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The first time: “Private.” And Rivaille barely tilted his head at his new title, perhaps from his natural instinct to cringe. But there was something behind the word—or the voice that spoke it—that piqued his interest- that banished his usual impulse to spit towards anyone who said it. There was something that made him listen.

The second time, weeks later: “Private.” And Rivaille turned towards that voice. The voice went on, told him of his new training, stroked down the back of his neck and his spine until he stood up straight. It groomed him and he tipped his head back with pride, yet the motion exposed his throat.

The third time, after months: “Private.” And Rivaille closed his fist and pressed it to his chest in a salute, before the voice passed by him, closely, and praised him for his work of the day. His knuckles white with tension, Rivaille turned his head, towards the lingering wake of the word and he breathed it in like smoke. He clutched his fingers tighter because he wanted something to hold onto.

Then, after a year and months more: “Corporal,” in a heavy breath against the nape of his neck. Rivaille, with the hand that wasn’t held bent against his back, reached up, curled his fingers in blonde hair, and held on tight.

-

Authority was dead. A shell of a term whose meaning had been carved out and destroyed: cut up, stomped upon, burned, and then buried. Now Authority was authority: power without purpose. Rivaille had believed this for his entire life, and he still believed this as his wrists were bound behind his back, as a muzzle was secured over his mouth, and as a pair of hands dragged him—with difficulty—from his holding cell.

Rivaille gathered control over his movements as his guards led him into a court room full of people who would like to see his neck snapped in a noose. He walked with as much dignity as he could manage before they kicked his knees out from beneath him and locked a pole over the chain between his cuffs, securing him to the floor.

He didn’t speak, especially not when spoken to, not when asked if he understood the circumstances of his own trial. His breathing went rigid and he stared up at the judge—who towered over Rivaille in his seat upon his podium

The military police, to Rivaille’s right, ordered death. Immediate death to atone for all of the crimes that he committed and that they couldn’t stop.

And to Rivaille’s left, the Reconnaissance Corps ordered rehabilitation through military service, and Rivaille glanced away from the judge, to look with spite at the commander who stood tall without a podium.

“And what makes you think that such a criminal is worth saving?” the head of the police demanded from Rivaille’s right and Rivaille watched as the commander tilted his head, just enough to acknowledge the other side. “Or that he is capable of saving?”

“Several things, Nile, the most obvious of which is Rivaille’s talent,” the commander said, his voice calm. “He may be a criminal, but he’s skilled. I know that Rivaille could be an important asset to our fight against the titans, and I’d like to use him on our recon missions. Killing him would be unnecessary and a mistake.”

“A mistake?” Nile said with disbelief over the low hum that had risen from the audience behind Rivaille. With crossed arms, the Reconnaissance commander stood, simply listening as Nile went on, “This man is nothing but a nuisance. I’m sorry, Irvin, but I think your ideality has betrayed you this time; this man’s record has shown nothing worth redeeming.”

Irvin. Irvin crossed his arms and stared at the other side from across the court room. “Then you’re not looking hard enough—“

“No, you are looking for something that isn’t there. You’re looking for hope in your war—which hasn’t existed for almost a century, by the way— and you think that this man could be the new weapon you’ve been looking for,” Nile snapped, the strain in his voice apparent. “This criminal is not your key to cutting your losses against the titans. You will waste your time and your troops will come home again at less than half of their numbers.”

Irvin didn’t move. “I don’t see the harm in trying,” he said, his voice cool, “because if, as you say, I waste my time and come home with only less than half of my numbers, odds are this criminal would be among the lost.”

Behind his muzzle, Rivaille gritted his teeth. His stomach churned as he stared at Irvin, who had yet to directly look at him. Who threw words over Rivaille, but had yet to look at him, to face him.

The judge raised his gavel, about to demand order from the rising hum of the crowd, and Rivaille growled from behind the muzzle, “I’d rather die than work for men like you.”

Bang, the gavel hit the desk, and order in the form of a still silence fell immediately over the patrons of the courtroom.

Irvin looked at Rivaille, his eyes burning, and Rivaille’s chest tightened. His breathing was still stiff in the stagnant silence and Irvin stared at him, faced him. Rivaille bared his teeth from behind his muzzle and the chain between his cuffs rattled loudly in the quiet as he jerked on it. Authority was dead.

Irvin’s footsteps were quiet clicks against the stone floor. Authority, Rivaille knew as Irvin approached him, meant nothing.

Rivaille pulled again on the cuffs as Irvin stopped in front of him. Rivaille stared up, his eyes narrowed and dark, and he tilted his chin back, unafraid. Irvin slowly crouched and his knees cracked as he knelt in front of Rivaille, reached up, his fingers cold in Rivaille’s hair as he traced the band of the muzzle to the back of Rivaille’s hair. Rivaille’s breathing quieted, though his heart pounded as Irvin undid the buckle of the muzzle and it fell loose from his mouth. Irvin was close, still regarding Rivaille with cold eyes as he set the muzzle down on the floor. Rivaille bared his teeth.

“I couldn’t hear you,” Irvin said, his voice grave, “what did you say?”

“I said,” Rivaille hissed and tilted his head as he stared up at Irvin, “I’d rather die than work for men like you.”

“Men like me?”

“Swine,” and Rivaille spat across Irvin’s cheek.

Irvin didn’t flinch. He reached up and used his index finger to push the spit from his cheek.

“Swine,” Rivaille breathed again from between his teeth, “you and your army are all privileged pigs who leave the rest of us to—”

Rivaille’s breath caught as Irvin curled his fingers tightly in Rivaille’s bangs. Irvin’s eyes had brightened with anger Rivaille had not yet seen and then Irvin thrust Rivaille’s face into the cold, hard floor. Rivaille grunt and jerked as his nose cracked, as a sharp pain rattled through his skull and the rest of his body. He tried to push himself back up, tried to twist, but Irvin’s hold was merciless.

“Listen to me, you son of a bitch,” Irvin breathed, his voice very close to Rivaille’s ear and Rivaille was sure only he could hear, “I don’t give a shit if you insult me, but do not insult my men.” Rivaille parted his lips and he breathed against the stone. His own blood was warm as it dripped onto lips. “They sign their lives away for people like you, for people who watch them return from hell, from watching their comrades die, and still have the nerve to mock them, to treat them with disrespect.”

Rivaille groaned and pulled on his cuffs until his wrists bled; blood seeped down into Rivaille’s cupped hands. Irvin didn’t let go. “They trust their lives to me to help people like you, to help all of humanity in our war against our only enemy.” Rivaille’s heartbeat was loud beneath the sharp tones of Irvin’s voice. “And you’ve wasted their sacrifice; they die to save humanity and you’ve lived to destroy it. You’re lucky I think you could be useful. You’re selfish; a fool whom I would normally not think twice about losing.”

“I’m not your pawn,” Rivaille spat against the blood on the floor. His stomach was in knots as he tried to move.

“Not my pawn, no,” Irvin said coldly, his breath hot against Rivaille’s ear and Rivaille’s spine jerked. “Right now, you’re not even that.”

Then Irvin let go. Rivaille sat up quickly, his body shaking and blood dripping from his nose and into his mouth. He watched with bright eyes as Irvin turned and went back to his side of the courtroom. He jerked harder against the bonds around his wrists.

Irvin took his place back among the Reconnaissance Corps and stood with the very same composure that he had held just minutes before.

He didn’t look at Rivaille again, not even as the judge sentenced Rivaille to rehabilitation through military service under Commander Irvin Smith.

-

Rivaille rode to the Legion headquarters on the back of Irvin’s horse, his ankle cuffed to the saddle. Near the beginning of the trip, he had tried to keep his balance while only holding onto the back ridge of the saddle, though had nearly toppled backwards as Irvin coaxed his horse into a gallop. So Rivaille clutched Irvin’s jacket the entire ride, doing his best not to lean forward onto the commander.

