chapter twenty-three

*******

Divide -part two

*******

Why the hell was it that when you really, *really* wanted to get somewhere quickly, it seemed to take fucking forever to get there? Levi fired off another wire, frantic to get to the base in order to save a certain little shit’s troublesome ass.

“You do realize that once the MPs fail to find you back at our headquarters that they’ll send out a bulletin – and you’re rather obvious with the way you’re swinging about,” Rico called out as she sailed past him.

“I don’t fucking care,” Levi gritted out. By that point, he hoped to be back at his own headquarters, and let the damn MP try dragging him out of it. Hange should have enough acid to lob over the walls to-

A frantic beeping came from Erwin’s comm, causing the man to curse as he triggered the message. Levi looked over his shoulder and felt a weight settle on his chest when Erwin’s face paled. “That was an emergency signal – there’s been an attack at the base.”

Levi didn’t wait for more of an explanation, he angled for the nearest building while firing off another wire, doing his best to propel forward with as much speed as possible. They would turn after clearing this next building, and….

“Fuck.” Smoke rose in the distance, around where the Freedom Corps headquarters lay. Behind him, the baby MPs were busy babbling questions to Erwin, their voices falling silent as they cleared the corner as well. Someone gasped, probably Blouse, and Rico once more caught up to Levi.

“That… that doesn’t look like a fire. The smoke looks all wrong. It’s the type when something collapses.”

“Or something was forced to collapse.” Colors faded away when Levi thought about someone attacking the Corps’ base, his *home*, and he could tell by Rico’s sudden breath that she’d noticed. “The fuckers got tired of waiting for him to come out.” They attacked Levi’s *home* and were taking his- were taking Eren by force.

“All I can get out of Mike is that the wall’s been breached and they’re fighting off Malforms. He said that the trio have Eren and to look for them carrying a metal box.” Erwin’s face was a mask of pure fury as he shot past. “He also said that Ymir… Ymir betrayed us. She’s with the trio now.”

Then she was going right at the top of the list of assholes whom Levi was about to gut with his nice new claws, wasn’t she?

“What the hell is going on? Why would someone do this to the Corps? How could someone get their hands on explosives,” Rico demanded to know. “Those are class-A restricted-“

“Not now,” Levi snarled, unwilling to waste the breath explaining things when all of his energy was focused on getting to where he wanted as quickly as possible. Down below, the streets were filling with people as they ran from what had to be one hell of a nasty fight, the Malforms probably not satisfied with tearing apart the Corps.

“Where are the MPs? They should be down there helping people,” the too earnest for his own good baby MP complained, not quite grasping the fact that Nile had probably been given a call telling him to clear his people out of this area – to concentrate them around the more affluent districts.

“I see Malforms on the loose.” Erwin’s jaw tightened, probably because if the undead freaks had gotten this far out, then it was a bloodbath back at base.

Rico motioned to the girl and the guy with the black hair. “Go tend to them,” she ordered. “We’ll continue onward to the Corps headquarters.” Her people nodded before following orders and peeling off.

Meanwhile, Blouse managed to swing ahead and caught onto the edge of a building, her attention focused below. “Captain! You said Ymir is with Eren, right?”

Actually, Erwin had said it, but Levi wasn’t about to argue. “What about it?” He cut free his wire and twisted about in the air, coming in hard against the wall but finally able to trust in his claws and healing ability to help him latch on. Behind him, he heard the MPs and Engineers curse and mutter ‘what the fuck is he’, while Blouse didn’t even blink an eye at his antics. Oh yes, he would have a nice chat with the girl once this was all over.

She pointed at the ground, toward some rapidly moving figures. “Doesn’t that look like her?”

“Huh?” Levi looked downward and sure enough, he caught the flash of grey and white grouped with three other figures – two of them tall, one a blond and another a brunet with something large and metallic strapped to his back. “How the hell…?” Did the girl have enhanced senses, too?

“Ah, my dad taught me to hunt.” Blouse laughed a little while Levi prepped another wire; he’d seen Eren leap from heights before, but he wasn’t going to chance a fucked up landing when he wanted to be kicking ass as soon as he hit the ground. “You tend to notice little things like that.”

“Erwin-“

“Go after him, we’ll head on to the base.”

Relieved that his friend wasn’t making him choose, Levi fired the wire even as he leapt, feeling the rush of freefall for several seconds before the wire caught and he swung the rest of the way down. Once he was close enough to the ground he let go, landing in a crouch about ten feet ahead of the fleeing pack.

“Going somewhere?” As he spoke, he heard two more people land behind him.

The blond vampire, Reiner, came to a halt first, with the rest of them falling in place behind him. Ymir’s eyes went wide when she saw Levi, and the taller vampire, Bertolt, hovered near Reiner. “As a matter of fact, we are.” The blond asshole stepped forward with his claws fully extended and his eyes glowing red. “You might want to get out of the way.”

“What the hell *are* you guys?” Rico sounded more pissed off than confused, which was a good sign.

“That’s a shitty vampire, which is responsible for all of these Malforms,” Levi explained as he extended his own claws. “Now give me Eren, you sorry fuck.” Where was the brat? Hadn’t Hange said something about a box? Was Eren inside of it? But how, when it looked so small? Sure enough, Bertolt shifted back in a protective manner with the box. “What did you do to him?”

“Eren’s coming with us – he’s *ours*,” Reiner growled, his fangs on full display. “You got to play with him long enough, but he’s going where he belongs.”

Levi had enough – hearing this shit just made him more pissed off. Letting loose a rough snarl, he leapt forward… and nearly yelped when there was a loud noise and something painful bit into his left shoulder. Thrown off-balance both in surprise and pain, he landed a couple of feet shy of Reiner, near a tall man in a dark coat.

“Look at you, son. Been a few changes, no?”

Levi stared up in shock at… no, it couldn’t be Kenny. He’d left the man behind in Tartarus years ago – had been *left* behind by the bastard as Kenny went off on his jobs, left to struggle on his own until Erwin had come along and dragged him kicking and screaming into the Corps. Yet there Kenny stood, looking older, looking meaner, and holding some sort of projectile weapon in his right hand while aiming what looked to be a tranq gun at Levi with his left.

“Shit, Levi!”

Reacting to the panic in Ymir’s voice even if she was a traitorous bitch, Levi forced himself to move despite the lingering astonishment upon seeing the man who’d raised and then abandoned him *here*, in Trost, with a pack of shitty vampires. He wasn’t quite fast enough since he caught the dart in his left arm, but he yanked it out as soon as it landed. Even so, he felt something burning where it hit, something racing through his body that made him feel sluggish and dizzy….

“Shoot him again!”

“That was the last one! I had to use three on the target.”

Shaking his head as he heard a cut-off anguished scream, Levi forced his body to move, to not give in to the dizziness. Everything was blurry for a couple of seconds and then the world snapped back into focus, just in time for him to see Reiner pulling his claws from the one Engineer’s body.

“Mitabi!” Rico paused in trying to chop off Ymir’s head to scream out her comrade’s name, leaving the traitorous bitch alone so she could charge at Reiner. Levi went to go help her, his steps slowly growing steadier with each foot forward, but Kenny was on front of him again, now swinging a blade at his head.

“Ah, don’t think they want you interfering.”

“I don’t give a *shit* what you think!” Levi tore his claws along the bastard’s arm, but only ripped through black cloth and along some metal braces that were hidden beneath the coat. “I’m going to kill you!” The drugs still slowed him down, but not enough that he couldn’t fight back.

“We-we’re wasting time, come on!” That sounded like the dark-haired vampire, Bertolt.

“You’ll fucking stay here so I can rip you apart,” Levi shouted, unwilling to let these assholes go anywhere until he was finished with them, until they were piles of goop on the street with Kenny’s body strewn about. Until he had Eren. Anger helping him to push past the drug-induced weariness, he knocked the blade from Kenny’s hand and went for the man’s throat-

Only to be shot in the gut by something. The pain was excruciating, was like fire burning through him, and he couldn’t do anything but drop to the ground while all four of them went running off, the metal box containing Eren bouncing about as it got farther and farther away. Levi knelt hunched over as his guts slowly knit back together, the rage he felt over his failure pouring out in a scream, his fists pounding into the pavement once he could finally move.

