, you’re still too fragile.” She pulled Krista even closer and bowed her head until their foreheads touched. “I won’t risk losing you like that – it doesn’t matter if you’re out there somewhere in the world, as long as you survive.”

Krista didn’t like the dark tone that this conversation had taken, or the desperate edge in Ymir’s voice. She was used to Ymir mocking her and the rest of the world, in pushing her to her limits and forcing her to realize the strengths buried deep inside, not this… this frightening sense of surrender. “Hey,” she chided as she reached up to gently cup Ymir’s face between her hands. “It won’t come to that – us being apart.” She smiled with as much conviction that she could muster. “We’ll figure out what it takes to make Eren turn me and then we’ll be inseparable. We promised, didn’t we? That you would teach me how to survive and that I would fight for you in return.” Her lover had taken a chance on her all those years ago and she wouldn’t let her down; it was just the two of them as no one had ever understood her as much as Ymir had.

Ymir was perfectly still for several nerve-wracking seconds and then she let out a slow breath. “Of course, princess.” She managed a lopsided smile and lifted a trembling hand to comb through Krista’s hair. “Who am I to argue with you once you make up your mind?”

Krista choked on a weak laugh as she smacked Ymir in the ribs, the blow half-hearted at best. “You do realize that once I’m turned, I can beat some proper manners into you?”

Ymir’s smile took on a wicked edge. “Oh, darling, I am *so* looking forward to that.” Her hand slipped down to fondle Krista’s ass. “*So* looking forward to it.”

Remembering in time that they were still out in ‘public’, Krista bit back on a shriek over the fondling and smacked Ymir again, which only encouraged the degenerate. “Incorrigible,” she hissed while struggling not to smile, her hands smacking Ymir’s aside while she stepped back.

“It’s why you love me,” Ymir announced, slipping back into the current dialect as she straightened up. “To make it up to you, I’ll even wash your back in the shower.”

“You just adore traumatizing everyone, don’t you?” Still, Krista didn’t turn down the offer. She held out her hand and waited until her lover accepted it before they continued on their way.

Ymir appeared happy once more, a knowing grin on her face and an evil sparkle in her eyes, yet Krista still felt that something was *off*. Why couldn’t she shake the feeling? Clutching tighter at Ymir’s hand, she resolved to do her best to figure it out.

*******

Jean was nervous as he presented Mikasa with the flowers that he had bought earlier in the day, mindful of how Connie was off to the side giving an excited Sasha a box of chocolates. While Sasha let out a loud cry and snatched at the box, Mikasa gave Jean a shy smile and accepted the flowers with a blush. It wasn’t quite the same reaction, but it was endearing all the same.

“Thank you.” Her voice was quiet yet she looked up at him through her lowered lashes, her lower face hidden beneath the familiar red scarf. “They’re very pretty.”

“Ah, the seller recommended the white roses.” He rubbed at the back of his head in nervousness. “I really don’t know much about flowers.”

The corners of her mouth peeked out of the edges of her scarf. “So that’s wine *and* flowers, eh?”

He laughed a little at the comment. “Yeah, I suppose!”

Mikasa raised the flowers to her face and gave them a quick sniff. “Thank you,” she repeated again. “So, do we want to go into the restaurant?” She motioned to the small restaurant that they were standing in front of, another place he’d never heard of before he’d met her. She seemed to like to avoid the popular fancy places, which was a departure from the other girls he’d dated, yet if this was anything like the café she’d picked before, it should be good. “Obviously you didn’t have a problem getting the time off?”

Connie picked up on that, having finished catching up with Sasha. “Yeah, funning thing about that – it seems that Jean and I aren’t stuck on double shifts anymore!” He waited until the hostess at the door led them to their table to continue. “Guess it’s Marlo’s turn to be on Commander Dok’s shitlist right now – I feel really bad for Boris.”

At Mikasa and Sasha’s confused looks, Jean let out a nervous laugh while he sat down at their table. “Boris is Marlo’s partner – Marlo’s been stirring up trouble in the MP by accusing other people of not doing their job properly, so Commander Dok came down on him rather hard. Since Connie and I have been working our asses off lately, I guess he decided that we deserved a second chance and gave Marlo and Boris our added shifts for the foreseeable future.” He didn’t go on to say that they’d gotten stuck with those punishment shifts because of the attitude he’d displayed while at the Freedom Corps’ headquarters, or how grateful he was as it allowed him the time to spend with Mikasa.

Sasha set her precious box of chocolates aside – barely out of reach – and groaned. “Oh you guys are *so coddled*. I’d rather put up with extra shifts than go through ‘special’ training with one of Captain Ackerman’s private squad!” She shuddered in horror as if to prove her point, and then straightened up as the server came around for their drink order.

Once again Mikasa took over to name a bottle of wine, and the server promised to be back soon with it and to take their appetizer order. Connie and Sasha huddled together with a menu, leaving Jean with the impression that it wasn’t even worth his while to look at the menu. Judging from Mikasa’s amused smile when she glanced at her friend, she was probably thinking the same thing. “Wanna take bets that they’ll growl if we tell them that there’s no snacks before the main course,” he whispered to her.

“Please, I’ve heard nothing for the past two days but how great this meal will be – I don’t know what she’s more excited about, seeing Connie or eating out.” There was a bewitching sparkle to Mikasa’s dark eyes that left Jean unable to speak for a few seconds. How did she manage to convey so much emotion with so little expression?

“Uhm, yeah, he’ll be pleased to hear that. I think.” He paused to take a sip of water. “And you?” Please let her be happy about today’s date.

That damn red scarf was looped around her shoulders today, matching the grey tunic and black leggings that she wore, so the small but pleased smile that turned up the corners of her mouth was plain to see. “Well, it was another intensive training day so I’m definitely not here for the food.”

It took him a few seconds to figure out what she meant by that, and by then the server was back with their wine. He grinned while the girl poured the drink into their glasses, and then stared in astonishment as Sasha excitedly rattled off several appetizers from the menu.

“Oh come on, are you even going to have room left for something to eat after that?”

Mikasa leaned over to pat his hand while Sasha and Connie took to frowning at him. “Trust me, Sasha has a… very energetic appetite. She makes up for me.” She leaned back in her chair and sipped at the wine.

“Yeah, relax for once,” Connie chided him. “You’re not paying.”

“Yes, but Mikasa is, and it’s not even really dinner.” Jean felt bad for the girl picking up the tab for the four of them – what would his mother say about this?

She shrugged as she set the glass down. “Don’t worry about it – I don’t go out too much and I really felt bad about us leaving that last time.” She did another of her half smiles and leaned toward him. “Let’s just enjoy the time we have together, yes?” There was an emphasis to her words, as if she felt strongly about what she was saying.

Sasha nodded, her ponytail swishing about from the force of the movement. “Exactly – who knows if we’ll have another chance like this? I don’t want today to be interrupted like last time.” Her hand crept across the table to grasp Connie’s. Jean’s friend practically beamed as his fingers entwined with hers.

Great, so he was coming across as the asshole for trying to be the sensible one. Yet when Jean frowned, Mikasa gave him another of her half smiles and reached over to tap his untouched wineglass. “You’re thinking too much. Trust me, just relax and enjoy the moment.”

