“Weak! I want to see you moving faster, Captain Lark!” Shira mumbled under her breath, twisting her hips and vaulting onto a nearby branch. It was hard enough to concentrate today, and the constant scolding was no help.
“God, he’s in a bad mood today, isn’t he?” Hanji landed next to her, tugging on the belts tight around her chest. “I’ll bet one of the cadets dusted his office ‘incorrectly’ or something this morning.” Shira chuckled, despite being short on breath, and sheathed her blades as another shout echoed behind them.
“This isn’t break time, Hanji!” Both of them turned, groaning in unison as the short, black haired soldier joined them on their perch. “Can you two take this seriously?”
“Sorry, Corporal.” Shira said, though it was obvious that she didn’t mean it. Levi scowled, eyes narrow.
“How are the new cadets supposed to focus if their Squad Leaders treat training like some kind of game?” He crossed his arms. “Shira, I expect this much from her- “he pointed to Hanji, who sniffed, “But not from you. Shape up.” As he whizzed away, Shira heard Hanji grumbling under her breath. Something about a certain someone’s height. Thankfully, Levi couldn’t hear: he was already yards away, no doubt looking for some other soldiers to lecture.
“You know we’re going to get it later.” Shira said. Hanji just shrugged, fiddling with her gear.
“Aw, what’s Shorty going to do? All the real chores have been given to the cadets… He’s too liberal with his punishments, if you ask me. Besides, I think you mean that you’re going to get it later. I’m too busy doing my own work for office-cleaning, and he knows that.” Shira stuck her tongue out before leaping from the branch and swinging away, her friend’s laughter echoing behind her. The last thing she needed was for Levi to give her cleaning duties, on top of the usual paperwork she got saddled with.
As she moved through the trees, a wooden Titan model came into view, and she made a beeline for it. She pulled her blade from their sheaths and sliced the fabric-padded neck, leaving an ovular gash behind. Pleased, she continued to the next target. She wasn’t sure why Levi was so antsy- today was as good as a day off for them. Although Shira had a feeling that it was related to the Military Police, who had taken to breathing down their necks at every opportunity. As useful as that Titan boy could be, she wondered if it was worth the increase in pressure.
“Shira!” She looked up as someone nearly came down on top of her. Shira swung wildly sideways as Petra landed on a branch a little ways down, smiling. “Long time no see!”
“You could have taken me out of the air.” Shira scolded, but there was no real venom behind it. Petra just grinned, then pointed down towards the next target, which was centered in a clearing.
“What do you say? Want to give it another go?” Shira dropped down beside her, searching for the best branch to strike from. Petra smirked.
“You’re on. If I get it this time… You have to sweep the Corporal’s office for me.” Shira groaned.
“Again? I thought he had some rookies doing that.” Petra just smiled, rocking back and forth, waiting. “Fine. But if I manage it, then you need to finally agree to sneak into town with me. I’m dying for some real food.” Shira stuck out her hand, and Petra grasped it firmly before turning her attention back to the target. Shira moved back as she leapt from the branch, wires shooting out to find purchase in a nearby tree trunk as she swung down into the clearing. With a spray of gas, she somersaulted over in the air… and nearly slammed into the wooden target. Shira let out a bark of laughter as Petra unsteadily hurled herself into a nearby tree and emerged, leaves sticking in her copper hair.
“Well, let’s see you do better!” she said, a bit indignantly, but when she rubbed some of the dirt from her face and plucked a twig from the inside of her shirt, she chuckled. Shira edged closer, the toes of her boots suspended over the forest floor, far below.
“Y’know… I wonder if it’s because he’s so small.” She pondered aloud. “Maybe it’s easier because there’s less of him to move around.” Petra sat down on the branch, legs swinging.
“You’re only about an inch taller than him. Doesn’t that mean you should be able to do it, too?” she quipped. “Last time you tried, you almost lost a few teeth.” Shira turned on her as she stifled her laughter in the palm of her hand.
“Hey, that tree came out of nowhere, alright? And I didn’t actually hit it- so that doesn’t count.” Her retort fell on deaf ears as Petra leaned sideways into the tree trunk, snorting. Shira anchored her wires to a branch high above the target and left her friend to laugh alone. As she was about to begin her descent, Petra leaned out from her perch and shouted,
“I’ll be sure to come up with a good excuse, if I need to scrape you off the ground!” Shira gave her a quick thumbs up before tightening her grip on the blades and dropping. Her stomach rolled delightfully as she rushed towards the forest floor, and then her wires were stuck in another tree and she was circling the target, wind in her hair, whistling in her ears. A sudden thought occurred to her, and she pulled herself up before squeezing the left trigger and letting the sudden burst of exhaust propel her into a successful, if somewhat wobbly, spin. She couldn’t see a thing, but she could hear Petra whooping in excitement and felt her blades slice through something before she arched back upwards, the soles of her boots scraping the grass.
