The two children were running, frantic, evading titans and mingling with the panicked crowd. Annie, focused, held Otabek's hand and led the way while he looked around him in fear and wonder, eyeing the destroyed buildings, the foreign architecture, the broken wall behind them and, occasionally, the bloodied corpses on the ground.
As they later climbed aboard a ship, they couldn't help but worry that they would be noticed, pointed out as intruders. However, nobody looked at them twice. They only were two more children, two more orphans, two more burdens. Sitting, they huddled together, pressed on all sides by people on the overflowing boat. Fear, despair, and desolation were on everyone's faces. They ignored it, their heads filled with highly different worries than those of the common people, with thoughts of loneliness and longing. They only had each other now. For the good of the mission, they would have to ignore the other warriors – the fellow warriors they had grown up with. That was the way they had been taught, the only possible plan. It meant that if one of them got caught, the five – no, it was four now – of them would not all fall.
When Annie and Otabek saw two other children, of similar age and with familiar faces, they said nothing, even as their eyes met and flashed with recognition... Training in the military, compared to the way they trained as children to become warriors, was almost easy. What was hard, they discovered, was to pretend to make friends when they knew it couldn't last more than a few years and when everything they had ever heard about the inhabitants of the walls was that they were scum that deserved to get wiped out – which was what the mission instructed. Those negative biases certainly did not help with first impressions.
Mikasa Ackerman was obsessive. Eren Jaeger was always angry. Armin Arlert couldn't think for himself. Jean Kirschtein was arrogant. Marco Bodt was meek. Christa Lenz was weak. Ymir had no common sense. Sasha Braus was stupid. Connie Springer couldn't take anything seriously. Yuuri Katsuki was incredibly naive. Yuri Plisetsky was prideful.
None of them seemed interesting or useful enough to befriend – it looked like they would only be annoying obstacles and it seemed like the best course of action would be to avoid them at all costs. They did their best to make other acquaintances, though, mingling with people with less flashy personalities. They would have stayed by themselves, but making friends was kind of inevitable, owing to the fact that they were always sharing their space with people. Eating, sleeping, even bathing – none activity could be done alone. It was more economic to build large rooms dedicated to it that everyone could use at the same time. However, even though they had started communicating with some people, it did not mean that they truly liked them.
Otabek would observe his fellow soldiers with curiosity where Annie would do her best to withdraw and isolate herself. He supposed that would have been more careful if he didn't want to get attached, but he couldn't help himself. He watched as Eren was dotted on by Armin and Mikasa, as Ymir spent all her time with Christa, as Sasha and Connie had fun together, as Yuri tried to challenge Yuuri though the boy was mostly focused on himself. None of them were good people – that was what he had been taught, what he knew. Occasional kind acts were not indicators of a person’s entire personality and witnessing those only barely made him doubt the mission. He was dedicated on not feeling compassion for them, but he still discovered, quite quickly, that contrarily to his initial thoughts, those people were indeed interesting, all in their own way.
"Why are you smiling ?" Annie asks with an expression that would look like suspicion but is, in fact, a combination of curiosity and of her usual face. Her question makes Otabek snaps out of his thoughts and he looks away from Yuri, who is keeping score on killing titan dummies and challenging his comrades to best his performance. Otabek frowns.
"I was smiling ?"
Yuri almost looks angry as he stalks up to Otabek. "Hey. Otabek Altin, right ?" As an answer, Otabek simply nods, and waits for Yuri to continue. "You're good with the 3DMG, you know which angles to attack from and how much strength to use – yeah, you try to keep to yourself, but I noticed. Do you have some tricks you could show me ?" Yuri asks that as if he is entitled to receiving it. Otabek is not sure if his blunt tone is misleading him or if Yuri truly thinks that way. Nevertheless, he accepts.
"Sure," he says nonchalantly as he starts to walk away towards the high trees. Eager but trying to hide it, Yuri starts following him.
Otabek discovers that day that Yuri might be prideful and competitive, but he is also willing to learn.
Even though Yuri is direct and reckless, he doesn't actually talk all that much. He complains quite a bit about the people around him, but as weeks pass and as the two boys start to form a tentative friendship, Otabek discovers it isn't real annoyance – it's almost fond.