With only brief introductions spoken between them, Irvin lead Rivaille by the chain between his wrist cuffs into the castle, pointing occasionally to areas that Rivaille should memorize.

The headquarters was mainly stone, with cracks and crumbles missing from the wall. Spiders lived in the dusty crevices of the corridors, of the doorframes. The rest of the Reconnaissance Corps lived in the small, cold rooms and, when they passed by Rivaille and Irvin, the looks they spared were not kind.

Rivaille’s quarters was a small “room” attached to Irvin’s equipped with only a low bed and a chest of drawers made of cracked wood. Upon the bed was a green, woolen blanket, a single pillow, and a folded Reconnaissance Corps uniform.

“Your training starts tomorrow morning at five,” Irvin said from beside him, having let go of Rivaille’s cuffs. Rivaille glanced at Irvin from the corner of his eye but Irvin didn’t look at him. Irvin hadn’t looked at him since yesterday, since he had smashed Rivaille’s face into the floor. “You will attend and participate in your training sessions diligently; I’ll leave it to you to figure out if you want to find out what happens if you don’t. I trust you’re intelligent enough to see that any escape attempt would not be in your best interest.”

Rivaille bared his teeth and growled quietly. Irvin regarded him briefly, looked down upon him for only a second, before he plucked a key from his jacket pocket. He unlocked Rivaille’s cuffs and pulled them from Rivaille’s wrists, folding them in his hands as he eyed Rivaille’s shoulder-length hair. “We’ll have to cut your hair,” he murmured with distaste. “But for now, get dressed,” he then ordered quietly and turned away respectfully.

Irvin stood a full foot taller than Rivaille, heavier than Rivaille, no doubt stronger than Rivaille. But Rivaille understood this, had understood it his entire life. To take Irvin on with strength alone would be fighting a losing battle, so Rivaille used his speed, like he always had. He had overtaken men larger than Irvin, men stronger, men with nothing to lose. The instant Irvin’s back turned, Rivaille moved, spinning to catch Irvin’s upper thigh with his heel.

Rivaille was fast, but Irvin was faster. Irvin dropped his hand quickly, caught Rivaille’s heel in his palm and pulled, sweeping Rivaille’s legs out from beneath him. Rivaille’s back hit the stone with a sickening pain that spread down his spine and made him arch. Irvin twisted, dropped, folded Rivaille’s leg tightly against his chest and pressed his weight into Rivaille’s body to pin him. With his free hand, he clutched Rivaille’s wrist and twisted, twisted harder when Rivaille reached up and smashed his fist into the side of Irvin’s head.

“I will break your wrist,” Irvin hissed, between his teeth.

“Yeah, I’d be a good asset for you then,” Rivaille breathed and thrashed, taking a hold of Irvin’s throat with his free hand.

Irvin coughed before he swiftly lifted his weight, but Rivaille could only jab his toes into Irvin’s chest before Irvin flipped him over and knelt on his thighs. He clutched both of Rivaille’s wrists in his hands and folded Rivaille’s arms behind his back. Rivaille hissed as Irvin held his wrists against his shoulder blades. He kicked up with both feet, his heels striking Irvin’s lower back, but there wasn’t enough power behind the movements.

Irvin waited patiently. He sat atop Rivaille until the fight bled out of him, until he slumped against the floor, breathless. He tilted his head to look sideways at Irvin; he found Irvin staring down at him, composed. Always composed. Rivaille bared his teeth.

“Perhaps I overestimated you,” Irvin murmurs, his voice level.

“I’ve taken out men stronger than you,” Rivaille hissed between breaths.

“No,” Irvin said immediately, his tone unchanged, “you haven’t.”

authority, Authority. Rivaille was sure Irvin could feel his pounding heart. He stared, his wrists still in Irvin’s grip, his body limp. He couldn’t move and, for the first time, Rivaille questioned whether or not he wanted to.

Rivaille’s breath caught when Irvin twisted his wrist, but then Irvin was gone. Rivaille’s wrist tingled with a hot pain that spread up his arm as he turned onto his back, faced Irvin, but Irvin’s back was to him again.

-

Every morning at five, Irvin would cross into Rivaille’s portion of the room and uncuff the shackle holding Rivaille’s ankle to the bed post. “Get up,” he’d say sternly and, every morning, Rivaille had half a mind to ignore it and go back to bed. But something in Irvin’s voice drew him from sleep, drew him from his bed.

Training, Rivaille soon realized, was rough when his comrades—“comrades”—didn’t want to cooperate with him. Most days, Rivaille would train through murmured criticisms passed between the rest of the legion and most days he’d return to his and Irvin’s room through passing glares. But some days, Rivaille would train through unnecessary physical blows and some days he’d return to his and Irvin’s room with a blood dripping from his nose after an ambush in the corridor. When he returned, Irvin didn’t look at him, not even as he passed into their bathroom and held a cloth to his nose for a good ten minutes.

Irvin barely looked at him at all. After a few weeks, Irvin’s indifference made his stomach twist and his jaw tense. More often than not, Irvin would be hunched over his desk, his forehead cradled in his palm as he concentrated on the papers in front of him. Irvin only acknowledged Rivaille when he cuffed Rivaille’s ankle to the bed post and then left for an indeterminate amount of time.

Until that day, after about two months of Rivaille’s initiation into the Corps, when he stood off to the side, his arms crossed, his face composed, and watched Rivaille’s training squad. Despite Irvin’s presence, the rest of the legion was not kinder to Rivaille. Rivaille took a kick to the jaw, the stomach, a punch to the chest and Irvin watched, unchanged, with that maddening composure that made Rivaille’s insides burn. Rivaille turned his head and spat blood onto the ground as he jumped back into the spar, landed a blow on his partner’s jaw, then swept the other’s feet from beneath him.

Rivaille dropped onto the soldier’s thighs and Irvin watched him. Irvin watched him from several feet away from Rivaille’s usual trainer, who was talking quietly with a soldier Rivaille had never seen before.

Rivaille clutched the soldier’s wrists and twisted them behind his back, leaned forward to press his weight into the soldier’s twisted arms. Irvin watched him from several feet away from anyone else.

Beneath Rivaille, the soldier cursed, thrashed, and Rivaille waited, kept his weight bearing down on the soldier.

Irvin didn’t move, not as Rivaille watched him. authority, Authority; Irvin had received just as much ridicule for Rivaille’s presence as Rivaille had. No one wanted him here. No one, except Irvin.

The soldier fell limp beneath Rivaille, his back heaving with his breathing. Rivaille looked down and his bangs fell in front of his eyes. No one wanted him here, but here he was, only because one man wanted him. One against many.

“Get off me,” the soldier growled and Rivaille nearly shoved the soldier’s face into the ground. Nearly spat blood into his hair. Nearly leant over and hissed an insult in his ear. But he instead slipped off and stood, looked up at Irvin, who was still watching him intently.

That night, Irvin looked up as Rivaille entered their room.

“Good job today, Private,” Irvin murmured from his place at his desk and Rivaille stopped, tilted his head in the slightest, passed the title back and forth in his mind.

“Thank you,” he said quietly.

Rivaille didn’t resist that night when Irvin cuffed his ankle to the bed post.

-

The stone floor of headquarters’ corridors was harder than the ground outside and it stole Rivaille’s breath as his shoulder blades hit it first, then it shook through his bones as the rest of him followed. His spine bowed in a violent arch but then there was weight atop him, one, two, men atop him, holding him down, the bones of their knuckles sharp against his face. He lashed out, smashed his fist blindly against someone’s jaw, made them curse sharply.

Rivaille should have known that the attacks against him would escalate, even after four months of being in the Corps. He should have attacked when he heard the footsteps of the three soldiers approaching him from behind. Should have remembered that only one person wanted him here.

Blood pooled in Rivaille’s mouth and he spat, made one of the soldier’s curse again. Someone took a tight hold of his wrists and hissed, “Fucking criminal, I’ll cut your throat for what you did to my brother.”

