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Humanity's Greatest

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The world continued to turn despite all that occurred. The Scouts arrived back from Wall Maria to Wall Sina afterward, bloodied and broken but wiser. They stayed with the Military Police while the higher-ups figured out what to do next, which meant dealing with those evacuated to Wall Sina. After it was announced the wall had been breached, everyone was evacuated into the Underground beneath Wall Sina. Unfortunately, despite preparations, there were only enough supplies to feed everyone for a week. To avoid an uprising, Wall Maria was declared inhabitable, and everyone was moved back.

The threat, however, was only now being understood. Thanks to Hange and Connie, there was now a working hypothesis as to how the invasion happened to begin with, not that it was expressly reassuring. Based on their findings in the village, Hange believed the people were turned into Titans. She is not sure how or why, but she, Erwin, and the others are determined to discover any and all secrets that might reveal. The first step towards answers was to return to where it all began.


 

Levi stares at the map in front of the table, where one spot is circled several times in red ink. The next target, deep in Titan territory and their best shot at coming up with a plan to counter this new threat, is Eren Jaeger’s house. For a while now he’s mentioned that his father left him the key to the basement and that inside, he would discover essential secrets regarding the Titans. While no one is looking forward to returning to Wall Maria so soon after all this, it is the next logical step, especially if they want to back up Hange’s claim about how Titans are created.

A shudder crawls across Levi’s shoulders and down his spine. Just thinking that all this time he’s been killing people instead of monsters unsettles him greatly.

“What do you think, Captain?” asks Erwin from his bed. “Is that an acceptable target?”

“I can’t say I’m happy with it, but we don’t have much choice,” he says flatly, betraying nothing about his conflicted thoughts. “It would probably be best not to involve too many people in this operation, just those who need to know.”

Erwin nods. “I agree. I’ve already decided that you and Hange will lead this expedition, with you taking command and her as your second. I want you to gather a squad of the finest Scouts and along with Jaeger, head to Wall Maria by the end of the month.”

Levi doesn’t even try to hide his surprise at the timeline. “That’s barely three weeks. Shouldn’t we take more time to prepare?”

Erwin looks at him curiously. “I’m surprised, Captain, normally you’d say that it’s too much time.”

“We’ve just suffered heavy losses,” explains Levi as he points at the map. “Even a small scouting expedition beyond the Walls was given more preparation than this. We’re about to send more people to their deaths after many watched their comrades die just days ago, not to mention Eren. He of all the Scouts needs the most time to recover and prepare.” He runs a hand through his ink black hair. “I’m sure he blames himself for our losses.”

Erwin considers his friend’s words carefully. “I see your point. The Scouts, especially those from the 104th, have experienced a great deal in just a few shorts months. That being said, after all that’s happened, I can only imagine how eager they are to have a chance at taking down the Titans once and for all.” He touches the bandage that covers where a Titan ripped off his arm. “Whatever’s in that basement must’ve been important enough for Dr. Jaeger to hide from even his own family. I’m counting on you and your new squad to find and bring back everything you find there. We’ll need all the help we can get if we want even a prayer of winning now.”

Levi didn’t like how that sounded, but he knew better than to argue. Honestly, he is not even sure why he cares so much about the status of the cadets, but after watching them all come back in various states of injury, something inside him broke. So much war and destruction, so many losses, it is all starting to feel just a bit heavy on his shoulders.

“I’d like to pick my new squad,” says Levi as he rolls up the map. They’re going to study this until their eyes bleed and they can walk through the town blind.

Erwin nods. “Of course, I expected nothing else. I’m guessing you already have some Scouts in mind?”

Levi nods. “I do, and they’re probably the best veterans we have.”


 

“Sasha! Give me back my bread!” shouts Jean as he dives over the table at the red-haired girl with half a roll sticking out of her mouth. She cleverly slides out of the way just in time, and Jean falls feet over head onto the floor in a jumbled heap.

Connie laughs as Sasha stands up and does a victory lap around the table, grabbing a small wheel of cheese and a cup of water in the process. “Why would you even try, Jean?” asks Connie, tears in his eyes as he watches the taller boy recover himself enough to stand. “It was as good as hers the moment you turned your back.”

“All I did was look at Armin for less than a second!” argues Jean as he hauls himself back up beside the blonde male in question. “If only she moved that fast when dealing with Titans.”

Sasha rolls her eyes as she swallows the roll in almost one bite.

“If Titans were made of bread, I’m sure she’d be faster than Captain Levi,” chuckles Armin.

“Now we can’t have that,” says Levi startling the cadets. They stare up at the platform above them; Hange gives them a friendly wave while Levi just stares down at them.

They then race to stand and salute the officers. Levi waves dismissively. “At ease cadets, we don’t have time for that crap.” He looks around at those present: Jean, Armin, Historia, Sasha, and Connie. “Where’re Ackerman and Eren?”

“They were right here,” says Armin as he looks around the room for his two closest friends. “Maybe they went for a walk?”

Levi shakes his head in dismay. “Of all the times . . . Alright, I’ll get them. You five stay here and don’t leave.” He jumps down gracefully from the top of the stairs and lands easily. “That’s an order.”

The five Scouts merely stare at him as he rushes out of the dining hall. Hange shakes her head.

“I hope Eren isn’t doing anything stupid,” sighs Jean as he snatches a cracker from Sasha’s plate.

Levi is practically grinding his teeth as he searches for Mikasa and Eren. The one time he needs Eren, of course, he’s not there. That would be too damn convenient. He hopes neither of them is doing something that might get them killed or injured, the last thing he needs to deal with is paperwork and any possible setbacks for this new assignment.

“Leave me alone!” he hears Eren shout, and he breathes a small sigh. Thank the gods at least he isn’t dead.

“You need to eat, Eren!” argues Mikasa and Levi tails the sound to a nearby hallway. He spies the two foster siblings about halfway down it, Eren standing with his fists clenched and Mikasa with her arms crossed tight against her middle.

“I’m fine,” he argues, trying to turn tail but Mikasa’s hand shoots out and grabs his fist.

“No you’re not,” she says, trying to sound calm but even Levi can hear the frustration lacing her voice. “If you were, you’d be up to eating with everyone.”

Levi considers butting in and getting the two of them back to the dining hall, but he’s mildly interested to see where this will go, so he leans against the wall and observes.

“Why does it matter, Mikasa?” asks Eren, sounding dejected and irritated. “I ate earlier; I just want to be left alone. Can you understand that?”

Mikasa lets out a small sigh, and Levi notices the tension around her eyes. “Yes, I can. I just don’t want you to get into trouble. You tend to do something irrational when you’re like this.”

Eren opens his mouth to argue when Levi steps out of his hiding place and clears his throat audibly.

“Ackerman, I need you to report to the dining hall,” says Levi calmly, his expression neutral as he begins walking towards them. “I’ll keep an eye on Eren for you.”

Mikasa eyes him suspiciously. She never trusted him alone with Eren after his display at the tribunal, but she is hardly in a position to disagree. Levi outranks her, and if he wanted, he could quickly pull rank and order her away from Eren. Not that she would obey without a fight. This is just Levi’s version of a friendly suggestion.

“I’ll be back,” she says to Eren’s back and then heads for Levi. The two share a firm look before she turns to the dining hall and he comes to a halt beside Eren.

“You don’t have to watch me,” says Eren sternly. “I’m not going to Shift over something as stupid as an argument with my sister.”

“I know,” says Levi as he calmly looks out at the green grass and pink flowers in the courtyard. “You’re far more responsible than that.”

Eren’s bottle green eyes widen. Did Levi just compliment me? “Thank you, sir,” he says with as much dignity as he can muster.

“Now why are you behaving like a crabby child?” asks Levi, knocking the wind right out of Eren’s sails. When he notices how quiet the Shifter is being, he prods his calf with the tip of his boot. “If you don’t tell me, I’ll just ask your sister, and I’m sure she’ll give me some very informative answers.”

Eren pales at the thought and decides that telling Levi is better than having him listen to Mikasa’s speculations.

“I can’t stand it,” he whispers as he leans against the stone rail in front of him. “I can’t stand the way everyone looks at me.” He waits for Levi to say something but when he does not, he continues, “I don’t mean like a monster. Everyone now looks at me as if appraising me, trying to find my worth and if it did cost the lives of dozens of soldiers.” He shuts his eyes and clenches his fists. “I want to show them that I am worth it, that those people didn’t die in vain . . . But I’m useless! I’ve been kidnapped three times and have been unable to save myself. I can’t even win in a fight against a Titan when I am one!”

Silence follows his words and for a moment he is worried that Levi is preparing to strike him down or left, but when he looks to his left he sees Levi staring pensively. The sight unsettles him a little.

“Then you’ll need to prove it,” says Levi after a few moments, “and not necessarily as a Titan either. You’re most vulnerable to attack when you’re human, so if you’re going to prevent another kidnapping, you’re going to need to learn to fight back.” He looks down at Eren. “Your record says you were ranked second in hand-to-hand combat, which is nothing short of amazing considering you tend to lose yourself in your temper.”

Eren’s cheeks turn pink. How can he praise and insult me in the same breath?

“Your problem is you hesitate,” continues Levi, noticing the pink but saying nothing about it. “Every time you’ve come up against an enemy, you lack the conviction to follow through with your attack, unless it’s a Titan you know nothing about. When you fought Leonhart, Braun, and Hoover you hesitated until the last second and then acted. You can’t continue that pattern. You need to strike when you can and not a second later. Those people forfeited your friendship and loyalty the second you found out about their betrayal, speculated or not.”

“Are you saying you’d have been able to kill Annie or the others without remembering who she was to you?” asks Eren curiously.

Levi nods without hesitation. “If anything, those memories would’ve served to fuel my anger and my resolve to wipe her out. They seemed to only serve as a source of conflict for you.”

“I know,” sighs Eren, rubbing the back of his neck. He’s already been through this discussion time and time again with himself and his friends. “It was only when I thought about their actions as Titans that I could fight them. If they stayed human, I would’ve found it nearly impossible.”

“I’m pleased to see you’re aware of your faults,” says Levi, at least sounding satisfied. “I’m going to have you start training to hone both your human and Titan fighting skills. You lack both, which makes you an unbalanced fighter. Does that sound reasonable?”

“Yes, sir,” says Eren immediately. He would be a fool to disagree.

“Good,” says Levi, putting a hand on Eren’s shoulder and squeezing for a fraction of a second before letting go. “Now hurry up, I’ve got an announcement to make, and it’s because of you going AWOL that I haven’t yet.”

Eren chuckles as he and Levi start walking. He tries not to notice how much the spot where Levi touched him burns while Levi pretends that the radiating warmth in his hand is not the result of touching Eren.


 

When they arrive, they find two tables flipped over on either side of the room with three people behind each one and Hange in the middle, looking harried and concerned. Eren and Levi watch as Jean stands up and throws a handful of shelled walnuts at the other table, Mikasa leaps out from behind and knocks the nuts down with a sweep of a broom and Connie stands up to throw his ammunition—frozen grapes—at the others. Sasha jumps up from behind the table and promptly catches each one in her mouth before Historia comes up and throws pieces of bread and Armin throws peaches.

“What the hell is going on here?!” rages Levi, his grey eyes snap with an angry fire so intense that even Eren backs away from him, despite not being the one at fault.

Everyone in the room stops where they are, even Sasha stops chewing the grapes. All eyes are on the incredibly angry captain, and all have a sense of dread creep into their hearts.

“Hange, answer me,” says Levi, looking directly at the Titan obsessed officer.

Hange pales as she tries to collect herself and her thoughts. “You see, Captain, the cadets, were just—”

“Slacking off,” finishes Levi sternly as his eyes drift to each cadet in turn. “I’m not even gone twenty minutes, and you dissolve into madness.” He takes a deep breath and uses that moment to steady himself. “This behavior is very unbecoming for members of Squad Levi, and I don’t want to walk in on a scene like this in the future.”

In the quiet that follows, a pin could be heard dropping on the other side of the room.

Eren’s eyes shine with excitement. “You mean . . . we’re now members of Squad Levi?!”

Levi tries not to smirk or even crack a faint smile, a task he finds almost impossible in the face of Eren’s delight. “Yes, you are. I’ve chosen the seven of you to become members of my squad. This means you are the best of the best, veteran Titan killers, and experienced soldiers. There aren’t any soldiers half as skilled as the seven of you.”

“B-But,” says Armin as he stands up, looking a little afraid to be speaking directly to Levi. Most of their interactions have been indirect or with Erwin present, “what makes you so sure of that? There have to be better soldiers than us.” His eyes dart to Mikasa and Jean.

Levi’s do the same before he points at Armin. “No one in the last five years has demonstrated your tactical brilliance.” He points at Sasha, who gulps down her mouthful. “Your speed and intuition are second to none.” He looks at Connie. “No one can move on the ODM as fast as you.” He looks at Jean. “And no one can maneuver on the ODM gear like you, nor do they have your level-headedness.” He looks at Historia, who shrinks back slightly. “You are a poet with a set of blades, clean and deep cuts every time and you’ve never failed to strike.”

His eyes go to Mikasa who glares back at him. “I don’t even have to tell you why I picked you, Ackerman, considering your kill count could rival even mine and Erwin’s.” He then looks at Eren who calmly meets his gaze, something he finds strangely reassuring. “And you, despite the halting progress of your training, I’ve never met a person so determined before and who can rally people behind a cause like you.”

Eren’s chest puffs out slightly with pride at the unabashed praise. It’s incredibly rare for Levi to say anything positive to another individual and he’s said something to Eren twice already. Twice!

Levi then looks back at the room. “Those are just a few of the reasons why I selected you for my squad. Disappoint me, and I won’t hesitate to remove you, exceed my expectations, and I won’t hesitate to promote you. Together, we will be the force that stops the Titans in their tracks. The Walls will not fall again, and we will be the ones guarding them. Nothing will get in our way, and no one can stop us!”

Slowly his words make their way through the room, and in moments, the cadets are cheering, clapping and crying as the reality of their situation hits them. Being picked to Squad Levi is a tremendous honor and tells the rest of humanity about their status as soldiers, but it also means they are the ones most likely to die and will always carry the weight of humanity’s survival on their soldiers.

Levi looks out at his new squad with refrained fondness, he can’t get too carried away with his compliments, but he needed to bolster their flailing morale and instill some confidence in them. His gaze slides to Eren, who is beaming at Armin and Mikasa. Eren, more than anyone else, needs to know that someone believes in him and by the power of the gods, Levi will do his best to ensure he never doubts himself again.

Chapter Text

“Hurry up, Eren!” shouts Mikasa as she zips through the tree line on her ODM gear. “We only have three minutes to finish the course!”

Eren curses as he fires another line and uses more gas to propel himself to Mikasa’s position almost twenty feet in front of him. This entire exercise feels impossible and like something straight out of an insane man’s mind; considering it was Levi who came up with it, he is not too far off. The point is to travel the distance from Wall Maria to Eren’s former house in under two hours, killing as many Titans as possible while staying alive. This is the fourth day of the exercise, and so far, they are no closer to beating it than they were on the first.

“How many Titans left?” he calls when they are parallel.

“Fifty-seven!” she replies before cutting into the fake one in their path. “Fifty-six!”

Eren fires off more gas, determination shining in his eyes. He knows he is about a half mile away from where his house is in this course and a rough idea as to where the Titans are. He just wants this to end. They have been stuck in this exercise for days on end, and each time they perform it, they seem to do worse and worse. This time, they have a chance to finally succeed, and he is going to be the one to do it. He glides past Mikasa just as she comes in contact with another Titan dummy. She looks up at him and sighs, she knows exactly where this is going and it is not going to end well.

Eren flies through the air, quickly evading the Titan dummies and flying past his other comrades as they fight through the horde. He smiles when he catches sight of the target and uses the last of his gas to propel himself forward. With a flip, he lands in front of the wooden door of the house Levi uses as a stand-in for the real thing and touches it.

“I did it!” he declares loudly and smugly. Behind him, he can hear his friends cheering, and moments later, Levi and Hange propel in. He turns to them, a self-satisfied grin on his face, and is about to declare the exercise a success when Levi punches him squarely in the gut, causing him to go to his knees, the wind knocked out of his lungs.

“What the hell was that for?!” demands Jean as he, Armin, Mikasa, Connie, Historia, and Sasha land behind Eren. “He completed the course.”

“He blatantly disregarded it!” says Levi angrily. Eren does not think he has ever seen the Captain so upset before. Levi’s eyes find Mikasa’s. “What the fuck did you say to him?”

Mikasa, who is being held back by Armin and Sasha, wastes no time in replying in the nastiest tone she can manage, “I told him we had three minutes left.”

Levi rolls his eyes and hits Eren over the head. “You idiot! How many times do I have to fucking tell you to stop fixating on the time?! I give you the limit of a best-case scenario, not the overall expedition!” He shakes his head. “Well, I can’t say I’m shocked that you failed. None of you shitheads has demonstrated any competence during this exercise.”

This hits them harder than if Levi just decided to sucker punch them in the gut like he did Eren.

“We’re not incompetent!” cries Jean, taking a step towards Levi. “We’re trying our best to do this course, but you’re the one with impossible standards! What Eren did was legitimate, it ended the exercise within the time given.”

Levi looks as if he is ready to burn down the world and everyone in it. “This isn’t a goddamn exercise! This is real! When we go to Wall Maria, this is what we should expect to encounter. If Eren pulled that stunt in the middle of the expedition, all of you would be dead and so would he! He used the last bit of his gas to get here and didn’t even think to save any for the trip home.” Levi gestures behind him at the abandoned village and forest. “This is just the first half of the fucking expedition; we haven’t even gotten to the second half, which is to return to the top of the Wall unharmed and alive with the information!”

“Levi,” says Hange slowly, as if approaching an angry beast. “Levi, you're being too hard on them, they don’t understand—”

“Damn right they don’t,” snaps Levi. “They don’t stick to the formation, they don’t make survival a priority, and they’re too busy trying to protect themselves or others to do anything else.” His eyes rest heavily on Mikasa. “The exercise is on hold until the seven of you can demonstrate that you aren’t a bunch of incompetent cowards.”

They all open their mouths to protest, but Levi holds up his hand. “I’m not in the mood to listen to whining, so save it for someone else. Report back to the base by sundown, I’ll see you then.”

He then uses his ODM gear to head back towards their base without so much as looking back at them.

“Where does he get off?” demands Connie, looking at Hange who flinches. “We’ve been doing this stupid training ever since we got back from Wall Sina and all he ever does is criticize us. Doesn’t he understand that we’re trying?”

Hange fidgets with her goggles as she tries to come up with some explanation for Levi’s erratic and rather unbecoming behavior. She knew he was tough on his old squad and Eren to a certain degree, but she never saw anything like this. “I’m not sure,” she says slowly, knowing that one false step with the cadets would likely lead to a mutiny or worse. “I know he’s under extreme pressure from Command and Erwin to ensure that this expedition is a success, but I’ve never heard of him prioritizing a expedition’s success over his squad.”

“That doesn’t explain all these drills and exercises and continually going over the plan,” interjects Armin carefully. “It’s not like we’re going in there alone.”

Hange looks at the ground, staring at anything that is not the cadets.

“You mean . . . we won’t have any backup?” asks Sasha quietly.

The Titan enthusiast nods. “Levi was going to get to this once he was sure you could handle yourselves, but I guess you should know that the nine of us are all that’s going into the district. We’ll have an escort going into Wall Maria, but the Scouts can’t afford another expedition with mass casualties; so Erwin’s decided that a smaller squad will have a better chance of retrieving the information and making it back.” She looks down at Eren, who is now recovered from his earlier punch. “I’m sorry, I’m sure that’s the last thing you wanted to hear.”

Eren calmly meets her gaze. He can hardly say he is surprised by this turn of events, but it still hurts to hear. The squad is small because of all the people who needlessly lost their lives protecting him or coming to save him. This entire situation is his fault. His hand drifts up to the key laying against his sternum, warm from being against his skin. No, this is the Titans’ fault; it’s Reiner and Bertolt’s and Annie’s fault. They started this war, and now he and Levi and the others are going to end it.

“You’re right,” he says as he stands up, a little shaky but he manages. “I didn’t want to hear that, but I needed to. We all needed to hear that.” He turns back to his comrades. “We have a choice to make right here and now. Do we follow Captain Levi or do we leave him high and dry? Do we save humanity or watch it fall to the enemy? We need to decide what we want to do and what kind of soldiers we want to be because if we don’t, no one is going to win in this war except the Titans and I’ll be damned before I let that happen.”

He looks at his friends, his comrades, the people he would gladly give his life for and watches as one by one their faces reflect their souls, and he knows the choice they made. With a smile he extends his fist, and Mikasa does the same, touching hers to his, Armin follows suit followed by Jean and Hange, Sasha is next and then Connie, Historia is the last after a few moments of hesitation, but Eren knew she would stand with the rest. She cared for humanity as much as the rest of them, and she would not let them down when the time came. None of them would.


 

The base is quiet when Levi enters the dining hall. The cadets are either in their rooms or still out with Hange; he decides as he sits down at the wooden table where just a few months ago he and his original squad sat with Eren during those early days. He sits at the lower end of the table and stares at the empty seats. He can easily see Petra, Eld, Oluo, and Gunther sitting in those empty chairs. Petra would be sitting across from Oluo, getting on to him for his attitude or something he said while Gunther pestered Eld about recent kills and how they all compared to each other now. The man was always obsessed with statistics and regularly insisted on updating their records to reflect their achievements.

Levi rests his head in his hands, tearing his eyes away from the painful memory. They’re all dead because of this stupid war, because of stupid Annie and Reiner and Bertolt. They died because he failed to make the right decisions. Now history will repeat itself with this new squad, with Humanity’s Squad, and he feels helpless.

He understands that he is pushing too hard and expecting them to understand everything he does when he has yet to explain anything. Levi can feel his emotions clouding his mind and creeping into his confidence. He is starting to lose his edge; his fears are beginning to take over and drown out his belief that they will succeed and they will find out how to save humanity from the Titans.

“Captain?” asks a voice and it pulls him from his thoughts. He looks up and sees Eren standing over him with two cups of hot tea in hand.

“Eren,” he breathes, barely believing that he is standing there. He looks different somehow, calmer maybe.

Eren gives him a slight smile as he puts one of the cups in front of Levi before going to the other end of the table and sitting in the chair across from him. “I hope it’s still hot,” he says as he lifts the cup from the saucer. “I’m not sure how long it took me to steep the tea leaves, so it might be cold.”

Levi nods as he picks up the porcelain cup by the rim with his fingers. He brings it to his lips and takes a tentative sip. The flavorful dark amber liquid touches his tongue, and he relaxes, it is brewed just the way he likes it, and he is mildly surprised that Eren knew how.

“Where are the others?” he asks as he puts the cup down.

“Their rooms,” replies Eren as he looks at the candles burning above before he looks back at Levi. “Hange smoothed things over with them.”

Levi sighs quietly. It’s not her job to explain his behavior, especially when he didn’t even understand where this is coming from. “I’m sorry,” he says, making sure to meet Eren’s eyes. “I shouldn’t have hit you like I did.”

Eren shrugs. “And I shouldn’t have tried to cheat the exercise. We were both wrong.”

“Don’t rationalize it!” snaps Levi, looking away from Eren, his eyes closed and teeth clenched in frustration. “Don’t you dare make it okay, because it’s not! I shouldn’t have done it. I shouldn’t have lost my temper over something you didn’t understand.”

Eren stares at the man who long ago earned his respect. The man always seems so cool and collected when in the field, but right now he seems broken and afraid. At this moment, Eren realizes that he is not speaking to Humanity’s Strongest but Levi, the man underneath the legend.

“I’m not rationalizing it,” says Eren quietly. “I’m accepting that I had some part in it. I decided to disobey the rules of the exercise because I was tired of it and I knew the others were too, and I was hoping to end it so we could move on.” He looks down at his cup and sees his murky reflection. “We both did things we aren’t proud of.”

Levi looks up at him, his expression worn and his body sagging. “When did you get so damn mature?”

“I’m not, not really,” chuckles Eren, a little awkwardly. “I just . . . I decided that I need to get over my pride and stop thinking about this as all about me. This war is bigger than me and will always be, and if we’re going to win then things need to change, and one of those is me feeling sorry for myself. I’m not responsible for all those deaths, I didn’t start this war, and I wasn’t the cause of the attack.” He looks at Levi, who seems intrigued. “They chose to chase after me, I didn’t ask for their help, just like Petra, Oluo, Gunther, and Eld chose to fight Annie to save me. I didn’t ask for it, but I won’t let their choices be made in vain. I’ll fight until my dying breath, and even then, I’ll fight to breathe and keep fighting.”

Levi can hardly believe that this is the same Eren who just a week and a half ago was lamenting how everyone looked at him like something to measure against the lives lost to save him. To say he is impressed is an understatement, to say he is as equally concerned goes without saying. Eren can be reckless, and when he is reckless, he makes terrible choices. He reflects on what Eren said about fighting to his dying breath and then still fighting despite being on death’s door. It does not sit well with him; in fact, it almost makes him sick to think about. Levi takes a sip of his tea to calm his stomach and tries not to dwell on why the thought of Eren dying fills him with so much dread.


 

They’re going to need a sound strategy if they are ever going to succeed at Levi’s exercise and prove to him that they are capable of completing their expedition. Eren looks at the calendar beside his bed with the date of their expedition circled in black ink. They only have ten days before the expedition, and they are no closer to succeeding than they were when they started.

“What’re you thinking about, Eren?” asks Armin as he enters Eren’s room. Now that he knows how to control his powers, Eren was granted a room with the others on the second floor rather than being trapped in the basement. Having a room with a view is lovely.

“The exercise,” replies Eren as he sits up in bed while Armin sits at the end.

Armin nods. “I’ve been thinking about it too. I think I have a plan, but I’m not sure about it.”

Eren smirks. “That usually means it’s pretty good.”

“Maybe,” says Armin cautiously as he pulls out several folded papers from his pocket. “I’ve been thinking about what Levi and Hange said, about not having any backup and the points where we were screwing up.”

“You mean how we weren’t prioritizing survival, focusing too much on time, getting out of formation and stuff like that?” asks Eren and Armin nods. “What did you come up with?”

“Well, for one thing, we need to ignore Levi’s time limit,” says Armin and before Eren can protest, he holds up a piece of paper. “I did some calculations; two hours is impossible even in the best of circumstances. What we need to do is focus on meeting each objective to the best of our abilities, not on the time it takes to meet them.” He holds up another piece of paper with more arithmetic on it. “Based on recent reports, there are approximately seventy-four Titans at any one time between your old house and the Wall. In this exercise, we’ve only averaged to kill thirty, and most of those were Mikasa. If we’re going to get past even half of those Titans, we’re going to need to stick to that formation Levi told us about: Mikasa in the center, behind her Jean on the right and Sasha on the left, followed by Connie on the left and me on the right behind them; with you and Historia in the center rear to make an open arrow. Honestly, it’s a sound formation. We could effectively kill seven Titans if all of us managed to kill the ones we encounter.”

Eren’s eyes widen. He thought the formation was too restrictive, but to hear Armin explain it, there’s some truth to it. “What about Levi and Hange?”

“Hange is on the left and Levi on the right outside of the formation,” explains Armin as he brings down a piece of paper with the formation written out. “There’s an unwritten plan in it too.” He points at the spot where Eren is in the formation. “In case we get overwhelmed, you can turn into a Titan, and we can scatter. You’ll be able to draw the Titans while we get into position to kill them. Then when you go back to normal, we’ll protect you while you heal.”

“Interesting,” says Eren as he looks at the paper. “So the next time we do the exercise, we need to stay in this formation, right?”

Armin nods emphatically. “Absolutely.” He then rubs the back of his neck. “We also need to make sure that Mikasa doesn’t break away to try and protect you. I know she’s worried about you, but it could compromise the expedition’s success.”

Eren nods his agreement. Armin makes a good point; Mikasa continually deserts the other Scouts in favor of coming to his rescue. If they are going to succeed, she needs to focus on the others instead of him.

“And if we stay in position, then our chances of survival are pretty high,” continues Armin as he unfolds another paper. “Of course, we can deviate enough to save ourselves if necessary, but so long as we maintain at least the shape of this in our deviation, we’ll be much safer.”

“I like where you’re going with this plan, Armin,” says Eren approvingly.

Armin chuckles. “It’s not my plan; it’s Captain Levi’s. I’m just demonstrating how it works so the next time we run the course, we don’t screw up.” He then pulls out a slightly detailed map of the course. “I’ve also been thinking about how we’re going to get back because getting to your house is only half the battle.” He points at the houses and trees. “We need to be conservative with our gas, we’ll each get an extra canister but it would be better if we didn’t use it until the final leg. Depending on how much is used, of course, one canister can realistically get us there. If we’re conservative, we can make one canister last through one and a half journeys.”

Eren nods as he looks at the map. “Then we need to find each strategic position where we should use the gas. Little puffs to get us propelled shouldn’t be a problem, right? But those bigger moments should be saved for later and we should try to use our environment as much as possible.” He runs a hand through his chestnut brown hair. “Fighting Titans without gas will be difficult, especially if we’re going for speed.”

Armin sighs. “I know. It’s the biggest issue we have. I do have a half plan, which goes along with what you said about using our environment. When we get into town, we’ll need to stick to the rooftops and high places, using our hooks to draw us in closer to the Titans when needed.”

“That’s more than half a plan,” Eren teases, but he honestly likes Armin’s thinking. “This plan can work, even though we both know that plans usually go to hell in the middle of battle. As long as everyone at least sticks to the basic outline and your suggestions, we should all at least survive.”

“And that’s what Captain Levi wants the most,” says Armin happily. “How did your talk go with him?”

“Good,” replies Eren, thinking about earlier when he brought Levi a cup of tea and apologized. “I apologized for cheating and he apologized for hitting me. I think we were both just frustrated with the situation.”

Amin smiles. “You know, I think you’re the only person here who understands his thinking. I mean Jean thought he was completely unfair and Mikasa was ready to kill him, and Connie thought he was out of line too. I think he terrifies Sasha and Historia, to be honest.”

Eren chuckles. “He scared me at first too; he can be a bit intimidating, at least until he starts making you clean.”

Armin shudders at the memory of their first night at the base, when Levi forced them to scrub the castle from top to bottom before they could have dinner. Sasha cried the entire time and had to keep redoing her sections to clean up the drool and tears.

“You’re the only one who cleans to his standards, Eren,” says Armin with a smirk.

“I’ve just done it before, you’ll learn,” says Eren with a shrug.

“You know, you’re the only one he addresses by name,” continues Armin. “He does address Erwin and Hange by their names, but not the rest of us.”

Eren’s ears perk up at this observation. “Really? I never noticed.”

“I guess you wouldn’t agree, what with all the criticism he gives you,” laughs Armin as he picks up his notes and the maps. “Anyway, we should probably let the rest of the squad in our this plan, and probably practice it a few times before we show Captain Levi.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I can handle another one of those punches,” says Eren, absentmindedly rubbing the spot where Levi’s fist connected.

Armin shrugs. “You’ve handled worse, and I think he was holding back. I saw what he did at the tribunal, and that was far worse than what you got today.”

Eren shrugs as they both get off the bed. “You might be right, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t think Mikasa will forgive him so easily next time.”

“What makes you think she’s already forgiven him?”

“He’s still alive, isn’t he?”

Chapter Text

It takes three days of training before they are ready to officially try the course again. This time, they plan to have Hange and Levi involved, something the latter is unprepared for when he approaches the starting point early that morning. He is more than a little surprised to see the squad pouring over a map and several pieces of paper, but he chalks it up to Armin’s influence.

“Hey, why do I have to do this?” asks Levi as he accepts an extra canister of gas from Connie, strapping it to his belt.

“Because if this plan is going to work, we need everyone,” replies Eren as he double-checks his belts and equipment. He then smirks at the Captain. “Unless you’d rather see us succeed without your help—”

“Alright, I get your point,” huffs Levi as he adjusts his cloak. In all honesty, he is more than a little curious as to what his Scouts have been up to these last few days. Not once did they approach him for another trial but each morning since they set out before dawn towards the course and returned to base at sunset, utterly exhausted.

“Remember, keep a distance of five feet between each other,” instructs Eren as he turns back to the squad. “We don’t want another tangling incident. Armin, are your blades sharp?” The blonde boy nods and Eren smiles. “Jean, remember to use small puffs of gas, we can’t have you running out before the rest of us. Historia, triple-check your harness. I don’t want to see you half dangling from a tree again.”

Historia’s cheeks burn a bright red. “That was one time!”

“And it was one time too many,” says Eren, winking at her. He then turns to Levi and Hange. “I understand you haven’t trained with us, but we’re going with the Captain’s original formation and plan with a few additions. I’m sure you’ll figure them out as we go.”

Hange nods excitedly, and Levi narrows his eyes suspiciously at Eren. When the hell did he become a leader?

Eren then returns his attention to the squad. “If we’re ready, let’s get in position. We only have one shot at this, and I’m not keen on getting punched again.”

Levi feels as if someone just punched him.

The others nod and form up just as Levi initially instructed. What the hell is going on?

Levi moves to the right and notices how determined the cadets appear. None of them seem afraid despite the fact this exercise is designed to potentially save them from their death.

No, block it out, this is just an exer—damn it, now I’m doing what I told them not to.

“Captain, give us the signal,” says Eren, looking at him expectantly.

The Captain looks at the Titan Shifter, his impossibly green eyes sparkle in the early morning light and for some reason, Levi’s stomach does a backflip. “Just go, brats,” mutters Levi and the second the words leave his mouth the Scouts are in the air. It takes him a moment to realize what happened before joining them; to his left Hange is already laughing like a madwoman, like she is in on their plan and just waiting for Levi to figure it out.

“Titans!” says Jean like this is the first time he’s seen one. Levi can’t fault him for acting; it’s better to think of this as the first time than something routine.

“Blades up!” orders Eren, much to Levi’s surprise.

Seriously, when the hell did they appoint him as their leader?

The cadets bring up their blades and immediately break off from the formation, but only just slightly. Levi watches in amazement as nearly each Scout cuts down one of the dummy Titans before seamlessly coming together in formation. Part of him knows that in battle, it will not go this smoothly and will likely take longer, but another smaller part of him is proud.

“Eren, how soon to the first point?” asks Historia as she glances at her canister. It is then that Levi realizes the others did not use their gas during that “fight” whereas Historia did.

“Two clicks, Toria,” replies Eren as he looks at their position. “Can you make it until then?”

“I think so,” she says, sounding unsure but still confident. “I’m sorry, I forgot to use the trees.”

“Don’t worry about it,” says Eren, moving to nudge the girl with his shoulder and Levi scowls for a moment. “Anyway, great takedown back there.” He then looks at Levi with a wicked grin. “I’m surprised our fearless leader didn’t jump in and show us all how it’s really done.”

Levi’s scowl deepens, and he can feel his cheeks burn with something like an internal fire. “I just wanted to see if you could do it,” he says sternly. “Don’t get cocky, Eren. It was one time.”

Eren looks even cockier. “Sure it was.”

That damn brat. Where does he get off—wait, why am I even thinking about this?

“Mikasa,” says Eren, turning his attention back to the group. “Anything?”

“Three on the left and two on the right,” she says, looking over her shoulder. “Get ready; they’re deep in the trees.”

“Jean, Connie, Hange, take care of the left,” shouts Eren and they nod. “Sasha and Armin, take care of the right. Captain, Toria, Mikasa, and I will cover you.”

The other two nod and the five go sailing into the trees. Levi can’t shake the feeling that he was replaced as he watches how effortlessly Eren gives commands and how readily the others follow them.

“Got mine!” shouts Jean before he rejoins the group. “Only used three puffs of gas with that thing.”

Eren shakes his head, but he is grinning. “Anything’s better than five. Good work. How were Connie and Hange fairing?”

Moments later a shout rings out that sounds like Hange’s battle cry and Levi knows she managed to get her target. He sees her casually slide into place. “Wow! That was fun! I haven’t run a course in years. Thanks for the tip about conserving gas, Jean.”

Jean beams back at her. “No problem. Thought you might want to know the new strategy.”

Just then Armin joins the group, his face is scratched up, and there are leaves in his hair, but he seems happy. “Got mine, Eren. Sasha stopped for a snack.”

Eren rolls his eyes. “I told her to wait until we got to the gas point. Jeez, is she trying to be Titan food?”

Sasha swings in, crumbs on her face and a smile on her lips. “Lighten up, Eren, it was just a bite out of my sandwich.”

“Fine,” sighs Eren and then his gaze wanders to the left. “Where’s Connie?”

Jean looks behind and shrugs. “He was doing fine with the dummy.”

Eren scowls and then breaks formation, heading back towards Connie’s previous position. Levi breaks off as well, following the would-be leader to see how he handles a situation like this one. They traverse the trees, Eren barely touching his gas button as he jumps from tree to tree, using his ODM cables to pull himself to each new target. Levi follows his example, astounded that they figured that part of the course out so quickly and are doing a fair job with the obstacles it presents.

“Eren!” shouts Connie and they turn to see Connie twisted up in a tree, his blades gone and several cables broken. “Eren, help!”

Levi watches as Eren shoots a line to the tree and lands beside Connie’s head. Levi does the same, slightly amused but a little disappointed.

Connie breathes a sigh of relief. “Thank the gods; I was starting to think—”

“Brace yourself,” says Eren as he cuts at the cables in front of him. Connie lets out an undignified shriek as the cables break away and he almost falls. Eren lowers himself and gives the blade to Connie before turning so his back is facing the other boy. “Grab on and cut the line.”

Connie seems skeptical and looks to Levi for advice as if expecting him to say something different.

“Either do it or die, brat,” says Levi flatly and Connie nods reluctantly.

He wraps one arm around Eren’s shoulders and then cuts the line with the other, freeing himself. Eren pushes off from the tree and releases his line, shooting it at a tree in front of him, and Levi follows after, more than a little impressed at how Eren handled himself. Weeks ago, the boy would’ve been freaking out and trying to come up with a plan that didn’t involve wasted equipment. Now it seems like that hardly causes a bump in the plans.

They catch up with the group as they encounter ten Titans. Levi wants to sit back and watch, curious to see how Eren plans on handling this with Connie strapped to his back, but he wants to get back at him for that comment earlier. He immediately heads for the nearest Titan and slices the cushion effortlessly. Satisfied, he goes for the next one and then the following, until they pass the obstacle and regroup.

“What happened?” asks Mikasa, obvious worry in her voice.

“Connie pulled a Toria,” replies Eren, eliciting groans from both individuals. “Anyway, we should be coming up to the gas point, get ready everyone. Remember, no more than three seconds on the triggers.”

Levi cocks an eyebrow. “What about you? With the extra weight, you won’t be able to go as high.”

“I know,” replies Eren with as best a shrug as he can manage in the circumstances. “I’ll just take Connie’s seconds and use six, that should account for the weight.”

Connie shrinks on Eren’s back, looking as pathetic as he probably feels.

“Hey, keep your head up,” says Levi, looking directly at Connie. “You still took down your Titan, and you didn’t panic, that right there is more than I’ve seen some people do.”

Connie’s frown quickly morphs into a tentative grin, like a god just spoke to him. “Thanks, Captain.”

Levi shrugs. “Don’t let it go to your head; you’re still going to be the one who’ll get those cables down from the tree once this is over.”

Connie lets out a wail of protest and Eren laughs. The barest hint of a smile graces Levi’s lips at the sound.


 

The rest of the mock expedition begins to fall into a slight routine. They travel in formation, fight the Titans they encounter, Eren shouts out orders periodically, they get to a point where they use their gas, and keep going. Levi appreciates the simplicity of this plan. It allows for quick changes and adaptation, two things that are essential and almost absolute when dealing with Titans. When something unexpected does happen, like one of Armin’s gears coming to a screeching halt, the cadets keep their heads and deal with it then and there; in that instance, they had Sasha put on a spare she brought with her, and she did the transfer in less than a minute. Considering how well it is doing, she likely did it correctly.

Levi glances over at Eren. He finds it difficult to believe that in three days, he’s gone from someone only thinking with his power and temper to someone thinking about the expedition as a whole and breaking down each moment to ensure they live to see the next one. If anything, he expected Mikasa or Jean to take control of the group and be the one who led them into battle. Not that he’s complaining. It’s almost refreshing to see Eren taking a more active role rather than settling for being a tank or pouting about his circumstances. Levi feels warmth in his heart as he looks at the Shifter, something he quickly tries to bury but the feeling still lingers.

Finally, they arrive at the spot that represents Eren’s house and they quickly form up, with Jean and Sasha taking to the roof of the building next to it and Historia and Hange going across the street. Armin, Mikasa, Eren, Levi, and Connie all stand at the door.

“Alright, we have ten minutes,” says Eren as he looks at the squad. “Everyone, check your gas! Connie, if anyone’s really low, give them your primary one. We’ll save your spare. Armin, double-check your repair. Also, hand me your bag, I want you to take Connie and get out of range.”

Armin seems reluctant, but nods and Connie looks relieved and a little upset that his earlier screw up is costing Eren an extra man, but he is hardly in a position to complain. Levi watches as Armin takes the empty bag tied to his back and hands it over to Eren, who slings it over his shoulder.

“We’re counting on you,” says Armin solemnly before Connie latches onto his back and they go sailing to the nearest rooftop.

“What do you need me to do?” asks Levi, a little curious.

Eren thinks for a moment and then tosses Levi the bag. “You can carry this.” He then kneels down in the dirt, opens his bag, and begins to put rocks in it. “Since we don’t know what to expect in the basement, we’re putting ten pounds of rocks in the bags, which won’t throw off our weight and our gas use.”

Mikasa immediately follows suit and Levi watches as they pile rocks in their bags. Ten pounds isn’t much, but it’s a reasonable estimate given they do not know how much is waiting for them in Eren’s basement. He follows suit and kneels down in the dirt in front of Eren, collecting as many rocks as he can get his hands on. It barely registers in his mind how many times his hand and Eren’s brush against each other.

When the bags are full of ten pounds worth of rocks, they throw them securely over their shoulders and use their gear to pull them up to the rooftops to join the squad.

“Alright,” says Eren as he looks at the other cadets. “Now the hard part, getting back home. Remember, conserve your gas, just because we can get a new canister doesn’t mean we can needlessly waste what we already have.” He looks at Armin. “Do you think you can carry Connie back or should someone else?”

Armin shakes his head. “That’s not necessary; I already gave him my equipment to use. I’ll need to catch a ride with someone.”

This seems to irritate Eren just slightly but he plays it cool and nods, probably deferring to Armin’s tactical brilliance. “Fine, Toria can take you.” He looks at the girl in question. “Is that a problem?”

Historia smartly shakes her head. “No, he’s not as heavy as he looks.”

Jean and Connie snicker while Armin looks deflated.

“How’s everyone else’s equipment?” asks Eren, looking at the others.

“We’re all set, Eren,” says Jean, taping his belt for emphasis. “You ready to head out?”

Eren nods and then turns to face the direction they came from. “Alright, let’s get going.”

He shoots his line for the nearest tall structure and pulls himself forward, the rest of the squad does the same, and soon they are gliding through the air. There are fewer Titan dummies in the abandoned village, but Eren and the others quickly dispatch what are there while Levi watches. Even now, he can hardly believe that these are the same cadets who, just a few days earlier, were only focused on time limits and completing the course. This group of Scouts almost seems like different people.

“Eren, what’s the plan now?” asks Levi as they continue to glide over broken roofs and buildings.

“Make it back to base without getting killed or wasting gas,” he replies over the rush of the wind. “Unless you plan on ending the expedition now?”

Levi scoffs. “As if I would; you brats aren’t going to get out of this so easily.”

Eren smiles and gives himself a slight burst of his gas, propelling himself forward. Levi takes a moment to observe him as he goes past, noticing how the sun glints off his chestnut brown hair and parts of it look blonde in the light and how his eyes are now a brilliant shade of green that can almost put the grass to shame. His eyes fall on that smile that broad and pleased grin that is so damn happy Levi finds himself almost returning it. He has to bite the inside of his cheek to prevent it from forming.

In what feels like mere minutes, they are back in the forest, and everyone stops for a moment to assess their canisters. Levi looks at his and is surprised when he sees he has about a third of it left; he looks at Eren and Armin as they compare his to Historia’s. Apparently, they are excited about how much is remaining and promptly high-five. Levi cannot feel but a tiny, small, micro bit jealous of how easily they interact.

Mikasa, Jean, and Hange head into the forest when they are sure of their gas and equipment, followed by Connie. Eren smiles when he sees this and looks back at the others.

“C’mon!” shouts Eren as he fires off his cables. “We’re almost there! Keep to the formation.”

Levi does the same. “Hurry up! We’re supposed to have beef in our stew for dinner tonight.”

“Yahoo!” shouts Sasha as she hurriedly shoots her line and follows behind Levi and Eren, almost tearing them down in her frenzy. She blows past both of them, her blades extended and they both have to move to get out of her way.

“You should know better than to mention food,” teases Eren as Levi recovers his balance from his encounter with the human garbage can.

“I thought it would be a good motivator,” calls back Levi and Eren simply laughs. This time, Levi indulges himself and smiles slightly.

Suddenly a shriek pierces the calm, and they both look ahead to see three actual Titans standing in the trees. Levi’s eyes widen. How the hell—leftovers, from the previous attack!

“Eren!” he calls and looks at the other male, who already has his hand in his mouth. “Eren, don’t you fucking dare Shift! We don’t know where everyone else is; you might accidentally break a line or something! We’re too closed in up ahead.”

Eren seems reluctant, but he nods and puts his hand down. If Levi hadn’t seen it, he sure as hell wouldn’t have believed it. Eren listened, without an argument.

“Let’s go then!” he says and uses a puff of gas to propel himself forward.

Levi cannot agree more and follows after the Shifter. While this is certainly not what he expected, he can hardly argue with the opportunity to see how this formation and their plan works in a real battle. He can only pray that the outcome will be favorable.

He falls in line beside Eren as they head for the nearest Titan. It is a 12-meter class and seems slow if its bulbous head and scrawny body are any indications of intelligence. Levi stares at the Titan and recalls Hange’s theory about Titans being humans . . . He wonders how true that is as he glances at Eren, one of four people who are known Titans. If he, an average looking human can become one . . . Could they all someday be turned into Titans? And what about the people already Titans; how much of their humanity did they retain in their transformation? They all seem so mindless and stupid. Is there even a human left in that husk?

“Levi, look out!” shouts Eren and Levi looks up just in time to see a large hand come at him. He releases his cables and falls beneath it before shooting off his cords again to get around the Titan.

Stop thinking so much! This won’t help anything. Just kill the damn thing and get it done.

Levi lands on a branch and stops for a moment to catch his breath. He can hardly believe that he was so out of it he didn’t even see the hand coming right at him. How pathetic.

Eren lands beside him. He tries to pretend that he isn’t there but it’s impossible when he can feel the other’s eyes boring into him. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” snaps Levi, looking at him and wishing he hadn’t; Eren’s eyes are full of concern and seem even wider than usual. He also appears unbearable close, almost suffocating Levi with his proximity. “What are you waiting for? Go kill that thing!”

Eren hesitates for a moment, as if unsure whether or not he should listen.

“Eren, I’m fine,” he repeats, making sure to maintain eye contact and to sound sincere.

“Then we’ll do it together,” says Eren with a smug grin and this time, Levi has no trouble in letting him see the smile on his face.

“Together,” he agrees, and they leap down from the branch, their cables going out to the nearest trees as they draw their blades and prepare for their attack on the Titan.

Levi swings effortlessly around the Titan while Eren does his best to avoid the lower branches of the nearby trees. Levi chuckles to himself as he watches Eren, even though he’s been in the Corps for a while, there is still a great deal he needs to learn.

“Eren, I’ll distract it, you take it out!” shouts Levi before he can stop himself. When was the last time he gave some a kill rather than an assist?

Eren seems to be just as confused, but he does not question the order, not this time, and is quick to change his course to going behind the Titan. Levi makes sure to stay in the Titan’s line of sight, keeping it off of Eren, and picks up his blades before attacking the Titan. He goes for the arms first and slices both of them off at the elbow then deftly moves out of the way while Eren picks himself up on his cables and begins spinning in the air like a top with his blades moving wildly. Levi watches as he turns towards the Titan’s nape, sunlight reflecting off his twin blades as they move with him. He almost looks ethereal.

The Titan lets out a slight roar as Eren’s blades make contact with its nape and it goes to the ground moments later, steam pouring from its injuries from Levi. Eren cheers as he lands on a tree nearby and Levi looks up at him, never has he seen the Shifter so excited, so happy. He feels a strange twinge in his chest when he thinks about how he gave him that happiness.

“All Titans are down!” announces Hange from a tree across from them. “It looks like your hunch about these cadets was right, Captain. They took them down like champs!”

The rest of Squad Levi comes sailing through the trees, some covered in quickly evaporating Titan blood and overall looking relieved. Eren is still beaming from his second Titan kill. Overall, the cadets are in good shape, if a little shaken, and just proved the point Levi was trying to make to them initially regarding his plan.

“Good job,” says Levi, earning startled looks from the others. “Listen, I know you’re eager to finish the expedition, but I think in light of your tremendous achievement today, we can cut it short. From here on, just focus on getting back to base, don’t worry about the dummies. You took down three real Titans, so it’s safe to say this formation and plan works well. Now I just want to see if you can get back efficiently.”

The cadets all nod and moments later, they take off on their cables, sailing towards the base. Levi stays behind, ensuring that there are not any Titans still in the area before he follows after. He glances down at the smoldering bodies beneath him and feels his stomach churn. Those were humans at some point, and now, they’re steaming piles that will soon be reduced to nothing. A shudder crawls up his spine.


 

The rest of the exercise runs smoothly, and they do not run into any more Titans, something they are all grateful for. When they arrive at the base, it is near sunset, so they immediately head to the dining hall and are pleased to find bowls of stew and freshly baked bread already sitting on the table. They tuck in and in no time at all, the food is devoured, and the cadets are already talking about going to bed. Levi dismisses them for the evening and they all hurry to their rooms, except for him, he stays sitting at the table.

Levi waits until he hears the last footstep leave the room before he lets out the sigh he has been holding in for some time. That skirmish was tough. Not the enemies themselves, they were lower classed and relatively easy, no it was the knowledge he now possessed that made it difficult. They took three human lives today, three humans died. They might look like monsters and act like monsters, but at their core, they were human just like him. His mind wanders to Eren, the man who could shift between monster and human with just a bite to his hand.

Is he any less human because of what he can do? Is he a monster or a man? Does it even matter? He already vowed to take Eren down if he went rogue, just like any other Titan, but that’s just it, there isn’t much of a difference. At least, he is quickly losing the ability to see the clear line between the two groups. Now, all he sees are people forced to be monsters.

“Penny for your thoughts?” says a voice and he starts out of his mind to see Eren standing beside him with two cups of tea.

“They’re worth more than that,” mutters Levi as Eren sets down a cup in front of him before going to the opposite end of the table. Levi watches him intently, looking at him, no one could believe that he’s capable of turning into a Titan. “Why are you sitting down there?” he asks before he can stop himself.

Eren looks up from his cup and then down at his seat. “This is where I always sit.”

“It’s ridiculous to do it when we’re the only two here,” says Levi with a shrug and an air of indifference. “Sit your ass closer.” He puts a hand on the seat to his right.

The Shifter nods and relocates to the seat Levi indicated.

“What’re you doing here?” asks Levi once Eren is settled again.

“I thought you could use a cup of tea,” replies Eren simply.

“This is the second time you’ve done this,” continues Levi as he picks up his teacup by the rim. “Are you trying to get something out of me?”

Eren immediately shakes his head. “Not at all, I just . . . thought you could use the company . . . I’m sorry.”

Levi cocks an eyebrow. “What are you sorry for? Do you regret doing this?”

Again, Eren shakes his head.

“Then don’t be sorry,” says Levi sternly.

Silence falls between them, and they sip their tea quietly. Levi wonders what Eren is thinking about and Eren wonders the same about Levi, neither one daring to break the silence in case they did or said something wrong. Finally, Eren decides that he has had enough of the quiet.

“Why do you hold your teacup like that?” he asks, indicating the way Levi is holding the rim instead of the handle.

Levi looks down at his cup and hand. It is a strange way of doing something he reasons as he looks at Eren, who is holding his cup by the handle. “I’ve always done it,” replies Levi and then he sees disappointment flit across Eren’s face like he expected a better explanation than that. Well, there is. Levi sighs and sets the cup down before leaning his arms on the table, looking directly at Eren. “How much do you know about my past before I came to the Corps?”

“Very little,” Eren replies honestly. “Petra mentioned something about Erwin dragging you kicking and screaming to the Corps but not much else.”

