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Wings and Wolves

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She ran, racing for the edge of the forest and the plains that lay just beyond, offering freedom and safety. She could hear her pursuers edging ever closer, hot breath and the snap of fangs on her heel. With a low growl she kicked back, sending a spray of dirt up into the other wolf’s face. He yelped in surprise and fell back, shaking and snorting, before returning to the chase with renewed vigor. The rest of the pack wasn’t far behind- their howls and barks only growing louder as she broke through the final line of brambles and stumbled out into the open.

The sun was bright, shining directly overhead, and the wind sent waves across the long grass. In the distance stood the Wall, an out-of-place grey stripe in an otherwise wild world. She could smell the stink of Titans already, and could see their lumbering shapes ahead, feel the ground trembling with their footsteps. She hesitated, apprehensive to approach, and as she slowed she lost her balance. Paw caught in a gopher hole she tumbled, hurrying back upright, but it was too late. The heavy body of a wolf crashed into her, and they tumbled into the flowing grass, snarling and snapping at one another. He had her pinned, his fangs clacking together dangerously close to her throat. In a panic, she jerked to the side and caught his ear between her teeth, latching on even as he pulled back, yowling. There was blood on her tongue and, as he jerked and shook his head from side to side, she felt the tear of flesh and she was free, the scrap of his ear still in her mouth. She spat it out, wrinkling her nose, and began running again, sprinting away from the whining wolf as his pack gathered around him, howling their want for revenge. Keeping low, she raced towards the Wall, taking care to give the Titans a wide berth. Being eaten wasn’t her concern- they only went after humans, but being crushed didn’t sound like a pleasant way to go. The grass was taller here, and with the unbearable smell of Titan, she knew that the Pack wouldn’t be able to track her as easily. Her left hind paw was throbbing with every step- she had undoubtedly injured it when she fell, but that was something she could worry about later. A quick glance back revealed several deep punctures. One of them had bitten her. A Titan’s enormous heel came down a bit too close for comfort, and she quickly ducked alongside the Wall, pressing close to the rough concrete. Getting here had been one thing, but now came the difficult part. Finding a way inside.

The Wall towered over the heads of even the tallest of the Titans, and the wolf found herself edging along the concrete hem, keeping close to the stone so as not to be trod on. Most of the giant creatures seemed wholly focused on the structure, clawing at it, as if they could see the humans going about their business inside. She had to admit- they had done an excellent job in keeping the Titans out, as well as other unwelcome guests. She knew that there were gates in the Wall- the humans who ventured out on occasion had to come from somewhere. But no human would allow a wolf inside. She would be shot on sight. It could be just as dangerous in there as taking her chances out in the forest, where the Outer Pack was waiting with sharp fangs and a taste for blood. At least once she was inside, she had a chance to hide.

Snuffling along the ground, she noticed an out-of-place, rusted scrap of metal lying in the grass. The wolf glanced up, and hope welled in her chest. There was an opening, likely some kind of drain, about a foot and a half tall and the same width. The bars had long since rusted away- all that remained was a smear of coppery dust and a few jagged stumps still embedded in the concrete. Pawing at the jagged metal proved that it was, for the most part, fragile, and she could see light coming from the other side. This was her way out- or rather, her way in, depending on how she looked at it. For a moment, she hesitated, but a loud chorus of howls from out in the plains gave her the final push she needed. With one last regretful look at the forest, she bent down and pushed her head into the opening.