Rivaille’s wrists were shoved to the floor above his head and he began to kick, but only until one of them sat upon his knees. Rivaille spit again and another blow to his face made his jaw crack. He grunted and snarled, his teeth pink.

“Hey!” The new voice was distant, quiet, but the weight was gone from Rivaille’s body, the hands gone from his wrists, from his face. “Break it up, get off of him before I report you.”

Retreating footsteps and the cracks in the stone ceiling above Rivaille weren’t quite so clear. He felt sick and light-headed, his lips red with blood from his nose and mouth. He turned over, his body shaking with strain, and coughed the blood onto the floor.

“Fuck,” he cursed breathlessly. “Fuck—“

“Hey,” the voice said again, this time closer, this time gentle. Rivaille looked up and found a soldier with glasses and red hair tied back in a ponytail staring at him with wide eyes. “Are you all right?” The soldier revised quickly upon seeing Rivaille’s expression, “Let me help you.”

Rivaille wanted to push the soldier away but the soldier took a hold of his arms and carefully sat him back against the wall.

“Rivaille, right?” they said and felt across Rivaille’s ribs with gentle fingers, no doubt checking for internal damage. Rivaille tilted his head to the side and coughed again and the motion made his throat burn.

“And you are?” he rasped spitefully.

“Hanji Zoe, at your service,” the soldier said, focused upon their fingers as they moved up across Rivaille’s sternum. “Sorry about them. Irvin said that you may have been having trouble with the other soldiers.”

Rivaille tensed at that, tensed at knowing that Irvin had been watching him all along.

Hanji’s fingertips pressed against the sides of Rivaille’s throat. “But, then again,” Hanji added, staring at the blood dripping down Rivaille’s chin, “he’s been having trouble with the other soldiers, too. And the government.

“Well,” Hanji continued before Rivaille could respond, their hands now holding Rivaille’s jaw, “nothing is broken and, by all rights, you’re just fine. Blood stained and not exactly pretty, but just fine. Let’s get you back to your room.”

Hanji shifted and slid an arm around Rivaille’s back, held Rivaille’s side, then slowly lifted Rivaille into a standing position. “What kind of trouble?” Rivaille asked quietly as he walked alongside Hanji, pain lancing through his hip with every step.

“Hn, for you?” Hanji asked with a cocked eyebrow before realization crossed in their eyes. “Oh, for Irvin. Well, I’m sure you can imagine that not everyone is okay with him taking a criminal on as a soldier. Beyond the passive aggressive comments and internal ridicule, he’s received downright aggressive comments—death threats, even—and budget cuts to the legion. In all honestly, Rivaille, no one wants you here—“

“Clearly,” Rivaille hissed, going slower up the stairs.

“—and you would be dead if it wasn’t for the commander.” Hanji’s voice had dropped into a grave tone and Rivaille again felt like he was going to be sick.

Hanji knocked on their door before opening it anyway. Irvin looked up from his desk as Hanji led Rivaille into their room. He stood and eyed Rivaille sternly.

“What happened?” he murmured, moving forward to take Rivaille from Hanji’s hold. Rivaille leaned more of his weight into Irvin and glanced down as Irvin clutched his side.

“Found three of your soldiers beating the shit out of him,” Hanji responded. “They had him pinned to the floor. He’s not seriously hurt; just needs to be cleaned up a bit.”

“Thank you, Hanji,” Irvin said quietly. Hanji nodded their head in a small salute and turned to pass out of the room.

Irvin brought Rivaille to the bathroom and carefully helped him sit on the counter, leaving Rivaille’s feet to dangle above the floor. Irvin didn’t speak as he crouched, pulled a first aid kit from beneath the sink. Didn’t speak as he plucked a cloth from the kit and wet it. Didn’t speak as he took Rivaille’s jaw gently into his calloused fingers and wiped the blood from Rivaille’s chin. Rivaille watched him, parted his lips as Irvin slid the cloth against them. Irvin’s hold on his jaw tightened in the slightest and Rivaille curled his fingers around the edge of the counter.

“How much did the government cut the legion’s budget?” Rivaille breathed, the words a bit slurred with his jaw in Irvin’s hold.

Irvin glanced briefly at Rivaille’s eyes before he focused on Rivaille’s lips again. He wiped more of the blood from Rivaille’s skin. “Damn it, Hanji,” he breathed and then pulled away to rinse the cloth. Rivaille opened his mouth wider to stretch his jaw but winced with the pain. “They cut it by forty percent,” Irvin answered as he took Rivaille’s jaw back into his hand and finished cleaning the blood from beneath Rivaille’s nose.

It seemed so absurd that Rivaille nearly asked why. But he knew why. Irvin handed him a cloth and he held it to his nose, though he wasn’t sure it was still bleeding. Nausea again churned in his stomach, but he swallowed it.

“Did you do anything to provoke them?” Irvin asked quietly, now looking at Rivaille’s eyes.

“No,” Rivaille murmured firmly. Irvin was quiet again for a moment before he nodded once and took an anti-bacterial swab to a cut over Rivaille’s cheek. Rivaille hissed and Irvin’s hold on his jaw tightened. Rivaille held onto the counter harder. “You believe me?” he asked, keeping his dark eyes on Irvin’s composed face, always composed.

“I do,” Irvin said, leaving no room for further doubt. He patched Rivaille’s cheek and then left to get him a glass for water. Rivaille’s fingers brushed against Irvin’s as he took the drink from Irvin’s hand and sipped from it. The way Irvin watched him made his stomach twist again, though not sickly.

Irvin waited until Rivaille set the glass down before he was close again. He held Rivaille’s jaw in his rough fingers and tipped Rivaille’s head back, looked over his face. Rivaille swallowed and let him, watched him beneath his eyelashes.

“You’re okay,” Irvin murmured, but didn’t let go of Rivaille’s jaw.

“I know,” Rivaille said quietly. He clutched the edge of the counter again.

“Don’t go after them,” Irvin added, his voice firmer and he looked at Rivaille’s eyes. “I’ll make sure they’re punished.”

Rivaille nodded, or tried to, but the motion was stiff with his head in Irvin’s hold. Irvin stepped back and left the bathroom and Rivaille only then realized he’d been holding his breath.

-

“Private Rivaille.”

Rivaille stopped immediately at the sound of Irvin’s voice. He turned attentively and found Irvin approaching him from the other end of the corridor, his pace quick. “You’ve been reassigned starting tomorrow,” Irvin said and stopped in front of Rivaille.

Rivaille crossed his arms. “Oh?”

“You’ll begin the necessary advanced training for going into the field,” Irvin continued. “Your training will now begin at seven in the morning near the northeast corner of the wall.”

Pride swelled in Rivaille’s chest and he tilted his head, the words a slow, appraising stroke down his spine. “Advanced. Have I been reassigned, or promoted?”

The smallest hint of a grin crooked in the corner of Irvin’s lips. “Reassigned,” he said and passed Rivaille, but not without adding quietly, “you’re still my pawn.”

Rivaille thought of his face smashed into a stone floor, Irvin’s hand tight in his hair, blood staining across his lips, the breath of Irvin’s words hot across his ear. His fingers twitched and he glanced over his shoulder, but Irvin was already gone.

-

Six months to the day since Rivaille arrived at the Reconnaissance Corps, Irvin stopped chaining Rivaille’s ankle to the bed post at night. The cuff hung off of the bed post every night, empty, quiet, but Rivaille looked at it every time he climbed into bed. He’d lie awake, his leg extended towards the bed post because it remembered the length of the chain, remembered its restrictions. He remembered the way Irvin would wait patiently—always patiently, with his arms crossed and his expression easily neutral— until Rivaille had climbed onto bed. Remembered the way Irvin’s fingers curled around his calf and then clamped his ankle with the shackle. Remembered the way Irvin’s fingers brushed against his skin as he checked, double-checked the lock of the cuff, the way that the touch lingered, even after Irvin had doused the lights and quieted in his part of the room.