He snorts; of course, she would say that. “I’m from the Underground below Wall Sina.”

Eren’s reaction is a simple nod like it is a perfectly normal location for a child to grow up. Maybe he is just trying to make it normal, so I won’t stop talking.

“I was poor, dirt poor,” continues Levi, a weight settling in his chest as he looks back on his childhood. “I grew up with very little and what I had, I stole. I wasn’t proud of it, I knew my mom would be disappointed if she knew, but I couldn’t help myself.” He remembers running for his life with a hunk of day-old bread clutched in his hand, praying that today was not the day they caught him. “Anyway, I saw this china shop one day and in the window were these beautiful tea sets. They were simple, but to me they were extravagant.” He looks at the white cup in front of him, simple with a blue pattern on the side; even this is more sophisticated than the one he owned as a child. “I wanted one. I really wanted one. Whenever I passed the homes of wealthy people, or at least people wealthier than me, I always saw a tea set sitting somewhere in view. I thought if I had one, I wouldn’t look as poor anymore.” He lets out a derisive snort. “The foolish fantasies of a child.”

“It doesn’t sound foolish to me,” says Eren quietly and Levi looks at him in surprise.

Levi eyes him carefully, wondering if he’s making fun of him or not. When he decides Eren is sincere, he shrugs. “Anyway, I decided that I would get one and I wouldn’t steal it. Something that nice, I wanted to say I owned and earned, so I went to work. I worked odd jobs around the city, doing whatever I could until I could afford the tea set and a box of black tea.” His eyes briefly drop to the black tea in his cup. “Well, the day finally came, and I went into that shop with my head held high and bought a simple white tea set with gold on the rims and a silver tin of tea leaves.

“Walking back home, I felt like an aristocrat. I thought I was finally becoming better than I was.” He chuckles. If only his nine-year-old self knew. “When I got home, I carefully washed each piece and dried them by hand before I filled a kettle with water and leaves and put it on the stove. Gods, I was so happy and so eager to finally try an expensive tea. The time came to add the tea leaves and let it steep . . . I can still smell it, even now. It filled my house with this warm aroma, and I thought, This is what being rich smells like. Anyway, the tea was finally ready, so I carefully, carefully filled my teapot with my freshly brewed black tea and sat down at the table. I didn’t have any cream or sugar, but that didn’t bother me, I had tea, and it was from a silver box, so it hardly mattered that I didn’t have the real staples of being wealthy. I poured myself a cup and slowly brought it to my mouth and . . .”

“And?” asks Eren, almost literally on the edge of his seat. “What happened?”

The light leaves Levi’s eyes, and shadows settle in its place. “The handle broke.” He shakes his head. “My new teacup broke, and I was horrified.” He runs a hand through his hair and just chuckles quietly for a few moments. “I remember being so upset,” he says after a while. “I felt cheated, like the gods were committed to making my life hell. Luckily, the cup didn’t break, but the handle, I could never repair.” He then picks up his teacup. “Which is why I learned to hold my cups like this. That way, I know it will never break unless I let go.”

Eren watches as he takes a sip of his rapidly cooling tea and looks down at his cup. Growing up, he never had to worry about where his next meal would come from, or if he would have new clothes, he never had to save up for anything essential unless it was something he deemed essential like a book or a toy. His mother owned a beautiful tea set, cream-colored with pink roses, and he never thought twice about it. Now, he would give anything to see that tea set again, because it meant his mother was home and preparing afternoon tea for his father.

Carefully, he reaches for his cup and picks it up like Levi, fingers on the rim and takes a sip. It is not as difficult to do as it looks. When he puts the cup down, he notices Levi staring at him with a curious and slightly hesitant expression.

“Thank you, for telling me that,” he says, giving the Captain the best smile he can manage against the lump in his throat.

Levi’s eyes widen a fraction, and for a split second, he seems genuinely touched by Eren’s words and gesture before his mask falls back into place. “Yeah, well, thanks for listening and not interrupting.”

They sit in companionable silence, drinking their tea until the moon is high in the sky.

Chapter Text

Eren lands with a thud in the ground, groaning slightly as he props himself up on his elbows. That hurt more than he thought it would.

“Pathetic,” says Levi as he looms over Eren, making the other man feel small in comparison. “I thought you were supposed to be good, Eren. I heard you took down the Armored Titan with just a few holds.”

“I did,” says Eren as he rubs the back of his head. “It’s just a little different doing it with a human.” What he means is it’s different doing it with Levi.

Levi rolls his eyes and offers Eren his hand. “Get up already. You can heal faster than any of us, so quit being a baby about it.”

Eren barely manages not to glare at his superior and takes his hand; together they haul him back to a standing position. Their hands linger in each other’s for a fraction too long before they finally drop them. Eren’s been noticing this for a while, ever since they returned from their mock expedition; the looks he and Levi share last just a little longer than they should, they touch each subtly but frequently when given a chance, and most if not all of their free and training time is spent together.

Like now, for instance, they are the only ones out in the courtyard training in hand to hand while the others are with Hanji, testing out new modifications to their ODMs. When he asked why, Hanji explained that she wanted to see if everything he learned was retained as a Titan, so Levi was instructed with teaching him new fighting techniques before he is expected to demonstrate later that day. It sounded strange then too.

“Where’s your head at, Eren?” asks Levi when he notices the distant look in the other’s eyes. They’ve been at this for a couple of hours now, and it is only natural that his attention is starting to wander.

He averts his gaze from Levi’s bare torso to the dirt beneath his boots. “I guess I’m just confused,” he says honestly, and he is. “Wouldn’t it just be easier to give me orders in Titan form than to go through this?”

Levi shrugs. “Maybe, but I don’t want to try and teach you something in the middle of a battle when you might need that information in a split second. You used skills you already knew when you went up against the Armored Titan, so it’s only logical to teach you something new and see how well you fare.” He notices that Eren seems far from reassured. “What else is bothering you?”

This time Eren does not speak up.

Levi barely bites back a groan as he closes the distance between them and puts his hands on Eren’s bare shoulders. “Eren, look at me,” he says sternly, and the other boy hesitantly meets his eyes. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s going on in that head of yours. It’s one of your fatal flaws, you get too into your head and lose focus.”

Right now, all I can focus on is how close you are. “Sorry,” mumbles Eren as he attempts to break eye contact, only for Levi to shake him until their eyes meet again. Having him so close is a little overwhelming, especially since Eren is not entirely sure why he finds being near Levi so distracting.

“Let me help,” says Levi stubbornly. He is not about to let their biggest asset become their biggest liability.

Eren closes his eyes and blurts out the first thing that comes out of his mouth, “What if I lose control?”

Levi blinks for a couple of seconds as the words sink in. So he’s legitimately concerned about something. Damn. “You mean like when you attacked Ackerman?” asks Levi wanting to make sure they are both on the same page concerning this topic.

“Yeah,” replies Eren with a shaky breath. He wants this over with because he can’t take Levi looking at him so intensely or having him touch him. His eyes dart to the pale hands connected to the man in front of him; they haven’t moved since he put them there.

“Do you think you will?” asks Levi slowly.

“I’m not sure,” replies Eren softly. “I’ve only been in control of my Titan self when I fought the Armored Titan; everything else was running on instinct or memory. Like when I fought the Female Titan, I was fighting based on rage, and then when I went in for the kill, I hazily remembered who she was and stopped.” He swallows hard. “What if it happens again? What if I forget myself and try to hurt someone?”

There is a beat between Eren’s question and Levi’s brain formulating a response.

“I won’t let that happen,” says Levi firmly, his hands unconsciously increasing their grip on Eren’s shoulders. “Listen to me Eren; you are more in control than you give yourself credit. You know your triggers, you know your goals, and you have yet to fail. Yes, it might not go as smoothly as you’d like, but you can’t let your fears overwhelm you.” His grip tightens even more and Eren wonders if there will be bruises later. “If you’re still worried, then know that I’ll be the one to help you if you do lose control or start to act strangely.”

Silence falls between them after Levi finishes and he wonders if he said something wrong. He looks at Eren for any indication that he is offended or still upset but the other man’s face is impassive, and it frustrates him immensely. He looks into Eren’s eyes, bright green, like a spring day and he notices small flecks of gold. He sees faint freckles across his cheekbones and nose, just slightly darker than his already golden skin. It finally dawns on him exactly how close they are, and he releases his hold on Eren as if he was suddenly burned; in a way, it certainly feels like he was, given how the warmth of Eren’s skin lingers on his hand.

“Will you kill me?” asks Eren so quietly Levi almost misses the question and when he realizes what he asked, he wishes he hadn’t heard.

“No,” replies Levi just as quietly and Eren’s breath stutters in his chest. He fully expected the answer to be the complete opposite.

“Why not?” asks Eren, genuinely curious.

“Because you’re human,” replies Levi with a small smirk, “and I only kill Titans.”

Eren’s face almost splits in half with the smile that stretches across his lips, tugging a half smile from the ordinarily deadpan captain.

“Hey, there!” shouts Hanji suddenly as she approaches from the left entrance, leaves in her hair and her goggles slightly askew.

Eren and Levi practically jump apart, both praying that Hanji did not hear or see anything from their earlier exchange.

“Hi Hanji,” says Eren, his voice cracks slightly but he covers it up with a cough. “How was training?”

“Great,” she gushes as she comes to stand beside Levi, putting her arm on top of his head before he promptly knocks it off. “Your friends are fast learners, Eren. Even Armin and Historia understood how the new modifications worked after just two quick demonstrations.”

Eren beams. “When push comes to shove, they always come through.”

Hanji nods in agreement. “I have no doubt. How did your training go?”

“He did well,” says Levi before Eren can even formulate a response. “I think he’s ready to try it out in Titan form.”

“Wonderful!” says Hanji excitedly. “A Titan that listens to human command! And if we can reawaken that power where you controlled the Titans . . . We’ll have the war won in no time! The possibilities are endless. I can’t wait to see how your armor works, too!”

Eren rubs the back of his neck nervously. He is still not entirely comfortable with the idea that he was the one who ordered the other Titans to attack Reiner and Berthold; especially now that he is expected to not only fix the hole in Wall Maria but to single-handedly get rid of the Titans, thanks to his new power. Lives are resting on his shoulders, hundreds of thousands of lives, and he has to carry that burden alone.

Suddenly something claps on his shoulder, and he looks to see Levi’s hand resting on it, and he follows it up to Levi’s face, which has returned to its normal unreadable state.

“Hey Four Eyes, rein in the excitement,” says Levi firmly. “We need to focus on figuring out if Eren can even take orders as a Titan. After that, we can work on the rest.”

Eren gives Levi a small relieved smile. He wanted to say something similar and has every time someone brings up his new responsibilities as Humanity’s Titan, but at the same time he doesn’t want to disappoint anyone and suddenly be useless. He already feels useless as a soldier.

“Right,” says Hanji, her enthusiasm not even dampened slightly. “I’ve been working on that sample of crystal armor I got from Annie and Wall Sina. I’m trying to see if there’s a way to replicate them without relying on Titans.”

“Any luck?” asks Eren. While almost everyone else runs the second Hanji starts talking about her experiments, Eren is her captive audience. He wants to know more about this power he controls and what he can and can’t do with it. He wants to know about the other Titans like him and find the similarities and differences. He wants to try and use this power to better humanity instead of hinder it.

“None yet but I’m getting close to a breakthrough, I can feel it in my bones!” she declares with a wide glowing smile. “Now, we should proceed with today’s experiments. We’ll go to the usual field, and you’ll transform. I want a complete transformation today, no half-assed stuff like with the spoon.”

Eren nods solemnly. This will be the first time since returning from Sina that he has transformed and he does not want it to fail him now, not when he needs to prepare for this incredibly important expedition.

“Levi, will you be attending?” asks Hanji as if she already doesn’t know the answer.

“Of course,” says Levi as he removes his hand from Eren’s shoulder. “I want to make sure he listens to me as well as you.”

“By that logic, we should have the rest of the Squad out here,” teases Hanji as she and the two men head out of the courtyard towards an open area just outside of the castle’s perimeter.

“Why do you think my emotions clouded my thinking before, Hanji?” asks Eren as they walk. His eyes discreetly slide over to Levi, whom he notes is still shirtless, like himself.

“I think that has to do with the intensity of whatever you were feeling the moment you transformed,” explains Hanji with an air of curiosity, as if she is not sure herself. “When you first became a Titan, you were angry. The second time, you were angry and overwhelmed, which might be why you lashed out. The third time, you were angry and betrayed. The fourth time, you were angry but calm. You had time to fully process the betrayal before you transformed and it was because of this that I believe allowed you to maintain your sense of self. Right now, you’re calm, so you should be yourself once you transform but if we need to get you angry, we will.” She looks over her shoulder at Levi, smirking. “I don’t think we’ll have to resort to that, but we’re ready, just in case.”

They come to a stop in the middle of the grassy field. Eren takes the hint and walks another few feet away from Hanji and Levi. He turns to face them and brings his hand up to his mouth, trying to think of a clear goal. Transform to help Hanji study Titans. He desperately wants to be of help, and he is willing to just about anything to prove his worth, even if that means subjecting himself to Hanji’s strange tests. He opens his mouth and bites down on his hand, cutting through the skin, and blood floods his mouth. Not even a second later, he can feel his body changing.

He has only been aware of the change twice and this time feels similar to those. Sinew, bone, and flesh are blossoming around him as he shoots fifteen meters in the air, his nervous system connecting with that of his Titan. What feels like minutes later, but are actually seconds, he opens his eyes and sees the horizon and their base. He looks down and sees two small people.

Hanji and Levi.

Even so far away from the ground, Eren can still hear Hanji’s excited squealing and Levi’s exasperated sigh.

“Eren!” calls Hanji when she recovers her composure. “Can you kneel down so we can see your face?”

Eren nods and does as he is told, kneeling down on the ground in the direction of Hanji and Levi. Again, Hanji squeals and Levi holds her cape to prevent her from running over to Eren.

“Calm down, Four Eyes,” says Levi flatly. “You can’t go having an orgasm every time Eren transforms.”

Hanji sighs and nods. “I know, but it’s so cool to see a Titan listening to a human!”

“Eren is a human,” says Levi quietly and Hanji’s excitement is immediately doused.

“You’re right,” she says softly. “He is. So I shouldn’t be surprised that he would listen to me.” She shakes her head and then takes a step forward; Levi lets go of her cape. “Eren, I know you can hear me. I would like you to demonstrate a couple of the fighting techniques Levi taught you today. Nothing fancy.”

“Eren,” shouts Levi and Eren looks at him. “Three roundhouse kicks and a mawashi-zuki.”

“What the hell kind of move is that?” asks Hanji and all Levi does is smirk as Eren stands back up.

“Watch and see, Four Eyes,” says Levi cryptically.

They both watch as Eren takes up a fighting stance and brings his right foot up with a swing, striking the air before be brings it back down. He does it two more times before returning to his resting stance. Then he takes a step forward and makes like he is grabbing someone by the elbow and then brings his other hand up like he is about to strike a person in the head. He holds this position for a couple of seconds before returning to his original position.

“Now, I want to see some holds!” orders Levi, making sure he is loud enough so Eren can hear him without needing to kneel.

Eren nods and goes to his knees, imitating a stance he remembers from his practice with Levi; he puts one of his knees into the ground and the other he brings up to his chest, as if he is kneeling on someone. One of his hands goes into the ground in front of his downed knee as if pinning someone and then brings up his other hand as if holding their arm up in the air. He twists his hand around the imaginary arm and then brings it to what would have been a person’s back, pinning the arm against it.

He looks down at Levi, who nods and then he continues to demonstrate several holds he can do from that one position until Levi gives the signal to do something new. Eren nods and proceeds to roll to his side, hooking his legs around the invisible person’s waist and squeezing before proceeding to lift his legs and doing a somersault with his legs still hooked around his imaginary opponent. The ground trembles as he rolls around but Hanji and Levi continue to stand and watch, even at the risk of falling over. They need to see what Eren is capable of and so far, he is not disappointing them.

“Did you teach him those?” asks Hanji as she watches Eren move into a joint lock on what she assumes is an invisible leg.

Levi nods. “I did. I knew he’d pick it up fast; he scored just below Annie Leonhart in hand to hand while they were in basic. I figured they would be similar enough to what he learned that he wouldn’t struggle with them.”

“You’re getting better at this mentor thing,” says Hanji cheekily, earning herself a hard punch in the upper arm.

“Shut up, Four Eyes,” snaps Levi without looking at her.

Hanji smirks. Personally, she enjoys seeing Levi loosen up and he only does so when dealing with Eren. She turns her attention back to the Shifter, watching as he continues to demonstrate his newly learned moves.

The exercise progresses for another hour with Eren doing increasingly more difficult routines per Hanji and Levi’s directions. He follows each one to the letter, even throwing in his own moves when he believes it to be useful, which earns him praise from Hanji for showing that he can adapt in battle.

“Good job, Eren!” says Levi encouragingly after he demonstrates a more difficult series of moves.

Eren’s Titan nods in Levi’s direction, his indication that the creat—Eren understands him completely. He looks to Hanji. “Is there anything else you need to know, Four Eyes or can Eren come out now?”

Hanji slightly cocks an eyebrow at Levi’s tone and question. It almost sounds . . . protective and maybe just a little possessive? She shrugs it off and shakes her head. “There are other tests I want to run, but that can wait until tomorrow. Maintaining this form is probably taking a lot out of him, given how long it’s been since he last went Titan. We should get him out and get him to bed.”

“Food then bed,” mutters Levi and Hanji’s eyebrows almost go straight to her hairline. When did Levi become concerned about Eren’s well being?

“Sounds reasonable,” says Hanji and then she gestures to Eren. “You’re done! You can come out now!”

The Titan nods and then goes to its knees. They stand and wait for the usual bath of steam to erupt, their indication that Eren is getting out, but it does not come. They wait a little longer, and when nothing happens, even Eren looks concerned.

“Hanji, give me your belt,” says Levi sternly. “And your blades. I’m going to cut him out.”

Hanji immediately complies and strips out of her ODM gear and hands it over to him. He gets it on as quickly as he can, barely paying attention to the way his fingers fumble over the clasps and how foreign the belt feels on his hips. His only concern at the moment is getting Eren out of his Titan.

When the belt and blades are secure, he shoots his line up, and it sticks in Eren’s shoulder. He fully expects Eren to swat at him, and is prepared for it, but he is glad when that does not come, and he can swing up to his shoulder in peace. He then runs as fast as he can to Eren’s nape, again expecting the worst but again it does not come. When he arrives, he pulls out Hanji’s blades, and in one deft stroke, he cuts Eren’s flesh. The piece falls away with a large release of steam and inside is Eren, his back facing Levi and his body still connected to the Titan. Levi puts the blades aside and reaches under Eren’s armpits and pulls as hard as he can, grateful that he is not as fused as he feared, and effortlessly pulls the Shifter out of his Titan.

Eren is thankfully conscious and seems in control of himself, but that doesn’t stop Levi from forcing him to lay on his back and put his arms around his shoulders. Eren feels like a child, but at the same time, he can hardly complain, he is not exactly feeling well enough to do this himself. In his barely conscious state, it doesn’t register that they are both shirtless.

“Don’t let go,” instructs Levi as he shoots a pair of cables into a nearby tree. He can feel the Titan’s flesh increasing in temperature through his boots the longer he stands there, and he knows at any moment it can collapse. He puts his hand briefly on Eren’s arms around his shoulders to ensure they are in fact there and wrapped tight enough that he will not slip off during transit. When he is satisfied they will both walk away uninjured, he jumps, allowing the ODM gear to do its job by safely bringing them down to earth with the assistance of gravity. Eren is a solid weight on Levi’s bare back, but he hardly minds, just glad that this did not end as badly as he expected. Still, he can’t shake how unsettled he felt when he realized that Eren was struggling to get out of his Titan; for a fleeting moment, he was terrified something went wrong, and Eren was no longer there, just the monster.

“How do you feel?” he asks above the rush of the wind.

“Tired,” replies Eren and then yawns in Levi’s ear as if to emphasize the point. He tries to ignore the pleasant shiver that works its way down his spine when Eren’s warm breath comes into contact with his skin. He chalks it up to it being an unfamiliar sensation on a sensitive area.

“You can’t go to bed yet,” says Levi as he slows their descent just slightly. “We need to talk about what happened.”

“But I don’t know what happened,” says Eren, a slight whine in his voice.

“I’m sure Hanji will figure it out,” mutters Levi as he puts his boots on the ground. He then allows his knees to go forward and into the dirt, cringing at the likely stains he will find there in a few minutes, and they come to a stop just a few feet short of the tree. “C’mon Sleepyhead, the ride’s over,” says Levi as he wiggles his shoulders to get Eren’s attention.

“No, ‘m comfortable,” mumbles Eren against Levi’s shoulder and Levi goes stock still for a moment. What the hell does he find comfortable about this?

“Levi! Eren!” calls Hanji, interrupting Levi’s train of thought with a thud. “Is he okay? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing physical,” replies Levi as he shifts Eren on his shoulders. He then hears a soft snore. “Please tell me he isn’t asleep on my back.”

Hanji bites her lower lip to keep from giggling, but it slips through anyway. “Maybe just a little?”

“Damn brat,” Levi mutters as he moves so Eren is draped more comfortably before he stands up. He is a little surprised at how light Eren is, considering he is almost three inches taller.

“I can help,” offers Hanji but Levi shakes his head.

“I’m fine,” says Levi, his voice low so as not to disturb the man on his back. “It’s not that far to the base, and I’d rather not deal with a sleepy whiny brat.”

Hanji is now incredibly curious as to Levi’s current mood. She wonders if she should be studying him instead of Titans. “Are you sure? He doesn’t look too heavy, I can carry—”

“I said I have this, Four Eyes,” snaps Levi as he begins walking with Eren perched on his back.

Hanji watches in stunned silence. Since when did Levi care so much for a person? And why is he so . . . so protective of Eren? She decides that Levi is something she needs to study closer.


 

When Eren awakens, it takes him a moment to realize that he is in his room and not on Levi’s back, the last place he remembers being. Then it comes back to him in a flash: Shifting, obeying Hanji and Levi’s orders, trying to go back to normal, Levi cutting him out and then falling asleep on his back. He is not sure if Levi continued to carry him or how exactly he ended up in his bed, but he is glad that the Captain didn’t just drop him somewhere random.

“Hey,” says someone and he turns to see Armin sitting at his bedside. “How’re you feeling?”

“Like I just got body slammed by Reiner,” replies Eren as he sits up, his entire body aching all over. “What happened?”

“You tell me,” says Armin with a shrug. “We were in the middle of dinner when Hanji and Levi came in with you on his back. Mikasa tried to charge him and take you, but he wouldn’t let her and ordered me to help him. Jean and Sasha had to hold her back.”

Eren chuckles. That certainly makes sense.

“Anyway, we got here, and I helped Levi put you in bed,” continues Armin with a curious look to Eren. “Then he sat with you for a little while, Hanji was writing on any piece of paper she could get her hands on, and I just sat and waited for an explanation. I didn’t get one, but Hanji promised to tell me after she got back from transferring her notes.”

“Where’s Levi?” asks Eren, glancing around the room for any sign of the Titan killer.

“I don’t know,” replies Armin, shrugging again. “He stepped out just a few minutes ago.”

Eren lies back down, hissing when he moves his legs just a little. “Damn.”

Armin is at his side in an instant, looking incredibly concerned. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No, I should be okay in a little while,” says Eren as he tries to move up on his pillow to meet Armin’s eyes. “I just didn’t realize going Titan would make me so tired.”

“Well, you haven’t done it in a while,” Armin points out. “This could just be your body’s way of reacting to it after it being dormant for a few weeks.”

Eren shrugs and then winces. “Maybe or maybe I’m just a failure.”

“Don’t start moping, Eren,” says Levi as he enters with two cups of tea. Eren notices that he is wearing a shirt again. “It’s unbecoming of a soldier and if anyone has the right to complain it’s me; I carried your ass back here by myself.”

“Surely my ass doesn’t weigh that much,” quips Eren with a wide grin and Armin snickers behind his hand.

Levi eyes him carefully as he sits down on the end of his bed. “Not bad,” he says as he hands him the cup. “Drink this. I added some herbs to help with any pain you might be feeling.”

Armin’s eyes go wide as Eren eagerly accepts the cup and drinks it just like their captain. When did he start doing that?

“Do you know why you couldn’t transform back?” asks Levi after he takes a sip of his tea and Armin openly gapes at his best friend.

“What do you mean he couldn’t change back?” asks a voice threateningly at the door and they turn to see Mikasa and Hanji standing in the doorway, Mikasa the one who posed the question.

Eren rolls his eyes as his foster sister enters along with the Titan enthusiast. Mikasa glares at their captain as she takes a seat beside Armin, eyeing the tea in Eren’s hands suspiciously as if worried Levi poisoned it.

“Eren, we need to know what happened,” says Hanji calmly as she stands at the end of his bed. “Did you lose control? Did you lose your mind?”

“I don’t think so,” he says slowly, looking down at the tea in his hand. “I can remember everything that happened while I was a Titan, the only thing I can’t explain is why I couldn’t change back. I haven’t had a problem before this.” He takes a slow and deliberate sip of his tea; answering these questions reminds him of the tribunal and how his life hung in the balance.

“That still doesn’t answer the question,” says Mikasa sternly. “If you can’t return to normal after Shifting, then you shouldn’t do it at all.”

Eren nearly spits out his tea. “What the hell are you talking about, Mikasa?” he asks once he swallows. “If I don’t then humanity doesn’t have a prayer against the Titans!”

“I don’t care about humanity,” snaps Mikasa, causing the others in the room to jump. “I just want you safe, Eren! I’m not about to lose the only family I have left to a Titan he can’t even control!”

“I was in control!” rages Eren. “I told you, I remember everything that happened. The only thing I couldn’t do was change back.” He takes a small sip of tea. “Now that I think about it, it was almost like the Titan wouldn’t let me.”

Levi raises an eyebrow. “What do you mean? Is it becoming sentient?”

Eren shakes his head. “I don’t think so but . . . Something felt off when I was inside. Everything fused normally right up until my nervous system, that felt just a little different.”

Hanji pulls out a notebook and pencil. “Describe the feeling.”

“It’s hard,” he admits sheepishly.

“Please try,” insists Hanji and Levi nods.

Eren rubs the back of his neck and lets out a shaky breath. “When I fused before, it felt temporary and foreign, like I was wearing someone else’s skin. This time . . . this time it felt a little more natural like I was the Titan and it was me, not just me wearing its skin.”

The room becomes silent, and all eyes are on Eren. No one is sure how to address this revelation, not even Eren.

“Well, at least we know you weren’t out of control,” says Hanji with a grin, breaking the silence and the tension. “That would be problematic, but this still isn’t good.” She rubs the top of her head as she thinks over their options.

“What should I do?” asks Eren, sounding slightly desperate.

Hanji looks at him and shrugs. “As far as I can tell, there are three options. One, you never Shift again, which you are already against so I won’t linger on it. Two, you use your powers frequently and try to leave your Titan on your own, but I don’t like what you said, about how you felt like this was becoming natural. That might be an indication of something else, and I don’t want to study that just yet.”

“So what’s my third option?” asks Eren with a mournful sigh.

“You only Shift in an emergency,” replies Hanji calmly. “And I mean the kind of emergency only a Titan can handle, not one where humans could easily win.”

“That sounds agreeable,” says Levi immediately, earning him a suspicious glare from Mikasa and a raised eyebrow from Armin. “So long as Eren is with me or the others, he shouldn’t have to worry about being in those situations.”

“Do I get a say in this?” asks Eren testily.

Levi shrugs. “Not really. Right now you’re in the care of the Survey Corps, and my responsibility. If we let you choose and it goes wrong, we might not be able to save you from the Military Police.”

“But you said that you couldn’t tell if a choice is a good one until after it’s been made,” counters Eren, to Levi’s annoyance. “How are you so sure it’s the right one?”

“I’m not,” says Levi flatly. “Given our limited options, however, it is the lesser in consequence. We can’t have you permanently without your powers, and we can’t risk your Titan overwhelming you or us. This is a more controlled means of dealing with the problem until we’re in a position to better assess it.”

Eren opens his mouth to argue, but his tongue feels heavy in his mouth. His eyelids suddenly cannot stop blinking shut, and he can feel his body relaxing tremendously. He watches through slightly blurry vision as Levi reaches and takes his cup before it can fall. Moments later the world goes black, and all he feels are clouds supporting him.

“What the hell did you give him?” asks Hanji as she watches Eren pass out.

“Sleeping herbs,” replies Levi as he puts Eren’s cup on the bedside table. “I figured there would be some pain after being forcibly removed from his Titan and he needed to sleep; the herbs ensure that he’ll be able to sleep without feeling any pain.”

Mikasa is practically burning with anger. “You drugged him! And you lied to him!”

“No,” says Levi calmly, his expression deadpan when he looks at Eren’s foster sister. “I didn’t drug him, and I didn’t lie; I said the herbs would help with his pain and it’s not drugging if the person agrees. Eren did drink the tea even after I told him.”

“Then you should’ve just told him what the herbs did in the first place!” snaps Mikasa, practically grinding her teeth.

“You know as well as I do that he wouldn’t have touched it if he knew the herbs were to make him sleep,” counters Levi and Mikasa’s tense jaw slackens. “Thank you for endorsing my point.”

“I think we should discuss this further, Levi,” says Hanji, nudging the other with her elbow and he nods. “We’ll leave you two to deal with Eren.”

Levi stands and together, he and Hanji head for the door. Mikasa immediately jumps into action, pulling off Eren’s boots and trying to get him under a blanket. Armin stands up to help, looking around for a spare blanket when out of the corner of his eye he notices a shadow in the doorway. Carefully looking towards it without giving himself away, he almost says something when he sees Levi standing there, his arms crossed and expression flat. Armin’s eyes travel up to his and notice how soft they are compared to the rest of his stony features. His eyes follow Levi’s gaze, and his heart almost stops when he realizes the man is looking at Eren. When he looks back, Levi is already gone.

Chapter Text

Armin is not quite sure what to make of what he saw the other day when Levi stood in the doorway and looked softly at a sleeping Eren. The scene has replayed in his mind ever since, dissecting each moment, trying to come to some conclusion but everything led to the impossible. He thinks about the way Eren holds his cups of late and the way he always makes Levi a cup of tea after dinner and how they stay up late talking. He glances at his friend as they work on their ODM gear, tuning it up for the expedition the next morning. He wonders if Eren is even aware of the changes. Armin then smirks at that thought; Eren is probably as oblivious as Levi.

The tension in the room is high, and it serves as a sobering reminder for Armin. The cadets are scared to death that this might be their last day alive, and he is with them; despite the fact they know their strategy will work, they do not know if they are even going to make it to that point. There are so many Titans between them and their goal. Armin sighs quietly, with Eren’s Titan abilities on a strict limit, they are at a severe disadvantage even if they have Levi and Mikasa going in with them.

“What’s on your mind, Armin?” asks Eren, shaking the blonde from his thoughts.

“What makes you think I have something on my mind?” he counters, and Eren chuckles.

“Because you’ve been staring at me for almost a minute,” says Eren, nudging him in the shoulder. “What’s up? Are you worried about the expedition?”

Armin shrugs and returns his gaze to his belt. “Partly.”

Eren raises an eyebrow. “Partly? What else are you thinking about?”

Armin wishes he hadn’t asked that question. He can’t lie to Eren, even if he wanted to he couldn’t, his friend can see through his lies like they are made of glass. “There is something else, but I don’t think we can talk about it now,” replies Armin, half under his breath.

“Why not?” asks Eren completely oblivious.

“It’s . . . Private,” says Armin lamely. How can you tell your best friend that you want to discuss the possibility of their superior having feelings for the said friend? Even as Armin thinks about it, he realizes what a minefield it is and how poorly he could be interpreting things.

Eren nods and puts a hand on his shoulder. “Alright, we’ll talk about it after the meeting with Levi and Erwin.”

“This still doesn’t feel real,” says Jean as he comes up behind them. “We’re going there, to Wall Maria.”

“We always knew we would,” sighs Eren as he adjusts a couple of gears. “I just didn’t expect it to be so soon.”

“So, are you going to plug the hole this time?” asks Jean, ruffling Eren’s already unruly hair.

Eren scowls as he swats away Jean’s hand. “No. That’s not the objective. We’re going to my old house, and that’s all we’re doing.”

“But what if you get the chance?” Jean presses, sounding torn between teasing and being serious.

“If I get the chance, then I’ll defer to Levi,” replies Eren smoothly and Armin’s eyebrows go to his hairline.

Jean wrinkles his nose at the answer. “Kiss ass.”

“Eren’s just being cautious,” says Mikasa, eyeing Jean carefully. “We need to stay focused on what we’re supposed to do, not on what we might do.”

“Whatever you say, Ackerman,” says Jean with a teasing lilt and Mikasa looks ready to pummel him into the ground. “So how did Titan practice go the other day, Eren? You didn’t say much about it but you sure as hell were exhausted. We all saw you on the Captain’s back, snoring.”

Mikasa, Eren, and Armin all freeze for a moment. Since that day, none of them discussed the details Eren’s mishap as a Titan, even when their friends asked the next day why Eren was brought in on Levi’s back. They just said he was too tired afterward to walk back by himself.

“My stamina’s a little lower than I’d like,” Eren lies smoothly. “And the tests Hanji had me do were a little more intense than I thought.” That is a complete lie, but there is no way he is going to admit that after just a short time as a Titan, he forgot how to get out and needed to be rescued by Levi. He feels himself flush at the memory of being pressed skin to skin with the Captain.

“Oi brats!” says Levi as he enters. Eren practically jumps off his seat when he realizes who is in the room. “Have you finished repairing your gear?”

They collectively nod.

“Good, then head to the strategy room,” instructs Levi, his grey eyes sweeping over each cadet, although they rest a little too long on Eren and Armin notices. “Erwin’s here to discuss the plan for tomorrow, and I expect you to be ready.”

“Yes, sir!” they say, giving him half of their traditional salute before they put their gear away and head for the strategy room. Levi watches them go and when Eren walks past, his joins the group, sticking closer to the Shifter than Armin ever saw before, and he is starting to rethink if Levi is genuinely oblivious.

“Mikasa,” he says quietly so only the girl can hear. “Mikasa, can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” replies Mikasa quietly. “What’s wrong?”

“Have you noticed anything . . . Different between Captain Levi and Eren?” he asks cautiously. He knows of his friend’s somewhat hostile feelings towards the Captain, and those mostly involve Eren, so he isn’t sure how well Mikasa’s going to respond to this line of questioning.

“You mean how the Captain keeps making doe eyes at him?” asks Mikasa, looking ahead at Levi as he walks with Eren, almost a little too close for her comfort. “Yes, I’ve noticed.”

Armin breathes out a quiet sigh. Good, he isn’t the only one. He then swallows hard, if he and Mikasa saw, then that can only mean others may have realized something as well. This could be bad, especially if Erwin finds out. Superiors and subordinates are forbidden from having relations unless the commander approves and in this case, the commander is Erwin. He highly doubts that Erwin would approve of the relationship, if one ever existed, not because he would be against it but because he is very by the books. He may take liberties in battle, but he doesn’t generally in other areas of military life. Armin suddenly feels terrible for Eren; if he were to ever realize his feelings, it wouldn’t matter, and he would be stuck pining until he moved on and that might be a while. He knows how stubborn his friend can be.

“Do you think Eren knows or reciprocates?” continues Armin, making sure his voice is low and quiet.

Mikasa, to his astonishment, nods. “Yes. I’ve seen the way Eren is around him and how happy he is. Whether he is aware his feelings towards Levi are romantic, I’m not sure, but he reciprocates whatever Levi is giving him.”

“I almost find that hard to believe,” says Armin with a chuckle. “Eren isn’t exactly the most emotionally aware.”

Mikasa lets out a soft giggle. “I know. Still, I think we should ask him. He might not be aware his feelings are romantically inclined but we are, and I think he needs to be at least given a chance to explore them.”

Armin’s eyes widen to the size of saucers. “You mean, you want him to get in a relationship with Levi?”

“No,” snaps Mikasa, a hint of jealousy in her voice. “I want him to explore his feelings and determine what they are. We can give him a suggestion, but ultimately it’s up to him what they are. He needs to figure that out before Levi starts influencing them and Eren’s dragged into whatever web Levi’s created.”

“I see,” says Armin, looking at the ground.

What she says makes sense. Eren does need to be aware of his feelings, for the Captain or anyone else, and they owe it to him to at least make him mindful of what they believe his feelings are. He’s just a little worried that they might end up influencing him instead and cause him to start having feelings for the Captain and that would be unfair to both of them. If Levi’s feelings are genuine and Eren’s aren’t, then they’ll both get hurt, and the same is true of the reverse. When they confront Eren, they’re going to have to be very unbiased and just let him talk instead of talking for him; otherwise, whatever conclusions he may come to, they aren’t going to be his own.

“Good morning, Squad Levi,” says Erwin, shaking Armin from his thoughts. They are already in the strategy room, and he didn’t even notice. He watches as Levi leaves Eren’s side and takes the position at Erwin’s right, Hanji to his left. They were all stunned when Levi said Erwin was going to lead this expedition, given how severely he was injured during the rescue attempt. It is still unnerving to see him without his right arm.

“I’m sure you’re all aware of our objective,” says Erwin, looking at the Scouts. “Cross into Wall Maria and go to the Shiganshina District. Once there, recover the contents from Dr. Jaeger’s basement and then return to Wall Rose.”

“We already know this,” says Jean brusquely. “Levi’s been drilling it into our heads every day for the last three weeks. Do you have anything worth telling us?”

Levi scowls at Jean, displeased by his insubordinate behavior but Erwin merely chuckles.

“Yes, there is,” says the Commander pleasantly. “Tomorrow, you’ll be leaving with seventy other Scouts, led by myself and Hanji, and we’ll serve as your escort to the district. We’ll get you as far as we can, but if we sustain heavy losses, we’ll turn around, but your squad will continue to the target.” He then looks at Levi for a moment. “Your captain has informed me of all you’ve accomplished during your training, and I must say, I’m impressed that you were able to grasp such a plan so quickly. Most Scouts would find fighting without gas as a severe handicap.”

The cadets beam proudly.

“Well, it was Eren who figured it out,” says Sasha, smiling at her friend. “He was the one who told us when and how to use the gas.”

Erwin’s gaze goes to Eren, who is torn between looking humble and smiling at his recognition. “Impressive, Jaeger. We might be able to make a soldier out of you yet.”

Eren tries not to smile as he looks back at Armin. “Armin and I both figured out how to utilize the gas. It’s as much his plan as mine.”

Now it is Armin’s turn to try not to smile as Erwin looks at him. He didn’t expect Eren to give him any credit for the idea. “It was a group effort,” he says with the barest hint of a smile.

“You’re a fine group of Scouts,” says Erwin fondly. “I look forward to seeing what you can do in battle. Now then, do you have any questions for me regarding tomorrow?”

“Yes,” says Historia, raising her hand politely. “Where are we camping?”

Erwin smiles. “Good question. There are several castle ruins, abandoned villages, and forests that will make for safe campgrounds. We’ve been observing what Titans we can at night, and they’ve returned to their typical pattern of losing energy at night. We should be safe if we set up camp at sundown and then get up and leave before the sun. I estimate we can be at Wall Maria in three days if all goes to plan.”

Eren swallows hard. That might be impossible now if Erwin isn’t aware of his limited Titan powers.

“How many Titans are there?” asks Connie, sounding nervous to be addressing their commander so casually.

“More than we fought in our few skirmishes beyond Wall Rose,” replies Erwin grimly. “I won’t lie, we’re walking into hell, and it’s not going to be an easy time. But we have some of our best troops going out there with you.” His deep blue eyes go to Levi, Mikasa, and Eren. “I’m sure you will be fine and accomplish your mission with very little in the way of casualties.”

“What about the other Scouts?” asks Historia and Eren notices her crystal blue eyes are downcast. She may no longer be Christa, but her concern for others is still very prominent.

“They’ll be fine,” says Erwin immediately. “They know their duty and their mission just like you do. We know what can happen and we’re prepared. I don’t want any of you worrying about anything other than getting to Wall Maria. That’s your escort’s job. Yours is to complete the expedition and make whatever sacrifices are made count for something. Do I make myself clear?”

They nod as a grim understanding passes between the cadets. This mission is theirs, no one else’s, and it is up to them whether or not it is a success. Eren feels the weight on his shoulders increase. He knows they’re counting on him now more than ever, and he might not be able to deliver, he’ll more than likely fail when he’s needed the most and that terrifies him. He’s been working so hard on not being useless, and here he is, still useless.

“You’re dismissed for the day,” says Erwin, startling Eren from his wallowing. “Sleep well tonight; we’re getting up with the sun tomorrow. Jaeger, I would like you to stay back, I have something to discuss with you.”

Eren gulps when he hears the command. He already knows what this is about and he’s terrified of what Erwin is going to say. He looks to Levi for any guidance and only finds a slightly pitying look. The rest of the cadets hurry out of the room, Mikasa and Armin hang back until the very last minute, likely trying to hear what Erwin has to say but he is smart enough not to start talking until the door is closed.

“Hanji and Levi have made me aware of your situation,” says Erwin when he is sure the others are gone. “They’ve also informed me of your options, and I have to agree with Levi that conserving your powers for an emergency is the smartest plan. Have you tried to use your power since?”

Eren shakes his head. “No, sir. I’ve followed Hanji’s instructions and only focused on improving myself as a human. She believes my skills as a human translate to my Titan, so I’m training both simultaneously.”

Erwin’s shoulders relax a fraction. “Good, I would hate to think you were going out there unprepared. How many in your squad are aware of your predicament?”

“Armin and Mikasa,” he replies, and Erwin nods, likely expecting those names. “The others just think I have lower stamina and can’t maintain being a Titan for very long.”

“That’s fine,” says Erwin, more to himself than to Eren. “It’s best if this remains quiet for now until we’re forced to say something. I don’t think that will come up. Eren, tomorrow I want you with at least one skilled Titan killer, be it Levi or Mikasa. They’re both aware of your situation, and if you have to Shift, they’ll be there to cut you out. They’ll also be able to keep up the story that your stamina is lower. I’m sure Armin will back them up.”

“Yes, sir,” he says, nodding. “I do not doubt that Levi, Mikasa, and Armin will keep up the story for as long as possible.”

“I will as well,” says Hanji, smiling at him. “The more people in charge who feed them the story, the easier it will be believed.”

Eren smiles gratefully at her. “Thank you, Hanji. Is there anything else, Erwin?”

Erwin shakes his head. “No, that was all I wanted to discuss. Oh, don’t think I didn’t take your situation into account when I did this plan. I had to make a few modifications, but nothing drastic. You’ll still go in with your squad in the formation previously devised by Levi, and unless something drastic occurs, you’ll only fight with your blades and ODM gear. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” says Eren, saluting Erwin.

“Good, dismissed,” says Erwin and then Eren takes his leave.

“I’m going to speak to the supply cart squad,” says Erwin, wincing slightly. It’s difficult to maintain the charade that his missing limb doesn’t affect him as much as it does, and he is growing a little weary of doing it every single day. “I’ll be back for dinner.”

“Yes, sir,” says Hanji and Levi, saluting their commanding officer as he leaves the room.

They stand in silence, both looking at the map on the table in front of them. The distance between Wall Rose and Wall Maria seems so small this way, but they both know the reality and that not everyone is going to make it back alive. Levi’s mind wanders to Eren and how the young Shifter is going to cope with only being a soldier and not a Titan. He knows that Eren feels useless and that being restricted will just make him feel worse. He doesn’t want that; he wants Eren to realize his merit as a soldier and as a human; he doesn’t want him to rely on that power to feel like he has some worth.

“Levi, I wanted to talk to you about something,” says Hanji slowly, gauging his reaction.

“What is it, Four Eyes?” asks Levi as he goes over the plan for the hundredth time.

First, pass the gate and start walking south. Next, keep to formation and fight back any Titans that approach the group, taking care to guard the supply carts until we reach the first outpost. Then—

“Do you have feelings for Eren?” she asks and his thoughts are entirely derailed.

Levi’s head snaps up, and he glares at her. He isn’t so much angry as afraid, well he might be a bit, but first, he needs to find out how she knew. “What do you mean, Four Eyes?” he asks bitterly.

Hanji tries not to smirk. She knows his faces better than he thinks and right now, he’s on the defensive, trying to work out how to gracefully get out of this situation while digging for answers. “I mean are you in love with Eren,” she says smoothly, watching with satisfaction as his eyes widen and then narrow, her indication that she hit the nail on the head.

“Why would you ask something so ridiculous?” he snarls, but there is no bite to his words, her second indication.

“Because that was the conclusion I came to after observing you for a few days,” she replies, this time letting a hint of a smirk through. “There’s nothing wrong with those feelings, Levi, if you have them.” She adds that last to give him some relief that she doesn’t know the extent of his feelings, even though she’s pretty sure. “Eren’s a sweet kid, and pretty good looking to boot. Yeah, he has his problems, but then so do you.”

Levi clenches his jaw. This is not a discussion he needs to be having right now and especially not with Hanji. “I don’t have any feelings for him,” he says sternly. “I admire his tenacity and determination, that’s all.”

Hanji is not about to let him off that easily. “Is that why you carried him on your back when we both could’ve easily done it? Is that why you always perk up whenever he enters the room or why you’ve invited him to sit closer to you at dinner? Is that why you stay in the dining room after everyone leaves, waiting for him to bring you a cup of tea?”

Damn it. She has been watching.

“You don’t have to confirm or refute what I’m saying, Levi,” she says kindly. “I just wanted you to be aware of my observations. If these are the result of romantic feelings for Eren, then great and if not, at least you’re now conscious of your unconscious behavior.”

Levi remains tense, wondering where this conversation is headed.

“I’m not going to tell him, even if there is something to tell,” she continues. “That’s your job, and I’m not about to do anything that might jeopardize whatever this is between you two.” She then stands up and stretches before she heads for the door, leaving Levi hunched over the map. “But I do think you should know that your feelings are reciprocated.”

His head snaps up to yell at her, but she is already gone. Levi lets out a shaky breath. This is not what he expected and he sure as hell didn’t think it would be Hanji of all people who would broach the subject. Yes, he has feelings for Eren, feelings he tried to deny for a very long time, and it seemed to be working . . . Until it didn’t.

If he were to pinpoint precisely when his feelings started, it would be that day he saved Eren, Mikasa, and Armin from the Titan after Eren plugged the hole in Trost. He’d seen Eren before then but that had just been a passing glance on his way out of the Wall. This was more substantial. He saw Eren for the first time, tired and obviously relieved, and his heart did a backflip. Just thinking about that moment sends his heart fluttering. If he’s honest, he never expected to see the Shifter again, but then the tribunal happened, and he and Erwin decided on their plan to save Eren’s life. He had been onboard from the moment Erwin proposed it; he wasn’t about to let anyone kill Eren, not before he got a chance to at least know him. It was difficult to remain unaffected when he beat the ever-living crap out of him, but he managed, and Eren didn’t even hate him for it. He understood why it was necessary and he was grateful for that.

After that, his feelings only seemed to grow. Each day, Eren did or said something that made Levi like him more, and it was difficult not to let that show. He enjoyed their training sessions, those quiet moments before bed when Eren would ask him and the rest of the squad questions about killing Titans and about themselves. Levi never offered much up during those conversations, too afraid that he might let something slip and tip his hand to Eren about his heart.

Now the Shifter is making it almost impossible for Levi to keep his feelings buried. He is always around, always doing something that makes Levi want to kiss him or touch him or hold him. That day when he carried Eren on his back was like a dream come true. It felt so good and so right that it nearly killed him to leave his side. Just like it is killing him to willingly endanger Eren’s life in this suicidal expedition.

“I can’t lose him,” he admits quietly and only to himself. “I can’t.”

No, he can’t lose Eren. Not before he tells him everything. Not before he at least kisses him once. It doesn’t even bother him that Eren will probably reject him; he just wants the chance, the briefest of moments, to have those what-ifs and could-have-beens. Even if he ends up punched after, it won't spoil those pleasant dreams of what it would’ve been like to call Eren his.

Levi straightens up and rolls his shoulders. He needs to put this inner turmoil aside, his squad needs him, Eren needs him, and he can’t disappoint either. He makes a silent vow that once the expedition is finished, he’ll tell Eren everything even if it means rejection.

Little did he know, that Eren was going through a similar situation at the same time.


 

“What’s going on?” asks Eren as Mikasa and Armin enter his room, locking the door behind them. “Am I under house arrest?”

Armin shakes his head as he sits down on Eren’s bed. He needs to be careful and not do anything to upset the balance. Above all, he needs to make sure that Eren isn’t being influenced by anything he says. “No, we just want to talk,” he says as he plays with a strap on his hip. “You said you’d talk to me after the meeting, remember?”

Eren nods and then looks warily at his sister. “I do, but I thought it was private.”

“Mikasa needs to hear this too,” he explains with a shrug.

“Okay, so what’s going on?” asks Eren, leaning up from his pillow. “You seemed pretty upset when you mentioned it.”

Armin takes a calming breath. It is now or never. “Eren, what’re your feelings regarding Captain Levi?”

The room becomes silent and all Eren can hear is the sound of his heart galloping in his chest. Who the—what the—How did I screw up?! He stares at Armin unseeing. He knows this is bad, that he must’ve said or done something that gave it away, but he can’t think of what. He tried so hard to keep it hidden from his friends and now . . . Now they’re confronting him.

“Eren, it’s okay,” says Armin gently. “You can tell us.”

Eren looks at his lap. “What gave it away?”

Armin and Mikasa take a sharp breath. That is not what they expected him to say, in fact, they had planned on asking him if he noticed the way Levi acted around him, but they can’t back down now. Not when they have a confession.

“Well, you did, just now,” says Mikasa lightly. “We weren’t sure you had feelings for him, but we thought he might for you, so we were going to ask—”

“Levi likes me?!” Eren squeaks before clapping a hand over his mouth.

Armin barely keeps himself from laughing. That is just too funny. “Well, Mikasa and I suspect he might feel something more than friendship for you. But we want to know what you feel towards him.” If you feel anything for him at all, that is.

“I think I love him,” replies Eren, his eyes sparkling and he misses the irritated look that crosses Mikasa’s face. “I mean, I’m not sure what to call it, but it’s powerful.”

Armin smiles encouragingly. “Why don’t you tell us? Maybe we can figure out what it is.”

Eren nods, but his cheeks are a bright red. He didn’t expect this conversation to be about him. “Whenever he touches me, the spot gets warm.” His hands go up to his shoulders. “It’s like being cold and suddenly being put in front of a fire.” One hand goes to his chest. “Whenever I see him, my heart beats like crazy, and I feel this weird tingly sensation in my stomach. I love seeing him smile; it’s so nice, especially when it’s directed at me. And it’s hard to be near him.”

“How so?” asks Armin, watching Mikasa from the corner of his eye.

“I can’t think,” he replies, somewhat wistfully. “It’s a recent development, but whenever Levi’s close to me, all I can think about is that. I can’t think about anything else.”

“When did that start?” asks Mikasa, to Armin’s great surprise.

Eren’s blush deepens “Around the time I noticed that he treats me differently from everyone else. I’ll catch him staring at me sometimes, and whenever we touch, the contact will last longer than it should. Like when we were collecting rocks during our training, our fingers kept touching. I thought it was just a mistake but it just kept happening, and I couldn’t stop myself from letting it.”

“You make that sound like a bad thing,” says Armin gently.

“At the time, it was,” says Eren quietly. “I wasn’t sure what to make of it, I’m still not.” He fidgets a little, unsure of how to proceed.

Mikasa lets out a sigh and sits beside her brother. “Listen to me Eren, closely. It sounds to me like your feelings for Levi are deep, deeper than just hero worship or a crush. If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong, but only you can decide if that’s true.”

“How do I know?” asks Eren weakly. “I’ve had these feelings for a while, but I’ve just attributed them to wanting to be closer to my hero.”

Armin smirks. “Well, you did just refer to Levi as your hero, rather than as a hero.”

Eren scowls and Mikasa snickers.

“Think about this,” she continues, putting her arm around her brother’s shoulders. “When you see Levi, do you feel like you want to kiss him or hold his hand?”

He nods, a thin smile on his lips.

Mikasa’s heart sinks, but she perseveres. “Have you ever thought of having a future with him? Or do you only think about the here and now?”

“Why does that matter?” asks Eren curiously.

“Because when you have a crush, you can’t see beyond the circumstances that brought it on,” she replies with a weak smile. “You think about them in the context you know them and not much else. Yeah, you think about dating and kissing them, but you can’t see them fitting into your life permanently. If your feelings are something else, then you should have no trouble seeing Levi in your future.”

