chapter twenty-two

*******

divide, part one

*******

Levi surveyed his bathroom with a critical eye and finally gave a nod of approval. “Nice to see you didn’t half-ass it, or else you’d be cleaning your own blood up off the floor as well.”

Eren rolled his eyes while he leaned against the doorway leading to the bedroom and seemed unfazed by the threat. “Yeah, yeah, I’d hope after a millennium or so of looking after myself that I’d have learned to clean by now. I can even cook, too.”

“Wow, you’ll make someone an excellent housewife,” Levi sneered as he straightened some soap dispensers that had gotten knocked around during their little ‘battle’ last night.

“That chairman is going to be one hell of a lucky fellow.” Eren pulled that ‘too innocent to be believed’ expression on his face and batted his ridiculous eyes. “He’ll be so happy to spoil me and Mikasa rotten.”

All right, the joke was beginning to really grate on Levi’s nerves right about now, hearing Eren talk about suckering some rich guy into putting up with his crazy shit – and his psycho sister as well. “Don’t you have something you need to do,” he asked once he finished restoring his bathroom to its normally careful order.

Eren made a rude noise and shook his head. “Like what? Lie on top of the roof and see if I can spot any malfunctioning panels? Crawl all over the ceiling until I’m dizzy? Oh wait, maybe I’ll go out somewhere… but I *can’t*,” he said with obvious bitterness. “So much for me doing any fighting!” His eyes were glowing and his sharp teeth flashed every time he spoke, his face flushed with the impassioned emotions that lent a crispness to his furious speech.

The brat wanted to fight? That was fine with Levi just then. He strode forward and poked Eren in the chest to get him to move out of the doorway, more than content to put some of his newly enhanced strength behind the motion. “You think that you’ll actually be fighting? All it would be is you handing yourself over to those three on a silver platter, and causing more good people to die in the process!” He didn’t stop even when Eren flinched. “You came to *us*, so you’ll do what the *fuck* we tell you to do, and that’s to keep your fucking ass *here*!”

“I seem to remember you dragging my ass here,” Eren shouted back at him. “It was my decision to stay anyway and to trust you despite all of your bullshit, and maybe that was a huge mistake!” He jerked his hands through his hair so fast that some of it had to be pulled out, but his expression was too furious to reveal any pain.

Why couldn’t the little shit see that Levi and Erwin were doing their best to keep him safe? Some of the Corps best had already died against those fucking vamps, and Eren wanted to throw away that sacrifice by parading his ass out on the damn street? “The huge mistake would be to trust the shit that’s between your ears! Now sit your damn ass down and stop bitching before I kick some sense into you!”

Eren went perfectly still for several seconds, his eyes fixed on Levi in a manner that reminded Levi of a cat that had locked onto its prey. He honestly didn’t know what the hell Eren was going to do next – attack, run, *something* - but his body began to tense up while ‘oh shit’ flashed through his brain. It wasn’t often that he was so clearly reminded of what Eren truly was, but this, *this* was one of those times.

Something flashed in front of his face too fast to track and then Eren was hissing, actually *hissing*, this awful, spitting sound as he whirled around, his dark hair fanning out around his head from how quickly he moved and his bare feet slapping against the tiled floor; he wasn’t naked this time, but he didn’t bother to grab his slippers or finish lacing up his jerkin. “Fuck you! I’ve lived a hell of a long time without you or Smith babysitting me, so fuck you both!” The door to Levi’s quarters slammed so hard behind the brat that Levi swore he heard a cracking sound.

Levi stood in his bedroom where he could inhale the scent of sex from the bed and the more elusive one of Eren from all over his quarters, and nearly went cross-eyed as he stared at the short strands of black hair that had fallen onto the bridge of his nose. The strands that Eren must had severed when he’d swiped at Levi’s face moments ago, claws flashing close enough to cut them but not Levi’s face, Levi’s *eyes*. Damn, but someone was *pissed off*.

It had all started out as such a nice morning, too. He rubbed at his face to brush off the shorn hair, and thought about waking up a few hours ago, getting his ‘owed’ turn, then wasting a bit more of Erwin’s hot water. They’d enjoyed some tea together before Eren had worked on cleaning the bathroom and Levi had dealt with some paperwork, and then… yeah. Typical Ackerman relationship right there. The worst part of it was that he wasn’t even sure what the hell he’d done to set off Eren like that. The brat knew he couldn’t go out, so why all the fucking drama now?

Going over to his desk to pick up his blades and gauntlet, Levi figured he’d give Eren some time to cool off, maybe go talk to Hange later and see if she had any particular insight into this whole mess. Maybe Eren was just getting a little squirrely from being cooped up on base for so long. Turning two people in a short amount of time probably hadn’t helped, either. So yeah, give the brat a little space and then hope he was in a better mood later tonight. Perhaps Levi would have some good news to tell him after the meeting with Pixis.

And if a certain shovel-wielding sister knew what was good for her, she’d keep her over-protective nose *out* of this… whatever this was. Fight? Snit? Disagreement? Levi fingered his bangs and supposed he should be thankful that at least he wouldn’t have to go to Erwin about any more furniture replacement requests….

When he stepped out into the hallway and noticed all of the sidelong looks cast his way, he sighed and mentally prepared himself for another day of gossip and an ‘I’m so disappointed in you’ talk from Erwin later on. Dammit, just what had the brat done now?

*******

“Did you hear about this morning? Supposedly Captain Ackerman must have done something so perverted that it drove the poor kid half mad! He was wandering the halls without any shoes on and talking out loud to himself in gibberish!”

“I heard he *growled* at Daniels when the guy asked if he was all right!”

“What do you think the captain is doing to him? I mean, just how… you, know… kinky can he be?”

“This *is* Ackerman we’re talking about! It probably involves cleaning bots or something.“

“That poor kid…”

Ymir forced herself to remain calm while she washed herself, while beside her she could tell that Krista was seething over the insults to their friends – well, to Eren and that short asshole; Krista was nice enough to consider the captain a friend when he was really a barely tolerated acquaintance. Who would guess that when Eren finally decided to get semi-serious about a guy, that he would have such lousy taste… okay, yeah, she had seen that coming from miles away. No big surprise there. Nice package and all, but sheesh, had Mikasa warped that kid or what with her clinginess? Not that Rebel really was all sweet and innocent and warped-free in the first place, from what Ymir could tell.

*Focus*.

She hadn’t gotten much sleep last night, even the scant hours that was normal for her kind, between fretting over today, doing her best to think up a plan and worrying about Krista. And now… now it was almost enough to make her believe in some sort of gods with this little gift being dropped in her lap. That or devils, because if this was Fate or something fucking with her, she was going to go on a rampage that would be remembered for *centuries* to come.

Again, *focus*. Remember what was important, which – or who – was standing right next to her, busy glowering at the gossipy twits a couple of showers down the row.

“You know, I was always told as a kid that if I kept scowling like that, my face would stick to it,” she told Krista while she pulled on an exaggerated frown. “Explains my beautiful looks, no?”

Krista finally paid some attention to her. She at first glanced Ymir’s way and then took a second look to really notice her, her scowl giving way to laughter. “Oh, all right, I get it, stop trying to scare everyone before breakfast.” She rose up on her toes to give Ymir a quick kiss. “Even if I do think you look cute like that.”

“That’s because you think I’m perfect the way I am,” Ymir purred. She almost allowed herself to be sidetracked again, her damn nerves seeking any possible distraction, before she focused on the plan that she’d come up with during the night. “So, I’m going to skip practice today.”

Krista’s happy expression morphed into a more crestfallen one at the news and she pulled back a little. “But why? Don’t tell me that you think Captain Hange and her squad aren’t worth the effort-“

“No, that’s not it.” Ymir pressed the fingers of her right hand against her lover’s lips to stifle any more protests. “I think it’ll do you some good to practice with them by yourself, to help develop your own skills a little faster. And… well, I owe Rebel for what he did the other day.” She hung her head as if a bit embarrassed about the admission when she was really doing her best to hide her real emotions. “Despite what he said, he didn’t have to do it, and it sounds like he could really use a distraction right about now. So I’m going to track him down after breakfast and talk to him about this idea I have about where some of… well, where some of *them* might be hiding and see if we can’t come up with a plan that might help the Corps out and speed things up a little – help him get out of here a bit faster.”

Krista was quiet for a few seconds before she tugged at Ymir’s hand so she could speak again. “You’re not going to do anything foolish, right?” She eyed her with some suspicion while Ymir gave her a weak smile. “Oh… just don’t get caught, all right?” She knew just as well as Ymir did that Eren was going crazy with being trapped inside – most likely it had something to do with this morning lovers’ spat.