Six inches of muddy, stagnant water covered the sloped floor of the pipe. It soaked through the fur of her belly and made her shiver, but she kept on crawling. The Pack was growing closer- she could hear them growling and barking outside of the tunnel, although she knew that they wouldn’t follow her. No Outer Pack wolf would ever set paw inside the Walls- partly out of disgust and partly out of fear. If hiding wasn’t possible, being around so many humans was a death sentence for them- they would likely leave her to her fate. She reached the halfway point, and caught her first glimpse of the other side. There were no bars there, either, and she huffed in relief. It felt like she was being crushed, like the full weight of the Wall could come tumbling down on her all at once. Taking another deep breath she hurried forward, keeping as low as she could until she reached the other side. Cautiously, she stuck her nose out and inhaled. The scent of human was everywhere, all smoke and cobblestone and garbage. She could hear voices, the clatter of cart wheels, footsteps. Inching forward, she got her first glimpse at the inside of the Wall.

Her little entrance let out behind a line of stone and wooden houses, into a dark alley lined with barrels. A few drooping laundry lines were strung between the buildings, weighed down with clothing, and there were large sacks of leaking garbage piled in a corner. As she pulled herself onto the Inside she shook the water from her fur, giving her injured paw a stretch. It burned, and she instead turned her attention to the garbage. It looked awful, but she hadn’t eaten properly in a couple of days. A few small bones seemed palatable enough, and she made quick work of them, crunching them to splinters and lapping up what little marrow she could. The smell turned her stomach, but she needed the food so badly that the slightly rotten taste didn’t bother her. Hunger slightly abated, she could now focus on where exactly she was. Beyond the small courtyard she had emerged in, she could see the street, and the crowds of humans going about their business. This was dangerous- if any of them spotted her, she would be dead in a matter of minutes. No human would ever mistake her for a dog, and she was trapped here, with nowhere to go but back to the other side. As a gaggle of children ran past, screeching in a way that made her ears twitch, she considered taking her chances Outside. But at least in here, survival was possible. Out there, she had no doubts that the Outer Pack would turn her to bones in a matter of minutes.

A gust of wind plucked one of the shirts from the laundry line above and sent it fluttering down to the cobbles, where she sniffed at it. It reeked of human, but it would have to do. Ignoring the pain in her hind leg, the wolf crept into the alleyway and snatched one of the pairs of trousers hanging low on the line, hastily retreating into the shadows. For a moment she stood, frozen, panting and praying that no one had spotted her. There were no screams, no hurried footsteps- it seemed that she was safe. But she wouldn’t be, not for long. Dropping the clothing on the ground, she shook her head and stretched her front legs out in front of her. Biting back a wince, she closed her eyes as her fur began to recede, claws and paws shrinking into hands, toes, and nails. As her hind legs rotated about and her knees clicked in protest, she got to her feet, wobbling slightly. The wind blowing down the narrow tunnel of the alley made her shiver, raising goosebumps on her now-bare skin. She missed the warmth of her thick pelt already- but wearing that here was as good as laying her own head on the chopping block. Struggling into the trousers, she found them far too large for her and the shirt was more like a sack. But it put a layer between her flesh and the chill, for which she was grateful.

After a few minutes stumbling around her hiding place, she felt confident enough on her two feet to venture out into the streets. It had been so long since she last walked like this… And she had never been so close to so many people before. As she made her way out of the alley, she realized how strange she must look- wide eyes, holding her clothing to herself, with no shoes or sense of direction to speak of. Even if she did look human, she would still stand out like a sore thumb. Still. Her chances were better in here, amongst these people, than out there. Surely there must be others like her, wolves within the Walls, who could help. She couldn’t be the only one who chose this place as their haven when the Outer Pack came calling.

Lost in thought as she was, she didn’t realize that she had wandered out of the alley, and she was instantly swept up by the crowd. People glared at her as she bounced off them, eyes whipping this way and that, searching for anywhere to hide, to run. It was too much, too much sound and sight. One older man shoved her, cursing as she trod on his shoes and stumbled away with inaudible apologies. She fell back onto a stoop, arms wrapped around her knees, shivering. She couldn’t do this- they were going to find out, and then she would be dead. Her ankle was throbbing, maybe even broken. Sudden, sharp footsteps made her heart leap into her throat, and she curled into a tighter ball as a shadow fell over her.