Silence follows her words and his two friends are sitting on pins and needles in anticipation of his answer.

“Sometimes,” he says slowly, eyes firmly locked on his lap. This is embarrassing enough already. “Sometimes, when we went on patrol, I looked at the houses and wondered which one Levi would like. When I saw one, I thought about what we would fill it with and what our home life would be like. I pictured huge bookcases with two rows of books on each shelf, two armchairs by the fire, a hairy dog curled up on the rug . . .” He trails off like he does whenever he thinks about this image. He logically knows what would be next, but he can’t bring himself to admit it, the implications are too staggering, and it hurts him too much to admit.

“What else do you see?” says Armin gently, hoping to prod his friend into speaking again.

“Children,” says Eren, his voice so soft that the other two almost don’t catch the word. “I see children. Not many, maybe three or four, some of them short and some of them tall, all of them clean and happy and healthy.” He turns back to his friends and finds them smiling kindly at him. “I think I know what I feel for Levi.”

Mikasa, tears brewing in her eyes, takes his hand and squeezes it. “So do we and we think you should tell him.”

Chapter Text

That evening, Levi sits on pins and needles. He glances at the clock above the fireplace, trying to determine whether or not Eren is late with their tea or not coming at all. He can’t blame him for staying away; even Levi knows he acted strangely during dinner, and it was all Hanji’s fault for bringing up his feelings for the Shifter. If she hadn’t said anything earlier, he would’ve been perfectly happy and content to have Eren sit close and talk without reading into everything he was saying or the way he looked at him. He will die before he admits to anyone that he tried to dissect every sentence that came out of Eren’s mouth that night and tucked the memory of the looks he gave away to think on later. Yeah, he would rather be eaten by a Titan than tell anyone any of that.

The sound of a door opening jolts him from his thoughts, and he barely controls the urge to jump up and see who it is; he already knows who it is and acting like an easily startled youth will do him no favors. Instead, he forces himself to stay seated as he listens to a set of footsteps draw closer, their sound matching the rhythm of his heartbeat.

Perhaps it’s the other way around?

Soon enough—too soon—he spies Eren from the corner of his eye and watches without looking as he puts a steaming cup of black tea in front of him before sitting down in the chair to Levi’s right. Even here at headquarters, Eren maintains his predictable pattern and it both settles and unnerves Levi. When had they fallen into such a routine that it couldn’t be broken even with a location change? Why didn’t this terrify him more?

“Good evening,” says Eren as he blows on his cup before taking a sip. Levi notes that he is still holding his cup as he does.

“Eren,” acknowledges Levi as he takes a sip of his tea, carefully watching Eren as he does so. He’s been expecting retribution for sneaking him sleeping herbs a few days ago, but so far nothing’s happened. “Are you ready for tomorrow?”

“As ready as I can be,” he replies with a slight frown. “I feel like I’m just going to slow everyone down, though.”

Levi raises an eyebrow. “Why’s that? You’ve done very well during your training, hell you even killed a Titan as a human. What about that says you’re going to slow us down?”

Eren shrugs. “I’m only on this squad and still alive because of being a Shifter. I joined the Survey Corps as a human, but I’m only kept on because I’m a Titan. If it weren’t for that, I’m sure I wouldn’t be going on any expeditions.”

“Tch, I thought you were over this self-pity shit,” snaps Levi. He’s had it with Eren’s self-deprecating attitude. Enough is enough. “I’ve told you before, prove yourself as a human. For gods’ sake, you’re a fucking human! You’re not a Titan or a monster or whatever the hell else you’re thinking. You’re a human, Eren, and you’re going to win this war as a human.”

Eren looks at Levi with a stunned expression while Levi internally berates himself for his outburst. It just happened, he hadn’t planned on practically shouting at him and probably pushing him even further away. Gods, I’m bad at this shit.

“I’m sorry,” he says, holding his head against his hand. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“Do you regret saying it?” asks Eren, echoing one of their previous conversations over tea and Levi hesitates for a moment before shaking his head. “Then don’t be sorry.”

It’s all Levi can do not to smile.

“You know, you’re easier to talk to than I thought you’d be,” says Eren with a slight chuckle. “When I first met you, I thought you were a hard-ass who didn’t give two shits about anything that wasn’t Titans.”

Levi smirks. That’s generally everyone’s first impression of him. “And now what do you think of me?”

“I think you’re a hard-ass who gives two shits about things that aren’t Titans,” replies Eren with a shit eating grin and Levi bursts out laughing. It doesn’t sound as rounded as Eren’s; in fact, it sounds strange and maybe forced. Even still he can’t help it, it just sounded so damn funny, and it came out of Eren’s mouth, of all people.

“Well, at least my reputation is still intact,” says Levi after he calms himself down. When was the last time he laughed like this? Did he ever laugh before Eren? “You know, when I first met you, I thought you were a whiny little brat whose only focus was killing all Titans.”

“And now?” asks Eren, sounding hopeful.

“You’re still a whiny little brat who’s only focused on killing Titans,” says Levi in a deadpan voice and Eren stares at him for a moment before he starts cracking up, his laughter filling the room. Levi smiles just a little.

“I guess that’s fair,” says Eren, still laughing. “I haven’t exactly done much to make you think otherwise.”

“No,” says Levi honestly, “but I’m sure in time you will. You need to give yourself a chance, Eren, otherwise you’ll always be a whiny brat.”

Eren cocks an eyebrow. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“I forgot to add “little shit” to my earlier description,” says Levi, rolling his eyes and Eren starts laughing again. “Honestly, how are you not given an ass-kicking every day? I’ve heard some of the stuff you say to Kirstein, and it’s like tempting fate half the time.”

Eren grins. “I’m not called the Suicidal Bastard for nothing.”

“Now that I can believe,” says Levi, nearly smiling again. He feels himself relaxing tremendously, between their banter and the easy way conversation flows between them, he almost feels like nothing else exists in the world except for the two of them. He even manages to forget for the moment that tonight is the night before the suicidal expedition and he can’t help but think how appropriate that description is, given Eren’s nickname.

“So, what do you plan to do after the war?” asks Eren, quickly and seamlessly changing the topic.

“That depends on whether or not I survive,” retorts Levi with a shrug, almost missing the look of fear that crosses over Eren’s face. “Why? What do you want to do?”

“I asked you first,” argues Eren, smirking slightly.

“And I’m your superior, brat,” counters Levi with a definite smirk and Eren nearly bursts out laughing. “So tell me, Eren, after you’re done winning the war what do you want to do? Kill more Titans?”

“Maybe,” says Eren with a chuckle. “I’d like to think that winning the war means getting rid of all the Titans.”

Levi nods his agreement. That’s his hope as well.

“I’d like to return to my hometown once it’s safe,” continues Eren, obviously becoming more relaxed. “I’d like to assist in the rebuilding effort and maybe design a few new buildings, but I wouldn’t stay there forever. I’d much rather go beyond the Walls and see the world, at least for a while.”

Levi barely bites back the smile that threatens to form when he hears Eren’s dream. It sounds so peaceful and pleasant that a large part of him desperately wants to deliver it personally to Eren on a silver platter. A smaller part of him is hesitant to even speak about it, fearing that there isn’t a spot in that dream for him.

“You could help design and build settlements beyond the Walls,” suggests Levi despite himself. He just really wants to listen to Eren talk about something that isn’t war, so he decides to indulge in the fantasy a little. “I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities once the war is over.”

Eren’s smile threatens to crack his face in half. “That’s true, although I’m sure there are tons of architects in Sina who’ll want to do it instead.”

Levi snorts. “Tch, those shitheads were the ones who designed our current cities and settlements, and I have to say, I’m less than impressed with their handiwork. I’d much rather see what you could do.”

Eren chuckles sheepishly. “Thank you, sir.”

“So what would you do then? Spend all of your time traveling and designing new towns?” asks Levi, relaxing tremendously thanks to the tea and the pleasant company.

“I’d like to think I’d settle down at some point,” Eren admits, a soft smile on his lips as he looks down at the cup in his hands. “I want to find the bodies of endless saltwater and build a house beside them, that way I’ll always be able to see them.” He then looks up at Levi, his green eyes sparkling in the firelight. “What about you? What do you want to do after the war?”

Levi considers brushing the question aside, after all, he knows how foolish what he’s about to say will sound, but he wants to tell him. He doesn’t just want to repay the favor; he genuinely wants Eren to know what he wants to do after the war. He has a feeling, based on their conversation about the teacup, he won’t think it’s silly or he will but won’t say anything.

“You can’t laugh,” says Levi sternly. “And if you do, I’ll punch you so hard, your children will feel it. Understand?”

Eren nods although his threat doesn’t discourage that beautiful smile.

Levi lets out a soft sigh and looks at his cup, wondering how he ended up in this position before deciding that it doesn’t matter, he’s here now. “I want to open a tea shop,” he says quietly, so quietly that he wonders if Eren even heard him. He really doesn’t want to repeat himself. He ventures a look at Eren, and he can tell by the way that his smile softened that he did indeed hear him and he almost regrets it.

“I think that’s a great idea,” says Eren, still grinning like an idiot. “You’d be great at it.”

“And why do you say that, brat?” asks Levi, trying to sound uninterested but even he can hear the fondness in his tone. Shit, I’m in way too deep.

“It’s obviously something you’re passionate about,” says Eren, excitement creeping into his voice. “Isn’t that the whole point of working? Being passionate about it?”

He can’t argue there. “I guess you might have a point,” concedes Levi with a shrug. “When I was a kid, I always dreamt of owning my own store, merchants were regarded as royalty in the Underground and always had the best things right at their fingertips.” He runs a hand through his hair. “I guess I never gave up on that dream.”

“That probably means it’s something you really want to do,” says Eren, offering a sincere smile. The sincerity makes his eyes a deep, rich green. “Maybe when the war’s over, I’ll design your teashop for you, to your specifications of course.”

Levi’s eyes widen for a moment. “That would be interesting,” he admits, trying to sound smoother than he felt. “Would it be here in the Walls or outside near those endless bodies of saltwater?”

He watches with some satisfaction as Eren’s cheeks go crimson. At least he isn’t the only one being a little flustered in this situation.

“That depends on where you want to live,” replies Eren and Levi almost glares at him. He didn’t take the bait.

“I’m tired of being in these damn walls,” he says offhandedly, wondering if Eren will finally catch on. “I think a change of scenery would be nice, so I guess I’ll follow you to the saltwater.”

Silence follows his words and Levi can hardly believe what he just admitted. His heart is racing, and his blood is thundering in his ears. The silence seems to stretch out forever, and Levi wonders what the hell is about to come out of Eren’s mouth when he hears the other male quietly chuckling to himself. Now he’s pissed.

Where the hell does that brat get off laughing at me?

“That would be nice,” says Eren before Levi has the chance to go off on him. “It would certainly be lonely without you around.”

Now it’s Levi’s turn to be thrown into silence. That is certainly not what he thought Eren would say in response, and now he has to come up with something, anything that will avoid the topic of his feelings for the other man. It’s proving to be incredibly difficult.

“Levi, there’s something I need to tell you,” says Eren and Levi thinks his heart is going to explode when those big green eyes look at him so earnestly. “And please don’t interrupt until I’m done, okay?”

“I make no promises,” says Levi sternly but there isn’t any bite to his threat. He isn’t sure where this is going—no, he is sure, and that’s why he’s so damn nervous. He can almost hear Eren’s rejection, telling him that he was just kidding about what he said and that he didn’t mean it in that way. He attempts to ready his heart for the painful blow but there is a small part of him that refuses to give up hope, and it glows brightly in his heart.

“Levi,” says Eren, sounding nervous and just a little unsure. Levi can feel the wing tips of the butterflies in his stomach. “I’m sure this is going to sound completely strange and probably unexpected, but for a really long time, longer than I think is normal . . . Not that I’m saying this isn’t normal! Well, maybe it isn’t, but it’s just I don’t have much experience with normal and you—”

“Levi!” shouts Erwin from the other side of the room, completely cutting off Eren’s rambling and causing Levi to almost have a heart attack.

“What?!” snaps Levi, glaring openly at his commanding officer.

Erwin seems taken aback by Levi’s attitude, but he doesn’t linger on it long. “I need to go over a few last details with you regarding tomorrow. Are you available?”

“You haven’t really given me much of a fucking choice,” says Levi, barely keeping the snarl out of his voice as he stands up, almost knocking his chair over in the process.

“Sir,” says Eren softly and Levi looks at him, his hard expression relaxes just a little. The Shifter stands up, his frustration hardly concealed by the false smile plastered on his face. “I’m sorry for keeping you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Levi wants to push Erwin out of the room and push Eren back into his seat. He wants to hear what he was going to say before they were so rudely interrupted, he wants Eren to call him by his given name again as he did just moments ago, he doesn’t want all of these fucking barriers between them anymore! For twenty glorious minutes, they were only Eren and Levi, not officer and soldier, not Humanity’s Strongest and Humanity’s Hope they were just themselves. And in one fell swoop, it’s all snatched away, and the barriers are back, firmly in place to remind him of all that stands between him and the one he wants.

“Yes, sleep well, Eren,” says Levi quietly as the Shifter hurries out of the room and Levi curses every god he can think of as he watches Eren’s retreating back.


When he steps outside the dining room, Eren’s legs nearly give out, and he barely keeps himself up as he starts walking towards his room. He still can’t believe what was about to happen, he nearly confessed everything to Levi, and then Erwin had to walk in and ruin it. Didn’t he know how long it took him to work up the courage to even approach the subject? Probably not but if he did, he probably wouldn’t have come barging in like he did or would have at least waited until later to come and get Levi.

Eren’s fist meets the nearest wall, and the pain barely registers in his mind. He’d been so close! So close to telling and now, Levi probably thinks he’s insane or weird or whatever and he’ll probably never get the chance to tell him. Their conversation serves as the only consolation for that poorly executed confession. It makes him smile to think that Levi at least tolerates him enough to let him know personal details like what he wants to do after he’s done in the military and he’s happy that he didn’t laugh, even if he found it adorable. That would’ve wrecked everything.

“How’d it go?” asks Armin as he enters his room, his friend is sitting on his bed, and Mikasa is seated at his desk, mending her red scarf. Eren didn’t even realize that he’d made it to his room he was so lost in thought.

“If he’s here, then probably not well,” says Mikasa, her dark eyes narrowing and Eren can practically see Levi’s head being cut away from his body by Mikasa’s blades.

“What happened, Eren?” presses Armin, his grey-blue eyes wide with concern.

Eren sighs heavily as he sits down on the bed, lying on his back with his arms spread open. “I came close to telling him,” he says, glancing at his friend as he puts his book away, “and I mean close, and then Erwin came in.”

Armin and Mikasa share a pitying look, both feeling sorry for their friend.

“I see,” says Armin, shaking his head slightly. “I’m sorry, Eren.”

Eren shrugs. “It’s fine. I can only blame myself; I wasn’t fast enough.” He then pushes himself up on his elbows. “Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be, and this is the sign I need to move on.”

“You can’t say that after one attempt,” snaps Mikasa, to both Eren and Armin’s surprise. “You never give up, Eren! I can’t believe you’re admitting defeat so easily!”

“What do you want me to do, Mikasa?” demands Eren, his features set with frustration. “Go down there, interrupt Erwin and Levi’s meeting, and tell him that I love him?!”

“Yes,” she says with a firm nod, and Eren is rendered completely speechless. “Eren, we’re walking into hell tomorrow, we don’t know what to expect or if we’re even going to live! We can have the highest hopes in the world, but that won’t save us if things fall apart. Even if it’s just for one night, you and Levi should spend it together.”

She stands up and crosses the room, she then reaches down and pulls Eren up onto his feet, holding his shoulders tightly. “Please don’t give up. You’ll regret it for the rest of your life if you do and I’m not about to sit here and watch you dream about what might have been and relive this moment over and over wishing you’d done something different. Now go down there and tell the Captain that you love him.”

“Uh, if I might make a suggestion,” says Armin, looking between the two siblings and praying that neither one of them bites his head off. “Considering the delicate nature of this situation, I would suggest that Eren go wait for Levi outside his quarters.” His eyes sparkle. “Unless he’s bold enough to go into Levi’s room without his permission.”

“I’m a suicidal bastard, not a stupid one,” comments Eren and Mikasa giggles. “Still, it’s not a bad idea. It would at least mean we were alone.” A grin slowly begins to creep across his lips. “And I know what I can do while I wait for him.”


 

Damn Eyebrows, keeping me up so fucking late.

Levi stomps his way back to his bedroom, cursing Erwin for a slew of reasons, least of which being the fact it’s after midnight and they have to be up at the ass crack of dawn to meet up with the others for the expedition. While he doesn’t sleep for very long himself, he does like to at least be in his room by midnight and getting through paperwork. He shakes his head and decides that he’ll get back at Erwin later, right now all he wants is to get in bed and sleep for a couple of hours. He just wants to forget about tonight and his utter failings at confessing to Eren.

When he reaches his room, he almost falls over from fright. Eren is sitting outside his door, asleep. His first instinct is to be annoyed that he’s sleeping here and not in his room but that fades into surprise when he realizes that Eren probably fell asleep waiting . . . for him. With a slight sigh, he goes over and kneels down beside the Shifter, shaking his shoulder a little rougher than he would typically; he knows from experience that Eren is a hard sleeper and it almost takes a force of nature to wake him up.

Fortunately, it seems he found him just before he was too deep in sleep, and the boy’s green eyes flutter open. He looks confused for a moment before he sees Levi and immediately smiles. “Sorry, guess I fell asleep,” says Eren with a nervous chuckle.

“Seems so,” says Levi, slightly amused as he helps Eren up. “What’re you even doing here? You should be in your room.”

Eren blushes and Levi’s heart begins to pound harder.

“We didn’t get to finish our conversation earlier,” says Eren sheepishly, his eyes cutting between Levi and his boots.

“That’s true, but can’t it wait until later?” asks Levi, torn between wanting to hear what he has to say and wanting to delay it for as long as possible.

Eren shakes his head, and Levi’s breath catches in his throat. “No, I don’t think it can, Levi.”

Levi tries to convince himself to send Eren back to his room and go to sleep, but there is something in the other man’s determined gaze that breaks him, and he relents. He opens the door to his room and silently invites the other inside, wondering how his life took so many twists and turns to end up here, with Eren Jaeger in his bedroom.

No, don’t think of it like that.

“So, what’s so important that you had to camp outside my room?” he asks, trying to sound apathetic as he closes the door and wills himself to turn and face Eren.

Eren’s standing in the middle of the room, seemingly taking in every detail before he realizes that Levi spoke to him and he spins around, so they are looking at each other, his eyes are shining despite the nervous expression on his face. Without a word, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper and offers it to Levi. The other man looks at it skeptically, his eyes going from it to Eren and back again before he finally decides to take it. He crosses over and takes it before going towards his desk, determined to maintain distance between himself and Eren.

With trembling hands he manages to hide from the other, he unfolds the paper and in the dim light provided by a few thick candles, sees a pencil and ink sketch of a building. The building is two stories high and relatively large, like a stately home in Sina. The building has an obscene amount of windows but he likes the way the lines are drawn, they don’t seem as sharp and rigid as those on the houses in the Walls. The house, despite its imposing size, looks remarkably cozy and inviting. Levi especially likes the covered wraparound porch that appears to go around the entire building. He looks closer and sees that the awning for the wraparound porch serves as a divider for the building and he can only guess that half of it is for living in and the other half is for something else. He is about to ask what it is when he glances down at the right upper corner of the paper and sees something written in Eren’s messy scrawl:

Levi’s Home and Tea Shop

Levi looks up from the plan in disbelief. Eren designed him a house and shop. He turns around and sees Eren still standing there, rocking back and forth on his feet in anticipation of Levi’s response. Levi isn’t sure what to say or how he should react to such a touching and unexpected gesture, so he stands, merely looking at him.

“What do you think?” asks Eren when he notices Levi staring at him. “It’s not much, but I thought it was a good start and you can always tell me what to change later on.” He waits for a moment before continuing, “I tried to make it practical, and that’s why it’s your home and store. You can live above the shop and work when you want.”

“What’s with all of the windows?” asks Levi quietly as he looks back at the sketch.

“Well, I thought you’d like a view of the sea,” replies Eren, rubbing the back of his neck. This is not exactly going as he planned but he’s determined to persevere anyway. “That’s also why you have the porch, so you and your patrons can enjoy the seaside.”

Levi smirks, it makes sense. “You know this place is fucking huge, right? Way too big for just me to live in.”

Here goes everything.

Eren takes a deep breath and forces himself to look at Levi. “I know, but I didn’t design it with just you in mind.”

“What do you mean?” asks Levi, slightly breathless.

“I designed it thinking about our family,” says Eren quietly and Levi hears the one word in that explanation that tells him everything.

Our family?” he repeats in a questioning tone, looking directly at Eren as he speaks.

Eren nods. “Yes, our family. You and me and maybe a couple of kids and some animals, all living under the same roof.”

“Sounds messy,” says Levi with a slight chuckle.

“I-I know,” says Eren, obviously nervous and unsure. “But I’d help clean and keep everything nice.”

Levi nods. “I know.” He then frowns slightly. “You know, it’s pretty strange that you’re planning for a family already. I mean, you haven’t even told me you loved me or kissed me or any of that other romantic crap.”

“I was working up to it!” says Eren defensively before clapping a hand on his mouth, realizing what he just said. “I mean . . .”

“Are you sure about this?” asks Levi, cocking an eyebrow. “We’re in the middle of a war.”

Eren can feel a smirk threatening to come out, but he manages to keep it under wraps. “That’s exactly why I’m sure. We don’t know what to expect tomorrow or the next day, so why put things like this off? We might never get another chance.”

Levi knows he’s right and it pisses him off that he is. He wants to be with Eren, hell this is his dream come true, and he can hardly believe that Eren wants him too. But this isn’t how he imagined it. He thought he’d be more prepared for something like this, but he isn’t. They need time, and right now, there isn’t any; this is essentially their last chance, and he doesn’t want them to make a mistake just because they’re up against a deadline. If they’re going to have a relationship someday, he doesn’t want it built on a foundation of desperation.

“That’s true,” admits Levi slowly, watching for any indication that Eren might be upset. “We don’t know what to expect . . . but I think we should wait to explore whatever this is between us until after the expedition.” Eren opens his mouth to speak, and Levi holds up his hand. “Listen, I think that for now, we should just leave this here. We can’t risk being distracted at such a critical moment. Agreed?”

Eren nods numbly. His heart hurts, and he feels like an idiot, thinking that this was a good idea and listening to Mikasa and Armin. What hurts more is that even though Levi is turning him down, he can’t stop the way his heart feels. He loves him and even though he’ll never have him, he still loves him and he knows he always will.

Chapter Text

Dawn finally comes, and it feels like it came too fast. Levi is already up and ready by the time the first rays are peeking over the Wall, and he watches as the sky slowly changes from dark blue to light pink and yellow. He wonders what the sunrise will look like over the sea and if he will be able to see it every morning from the windows in his bedroom. His fingers curl around the piece of paper Eren gave him last night, and he prays, for the first time in his life, to whichever deity is bored enough to hear, that he and Eren can have the future they imagined.

Eren stirs from his slumber to see the sun starting to come over the Wall. He sighs heavily and slowly starts to get out of bed. His eyes fall on the uniform he so diligently laid out the previous night, and he feels his heart and stomach clench at the thought of last night. He can still hear Levi’s voice, hear the words they exchanged, feel the heat from his hand burning Eren. He’s glad he went even if it didn’t end as he had hoped. At least he had an idea of where he stood with Levi, and that’s more than he knew this time yesterday. The ache in his chest lessened slightly overnight, but it’s still there, reminding Eren that it isn’t as whole as it was once.

He stands up and stretches before going over to the window. Today they would ride for Wall Maria, and they wouldn’t be coming back until after they found his basement and took whatever secrets his father was hiding. The key around his neck suddenly becomes heavy, and he holds it through his nightshirt. He literally holds the key to turning the tide in this war, and he is not sure he can do it or if he will even get to that moment. Everything is riding on him, and of all his friends and squad mates, he is probably the least likely to survive. Yes, his skill with the ODM gear and blades has improved over the last few weeks but is that enough? His friends, even Armin, have been fighting that way much longer than he has and he still struggles with his timing; and in war, timing is everything.

Eren shakes his head. Everyone is putting way too much faith in him sure he will succeed when he knows deep down that he will more than likely fail. He’s already failed so many times in the past, his most recent incident being with Reiner, and he’s not ready to fail when it means so much. He needs to come up with a plan, one that will ensure that even if he fails, the mission will be a success. He knows what he needs to do.


When Levi enters the dining hall, the other Scouts are already eating breakfast. There is an air of foreboding and worry hanging over the room, and he wonders if he is just imagining things. He isn’t necessarily the most optimistic person in the world.

“Levi!” calls Hanji from the main table with Erwin and a couple of other squad leaders. “We saved you some breakfast.”

“And tea,” adds Erwin as Levi sits down to his right, looking down at the pleasant array of berries on his porridge. Berries are reserved for mornings of expeditions. He notices a cup of freshly brewed tea sitting beside his plate. He takes a sip and almost gags, Eren’s is much better, and the brat’s only done it a few times.

“How’re the Scouts this morning?” Levi asks as he spoons a bite of porridge.

“Eager,” replies Erwin, looking forward at the room full of their comrades. “Before I forget, Eren asked if he could speak with you before we leave. Apparently, he needs your help with something.”

Levi nearly chokes on his bite, but he manages to swallow before it happens. He scans the room and finds Eren sitting with the rest of Squad Levi, calmly eating his breakfast and attempting to break up a fight between Sasha and Jean over a piece of toast; he seems to be doing more harm than good as far as Levi can tell. His hand discreetly goes to his heart, and he presses down on the piece of paper he gave him last night. Levi will cut out his tongue before he tells Eren, but this morning he cut up one of his thinner cravats and used it to make a pocket for the building plan. He then sewed it closed to ensure that it did not accidentally fall out.

He feels eyes on him and looks back up to see Eren staring at him, his green eyes showing a calm that Levi did not believe him capable of, and they nod to each other. Words are helpful but not necessary between them. Last night had been an exception, a trial for both of them to endure and overcome. He knew those words needed to be said, but he would’ve preferred just the sketch and Eren’s eager grin. That would have told him everything he needed to know and more.

“So, how are things?” asks Hanji, her slightly singsong voice grating the wrong way on Levi’s nerves.

“Fine,” he says shortly. He is not in the mood to indulge her wild fantasies.

“I learned something interesting last night,” she says, and he gives her a sideways glance. “I learned how we could get Annie out of that crystal.”

Levi nearly drops his cup, and Erwin drops his spoon. They both look at her, and she’s grinning like the cat that got the cream.

“How?” asks Erwin and that’s all the encouragement Hanji needs.

“Well, remember when I said that her crystal armor and the Walls are made of the same material?” she asks, her grin widening when they both nod. “Now, how did we get that piece of wall to begin with? Annie climbed up using her crystal armor to pierce the Wall. That got me wondering if they could mutually destroy each other. I tested both samples by trying to crush them with hammers, wood, swords, blades, you name it I tried it, and nothing worked. Then I tested my theory by using the crystal sample I had to crush the Wall piece, and it worked.” Her brown eyes sparkle when Levi and Erwin look like they’re on the edge of their seats. “The crystal broke the piece of wall, and the piece of wall broke the crystal.”

Erwin grins widely. This is the breakthrough they’ve needed. “So what you’re telling me is if we get a big enough piece of crystal or wall, then we can use it to break Annie out of that prison?”

Hanji nods. “Exactly. We need a piece bigger and thicker than her crystal prison; otherwise, it might not work.”

“What could be bigger than that crystal?” asks Erwin but Levi already knows the answer.

“Eren’s fist,” he says quietly, and she nods again.

“That’s right,” she says, her eyes going to the Shifter as he finishes his breakfast. “Once we figure out how to activate the armor power in Eren, we’ll use him to repair the Walls and break Annie out of her crystal. Then we might be able to get some answers.”

“How long do you think it’ll take for Eren to unlock that power?” asks Erwin and Levi can read between the lines. He’s really asking if it’s even possible given Eren’s current situation.

Hanji, to her credit, merely shrugs. “It could be a while. We aren’t going to do any testing right away, but I have a couple of theories. Mainly, I believe . . .”

Levi’s attention trailed off at that point; he’s not really interested in hearing the next experiments Hanji has planned for Eren, not right now. He wants to remind Hanji that Eren’s a human, not some specimen she can poke and prod and manipulate but he knows better than to say anything; part of the conditions of having Eren here is so they can learn more about Titans, and it isn’t his place to deny that information. He glances up and notices that Eren isn’t sitting anymore, in fact, he isn’t even in the room. Levi surmises that’s his signal and he excuses himself quietly before heading for the nearest door.

Eren is already standing outside of the door, and he wonders briefly how the brat knew he’d use that door. Then he concludes that Eren probably knows his habits better than most and could’ve easily deduced it.

“I heard you needed to speak with me,” he says calmly, discreetly making sure that no one else is nearby or attempting to get through the door. He’s not going to be interrupted again, damn it, even if he blew his chance last night. He’d take whatever Eren wanted to give him.

“Yeah,” says Eren, obviously unsure by the way he’s rubbing his neck. “Listen, I’ve been thinking—”

“Dangerous,” quips Levi and Eren huffs slightly, and Levi’s lips crack a small grin. At least things aren’t too awkward between them in the harsh light of day.

“Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this expedition,” continues Eren, a little irritated but not really. He reaches into his shirt and removes the key from around his neck and holds it out so Levi can see. “We’re risking our lives for something so important . . . And we don’t know what the outcome will be. We could all die before we even get there and never know what we missed. We could find out that it wasn’t worth the trouble and everything we went through was essentially for nothing.” He then takes a step forward, the key still outstretched and Levi feels his heart start to slowly increase in pace. “There aren’t any guarantees right now, except for one. I know, without a doubt, that you’ll make it.”

Eren, please don’t say that. Please don’t say it like you know you’re going to die.

Warm green eyes meet cool grey, and before he can stop him, Eren is slipping the key over Levi’s head; his fingertips just barely graze the stubble of his undercut, leaving trails of fire in their wake. All too quickly his hands are gone, and the key is around Levi’s neck. Levi looks down at the key, and part of him wants to yank it off and shove it back in Eren’s hands. He knows exactly what this means; he understands why Eren’s doing it, and he can’t stand it.

“There,” says Eren, sounding as if he just achieved a difficult task. To anyone else, it would’ve been seen as a triumph to get so close to Levi without him snapping off a limb, but that’s never been the case with Eren. He just plows through barriers like they never existed, to begin with. “Now Humanity’s Strongest has the Key to Victory.”

“Now I know we won’t fail.”

“This is stupid,” says Levi without any bite. He can’t manage it right now. “You’re just pawning off your responsibility onto me. How will that accomplish anything?”

“Why would you do this? You have to be there to use it.”

“We can’t be too careful,” says Eren with a shrug, his tousled hair shaking slightly with his head. “Who knows what might happen?”

“Please, just do this. I can’t stand the thought of this all being in vain.”

Levi regards him carefully, his fingers going to the metal key, still warm from being against Eren’s chest. “Fine, but you’d better take it back when all of this is done. I’m not about to hold on to your junk for you.”

“Please survive.”

Eren beams widely, his dimples on display. “Deal.”


The ride through the streets to the gate is quiet, at least amongst the Scouts. The same cannot be said for the people lining the streets, shouting insults and throwing stones in the road in an attempt to startle the horses. It’s a good thing that not even Titan screams can scare these horses. The people will never dare strike a Scout because there are about four or five people who won’t hesitate to exact swift and bloody revenge for such a treasonous act and three of them are riding together near the middle of the pack.

“They need to shut up,” snarls Eren as he glares at two hecklers who are calling him a menace to their society. “One well-placed blade and they’d never talk again.”

“Eren!” chides Mikasa, glaring at her brother from over her red scarf. “They’re just scared, and this expedition isn’t necessarily a popular idea. Erwin needed to call in a lot of favors to get permission for this.”

“She’s right,” says Levi, glancing over his shoulder at Eren, who is scowling at his reins. “We’re risking not only our lives but Erwin and the Survey Corps’ reputation with this expedition. The least you could do is not give the people a reason to hate us more.”

Eren’s cheeks flush hot with shame, and he wants to apologize, but the words stick in his throat. Being sorry won’t help, holding his tongue and minding his temper will. He merely nods and backs down, much to the astonishment of the other two. Mikasa and Levi glance at each other, silent questions and quiet answers pass between them in a blink, and they reach an understanding before their horses move another step. The exchange doesn’t go unnoticed by Eren, and he wisely decides not to ask any questions, doubtful that he’d even understand what they’d tell him anyway.

He longs to have that ability, to quietly commune with someone with only a look, to be understood without needing clumsy and ill-fitting words. He supposes he partially has that with Mikasa, but she misreads him, or purposefully misinterprets things, just for an excuse to be near him. Armin can read him like an open book but that’s not hard, he’s never been very subtle in any respect, so he supposes that anyone with two eyes and a brain can tell what he’s thinking or feeling at any moment. It infuriates him that even Jean can read him as well as his closest friends and yet he can’t tell what Horse Face is thinking, or if he even can.

“Here we go,” he hears Mikasa whisper, and he looks up to see that they’re already at the gate, crossing through and into the wild space that lies between Wall Rose and Wall Maria. The no man’s land occupied with hundreds of Titans and their small group. Eren glances at Levi and Mikasa and allows himself a small grin. He feels a little sorry for the Titans.

Once they are free of the bridge and the gate, their formation starts to take shape. Hanji shouts out an order and thirty-five horses break free from the front and head for the left, she shoots off a yellow signal flare a few moments later, indicating that she’s in position. Erwin calls out a similar order, and the remaining Scouts follow him to the right, like Hanji he shoots off a yellow flare when he’s in position. All that remains is Squad Levi in the center, and Historia fires off their signal flare when they are in line with the others. They can’t see the rest of the escort, but that’s the idea, to have two large groups of humans so tantalizingly on display that the Titans will hopefully neglect the small group and allow them to pass safely.

Eren hates this plan, it reminds him of the expedition with the Female Titan, almost to the letter and he fights down the bile and guilt that threaten to rise from his stomach. He needs to keep calm and pay attention, he can’t afford to lose himself to those memories, and he’ll be damned before he loses control. Instead, he focuses on Levi as the man takes the lead and instructs them to get into the formation as they practiced. Despite the fact Hanji isn’t there to add to the left flank, the composition fills out nicely, and they’re able to keep pace with each other. He doesn’t even question why Levi is beside him in the center instead of on the right like they practiced; he merely takes comfort in it.

They ride for what must be hours, and there isn’t even the slightest hint of a Titan in all that time. It unnerves the group greatly, and every little sound puts them on edge by the time they reach the first checkpoint to stop and water the horses. No one strays very far from the group, preferring to close ranks and walk around with a hand on their blade while they give the horses their lunch and eat something themselves. Eren takes point to guard and stands so he can see the vast space in front of them, an excellent position to see distress signals from the escort team, and he can feel Levi prowling around somewhere behind him, as on edge as the rest. This is starting to feel worse than their first encounter with the Female Titan.

“Doubt anyone could take a shit right now,” says Levi, his voice nearly causing Eren to jump out of his skin. “We’re all so uptight; it’d be damn near impossible.”

Eren snorts. “You’re right about that, sir. Still, I’m sure Connie could manage. He’d probably end up with his pants around his ankles while trying to fight in the middle of taking a dump.”

This elicits a slight and airy snicker from Levi. Not an outright laugh like the night before, but it’s more than Eren’s ever heard from him in public. “Gods, why does that image seem so likely?”

“Because it’s Connie,” replies Eren and again, that airy sound comes from Levi’s lips. “How are we doing on time?”

“Better than expected,” replies Levi, his brow creasing in the middle and Eren can tell that this isn’t a good thing. “It’ll be a problem if we reach the campsite before sundown. Too many humans, too big of a target.”

“What will we do?” asks Eren even though he already has an idea.

“We’ll delay meeting until sundown,” replies Levi, glancing to his left and right. “Even if we have to go in giant ass circles, we’ll do it. Of course, Erwin might insist on trying to make it to tomorrow’s campsite today, and that wouldn’t be all that bad. We’d at least be making progress.”

“I don’t like this,” says Eren and Levi nods, he doesn’t either. It’s putting his teeth on edge and setting his nerves on fire, every instinct tells him to stay alert, and he wants to scream. This isn’t how it should be; they should’ve met resistance by now; even if they’d only seen one, he’d be happier.

Suddenly they hear a scream and whip around to see Sasha practically leaping off of the ground. They all rush to her as she starts clawing up her horse, spouting nonsense and sounding close to tears.

“Blaus, report!” orders Levi while Connie tries to pull her down, only she seems determined to stay as far away from the ground as possible. “Blaus quit crying or I’ll give you a real reason to fucking cry!” She stops blubbering and simply points behind them. “What the fuck’s going on?!”

“Titans!” she screams. “Dozens of them, coming up the rear.”

Eren feels his blood turn cold and he looks to Levi and sees that his usually neutral face is screwed up with confusion and bewilderment. They were so concerned about a frontal assault that no one even considered the possibility of a rear attack.

Historia is the first to act and pulls out the signal gun, loading in a red flare and covering an ear as she fires it into the sky. If Sasha says Titans are coming, then Titans are coming, and they need to be ready.

“Arlert,” says Levi, recovering next and looking directly at the short blonde, his eyes narrow and piercing. “Ride as fast as you can to Erwin, tell him what Blaus has told us and then come back. He’ll send a messenger to tell Hanji. Go!”

Armin hesitates for only a moment before he scrambles onto his horse and begins riding hard in the right direction, towards Erwin’s unit of Scouts. Levi turns back to Sasha and grabs the reins of her horse, keeping them both in place.

“How far?” he asks, straight and to the point. “Blaus, now!”

“Two miles, maybe less,” she replies, and Levi gives her a curt nod before he gives the reins to Connie.

“We need to leave,” says Levi as he hurries for his horse. “Staying here just makes us bait, we need to put some distance between them and us and regroup with the others.” He looks over his shoulder at Historia. “Fire off a yellow flare, that’ll be the signal to get everyone to get their ass moving again. Mount up!”

The rest of the squad quickly does as they are instructed, and just as Historia sends up the yellow flare, they are riding again, this time with greater urgency. Eren can’t resist the urge to look over his shoulder every two seconds to see if the Titans are in view yet. How could they have missed them? Two miles isn’t that far away, and yet he can’t see anything except grass and trees. For a moment he wonders if Sasha is wrong.

“Don’t doubt her,” says Levi without even looking at Eren. “The girl’s instincts are better than any weather almanac; you know that. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.”

He does know that, and it scares him to death that they didn’t realize this sooner. Sasha should’ve been able to detect them long ago and yet; she’s only now sensing their presence? Something’s wrong; something is definitely wrong.

Eren opens his mouth to say something to Levi when all thought and noise is drowned out by the call of a mighty creature. He knows that scream and is all too familiar with it. It’s the sound of a Titan calling others to its side, of a Titan Shifter calling up a mindless and hungry army. The sound rings out again, and Eren knows it’s coming from behind them, just as Sasha said. With fear burning in his chest, he looks over his shoulder and wishes to the gods he had just looked forward like the others. Behind them, chasing them is a mass of at least fifty Titans, and they are all headed for his squad.

Chapter Text

“Levi!” he shouts without hesitation and from the corner of his eye he sees Levi look over his shoulder.

“Fuck!” shouts the usually composed captain. “Harder! Ride harder!”

Eren snaps the reins for his mare, and she speeds up with the rest, running as if she knows the threat chasing them. He tries not to listen to the sounds of dozens of feet running at them, attempting to catch and devour them without hesitation.

“Some have broken away!” he hears Jean shout and his heart starts to pound. “They’re headed for Hanji and Erwin! What the hell is going on? Why are they so organized?”

“Because a Shifter is leading them!” Eren shouts, glancing at Jean who pales considerably.

“Can you tell who it is?” asks Levi and Eren shakes his head.

“No, but it sounded familiar,” replies Eren over the rush of wind. “I think it was Reiner.”

“Fuck,” repeats Levi and Eren wishes there was something he could do to calm him down. He can see the anxiety in the tight way Levi holds the reins, in the way he’s holding himself a couple of inches from his saddle ready to leap off at a moment’s notice.

“Captain!” someone shouts, and they all turn right to see Armin rejoining the group. “Erwin says to have Eren Shift and for us to join up with his unit. He’s telling Hanji to wait until she sees Eren’s Titan before doing the same. We’ll coordinate a joint strike once we’re together.”

Levi can hardly believe what he’s hearing. Erwin knows the danger Eren’s in, but he still wants him to Shift? He’s throwing Eren to the wolves, and he expects him just to do it?

“Alright,” says Eren, shaking Levi from his thoughts. He looks over and finds green eyes already looking at him. “I can do it, Levi.”

Levi doesn’t want him to; he doesn’t want this to be their plan. He wants to try something else, anything else but this. Still, even he knows they’re outmatched without backup, despite himself and Mikasa being present. They need a chance and Eren’s their best bet.

“Fine,” says Levi, somewhat reluctantly. “Ackerman, Arlert, you two stay with him. We’ll meet up with Erwin and be back soon.”

Mikasa and Armin nod and start to fall back with Eren while the others continue riding away from the horde. Levi watches as Eren turns around and slips out of his peripheral vision, a brief smile on his lips, heading for hell while Levi heads for the safety only numbers can provide. Something hard and heavy settles itself in Levi’s chest, and he knows he made the wrong choice. He failed Eren; he broke his promise and then sent him into the middle of their worst nightmare. He can’t even give him the decency of being there with him, protecting him as he should like he said he would. Instead, he sent Mikasa and Armin. He tries to tell himself that it is because the rest of the cadets need him more, but even he knows that’s a lie, Eren needs him more than any of them, and he’s acting like a coward.

Behind him, he hears the crackling of lightning followed by Eren’s roar. When he hears it, he can’t help the flutter of a small flame in his chest, the stirrings of hope that only Eren can bring. For once those morons got the title right when they decided to call him Humanity’s Hope; because even if they are hopelessly outnumbered and scrambling to come up with a plan, so long as they have Eren, they have a chance.

Levi spots Erwin’s unit coming in from the West, almost ten Titans chasing them and there’s very little in the way of coverage. There aren’t even enough trees to make their ODM gear useful. Whichever Shifter’s leading this attack is damn smart, he’ll give them that. A rear surprise attack in an area where their most significant asset in fighting is practically useless? Genius.

He looks over his shoulder at the cadets and then further, watching as Eren engages two Titans at once. He recognizes some of the punches he’s throwing as ones he taught him and his chest swells for a moment before he catches the fear on the others’ faces.

“Listen, this isn’t any worse than what we faced earlier. You dumbasses took down almost forty Titans during training, and I don’t want to hear a damn word about it being an exercise, Kirstein.” He glares at Jean, whose mouth is hanging open with his objections. “We trained like it was a real fight and right now, it is. We’re going to help Erwin, and we’re going to show him why you’re on my squad. Do everything the same, little gas use and a lot of fucking acrobatics off of the Titans. We need to get the heat off Erwin and fast.”

“What about Eren?” asks Connie and Levi could kill him. He can hear Eren roaring in the distance, and he can’t help but feel like it’s a call for help, a cry for him. He needs him, and he’s ignoring it.

Well, he’s trying to.

Fucking hell, why is this so difficult? I want to help him, damn it, so why can’t I?

“We’ll get to him as soon as we’re done,” he says, pressing a hand over his heart where the paper rests and where Eren’s key becomes trapped. Their goals, their dreams, and their future rest with Levi now.

‘I designed it thinking about our family.’

Our family,” he says quietly, pressing the key harder into his chest.

‘Yes, our family. You and me and maybe a couple of kids and some animals, all living under the same roof.’

“Sounds messy,” says Levi, his voice still low, a slight chuckle follows, and it catches slightly in his throat.

‘I-I know,’ He can still see Eren’s nervous expression, his unsure body language and the endearing blush on his cheeks. Easy to read and yet so complicated.

He regrets not giving Eren the chance to tell him how he feels and he regrets not telling Eren in return. He thought it would be for the best, to wait and see how this expedition went but now, it just makes him feel like a spineless bastard. He should’ve heard him out; he should’ve confessed and then kissed the poor fool senseless. They should’ve spent the night together. He should be with him now.

Fuck, hindsight is a bitch.

Suddenly a horrific roar cuts through the air; it’s commanding and brutal, like the voice of evil. It’s followed by another roar; this one is pained and terrified and angry. Levi knows it’s Eren and he knows something is wrong. Eren roars again, and this time, it cuts straight through to Levi’s heart. He needs help, he needs Levi, and he doesn’t have to even think about what he’s about to do.

Levi turns his horse away from the direction of Erwin’s unit and points him towards the rear, where the Titans are, where Eren is and starts riding hard. He hears the cadets shouting for him, demanding an explanation and pleading with him to stay. He doesn’t give any of them an answer. Instead, he kicks his horse’s sides harder, and he takes off, taking him towards Eren.

He encounters two Titans within seconds, and he stands on his horse’s saddle, ODM gear ready and he fires at the first Titan, a 12-meter, and hits it directly in the shoulder. He allows the gear to propel him up and he readies his blades, he makes quick work of the first, barely reaching where his hooks are before he slices the nape open. When it starts to steam, he disengages from its shoulder and heads for the second 12-meter, shooting his lines into its head. As he flies across the gap between Titans, he arcs his body up and sails into the air, the breeze rushes past him, and he can’t hear anything for a moment except the wind and his heartbeat. When he comes back down, he twists his body to the left and removes one of his hooks in order to swing more gracefully and quickly pulls himself in closer to the Titan’s nape. His blades cut through effortlessly, and he’s past the incision before blood can even start spraying.

Levi looks back down at the steaming Titan bodies, and while he’s still acutely aware that they were human at one point, right now he can’t be bothered with that fact. Right now, they’re only an obstacle in his way, and he doesn’t have the patience for barriers. He uses his gas to control his descent and he whistles for his horse, in moments he is in view, and he lands smoothly on the saddle. It always impressed him how the military was able to breed horses that could run for miles without blowing out their hearts, brave enough to run into Titan filled areas, and smart enough to come when called. He wishes they could breed soldiers half this reliable.

“Let’s find Eren,” he tells the horse, and he seems to speed up at his command.

They encounter dozens of Titans, but the horse simply dances through their legs, avoiding them with such swiftness that Levi wonders why the hell he even bothers directing him. Above the sounds of mindless Titan noises, he hears the distinct sound of ODM gear, and he breathes a small sigh of relief, at least Mikasa and Armin are alright and helping Eren. He keeps his eyes in front of him, looking for any sign of Eren when his horse suddenly stops and he almost goes flying off. He’s about to scold the animal when something lands in his path and his heart leaps when he realizes it’s Eren.

“Eren!” he shouts. “Eren, it’s me!”

Eren looks over at him, and Levi feels his body freeze. The eyes that look back at him are not warm and green they’re black and soulless. This isn’t Eren. This is something else. This is the monster Eren always feared lurked within him. The monster reaches for him, and he can’t move, his focus entirely on those dark pits looking at him, consuming him, taunting him.

“No.”

“Captain!”

He looks up and sees Mikasa coming right at him, and before he can react, he’s in her grip, being pulled off his horse and away from Eren. He watches helplessly as Eren stops in his approach and leaves the horse alone, roaring at the loss of his prey and Levi is fuming.

“Put me down!” he demands as Mikasa swings from Titan to Titan with him pressed against her side. “I need to go back!”

“No!” she shouts angrily, reflecting the same anger Levi feels consuming his mind, body, and soul. “He’ll try to eat you; he’s already tried to get Armin and me. You’ll just get yourself killed.”

“What the fuck happened?” he asks as Eren roars again.

“I don’t know,” she replies, sounding concerned. “Everything was going fine, Eren was keeping the Titans’ attention and fighting them while Armin and I killed the stragglers. Then there was this horrible roar, and Eren started going crazy. He dropped to the ground and covered his ears, roaring back in response. I think . . . I think Eren was trying to fight the roar’s influence. It seemed to work but then for some reason; he started chasing after us. He nearly got Armin.”

Levi is beyond pissed now. “Why didn’t you try to cut him out?”

“We can’t get close!” she snaps as they avoid the swatting hands of a long-faced Titan. “We’ve been trying, but Eren seems to at least remember what his weakness is and is guarding his nape. It’s like dealing with Annie all over again.”

Now that’s trouble.

“Ackerman, listen to me,” he says as calmly as he can manage. “I need to go back and try to talk to Eren. I might be the only one who can.”

Mikasa gives him a skeptical look, but he can see in her eyes that she knows he’s right. “You can’t know that for sure.”

“Since when have I ever been wrong when it comes to him?” he counters and she sighs. It’s enough of an admittance that Levi knows she’ll listen to him.

“What do you need us to do?” she asks, and he barely refrains from smiling. Thank the gods she’s smart enough to see reason.

“Get me as close as you can to Eren,” he repeats, looking over his shoulder. Eren seems to be distracted by the Titans surrounding him, he’s attacking them but who knows how long that might last. His gaze goes up to Eren’s eyes, and he hates that he still sees black instead of spring green. “Then find Arlert and keep going after the Titans. Keep them off us and away from Eren for as long as possible. If it doesn’t look like I’m making progress, I’ll just cut him out, but I want to try and get him to regain control.”

Mikasa nods and on her next swing, redirects them towards Eren. Levi again prays to whichever god is listening that this works. He can hardly believe that he’s prayed twice in the same day and both times have been for Eren. Suddenly he hears a battle cry and adrenaline surges through his body. He and Mikasa look over their shoulders and see several Scouts on horseback being led by their squad.

This isn’t good. If they see Eren like this . . .

Mikasa understands the danger of the situation right away and uses a massive burst of gas to get them even closer. They’re running out of time; they need to get Eren back in control and ensure that no one even suspects that he’s under the influence of another Shifter. Levi had been hoping for more time, but now that’s not a luxury he can afford.

“Go find Arlert!” says Levi and he pushes himself away from Mikasa, firing a line into a nearby Titan and cutting through the air like his blade cuts through Titan flesh. He continues to swing from Titan to Titan until he finds Eren at the center of the horde, ripping apart Titans at the limb and Levi is at least glad he’s still fighting them; not all of Eren is under control of the other Shifter.

Levi takes a deep breath and shoots a line directly at Eren’s forehead. He aims for the space above his nose, a blind spot, hoping against logic that Eren doesn’t clue in until it’s too late. Someone really must be listening because Eren doesn’t even realize it when Levi lands on his face and Levi gives silent thanks to whoever made it possible. Now for the hard part.

“Listen up, shithead,” he says, balancing on the bridge of Eren’s nose. “I know you’re in there and I know you can hear me. Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing, huh? Letting someone else control you? Really Eren, I thought you were better than that.”

Eren stops his rampage and remains still, an indication to Levi that he really can hear him. He opens his mouth to speak again but from the corner of his eye he sees a hand coming up, and he leaps up onto Eren’s forehead just as his hand collides with his nose. Eren lets out a low moan.

“Thanks,” says Levi as he resumes his position. “Saves me the trouble of doing it myself. Now knock this off. I know you, Eren Jaeger, and I know you can stop whatever the hell’s happening here.” He takes a chance when Eren doesn’t swing at him again and repositions himself, so he is looking directly into Eren’s eye. It’s still black, but it doesn’t seem as desolate. “I guess you’re going to behave yourself. Good.”

Behind him, he can hear people shouting, and above them, he hears Erwin barking orders while Hanji prattles her own to her men. Time is quickly slipping away, and the situation is hardly in hand.

“You need to snap out of it, Eren,” he says, looking directly into Eren’s eye as he speaks. “You’re not this monster; you’re not even a Titan. You’re a human being and a damn fine soldier.” Eren’s gaze softens just a fraction and Levi hurries on, trying to reach him. “I’ve never met another person like you, someone so determined to do what they want that they don’t let anything get in their way.” He chuckles softly. “I’m sure some would say you’re like me in that respect, but they’d be wrong, you’re stubborn in a way unique to you and you alone. You know, you’re the only person I can remember ever making me laugh? I think you should be awarded a medal for that or promoted at least.”

Levi can sense a change in Eren, and for a moment the dark eyes seem to regain a touch of green. He reaches out and puts a hand on Eren’s nose, rubbing his thumb against the warm skin. Even in this form, Eren feels like an inferno. “Listen to me; you need to break out of this. If you can’t, then we’ll never get to go to the sea. You’ll never get the chance to rebuild your hometown.” He swallows hard. “We’ll never get a chance to run that tea shop you designed or have the family you dreamed of us having.”

The shouting draws closer, and Levi can feel the pressure of time coming to an end.