“Who am I to argue with such good advice?” He grinned before he raised his glass for a sip. “So how do you know so much about wine? Were your parents’ experts or something?”

There was another of those dark flashes across her face. “Not exactly.” She paused to take a sip of her own and then picked up the menu. “Like much in life, it’s based on trial and error.”

She didn’t really look as if she should be old enough to have tried that much alcohol – that she should be drinking it at all, really, but if she was in the Freedom Corps then Jean wasn’t going to argue – but he had the feeling that this wasn’t something he should press just then. “So, anything in particular that you think is good here,” he asked as he picked up the menu.

“Their stews are really good.” Mikasa ducked her head as she held up the menu. “They remind me a bit of the ones that Eren makes.”

“Eren?” Jean frowned for a moment. “Oh, your brother.” He thought about that for a few seconds. “The kid cooks?”

“He’s not a kid.” She lowered the menu to glare at him. “And yes, he cooks.” She cocked her head to the side. “Do you?”

“Uhm… well, you see….” Fortunately, he was spared from saying anything else since the server returned with their appetizer orders. After she dropped off the dishes, she took their entrée orders. Jean wasn’t surprised when Mikasa ordered something light again.

When the poor server moved on to take the gluttons’ orders, Mikasa set her menu aside and leaned over the table as if to be closer to Jean. “So, tell me about your fellow MPs.”

The change in topic threw him a little, but he supposed that she still didn’t want to talk about her brother; at least she seemed interested in hearing more about him and what was happening in his life. Picking up his wineglass, he leaned forward, his elbows resting on the table and smiled. “Well, I don’t know if they seem as crazy in the Corps as they do in the MP, but….”

*******

“I’m heading inside to drop off the documents.” Boris frowned at Marlo for a few seconds before he grunted softly and turned to go up the stone steps leading to Minister Zackly’s office.

His partner hadn’t said anything about ‘behaving’ himself, but Marlo could read between the lines; Boris was a decent guy, he didn’t pick on him as much as the others did for being a ‘bleeding heart’ or a ‘foolish dreamer’ for believing that the MPs should work harder at helping the people of Trost – Hitch and Amir certainly called him a hell of a lot worse things.

And now the poor guy was stuck on double-duty with Marlo; it hadn’t been spelled out explicitly, but everyone was blaming *him* for them being saddled with the extra shifts. Commander Dok hadn’t looked away from Marlo the entire time he’d informed them that they would be reporting for extra duty for the foreseeable future.

At least Jean and Connie had been happy about the situation, since it meant that they were off Commander Dok’s shit list for the time being. Marlo leaned against a stone pillar and tried not to think about the extra work, about how wrong it was that he was being punished for simply questioning fellow MPs…. He clutched as his elbows as he struggled to control his emotions; it wouldn’t do him any good to get upset right now, especially outside of a minister’s office.

He watched the people walking back and forth in front of him as a distraction, and noticed a familiar face creeping toward the fancy building. Bennie? No, Beatrice, wasn’t it? Beatrice… Thaler, if he remembered correctly. She’d been among the families that approached him about their missing loved ones.

“Ma’am?”

The middle-aged woman took a few hesitant steps toward him. “You’re the MP I talked to about my daughter, yes?” When he nodded, she took a few more steps. “Did you find her?”

Marlo gave her a nervous smile; the last thing he wanted was Boris to come out just then, or one of the minister’s own men. “No, ma’am, I’m sorry.”

Her pale, worry-lined face crumpled at the news. “No? But-“

As bad as he felt over being concerned about himself, he felt even worse at breaking the bad news to her. “Look.” He stepped closer so he speak in a lower town. “I’m not sure I can find out anything for you.” When she appeared ready to start crying, he reached out to pat her left arm as a desperate thought coming to mind – anything to get her away from here, to get her a chance of real help. “But… but you should go to the Engineers.”

That seemed to startle her and cause her to blink back the tears. “The… the Engineers?”

“Yes.” He glanced behind him to make sure that Boris was still inside. “Go talk to Commander Pixis, I hear he’s a good man. He should be able to look into your daughter’s disappearance.”

The woman stood there for a few seconds before nodding and quietly leaving, her hands wrapped around her waist as if she needed to physically hold herself together. Marlo watched her leave and hoped that he’d done something right; he’d heard a lot of things about Commander Pixis – that the man was an alcoholic, that he had a ‘thing’ for good-looking adjuncts and so forth, but never that he didn’t take his job seriously. The Engineers always did a good job of keeping the domes in working order, and Pixis was considered one of their best commanders. He shouldn’t ignore someone’s request to look into their missing child.

Or at least Marlo hoped that he wouldn’t. Resuming his post by the steps, he hooked his thumbs into his belts and tried not to think about what needed to be done if more people kept coming to the MP with requests about missing loved ones that his fellow squadmates insisted didn’t exist….

*******

Armin reversed the slides again and attempted to figure out the difference; what the hell had the captain been doing here last night? He wish Captain Ackerman hadn’t dragged Eren off so quickly this morning before he’d gotten a better explanation out of his friend, or that Captain Hange had been a bit more understandable in-between the gulps of coffee as she’d mumbled out a hasty greeting then orders for the day before going off to practice with Ymir. Oh well, it wasn’t as if he had better things to do….

“You know, I was always told that my face would freeze like that if-“

“Fuck!” Armin nearly jumped off of the stool then whirled around to find his friend standing a couple of feet away, dressed in white pants and a grey jersey that was loosely tied at the collar. “Are you trying to give me a heart-attack!”

“Uhm, no?” Eren cocked his head to the side while he tucked back his towel-dried, tousled hair; he really hated hair dryers, hated the noise they made because of his hearing so refused to use them, which contributed to his constant state of bedhead. Armin found it yet another endearing trait of his friend even though he itched to get a comb just then to deal with all the tangles and knots. “Seems like a good waste of effort on my part, after raising you.”

Armin scoffed at that bit of nonsense and leaned back against the workstation. “Oh please, I largely survived because of Mikasa, I’ll have you know.” He grinned when Eren took to scowling at him. “Yeah, you did all the cooking, but your idea of watching over me was ‘eh, let’s tie a string around his foot to keep him in place while I go off hunting.”

A faint blush tinted Eren’s tan cheeks. “Come on it was o- okay, three times.” His dark hair swung forward as he hung his head. “Like I had any idea of what to do with a kid.”

That was true – Armin got the impression that Eren hadn’t been around other children much in his very long life, which was odd – Armin could remember the other children in his apartment complex, the times he went out to play with them while his grandfather talked to the neighbors…. The memories were faint, but they were there. The little he heard Eren and Mikasa talk about their childhood, it was only about *them*. Well, no, Mikasa seemed to have a couple of friends… so why had Eren been isolated? Did it have something to do with the serum?

“You having fun hiding in here?”

Eren’s question jolted Armin from his thoughts. “Eh?” He blinked a few times and looked up at his friend. “Oh, yeah, I supposed.” He twisted on the stool to motion at the blood samples. “I’m trying to figure out what Captain Hange intended with these samples.” Twisting back to face Eren, he gave his friend a displeased frown. “What were the two of you doing last night?”

