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Compromises, Compromised

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Inspector Jean Kirschtein arrived to his office exactly on time like he did every morning. This habit irritated his coworkers, but was the reason he'd climbed through the ranks of the military police so quickly in only three years time. In spite of their exemplary scores during training, it seemed most in the MP had an aversion to paperwork. Of course, being so dedicated had is drawbacks. Before he could even grab a cup of tea, Inspector Hitch dropped by to say, "You're taking reports today. First is a mugging. The guy says he's retired Survey Corps, here to work at a book store or something, but from the looks of him he might've just come to beg on better streets." Hitch always looked pleased at the misfortune of others.

"Have a bit of respect," Jean muttered. "Whatever their leaders did, the Survey Corps was comprised of soldiers like us." He didn't like the way people ragged on the Survey Corps: a lot of good people, some of the brightest from his graduating class, threw in with their lot. Sure, they were stupid to do it, but surely the new recruits had nothing to do with how they went down in flames. Many of them were reported dead or missing after a disastrous attempt to retrieve Eren Yeager, including Mikasa Ackerman, Commander Smith, and Eren himself. It was no surprise when Admiral Zackley disbanded what little of the Survey Corps remained after such a disastrous venture, bidding the surviving members to join the MP or garrison or retire without compensation.

"Inspector Kirschtein's making speeches again!" Hitch hollered into the main area, "Everyone gather round!"

"Shut the hell up and send in the victim," Jean said sourly, "Or I'm writing you up."

"You'd have to give a shit to write me up," Hitch said, smirking as she left.

Hitch brought in a blond young man, ragged, limping and slumped. His clothes were still dusty from having been thrown about like a rag doll, but someone had at least taken time to help patch up his wounds and wash his face. Everything he saw was consistent with a severe beating: fists rather than clubs or kicks, fortunately. Unpleasant, but the Survey Corps veteran was lucky to only have been robbed.

Jean hadn't thought of Armin Arlert for years, and here he stood with a black eye and a smile.

He'd let his hair grow down to his shoulders and kept in relatively good shape. His face seemed a little bit longer, though still with soft roundness - Jean couldn't tell how much of that was swelling from the beating. His slightly upturned nose, which Jean always thought was sort of stupidly cute, had not been hit. Armin looked a mess, yet he still smiled when he saw Jean, tears forming in his right eye - the one not swollen shut.

"I - I wanted to believe it would be you when they said Inspector Kirschtein, but I didn't dare hope."

"Armin," Jean said, feeling a sudden pang of guilt. His excuses came spilling, pathetic and unprofessional. "I tried to write you after the I read Mikasa and Eren both went MIA , but they said you'd left with no forwarding address. Why did you quit? You trained so hard, you would do so well here, or you could've been an engineer for the garrison, or anything...!"

"There wasn't any point," Armin said in a dead voice, "After Eren and Mikasa died."

"So they really are dead?" As if Jean didn't know the answer to that. Everyone knew missing in action was a nice way of saying there was nothing left to bury.

"Please," Armin said, "Just let me file my report. I've had a rough day already."

"Right, of course. Can you sit?" Jean brought out his writing supplies and inked his pen.

Armin sat down gingerly. "I got into Stohess on the back of a dairy cart making deliveries, early this morning. As I tried to find my way to the bindery I'm to have my apprenticeship at, I ran into a group of hooligans being kicked out of a tavern. I think there were four of them, carpenters or stone masons by build. They started to make trouble with me, pushing me around and calling me trash. Instead of running away, I engaged them." Armin smiled without humor. "So they beat the hell out of me. Took every thing I had on me, my bag of clothes and my binding tools and my money. No one stopped to help me."

"I'll need a list of the items lost."

"There's really no hope of recovering them, is there?" Armin struggled but couldn't keep a note of a whimper out of his voice.

"If any of them turn up in pawn shops, you might have some luck. The tools are pretty expensive, right? It's possible some might be recovered. We have a good relationship with a lot of the shop owners in the area."