“I need you to come back, Eren,” he continues in a gentler voice, squeezing the spot his hand is touching. “Please, I can’t lose you. If I lost you, then I’d lose everything. I wouldn’t have a reason to keep fighting, to keep living. You’re my hope, Eren, and without you, I would be lost. Please, don’t leave me.”

Levi falls silent, and Eren closes his eyes. Now Levi can hear Hanji clearly, and he knows she’ll be joining him any second now. His time’s up, and he doesn’t even know if what he said worked. Eren’s eyes open again and this time, they are the beautiful green Levi knows so very well. They stare at each other for a few moments, basking in the fact that Levi’s plan worked out and that Eren returned to normal.

Suddenly Eren’s pupil contracts and before Levi can react, he’s being swallowed by giant hands. He feels Eren pitch forward, and he braces himself inside the cocoon of hands for the impact of the fall; when it does hit him, he’s barely jarred, and he suddenly realizes just how resistant Titans are to injury. He wonders what happened and starts to look for a way out; he spies a stream of sunlight coming through a small hole where Eren’s thumbs cross each other. It makes him smile just a touch to see that Eren was thinking ahead enough to provide him with a way out.

Levi crawls out of Eren’s hands and into the fresh air where the battle still rages on around him; he takes a moment to survey the scene of Scouts flying through the air and slicing away at the rapidly dwindling number of Titans in the area. He can only estimate the casualties and deaths, but if things are going this well, he imagines the number will be in the low double digits. He finally turns around to see Eren and what he finds stops his heart. Looming over the fallen Shifter is a huge, hairy beastly-looking Titan. The only way he can describe it is it looks like a tall gorilla with long arms and short legs. He watches in horror as it pulls one of those long limbs out of Eren’s back.

Steam rushes out of the wound and Levi brings up his cloak to shield himself from what spreads out, it’s hotter than he imagined, hotter than when he cuts Eren out even.

“So much trouble,” he hears the Beast Titan say, and he looks up in shock when he realizes that the creature actually spoke. Until now, the closest they ever got was the odd grunt from Eren. “I thought this would be easier.”

“The hell are you talking about, Beast?” he shouts up as he draws his blades and the Titan looks at him.

“Oh, someone smart enough to actually speak to me,” it says, voice low and measured, like any human’s and it unsettles Levi greatly. “Since you asked, I’m here for this boy. He has something that doesn’t belong to him, and I’m going to get it back.”

Levi takes a step forward. “You must be working with Braun and Hoover; they were interested in him, too.”

The Beast Titan chuckles. “That’s right. How very smart for a common soldier. Those fools are indeed with me and the reason I’m here. Their repeated failures to recapture the Founding and Attack Titans, along with their loss of Annie Leonhardt to your military, forced me to intervene. I nearly had him too, it wasn’t easy, but he fell to my commands, at least until you showed up.” The Beast Titan frowns sharply at Levi, and he couldn’t care less. “You must be someone of great influence over him if you were able to break him from my control.”

“Damn right,” says Levi, glancing at the wound on Eren’s back. It’s already starting to close, and the spray of steam is lessening in intensity. Beneath his boot, he feels Eren stirring and knows it’s only a matter of time before he’s back on his feet and kicking this thing’s ass. Until then, Levi will buy him time.

“No matter, if I can’t take him by choice, I’ll take him by force,” says the Beast Titan and before Levi can react, the creature steps on Eren’s back and uses one of its long arms to start ripping off Eren’s head.

Eren lets out a horrific roar, one that sounds close to a dying animal and something in Levi snaps. That thing is hurting the only person on this planet he gives two shits about; it’s going to take him away unless he does something and gods, that thing will be on what’s left of its knees praying for death before he’s done with it.

“Get away from him!” Levi roars, holding up his blades for emphasis. “He’s mine!”

The Beast Titan looks at him with mild curiosity before he reaches to swipe Levi away. Levi’s too fast and jumps straight on its hand, he wastes little time and starts running up its impossibly long arm, dragging his blades along the hairy flesh as he goes. When he reaches the elbow, he pauses and quickly hooks in before spinning around in a perfect circle, his blades quickly cut through and in seconds, the lower arm falls away.

“Bastard!” shouts the Beast Titan and Levi’s lips quirk as he begins running again, deftly avoiding the other hand as it swats at him. At least now it can’t hurt Eren. Despite its imposing size, the Beast Titan is not as quick as Eren or Annie and no creature alive is faster than Levi on ODM gear.

Levi shoots a line directly at the neck and uses a large puff of gas to speed up the process, and as he soars, he spins and continues to drag his blades across the Beast Titan. It roars but this sounds more like pained screams than when it gathers Titans to its side. Levi reaches the top of the Beast Titan and hurries to the nape, only to have a long hand knock him away. Luckily his hooks are still in so he isn’t swatted back to the ground, but he is knocked to the Titan’s shoulder blade.

“Fuck!” he shouts as he regains his bearings. He moves to go back up when to his astonishment, he sees the Beast Titan pulling out his hooks from its skin. “That son of a—”

It lets go, and Levi starts falling, he reels in his hooks, but when he sees them, his blood boils. The damn thing crushed them.

“Bastard,” he mutters as he tries to replace the hooks while falling.

“Levi!” he hears Hanji shout and before he can protest or think, he feels something solid wrap around his middle and pull him close. This is the second time someone saved him today, and he knows he will never hear the end of it, not now that Hanji’s involved. “You idiot! What were you trying to do?” she demands as they sail through the air.

“I was trying to save Eren!” Levi spits as he tries to move, so he’s at least facing the same way as Hanji. No way does he trust her sense of direction. “That thing wants to take him!”

Hanji nods and circles back around towards Eren. “I figured as much. Whenever one of those Shifters is involved, it’s usually a kidnapping plot.”

“Tch, no shit!” he says as he focuses his gaze on Eren. He hasn’t moved since the initial blitz. “Why isn’t he up yet? He was healing; he should be fine!”

If Hanji notices the desperate tone and concerned words, she tactfully plays dumb. “I’m not sure, but it probably doesn’t help that that thing still has a foot on his back.”

Levi swallows a growl. She’s trying to placate him, but he can see through it. If everything were normal, Eren would at least be flailing and trying to get up, not sitting there like a lump and doing nothing. Something is wrong, something more than just injuries or being brainwashed by that Shifter.

Hanji wisely doesn’t pester him further, and they quickly land on top of Eren’s shoulder and Levi races to the nape of his neck, blades drawn. He starts carving up the spot, sinking his blades in skillfully so he doesn’t harm Eren in the process.

“Why do you defend him?” asks the Beast Titan and Levi ignores him while Hanji starts sputtering nonsense when she hears the Titan speak. “He’s a threat to you, give him to me, and we’ll leave you alone.”

“Yeah right,” Levi mutters to himself as he peels back the skin and exposes Eren’s back.

“Scouts! Attack!” he hears Erwin cry in the background and Levi lets out a small sigh of relief. With the Beast Titan’s attention drawn away from Eren, they can get him out safely. The sound of lines being shot fills the air, as do the cries of the Scouts as they take to the air, all concentrated on the Beast Titan. They have time.

Levi puts the blades away before reaching in ignoring how hot everything is and starts pulling Eren out. It’s more difficult than last time, this time it feels like there’s even more connective tissue than usual and he struggles even to pull Eren up a foot. He feels something touch his hands, and he looks to see Hanji in front of Eren, pulling with him. Together they finally manage to free Eren from the tissue, but it’s a hollow victory. Eren is unconscious, and his exposed skin is covered in deep red and purple marks that look like burns. His face looks the worst.

“We need to get him out of here!” exclaims Hanji and she points over his shoulder.

Levi looks over, and his stomach falls when he sees another thirty Titans running straight for them. It seems the Beast Titan really is determined to kill them all. Levi brings his fingers to his mouth and whistles for his horse as he hastily secures Eren in his arms. The other’s height makes it a little awkward, and his limbs are practically spilling out of Levi’s grip, but he holds him close.

“Take that thing down, Four Eyes,” he says as he spots his horse running up. “I’ll see you at camp.”

He then leaps down from the smoldering heap that was Eren’s Titan form and onto the horse’s saddle. Without so much as a kick, it starts running away from the ongoing battle and in the direction of the first campsite while Levi struggles to properly secure Eren. He manages to maneuver Eren into a sitting position with his their chests touching, and he uses the cables from his ODM gear to fasten Eren in place; he wraps one around their waists and then another around their middles before draping Eren’s long arms over his shoulders. Eren’s head starts to flop around as they ride and Levi fixes that by putting his hand behind it and pushing it against his shoulder. It isn’t a smooth or perfect fit, Levi has to move Eren’s head to keep his mouth and nose uncovered, but it’s enough. He’s glad for the steady ground and movement of the horse. Otherwise, this would’ve been impossible.

“Just hold on, Eren,” Levi whispers as they ride. “Just hold on.”

Chapter Text

The battle is long and bloody. In the end, the Survey Corps fails to take down the Beast Titan, and it retreats, but it leaves plenty of Titans to serve as a distraction. Jean loses count of how many he’s killed or assisted with; he just knows it’s higher than fifteen and stops caring after that. It’s almost sundown when the last Titan goes down, courtesy of Mikasa, and they stand silently amidst the carnage. The one good thing about Titan bodies is that once they’re gone, the human ones are easy to find and today, there are many.

Jean leans against one of the few trees in the area and finally allows his body to relax, and with the release of tension comes the adrenaline withdrawal, and his entire body starts to shake. His knees give first, and he lands on them as his blade handles drop to the ground, his chest moves quickly as he attempts to breathe, but his breathing is shallow and hardly what anyone would call under control. They were too many close calls today, too many moments where it could have been the end, and they replay in his mind until they blur together and he wonders how in hell he even survived.

“Guess you’re still looking out for me, Marco,” he says to himself as he lowers his head, a dry chuckle follows his words and his stomach twists. He feels like he’s going to be sick.

Something makes a noise in front of him, and he looks up to see Mikasa, her angelic face partially wrapped in her ever-present red scarf.

“I haven’t seen Eren,” Jean says, knowing that she only sought him out to find her brother. “I haven’t seen Armin either.”

“Armin’s with Erwin and Hanji, discussing the Beast Titan,” she says as she sits on the ground beside him. He barely contains his surprise. “And Eren’s with Captain Levi, or so Hanji says. Apparently, he retreated with Eren to the campsite.”

Jean’s eyebrows hit his hairline. “Wait, you mean he wasn’t even here?!”

Mikasa nods. “He left just as you arrived. I saw them leave on horseback.”

“What the hell?” says Jean lowly, more than a little shocked by her report. “The Captain never retreats, he never leaves a battle. Not even when he hurt his fucking leg!”

“It’s still on the mend,” says Mikasa with a shrug. “At least that’s what Eren says.”

“How would Eren even know?” asks Jean curiously and Mikasa shrugs. “I’m surprised the Captain would even mention it to him.”

“The Captain does a lot of strange things,” she says vaguely and then she looks at him. “You did really well today.”

Jean shrugs and moves to lean back against the tree trunk, Mikasa does the same. “Not really, I nearly died sixteen times.”

“Twenty-seven,” says Mikasa calmly and Jean looks at her incredulously. “You nearly died twenty-seven times. Same as me.”

He isn’t sure whether to be proud of that accomplishment or terrified. “How many kills did you get?”

“Thirty,” she replies, and he nods absentmindedly. “How about you?”

Jean lets out an airy snort. “I was hoping you could tell me. I lost count after fifteen. I just kept jumping from one to the next, helping those who needed it and trying not to die. It got a little overwhelming.”

“It does,” she agrees, glancing at him before she resumes staring out at the steam filled field in front of them. “What are your thoughts on the Beast Titan?”

“Huge,” he says, and she chuckles. He grins at the sound. “What about you?”

“Deadly,” says Mikasa and he nods his agreement. “This attack was well coordinated. We were ambushed from the rear in a place where our ODM gear was useless until the Titans came so we couldn’t even plan an attack of our own, and several separated to go after the escort teams. It’s far too intelligent, more so than Annie or Bertoldt or Reiner or even Eren. This thing could even speak—”

“Wait, what?!” exclaims Jean, his eyes wide. “That thing could talk?”

Mikasa nods her grey eyes like steel. “According to Hanji. She said it asked why Levi was defending Eren, trying to get him to hand him over. He didn’t of course, that would’ve been stupid.” Her lips press into a thin line. “Still, it begs the question of why it wanted Eren. It can’t just be because he’s a Shifter. That’s too easy of a reason, and they seem desperate to get him.”

Jean shrugs, he was never really concerned as to why the Shifters want Eren, but now it’s starting to make him curious. Yes, Eren’s a powerful Titan, but that can’t be the only thing that keeps drawing these Shifters to him, there’s more going on than they realize. “What if they don’t want him to be a Shifter?” he suggests, following a train of thought that just started to take shape in his mind. “What if they want that power back?”

Silence falls between them and Jean wonders if he may have said the wrong thing. He knows how protective Mikasa is of Eren and him voicing a possible motive that just puts Eren in more danger might have been improper.

“Jean,” says Mikasa, turning to look at him and he slowly meets her gaze. He expects to see the fires of Hell in her eyes, but instead, they are calm and shining. “I think you’re on to something!”

Jean nearly falls over in surprise. Did Mikasa just compliment me? “You . . . You think so?”

Mikasa nods enthusiastically. “Absolutely.” She falls into silence, and he can tell by the slight crease between her eyebrows that she’s deep in thought. “By definition, Eren is the enemy of the other Shifters. They wouldn’t want him on their side; he’s far too devoted to our cause to suddenly drop it and join theirs. No, they don’t want him; they want what he can do. They want his Titan and whatever that power was that controlled the other Titans.” Her eyes widen slightly. “They’re never going to stop, not until they have him.”

“Makes sense,” sighs Jean, resting against the tree trunk. He looks up at the darkening sky, watching as red and orange gives away to purple and dark blue. The stars are already peeking out, and he wonders which one Marco is tonight. Marco would know what to say, what to do, he would prod Jean into saying something supportive, and he sighs heavily. He knows what Marco would tell him to say.

“Gods, Eren’s a pain in the ass sometimes,” he says, gaze still locked on the sky, “but he’s our pain in the ass and no matter what, we’re not going to let them get him.” He holds up his blade, catching it in the fading sunlight. “I promise.”

When he turns his head, he is greeted with the most beautiful and sincere smile he’s ever seen from Mikasa. It’s worth every ounce of frustration he is sure Eren is going to cause in the future. He asks Marco to grant him some patience, just in case.


 

Squad Levi, Hanji, Erwin, and Moblit enter the dilapidated castle ruins serving as their campsite for the night, and they straightaway begin searching for Eren and Levi. No one saw where they went after they escaped the battle, only going off of Hanji’s word that Levi said he was taking Eren to the campsite. She wasn’t even entirely sure that it was the truth, she only hoped he hadn’t done anything stupid like retreated back into the Wall Rose.

“This isn’t like Levi,” says Erwin as he and Hanji enter the stables, finding Levi’s stallion and Eren’s mare already put in a stall and watered. “He would never disobey orders or run from a fight.” He turns to Hanji who is diligently putting her horse in the stall beside Levi’s. He notices the way she freezes for a moment, and he wonders what she knows that he doesn’t. “Hanji, do you know something?”

“I do,” she replies, knowing better than to lie to Erwin when he asks a pointed question like that. “But it isn’t my place to tell you. That’s up to Levi, and I can’t promise that he will.”

“So are you telling me to be prepared for his usual bullshit?” asks Erwin with a slight grin and Hanji nods, flicking her bangs out of her face. “You know, he was acting weird last night, too. I found him talking with Jaeger, and he seemed pretty angry to be called away.”

Hanji worries her lower lip, Levi’s usually so calm even when dealing with Eren, so she can only imagine what Erwin interrupted. She wonders if Levi is even aware of his strange behavior; she’s sure she knows the cause, but that still doesn’t explain why that revelation is causing him to be weird. Acknowledging your feelings for someone shouldn’t cause you to behave irrationally or out of character, unless . . .

“Erwin, you cockblock!” Hanji shouts, startling the horses and commander.

“Excuse me?” says Erwin, taken aback by her words and the suddenness of her outburst.

Hanji lets out a snort. “Of all the . . . Gods that man is an idiot, I can’t actually believe it. Shit, I feel like an idiot for never putting two and two together. Moblit even mentioned he saw him that night outside the door!”

Erwin is still confused. “Hanji, what are you talking about?”

She doesn’t seem to hear him, or if she does, she ignores him. “That bastard isn’t as heartless as he likes to think it seems.” Hanji then dashes out of the stables, leaving Erwin alone and still wholly lost in the situation.

Hanji is practically flying as she comes into the castle, startling several members of the escort team in her flight up the nearest stairs. She still isn’t sure where Levi is, but she knows how to get his attention. “Levi!” she shouts gleefully. “Levi! Levi! LEVI!”

“Quit shouting and get in here, Four Eyes!” she hears him shout, and she turns down the nearest hallway, her smile so wide it threatens to split her face in two, and she charges at full speed for the open door she spies in the middle of the hall. She flings it open and takes a moment to catch her breath, her chest heaving up and down, but she hardly seems winded. In fact, she seems to be regaining momentum the longer she stands there.

“I see your squad found you,” she says, looking at each member in turn. Jean is leaning against a wall, Connie and Sasha are practically holding each other near a window, Armin and Historia are standing together close to the door, Mikasa and Levi are both sitting down beside a cot although Mikasa seems to be the only one using a stool. Her eyes finally fall on Eren, resting on the cot with two forest green cloaks draped over him, and her stomach falls. His face is still just as bad as when she saw him earlier, and light steam is still coming from his exposed skin. This causes her to frown slightly; he should’ve been healed by now or at least look less like shit.

“How observant,” says Levi, his voice deadpan and his gaze completely on Eren. This brings the smile back to her face, a little. “Was there something you needed?”

“Yes,” she says, feigning cheer as she crosses the room and stands behind Levi. She realizes that he’s actually sitting on his knees and she wonders if he gave the stool to Mikasa. “I need to speak to you for a moment.”

“I’m busy,” says Levi without even looking at her. She watches as Levi reaches up with a cloth she recognizes as his cravat and wipes away some of the sweat accumulating on Eren’s forehead and cheeks. The boy groans slightly in his unconscious state and Levi immediately whispers to him, his voice so soft that Hanji can’t even hear what he’s saying. Hanji glances at Mikasa and is surprised by the gentle way she is looking at Levi. She expected hostility and some irritation, not this tender expression.

Hanji resists the urge to pat him on the back and instead taps him on the head. “You can either speak to me now in private, or we can do this here and now in front of your squad.”

Levi’s hand stills for a moment. “Why do I have a feeling that I’ll need to shower after I talk to you?”

“Because you have a compulsive need to be clean,” she says flippantly and smiles victoriously when he stands up, hands Mikasa the cloth and then heads out of the door, deliberately going around Hanji and she happily follows.

He pauses at the door and looks over his shoulder at Mikasa, who is clearly watching them. “Get me the second something changes.”

“Yes, Captain,” she says, and she resumes his task of wiping away Eren’s sweat.

Levi, placated by Mikasa’s promise, exits the room and Hanji follows. Levi shuts the door the moment they are in the hall and places himself against it, obviously not trusting anyone not to try and follow them. His suspicions are proven seconds later when the handle rattles slightly, and he kicks the door, Hanji hears scurrying feet on the other side, and she claps a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing outright.

“Idiots,” mutters Levi with some level of fondness beneath the irritation. “So, what do you want, Four Eyes? It’s apparently important enough to pull me away from someone who needs my attention more than you.”

“Oh yes, definitely,” she says, her grin only increasing in intensity. “I just wanted to congratulate you on your new relationship. I can only imagine how wonderful the other night was, you know when Eren came to your room.”

Levi’s eyes widen just a fraction, and he quickly deduces where Hanji’s mind is headed. “Four Eyes, listen to me, that’s—”

“It is too my business!” she says indignantly. “You’re my best friend, and he’s my little Titan, I can’t believe you were going to keep this from me!”

Levi can feel a headache brewing, and he tries not to let it overwhelm him as he listens to Hanji’s ramblings. “First off, you’re not my best friend, secondly nothing—”

“You have to tell me everything!” she says excitedly. “How did it happen? Did he confess everything to you? Did you tell him the same? Oh, I wish I had been there!” She then makes a face. “Well, maybe not. I wouldn’t want to stick around and see how you two celebrated after. Then again, it would’ve been interesting to observe the aftermath.”

“Four Eyes, slow the hell down,” says Levi sternly, fixing her with a fierce glare. “You’re getting way too excited about something that didn’t—”

Hanji doesn’t appear to hear him. “How was his stamina? Did you go more than three times or were you worn out by the second time? How long did each one go for? I know you pride yourself on being able to work on little sleep and exert yourself physically, but sex is a different kind of exertion so maybe—”

“We didn’t have sex!” snaps Levi and he instantly wonders if his squad heard and curses Hanji for her incessant chatter and wild ideas. He already wasn’t happy that she figured out his feelings for Eren so damn fast and he really isn’t pleased that she automatically assumed he and Eren are even together. He doesn’t need to be reminded that his fears and insecurities got the better of him when it mattered most.

“Really?” says Hanji, blinking wildly as if unable to comprehend what she just heard. “But that wouldn’t make any sense; if you didn’t, then why would you be acting like this?”

“I’m going to ignore that and nicely tell you the situation,” says Levi through grinding teeth and a tense jaw. He wonders what his blood pressure is at now thanks to her. “Eren and I aren’t together; we didn’t sleep together, we didn’t do anything the other night.”

Hanji noticeably deflates. “Oh, I’m sorry. I just thought that maybe something happened because of how worried you are about him. I mean I’ve never seen you fight so much for someone, you were ready to take that Titan down by yourself if it meant keeping him safe.”

Levi sighs heavily. He knows he behaved abnormally during the battle, and he’s acting that way now just by humoring Hanji with this conversation. It really bothers him that he changed so much in the span of a night just because Eren reciprocated his affections, even if they didn’t get around to saying as much. “Fair point,” he admits, wondering what in the hell is wrong with him if he’s having this talk with Hanji. “You did guess something right in all that shit you were spewing, Eren did more or less confess to me, and I sort of did the same. We’re aware of how we feel for each other, happy now?”

Hanji shrugs. “That depends. Did you actually tell him you love him or did you just imply it?”

Damn this woman.

“What difference does it make?” he snaps, defenses rising quickly.

“Because it doesn’t count unless you say it,” she argues, hands on her hips. “Look, I know you like to pretend your heart’s made of ice and stone, but fuck if Eren isn’t the sun that’ll melt that ice and the hammer that’ll break the stone. He deserves to know how you actually feel, not some bullshit line you gave him just to keep yourself safe. He risked a lot doing what he did, and you could’ve at least repaid the courtesy by doing the same.”

Levi really dislikes it when she’s right. “Fuck off.”

She smiles triumphantly. “The sooner you admit it, the happier you’ll both be.”

“Then you should do the same with your little crushes,” says Levi, his gunmetal eyes gleaming in amusement in the torchlight as he watches red flood Hanji’s face. Fair is fair after all.

“Bastard,” she mutters before punching him playfully on the shoulder. “Get back in there and look after him.”

“You should probably be there too,” says Levi, his tone serious and she straightens at the sound. “Something went wrong, and I need you to figure it out.”

Hanji nods, she already suspected as much when she saw Eren. “How long’s it been?”

“How long did the battle take?” he retorts, and she pales slightly. That means Eren’s been like this for hours now. “Exactly my point.”

“Is there still bruising on the rest of his body?” she asks, and he nods.

“He’s been steaming since we left but it doesn’t look like anything’s happening,” he says, and for a split second, he sounds helpless. “I don’t know what to do, Hanji.”

The use of her name and his tone tells her just how scared he is and she realizes that this is one of those rare and precious moments of vulnerability for the hard as nails captain. She doesn’t plan on ruining it with some well-intentioned teasing.

“Did you tell the cadets anything?” she asks calmly. If they know or at least suspect anything, it’s going to make the situation more complicated.

“Only that the Beast Titan was responsible,” he replies, and she nods. It’s only logical that he would lie given the circumstances although now that they’ve seen Eren, they might become suspicious of Levi’s explanation.

“Alright, kick all but Armin and Mikasa out,” she says, mentally going through all that she needs for this particular examination. “They’re aware of the situation, and I need to know exactly what happened before you showed up because I know you sent them with him, just like Erwin suggested. I’m going to grab Moblit and Erwin and some supplies. I’ll be back in a few minutes and don’t give me that look, Erwin needs to know, and you’d better brace yourself, he’s suspicious of why you’re acting weird.”

“I’m not acting weird,” he snaps, and she shrugs. “Should I expect his usual bullshit then?”

Hanji nods and doesn’t mention the fact that Erwin said the same about him. “Now, I’m going to leave, and you’re going to go back in and make our patient comfortable. Remember, Mikasa and Armin only, the rest should be dismissed for dinner.”

There is a loud bang against the door, and Levi kicks it in response, knowing full well who it is and what triggered her.

“Watch what you say, Four Eyes,” sighs Levi, barely containing a grimace. Between being on his knees earlier and kicking the door, his bad leg is starting to flare up. “Anyway, get lost, and I’ll get rid of the others. See you soon.”

She nods and practically sprints down the hall while Levi opens the door and enters the room, his face neutral as he addresses the Scouts. “Dinner’s ready, go ahead down,” he says as he goes back to Eren’s side. “Except for Arlert and Ackerman. I need you two to stay here for a few minutes.”

They nod, and Armin moves over to stand beside Mikasa. He notices the way Levi flinches as he kneels down again and Armin subtly kicks the stool under Mikasa, and his only confirmation that she understands is a brief nod. The others slowly file out, watching the four individuals staying behind and wondering why Levi didn’t get on them for trying to eavesdrop.

“Oh and if any of you try to be clever and eavesdrop on me again, you’ll be running laps until your legs fall off,” says Levi without sparing them a glance and they scurry out, Historia closes the door after giving Armin a brief smile.

Mikasa stands up and quietly picks up the stool, she moves around and puts it just behind Levi before she retreats to stand beside Armin. She wisely doesn’t say anything when Levi begrudgingly leans back onto the stool.

“We should probably get a new cloth and some cold water,” she says, watching as Levi uses the cuff of his sleeve to wipe away a few drops of sweat from Eren’s brow. She never thought she’d live to see the day when Levi would willingly get himself dirty for the sake of someone else. “Your cravat’s ruined.”

“It’s fine,” he says with a shrug, and he looks at them. His grey eyes are dull and cloudy, like the sky on a gloomy, sunless day. “When Hanji gets back, you two need to tell her exactly what happened to Eren when the Beast Titan made contact. Don’t leave out a single detail. We need to get to the bottom of this and fast.”

Just as he finishes, someone knocks on the door, and Armin quickly moves to answer, not even giving Levi the chance to ask. On the other side are Hanji, Erwin, and Moblit. Hanji briskly moves past Armin with a fleeting smile and settles herself at Mikasa’s feet as Moblit places a black bag beside her. Hanji nods her thanks as she opens it and starts pulling out basic medical equipment, glancing at Levi who is watching her closely, his hand loosely holding Eren’s and she doubles her resolve to figure this out.

“Hanji mentioned he’s been like this for hours,” says Erwin, obviously uneasy as he watches Hanji put on a stethoscope while handing a thermometer to Levi. “Has he been conscious at all?”

Levi shakes his head as he puts the thermometer under Eren’s tongue and holds his jaw shut. “No. He’s been out cold ever since Hanji and I pulled him out of his Titan.” He recalls the threat the Beast Titan gave, how he swore he’d take Eren and even now it made Levi’s blood boil. No way in hell was that oversized monkey going to get its hands on him.

“Armin, Mikasa, what happened before Levi showed up?” asks Hanji as she presses the metal end of the stethoscope against Eren’s chest while she looks at the thermometer. She writes something down on the pad in her lap.

“How did . . .?” Armin starts before he decides it’s better not to ask how Hanji knew Levi bolted to help Eren. He didn’t even know for sure himself.

“Armin and I were protecting Eren,” says Mikasa, glancing at her brother with concern. “He was engaging the main horde of Titans while Armin and I went around the outside and cut down the ones that he wasn’t fighting. We were making quick work of the ones pursuing Squad Levi and were going to head for the ones that broke off when something let out a roar and Eren went to his knees. We weren’t sure what was going on, and Eren started to roar in response and seemed to be in a great deal of pain. Then Eren went quiet, and when we approached him, he swung at us. He still fought the Titans, but he went after us if we got too close; he nearly got Armin at one point.”

Armin rubs his wrist harshly. “I was just trying to talk to him, to see what had happened but he wasn’t keen on anyone getting too close.” His blue eyes flicker to Levi for a moment before he looks back at Hanji. “We did our best to protect him anyway, and then Captain Levi showed up and . . .”

“And?” prompts Erwin, looking at Armin sternly and the younger male shrinks back.

“And I got him to snap out of whatever the hell the Beast Titan did to him,” says Levi, looking at Erwin directly, almost challenging him to reprimand his actions. Erwin, to his credit, simply listens and doesn’t say anything. “It took a few tries, but I managed to pull Eren back. Then that stupid fucking monkey had to show up and tear Eren apart.”

“It what?!” exclaims Mikasa and Levi mildly regrets his choice of words.

“It put a fist through his chest and then tried to rip his head off,” explains Levi calmly as he removes the thermometer from Eren’s mouth. He glances at it and frowns; the boy’s temperature is well over acceptable. “That’s when I decided I’d had enough of its bullshit and tried to take it down. Unfortunately for me, the damn thing was smart enough to know how our gear works and he pulled out my hooks before I could get close to his nape. Hanji prevented me from falling.” He will not say that she rescued him, not even if his life depended on it.

“I see,” says Erwin, his tone flat and a little stern. “Hanji mentioned that the Beast Titan could speak, is that true?”

Levi nods, remembering all too well the moment it opened its mouth.

“Damn,” says Erwin, rubbing the spot where his arm should’ve been. “I thought I wouldn’t be surprised anymore by this stuff, but I guess the gods are determined to keep me on my toes.”

“Believe me, I felt similarly,” says Levi, discreetly rubbing his leg. He definitely stressed it today and is reaping his reward. “What happened after? Were you able to kill it?”

Erwin shakes his head. “No, we were overwhelmed with Titans, and it managed to escape. We managed to kill every Titan though, save for that one.”

“Casualties?”

“Twenty-five.”

“Too many.”

“It always is.”

“Levi?”

The sound of his name causes Levi to almost jump off the stool. He looks at the source and finds a pair of big green eyes staring at him, clear and focused. It takes every ounce of resistance not to pull Eren into a hug and hold him close, but Eren knows no such restraint and instantly rises and latches his arms around Levi’s shoulders. He falls back against the bed and takes Levi with him, pulling him half on the bed in the process.

Hanji bites the inside of her cheek hard to keep from laughing as she watches Eren and Levi; her heart warms at the sight, and she glances at Erwin, wondering what’s holding her back from this kind of pure happiness?

“Oi, calm down, Eren,” says Levi sternly as he tries to situate himself properly, although Hanji notes that he doesn’t even try to break away from Eren’s embrace. “You just woke up; we can’t have you hurting yourself.”

Eren nods and adjusts his arms so Levi can move more freely. “Sorry.”

Levi’s gaze softens. “Brat.”

Hanji suddenly stands up, bringing all attention in the room to herself. “Now that Eren’s up, I think some food is in order.” She smiles warmly at the Shifter and winks. “I’ll be back in a little while with some food, and then we can discuss this latest development.” She turns to the rest and wildly gestures for them to follow her. “Come on, everyone. We all need to eat and have a good rest after today. We can pick Eren’s brain later.”

“Not much to pick,” says Levi teasingly and Eren hits him in the arm.

“Shut up! I have a brain!” he argues before he realizes that Levi is just teasing him and he rubs the spot where he hit. Levi hardly seems perturbed.

Erwin watches the interaction closely, and his brow furrows as he takes in what he’s seeing. He will have to talk with Levi at some point, but that can wait; he isn’t so heartless as to ruin this moment. He glances at Hanji, and the Titan enthusiast merely smiles as she takes Armin and Mikasa out of the room, Moblit following dutifully behind her with her bag. Erwin follows suit and closes the door behind him.

Levi lets out a shaky breath. That’s two he owes Hanji and damn it if he doesn’t despise being in anyone’s debt. He was expecting Erwin to start lecturing him then and there, especially after Eren’s enthusiastic greeting. Still, he can’t really be mad at the Shifter; he’s never had decent impulse control. He looks down at the man in his loose embrace and allows himself a moment to bask in the fact that Eren had called out for him, had reached out for him, and is now smiling up at him.

“I heard your voice,” says Eren quietly, reaching up to brush some strands of fringe out of Levi’s face. His skin, now no longer covered by his makeshift blanket, is still blemished by red and purple burns but not as severely as before. Levi glances at Eren’s bare chest and winces slightly at all the marks scattered across his tan skin; he’s never seen it look so bad before.

“When?” asks Levi, arching an eyebrow.

“Earlier,” he replies as his hand travels down to cup Levi’s cheek. Levi suppresses a shudder when Eren’s warm hand touches his cool skin. “I was lost in this . . . Darkness and I was trying to find a way out and . . . And I heard you. You were calling me back, and I followed your voice until I saw light again.”

Levi’s throat clenches and his chest tightens. He knows immediately what he’s talking about. “Do you remember what I said?” His heart is hammering against his ribs, and he wishes he could take back the question; he doesn’t want to upset Eren if he can’t remember and he doesn’t want him to feel like he’s disappointing him for not remembering.

“Yes,” says Eren firmly as his other hand cups the other side of Levi’s face. “I remember everything.”

Levi puts a hand against Eren’s, and he opens his fingers just enough for Levi to slip his between. “I thought I’d lost you.”

“I’m sorry,” says Eren gently, running his thumb across Levi’s cheekbone. “I tried to stop, I tried to come back on my own, but it was too hard. I didn’t know who I was or where to go, and then I heard your voice, and your words and everything came back to me.” He smiles widely, a sight Levi didn’t know if he’d ever see again. “You saved me, Levi.”

Levi manages a nod before he falls into Eren’s arms, wrapping his own around Eren’s shoulders and middle as he buries his face in the crook of his neck, breathing in deeply the scent of standard-issue soap, sweat, and sunshine. He feels Eren wind his arms around him and holds him close, burying his nose in Levi’s hair and inhaling deeply; Eren wishes he could bottle up Levi’s scent of mint soap, spicy aftershave, and spring water.

“I almost lost you,” Levi says against Eren’s neck, moving, so his head is partially on the thin pillow all Scouts are given for long expeditions. Eren’s is so thin Levi had to use his almost as equally thin one to create a nearly acceptable cushion. Right now all he wants to do is stay in Eren’s warm embrace and forget the world, but he also needs to talk, and that’s better done when one’s mouth isn’t smothered.

“I’m sorry,” repeats Eren as his fingertips run up and down the stubble of Levi’s undercut. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” says Levi sternly. “You didn’t do this on purpose, and if you did, I’m going to kick your ass so hard, it’ll fly right off, and you’ll have to grow a new one. Am I understood?”

Eren lets out a loud laugh, and Levi relishes the sound.

“Yes, sir,” says Eren still chuckling. “You know, I wasn’t expecting this when I woke up.” He squeezes Levi to emphasize exactly what he is talking about. “I thought you’d push me off and tell me to grow up, that you weren’t my teddy bear.”

Levi chuckles. “I still can if you want.”

Eren shakes his head. “No thanks, I’m quite comfortable with my teddy bear.” He can feel Levi scowling against his neck, and he shrugs. “You were the one who said it; I just happen to agree.”

Levi rolls his eyes but ultimately doesn’t say anything in response. This won’t last forever. Eventually, reality will come back and force them apart once again, back into their respective roles until they can hide away from the world again. Until then, they will take what they can and just ignore the world for a little while longer.

Chapter Text

Reality comes crashing in in the form of Erwin and Hanji, sans Moblit. The latter is beaming as she enters, a tray of food in hand that she places on Eren’s lap now that Levi is inconspicuously sitting on the stool once again. She gives Levi a heavy look as she settles on the floor, her bag already open and pad of paper out; her brown eyes dart to Erwin and then to Levi, and he understands her completely. He squeezes Eren’s hand and then rises, meeting the boy’s questioning gaze with a calm one, hoping to reassure him that nothing is wrong but Eren remains tense. Of course, he does, no one has said a word in several minutes, and that is never a good sign.

“I’ll be back,” he whispers, and Eren nods as Levi walks towards Erwin. He can feel Eren’s gaze on him the entire time and knows that won’t help whatever Erwin needs to discuss with him. He wants to turn around and stay with Eren but he knows better than to do that, he can already be accused of disobeying a direct order—although this would not be the first time—and he doesn’t want to risk inciting Erwin’s wrath. It might be sporadic, but it’s still there, and Levi’s seen it and swore he would never be on the receiving end.

He nods as he walks past his commander and Erwin shuts the door.

“Well, how’re you feeling, Eren?” asks Hanji once the door is closed. She tries to be cheerful, but even she can tell it’s insincere; she’s honestly scared about what Erwin has to say, she kept her mouth shut as far as she could for their sake, now it’s up to Erwin.

“Better until now,” grouses Eren as he tries to sit up, only for Hanji to put a hand on his shoulder and push him back against the cot. “Hanji, I need to go out and talk to Erwin.”

“Levi’s already doing that,” says Hanji sternly, forcing him once again to lie down. “Listen to me, if anyone can handle this situation, it’s him. He’s known Erwin almost longer than I have and knows the regulations backwards, even if he doesn’t always follow them. He’s acted as a judge advocate in cases like these so for the last time, lay down and stop trying to escape.”

Eren grumbles as he settles in and sighs.

“So what’s up with you and the Captain?” asks Hanji skillfully. “I’ve never seen him not beat the crap out of someone for hugging him.”

Eren feels his cheeks heat up and he averts his gaze. “Why are you so interested?”

“I’m here to check up on you, and that includes mental well being as well as physical,” explains Hanji as she looks at Eren’s still bruised appearance. She makes a note. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Eren shrugs. “There isn’t anything to talk about. Levi and I aren’t in any kind of relationship, and from what he said the other day, he isn’t interested.”

“I see,” says Hanji as she wraps a cuff around Eren’s upper arm and starts to take his blood pressure. “Are you okay with that? It didn’t seem like he was uninterested earlier.”

“I guess,” says Eren, averting his gaze. He has his theories as to why Levi acted the way he had before, none of them pleasant, and not something he wants to share with Hanji. “I mean I want to be more, but I’m fine if he doesn’t.” He shakes his head. “I shouldn’t have been an idiot.”

“How were you an idiot?” asks Hanji as she writes down her findings, making a few notes regarding Eren’s thought process as well.

“If I tell you, you can’t tell Levi,” warns Eren, looking directly at her as he speaks. “Doctor-patient confidentiality, right?”

Hanji bites down a smirk. It sometimes escapes her memory that Eren grew up with a doctor as a father and knows more about the medical field than the average person. “Yes, I swear whatever you say won’t go any further than me.”

Eren eyes her carefully, and she merely smiles in response.

“Idesignedhimahouseandshop,” says Eren really quickly, cringing as he speaks and Hanji is startled by the speed. She doesn’t catch a single word.

“Eren, I need you to repeat that but slower,” she instructs, her pencil already against the paper. Just because she promised not to say anything doesn’t mean she agreed not to write it down.

Eren groans. He really didn’t want to have to repeat himself. “I designed. Him. A house. And shop,” he says, slower this time and annunciating correctly.

Hanji can barely keep herself from smiling outright. This is too cute, too precious! Eren actually took the time to do something nice for Levi. Gods, he doesn’t deserve him. “That’s great,” she says, at last, a slight smile on her lips as she continues her physical examination. “I had no idea you were into architecture.”

Eren blushes slightly, no one besides Armin even knows about his interests in that field. “I like it and medicine. I always told my dad I’d be a doctor and then in my spare time, design new buildings. He told me that I’d have very little spare time as a doctor.” He watches as Hanji takes his pulse. “I’m still not sure which I should be yet. I have no idea how long I’m going to be in the military for.”

“You should do whichever interests you,” says Hanji encouragingly. “So, how many buildings have you designed?”

“A few,” Eren admits with a hopeful smile. “Mostly houses but I’ve made a few new sketches for military installations as well. I’ve also been trying to figure out ways to make the Walls more effective against Titans.”

Hanji’s interest is immediate. “Really?! I’ve been trying to do the same thing!”

Eren sits up slightly, staring at her with wide eyes. “Really? Do you have any designs handy?”

She nods and reaches into her bag, pulling out a thick leather-bound journal. Eren can see that it is already full and has additional pages stuffed in, to the point the leather string is going thin from where it has to hold it all together. “I’ve had this since before the war started,” she explains as she hands it over to him; it’s as heavy as it looks. “When I first started studying Titans, I was tasked with trying to discover new means of killing them; while I wasn’t necessarily happy with that, I did as I was instructed. The more I looked into the matter, the more I discovered. The nape is the only weak spot, yes, but blades aren’t the only way to kill them.”

Eren opens the journal and begins flipping through pages, pausing at a couple of the sketches and studying the different traps and weapons Hanji created. “A tarp dispenser?” he asks, looking up at her and she blushes a little.

“Yeah, one of my earlier designs,” she admits with a slight chuckle. “I thought if we could create a tarp thick and heavy enough, we could throw it on a Titan and get it to stop moving; then I quickly realized why that wouldn’t be an effective weapon.”

“Can’t ensure the tarp will fall on the target, tarp materials might be too expensive, Titans slow down at different rates,” Eren offers with a smug grin and Hanji claps him on the back.

“I see my little Titan is growing into quite the scientist,” she chirps. “Yes, those were exactly the reasons why I decided to scrap that idea.” She then flips to a more recent entry at the back. “Now this is something I’m sure will work.”

Eren looks down, and his eyes widen when he reads the title: Titan Guillotine. He looks back at Hanji, who is smiling widely. “You have to tell me how this works,” he says with a matching grin, and she is all too eager.


 

When the door closes, Erwin starts walking, and Levi follows behind, instantly regretting giving Eren his cloak when a cool breeze blows through the crumbling castle. He’s glad they only have to stay here during the expedition otherwise he’d already been cleaning. They continue to walk in silence until they reach a balcony and Erwin steps out onto it, Levi reluctantly following and cursing the cold air as it cuts through his supposedly thick shirt.

“I assume you know why I wanted to speak to you?” asks Erwin and Levi nods. “Good, makes it easier. Now, do you care to explain?”

“Not really,” says Levi, leaning against the doorframe, trying to keep his body temperature up. He wishes he had his cloak or something warmer. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing to discuss.”

Erwin cocks an eyebrow. “So you don’t feel like Eren’s reaction to your presence warrants a discussion?”

Levi shakes his head. “The brat was happy to be awake; I just happened to be the person closest to his level.”

“Hanji was at your level,” Erwin points out.

“Hanji’s crazy and Eren knows better than to open that can of worms,” retorts Levi and Erwin lets out a low chuckle. “Are we done here?”

“Not yet,” says Erwin, his pale blue eyes rest heavily on Levi. “You were holding his hand when we came back.”

He was holding my hand,” says Levi flippantly. He knows where this conversation is headed and he really doesn’t want to venture down that path yet; he and Eren aren’t even together.

“You were letting him,” argues Erwin and Levi concedes on that point. “Now, enough of the bullshit, Levi. What is Eren to you?”

My hope. My home. My rock. My guiding light. All that bullshit you read about in those crappy romance novels Hanji keeps hidden behind her science books. Gods I know too much.

“My brat,” replies Levi with the barest of smiles and Erwin’s eyebrows shoot to his hairline, although they don’t have far to go. “You asked.”

“I know, I just wasn’t expecting that answer,” replies Erwin with a shrug. “Do you have intentions of entering a relationship with him?”

Levi sighs. Erwin’s asking for a specific reason, to determine if he needs to report this or write it off as soldiers blowing off steam. Telling him the latter would ensure that neither he nor Eren is court-martialed for fraternization but . . . It would cheapen everything and what he feels for Eren is beyond just a quick romp to get a release; besides, even if he said that, Erwin would probably expect whatever is developing to end as soon as possible. Late night talks over tea would have to stop, as would joint patrols and training sessions and Levi isn’t about to give all of that up. Even though he’s never said it out loud, he truly enjoys spending time with Eren and learning about the boy that came under his charge, a charge that has slowly developed into someone who can stand beside him as an equal.

“Yes, I do,” says Levi firmly, his stance unwavering. He can’t very well be released from duty right in the middle of an expedition, so at least he can see this last one through to the end before bureaucracy and bullshit separate him and Eren. It’ll give him time to come up with a plan if necessary.

“I see,” says Erwin stoically. “Do you intend for this relationship to develop into something more or do you believe it to just be a case of infatuation?”

“I intend to see it through to the end,” replies Levi, his gaze unwavering. “And if that happens to be at the end of his life or mine, then so be it.”

“And you’re prepared to face the consequences of such a decision?” Erwin levels at him, and Levi nods. He’s come this far already. “Even if it means the end of your military career?”

“There’s a life outside of the military, Erwin,” says Levi, his arms now crossed against his chest. “Are you satisfied?”

Erwin nods. “I am, and I’m surprised that you didn’t start shouting regs and acting like a judge advocate. Usually, that’s what you do in these situations.”

“This one’s different,” Levi says simply. “This isn’t some liaison between members of the Military Police; this is something between Humanity’s Hope and Strongest Soldier; this is about something between a human and a Shifter, and there aren’t any regulations written about circumstances such as these.”

“No, there aren’t,” agrees Erwin, rubbing his stump. “The only regs that exist are about those regarding a superior and subordinate.”

“Eren isn’t my subordinate,” says Levi sternly. “He carries the title of Scout, but he’s classed by the military as a weapon, not a soldier. Weapons don’t have a chain of command; they are their own entity, even if someone is in charge of their care. I just happen to be the one in charge of this weapon’s care.”

Erwin shakes his head and chuckles. Of course, Levi would know the loopholes regarding Eren and his situation; he would’ve looked into it extensively even if he didn’t intend to enter into a relationship with the Shifter. It’s Levi’s way of ensuring he’s in control of a situation in every regard.

“You fail to disappoint, Captain,” says Erwin as he looks at Levi. “You’re right, Eren is classed as a weapon, and you are his handler. You aren’t superior and subordinate, at least not legally, so there aren’t any regs against your designs. Just make sure you don’t flaunt that fact too much, or the higher-ups might consider a rewrite. They already don’t like that commanders can permit relationships between soldiers.”

“They won’t,” says Levi confidently, a rare grin pulling slyly at the corners of his mouth. “I sit on the regulations board, if those shitheads even try, I can end it in two seconds.”

“You really are prepared for any eventuality,” laughs Erwin. “Well, that was all I had to say really. You know I was never actually going to report you or disapprove, right? I’m not as stupid as the brass seems to think. I would be a fool to do something that would get rid of you and Eren.”

Levi shrugs. “You’re too much of a romantic. I’ve seen some of Hanji’s books in your office.”

Erwin stares at him wide-eyed, completely taken by surprise by his claim, and opens his mouth to say something when his mind catches up with his mouth. “How do you know those are Hanji’s?”

“If you don’t say anything, then I won’t,” says Levi instantly when he realizes what Erwin said. “Deal?”

“Deal.”


 

When Levi arrives back at Eren’s room, he is more than a little surprised to see Hanji still there and the two of them pouring over a book. He considers announcing his presence, but he wants to see how long it will take either of them to notice he’s even in the room. He quietly closes the door and leans against it, observing the scene in front of him.

“I think it should be a little shorter,” says Hanji as she takes a pencil and starts marking on the page. She is sitting on the cot beside Eren, her medical notes long forgotten on the floor in favor of collaborating with Eren.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” agrees Eren and then he points at something. “What about materials? It’s a great structure, but I’m not sure how long it’ll last. Timber is sturdy but keeping beams exposed for long periods of time will cause them to warp and weather.”

Hanji nods and makes a note. “Good point. We should also think about the type of rope. Thicker would be better for durability and longevity, but it might not slide through the pulleys as well.”

“Then get bigger pulleys,” counters Eren. “If the structure is sound enough, then the size of the pulleys can be increased along with the rope. Or better yet, we use thick chains, and the pulleys can stay the same. And while you’re at it, make the beams between into an X.”

Hanji cocks an eyebrow. “What are you talking about?”

Eren takes her pencil and quickly sketches something, and her eyes light up in realization.

“Oh, now I see! Yes, that’s much better,” she says, ruffling Eren’s hair. “Much more secure that way. Oh! That fixed our swaying problem! You’re a genius, Eren.”

“Alright, just what the hell are you two doing?” asks Levi, finally giving into his curiosity.

Hanji and Eren look up at him, “Making a Titan guillotine.”

Levi’s eyes widen. “Excuse me?”

“We’re making a device that kills Titans,” explains Eren, gesturing subtly for Levi to sit back down. He smiles slightly as he watches the man do just that, his smile widens when Levi brings the stool closer and leans against Eren’s shoulder to get a better look.

What Levi sees is probably the single greatest thing in Titan killing. It’s rough and covered in notes, but he can see what has them so excited. It is a structure as tall as the Walls, comprised of two tall pillars that jettison out from a point in the Wall and form a small slit. He sees an arrow pointing to the slit with the words “Human Bait” written and he assumes from the excited handwriting Hanji wrote that. His eyes travel up to an impressive looking log that hangs suspended from a platform with the help of pulleys. He realizes that the slit is wide enough for the log to go down but thin enough that a Titan can’t wholly get through it, maybe just the head. He smiles widely. If they could build this, then they wouldn’t have to send dozens of people to their deaths.

“This is brilliant,” he says quietly and both Eren and Hanji gasp, neither one having heard Levi give such high and honest praise before. He looks up and sees both of them staring at him with their mouths hanging open, “You two look like a couple of dead fish.”

“Oh good, he’s back to normal,” says Hanji with a grin. She takes the journal away from Eren and puts it back in her bag. “I think that’s enough for now, Eren my boy. We made some good progress.”

Levi rolls his eyes. “Did you talk about what happened when he lost it, Four Eyes or did you forget?”

“Oh no, we spoke about it while we did some planning,” says Hanji as she gathers her things and Eren nods. “We concluded that the Beast Titan has the same power as Eren, only it found a way to activate it and can control the Titans. Simple really.”

“You can’t just casually drop something like that in a conversation!” snaps Levi sternly. “This is important, Four Eyes, something you need to tell Erwin. Immediately. Do you know why Eren snapped like he did?”

“I have a theory,” she replies with a shrug.

“Are you going to share it?” asks Levi, grinding his teeth. Twenty questions has always been Hanji’s favorite game. She rarely gives information without making a person ask for it first.

Hanji smirks. “You know I can’t help myself, Levi. Based on what Eren told me, I believe he had a split between his Titan consciousness and his own. The Titan half was going purely off of Eren’s instincts, which was to kill Titans; it didn’t recognize Mikasa or Armin because Eren’s influence wasn’t there to assist, so it saw everything as a target, Titan, and human alike. It’s amazing there weren’t more dead Titans.”

Levi rolls his eyes. “Do you know why I was able to bring him back?”

He quickly regrets asking when Hanji slyly smiles at him.

“I do, but I think you’d prefer to hear it from Eren,” she replies with a huge grin and starts to leave, ignoring the squawk of protest from her patient. Levi stands and walks her out, the least he can do for checking on Eren. He opens the door, and she puts one foot out before she looks down at him, her smile softer now.

“I’m happy for you,” she says quietly, glancing at Eren who is watching them closely. “Both of you. War has a funny way of bringing people together.”

“Don’t get any ideas, Four Eyes, this isn’t one of those trashy books of yours,” says Levi flatly and she snickers.

“I know, it’s better!” she gushes, patting Levi on the head. “Oh and just so you know, if you hurt him, I’ll kill you.”

Levi stares up at her incredulously. “What makes you think you can kill me?”

“I have my ways,” she says, patting her bag. She then smirks. “You know, I should’ve gone for Eren when I had the chance. He’s sweet, kind, funny, can turn into a Titan, enjoys hearing my theories, and likes assisting with my plans . . . Wait, why am I happy for you again? I feel like I just lost out on something great.”

“That’s because you did, Four Eyes,” says Levi before he shoves Hanji out of the door, closing and locking it behind her before he heads back to Eren’s bedside.

“I hope she didn’t say something to piss you off,” says Eren as Levi sits back down on the stool. “And I really hope that you aren’t in trouble with Erwin.”

Levi looks at him and smirks before lightly lacing his fingers with Eren’s. “Hardly. Eyebrows might act like he follows the rules, but really he’s looking for every exception and loophole that he can exploit for his sanity’s sake.”