“Are you alright?” There was a hand on her shoulder, and the girl stared up into a pair of concerned, brown eyes behind fingerprint dusted spectacles. She recoiled. The woman looking down at her was wearing the same tan jacket and riding boots that the soldiers wore- the ones who dared to venture beyond the Walls. “Are you lost? Have you hurt yourself?”

“I… I’m f-fine.” She managed a response. The woman seemed very unconvinced, and she glanced at her ankle, which was starting to swell and bruise. “Just t-tripped.” Two more soldiers jogged up behind the woman, both of them men.

“What’s going on, Hanji?” One of them, a blonde with intense hazel eyes asked. Hanji waved him away.

“I’ll handle this. Why don’t you head on back, Mike? I won’t be long.” He shrugged, but wandered off, casting curious glances over his shoulder. Hanji crouched down in front of the girl, one eyebrow raised. “You can’t just leave that. It’ll get infected. Besides…” she grabbed her ankle, lifting it to expose the punctures in her calf. The girl winced- it was obvious that those didn’t come from a fall. “You should get these cleaned up.”

“It’s fine!” she jerked her foot away, biting back a whimper as hot pain shot up her leg. Hanji frowned and edged closer, backing the girl up against the wall.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” she asked. The girl’s breath caught in her throat. She knew.“It’s alright! I can help you.” Hanji dropped her glasses down her nose, and her brown eyes momentarily winked a bright amber. “You aren’t safe out here. Come with me.” Straightening up, she offered a hand. She hesitated, but Hanji just smiled and waited until she gingerly got to her feet and accepted the support.

“Who are you?” she whispered as they began to make their way down the street, only slightly hampered by her limited movement.

“The name’s Zoe Hanji. I’m a soldier in the Survey Corps… And I have a feeling we’re more alike than you would think.” She practically lifted the girl off the ground and walked faster. “What’s your name?”

“Shira.”

“Well, it’s a pleasure, Shira. You got anywhere to go?” The way that Hanji was looking at her told Shira that she already knew the answer.

“No. I’m… I’m on my own.” An understanding nod, and Hanji gave her shoulder a squeeze.

“Well then, come with me.” She said. “The Corps is rough, and not everyone is cut out to be a soldier… But something tells me that you’ll fit right in.” They had caught up with the other soldiers, and the one named Mike gave Hanji a quizzical look as she lifted Shira into the wagon and hopped up beside her. “Don’t worry about them. I’m not the only one. If you want to… You can join my Pack.”

Chapter Text

Chapter One

 

“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.

Chapter Text

Boots already covered in mud, jackets crumpled: one of them was sporting a nice bruise on his cheek. As Shira approached, all three snapped into perfect salutes.

“Wow. Look at that. Seems like half your work is already done, Shira- oop! I mean, Captain Lark.” Hanji leaned over Shira’s shoulder, thumping her on the back. She frowned, shoving Hanji away and clearing her throat.

“Well you three. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She hoped that her voice wouldn’t betray how nervous she was. “I’m Captain Shira Lark, but please, call me Shira. Starting today, I’ll be in charge of your training!”

“Nice to meet you, Captain Lark, Ma’am!” The boy with the bruise shouted. He had a wild mop of black hair and grey eyes that were locked on some invisible point in the air right above her head.

“You would be Nicholas, correct?” Shira asked. He nodded, and she offered him a hand. “Ease up, soldier. This isn’t boot camp.” He blinked at her, surprised, but shook her hand and even smiled a bit. “So that means you two must be Micha and Misha.” The twins were tall, brown-haired and blue-eyed. Micha, the girl, stood a few inches shorter than her brother, but she was still taller than Shira. She felt very, very short. ‘At least I’m taller than Levi.’ She thought with a slight smirk.

“Yes! Please to meet you, Captain!” Micha piped. Misha also nodded along- he didn’t seem to speak very much.