"Jean, it's me. Don't placate me. I'm screwed, aren't I?" All hint of delicacy left Armin's voice. Jean looked across the desk and remembered the boy that saved everyone's asses in Trost. Armin seemed destined for greatness, but Jean hadn't stuck around to see what that might be. "You didn't even asked me what the men looked like."

"You can give me the details if you want, but I'll be honest. We don't have the time and resources to devote to something like this. Even if you could identify one or more of your attackers, it would be your word against theirs, and a lot of the thugs in this district have judges and cops in their back pocket. My best advice would just be to run from people like that if they start making trouble." Jean admitted, trying not to let his frustration show. "But, even so, if you do see them again, tell me. I'll do everything I can, even if my hands are tied."

"That means a lot to me, that you'd do at least that much. I understand the MP have a lot of responsibilities."

This too, was familiar. Armin laid on his sweet and gentle words, like he thought Jean wouldn't notice, and Jean's hackled raised. He wished Armin would just get pissed off like a regular person. He waited a long moment to see if Armin would speak more, then said carefully, "I'm sorry to ask you this if it's painful, but did they do anything - anything other than beat you and take your belongings?"

Armin's eyes widened "No. I'm fine in that respect. Rattled and broke and beat to hell, but fine. I've had worse."

Jean tried not to register his relief too obviously. "If you can think of anything else you want to add to my report at any time, tell me. I won't get pissed or anything, I understand you're probably still in shock. Are you holding out alright?"

"What do you think?" Armin laughed, strained.

"I think you're a survivor. People underestimate that about you." Jean said with more sincerity than he normally bothered with. "Have you gotten in contact with your apprenticeship?"

"I no longer have the letter of recommendation that was to secure my position. I can probably convince them I'm worth the trouble if I show them my work, or try one of the smaller binderies, but until then I'm on the streets." Armin looked at his hands resting on his knees, frowning. "Most people don't trust me when they meet me, they think I'm a deserter and it's actually worse if I tell them I was in the Survey Corps."

"You can stay with me. My apartment's not the nicest, but it's better than the streets."

"You have your own place?" Armin asked, surprised. "You're not in the barracks?"

"Well, I am a top inspector, after all," Jean said, rubbing the back of his neck. Usually he could say this sort of thing proudly, yet telling Armin embarrassed him somehow.

"I couldn't impose," Armin said, flexing his fingers against his dirty trousers. "I'm sure I can work something out. I went through worse when I was a refugee."

"Quit with the martyr crap. I wouldn't wish a night on these streets on my worst enemy. When's the last time you ate?"

"Yesterday..."

Jean stood up, crossing the few steps to shout out the door into the common room. "Hey, Marlowe! If the captain asks, I'm going for tea. Cover for me."

Marlowe, bent over his desk, muttered some reply that was half protest, half lukewarm agreement. Jean could swear he saw another hair on his dark mop go prematurely gray.

 

Tea turned into a trip to the shops to buy Armin some new clothes, and then into dinner. Each time Armin insisted he'd pay Jean back until Jean finally said, "Quit it. I can do this because of the life I chose, can't I?"

Armin fiddled with the sleeve of one of his new shirts. "Your friend Marlowe seems nice," he muttered.

"I should've known you'd like the kid with the bad haircut."

Armin rolled his eyes, patting his long hair with an affronted expression.

 

On the way back to Jean's apartment, it began to pour. "We should've gotten you a coat," Jean grumbled, quickly pulling off his uniform jacket to cover both their heads as much as possible. "Why didn't you ask for one?"

"I'm not going to owe you any more than I have to," Armin laughed, tucking under Jean's armpit to put his arm around his waist. A few years ago, that's the kind of thing Jean would have protested loudly. But he could see the efficiency of the move, now, that Armin fit better under the jacket that way. They were warmer this way, tucked in close against the chilly rain.

In spite their best efforts, they were soaked by the time they arrived.

"Shit, it's cold," Jean groaned. "Let me build up a fire in here." He made his way to the little pot-bellied stove in the center of the apartment, carefully opening the door in front to wake up the fire inside.