Eren seems relieved. “Good. I wouldn’t want you kicked out of the military on my account.”

“You’d be kicked out too,” says Levi, his gut telling him Eren is on a self-deprecating spiral again.

“Yeah, but that wouldn’t matter as much,” says Eren with a shrug. “You’re Humanity’s Strongest Soldier; they need you more than me.”

Levi wants to be angry with him, to tell him that he’s just as needed and means just as much to the military but he swallows those words and that tone. He needs Eren to believe in his worth, and maybe the best way to do that would be to shock him? Levi takes Eren’s hand in his and squeezes it. “No, they need both of us.”

Eren’s eyes widen, and they dart from Levi’s face to their joined hands and back to his face. He opens his mouth a couple of times, but nothing comes out of it, he’s been rendered utterly speechless, and Levi almost laughs; no one has ever rendered Eren Jaeger speechless before. Looks like surprising him is the best way to get anything through his thick skull.

“So, what was Four Eyes going on about anyway?” he asks, hand still in Eren’s. “She said she had a theory as to why you were finally able to get your shit together.”

This catches Eren’s attention, and his cheeks and ears darken to a lovely red. “It’s nothing.”

Oh, now I really want to know.

“It’s not nothing if you can’t tell me, brat,” says Levi firmly and Eren averts his gaze. “Oh no, none of this bullshit. Since when does Eren Jaeger back down from a challenge?”

When the challenge requires me admitting something you probably don’t want to hear.

“It’s just stupid,” argues Eren, wresting his hand away from Levi’s. He can’t tell him, not now, not after the other night. He’s not going to tell him Hanji’s theory even if it means having Levi mad at him. He’s not going to force his feelings on Levi when the man apparently has no intention of returning them. He’d much rather apologize for earlier and get to sleep, anything to get away from this dreamlike world where Levi actually might care.

Levi frowns and punches Eren in the shoulder. “No, stupid is what comes out of Hanji’s mouth after one of her all night study sessions. Stupid is what you’re doing right now. Now tell me what she said, damn it, because if you don’t how am I supposed to know what to do if this happens again?”

Eren scowls, knowing he’s been outmatched once again by the Captain. Just once he would like for him to be wrong. “Fine!” he snaps, just because Levi made a good point doesn’t mean he’s going to make this a pleasant experience. “She said it’s because I love you!”

All thought process comes to a screeching halt in Levi’s mind. Did he just . . .?

“Explain,” is all he manages to say in his dumbfounded state.

Eren really doesn’t want to, but he knows he has very little choice right now, considering he just blurted out something rather personal that involved the person to whom he’s currently speaking. “Hanji thinks that when my Titan-self saw you, it awakened my consciousness,” replies Eren, keeping his eyes on his lap and nowhere near Levi. “My Titan-self knows you, it knows you as someone to trust and listen to—probably because of all the training we’ve done together—and that’s why it recognized you, and she thinks that recognition is what sparked my consciousness to return.”

Silence falls between them and stretches out much longer than Eren is comfortable with. His stomach churns, and he feels like he’s going to be sick the longer they sit in this insufferable silence. He just wants Levi to get on with his rejection and leave him alone.

“I see,” says Levi, breaking the silence, and Eren’s heart, just a little bit more.

“Yeah, stupid I know,” says Eren with a slight chuckle. He just wants to curl up and die.

Levi frowns sharply. “And why would that be stupid? Did you not just tell me you remembered every fucking thing I said earlier? Did you not reach out for me when you woke up? Did you seriously think I didn’t mean a damn thing I said or did?”

Eren squirms slightly. He does remember saying and doing all of that, but he hardly expected Levi to actually mean anything by it.

“Listen here, brat,” says Levi sternly, his tone commanding rather than suggesting that Eren listen and he meets his gaze warily. “Why do you think Erwin wanted to talk to me?”

“Because you disobeyed his orders,” Eren readily replies, and Levi blinks in surprise. “And about me going rogue.”

You really thought that? After everything that happened, that was why you thought we were in trouble? Hanji probably smoothed that over long before now.

“No,” he says flatly, and it’s Eren’s turn to look surprised. “He wanted to talk about whatever the hell is going on between you and me.”

“Nothing is going on between us, remember?” asks Eren, his tone borders on accusatory and Levi winces slightly.

“Yes, I know,” says Levi evenly, knowing that he is treading on dangerously thin ice at the moment. “I know nothing is happening now, but there could be.”

Eren’s eyes widen, and Levi holds his hand again.

“But . . . But last night you said—”

“I know what I said,” sighs Levi wearily. There’s so much he wants to say, and yet words seem to fail him just when he needs them most. “Gods, Eren, you have no idea how scared I was when I saw what happened to you. I would’ve done anything to get you back, to save you from that monster the Beast was trying to turn you into.”

“Is that why you said those things?” asks Eren quietly, slowly retracting his hand.

Levi’s grip tightens. “Yes, you idiot. I said those things because I. Can’t. Lose. You.” He annunciates each word with a strong poke to Eren’s forehead.

Eren stares at him blankly, his green eyes showing confusion and conflict as if he believes this to be too good to be true.

“I’m in love with you, you brat!” snaps Levi and he can feel the tips of his ears warming. Not exactly how he wanted to tell Eren, but shock proved effective once already. “I thought you knew that after yesterday.”

Eren looks sheepishly at Levi and Levi realizes that all Eren got out of yesterday was a rejection. Well, looking back, Levi can understand that, but at the same time, he really wishes Eren wasn’t so oblivious at times.

Levi lets out a long sigh and shakes his head. “Eren, I wouldn’t have said those things if they weren’t absolutely true. You know me better than anyone; you know that I don’t say things I don’t mean.”

“I know,” says Eren, tentatively squeezing Levi’s hand. “I thought maybe saying nice things was the exception, though. You never say anything nice, not without a lot of swear words and insults.”

Levi frowns at him, and Eren laughs, the melodic sound worming its way into Levi’s ears and down to his heart.

Why am I in love with this little shit again?

“You know I’m the only one who can go toe-to-toe with you and live,” says Eren as if reading his mind and he shrugs. Eren isn’t entirely wrong. “So, what happens now?”

“Well,” says Levi, feeling apprehensive. He knows where he would like this to go, but he’s still hesitant. Just yesterday he was telling Eren how he didn’t want to do this right before a suicide mission and he still believes that he wants to wait and do this after they get back, when the pressure’s off, and they can look at this rationally.

He looks back at Eren and finds himself staring into endless pools of green that glimmer with unabashed adoration and tenderness. The bare emotions make Levi squirm. “Listen Eren; I’m shit at this. I’m not the greatest at relationships, and I’ve never been involved with someone else like this. This isn’t going to be easy. I’m rude, crude, and a total bastard on a good day but if you’re willing to at least give me a chance, then I think this could work.”

Eren’s face lights up, and it easily could replace the sun. He then frowns, and Levi immediately misses the warmth. “Well, if we’re being this honest, then I should tell you that I’m not very good at relationships either. I’ve never had a partner. I have friends but those were hard won, and I still struggle every day to keep them. I’m loud, stubborn to a fault, and completely tactless as Armin says. In short, a total pain in the ass. If you can put up with that, then this can work.”

Levi smirks and squeezes Eren’s hand. “Then I guess we agree. Let’s just wait until after the expedition; I still think suicide missions aren’t the best way to start any relationship.”

Eren chuckles. “I guess I can give you that, so long as you don’t take back what you said.”

Levi’s lips curl into a sincere smile. “Never.”

Chapter Text

A cold chill shoots down Levi’s spine and wakes him up in an instant. He sits up slightly, propping himself up on an elbow and looking into the darkness that surrounds him. He strains to listen to the silence, wondering what could have woken him up from a relatively peaceful sleep.

Something stirs beside him, and he glances down to see Eren’s outline curling into him a little more than before, and he brings their cloaks back up to cover Eren’s torso. Discreetly, Levi brushes his fingertips against Eren’s neck reassuring himself that Eren is no longer steaming and finally managed to heal. He has a feeling that whatever the Beast Titan did to Eren affected his healing ability; it probably had to do with the tearing of consciousness that Hanji hypothesized. He made a mental note to pick the Titan enthusiast’s brain about it later. The Shifter had been understandably upset when he realized he still hadn’t healed when he woke up; but once he did, it seemed to kick his power into overdrive, and he was healed by the time he and Levi were finally exhausted enough to sleep.

“What’s wrong?” asks Eren in a light whisper, his voice coming out softly on an exhale. Levi wondered briefly if the other man had been asleep at all.

“Not sure,” replies Levi, his voice barely audible but he knows Eren heard him. He sits up more on the cot, still amazed that they were able to sleep on the damn thing together, and listens. He can hear something but he isn’t sure what it is, and he wishes he had picked a room with a window.

“Stay here,” he says, putting his hand briefly on Eren’s shoulder before he gets up and puts on his boots.

“I’m coming too,” says Eren as he sits up and reaches for his boots and cloak.

“Stubborn brat,” mutters Levi as he finishes lacing his boots. He grabs his cloak from the cot and carefully pads over to the door; with every breath he takes, he expects it to be his last, and when Eren joins him he’s surprised hell doesn’t erupt around them.

When they reach the door, Levi puts up his hand and Eren, despite the dark, understands and halts his progress. Levi approaches the door and opens it slowly, wishing he’d taken the time to put on his gear, but it would’ve taken too long. The door creaks open, the sound rings out in the silence, and Levi momentarily recalls a time when a squeaky door could have gotten him killed. He sticks his head out into the moonlit hall and looks around, confused as to why he doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary when his instincts are telling him to be on guard. He knows from experience that his eyes can lie whereas his instincts never fail him.

“Anything?” asks Eren from behind him.

Levi opens his mouth to speak when a scream rips through the night, and he instantly recognizes it as Sasha’s.

Well, it looks like the bastard’s trying again.

“Do you remember where the gear is?” asks Levi, torn between sprinting towards the scream and ensuring he and Eren are prepared for whatever is about to come.

“Already have it,” says Eren and not a moment later, Levi feels his belt being pushed against his hand.

“Good thinking,” he says as he takes it and immediately begins strapping himself in, now that he has some light to see by. “Now we need to—”

“Levi!” shouts Hanji as she comes into view, her goggles askew and hair in a rat’s nest, indicating that she probably fell asleep at a table rather than in a bed. He’s seen that particular look on her several times in all the years he’s known her, and it usually means she spent all night going over notes. “Levi, we’ve got twenty Titans coming straight for us.”

“So I heard,” says Levi curtly as he finishes the last straps. “Eren and I—”

“Are getting the hell out of here, along with the rest of your squad,” interrupts Hanji for the second time. “Contingency plan beta.”

Levi’s eyes narrow. “Since when does Erwin have a plan for me to fucking retreat?”

“Since this mission was dubbed suicide,” snaps Hanji, her patience obviously thin. “You and your squad are the ones that need to complete this expedition, not us. We’re just your escort. Now, get your ass in gear and down to the stables. I’ve already given the rest their marching orders.”

“But Hanji, you’re part of the plan,” argues Eren over Levi’s shoulder and for once, Levi doesn’t disagree. “You need to come with us.”

Hanji smiles sadly, the pale moonlight on her face almost makes it look like a death mask. Levi barely represses a shudder. “I know, Eren, but my place is here. Please, just go. We need this mission to be a success, and it can’t be if our Hope dies here.”

Eren wants to protest, argue, anything that might make Hanji change her mind and go with them, but the words die on his tongue. He can see the fiery determination in her eyes, the same fire that burns in his soul and he knows he’s already lost. She might come across as eccentric and careless, but no one can make Hanji do what she doesn’t want to, she’s like him in that way.

“Fine,” says Eren flatly, just because he understands doesn’t mean he’s going to be happy about it. “Just promise that you’ll be at the basement. Armin’s good, but he’s got nothing on your expertise.”

Hanji’s smile becomes slightly more genuine. “Alright, I promise. Now go before I throw you out the nearest window.” She glances at the window across from the room, and he knows she’s serious.

“Come on, Captain,” says Eren, putting a hand on Levi’s shoulder. “She’s right; we need to leave.”

Levi glances at Eren incredulously before doing the same to Hanji. When did they agree on this and why does he feel like he’s been left out? He doesn’t want to leave; he wants to stay and fight and ensure that the casualties are minimal. He owes Erwin and Hanji that much, he owes humanity that much. It’s his responsibility as a soldier. Eren’s key brushes his sternum, and he’s reminded of another responsibility he has to humanity. If they want to win this war, they need to find out the secrets Grisha Jaeger hid in that damnable basement. If humanity is to survive, he needs to leave and do his duty, even if it pains him.

“Fine,” he says stoically, even though he knows he doesn’t have any room to argue, not when the world’s most stubborn people agree. “But the brat’s right, Four Eyes, we need you so don’t get eaten. That’s an order.”

Hanji doesn’t have the heart to remind him that she outranks him because his order makes her want to cry. She was right when she said Eren would free Levi’s heart from whatever barriers he erected around it and it’s already starting to show. “Yes, sir,” she says, giving him a salute before sprinting back the way she came. She doesn’t want Levi to see her cry.

“Come on, Eren,” says Levi as he steps out into the hall. He watches Hanji’s retreating back and sighs, if she doesn’t make it back, then whatever they find in the basement will be useless. For the good of humanity, Hanji needs to survive.


 

When they arrive at the stables, the Titans are closer than earlier, less than half a mile away and showing no signs of slowing down. Levi listens as Hanji and Erwin shout orders, demanding that the Scouts buy his squad enough time to get away and risk their lives so Squad Levi can survive. That’s not what they actually say, but Levi can easily read between the lines. He despises unnecessary death and right now, he and it are on a collision course. Soldiers die every day, it’s part of being in the military, it’s part of the job description, but he can’t stomach the thought of people dying in his place. If he’s meant to die, then he wants to take that death honorably, not push someone in front of him so that he can live an extra day. It’s such a pointless waste of potential.

Eren reaches out and gives Levi’s hand a brief squeeze, grounding him to the present moment. He looks over and sees endless green already looking at him, silently pleading with him to stay, to remember why they need to leave in the first place. Humanity needs him, the squad needs him, Eren needs him, and that’s enough to keep his mind off the inevitable.

Eren smiles when he feels Levi squeeze his hand back before they drop them; he could see the pain in his eyes and the furrow in his brow, two easy indicators that he is not pleased with this plan. He remembers seeing that same expression during their early training sessions when they were first running the course he designed. Eren quickly learned that Levi’s minimal expressions often speak volumes about a situation, and now is no exception, he knows the Captain isn’t onboard with Erwin’s plan and frankly neither is he. He wants to stay and fight, to be with his comrades and take down the Titans but at the same time, he sees Erwin’s side; this is Squad Levi’s mission, not the Survey Corps’, and they need to be the ones who finish it. Not to mention with how chaotic his Titan powers are proving, it’s best to keep him and the Beast Titan apart for as long as humanly possible.

“Eren!” shouts Mikasa as she throws her arms around his neck, he grunts slightly and has to move his feet quickly to keep from falling over, but he embraces his sister regardless. They haven’t seen each other since the first time Hanji and Erwin came into his room and after the second, everyone was given the order to retire for the night. Usually, that wouldn’t stop her, but he has a sneaking suspicion that Levi’s presence might have deterred her from trying to talk to him after lights out.

“Hey,” says Eren, squeezing her middle gingerly. During his previous rescue, she’d sustained several bruised ribs and although she insisted that she was fine—something that greatly reminded him of Levi and his bad leg—he still insisted on being gentle with her. The last thing he wants to do is put their second best soldier out of commission just for the sake of a bear hug.

“Enough,” huffs Levi as he gracefully hoists himself onto his saddle. He silently thanks Jean for having the horses ready. “Everyone needs to saddle up and head for the next campsite. We’ll meet up with Hanji and Erwin there.”

“Stupid Titans,” grumbles Connie as he gets on his horse. “And I was having a perfect dream, too!”

Levi rolls his eyes. “Springer, we don’t want or need to hear about your dream regarding you, Blaus, and a large piece of meat.”

The group snickers while Connie balks loudly and Sasha blushes fiercely. Levi seems satisfied to have at least lifted some of the tense atmosphere.

“Alright, head out,” says Levi sternly once Eren has mounted his horse. He rears up on his stallion slightly and snaps his reins to indicate a canter rather than a walk, and he takes off. He hears the others do the same only a second later and soon they fall into formation, hoods up and heads down as they ride into the night.

Levi keeps an ear on the sounds of Titans behind them and Sasha, waiting for her to start screaming or freak out in some way to tell the rest of them that Titans are headed their way. He frowns slightly as he recalls how close the Titans got before she alerted them and tonight, they were probably the same distance again. According to Keith’s notes and Hanji’s observations, she can hear a Titan sneeze almost six miles away; it reminds him of Mike and how he could smell them from almost ten. Now she is clocking in at just about two, and that unsettles him greatly. Could the Beast Titan be ruining her tracking senses? It certainly affected Eren’s healing ability, so who knows what else it’s capable of.

He shakes his head. No, that thing only affects Titans and Shifters, it can’t influence humans otherwise it would’ve prevented Sasha from sensing them entirely. It’s more likely that it did something to the Titans to prevent anyone from catching on; Sasha can only sense movement and vibrations, not smell like Mike, which would’ve proved difficult to cover up, movement not so much. If Hanji’s right and the Beast Titan can control other Titans like Eren can, then it probably instructed them to move at a slower pace, making minimal noise and vibrations as they walked. It somehow knew about her and countered her ability by making sure she couldn’t detect anything until it was too late to do more than fight without a real plan of attack.

The plan is too good. Yes, the Beast Titan might be an intelligent Shifter, but there’s something else here. Someone else is helping it plan these movements, steps that are eerily similar to how he would’ve done things if the roles were reversed. It’s possible that Reiner or Bertoldt told the Beast about Sasha and the ODM gear, but there’s no way they could’ve come up with a plan as brilliant as an ambush in an open field. If their botched attempt to kidnap Eren is any indication of their intelligence, then Levi is fairly confident that they weren’t the ones who orchestrated these attacks. That, of course, begs the question of who is actually assisting the Beast Titan and that might prove more terrifying to discover.


 

It’s well after midnight when the squad starts to show fatigue and the horses, despite their stamina, are starting to feel the strain from the lack of sleep. According to the map, they’re about another four hours away from the second campsite, but it doesn’t appear that they’ll be able to make it without falling asleep first. Eren rechecks the map and to his relief, and slight annoyance finds that they’re close to the forest where Reiner and Bertoldt brought him and Ymir almost a month ago. He isn’t too happy about it but they need a high place to make camp, and this puts them about a little over halfway to Wall Maria when they start riding again in the daytime.

“Captain!” says Eren, not even bothering to look at Levi. “Big ass trees less than two and a half miles away to the right, according to our position. Might make for a decent camp.”

“I like your thinking, Jaeger,” says Levi and he moves his horse more towards the right. “Listen up! Eren just came up with a decent plan; there’s a forest nearby we can use as a camp because the six of you look dead on your horses. We’ll head there and regroup.”

There are somewhat quiet noises of agreement, and the formation starts heading towards the right; Levi double-checks Eren’s findings and agrees that if they stay on this course, they’ll arrive at the trees in a few minutes at least and half an hour at most. He’s incredibly proud of his squad for soldiering on for so long when he’s sure they’re all exhausted from the previous day; even Eren seems to be feeling the strain despite his enhanced endurance. Wordlessly Levi makes a promise to his squad that once this is over, he’ll give them two days off for rest and recreation, they’ve more than earned it after yesterday.

They arrive at the forest in fifteen minutes and begin scouting for suitable trees to make camp in. They find three with wide enough branches and break up into three groups, two groups with three members and one with two. Their horses are led a little further in from the entrance of the forest and Sasha, and Jean see to their care before they head to their respective trees. Levi instructs that every two hours, they’ll switch trees; the group at the frontmost tree will act as the lookouts while the others will rest until the next shift change. That way everyone gets the same amount of sleep, and everyone has a chance to act as a lookout, his way of preventing anyone from slacking off. If it were up to him, and it partly is, he’d just stand guard all night while the rest slept but something tells him that tonight that won’t sit well with his squad. They’re already protesting about the long window of time between shifts and insisting that there be more than one group on watch. He emphatically insists that they listen to him or be knocked out and be completely useless. He’s glad that that seems to silence their objections.

Naturally, he takes first watch and tree with Eren while Mikasa, Jean, and Armin take the second tree and Historia, Connie, and Sasha make camp in the third. He’s fairly confident that there are only about four or five hours before dawn so there should only be about two shift changes; of course, that means the third group will likely get more sleep, but at least it won’t be uninterrupted. He sits down near the center of the branch and listens to the darkness, identifying insect and animal sounds as he strains to hear anything remotely akin to a Titan. He wants to believe that he and his squad are prepared for any attack but after two surprise ambushes within hours of each other, he’s no longer sure. He thinks back to his original squad and wonders how they would’ve handled this situation; he realizes that they would handle it just like his new squad, with squabbling, protests, and resilience.

“Dollar for your thoughts?” asks Eren as he sits down beside Levi, grinning at his joke.

“They’re worth more than that, brat,” mutters Levi as Eren moves just a little closer, so their shoulders brush each other. “I thought I told you to sleep.”

“I don’t recall that being an order,” says Eren with a shrug. “I took it as more of a friendly suggestion.”

Levi sighs. “Fine, but don’t blame me if you’re tired tomorrow.”

“Same goes for you,” teases Eren, nudging Levi with his shoulder. His eyes fall on Levi’s partially mended hooks, and he frowns. He can tell they’re new hooks and that the repair is a cobbled together mess of wires, a very un-Levi patch-up job. “So are you going to tell me how your hooks got crushed or just make a crap joke?”

“Beast Titan,” replies Levi as he looks down at the half-assed job he did of repairing his hooks. He’d started repairs after he and Eren arrived at camp, but when it became apparent that Eren was going to need his full attention, he settled for at least replacing the hooks before tending to the Shifter. “Pulled the damn things out of its shoulder and crushed them before letting go. I think it thought I would actually die from that.”

Eren’s frown deepens. “And how did you manage to survive without your ODM gear?”

“Hanji,” says Levi, looking at the sky. “She swooped in and grabbed me before I even had the chance to think about landing. She’s the person who helped me get your ass out of your Titan, too.” He shakes his head. “It’s starting to become a team effort to save you, brat, but I guess you’re used to that kind of thing. I heard Arlert telling Springer about how he and Ackerman would have to chase after you and get you out of whatever mess you made.”

“Does that mean you’re going to start chasing after me? Because that sounds pretty nice,” asks Eren with a shit-eating grin that is only enhanced by the moonlight. Levi shoves him hard, and Eren throws out an arm to prevent himself from falling over, all while laughing. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry.”

“Good,” says Levi as he pulls his cloak tighter around him. Despite it being summer, the nights are almost unbearably cold compared to the warm days, and Levi’s never been one to appreciate the cold, even in winter. “Fuck, my balls are going to freeze off.”

Eren snorts and moves closer to Levi, opening his cloak and throwing it partly over Levi’s shoulders before pulling the other man closer to his torso. Levi freezes and barely breathes as Eren cuddles him. He always had a feeling Eren would be incredibly affectionate and like physical contact, but this is so new to him; not even on those nights when he, Isabel and Farlan would huddle together for warmth prepared him for this kind of intimate contact. He tries not to be swept away by the feeling of being pressed up against Eren’s side, of the intense warmth that comes off of him in waves, of how that warmth seeps through his skin and settles into his very bones.

“Better?” asks Eren, breaking the silence.

“It’s fine,” says Levi as he moves just a little bit closer and puts his head on Eren’s shoulder. The heat coming from Eren pales in comparison to a fire or a blanket, and he wonders how the hell clothes are supposed to keep a person warm when they too seem to fail compared to Eren’s body heat.

“Hanji says it’s because I’m a Shifter,” says Eren as he gazes skyward. “My body temperature, my metabolism, even my thinking have accelerated and increased because of being a Shifter. I thought it was great until I realized that it also meant my temper is shorter, my impulse control is almost completely worthless and my mind races faster than a horse can run. She thinks that everything will level out once I’m older and my body isn’t developing anymore. She thinks that being turned into a Shifter just before puberty is responsible for this “dramatic upheaval of mental, physical, and hormonal function” as she calls it.”

Levi raises an eyebrow. “Weren’t you fifteen when you became a Shifter?”

Eren shakes his head. “No. From what I remember, I was turned when I was ten, right after the Wall was breached. It’s really fuzzy but what I do remember is someone injecting me with something. I was fifteen when I first used my ability though.”

“Does Hanji know?” he asks and Eren shudders.

“I told her, and that caused her to go on about how wonderful it is to have a Titan in puberty,” replies Eren with a grimace. “I think she’s hoping that I’ll develop more powers because of my body changing so much but I think she’s going to be disappointed.”

“You can’t be certain of that,” comments Levi and Eren looks down at him. “You don’t know what you would’ve been like as a Shifter at ten, so you may have changed from that to how you are now, and you might be a different Shifter when you reach twenty-five. That’s why Hanji’s going to keep studying you until one of you dies.”

“What if I’m out of the military by then?” asks Eren, sounding hopeful.

“Do you really think that will stop her?” asks Levi, raising an eyebrow and Eren groans. “Exactly.” He then sits up but doesn’t move too far away from Eren’s side and pulls out one of his poorly repaired hooks. “Here, if we’re going to sit here for two hours, we might as well be productive. You work on this one, and I’ll work on the other one.”

Eren nods and takes the hook and starts working on untangling the mess of wires and springs. “I’m surprised that this wasn’t already repaired, Captain. You’re usually more efficient than this.”

Levi feels the tips of his ears warm, and he keeps his head down as he works. “Yeah well, extenuating circumstances and all that bullshit. Enough talk, get to work.”

Eren smirks. “Yes, sir.”

Chapter Text

Running. I’m running. No, I’m flying.

“Eren.”

The trees are blurs, and the ground doesn’t exist. I’m going so fast.

“Eren.”

Where am I going? Where’s the sky? Shouldn’t I be in the sky if I’m flying?

Suddenly he flies headfirst into something hard, and his eyes pop open as he struggles to catch his breath. His head is throbbing with pain.

A dream. It was only a dream. Since when did dreams feel that real?

“Oh, you’re awake,” drawls a voice to his right and he looks to see Levi crouching beside him, an impatient look on his face. Eren frowns.

That explains why I hit something.

“Good morning to you too, Captain,” says Eren as he stretches, feeling the throb on the top of his head deepen slightly. He frowns more as he starts to rub it. Logically he knows it’ll heal in almost no time, but it’s still a basic human instinct to inspect and tend an injury.

Levi rolls his eyes as he stands up. “I tried being nice, but you weren’t cooperating. Now get up, the sun’s about to come up, and we need to be out of here when it does.”

Eren nods, and as his senses regain their bearings, he realizes that the world around him is still dark, but when he looks at the horizon, he sees a faint light blue line. The sun is indeed about to come up and with it, the Titans. Eren grabs his cape from his torso and hurries to put it on properly before he reaches for his ODM gear, there isn’t any time to worry about breakfast or personal hygiene; they needed to be on their horses an hour ago.

“Calm down,” says Levi as he finishes packing their rucksacks. “The others are already up and getting ready; we have time, so slow down.”

“Oh,” says Eren as he finishes buckling the belt around his waist. “Well, that’s good I guess. I was the last one, wasn’t I?”

“What do you think?” asks Levi and even in the dark, Eren can see the smirk on the other’s lips.

“Sorry,” mutters Eren as he stands up. Gods is he glad that Levi insisted on teaching them to get their gear on in all manner of circumstances. Otherwise, he’d still be fumbling around, and he can only guess how pissed Levi would be then. “I’m done.”

“Good,” says Levi and Eren watches his outline come closer before it stops barely a foot away from him. He watches as Levi rummages around in one of their packs for something and he comes up with a wrapped ration. Eren’s stomach churns at the thought, but he knows he can’t argue. “Eat. We’re going straight to Wall Maria, and I know you need the extra calories.”

Eren nods and accepts the meager breakfast and his pack from the Captain. He opens it and begins eating the bland piece of whatever the hell it is; even after all this time in the military, he still isn’t sure what these hard ration pieces are made of, he figures they’re pieces of ground stone held together by paste. What he wouldn’t give for some scrambled eggs on toast with a hot cup of Earl Grey. He then stops mid-chew when it dawns on him that Levi’s tea supply was left back at the other campsite.

He looks at the man in question, watching as he goes about their small branch, ensuring that they have everything and he can’t help but feel a little bad. Levi rarely, if ever, goes without his tea and by Eren’s calculations, the man has now gone almost twenty-four hours without even a drop. They didn’t even have a cup last night; they just went straight to bed. He sighs and shakes his head. Levi’s concerning himself with Eren and his well being when Eren should be doing that for him after all the Captain can’t function without at least three cups of tea in a day.

Eren then smiles. He knows exactly how to remedy this situation.

“All right, brats!” says Levi, breaking Eren from his thoughts. “I need to see asses on horses, and then horses’ asses getting the hell out of here. Let’s move out!”

Eren scrambles to throw his rucksack on his back and shoves the rest of his ration in his mouth before following Levi’s example and firing a line into the tree trunk and rappelling down. He can hear more than see the rest of the squad doing the same, and once his boots hit the ground, he’s running towards where he stabled his horse, stumbling slightly on the uneven ground until his hand connects with his horse’s reins. The mare whinnies her greeting, and he gently rubs her strong neck and then her long face.

“Hey there, Seaborne,” he says quietly as she pushes her nose against his palm. “I hope you’re ready, we’ve got a long day ahead of us.”

Seaborne moves her head up and down as if replying to his statement and he grins. Even if everyone else would call him crazy, he believes that she can actually understand him.

“Mount up!” says Levi as he gracefully pulls himself up onto his horse’s back. He puts his hood on, and the others follow suit.

Eren quickly, although a little less gracefully, gets on his horse’s back and directs Seaborne to follow behind Levi and the others as they start riding down the thin dirt path that stretches out through the forest. He can barely see the riders beside him, just faint outlines of a person and a horse moving in unison, but even still he can tell that they aren’t in the same formation as yesterday. Eren wants to ask if they can light a torch but he decides against it, if Levi thought they would need a torch, he would’ve already asked someone to light one already. There’s just enough sunlight out that they know where each other is but not enough to make out the details. Eren furrows his brow slightly.

There’s a reason Levi’s doing this.

His stomach flips. Whatever Levi’s plan is, it’s obvious that he doesn’t want anyone to see them, or more likely see Eren. The Shifter feels a cold sweat prickle his skin and the hairs on the back of his neck and tops of his arms stand up straight. There’s only one reason why Levi would act so cautiously, and it frightens him to the very core: A traitor.

Eren shakes his head in disbelief and disgust. How many people are going to come out as traitors? How many of their alleged friends are going to try and sell them out to the enemy? Why do they even bother getting to know anyone if they’re just going to betray them in the end?

Eren wants answers. No, he needs answers. He needs to know why these people are slipping through the cracks. He needs to know why they so willingly sell out their comrades and fellow humans to those who would see them destroyed. He doesn’t want to watch more of his friends die because of someone’s selfish desire to assist the enemy. He wishes that for once the enemy were a more straightforward foe rather than someone wearing the mask of a friend.


 

The sun isn’t very high in the sky when they take their first break to rest the horses, but given how sore his back is, Eren knows they’ve been riding for several hours already. He leans against the small tree near where Seaborne is eating and gets to work preparing his surprise for Levi. He opens his pack and pulls out his flagon of water, his knife, a small dented metal box, and a clean handkerchief. Eren sits on the ground and smoothens the handkerchief over his thigh until it’s completely spread out and then he opens the box and takes in a deep breath, sighing contentedly at the smell of Earl Grey. It’s his favorite tea and one of Levi’s preferred brews. Eren’s glad that he remembered to pack this, he almost didn’t.

Carefully, he takes a pinch of the dry leaves and deposits it in the center of the handkerchief; he does this a couple of more times until he’s satisfied with the amount. Next, he gathers up the corners of the handkerchief and once the leaves have settled in a small heap, twists the fabric above the pile and ties it off to form a pouch. With a smile, he uses his knife to cut away the excess material but leaves enough at the top to ensure the knot doesn’t come undone.

Finally, he opens the flagon and pushes the little ball through the opening; it’s just small enough to pass through unimpeded, and then he puts the stopper back in. It’ll take a few minutes for the tea to, hopefully, steep. It won’t be the most robust brew, and it might not be up to Levi’s standards, but it’s certainly better than nothing in Eren’s mind.

Seaborne comes over and nuzzles Eren’s hair with her nose, eliciting a chuckle from the Shifter. He reaches up and rubs her nose as he skillfully moves out of the way. This is how it’s been since he first got her when he joined the Survey Corps. She was new to the ranks as well, and someone thought it would be a great idea to pair the two newcomers up and see how they did. Eren bonded with her right away. He liked how patient she was and how quickly she responded to his commands; sometimes she would do something without his instruction, and it was always the right thing to do.

“Think he’ll like it?” Eren asks, smiling up at the horse and she presses her muzzle against his hand. “Yeah, I think so too.” He reaches up and rubs her face, rubbing the blaze of black that runs down and ends at her black muzzle.

“You look ridiculous talking to your horse,” says Levi, startling both Eren and Seaborne. He sits next to Eren, and the Shifter tries not to blush when their shoulders brush against each other. “What’s her name anyway?”

Eren smiles as the horse walks away, apparently more tactful than most humans would be in a similar situation. “Seaborne.”

Levi hums as he watches the copper-colored horse walk over to the where the others are eating. She immediately heads for Levi’s black stallion Soldier, and he welcomes her like a good friend. Levi frowns slightly. Apparently, their horses are as interested in each other as they are; he wonders if the gods are having a good laugh at their expense.

“How’d you come up with that?” asks Levi as he watches Soldier and Seaborne eat together.

“It was in one of Armin’s books,” replies Eren as he also observes the horses. He smiles a little, wondering when this started between the two creatures. “It means to be transported by the sea, and I thought it would be a good name for her.”

“It’s nice,” says Levi just as Eren picks up his flagon and starts squeezing it. “What the hell are you doing?”

Eren’s hands freeze in place, and he cautiously meets Levi’s stern gaze. “Would you believe me if I said it’s for you?”

Levi’s thin eyebrows furrow together. “Now I’m worried.”

Eren laughs and then hands the flagon to Levi. The Captain accepts and holds it like it might explode or turn into something sinister. Under Eren’s silent prodding, he un-stoppers it, and there is the faint scent of something that is definitely not water. He brings it up to his nose and inhales deeper. His eyes widen, and he immediately takes a drink, relishing the taste of Earl Grey as it washes over his tongue and goes down his throat smoothly. He didn’t even realize how much he needed or missed tea until that moment.

“I hope it’s okay,” says Eren as he watches Levi drink. “It’s probably not the best, but I thought you could use it.”

Levi nods as he takes another huge gulp. It’s certainly weak but it’s fairly decent quality leaves so the flavor is certainly present despite the substandard brew. He reluctantly pulls it away from his mouth, knowing he needs to savor this for a little while and puts the stopper back in before handing it to Eren, who shakes his head.

“That’s yours, Captain,” says Eren kindly. “I think you need that more than I do.”

Levi is shocked, but he covers it well. This is the second time in just as many days that Eren has done something nice for him, and in that same time, he hasn’t done anything comparable. He feels a little guilty accepting this gift. “Thanks,” he says as he puts the flagon in his pack. “By the way, where’d you get the tea?”

“I bought it a few weeks ago,” replies Eren, smiling a little smugly. “I thought it would be a good thing to have on an expedition in case we ran out, so I brought it with me.”

“Always prepared I see,” says Levi, his ears burning slightly. What did he do to deserve someone like Eren?

Eren nods and then his expression falls as he watches the other members of the squad patrolling around, one hand on their blade and the other on their horse’s reins. “We’ve been betrayed again, right?” he asks, but his tone suggests that it’s rhetorical.

Levi nods. “Yes.”

“Is that why we left like we did? And why you changed the plan?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know who it is?”

“I have a theory.”

Eren sighs heavily and pulls his cloak tighter around his shoulders. “I’m not going to like the answer, am I?”

“When do you ever?” counters Levi and Eren can’t argue. “Our location and formation were betrayed to the enemy. Yesterday’s ambushes confirmed it. That’s why we didn’t ride in formation this morning and why we’re going straight to Wall Maria. I’m not going to take another chance at an ambush without the others present to back us up. We’re one squad, and no matter how good we are, we can’t face down that many Titans without assistance. It’s impossible and we’d all more than likely die.”

“Is it anyone in our squad?” asks Eren, hoping against hope that none of his friends have betrayed him again.

To his immense relief, Levi shakes his head. “No. The bastard isn’t a member of this squad. Otherwise, he’d already be dead.”

“Who is it then?” asks Eren, desperate to know.

“We suspect that it’s an officer,” replies Levi. He isn’t about to reveal the bastard’s name to Eren, not until he’s sure. He pulls his map out of his belt and unfolds it. Unlike Eren’s map, this one has several locations marked and notes in Erwin’s handwriting at each one. “Only officers know where our exact camp locations and supply lines are. We were ambushed at one of each.”

Bile rises in Eren’s throat. The officers on the mission are Erwin, Hanji, Levi, Moblit, Rashaad, and Lauda. He can safely eliminate Levi, Hanji, and Erwin but the others he’s not so sure of. “Fuck,” he says, hitting his head slightly against the tree trunk. “Do you think one of them is a Shifter, too?”

Levi shakes his head. “No, we have no reason to suspect them of being Shifters. We think this was done by a human, plain and simple.”

“I’d feel better if it were a Shifter,” says Eren through grit teeth. Being betrayed is one thing; he’s come to expect that especially from Shifters, but to hear that this traitor is nothing more than an ordinary human makes his blood boil.

How dare they turn their backs on humanity and team up with the Titans! They’ve watched us struggle and fight and have even fought beside us, how can they just push that aside and lead us to our graves?

“Is this why Erwin called you into his office the day before?” asks Eren and Levi nods. “Well, I’m glad to know that I was interrupted by something important, at least.”

Levi sighs. “If it were up to me, we wouldn’t have been interrupted at all.”

Eren glances at him curiously. “Would you have said something different?”

“No,” Levi admits, keeping his gaze firmly on his lap.

“Then why would timing and location matter?” asks Eren cautiously.

Levi shrugs. He’s not sure why he said that and now he wishes he could just take it back and forget that part of the conversation happened. “I don’t know, it just . . . I guess it felt right? I mean it didn’t feel wrong when we spoke later, but before it was better, maybe.” He clenches his jaw. “Fuck, I don’t know how to explain it, Eren.”

Eren notices how tight Levi’s shoulders and jaw are and how he’s trying not to ball his hands into fists. It doesn’t take a genius to know that Levi’s frustrated and a little uncomfortable discussing this. “It’s fine,” says Eren with a shrug. “As you said, you would’ve said the same thing regardless.”

Levi opens his mouth to say something but closes it again, unsure of what exactly to say.

“Anyway, we should probably get going again,” says Eren as he stands up and stretches his arms above his head. “Can’t give that traitorous bastard another shot, can we?”

“No, we can’t,” agrees Levi as he stands up, careful of his bad leg that is starting to regain sensation after going numb during the hours’ long ride. “Eren, thank you for the tea.”

Eren beams. “No problem, Captain.”

“Levi,” he says quietly, and Eren’s eyes widen. “Only call me ‘Captain’ around dumbasses who don’t matter.”

Levi’s words barely have time to register in Eren’s mind before he’s walking towards their horses, his head down slightly and ears burning bright red. Eren quickly follows, fighting the wide grin that threatens to break his face in half. He’s unsuccessful.


 

Wall Maria looms ominously on the horizon. Eren’s pulse matches the rapid beats of Seaborne’s hooves as they ride ever closer to their goal, towards answers and possibly to their death. He’s under no illusion that there are likely dozens of Titans in the district he previously called home and that without the escort units, they’re woefully outnumbered, but he’s still glad that they made it this far. This is the furthest in anyone has been in a while, and if they’re successful today, they might be able to once again go beyond the Walls entirely and discover the world.

“Almost there,” he says to himself as he nudges Seaborne’s sides with his feet.

With each second, they grow closer to the Wall, inching their way across the vast expanse of land that simultaneously seems too small and too cavernous. Dread and excitement creep up on Eren, and he isn’t sure which one is which, the feelings are so muddled together that they seem to be creating a new sensation. He wonders if Armin and Mikasa are experiencing something similar being this close to home, to where everything changed, to where their previous lives ended and their new ones were born.

Even now, so many years later, he can remember that day. He remembers how cool the breeze was despite the summer heat, how the insects buzzed and the birds chirped. He remembers all too well the final conversation he had with his mother before the Wall fell. Eren wonders if she would be proud of him if she would approve of his decision to go through with joining the Survey Corps. He wants to believe that she would be and that she would understand his decision, but he remembers the fear in her eyes when Mikasa blurted out his intentions and how desperately she tried to dissuade him from joining. She was right, the Survey Corps is a death sentence, but he’d rather die fighting than hiding.

He wishes he could go back and do things differently. For starters, he’d make sure not to argue with his mother, or at least not run away because what she said pissed him off. Instead, he’d stay and apologize for scaring her but reaffirm his resolve to join the Corps. Then, he’d take her and Mikasa out of the house and make sure not to go back. They’d be one of the first on the boat with Armin and his grandfather. He’d vow to protect them all and ensure that nothing tore them apart. It was the least he could do for his mother and best friends.

“Hold,” says Levi, bringing Soldier to a stop approximately twenty feet away from the Wall. Eren can hardly believe that they covered so much distance so quickly, then again, he had been pretty lost in thought so maybe more time passed than he was aware.

Levi dismounts, and the others do the same. It was decided during the planning phase that going directly through the hole in the Wall would be too risky and they would be better prepared to go in from the top on ODM gear. They walk the rest of the way to Wall Maria, and as they reach the bottom, Levi fires two lines several feet up and kicks off from the ground. Eren and the rest of the squad do as well, and soon, it’s a race to the top.

“Oh no you don’t, Jean!” says Eren as he avoids Jean’s kick. He grabs his ankle and tugs him down a couple of feet while pushing himself up several.

“That’s cheating, Jaeger!” argues Jean as he readjusts his belts.

“Hey Levi!” shouts Eren, looking up at the Captain. “Was that cheating?”

“Was what cheating?” asks Levi as he effortlessly scales up the wall, only pausing to look down at Eren.

Eren beams as he continues his climb. “See? If he says it’s not cheating, then it’s not.”

Jean glares at him but says nothing as Mikasa comes charging up the center, her grey eyes locked on Levi and the man can easily read the challenge in her eyes. He doubles his efforts and seems to be flying up the wall. Mikasa is right on his tail.

Eren and Jean look at each other with resigned expressions.

“I guess it’s a race to be third,” says Eren and Jean nods. A sly grin comes across his lips. “Guess you’ll be fourth.”

Eren jumps up high and starts running like Mikasa was, and Jean just stares at him for a moment before realizing that he’s being left in the dust.

“Fuck you, Jaeger!” he shouts as he scrambles to keep up.

Armin shakes his head. “Something tells me this will never change.”

“What? Jean and Eren? Yeah, they’ll always be like that,” says Connie as he pulls something out of his back pocket. It’s a day old biscuit from breakfast the previous day. He looks down at Sasha as she and Historia take their time in getting up the Wall. “Hey Sash! I’ll give you a biscuit if you beat Eren and Jean!”

Sasha’s bright brown eyes zero in on Connie and the wrapped biscuit in his hand; he barely has time to move out of the way before she’s flying up, snatching the baked good out of his hand and charging up towards Eren and Jean. Connie blinks, stunned that she actually moved that fast before he realizes that she took the biscuit.

“Hey! Wait up!” he shouts and starts running, cursing Sasha’s stomach and wondering why he even thought that was a good idea in the first place.

Armin chuckles as he watches. “And that’ll never change either.”

“I’m glad,” says Historia as she comes up beside him. “It’s nice to know that not everything will be different, even years from now.”

“I agree,” says Armin as they start climbing.

Historia glances at Armin and then at the others as they laugh and shout on their way up. She sighs slightly, remembering how Ymir always stayed by her side during these exercises and whenever they did race, she always let Historia win. Ymir cheered for her, no matter what. She smiles gently at the memory as tears blur her vision. She hasn’t seen or heard from Ymir since she left with Reiner and Bertoldt. She doesn’t want to assume the worst, but she can hardly imagine a pleasant scenario in which Ymir would neglect to communicate.

“We’ll find out what happened to her,” says Armin, startling Historia from her thoughts.

She looks at him, her crystal blue eyes wide with surprise and he chuckles warmly. The sound causes her cheeks to develop a light pink color.

“How did you know I was thinking about Ymir?” she asks quietly, her gaze now on the sky above. It’s bright blue, almost like Armin’s eyes.

“You always have a look whenever you do,” replies Armin kindly.

Historia frowns slightly. “Is it a bad look?”

Armin emphatically shakes his head, a slight smile on his face. “Oh gods no, on the contrary, it’s rather pretty.” His face heats up when his mind finally catches up with his words. “Sorry . . . Sorry, that was inappropriate.”

Historia giggles. “Maybe, but it’s always flattering to a girl to know that a handsome boy thinks she’s pretty.”

She giggles again and starts climbing in earnest. It takes Armin a couple of moments to realize what she said and when he does, he starts climbing up after her, his smile broader and face redder.


 

“Third!” Eren declares as he throws himself over the top of the Wall, nearly out of breath and face flushed from the exercise. He lands on his feet and turns to see if Levi or Mikasa won their race. His eyes widen, and he can hardly believe what he sees.

“No fucking way!” snaps Jean as he follows, landing just behind Eren, whose attention is directed elsewhere. “I want a rematch on the way home, Jaeger.” He realizes that Eren isn’t accepting his challenge. He pokes Eren’s shoulder. “Uh Eren, this is the part where you tell me to go to hell and that you’ll beat me again.”

Eren wordlessly points at the sight in front of him, and Jean follows his hand until he too sees what has Eren so mesmerized. Levi and Mikasa are standing toe-to-toe, glaring daggers at each other; their arms firmly crossed against their respective chests.

“Oh gods,” says Jean, in awe of what he’s seeing and just a touch fearful.

“I know,” says Eren, his tone suggesting disbelief but his eyes are dancing with amusement. “It ended in a tie.”

“We didn’t tie!” snap Levi and Mikasa, both now glaring at Eren.

Eren smirks. “Oh really? Then who came in first?”

They start glaring at each other again.

“I thought so,” says Eren triumphantly as Connie, Sasha, Armin, and Historia finally make it to the top.

“Who . . .Who won?” asks Connie, bent over and panting hard.

Eren looks over at him, still grinning. “They tied.”

“No fucking way!” exclaims Connie. He looks at Jean, who only nods his confirmation. “Shit! That’s so badass!”

Sasha, who is sprawled out on the ground with biscuit crumbs around her mouth, groans. “Knowing Mikasa, she’ll just kill him and call herself the winner.”

“She’d have to catch the Captain first,” says Armin, smiling widely at Eren whose grin only increases. “And something tells me, that wouldn’t end well.”

Jean shrugs and goes over to Mikasa, carefully putting a hand on her shoulder. “It doesn’t matter who won, Mikasa, you’re always a winner in my eyes,” he says casually, inwardly shaking at the thought she’ll throw him off of the Wall for that.

To his great surprise, she backs down from Levi. “You’re right, Jean,” she says, her voice calm but with a deadly edge. “It doesn’t matter who won, because I’ll best the pipsqueak later.”

Everyone gasps. No one, not even Eren, dared to deliver an insult like that to Levi. It spelled certain death for anyone.

“She’s dead,” whispers Connie as he hides behind Eren.

Eren can hardly believe that Mikasa did it; she went straight for the jugular and so far, has lived to tell the tale. He looks at Levi and judging by the way his hands are trembling; he’s fighting the urge to either beat or kill her. He isn’t entirely sure what to do in this situation, so he slowly approaches the pair, keeping an eye out for any indication that they’ll turn on him before he gets too close. Finally, he reaches Levi’s side and warily puts a hand on his shoulder. Levi’s head whips around to look at him, his expression murderous, but when he sees Eren, his face falls into something more neutral.

“You’ll get her back later,” says Eren, glancing at his sister, noticing the way her eyes are locked on his hand. “Now, I believe we’re here for a reason?”

Levi gives him a curt nod, and Eren’s hand falls away.

“Listen up, shitheads,” says Levi, taking point in the center of the group. “That was the easy part; now we’re headed for hell. We have no escort, no backup, nothing except each other and an extra canister of gas. Not the best odds, but I’ve survived worse, so you will too.” He then turns around and walks to the edge of the Wall facing the district. “Now let’s—” He trails off suddenly, and his eyes widen tremendously.

Eren notices straightaway and is at Levi’s side, together they look down at the hell awaiting them, and he can hardly believe what he’s seeing. It’s empty. Completely deserted. There isn’t a single Titan to be seen anywhere.

“What the fuck?” Eren wonders aloud.

“This is wrong,” says Levi as he takes in the scene below. There’s evidence that Titans were here at one point, but he can’t tell how long ago that was, and he can’t figure out where they might have gone. Their reports said there were dozens of Titans in this district alone, so where the hell were they?

“What do we do?” asks Eren, looking at the Captain.

This is a trap, and Levi knows it. Whoever is responsible for this is planning something, and it’ll likely get them all killed in the process. Part of him is saying to turn around and go back to Erwin and the others, to not try this without reinforcements and the other is telling him to just get this over with. If they want to catch the traitor, they need to spring the trap. Still, he doesn’t want to sacrifice his squad or use them as bait, not again.

“We proceed with extreme caution,” replies Levi firmly. “This doesn’t look good, and if it’s what I think it is, this won’t end well either. The objectives are still the same. Get to the basement and live to rub it in the MP’s face.”

Eren gives a half-hearted smile in response.


 

Squad Levi silently glides through the air; the only sound comes from their ODM gear as they fire and retract lines into the buildings nearby. When the rest saw the empty, desolate district, they knew they weren’t walking into an easy mission. If anything, this makes it even more difficult because they can’t see the enemy they should be anticipating. They don’t know what the enemy is, whom it is, where it’ll come from, or why it’s there in the first place; all they know is they won’t be getting back to the Wall without a fight.

Eren tries to distract himself from the fear that seems comfortably lodged in the pit of his stomach in attempting to identify the buildings that were at one point, places he frequently visited when he was younger.

“There’s the tailor,” he says to himself as they pass over a pile of lumber and stone. “She made really nice shirts, and Mom and Mikasa spent hours in there looking at patterns and fabric.”

They pass over a half-demolished building.

“And that used to be the butcher,” he says with a slight smile. “Dad would go there and buy something nice for Sunday dinner. The best were these thick steaks that Mom would cook in butter and herbs and serve with baked potatoes.”

“What are you doing?” asks Levi when he overhears Eren’s commentary.

Eren shrugs as he uses a small puff of gas to keep himself airborne. “Just reminiscing.”

“I see,” says Levi flatly, his eyes slightly downcast. “Tell me more.”

Eren smiles and then points at a building to Levi’s left. “That was the bakery. Every day, he made bread, cakes, and pies. Armin and I would stand outside and just smell the air whenever he was baking, and if we were really good, he’d give us a reject.”

Levi’s thin eyebrow rises. “A reject?”

“A pastry or loaf of bread that wasn’t up to his standards,” explains Eren with a wistful smile. “There was nothing wrong with them other than they just didn’t look as nice as the others. I loved anything of his that had apple filling.”

“I see,” says Levi, mentally filing that bit of information away for a later date. “Are we getting close to your house?”

Eren nods. “Yeah, four more streets and then a right and we should be there.”

“It’s amazing you can remember that, but not where the bathroom is back at headquarters,” says Jean, smirking at Eren who scowls in return.

“Says the man who ended up on the roof instead of his bedroom,” sneers Eren and Jean glares at him.

Armin snickers. “Eren wasn’t always this well-versed in finding his way home. When we were younger, we somehow ended up on the other side of the district taking one of his “shortcuts” back to his house. It was so dark when he finally admitted he was lost; we had to ask someone from the Garrison to take us back.”

“About the only time they were useful back then,” grumbles Eren with a frown.

“Sounds scary,” says Historia kindly, trying to lighten Eren’s obvious foul mood.

“That was nothing compared to our parents when we came back,” continues Armin and Eren groans. “Eren’s mom started yelling the moment we came back, demanding to know where he was and what happened. My parents took me home shortly after, but they weren’t happy with me either, they told me I should’ve been more responsible instead of just letting Eren lead me away.”

Eren rolls his eyes. “They always thought I was a bad influence.”

“Where was Mikasa?” asks Sasha curiously.