“Are you done with the drama now?”

The sound of Rico’s weak voice had him up and on his feet, his lips drawn back from his teeth and his bloody hands reaching for her before his brain caught up with the rest of him and he realized that she wasn’t a threat. “What?”

“How the hell are you any different from them,” she asked, sounding utterly exhausted. A dark bruise colored the right side of her face, her glasses knocked askew, and she held her blades loosely as if she didn’t have much strength.

“Because I’m not ripping out your throat?”

She considered that for a few seconds and nodded. “That girl – she could have killed me but she didn’t. It was like she didn’t really want to fight, and when that other vampire was about to do to me what he did to… well, she came up from behind and hit me. Nearly knocked me out, but I could hear her tell me something before she pushed me to the ground.” She paused to rub at the unbruised side of her face.

“And that would be?” Levi wanted to run after them, to track them down, but Ymir had left a message for a reason, untrustworthy bitch that she was. There had to be something to it – that and he had no fucking clue where to start even looking for them.

“Yeah, she said ‘tell him we’re going outside’.” Rico stared at Levi as if waiting to see his response.

Levi grimaced at his bloody hands and reluctantly wiped them on his filthy pants as he pondered the message; it made sense, since the trio had to know that Levi would tear the dome apart looking for Eren. If they went to another dome then that would mean taking the tunnels, which would be easy to track to the new dome with Mikasa’s help, and again, would lead to Levi tearing apart the enclosed environment. It would be easier to lose him if they had a much more open space… at least theoretically.

“So, aren’t you going after them? Gonna stop them before they commit suicide?”

Levi double-checked that Rico had already tended to her fallen colleague before motioning for them to head towards the Corps’ headquarters. “Not really, not when I know where they’re headed.” Mikasa and Armin had plenty of experience outside, and hadn’t Blouse said that her father had taught her to hunt? All they had to do was reach where the tunnel exited outside the dome and track them from there. “We need to check what’s going on at the base first and get some supplies.” It hurt to walk in the opposite direction of where they were taking Eren, but he’d find them soon enough. He’d find them and then they’d regret every moment of their pathetic existences – he’d see to it.

“Yeah, but they’ll have a good lead on you by then.” Rico seemed unable to grasp that Levi wasn’t going to rush after the people who had just kicked their asses – not until he had a better plan and better odds. “Those monsters have to be stopped!”

“Those monsters can’t deal with sunlight,” Levi pointed out as he forced his tired body to move – what the *hell* had Kenny shot into him? Hadn’t he said something about using it on the ‘target’? Did that mean they’d dosed Eren with this shit? “I think we’ve got a bit of time if they’re going outside.”

That made the Engineer shut up for about a minute as she gaped at him with shock. “But no one can survive outside!”

He let out a weary sigh as he rubbed at his healed stomach. “Really? You just fought some shitty vampires which are things of legend, and you’re giving me shit over going outside? If one thing can exist, you ever stop to think that the other is possible?”

Rico continued to stare at him as if he was insane for several seconds. “But… we’ve been told… that’s….”

“You’ve also been told that vampires are myths. Ever wonder who’s behind *that*? And then who’s behind the whole ‘the outside is inhabitable’ story, too?” He wasn’t going to waste too much longer on this crap – either she got with the program or he was leaving her behind.

Her mouth opened and close a few times while she lifted her blades as if ready to strike him down, and then all of a sudden her shoulders slumped. “And what about *you*? I thought vampires couldn’t stand sunlight.”

Finally, they were getting somewhere. Levi chuckled a little as he shuffled past some knocked over incinerator cans, the base coming into sight. “I told you that I’m not one of them – sunlight won’t bother me at all.” What had happened to the Malforms? Had they already spread further into the dome?

Rico sighed and waved her blades about, as if looking for something to hack into. “So were those vampires responsible for the powerful Malforms we’ve been fighting, for people turning so quickly?” She sounded as if she really, really wanted Levi to say ‘no’.

Well tough shit, the world didn’t work that way – you couldn’t hide from the truth just because it wasn’t pretty. “Yep.” Seeing the damage up close, Levi really wished that he’d been able to land a few hits on the vampires at least, to rip out a few choice organs or *something*. Those bastards had really done their best to tear the place down.

“And this ‘Eren’ you were screaming about? Why does everyone want him?”

“Because he’s not a vampire, either.” The woman could fight and she seemed bright enough, but there was no way that Levi was going to trust someone he’d just met with Eren’s big secret. Rico gave him a look to let him know she wasn’t buying the explanation, but she was also bright enough to know not to push it just then.

Stepping into the gaping hole of the main wall, Levi was immediately taken back by the odor of blood, fear and death that waited for him in the courtyard. All around him were signs of an intense battle, were the wounded and the weary, the liquefying remains of Malforms and barely turned humans, and up ahead were a cluster of battered Corps fighters huddled together. Doing his best to breathe through his mouth, he summoned up a burst of energy and hurried to join them.

*******

Rage filled Mikasa, coursed through her body and helped to shake off the pain she felt as she pushed back onto her feet, the throbbing in her head inconsequential as she searched about for Ymir. For the traitor, the backstabbing bitch who had dared to call Eren a friend, to come begging for a favor and then turned on him the second it was done. How *dare* she? How dare she hand Mikasa’s brother over to the creatures that had hounded them, had hunted them down for centuries? How could they have ever trusted one of them in the first place?

Mikasa had known something was wrong as soon as Captain Hange had interrupted the training session earlier, had pulled Captain Zacharias aside and talked to him privately. She’d gone searching for Eren while the captains went off to find the two men who had entered the compound under false circumstances, desperate to make sure that her brother was all right. Yet she hadn’t found him on the roof, or in the basement training room, or even in the short bastard’s quarters. What she had found was his blood and his limbs in that awful room, once the fighting had moved outside.

She was going to get Eren back, rip Ymir’s head from her filthy neck, gather up Armin and then leave this damn dome – it was nothing but bad luck for them, had brought them too much negative attention. She’d take Eren someplace safe, somewhere they could hide for a few decades, and maybe they’d try their plan again, get Armin in a good university and go for Grisha’s files in another century. But first, she’d kill everyone standing between her and her brother.

Spotting Ymir halfway across the courtyard, Mikasa began to run toward her, casually slashing her claws through a Malform along the way, when something landed in front of her. Red eyes flashed for a moment and then Annie was barreling toward her, head lowered as if to ram into her.

Mikasa snarled and ran to meet her head on, arms out to latch onto the vampire. “I’ll kill you, too!” She managed to get her arms beneath Annie’s and lifted the smaller girl up to throw her sideways.

Annie twisted in the air to land in a crouch. “You’re not good enough to do that.”

Mikasa bared her teeth in answer and lashed out with her claws, only to be blocked by Annie’s left arm. The vampire tried to punch her in the ribs, but Mikasa was prepared and got her knee up in time, and extended it in a kick that sent Annie flying backwards. Annie hissed in anger over the blow, but immediately charged forward, leaping into the air to deliver a kick of her own that Mikasa barely dodged.

Part of Mikasa knew that the longer she fought Annie that the farther away Eren was taken, but she also knew that Annie wouldn’t allow her to go after her brother – it was deal with Annie now or else. She lashed out at the vampire’s head… and missed the punch that knocked her back a good eight feet or so.

Before she could get back on her feet, someone raced forward with their blades in hand at Annie. Mikasa recognized Petra as she took on the vampire, blades in constant motion as she actually got Annie to give up a few feet, a look of furious concentration on her face the entire time, but the human just wasn’t good enough to face the vampire, especially on the ground. Before Mikasa could rush in to save her, Annie ducked below the blades and slashed with her claws, cutting deeply into Petra’s throat.

“No!”