"This is a nice place," Armin said, crouching to untie his shabby boots. "That's a nice pantry. Do you even know how to cook, or does your mother come by and do it for you?"

"Shut up," Jean said, feeding the fire a cord of wood. "I can cook."

"I thought it would be messier, too." Armin sat on the end of Jean's bed and began taking off his wet clothes. Jean realized his poor planning hadn't just neglected to provide Armin a new coat, but also clothes to sleep in, and, most embarrassingly, a bed.

Jean paid too much attention to building up the fire, listening to the faint rustling sounds of Armin undressing and not wanting to stare, even though they'd showered and gotten dressed together a hundred times in training. "I'll pull you some water for a bath. I don't have a big tub, but it's not bad if you stand in front of the stove."

"But to get it hot enough for a bath, all that wood! It must be so expensive!"

"Stop talking like I won't be generous to you," Jean snapped.

Jean turned to look at Armin. His body, slender but muscled, would have been something to admire were he not covered in bruises, his chest tightly bound to help cope with the pain. "I - I'm sorry," he choked out. "I'm not really good at having friends, since Eren and Mikasa..."

"Wasn't there--" Jean broke off the stupid question of wasn't there anyone else? Armin's friends, Bertholdt and Reiner, were also listed among the missing. In fact, he couldn't put a name or face to any of the survivors except Armin. Even Sasha and Connie were gone, and they seemed like the type who'd survive anything on sheer luck alone. Though Armin spoke rarely of his past, Jean knew him as an orphan and refugee from Shiganshina. There hadn't been anyone else, and Jean hadn't bothered to try and find him after such a dark time. Jean said, "I'm gonna draw you a bath. You can stay here as long as you want. I can sleep on the floor."

"Or you can sleep with me," Armin said. And then quickly, "In the bed. I meant. Not like that. Not unless you want to. Do you want to?" Armin rushed through his words so quickly the end of the sentence found him breathless, cheeks pink.

"I'm not going to sleep with you if it's out of some bizarre sense of gratitude," Jean said, "So don't even try it. I'm not that kind of person." He paused. "Also, what the hell, we haven't even kissed or anything! I had no idea you had those kind of feelings about me." That last bit could be squarely counted as a lie, there were moments, both back then and now, when he felt something. Never more than a twinge, a look that lasted too long, a possibility of a possibility that neither of them had courage to pursue. Perhaps the both just thought they'd have more time together.

"Well, we didn't exactly have the opportunity when we were training," Armin said quietly.

"That didn't stop some people."

"And it didn't save them, either."

Jean finally gathered the courage to sit next to Armin on the bed. He carefully took Armin's hand, mindful of the bruises. "Are you really alright? You're acting weird."

"I'm not sure what that would mean, to be alright." Armin stared into the air in front of him, frowning. "Is that what you have right now, Jean? Is this alright?"

"I don't know what you mean either."

"No matter how far you are behind these walls, it's not safe. You know that. They got in here, for pity's sake, this district, and yet you have an apartment with a stove and a dresser full of clothes... Is that alright?"

"I was beginning to worried you'd changed, with how quiet you'd been most of the day," Jean said, not letting go of Armin's hand, "But you still talk too much and have a head full of worries."

"So shut me up. Make me stop thinking."

"Fine," Jean said, and kissed him.

Armin must have been expecting that. He pulled Jean closer, his palm flat to the small of Jean's back. Silent and accepting, Armin coaxed Jean to kiss him deeply, mouth open and welcome. He rested his other hand on Jean's thigh, fingertips slightly brushing the inseam of his trousers. No matter how alluring the kiss, Jean couldn't stop thinking about the lightest touch of those fingertips.

About ten minutes later, Jean removed his tongue from Armin's mouth long enough to say, "We can't mess around. Your ribs are bruised, aren't they? You should be resting."

"You can't say that after dragging me all over town," Armin said, pushing his hands up underneath Jean's still-damp shirt.