Because Otabek sticks to Annie’s side, when Yuri starts eating at his table or spending time with him, the girl is often there. She stays as a silent onlooker and listener, and she never bothers them. Since they have basically spent all their life together, Otabek is confident he can read her well, and it doesn't look like she's feeling lonely or abandoned. She actually seems to appreciate this kind of quiet companionship and she often feels amused at some of their banter.
She learns things about Yuri almost at the same pace that Otabek does... One night, Annie and Otabek sneak out of the barracks to look at the stars together, to reminisce about their shared past, in silence but supported by the other, when she softly says : "I like him." He hears a little bit of fear in her tone. She's not talking about romantic attraction, but no matter their kind of connection, it's still an attachment.
Otabek suddenly realizes he's already past that point – that he realized he liked Yuri weeks ago. No matter the nature of their relationship and no matter where it was going, there was no denying that their connection was deepening. He wonders how worried he should be that he hasn't thought about how dangerous that kind of bond was in all that time. He wonders how worried he should be that he has voluntarily avoided thinking about the mission too.
Eren grunted as he fell, once again thrown to the ground by Annie. She looked at him, impassive, as he got up, before she shifted back into her fighting stance. Along with all the other trainees, they were practicing hand-to-hand combat. Otabek, a handful of meters away, observed them. Annie looked content. She had always been the most at ease while practicing her father’s martial art – and she had always been talented at it. Teaching it pleases her too, it seems. Otabek had thought- he yelps as he suddenly finds himself on the ground, in a very similar way to Eren, a minute ago. Otabek looks up at Yuri, whose arms are crossed. "Pay attention," the boy scowls him, and Otabek has the decency to look a bit sheepish.
Otabek hears Annie when she apologizes after the battle of Trost. He cannot pinpoint why, but it makes him want to scream until his throat bleeds. He remembers occasions, moments when he hesitated – moments when he thought : if I transform now, I could save that person’s life. He remembers not doing it, remembers feeling like a coward, and remembers feeling relief that his life (the plan) was still going just as it was supposed to...
Then, suddenly, they discover the titan-shifter who is, in all probability, the Coordinate. What an irony that it turned out to be one of their fellow soldier ; the loud, angry one – Eren Jaeger. He is the one with the power they were searching, were tasked to bring home. They are tempted to do it right then, to transform and capture him, to go back home. They know, however, that trying to take him now would be too risky.
Pyres are lit up, that night. Pyres full of corpses. Those who attempt to sleep do not get restful slumber, but many, if not most, do not try at all. As Otabek and Annie sit together, apart from the rest, he hesitates. He remembers her guilt, could almost feel it like bile on his tongue. "Is it really what is right ?" he finally asks. Annie looks at him, weary and puzzled. "The mission," he clarifies. Her eyes widen, before she looks away. It’s the first time he has vocalized his doubts. She doesn't answer at all.
Otabek never noticed how Eren and Yuri's eyes were similar – not only their color, but also the passion inhabiting them. Transformed into a titan, Otabek has Eren in his grip, and his screams – more angry than fearful – are muted, almost slow. His eyes are shining, green made brighter by their intensity. Suddenly, it is like the world shifts, and in Otabek's hand it is not Eren but Yuri, and Otabek closes his hand harder, starts squeezing and crushing and-
When he wakes up, it takes everything he has for him not to throw up.
It's the night before the trainees have to choose which military division they will join. Eren is still away, imprisoned. Finding quiet moments and quiet places will become harder, Otabek and Annie know. He is worried. Annie is more closed off than ever, withdrawing even from him. It's subtle. He wouldn't have noticed it if they hadn't essentially grown up together. She still accepts to follow him when he asks her if she wants them to go see the stars again.
After supper, they sit and lean on the trees and look up but neither of them really manage to take in the beauty of the dark sky and its lights tonight. Suddenly, she asks, softly : "What do you intend to do ?" He hears the hesitation in her tone and he knows, immediately, that she is not talking about any trivial concern – she is talking about the mission. He sighs, licks his lips – buys time. Neither of them is looking at the other.
"I intend to never transform again, if I can help it," he finally answers. He hears her sharp intake of breath. She wasn't expecting such a definitive answer, he thinks. There's a long pause, a lull that lasts long enough that he thinks that conversation is over. It isn't.