Ymir was completely honest when she answered back. “I promise you, I will do everything I can to not get into trouble.” She was serious about that – she would meet up with whomever it was that Annie was sending, hand over Eren and then be done with… with the whole damn mess. “What do you say we go out today when you’re done training, eh? I think it’ll be a good time to test your new alcohol tolerance.” She’d need to get well and truly drunk tonight… and be as far away as possible when Mikasa realized that Eren was missing.

Mindful of the other girls around them, Krista shook her head and rocked up for one more kiss. “Silly, you know I’m a sure thing, but that sounds fun.”

“Eh, I keep waiting for you to come to your senses one of these days,” Ymir admitted before she resumed rinsing off.

“Please, that hasn’t happened yet.” Krista started to hum as she leaned her head back to wash her hair.

Yeah, but that was before Ymir betrayed one of the only friends she had in the world.

*******

Still so furious over… over that *asshole*, Eren didn’t stop to judge his strength well enough and ended up ripping his jersey nearly in half as he jerked it over his head when he went to change his clothes; he’d showered at Levi’s this morning, but needed to change into clean clothes, into something that didn’t *reek* of that condescending, annoying, pompous *ass*. How could he believe even for a moment that maybe, just maybe, here was someone he might-

“Eren? What’s wrong?”

The blatant concern in his sister’s voice had Eren scrambling to yank the clean jersey over his head so he could look at her, and the tears shimmering in her dark eyes made him reach out to her and pull her close into a tight hug. “It’s all right,” he assured her, his face buried against her soft hair. “Don’t worry.” Funny, how she was the one so upset just then.

“Did – it’s *him*, isn’t it? I heard… well, are you sure you’re okay?”

So much for hoping that Mikasa had been off to breakfast with Armin or something and that he’d be able to sneak off somewhere to fully calm down before facing her. “Yes.” When he received a vicious pinch to his left ribs in return to his flippant answer, he yelped and pulled away to look up at her disapproving expression. “Okay, no, I’m ticked off and wishing I’d gouged out his eyes before I left, all right?” He huffed at the hair falling into *his* eyes and couldn’t help but laugh at the slight smile on his sister’s face. “What, talk about me almost maiming someone makes you happy?”

“It lets me know that you’re… well, you.” She urged him to sit down on Armin’s neatly made bed, his left hand held between her own. “What happened,” she asked, slipping into softly spoken German.

He let out a grown and rubbed at the back of his neck, his fingers catching on the thin cord of the leather pouch for a moment. “I… I guess it started when I complained about being bored and wanting to go outside. Nothing new there.” He grimaced to show how tired he was of being cooped up on base, of how useless and frustrated he felt at being denied the ability to fight. “Then he snapped back about how I’d just get caught if I went out, how *I’d* get people killed.” Eren had to close his eyes to hide them glowing just then, the anger from before washing through him so potent that he wanted to tear something apart. Was he used to people dying because of him? It sure has hell had happened enough over the years that he could deal with it in one form or another. Was he happy about it? Fuck no. Did he like having it thrown in his face like a way to discipline a… a bad puppy or something? Rub his nose in the fact to make him tuck his tail between his legs and sit whimpering instead of running around? No fucking way. And *this* by a guy whom he thought he trusted, he thought he cared enough to… to…. “*Fuck*!”

Mikasa’s hands clenched tightly around his until it started to hurt, but it wasn’t anything to what he felt inside his chest just then. Her own eyes were golden and bright, causing her to duck her head and her shiny black hair to fall forward to cover her face. “*I’m* going to be the one gouging out body parts on the bastard.”

Despite the intense anger that Eren felt toward Levi just then, this wasn’t what he wanted. “Wait – no.” He tugged on her hands until she looked at him. “Don’t – he’s not worth it.” Not for her to go after him like that.

“But Eren-“

“*No*.” He shook his head and forced an uneven smile. “Am I furious with him? Yeah, enough to show him his own spleen and another few choice organs. But… he’s not worth it, not really.”

Mikasa’s eyes went wide, shocked enough to darken back to their almost black shade. “But you – you like him enough to….”

“Yeah, I know.” Wasn’t that the most bitter part of this all? He chuckled a little while he reached out to tuck back the hair that clung to his sister’s pale cheek. “Like that matters. He’s still an asshole. Maybe we’re not meant to be together. It happens. Least I got some great sex out of it while it lasted.”

Mikasa shook her head. “No – I’ll be careful and just go beat some sense into him. There has to be a reason why you turned him, as much as I hate his guts.”

“Look – not everyone stays together even if they… yeah. We’re fine when we’re screwing each other, it’s just the rest of it that we can’t figure out. Let it go, okay?” Eren thought about his parents, who despite caring deeply for each other barely spent more than a couple of weeks together at a time. He knew that he certainly hadn’t helped their marriage, but it had been like that even before his birth. “Better this happens now, okay?” He just never thought he’d end up in a relationship like theirs – hell, he never thought he’d end up in a relationship, period. Maybe it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise, how things had worked out.

His sister didn’t look as if she believed him, but she didn’t go running off to gut a certain bastard captain, either. “You usually don’t give up like this,” she pointed out with some suspicion, her eyes narrowed as she leaned in closer as if to examine him.

“I don’t usually put up with such an abusive asshole for so long unless we need a new set of IDs or something,” was his instant retort, which had her backing off a little. Okay, maybe that was a little uncalled for, but… it rattled him, how much and how quickly Levi could rile him up. How easily he lost control around the man. In the end, he just wasn’t sure if this relationship was such a good idea if Levi had this much power over him; it was probably best to move on before he lost even more of himself. “At least we know now why I stick with one night stands.” He tried to smile, to turn the whole thing into a joke, but his face felt too stiff to move properly.

“Oh Eren.” Mikasa hugged him again, her arms wrapped around him as if she was afraid to let him go. “It’s not your fault that you picked an asshole with control issues.”

That startled a laugh out of him, even if it was a bit weak. “Uhm, yeah, I think it *was* my fault. Need some better taste or something.” He rubbed his cheek against her shoulder despite the starchy feel of her uniform jacket and soaked in the warmth of her, the familiarness of her scent. “Please tell me that your MP is a bastard who insults you all day just so I’m not all alone here.”

He got another pinch to the ribs and a slight laugh from Mikasa. “No… he’s nice. He’s… he’s really nice.”

“Yeah, it figures Ms. Perfect would find the only decent single guy left in the dome. He’ll probably suck when it comes to sex, though.”

This time his sister followed through with a rather hard poke to his poor ribs, which provoked a true laugh through the pain. As he pulled away, he noticed that she struggled not to smile even as she glared at him, her eyes bright with love and humor. “You… oh, I think the lack of decent blood is affecting your poor brain.” She leaned in to give him a kiss on the forehead. “You coming to breakfast?”

“Nah, I don’t feel like running into any assholes right now.” When he noticed a particularly predatory gleam in her dark eyes, he sighed. “Mikasa – no bloodshed at breakfast, okay? Some nice people are trying to eat.”

“Hmm.” She stood up and fussed with her scarf. “I’ll give him a day to see if he comes to his senses and attempts to grovel his way back into your good graces. After that….” A rather disturbing smile curved her lips for a few seconds, before it was hidden behind the red scarf. She waved goodbye to him and then headed off for the day.

Great, it was going to be a repeat of the Timon affair, he just knew it… only this time, his sister’s ‘victim’ could heal, so the massacre would probably last a good day or two. Eren wondered if he should warn Levi… and remembered having Gunther and Olou’s death thrown in his face, along with the rest of the Freedom Corps’ who had died since he’d joined up. Nope, let the bastard find out the hard way, like when Mikasa started flaying the skin off of his back. Maybe then Eren would step in.

He’d finished changing and had just started digging through some of the datapads that Armin had rigged for recreational use when Ymir approached the bunkbed, which was a little odd. Firstly, because Krista wasn’t anywhere to be found, and secondly, because she was usually getting ready to beat up Captain Hange right about now. “You forget something?”

“Nope, thought that we might be able to talk a little.” She was speaking in an old dialect of Spanish, which made him set the datapad down right away; Ymir usually preferred to talk in English if she didn’t want people to eavesdrop, and every now and then she surprised them with a bit of German or Russian. Considering his interest piqued, Eren indicated that he was willing to listen and found himself ushered over to the common area.

Most of the surviving and uninjured recruits were off finishing breakfast so they could start their shifts or training for the day, so the large room was oddly quiet for once; those who did linger around were curled up on their beds or huddled together and talking quietly. It didn’t take much effort to grab a couple of chairs where Eren and Ymir could talk in general privacy together, especially since they were speaking a version of a language that hadn’t been heard in several centuries. “So what’s going on? Don’t tell me that you’ve another girlfriend that you want turned.”

Ymir rolled her eyes at his poor attempt at a joke and even took a swipe at his head before settling back into the padded grey chair. “Very funny. And here I thought I might try to help you out, you moron.”

Eren gave her a narrow-eyed look as he ran his fingers through his hair, now more than a little suspicious; Ymir wasn’t known for helping people out just for the hell of it. “Okay, so let me rephrase that – what the hell do you want?”