Eren hopped up onto the workstation behind him and tugged at his bangs. “That woman is insane.” Since the statement was a known fact, Armin didn’t say anything and let his friend continue. “She tried to get me drunk and kept taking blood samples ‘to track the effect of alcohol on a vampire-hybrid’ or something like that – I think she just likes poking people with needles, to be honest – and then asked me a bunch of rather personal questions.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right for her.” Armin figured he could give up on comparing the samples, since he knew from experience that the siblings had a rather impressive tolerance for alcohol. “So what did she ask you?” *That* had to have been fun, judging from the previous ‘interviews’. He knew he was right when Eren grabbed his hair with both hands and groaned, his booted heels kicking back and forth at the sides of the workstation.

“Fucking hell, what *didn’t* she ask?” Eren gave his hair a hard enough tug that it had to have hurt. “She wanted to know if I was ‘cut’ or not, and damn near pulled down my pants to check it out herself.” Armin didn’t know exactly what that meant, but assumed it had to have something to do with – yeah, okay, where did the woman find this stuff out? “She wanted to know if I could suppress my gag reflex or not, as if *that* has anything to do with nearly being turned into a vampire, if I thought Levi was getting too much iron in his diet-“

Armin couldn’t help it, he started laughing just then, both by how ridiculous the questions were and by the blatant indignation on poor Eren’s face. “How did you manage to get through it?”

A small smile curling at his lips, Eren gave up on torturing his hair and shook his head. “The vodka helped a lot. Let’s just say I was really, *really* thankful when she passed out.” He smiled a little more, yet the expression was more sad than amused. “Yet… I don’t know, in a way it was interesting. She’s so full of excitement and curiosity that it’s kind of difficult to say ‘no’ even when she’s at her craziest. At least I know I can walk away at any time – it’s more of a choice than Grisha ever gave me.”

And just like that, Armin felt some of his good mood disappear as well. “Yeah.” He began to fidget, to stare at his hands in his lap as they twisted about with each other. “Yeah, they do have different styles.”

There was a quiet sigh followed by a soft ‘thud’, and moments later Eren reached out to touch Armin gently on the top of his head. “Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?” He paused for a moment. “You don’t usually hide in here all day.”

“I’m not hiding.” Armin continued to stare down at his hands.

There was another pause, and then Eren began to stroke along Armin’s hair, just like he used to do when Armin had been a child. “Look, I know I’ve been spending a lot of time with Le-Captain Ackerman, but I still notice what’s going on with you and Mikasa. You spent most of yesterday here in the lab and I get the impression that if I didn’t come by now, that you’d be here through dinner today. What’s going on?”

Armin shrugged even as he leaned into the comforting touch. “Well, I just figured that since Mikasa’s out on her date that you’d want to be Captain Ackerman today, too. It’s not a big deal – there’s so much for me to do-“ He winced when Eren gave a strand of his hair a not so gentle tug. “Hey, I’m not you, you know,” he joked in a weak voice.

“It’s difficult to tell, the way you’re acting now.” Eren shifted around so he could settle on his knees in front of Armin, his arms resting on Armin’s lap so he could stare up at him with those huge, golden eyes. Dammit, the manipulative bastard was pulling out the big weapons, wasn’t he? “So what’s going on? Why are you hiding here? Is it because of me and Mikasa? I thought you wanted me to ‘grow up emotionally’ and you think it’s good for Mikasa to interact with humans more, too.”

For a moment, Armin really wanted to just go along with things, to say that he was feeling jealous and insecure; after all, he’d had so much of the siblings’ attention for most of his life, had enjoyed it when it had been just the three of them. Yet he knew that Eren wasn’t the naive waif he appeared to most of the world, and he definitely knew that Mikasa would suspect something once she got back and talked to Eren. So he sighed and reached out to tuck aside an unruly lock that had fallen across Eren’s nose and smiled when his beloved friend tilted his face into the touch for a second.

Might as well get this over with while Eren was in such a good mood…. “I went out and talked to Annie yesterday*.”

Eren stared up at him for a few seconds, the only telling sign that the words had sunk in was the intense gleam in his golden eyes. “Annie. Huh. And *you’re* the smart one?” His fangs flashed as he spoke.

Armin shook his head, his right hand pressing against Eren’s shoulder to keep him from moving. “Look, I made sure people were around so she couldn’t try anything, all right!” He spoke in a rush, to prevent Eren from… from… he didn’t know, screaming or snarling or something. “And she didn’t! She didn’t do anything!”

“Somehow I doubt it was ‘nothing’ since you’re hiding in here.” It was almost worse when Eren remained kneeling, his voice mostly calm except for the slight lisp from his fangs and his eyes burning so brightly. Most people thought that he wasn’t that smart, that he couldn’t think things through, but he was *damn* perceptive. “So what did the… lovely young woman have to say?” He flexed his claws as he spoke.

Yeah, Eren was *pissed off*.

Armin winced and rested his hands on top of his friend’s smaller ones. “Honestly, I did what I thought was best.” He met Eren’s gaze and held it; one of the things he’d always loved about his friend was that Eren had faith in him – he may be a lot older, but Eren had never lorded that over Armin, had never made Armin feel insignificant for his youth and inexperience. “I just… I thought there was a chance to maybe convince her and the other two to back off.”

“Armin.” Eren spoke his name in a weary sigh and closed his eyes. “You’re such an idealist – first thinking that there’s a chance of anything happening with Levi and me, and now this.” He shook his head, his hair flying about and becoming even more tangled. “Annie’s not going to give up – she’s like… like a hungry cat stalking a wounded bird. I don’t think she’s going to give up now that she’s ready to pounce.” He opened his eyes and blinked slowly. “What did she say to you? It had to be something bad for her to get you so upset. Was it what they’d do to you?” He bared his fangs for a moment.

“No, it wasn’t that.” Armin reached out to tug on a particularly recalcitrant flyaway. “It’s just… she said that it’s because of me that they tracked you guys down this time,” he admitted in a quiet voice.

“Oh, that.” Eren closed his eyes again and rested his head on Armin’s lap, sounding bored with the topic. “Maybe she is mellowing with age or something.”

Feeling… well, feeling gobsmacked of all things, Armin stared down at his friend for several seconds before he smacked him on top of his head. “Is that all you have to say?” He thought Eren would be upset with him, or mad at Annie… or… dammit, *something* other than bored and sleepy! *He’d* lost sleep over this!

“Ow!” Eren frowned as he rocked back on his heels and rubbed at his head. “You’re as bad as Levi!” He muttered under his breath for a moment and snapped his teeth. “What was that for?”

“For being an idiot! How can you be so calm about this?”

“Because they’re always finding us,” Eren shouted back. “They always do! They hack our devices or ID’s or torture the people we know or track us while we feed, or just stumble across us by dumb fucking luck!” He let out an explosive breath and gave Armin an almost pitying look. “Did we think that they might link you to us? Yeah. Did we worry about it? No, other than to make sure you were kept safe.” He reached out to Armin with a trembling hand. “You’re our family, Trouble, and worth every bit you ever caused us.”

The use of his old nickname made the back of Armin’s throat prickle and tears well up in his eyes; he sniffed as he wiped at his nose. “Oh, I know things are dire when you call me that – you stopped because you said it was like summoning bad luck.”