Rivaille remembered it weeks later. It, and how Irvin’s touches lingered elsewhere. In his hair. On his wrists. Across his jaw, his cheek. Rivaille would lie on his back in the dark of night, staring towards the ceiling. One hand settled limply over his chest and the other at his side, palm up and fingers curled loosely on his bed. authority, Authority, and when Rivaille closed his eyes, he didn’t sleep. He thought, remembered, Irvin. Not just Irvin’s touches, but everything of him, everything of Commander Irvin Smith. The unbreakable composure across his face, even against ridicule, the strength of his shoulders, the lines of his crossed arms across his chest.

Rivaille thought until he sat up in bed slowly. He bent his knee, pulling his foot away from the empty cuff on the bedpost. He silently touched his feet to the cold floor of his room.

Thought and thought and Rivaille stood. In the dark, he blindly and quietly padded into Irvin’s room, through Irvin’s room and towards the door to the corridor.

Rivaille was quick; his speed was always his advantage in combat.

His fingers touched the doorknob only briefly before a weight shoved into him from behind, pinned him to the wooden door and crushed the breath from his lungs. Irvin was always quicker.

“Where are you going?” Irvin breathed, his voice husky with sleep and close to Rivaille’s ear. Rivaille tilted his head sideways and inhaled sharply, trying to gather his breath. When he didn’t respond, Irvin twisted his wrist behind his back and Rivaille gritted his teeth. His pounding heart shook his body against the door.

“Out,” Rivaille hissed, finding it difficult to think with the weight of Irvin’s body holding him down. He pushed the fingertips of his free hand against the door. His toes curled as Irvin’s warm hand covered his own, pushing his palm flat. He had no intention of going anywhere.

Irvin’s breath was slow and hot and sleep heavy against his ear. The tension of silence between them wound Rivaille’s insides tight, and he thought, thought of weakness in his knees, the heat across his skin, beneath his clothes, the ruthlessness of Irvin’s hold on his wrist. Thought of authority, of Authority, and he knew that he had found it, found it without meaning to search for it.

“I don’t think so,” Irvin murmured, but his words were distant, without much thought.

Then Irvin’s breath was against his neck, his grip on Rivaille’s wrist tighter. Rivaille felt his skin heat up further, felt his feet slide against the stone floor. Irvin’s fingers fell between his on the door and the heel of Irvin’s palm dug into the tendons of his hand.

The weight was gone from his back as quickly as it had come, and Irvin jerked Rivaille from the door by his wrist. Rivaille’s breathing was rigid as Irvin led him towards his bed, Irvin’s grip a vice around his wrist. His breath left him again as Irvin shoved him onto the mattress and Rivaille waited for Irvin’s body on his own again, over his own, but it never came. Instead came the familiar clamp of the cuff around his ankle followed by the quiet padding of Irvin’s retreating footsteps.

Long after Irvin settled and quieted in his side of the room, Rivaille lie in bed, his skin hot and nerves wired. His breathing couldn’t quite calm, not for a good twenty minutes, at least, and he thought, thought, thought of how he had not only found Authority without looking for it, but how he now craved it.

-

Rivaille’s first field mission came a couple weeks later. He and Irvin had breakfast in their quarters, sat across from each other at the small table in Irvin’s side of the room.

“Today is as simple as they come,” Irvin told him from over the lip of his coffee mug, “but that’s not to say it’s simple. We’re lacking intelligence—any intelligence, really—about the titans and our numbers have again replenished enough to gain approval for a recon mission.”

Rivaille watched Irvin drink and he too took a sip of his tea before he broke off the corner of his toast and ate it. He wasn’t really hungry, his stomach tied too tightly in knots for food.

“Because we’re desperate and the titan threat has yet to reach critical levels,” Irvin continued, watching Rivaille calmly, “this is going to be a short and, as I said, simple as they come mission. We’re going to observe.”

Rivaille cocked an eyebrow. “Observe?” he repeated. “We’re going out to observe?”

“If you don’t know the enemy, you have no hope of winning,” Irvin responded easily and took a bite of his toast.

“But you’re willing to lose your men to just observe these assholes?” Rivaille pressed.

Irvin’s composure didn’t slip, not in the slightest. He stared at Rivaille for a moment before he said firmly, “Yes.”

“You will stay no further than a horse’s length behind me at all times,” Irvin went on, seeing that Rivaille wasn’t going to respond. “I don’t expect much from you this mission,” he said, though his voice was tilted with the implication of a challenge, “this is merely for you to get a feel for it.

“And when I say I don’t expect much from you,” Irvin continued, his eyes darker as he watched Rivaille, “I mean that I will not tolerate any rash decisions. I am your commanding officer and you will listen to me, understood?”

“And if I think you’re wrong?” Rivaille proposed quietly after he swallowed a bite of his toast.

“Then you bite your tongue and do as I say.”

“What if I think you’re going to kill us all? You expect me to sit and do nothing?”

“Yes.”

Rivaille realized then what fear felt like. The hot blood in his veins, hot and rushing, to his pounding heart, the suffocating tightness of his chest, the anxiety swelling inside him until his leg began to bounce beneath the table as the smallest outlet.

“And what if I think you’re going to kill me? Just me?” The words were out before Rivaille thought about them, but once he spoke them, they lingered around him before they sunk into his skin, through his tense muscles, into his bones, where they lay, heavy and cold. He grit his teeth.

“This is my death sentence, isn’t it?” he said, his voice low. “From the very beginning, I was only assigned to your command because you and everyone intended to let me die in these fucking missions.” He eyed Irvin darkly and his chest tightened further when Irvin’s expression didn’t change.

“That was their intention,” Irvin said immediately, “but it was never mine.”

Then Irvin stood and stepped towards Rivaille’s side of the table. Rivaille’s eyes widened as Irvin slowly dropped to a knee and pressed his closed fist to the left side of his chest. Irvin bowed his head, until it was beneath Rivaille’s. “Following me into this war will be the hardest thing that you’ve ever done. But I have no intention of leading you to your death, you have my word and my respect.”

Irvin— with one knee on the floor, one fist over his chest, and his head bowed beneath Rivaille’s— still held himself with composure and certainty. And Rivaille stared, unable to keep himself still with the fear that had taken him.

“I said I’d rather die than work for men like you,” Rivaille breathed, the ropes of his voice as tight as his whitening fingers that held onto the arms of his chair. “You want to make sure I do both.” He nearly kicked his toe into Irvin’s jaw; he instead crossed his legs to still them.

“I don’t,” Irvin said calmly to the floor, “and that’s why you’ll be right behind me. That’s why I’ve placed you under my direct command.”

Only then did Irvin look up and stare at Rivaille’s eyes. Irvin’s blue eyes were clear, honest, unafraid, and Rivaille’s insides couldn’t seem to find the same stability. He stared for a long moment, searched for the weakness of dishonesty in Irvin’s gaze, and found none. To his displeasure—he didn’t want to believe Irvin— he found none, nothing but Authority. He didn’t want to believe Irvin, he didn’t want to follow Irvin, not to the death. But, then again, maybe he did.

Everything inside him was tight, stricken, and he hissed, “I swear to god, if you try to kill me, I will slit your throat.”

Irvin didn’t respond, not verbally. He instead bowed his head once more and stood.

“Let’s go,” he murmured and stared down at Rivaille with something other than clarity, honesty, fearlessness. He stared at Rivaille with something dark, something relentless, but they went, Rivaille immediately behind Irvin, out the door, through the corridor, to the stables, where the rest of Irvin’s corps was waiting.

Rivaille did not fall more than one horse’s length behind Irvin the entire mission and he was one of the fifty percent who made it back to the headquarters that night. One of the silent, heavy, ruined fifty percent and, when Irvin looked at him that night, just before they went to bed, Rivaille saw the wear and tear of Irvin’s irises, the wear and tear of broken skulls, bodies bitten in half, blood stained hands. Rivaille saw not weakness in Irvin’s eyes, but exhaustion.