Annie grinned at Mikasa’s despair and rage while she grasped Petra’s head and gave it a savage twist. “I don’t think you’re going to be saving her this time.” She let the woman’s body fall to the ground and then charged at Mikasa, her hands gleaming with blood. “You know, we did try to do this quietly – if they’d gotten out quickly enough, there wouldn’t have been a need for all this violence.”

Furious over Petra’s death, Mikasa ducked beneath the wild swing and punched Annie in the side. “You’re lying.”

“Well, we did have to do something to pull your friends’ teeth.” Annie winced a little as she danced back a couple of feet. “He’ll be doing what he’s meant to do – let him go, Mikasa.”

“*Never*. He’s not supposed to be a monster like you,” Mikasa spat as she slashed her claws along Annie’s chest.

Something akin to fury caused Annie’s face to tighten, and she once again caught Mikasa with a powerful kick that this time knocked the wind out of her and sent her falling down onto one knee. She followed that up with another kick to Mikasa’s chin before lashing out with her claws.

“We’re all monsters here,” Annie snarled. “You just refuse to see it.” Then she turned to run toward the direction that Mikasa had last seen Ymir headed in.

Doing her best to stand, Mikasa forced her unresponsive body to follow – had something broken? No matter, it would heal. She staggered after Annie, who was slashing at Malform and Corps fighters alike in an effort to clear a path… until she came across someone with chin-length blond hair.

“Out of my way, Arlert!”

Mikasa’s heart stuttered in her chest when she realized who was blocking Annie’s path – she put on a burst of speed in a desperate hope that she could get there in time, not about to lose another person she loved to the bitch.

Armin stood his ground, his uniform splattered with Malform blood and his right blade drawn but not held up against Annie. “I told you, you don’t have to do this! It’s not too late!”

For some reason Annie didn’t tear into Armin, didn’t rip out his throat and push him aside while Mikasa looked on helplessly – she just held up her claws in a threatening manner. “It’s already done, so go away!”

“No, I think-“

Mikasa worked up enough speed and energy that she could tackle Annie from behind, while the bitch was distracted by Armin. She didn’t know what was going on between the two of them, but far be it for her to pass up on the opportunity.

“Mikasa, no! Let me talk to her!”

Right, not happening. Mikasa straddle Annie and began to punch her, putting all of her returning strength into the blows. The vampire struggled beneath her at first and then gradually went still, steam rising from her body as it tried to heal the damage.

“Mikasa! Please, stop it!” Armin grabbed her by the shoulders and tried to pull her away, which distracted her enough to allow Annie, who wasn’t quite out of it yet, to knock her off. The vampire struggled to her felt and staggered away while Mikasa did her best to shake off Armin without hurting him, eventually reaching the wall of the building.

Mikasa didn’t know what the bitch intended to do – if she was looking for a place to hide until she healed or if she was going to leap onto something else – but she wasn’t giving Annie any more chances, not while Eren was getting farther away with every second. She leapt after Annie and landed above her, then used her claws to slash at the vampire’s hands until Annie lost her grip and fell onto the ground.

Landing on her feet near her, Mikasa approached with caution in case Annie wasn’t as wounded as she appeared; smoke rose from her body as it tried to heal, her eyes glazed with pain and blood pouring from her mouth. Several other members of the Corps surrounded the vampire as well, their blades drawn and ready, including Captain Hange.

“My brother – where are they taking him,” Mikasa demanded to know as she drew her own blade. “*Tell* me and I’ll make it quick.”

Annie smiled up at her, the expression crooked and too amused for the situation. She lifted her left hand, the one that bore the ring with the amber stone the color of Eren’s eyes. “N…nice… try.” She pressed one of her bloody claws against it and closed her eyes.

At first Mikasa didn’t notice anything, and then she realized that the normally white steam surrounding the healing vampire was turning golden in color and becoming thicker, more concentrated around Annie’s body. “What’s happening?”

“This is amazing!” Captain Hange reached out to touch the steam and let out a yelp. “It’s incredibly hot!” As they watched, it condensed around Annie’s body and became solid, like a crystal.

“No!” Mikasa brought her blade down on the golden crystal, desperate to stop it from forming, from protecting Annie, and all that happened was that her blade shattered upon contact. “Dammit, no!” She *needed* Annie, needed answers from her, so how could she hide away now?

“Let me see!” Armin pushed his way through the gathered crowd to stand between Mikasa and Captain Hange. “How… did she do this?”

“Yes, it was really fascinating! Some sort of chemical reaction based on a stone she was wearing, apparently.” The captain leaned forward to examine the crystal a bit more cautiously this time, touching it with confidence when it didn’t seem to burn her again. “I’ll need to take it inside and run some scans to see if she’s still alive, but I don’t see the purpose of it otherwise. They say that vampires could hibernate-“

“I don’t care!” Mikasa struggled to control her emotions while surrounded by so many humans and realized that she must have lost her scarf at some point during the fight with Annie. She gasped and clutched at the spot where it normally hung… and felt tears well up in her eyes when Armin handed the length of red wool over to her. “We need to know where Eren is!”

He gave her a reassuring hug. “We’ll find him, I promise. There can’t be too many places where they’re taking him.”

“Him and Ymir both – she has to pay for what she did today.” Mikasa’s hands tightened around the scarf before she wrapped it around her neck, oddly centered now that she had a piece of Eren back again.

“Don’t blame Ymir until you know the truth.” Mikasa looked up to find a furious-looking Krista standing across from Annie’s… ‘cocoon’. “She wasn’t fighting today like she could have, and one of the guys threatened me. I don’t think she did this willingly.”

“She still did it,” Mikasa shot back, refusing to hear anyone defend the betraying bitch. “Eren wouldn’t-“

“It’s not always about Eren,” Krista shouted. “The world doesn’t revolve around him!”

It did for Mikasa. She glared at the hysterical girl but before she could say anything else, several more people approached the growing crowd – including someone whom Mikasa didn’t expect to see anywhere near here today. “Jean?”

“Mikasa! You’re all right!” His uniform was torn on the left sleeve and splattered with Malform blood, but he otherwise looked fine. “We’ve been helping to drive off the Malforms and I got worried when I didn’t see you.” He hurried forward and then stopped about a foot or two away, the smile on his face slipping away.

Mikasa realized that her own uniform was covered with slash marks, most of them from Annie but a couple from Ymir and a Malform or two, and blood from wounds that were long healed. She also still had her claws out even though her eyes had returned to normal. Lifting her chin, she stared back at Jean as if daring him to say anything.

He forced a swallow, the sound loud in the sudden quiet, and managed a weak chuckle. “So… you, too? Is that why you report to Captain Ackerman? You got the glowing eyes and claws?”

“Yes, among other things.” She sheathed her remaining blade and shrugged, doing her best to not show how affected she was at the moment by his possible rejection. “It’s useful for hunting down vampires and Malform.”

“I… I see.” He looked a bit pale for a few seconds and then he smiled, the expression a little shaky but genuine. “You’re still not the weirdest girlfriend I’ve ever dated.”

There was the sound of a deep voice being cleared and a broad figure pushed forward. “This is all very touching, but I think we’ve more important matters right now.” Commander Smith looked down at Annie and frowned. “This is one of the vampires, yes?”

“Yep. Seems she decided to encase herself in some sort of organic crystal rather than allow herself to be captured and interrogated. Rather clever!” Captain Hange poked at the crystal again and grinned. “It’s going to be fun to-“

“Casualty reports?”

The captain lost her smile. “Still incoming, but it’s not good.” She gave the commander a sober look. “We’re probably down half again in numbers – those closest to headquarters came back to help fight or to deal with the Malforms spreading out, and those still out on patrol are trying to deal with them on their own. It’s not pretty. We’re going to have to call for emergency recruiting to get through the rest of this cycle.”

“That’s if we’re not all arrested by the day’s end.” The commander folded his arms over his large chest and shook his head. “We were warned by our young friends here that Minister Zackly has issued a warrant for my and Levi’s arrest. I imagine that they’ve already taken Commander Pixis into custody, unless the current crisis of Malforms in the dome has made them reconsider that for the time being. Once they feel this area is under control, they’ll probably send the MPs here to drag us out by force.” Oddly enough, he didn’t sound too concerned about that fact.