“Did I hit it?” she asked, winded, swinging from her wires like a pendulum. Petra whizzed over, brushing her tangled hair from her face and beaming.
“That was really close, Shira! How did you do it?” she asked, voice high and excited. Shira sheathed her blades, still trying to catch her breath and glancing at the target behind her. There was a shallow, off-center cut in the fabric neck of the wooden Titan. A cut like that wouldn’t have taken down a real Titan, but it was better than either of them had done thus far.
“I just gave the left side some gas and dropped.” She said, frowning at her little cut. “But I couldn’t see a thing once I started spinning. It’s pure luck that I left a mark at all. How on earth does he do that?” Petra shrugged.
“I’m not sure… Best not to try it out in the field. Not to mention that the Corporal’d give you an earful for being “fancy” about it.” Shira just nodded, tugging at the belts around her shoulders and torso. She was going to have some serious bruises tonight.
“We’ll get it eventually… Just not today.” She said. Petra gave her a shove, and she swung sideways and bumped back into her. They sat like that for a few minutes, just swinging back and forth, laughing and pushing one another. Suddenly, a loud bell gonged from the tower- it was time for dinner. From their height, they could see the rookies that were still out practicing their hand-to-hand rushing to get back in time, lest they be given more cleaning duties for being tardy.
“We’d better hurry up.” Petra said, releasing her gear and dropping swiftly to her feet. “I don’t need the Corporal giving us another lecture.” They used the trees to their advantage, traveling faster than they could by foot before finally landing at the edge of the forest. They were greeted with laughter as they jogged towards the grey stone building.
“Well now, look who’s on time.” Hanji was waiting for them, arms crossed, leaning against a few crates stacked outside the main doors. “If you keep that up, you might even escape cleaning duty.” Petra nodded, but Shira shook her head.
“Not for me. The Corporal’s roped me into helping him with some more paperwork tonight.” Hanji joined them, and together they followed the crowd of other soldiers inside.
“He’s been doing that a lot. You ought to get a break- this is the fifth day in a row. He keeps you up past midnight.” Petra said, loosening the straps of her gear as they approached the storage room. “It isn’t good for you. You need some sleep.” Shira shrugged, depositing her gear carefully in its assigned crate and rolling her shoulders.
“It really isn’t so bad. There’s a lot to get through- especially with the Military Police always looking for some new way to inconvenience us. Besides, I think he likes the company. It must get boring to sit there for hours with nothing to do but read reports and sign forms.” She groaned as the weight of the blades left her hips and they clattered to the floor. She was going to be sore tomorrow- trying that spin hadn’t done anything for her already aching legs. It was true that the paperwork was time consuming, and sometimes she would rather be in bed. But it felt to help- and spending time with Levi was nice. He made them tea, and he was funny, if a bit crude in his humor- it was good conversation.
“I think Levi just likes you, Shira.” Hanji said, with her usual evil smile. “He’d rather spend his time working with you than, say, helping me with my experiments.” She elbowed Shira in the ribs but was quickly pushed away. They scuffled all the way down the corridor until they reached the mess hall.
“Hanji, you should leave her be! Don’t pick on her.” Petra said. She was ignored, but Shira just laughed. Hanji’s heckling was something she was used to- she responded with a sharp prod that made Hanji squawk, and they all laughed.
Dinner was bland, per usual. Sasha joined Shira and Petra, accompanied by Connie. The trio- Eren, Mikasa, and Armin, also sat at their table. Shira swore those three were actually glued at the hip. She was fond of all the new additions, even if they did sometimes pester her.
“Are… You going to finish that?” Sasha asked, right on cue, pointing to Shira’s bread.
“Yes Sasha, I am.” She said, taking a large bite from her roll to make the point clear. Sasha pouted for a moment, but brightened when Mikasa held out her own bread, and she snatched it up.
“New recruits coming in tomorrow.” Petra said. “Not a lot, but a good-looking bunch.” Shira nodded.