Irvin dropped slowly to one knee before Rivaille, pressed his fist to his chest, and breathed, “Thank you.”

Rivaille’s insides had yet to still and he nearly reached out to touch Irvin’s blond hair; he instead turned towards his side of the room and went to his bed, knowing that he had just followed Irvin into hell.

-

Rivaille found it more and more difficult to obtain sleep in the following nights, weeks, months. His dreams had gone crimson and sharp, like teeth—it didn’t matter if he was awake or asleep. Every night, he fell stiff into bed and lie there, his limbs spread and pulsing with the torn flesh, chewed insides, bleeding veins that he had seen. The crunch of bones that he had heard. The screams so rough that his own throat burned from listening.

The skin beneath his eyes darkened and he existed heavily from day to day. He felt Irvin’s eyes upon him, following him, but he never turned and caught the gaze.

Until one evening when Irvin’s hand caught his wrist as he passed through Irvin’s room and towards his own.

“You need to stop,” Irvin said from above Rivaille, his voice soft.

“Stop what?” Rivaille asked, tilting his head just enough to glance at Irvin from the corner of his eyes. He scowled.

“Thinking about what’s happened. Dwelling.”

“I’m not doing anything—“ Rivaille started automatically and tried to pull his wrist from Irvin’s hold, but Irvin didn’t let go.

“Yes,” Irvin said firmly, though quietly, “you are. I know you are because I used to do it too and I used to look just like you.”

The fight left him. His arm went limp in Irvin’s grip and he looked forward again, stared unseeingly at the wall. Irvin still didn’t let go, though it was clear that he had no intention of going anywhere.

“You’re going to destroy yourself,” Irvin continued and stepped close to Rivaille, stood behind Rivaille, as though inviting him to close his eyes and lie back, truly lie back for the first time in weeks. “What’s done is done and it has nothing to do with you; you don’t need to do this to yourself.”

“What’s done is done,” Rivaille echoed, his voice sour. “You say this like their lives didn’t matter.”

“Of course their lives mattered and that’s why I took every chance to tell them that. Why I take every chance to tell my soldiers that. When they pledge their allegiance to the Reconnaissance Corps, they know they risk, they know what they’re getting their selves into and, for that, they have my sincerest respect. My troops are the bravest people alive and I make sure they know that. If they die under my command, I make sure they know that their sacrifice wasn’t in vain.

“You need to understand, Rivaille,” Irvin continued, his voice close to the top of Rivaille’s ear, “that no one here wants to die. But everyone here knows that, sometimes, death is necessary to move forward.”

Everyone knows. Rivaille remembered his shaking fingers, his restless nerves wracked with fear the first time he followed Irvin outside the wall. Everyone knew that sometimes death was necessary, even Rivaille understood this, but few men could lead their troops into a losing battle, knowing that at least half of them would not make it out alive. Few men could act with only the unstable belief that perhaps someday their sacrifice would help humanity. And Irvin could do this twice, three times, countless times, and that’s why he was commander.

“Following me that day was the hardest thing that you had done to that point, but watching your comrades fall will be the hardest thing you ever do,” Irvin said softly, his voice barely betraying hints of sadness.

Rivaille nodded after a moment and closed his eyes. Behind him, Irvin’s body was warm but, most importantly, Irvin’s body was there.

Rivaille still didn’t sleep that night. But instead of listening to bones crunching and screams echoing, he focused on staying less than one horse’s length behind Irvin.

-

Passing through the lower corridor after the last of his training, Rivaille heard it the third time: “Private.” Irvin had turned the corner ahead and approached him. Through the windows, the dusky glow of the sun cast Irvin’s tall shadow against the opposite wall and Rivaille stopped, curled his fist against the left side of his chest. His gaze caught Irvin’s.

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about you lately,” Irvin murmured, his voice low as he passed. “Keep up the good work.”

Irvin’s words lingered, even as he walked away down the corridor. Rivaille turned his head, listened to Irvin’s retreating footsteps. His fist still over his heart, he clutched his fingers tighter, remembering the way the hot breath of Irvin’s words felt against his skin.

-

Irvin, a towel slung over one shoulder and a pair of scissors in hand, pulled his chair from his desk and pulled it to the center of the room. Rivaille sat on it and tilted his head forward as Irvin draped the towel around his neck. He straightened again and Irvin’s fingers curled in his hair, gently slid across his scalp, pulled the bangs from his forehead. Rivaille closed his eyes, felt his bangs slowly fall back towards his face.

“Your hair’s gotten long again,” Irvin murmured and gain ran his hand through Rivaille’s hair.

“That’s why you’re going to cut it,” Rivaille muttered in return, his toes curling against the stone floor.

Rivaille kept his eyes closed as Irvin closed his index and middle fingers around a portion of Rivaille’s hair, straightened it away from his head, and cut, the scissors hissing quietly. Over and over again, Irvin’s fingers pushed and pulled through Rivaille’s hair gently, stroked against his part, and Rivaille felt himself slumping comfortably.

Then Irvin took Rivaille’s jaw in his hand and forced Rivaille’s head sideways. Rivaille opened his eyes and looked up at Irvin darkly, his heart beginning to pound harder in his chest. Irvin regarded Rivaille briefly, his eyes just as dark, before he focused again on Rivaille’s hair. Rivaille stared, nearly turned his head back to feel Irvin’s grip on his jaw again. A few minutes later, Irvin did it again anyway, forcing Rivaille’s head to turn to the other side. This time, when Irvin let go, his fingertips fell and brushed down the side of Rivaille’s neck and Rivaille grit his teeth. He continued to stare up at Irvin, who didn’t look directly at him again. He didn’t realize he was clutching the arms of his chair tightly.

Irvin was soon gone from his sight, but still there, still very much there. There as hands in his hair, there as the quiet, lingering presence behind him, there as the knots in Rivaille’s stomach, the stomp of his heart, the tension in his toes. Irvin only existed as something tangible in the brief moments when their skin touched, and Rivaille realized then just how much of a shadow Irvin had become in his life. Irvin was usually lingering words, the aftermath of moment’s worth of touches, the memory of the clearest eyes Rivaille had ever seen.

Rivaille tensed as Irvin’s knuckles brushed against his ear. Brushed: there, then gone, quickly as they had come, and Irvin was then the memory of contact. Irvin’s hand ruffled through Rivaille’s hair, shaking the loose hairs away from Rivaille’s scalp, and then Irvin was the tangles through Rivaille’s dark hair. Irvin wiped the scissors on the towel around Rivaille’s shoulders, and then Irvin was the lingering crinkles in the cloth. Irvin had never existed as Irvin, never for more than a minute.

“There,” Irvin murmured and moved back in front of Rivaille. He reached back and set the scissors down on the desk. Rivaille looked up at his commander from beneath his lashes, his eyes dark, and Irvin pushed his fingers back through Rivaille’s hair again. “Finished.”

Irvin’s hand left Rivaille’s scalp, but Rivaille caught Irvin’s wrist before it could pull away entirely. He held onto Irvin’s wrist tight, thumb pushed against the steady pulse of his wrist. Irvin caught Rivaille’s gaze and stared at him, his blue eyes dark like before, and his fingers were tense, but he made no move to pull away. Slowly, Irvin’s pulse sped up and Rivaille’s followed.

Rivaille held Irvin’s wrist tightly and Irvin was Irvin, with his thick wrist and warm skin and beating heart and dark eyes and his tongue that slipped out against his dry lips. Irvin was Irvin, there, in front of Rivaille. Irvin, close, close and warm.

Irvin reached forward with his free hand and stroked a slow, lingering line down Rivaille’s neck. His eyes darkened as Rivaille slowly tilted his head back, exposed his throat.