Captain Zacharias made a chopping motion with his right hand. “If they take you, especially after today, then they’re leaving this dome defenseless – the MPs are useless against the Malforms and the Engineers can only do so much.” Jean and his fellow MPs looked as if they wanted to take offense at that analysis… but considering that it had been the Freedom Corps that bled today, there wasn’t much that could be said.

“It doesn’t matter if the dome has any defenses or not if they have Eren,” Commander Smith explained. “Right now, the enemy has exactly what they want, and we’re not doing much to stop them.”

Mikasa tugged her scarf over her mouth as she scowled at the commander. “Because Annie did *this* before we could stop her, and Ymir and the others got away with Eren!”

“We ran across Ymir and the remaining trio on our way here – Levi and two Engineers stayed behind to retrieve Eren.” Judging from the bleak expression on the commander’s face, he didn’t seem hopeful for their odds.

She pushed forward, almost leaping over Annie’s prone form. “Why didn’t all of you stop them? Three people aren’t going to be enough!”

“Because I’ve a duty to *my* people,” the commander informed her with a cold voice and a harsh expression.

She pushed aside Jean’s hand on her arm and glared at the man, uncaring that her eyes had begun to glow. “Where was this? I’ll go and-“

“It won’t do any good – they’re already gone.” Captain Ackerman came forward, the front of his uniform torn and stained with blood and the dark circles under his eyes even more prominent than usual, with a strange woman in a filthy Engineers uniform at his side. “Bastards had some special shit that they shot at me that apparently can drop vampire hybrids. I’m guessing that’s how they took down Eren.”

Captain Hange made a squeaking sound and waved about her hands. “Did you manage to get a sample of it?”

The short bastard gave her a scathing look. “Yeah, sure, I bent down to pick it up in-between getting my ass shot to pieces, you Shitty Glasses.” He clicked his tongue while pushing his bangs out of his eyes. “What I *did*- well, we managed to find out where they’re taking him – Ymir left a message that they’re headed out of the dome. I’m back here long enough to change and then somebody better tell me where the fuck the nearest tunnel is or else.” He stared pointedly at Mikasa and Armin.

Normally she’d let him hang for his arrogance, but for once they wanted the same thing. “I’ll do better than tell you, I’ll show you.” Mikasa stepped around Annie to approach the man.

“Wait, you *know* where the tunnels are?” The Engineer stood there in evident shock as she stared at Mikasa.

Armin rushed over to join them, his hands held up to stop them. “No! Look, not that I doubt what Ymir said, but it’s obviously a trap!” He shook his head when Krista started to protest. “Not on Ymir’s part, but on the others! If you go into them, you know they’ll be full of Malform and maybe even rigged against you as well! They’ll expect you to follow and they’ll do their best to protect against that.”

As much as Mikasa wanted to argue with him, he was right; they would lose so much time fighting their way through whatever Annie and the others had set up against them that it wouldn’t do Eren any good. “Then what are we going to do?”

“Break the damn seal,” Captain Ackerman muttered in a tone that said he was clearly dealing with idiots.

“No!” The blonde Engineer rushed forward with a murderous look on her face. “You can’t force it… but it can be opened if done properly.” She glanced back and forth between the captain and Mikasa. “If you give me the information on the tunnels, I can have the nearest gate opened for you.”

Commander Smith straightened up and gave the woman an assessing look. “You can do that?”

She glanced downward for a moment before meeting his gaze. “I can… if I go through the gate with them.”

“Why would you do that?” She didn’t know Eren, so why would she risk going outside?

The woman turned to look at Mikasa, her expression serious. “Because we need to know about those tunnels before more Malforms come up from them and kill innocent people. Because those vampires killed some very good people today – people who gave their lives fighting to save others. Because I’m tired of the senseless deaths and sacrifices, and it seems as if you’re striving towards something, which is better than us just doing the same damn thing day after day and never making it any better.”

Everyone was quiet for several seconds, until Captain Ackerman clicked his tongue a couple of times. “Works for me. So that’s three of us for the outside.”

“Oh, I’m going!” Captain Hange bounced about on her toes and waved both arms about. “There’s no way you’re going outside without me!”

“I’m going as well!” Krista shoved her way forward and stood in front of Captain Ackerman with her fists planted on her hips and a hint of gold in her blue eyes. “Don’t even *think* to leave me behind!”

He gave both of them a bland look for a moment and then turned away, seeming unsurprised by their volunteering. “Blouse, we need a tracker. You interested?”

Sasha jumped upon hearing her name and oddly enough smiled. “Yes, Sir!” She didn’t question him about going outside, just continued to smile as if pleased to have been asked to join in. Mikasa wondered if she’d received a concussion during the fight….

Beside her, Connie gasped. “You’re not going anywhere without me! Sir, I’m going, too!” Sasha’s smile grew even wider.

“Wait a second, you’re going *outside*,” the unknown MP shrieked. “That’s impossible! Why are you people even volunteering for this? You’ll be killed by radiation soon after you leave the dome!”

Captain Ackerman looked annoyed at the interruption and clicked his tongue again as he shrugged off his ruined jacket. “Because everything you know about the radiation levels and the outside is a fucking lie, and we don’t have the time to get into this shit right now. So shut up and don’t waste our time.” That seemed to silence everyone around them up.

Jean bit into his lower lip as he stared at his partner and then looked at Mikasa. He appeared torn for a moment and then stepped forward. “Uhm, I’d like to volunteer, too.” When the captain eventually nodded, he let out a breath and smiled when Mikasa nodded as well, a faint blush spreading across her face over the fact that he was going with her. She didn’t know why they were helping her – helping Eren – but she wouldn’t turn them down.

The other MP straightened up until his back was perfectly rigid. “Sir! Then please accept me as well, sir!”

“Sheesh, why am I stuck with a bunch of baby MPs,” Captain Ackerman bitched before nodding again.

“Take what you can get, because I’m afraid we can’t spare the manpower,” Commander Smith warned. “Sorry.”

“Yeah, yeah.” The short bastard rubbed the back of his neck as he headed toward the building, his jacket slung over his shoulder. “Be back here in twenty minutes or I’m leaving without you. Stieger – see to outfitting Rico, okay? Blouse, you deal with the MPs. Just enough until we get outside, where we’ll have our wilderness supplies waiting at the station.”

Captain Hange hurried after him, and Mikasa thought she heard mention of Petra as they left. Mikasa nodded at the Engineer – Rico – and motioned that she’d be one minute. “Armin?” She was surprised that he hadn’t volunteered.

He approached her and gave her a hug. “Look, be careful, all right.” As he stepped back, he managed a wistful smile. “I think… I think it might be a good idea for me to remain here. That way you can focus on Eren and I can help out the Corps, especially if Captain Hange is going with you.” He glanced at Commander Smith. “They could use it, from the sound of things.”

Relief washed through her – the others had already taken Eren from her and it would be dangerous chasing after Reiner and Bertolt. “Be safe yourself. We’ll be back for you.”

“I know you will.” His smile strengthened as he gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Now hurry, I don’t think Captain Ackerman was lying about the twenty minutes.”

Neither did she. Pulling away with some reluctance, she waved at Rico to follow her and then ran toward the building so they could quickly change into some clean clothes before leaving the dome.

*******

Ymir’s steps faltered when they headed into the narrow alley that held one of the secret entrances to the tunnels. Reiner and Bertolt went about halfway into the dead-end street before they stopped and looked at the human in their group. “This is where we part, Ackerman. Make sure that no one follows us.”

Hearing the familiar surname startled Ymir, as did seeing Mr. Creepy nod upon receiving his new orders. “Yes, sir.” He tipped his hat at Reiner before falling back, blending into the shadows at the alley’s entrance with ease due to his black coat and slim build. Ymir stared after him for a few seconds and wondered if he had any connection to the short asshole – wasn’t it odd to keep hearing that name crop up lately?