"Alright," she says. There's hesitation in her tone, enough of it for him to miss the faint determination in it too. He doesn't know what her answer means. Does she agree ? Will she imitate his choice ? Or does she only respect it but have no intention to follow ?
The next night, the survey corps' commander makes a speech. Annie scoffs at it, at some parts. Then, the commander tells them that anyone that doesn't want to join is now free to leave. Yuri and Reiner and Bertholdt and Armin and Mikasa and more, this entire group of people Otabek used to think were obnoxious – they're all staying. Otabek had known that most of them had planned to. That had been enough for him to decide that he, too, was joining the survey corps. He suddenly feels Annie roughly grab his hand and he is startled. Annie was never a tactile person. Annie doesn't like hugs. Annie basically never touches him, even when they are alone. Annie hates public displays of affection. The same Annie, right now, is holding his hand hard enough for it to hurt.
Otabek looks at her. Fear has never been this clearly written on her face. She stays in place. She's staying, he realizes. She's joining the survey corps. She's staying with him, with them. Otabek's eyes widen and he realizes, suddenly, that he feels proud of her, even though it isn't his place to be.
Later that night, Otabek goes to find Annie. After such a decision, he guesses she may not want to be alone. He finds her outside, with tear streaks on her face and distress in her every feature. Annie has never been this publicly agitated either. He sits next to her, with their backs to the wall of the barracks. Her legs are folded, her eyes are closed, her hands clasp strands of her hair. "That was a mistake," she tells him. "I should have joined the military police like I had always planned." For what feels like the first time, Otabek doesn't know what to tell her, what could comfort her. Maybe it's because Annie has very rarely needed comfort before. Maybe comfort isn't even what she needs. Otabek is at loss.
"It's not a mistake," they suddenly hear. They both look up at Yuri. Otabek realizes he didn't hear him arrive at all. He doesn't know if it's because Yuri was truly silent or because he trusts him and his brain doesn't bother noticing the sound of his steps anymore... Annie is startled too. "It was brave," Yuri continues while he glares at her. "Also, you did it and there's no turning back. All you can do is accept it now." Annie's eyes are wide. She's silent, and at the lack of response, Yuri seems to deflate a little and looks away, embarrassed, seemingly realizing he just gave a speech of the same nature he usually scoffs at. "Anyway..." Yuri trails off as he turns to leave.
"Wait !" Annie's voice seems louder than she herself was expecting. Yuri turns back to look at her. She's more controlled when she adds : "Thanks." And then : "Sit with us." It's Yuri's turn to seem surprised. He hesitates, and then silently accepts. He kneels on the ground in front of them. When Otabek looks at Annie, he sees a bit of Yuri's usual courage in her eyes and he is reminded. Reminded of why he loves Yuri. That thought is new, Otabek realizes, but it doesn't startle him. He considers the feeling, like prodding at it, and thinks that maybe it was inevitable for him to fall in love with Yuri Plisetsky.
They meet the important figures of the survey corps ; Levi, Viktor Nikiforov, Hanji Zoe... All of them are eccentric in their own way. They are then taught about their division's formations and how they communicate through long distances with smoke flares. Eren has come back, and he is learning with them. Otabek can't help thinking about the mission every time he sees him, can’t help being reminded of what he was trained for as a child, reminded of what he chose to forsake. He feels both like the most cowardly and most courageous man on the planet. He is now a traitor to the land he comes from – instead of being a traitor to the people he grew to love. The thought feels strange. It feels meaningful in a way he isn't sure he can entirely comprehend right now.
The 57th expedition outside the walls aimed to plot a new course towards Shiganshina District, as the southern way had been blocked when the hole in Trost’s gate had been sealed. That expedition was of the utmost importance – and that meant it was also mundane. As humanity was almost on the brink of extinction, every mission was primordial. Annie rode on her horse and imagined another life, where she made another choice. Another life, where the female titan disrupted the expedition and abducted Eren Jaeger. Another life, where the expedition was a failure for the survey corps instead of a success.
They don't manage to get all the way to the entrance of Shiganshina District before they have to turn back so that they're not surrounded by titans, but they can see the road they'll have to take and next time they can be better prepared. There are no losses – though there are close calls. The mission is a success, and as such, Eren is now in the custody of the survey corps, like the judgment of his trial instructed.