He thought he saw a flash of… *something* cross her face at the question, and then she managed to look offended. “Do you really doubt me so much?”

“Fuck yes.” That didn’t take any thinking about on his part. He sat on the edge of the seat, better to get up and run if he needed to, and picked at the side hem of his pants with two of his claws.

Ymir let out a slow breath, her arms wrapped around her lower abdomen and her right hand tapping lightly against a pouch on her left hip. “Look, I can’t say that I blame you – I’m not always trustworthy.” Again there was that weird flash of emotion that was gone too quickly for him to figure out. “But you did me a huge favor recently so I thought maybe I could try to return it somehow.”

“Okay.” That sort of made sense, as he couldn’t imagine that she’d be happy about being in his debt. “How so?” He stared intently at her, trying to figure this out – why couldn’t Armin or Mikasa be here?

“Anyone who knows you, Rebel, can tell that you’re going crazy – okay, crazier – over being stuck here in headquarters.”

“Yeah, and whose fucking fault is that?”

Ymir glared at him, her unease slowly melting away. “I was trying to do you a favor, you little shit, just like I’m doing now!” She gave him a nasty grin and settled back more firmly in the chair. “You just might get off the damn base if you listen to me.”

He really wanted to tell her to fuck off and leave – something urged him to get up and walk away *right then* - but a chance to go outside? To leave headquarters? He found himself sitting still and waiting for her to continue.

“Oh, we being a good boy now?”

“Ymir….”

“All right.” Ymir rubbed at her forehead for a second as if thinking about something. “Look, we’ve wiped out a lot of the Malform lately in the last couple of attacks, which means those assholes can’t have too much more – not unless they’re bringing them in from the outside or changing enough people to be noticed, which doesn’t seem to be the case.”

“They’re really strong, so they must be either really old or newly created by vampires,” Eren pointed out.

“Yeah, and we can’t get too close to them and ‘play’ to find out which when there’s humans about, so we’re just assuming they’re newly turned despite the fact that there’s been no outcry about missing people. And we’re even more fucked if they’re from the outside.” Ymir shivered for a second, probably thinking along the same lines as Eren – if the Malform were from the outside, then Annie, Reiner and Bertolt were getting a *hell* of a lot of help. “Either way, that means that they’re storing them somewhere that the Engineers haven’t found.”

Eren thought about it for a minute or two, and compared Trost to some of the other domes he knew. “You think there’s a lower city level? Wasn’t Salzburg around here?” He’d talked a little bit about such a possibility with Mikasa, but to have Ymir confirm it….

“Give the boy a prize, and to think that Mikasa calls you the pretty one.” Ymir bent over so she could pat him on the head.

He snapped his teeth at her hand when she pulled it away. “Ha, ha. So what, you want to tell Commander Smith that there’s a buried lower level beneath the sewers where the trio are hiding out?” He thought about Levi’s plans for the day and bared his teeth a little more. “Have him pass it on to the Engineers?”

“Wow, you really *are* the pretty one of the bunch, aren’t you?” Ymir gave him a pitying look while she fussed with her ponytail.

“Oh fuck off,” Eren muttered. “You’re not going to suggest-“ He paused to stare at her, some of his anger melting away. “Really? The two of us?” Excitement began to bubble up in his chest, especially when Ymir’s answer was a wicked grin. “But there’s no way Smith and Levi will let me leave.”

“Then don’t ask them.” Ymir flipped back her hair and made a flicking motion with her right hand. “Who can stop us when we get our asses into gear – and we’re good at being sneaky. We’ll wait until those two leave for a patrol or something and then head on out.”

He practically bounced in his seat over the possibility of getting the hell out of here, of *doing* something to strike back at the others after being stuck idle for so long. “They’re leaving to go talk to the Engineers in a couple of hours.”

Ymir’s smile slipped for a moment. “Perfect. We can meet up then – it’s a little sooner than I thought, but I’ve already a couple of things stashed away in the room with the main electrical generator that we can use.”

Just how long had she been planning this? “Uhm, shouldn’t we tell Mikasa or-“

Ymir lunged forward to latch onto his left forearm. “No – the less people we drag into this, the less chance there is of it being fucked up.” She seemed to realize that her fingers were digging into his flesh and let out a nervous laugh. “Come on, Rebel, live a little. You turning into a wuss now that you’ve got a boyfriend? He keeping you on a short leash?” There was a clear, derisive note to her voice.

Even though he knew he was being taunted, he jerked his arm free and glared. “I’m not on anyone’s fucking leash. What time do we meet up?”

A look of intense relief washed over Ymir’s face; was she so happy to clear up the debt that she owed him? “Meet me there at a quarter past 1100, all right? That should give those controlling bastards enough time to get out of here and for everyone to be focused on what’s for lunch rather than what we’re doing.”

“All right, I’ll see you then.” Just a few more hours and he’d be out of here, away from everything that reminded him of Levi, that housed the man’s scent…. He needed to clear his head, to fight, to properly feed; human blood wasn’t enough anymore, not when he felt a lingering weakness and an irritability that wouldn’t go away no matter how much he fed.

They’d go off to see if they could find any lower levels, hopefully track down the hiding place of the Malform and then return to headquarters with some vital information after a bit of necessary feeding. As long as they avoided the trio – something that Ymir would be just as desperate to do as him – they’d be fine. What could go wrong?

*******

“So Sasha and I are going to work our way through *all* of the restaurants in the dome. We’re thinking we can hit them at least twice before the dome opens up again. Then we can post our ratings on them.”

Jean reached over to push down on Connie’s head while he laughed. “Don’t you think you can do some more… I don’t know, romantic things with your new girlfriend other than feed her?”

“But she likes going out to new places to eat,” Connie complained as he shoved Jean aside with an indignant look on his face for a few seconds, before his eyes narrowed and he stuck out his chest. “Not all of us have these snotty girlfriends who like art and fancy things like that.”

“That’s because Mikasa has actual *taste*, so she cares for more than just how things taste.” He felt rather proud of that little wordplay there.

Connie scoffed at him and waved aside the jab at his crazy girlfriend. “Please, she’s dating you so she can’t have that good of ‘taste’, can she?” Connie laughed in the face of Jean’s mock fury and took a few hasty steps forward.

Mindful that they were on patrol and that they had to show a bit of decorum, Jean settled for giving his smart-ass partner a warning look that there would be retribution in the near future and did his best to manage a respectable demeanor as they continued with their job. Just a few more hours and he’d be able to see Mikasa again, so of course it seemed as if this shift was just *dragging*. “Hey, you want to see about the four of us meeting up again later this week?”

Connie appeared to think about that. “Isn’t there some sort of movie festival going on? You can get the tickets and I’ll get the snacks?”

“Deal.” Feeling pleased with himself, Jean took to whistling while he checked out the street ahead of him and the buildings looming above, doing his best not to get too distracted. The cheerful tune faltered when he noticed a familiar figure dashing toward him and Connie. “Ah, isn’t that Marlo?”

“Sure does look like it. You owe him credits or something?” Connie shaded his eyes with his right hand as they stood there and watched the gangly MP run toward them. “Because he looks real intent on - hey, Marlo!”

“Connie! Jean! I need to… to speak to you!” Marlo, his long face dotted with sweat and his normally neat bowl-cut hair disheveled, panted for a few seconds, his back bowed as he hunched over for air.

“Yeah, you’re doing it right now.” For some reason the prim, by the book guy got on Jean’s nerves – he was all about doing his job right when he could, but Marlo… Marlo was all ‘honor’ and ‘pride’ and a bunch of other shit that made Jean’s teeth hurt. “What, you gonna tell us that there’s a pack of Malforms on your trail or something?”

“No, something worse.” Marlo straightened up and clutched at Jean’s jacket, his face pale beneath the sweat. “Where’s your… well, you’re dating someone from the Freedom Corps, right? I need to speak to her right away.”

Made leery by the strange request, Jean batted Marlo’s hands aside. “What the *hell* do you want with Mikasa?”

“It’s very important that I speak to her!” Marlo sounded frantic, his voice breaking over the words. “Commander Dok is sending a squad after Commander Smith!”

Hearing mention of the Freedom Corps’ leader cooled Jean’s temper before he could continue to lash out at the idiot; he paused and glanced around to make sure that no one was paying them any attention. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Yeah, what’s this about Commander Smith?” Connie edge closer to Marlo, a dangerous gleam in his hazel eyes. “You better not be joking!”

“I’m not!” Marlo held up his hands and took a deep gulp, his eyes wide as if in terror. “Look, I was in his office when he received a call from Minister Zackly, who told him to send a squad out to arrest Commander Smith and Captain Ackerman along with Commander Pixis. Commander Dok sent Boris out to tell Becker and his squad to do just that – then he dismissed me as if I was nothing. I came right away to find you two because you’re the only ones I know who are… friends with someone in the Corps.”