“Fuck,” Irvin breathed, so quietly that Rivaille nearly missed it, and pushed his index fingertip against Rivaille’s pulse. Rivaille exhaled slowly through his lips and kept his eyes on Irvin as he slowly loosened his hold on Irvin’s wrist. His fingertips lingered across Irvin’s skin before Irvin slowly pulled away, and existed only as the fire that had ignited beneath Rivaille’s skin and the strands of black hair that lay across the floor.

Rivaille swept them up later with ashes in his veins.

-

Only when he found Irvin with his arms folded on the desk and cheek cradled atop them did Rivaille realize that, in the entire year and a half that he had been one of the Corps, he had never once seen Irvin asleep. After one particularly bloody mission, Rivaille had taken the initiative to stay out with Hanji and help clean up the pieces of broken soldiers and didn’t return to his and Irvin’s quarters until the early hours of the morning. With lead in his feet, he trudged to their door and slowly opened it, slipped inside, and let it close slowly behind him. He leaned back against the wood and closed his eyes, reminded himself repeatedly to not fall one horse’s length behind Irvin. He stared at the wings on Irvin’s cloak, watched as they rippled and flew, and kept up. Kept himself calm.

Rivaille cracked his eyes open and saw Irvin in front of him, asleep at his desk, in the dim light of the candle still burning. Rivaille pushed his weight from the door and approached, tilted his head with curiosity. The lines across Irvin’s forehead had faded—not disappeared, just faded—and the sharp line of Irvin’s mouth had loosened and Rivaille could hear slow, deep breaths through Irvin’s dry lips.

Irvin, asleep, quiet and still, after another waking day of nightmares.

Rivaille reached out slowly and touched Irvin’s cheekbone with his fingertips. Irvin’s skin was warm beneath his fingers as he slid them up into Irvin’s hair until he held Irvin’s jaw in his hand. He heard Irvin’s deep breathing quiet and watched as Irvin slowly opened his eyes. Irvin blinked slowly before he looked up at Rivaille, his blue eyes dark—either from exhaustion or in the shadows of the candle, Rivaille couldn’t tell. Rivaille held Irvin’s jaw and Irvin let him.

Until Irvin reached up slowly, slipped his fingers beneath Rivaille’s, and carefully pulled Rivaille’s hand away. He then curled his thumb over Rivaille’s fingers, clutching them loosely, and he guided them to his lips. Rivaille exhaled slowly as he felt Irvin’s hot breath against his fingers, then Irvin’s lips over his knuckles.

Irvin kissed each of Rivaille’s knuckles once before he closed his eyes again, placed Rivaille’s hand back on his jaw, and let go. Within moments, Irvin’s deep breathing returned. Rivaille’s throat felt tight as he leaned in and kissed Irvin’s head.

With his lips in Irvin’s hair, Rivaille caught sight of the paper beneath Irvin: a letter to the family of the corporal, apologizing for his death.

-

Within hours, Rivaille accepted the position, and Irvin bowed his head, curled his fist against his chest in a salute, and murmured a quiet “Thank you.”

-

The mixed reception to Rivaille’s promotion was not unexpected. Irvin stood tall as he announced it, even amidst the scowls and the hushed words of criticism. Even after a year and a half, it seemed that Rivaille’s reputation still had a hold on him. Many of the soldiers didn’t like the idea of looking up to an ex-criminal and, while Rivaille didn’t blame them, he was also not put off by this. He stood before Irvin, his shoulders straight, his arms folded in a salute, and pledged his allegiance to his commander, to his troops, and Authority was in his grasp again.

Nonetheless, a dinner was held for Rivaille and the Corps. Every soldier raised a glass to Rivaille’s promotion and, immediately after, every soldier downed their drink, of age or not. Perhaps everyone was relieved to have something—anything—to celebrate.

Rivaille sat between Irvin and Hanji during the dinner, Irvin to his left, Hanji to his right. Halfway through his second drink, Rivaille pushed the side of his foot against Irvin’s. When he finished dinner, Irvin leaned over him, placed a hand on the back of his chair to talk to Hanji, and Rivaille leaned back against Irvin’s fingers. And when he was finished with dessert, Irvin’s hand laid across his thigh beneath the table. It stayed there until Irvin stood, signaling the end of the dinner.

Afterwards, Rivaille followed Irvin closely to their quarters. “When will I get my own place?” he asked as he and Irvin slipped inside. “I am corporal, after all.”

Irvin closed the door slowly behind them and it clicked when he locked it. “Soon,” he answered and turned towards Rivaille. He came close, closer, and touched Rivaille’s jaw. “And you may be corporal, but I’m still your commander.”

Rivaille tipped his head up with Irvin’s touch and reached out to curl his fingers in the front of Irvin’s shirt. His heart was pounding in his chest, like it did when Irvin was so close, close enough to touch like this, and his eyes were dark as he stared up at Irvin. “How could I forget?” he murmured and stepped back, pulling Irvin with him until his heel hit Irvin’s desk.

The corners of Irvin’s lips gave a small smirk as Irvin slipped his fingers down Rivaille’s front, down his neck, chest, stomach and to his thighs. Irvin leaned forward, just enough to hold the back of Rivaille’s thigh and coax Rivaille onto the desk, until Rivaille’s feet no longer reached the floor.

“I meant to ask you,” Rivaille murmured, the breath of his words warm against Irvin’s lips and he grinned with his teeth as he watched Irvin’s lips part, “why did you choose me?”

“For corporal?” Irvin said with a roughness Rivaille had never heard before. Irvin then leaned forward, gripped the edges of his desk. “Your training scores are reason enough, but you also have a drive that the other soldier’s lack.”

Irvin’s lips were so close to Rivaille’s and Rivaille just wanted to lean in and take them, finally, but he didn’t, not yet. He spread his legs and Irvin’s hips found their way between his knees. “You’re meant to lead,” Irvin went on and slid one hand back through Rivaille’s hair slowly. Rivaille grinned again.

“Then why am I not commander?” he breathed and straightened his back as Irvin leaned further forward.

“Because you’re meant to serve a man like me,” Irvin replied like smoke.

Rivaille was still for a long, quiet moment, and he stared at Irvin darkly. A man like Irvin: a man of skill and strategy, of a mind that thought ahead of Rivaille’s. A man of agility and of strength, amidst the weakest of times. A man of Authority and a man of a heart that he was willing to abandon to win not a battle, but a war.

The man that had led Rivaille straight into hell once, and the man that Rivaille had followed straight into hell every time after.

Irvin’s gaze stayed on Rivaille until he reached up, curled his fingers tightly in Irvin’s blond hair, and pulled him in for a bruising kiss. Rivaille wrapped his other arm around Irvin’s neck and kept him close, close as he could, and he felt Irvin’s hand clutch his side. Irvin’s lips were hot against his, hot and demanding, pushing the insides of his lips against his teeth. A flush spread across Rivaille’s cheeks with the heat between them, atop them, taking the breaths from their mouths.

The kiss broke and Irvin’s lips were at Rivaille’s throat, mouthing and kissing. Rivaille tipped his back and closed his eyes, breathed in the cool air that hadn’t yet been touched by their heat. Rivaille pushed both of his hands into Irvin’s hair and clutched it tightly. Irvin bit and Rivaille jumped, growled, dug his nails into Irvin’s scalp. He squeezed his knees tighter around Irvin’s hips.

The more Irvin bit, the more Rivaille wanted marks on his neck. The more he wanted Irvin over his skin, over his body, visible and tangible, instead of simply the memory of now, of when Irvin’s teeth pinched his skin and made him twitch. He dragged his nails down the back of Irvin’s scalp and neck and moaned with a grin when Irvin bit harder.

“Is this always how you celebrate a promotion?” Rivaille breathed when Irvin’s hands shoved the jacket from his shoulders. “With a good fuck?”