Much to Armin's chagrin, Jean began examining Armin's face, specifically, his black eye. "It looks better than it did this morning, at least..."

Armin huffed a sigh, pulling his hands away. "I think I'd like that bath after all."

 

They kissed a little bit more after they both had their baths, but Armin couldn't get much further than heavy petting without wincing in pain. While Armin seemed eager to touch Jean, Jean didn't particularly want to do things with a friend who was so injured he couldn't get it up. Neither felt like sleeping, so they lay in bed, arms touching, staring at the ceiling in amicable silence. Jean felt like he was fifteen all over again, hormonal, awkward and never knowing what to say. Really, could he say he'd progressed much past that in three years? He still felt young in this intimate moment, his chest peeled open. Each time Armin exhaled, Jean felt his breath drag across his raw, exposed heart. He thought he might long for that kind of pain, even might mistake it for pleasure..

"Do you think Marco would have done as well in the Military Police as you have?" Armin asked quietly.

"I haven't thought about it," Jean lied, "You two spent more time together over the years. What do you think?"

"I think he would be disappointed in the compromises he had to make," Armin said after a long moment. "Marco had rare integrity. That's not an easy thing to give up."

"How do you he'd have to make compromises?"

Jean expected Armin to say, Because the military police are corrupt. It is what Jean might've said. Instead, Armin said, "Because you do."

"You can't know that about me," Jean said, scowling.

"You're really unhappy here. Your lack of trust has only gotten worse over the years. You've been made an inspector and are well respected, but you don't have any friends, not really. You haven't let anyone into your life, or else you'd probably have a few things borrowed from friends around here, and wouldn't have so much time to keep it neat and clean. If you spent some time in taverns or on other hobbies, you wouldn't have been so keen to throw money at me today."

"Why do you have to analyze my life down to the last damned detail? I'm not helping you because I'm some kind of miserable loser with no life."

"That's not the only reason, but am I wrong?"

"I take back what I said before," Jean groused. "Who cares about your ribs? Let's do something other than talk."

"I'm not in mood anymore," Armin said with a serene smile. "I was just feeling really stupid and lonely."

Jean wanted to say Me too but he didn't. He slipped an arm around Armin, beneath his shoulders, and brought him closer. "I'm taking you to the doctor tomorrow. She could prescribe you something for the pain, and change your dressings."

"Don't you have work?"

"They can carry on without me for a day or two."

Armin made a small noise of understanding. They wrapped themselves in a warm, velvet quiet for a time. Jean played with a lock of Armin's hair in his fingertips, still slightly damp from the earlier rain.

"Why book binding, anyway?" Jean asked, breaking their silence reluctantly.

"Oh, it's funny really. When the Survey Corps were disbanded, they had all of these books and extra materials. Someone higher up got it into their head they should be sold to start paying off the debts we incurred, even though the information in those books was valuable beyond measure. So I was placed in charge of selling them. Sometimes I needed to repair them, so I taught myself some of the basics of repairing books and thought it would be a good line of work. Books are precious and should be constructed and repaired to last as a legacy. It's something I really enjoy."

"Isn't that sort of a risky profession?" If anything, the crackdown on written material only increased with each coming year. Jean wouldn't be surprised if someday books were banned entirely.

"I do what what's important, or there's no point in doing anything at all," Armin said.

"Sounds like something you tell yourself a lot. What about money and safety?"

"With you at my side, I'll have that too, won't I?" Armin said slyly.

"I don't remember agreeing to that!"

"Not yet," Armin said lightly. He sat up on one elbow, tapping Jean on the nose as if he were a cute, irascible puppy. "But you'll come around to what a catch I am. I'm sure."

 

Jean woke up to a cold bed and pelting staccato song of rain against his roof. Mornings like this made him glad for the unnecessary luxury of his job, and for a captain that barely cared if he came in late, so long as he filled out his paperwork by the end of the week. As his gaze focused Jean saw Armin, still partially undressed and standing in the corner by the roll top desk.

Jean sat up. "Didn't anyone teach you it's rude to go through your host's belongings?"