“Oh, please. Call me Shira. Saying Captain Lark will just take up too much time.” Shira said with a grin. “We’ve got a lot to cover. The next Expedition’s in just a few weeks.” There was an instant change in the vibe- the cadets shuddered visibly.

“How long do we have, exactly?” Nicholas queried, and she could see the twins edge a bit closer together.

“Don’t worry.” Shira said, trying to reassure them. “We have plenty of time to prepare. There’s a lot of training to do- what do you say we get to it?”

 

An initial test run confirmed what Shira had read in the recruit’s field reports. All three were nimble and excelled in the use of 3DMG. Nicholas seemed especially fond of his blades, and he made quick work of the targets. Out of the three, Micha was the slowest, but he also hit the hardest, carving perfect slices from the wooden target’s padded necks. Misha, to Shira’s delight, moved very quickly- perhaps almost as fast as Levi, if she had plenty of training. She swung from her wires like a bola spider, making quick work of the targets- though her aim did leave something to be desired. Shira was watching them swing about with enthusiasm when someone cleared their throat and startled her.

“Promising group you have here, Lark.” Levi had crept up on her, and was watching her squad. “A bit rough around the edges, for sure, but I’m sure you can polish them up just fine.” Shira huffed.

“Oh, come on Levi.” She said, glancing at him. “We were all a bit unsteady when we first started.” He cocked an eyebrow in her direction.

“I wasn’t.” he replied, with the slightest hint of a smirk in his steely eyes. “I was just as good as I am now.” Micha skidded to a halt, interrupting their conversation. Clearly, he needed some work on his landings. Levi gave him a derisive sort of look.

“Oh, I’m sure you were. You being a great genius and all.” Shira retorted, waving Micha back up into the trees with a reassuring kind of smile. “Not everyone can be like you, Levi. I wasn’t that good when I first started.” He coughed- or it might have been a laugh, and she frowned at him. “I’ve got to get these kids in the best shape they can be.” Misha had rejoined her brother, and Nicholas was buzzing around in the canopy, wires slicing through the air. She laced and unlaced her fingers together as she watched him.

“You’re doing fine, Shira.” Levi said, resting a hand on her arm for a moment. “They seem very taken with you already.” She grinned- compliments from Levi were rare, and she had been getting a lot of them lately. “Also, I want you in my office after dinner for paperwork. We have a lot to get through.” Her smile was gone- she should have known that he was only that nice when he wanted something.

“Way to spring that one me… Should have seen it coming.” She muttered.

“Yes, you should have.” He said, turning on his heel and starting towards another group. “Make sure you’re on time tonight, Lark!” he shouted back over his shoulder. She groaned, but didn’t have too much time to agonize. Nicholas landed in front of her with a spray of dirt, panting hard.

“Nice work up there! I like what I see.” She said, with her hands on her hips. “Just watch your blades, Nicholas. You’ll need to be more conservative with them.” He nodded in agreement as the twins joined them, Misha stumbling as she hit the ground. “Impressive you two. Misha, we need to get you moving a bit faster- speed is your best friend when you’re dealing with Titans. Micha- you’ve got the speed part down, but I need to see you improving on your aim.” All of them made sounds of acknowledgment, looking a bit downhearted. “Hey.” Shira smiled. “You’re all doing excellent- better than I expected. But I can’t stress this enough- you need to be your very best out there. It’s going to get tougher, but I’m confident that you can handle it.” The bell tolled, calling in everyone for dinner, and she watched her squad sigh with relief. “That’s all for today. But I want you all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed tomorrow morning.”

“Of course, Captain.” Nicholas said, with a feeble salute. They were clearly exhausted, which didn’t surprise her. Shira remembered her first few days training with the Corps- she had never been so sore in her life. As they made their way from the training fields, a shout drew their attention.

“Hurry up! And Lark- be on TIME tonight!” It was Levi, already at the doors. Shira jogged a bit faster, and her squad followed.