They are alone. They are exhausted. Their tanks of gas are almost empty. Their swords are almost all broken. Their horses have run away. Otabek, Annie, and Yuri stand together, out of breath, on the roof of a small house. They are in some village, inside wall Maria. They have been separated from the rest of the group. After the success of the 57th expedition, the mission party had come back to wall Rose, before quickly leaving once again for the 58th expedition. Now, their route had been expertly planned, almost to the centimeter – but titans always manage to be unpredictable in some ways. An irony, considering their lack of intelligence. Everything had been going fine until they had gotten ambushed by titans, too many of them. As everyone attempted to fight or flee – attempted to stay alive – they got separated into smaller groups. And that's where Otabek, Annie, and Yuri were now ; alone together, out of breath, desperate and soon to be surrounded by titans.
"My tanks are empty," Yuri states with frustration. Otabek looks at him and looks at the titans approaching and thinks and knows ; this is an end. Not of their lives, probably. He'd never let Yuri die. But the end of his tranquility. The end of this status quo, of this foolish dream he had. As if he could simply have kept his identity a secret. Maybe he was stupid to even try. He looks at Yuri and wonders if it's the last time the boy will let him look. He wonders if Yuri will hate him. The thought of Yuri hating him, he finds, is not as discomforting as the thought of Yuri dead, though. He has made his choice a long time ago.
"Take mine," Otabek says, removing his tanks of gas, looking to delay the inevitable. "They're about half-full, maybe a little less." He misses the bewildered look Yuri sends him. It is only when Otabek is about to give them to Yuri that he looks at the boy.
"What about you ?" Yuri asks, his tone confused, apprehensive. He doesn't make any move to take off his own tanks. Otabek smiles.
"I trust you with my life more than I trust myself. You're quicker, stronger." And Yuri doesn't have any other way to escape, Otabek wants to add, but doesn't. By the way she's looking at him, he guesses Annie heard it in some way, even if he didn't say it. At Otabek's words, Yuri seems shocked – or touched, maybe. Or both. Yuri nods, finally, and, starts exchanging their tanks. Otabek is sorry to put such a responsibility on his shoulders. He wishes he could just tell him that Annie and himself are not in as much danger as it seems, but he wants these last moments of – of being Yuri's friend, of Yuri looking at him like that, determined but vulnerable, until their relationship become something unknown.
Wordlessly, Yuri flies off, slicing titans' necks. Otabek watches him closely, his graceful movements, his perfect kills. He waits for a slip, a mistake, the moment when he'll have to step in. The minutes pass, too slow and too quick, titans continue to fall, and that moment doesn't happen. Until, suddenly, Yuri comes back to the roof, to them. "I'm sorry," he says, unable to hide the desperation in his voice. "I tried my best, I swear, but there's so many of them." Otabek and Annie understand, then. Yuri's tanks are empty again and there still are titans. For as many as he killed, there's twice left. "Maybe you shouldn't have bet your lives on me," Yuri continues.
Otabek can't help it ; he chuckles. "Yuri, please," he says, letting fondness and adoration fill his voice in a way he never let it before. "Had that been me, I wouldn't have been able to kill even half of the amount you managed to. I know you did your best, and your best is exceptional, Yuri." Yuri seems surprised. Otabek takes his hands in his. There still are titans around them. Yuri killed the closest ones but others are approaching again. Otabek feels strangely peaceful, when it would be more natural for him to feel fear or panic. "I want you to know, Yura-" the nickname slips past his lips. "-that I am loyal to you, but I also understand if you hate me after that. All that matters is that you-" and there, Otabek's tone harden and fills with resolve. "-are not dying today."
"What are you-" Yuri still looks astonished and his voice falters when Otabek, smiling, brings one of Yuri’s hands to his lips and kisses it. Otabek glances at Annie, quickly, whose expression is full of understanding.
"If I fail, please protect him," Otabek instructs, and Annie nods. Then, he takes one last look at Yuri before releasing his hands and turning back to face the titans. He starts running, jumps off the roof as Yuri screams, and bites his hand with only one desire in mind : protect Yuri Plisetsky. He feels his frantic thoughts suddenly become hazy, as he is sheltered into the body of a titan, as intense lightning suddenly lights up the sky, and then, his body is his own, but also not...