"Sorry," Armin said, looking properly chastised. He began tying his hair into a loose knot behind his head. "I was looking for a whisk. I'm making you an omelet!" He took one of Jean's quill pens off the desk, securing his hair bun with it. "Or maybe scrambled eggs. Probably maybe definitely scrambled eggs."

"Why not just say scrambled eggs, then?! Anyway, I don't have a whisk, and if I did have one, it wouldn't be on my desk."

Armin placed a hand on his hip, unimpressed. "How do you make omelets, then?"

"To be honest, it seems kind of pointless."

"Hmm." Armin's brow furrowed with concern. "Would you say that you're depressed, Jean?" He picked up the bowl of eggs from the nearby table, continuing to beat them with a fork.

"Are you being sarcastic?"

"I'm not."

"...I'm fine."

"Are you eating enough?" Armin poured the egg mixture into a pan and took it to the stove, bending over it. Jean told himself not to look at his ass. Thus, he looked at Armin's ass for several more seconds than he would have otherwise.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that? What have you been doing to get by all these years? Have you been selling and fixing books all this time? I tried to write you, but you left no forwarding address. You could've written me, you know." This was as close as Jean dared admitted he worried or cared.

"What reason would I have to write you? We pursued different dreams." A bitter black curtain suddenly fell over their lighthearted conversation.

Jean recalled a memo about attacks on various MP establishments a few towns over. A group of bandits raided the armory, then police barracks and offices. With their defenses hopelessly crippled, the mayor of that town surrendered any remaining supplies of food, 3d gear and weapons to the attackers. No one could prove who they were, of course, since they had the good sense to cover their faces, but bystanders noted a proficiency with maneuvering gear only soldiers possessed. All signs pointed to it being a fragment of the now-defunct Survey Corps, and that whoever planned the attacks had prior knowledge of their buildings.

He'd been so focused on Armin as a victim and old friend that his arrival didn't strike him as odd at first. Armin always admired the tactics of Erwin Smith. During training, he demonstrated an understanding of battle theory that put seasoned veterans to shame. It was that quick thinking that saved all of them in Trost, but couldn't someone like that, someone with nothing to lose, become dangerous?

He probably meant to stay with Jean and poke around the barracks. He'd already seen the main outpost.

"Why are you here, Armin? Why this, why now? Why you and me?"

"I didn't know you were here in Stohess. I thought you might be, but I had no way to confirm it. I didn't really want to come here after all that happened. But, this is the place I had to go. If the book bindery won't accept my application for apprenticeship, then I'll be out of your hair forever." Armin looked over his shoulder and smiled. "Unless you don't want me to leave."

"You should at least stay until you get better."

Armin smiled faintly. "Are you sure you don't mean 'until we can have sex?'"

Jean tried to smile. What the hell kind of game was Armin playing at? "That... sounds good."

"Well, don't get too worked up about it," Armin snorted, returning his attention to the omelet. "Damn... it's sticking. What a mess."

Jean stared at Armin for a long time. A stray strand of hair escaped over the nape of his delicate neck like a sunbeam on snow.

Trouble on the horizon.

 

Two weeks passed. The sky poured its ugly guts out every day without cease, wet, gray and grieved. Armin mostly stayed indoors and tidied up the apartment or slept, making his way through Jean's meager, predictable library. Jean tried to stay home as much as possible, with the guise of keeping Armin company and helping him out, but duty called. He couldn't have his eyes on Armin every moment, nor could he think of a good reason not to let him borrow a little money to take to market so he could cook Jean meals. At least someone got some use from the cooking book Jean's mother bought, though Armin couldn't be said to cook particularly well. He certainly cooked with effort. One night, after Armin cooked a completely mediocre meal of bread and whole radishes fried with a little fatback, they kissed. Both of them lit brightly, like paper too close to candle flame.

"You're feeling better?" Jean breathed.

"Far better," Armin assured him.

Their pants came off in the small kitchen area. Jean pushed Armin against the wall and they rutted there, kissing and biting and pleasuring each other. Jean grabbed a lamp from the table.