“Captain? Who is that?” Misha asked, one of his rare contributions. She blinked at him, not used to people being unfamiliar with Levi, and chuckled. He probably wasn’t what they expected.

“That is Corporal Levi.” She said, stifling a laugh as Nicholas made an astonished sort of snorting sound.

“That’s Corporal Levi? Humanity’s Strongest Soldier?” Shira nodded. “But… He’s so… Short.” Misha was peering over the crowd forming at the door, searching for any sign of him, but he was already gone.

“Short, he may be.” Shira conceded- there was no denying that. “But he’s fast, and very skilled with those blades. I’m sure you’ll get to see him in action soon enough.”

“He’s terrible with paperwork, though!” Hanji appeared from the gaggle of people, her hair messed from practicing all day. She latched onto Shira’s arm. “Hey kids! The name’s Zoe Hanji- Shira’s best friend!” Shira raised an eyebrow at her. “Well, one of her best friends.” The squad introduced themselves, and Hanji shook each of their hands before turning her attention back to Shira. “So., You volunteered to help Short Stuff with his paperwork again tonight?’

“I didn’t volunteer- he walked up to me and told me to be in his office.” She retorted, aware that her squad was snickering at Levi’s nickname. “You don’t say no when the Corporal tells you to do something, you know. Besides, it’s just paperwork. I’m used to it by now.” She sped up, not wanting to talk about this in front of her squad.

“Are you and the Corporal a couple?” Micha asked. Hanji let out a bark of laughter and jerked forward so hard that her glasses flew from her face. The poor girl looked terrified, and sputtered for a moment, trying to backtrack.

“No, not at all.” Shira replied calmly, resisting the urge to give Hanji a good punch in the arm. “I just help him with his paperwork. It’s too much for one person to handle alone.” Micha seemed satisfied with the answer, but Hanji was still laughing and Shira could feel a knot forming in her stomach. When the cadets wandered off to find their friends in the mess hall, she did punch Hanji in the shoulder, rather hard.

“Oh, come on Shira!” she said. “We both know Levi is practically married to his work. Besides- You know you could do a lot worse. Humanity’s Strongest. Not too bad.”

“That isn’t the point!’ Shira grumbled, grabbing the plate provided by the kitchen staff and slinking over to their usual table. Petra saw them pass and jogged to catch up. “I don’t need people spreading rumors.”

“Hanji, have you been picking on her?” Petra scolded. “You shouldn’t do that, not in front of the kids.” Hanji snickered, and Shira crunched loudly into her bread and stared into her soup. She hadn’t done much training herself today, but she was still exhausted. And she had paperwork later- who knows how long that would take? But despite this, she was looking forward to it. She needed to talk to Levi- there was something comforting in being able to talk to someone else who commanded a squad. And she could use a laugh.

“Shira?” Petra was looking at her, concerned. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine… A bit lost in thought.” She admitted. “I think I need to just unwind. It was… weird overseeing those kids today. And I’m going to be from now on.” Petra nodded, finishing off her soup. “I think… Maybe I could talk to the Corporal about it.”

“Why not talk to me?” Hanji asked, looking a little indignant.

“You told me the best way to deal with unruly recruits was to make them clean up after your Titan experiments.” Shira huffed. Hanji frowned. “No offense, Hanji, but I think Levi might have the kind of advice that I’m looking for right now. And I can’t see the twins or Nicholas needing your brand of discipline anytime soon. They all seem very eager to learn. Besides, I’m not letting my kids anywhere near your Titans. I don’t want them getting eaten before they even leave the Walls.” Petra laughed, and they lapsed into easy conversation. Hanji went on for a bit about her newest experiment, which she was having some trouble getting past Erwin. Petra was interested to know how Shira’s new team was, and Sasha stopped by to give Shira her congratulations for making it past her first day. Mid-sentence, Shira noticed Levi leaving the hall, and rapidly gathered up the remains of her dinner.