“Oh, she wasn’t around,” replies Eren with a shrug, pushing off from the corner of a roof. “This was before my parents adopted her.”

“How old were you when you in this story?” asks Connie, glancing at Mikasa.

“Five or six, I think,” says Eren, glancing over at Armin who nods his confirmation and they all gape at him. “What? Don’t tell me you thought I was well-behaved as a little kid.”

“Hardly,” says Levi, a corner of his mouth slightly upturned. “What’s truly difficult to believe is, that in all your time on this earth, you still haven’t learned how to behave.”

Eren opens his mouth to argue when Mikasa interrupts, “We’re here.”

Immediately Eren’s mouth snaps shut and he prepares to land as something heavy and thick settles over him like a wet quilt. It finally dawns on him where he’s going and what happened the last time he was here.

His boots touch the familiar stone road that ran parallel to his front door. He looks up and can easily picture the front of his house staring back at him. The two windows would be shining like crystal and grant a passerby a glimpse into their home, where they would see his mother’s clean kitchen and an even tidier sitting room, reserved for guests and patients waiting to see his father. Above would be two smaller windows on the second story, one for his room and one for his parents’ room; on a day like today, his mother would have the windows open to let in the fresh air and would probably be doing laundry while he and Mikasa gathered branches to burn in the kitchen stove, Armin tagging along for the adventure with a book under his arm. His father would be on his rounds, coming back for lunch before going back to a house call or to assist a midwife with a delivery. Then they would all come back just before dusk and help with dinner, probably a delicious roast or his mother’s vegetable pie with fresh apple cider to drink. They would be happy, smiling, and content.

Eren blinks, and the image vanishes. Broken beams, a large piece of Wall, a concaved and split roof, and numerous pieces of rubble make up what used to be his house. The crystal-like windows shattered, the clean kitchen and tidy sitting room destroyed. The second story bedrooms that smelled like summer even in winter demolished beyond recognition. Where a cozy and welcoming home once stood, now lies as a ruin, merely an echo of what it used to be.

Eren’s eyes burn with bitter and angry tears. This used to be his home, damn it. Where his mother and father lived, where his family thrived, and now it’s nothing more than a grave. His gaze carefully goes over each piece of rubble he can find, committing each to memory, until his eyes rest on a thick and heavy beam near the piece of Wall that initially destroyed his house. His feet act of their own accord, and he takes slow, measured steps towards the beam that rests haphazardly across the demolished roof. He stretches out his arm, and his hand touches the splintered wood. It feels the same as it did five years ago.

The breath in his lungs hitches when he sees dark stains splattered on the wood. Unbidden, the memory of his mother being bitten in half by that damn Titan comes to his mind; he can still see its lifeless smile and hear the crunch of his mother’s bones over the sounds of Hannes’ panicked breathing. A dark smile pulls at Eren’s lips.

At least now that smiling Titan is dead.

Revenge is bittersweet on his tongue and soul. He’s glad that he was able to kill the Titan that took his mother away, but it won’t bring his mother back. She’ll never come back. Even if he kills every Titan and saves humanity from their ever-present threat, his mother will remain dead. Nothing he says or does will ever bring her back, and there’s nothing he can do about it.

He clenches his fist as hot tears roll down his cheeks. He can feel splinters and steam on his hand, a reminder of what he is, of what made him strong enough to be humanity’s savior. He would give it away in an instant if it brought his family back if it would reverse this entire war and prevent it from happening in the first place.

Something solid grips his shoulder and his eyes open. He looks over and sees Levi standing beside him, his hand on Eren’s shoulder and a flat expression on his face. Eren’s gaze meets Levi’s, and he can see the concern shining in the grey.

“Eren,” he says, his tone matching his eyes.

“I’ll be fine,” says Eren quietly, ensuring only Levi can hear his voice as he quickly wipes his cheeks with the cuff of his sleeve. “I promise.”

Levi nods and squeezes Eren’s shoulder before dropping his hand. “Lead us to the basement.”

Eren nods and heads for the back of the house, being incredibly careful not to disturb any of the rubble surrounding the house, while the others follow behind him in respectful silence. When they arrive at the back, they spot the only unobstructed and undisturbed part of the house: two wooden doors cemented to the stone foundation. Eren hurries over, tripping slightly on a couple of rocks and smaller beams of wood in his haste. His hand flies to a metal bar on the wooden door, and he pulls hard. Hinges groan loudly and don’t yield as smoothly as Eren would have liked, but the door opens regardless. Below is a set of stone stairs and what appears to be a dark hallway, a faint musty smell escapes and makes Eren’s nose wrinkle.

“Is that it?” asks Levi as he comes to stand beside Eren, looking down into the black pit below and Eren nods. “Good. Kirstein, Reiss, Springer, Blaus, take point and stand guard. Ackerman, Arlert, you’re with Eren. Head down and bring back whatever you find.”

The squad members nod and hurry to get into position. Levi takes over Eren’s position and stands behind the door to keep it open while Armin, Eren, and Mikasa begin their descent. Armin takes out his torch and uses a match to light it and heads in first, taking small steps as he attempts to navigate the stairs. Eren smirks slightly as he watches his friend, once again disagreeing with his parents about being a bad influence on Armin; if he is such a terrible friend, then why is Armin boldly heading down into a dark and unknown place without waiting for him?

“Ten minutes,” reminds Levi as Eren prepares to follow Armin.

“And ten pounds each,” says Eren with a nod and he holds his hand out expectantly.

Levi lifts up his free hand and places the basement key into his palm, having removed it from around his neck earlier, and closes Eren’s fingers over it and his fingers over Eren’s fist. Their eyes meet, and Levi squeezes Eren’s hand. Eren smiles for a brief moment.

Levi’s eyes widen as something cold shoots down his spine. A small sound breaks the quiet tension. Quickly he lets go of Eren’s hand and shoves the Shifter down into the barely lit stairwell.

“Le—!” exclaims Eren just as he falls as Levi slams the basement door shut, sliding a chunk of stone between the two metal bars and the wood.

“What are you doing?!” says Mikasa, very clearly irate and her voice carrying the promise of a slow and painful dismemberment.

Just as Levi turns around to respond, he hears the sound of feet landing on stone, and he pushes himself forward, putting himself between the danger and Mikasa and the basement door. He pulls out two of his blades and takes up a ready stance.

Surrounding the house are a dozen heavily armed humans, all wearing a crude yet obviously functional set of ODM gear. Instead of blades at their sides and in their hands, they have guns; all pointed at Squad Levi. Levi curses their luck.

“Well, well,” says scratchy male voice.

The cold feeling from before completely encompasses Levi.

A man steps from behind a couple of people and Levi’s fear turns to white-hot rage.

“Isn’t this a surprise,” says the man with an amused chuckle. The man is wearing a long black leather duster coat, a white shirt, black pants, a loosely done black tie and a black bowler hat. Like the rest of the people surrounding them, he has a set of ODM gear loaded with several firearms.

In Levi’s mind, he sees a man just like him creeping into his and his mother’s room, eyes unseeing of anything. The man lifts up the brim of his weathered hat to reveal blue-grey eyes that still seem lifeless and unseeing, but they are squarely on Levi.

“If it isn’t Little Levi,” says the man, his thin lips twisting into a smirk that vaguely resembles Levi’s as he scratches the scruff on his jaw and chin. “All grown up and still playing with knives, I see.”

“Why the fuck are you still alive?” snarls Levi and he hears Mikasa take her blades out, obviously recognizing the threat this man posed.

The man chuckles again. “You know better than most that only one person can kill me, Levi. They haven’t come along to try yet, so here I am.” His smirk widens as his eyes flit to Jean, Connie, Sasha, and Historia. “It seems like you have quite the team, Little Levi. They’re all just as stupid and crazy as you.”

“Thanks,” says Levi through clenched teeth. He hears the basement doors rattling behind him. “But that just means they’re as crazy and stupid as you are, Kenny.”

Kenny’s eyes widen, and he seems amused. “So you do remember me. I’m flattered.”

Levi watches from the corner of his eye as Mikasa steps forward and stands beside him, her grey eyes narrowed at Kenny as she brings her blades up across herself. Kenny’s attention then goes to Mikasa, and all delight leaves his face. In fact, if Levi could pinpoint the expression on the man’s face, he would say that he looks as if he sees a ghost.

“Kaileah?”

Chapter Text

Eren groans, everything below his neck hurts like hell, and for a moment, he can’t remember where he is or how he got there.

“Eren!” says Armin as he comes and helps his friend to his feet. “What happened? The Captain just shoved you down the stairs.”

Now he remembers. “Fuck,” mutters Eren, rubbing his neck and shoulders. The pain is already starting to dissipate, but a dull, throbbing ache is left behind in its wake. “That bastard’s lucky I can heal. Otherwise, that might have killed me.”

Armin smirks, his features illuminated by the torch in his grip. “That’s probably why he did it.”

Eren rolls his eyes. “If he really thought it through, he wouldn’t have because I might have landed on you, and last I checked, you can’t heal like a Titan.”

“Nope, sadly not,” affirms Armin as he kneels down and picks up the key that flew at him as Eren came down the stairs. “Wow, I can’t believe that came off.” He looks at the leather band, expecting to find it snapped or undone but instead finds the knot safely intact. “Huh.”

“Give it back!” says Eren, reaching for the key.

Armin looks at him skeptically. “It’s not broken. Why’s that?”

“No reason!” says Eren, snatching it away while his ears burn.

Armin reaches up and pinches his ear. “You’re lying.”

Eren swats Armin’s hand away and rubs his ear. “So what?”

“Levi had it, didn’t he?” asks Armin knowingly and Eren nods, unable to make eye contact with his best friend. “Why?”

“A stupid reason,” replies Eren with a grumble and Armin reaches up to check his ear, but Eren moves away, covering the other one. “Gods, what is wrong with you? I gave the key to Levi just in case something happened to me; I didn’t want this mission to be in vain. I didn’t want people needlessly dying for me again.”

Armin nods, understanding Eren’s logic. “I see. Well, your insurance policy seems to have paid off. We made it here, and Levi kept the key safe the entire time.”

Eren removes his hands from his ears. “Yeah, I guess so.” He looks at the shadow of the basement door and frowns at it. He walks over and climbs the stairs he previously tumbled down until his head rests against the wood. Eren then reaches up and pushes hard on the door, expecting it to give but instead finds it locked fast. He pushes on it several times, hoping to break the lock or whatever is keeping the doors shut but it holds. “Shit!”

“I guess we’re stuck here until someone rescues us,” sighs Armin as Eren continues his fruitless struggle with the door. “Come on, Eren, we should just keep going. The others will let us out eventually.”

Eren slams his shoulder against the door. “No way. I’m not going to be saved again. What if they all die, Armin? What if they can’t get us out?”

Armin shrugs. “Then you’ll Shift and get us out.”

“You make it sound so easy,” snaps Eren but he halts his assault on the door and sighs. Armin has a point; they’re stuck here until Levi or one of the others can get them out. “You’re right; we should just get this over with.”

“I’m glad you can see reason,” says Armin smugly as he starts down the hall. “Hurry up, Eren, the sooner we get done, the sooner you can get back to your boyfriend.”

Eren’s face turns bright red as he stomps along behind Armin. “He isn’t my boyfriend.”

Armin smiles kindly. “Yet.”

They walk beside each other in silence, neither one entirely sure what to say in this situation. When they pictured this moment, they pictured it happening after a long battle with numerous Titans, with Hanji, Mikasa, and Levi by their side when they finally reached the basement. Now they’re here, without having fought a single Titan all day, Hanji is gods know where with Erwin, while Mikasa and Levi are outside fighting gods know what. Not exactly what they imagined.

Finally, they arrive at the end of the stone hall, and another wooden door, this one more ornate than the one covering the stairs and Eren’s heart lurches at the familiarity. It’s the same door from the front of his house. Tentatively he reaches out and touches the cold metal handle, recalling that the last time he touched his front door was when he stormed out after fighting with his mother. His hand starts to shake.

“Eren,” says Armin, dragging his friend away from the painful memories. “You need to open it.”

Eren nods and turns the handle, not really surprised to find it locked, so he pulls out the key from his pocket and puts it in the lock above the doorknob. He turns it, only to be met with resistance. He tries, again and again, the key doesn’t budge. “Fuck,” he mutters as he removes the key. “The stupid key doesn’t work!”

Armin’s eyes widen. “You can’t be serious?!”

Eren glares at him. “Do I look like I’m kidding? The damn thing won’t budge!”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” says Armin as he looks at the key and the lock. “Why would your dad tell you this key opened the basement when it didn’t?”

Eren opens his mouth to reply when he suddenly snaps it shut. His mind goes to the moment his dad said he’d show him what was in the basement. “Because he didn’t,” says Eren softly and he looks at Armin with a wide grin. “Dad never said this key unlocked the basement. He just said that he’d show me what he was hiding!” He takes the key out of the lock. “This does go to something but not the door; it goes to something inside the room!”

Armin smiles, glad that the key isn’t entirely useless. Their relief is short-lived when they both realize that knowing what the key opens doesn’t help them get inside.

“Hold this,” says Eren, shoving the key into his hand before he starts to back up.

“Eren, what’re you doing?” asks Armin as he watches Eren back up several feet.

“Stand back,” says Eren when he is a considerable distance away, and Armin obeys just as Eren starts running, heading straight for the door.

“Eren, wa—!” Armin starts just before Eren collides with the door. The sound echoes in the closed space along with Eren’s loud groan as he slides to the ground, steam rising from the side that hit the door. Armin shakes his head and kneels down beside his friend, an exasperated look on his face. “If you had waited, I would’ve told you that wouldn’t work.”

Eren rolls his eyes. “Well, what will then?”

“How about kicking the lock?” suggests Armin with a smirk. “Surely Levi taught you more than just holds during your one on one sessions?”

“He may have,” says Eren sheepishly as he and Armin stand up. “Alright, stand back again, I don’t want to accidentally hook you.”

Armin says nothing and simply does as he’s told, watching with mild amusement as Eren steps back from the door, his eyes shining with fierce determination. He brings up his foot, and it connects with the door, right near the lock, and right away there is a splintering sound followed by the squeaking of hinges. Eren and Armin watch as the door swings open, their hearts pounding hard in their chests because the moment has finally come.

“We did it,” says Armin, his voice full of awe.

Eren turns to his friend, a wide and genuine grin on his lips. “Race you.”

Armin has two seconds to comprehend what Eren just said before the Shifter is almost tripping over himself to get into the room; Armin follows after, smiling as he pushes past Eren in his effort to enter. They’re laughing as they get inside hardly able to comprehend that they actually succeeded in their primary objective.

“I won!” declares Eren to the dark room, having gone beyond Armin’s torch.

“Yeah, if you say so, Eren,” scoffs Armin as he searches for candles or a fireplace, anything to give them more light. He finds the latter on the other side of the room and is a little surprised to see logs in the hearth. He notes that they’re slightly burnt and covered in dust. “Eren, when was the last time your dad was in here?”

Eren shrugs, watching Armin. “I’m not sure; I know he wasn’t here the day the Wall fell, he had too many patients. Maybe a few days before then?”

Armin’s skeptical, but he says nothing as he brings the torch to the logs and in seconds they catch and burn brightly. The fire throws the entire room into a soft light, not as strong as sunlight but better than a torch, so Armin places it on the stone hearth, not wanting to risk burning the place down. Eren starts looking around the room, expecting to find more than what he does. Against the wall just to the left of the fireplace is a desk and several bookcases, nothing else is in the room, and Eren can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

He walks over to the desk and puts a hand on the back of the leather chair. He can’t remember his father having a chair like this in the house, so that must mean he got is specifically for this room. He pulls it away from the desk and sits down, coughing slightly when dust flies in his face.

“A-Armin,” coughs Eren, swatting away the dust. He’s a little glad that Levi isn’t here to see this mess. “You look at the bookcases, and I’ll look at the desk.”

Armin nods and immediately begins scouring the tomes, his mind salivating at the thought of plundering the words contained within. As he looks at the spines, he notes that several of them are written in languages he can’t understand but that only excites him more; that means these books likely contain knowledge of the outside world. He selects several and opens one in his tongue.

Eren frowns at the slightly cluttered desk, wondering where he should even start. Everything looks like it might be important and he could easily spend hours scouring each piece of paper, picking it apart until he was sure he didn’t need it. Given that their ten-minute time limit is no longer a contention, he now has the opportunity. Well, he has to start somewhere, so he picks up several papers and starts reading the first few lines. They appear to be letters, but there’s no name, although they are in Grisha’s handwriting. Eren smiles at the messy doctor’s scrawl as his father called it; his handwriting matches his father’s fairly well.

Eren frowns when he reads several words he doesn’t understand such as ‘Marley,’ ‘Paradis,’ and ‘Eldian.’ He decides that these letters are important, so he puts them in his rucksack. He is about to return to the pile when he sees a lock gleaming dully in the firelight. His heart skips a beat. Slowly he brings up the key and holds it against the lock, swallowing hard when the sizes match up perfectly. With trembling hands he inserts the key and turns it, jumping slightly when the lock gives way, and the key turns completely.

“Finally,” he whispers as he pulls the drawer open.

Armin, at the sound of the lock, looks up at him in anticipation. Eren reaches in and pulls out the contents of the drawer: three books and a small bag that sounds like it’s full of glass. He sets them down and stares at them for a moment. Whatever this turns out to be, his father obviously thought they were important enough to hide, and this could be what turns the tide in the war.

“So is that it?” asks Armin from his space on the floor, books opened all around him.

Eren glances at him and nods. “Yeah, this is what Dad’s been hiding all this time.”

Armin stands up and moves to stand beside Eren, putting a hand on his shoulder as Eren reaches for the bag first. His hands are shaking as he undoes the tie at the top and spreads the material at the top open, he reaches in, and his hands brush several glass and metal pieces. He grabs one and brings it out into the light. He uncurls his fist and stares at the vial in his palm. There is a thin and worn label across the front that says, ‘Attack.’ It’s empty. He reaches in and pulls out another; this one says, ‘Founding.’ It’s also empty. With a frustrated snort, Eren reaches in again and pulls out the last vial. This one says, ‘Armor’ and is full of milky fluid.

“What do they say?” asks Armin, picking up one of the empty vials.

Eren’s eyes widen. “Wait, you mean, you can’t read them?”

Armin shakes his head. “No. There are several books your dad has with similar writing, but I don’t know what it says.”

“Shit,” mumbles Eren as it dawns on him that this language must be foreign and from the world beyond the Walls. It seems his father thought he needed outside knowledge after all. “Well, I can read them, and they say Armor, Attack, and Founding.”

Armin’s eyes go wide. “You mean, like Armor Titan, Attack Titan, and Founding Titan?”

Eren cocks his head and stares at his friend curiously. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“The Beast Titan said you have the Attack and Founding Titans,” replies Armin, his brow furrowed slightly as he recalls what he overheard the Beast Titan telling Levi. “We called Bertoldt the Colossal Titan, Reiner the Armored Titan, and Annie the Female Titan. Now we have the Beast Titan, the Attack Titan, and the Founding Titan, assuming the last two are separate but reside within you simultaneously.”

“Armin, you’re not making sense,” says Eren sternly. “What are you talking about?”

Armin shows him the empty vial. “Don’t you get it? These contained whatever it is that makes Shifters!”

Eren nearly falls out of the chair. “You can’t be fucking serious?!”

“I’m almost positive,” says Armin with a wide grin as he picks up the only full vial. “If I’m right, and I’m really sure I am, if you drank this you would get the same ability as Reiner and Annie!”

“Damn,” says Eren, taking the vial from Armin. He turns it over in his hand, watching the slightly viscous fluid move in its glass container. “That means I could close the hole in Wall Maria; I could keep the Titans from getting in.”

“Exactly!” says Armin excitedly.

Eren looks for a stopper but only finds a metal and rubber piece fixed securely to the top of the vial. It reminds him of the vials of medicine his father kept; those were impossible to open. “How am I supposed to drink it if I can’t get it open?”

Armin chews on his lower lip as he thinks it over. “Well,” he says slowly as the ideas form in his mind, “you could always try eating the vial.”

“Are you insane? That’d be dangerous!” argues Eren.

“For a normal human,” counters Armin thoughtfully. “For a Shifter, who can heal any wound, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Eren grumbles to himself as he glares at the vial as if it were at fault for its design. “You might have a point.” He looks at the two empty vials. “I wonder if that’s what Dad injected into me?”

Armin looks at Eren suspiciously. This is the first he’s heard of Eren’s dad injecting him with something. “Maybe,” he says carefully. “Still, we should take them all with us and let Hanji study them. What else was in the drawer?”

“Some books,” replies Eren, picking one up and handing it to Armin.

“Crap,” huffs Armin when he opens it and sees the strange language from the other books. “I can’t read these, Eren.”

Eren rolls his eyes and takes the book back. “Remind me when we get back to base to teach you how.”

Armin’s eyes sparkle in the dim light at the thought of learning outside knowledge. “I definitely will!”

Eren nods and opens the book to a random page and begins reading while Armin picks up another book, flipping through it when something falls out of it. He picks it up and nearly drops it again when he sees it.

“Eren!” he says, startling the Shifter. “Eren, look!” He shoves the piece of glossy paper under Eren’s nose and watches as the Shifter’s expression changes from irritated to intrigued and then back to irritated. “Isn’t that your dad?”

Eren snatches the piece of paper from Armin and holds it close to the light. It is his father, or at least, his father but much younger than Eren remembers him ever being. He’s wearing a charcoal grey three-piece suit and gold-rimmed wire glasses, the exact pair he wore all of Eren’s life. He’s standing behind a very ornate and grand chair where a young woman with golden hair is seated. She has kind, golden eyes and a pretty smile on her pink lips. She’s wearing a cream colored dress similar to the ones he’s seen the nobles in Sina wear and her hair is twisted and pinned on top of her head. In her lap is a young boy, probably no more than three, and he has his mother’s blonde hair but Eren’s father’s smoky-blue eyes.

“Who’s the woman and little boy?” asks Armin, pointing at them as if Eren can’t see them. “And how did they get a painting this smooth?”

Eren turns the piece of paper over and sees his father’s handwriting on the back:

Eren,

This isn’t a painting; this is what is called a photograph. It’s an image that has been pressed onto a piece of special paper that allows the image to stay intact. In Paradis, it’s unheard of and doesn’t exist, but across the sea in Marley, it’s incredibly common, and almost everyone has a family portrait like this one. There is a great deal of technology in Marley that doesn’t yet exist in Paradis.

The people in this photograph are my first family, my family in Marley before I sailed the sea and found Paradis and your mother. The woman is my wife Dina, and the little boy is my son, your older brother, Ezekiel or Zeke for short. This is all I have left of them so please don’t destroy it.

I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about them sooner. Yes, your mother knew I was married before and what happened to my first wife. We were going to tell you when you were old enough. Please know that I love you just as much as I always have.

Love,

Dad

“What did it say?” asks Armin expectantly.

Eren is silent, unable to process all that he read and slightly unwilling. It seems secrets regarding the Titans isn’t all his father was hiding.

“It’s called a photograph,” says Eren once he finds his voice again, determined to not give in to the welling of emotion in his soul. “Apparently where my father’s from, they’re really common, but the idea doesn’t even exist here.”

Armin blinks rapidly as Eren’s words sink in. “You mean, your father’s from the outside world?” Eren nods. “And there’s technology out there that isn’t here?” Eren nods again. “This is incredible! Eren, do you realize what this means?”

“It means there’s something more going on here than just Titan attacks,” says Eren as he looks at the photograph again. His eyes fall on the little boy in the picture, who by now must be a young man, and he wonders what happened to his brother. He wonders what kind of person he is and why their father had to leave him behind; his dad mentioned that something happened to his first wife, so what happened to Zeke? Did he die or did Grisha no longer care about him? Still, his brother’s existence and this photograph brings up an important point. “Armin, how many years was it before the Titans attacked?”

“107,” replies Armin automatically.

“That’s right,” says Eren, tilting the photograph so it can catch the light, showing a slightly reflective surface as a result. “And in that time, has our technology really improved that much?”

Armin ponders that for a few moments and then shakes his head. “No, not really. Everything is relatively the same; no one’s had to learn anything new for generations, even ODM gear is still true to its roots with only minor modifications for longevity and efficiency purposes.”

“Exactly,” says Eren as he puts the photograph back in the book and then puts all three in his rucksack. “We’ve been living like this for 107 years while people across the sea have technology like photographs and who knows what else. They might have even surpassed their previous advances while we’re still stuck in our ways.” He looks at his friend, a dark look in his eyes. “Why do you think that is? Why, for 107 years, has nothing changed?”

“I’m not sure,” says Armin, backing away slightly when he sees Eren’s expression. “If I had to guess, someone’s preventing us from making progress, someone in a high position.”

Eren smirks. “That’s what I was thinking.” He pats his bag. “And right here, in this bag, we have the secrets they’ve been trying to keep from us for decades.”

“Which means they’ll probably come looking for it, should it ever be revealed,” says Armin, glancing at the bag and then back at Eren. “We can’t tell the rest of the populace about this, not until we have a way of ensuring they believe us.”

“I’m not concerned about them knowing about what they’re missing out on,” says Eren as he hands Armin the bag. “What I’m more concerned about is exposing whoever the bastard is who’s oppressing humanity and preventing them from going forward in life; he must be someone powerful if he can keep this many people complacent with their lot in life and not even thinking of doing things differently. There’s more at work here, Armin, more than we even know.”

Armin’s eyes widen, and he looks closely at Eren, wondering how his friend came to that conclusion so quickly. In the past, he was hardly interested in why nothing changed in their day-to-day lives, and now he’s going on about a conspiracy to keep the people from advancing in technology. “What’s gotten into you?”

Eren shrugs. “I’m not really sure, but things are starting to fall into place, at least they are to me. I mean, for gods’ sake Armin, our walls are made of Titans, but we’re at war with them. People like Annie and Reiner just show up out of nowhere and happen to have the ability to become Titans?

“Our goal has revolved around destroying Titans so we can inhabit the world outside of the Walls, but why haven’t we? In 107 years, we should’ve at least made a dent in the population, but we haven’t. People are always encouraged to not join the Survey Corps and to join the Garrison or MPs instead. Why is that? Because once someone caught a glimpse of the outside world, they’d want to keep going and going until they reached the limit, and then travel beyond that. In other words, we’re being encouraged to find safety only within the Walls and never to think that the world beyond is safe or could hold anything of value for us.”

The blond is terrified by how logical Eren sounds. He thought his friend was only focused on fighting the Titans but . . . But it seems he’s been looking at the bigger picture all along.

“You’re scary when you’re rational,” says Armin, shaking his head and Eren chuckles.

“There’s more to me than just being a Shifter,” says Eren, nudging Armin in the arm. “So, how far off do you think I am?”

“I think you hit the bull’s eye,” replies Armin, rubbing his arm slightly. “Everything you just said makes a lot of sense, and it’s terrifying.”

“Well, my dad did teach me to learn from my surroundings,” comments Eren as he prepares to stand up when his eyes fall on something familiar at the back of the desk he neglected to see earlier. Sitting on a pile of books is a teacup and saucer, the same cream-color and pink rose pattern he grew up seeing every day. He reaches out and picks them up, a little surprised to see it down here because his mother’s set was always complete, always ready for company. He glances in it and is surprised to see that it’s incredibly clean, save for a thick layer of dust.

“What’s that?” asks Armin, staring at the cup.

“A cup from my mom’s tea set,” he says quietly, running his thumb over the front pattern to clear away the dust. “It’s the only surviving piece.”

“We should take it, too,” says Armin thoughtfully as he looks around for something to wrap it in. He sees the way Eren’s eyeing the cup, and he can’t bear the thought of telling his best friend just to forget it. “I’m sure the Captain won’t mind you taking a small souvenir from your house.”

Eren smiles gratefully at his friend. “Thanks, Armin.”

“You’re welcome,” says Armin cheerily as he hands Eren a handkerchief he found on one of the bookshelves. “Now, we should—”

Armin’s words are drowned out by a loud, sickening roar that seems to shake the world. The two Scouts freeze in place, their eyes locked on the ceiling before they drift to each other in horror.

“Eren,” says Armin when he notices his friend’s hands shaking. “Eren, the teacup.”

Eren snaps out of whatever trance he’s in and immediately puts the teacup down on the desk. “I need to get up there,” he says resolutely.

“I know,” says Armin, glancing at the low ceiling and stone walls. “I don’t think you can Shift in here; it almost seems designed with Titan Shifters in mind.”

“Where do you suggest then?” asks Eren.

“The door by the stairs,” replies Armin. “But you’ll have a very small window of opportunity. You need to be right at the door, not at the bottom of the stairs or in the hallway. You need to be at the door like you were earlier when you were banging on it.”

Eren nods. “Then you need to stay here until after; the steam and explosion from my Shift might kill you, and this place is safe enough, so long as you close and barricade the door behind me, and probably stay away from the door at all costs.”

Armin nods. “I think it’s best if I stay here anyway. I’ll be able to protect your dad’s things until you get back with the others. There’s more here than I thought and we should take as much as possible.”

“I had a feeling you were going to say that,” says Eren with a smirk. “Foreign knowledge about the outside world? It’s like a feast for your mind.”

Armin blushes while Eren just laughs, knowing his best friend better than he thinks he does.

“Alright, help me clear the desk, we’ll use that to barricade the door,” says Eren as he stands up. Together they carefully but quickly clear the desk of its contents and put it on its side, so the flat side faces the door and they push it right to the door, giving Eren just enough room to slide through. “Remember,” he says sternly as he prepares to close the door, “once you put this in place, get yourself to a safe spot and stay there until you know I’ve Shifted. Then, if you need to, replace the barricade and stay here. I’ll come back to get you when this is over.”

“I know,” says Armin with a bright smile. “I trust you, Eren, I know you’ll come back or send Mikasa.”

“Promise me you won’t do something stupid,” says Eren, giving his friend a hard stare.

Armin laughs. “That’s my line.”

“I promise,” they say in unison, and Eren closes the door.

Armin lets out a shaky breath as he pushes the desk against the door and then he rushes to grab Eren’s bag and some of the books and runs to a far corner on the other side of the room, far away from the door. He makes sure to grab the torch on his way, just in case the steam from Eren’s Shift causes the fire to go out. He huddles against the corner, a little concerned for his safety; what he told Eren is true, his best bet to Shift safely is to do it by the door, but the chance of that working successfully is so small, that this could backfire spectacularly.

“I trust him,” he repeats as he holds his knees to his chest. “I trust him.”

The sound of lightning cracks through Armin’s skull and suddenly the door blows open, sending the desk sailing into the wall across from the door. Its legs smash against the stone, and the wooden surface falls to the ground with a loud crash. The fire goes out from the sudden influx of wind and steam. Armin opens his eyes and blinks to clear his vision. He doesn’t even dare to breathe until he’s sure the house isn’t about to come crashing down on him. There aren’t any sounds of creaking or breaking, nothing to indicate that he’s about to be buried beneath the house.

Armin lets out a small breath and relaxes his grip on the torch when he feels the wood biting his palm. “Thank the gods I was right.”

Chapter Text

“How do you know that name?” demands Mikasa, her tone not betraying the confusion behind the silver in her eyes. No one living should know that name.

Kenny scowls. He’s the one who should be asking the questions here, not that girl. Not when she looks like her. “Never mind that, why do you look like her?”

Mikasa glares at him. “Why wouldn’t I look like my mother?”

Levi can barely contain his surprise. That is certainly not what he expected Mikasa to say. Why does Kenny know Mikasa’s mother? How?

“Mikasa?” asks Kenny, taking a step forward, his eyes wide with disbelief and something else, something softer that Levi can’t properly identify. “Is that really you?”

His eyes widen. How the fuck does he know Mikasa?!

“Who the hell are you?” demands Mikasa, obviously as surprised and confused as Levi. “How do you know my name?”

Kenny chuckles and shakes his head. “I can’t believe it. You two. I should’ve known, but I never thought I’d live to see the day.”

Levi’s grip on his blades tightens. “You might not live much longer, old man. Now, why the fuck are you here?”

“Always so impatient,” says Kenny, clicking his tongue in a fashion similar to Levi’s and the man scowls at the sound. He remembers what it meant when Kenny made that sound, and it was never good. “We’re here for the Shifter and the Princess, now be a good boy and hand them over.”

“No way in hell,” says Levi, ready to attack. He isn’t sure what princess Kenny’s referring to, but he definitely knows who he meant by Shifter. “Scatter!”

The Scouts fire lines off in several directions and fly away with several of Kenny’s men in pursuit behind them. Kenny fires his pistol at Levi, a murderous look in his eye and just as the bullet comes for him, Levi raises his blade and deflects it before kicking off into the air, Mikasa behind him. They head for the center of the district, leading Kenny and his men away from Eren and Armin. Levi realizes that this isn’t exactly why he came up with this plan originally before it was meant for Titans, but this is an acceptable alternative.

In case of being overwhelmed, the Scouts are meant to pair off in teams of two and head for the center of the district to regroup, while hopefully thinning out the crowd before joining back up with the rest. The same principle applies here but he’s worried, the cadets have never faced other humans in combat before, and have never killed a human either. The only exceptions are Eren, Mikasa, and himself. The rest are green in that respect, and he feels a little guilty about having them dirty their hands.

“Who is that man?” asks Mikasa as they run along the top of a crumbling roof while bullets fly past their heads.

“Ever hear of Kenny the Ripper?” asks Levi as he takes a hard left and slides down the side, Mikasa keeping up with every change of direction. Before they reach the end, they fire off their lines into a building diagonal from their position and use their gas to propel them towards it. They can both hear Kenny somewhere behind them, but they don’t stop long enough to determine his exact position. His bullets are enough of an indication.

“You mean the man responsible for killing over a hundred MPs? That’s just a legend,” she says, knowing the myth as nothing more than that. It was a horror story told by drill instructors to the kids who wanted to be part of the Military Police, hoping to either scare them away from joining or determine the strength their resolve. She recalls that Jean and Marco were both horrified by the story.

“Does he look like a legend to you?” snaps Levi, glancing at her over his shoulder and sees her shake her head. “Good, we’re on the same page. Now, how the fuck does he know your mother? Is he your father or something?”

“Obviously not!” snarls Mikasa as she avoids another bullet. Never has she been so glad to have ODM gear. “My father’s name was Silas, and I highly doubt my mother would’ve ever looked twice at a man like Kenny the Ripper. How do you know him? He called you Little Levi, so he’s obviously familiar with you.”

Levi rolls his eyes. Of course, the woman who called him ‘pipsqueak’ would remember that nickname and use it. “He took me in for a year when I was in the Underground. Not sure why, but he said he was a friend of my mother, guess he thought that was reason enough.”

Mikasa raises an eyebrow. “He knew both our mothers?”

“So it would seem,” says Levi before he launches himself into the air and disengages his line before firing it into another building. Thank the gods Eren insisted on fixing his lines last night otherwise this would be an incredibly unpleasant situation.

Mikasa eyes him curiously as she changes direction and follows him. She knows what the plan is, but she doesn’t understand why Levi isn’t even trying to fight Kenny, surely knowing him meant he’d be able to take him? Unless he doesn’t want to try and is just leading him away from Eren, hoping she’ll do the job for him.

“You’re acting like a coward,” she says sternly as they run across the roof of the old schoolhouse. If it were any other time, she would have found it amusing to be on the roof of the place Eren hated the most. “You’re Captain Levi, Humanity’s Strongest Soldier, and right now you’re running away from an Underground thug. You should be fighting him!”

Levi glares at her over his shoulder. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret, Ackerman. He’s the man that taught me how to fight; he taught me strategy and how to adapt. So, of course, I’m not going to fight him, because he has the advantage of knowing everything I’d do because it’s what he would do. Now shut up and focus on avoiding those bullets. I already took a Titan fist for you before; I’m not about to take a bullet for you.”

Mikasa frowns but she understands. If this man truly taught Levi how to fight and how to think strategically, then that means fighting Kenny will be like fighting Levi and so far, no one has gone toe-to-toe with Levi in a straight up fight and come out unscathed. Titans end up dead, and people end up bloody and broken.


 

“Holy shit!” shouts Connie as he barely avoids getting hit in the arm with a bullet. “Where did these assholes get those guns?”

“I don’t know but keep running!” shouts Historia as she barely jumps out of the way of several bullets. Right now they’re swinging between buildings to put some distance between themselves and their pursuers, and they have, but they’ve been able to follow them easily. “We need to get to higher ground!”

“What difference does it make? They have ODM gear too!” cries Connie, fear creeping into his voice as their few options slowly become apparent to him. “We’re going to die, and it’s all Captain Levi’s fault!”

Historia rolls her eyes. She is not in the mood to deal with his fatalist attitude. “What happened, Connie, did Sasha eat your balls or something? Grow the fuck up and quit whining!” She smirks when she sees Connie’s astonished expression. Honestly, she’s a little surprised herself that she said those things, it sounded like something Ymir or Eren would say, but it felt good, and it felt right.

Now that Connie isn’t screaming every two seconds, she can finally focus on their surroundings. The street they’re on is one of the few with buildings in decent condition, and the streets are almost like a labyrinth, twisting and turning in different directions, preventing a clear view of the center. It gives her an idea.

“Connie, go right!” she says as they come up on a fork in the road and she shoots a line right, making sure she’s close to Connie as he fires off his. Once they make the turn, she swings hard and knocks them both through the nearest window. Glass and timber shatter around them, and they crash to the ground in a heap.

Connie sits up and rubs his head as Historia untangles their lower limbs.

“What the fuck was that?” he demands only to have her clamp a hand over his mouth. She presses a finger to her lips and gestures with her head to the window they just broke through.

Connie follows her gaze and watches as moments later the three men from Kenny’s squad that were chasing them come sailing into view before going straight past the building. When they’re gone, Historia removes her hand from Connie’s mouth, and he starts to pant heavily as the adrenaline wears off.

“How did you know that would work?” he asks when he’s finally able to think.

Historia shrugs as she works to reel in her lines, going slowly so she can undo any potential knots or tangles. “I didn’t. I just noticed how the streets were laid out and took a chance. I’m just glad we had as much distance between us as we did. Otherwise, we’d be fucked.”

Connie lets out a snort. “I think this is the most you’ve cussed since joining the military, Toria. Good for you.”

“Thanks,” says Historia with a chuckle. “Ymir would probably say it’s about damn time.”

“We all can agree on that,” says Connie as he stretches his arms, only to wince sharply. He looks down at his left arm and nearly vomits when he sees a huge piece of glass sticking out of his bicep.

Historia notices and immediately pulls out her medical kit from her belt and opens it in her lap. “Don’t move,” she says sternly as she moves closer and takes Connie’s upper arm in her hand, holding it tightly while she grabs onto the piece of glass. “Don’t scream.”

Connie shoves his fist into his mouth as Historia starts to pull the piece out slowly; she can’t go too fast, or it might cause more damage internally. Connie screams against his fist and tears stream down his face as Historia soldiers on. Seconds later, the large shard is in her hand.

“This is going to sting a little, I’m sorry,” she says gently as she reaches for the disinfectant and un-stoppers the bottle.

She pours a decent amount on the wound and Connie shrieks, biting his fist so hard that he draws blood. She gives him a cheery smile as she starts to wrap his bicep; she uses the hand holding his arm to pin the bandage in place while the other one wraps dressing around the wound. When it’s covering the injury completely, she lets go and quickly wraps a few more layers before tying it off.

“Finished,” she says triumphantly, smiling at Connie, who looks like he’s about to faint.

He removes his bloodied hand from his mouth and gives her a weak smile in return. “Thanks, Toria.”

Historia’s grin widens. “You’re welcome, Connie. Now, any other injuries?”

Connie hides his hand and shakes his head. “Nope. Nothing.”

“Good, because now we need to take out those bastards,” says Historia as she finishes pulling her lines back into her belt.

“And how are we going to do that?” asks Connie as he does the same, wincing slightly as he moves his injured arm. “They have guns, and we have blades, we’re completely fucked!”

Historia rolls her eyes. “Yes, but we know how to use ODM gear, and they don’t. We know the weak spots on the gear. Don’t you remember going over this in training?”

Connie shrugs. “Not really, I was just too focused on actually getting to use it.”

“I thought so,” sighs Historia as she looks back out of the window. “We don’t have a lot of time before they figure out that we’re still here, so we need to make this work.”

“What do you suggest we do then, oh high and mighty Scout Princess?” Connie asks with an irritated grunt, completely missing the way Historia’s eyes widened and the surprise on her face. “Do you think we should ambush them?”

“In a sense,” replies Historia, quickly covering up her shock. “We can’t win in a fight, because their guns will take us out in no time, but we can win if we use sabotage and espionage. We can’t engage them in close quarters either, so we’ll need to go back outside if we’re going to do this.”

“What exactly are we going to do?” Connie asks a little nervously. “I . . . I don’t know about you, but I really don’t think I can kill a person. We’ve only been trained to kill Titans.”

“I know,” says Historia thoughtfully as she stands up. Personally, she doesn’t want to end any human lives either; she’d much rather incapacitate than execute. “I thought that we could destroy their gear. We know how to cut ODM lines.” She gestures at her blades. “And once they’re on the ground, we can disable their belts so they can’t use them again.”

“But what about the guns?” presses Connie, unable to get over the fact that they are hopelessly outclassed in the weapons’ department. “Even if we disable the belts, they can still shoot us.”

“Not if we injure them,” counters Historia with a smirk as she reaches out her hand. “I don’t want to kill anyone, but I don’t see any issue hurting them so they can’t use their guns against us.”

When her words and implications sink in, Connie smiles widely as he takes her hand. “Toria, you are a badass! I want to be on your team from here on out!”

Historia giggles as she helps him stand. “Don’t let Sasha hear you say that, or she might get jealous.”

Suddenly a window on the other side of the room breaks and they both jump hands on their blades, ready for a fight.

“Sasha, you idiot!” says Jean as he stands up, his back to Connie and Historia, as he dusts himself off. “If you wanted to crash, you didn’t have to take me with you!”

Sasha’s bright auburn hair pops up in view followed by her big brown eyes. She flashes a huge grin at Connie and Historia before scrambling up from the floor and racing towards them. When they’re in range, she throws her arms around both of them, and they have to brace themselves in order to not fall over in the wake of Sasha’s bear hug.

“I told you I thought our friends were in here!” she declares, looking over at Jean, who is looking completely dumbfounded. “Looks like you owe me dinner!”

“We never agreed to that!” snaps Jean as he crosses the room and stands in front of the three of them. “So how did you two get here?”

“Tricked those idiots chasing us,” replies Connie, smirking at Historia. “It was all Toria’s idea. Came up with it in a split second.”

Jean looks down at Historia curiously. “Really?”

“Always the tone of surprise?” she snipes back, and he frowns. “What about you two? How did you lose yours?”

“A lot of ODM acrobatics,” replies Jean and Sasha nods. He rolls his eyes at her. “You know you can let them go, right? They aren’t going anywhere.”

Sasha shrugs and holds Connie and Historia tighter. “Maybe not but I thought they were dead.”

“Why would you think that?” asks Connie, wrapping an arm around her waist. “Did something happen?”

“Well, we haven’t seen the Captain and Mikasa in a while,” says Jean slowly. “And Eren and Armin are locked in the basement, and we didn’t even see where you two went, so we just assumed that we might be the only ones left.”

Historia rubs Sasha’s back soothingly. “Well, I’m glad that isn’t the case for any of us.” She smiles encouragingly at Jean. “I’m sure Mikasa’s just fine, she’s strong and the Captain’s with her.”

“Yeah but that Kenny guy’s chasing after them,” scoffs Jean and he makes a face. “Is it just me, or did that guy kind of look like the Captain? You know if he had a beard and long hair.”

Connie furrows his brow as he tries to picture the Captain with a beard and long hair. “I guess, maybe a little bit? More so in the eyes, I suppose.”

“He did call him Little Levi,” says Historia as Sasha unwinds her arms from around them. “Maybe he knew him when he was younger?”

“Or he just knows the Captain’s sensitive about being a pipsqueak,” says Jean with a smirk and Historia hits him in the arm. “Ow! What the hell, Toria?”

“Don’t mock the Captain,” snaps Historia as Connie and Sasha snicker. “Anyway, we should really focus on getting rid of those men. They’ll probably come looking for us if we don’t leave soon and I don’t want to be here when they figure out where we are.”

Jean nods, still rubbing his arm. “Agreed. Does anyone have a plan?”

Historia smiles brightly. “I do.”


 

If this blows up in our faces, I’m blaming Armin.

Jean takes a shallow breath, all his body will allow at present, as he skillfully follows their former hunters from high above, keeping to the rooftops and steeples while they scour the streets. There are seven men below, swinging from building to building with the grace of Eren on roller skates, while he effortlessly glides above barely making a sound as he disengages and re-engages his hooks. If it weren’t for their practice runs all month long, Jean doubts any of them would be this skilled on the gear.

He finds it incredibly amusing that these idiots are staying so clustered together. Lesson one in ODM training at basic was never to be close enough to tangle lines, and these guys are tangling lines left and right. He considers just waiting until they’re all knotted up and unable to move, but that would defeat the purpose of the exercise. They need to put these guys out of commission and in order to do that they have to be moving.

Something shiny catches Jean’s eye, and he looks to his right to see Historia flashing her blade at him as she and Sasha moving into position to flank, so he moves more to the left. He can hardly believe that this is the same girl who needed Ymir’s constant supervision during basic. He definitely blames Armin for this entire plan and for putting it in her head to begin with.

A shadow passes over his head, and he looks up to see Connie moving in to ambush from the front. The bald Scout gives him a wide smile as he flies overhead, his movements completely silent and Jean shakes his head. It’s hard to imagine Connie being quiet and focused, but here’s the proof. The same shine flashes in the corner of his eye, and he nods, hoping Historia can see, and he pulls out his blades as a further sign that he understands. This plan is insane and full of holes, just like something Armin would come up with, but if it’s successful, there’s a huge payout in the end, again just like something Armin would think of.

Three short flashes of light tell him to act. He raises his blades and disengages his hooks, falling several feet in the air, praying to any god listening to not let this end with him as a smear on the pavement. When he’s level with the lowest roof, he hooks in one line and swings down like he’s on a swimming hole rope, his blade down and as he swoops, the thin metal designed to kill Titans effortlessly cuts through the lines of four of the men. He lets out a short laugh as the four fall to the ground screaming. More voices join them and he looks up just in time to see Historia and Sasha slicing through several lines while Connie comes up behind him, his blades pointed directly down and cutting through what remains. In a matter of seconds, all seven men are on the ground, stunned, writhing in agony and shouting profanities that would impress Captain Levi.

“Shall we?” asks Jean to Historia and she nods.

The four Scouts then descend on their prey.

Jean puts his blades through the arms of the man closest to him, driving them through the space between his shoulders and chest. The man screams out and curses Jean, but when he tries to reach for his weapons, his arms don’t move, even after Jean extracts his blades. He smirks and moves on to the next one just as Connie comes up and slices the back of the man’s knees. They aren’t going to take any risks.

“The hell is wrong with you people?” demands one of the men as Jean stabs him in the same place as the others. “I thought you Scouts were supposed to be about protecting humanity and shit, not taking out helpless men!”

“Tch,” says Jean, clicking his tongue like Captain Levi. “Don’t make me laugh. You assholes would’ve killed us without hesitating. That’s why you kept shooting at us.”

The man opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out except for a scream as Jean pulls his blades out. He screams louder when Connie comes by.

In moments, the seven men are rendered completely immobile. The four Scouts regroup and look at their work, their blades dripping with human blood and their faces drawn in grim expressions. This isn’t what they signed up for; they never wanted to hurt another human they wanted to save humanity. They weren’t trained for this and yet they did it anyway, they fought against their own kind to stay alive and live to fight another day. They each hope that the piece of their soul they paid today is enough.

“I told them to watch out for those blades,” says a voice. A clear, calm voice that has echoed in their minds for months, a voice none of them ever thought they’d hear again.

Jean looks up and sees a man standing just a few feet away, he’s wearing brown pants and a white collared shirt, ODM gear is strapped to his waist, and Jean nearly faints when he sees his face. “Marco?” he asks, taking a step forward, his eyes wide with disbelief. “Marco, is that you?”

“Wow, you actually remember me,” says Marco with a smirk, his hazel eyes resting heavily on Jean. “I didn’t think you would.”

“Of course I would remember you!” cries Jean, teetering between hysteria and elation. “Marco, how the hell are you still alive? I saw your body! I saw it burned.”

Marco chuckles. “It seems I chose my body double well if it fooled even you, Jean.”

Jean’s mind is swimming with hundreds of questions, some he wants to be answered now and some he never wants to know the answers to. He can’t even begin to comprehend that his best friend, his comrade, is still alive and has been this entire time.

“You look a little surprised, Jean,” says Marco, still smirking. “Did you honestly believe I was dead or did you just assume as much because you saw a half-eaten body?”

“I thought you were dead,” says Jean, swallowing the lump in his throat. “I thought you were killed by the Titans. That’s why I joined the Survey Corps, to avenge your death and prevent others from suffering the same fate.”

Marco laughs. “I always knew you had a big heart but this . . . This is just unbelievable! You nearly pissed yourself when they told us about Kenny the Ripper, and here you are, stabbing people and killing Titans without a second thought.” He wipes the corner of his eye. “Well, why don’t we see how you are against a Titan?”

To Jean’s horror, Marco brings his hand up to his mouth and with a smile, bites down on it hard enough to draw blood. Suddenly there’s an explosion of steam and a bolt of yellow lightning followed by a loud, earth-shaking roar.

Chapter Text

The roar rattles in Levi’s skull as he takes a hard left, hoping to lead Kenny as far away from Eren and his squad as possible. His blood turns to ice and time seems to slow down as it sinks in that Kenny has a Shifter on his side or at least, a Shifter that is very likely against their squad. He wants to look and see where it is and what kind but he forces himself to keep looking forward, he can’t give away any indication to Kenny that having a Shifter around makes him concerned; it would be as good as shitting his pants in the man’s eyes. He can only hope that wherever Eren is, he’s safe.

“Captain!” shouts Mikasa and he glances at her just as a bullet passes by his ear.

How much ammunition does the son of a bitch have?

“We need to go back!” she continues, and he rolls his eyes. He’s just as worried about Eren, perhaps even more so, but they can’t afford to lead Kenny back to Eren’s location. Besides, the Shifter’s roar didn’t sound like it was coming from that direction, more like it came from nearer the center of town . . .

“Oh fuck!” he cries as images of Jean, Historia, Sasha, and Connie flash in his mind. His squad is with the Shifter. He knows he shouldn’t worry about them, that they can take care of themselves and that he needs to focus on Kenny, and just as though crosses his mind more images flash:

Olou broken and bloodied on the ground.

Gunther torn cleanly in half.

Eld splattered against a tree.

Petra impaled on a tree branch.

Eren falling out of the Female Titan’s mouth, covered in slime and appearing dead.

This is almost exactly like when the Female Titan first attacked. He was separated from his squad, trying to complete an assignment Erwin gave him while the others did their best to keep Eren safe as he instructed. Blood roars in his ears as the Shifter roars again. His mind flashes again, and he sees himself flying with his gear, hearing another roar calling him deeper into that forest, and he changed course in a split second. He knew what was waiting for him when he did that, and he still went; he knew Eren wouldn’t have Shifted unless something happened to the others because he’d already said he trusted them to do their duty.

He can’t do it again. He won’t lose his squad to another goddamn Shifter. He won’t give another Shifter the chance to take Eren. Never again.

“Ackerman!” he shouts, and Mikasa looks at him just as he unhooks his line and swings wide around a big mess of ruin.

She sighs; she realizes what his plan is before he even has the chance to tell her. She does as he does and swings around the pile that used to be a church’s steeple and falls back into line behind Levi. It feels strange to so willingly trust him with her life and with Eren’s—mostly because she believes she can do a better job—but she forces herself to have some faith in Levi because Eren does. Eren implicitly trusts Levi and so, she will too, for the time being.

They are flying towards the origin point of the roar just as she suspected and in seconds, she sees the Titan Shifter swiping at buildings with large hands. It’s at least twelve or thirteen meters tall, proportionally human-like Eren’s Titan but with a slightly bigger head and obviously hands, from what she can see. What she isn’t prepared for is the moment it turns around, and she sees a pair of dark brown eyes, human eyes, and a faint dusting of freckles running underneath the eyes.

“Marco!” she realizes, and Levi looks back at her, his eyes betraying his disbelief that she knows the Shifter. “Marco Bott. He was part of our training corps and died at Trost.”

“Apparently not,” says Levi flatly and it dawns on him that bullets are no longer flying past him. He turns his head and sees that he and Mikasa are alone. Kenny and his men are nowhere to be seen. “Shit. Well, I guess he knew what I was trying to do after all.”