On the roof, Yuri is still trying to understand everything that just happened : the fact that Otabek entrusted him with his life. The fact that Yuri failed, unable to kill enough titans for them to flee. The fact that up until seconds ago he thought he was going to die. The fact that Otabek just transformed into a fucking titan. He watches him – it ? – as it fights and kills other titans. Otabek is a titan-shifter. Otabek is a titan-shifter. The thought repeats itself in Yuri's mind. He searches for clues, indications ; moments of his past that should have made him suspect this. He doesn't find any, and he doesn't know if it truly is because Otabek hid it so well or if it is because Yuri cannot think properly right now.
"He's doing this for you, you know ?" Annie suddenly says. As Yuri glances at her, he notices that she's observing him – and that she doesn't seem surprised at all. That can only mean that she knew, already. He's about to ask her how – did Otabek really just tell her ? – when it clicks. Annie and Otabek have been close since the beginning. They come from the same village. They always acted withdrawn, as if they knew something-
"You're a titan-shifter too, aren't you ?" Yuri says at the same time that he realizes it. Because Yuri might be one of the most skilled fighters and might be full of rage and fire and determination, but he is also smart. Annie doesn't answer but he guesses she doesn't need to. He moves his gaze back to Otabek, who, in this form, is clearly stronger than those petty, mindless titans – but he is also alone. At first, he clearly has the advantage, but as titans surround him in numbers, he is slowly losing the upper hand. For every titan he kills, another takes a bite out of him. "Don't you dare die after you promised to protect me !" Yuri yells as loud as he can, surprising himself as much as he seems to be surprising Otabek, who pauses for a second before he starts to fight again with renewed determination.
Yuri knows that he doesn't actually think that – he wouldn't truly resent Otabek if he was not able to protect him. However, he knows those are the words that will strengthen Otabek's will to fight the most. "He shouldn't be fighting alone," Annie suddenly says, as she realizes it. Yuri looks at her. She's looking right back at him. Her expression is hard and solemn. "We are putting our lives in your hands, Yuri Plisetsky." Yuri knows, then, that she is not talking about the situation they're in right now, but rather about what will come afterward. By knowing what they are, Yuri now possesses great control over their fate. It's a grand proof of trust that they are protecting him instead of killing him to keep their secret, right now.
Annie's titan form is similar to Otabek's – or maybe it's the other way around. Their bodies, about fifteen meters tall, are made of muscles, in reds and pinks, instead of the usual human skin tones of titans. The hair of their titan forms resembles the hair they have when human. With Annie's help, Otabek regains the advantage he had lost. Besides, Annie, between the two of them, was always better at hand-to-hand combat. Apparently, that talent transfers to her titan form. With the two of them together, the titans that were threatening them are soon exterminated, all successfully killed. The two titans left fall – and as Yuri once saw Eren do, the bodies of their human forms emerge from the nape.
Yuri is not left stunned for long and soon, he is getting to the ground and running towards them. Annie is already up, but Otabek seems more tired, and Yuri catches him in his arms before he falls completely. There are red marks around his eyes. He's not unconscious though. "Thank you for protecting me," Yuri says. "Both of you," he adds as he turns towards Annie, who was warily approaching him. She seems to relax a little bit at the calmness in his tone.
"We'll have to walk on foot," she says. "We should find the others, eventually." Yuri helps Otabek up. As the two titan bodies disintegrate, Yuri leads them a bit away. Annie goes to Otabek's other side to help Yuri support him as they start slowly walking towards the place where their group separated in the first place.
After a few hours, Otabek is able to walk by himself.
A day later, they finally find the group. They are lucky not to meet any other titan on the way. They are asked how they survived and how they came back. Otabek and Annie tense, before Yuri says, usual irritation in his voice : "What the fuck do you think we did ? We killed the titans, obviously. When they were all dead, we walked back. That's all." Yuri, also, has made his choice.
"You didn't report us," Otabek states, a few nights later, when the three of them finally manage to be alone. There's hope in his voice, hope that Yuri maybe intends to really not report them at all. Otabek was still kind of waiting for Yuri to change his mind or for it to be part of some plan to catch them unaware. Annie, at least, seems to be trying to enjoy it while it lasts, though he suspects she's even more expectant of betrayal than he is. Yuri sighs.