Shit, if the commander was sending Becker and his team after Mikasa’s captain and commander, then this was serious. Jean glanced at Connie and found his friend already pulling out his datapad. “What are you doing?”

“Looking up where Sasha is – hopefully she’s not too far away,” Connie muttered as he swiped along the screen.

“Oh.” Then the words sunk in, leaving Jean dumbfounded. “You’re tracking her? You know how much shit you can get in for that?”

“Eh, she can track me, too. We figured this way we know where each other is if we run into trouble.” Connie didn’t seem to grasp the significance of the whole… well, mess.

The two idiots were locked into each other’s signals, which was forbidden – sending messages was fine, but continuous tracking? There were strict rules about how much radiation or signals could be sent ever since the collapse, and tracking was a major no, amongst others. The last thing people wanted was another environmental disaster, and these two…. “Gah! Where is she?”

“Just a few blocks away,” Connie announced with some excitement. “See, *I* know where *my* girlfriend is!” His grin faded beneath the glowers that Jean and Marlo sent him. “Uhm, not the right time?”

Jean shoved him forward, even if he didn’t know the right direction. “Get moving – we need to find her right away.”

“I could always call her… and yeah, maybe this is better talked about in person.” Connie turned more to the left and then hurried across the street, with Jean and Marlo in tow. “You do realize that we’re going to be in trouble for this, right?” He didn’t sound too worried about that.

Jean stumbled a little when he thought about that fact; he was leaving his post to go tell his girlfriend’s friend that his own commander had sent out people to arrest their captain and commander. By all rights, he should turn around and resume his patrol, should ignore the fact that Marlo had ever approached him… but Mikasa…. He couldn’t turn his back on Mikasa, on this maybe affecting her. What if the order for arrest somehow came down to her? Why was Commander Dok arresting people from the Corps? The very same people who were doing their best to fight the Malforms? Something wasn’t right here, and Jean found himself unable to just run away.

“I’ll blame it all on you.”

Connie laughed at that and held up his datapad so he could follow its lead, urging them to turn right down a block and then to head straight. Jean figured that they were getting close when Connie put on a sudden burst of speed, and was proven right when he caught sight of grey and white.

“Sasha!”

The slim figure dressed in Corps’ colors turned toward them and held up her arms. “Connie!” She raced toward them and jumped at Connie, causing him to laugh as he caught her in his arms. “You here to take me to lunch?”

“Not quite!” He stood a bit on his toes to kiss her, the short little twerp, and then pulled away with some reluctance. Meanwhile, a dark complexioned girl stood a few feet away and grinned at their antics. “Uhm, we need your help – Marlo here tells us that your commander is in a bit of trouble.”

Sasha’s goofy smile faded in an instant. “What? Is something wrong? What’s going on with Commander Smith?”

Marlo stepped forward, his expression stern as if he thought that would be convincing. “He’s about to be arrested by Commander Dok on Minister Zackly’s orders, him and Captain Ackerman.”

The mention of the short captain made Sasha pale for some reason. “Oh no, that’s not good, not good at all.” She turned to her partner, her motions frantic. “I’m going to go with them – report back to base that there’s trouble and stick to the patrol, okay?”

“You sure you don’t want me to go with you,” the other girl asked.

“No, I’ll be all right. Let Captain Zacharias know that something is going on and stay here in case something happens.”

“Okay.” The girl gave her a quick salute and then activated her comm, while Sasha turned back toward Connie.

“All right, let’s get going.” She took several brisk steps forward, causing them to hurry up to catch her.

“Ah, is… your partner going to be all right,” Marlo asked as he scrambled to catch up with the girl.

Sasha nodded while looking upward, as if to survey for good rappelling spots. “Lakshmi’s able to handle things on her own – she’ll let them know back at headquarters that something is going on and keep an eye out for an attack out here in case they try to take an advantage of things.” For someone who usually seemed to only care about her next free meal, she certainly seemed focused now to Jean. “So, the commander and the captain were supposed to be at the Engineers today, right? I overheard talk about that at breakfast.”

“Ye-yes,” Marlo stuttered. “Somehow the minister knew that, too.”

Sasha’s lips pressed together in a grim line. “Well, let’s get there quickly, because I don’t think you MPs are anywhere near equipped to face Captain Ackerman. Especially when he’s in a bad mood like he is today.”

“Eh, what does that mean?” Connie rushed toward his girlfriend’s side, but for once she ignored him in favor of firing off a wire. A bit puzzled by her strange concern, Jean hurried to follow her to the Engineer’s headquarters.

*******

They had passed the halfway point to the Engineers’ headquarters, leaving Levi with the impression that maybe, just *maybe*, Erwin was going to be a decent human being for once and not bring up anything to do with Eren. Really, Levi had taken too many blows to the head over the years or something.

“This district is supposed to have some of the best bakeries around. Perhaps we’ll stop on the way back to headquarters and purchase something for Hange and Mike.”

Levi grunted in response, not really giving a shit about either bread or his colleagues.

“And maybe some for Eren, too, since it seems that he’s once again upset with you. At least this time I hear he kept his clothes on, which is an improvement from the previous episode.”

Feeling a headache coming on, Levi pressed his fingertips against his temples. “Really, you want to get into this *here*?”

“Of course, why wouldn’t I when you seem to be a captive audience?” Erwin had the audacity to smirk, which caused several people passing by to give him an appraising stare. Bastard looked much too smug just then, at least for a few seconds, and then his expression turned rather serious. “Did you treat it as a challenge, me asking you to not cause any scenes?”

Levi let out a slow breath and tugged at his still uneven bangs, which he’d half-heartedly trimmed before leaving his quarters for the meeting. “Like I give that much of a shit about what you think to set about intentionally pissing off the brat.”

“Then tell me, what *did* you do to have him ranting and raving around the hallways this morning? The person we need if we’re to have any hope of saving this dome and several others?” Erwin paused for a moment. “I was going to wait and tell you this along with Pixis, but Shadis revealed to me something very important last night.” He pitched his deep voice lower, not much past a whisper, very well aware that Levi’s senses were now enhanced due to his recent change. “Something’s happening at a handful of domes, at least half a dozen of them – not just Maria and Bern. In the last few days, there’s been *no* Malform attacks. Not a single disappearance, not a single feeding, *nothing*. It’s like the creatures are in a holding pattern, or….”

“Or they’ve been pulled back by something, *for* something.” Levi let out a string of curse words that had a nearby young man blushing and a mother ushering her two spawn about giving him a major stink-eye. Tough shit, like he cared about their ‘delicate’ sensibilities when it appeared that the vampires were making a major move. The main question was *why* they were making such a move.

“So you think they’re planning something with Eren?” He had to squint and duck his head to hide the fact that his eyes were beginning to glow as anger washed through him at the thought of those assholes… he forced himself to take a deep breath in an effort to regain control.

Erwin was a bit loud in calling out a greeting to an older man walking past, as if eager for a distraction. In a quieter voice he spoke to Levi. “We know he’s their ultimate goal, so I think that’s rather safe to say. So again, what have you done that might jeopardize our relationship with him?”

*Their* relationship with the brat. Wasn’t that just wonderful? “Why do you assume it’s my fault? Maybe the little shit did something to tick me off,” Levi grumbled as he hunched his shoulders forward.

Erwin’s sigh just then was a touch more dramatic than the situation called for, in Levi’s opinion. “Please, your last… ‘paramour’ called you an emotionally constipated asshole who wasn’t fit for human interaction unless it was to torture people. And that was after just three weeks of… well, you get my point.”

“Thanks for bringing it up.” Levi had been rather happy when that particular drama queen had transferred out of the 104th – what, just because you fucked someone meant that you do shit like pay them all these compliments and put up with their messy ass? Hell no. “I still fail to see what-“

“Levi.” Erwin’s shaggy as fuck eyebrows drew together as his already deep voice dropped another octave or two, a clear sign that his patience had reached its limit. “What the hell did you do?”

Levi’d be all offended if the bastard wasn’t right about the situation. “I… may have insulted his ass,” he mumbled as he fidgeted with the hilts of his blades while he refused to look in Erwin’s direction.

“What was that? Did you say something about insulting him? What the hell did you say?” Erwin’s right hand lifted up and pressed against his face, as if *he* was the one with a headache just then.

Glaring at some dipshit couple who had the audacity to walk happily hand in hand in his presence, Levi reflected back on that morning, on how the fight with Eren seemed to have come out of nowhere. It had left him in a bad mood, something that Hange had picked up on immediately when his friend had met up with him for breakfast, and after listening to him bitch about Eren’s ‘impossible mood-swings’ for at least five minutes, she’d insisted on Levi going over word for word the entire fight. Levi had figured it for more of her crazy bullshit but had decided to humor her, having pissed off enough people for the time being, and it wasn’t until he repeated his own words that it had dawned on him what had set off Eren earlier; he was such a fucking idiot.