Eren grinned, his smile a bit too sharp because of the fangs yet his eyes possessing a soft glow. “Well, you did seem awfully determined to live up to it, you damn brat.” Then he grimaced and ran his hands through his hair. “Fuck, I’m sounding like that short bastard now.” He grimaced again before his expression became serious. “If it’s one thing Mikasa and I have learned, you can’t live your life obsessing about all the bad things that’ll happen; yeah, we try to avoid what we know are going to hurt, but if we did everything we could to avoid those assholes, we’d be living in a cave in the middle of nowhere our whole lives – and they’d still find us in the end. They have the time, patience, experience and resources to do just that.” His eyes flashed a molten gold for a few seconds. "So don’t let her get to you, okay? It’s not your fault. No more than the fact that Mikasa and I tend to favor certain domes and are always looking after Grisha’s research, or have set hunting patterns.”

Armin still felt a kernel of guilt inside of his chest – maybe the siblings wouldn’t have been trapped just yet if it wasn’t for him, maybe they’d be out in the wild for a few more decades or on another continent – but Eren’s whole demeanor was much too earnest for him not to take the words somewhat to heart. “I never wanted to be a burden to you two,” he whispered, his arms wrapped around his chest as if to hold in all the guilt and pain he felt.

Eren made a scoffing sound and shook his head. “Sure, *now* you say that, years after we had to drag you all over Eastern Europe and clean your dirty ass.” When Armin straightened up in outrage, hurt that his friend wasn’t taking him seriously, Eren smiled, the expression tender and loving, and leaned over to hug him. “You never were a burden, even when you were a squalling brat.”

That image prompted a half-sob from him as he hugged Eren back. “You really have been spending too much time with Captain Ackerman.”

“And whose brilliant idea was it, hmm?” Eren hugged him back tightly before urging him to sit up straight. “’It’ll be good for you!’,” he mimicked in a high pitched voice.

“Oh please, I don’t sound like that,” Armin chided as he pushed his friend away at arm’s length. “And I said-“ he paused as his stomach growled, loud enough to be heard over his voice.

Eren laughed and rose to his feet. “I think that’s a sign that you shouldn’t skip out on dinner.” He held out his hand to Armin. “Come on, let’s get out of here before the crazy person returns and wants to do some more experiments.”

“I don’t know, it might be fun to see what she comes up with next.” Armin grinned in the face of Eren’s impressive glare. “Perhaps she can weigh in on just how much you’re becoming like a certain captain!”

The spitting sound that Eren made just then was more annoyed cat than grouchy Corps captain. “You used to be such a good kid – I blame Mikasa.” *He* was the one to appear like a petulant child as he led Armin out of the lab.

“So which was I? A squalling brat or a good kid?” Armin pulled on what he considered his most innocent expression when Eren looked back at him.

“Both, which is why we called you ‘Trouble’.” Eren sounded much too weary and exasperated just then, but since he was doing his best to hide a smile, Armin counted it as a victory. “Now quit being such a pain in the ass – that’s Ymir’s name.”

Feeling better about things, Armin laughed and allowed himself to be led to the dining room.

*******

Mikasa hid a smile as she watched Petra and Olou; the pompous man was trying to argue about why Captain Ackerman would *obviously* pick another man to replace Gunther, and only succeeding in angering Petra with each word he spoke.

“- after all, there’s two male captains and only one female captain in our unit, most of the commanders are men – it’s clear that men are better suited-“

“Why? Because they live longer? It just goes to show that us women are the ones taking the risks and fighting harder!”

“Petra, that’s a very illogical argument, if you’d just conside-ack!”

“Please, you can’t even go five minutes without biting your own tongue! And that’s supposed to make me feel like you’re better than me!” Petra threw her hands up in the air as if she were thoroughly disgusted and fell back to walk beside Mikasa. “Why do we put up with them?”

“You’re asking that of someone who’s spent the majority of her life living with her brother, who calls me ‘Ms. Perfect’ and knows better than to think of me as weak,” Mikasa pointed out.

Petra seemed to consider that for a moment. “True, Eren’s much better mannered than most of these idiots.” She glared at a pouting Olou. “Tell me, have they improved at all over the years?”

Mikasa thought that Petra was being rather brazen about the questions she was asking, but the streets weren’t too busy at this time of night. In fact, they hadn’t seen anyone on their patrol for about a block now; people must be growing nervous because of the last couple of Malform attacks. “I can’t truly say that they have.” Eren didn’t really count, since he’d been raised properly – and quite a long time ago.

“I don’t know why not – it’s not as if we’re lacking for strong women.” Petra sighed as she rubbed her hands along the hilt of her blades. “Guess it’s a mystery of life.”

Most of the women whom Mikasa knew were more than the equal of any men – the women in the Corps could fight just as well if not better than their counterparts, with Captain Ackerman being the lone exception, and he was better than everyone else. Life after the collapse had been so difficult that only the strong could survive, and often women had fared better than the men because it took more than just physical strength, it took the ability to adapt, to *endure*.

Then there were the vampires, and the women among them were often the most deadly, with Annie being a classic example. Mikasa supposed it was because the women had to work harder at blending in, at bending society’s rules…. Really, this was a discussion that Armin would love and excel at, she thought to herself.

“-seems very quiet, doesn’t it?”

“Hmm?” Mikasa realized that the question had been posed to her and glanced over at Petra. “Quiet?”

“Yes, I said it seems quiet tonight.” Petra frowned and grasped at the hilt of her blades. In the front, Olou kept glancing about as if he expected a Malform to leap out at any moment.

“I thought perhaps they were staying inside because of the recent attacks.” Mikasa tugged down her scarf so she could get a better scent from the air.

“No, this seems quieter than normal,” Olou pointed out before he called out over the comm for a status check. He scowled while he waited for the responses, which was all negative.

Meanwhile, Mikasa took several slow, deep breaths. She thought she picked up the faint scent of Malform, but nothing definitive. It was as if they had crossed over the area within the past night… but that wasn’t unheard of for the creatures, as they would be searching the dome for prey throughout the night. “Malform were in the area, but not today,” she told Petra and Olou.

Petra searched the rooftops as they continued on their patrol. “This doesn’t feel right.”

Mikasa agreed, and for a moment worried about Jean – until she remembered that this wasn’t his patrol any longer. “I don’t think-“ She came to a halt, took a deep breath and then spun around to the right. Rushing toward one of the sewer grates, she took another deep breath. “It reeks of Malform.” The street around here smelled heavily of the creatures, but where were they? She tried to breathe through her mouth to help clear her senses.

Olou panted a few times as he caught up with her, Petra right on his heels. “Send backup to section 58T, we’ve the trail of Malforms,” he barked over the comm while glancing around. “You can’t trace them, Stieger?”

“I’m trying,” she nearly snarled at the man. Couldn’t he see that? Should she go up onto the roof? Were they up there?

Before she could decide, he made an annoying clicking sound similar to the captain’s and headed toward the nearest shop, its lights glowing through the windows covered with advertised sales. “I’m going to go question the people inside, see if they know something.”

Petra shot Mikasa a concerned look and took a few steps after him. “Perhaps we should wait until backup arrives before doing any door to door searches.”

“Nonsense, Petra. I know what I’m doing.” Olou reached the door, which began to slide open automatically. As the air began to rush outside, Mikasa felt her fangs push through her gums, saw the world dissolve into grey except for Petra and Olou – and the glowing tide of Malform that poured out of the shop to overwhelm Olou.