"You both probably know things that would benefit humanity immensely..." Yuri admits, grumpily. "But I'm also afraid of what they'd do to you if they knew what you were." And that shuts Otabek up because, for the first time, he starts to realize that Yuri might care for him – for them – as much as Otabek cares for him.
In a world close to being dominated by giant, human-eating beings, Otabek should not be surprised to find himself into near-death situations anymore. Titans have overwhelmed the mission party of the survey corps many times before, always resulting in many losses. On the 59th expedition outside the walls, their third try to get to Shiganshina District, they are closer to it than ever. Of course, it's when victory is near that misfortune feels the hardest. It's logical that there would be more titans, close as they are to the point of entry of these beasts. They are still taken by surprise. A handful of abnormals are running towards them and there's no time to think and no high surfaces to fly to with the 3DMG. They are halted, preparing to retreat as they were taken by surprise – but they won't be able to. They're a small group. There are other titans coming from another direction, not exactly surrounding them but it still feels like they're trapped, and Eren has already used his titan form once on the way. He is not fully conscious yet.
Otabek makes a decision. He may have gotten attached to Yuri first and may love him more, but it's not as if he doesn’t like these people too – though he used not to, blinded by the disinformation he had received as a child. He won't let them die like he did in Trost. He won't value his own comfort more than their lives again. He gets down from his horse as people – as his fellow ex-trainees, as his friends – argue about what to do, where to go. Yuri spots him and approaches. He starts to ask : "You're going to-"
"Yes," Otabek answers, cutting him, knowing what Yuri is about to ask. The latter seems both angry and defeated, as he gets off his horse too and walks towards Otabek until there's barely a meter between them. Yuri is at loss of what to say. Otabek smiles as he says : "I'll be okay." Yuri looks away and huffs.
"Of course. It's not those petty titans I'm worried about." It's what comes after I'm afraid of, he doesn't say. Otabek can't help but feel lucky that such an individual as Yuri Plisetsky cares for him. He takes his hand in his for a short time, squeezes it, before he starts to walk away. Suddenly, he is grabbed by the shoulder and turned around, and before he can register what is happening, Yuri crashes his lips into his. It doesn't take long for Otabek to start kissing back. Yuri is grabbing his shirt, trying to put them impossibly closer, and he kisses the same way he fights, the same way he lives : passionately. When they separate, still a breath away, Yuri whispers : "Come back to me."
Otabek feels surprised but he is also undeniably and incredibly happy. That kiss can't help feeling a bit like a farewell, of course, but it also feels like... a kiss. Like it should. "I love you." It slips past his lips, and they both startle, before suddenly, Yuri is laughing with fondness.
"Trying to one up me on relationship milestones, aren't you ?" Otabek smiles at Yuri's teasing, but time is running out. He painfully detaches himself from Yuri and walks away for real. Annie probably knows what he intends to do. Maybe the other two warriors suspect it too. The others, though, do not – Mikasa, Eren, Armin, Sasha, Christa and so many more. The way they'll look at him will change, he is sure. He's just afraid it will change in a bad way.
"Otabek, get back, it's dangerous-!" He isn't sure who called him back – is it Sasha ? Is it Christa ? Is it Jean ? So many possibilities, but his mind is swirling and he cannot recognize the voice. He starts running and he doesn’t look back, he breathes in deeply, lets go of his doubts and fears, and he bites his hand.
Yuri looks at the shock, confusion, and fear on his comrades’ faces as they see the lightning and the titan emerging from it. He notices Annie is doing the same, observing and sizing up people's reaction. He notices that Reiner and Bertholdt don't seem surprised – or not surprised enough – but no matter how suspicious that is, it is the least of his concerns right now. Yuri then moves his gaze to their superior officers, the ones leading the mission : Levi, Hanji and Viktor. They seem mostly set on protecting the others. It is not outright hostility, but it is clear that they would kill Otabek in half a minute, would he dare to threaten anyone. Eren, for his part, seems thrown back, while Mikasa seems conflicted between anger and gratitude at being saved, though she is also distrusting, and Armin has a strange expression, like this is confirming suspicions he had, somehow (and that is absolute bullshit. There's no way that Armin can actually predict everything that happens all the time. Yuri is starting to think he's only pretending). Sasha, Connie, Jean, Marco, Christa, Ymir, Yuuri... those still seem mostly surprised. They're not the ones Yuri will have to be the wariest of.