“So, here’s your last chance to do what you do so well and run away,” Reiner taunted he as he set about revealing the hidden entrance to the tunnel, while Bertolt stood a careful watch nearby. The tall, nervous vampire clutched at the straps that held the metal box containing Eren against his back as if they were lifelines, which just might be the case – Ymir had to wonder what would happen if they made it out of here without him.

“Ha ha, you asshole.” She glared at the two of them while making a show of cleaning beneath her claws. “It’s not like I’ve anything left for me back at that base anymore.” No, nothing except Krista, whom despite everything hadn’t wanted her to go.

Reiner grunted while he finished entering the code that made the ancient looking panel slide free. “Figures that you’re only here because you’re out of options.” He stood up and motioned for Bertolt to enter first, and then waited for Ymir to approach. When she was within arm’s reach, he grabbed her by the neck, his claws pricking at her skin. “You listen to me – I’m going to keep a close watch over you, okay? If you’re really here to help us then that’s great because we can use it. It’s about time that you finally realize that you should be helping your own kind, especially since you’re partially responsible for this damn mess we’re in. But you even think of betraying us?” He bared his teeth at her. “I will tear out your heart and leave the rest of you to the Mutates to finish off, you understand?”

“Puh-perfectly,” she managed to spit out while doing her best not to rip out his stomach through his navel. He studied her for a few seconds before grunting once and letting go.

“Good.” Reiner motioned her to precede him into the tunnel, and once they were both inside, set about locking it behind him. It was damn dark inside, almost too dark to see with their enhanced night vision, but they couldn’t risk a light source so close to an exit. Besides Reiner and Bertolt, she could smell… shit, she could smell a *lot* of Malform.

Stumbling forward, she moved toward the sound of bodies shifting about and claws scratching against stone, and was almost prepared for the sight of a multitude of red eyes glowing in the darkness. “How the *fuck* can you still have so many?” There’s been all those attacks and today’s massacre… how could there still be so many left in the dome?

Reiner urged her to go past the creatures. “Where do you think most of the dead from Utgard and Ragako went? It took a bit of effort for our friends to shift them here, but it was worth the effort.”

So not only did they use the domes as a means to cut off Eren and Mikasa, but they also used the humans as… as ‘fuel’ for their own private army. Ymir closed her eyes at the thought of all those deaths, all that destruction just to get a hold of Eren…. “How have you been feeding them? You can’t tell me that they’ve been starving this entire time?” The Malform around her seemed a little too biddable for that.

“We didn’t kill everyone from the domes right away – some have been kept alive for that purpose.” There was enough light now that she could make out Reiner and Bertolt’s outlines, and Reiner shrugged as he talked, acting as if none of this mattered too much to him. All the while, the Malform trailed along them as if lost little puppies. “We tried to limit hunting in Trost to the three of us or if one of the Mutates got out of hand.”

For centuries Ymir hadn’t cared about the fact that she was hunting humans, that she was leaving behind bodies that would turn into bloodthirsty, undead freaks. For too long, she’d been lost in… lost in a type of fugue where nothing had mattered. Maybe it had been seeing how far civilization could fall and then how it struggled to recover that had finally shaken some sense back into her that she’d finally stopped killing her victims, that she made sure that none of her ‘mistakes’ turned. Whatever the reason, it had been a long time since she was as ruthlessly uncaring about humans as Reiner was just then – yet somehow, he had managed to convince Eren that he was a decent guy.

“You really don’t care how many humans you kill, do you?”

It was Bertolt who spoke this time, his attention focused on Reiner while he hitched the metal box higher up on his back. “Th-they don’t care if they kill us, do they? For centuries they hunted us down, drove us into hiding and called us monsters. We only survived by pretending not to exist. So why shouldn’t we hunt them? They hunt everything else.”

Ah, the old ‘humans are trash so what does it matter if we kill them’ excuse. Ymir rubbed at her forehead and didn’t bother arguing anymore, not when she was stuck in a tunnel underground with two guys who had clearly drunk the kool-aid and a bunch of Malform. “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before,” she sighed. “Have fun explaining it to Eren – you know, the poor guy whose limbs you had cut off.”

“He’ll see that we’re right, eventually. He’s spent too long among the humans, he just needs to be with his own kind.” Reiner reached over to rest a protective hand on top of the box. “He’s already learning a bit, with the years of isolation and now finally turning people. He just needs to learn to trust us again.”

Yeah, good luck with that one – Eren thought the only good Malform was a dead one, and he’d made the exception about vampires only for Ymir… and look where that had gotten him. Something told her him waking up drugged and down three out of four limbs wasn’t going to put him in the most receptive of moods, but she’d let these two find things out the hard way.

She just had to hope that she hadn’t hit that Engineer too hard and that she’d passed the message on to Captain Ackerman, or else she’d be stuck with watching these two – and Annie, whenever the bitch decided to join up again – do their best to brainwash Eren into betraying everything he believed in.

*******

His hair still damp from the shower, Levi raced about his quarters to get ready in time, his shirt half-undone as he tossed various items into a pair of saddlebags. There was no telling when he’d come across some decent tea, so he packed as much as he could, along with a personal datapad and solar charger, his toiletries kit, a flask of gin, spare wire, and some bars of decent biodegradable soap because the shit they stocked at the Corps’ storage stations was horrid. One or two more odds and ends aside, he finished packing and then hurried to get dressed, his grey half-cloak barely settled over his shoulders by the time he was out the door.

Krista was already waiting for him out in the courtyard; she must have ran to get her stuff and had two sets of saddlebags draped over her shoulders; Levi’s eyes narrowed at that and he debated to ask her if she just packed heavy or if she planned on burying Ymir’s shit with the traitor’s ashes – did vampires turn into a puddle of goo like their Malform offspring? However, the sight of Erwin with Armin at his side striding toward Levi distracted him from taunting the girl.

“You’re ready to leave?”

“In about four minutes.” Levi shifted the bag draped over his right shoulder a little higher so he could give Erwin a half-assed salute; the man deserved that much for the shit he was going to put up with after they left. “You going to be all right? Sure you don’t want to come with us?”

A weary smile broke out over Erwin’s face. “As much as I enjoy being out in the wilderness, I have to say ‘no’.” Resolve hardened his features, brought out that familiar steeliness to his blue eyes that told Levi that their enemies were about to get their asses handed to them – he almost wished he could stay to see it happen. “I’ve a few matters that I need to attend to here first.” Hearing the sound of footsteps approaching, they all turned to see Mikasa, Rico, Blouse and the baby MPs running toward them.

“Are we on time?” Blouse skidded to a halt a few feet away, the saddlebags in her hands nearly bursting at the seams it was so badly overpacked; Levi swore he could smell at least five different types of food aromas wafting from inside of it.

“Barely.” Levi bared his teeth at the idiots. “You ready?”

Mikasa held up the extra bags she’d brought along. “I prepared something for Eren since….” She frowned and tugged up the red scarf.

For once Levi let the mother-henning slide, since it wasn’t like Eren had prepared for his sudden exit. “I hope you asswipes used your heads when you packed – there’s storage stations scattered about where we can restock on clothes and other necessities while we’re outside. That’s why I told you to pack light.”

“But they don’t carry all of my equipment there!” Hange finally came out to join them, arms full of various packs. “It was so hard to decide….”

“It’s a fucking rescue mission, not a chance for you to work on your experiments,” Levi reminded her, his voice a rough growl. “Now come on, we need to go.”

“One moment, please.” Erwin stepped closer to the horse-faced MP who was hovering around Mikasa. “If you don’t mind, I need to ask a favor before you leave.”

The MP looked surprised just then but nodded. “Yeah, sure, what is it?”

Erwin smiled, that damn smile that always had Levi patting down his clothes afterwards because you knew something was getting stolen right before your eyes. “I need your access codes to the MP database.”

The short MP spoke up first while his taller colleagues frowned, clearly confused and a bit upset about the request. “What good is that going to do you? They’re gonna revoke them as soon as they figure out what we did.”