“Olou!” Petra screamed out her partner’s name as the Malform descended upon him, a pale tide of writhing flesh, glowing red eyes and gleaming teeth, and the man barely had time to cry out before he was engulfed by the creatures. She kept screaming, but even her shrill voice didn’t overcome the awful sound of flesh being torn apart.

Mikasa moved as soon as she realized what was happening, a too-familiar nightmare once more come to life, desperate to reach Petra before that awful writhing tide did, and felt her right hand wrap around the woman’s arm just in time. Something else grabbed hold of her, tried to pull her away, and Mikasa snarled with all her might, a savage, awful sound bursting free from her throat until the other force let go. She gathered Petra’s tattered body in her arms and backed up as quickly as she could, the wave of Malform parting around her as they poured out onto the street, and sunk to the ground.

Petra’s right arm was a bloody mess but still attached, her chest clawed up and a large slash across her throat. Mikasa quickly grabbed the pressure bandages from the pouch and applied them where she could, but she was terrified that it wasn’t enough. She knew that she couldn’t turn the poor woman… yet there was one thing she could do to try to buy Petra enough time until the medics arrived.

“Petra. Petra!” There was a fluttering of eyelashes as she continued to shout. “I need you to swallow, okay?” Hoping that the woman heard her, Mikasa removed her left hand from the bandage on Petra’s neck and raised it to her mouth, where she bit into the fleshy part of her palm. Biting free a large chunk of her own flesh, she lowered it to Petra’s open mouth and allowed the blood to pour into it.

At first she was afraid that Petra was too far gone, that nothing would happen; the blood began to spill out of Petra’s mouth and down the side of her face. Then the woman began to sputter and swallow, so Mikasa bit her hand again so that Petra would drink more blood. She figured that as much as she could get into her would be best, considering the severity of the wounds and the Malform infection.

She was so focused on keeping Petra alive that she didn’t sense Annie’s presence until too late.

“Aw, isn’t that cute? Fattening up your dinner or what?”

Mikasa wanted to jump up and tear out the bitch’s throat, to run away – the two impulses fought inside of her – yet she couldn’t do either, not when Petra needed her to keep pressure on the worst of the wounds. “You fucking-“

“Yes, can we skip that part? It’s so boring.” Annie squatted about a foot or two away from Petra and Mikasa, her hands clasped loosely in front of her; she was dressed in a light grey sweatshirt with the hood pushed back far enough to reveal her face and black jeans, appearing like any other woman out for the night.

Mikasa choked back a snarl and fought to keep her hands from curling into fists; she would only harm Petra now that her claws were out. “What could you possibly want other than to haul me back with you?”

Annie laughed, the sound bitter and unamused. “See, that’s where you’re wrong.” She grinned, the expression just as bitter, when Mikasa stared at her in disbelief. “We don’t have much time before your new friends show up, so I’ll cut to the chase.” One fingerless gloved hand waved at Petra’s supine form. “Are you getting tired of losing friends yet? Or are you so used to it by now that it doesn’t bother you?”

Half rising up before she could stop herself, Mikasa forced herself to settle back down for Petra’s sake. “*You’re* the ones who-“

“No, *you’re* to blame for their deaths.” Annie rose to her feet with the grace of a snake about to strike. “You keep insisting on running from what you truly are, to keep hiding among the sheep, so this is what happens.” Her eyes began to glow as she stared with obvious hatred at Mikasa. “Stop hiding Eren among the sheep or we’ll keep culling them until there’s nothing left for him to hide among, do you understand? The deaths will stop as soon as Eren steps forward like the wolf he really is.”

“Eren isn’t one of you,” Mikasa screamed. “Leave him alone!”

“Always denial with you.” Annie made a tsk’ing sound as she turned away. “Give us Eren or the humans pay in blood, Mikasa.”

Mikasa let go of Petra so she could go fight Annie, could make the bitch pay for threatening Eren like that, but Annie launched herself at the nearest wall and was a shadow flitting up it before she could even take two steps away from the wounded Corps fighter. Screaming in rage, Mikasa went back to Petra just as several members of the Freedom Corps began to arrive.

*******

Levi stared down at Petra’s bloodless face, his hands clenched into fists as a seething yet impotent rage roiled inside of him. He wanted to scream, to beat something into an unrecognizable, boneless pulp… yet every Malform he’d come across out there tonight was a shitty puddle of goo. There was nothing left to fight at the moment besides his own sense of failure.

“She’s doing remarkable well at the moment,” Hange told him, her voice quiet and her expression one of concentration as she studied the instruments connected to Petra by various sensors. “The infection… it’s not at a point yet where we have to take any… drastic measures.”

Where he had to cut off Petra’s head, is what she meant. Quite honestly, he was stunned to come here and find Petra still alive. “How long does she have?” How much longer until he had to kill yet another of his own people.

Hange studied the machine for several seconds before shaking her head. “I’ve never seen readings like this before – they’re in constant fluctuation. Her blood – no, her and *Mikasa’s* blood is fighting off the infection.” She jotted down a few notes in that damn book of hers. “For right now, it’s at least holding the infection at bay while the nanos work on healing the wounds.”

Which was a miracle in and of itself. He wanted to ask what Petra’s chances were of surviving, but didn’t want to hold out any hope when all too often that emotion only led to heartache. Instead, he reached out to adjust the white sheet covering Petra’s chest and then motioned for Hange to follow. “Come on, Erwin’s waiting for us.”

“All right.” Hange motioned Moblit over to the bed and gave him instructions to monitor Petra’s readings and to increase the nanos if she continued to respond to the healing. Once she finished with that, they left Medical for Erwin’s office, the mood out in the hallway decidedly more somber than it had been earlier in the day; losing yet another member of an elite squad and fighting more Malforms tended to do that to morale.

Levi opened the door to Erwin’s office to find Mikasa sitting in one of the chairs, her hair damp and dressed in a new uniform; she’d been covered in Petra’s blood when he’d come across her earlier, eyes flickering between gold and brown and desperate to go off hunting until he’d slapped some sense into her.

Erwin nodded in greeting, his expression grim even as he attempted a smile. “Thank you for joining us. How’s Petra doing?”

“She’s holding on – she’s a tough one.” Hange summoned a weak grin of her own and took the remaining chair, familiar with Levi’s preference to stand.

“Yes, she must in order to fight off the infection for so long.” Erwin’s sharp gaze settled on Mikasa. “It’s unheard of, in fact.” He continued to stare at Mikasa in that piercing manner. “I suppose it’s a good thing that she had some… help there to keep her going until proper medical attention could arrive.”

Levi noticed the way that Mikasa’s back stiffened and how Hange went still – fuck, he’d have to say that Erwin had somehow figured out that the siblings could heal people, which… well, Erwin was a smart guy. He’d probably noticed Levi’s quick recovery the last couple of weeks and put two and two together, just like Hange did.

“Yeah, really lucky for us and damn lucky for Petra,” he drawled, wanting to diffuse things before Mikasa went all bitchy on them. She’d helped Petra so he owed her, but she had to know that she couldn’t hide things so easily once she did that.