"Isn't the oil expensive?" Armin spoke into his mouth. He didn't slow the hand that worked at Jean.

"Cream for a friction burn on my dick would be worse in the long run," Jean said.

"You're so very romantic."

It was Armin's suggestion to bend him over the bed, propped up on his elbows. Jean pushed himself into the tight, slippery space Armin created between his inner thighs. He pulled Armin's ponytail off the nape of his neck, kissing and nipping the softness there. Armin bit his fist every time Jean's weight pushed him against the mattress. When Jean reached for Armin's need, Armin whimpered, "Not yet. You first."

In the end, Jean tried to pull out, but Armin squeezed him tightly in place, and he left streaks of spend over Armin's thighs.

Jean could feel his body tiring, but he couldn't get enough of the sight of Armin, breathing ragged, still gripping the mattress. He wrapped Armin up in his arms, pulling him into his lap on the bed, Armin's back to his chest. He jerked Armin off at an even, steady pace. Armin spoke Jean's name like he was trying to memorize it, and more than once, Jean heard himself calling Armin back. Armin came, quiet, biting one knuckle.

Jean's hands were sticky. Both their thighs were still slippery with oil, pubic hair and leg hair sticking here and there. Some of Armin's ponytail was in his mouth.

Lacking options, Jean wiped his hands on his pants.

Armin crawled onto the far side of the bed, pushing his face into the crook of his arm.

"Shit, are you crying? Armin! I told you we could stop if you were in pain!"

'It's alright," Armin said, scrubbing his eyes with palms, "I always do this. It's too much emotional stimulation or something, you know? I'm happy. Really happy."

A ball of ice formed in the pit of Jean's stomach. He could think of no reason for those tears that boded well. "Is there anything you want to tell me about, Armin?" he forced himself to say. "I'm here for you. I won't judge you. If something happened--"

"--You judge everyone, Jean," Armin interrupted, almost mockingly. "So don't give me that. That's why you hate yourself. No one and nothing is to your standards, especially not you. That's why you're so angry."

"I'm angry, and you're happy," Jean said, finally pulling off his shirt and shimmying out of his dirtied pants. He flopped back on the bed dramatically and looked up at the ceiling. "What a fine fucking pair we make."

"It doesn't have to be like this," Armin said after a moment.

"The hell's that supposed to mean."

"It's just something I want you to think about."

Jean very nearly asked why Armin had to be so fucking cryptic, but somehow the words didn't flow. Instead, he stood up. "I'll heat water for a bath."

"You and your baths," Armin said, strangely fond. "You're such a city kid."

"You can have the first one. You're messier."

"You go ahead," Armin said, yawning. "I'm just closing my eyes for a few seconds..."

In the morning, Armin made Jean breakfast as had become the routine. The scrambled eggs were under cooked and the sausages burnt, but Jean ate it anyway because it made Armin smile. Today, Armin would prove his worth at the book bindery, and find out if his apprenticeship stood.

"The sun is finally shining," Armin said, pushing a piece of sausage into his lump eggs. "It feels like it's been raining for days."

"It has been raining for days," Jean said.

"Don't talk with your mouth full," Armin said, grinning, "That's disgusting. You're still a big kid, aren't you Jean?"

Jean chewed and swallowed. "That's Inspector Kirschtein to you. You thought I was grown up enough last night."

"That was last night." Armin gave a cheeky shrug. "This is today."

"You just make shit up as you go along, don't you?"

Armin took his time eating a piece of sausage.

"I'm taking that as a yes."

"Don't worry if I don't come home tonight," Armin said, "If I get the apprenticeship, she'll probably want me to stay and have a meal, and drinks after the meal. In any case, I don't want to be wandering around the city at night, especially if I'm not sober."

"What happened to you being fine with sleeping on the streets?"

"You should be applauding my new-found sense of self-preservation," Armin chuckled, "Wouldn't you worry about me being out there on my own after what happened?"