He had planned to lead Kenny and his men back towards the Shifter, his hope being if he could meet up with his squad, they could take them both on together. Kenny saw through it almost immediately. In hindsight, it wasn’t his greatest plan.

“What do we do now?” asks Mikasa as they start running on top of a roof near the Shifter.

Levi opens his mouth to reply when something catches his eye. He looks over and sees almost a dozen or more normal Titans coming in through the hole in the Wall. He then looks at the Shifter and curses him to every hell and torment he can think of.

Of course, the bastard would call in help. He probably knows we’re outnumbered and running on fumes.

“Captain!” he hears people cry and he looks over to see Jean, Connie, Sasha, and Historia standing at the top of the bell tower of a large building, waving their blades and jumping up and down to get his attention. He breathes a small sigh of relief. At least they’re alive.

He signals to Mikasa and they quickly fire their lines in the roof of the bell tower. They fly across the gap between buildings, and Marco swipes at them, his sharp talons aimed at their lines and he snags them before either can move out of the way. Their lines break like fishing twine, and they fall to the ground. Levi reaches for Mikasa and grabs the end of her scarf; he pulls hard, and she comes sailing over, her upper half drapes over his chest, and he holds her tightly just as they hit the ground.

Mikasa is the first to come to her senses and instantaneously disentangles herself from Levi’s grip, slightly mortified at being saved by the pipsqueak. She readjusts her scarf, so it’s no longer choking her and checks to make sure it isn’t ripped. Then her attention turns to Levi. He’s still lying flat on his back in the dirt, his eyes closed and he doesn’t appear to be breathing.

“Captain,” she says tentatively as she reaches out and touches his shoulder. She shakes him slightly, and he doesn’t stir. “Oh no.” She moves her hand to underneath his head; planning to lift him and move him out of the way when her hand touches something warm and wet. She retracts her hand and gasps when she sees it covered in blood. Covered in the Captain’s blood. Her eyes dart from her hand to Levi and back again as the message starts to sink in. The Captain’s hurt, and he’s dying.

Mikasa scowls at the man as she gathers him into her lap. “You’re not dying on me, Captain,” she says sternly as she secures him against her chest and goes to stand up. “I’ll never forgive you if you leave Eren.”

She stands up and tries to take a step forward only for her legs to give out from under her. Mikasa barely has time to shield Levi from the impact and only does so because she throws an arm out to catch herself. Panic floods her body, and she looks over her shoulder at her legs and to her horror, finds that one of her feet is twisted the wrong way on one leg. She moves the other leg and cries out in pain from the movement. She manages to look at it better and sees that her knee is completely bloodied.

Just then the earth begins to shake. Mikasa calmly raises her gaze and sees two 10-meter class Titans standing there, looking hungrily at her and Levi. The Shifter, Marco, is standing behind them with almost a smirk on his lips. Mikasa almost laughs.

“Hold on, Mikasa!” says Jean just as he comes sailing into view, deftly cutting into one of the 10-meter Titans, only to have to swing around to avoid Marco’s grasp.

“Fuck you, Marco!” shouts Connie as he comes to Jean’s aid, slicing a couple of Marco’s fingers off.

“Completely agree, Connie,” says Historia as she takes down the second Titan while Sasha keeps Marco distracted by flying in tight formation around him.

Jean takes the opportunity to land by Mikasa. He grimaces when he sees her knee. “How bad’s the other one?”

“My ankle’s broken,” she replies as she starts to hand off Levi. “Take him, his head’s bleeding.”

“Incoming!” says Sasha as she lands on Mikasa’s other side. She swallows a mouthful of bile when she sees Mikasa’s twisted foot. She forces herself to smile at the scowling girl. “It doesn’t look too bad. Least the Captain saved you from a head injury.”

“And got himself one in the process,” says Jean as he gingerly takes Levi from Mikasa and situates him bridal style in his arms. Blood is running down Levi’s neck, and his face appears paler than usual. He’s already lost a substantial amount of blood. “Fuck, this is bad.”

“I know,” says Mikasa as she and Sasha work to get her to her feet. She throws an arm around her shoulders while Sasha wraps one around her waist. “We need to get to higher ground before we do anything else. Be careful with him, Jean. Please.”

Jean nods, noting the hard and gentle way she’s looking at Levi, who appears smaller than before in Jean’s arms. He’s never seen Mikasa look so tenderly at someone before, not someone who wasn’t Eren. Jean manages to beat back the jealousy that flares up in his chest and focus on ensuring the Captain is secure. He grips Levi tighter and he and Sasha fire off their lines back into the bell tower. With their injured charges, they try to fly up as carefully as they can, both praying that Connie and Historia can distract Marco long enough that they can get to safety.

By the grace of some nameless, faceless god, they make it to the top. Sasha deposits Mikasa in one corner while Jean lays Levi down in another; straightaway they pull out their medical kits and begin treating their respective patients. Sasha starts with Mikasa’s broken ankle, swallowing more bile as she forces Mikasa’s leg straight.

“Do you want a belt?” asks Sasha, gesturing at the belt around her waist.

Mikasa shakes her head. “No, just get it done.”

Sasha nods and, after taking several breaths to calm her shaking hands, pulls hard on Mikasa’s leg and foot. The pain is so intense, Mikasa nearly bites through her lip in her effort to keep from screaming, and Sasha flinches hard, thinking that Mikasa is about to take her head off with her blade. When it becomes apparent to both that they survived the situation, Sahsa proceeds to remove Mikasa’s boot and sets up a splint with two flat-ish pieces of wood nearby and several layers of bandages. She then puts the boot back on and tightens the laces around the ankle just a few fractions to give an extra layer of stability while keeping the stays near the top the same as before to allow for better blood flow.

“You’re a decent nurse now,” comments Mikasa, trying to disguise her pained panting.

Sasha smiles kindly. “Historia taught me. She’s always had a knack for it while I just liked to wrap people in as many bandages as possible. She was really patient with me.”

Mikasa gives her a faint smile. “Please tell me that wasn’t a nurse pun.”

Sasha grins. “I won’t deny nor confirm.”

“You’ve been around Connie too much,” retorts Mikasa, earning her a dark red blush from the other girl. Mikasa notes that her blush is almost the same color as her hair.

“Or not enough,” counters Sasha as she reaches for her antiseptic and Mikasa’s bloody knee. The white fabric of her pants is now completely soaked in blood and looks like it was always red instead of snow white. Sasha puts the antiseptic down and reaches instead for her water. “This is going to hurt.”

“Can’t be worse than you setting my ankle,” says Mikasa calmly, but she mentally braces herself for the pain anyway.

Sasha holds her leg steady and then pours the water over the injury, counting to four before she takes it away and starts wiping away as much blood and grime as she can. Eventually, she sees the cut and mentally curses that Mikasa will probably need stitches once they get back. She then douses the wound in antiseptic and wraps it with her remaining bandages; within seconds blood is blooming on the fabric.

“Damn,” she mutters as she reaches for something else to use, but Mikasa waves her off.

“It’s not seeping through, so it’s fine,” says Mikasa and she turns to look at Levi just as Jean finishes his medical work. “How’s the Captain?”

Jean notes, with some pride, that Mikasa referred to Levi as ‘the Captain’ instead of his first name like Eren sometimes does and it eases the jealousy in his heart. “He’s fine,” says Jean as he looks at the battered and bloodied Mikasa. His heart aches at the sight, and he wishes he could comfort her somehow or take her injuries away. “As far as I can tell, the wound isn’t as bad as it looked, I think the Captain’s just a bleeder. What really did him in was the hit he took, knocked him out good.”

Connie and Historia come sailing in seconds later, both covered in cuts and quickly dissipating Titan blood. Connie collapses at Sasha’s side, and Historia falls in a corner, both breathing hard enough that they can’t speak right away.

“We need to get out of here,” Historia manages to say between panting bouts. “I saw more Titans than just those two and Marco.”

“So that is Marco,” says Mikasa with a barely contained snarl. “I thought that thing was him. His Titan has the same freckle pattern.”

“Yeah, turns out, he’s been a traitor all along,” says Jean gruffly as he moves away from Levi and towards Mikasa. “He faked his death back in Trost. I’m not sure how but he sacrificed someone in his place.”

Historia’s eyes widen. “Oh, gods. Do you think it was someone else in the training corps?”

“It’s a good possibility,” says Jean bitterly. His light bourbon eyes are staring at the man, the monster, who used to be his best friend. No, not my friend, he was never my friend because the man I knew wasn’t Marco. He’s always been, my enemy. “Anyway, we can’t worry about that now. We need to figure out how we’re going to get the hell out of here and get Eren and Armin.”

Connie shakes his head, his gaze tired and body sagging further against the stone behind him. “I don’t think we are getting out of this, Jean. Sure we’re safe up here, but eventually, more Titans will come, and we’ll be overwhelmed. Not to mention, we don’t have Eren’s Titan or Armin’s strategic mind. And without Mikasa and the Captain, we’re definitely screwed. We’re not getting out of this, no way in hell.”

“Such a fucking pessimist,” says Historia, earning her a quizzical look from Mikasa. “Yes, Mikasa, I can swear. I just choose to save it for when it’s necessary.”

“Like death,” says Connie and Historia looks ready to pound him into the floor.

Historia opens her mouth to retort when a loud, thundering, strong roar cuts her off. Her eyes shoot up, and she almost bursts into tears when she sees Eren in Titan form charging through town, his eyes full of murderous and righteous intent. When she first saw Eren’s Titan, she’d been afraid of it, afraid of what it meant for her friends and humanity, but now it fills her with awe and pride. This man, this creature, is on their side and he’ll take every hit coming to him if it means another day for humanity. She’s almost jealous of the way Eren’s presence tends to inspire the very best in the Scouts and those fighting around them.

She jumps to her feet and rushes to stand at the other side, smiling widely as Eren comes running up. His green eyes fall on her briefly, and he nods before he goes straight for Marco, tackling the other Shifter to the ground while the few surrounding Titans watch on in confusion. Historia cheers loudly as Eren puts Marco into a strong hold, that is until Marco opens his mouth to bite Eren’s arm. Her voice fades out, and her eyes fill with tears when she sees the rows of silver, sharp pointy teeth in Marco’s mouth. An image in her mind flashes of another time she saw those teeth, on a different Titan Shifter and a strong surge of hate rises within her heart.

“You son of a bitch!” she roars, her bright blue eyes shining with the fires of hell. “What the fuck did you do to her?! What did you do to my Ymir?!” She starts to climb over the wall when someone grabs her waist and pulls her back. She fights against their grip, struggling to be free in order to destroy the bastard who hurt her Ymir.

“Toria, calm down!” says Jean, his grip on her waist tightening. “Goddamn, could you just stop moving for two seconds?! Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

“He did something to Ymir!” she rages as she continues to struggle against Jean’s grip. “Marco has the same power she does. He did something to her!”

Jean’s eyes widen in surprise, and it’s enough to loosen his grasp for Historia to free herself. He lets her go this time.

“If you go, don’t tell Eren,” says Mikasa sternly, leveling a warning look at Historia as she prepares to jump over the wall again. “He can’t know that the Shifter is Marco.”

“Why not?” asks Sasha curiously.

“Because the idiot can’t do what’s necessary if he knows his enemy is a former friend,” says a scraggly voice and they all turn to see Levi staring at them.

“Captain!” they all cry in unison, their joy at his survival evident in their voices and faces.

Levi tries to scoff and roll his eyes, but the effort is too much, so he instead gives them a fond frown. “Yeah, I’m alive,” he says with a slight groan as he moves to sit up. “Ackerman, any injuries?”

“Both legs sustained an injury,” replies Sasha before Mikasa can lie. She knows the other girl well enough to know she won’t tell the Captain the truth about her wounds, just like she won’t tell Eren. “Right ankle is broken, and left knee requires stitches.”

Guilt settles in Levi’s chest. He’d tried to prevent Mikasa from being injured during their fall, but it seems that he failed. “Alright,” he says, glancing at the Scout in question. “You’re on standby, Ackerman. Kirstein, you and I—”

“Uh yeah, not happening,” interrupts Jean firmly, earning him a glare from his superior. “Your head was nearly cracked open, Captain, so you’re on stand-by as well.”

“And what the fuck gives you the right to say that?” snaps Levi, his grey eyes like ice as his hand goes up to his head. His fingers graze the familiar fabric of standard-issue medical bandages.

Jean bravely meets the Captain’s gaze. “Because I’m fourth in command. If you, Mikasa, and Eren are all incapacitated, then I’m in command of Squad Levi. Remember? We came up with that chain of command during our first week of training for this mission.”

“What happened to Eren?” asks Levi, wincing at how desperate he sounds.

Jean raises an eyebrow but says nothing about Levi’s tone. “Well, right now he’s a Titan so unless he can talk, he’s technically incapacitated.”

Levi sighs heavily. “Fine. Kirstein, what’s the situation?”

“Right now, we’re currently pinned by the enemy in this bell tower,” explains Jean, knowing Levi needs as many details as possible for any kind of plan to work. “We’re no longer being pursued by Kenny and his men, but we’re dealing with a Shifter and Titans. So far we’ve only seen two and killed them both.”

“More have joined,” Historia chimes in. “Last I counted there were at least six, all surrounding Marco. It almost looked like they’re waiting for a command.”

“Did Marco call them?” asks Levi, looking at her.

“Yes,” replies Historia. “Eren just arrived a couple of minutes ago, and the Titans have been there longer. I saw two eating the men that Jean, Sasha, Connie, and I disabled earlier.”

Levi nods. Leave it to his squad to do exactly what needs to be done. “Were they dead?”

Historia shakes her head. “No sir, we merely cut their ODM lines and ensured that they couldn’t move anymore.”

“Not bad,” says Levi, pride swelling in his chest and momentarily outshining the guilt he’s feeling over Mikasa’s injuries. While it’s not exactly what he would’ve liked, he’s still impressed by his Scouts; they’ve already done more than he thought them capable that morning. “How’s everyone doing on gas?”

“I’m out,” says Jean, showing the Captain his gauge. “I used what I had left to get you up here.”

“Same,” says Sasha sheepishly. “We tried to conserve as much as possible, but it was hard when we had to keep away from those guys with guns.”

“I’ve got about a fourth left,” says Connie and Historia nods, confirming that she has the same amount.

“I have a third,” replies Mikasa. “And you?”

“The same,” says Levi just as Eren roars again. He looks up and watches as Eren executes a series of kicks that he taught him just a week ago. “Do you all still have your spares?”

They nod.

“Good,” he says as he tries to come up with a plan. What he wouldn’t give to have Armin with them now. “Kirstein, Blaus, take mine and Ackerman’s canisters. Better yet, Reiss, you and Blaus switch so you have mine and she has yours.” He rubs the bridge of his nose as his plan starts to unfold in his mind. “Reiss, how many Titans are there now?”

Historia looks down and notes with a sinking stomach that there are now almost twelve and none of the men from before and visible. She can only surmise that they were eaten. “Twelve, sir. Two 8-meters, four 6-meters, and six 10-meters in addition to the 15-meter Shifter and 12-meter Shifter.”

“Marco’s that small?” asks Connie and Historia nods. “Damn, I thought he’d be bigger. I mean Reiner and Bertoldt were huge! Not to mention Annie was as big as Eren.”

“Getting back on track,” says Levi sternly and Connie lowers his head bashfully. “Blaus and Springer, focus on the 6-meters. Kirstein and Reiss, work on the 8-meters and if you can, start on the 10-meters. Blaus, Springer, assist when you can but keep an eye on your gas. Only use your spares if you absolutely have to. Remember, we still have to get out of here.”

Connie snickers. “At this point, we should just ride on Eren.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” says Levi, earning him startled looks from his squad. “If worst comes to worst, then we’ll have Eren take us back in Titan form.” He almost feels stupid for not having thought of it sooner. “Now, I don’t care how you do it, but those Titans need to be taken down as fast as possible. Remember your objectives and protect Eren. If you see an opening, take down Bott. If you can, go back and get Arlert. I’d wager my dinner that Eren left him in the basement and whatever they found is more than they can carry back.”

“I can go back for him,” offers Historia and Levi shakes his head.

“I just said only if necessary, Reiss,” he repeats strictly. “Our main objective is taking down Bott and protecting Eren. Arlert is secondary.” He notices the way her gaze hardens. “I’m sorry, but we have more pressing issues and can’t spare the manpower.”

Historia says nothing and gives him a curt nod.

“Now go,” says Levi, glancing at each member in turn. “On the battlefield, Kirstein is in charge, so look to him to lead you. Ackerman and I should be safe up here, so don’t waste energy worrying about us.”

The Scouts stand up and salute him. “Yes, sir!”

One by one, they jump over the wall of the bell tower, firing lines in all directions as they head down to complete their objectives. When they’re gone, Levi’s strength gives out and he lies back down on the cold floor, noticing that his cloak is being used as his pillow.

“What about Kenny?” asks Mikasa and Levi moves his head to look at her.

“He’s gone,” he says with a shrug. “Bott’s Shift served as a decent enough distraction, and Kenny probably knew that his men hadn’t killed anyone, so he took the chance to leave. At least, that’s what I would’ve done.”

“I didn’t take you as someone to run away,” says Mikasa coldly.

“Tactfully retreating is not the same thing as running away,” explains Levi patiently. “It means you know you’re dead if you stay, so you gather your resources and leave until you can regroup and overwhelm. I’ve done it before with Titans and my previous squad.”

Mikasa shifts a little, so her legs are more comfortable. “Thank you, for saving me.”

“You’re injured,” he points out.

“It doesn’t count if you’re still hurt.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she says calmly.

“It could’ve been worse.”

Levi gives her a half-hearted shrug. “If you say so.”

“What was your mother’s name?” asks Mikasa suddenly and Levi’s eyes snap back up to her face.

“Why?” he asks warily.

“Because maybe our mothers were friends,” she explains, going off of the fact that Kenny seemed to be friends of their mothers.

Levi can see the intent of her question straight away. “Kuchel.”

Mikasa’s eyes widen and then she looks down at her lap. She knows that name and has for many years. “Once upon a time in the high mountains, there lived three children,” she says quietly, repeating the start of a bedtime story her mother told her growing up. “The oldest was called Kenny, his job was to protect Kuchel, the middle child, and her job was to protect Kaileah, the youngest. Kaileah’s job was to protect Kenny and Kuchel because they wouldn’t do it themselves.

“The three children loved each other very much and never went anywhere without the others. Kenny liked to climb rocks and always carried Kaileah on his back while Kuchel raced him to the top. Kaileah liked to play in the trees and would swing from branch to branch while Kuchel and Kenny chased after her. Kuchel liked to play in the cold mountain water and taught herself how to swim like a fish, and then she taught Kenny and Kaileah. They were very happy in the mountains and never dreamed of leaving, even though one day, they would leave their mountain home.”

Levi’s eyes are wet and full of disbelief. What few memories he has of his mother came forward during Mikasa’s story, and he doesn’t recall her ever telling him about anyone named Kenny or Kaileah. “I’ve never heard that story.”

Mikasa smiles gently at him. “I doubt you would; my mother made it up when I was very little. It was how she told me stories about her, her older brother and her older sister.”

“Sister and brother?” repeats Levi, his heart pounding hard in his chest as his mind came to the only conclusion it could make. “You mean, our mothers . . .”

“Were sisters,” finishes Mikasa calmly, with a slight smile. “And Kenny was their older brother. Which means, he’s my uncle.” She swallows hard. “He’s our uncle.”

“We’re cousins,” says Levi, barely able to comprehend this newfound knowledge. Mikasa nods. “We’re cousins.”

“Yes,” she says, and she undoes the sleeve on her right arm. The fabric falls away to reveal something branded into the skin of her wrist. The mark is of a large letter ‘A’ in a circle; the middle line of the letter goes out on both sides until it touches the circle, the far left line of the letter stretches until both ends hit the circle and the right line’s lower half extends until it touches and disappears into the circle like the others. “We’re Ackerman.”

“I’m an Ackerman,” says Levi as a small smile pulls at his lips. “I’m Levi Ackerman.”

Mikasa’s smile warms. “Nice to meet you, Levi Ackerman. I’m Mikasa Ackerman, your cousin. Your mother was Kuchel Ackerman, and your aunt was Kaileah Ackerman.”

“And that son of a bitch Kenny Ackerman is our uncle,” says Levi in disgust. He knows he shouldn’t care, but he feels hurt and betrayed by the man he looked up to as a father when he was younger. The man lied about how he knew his mother; he didn’t even try to tell him about her or their family, hell he didn’t even know he had a family until this moment. He thought all he had was his mother and part of him feels like Kenny stole that away from him.

“I want to hear more about your mother,” says Mikasa kindly, shaking him from his thoughts. “I know what my mother told me, but you probably know more.”

Levi looks at her sadly. “My mother died when I was six, Mikasa. You probably know more than I do. I would like to hear more about your mother, though and everything you know about our family.” It feels so strange to say ‘our’ and ‘family’ in the same sentence regarding Mikasa.

“I’ll tell you anything you want,” she readily agrees as a sly glint shines in her eyes. “You know, you just called me by my first name.”

“So I did,” acknowledges Levi kindly. “Wouldn’t do to keep calling my cousin by our last name, now would it?”

“No, it wouldn’t,” agrees Mikasa, chuckling slightly. Out of everything that could’ve happened, she never expected to find out that Levi was her mother’s older sister’s son. Still, she can’t say she minds saying that Captain Levi is her cousin.

“Eren!” they hear Historia scream and both Ackerman scramble to get up and see what’s happening on the battlefield.

Levi manages and looks down in horror. Eren’s head is stuck in the top floor of a building, his arms ripped off and legs torn apart. He watches as Marco digs his clawed fingers into Eren’s head and bares his pointed fangs as he exposes Eren’s weak point.

“EREN!” Levi cries out just as Marco’s teeth sink into Eren’s nape.

Chapter Text

“What happened?!” exclaims Mikasa as she struggles to stand, her battered legs giving out with each effort despite her determination. “Captain, what happened to Eren?”

Levi can’t even speak. His eyes are glued on Eren and Marco, waiting for something to happen and wondering why nothing has yet. Eren is still pinned by Marco, his limbs steaming as they begin to regenerate, and Marco’s mouth is still on Eren’s nape. His heart is galloping in his chest as he watches Marco slowly move away from Eren. Marco lifts his head, and Levi nearly laughs when he sees the Shifter’s mangled mouth. Where there had once been magnificent shiny silver teeth, there is now nothing except small shattered shards hanging down from ruddy pink gums.

“How in the hell . . .?” Levi wonders as his gaze goes back to Eren’s nape and he braces against the nearest solid surface when he sees why Marco’s teeth broke. Sparkling on Eren’s nape in the afternoon sun is a large chunk of clear, hard, crystal. “I don’t fucking believe it!”

“What?!” demands Mikasa, panting from the effort of trying to stand and shaking from the pain. “Captain, what’s going on?”

Levi turns to her, a small and genuine smile on his lips and she instantly freezes, terrified and in awe of seeing something so rare and beautiful. “Eren learned how to harden his body.”

Mikasa’s eyes widen. “You mean he can make crystals like Annie?”

Levi nods. “He made them on his neck and broke all of Bott’s teeth in the process.” He chuckles slightly, a tense and airy kind of laugh. “Well, I’ll be damned. We might be able to salvage this mission after all.”

Mikasa opens her mouth to comment further when a familiar sound draws her attention away from Levi and the battle and towards her left. In the distance, she sees a plume of green smoke sailing straight up in the air, and she hurries to grab her signal gun. She loads in a black round and aims towards the open air, she covers the ear nearest the gun and fires it off. The sound causes Levi to turn around and see what’s going on. He swats away the smoke circling his face, and his eyes follow the tail just in time to see a black column shoot up into the air maybe a half-mile or more away.

Here comes the Calvary.

“Go Eren!” cry the Scouts from the rooftops as Marco staggers backward, spitting out pieces of his teeth as Eren stands upright on his newly regenerated legs. Marco’s fingers, on one hand, are steaming as well as five large talons break free of Eren’s mess of long chocolate hair. His arms are still steaming but that hardly matters, Marco is obviously on the defensive now that he doesn’t have his biggest fighting assets.

Good, the bastard’s down. Now to finish it.

Eren stares at the other Shifter, his green eyes an emerald blaze and he opens his mouth, letting out a loud and angry roar before he charges straight at Marco. He opens his mouth and goes straight for Marco’s arm, biting down on his flesh in seconds and he tears off the offending appendage in one clean motion. He spits it out on the ground and roars again as Marco begins to retreat, running down the nearest street.

“Eren!” cries Levi from above and Eren, who is just about to give chase, halts and turns around to face his captain. He can just see him at the top of the bell tower.

My Captain. My Levi.

“Eren, forget that fucker and go fix the Wall!” orders Levi, pointing in the direction of the hole.

But the other Titans. The Squad needs me.

Eren looks at the steaming Titan bodies around him and the few remaining Titans that his friends are fighting. There are six remaining and reasonably difficult ones at that, he needs to stay, and he needs to help.

“Erwin and Hanji are coming this way!” says Levi, likely knowing why Eren is hesitating. “Go fix the Wall and then come back. Understand?”

Eren nods and begins walking away from the battle and towards the Wall.

“Kirstein, Reiss!” calls Levi, and the two Scouts look up in his direction. “You two go find the Shifter and put an end to him. Blaus, Springer! Go and protect Eren, don’t let any Titans near him. All of you use your other gas canisters if you have to, but get this shit done! Am I understood?”

The Scouts salute in response. Connie and Sasha quickly replace their practically empty canisters of gas with fresh ones and head off in Eren’s direction, keeping a safe distance while luring the few remaining Titans away from Eren. Historia and Jean do the same before heading in Marco’s direction, taking down two of the three remaining Titans in the area. One 10-meter class Titan remains among the steaming corpses of the others, and Levi lets out a heavy sigh. More lives lost and wasted for the sake of this pathetic war, this war of Titans and humans, this war of humans against humans. It makes him sick to think that someone actually used humans to create these twisted monsters, to make them mindless human eating monstrosities that only serve the purpose of cutting down the population.

He wonders if someone here in the Walls created them or if someone else created them a long time ago, leaving them here for a time like this. It pisses him off to think about someone actively creating these monsters just to unleash them on an unsuspecting population, using other humans as test subjects.

What did those people do to deserve being turned into Titans?


 

“Do you think if we asked, Eren would give us a ride?” asks Sasha as she kills one of the 10-meters following Eren.

Connie shrugs as he takes down the last one. “Maybe. It sure as hell would be easier than trying to keep up with him on ODM gear.”

“And more fun!” says Sasha excitedly as she fires a line into Eren’s shoulder blade, pulling herself through the steam and onto his shoulder, sitting above his collarbone. “Hey Eren, do you mind if Connie and I catch a ride?”

Eren gives her a sideways look and shakes his head, indicating that he didn’t mind if they sat on him and moments later, Connie sits beside Sasha, both smiling at him like idiots.

“Thanks, Eren!” says Sasha brightly, patting his neck and he continues to walk.

The two Scouts settle in, and each uses a hook to anchor themselves onto Eren’s shoulder, having the decency to warn him beforehand. They’re surprised by how warm and soft he is to the touch; they know Titans are warm but Eren is like a pleasant inferno, and his body appears to be made of solid muscle, but his skin is actually very soft.

Connie stretches out and puts his blades away. He only has two left, and he wants to make sure they stay safe. “This is great,” he says as he moves a little closer to Sasha. “When this war’s over, we should use Eren as a mode of transportation in and out of the Walls. We would make a fortune!”

Sasha giggles. “I don’t think Eren would find doing that all that fun. He’d probably throw people off if they pissed him off.”

Connie shrugs. “So? Anyone dumb enough to piss off a Titan should be thrown. So, do you think the Captain would agree?”

“No, I don’t think so,” says Sasha with a shrug. “Besides, even if he did, he’d probably make us use the money for the Corps instead of on personal stuff like meat or cheese or wine or mead or pie or—”

“Sash, stop, you’re making me hungry,” says Connie with a short laugh. “You know, I just realized that we haven’t actually eaten since last night at dinner. This morning was shit for eating; we had to get ready before the sun was even up.”

Sasha nods. “Yeah, we didn’t really have a chance to eat anything except ration bars.” Her face scrunches up in disgust. “I hate those things. They’re hardly edible and are completely flavorless unless you cover them in something first.”

Connie nods. “I’d rather starve than eat those things.” He lets out a long sigh. “I wish my dream last night had been real.”

“Why? What did you dream about?” asks Sasha somewhat nervously, recalling the previous evening when Captain Levi teased Connie a little about dreaming about her and a piece of meat.

Connie looks off into the distance as his muddy eyes cloud over with the fog of memories. “My family,” he says quietly. “I dreamt that I was back in my village with my parents.” He gives her a gentle smile. “I was introducing you—and the rest of the Squad to them.” He can’t tell her that he dreamt that they were engaged and she was meeting his parents. That would be horrible, not to mention incredibly awkward! “And my ma made rabbit stew with cornbread, and my pop was serving us his famous pumpkin cider.”

“Pumpkin cider?” asks Sasha with a crooked smile. She’d never heard of such a thing.

Connie beams proudly. “It was his own invention. Pop hated apple cider but he loved pumpkins, so one day he decided that he would make pumpkin cider. It took him almost two months to get the recipe just right, and I was always his taster. Some of his early batches were gods-awful, and I would spit them out without even trying to swallow. This one time, I missed the bucket he gave me and ended up spitting the stuff all over his shirt.”

Sasha chuckles and Connie shakes his head at the memory of his younger self, staring at his dad with wide eyes and a nervous smile.

“Pop didn’t say anything for a while,” continues Connie, his voice taking on a nostalgic tone. “We just stared at each other and then he started laughing. I was scared shitless, so I thought he was about to kill me, but he just kept laughing and laughing until he finally said, “I guess that batch was terrible, huh son?” and then I started laughing because I knew that he wasn’t mad at me. Still, I tried to aim into the bucket after that.”

Sasha laughs and holds Connie’s hand. “You’ve never told me that story before.”

Connie shrugs, squeezing her hand. “I’d completely forgotten about it until I had that dream.” His voice loses its cheerful edge and his eyes mist over. “I miss them, Sash.”

“I know,” says Sasha kindly. Ever since he and Hanji discovered what happened in his village, Connie’s refused to speak about it or his family since. Instead, he’s just avoided the topic entirely, and whenever she’s tried to get him to open up, he closes her off. She hates having him upset with her, so she learned just to let it go and heeded the advice Armin gave her after one particularly bad day with Connie, deciding to wait until he was ready.

“They would’ve loved you,” he says, his voice cracking slightly on the last words. He squeezes his eyes shut against the torrent of tears that threatens to overwhelm him. “I wish they could’ve met you, Sash.”

“I wish I could’ve met them,” she agrees softly as she fights back the tears. It pains her greatly to see him in such distress, to know that there’s nothing in the world she can do to take his pain away except to hold his hand and listen. She wishes she could do more and she would, she would move heaven and hell for him if it would help, but she can’t. So instead she squeezes his hand and pulls him closer so he can cry on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” he mutters against her shoulder, wiping his eyes discreetly against her cloak. “I must seem pretty pathetic to you.”

Sasha shakes her head and holds him tighter. “Never. Mourning the people you love isn’t pathetic, Connie. You have every right to cry because you love them and miss them so much, your heart’s overflowing, and the only way for it to cope is to let that love out as tears.” She runs a hand over his head, noticing that his hair is growing back as the pads of her fingers catch the small hairs. “You’re not pathetic, Connie Springer. You’re wonderful and brave and kind, and that’s why I love you.”

Connie looks up at her incredulously. Here he is, crying like a child over his family, his eyes red and puffy from the tears and snot probably running down his nose and this fantastic, beautiful, perfect woman just said she loved him. He quickly pinches himself as hard as he can.

“What are you doing?” asks Sasha when she sees him pinching his arm.

“Making sure that I’m not dreaming,” he replies as he pinches himself again, just to be sure.

Sasha grabs his hand and holds it tight. “Why do you think you’re dreaming?”

“Because you just said you love me,” replies Connie automatically, still in a daze caused by those three words.

“You mean, you didn’t know? Even after all this time?” she asks, sounding confused and a little hurt.

Connie quickly shakes his head. “No. I just . . . I thought it was maybe one-sided? I mean I’ve loved you since you were Potato Girl and yeah we’ve gotten closer these last few months, but I didn’t even think it would mean anything! I just thought you needed a good friend.”

Sasha stares at him for a moment before she bursts out laughing. Connie’s expression falls, and when she notices, she quickly sobers up. “I’m sorry for laughing,” she says between bouts of giggles. “It’s just. I always thought you knew. The way you acted around me, I thought you knew I had a huge crush on you and that you felt the same way. We’ve held hands and cuddled!”

“I thought that was just something friends did,” argues Connie as a furious blush overtakes his face and his head. “I didn’t know it meant something more to you! If I did, I would’ve sure as hell kissed you by now.”

“Oh really? Why don’t you kiss me then?” asks Sasha with a teasing lilt that only deepens Connie’s blush.

“I . . . I can . . . Can do that,” says Connie, nervously meeting her gaze. Gods does he want to kiss this woman and tell her everything he’s kept to himself from the very beginning. It will probably take years, but that won’t stop him, she deserves to know just how wonderful she is.

They start to lean in when a deep rumble breaks them apart, and they both look at Eren who is looking at them. They suddenly remember precisely where they are and they both start laughing and blushing.

“Sorry, Eren,” says Connie, trying to laugh away the awkwardness of the situation. “Forgot you were there.”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” says Sasha with a nervous chuckle. “We promise, we won’t kiss in front of you.”

Eren nods and then returns his gaze forward.

“Well, at least I know you want to kiss me,” says Sasha happily as she cuddles up to Connie, who puts his arm around her shoulders.

“For longer than you know,” he mumbles into her hair, breathing in the scent of wildflowers and trees. It never fails to amaze him how she can always smell like a forest even when she hasn’t been near one in weeks.

“Would your parents really have liked me?” asks Sasha curiously, looking up at him.

Connie gives an emphatic nod. “Absolutely. Ma would’ve adored you, probably made you just about anything you wanted and told you how sweet you are every five seconds because you’re so polite and helpful.” He smiles proudly at her, and she smiles back at him. “And Pop, well he’d have strutted around the village and told everyone about the great girl I brought home. He would’ve clapped me on the back and told me that I found myself a wonderful woman and to do everything possible to keep you.”

“Which is just feeding me good food,” she says with an airy laugh, and he squeezes her in response. “Seriously, you better be a good hunter because I expect some kind of meat on the table every night.”

Connie sighs and shakes his head. “I’ll do my best. I’ll probably have to use ODM gear to get the game though; I can’t shoot an arrow to save my life.”

Sasha smirks. “Well I can, and I’ve literally saved my life doing so. I’ll teach you when we get back because any husband of mine will definitely know how to shoot a bow and arrow.”

“Husband?” repeats Connie, his voice going up an octave as he speaks.

“Yes, I’ve already known that you’d be my husband,” she says with a firm nod. “Don’t look so surprised. Every member of my family has known right from the start which person they would marry after just one look. Our instincts are just that good.”

Connie is a little more than surprised that Sasha declared she knew they were going to get married before now and he even feels a tad guilty for making her wait so long for him to catch up. He hasn’t known as long that he wanted her to be his wife but all that matters now is that they know each other’s intentions and he won’t make her question his heart again.

“I love you, too, Sash.”


 

Marco’s faster than Jean ever remembers him being, even as a human he was never this fast and Jean often had to give him pep talks to keep him from falling too far behind. He was never as slow as Armin, but they were often at the back of the pack during their runs in basic. Jean recalls that the only times that Marco seemed to have the stamina to run was during cloudy days when he commented on it, Marco said that it reminded him of the weather in his hometown and the memory gave him the drive to run. He told Jean that he would take him there someday and show him around.

Where the hell is Marco actually from?

“Jean, we need to come up with something!” shouts Historia, shaking him from his mind. She’s flying close by, her gaze hard and jaw set with determination. He’s never been so terrified of the little angel. “We can’t let him get away!”

Jean nods, words sticking in his throat as he looks at the Titan back of his former best friend running away from them. He wants to talk to Marco and try to understand why he, like Reiner and Bertoldt and Annie, hid in their ranks and pretended to be their friends. He wants to know why he’s on the side of the Shifters and why he faked his death. Above all, he wants to know why Marco even bothered making friends with him if he was just going to betray him inevitably.

“We should try to corner him,” says Historia sternly, glancing at him curiously. “That might be hard, but there are plenty of dead ends around here. If we can get him into one of those, I can kill him.”

“You’re going to kill him?” asks Jean, torn between sounding irate and concerned.

Historia levels him with her best glare, which is vaguely reminiscent of Ymir’s. “Yes, Jean. We tried capturing Annie alive, and all that got us was a girl in a giant crystal. Reiner and Bertoldt got away, so logically the only way to deal with these Shifters is to kill them! I’m not going to give him the chance to escape. He needs to pay for the lives he destroyed.”

Jean knows she’s right. Marco’s committed a number of crimes that would surely mean the death penalty, but even still, he can’t bring himself to wish for Marco’s death. For all they know, he could be pretending to be this coldhearted bastard. After all, Reiner and Bertoldt seemed remorseful when they were confronted. Bertoldt even broke down crying. Maybe this is just an act, something Marco’s using to distance himself from the others and any fond memories he has of their time together.

“Now!” says Historia as she pulls away from him, quickly gaining on Marco. She draws her blades and just as she gets close enough, she purposefully misses the nape in favor of getting the expanse between his shoulder blades. She falls back and smirks slightly when Marco lets out a distressed noise before quickly turning down the road she wanted. She had a feeling that if she got close enough and scared him into believing she could kill him at any moment, he would change course and try something else. It turns out she’s right.

She looks back at Jean as he trails behind her and frowns at how pale he is. She can tell he’s struggling with this, that he’s trying to play this situation off as insignificant and failing spectacularly if his reaction to her plan to kill Marco is anything to go by. Anyone in his position would be understandably upset, to have their supposedly dead best friend back from the grave and on the opposing side, but now is not the time for sentiment. Marco’s responsible for who knows how many deaths and any number of infractions that have occurred since the Wall was breached. She wants answers too, they all do, and the only people who have those answers appear to be the Shifters but they’ve yet to successfully capture even one in condition enough to talk, and she has a feeling that isn’t going to change with Marco.

“Historia, I want you to live your life with pride,” said Ymir as she pressed the knife against her palm. She looked up at Historia and smiled, a warm and gentle smile that meant she was saying farewell.

It was the last smile she ever saw from Ymir.

“I will, Ymir,” says Historia to herself as she pursues Marco. He’s running towards the pile of rubble she intended. If she waits too long, he’ll probably start to climb it and escape, so she only has a small window of time to do this. “I’ll live my life with pride, for you, for everyone who never had the chance to live.” She fires her lines into a nearby building and uses a huge burst of gas to propel herself up into the air. “I’ll live my life and live with my only regret being that I’ll never be able to spend it with you!”

Historia dislodges her hooks and starts spinning in mid-air as her lines come back to her belt. She’s seen Eren and Levi and Mikasa perform this move dozens of times in training and now, she’s going to use it against Marco. She knows he killed Ymir; it’s the only logical explanation for why he has her powers. She’ll never forgive him for her death or for the many other deaths he’s likely responsible for, and she’s glad she gets to be the one to kill him.

She spins faster, her blades becoming a deadly tornado of sharp steel, and she can see her target getting closer and closer. She’ll end this before things can get worse. She has to.

“STOP!”

Historia looks around in confusion, her spin slows, and she lowers her blades just slightly. Suddenly a giant hand swipes at her and something sharp cuts into her back. She cries out in pain as the hand bats her out of the air and towards the ground.

“Toria!” she hears someone shout, and a moment later, she hits the ground, and the world goes black.

Jean watches as Marco swats Historia away, his newly grown talons swiping at her back as he sends her plummeting towards the earth. He calls out to her and tries to intercept, but she hits before he can save her. He hears a sickening thud as her head bounces against the road and he disengages his hooks in favor of falling to her side, somersaulting at the end to break his fall and prevent himself from sustaining any injury as well.

He scrambles to Historia’s side and pulls her onto his lap. Her back is bleeding heavily, and blood is matting in her straw-colored hair. She’s unconscious, and her breathing is labored.

“Toria,” he repeats, holding her close. “I’m so sorry. Oh, gods, I’m so sorry.” He needs to get her to help, to a medic. He looks around wildly for anyone, and his eyes find Marco. “Marco! Help me! She needs medical attention.”

Marco, who is in the process of climbing the pile of rubble, doesn’t even look back or pause in his efforts. Jean stares at him with wide eyes.

“Marco! You bastard, help me!” begs Jean as he struggles to stand with Historia in his arms. She might be small, but she feels like a sack of lead in Jean’s arms. “She’s going to die if we don’t, so help me!”

Marco continues to climb, and when he reaches the top, he slides down, his back to Jean.

“Marco!” shouts Jean as he watches the Titan disappear over the top of the rubble. “Marco!” Tears fill Jean’s eyes and several run down his face. It’s too much, all of it. He falls to his knees. “Marco, you son of a bitch! The next time I see you, I swear, I’ll kill you!”

Chapter Text

Hanji sails into the bell tower, her cheeks flushed and hair a mess, but she’s smiling so brightly it could almost rival the sun. “Levi! Mikasa!” she says when she sees them, panting slightly from her exuberant exertion. Her eyes land on Levi’s bandaged head and Mikasa’s legs, causing her brow to crease just slightly and take some of the enthusiasm out of her greeting. “What the hell happened to you?”

“Shifter tried to kill us,” replies Levi as he takes in Hanji’s disheveled appearance, noting that her cloak looks as if something chewed on the end of it. “What’s the situation?”

“You tell me,” she says as she straightens and walks over and kneels beside Mikasa. “Hey, tough girl, how’re you feeling? And don’t lie, I know how you are with medics.”

Mikasa rolls her eyes. “I’m in a ton of pain and starting to wonder if I’ll ever walk again.”

Hanji rubs her shoulder in small, comforting circles. “You will, tough girl. I promise.” She then looks at Levi. “And how’s your head, Captain?”

“Hurts like hell but I’ll live,” replies Levi, his arms crossed over his chest as he eyes Hanji. “What happened to you? Your cloak looks like you let a Titan use it as a chew toy.”

“Well, that’s kind of what happened,” says Hanji brightly but Levi detects the nervousness in her voice. That alone tells him how close a call it had been. “But we can go over the nitty gritty later. Where’s Eren and the rest of your squad?”

Levi smirks. “Kirstein and Reiss went to deal with the Shifter, and Blaus and Springer are with Eren, he’s on his way to fix the Wall.”

Hanji’s eyes become the size of plates, and her smiles drops like a lead balloon. She stands up and slowly walks over to Levi, who is starting to back away from the Titan enthusiast. She reaches out and slaps him across the face, hard. “HAVE YOU LOST YOUR FUCKING MIND, LEVI?!”

“No, but apparently you have!” snaps Levi as he rubs the spot where she slapped him. His skin tingles, and he can only imagine what kind of mark she left. “What’s the big fucking deal? We have Arlert in the basement, and Eren’s going to fix the Wall, two objectives, one mission.”

Hanji glares at him. “You must’ve suffered some brain damage because I explicitly remember us agreeing that Eren should use his Shifting power sparingly! If he’s learned how to harden, he might lose control and accidentally seal himself inside a crystal-like Annie or worse, he’ll seal himself inside his Titan! We might never be able to get him out of there.”

Her words hit Levi like a ton of bricks. He really must’ve hit his head because he didn’t even think about the consequences of Eren using his powers, especially this new hardening ability. All he saw was a way to check off all their significant objectives and not put more lives needlessly at risk. He didn’t even think about what might happen to Eren, not even for a second.

“Mikasa, why didn’t you stop him?” demands Hanji, turning her rage on Eren’s sister. “You know Eren’s situation as much as we do, so why did you let him go through with that?”

Mikasa, for once, seems helpless. Honestly, her primary focus was making sure Eren was still with them because Marco tried to take him, and when Levi told her that he hardened his body and prevented Marco from biting his nape, she thought it meant Eren had control over that power. She momentarily forgot that Eren’s overall capabilities are in question.

“Gods, why do I even bother?!” wonders Hanji with an irritated growl in the back of her throat. “I leave Eren alone for one measly day, and you two go and let him do something stupid! I don’t think I could be more disappointed if I tried.”

“Oh shove it up your ass, Four Eyes,” drawls Levi, in no mood for her ranting now that she’s pointed out how much danger Eren’s in at the moment. The danger he put him in. “We need to get down there and stop Eren before he does something we all regret.”

Hanji removes her hands from her already messy hair and glares at him. “If my little Titan is hurt in any way because of you, I swear to all that is holy, I will end you, Levi.”

“Fine, I won’t stop you, but we need to go,” says Levi sternly and then he looks down at his belt, remembering that Marco sliced through his lines. “Fuck, my gear’s broken.”

“Serves you right,” mumbles Hanji as she goes back to Mikasa and gingerly examines her legs. “Oh gods, Mikasa, what did you land on?”

Mikasa shrugs. “I’m not sure. There wasn’t really time to determine a cause of injury. We were on the ground and surrounded by Titans. It’s lucky that Jean and Sasha saved us when they did.”

“At least someone was thinking in this situation,” says Hanji, sending another glare Levi’s way before she gives Mikasa an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry for snapping at you, I know you weren’t really in a position to tell Captain Short Stack what he should and shouldn’t do.”

The Scout glances at her cousin and smirks when she sees the irritated way his jaw is clenched. She just found another nickname for him whenever he pisses her off.

Suddenly someone else enters the bell tower, and Levi’s hands go to his blades before it registers in his mind that it’s Erwin and not Kenny. The Commander’s uniform is covered in blood, and his cloak is torn to shreds, with only half of the Wings of Freedom intact, his hair is matted, and he has dark circles under his eyes, but Levi’s never seen the man look more alive. He lets go of his blades and salutes him.

“Commander,” says Levi and Erwin smiles at him.

“Good to see you, Captain,” says Erwin, breathless and beaming. “Did Hanji tell you the good news yet?”

Levi glares at the woman as she continues tending to Mikasa. “No, she’s been a bit busy.”

“We captured the Beast Titan!” announces Erwin in a booming voice Levi’s never heard before.

“You what?!” exclaims Levi, his mind reeling at the news. “How? When?”

“Last night, during the battle,” replies Erwin, his dark blue eyes full of victorious light. “He tried to lead a charge but we’d killed too many Titans by then, and we were able to surround and overwhelm him. Hanji was the one who cut him out. We’ve taken him into custody, and he’s currently en route to headquarters.”

“Are you sure he’ll make it there?” asks Levi, hoping that Erwin will read between the lines and understand he’s asking about the possible traitor and not about whether the Shifter will try to escape.

“Yes, Rashaad is escorting him back,” replies Erwin and Levi understands that means he’s cleared Rashaad of suspicion. “Per Hanji’s suggestion, the Shifter has been detained, and multiple blades have been put through him, to keep him from Shifting.”

Mikasa raises an eyebrow. “How exactly does that help? Can’t he just use those injuries to Shift?”

Hanji shakes her head. “No. From my tests with Eren and observing what happened with the Female Titan when we captured her, if either body is heavily injured then all energy is spent on healing, and the Shifter is unable to Shift or use any other power until the Shifter is mended. So in stabbing our new Shifter friend with our blades, we’ve prevented him from Shifting entirely. When he’s brought back to headquarters, he’ll be put in a special cell I designed to ensure he’s held and unable to Shift.”

“I see,” says Mikasa tersely. She doesn’t need the explanation to know that Hanji designed that cell for Eren. “And it will hold him?”

“Absolutely,” replies Hanji with a firm nod. It goes unsaid that Eren tested it out. “Anyway, we need to get you two down and in a cart while Erwin and I go find Eren.”

Erwin’s eyebrows knit together. “What happened to Eren?”

“Genius over there decided to let him go fix the Wall with his new powers,” says Hanji bitterly, still incredibly angry at how recklessly Levi gambled with Eren’s life.

Erwin looks at Levi with a stern expression. “We can discuss that later after we’ve retrieved Eren.” He then gestures for Levi to climb on his back. “Get on, I’ll take you down, and Hanji can carry Mikasa.”

Levi doesn’t want to be rescued again, he’d rather take his chances with jumping out of the bell tower than have people see him on Erwin’s back, but he knows that in his current state he’d be jumping to his death. Reluctantly, he goes over and hoists himself onto Erwin’s back, clasping his arms around his neck and loosely wrapping his legs around Erwin’s thick waist. He feels like a child.

“There’s no need to look so down, Levi,” says Hanji as she sweeps Mikasa into her arms in one swift motion, taking both him and Mikasa by surprise. They never guessed she was so strong. “Do you know how many people would love to be in your shoes right now?”

“Only you and Mike,” mutters Levi and Erwin chuckles before he climbs over the small wall of the bell tower and stands on the ledge below.

Erwin fires his lines at a building across the street and swings into the air, using gas to steady his flight and Levi holds on just a little bit tighter. Erwin might not look like it, but to Levi, he’s one of the worst people ever trained on ODM gear. The man will do a flip even if trees or buildings surround him and nearly take his head off in the process. Levi can’t count how many times he or someone has called out to Erwin after one of his stunts, wondering if he was still alive.

“Don’t worry, Levi, I’m not going to do any flips,” assures Erwin as if reading his mind. It wasn’t difficult for him to come to that conclusion; the moment he took off, Levi had a death grip on his shirt and wrapped his legs tighter around his waist, likely anticipating a flip and was bracing himself.

“Good,” says Levi flatly as they travel a few hundred feet away from the bell tower, heading in the general direction of Eren’s home. “Erwin, we need to head south.”

Erwin glances at him over his shoulder. “Why?”

“Because that’s where Eren is and I need to stop him before he plugs the Wall,” replies Levi tersely. He’s not in the mood for questions.

“Hanji and I can handle—”

“This isn’t a fucking suggestion,” snaps Levi, vaguely aware of how he’s addressing his superior. “We can’t wait any longer, Eren might already be trapped in a crystal or something. We have to get to him now!”

Erwin lets out a long sigh and quickly changes direction towards the hole, much to Levi’s relief. “Fine, but I don’t approve,” says Erwin as they swing effortlessly from building to building. “You really should be resting, Levi. This can’t be good for your injury.”

“It’s just a concussion, nothing life-threatening,” says Levi, peeking out as far as he can over Erwin’s shoulder, looking for Eren. He hopes he isn’t too late.


 

It feels as if he’s been running for ages. He hasn’t stopped moving since Marco abandoned him and Historia and he really doesn’t want to stop running if he's truthful. Running gives him a purpose; it gives him something to focus on and makes him feel like he’s making up for the wrong he committed. He looks down at the fallen angel in his arms and strains to hear her breathing over the sounds of his ragged panting. He prays that help is somewhere close by because he isn’t sure Historia is going to make it at this rate.

Rounding a corner, Jean almost breaks down crying in relief. He spots several Scouts and wagons waiting near the bell tower, among them is Hanji standing on a wagon wheel peering in and seeing her gives him the strength to continue forward, confident in the knowledge that he found help for Historia. “Hanji!” he cries as he starts sprinting towards the group, doing his absolute best not to jostle Historia further. “Hanji, she needs help!”

Hanji looks up from Mikasa’s prone form in the back of the wagon and turns to see Jean running at her, Historia nestled in his arms while blood drips down from them and onto the ground. She runs to meet them while several Scouts prepare another spot in a wagon for Historia. “What happened?”

“Shifter got her,” he pants as he comes to a halt just a couple of feet short of her position. “She . . . She was going to . . . To kill him and . . . he got her.”

Hanji gives him a brief smile before taking Historia from his arms. She notes that the front of his shirt and his sleeves are soaked with blood. “Are you hurt?” she asks, and he shakes his head. Hanji nods and then hurries over to a nearby cart where two Scouts are preparing the medical kit for her.

Jean watches her go and prays again for Historia’s life, even offering his in exchange for hers, because he can’t stand the thought of living anymore. Not after what he’s done.

“Jean?” he hears someone say and he looks around for the source, finding Mikasa’s face peeking at him from the back of a wagon. He hurries over to it and climbs in, being mindful not to move too much so as not to disturb her injuries.

She’s lying flat on her back with her cloak draped over her like a blanket and a thin pillow under her head. Her cloak prevents him from seeing her injured knee but he can still see her foot, and he’s glad that Sasha put the boot back on it. Mikasa reaches a hand out to him, and he takes hold, gripping it like a lifeline.

“It’s okay,” she says calmly, watching as tears form in his darkened eyes. “You got her here, it’s okay.”