His hands clenched tight around his hilts, he dropped his gaze onto the smooth, litter-free surface of the walkway. “I… basically accused him of being responsible for the deaths of everyone those… assholes we’re looking for have killed.” Beside him, Erwin stumbled once he made his confession. “The brat wanted to go out in the dome and I told him that more people would die if he did. Then I threatened to kick his ass on top of it.” Yeah, there were those stellar communication skills of his at work.

“Levi….” Erwin truly sounded in pain at the moment, and when Levi glanced in his direction, seemed to be trying to drill his fingers into his own skull. “What amazes me is how you get anyone to give you the time of day in the first place with that mouth of yours.”

“The shitty brat made the first move!” Levi felt that he had to point that fact out.

“He’s probably going senile from old age.”

Levi’s head snapped around so he could glare at the bastard, only to find Erwin grinning at him. Huffing a little at the putdown, he forced his hands to relax around his blades. “Yeah, well, never said the kid was smart-“

“Or had good taste in men.”

“Watch it, you overgrown asshole,” Levi warned with a proper scowl on his face for a moment before he remembered the shit they were in. “So yeah, that’s what has Eren all pissed off. Hange said to give him some time to cool down and then tell him I fucked up.” Like he had a chance of pulling that off without making the situation any worse; his right hand crept to the front pouch on his belt, where he’d stuck the wrapped parcel that Petra had given him this morning at breakfast. The damn thing was supposed to be a gift for Eren, a bit of a joke, and now….

“She’s right. You’re going to have to suck up that prickly ego of yours and say ‘I’m sorry’ for once. We can’t have Eren upset and possibly willing to flee because you didn’t think before speaking.”

Someone was enjoying this situation way too much. Levi glared up at the bastard but didn’t get the chance to point out that wasn’t it funny how Erwin was dishing out the relationship advice when he was all nice and single himself since they’d just arrived at the Engineers’ headquarters. He’d have to save it for the trip back, he supposed, since he doubted that Erwin would drop the topic that easily.

The large, square building was decorated with green and grey banners bearing the bright red rose imposed on a grey shield, the symbol of the Engineers. Levi thought it looked a hell of a lot better than the stupid MP symbol, but then again, anything looked better than that fucking horse head. As they made their way up the stone steps, a pretty young woman with brown hair waited for them at the top. “Commander Smith? Captain Levi?”

“Yes, we are. You must be one of Commander Pixis’ adjuncts,” Erwin said with a smile.

“You can call me Anka.” The girl, Anka, smiled back and ushered them inside the building. “The commander has been looking forward to your visit all day long. It’s… a shame that your previous one had to be postponed.” Her smile slipped for a moment and something shadowed her light-colored eyes.

“Yes, that was a trying day for all of us.” Erwin bowed his head for several seconds. “Still, I’m very happy to be working with the Engineers – you’re very skillful both in battle and in preserving the domes.”

Levi thought the man was laying it on a bit thick, but then again, Erwin didn’t piss off people to the point of having his bangs cut against his will just by talking. Well, not usually. At least not unintentionally. Manipulative fuck, he thought to himself as he tugged on his ragged bangs and followed along quietly.

Anka played the dutiful hostess and pointed out various features of the building while leading them to Pixis’ office, with Erwin providing the appropriate oohs and aahs and Levi keeping track of each turn so he could get the fuck out of here as quickly as possible if necessary (probably best to just break a damn window). After a couple of minutes, they finally reached their destination.

Pixis stood to greet them, a smile on his face and only a hint of alcohol on his breath, which was a show of great restraint for the man. “Ah, thank you, Anka. Erwin, it’s good to see you again.” He blinked a little upon seeing Levi slide into the room. “Captain Ackerman – you’re looking very well. I’m glad that you’ve recovered so quickly.”

“Head wounds, they bleed like fuck-all,” was all Levi said as he sat down in one of the padded chairs set out for guests. Huh, at least Pixis knew how to find a comfortable chair for his office.

The old man laughed and made his way back behind his desk. “Yes, yes they do!” He rubbed his right hand over his own bald head. “I remember the time when I nearly got scalped during an attack – swear that my commander back then was using me as bait because I was bleeding so much! Certainly helped draw all those undead bastards toward us so we could take care of them.” Something dark glittered in his eyes as he reminisced about the past.

“That’s one way to go about things,” Erwin mumbled as he settled his large from as comfortably as he could in the chair.

“All that matters in the end is that it worked.” Pixis motioned to the carafe of coffee that was set out on his desk. “Would anyone like something to drink?”

Not trusting that it wasn’t spiked with something potent as hell, Levi shook his head. “I’m fine.” Erwin did the same, causing Pixis to shrug as he poured himself something to drink.

“So, we’re here to discuss Malforms, are we not? More or less.” The old man paused to sip his drink, his small, dark eyes focused on Levi and Erwin over the rim of his mug.

Erwin leaned forward with his clasped hands resting on his knees. “In general, yes, but I thought you had something you wanted to tell us first.”

Pixis set the mug aside with a soft ‘click’ as it hit the table. “Ah, so this is one of those ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’, eh?” He waved aside Erwin’s faint protest. “No, no, I did invite you here, and you risked much in opening up to me last time so it’s only fair that I do start.” He leaned back in his chair, the leather creaking softly beneath his weight, and continued to regard the two of them; Levi was struck with the image of a clever rat holed up in a wall, waiting for the right time to run out and sink its sharp teeth in its prey.

“I’ll admit, at first I thought that the stress of fighting Malforms might have gotten to you when you told me about the vampires.” As starters went, Levi had to wonder if insulting them was Pixis’ way of saying ‘thanks, but no thanks’ and kicking them out. Yet Erwin remained calm and Pixis continued talking. “The data on the solar radiation sensors you gave me was convincing… but vampires controlling things, plotting with our own chairmen and ministers? It just… it seemed preposterous.” He paused to take a sip of coffee, and Levi swore he caught a whiff of something alcoholic.

“Yet you said ‘seemed’,” Erwin pointed out.

Pixis chuckled and held his mug between his hands. “Yes, ‘seemed’.” His smile smoothed out, once more replaced by that intense, watchful look. “Some of my own people were saying that things didn’t add up, that the Malforms they were fighting were too strong, too strange. And then… then a civilian approached one of my own people with a request to find her daughter. It seems that the young woman had been missing for a few weeks now, and that whenever she tried to file a report with the MP, she was told that there was no record of the girl, hence there could be no missing persons report. The woman was frantic to have someone in the MP to believe her and said that a young man tried to help, only to finally tell her to come to us.” Pixis’ eyes narrowed above the rim of his mug. “What’s more, she said that she wasn’t the only one, that there were other families with a similar story.”

Levi looked away from the old man and stared at Erwin, his lips pressed into a thin line; Erwin didn’t look directly at him but nodded, once, to acknowledge that he was thinking the same thing. For weeks they’d been wondering why there weren’t any reported attacks, why things had seemed so ‘quiet’ in the dome, but if someone was covering up the missing people….

“We told you that there were vampires in the MP,” Erwin said, his deep voice raspy as if he was struggling to hold back his emotions.

“Yes, yes you did.” Pixis closed his eyes for several seconds. “The MP control the missing person’s reports, and they would have access to the dome’s databases that contain everyone’s ID records as well. It would be very easy for someone with the appropriate access level to not only override any report but to eliminate all traces of a person.”

Levi struggled to control his new nature as the pieces fitted together. “And that would be an MP with the sponsorship of a minister or even the chairman himself.” Which of those rich bastards were aiding those shits? Who had given them the access codes?

“Exactly.” Pixis stared into his mug as if wishing it contained something more potent. “I’ve had my people very, *very* carefully look into the matter, follow up with some of the families, and it’s… truly disturbing. The amount of abuse that the MP is getting away with….” He shook his head, disgust plain on his wrinkled face.

“As long as it’s not-“

Levi’s tirade against the MP was cut by a low beep and a slightly embarrassed look on Erwin’s face as he reached for his comm, which he’d tucked into one of his pouches. He sent both Pixis and Levi an apologetic look before setting the small device in his ear, his expression smoothing out as he talked to whomever it was on the other end. “Yes?” He paused to listen for a minute, a hint of confusion furrowing his heavy brow. “No, I didn’t authorize that. I- are you certain? Well, I don’t know anything about it. Yes, look into it and get back to me. Thanks for checking.” There was another pause. “No, things are fine here so far. Yes, I’ll be careful.” He ended the communication, but didn’t remove the comm.

“What the hell was that?” Levi felt on edge all of a sudden; Erwin had let Mike and Hange know that they were meeting with Pixis and so wouldn’t care to be bothered if it wasn’t important. And from the sounds on this end of the call, something was happening that shouldn’t, which sounded important.