“Yeah. I’m actually getting a squad.” She said. Hanji, who had been walking past, choked on her soup.
“Who decided to give you a squad?” she asked. Shira scowled, but then she ruffled her hair and grinned. “Aw, you know I’m kidding! I’ve seen their files, and they look like great kids. They’re gonna love you. And you’re getting siblings, right?”
“Yes.” Shira said. “Twins, and one other. I’ve heard they’re all very good with the 3DMG already.” Eren gave her a thumb up, mumbling a ‘thank you’ through his mouthful of food. “The twins are Micha and Misha, and the other young man is Nicholas. I’ll be meeting them for the first time tomorrow morning, to continue their training.” She shifted in her seat, suddenly overcome with nerves. She glanced up at the clock on the wall and noted the time with a start. “I have to go. The Corporal’s expecting me.” She said, gathering up her plates. Hanji smirked and gave her a nudge. “What?” Shira said. “Would you rather be the one locked in an office with Levi, surrounded by paper work?” She got a rather frantic “no!” in response and chuckled, before slipping through the crowd and ducking into the kitchen.
“You’re late.” Levi was seated at his desk, almost invisible behind the stacks of reports, when Shira opened the door to his office. He didn’t look up when she pulled up a chair and took a few forms from the top of the nearest stack.
“Only by a few minutes.” She said. He just held out a pen, which she accepted. The first form in front of her was a standard report- supplies and horse requests.
“Still late.” The kettle that was sitting on the little wood-burning stove was steaming, and he stood to pour her a cup of tea. “The water could have gotten cold.” He placed the cup and saucer in front of her with a ‘clink’, and she looked down at it. It was still steaming, and when she prodded the cup, it stung the tip of her finger.
“Well, it didn’t. I got a bit held up at dinner.” She took a sip of the tea- it was a bit too hot, but delicious as always. He scowled at her over the top of the report he was reading. She bent down over the form, scanning it before scrawling a quick signature at the bottom. Technically, only Levi or Commander Erwin were supposed to sign these, but no one really cared about that. So long as it was signed, that was all that mattered. Levi leaned forward and tapped her on the top of her head with his pen.
“You know, the next Expedition isn’t too far off.” She looked up at him, placing the signed form on top of the others.
“I know.” She said curtly. “Erwin mentioned it the other day.” Levi looked stern- unusually so, even for him. As Shira reached for the next form, he stopped her.
“Shira, you’re getting your first squad tomorrow.” He said. “Those soldiers- those kids will be your responsibility. It is your job to help them hone their skills, your job to lead them outside the Walls… And your job to get them back home safely.” She was a bit taken aback. Levi had given her advice before, but he had never been quite so serious about it. Usually, their conversation was casual and lighthearted… As lighthearted as Levi ever got.
“I understand that.” She said. Levi stared at her for another moment before nodding and looking back down at his paperwork. Shira sighed, snatching up another form and leaning back in her chair. This one was an Expedition report, but she couldn’t concentrate. Levi’s words had left a weight in her chest and a twisting in her stomach. “If any of them die… It’s my fault.” Her words echoed in the near-silent office, and Levi made a low sound of agreement. “That’s heavy.”
“It is your job, Shira.” He said, flipping through the forms he had already signed. “If that burden is too much for you- “
“No!” she said, straightening up. “It isn’t too much. I’m just…” She tapped the pen against the desk, frowning.
“You’re afraid.” Levi said, plucking his teacup from the saucer and lifting it to his lips. Shira watching him, her green eyes shining.
“Aren’t you?” she asked. He didn’t say anything, but the way his brow furrowed told her that, indeed, he was. They lapsed back into silence, slowly chipping away at the stacks of paper in front of them. The number of fatality reports made her shudder, and she avoided the names at the tops of the forms, but there were little reassurances peppered within. A new shipment of horses coming in, more uniforms, new wagons and a surplus of supplies to take with them beyond the Walls. Even considering the whole fiasco around Eren, the Military Police seemed to be at a loss for what to do to sabotage them further. The sun had just vanished behind the trees when she signed the last form in her pile and let out a relieved little sigh.
“You always finish before me, don’t you?” Levi said, though he wasn’t far behind. Shira smirked, draining the last of her tea.
“I guess I just read faster than you do.” She said. He sniffed, leaning back in his chair and glancing over his shoulder out the window.