“Who said anything about a fuck?” Irvin murmured roughly as he pulled at Rivaille’s collar, hard enough to jerk Rivaille forward. Rivaille again tilted his head back and pulled his arms from the jacket sleeves. He stared up at Irvin as he did and found Irvin looking at him like he was something to devour.

“I did,” Rivaille said and glanced down to watch Irvin’s fingers deftly undo his cravat, then the buttons of his shirt. He shuddered as Irvin exposed his chest and stomach, but his shirt was still caught in the confines of the leather harness clutching his body. He arched and impatiently began to undo the straps. Irvin’s fingers dipped beneath his shirt and over Rivaille’s chest. Rivaille’s breath caught and he exhaled a shaking sound.

Irvin’s fingertips were rough against Rivaille’s ribs, then stomach, and his hands were large as they spread across Rivaille’s abdomen. Then Irvin was gone, gone from touching over Rivaille’s chest and gone from his place between Rivaille’s legs. He was gone but not far; he was a only a step away, watching Rivaille as he stripped off his own jacket and let it drop to the floor. As Rivaille stood from the desk to let the upper part of the leather harness drop from his torso, he watched Irvin’s fingers loosen the chord around Irvin’s throat—Rivaille tipped his head back, wondered how that chord would cut into his throat if Irvin choked him with it—and undo the buttons of Irvin’s shirt.

Their shirts fell simultaneously to the floor, crumpled. Rivaille couldn’t help but dwell on them briefly—only briefly, before Irvin spun him around and clutched his wrist, folded his arm up against his back. He grit his teeth and growled loudly, his fingers clenching between his shoulder blades. Irvin then shoved Rivaille forward, folded him over the desk, and covered his body with his own. Forgotten papers crinkled beneath them as Rivaille arched and tilted his head to look back at Irvin. Irvin buried his face in the nape of Rivaille’s neck and bit, once, twice, three times hard, until Rivaille was again breathless and flushed, moaning with the sting of Irvin’s bites.

“Corporal,” Irvin breathed with a tilt of complacency against his skin. Rivaille reached up with his free hand to clutch Irvin’s hair tightly and pull.

Irvin’s skin was hot over Rivaille’s, smothering. Irvin panted against Rivaille’s neck, his free hand dragging down Rivaille’s side, and he clutched Rivaille’s wrist tighter, until Rivaille hissed another sound.

“You never answered me,” Rivaille moaned, his voice distant with the feel of Irvin’s body over his. “Do you do this to celebrate every promotion?”

“No,” Irvin breathed against Rivaille’s shoulder and then kissed and bit towards the back of Rivaille’s neck. “No, never.” There was a sincerity behind the gravel of his voice, a sincerity that made Rivaille remember Irvin before him on one knee, with his head bowed, and fist against his chest in a salute. But then Irvin bit harder than before, and Rivaille remembered Irvin’s fist in his hair, blood dripping from his nose and into his mouth.

Irvin’s hips fit against Rivaille’s ass and Rivaille’s breath caught again. The cinders beneath his skin stirred and he jerked on Irvin’s hair, wanting something to hold onto. Wanting something more to hold onto. Needed something more. Irvin hissed against his skin and released his wrist, only to grip both of Rivaille’s sides and push him down, hold him firmly against the desk. Rivaille could barely move as Irvin began to rock his hips into his ass, and Rivaille grasped the edge of the desk with his free hand. He closed his eyes tightly, his knuckles whitening and his face flushing. He licked his lips and panted, unable to do much else with his hips caught between Irvin’s and the desk. He felt the line of Irvin’s cock through their pants and he scratched his nails against the wood of the desk.

Irvin bit again at the notch at the top of Rivaille’s spine and Rivaille’s fingers loosened in his hair. He then ducked his head further and scraped his teeth across Rivaille’s shoulder blades, the muscles of his back, the knots of his spine, he bit all over Rivaille’s skin and Rivaille moaned with each one, his skin aflame with the lingering feel of Irvin’s teeth.

With swift fingers, Irvin held Rivaille’s sides and pulled them both from the desk. Beneath him, Rivaille’s legs were weak as he stumbled with Irvin towards Irvin’s bed until he was face up on the mattress, his body arched. He moaned loudly, his head light and lagging, and he watched Irvin undo his pants as he crawled backwards further onto the bed.

The leather harness dangled loose from Irvin’s hips as Irvin finished with his pants and began to shove them off. In a movement, Irvin stepped out of his boots and slipped his straps and pants from his legs, leaving them in a pile on the floor. Rivaille eyed Irvin’s cock through his underwear as Irvin leaned forward, curled his fingers in the hem of Rivaille’s pants, and yanked Rivaille towards him. Rivaille lost his breath again as Irvin dragged him across the bed until he was close enough so that Irvin could also undo his pants. Rivaille’s breathing was labored as he watched Irvin’s deft fingers work until his pants and harness were down his thighs.

Then Irvin slowed down and Rivaille blinked away disorientation. His head was spinning and he realized then that he could breathe, that he could take the moment to catch his breath, because Irvin stopped and slowly straightened, his fingers slipping leisurely down Rivaille’s knees and calves. Irvin held the bottom of Rivaille’s calf, massaged it slowly through Rivaille’s boot. Rivaille purred quietly and tipped his head back, feeling as if Irvin was preening him as he curled his toes and tipped his foot forward, until it touched Irvin’s chest. Rivaille’s body felt heavy with the relaxing feeling and Irvin slowly pulled Rivaille’s boot from his leg. With Rivaille’s heel cradled in his palm, Irvin carefully leaned over and set the boot on the floor, before he slowly bent Rivaille’s leg and set Rivaille’s foot back on the bed with the same care.

Irvin did the same to Rivaille and Rivaille closed his eyes and let himself lie back. His breathing deepened as Irvin massaged the tension from his calf. Then his boot was off, followed by the harness and his pants, and he opened his eyes again to find Irvin looking over his body darkly. He stretched his arms up over his head and arched until Irvin climbed on the bed between his legs, up his body, until they kissed again, this time slowly, but no less gently.

Rivaille’s face flushed again as he held Irvin’s sides, felt over them and Irvin’s back. He moaned quietly against Irvin’s lips and Irvin groaned in return, a low sound from his throat. Rivaille licked at Irvin’s lips and his fingers twitched as he remembered the night Irvin kissed them slowly, one by one. As he remembered the night Irvin caught him against the wall and twisted his wrist behind his back, ruthlessly.

Irvin’s hips pushed against his and he moaned again, louder, and arched from the bed. He bent his knees on either side of Irvin’s thighs and pushed his hips up to Irvin’s. The sound Irvin made was breathless as it fell into Rivaille’s mouth.

It wasn’t enough. Not even with Irvin atop him, against him, everywhere, it wasn’t enough.

And Irvin seemed to feel the same way because he was gone again, not entirely, just his lips, and Rivaille took the opportunity to kiss the side of Irvin’s throat. He felt Irvin shift atop him, clearly doing something else, but Rivaille kept him close, licking and biting Irvin’s dampening skin. Irvin’s cheek pressed against his after another moment, his jaw rough with stubble, and with one hand, he coaxed Rivaille’s underwear down his thighs.

Rivaille maneuvered in the small space beneath Irvin to kick the last of his clothes off. Irvin pushed him down again with one hand, buried his face in his neck, and began to bite. Rivaille grunted quietly and curled his fingers tightly in Irvin’s hair, messing it up, and the sharp bites Irvin left across his throat distracted him from the way Irvin spread his legs, the way Irvin shifted, until Irvin’s wet finger slipped inside him. He held onto Irvin’s hair as his toes curled and he moaned a long, breathless sound.

Irvin stretched Rivaille slowly, fitting his finger inside Rivaille before he pulled it out, then pushed it back in, again and again, until Rivaille was shaking and digging his nails into Irvin’s scalp. Irvin hissed quietly and bit harder at the side of Rivaille’s throat.