Erwin’s right hand crept to the hilt of his blade even as he gave Pixis one of his ‘everything is all right’ bullshit smiles. “One of my captains just called to check with me about something. Seems there was a mix-up and something’s been delivered that we have no record of in our books.”

That bad feeling intensified. “You’re telling me that there’s strangers on base?” Levi jumped to his feet. “We need to get back there!” He leaves for one damn day – not even an hour yet and this shit happens? The base was supposed to be where Eren was *safe*! If something happened to the little shit, Eren was *never* going to let him hear the end of it.

Erwin held up his hand as if that would stop Levi. “Hange’s taking care of it!”

“*It* is my damn responsibility! We need to-“

Before they could argue about it any more, the door to Pixis’ office burst open to admit several people dressed in MP uniforms. Already on edge from the earlier discussion and now the fact that something might be happening back at the base, Levi drew his blades and held them up as he bared his teeth, the world gone grey except for his targets. He took a step forward to cut down the glowing figures, until he recognized the one rushing forward with her hands held up high.

“Captain! Please, don’t kill them!”

“What the *fuck* is wrong with him!” There was the sound of blades being drawn.

“Levi! Please, stop!”

Everyone was yelling at him when he just wanted to tear something apart, wanted to run back home and make sure that Eren was all right yet he forced down his blades. “Blouse, what the *fuck* are you doing here and with these shitty MPs?”

“Uhm, we’re here to save you, sir?” The girl gave a nervous laugh and stopped pushing back the rest of the baby asswipes long enough to rub the back of her head, beneath her ponytail. Her face was sweaty and she looked ridiculous with that huge grin on her face, but she didn’t seem afraid of him. “Ah, hi?” Then again, she was a fucking idiot.

“Ah, are his eyes supposed to glow like that? Is it a Corps thing?”

“What? Connie, are you nuts? No, that isn’t normal!” The taller of the two baby MP’s smacked his idiot partner.

“Oh, I think I know now why they want to arrest you,” the third, unfamiliar MP moaned, looking as he was about to faint.

Yeah, that headache from before had returned with a vengeance. Levi let out a slow sigh and wondered how ticked off Pixis would be if he gutted the pack of them in the old man’s office. Glancing at Erwin, he decided that maybe he should be more concerned with pissing off his own commander just then, before deciding to fuck it – it was Erwin’s fault for dragging him along.

Pixis came to stand in front of his desk, a careful arm’s length away from Levi, whom he eyed with blatant interest, and held up his right hand for silence – the left hand full with a flask. “Let me see if I can sum up this situation. The four of you are here to ‘save’ Captain Ackerman, who doesn’t seem very human at the moment, yes?”

The unfamiliar MP snapped out of his daze and nodded frantically, causing his black hair to flop about. ‘Yes, sir! We’re here to save the three of you, actually! Minister Zackly ordered Commander Dok to send a squad to arrest the three of you! Er, well, you’re just to be brought, sir.”

“I see,” Pixis said before taking a sip from the flask. “Well, not really, but I think I get the gist of it.” He looked over at Erwin. “Zackly’s rather high up there, no?”

“Indeed, some say he’s the true power in the dome, and that Chairman Fritz listens to every word he says.” Erwin’s jaw tightened and he was once more clutching at his blade. “He’s more than powerful enough to give out access to the ID database.”

“My thoughts exactly.” Pixis then turned his attention to Levi. “So that leaves your captain here. You didn’t say anything about vampires in the Corps.” Even though he smiled as he spoke, that darkness was back in his eyes and his left hand hovered near his hilt.

“That’s because he’s not a vampire,” Erwin rushed to explain. “It… would take more time than I think we have right now, but let’s just say that the Corps is protecting something… *someone* that the vampires desperate want, someone who doesn’t feed from humans and who has the ability to pass on his nature to others instead of turning them into Malforms.”

Pixis stared at Erwin for several seconds before the importance of what was being said sunk in, while Levi gritted his teeth together over the fact that Eren’s secret was basically being revealed and it was because of *him*. The old man’s head whipped around to stare at him, to eye him up and down, and then Pixis drained his flask dry in one go.

“We *truly* need to talk, but if what these kids say is true-“

“It is, sir, that other squad will be here in a few minutes!”

“-then you need to get your asses out of here now.” Pixis rushed over to his desk and pressed the key to his comm. “Rico, get to my office right away, you and your team.” He straightened up and turned to face them. “I’ll send you off with one of my best teams – Rico’s been after me that something’s not right, that the Malforms down in the tunnels aren’t normal. If Zackly’s rounding up people who are on to him, it’s best that she’s away from here.”

“What about you,” Erwin asked.

Pixis shrugged as he set his flask aside. “From the sounds of it, they don’t want to do away with me just yet, so I’ll play the drunk old fool and go along with them – or so they think. You’re the ones with what they want, so you’re the real danger. Get in the clear while I slow them down.”

Erwin was still for a moment before he closed the distance between them and clasped the old man on the shoulder. “Thank you.”

Pixis grinned and clapped Erwin’s shoulder in return. “Just get out of here and don’t give them what they want, all right?”

All of this was so very touching, but it wasn’t getting them back to headquarters, was it? And if that tall baby MP with the under-cut hairdo gave Levi the stink-eye one more time, Levi was going to show him his fucking liver. “We need to *go*,” Levi reminded Erwin.

“Yes, just another-“

“You called for me, Sir?” A young woman with chin length, blondish hair and glasses entered the room, her expression carefully guarded.

“Yes, Rico. I want you and your team to escort these people back to the Corps base right away. Assist them on whatever they need,” Pixis ordered, busy typing something on a computer as he spoke.

“… Yes, Sir.” She didn’t seem pleased with the orders, but she saluted her busy commander all the same.

“Great, let’s get going.” Levi shoved his way out of the door, not even bothering to sheathe his blades; if the MP were coming for them, he was ready for the fight. “What’s the quickest way out of here? Might be best to take a back way, too.”

“You’re in luck, the back way is the quickest,” Rico drawled. Once they were out in the hallway, the rest of her team fell in step behind them, a guy with close-cropped dark hair, a girl with brown hair pulled into a bun, and an older guy with greying black hair.

“Uhm, should we all be going together,” the gangly, dark-haired MP asked.

“Do you really think you can go back to the MP after ratting out Commander Dok’s orders,” the short one pointed out. “Consider that your resignation.”

“I know that,” the other kid snapped. “It’s just-“

“Shut up,” the tall idiot whom Mikasa seemed to think was good-looking bitched. Didn’t Eren say he was horse-faced? “Just… shut up. None of us are going back now.”

“You’ll love the Corps!” Blouse latched on to the short kid and hugged him even as they hurried through the hallways. “It’s-“

“Oi! Shut it like the kid said,” Levi ordered. Really? MPs after their asses, they just found out he was a vampire hybrid and *this* is what they bitched about? They really were a bunch of babies.

He caught a grateful look from Rico and an amused one from Erwin, and assorted pouts from the babies. About to kick the shits into the nearest wall for their troubles, he was spared the effort as they finally reached the outside.

“We need to make some serious speed,” he told Rico.

“Yes, but we also don’t want to draw attention to ourselves.” Erwin reached out to push Levi’s left arm down before he could fire off a wire. “At least get a few blocks away from here before we go swinging through the air for everyone to see.”

“You think it’s a fucking coincidence that they sic the MPs on our ass the *exact* same time that strangers show up at headquarters?” Levi struggled not to shout, not to let his emotions overwhelm him again but it was difficult. “Have you heard from Hange yet?” All the time he rushed down the street, just short of an outright run.

Emotions flashed across Erwin’s face, which was just as telling as the man’s silence; if there was nothing to worry about, Erwin would have come out to say something right away and not struggle for a ‘safe’ answer. “No,” he finally admitted.

“Yeah, I thought so.” What the hell was happening back there? Was Eren holed up somewhere safe? Was he tearing people apart, him and Mikasa? The little shit just *had* to be safe.

“He’ll be fine – Mike, Hange, Mikasa and Ymir are there. Those are our best fighters, Levi.”

“Mikasa? Is something wrong with Mikasa?” Horse-face pushed himself forward to speak with Erwin and Levi – at least until he realized that he was close to Levi and then he drew back in a dramatic manner. “What’s going on, is she all right?”

“She’s as fine as she can be, considering that she’s currently on base where we haven’t heard shit from lately and strangers broke into,” Levi shot back. “We’ll know better once we get there.”

“You know, we’d have a better time of sneaking around if people would keep their mouths shut,” Rico hissed, sounding more than a little put out at the moment.

Taking the hint, Levi snapped his mouth shut even as he continued to glare at the asswipe MP, who continued to glare back as well. He could tell that he made the idiot uncomfortable… which was priceless to think about, considering whom the asswipe was dating. Oh yeah, it should be real fun when they reached the base.