Erwin switched his attention to Levi, and Levi held that heavy gaze of his with an icy determination of his own. After a few seconds, Erwin nodded once and smiled; maybe the brats could heal with their blood, but they were their allies, not walking blood banks. “I hope she makes a swift recovery,” Erwin said, and his smile was quickly wiped away. “Mikasa told me that another vampire was behind tonight’s attack, as if there was little doubt.” He looked as if he was ready to go out there and do some hunting of his own.

“It was Annie,” Mikasa explained, her eyes glowing and her claws splayed out on her thighs. “She… she wanted to know where Eren was and yelled at me about hiding him. Then the backup started to arrive before she could do anything else.” She stared hungrily at her hands – at the sharp claws that sheathed and unsheathed again and again – as if she yearned for them to be buried inside of something. “I- Petra- I couldn’t do anything….”

“You did more than enough,” Erwin assured her, his voice deep and solemn. “We lost enough people tonight – any lives saved is a blessing.”

Levi kept any sarcastic comments to himself about not being so confident. “Why did they attack tonight? Why just one of them?” This whole mess stunk worse than decomposing Malforms and it bothered him – they had put a good bit of effort into taking Eren down the one time, so why not Mikasa? Sure, she couldn’t turn others into… whatever the hell they were, but all it took was five minutes with the siblings to know that where one went, so did the other. “If it were me, I’d have come out full force to drag you away in order to get Eren’s attention.”

Mikasa’s mouth twisted the same time that her claws dug into her thighs, causing smoke to rise from the wounds. “I don’t *know* - maybe Annie thought I’d get caught up in the rush of Malform and so be easier to take down, maybe Reiner and Bertolt were on their way and got delayed.”

“Maybe they’re trying to confuse us – if we can’t seem to predict their actions, we’re at a disadvantage,” Hange offered, her nose once more buried in her damn notebook. Considering that she was overlooking a prime example of Mikasa’s healing ability, Levi knew something was up.

So did Erwin. He bestowed upon Mikasa his ‘you can trust me’ smile and nodded toward the door. “You must be exhausted – thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.”

She didn’t waste a second in jumping to her feet. “I need to find Eren,” was all she said before rushing to the door, moving with that damn inhuman speed. Levi bit back on an order to move like a fucking human, figuring it was a waste of breath, and noticed that she slowed down as she closed the door behind her.

The room was quiet in the wake of the door closing, other than the soft scratch of Hange’s pen. Levi waited a few seconds just in case any brats with enhanced hearing were hovering about. “So, do you buy what she was selling?”

Erwin leaned over his desk with his fingertips pressed together. “Somewhat – I believe that she did run into one of the vampires, and that it probably was the one called ‘Annie’ since I noticed that Mikasa seems to particularly loathe her the most. As to what happened after that….” He shrugged, his massive shoulders moving with a surprising elegance before he reached into his desk to pull out a datapad. “It’s a shame that there’s no sound.”

Hange pried her nose out of the book to join Levi in watching Erwin pull up what appeared to be views from various cameras until he found one in particular; a shot angled at the top of the building. Gathered up there were clearly Eren, Armin and Krista.

“I knew you were a pervert, but a voyeur, too?” Levi clicked his tongue in distaste and swore to himself to be more careful about where he fooled around with Eren from now on.

“It’s merely for safety measures – hence the lack of sound.” Erwin glared at Levi for a few seconds and looked down in time to see Mikasa and Ymir join the others on the roof. “I really wish they’d use the damn gauntlets,” he grumbled.

“That is going against centuries of conditioning,” Hange pointed out. “Oh, someone seems rather worried.” They watched while Mikasa hugged Eren in an almost frantic manner.

Yeah, Levi would have to say that Eren was the topic of discussion earlier tonight. “Do you really think the vampire-bitch really just wanted to know where Mikasa’s baby brother was, hmm?”

Erwin sighed while he set the datapad aside. “Highly unlikely. What I want to know is why they seem so focused on Eren when in the past, the siblings said that they hunted them both.”

“It could be as I said, to throw us off our game.” Hange tucked her notebook aside and pushed her glasses further up her nose. “Perhaps make us doubt the two? If we don’t trust Eren and Mikasa, it might drive a wedge between us and make them leave.”

“Perhaps.” Erwin seemed to consider that. “It’s a rather big gamble to take, and it used up a lot of resources. Pixis has his people investigating how the Malforms managed to hide tonight – that obviously took careful planning and someone controlling them.”

If they were hoping to provide the man with some proof of vampires in the dome, this would be it. Levi let out a huffing breath that could barely be called a laugh and jerked his hand through his bangs. “His people will certainly have fun crawling through the sewers.”

“Better him than us,” Erwin agreed.

They all became quiet again, probably considering what Pixis and his people would find waiting for them in the sewers. Hange let out a low moan as she rose up and stretched her arms up in the air. “I’m heading back to Medical – let me know if anything interesting happens.” She paused to look at Levi. “If one of the sibling’s stop by, see if you can’t send them my way, all right? I think it might do Petra some good.”

He bristled at the comment at first, until he realized that *this time*, there was no dirty insinuation to go along with it. “*If* they do,” was all he promised her.

He fell behind her on the way to the door when Erwin called out his name. Wanting to get back to his own quarters and start on the paperwork waiting for him – much of it having to do with Olou’s death – he glanced at the man over his shoulder.

“You do realize that there’s a good chance that things are about to get a lot bloodier, don’t you?” There was a stark weariness on Erwin’s face as if he saw something that he was forced to accept.

“It’s been that way for years – I didn’t know that there was any other option for us.” Levi gave his friend a pitying look before he left. Really, they all knew there was only one way out of the Corps.

*******

Eren couldn’t help but pace back and forth, his hands clasped behind him since his claws were out and he didn’t want to tear into anything; he was too upset to hope for any control just then, too on the edge.

“Eren-“

“*Don’t* tell me to calm down,” he snapped at Armin, not in the mood for reassurance. “Olou is dead and Petra’s barely alive. That’s more people dead and hurt because of me.” More blood on his hands and Mikasa… Mikasa could have been one of them. “*DAMMIT!” His fingers spasmed with the need to dig into flesh, to hook into something tender and warm and *rend*.

Krista nearly jumped out of her skin at his outburst, while Armin merely stared at him, his blue eyes assessing and his body still; he was more used to Eren’s mood swings after their years together. “Would it make you feel better if we fought? Should I go get a set of blades and some padding?” Armin took a small step forward. “Or would some blood help?”

The calm, deliberate manner in which he spoke seemed to reach past the anger roiling inside of Eren, to remind him that he was here with friends. He struggled to take a deep breath and push aside the rage before it consumed him. “No.” Armin would do his best to help wear Eren down, but he couldn’t stand up to him like Mikasa could…. Mikasa…. “She could have been hurt tonight, dammit.”

“I know.” Armin approached him, much more confident now, and wrapped him in a comforting embrace. “I know, I keep thinking the same thing.” His voice choked on the words as he pressed his cheek against Eren’s forehead.

“But… she’s safe. She came back safe,” Krista reminded them. “You… you have to keep that in mind.”

Eren pulled away from Armin with some reluctance, about to yell at Krista that there had been too many fucking times when those damn vampires had torn into him and his sister when he noticed how she wrung at her hands, how her lower lip was bitten raw despite her enhanced healing ability from Ymir’s blood. *Ymir* still hadn’t returned yet, and even though they hadn’t heard of any more attacks from the trio, Krista would be a wreck until her lover was back.