Armin hurried over to stand beside Erwin, a datapad clutched against his chest. “Yes, but it’ll take some time before they do that, right? Especially with everything that happened today. I just need them for a short amount of time.” He gave the guys a bright smile, his blue eyes opened wide and practically shining – Levi bit back on a snort when he recognized from whom the kid must have learned that particular look. “It’ll really help us out.”

The partnered up MPs shared a look as if they were trying to figure out what to do, while the dark- haired MP studied Armin for a few seconds before giving in with a sigh. “All right, it’s not like we can get into any more trouble now, can we?” He held out his hand for the datapad, which Armin was very eager to hand over.

“We might as well,” Horse-face muttered and took the device next once his colleague was done. The shaved bald kid was last and handed it back to Armin with a flourish.

“This part of your grand scheme,” Levi asked Erwin as they walked toward the gate.

“It’s part of it.” Erwin paused to clasp him on the shoulder by way of ‘goodbye’. “I’ve called Nile to tell him to come here – I refuse to be arrested by anyone less than a person of equal rank. When he does show up, I hope to have some good arguments lined up for why him going through with his orders would be a huge mistake.”

“Good luck with that.” Levi honestly meant it; if anyone could give some corrupt ministers and their lapdog MPs a good showing, it was Erwin.

“And the same to you, my friend.” Erwin turned some so he could give Hange a hug, while Mikasa embraced Armin. “Safe travels to you all.”

Feeling that this had dragged on long enough, Levi gestured for everyone to get their asses through the gate. He pulled up the hood of his cloak to cover his head and mask his features, something that everyone did so that they would just be anonymous members of the Corps.

“It’ll just take us a few minutes to get to the nearest seal.” Rico took the lead, which Levi allowed since she both knew the city the best and wasn’t wanted by the MPs. “Now, are you *certain* that we’ll be fine once we get outside?”

He looked over at Mikasa, who was walking a couple of feet to his left. She noticed his gaze and nodded. “We should be just past the worst of the solar radiation – if anything, we might have to seek some shelter for an hour or two during the day, but that’s it.”

“You guys are serious about this, aren’t you?” The dark haired MP just shook his head as he scrambled to keep up with them. “I don’t see how this is possible.”

“Because people are too happy to believe what others tell them,” Levi snapped. “Now shut up about it before my foot gets so far shoved up your ass that you’ll stop worrying about frying out in the sun.”

“There’s the great diplomat of the Corps,” Hange cheered as she fell in step beside him. “You going to give us a rousing speech to raise our spirits next?”

“Fuck off.”

“Yep, that would about do it.” She flashed him a grin before adjusting one of the bags that began to slide down her left shoulder. “I’ll start calling your ‘Erwin Jr.’”

If it wouldn’t slow them down, he would take the time to throttle her – unfortunately, he settled for giving her as virulent a glare as possible before the sound of wires being fired caused all of them to pause and dart into the nearest shadows. Hidden from view by a doorway, Levi peered upward and saw shapes dressed in black and green fly overhead. “Looks like the MPs finally got their asses in gear.” He thought he recognized Nile Dok among them.

“Yes, so it’s a good thing we’re almost at the seal.” Rico twisted about to watch the MP’s progress and waited just a few seconds after they were gone to motion them to move forward. “Come on, I don’t want to risk them coming back once they reach the base and find you gone.”

“Fine with me.” Levi shoved Hange forward and wished that they could use their wires, but it would draw too much attention if they did so they were stuck with using their feet for now. Fortunately for them, Rico wasn’t exaggerating when she said that they that they were close to the seal.

The squat building looked much like the rest of the ones inside the dome, except that it didn’t have any windows and that the door was made with reinforced steel and required a retinal scan and a code to open. Rico provided both and ushered everyone inside before she closed it behind her, left hand on her weapon the entire time.

“Rico? Who the hell are these people? And why are you dressed like that?” A tall young man with close cropped reddish hair stood with his hands on his blades and a confused look on his face inside the building, in a large room that held a few supplies such as cloaks and solar suits.

“It’s too long of a story to explain in the short amount of time we have.” Rico nodded to Levi and Hange. “Jared, these are Captains Ackerman and Hange from the Freedom Corps, and while this is going to sound crazy, they’re leading an expedition outside.”

The look on the Engineer’s face was almost comical just then, except they didn’t have the time to humor idiots. “But… but they can’t go outside! It’s months too soon and they don’t even have suits!”

Levi’s hands twitched to grab hold of the idiot and force him to open the damn gate, but Rico beat him to it – she slapped her hand down on the man’s shoulder and gave him a shake. “I know it’s early, but they’re going outside and I’m going with them. Just open the seal to let us slip through – I’ll take full responsibility.”

“But you’ll burn up out there!”

“It’s our choice! Just let us through!” A dangerous gleam shone in Rico’s grey eyes and her lips pulled back from her teeth the slightest bit, causing Jared to flinch.

“But… but… what if there’re Malforms out there? We can’t let them in!”

She gave him another quick shake. “We’ll handle them. All you have to do is break the seal and open the gate for a minute, just long enough for us to slip outside and then close it.”

He stared at her for several seconds and let out a nervous breath, his freckled face suddenly gone ashen. “All right, but I’m telling the commander that you pulled rank on me!”

“That’s fine. Once we’re through the gate, I need you to run an errand for me and to give something *only* to either Commander Pixis or Anka.” Rico pulled out a datapad and handed it to the man. “It’s very important, so promise me you’ll do it and only give it to one of them.” She stared intently at him until he did so. “It’s pass-locked with my pay account number, which they’ll be able to look it up to access the information. Now come on and let us through.” She gave him a gentle shove toward the door on the other side of the room. “Hurry up, we’re on an important mission.”

“You want to get fried that quickly, fine,” Jared mumbled as he tucked away the device then punched the code to open the other door, revealing a larger room with one wall lined with monitors and computers where a young woman with long blonde hair sat and another wall was basically a huge metal door.

“Jared?”

“It’s okay, Sharel. Rico’s here to take some people through the gate.” When the young woman gaped at him in shock, he went over to join her at the row of computers and began to start typing. “You’ll have thirty seconds to get through the gate and then I’m closing it again.”

“But-“

He cut off the blonde by reaching past her to flick a switch. “It’s going to open in fifteen seconds.”

“Thanks, Jared.” Rico waved them all in front of the door, causing Blouse and the short MP to nearly trip over each other in their rush to stop oogling the instruments and get into place. Hange was actually bouncing on her toes in her eagerness to go outside, while Levi wondered if it was possible to leave all of these idiots behind.

Right on time, the heavy metal door slide open to reveal packed dirt and blue skies. Levi froze for a second, his body still except to breathe in fresh air, and then he jerked forward, rushing through the opening before the gate closed again. Beside him, Hange was whooping like an idiot, the noise echoed by Blouse and her boyfriend, while the other two MPs chanted what sounded like prayers or something as they stepped outside. A few seconds later, the gate slammed shut behind them.

He kept moving until they were at least fifty feet away from the dome, where the dirt began to give way to grass. The sunlight… the sunlight felt *amazing* on his skin, the air was so crisp and fresh that he couldn’t stop taking deep breaths, and had there always been so many sounds out here? Chirps and rustling and hums that all blended together to a faint symphony of living things-

“Oh *fuck*, I’m not burning. I can’t believe that I’m not *burning*!”

“This is *amazing*! I’ve never been outside before! Shuttles don’t count! It’s so *bright!”

“Are those trees? How the hell did they get so *big*?”

“What do you think we can eat?”

Hange chuckled as she waved a hand at the baby MPs, who were standing around gawking at everything around them. “Isn’t it always fun when the newbies take their first sight of everything?” Meanwhile, Rico and Krista were a lot quieter, their eyes wide as they gazed around at everything.

“It’s fucking hilarious, but we don’t have the time. Oi! Be one with nature *later*, right now we have to get our asses over to the storage station before it gets dark.”

Mikasa gave Blouse’s arm a warning squeeze while in passing. “Don’t eat anything before checking with me – a lot of things are poisonous, okay?”