Still, no one act while Otabek fights and kill the titans. They wait, they watch. There are fewer titans than that one time they were alone – but also, this time, they are not almost out of supplies, Yuri realizes. He snaps back out of his thoughts. "Come on, you bastards, are you really gonna let him do all the work ?!" Yuri screams at everyone. "Were you trained to kill titans or to be wimps ?!" he adds, taunting, before he flies off, hooked into the neck of a titan and slashing the nape before anybody has moved. That seems to wake them up. In record time, the area is cleaned up, the titans are dead. Yuri knows, however, that their survival is first and foremost thanks to Otabek clearing out the area, revealing his secret and putting his life on the line.
Otabek – or his titan form, Yuri is not sure they can exactly be called the same person – falls to his knees, and the earth tremors. Yuri and Annie, using their 3DMG and hooking themselves to the low trees (too little to fight titans but perfect to gain speed), get to Otabek. Annie starts helping him out of the nape of the titan while Yuri turns his back to them, adopting a protective stance. The others join them, a bit farther away, most of them hesitant and distrustful.
"You knew," Viktor doesn't ask but states, his voice calm, his stance relaxed – but Viktor has always been good at appeasing people and Yuri is afraid to be fooled. He doesn't give any answer, because both denying and confirming would be stupid at this point. Yuri has to admit that he's at loss, unsure of what to do – but what he is certain of is that he won't let them hurt Otabek. "How did you know ?" Viktor asks.
Yuri sighs and figures that maybe he can answer that. "The same as today – we were in a bad situation. He shifted to save m- us." He remembers at the last second that Annie was with them too and that her identity is still a secret. Also, Yuri suddenly thinks : maybe that will help, at least a bit, that both times Otabek has shifted, it was to protect people. Doesn't that at least suggest he's not an enemy of humanity ?
"The 58th expedition – that's how you survived," Armin correctly assumes. Yuri only nods. "That means Annie knew too." Yuri doesn’t correct him, doesn’t tell him that Annie knew even way before that. He looks at all of them, at the distrust still on their faces, and it worries him and makes him angry.
"You should know-" Yuri starts. "-that if you intend to hurt him, you will not be able to get him without passing through me first." He still has his blades in his hands and for the first time, they are turned towards his people, and not titans. However, his grip is strong and sure. Otabek has saved him two times now, and Yuri doesn't like feeling indebted. It is time to repay the favor and protects him for a change. Yuri, suddenly, is very glad of his exceptional talent. Like Mikasa, like Levi, like Viktor, he is extremely valuable, and as such, they won't dare to hurt him gravely.
"We'll have to ask him questions," Hanji finally says, sighing. "However, we do acknowledge that he saved us today and that will count in his favor." Yuri hesitates, but he knows he won't get anything better. He also still trusts these people. He will give it a chance and hope that they come to see Otabek as he does, eventually. He puts his blades away. Otabek is unconscious, having overworked himself, and is laid in the cart where Eren was resting earlier. Yuri rides next to it as they continue their way – they are too close to Shiganshina to turn back now, even after the discovery of another titan-shifter. A few times, Yuri catches Eren looking at Otabek with hesitant mistrust, but also with wonder and companionship – ah, yes, Eren did just discover he wasn't alone, that another titan-shifter like him existed. Yuri can get the sudden sense of companionship.
Otabek is chained up in a dark room when he wakes up. By reflex, he pulls at his restraints, but it's useless. He notices, in front of him, the three squad leaders ; Levi, Viktor, and Hanji. They're on the other side of the room, leaning on the wall, waiting. "Oh, good, you woke up !" Hanji cheerfully says. "I think it's time that you answer some questions and – ah, I was about to forget, but heads up ! We are back in wall Rose and this is an underground basement, dozens of meters into the earth, so shifting wouldn't do you any good."
Otabek doesn't answer. He doesn't have any intention to protest. He guesses that this is the time to come clean, to choose his side in a way he cannot come back from – it's time for him to tell the people of the walls the truth about their world. "I will answer any question you have," he says, his voice a bit strained. Hanji nods and seems pleased, Viktor seems a bit disbelieving and Levi doesn't show anything, his expression cold, as it so often is.