“Yeah.” Eren forced himself to take a deep breath and to look out over the base laid out in front of him; he felt a deep urge to find the nearest exit and just run until he was exhausted, to get as far away from ‘civilization’ that he could. “She came back this time.”

Why had the trio let Mikasa go? Why hadn’t they fought? From the little information that he and Armin had managed to find out, it was only Petra who was injured, and there was no sign of Olou’s body – chances were pretty good there wasn’t even enough for him to turn. Eren had just caught a glimpse of his sister when she’d come back to headquarters and her uniform hadn’t even been torn, so the blood on it was Petra’s. He *needed* her here so he could get some answers.

He’d resumed pacing while Armin and Krista had taken to huddling close together when he heard the scrape of claws against concrete. Hurrying over to the edge, he looked down to find both Mikasa and Ymir crawling up the side of the building. “It’s about fucking time.”

“And good evening to you, Rebel,” Ymir shot back. “We’ve been a bit busy, not sitting around on our asses.”

“Oh fuck off.” Eren backed away so they could hop over the edge, and grabbed hold of his sister as soon as she was standing. “Hey,” he whispered as he held her tightly.

“Hey, you,” she whispered back, holding onto him as if he’d disappear at any second. She smelled of blood even though she’d changed her uniform and washed off, blood and Malform.

“All right you two. It’s starting to get icky around here.”

“Ymir….” Krista did something to make her girlfriend yelp in pain, which was something that Eren regretted not seeing. He pulled away from Mikasa but kept hold of her left hand.

“What happened tonight,” he asked as they joined the others in the middle of the roof, trying their best to keep their voices from carrying too far. “It was the trio, wasn’t it?”

A look of pain flashed over Mikasa’s pale face. “It was just one of them – Annie.” She fussed with her scarf as she tugged Eren closer to her. “It was clearly a trap, they must have tracked my route somehow and gotten the Malform ready for us. Olou set it off and….” She pressed her lips together and shook her head. “And Annie approached me while I was trying to keep Petra alive.” There was a hint of a snarl to her voice when she spoke about the vampire.

The world turned grey when Eren thought about Annie and what she’d done tonight. “How did you get away from her? Did the others show up in time to drive her off?”

“No.” Mikasa gripped his hand tightly enough to hurt. “No, she didn’t try to fight, and I was too busy trying to keep Petra alive to attack.” When Eren flinched at the hold she had on his hand, she let out a quick breath and relaxed her fingers. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. He smiled at her to show it was all right, his vision slowly returning to normal.

“What do you mean she didn’t fight? She just wanted to talk to you?” Armin came to stand at Mikasa’s right side.

“Yeah, I’m a bit confused about that myself.” Ymir frowned, her left arm wrapped tight around Krista. “What, did she want to just taunt you or something? Tell you that scarves are so passé?” She stared intently at Mikasa, her body tense as if ready to attack or flee at any moment.

Mikasa scowled at Ymir to show that she didn’t appreciate the ill humor before staring down at Eren, her eyes glowing gold in the darkness. “No, she… she told me that Olou’s death was my fault, and that there’d be more unless….” She clutched at his hand and shook her head. “She wants Eren to go to them.” She spit out the words as if they were poisonous.

Eren looked up at his sister, the one person who had been at his side through everything and felt an almost frenzied laughter bubble up through him. “Yeah… I’ll just walk out of here and head to the MP to go hang out with my best buddies.” He wrenched himself free of Mikasa’s hand and took several steps away. “It’ll all be better then! Peace and love and fluffy kittens!” His claws threaded through his hair and tugged on the strands while he laughed, amused by the… the *insanity* of it all. Had it been so simple all along? Just give in to the monster inside of him and the running would end, Mikasa would be safe?

“Eren!” His sister sounded anguished as she ran toward him, her hands yanking at his wrists to pull his hands from his hair. “Don’t- don’t even think it!” Tears sparkled in her golden eyes. “I won’t let them get you!”

Her pain drove the madness away, made him stop laughing as he reached to hold her beautiful face between his palms. “I know,” he breathed out, truly meaning the words. She’d never let him go, so even if he thought that Annie had told the truth, that she’d honor what she’d said tonight, he couldn’t take that path; Mikasa and probably Armin, too, would just chase after him and they’d be back to square one.

“Annie has to know that Eren won’t leave you behind,” Armin said, as if reading Eren’s thoughts. He came over to join them, reaching out to tug on Eren’s hair as if in mild reproach for Eren’s slight breakdown. “So what was tonight really about?”

A few feet away, Ymir made a rude sound, a look of disgust on her face. “Because she’s a manipulative, sadistic bitch, maybe?” When Krista looked ready to complain, Ymir shook her head. “No, darling, trust me on this.” She arched an eyebrow in Eren’s direction, and he had to nod in agreement with the assessment. “Rebel and Sunshine think so, too. Since Eren’s safely out of reach, she’s gonna do something to mess with his head even this far away, and I’m betting tonight was her first stab at it. Now you don’t know if she’s going to leave Mikasa alone or come after her with everything they’ve got.”

“That… sounds fucked up enough to be an Annie plan.” Eren went to rub at his eyes and remembered his claws just in time. “Shit, why the hell don’t we just run for the nearest seal and get our asses out of here?” He could *taste* the fresh air, could feel the sunlight on his skin. More than anything just then, he wanted *out* of the damn dome.

Armin gave his head a frantic shake. “That might also be what Annie wants – if she can’t get to you here, then she drives you out of the dome, where there’s other vampires waiting. There’s only so many exit points.”

“Not if we go during daylight.”

“Not if they have some of their human lackeys waiting.” Ymir let go of Krista so she could approach Eren, Mikasa and Armin with a haunted expression on her face. “You can’t put your faith in it always being them coming after you.” Krista hurried to resume her place at her lover’s side.

Eren didn’t want to give up the argument so easily, to admit that his friends were right. “Then we *fight*, dammit! We-“

“And what about the other domes,” Ymir shouted, her face growing flush with anger and her eyes glowing. “What if you do happen to get away from here, what about the other domes?”

“Then- dammit!” Eren snarled as he swiped his right hand through the air, wishing it was Annie or some other vampire. “I don’t know!” He just wanted to fight, to stop having people doing the fighting for him and end up dying instead.

The anger seemed to drain out of Ymir; she let out a shaky breath and wrapped her arms around Krista as if she needed the small blonde’s presence more than anything. “Yeah, well, join the club. I just think that you leaving the base is a mistake.”

“So do I,” Mikasa told him, quick to grab his hand as if she could keep him there by holding on to it.

“This does seem to be the safest place for you,” Armin agreed. Then something seemed to occur to him. “What did you tell Commander Smith and the others,” he asked Mikasa.

She hugged Eren’s arm against her side and bared her teeth for a moment. “I told them that Annie wanted Eren, that she was questioning me about him and that their arrival drove her away.”

Great, so he was *never* going to get off the base and feed properly, was he?

“Thank fuck for small favors,” Ymir muttered.

That earned her another dirty look from Mikasa, whose expression soon turned a bit guilty. “However, now they know about using our blood to heal – it’s how I kept Petra alive.”