Eren just better be all right when he got there.

*******

Ymir started when she heard the door to the generator room slide open. Despite the dim light inside, she could see two men approaching, one very slim, tall and carrying a bag, the other almost as tall and of a stockier build with a large box slung over his shoulders. As they came closer she noticed that the taller man appeared older, with dark hair and a trim beard, while his partner had blond hair and was clean shaven. Quite the contrasting couple. The smell of mechanical lubricant that filled the room made it difficult for her to pick up the men’s scent – it would also make it difficult for Eren to smell anything, which might explain why Annie had chosen the room.

“You Ymir,” the blond man asked with a gruff voice.

“Well, you guys would be screwed if I wasn’t, right?”

The blond guy huffed once, while the tall one merely looked her over, his dark eyes intent upon her as if sizing her up. For a human, he seemed like someone who would be a challenge, his posture loose but alert, his gaze constantly moving as if to search out targets – or trouble. She had to wonder if he’d been given any vampire blood to improve his senses and reflexes.

“So, Eren will be here in a few minutes,” she said, wanting to get this over with as quickly as possible. “You probably don’t want to be out in the open when he comes through the door.”

“We’ll take him down quickly,” the tall man said, his voice even deeper than the blond’s. “You’re not going to get in our way, right?” His eyes narrowed as he asked that.

“Hell no.” Ymir found herself taking a step back despite herself. “Look, all I want is for you to get him, do it quickly and quietly, and then get your asses out of here without anyone the wiser. You won’t have any trouble from me.”

“Good.” Tall, dark and creepy smiled while his partner stepped back and laid down the box; he opened his hip-length black coat and pulled out what looked to be a tranquilizer gun, revealing a flash of an actual *gun* while he did so, along with something strapped across his chest. Holy shit, Annie had armed these guys with projectile weapons? Inside a dome? “Because I don’t think you want a taste of this if you get out of hand.” He held up the tranquilizer gun and waved it about.

Ymir frowned as she studied it. “What, you gonna try to give me a cold or something? That shit doesn’t work against us. Even tranq’ing doesn’t do much good because of the dosage required.”

Mr. Creepy’s smile became even creepier, if possible. “You forget my employers – this is a purely ‘in-house’ product, usually meant for discipline purposes. I assure you, it’ll drop the target within seconds… and you as well if you try anything.”

She found it difficult to look away from the syringe after that revelation; of course the bastards would know how to take down other vampires, she was just amazed that they hadn’t used it against her or Eren already. Didn’t they trust other vampires to use it? Pushing aside the fear she felt at being near such a weapon, she forced a cocky grin on her face. “There won’t be a need to use it against me.”

“We’ll see.”

Shit, Annie had done her best to think of everything, hadn’t she? “I’d worry about yourself – if you miss with that, Eren’s going to have your guts for a necklace,” she warned.

All Mr. Creepy did was smile a little more. “That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?” He flipped open his coat again, to reveal what she’d missed when she’d been so focused on the guns strapped to his hips. “Because if I fail to bring in our boy, this place is going to come crashing down.”

Fuck… that bitch really *had* thought of everything – there was enough plastic explosives strapped to the man’s chest to blow up a good portion of the building. “How is that going to give Annie what she wants,” she demanded to know, the words coming out in a squeak past a throat gone dry.

“You know he heals real good; she’ll just drag what remains of him out of the rubble before he can put up much of a fight.” The bastard didn’t seem too bothered by the fact that he’d be splattered amongst the rubble at the time.

Yeah, and Annie would probably kill Ymir and Krista before they finished healing, too. All that mattered was Eren, after all… Ymir wiped her hands over her face as if she could just as easily wipe away the nightmare that this day was becoming. “Okay, I get the point. If I don’t want this to become a total cluster-fuck, I help you out.”

“She said you were smart.”

Ymir couldn’t help but laugh at that. ‘Smart’? Yeah, if she was smart, she would have run for the farthest dome away from Eren as soon as she realized that he was here.

“Just get your ass out of sight, okay? He’ll be here any second now,” she snapped.

Mr. Creepy gave her one last grin before doing what he was told, even going so far as to tilt the hat he was wearing that bore ‘Trost Heating and Cooling’ on its front, while Blondie quietly followed him several feet back until they were lost in the shadows. All she heard after that was the hum and whir of the large machines that effectively controlled the temperature of the Corps’ headquarters, which should help confuse Eren’s senses. Now if only the bastard would just show up so she could get this over with and get back to Krista….

It seemed like forever before the door slid open again, but really had to have only been another minute or two; Eren was quiet as he approached, his hands shoved into the pockets of his white pants and for once dressed in a full uniform; maybe he thought that way he’d stand out less if anyone noticed him outside . “So, are you ready? We should probably leave quickly before Levi returns or Mikasa comes looking for me.”

She summoned her most reassuring smile and took a step backwards to draw him a little further into the clearing between the machinery. “Yeah, just give me a minute to get some of the stuff I squirrelled away. I thought we might need a change of clothes and a few other things….”

“Something to break through bricks or concrete would be best – an axe or a pick. I wonder what Mikasa did with that-“ Eren frowned and turned in the direction that the two men had disappeared into, his eyes beginning to glow. “Is there-“

He had just taken a step forward when there was a quiet hissing sound and something shot into his chest. Making a growling sound as he leapt forward, he swiped with his claws at the burly blond guy, who turned just in time for the large box to take the brunt of the blow. Still, he was knocked to the ground while sparks flew through the air from where Eren’s claws scraped along the box, and then the tall guy was there, a blade in one hand and the tranq gun in another.

“Damn, you’re a strong, aren’t you?” He fired another dart at Eren, this one hitting him in the throat, but Eren didn’t seem to notice, not with his eyes blazing and his lips pulled back from a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth. Shit, Ymir had heard about this – about when Eren seemed to lose all semblance of humanity, but she’d never witnessed it herself. Terrified that the crazy bastard was going to kill the humans and set off the explosives, she threw herself at Eren’s back and wrapped her arms around him, desperate to slow him down.

He struggled to pull free, savage growls and hisses spilling from his mouth as his claws swung about wildly, but she managed to hold on while the human shot him yet again. When Eren swiped at him with his left arm, the man swung out with the blade and cut it off below the elbow, sending blood splashing everywhere.

“What the hell!” Ymir was so startled that she almost let go of Eren, yet he was finally tiring, his body slowly slumping forward in her arms. “Why did you do that?”

Mr. Creepy eyed Eren warily, his bloody blade held ready as if he was about to carve him up any second now. A faint hint of steam rose from Eren’s mutilated arm, but only enough to slow down the blood-flow – it wasn’t beginning to heal as it should.

“Look, he just took triple the dosage for a vampire his size, so don’t give me any shit. And it’s not like we’re taking him out of here in original condition anyway.” Mr. Creepy took a cautious step forward and when Eren didn’t react, pulled him from Ymir’s arms to lay him out on the floor. “Come on, Chaz, time to get to work.”

Blondie nodded and hauled himself onto his feet, wincing as if he was in a good bit of pain during the process. He set the box on the floor and opened it up to reveal a padded interior, while Ymir watched the two of them with confusion.

“Wait, ‘original condition’? What are you going to do?” A feeling of dread washed through her as Blondie rummaged through the bag to fetch cauterizing patches and Mr. Creepy held the blade over Eren… and then brought it down over his right leg, severing it around the knee. “Fuck! Stop it!”

Blondie stopped her from rushing forward while Mr. Creepy pointed the tranq gun at her. “We’re following our orders, Miss, so make sure you follow yours.”

“You’re mutilating him!” She watched as blood flowed from the clean wound – part of her mind realized that the vampires must have supplied these sadistic fucks the blade as well for it to cut so easily through bone – and she shuddered in horror at how Eren’s healing ability was so obviously suppressed.

The tall bastard had the audacity to chuckle as he hacked off Eren’s other leg. “It’s nothing he won’t recover from – but it’ll take some time, especially with so much of that juice in his system, and it means he won’t give us any fight if he wakes up early and we can sneak him out of here easier this way.” He leaned down, mindful of the mess, and slapped on the patches to stop the blood-flow. Once that was done, the two of them picked up Eren and tucked him away inside the box – a box that looked too small to hide a person inside. At least, a person with all of their limbs….

Feeling sick to her stomach, Ymir closed her eyes and forced herself to take a few deep breaths. Had she really just stood here and watched people hack apart a friend? And now she was going to let them carry him away, completely helpless? There had to be something she could do. Steeling herself, she opened her eyes-

To find Mr. Creepy aiming the tranq gun at her once again. “Did I mention that if we don’t get the target out of here by a certain time, this place still blows up?” A corner of his mouth twitched upward. “Seems someone out there doesn’t have much faith in you, Miss.”