"I would," Jean said sincerely, knowing Armin could not have expected him to reply that way.

Armin put his fork down, staring. "Jean..."

"Just come home to me as soon as you can, alright? I've kind of gotten used to having you underfoot."

Armin took Jean's hand, nestling their fingers. "I will."

Jean felt how tightly Armin squeezed his hand, but it hurt more when he eventually let go.

 

Jean pulled a favor with Marlowe to have Armin followed that day. It seemed at one point Armin did go a book bindery and make some books. Late in the afternoon the shop grew busy and Armin disappeared. Just as he warned, Armin didn't return home in the evening. Jean cooked a better meal for himself than he'd had in weeks, but couldn't taste a thing.

The next morning at work was disastrous. Someone robbed the armory the night prior. Nothing remained save the locks and doorknobs. Whoever managed to pull it off probably had inside help, though Jean couldn't imagine how any group could empty out so much gear without anyone noticing. Maybe they took a few pieces here and there over time?

Right as Jean left the office to investigate, a courier stopped him with a message. It came from Armin, an invitation to eat lunch back at the loft.

"Right, lunch," Hitch snorted when Jean pulled her and Marlowe aside.

"This is serious," Jean said. "I need you guys to come along as back up. Don't reveal yourselves unless I give the signal."

"I'm really not much one for voyeurism," Hitch said, wrinkling her nose.

"If I'm right, he has vital information on an upcoming attack. He may already be planning to ambush me. I'm not fucking around."

"Fine," Hitch said, "But I'm really only going because the weather's nice and I'm in the mood for a stroll."

"You're too kind," Jean said.

"You owe me. And Marlowe, too."

"Don't drag me in between you two," Marlow mumbled, glancing around. "Let's go before we get in trouble."

 

Armin waited for Jean at the top of the stairs by his apartment. He carried a basket under one arm. "Jean! I was beginning to worry you'd blown off my message!"

"I wouldn't do that," Jean said quickly, brushing a kiss to Armin's cheek. "You brought food?"

"Yes!" Armin lifted the basket. A bouquet of daisies and a loaf of bread peeked out from under checkered cloth. "It's some good bread and fresh, soft cheese and some preserves. I know you're sick of my cooking."

Jean stared at Armin, blinking. Armin looked like a child about to skip off to grandmother's house. Eerie, really.

"Aren't you going to let me inside?" Armin asked timidly.

"Oh, right." Jean unlocked the apartment, examining every shadow as he entered. Armin followed with undue confidence and set the basket on the kitchen table. "Did you get the job?" Jean asked him, standing at the center of the room.

"About that," Armin said, "She wasn't able to take me, but she knew of another position in another town I could take. But I have to leave now. By tonight, really." Armin set the bread, cheese and preserves out on the table, but made no move to find dishes. "I wanted to know if you'd come with me."

"I could request a transfer, maybe, but that could take months, even years, if I'm not rejected outright."

"Or you could quit," Armin said bluntly. He stared at the food on the table, fingertips uselessly tracing the wood grain.

"I'm not going to quit. I've worked my whole life for this position. That's not going to change because you suddenly show up in my life after three years of silence. Besides, it's not that easy to quit. Right now it would look especially bad."

"Say you're getting married, or your mother's sick, or something." Armin glared at Jean. "It doesn't matter. Just quit."

"You can't ask me to do something like that! You don't have the right! What the hell is your problem, anyway? Have you been messing with my head all this time to try and get me to side with you?"

A pause. "You're always so much cleverer than you look," Armin said without inflection.

"Maybe you just got arrogant, showing up on my door step like this. Do you think I didn't know that the Survey Corps is suspected of attacking the Military Police? If there's anyone who could be a ringleader to a group of people like that, it's you! I ought to arrest you for treason."

Armin now steadied himself on the table, pale. "You can't arrest me. You don't have any proof I've done anything. Would you do something as wrong as hauling someone in without a real case against them?"

"If you're a suspect, I can at least take you in for questioning."