Ymir appeared furious for a moment, and then just let out a very weary, long sigh. “Guess it would’ve happened eventually with the all the tests they’re running.” Then something seemed to occur to her. “Is the girl still alive?”

Eren, Mikasa and Armin exchanged looks between each other. “Uhm, last I heard,” Armin said as he scratched at his head. “Captain Hange got her settled in Medical before going off to talk to Commander Smith.” He seemed to think about it some more. “I should get down there, see if she’s still all right – it would be good to run some tests, find out how she’s reacting to Mikasa’s blood and the Malform infection.” He paused to give Mikasa a quick hug before he raced over to the edge of the roof and used his gauntlet to reach the ground.

“Bright kid, but not all there, is he?” Ymir made spinning motions toward her temple.

“Who is, these days?” His fingers back to normal, Eren was finally able to rub at his tired eyes.

“Wow, words of wisdom there, Rebel.” Ymir urged Krista toward the edge of the roof as well. “I think it’s time for us to head off to bed – I’m willing to bet that there’s going to be extra training sessions tomorrow.”

He watched them leave, envious of their ability to go about freely. While he stood there, Mikasa came up behind him and engulfed him in her arms. “It’ll get better,” she murmured in his ear. “We’ll find a way to fight back.”

“The games are even worse than them chasing us,” he admitted as he rested back against her. “I just… fighting is so much easier. I just want to fight them and get this over with, to end it finally.” He felt so tired, as if he could sleep for days; part of it was the lack of adequate blood, while the rest… what he wouldn’t give to know that he was somewhere safe, him and Mikasa and Armin and-

He inhaled sharply and rubbed at his eyes once more. “I think I need some blood.”

Mikasa shifted around until she could face him, her expression stern and almost matronly. “You really shouldn’t be giving Captain Hange so much blood for her tests while feeding from humans.”

“I know,” he sighed, barely resisting the urge to call her ‘mom’. “But it’s all I’m getting for the foreseeable future unless you’re able to bring a Malform back for me.” He gave her a quick hug then stepped back. “I’ll see if either her or Levi are free so they can supply me with something.”

Judging from the way that Mikasa’s lips pressed together, she guessed that he would try Levi’s first, but she didn’t argue with him, instead she followed him over to the ledge. “Don’t be gone too long.”

“I won’t.” They checked to make sure no one was around and held hands as they jumped down together.

*******

Levi had just settled at his desk when he heard a tentative knock at his door; cursing in annoyance, he shoved himself onto his feet and stomped over to the door to open it, only to blink a few times in surprise when he found Eren on the other side of it.

“Ah, yeah, got anything by way of a midnight snack,” the brat asked, a lopsided smile on his face and a weariness to his eyes that made him look older than normal.

“You better not be meaning me,” Levi warned as he waved Eren inside.

“Nah, I don’t need anything that bitter and nasty this time of night.”

“Ha ha.” Levi followed Eren into the room and noticed how he stopped a few feet away from the desk, as if he had no intention of sitting down. “You not planning on staying long?”

Eren shrugged, his hands clasped behind his back as if he was trying to keep from fidgeting for once. “It’s late and I’m sure you’ve a lot to do. I’ll just take the blood and get back to Mikasa.” He sounded tired – looked tired as well – and didn’t seem in the mood for any banter.

Levi’s eyes narrowed, suddenly suspicious of the change in demeanor; the brat he knew was never this well-behaved unless something was up. “What’s the hurry? I thought you didn’t sleep much and all I’m doing is a bunch of paperwork.” He leaned back against his desk and folded his arms over his chest. “You didn’t answer me – you not staying long?”

The question prompted a drawn-out sigh from Eren as he jerked his right hand through his hair, further tousling the messy strands. “I’m not staying *here* very long – look, I didn’t think you’d be in the mood for much tonight after everything happened. *I’m* not in the mood tonight,” he growled.

“I’m not talking about fucking, you shitty brat, I’m talking about if you’re planning on running!” Levi stood up straight and took a step closer, his hands on his hips to prevent him from lashing out at the idiot, to grab hold and shake him or… or do *something*. “Don’t tell me that you’re not thinking of hightailing it out of here, you and your precious sister.”

Eren stared at him, golden eyes wide and luminous like the sun. He blinked slowly once and nodded, his hand rising in the air as if to grasp something that only he could see. “Yes, I am – I want to run so badly I can *taste* the air outside, can feel it moving over my skin.” He closed those fucking gorgeous eyes of his and shuddered. “It’s amazing out there, so many scents and sounds…. It makes me feel half-dead, being stuck in here.” His eyes opened up and were shining even brighter as he gazed at Levi. “But everyone tells me it’s a trap if I leave, as if I don’t fucking know it already. I still want to leave because it *is* a trap, one I’ll head right into – a fight where I’m alone against *them*. No one else to be hurt, no more running, no more blood except my own. I don’t care if I fall as long as I can take some of them down with me.”

Judging from the fervor in the idiot’s eyes and voice, he truly did feel that way, and would be happy making a sacrifice out of himself. Levi wanted to kick the shit out of him right now, to beat him senseless – no, to beat *sense* into him, yet forced himself to remain still. “And why the hell should you do any of that?”

Those eyes flashed even brighter. “Because-“

He cut off the angry rebuttal by finally reaching out to grab a handful of the grey shirt and pulled Eren in close. “Why should you be the only one to fight, you fucked-up fool? You think you’re the only one who’s earned that right? Haven’t all of us sacrificed blood, sacrificed *more* than that? So why should you be the only one to fight them?”

Eren stared at him for several seconds, his lips moving silently as his eyes slowly dimmed until he shook his head. “I….”

“Well? Still think you should go off and fight alone?”

“…no.” He sighed and slumped forward, his hands coming up to rest against Levi’s chest. “No. I can’t promise that I won’t ever go, that I’ll stay forever… but I’ll stay for a little longer.”

It felt as if someone punched Levi in the chest just then, all of the air suddenly left him. His grip loosened on Eren’s shirt as his hands slid up to the brat’s narrow shoulders. “What, you think any of us can promise more than that? It’s good enough.” Before he stopped to think what he was doing, his right hand tangled in that ridiculous hair and tilted Eren’s head for a kiss.

Their lips brushed together tentatively at first, then pressed together with more conviction. It lacked the passion of previous kisses, yet Levi felt… felt a sense of comfort from holding Eren close, soaking in his warmth those precious few seconds. Smooth fingers caressed his cheek as they broke apart.

“So, about that blood?” Eren licked at his lips and shifted back a little. “I get the impression that you’ll get all kicky on me if I start nibbling on the new recruits.”

“I will kick you so damn hard that maybe it’ll wake up that miniscule brain of yours.” Levi clicked his tongue in disgust as he went over to the mini-fridge to go get a bag. “After you have your damn snack, you can go check on Petra.”

Eren trailed after him. “She’s still alive?”

“She’s fighting off the infection but not out of danger – Hange thinks some more of your blood will do the trick.” He retrieved the bag and handed it to Eren, who held onto it for a few seconds before handing it back to him.

“I’ll get some off of Captain Hange, then. Save it for next time.” Other than giving him a curt wave of goodbye, Eren didn’t waste any time before leaving.

Feeling a bit amused despite himself and finally hopeful for Petra’s chances, Levi returned to his desk and the work waiting for him.

*******

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