“Good luck tonight. Don’t let him keep you up too late.” Sasha shouted after her. Shira gave them a quick wave before slipping into the corridor. Levi was long gone, but she trotted down the corridor, rounding the corner just in time to see the door to his office snap closed. Taking a breath, she walked up and knocked.

“Come in.” Shira peered inside. Levi was standing by the stove, placing a kettle onto it and holding a lit match in hand. “This is a surprise.” He said. She smiled. “Of course- “Levi continued, throwing the match into the stove and closing the wrought-iron door. “You may have just wanted to get away from Hanji. Maybe I should tell her to bother you more often.”

“Is it that hard to believe that I was just on time?” Shira asked, rolling her eyes and taking her usual seat. Levi handed her a stack of paperwork and she groaned- there was even more than there had been last night.

“Yes, it is.” He scoffed. She looked down at the first form and cringed- another fatality report. If they kept losing soldiers at the rate they were, the Military Police would have another excuse to shut them down. “Those damn pigs.” Levi held up another letter, signed with the Police’s insignia. “They’ll really try anything, won’t they?” he crumped it up and threw it towards the fire, but Shira caught it in mid-air.

“I think this still has to go to Erwin… As much as you hate that.” She smoothed the paper out, and saw that it was an inquiry about their use- or rather, their waste- of valuable resources. “They’re really trying to make it sound like we’re using too much… salt?” she let out a bark of laughter. “Wow. Getting desperate, aren’t they?”

“I’d like to send all of them outside the Walls.” Levi said. “See if we’re such a waste of time when the Titans have them shitting their pants. Or better yet… Let those damn wolves have them.” Shira looked up at him. “They’re not even worthy Titan food- better to let the dogs pick at their bones.”

“They were pretty useless when the Wall fell.” She conceded, though she was frowning now. Levi leaned back in his chair, arms crossed and watching her.

“If the Military police had their way, we would hide in here until all of us died.” He said bitterly.

“They can keep their damn Walls.” Shira said, with sudden intensity. “I want out… I want freedom.” He sat up a little, pushing aside a stack of papers to look at her.

“Is that why you joined the Corps, then?” he asked. This took her by surprise- they had never discussed either of their reasons for joining. “I still remember the day you showed up, clinging to Hanji like a lost kitten. You were a mess- wearing clothes three sizes too large, shaking like the little brat you were. All four-eyes would tell me is that she found you, and that you wanted to join the Corps.” Shira nodded, but he was clearly looking for more.

“I didn’t have anywhere else to go.” She said quickly. She remembered that day too- how terrified she had been, how much her injuries had ached, how big and scary all the soldiers had been. “Hanji was all that I had… So, I took a chance. I’d say it went pretty well.” She smiled, but Levi just raised an eyebrow at her.

“No family?”

“Why the sudden interest?” she retorted, her heart starting to pound a little faster in her chest. He shrugged.

“I know how most of the other Captains ended up here, I even know why Erwin joined. But I don’t know anything about you. Call it simple curiosity.” Shira stared down at her papers, not really seeing them, and then shook her head.

“They’re all dead.” She said. “It happened a long time ago.” The kettle began to whistle, and Levi stood to quiet it, pouring the hot water into cups.

“Hanji certainly is the type to bring home strays.” He said. “Although, she does seem very attached to you.” Shira chuckled- she had followed Hanji like a duckling for the first month of her time in the Corps. “What was your family like?”

“What?” she asked. Levi repeated the question. “Will you tell me about yours?” Silence, and she knew that meant he would not. The both returned to their paperwork, signing forms and passing letters back and forth for a few minutes, but Shira could feel the words tugging at her throat. Surely there was no harm… “I had two brothers.” She said, catching Levi by surprise. “Eli was older than me… Always starting fights and getting into trouble. And- “she paused, closing her eyes and drawing in a breath. “I had a twin. His name was Rye.”