Fuck. *Fuck*. How long had Annie been planning this that she’d thought out every little fucking detail? Biting back on a snarl, Ymir flexed her claws a few times and forced them to retract. “Then we’d damn well better get your asses gone, shouldn’t we?”

“Yes, we should.” The asshole kept the gun in his hand while he allowed his partner to clean the blade and sheathe it for him, then tuck it back into the bag. Once Eren and the damn box was slung over Blondie’s back and the bag over Mr. Creepy’s shoulder, they motioned to Ymir that they were ready to go.

Someone was going to find the mess in here, unless she came back to clean up later. Maybe she could rummage up something useful from Captain Hange’s lab or-

The door slid open before they reached it, revealing Captain Hange standing just outside. Backlit from the hallway, she lifted her head and smiled. “Ymir, I didn’t expect to find you here. I thought you were helping Eren with something.”

*Fuck*. Why was the scientist here? She had to think quickly in order to cover her tracks. “I was busy with some strangers who were unfamiliar with the base.”

“Yes, she’s been extremely helpful,” Mr. Creepy just had to add, making her want to smack that wry grin off of his face.

“Has she now?” The captain’s smile grew even wider, leaving Ymir to wonder who was being the creepiest just then. “Perhaps she can tell me where Eren’s disappeared to, then, or why you’re on base without proper authorization.”

Mr. Creepy remained standing there with that ridiculous grin on his face for a moment, and then he leapt forward, a blade suddenly appearing in his right hand from the sleeve of his black coat. Captain Hange had to backpedal out of his way or lose her face, her hands scrambling for her blades at the same time. “Get the target out of here!”

“Shit!” Ymir was torn over what to do… until she saw that Captain Hange hadn’t come alone – it was clear that she’d brought backup. “Keep moving,” she ordered Blondie as she swiped at Moblit to force him back, doing her best not to kill anyone if she could avoid it. Any hopes she had of that ended when Blondie pulled a gun and shot Adriano in the chest. The man cried out as he fell, and there was the sound of more shooting.

“Projectile weapons? Where did you find those?” Captain Hange sounded much too fucking happy about the fact that people were dying from outlawed weapons at the moment, even as she dodged out of the way of being shot.

“Come a little closer and I’ll tell you.” Mr. Creepy waved the gun about but didn’t seem ready to fire unless he had a target in sight, which meant he knew what the fuck he was doing. He covered their backs while Blondie and Ymir raced for the nearest exit.

“You know that we can’t hold off all of the Corps, right,” Ymir told the noisy idiots as they made their way outside – where of *course* more people were waiting for them. So much for sneaking Eren out without anyone the wiser.

Mr. Creepy’s smile just then made her want to tear out his throat – where the *hell* had Annie found this monster? “There’s no need – we just had to get the target all wrapped up and out the door. They’ll take care of the rest.” He held up his gun and fired two shots into the air before she could ask another question, then began to fire at the people rushing toward them.

“Dammit!” Ymir rammed into him to jostle his aim, and before he could turn on her, there was a loud explosion as part of the front wall around the Freedom Corps headquarters collapsed. Everyone was stunned at the noise, just standing there while a billow of dust blew forward, and then Ymir picked up that foul yet intoxicating scent. “Malform!”

Moments after her screamed warning, pale grey shapes darted out of the dust to rush toward everyone, and the three of them were the last of the Corps’ concern. Well, almost everyone’s – Ymir felt something slam into her from the side and knock her into the ground.

“Where is he? What did you do to him?” Mikasa’s voice was a rough growl, the words barely understandable as she crouched over Ymir with her eyes blazing as bright as the sun and her fangs so distended that her lower jaw jutted forward. “Tell me before I rip out your fucking throat!” She pulled back her right arm, her claws half the length of her fingers and her hand already descending.

Ymir shook her head, unable to form the words in the face of Mikasa’s rage, unable to admit to her betrayal, and was about to close her eyes when a pale blur smashed into Mikasa. “Don’t hurt her,” Krista snarled.

Jumping to her feet, Ymir rushed over to pull her girlfriend from a hissing Mikasa and got a lucky kick in to the homicidal bitch’s head, leaving Mikasa stunned and on the ground. “Come on,” she urged, not wanting to be anywhere near Mikasa when the woman recovered. All around them was chaos, was the Corps fighting Malform, and somewhere in the middle of it had to be a certain vampire. Maybe there was still time to make things right….

“What’s going on? Why’s Mikasa after you? Where’s Eren?”

“Not… not now,” Ymir pleaded as they dodged around the carnage. The Corps was doing the best it could, was fighting back as always, but the Malform seemed especially bloodthirsty today. She searched the crowd to see if she could spot Mr. Creepy or Blondie, hampered by the dust-filled air, and spotted a familiar blond head – not Blondie, but Reiner. Why wasn’t she surprised that he was here? “Come on.”

With Krista’s hand held firmly in hers, she ignored the yells of rage and screams of pain around them, the overwhelming scents of blood and fear and focused just on the sight of a familiar enemy. She could still make this right somehow. She could.

The large, metal box made its way to Reiner with Blondie struggling beneath its weight, his face slick with sweat and an unhealthy shade of red. He stumbled to his knees before Reiner as if a loyal subject kneeling before his king, while Mr. Creepy fought off some unlucky Corps member who had gotten too close. Ymir watched as Reiner leaned down and undid the straps that fastened the box to the poor guy’s back, then hesitated a moment before lashing out with his claws, a look resembling pity on his face as blood poured down Blondie’s throat.

“NO!” Despite her shriek of rage and fear, nothing happened other than Blondie tumbling to the ground and Bertolt shouldering the burden of the box. Reiner looked up at her as she approached, and Mr. Creepy held up the tranq gun – not aimed at her, but at Krista. She screamed again, her arms held out to protect her lover.

“You know what happens if you get in our way – if *anything* gets in our way,” Reiner explained, and she noticed that he held a small device in his hand. “We’re taking Eren out of here, *now*.”

“We have to stop them!” Krista pressed against Ymir’s back as if she wanted to tear into Reiner personally. “We have to-“ Something caused her to gasp, to pull back, but Ymir didn’t have the time to figure it out, not when her world was falling down around her.

If she charged forward to attack, Mr. Creepy would fire the gun, not so much at her but at Krista. What would a dosage do to a nearly turned hybrid? Eren had managed against it, but he was the original, was the progenitor and had turned centuries ago. Could Krista survive a dose after just one feeding? What if she was harmed with that stuff in her system? And what if Reiner set off the bombs? Also, what about the carnage around them? Would it end once Eren was away? What about Eren?

Ymir was the cause of all of this death and destruction, it was up to her to put an end to it however she could – for her to take responsibility for once in her life. Eren was helpless because of her, the Corps in shambles, and everyone knew it was her fault. There was nothing left to do but to ride this through and hope she could somehow make up for choosing the wrong side in the first place.

Turning around quickly, she grasped Krista’s chin and brushed their lips together. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered even as she drove her fist into her lover’s stomach with every bit of force she could muster. Krista’s eyes went wide as she crumbled forward, her mouth moving silently. “I have to do this,” Ymir tried to explain even as she pulled away.

While Krista fell to her knees onto the ground, Ymir forced herself to turn away and approach Reiner. “Well, are we leaving or what? These pathetic Malform aren’t going to keep these guys occupied for long.”

Bertolt stared at her in shock while Reiner eyed her warily for a few seconds until he nodded once. “Okay, let’s get going. We need to reach the tunnels as quickly as possible.”

“Where’s Annie?” Not that she really wanted to see the bitch, but it was odd that she was missing right about now after all the effort she’d put into this.

Reiner grinned, the expression a bit pained, and looked over Ymir’s shoulder. “She’s… busy holding off the rescue party.”

Ah, that explained why Mikasa wasn’t currently ripping out Ymir’s spine. “Great.” At least that was one less worry. “Less talking, more running.” Before Krista recovered or Mikasa kicked Annie’s ass. Ymir shoved Reiner forward to illustrate her point, ignoring the baleful look that Mr. Creepy gave her – it at least got him to stop staring at Krista, which was getting annoying.

They barely had taken a few steps when she heard Krista call out her name. “Ymir… don’t… go!” Gritting her teeth together, Ymir hardened her resolve and hurried along faster. “Y-mir! You… promised!”

“This going to be a problem?”

Ymir shoved Reiner again, desperate to get away as quickly as possible. “No, it’s not,” she lied. Get them away from the Corps, from Krista, and then once Eren was able to fight back… then she’d make amends, would fix things and could return to Krista. But for now, she had to try to end the bloodshed while there was still a Corps left standing. Hopefully Krista would understand that one day.

Her gaze focused on the metal box that contained a drugged and mutilated Eren, her ears filled with her lover’s anguished pleas and the screams of humans as they fought for their lives, Ymir chased after Reiner, Bertolt and Mr. Creepy as they sought the nearest tunnel entrance so they could flee into the wilderness.

*******

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