“Wah! That’s so not fair! I’ve been out here before… well, with my dad.”

Mikasa ignored Blouse’s whining and strode toward Levi, with Rico on her heels. “I think we’ve a couple of hours of daylight left – time out here doesn’t quite match up to what’s in the dome.”

“Isn’t that fucking great.” Levi looked above to orient himself and then headed off in the right direction. “It’ll probably take us about an hour to get to the station, which is northeast from here, and maybe half an hour to stock up and prep the horses. How far behind those assholes will it put us?”

Mikasa buried her face in that damn red scarf and appeared to think things over for about a minute. “Rico said that you fought them by Garners Street, which means that they were most likely headed for a tunnel entrance not too far away. They can’t come out too early and risk being trapped by sunlight, so I’ll chance that they’re going to follow the path that’ll take them out by the southern side of the dome. That way they can cover the most ground while hidden and protected from the sun.”

Shit, so not only did they lose some time getting the supplies, but they’d have to go around the dome to eventually meet up with where they came out of the tunnels, and *then* hope to start to track them down. “That’s going to put us hours behind.” He wanted to break something just then, wanted to break something in the worst way. Not only had Eren been snatched away when he wasn’t there, now he was failing to get the brat back as quickly as possible.

Mikasa closed her eyes and shuddered for a moment. “Yes, but they’ll have to stop during daylight and I doubt they’ll have horses.” When she opened her eyes again, they were golden. “We’ll catch up.”

“We fucking better.” Because the longer this hunt dragged out, the more pissed off Levi was becoming – and he was plenty pissed off as it was.

“So how do you know so much about the outside and everything,” the dark haired MP asked Mikasa as he stumbled forward, seeming to have difficulty walking on the uneven terrain. “How did you know that we wouldn’t be burned by the radiation when we came outside?”

“Yeah.” Horse-Face came up on Mikasa’s other side and nearly pressed against her while giving the other MP a warning look as if to say ‘back off’. “And about the poisonous stuff, too. Is that like special Wi- uhm, Corps training?”

Levi continued walking on since he figured that Mikasa could handle this mess herself, while Hange took to chuckling softly. Mikasa tugged up the scarf until half of her face was practically covered by the soft material and shook her head.

“No, it’s because Eren and I have lived outside of the domes for a good part of our lives.”

Horse-Face nearly tripped over his own feet when he heard that. “How- how is that possible?”

“We’ve more important things to focus on right now, like rescuing my brother,” Mikasa told him, her eyes flashing gold as a rare hint of temper entered her voice. “All you have to know is that you need to listen to me as well as the two captains if you want to survive out here.”

“Ah, she dodged that bullet,” Hange murmured sotto voice.

Levi grunted in agreement while he turned to glare over his shoulders at the idiots. “She’s right, you asswipes-“

“We have *names*, you know.” Horse-Face jerked his hand toward his chest and then at his colleagues in quick succession. “I’m Jean, he’s Connie and that’s Marlo. I think if we’re out here risking our necks for one of your own, you can at least call us by our names.”

The baby MP had a point, but Levi wasn’t about to concede to him right now or else it would give the morons bad ideas. “As I was saying, *asswipe*, you’ll listen to what she said. The wild isn’t anything like the dome or those stupid-ass movies make it out to be – there’s a million things out here that can kill you if you’re not paying attention and half a million that can even if you do. Blouse, put anything in your mouth that’s not cleared by Stieger and I will *cut* that fucking limb off for you, do you understand?” He glared at the fucking idiot who was eyeing up a bush with light blue berries.

“But they look just like the blueberries that I eat all the time. Well, almost.” He swore there was drool dripping from the corner of her mouth. Gross.

“Those will have you spitting up your guts until you’re hacking up blood, but yeah, go ahead, have fun with them.” Levi clicked his tongue in disgust and looked away, back onto the way ahead. He noticed that Krista was walking a little bit apart from everyone, her expression withdrawn and her arms secure around the bags that she carried.

There was a bit of noise from behind as the short MP – Connie – reassured Blouse that there would be something safe to eat soon, and Jean tried to chat up a plainly uncommunicative Mikasa. Levi gritted his teeth together and put a little more distance between himself and the idiots, with Hange and Rico flanking him on either side.

“Well, all that chatter should keep most of the wildlife away for now – at least until dark. We better have some horses and supplies by then or else we’ll have problems dealing with the cats.” Hange actually sounded rather chipper about the prospect of being shredded apart by six foot long felines. “Unless the Malforms get us first.”

Rico gave the lunatic a perturbed look, while Levi ignored her with ease. “Is she always like this?”

“What, mentally disturbed? Hell, yes.”

“Wonderful.” Rico continued to eye Hange for a few more seconds, during with Hange merely smiled back, before focusing her attention on Levi. “So, I find it very interesting that we’re traveling with the sister of the kid we’re trying to rescue, who just so happens to have plans to the tunnels of not only the Trost dome but most of the domes in this area as well. Oh, and she also has experience with living in the wilderness as well.” When neither Levi nor Hange said anything, Rico sighed and adjusted her glasses. “Yeah, I’m beginning to see why someone would want to kidnap her brother.”

More than likely, the truth about Eren and Mikasa was going to come out during the rescue mission, but Levi would do his best to keep the remaining secrets while he could; Eren had trusted him with them, and he’d already let the brat down enough.

Not in the mood to dwell on his failures just then, Levi checked the position of the sun along with that of the bit of the dome’s structure in the distance to see where they were and judged that they were making good time; for the most part, everyone was still fresh and determined. That wouldn’t last long, as traveling over ‘rough’ terrain would wear them down, used as they were to the smooth ground of the domes. The temperature outside wasn’t too warm, but it would get colder at night, and much darker than that inside the closed environment. These kids were in for a rude awakening and only Blouse had received any training on how to deal with the sudden change in circumstance.

They skirted around the dome as they headed toward the small, encapsulated building which housed the horses that the Freedom Corps used during the ‘official’ times when it was thought that the outside was safe for exploration. Such storage units had been set up as separate mini-domes for safety reasons, on the off-chance that the Corps returned with any life-threatening diseases and needed to be quarantined, and right now Levi was finding it to be a pain in the ass. How much time would be saved if they could have just taken the horses from headquarters and ridden out of the dome? Then again, how much attention would it have attracted if they’d tried to do just that?

“This better not be a fucking waste of our time,” he muttered while he kicked at a low green bush that he passed along the way.

Hange seemed to read his thoughts since she shrugged and hoisted up one of her bags a little higher. “The station will have all of the supplies that we need – better to lose a little time to get well-stocked than to rush ahead ill-prepared. You should know that after how many missions out here.”

“Yeah.” Still, he wouldn’t rest easy until he had Eren back so the little shit could say ‘told you so’ and those damn vampires were dead. It was as simple as that.

*******

Ymir took another deep breath and savored the fact that she was outside the dome; she always tried to hide from Krista how much she missed being out here where the air was fresh, was *wonderful*, but the truth was that the domes were so *stifling*. If it wasn’t that the hunting was so much easier there….

Between the hours it took them to clear the tunnels and the difference between ‘dome-time’ and ‘wilderness-time’, the sun had finally barely set. Since it was coming to early summer, they wouldn’t have as much time in the dark as she’d like, but it was still I than being stuck in the dome.

Some of the Malform from the tunnels obeyed Reiner’s growled orders and followed them out into the wild. She supposed that he didn’t want to have to track down the roaming Malform that lived outside the domes, surviving off of the native fauna such as the massive herds of feral hogs.

The humans might bitch about the Malform outside of the domes and send out the poor Freedom Corps during early spring to exterminate whatever undead they could find, but nature – with a little help from the vampires – currently had established a decent balance of the Malform wiping out the a good bit of the damn pigs. At least all the ‘pet’ cats had done a decent job of curbing the awful flocks of chickens, even if Ymir missed the variety of small birds that used to exist when she was younger….