“I didn’t know you were a twin.” Levi said, a bit more softly than he usually would. He handed her a cup of tea, which she sipped at. “And now you have a set on your squad…”

“That’s something I wanted to talk to you about.” She blurted. He set down his pen.

“Did everything go alright today? It seemed like they were doing well when I was observing.” He asked.

“No, everything was fine… I just wanted to, get it off my chest, I suppose. It’s just a lot of responsibility. If one of those kids gets eaten by a Titan… It’ll be my fault. I’ll be the one who has to tell their family about it.” Levi nodded.

“I understand. It is a lot of handle. But I’m confident that you can do it.” He stood up, pacing around the desk to stand beside her. “Shira… You need to understand that you cannot control everything that happens out there. It may be your job to guide your squad, but they signed up for this knowing exactly what could happen to them. You can’t control the Titans- you can only fight them.” He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I need you to know that. Even if one of them dies- I know that you will do everything in your power to bring them home, but some things even us Captains cannot stop.” She nodded, hands folded in her lap.

“Thank you.” She said quietly. “I needed to hear that.” He sniffed and returned to his seat, shuffling through his papers.

“It’s getting even worse out there, you know.” He said. “I know you can handle Titans- all of us can. It’s those dogs that I’m concerned about.” He roughly signed another letter and tossed it aside. “They got three of us last time. Came out of nowhere… Like they were waiting. Disgusting things- they’re too smart.” Shira just nodded along, trying to ignore him as she scanned another supply request. “And now that we have a boy who can turn into a Titan… the idea of a wolf turning into a human doesn’t seem so far-fetched.” She nearly dropped her tea.

“Come on, Levi.” She said, leafing through her second stack of forms. “That’s just an old wives’ tale. Next you’ll be telling me that rabbits can turn into foxes.” He chuckled. “Now hurry up! Or I’ll be done before you again.” The glint in his eye told her that Levi was taking her challenge seriously, and he dropped the topic- much to her relief. She didn’t need anything else to worry about tonight.

“Loser has to help Hanji bring home her next Titan.” Levi muttered, pen scratching furiously at the paper. Shira groaned.

“Please tell me you’re not serious.” She said. Levi just chuckled, and hurriedly grabbed his next form. “Come on! Can’t it be something else? Besides, if I end up having to help her, she’ll just drag me into her lab and make me watch… Or even ask me to help.”

“She hasn’t asked you that already?” Levi glanced at her. Shira huffed.

“I’ve been too busy coming here every evening. You’ve actually saved my skin with all this paperwork.” At this, he actually laughed.

“She’s going to lose an arm to one of those things someday.” He mused. “And I think I like you having both your hands attached. You work faster that way.” Shira flung an envelope addressed to Erwin across the desk, and they lapsed into silence, both racing through their stacks of forms with renewed vigor. Shira signed away, mindlessly leafing through paper after paper, until she hit another fatality report and her stomach twisted into a knot.

“I hate these.” She said, giving it a quick once over, averting her eyes from the names and scrawling a hasty, half-signature on the bottom.

“No one really reads them.” Levi said. “Well, Erwin will.” Shira nodded. “And then he’ll go and tell their families that they never made it back.” His brow furrowed as she handed him the paper and he laid it in the ever-growing pile. The large clock in the corner began to chime- eleven, and he tapped his pen on the desk. “Shira, you can go.”

“Are you sure?” she asked. There were still piles to go. “It really isn’t any trouble.” But Levi shook his head.

“Tomorrow, I want you back out there and training those kids. You should be well-rested. I can handle this from here.” Shira hesitated, but Levi fixed her with a stern glare and she sighed, handing him the pen and her empty teacup.

“Alright, Levi. We’ll be out there bright and early.” Levi waved her away, watching as she slipped from the office and shut the door behind her. One glance at the stack still left on Shira’s side of the desk was enough to make his head ache. He was in for a long night.