"Alright," Hanji says, and she's clearly the one leading this interrogation of sorts. "Let's start simple. Where were you born ?" She calls that question simple but the answer to that question alone, he knows, is already world-changing. But there is no turning back now, and even if there was a way, Otabek is not sure he would take it.
"I was born in a land outside the walls called Marley," he answers. The questions continue after that. Otabek explains many things, as clearly as he can. He talks about the fact that other humans exist outside the walls and he talks about Eldia and the legend of Ymir Fritz and the titan warriors program. He figures, if he wants to hold on to any hopes of them ever trusting him, he has to tell them about how to get rid of him too, about how they can hold true power over him, so he talks about the serum and the way titan power can be transferred. It takes hours. Otabek tries to ignore his worries. Was Yuri dragged into this too, because he knew ? Is Annie okay and is her identity still a secret ? Will he end this day with his life intact ?
Hanji never runs out of questions, but Levi and Viktor grow tired of this interrogation and put an end to it, ignoring Hanji’s protest that there were still many things she wanted to get details about. Then, Levi starts talking : "While you were unconscious, we reached Shiganshina and Eren Jaeger's father's basement. The most valuable items it contained was three handwritten books. It contained information on the outside of the walls, on Marley and Eldia…" Otabek realizes, suddenly, that this is why they never seemed surprised at his answers. He has thought they were only distrustful... "The information these books gave us concur with each of your answers. As we determined prior, even though we obviously cannot completely trust you, we will give you the benefit of the doubt and not consider you an enemy of humanity for now."
Otabek can hear his heart beating, loud and fast. He gasps, breathes out, alleviated. He stops himself from laughing of relief. This chance that they are giving him, it is better than everything he had ever hoped for – though maybe he was a bit of a pessimist. Levi approaches and unlocks his chains. Otabek gets up and his three superiors escort him towards stairs.
"Oh, and by the way ?" Hanji suddenly adds, turning back to look at him with a playful smile. "We never actually left Shiganshina. This is neither wall Rose nor a basement a hundred meters deep in the earth." When she sees his surprised expression, she laughs.
And the truth was that...
Mikasa Ackerman was fierce when protecting the people she loved. Eren Jaeger was passionate and driven. Armin Arlert knew when to listen to be able to understand anything. Jean Kirschtein was a leader. Marco Bodt was supportive. Christa Lenz was kind-hearted. Ymir was honest. Sasha Braus was resourceful and creative. Connie Springer knew when and how to joke to alleviate everyone's anxieties. Yuuri Katsuki could still see beauty in a devastated world. Yuri Plisetsky was determined and competition drew him to be the best he could be. He was also passionate and protective, and loyal and caring…
The truth was that Otabek couldn't tell if the choice he had made was truly, objectively right. He didn’t trust his moral sense anymore. However, it was maybe more likely that true right was, in fact, unattainable. Like Annie had said once, it was impossible to be a good person to everyone. So, Otabek had decided he would be good to Yuri, and Annie, and the inhabitants of the walls. He was loyal to them. He didn’t care if it was right.
The truth was that the future was uncertain and that danger was imminent, so he would cherish every second that he spent with the people he loved. He still tried to believe that his and everyone’s hope and determination would bring them victory in the end.
The exit of the basement is at the top of the flight of stairs. Going through the door, Otabek walks slowly, temporarily blinded by the bright sun. He wrinkles his eyes, almost unable see his surroundings, when he suddenly feels a weight jump on him. Holding it in his arms by reflex, he recognizes its shape quickly ; it’s Yuri. "You're okay !" the boy exclaims with relief before giving him a quick kiss. "I swear to god if they hurt you-" he continues, looking him over before glaring towards their three superiors, but Otabek cuts him.
"Yura, I'm fine. They only asked questions." He can't help smiling, however, at the fact that Yuri worried, at the fact that he cared. As his eyes start getting used to the light again, Otabek thinks that he would burn Marley to the ground if that could keep them from ever touching even one hair on Yuri’s head. Observing him, Otabek looks at his long blond hair, his bright green eyes, the confidence and determination he can read in them – and he feels lucky that this is the life his choices have led him to.