“Irvin,” Rivaille moaned and the name felt weird on his tongue, as if he had never spoken it before. Irvin grunted a quiet acknowledgement and twisted his finger to slip a second into Rivaille, pulling a louder, tighter sound from Rivaille’s throat.

“Fuck,” Irvin breathed and lifted his head just enough to stare at Rivaille as he slowly spread and moved his fingers inside Rivaille. Rivaille managed to keep his eyes open enough to watch Irvin in return, though it was difficult with his dizzying mind, which was overwhelmed with Irvin so close, all of Irvin so close, so close and reaching inside him.

When Rivaille shuddered and moaned in each breath, Irvin fit a third finger inside. This time Rivaille closed his eyes and grit his teeth, though a weak moan slipped passed them as Irvin’s fingers stilled inside him. He scratched his nails along Irvin’s scalp and Irvin let him, let him and watched his face as he grew used to the feeling. A louder groan jumped from his mouth as Irvin’s fingers began to move and Rivaille pulled on Irvin’s hair. Irvin, again, let him, though this time with another quiet hiss.

Just as Rivaille began to relax and push his hips down onto Irvin’s fingers, they were gone. Irvin sat back and Rivaille followed, waited impatiently until Irvin’s underwear was also gone, and then he ducked and took the head of Irvin’s cock into his mouth. Irvin gasped and his hand immediately held the back of Rivaille’s neck as Rivaille steadied himself with his hands on the bed and tilted his head, taking Irvin’s cock further into his mouth. Irvin bit the knuckle of his free hand and stared down at Rivaille, watched as Rivaille bobbed his head and sucked Irvin’s cock with obscene, wet sounds.

By the time Rivaille pulled away, only several moments later, Irvin was flushed from his cheeks to his chest. Rivaille slowly withdrew, his lips wet and red as he grinned up at Irvin crookedly, and he committed this disheveled—not composed, not at all— Irvin to memory.

Irvin gave a small, just as crooked, grin and abruptly flipped Rivaille’s body. Rivaille fell onto his stomach with a short grunt and he arched as Irvin gripped his hips and jerked them up into the air. He propped himself up on his elbows and glanced at Irvin from over his shoulder, his bangs a mess in front of his eyes, and watched as Irvin lathered himself.

“The way you’re looking at me,” Irvin breathed huskily and pushed Rivaille’s legs further apart, “you look like you’re going to kill me.”

Rivaille opened his mouth but then Irvin was pushing into him. Rivaille’s lips parted and a ruined sound slipped from his throat. He curled his fingers tightly in the bed sheets, looking for something to anchor him. Irvin gripped his hips tightly and stilled. Rivaille hung his head and tried to catch his breath.

Irvin began to move in short thrusts and Rivaille didn’t want to kill Irvin. Not anymore. But as Irvin moved inside him, as Irvin’s hips began to pound into his ass, Rivaille’s fingers clawed at the bed sheets as if they were Irvin’s skin. He didn’t want to kill Irvin; he wanted to break Irvin. He wanted to shatter that composure with which Irvin always held himself, to tear into Irvin’s skin until he was so far gone that he couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t pull himself together. Rivaille’s fingers pulled and pushed at the sheets like they were Irvin’s throat.

Irvin’s body covered Rivaille’s again and the friction between their skin rekindled the fire in Rivaille’s veins. He felt sweat bead across his skin as he panted and clutched the sheets, a moan escaping his lips on every breath. He wanted to break Irvin until he only wanted Irvin, Irvin, Irvin like this, Irvin atop him, inside him, everywhere, keeping him against the creaking bed, even though he felt like it’d be easy to float away and lose himself. Irvin’s face buried in the side of his neck and he reached up to clasp Irvin’s hair again.

Rivaille’s arm began to tremble beneath him as Irvin fucked him harder. He grit his teeth and groaned, struggling to keep himself up with Irvin’s weight. One of Irvin’s hands moved from his hip to his stomach—he shivered—and then to his cock—he moaned louder, the sound catching on a gasp. Irvin stroked his cock and Rivaille’s fingers clung to Irvin’s hair, though he wanted nothing more than to collapse.

“Rivaille,” Irvin breathed, the word falling hot and heavy onto Rivaille’s ear, and Irvin was everywhere, again, still, everywhere, and Rivaille closed his eyes tightly.

Rivaille came first and his back bowed, his head jerked back and fell against Irvin’s shoulder. Irvin fucked him through his orgasm and Rivaille shuddered, trembled, as he fell back into himself and nearly collapsed. His hand fell from Irvin’s hair to better hold himself up and he lifted his head, glanced over his shoulder just in time to see Irvin come as well. Irvin’s lips parted in a breathless sound, and his cheeks were flushed dark, his hair was a mess, his eyes were closed, and Rivaille stared.

Irvin slumped and pulled out. Rivaille let himself fall onto the bed, his body trembling and hot, and Irvin slowly, carefully, laid himself close to Rivaille, leaving as little space between them as possible. Irvin’s arm curled around Rivaillle’s side and held him; Rivaille’s fingers fit between Irvin’s and held on.

-

The courtyard was always empty after dusk. Irvin stood just outside of the dim glow from inside the nearest window, his training blades drawn, his feet spread wide on the ground and most of his weight leaned into his right thigh. Rivaille stood in a similar fashion, though he leaned left, and watched what he could see of Irvin’s shadow beneath the dark sky. They had started sparring sessions like these, and each one started like this. They stood across from each other and stared until one made the first move. Usually, it was Rivaille who moved first, but occasionally it was Irvin and, on this particular night, it was indeed Irvin.

The crunch of the dirt beneath Irvin’s toes cut through the still silence and Irvin dashed forward, spun, slashed towards Rivaille, who dropped down onto his left knee and rolled on the ground to wind up behind Irvin, where he struck. And missed, because Irvin was then out of reach, because they knew each other. Because when Irvin lunged forward, Rivaille was ready to lean back; when Rivaille struck towards Irvin, Irvin was ready to counter.

The toes of their boots became dusty with dirt as the match went on. Irvin’s grunts and quick breaths were close to his ear, there then gone. Highlights of the nearby window fell across the side of Irvin’s face, shone in his blue eyes, and then they were shadows again. Rivaille eventually wasn’t sure of if he and Irvin were trying to attack each other, or were simply following each other’s movements. They moved, back and forth, push and pull, until Rivaille misstepped in a dodge and Irvin ducked, took Rivaille’s knees out from beneath him.

Rivaille’s back hit the ground and the breath fled his lungs. Irvin’s knee pressed into his chest—not hard, just enough to hold him down—and pushed the tip of the blade to the underside of Rivaille’s chin.

Around him, the night was still and above him, Rivaille could hear Irvin’s labored breathing that matched his own.

“Thirty-two minutes,” Irvin breathed and Rivaille closed his eyes, breathed, and tilted his head back.

-

Rivaille was leaning against the side of Irvin’s desk, the rim of his cup of tea caught between his fingertips, when he heard the news. When one of their privates knocked on the door and then burst in without awaiting an answer, announcing frantically that the titans had breached Wall Maria.

Irvin stood quickly. His eyes were wide, his lips were parted with a loss for words, and Rivaille would never forget that moment, when he saw fear in Irvin’s eyes, when he saw Irvin’s composure crack in a split moment.

-

Before their next mission, Rivaille met Irvin just outside his quarters. Irvin’s composure was back in tact, his eyes hard, his lips pressed into a firm line, the lines etched across his forehead. All put together, Irvin reached up and tipped Rivaille’s head up to meet his lips in a kiss. All put together, but his fingers were shaking against Rivaille’s chin. All put together, but his lips moved against Rivaille’s and betrayed the urgency that he felt—that they both felt—because they were now truly at war.

Rivaille exhaled a slow breath as Irvin broke the kiss, though their lips lingered close. Then Rivaille stepped back and Irvin lead them away from his quarters, through the corridor, down the stairs, and to their troops. Rivaille followed.