So she might be stuck traveling with a pair of assholes – make that a trio when Annie caught up with them – but it should keep the ravaging pigs away for the time being. Everything was a trade-off, she thought to herself as they leapt through the trees, Bertolt hampered a little by the weight of the metal box on his back. After about an hour or two of fleeing from the dome, she finally spoke up. “Anyone going to tell me where we’re going?” She used the sound of her voice to mask the fact that she was deliberately scoring deep marks in the tree.

Reiner was quiet for a minute before he finally looked over his shoulder at her. “We’re headed to somewhere in Switzerland.”

If it was true that that the dome was located around Salzburg, like she suspected, then Switzerland would be southwest and… “Uhm, that’s going to take us some time, yes?” Not that she particularly cared, since the longer it took them to reach their destination, the longer she had to figure out a new plan.

“You in a particular hurry?” When all she did was smile at Reiner, he narrowed his eyes and jumped across a branch of the massive trees that had filled the forest so he could be closer to Bertolt. “We should meet up with some friends along the way.”

That wasn’t exactly what she wanted to hear, but she was careful not to reveal anything other than a carefree smile at the moment. “Great, the more the merrier. I’m sure Eren will be overjoyed to meet them.”

Reiner continued to give her a suspicious look for a few more seconds before he resumed looking ahead. It was quiet after that, all of their attention focused on moving forward as quickly as possible, and she continued to leave whatever signs she could to mark their passage without being obvious about it. They used their enhanced speed, agility and strength to fly through the upper canopy of the forest, avoiding most of the wildlife that way save some birds, squirrels and the smaller of the cat species. As unused to human – or mostly human- lifeforms as they were, the creatures pretty much left them alone.

About an hour before sunrise, Reiner and Bertolt finally slowed down and began to search about. It took them almost half an hour, during which Ymir grew more and more anxious, but they eventually came across a small cave opening.

“Come on, get in here,” Reiner ordered while he ushered Bertolt inside. Fortunately, the Malform huddled outside.

“Yeah, I’m going.” She was pleased to find that the cave opened up to a larger enclosure inside, since she didn’t think she could stand close quarters with the two men for very long. “It’s not a four star hotel, but it’ll do.”

“You can always go stay outside.” Reiner helped Bertolt remove the box from his back and laid it out on the smooth sand-covered floor with care. “We’re not stopping you.”

“No, no, it has its charms.” Ymir glanced around and noticed that there were several wooden boxes and bags of supplies stacked around the stone walls. While they fussed with the metal box, she went over where a chemical lantern rested and turned it on; enhanced vision only did so much. “That’s better.” Oh yes, someone had definitely planned for them to stop by here. “So, we’re here for the day?”

“Unless you want to be killed by sunlight, yes.” Reiner popped open the tabs holding the box shut. “We’ll wait an hour after sunset for Annie and then….” His mouth pressed into a grim line for a few seconds, until he flipped open the lid.

Yeah, wouldn’t it be heartbreaking if Annie didn’t make it? Ymir allowed herself that faint hope and then focused on the nearest bag of supplies, not wanting to look at the box – at the box’s *contents* just then. Hallelujah, it contained a spare change of clothes, something that made her happy even if they looked more for Reiner than her. Eh, she’d worn worse over the years, the main thing was that they were clean.

“Oh, *poor* Eren,” she heard Bertolt gasp.

Someone – Reiner, from the sounds of it, grunted. “You know they had to do it. We’ll make him more comfortable now.”

Despite her resolve, Ymir looked over her shoulder to watch Bertolt lift an unconscious Eren from the box. The poor kid looked terrible; his normally golden-hued skin was ashen from bloodloss and probably the shit they’d pumped into him, his remarkable eyes closed and sunken in his pretty face. Bertolt cradled Eren’s limp body against his chest while Reiner began to strip off the bloody Corps uniform.

“Hey!” Ymir jumped to her feet, appalled by what they were doing.

Reiner glanced up as he tossed aside Eren’s bloodsoaked pants. “Do us a favor – bring us the blue canvas bag.”

“What the *fuck* are-“

“The blue bag, *now*.” He glared at her and pointed in the vicinity of the supplies for emphasis.

Well, that didn’t sound like someone who was messing with an unconscious person just to be a sick fuck, did it? On guard just on case he was trying to confuse her, Ymir set aside her ‘borrowed’ clothes and grabbed the blue bag, which she dropped off near Reiner. “You’re not doing anything sick to him, are you?”

“We’re making him comfortable!” Bertolt sounded offended as hell and held Eren cradled against him, his left hand even going so far as to cup against Eren’s ear.

“Okay, just checking.” Still, Ymir sat down a few feet away and faced them, not about to take their word on *anything*.

Reiner gave her a blank look for a few seconds before he began to rummage through the bag; at first he pulled out a pack of wipes, which he set aside so he could continue to rid Eren of his clothes. The bastard didn’t stop until the poor kid was completely naked, too. She noticed that the one thing he didn’t discard was the leather pouch that Eren always wore around his neck – that Reiner removed and carefully tucked away in one of his own pockets with a relieved look on his face after a quick check of its contents.

Once the clothes were gone, he pulled off the cauterizing patches to reveal that the wounds had healed to stumps and showed signs of slowly regenerating. Reiner frowned at that and reached into the bag for a small kit that contained a syringe gun, which he used to inject Eren with something in the neck.

“What the heck does that do?”

“It’ll slow down his healing factor and help keep him under control.” Reiner put the medical device back in the kit yet kept it nearby while he opened the pack of wipes; Ymir was relieved to notice that they didn’t possess an awful chemical smell but a more natural citrus one.

So they were going to continue to dope up Eren, eh? That would complicate things. She’d have to wait until he woke up and then see how much it affected him. As it was… she didn’t like how attentive, how *possessive*, Reiner and Bertolt treated Eren as they cleaned him up and dressed him up new clothes, taking the time to brush his matted hair and everything. She knew that they’d been lovers in the past, but to hear Eren talk about it, they’d been nothing but fuckbuddies. This… this didn’t look like fuckbuddies right here, it was something much more twisted. If they got out of this mess alive, she was so beating the shit out of Rebel over his messed up sense of relationships.

With Eren now tended to, Reiner leaned over to give Bertolt a kiss on the lips. “Get some rest while I take the first shift.”

“All right.” He smiled up at the blond before stretching out on the soft floor with Eren held against his chest.

Reiner watched his boyfriend or whatever settle in for the day and then got up to go sit down closer to the entrance of the tunnel. He made himself comfortable and then looked over at Ymir. “Why don’t you stay awake and keep me company.” Only with the way he said it, it didn’t exactly sound like a suggestion.

“What, you love my sparkling personality that much or something?” She finished pulling on the clean pair of pants and then stretched out on the floor.

“That’s my way of saying that I don’t really trust you and would prefer that you sleep through Bert’s shift.”

Wow, was she feeling the love right now or what? She leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees and did an exaggerated sniff. “I’m too crushed by your mistrust right now to carry on. Here I thought we were buddies.”

“You’re just here because you have nowhere else to go.” Reiner leaned back against the cave’s smooth wall and folded his arms over his chest. “That makes you desperate, not loyal.”

Wasn’t that a good summation of most of her life? “Whatever. So you really think you’re going to sway Eren over to your side so easily?”

He glanced over to where Bertolt and Eren were resting. “He won’t be happy at first, but he’ll come around.” The muscles in his jaw clenched as he looked away.

Were they talking about the same guy? This was the stubborn ‘kid’ whom Reiner and his friends had chased all over the damn world for centuries, losing more than a few colleagues along the way whenever they got too close to Eren and Mikasa. Eren’s hate for vampires had been stoked well and truly good over the years, and Reiner believed that he’d ‘come around’? Yeah, someone was a bit delusional… that or knew something he wasn’t sharing with Ymir.

Either way, it was going to be a long day, her stuck in here with a suspicious Reiner and nothing to do. Pushing up onto her feet, she decided to explore what she could of the cave, mindful to steer clear of the two sleeping figures. While she wandered around, she could try to figure out what the hell she’d do when Eren woke up.

*******

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