Armin stepped over to the window, looking out past the streets where Wall Rose stood ever-present. "You weren't here for the attack, were you? You were assigned here... maybe after Annie was?"

"Annie's gone, probably dead in all that mess!" Jean said. Angrily, he pointed out, "You're changing the subject! Aren't you going to at least deny what I'm accusing you of?"

"Wouldn't denying something like that just make me sound worse?" Armin turned around, arms crossed, leaning against the window sill.

"Maybe, but I'd at least try and hear what excuse you came up with!"

"It's true I hoped I could get you to side with me," Armin said, not meeting Jean's gaze. "We need new people, and you have a good heart."

"Did... did you come here to seduce me? Did you think that's what would convince me?"

Armin turned to look out the window again. "Yes," he said. His voice trembled and cracked. He gripped the window sill. "Th-that's precisely what I've done. I'm so sorry, Jean."

"That's sick, Armin! I can't believe you'd... that's so sick." Jean's face burned like the surface of his little wood stove. "You're sick." His stomach twisted itself into a complicated knot. "Why couldn't you just talk to me?" He demanded, knowing it made him a hypocrite.

"You might've arrested me."

"That's better than some sort of head game, and using your body like that! I can't believe you'd really do that! Is that the kind of person you are now?"

"I'm definitely a terrible person," Armin whimpered. "You're right, it's sick, what I've done. I don't blame you for hating me."

"What the fuck, Armin. I can't believe you'd stoop so low. Those injuries weren't fake, either. Getting someone to beat the piss out of you just for the sake of a lie, that's insane."

"Are you disappointed I don't really have feelings for you?" Armin asked. Something in his tone echoed false in Jean's ears.

Jean crossed the room, grasping Armin's shoulders. Armin didn't resist. He let Jean turn him around.

"You're not crying," Jean said, brushing Armin's cheek with his fingertips.

"I don't always cry," Armin said stubbornly, flinching away.

"No," Jean said, "But I think you would now. I'm taking you in."

"No, please, you can't arrest me. I'll do whatever you want!" Armin placed his hands on Jean's hips. Jean recoiled, almost gagged, but Armin kept talking. "If you quiet and join up with me, you can have me every night, in every way you could possibly imagine. Please don't arrest me."

"Why the hell would I want something like that from you, under these circumstances?!" Jean shoved Armin away.

"If you're planning to stick with the Military Police, you might as well get used to the benefits, right?"

"No! No way!" Jean noticed the movement of Marlow and his 3d gear on the roof across the street. Had he grown tired of waiting and decided to go back to work?

There came a great boom loud enough to rattle the windows.

Armin blurted, "Never mind, you can arrest me now!"

"Did you really think you could win me over after you helped with something like this? Shit!" Jean opened the window and leaned out. A black column of smoke rose into the sky. That would be the barracks or the offices a few blocks away, possibly both and the entire block they sat on without enough fire fighting equipment.

"I never thought I could win you over," Armin said. "I just didn't want you to die even if you picked the wrong side. I haven't been able to talk them out of it, but..."

"I gotta go help them," Jean ran for the door, but paused at the sound of Armin's voice.

"Before," Armin said, looking pale, pinched and small. "I was just stalling. I had to be sure it would be over--"

"If I see you again," Jean interrupted, "It's my duty arrest you."

"I know," Armin said.

Jean ran without looking back.

 

It was nearly dawn by the time Jean returned to his apartment, smelling of smoke and death. He found the space predictably empty and cold. The bread and cheese were worse for wear from having been left out, but Jean found a bottle of sparkling wine in the basket along with the wilting daisies. He uncorked it with his pocket knife and drank straight from the bottle, leaning back in his chair and putting his feet on the table.

Also in the basket was a small, neatly-made book with a leather cover.

Inside was written

For Jean

Love,
Armin

Just below, in newer, smudged ink, Armin wrote, I wanted to see you for my own reasons, and I needed to make sure I could keep you away during their attack. My own side of the rebellion has a very different approach.

The book itself had nothing written on the outside, but inside the title page was printed A Case For Historia Reiss.