“I suppose you do.” He adjusted his cravat and frowned at the rest of the paperwork. “Well, you’re free to go. You’ve got a big day tomorrow- get some rest.” She rose, straightening the finished stack of forms and placing the pen back in Levi’s waiting hand.
“Thank you, Levi.” She said, snapping into a quick salute before turning towards the door.
“Shira?” her hand was on the doorknob when he called out to her, and she paused. “They’re going to love you. You’ll be just fine.” She smiled.
“Thank you.” She said again, slipping out into the hallway and closing the door behind her. As always, Hanji and Petra were waiting for her, both looking expectant.
“Well, that was a rare vote of confidence from Corporal Short-Stuff.” Hanji said, throwing an arm over Shira’s shoulders. She elbowed her in the side as the three started towards their bedrooms.
“He’s right, though.” Petra chirped. “The kids are going to love you.” She grasped her friend by the arm.
“Thanks Petra.” She said. “It’s really odd, though. I’m going to need to take care of these kids out there. Train them, make sure they really know what they’re doing.” She smiled. “Like taking care of newborn pups.” She glanced at Petra, who gave her a knowing look. Although she hadn’t had a squad of her own, she understood the burden. “I need to keep them alive.”
“Yeah, that’s true.” Hanji said. “It’s a big deal. But I know you’ll be great, Shira. Shorty’s got a point- they’re going to adore you!” They had reached the last door, where Shira and Petra slept with a few other women. “Well, I’ll see both of you bright and early!”
“Aren’t you going to sleep?” Petra asked, as she did most nights. Hanji winked and gave her glasses a tweak.
“Nope! I’ve got far too much work to do! You two get some rest!” With that, she bounded off down the hall, boots clacking on the wood floor. Petra and Shira watched her until she vanished down the stairs.
“It’s a wonder she doesn’t wake the whole Corps.” Petra mused as a door slammed somewhere out of sight. “I don’t know how anyone can sleep through her stomping around like that.” Shira chuckled, slipping inside and shutting the door behind them as quietly as possible.
“I guess they’re all just used to it by now. I know I am.” She whispered. Ymir was asleep, but Krista was awake- seated upright in her cot and reading by candlelight. She looked up at them as they came in.
“Paperwork with Corporal Levi again?” she asked. Shira nodded, kicking off her boots and throwing them under her cot. “He really needs to give you a break.”
“Everyone keeps saying that.” Shira muttered, stripping off her jacket and shirt. “I don’t mind it too much.” As she had suspected, there were long lines of bruising from the belts of her gear. “It goes faster than you think it would. But… All those reports with body counts… It can really get to you. At least the Corporal doesn’t have to do all of it alone.” Krista frowned, worrying her lower lip as Shira pulled on a nightdress and rubbed at a knot in her lower back.
“That’s what happens.” Petra said. “We come back with less and less after every Expedition.” She had the same hard expression that most Corps members had when talking about the Expeditions and the dead- her mouth a hard line, eyes miles away.
“Well, starting tomorrow I have my own soldiers to look after.” Shira flopped onto her cot, pulling the wool covers up to her chin. “But I guess I’ll be damned if I let anything happen to those kids on my watch.” Krista smiled.
“You sound so determined… You haven’t even met them yet.” Shira huffed.
“Well, they’re my squad already- they’ve been assigned. I’ve seen their reports, and they seem like a great bunch. “She rolled over, face first into her pillow. Krista closed her book and blew out her candle, leaving the room dark and quiet. The curtains fluttered idly as a breeze came through the open window, and Shira looked up as the moon peered out from behind the thinning clouds. She blinked as the light pooled over her, creeping across the floor towards the foot of Petra’s bed. An owl cooed from somewhere in the trees, and a moment later its dark silhouette passed in front of the window, wings spread and silent in the night air.
“Shira?” Petra’s voice broke into her reverie. She was upright on her elbows, though she didn’t remember sitting up. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah.” She whispered back. “Beautiful moon tonight.” Petra swung her legs out of bed and stood, padding over to the window.
“Looks like it’ll be full in just a few days.” She said thoughtfully. “Y’know, if you’re not too busy with the new cadets, we might…” she trailed off, looking back at Shira, who smiled.
“Yes. It’s been far too long.” She took Petra’s hand in her own and gave it a squeeze. Petra leaned in, touching her forehead against Shira’s for a moment before rising and returning to her own bed. Shira lay back, wrapping the blankets around her and closing her eyes to the moon, as thoughts of new cadets and the open forest filled her mind.