“I’m sorry,” he chokes out, squeezing Mikasa’s hand tighter. “I’m so, so sorry, Mikasa.”

Mikasa regards him warily. “Why are you sorry, Jean? What happened?”

“I . . . I . . .” he tries to say something but the words stick in his throat, and his tongue refuses to cooperate. “I . . . I told her not to.”

“Not to what?” asks Mikasa, although she can already anticipate where this conversation is going.

“Not to kill him,” he replies, his voice cracking as he speaks. “She was . . . She was about to kill Marco and . . . and I told her to stop.”

Mikasa’s eyes widen. “You distracted her.”

Jean nods, glad that she can finish his confession for him.

“She was distracted, and Marco took the chance to strike,” continues Mikasa, her eyes clouding over with anger and disappointment. She snatches her hand away. “What the hell were you thinking, Jean? She saw the opportunity to kill him and took it! You shouldn’t have interfered.”

“I know,” he mumbles as he looks down at the floor, he can’t argue with her, not when she’s injured and completely right. “It’s just . . . I couldn’t help it. He was my best friend, and I thought . . . I thought there might be a way to save him. I thought I might be able to convince him to help us but . . . but he didn’t even look back when I asked for his help.”

Mikasa sharp gaze softens just a fraction. Watching Marco deliberately leave him undoubtedly broke Jean’s heart and she can’t fault him for feeling that way. He was entirely wrong to do what he did to Historia, but he’s obviously remorseful. Still, Mikasa can’t bring herself to forgive him, at least not yet. He still behaved cowardly, even if it was for a somewhat noble reason.

“I’m sorry,” he says again as tears run down his face anew. He doesn’t even bother to wipe them away. “I’m so, so sorry.”

“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to,” says Mikasa coldly and Jean nods.

“I know,” he says as the weight on his shoulders threatens to break him. “You’re just the only one I can apologize to right now.”

“Jean,” says Hanji as she appears at the side of the cart. Her face is already smeared with blood, and her clothes have a few streaks as well. It makes his stomach churn. “Jean, I need you to take a wagon and get Armin. We’re leaving as soon as Erwin returns, and I’d rather have the majority of the squad here.”

Jean nods. “Feel better, Mikasa,” he says before he jumps out of the cart and follows Hanji to an empty wagon with a horse already harnessed. “Why do I need a whole cart to get one person?”

Hanji smirks as he settles in the driver’s seat. “Because, if Eren and Armin found everything we needed in the basement, he’d be here with us instead of back there.”

“How do you even know he’s still there?” asks Jean as he picks up the reins.

“Because he wasn’t with Eren,” replies Hanji knowingly. “Now enough chit-chat. Go get Armin and bring him back. Help him however he needs it and no complaining. There’s obviously something important down there.”

Jean nods and then flicks the reins as he turns the horse to go down the main street that will take him back to Eren’s house. As he drives, he can’t help but wonder if Hanji heard what he told Mikasa and if she sent him away for a different reason. Whatever the case, he’s grateful.

Hanji watches as Jean leaves and breathes a small sigh. She heard what the boy told Mikasa and she knows that the others heard him as well; it’s better for him to get away so she can defuse the situation, should it escalate. She hurries back to the cart where Historia is and watches as two medics work to bandage up her back and her head. She’s still unconscious, but that’s probably for the best, at least this way she won’t feel anything. Although when they get back, she’ll probably need stitches and a few days of bed rest before she’s even close to being medically cleared.

“Hanji, what happened last night?” asks Mikasa, drawing the Titan enthusiast’s attention.

Hanji climbs up into the wagon with her and sits close, wincing when she sees Mikasa grimace from the movement. The poor girl isn’t going to have a smooth ride back. “You mean other than the fact we won?” asks Hanji with what she hopes is a cheery smile and Mikasa nods. “Well, there were twenty Titans plus our lovely Beast. Erwin led the charge, and in just a few minutes, three Titans were down without a single casualty. Of course, that didn’t last, we lost fifteen people last night, which puts us now at less than half of our original force.”

“That’s better than last time,” comments Mikasa, hoping she sounds optimistic. “I know we still lost people, but our odds of surviving are increasing.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” says Hanji kindly, carding her fingers through Mikasa’s pitch black hair. “Anyway, we kept fighting and cutting down Titans left and right. When there were maybe seven left, the Beast Titan tried to organize them into a charge to take down our remaining forces, only Erwin saw it coming this time, and we all attacked at once. We took down half and had enough people available to go after the Beast Titan. We’re lucky that monkey’s really slow; otherwise, this would’ve turned out completely different.

“My squad and I did what I saw Levi doing earlier, and took out chunks of his flesh while making our way up his arms. He tried to beat us away but there were too many of us attacking at once, and some were able to slip past and up to his nape. When we got up there, I cut through his hairy neck and pulled the son of a bitch out with some help from Moblit. It was incredible, Mikasa, I wish you could’ve been there.”

Mikasa gives her a weak smile. “It sounds fantastic, Hanji.” She leans into the other’s touch as tears silently track down her cheeks, cutting tracks in the grime on her skin.

“Mikasa, what’s wrong?” asks Hanji, alarmed to see the strong young woman crying.

“Nothing, it’s just . . . this reminds me of my mother,” says Mikasa quietly. “She’d play with my hair and tell me stories whenever I was sick or going to sleep.”

Hanji smiles kindly at the girl and moves a little closer. “So many of my little cadets are alone. You, Eren, Armin, Connie, Historia, and you just make me want to hug all of you until you can’t breathe.”

Mikasa chuckles. “It wouldn’t be a terrible thing if you did, Hanji.”

“Do you think Eren would ever let me hug him?” she asks with a wry grin.

“I think it’s more of a question as to whether or not the Captain would let you,” counters Mikasa and Hanji cackles.

“So you know about that too, huh?” she asks, still running her fingers through Mikasa’s hair. If it comforts the girl, then who is she to deny her?

Mikasa nods. “Absolutely. I think I’ve known about it longer than those two idiots.”

“Alright, when was the moment that Levi and Eren fell head over heels for each other?” asks Hanji as she pulls out her notepad and pen from her belt. This definitely needs to be documented. For historical purposes, of course.

“When Levi took down the Titans coming for us at the Wall in Trost,” replies Mikasa confidently and Hanji’s pencil snaps.

“You mean, it was love at first sight?” she asks in a hushed but obviously excited whisper.

Mikasa nods. “Yes, it was, even if they didn’t know it themselves back then. I could see it in their eyes.” She frowns slightly. It’s true she knew it way back then that Eren had feelings for Captain Levi and that Levi was likely interested in Eren, even if they had yet to realize it, but it still didn’t stop her from hoping that maybe Eren would finally feel something towards her. She died a little each day she realized Eren’s affection for Levi was only growing until finally, she knew she needed to let go. Letting go still didn’t stop her from becoming jealous every time Eren spoke fondly about Levi, or from reading too much into something Eren did for her, but it did bring her some peace.

Hanji begins to massage her scalp with her fingertips, drawing Mikasa away from her melancholy thoughts. “Hey, it’s okay,” she says gently. “I know you had feelings for him and I’m sorry. Sometimes we don’t always get what we want, and it sucks.”

A mirthless chuckle escapes Mikasa’s throat.

“You know, sometimes we can get something better,” says Hanji with a wink. “Who knows who you’ll end up with, it could be someone a hundred times better than Eren.”

“You could be right,” agrees Mikasa, although the person she thought might be just that disappointed her severely not mere minutes ago. “Hanji, have you ever . . .?”

“Been in love?” finishes Hanji and she nods. “Yes, I have. Several times. Sometimes it’s been multiple loves at once. Love’s a powerful emotion, Mikasa, and defies logic even when we think we have a grasp on it.” She twists some of Mikasa’s silken hair around her finger. “I doubt anyone could fully understand it.”

“Thank you, Hanji,” she says as she feels her eyelids become heavy. “You’re a great mother.”

“Thanks,” she says warmly. “And you’re a fantastic daughter.”


 

“We’re here, Eren!” says Connie excitedly as they come to a stop in front of the hole. “Good, no Titans.” He then stands and grabs Sasha’s hand. “We’re going to go somewhere close and keep an eye out. You do what you have to, buddy.” He gives Eren a thumb’s up. “You going to be okay?”

Eren nods and the two Scouts fly off his shoulder and onto a nearby pile of rubble. Eren walks up to the hole and observes its size and structure. Whatever he does will have to fill the whole thing and secure it on both sides, to ensure that nothing can get in. He wonders about a possible gate but decides that that’s something the higher-ups can debate; they told him to fill the hole, not build gates. Smirking internally he reaches up and puts his hands on what part of the Wall he can touch. He isn’t exactly sure how this is going to work, but he has a feeling he needs to be touching something for the hardening power to affect it.

Here goes everything.

He focuses his new ability on his hands, and when he feels his hands starting to harden, he focuses on merging the crystals with the part of the Wall he’s touching. In seconds, he can feel his crystals spreading, expanding, and assimilating with the stone on the Wall as if two puzzle pieces found their other half. Eren can feel the power somewhat acting on its own as the crystals continue to seek out more of the Wall, traveling through the hole to the other side and expanding to fill in the gaps and edges. He can feel his body tiring from the strain of this new power but he doesn’t let it bother him, he’s nearly finished, another few minutes and the Wall will be sealed. He just has to keep going.

“Wow, this is amazing!” gushes Sasha as she watches the crystals slowly but steadily fill the hole. “I didn’t know Eren could do that!”

“Neither did I!” agrees Connie, his hand still entwined with hers. “He’s going to be a hero when we get back to headquarters.”

“We all will,” says Sasha excitedly as she pictures the possible feast prepared in their honor. “Do you think we’ll get a party?”

Connie chuckles warmly, knowing by the drool leaking from the corners of her mouth that she’s thinking about food again. “Maybe, or we’ll just get a nice steak dinner.”

“That’s so much better than a party,” says Sasha dreamily. “Steak with garlic mashed potatoes with bourbon butter and berry pie for dessert.”

“Sasha! You’re making me hungry!” protests Connie as his stomach makes its existence known. “Don’t tease a man like that, it’s not nice.”

Sasha giggles.

“What the hell are you two doing?” asks Levi, cutting off their conversation as he and Erwin come swooping in, landing beside the pair.

Connie and Sasha quickly salute the two officers.

“At ease,” says Erwin as Levi practically leaps off his back. He looks and sees Eren standing at the Wall as crystals come from his hands and merge with the Wall, creating the same stone when they meet. “I see Eren’s already hard at work.”

They nod enthusiastically.

“Eren!” shouts Levi as he sprints to the other side of the roof. “Eren! Stop! You don’t have to do this!”

Connie and Sasha share a confused look.

“Eren, please, just listen to me!” cries Levi, waiting for a response.

Eren doesn’t seem to hear him.

“Fuck!” he says when he realizes Eren isn’t responding. He whirls around and points at Erwin. “You! Get me to him, now!”

Erwin levels a hard stare at Levi, more than a little fed up with his attitude of late. “Levi, listen to me. I know you’re concerned about Eren, but you need to calm down. Even if we intervened now, what good would it do? He’s almost finished with the Wall, and I for one am content with letting him continue until it’s done. I’ll accept the consequences.”

Levi glares harshly at his friend and superior. “Even if that means he’s trapped inside that goddamn Titan body for the rest of his life?”

“Yes,” replies Erwin, his eyes still locked with Levi’s in an unspoken challenge. Whoever moved first would be the loser.

“H-Hey,” blurts Connie, pointing at Eren. “Something’s going on with Eren. The crystals are going up his arms.”

Erwin and Levi both look and just as Connie said, the crystals that were once only on Eren’s hands are traveling up his wrists and forearms. Levi’s heart leaps into his throat as his stomach plummets to the center of the earth. In only a matter of moments, they are at his elbows.

“How much of the hole is filled?” asks Erwin, looking at Connie and Sasha, who both shrug.

Sasha cranes her neck to get a better view of the hole, trying to peer around Eren’s body. “From what I can tell, he’s maybe halfway finished?”

“Halfway finished and he’s already up to his shoulders in crystal,” murmurs Levi as he watches the crystal travel over Eren’s shoulders and down his back and up his neck. He goes to take a step forward, only to have someone grip his shoulder.

“Leave it,” says Erwin firmly. “There’s nothing you can do now.”

Levi hates that he’s right and blames himself for putting Eren in this position initially. He stares longingly at Eren, watching as the amazing man he loves performs what might be his last heroic deed. His heart constricts in his chest, and it’s suddenly difficult to breathe. The last time he felt this powerless and brokenhearted was when he lost Isabel and Farlan. The feeling nearly killed him then, too.

“I’m sure Eren will be fine, Captain,” says Sasha cautiously, like she’s trying to talk to a skittish animal. “He seems to know what he’s doing.”

That isn’t the problem.

“Yeah, Sasha’s right, sir,” says Connie, nodding along. “Eren’s a professional Shifter, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Levi pinches the bridge of his nose, counting down from ten to keep from snapping at the two clueless Scouts. It’s not their fault that he isn’t reassured, they don’t know the circumstances, but even still he wishes they’d shut up and leave him alone.

“You two should go back to the bell tower,” orders Erwin, keeping his gaze on Levi. “Hanji and the rest of the escort team are in that area, and we’ll be leaving as soon as we have Eren. Go, and let Hanji know what’s going on.”

Connie and Sasha look skeptical and like they want to protest, but with one stern look from Erwin, their objections remain unexpressed. They salute the two officers one final time before they go flying off towards the bell tower, casting a goodbye glance at Eren before they’re too far away.

Levi and Erwin stand in silence as they watch Eren fill the hole and become ever more encased in by the crystals his Titan form is producing. Levi’s eyes are locked firmly on Eren’s nape, watching as the crystals creep closer and closer to the one spot frees Eren from his Titan. He also can’t help but notice how fatigued Eren seems to be at this moment, the more crystals he produces, the more his exposed body begins to sag. He wonders just how much energy Eren will have left to use to get out.

Finally, after what feels like an eternity, the crystals cease in their consumption of Eren’s body, just a few moments short of completely encasing him. Levi lets out the breath he’d been holding and then looks to Erwin.

“Let’s go,” says the Commander and this time, Levi doesn’t feel the slightest bit ashamed as he climbs onto Erwin’s back.

The two quickly fly to Eren’s location and Erwin hooks into what little of Eren’s Titan form is still exposed, and they climb up the rest of the way until they reach the nape. Erwin maneuvers, so they are standing on the now solid surface of Eren’s shoulder and hands his blades over to Levi once he’s gotten off his back. Levi gives him a grateful nod before he goes over to Eren’s neck and in one quick motion, slices off enough flesh to expose his back and the backs of his limbs. Levi makes quick work and slices through the muscle holding him in place. He tosses the blades to Erwin just as Eren starts to fall backward out of his Titan and Levi catches him with ease. Eren’s body feels ten times hotter than usual, sweat glistens on his skin, and his eyes are bruised with red streaks, but he looks better than the last time Levi cut him out of his Titan.

Eren’s eyes flutter open. “Levi,” he says, the joy plainly evident in his voice. “You’re okay.”

“Of course I am,” says Levi, giving Eren a small smile as he pulls him the rest of the way out. He gathers him up in his arms and rests Eren’s head against his shoulder. “I’m glad you are, too.”

“’M always okay with you,” mumbles Eren sleepily and Levi’s heart does a backflip.

He brushes his lips over Eren’s forehead, still hot and sweaty from being part of his Titan but he hardly cares. “Same here, brat.”

Chapter Text

When Eren opens his eyes, the sky above him is dark and only the glow from several torches illuminates the area. He groans slightly as he moves to sit up, only to have someone push on his shoulder and force him back down.

“It’s okay,” says Levi, his face coming into Eren’s view. “You’re safe.”

“Where am I?” asks Eren with a slight groan. His head hurts and body aches terribly, worse than the last time he Shifted for a while.

“Scout wagon,” replies Levi softly. “We’re headed back to Wall Rose.”

Eren nods and then jumps up. “Armin!”

“Safe with us,” says Levi soothingly as he tries to return Eren to his original position, only to have the Shifter fight him. He decides to just let him sit up; knowing that nothing short of divine intervention can change the stubborn boy’s mind. “Kirstein went and got him, along with a small library’s worth of books,” he continues as he sits back against the wall of the cart. “What the hell was your old man hiding down there?”

“I’m not sure,” replies Eren with a small shrug. “Armin and I didn’t really have time to read absolutely everything, just a few papers. All we could figure out was my dad came from the world beyond the Walls and knows how to make Shifters.”

Levi’s eyes widen. “Your dad knew how to make Shifters?”

Eren shrugs again. “Maybe. Our only clue is he had three vials labeled Attack, Founder, and Armored. Armin thinks they’re references to different types of Titan Shifters.”

The Beast Titan’s words come rushing back to Levi, specifically when it said that Eren had the Attack and Founder. “Maybe the monkey was on to something,” he mutters to himself contemplatively.

“Oh and I learned that my dad taught me a second language,” continues Eren and Levi stares at him curiously. “What?”

“You know a second language too?” asks Levi with just a hint of amusement in his eyes.

Eren furrows his brow. “Wait, you know a second one?”

Oui,” replies Levi and Eren’s stomach fills with butterflies. “C’est la langue du Métro.

“The what?” asks Eren with a slight chuckle trying to cover up his fascination with hearing such beautiful words come from Levi. He could listen to him speak like that all day if he could.

Levi smirks. “I said, yes, it’s the language of the Underground. Almost everyone down there knows how to speak it. I’m not sure what it’s called, it’s a dead language as far as the Wallists are concerned, but it’s alive in the Underground. I’ve heard stories that it’s the language of the first people ever sent to the Underground.”

“Wow,” says Eren, his eyes sparkling in the torchlight. “Could you teach me?”

“Sure,” says Levi with a shrug, masking his astonishment with nonchalance. “It’ll probably take you a while to master, though.”

“That’s fine,” says Eren, his enthusiasm hardly diminished at the prospect of their lessons taking a while. “And I can teach you mine.”

A small smile tugs at the corners of Levi’s lips. “I’d like that.”

Eren smiles and then frowns when he finally notices the bandages wrapped around Levi’s head. Until now, they’d been hidden by shadows but Levi angled his head just right and revealed them. He brings up a hand and gently pokes Levi’s forehead. “What happened to you?”

“Shifter cut my lines midflight,” replies Levi, gently taking Eren’s hand in both of his. “Don’t worry, I’m fine. It was just a small bump and a cut.”

Eren doesn’t appear convinced but he knows better than to argue with Levi, especially over an injury. “I’m sorry,” he says quietly, squeezing Levi’s hand. “I should’ve gotten there sooner.”

Levi frowns. “This isn’t your fault, Eren. I made a choice and this is the result. It has nothing to do with you.”

“But I—”

“No,” says Levi firmly, cutting him off. “You’re not to blame for this, Eren. This is on me, just like Mikasa’s injuries are my fault.”

Eren’s eyes go impossibly wide. “Mikasa’s hurt? How? Where? What happened?”

Levi groans and lets go of Eren’s hand. This is going to be a long story. “Do you remember me pushing you into the basement?” Eren nods and so does Levi. “Good. Well, I did that because I sensed an enemy nearby and I didn’t want you to get caught up in it, so I did what I could to protect you.” His brow creases. “Turns out, the enemy was someone I knew from my time in the Underground. He had several men with him and was after you and some princess—No, I don’t know who she is so don’t ask—Anyway, I told everyone to scatter and my “friend” from the Underground decided to chase after Mikasa and I. We led him as far away from you as we could and then we heard the Shifter. I knew where it was and I thought I could lead my “friend” there and possibly trap him. He saw through it and retreated. Mikasa and I tried to regroup with the rest of the squad but when we were flying between buildings, the Shifter cut our lines and we fell. Mikasa broke her ankle and messed up one of her knees, and you already know what happened to me.” He points at the bandage.

Eren’s eyes are filled with concern and disbelief. Two of the strongest soldiers and people he knows were severely injured and he wasn’t there to protect them. He clenches his fists in his lap. What good is this fucking power if I can’t protect the people I love?

“Stop that,” says Levi warningly and Eren jumps slightly at the reprimand. “I just told you this wasn’t your fault, so stop blaming yourself. If anything, blame me for failing to protect your sister. Blame me for sending you to your almost death. Blame me for any number of things, but don’t you dare blame yourself for anything. You didn’t do anything wrong, Eren.”

“What do you mean you sent me to my almost death?” questions Eren softly and Levi’s shoulders slump faintly.

“I mean, I didn’t think about how we’d discussed using your powers on occasion,” explains Levi quietly. “All I thought of when I saw you use that hardening ability was we could finally seal the Wall and keep more Titans out. I didn’t even think about what it could do to you.” He swallows hard against the lump and bile rising in his throat. “And because of that, you almost . . . ” He can’t bring himself to say it, to admit how close he came to losing Eren because of his decision. He feels like dying every time he thinks about it.

“I almost?” presses Eren, desperate to know.

“You almost died,” finishes Levi, his voice barely audible. “That fucking crystal . . . it started to harden your body and came damn close to your nape.” Against his better judgment, he reaches out and puts his hand on Eren’s nape, frowning slightly when Eren freezes at the contact. “I’m sorry, Eren. I was selfish and stupid. I shouldn’t have sent you to the Wall.”

Eren puts his hand on Levi’s wrist, feeling the faint thump of his pulse against his thumb. “I know,” says Eren kindly. “And please don’t feel guilty. Everything worked out in the end. The Wall’s sealed and I’m here.”

Levi chuckles low in his throat and leans forward to press his forehead against Eren’s, an act that grounds him to the moment and reminds him that yes, Eren is with him and he isn’t going anywhere. “You are,” he says softly, his breath ghosting over Eren’s lips.

Eren moves his hand from Levi’s wrist to the back of Levi’s neck, curling his fingers in the bristles of Levi’s undercut and the coarse fabric of the bandages. Guilt and relief shoot through Eren when he touches those damn bandages, confirming that he didn’t lose Levi this time. He came close but not this time.

“Well, look who’s finally up!” says Hanji and the two men jump apart. Eren almost laughs at the sneer on Levi’s face although he can hardly blame him; it was truly a less than ideal time for someone to interrupt them.

“What do you want, Four Eyes?” asks Levi, remembering in time to keep his temper in check.

“I wanted to see how my little Titan was doing,” says Hanji and she skillfully moves from her horse’s saddle to the cart where Eren and Levi are sitting. She sits cross-legged at Eren’s feet, a wide smile on her face but Eren can see the fatigue in her body. “How’re you feeling, Eren?”

“Not bad,” says Eren, earning him a pointed look from Levi. “I’m a bit achy but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”

Hanji nods as she makes notes in a small journal. “Good. That’s fantastic.” She then moves a little forward and flings Eren’s cloak off of his legs and begins taking off his boots. Eren knows by now to just let her do whatever she needs to because regardless of how many times he protests, she’ll always win. Once his boot is off, she examines his foot before removing it from the harness and pushing up his pant’s leg so she can see his ankle and shin and holds his leg aloft. “No lasting marks like last night,” she comments as she makes a few more notes. She puts his foot back down. “I believe this confirms that your Titan and human consciousness have meshed back together. You’re back to normal.”

Eren breathes a huge sigh of relief and Levi noticeably perks up.

“However,” she says sternly and Eren sinks back down. “I need to know how your new hardening skill affected you. Starting with how you activated it, to begin with.”

He fidgets in his seat and twirls his thumbs together. How does he explain this to them without sounding completely insane? “I . . . I ate something,” he replies and just as he predicted, Hanji and Levi look completely lost. “When we were in my basement, I found a vial of stuff that said, ‘Armored’ on it and Armin suggested that it would give me the same ability as Reiner and Annie. Well, when I heard the Shifter, I knew I had to do something so I decided to Shift. Plus, it was the only way to get out of the basement, so it benefited Armin as well.”

“Why couldn’t you get out of the basement?” asks Hanji curiously.

He opens his mouth but Levi cuts him off again, “We can explain that later. Get back to it, Eren.”

Eren nods. “Right. Anyway, I had the vial with me and there was no other way of opening it—my dad had it sealed like one of his liquid medications, you see—and Armin had already told me that I could probably eat it without a problem so I did. I tossed it in my mouth and broke the glass with my teeth and drank whatever the fluid was. Then I Shifted.”

Hanji’s pen is scribbling on the paper at top speed and Eren wonders if she actually caught every word he said. “I see,” she mutters, still writing furiously. “When was the first time you used it?”

“When the Shifter tried to bite my nape,” replies Eren with a smirk. “Stupid bastard fell for it hook, line, and sinker.”

Levi eyes him suspiciously. “You mean you planned to have him try and bite your nape? You purposefully let him beat the crap out of you just so you could test out your new power?”

“Yes and no,” replies Eren honestly. “I wanted to test out my power, yes but I didn’t initially plan on having him go for my nape, it was just the logical choice after I saw what I was up against. After seeing that thing’s teeth, I decided to see if I could take out his main weapon. I wasn’t really sure it would work, because I didn’t know if Titan's teeth are strong enough to break that kind of crystal or not, so I took a chance.”

“You took a chance?” repeats Levi incredulously. He can hardly believe that Eren would behave to carelessly. “Eren, that was reckless! What if you were wrong and it could break it? What if it saw through your plan?”

“I don’t think you’re exactly in a position to question someone’s reckless decisions,” says Hanji, glaring at Levi and he backs off, much to Eren’s amazement. “Now Eren,” continues Hanji with a bright smile. It greatly unnerves Eren how she can quickly go from looking like she’s about to murder someone to looking like she’s about to play with a box full of puppies. “Your squad mates said that the Shifter’s talons also broke after your encounter, did you plan that as well?”

Eren shrugs. “Sort of. I knew he would pin me down, so when he did, I made sure the crystal-covered those as well. It actually takes very little effort to use that power; I just have to focus a bit more. Like when I sealed the Wall, I just kept picturing the crystal moving and filling in the hole and it worked.”

More scratching from Hanji. “This is good stuff, Eren. Now, one last question, regarding your incredible achievement of sealing the Wall. Did you, at any point, realize that the crystal was overtaking your body?”

“No,” replies Eren truthfully and for some reason, he feels like he’s disappointing them by saying that. “I didn’t even know it happened until the Captain said something.”

Hanji’s lips press into a thin line and her writing slows. “Do you remember how you felt while you were using it?”

“Tired,” says Eren, recalling how his body felt completely deprived of energy when he finished sealing the hole. It was his last conscious thought before Levi cut him out. “It was like using that power was taking every ounce of energy I possessed.”

“I see,” she says in a tone that fills Eren with trepidation. “That’s all I need for now, but I’ll probably follow up in a few days with some hypotheses for us to test out.”

“We’re going to resume testing?” asks Eren incredulously. “But, I thought it was a bad idea for me to use my power frequently.”

Hanji shoots Levi a pointed look before she smiles again at Eren. “Don’t fret, my little Titan. These will be completely controlled experiments with very little chance of anything happening to you. Oh! Before I forget—last question I promise—did you have that feeling again? That feeling that you and the Titan were becoming one?”

Eren thinks back on the Shift and tries to remember everything he felt during it. Unfortunately, a great deal happened between his first Shift since that incident and this one, so his sensations are more than a little jumbled together. He shakes his head and Hanji makes a note.

“We’ll just have to keep an eye on that then,” says Hanji, trying to sound upbeat. “I think our first test should be to see how many times you can make a Titan before your body gives out.”

Eren gulps and Levi frowns.

“Oi, Four Eyes, no killing him,” he warns and Hanji brushes of the admonition.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she sighs dramatically. “I meant to say before he’s too tired or physically unable to make any more. I also want to test how responsive each Titan is to commands, so Levi will need to be present as well.”

“Like I was going to leave him alone with you,” he mumbles and Eren smothers a grin.

“By the way, Hanji,” says Eren, hoping to divert the conversation to something a little less uncomfortable. “When did you show up?”

“Probably fifteen minutes after we saw the first signal smoke,” replies Hanji thoughtfully. “I’ll certainly never forget swinging in and seeing Mikasa and Captain Shorty here all bandaged up. I never thought I’d live to see that day.”

Eren doesn’t even have to look to know Levi does not appreciate what Hanji said. He wonders how the woman can easily insult the man with the highest kill count in the Survey Corps without batting an eyelash.

“He mentioned that,” says Eren, glancing at Levi who is glaring at Hanji again. “He said Mikasa broke her ankle and hurt her knee.”

Hanji winces at the memory. “That’s one way of putting it.”

“What do you mean?” asks Eren, obviously concerned for his foster sister’s well being.

“Let’s just say Mikasa won’t be participating in any missions for a while,” replies Hanji with a worn smile. “At least she’ll have Historia to keep her company.”

Eren’s eyes widen. “What happened to Toria?”

Hanji opens her mouth and then closes it again, almost hesitating. “I think Jean’s the one who should answer that. Just know that Historia’s fine and she’s being well taken care of by our medics.”

Eren’s entire body feels tense and he can’t quite remember how to breathe. How did this happen? How did so many of my friends get injured? Why? Why them? Why Mikasa? Why Levi? Why Historia?

“Hey,” says Levi, dragging Eren from his swirling thoughts. “She didn’t tell you that because she wanted you to feel responsible.”

Finally, he takes a breath. “I know,” he says, unfurling his fists from the hood of his cloak. “I know.”

Levi looks at Eren carefully before he reaches out and takes his hand. He laces their fingers together and rests their joined hands on his thigh. “Why don’t you try to get some sleep?” suggests Levi, noting how exhausted Eren looks, despite having stayed awake for so long. “We aren’t stopping until we get back to the Wall, so you might as well try to make yourself comfortable.”

“Okay,” says Eren and, without dropping Levi’s hand, lies back down.

The Captain uses his free hand to pull Eren’s cloak back up and Hanji quickly puts his harness and boot back on, giving him a wink just as his eyes close. In seconds, Eren is sound asleep.

Chapter Text

The next time Eren opens his eyes, he’s momentarily confused. He remembers being on the wagon with Levi and Hanji and now he’s looking up at a stone ceiling. He moves his arms and is met with the sensation of cotton brushing against his skin and when he moves his head, it doesn’t brush against thin material. He suddenly realizes that he’s sleeping in a real bed and not the makeshift one on the cart.

“You’re awake!” says a voice and he looks over to see Armin sitting on the floor, books open and strewn about around him. He smiles widely at Eren and is beside him in a second, crossing the distance with speed Eren didn’t know him capable. “How do you feel?”

“Annoyed,” replies Eren as he sits up and stretches. He sees Armin’s fallen expression. “Not at you, I’m just annoyed that I can sleep for so long and miss so much. Where are we?”

“Scout Corps Headquarters in Wall Rose,” replies Armin as he assists Eren into a more comfortable position. “And you’ve only been asleep for maybe a day and a half if that. I honestly think it’s been less but I’m not sure, Captain Levi and Hanji should know.”

“Where are they?” he asks, reclining against his pillows. He might not be tired but he’s incredibly weak and it’s nice to just rest in a comfortable bed.

“Meetings with Erwin and Command,” says Armin as he reaches for a tray on the bedside table. “Here, the Captain brought you some food.”

Eren takes the tray and uncovers one of the dishes, finding a bowl of vegetable stew and a piece of crusty bread. He dives into the food like he hasn’t eaten in weeks.

“Sorry if it’s cold, I tried to keep it warm,” says Armin apologetically, only to be waved off by Eren. “Hanji mentioned you sealed the Wall. That’s fantastic, Eren!”

“Thanks,” says Eren between mouthfuls. “Did you get everything out of the basement?”

Armin nods happily. “Yeah. Jean came with a cart to get me and we moved everything into it. I’ve been going through what I can. I’m not sure if I’ve made much progress, everything of significance seems to be in that language you know.”

Eren nods thoughtfully. “Makes sense. Dad probably didn’t want that information falling into the wrong hands, so he wrote what needed to stay hidden in a language only he and I understand.”

“That was my thinking,” agrees Armin as he watches Eren’s ravenous attack on his food. “Mikasa and Historia are doing better. They went into surgery after we arrived and are in recovery now. We should be able to visit them once you’re ready.”

“Good,” says Eren before he shoves a huge bite of stew soaked bread into his mouth.

Armin smiles fondly at his friend before it falls. “Jean’s been detained.”

Eren chokes on his bite. He coughs and pounds on his chest in an effort to dislodge the bread, Armin assisting by clapping him on the back several times. Finally, the piece goes down and he can breathe again. “What the hell?!” he demands as he wipes tears from his eyes. “Why?”

Silence follows his question and where Armin is concerned, that’s never a good sign.

“Armin, what did he do?” Eren bites out, slightly annoyed and fearful at the situation.

Armin lets out a small sigh and looks down at his lap. “You know that Shifter we heard?”

Eren nods, already not liking the turn this conversation has taken.

“Well . . . it was Marco,” says Armin quietly.

“Marco?” repeats Eren in disbelief. No, that can’t be right. Marco died at Trost. He’s been dead for almost a year. How in the hell is he alive? “Are you sure?”

Armin nods sadly. “Jean, Connie, Sasha, and Mikasa all confirmed his identity.”

Eren wants to demand answers regarding Marco’s apparent survival but the more pressing issue of Jean’s arrest takes precedent. “What did Jean do?”

“He . . . He intervened when Historia tried to kill Marco,” says Armin with a small hiccup. “He told her to stop and it distracted her enough that Marco was able to attack.”

Suddenly Hanji’s words regarding asking Jean what happened to Historia make sense. He wishes they didn’t, but they do. “That idiot!” rages Eren, his anger welling up. “Why would he do something so stupid?!”

“Marco was his best friend, Eren,” argues Armin and Eren glares at him. “And besides, you were the one who hesitated in taking Annie because you remembered who she was before the Female Titan.”

“Exactly!” thunders Eren. “You’d think Jean would’ve learned from my mistake and not done something so incredibly dumb! Gods, why couldn’t he have learned?! I thought he was different, that he was a leader like Marco said. Gods, what a fucking idiot!”

To say Armin is surprised by Eren’s reaction is an understatement. He isn’t mad that Marco was the Shifter, he’s angry at the fact that Jean made his mistake. He thought—no, hoped—that Jean would do better than him in a similar situation, that he wouldn’t give in to old feelings and memories and would be able to do what is necessary. He’d put Jean on a level above himself. This is the closest Eren’s ever come to giving the man a compliment.

“What’s his charge?” asks Eren, anger, and frustration linger in his tone but he’s calmed down considerably.

“Treason,” replies Armin and Eren glowers at his lap. To be charged with treason is an almost guaranteed death sentence. Eren himself had been charged with it when he was initially found out as a Shifter and it had taken Erwin’s words and Levi’s actions to get him out of it.

“When’s the trial?” asks Eren looking now at Armin.

“Soon, that’s all I know,” he says and Eren nods. “I don’t know the details, but we’ll probably be required to testify on Jean’s character. We’ve known him for almost three years now and trained with him from the start.”

“That’s fine,” says Eren with another nod. “What did Levi say about it?”

“That it’s fucking ridiculous and that Jean’s a decent enough soldier that his military record should tell the court everything they need to know,” says Armin with a slight smirk and Eren mimics him. “Hanji agreed with him and has been petitioning to have Jean released back into our custody until the trial. Right now, he’s at Wall Sina with the MPs.”

Eren shakes his head. “Poor bastard. Dealing with a bunch of shitheads who don’t know the first thing about his situation and won’t sympathize with him. At least if he were here, we’d understand and could help him prepare his defense.” He then eyes Armin with an amused glint in his eye. “Unless you’re already working on that and have a draft.”

Armin chuckles as he pulls out some papers from his belt. “You know me too damn well, Jaeger. It’s not much, but I’ve made a list of Jean’s accomplishments—”

“You’re right, that isn’t much,” interjects Eren with a laugh and Armin rolls his eyes. “Sorry.”

“As I was saying,” continues Armin as he unfolds the pages. “I’ve made a list of his accomplishments and a list of all the people who we can use as character witnesses. I tried to make it a mix of civilian and military because it would look like the Survey Corps circling the wagons if we were the only ones who testified.”

Eren takes the papers and looks them over, nodding along with Armin’s justifications for certain people and events. He notices that a couple of names are conspicuously absent. “Why isn’t Mikasa on this list?” he asks, looking back at Armin.

Armin presses his lips together and seems troubled but he doesn’t back down from the question. “Because when I spoke to Mikasa last night, she said she didn’t want anything to do with Jean for the time being. I assumed that went for his trial as well.”

“Makes sense,” mutters Eren. He knows Mikasa well enough to understand her logic but he still finds it cruel that she doesn’t want to interact with Jean. “And I’m not on here because . . .?”

“Because I wasn’t sure how you’d react,” replies Armin with a shrug. “I thought you might take the prosecution’s side and agree that Jean was wrong to stop Historia.”

“Oh he was wrong, I don’t deny that,” says Eren as he leafs through the rest of the papers. “However, I don’t think that what he’s done is treasonous. He’s an idiot sure, but he’s not a traitor. I don’t think he deliberately stopped Historia because he’s working with Marco or planned on betraying the Survey Corps. I think it was just a knee-jerk reaction to seeing someone familiar on the opposing side and about to be killed for it.”

Armin raises an eyebrow. “Why can’t you be logical like this all of the time, Eren?”

“Because if I were, then you wouldn’t be necessary, Armin,” replies Eren with a cheeky grin and Armin punches him in the arm.

“Dick,” says Armin fondly as Eren rubs the spot he hit. “Anyway, will you testify for Jean’s character or would you rather just watch the proceedings?”

“I’ll testify,” agrees Eren as he hands the papers back to Armin. “I have no reason not to and I’d hate to see Horse Face executed.”

“You can’t call him that on the stand, Eren,” chides Armin and Eren shrugs.

“We could always say that it would be animal cruelty to execute him,” continues Eren, his cheeky grin becoming a devious smirk. “There has to be a loophole that prohibits the execution of animals and Jean looks enough like a horse that he’d probably qualify.”

“Hannes was right, you are a shit,” says Armin, shaking his head while Eren laughs.


 

Once Eren finishes his food and bathes, he and Armin head down to the infirmary to check up on Mikasa and Historia. They do so on the condition that once Eren’s satisfied with Mikasa’s well being, they will get started on translating the books they recovered from the basement. The scholar’s excitement is nearly palpable and Eren wonders how he managed to contain himself while he was sleeping.

When they arrive, Connie and Sasha are already sitting between the two beds where Mikasa and Historia are resting. Historia is talking animatedly with Sasha while Mikasa is nodding along with whatever Connie’s babbling about, probably a funny story to keep her entertained for a little while. Eren’s heart swells with love for his friends as he watches them and he can’t think that two people in the world are meant for each other like Connie and Sasha. As they approach, he notices that for a split second, Armin’s eyes linger on Historia with a fond light. He makes a mental note to interrogate his friend later.

“Eren!” says Connie brightly when he sees them walking up. “Hey! How’re you feeling? You look great.”

Eren smiles as he takes a seat beside Mikasa’s bed, Armin taking a seat by Historia’s.

Oh, we are definitely talking about this later.

“Thanks, Connie,” says Eren as he reaches over and squeezes Mikasa’s hand. “How’re you doing, Mikasa?”

“Better now,” she replies, squeezing his hand in return. Her face is a little drawn and she seems tired but her grey eyes are sparkling with life and he can’t be more grateful. “I’ve been put on medical leave for the next six weeks, at least.”

Eren frowns slightly as he runs his thumb over her knuckles. “I’m sorry.”

“This wasn’t your fault,” she says, repeating exactly what Levi told him. “And it wasn’t the Captain’s fault, he actually saved me from something worse. He grabbed me midair and pulled as much of me as he could against his chest. He shielded me from the worst of it.”

“What? Really?” asks Eren, dumbfounded. Levi never mentioned that.

Mikasa nods seemingly content with the fact that her nemesis risked his life to save her. “He did. I was just as surprised as you.” She shifts slightly and winces. “The medics said I’ll need some kind of therapy for my knee and I’ll have to stay off ODM gear for even longer than six weeks,” she says in response to Eren jumping forward. She nods and he gingerly moves her into a better position and fluffs her pillows. It makes her blush a little to have Eren fussing over her.

“How’re you doing, Historia?” asks Armin, looking at the girl in question.

She gives him a half-hearted smile. “I’m fine, Armin. Whatever salve the medics used is numbing my back, so I can’t feel anything. One medic said I had over two hundred stitches and another said it was over five.”

“That sounds a little hard to believe,” says Armin with a slight chuckle. “I would say maybe two hundred if that. How’s your head?”

“Not as bad as they thought,” she replies with a more genuine smile. “Just some bad bruises and a mild concussion, but nothing serious.” She then smiles at Mikasa. “We’ll be keeping each other company for a while.”

“Jean’s been arrested,” says Eren sullenly, effectively killing the good mood. All eyes fall on him, Mikasa seems unaffected and Historia looks horrified. “He’s being charged with treason.”

Historia’s wide eyes appear ready to pop out of her head. “What do you mean?! He didn’t do anything wrong!”

“I had a feeling you’d say that, Reiss,” says a voice and everyone looks to see Levi and Hanji walking up, both exhausted. His eyes fall on Eren. “And I had a feeling we’d find you here.” He stands beside Eren. “Did you eat?”

“Yes, thank you for the food, by the way,” says Eren with a nod and Levi returns it. He notices a small, clean white bandage on the back of Levi’s head. “Are you finished with your meetings?”

“For the moment,” says Hanji as she sits on Historia’s bed. “We just finished telling the bigwigs about our capture of the Beast Titan.”

Eren jumps to his feet, startling both Levi and Mikasa. “You captured the Beast Titan?! When? How? What’s it like?”

Hanji smirks. “It was the other night when he tried another ambush. We were able to cut off his attacks and then I cut him out. We’ve got him below in the dungeons, completely secure. We’ll begin interrogating him once things have calmed down.” She smiles dazzlingly at Eren. “Oh! You’re getting a promotion, Eren! Congratulations, Team Leader Lieutenant Jaeger!”

“That was my line, Four Eyes,” grumbles Levi but he’s hardly bothered when he sees the dazed and astounded expression on Eren’s face. He gently nudges Eren in the arm. “Say something, Eren.”

“I’m a lieutenant now?” asks Eren, looking at Levi who nods again.

“Yes you are, Lieutenant Jaeger,” says Levi with a small smile. “And Team Leader for Squad Levi.”

Eren feels like he’s about to faint and slowly sits back down, still reeling from the news that he’s the Team Leader for Squad Levi. He still answers to Levi directly but now his squad mates take direction from him. He’ll be the one calling the shots whenever Levi’s indisposed. It seems surreal. “Why?” asks Eren, looking from Hanji to Levi and back. “I . . . I thought I wouldn’t ever be promoted.”

“You sealed the Wall, completing our main objective,” replies Hanji kindly. “It was enough for Erwin and Pixis to demand that you move up in the ranks. It’ll take a little while, but soon you’ll have people saluting you.” She salutes him and he laughs.

“Are you sure this isn’t some kind of mistake?” asks Eren, looking up at Levi. “I mean, it’s not like I’m ungrateful or anything, but it doesn’t seem like something Command would approve of. They’re making a Titan Shifter a ranking officer rather than a Scout.”

“And don’t think the MPs are happy about it,” says Levi with a smirk. “They about shit themselves when Erwin proposed it and looked like they did when Zachary agreed.”

“This is great, Eren!” says Connie enthusiastically. “Lieutenant Eren Jaeger has a nice ring to it.”

“Not as nice as Captain Jaeger,” chimes in Sasha with a wide grin.

“Or Commander Jaeger!” counters Historia happily, Armin nodding his agreement.

Eren smiles delightedly at his friends. Part of him was a little nervous that they’d resent him or think it unfair that he’s been promoted while they haven’t and they definitely won’t jump the ranks like he just did. He wonders what in hell Erwin said to get him to go straight from Scout to lieutenant.

“Can Eren use his new rank to help Jean out?” asks Historia thoughtfully, dragging them back to the reality of their situation.

Hanji shrugs. “I’m not sure, sweetie. Jean’s fate isn’t up to any of us, if it were, he’d be with us right now. It’s now up to the courts and Zachary.” She frowns and runs a hand over the top of her head, twisting some of her ponytail around her fingers. “We’ll have to inform his mother, she’ll probably want to be present for the trial.” She looks at Levi. “Would you mind being his judge advocate?”

“Not at all,” says Levi with a shrug and he looks at Armin. “I’ll need your assistance in gathering evidence and statements from people.”

“He’s already started that,” says Eren proudly and Armin sits up a little straighter under Levi’s approving gaze. “I’ll be testifying as a character witness.”

“I’ll prepare you a script,” says Levi and the others snicker at Eren’s irritated expression. “I’m not about to let someone as blunt and careless as you testify unprepared in a life or death tribunal.”

“Eren’s perfectly capable of speaking for himself,” snaps Mikasa and Eren rolls his eyes.

“Levi has a point, Mikasa,” says Eren with a sigh. “I do tend to wander off topic and say the wrong thing. A script isn’t a bad idea, as long as I have some input.”

“That’s reasonable,” says Levi and Mikasa frowns. He looks at Historia. “You’ll be required to testify as well, not to Kirstein’s character, but regarding the events of the incident. I’d like you to work with Arlert and record what you remember to the best of your ability.”

“I can do that,” says Historia giving him a firm nod. “Will I need to be present?”

“That a possibility,” says Levi and his gaze wanders to the bandages peeking out from the neck of her nightgown. “Of course that depends on how fit you are.”

Historia touches the bandages. “I’ll be fine, Captain.”

“Can we testify, too?” asks Sasha, indicating herself and Connie. “Jean’s our friend and teammate, we can’t just sit and watch.”

Levi nods. “I don’t see why not. You’ll need to prepare scripts as well and submit them to me for approval. No one is going to speak off the cuff at this tribunal, not even Erwin, so we’ll have to come up with possible questions you may be asked and answers to them. We’ll discuss what to say if you’re asked a question we haven’t anticipated.”

“This sounds like a lot of work,” says Connie warily, only to be pinned by a stern look from Levi.

“It is because a man’s life hangs in the balance,” says Levi sternly. “This isn’t going to be like Eren’s trial, we can’t make any deals or propose alternatives. This is a cut and dry military tribunal and they require a great deal of preparation.”

“They were right to make you a judge advocate then,” says Eren with a grin and Levi shoves his shoulder fondly.

“What about you, Mikasa?” asks Sasha excitedly, turning to the other girl, who is being unusually quiet. “Are you going to say something at Jean’s trial?”

To the majority’s surprise, Mikasa shakes her head. “What he did was cowardly. He shouldn’t have let his past with Marco affect his present if he’d kept a clear head, then Historia wouldn’t be in her current condition.”

“Mikasa, how can you say that?” demands Historia, tossing the girl a harsh look. “He made a mistake, it’s not like he meant for me to get hurt.”

“Still, he shouldn’t have said anything,” says Eren and several people stare at him with wide eyes. “Don’t think that because I’m in favor of Jean’s release, I agree with what he did. He should’ve kept his mouth shut and just let Toria do what she needed. I know Marco was his best friend but that shouldn’t have played a part in any of his decisions once he saw which side Marco was on.”

“I see Arlert told you about Bott,” says Levi, eyeing Armin, who sinks down slightly in his chair.

“Someone would’ve anyway, it doesn’t matter,” says Eren, giving his friend a reassuring wink.

Historia frowns sharply at Eren. “That’s rather hypocritical of you to say, Eren. You nearly let Annie win because you couldn’t get over the fact you knew her.”

Eren tries not to rise to the obvious bait. “I know,” he manages to say without any malice. “That’s why I’m saying I don’t agree with Jean’s decision. I’ve been in that position, I know what it’s like to see someone you know betray you and everyone else, and that’s why I was hoping the rest of you wouldn’t make my mistake.”

Surprise makes itself plainly clear on Historia’s face.

“I want you to be better than me,” he continues, looking down at his lap. “I know I screwed up with Annie and people lost their lives because of it. I was hoping that all of you would learn and do better in the future. I never wanted any of you going through what I did, to know that your choices caused people to lose their lives.” His gaze flickers to Levi for a split second before going back to his lap. “I really didn’t think that Jean, of all people, would be the one to make my mistake.”

Silence follows his words and he starts to fidget, twirling his thumbs as he waits for someone to say something. The waiting might kill him if someone doesn’t put him out of this misery soon.

“Well shit, Eren,” says Connie breaking the quiet. “Never knew you felt that way.”

“Yeah,” agrees Sasha with a giggle. “Eren acts all tough, but he’s really just a big softie! Like meringue cookies!”

Levi’s eyes shimmer in the light. “Now there’s something new.”

Eren frowns at him. “Don’t you dare start calling me ‘meringue cookie.’”

“Of course not, cookie,” says Levi and Hanji busts out laughing.

“Levi made a joke!” she declares loudly, effectively breaking the tension in the room.

“The world must be ending,” says Armin and Historia breaks down into a fit of giggles.

Eren starts laughing. “No, the world’s ending because Armin sassed the Captain!”

Mikasa gives them a small grin. “Yes, it would seem that way.”

Sasha jumps up and leans in close to Mikasa’s face, grinning broadly. “I don’t think I’ve seen Mikasa smile like this before! It’s so pretty! Normally she looks like the Captain and can’t crack a smile to save her life.”

“I smile, just not around you,” Eren hears Levi mutter.

Mikasa gently pushes her away. “Well, we are cousins, so it’s to be expected.”

There is a beat between her words and the changing expressions on the others’ faces: From amusement to bewilderment to outright disbelief.

“You’re cousins?!” they exclaim in unison.

Levi and Mikasa nod, both attempting to keep themselves composed as the rest of their squad falls apart upon hearing the news. Hanji looks mystified, Sasha seems terrified, Armin looks awestruck and maybe a little annoyed, Historia appears elated, Connie looks as if he’s trying to work out the logistics, and Eren looks ready to faint. Levi gently shoves Eren’s shoulder, hoping to bring the Shifter to his senses, but all it does is cause him to fall face first into the end of Mikasa’s hospital bed.

“Eren?” she wonders, worry in her voice as she looks at Levi. “What did you do?”

“Nothing,” replies Levi as he shakes Eren’s shoulder again. “Oi, brat, wake up! Now’s not the time to nap.”

“Dis ‘as u be a deem,” mutters Eren against the blankets. “It ‘as u be.”

Levi shakes his head and grabs Eren’s shoulders, pulling him roughly into an upright position. “What was that, Eren?”

“This has to be a dream,” he repeats, staring at Levi with a bewildered gaze. “How else do you explain you and Mikasa being related?”

“Well, our mothers were sisters, so there is that,” says Levi with an exasperated sigh just as Eren starts to fall towards the bed again. “Oh no you don’t, if anyone should be fainting it’s either me or Mikasa but it sure as hell isn’t you.”

Eren tries to steady himself, feeling as if the world is off its axis and that the room is spinning uncontrollably. “Fine,” he says as his stomach flips. “So your mothers were sisters and that’s how you’re cousins, okay, I can understand that.”

“Good,” says Levi, observing Eren carefully. He can’t say he’s surprised by Eren’s reaction but at the same time, he thought the young man would be at least a little happy for him. “Apparently my mother Kuchel was Mikasa’s mother’s older sister.”

Historia perks up and looks at Mikasa. “Wait, when that man Kenny said, “Kaileah” was he talking about you or your mother?”

Mikasa nods. “My mother. Her name was Kaileah Ackerman, the youngest of three children. Her older siblings were Kenny and Kuchel Ackerman.” Her eyes sparkle in Levi’s direction and his gaze softens towards her.

“How did you two even figure this out?” asks Hanji incredulously. “And who’s this man who knew Mikasa’s mother, anyway?”

Levi frowns sharply. “Turns out he’s our piece of shit uncle, Kenny. He apparently thought Mikasa was Kaileah and let it slip.” He shakes his head, remembering how little Kenny said of himself when he was in the man’s care; clearly, it was a careless mistake on his part. “Anyway, after Mikasa and I were injured, we started talking about our mothers. We thought that maybe Kenny had been friends with them, as he told me that he used to know my mother, and when I told her my mother’s name, Mikasa told me the story of our mothers and uncle.”

Hanji immediately bounces to her feet and leans across Mikasa’s bed to embrace Levi. He instantly struggles in her grip, attempting to free himself.

“This is fantastic, Levi!” she says with a slight sob before she pulls away to look at him. Her smile is wobbly as she struggles not to cry. “Captain Levi Ackerman. Captain Ackerman. Ackerman.” She hugs him again. “You finally have a surname.”

Hesitantly, he leans into her embrace, not fully putting his arms around her but no longer attempting to rid himself of her presence. She’s known him longer than most and she’s been present for all the times when someone asks for his full name and then stares at him when all he says is his given name; it’s not something he’s openly discussed with anyone, but he knew that she could tell the situation bothered him more than he let on. It’s one of those times that makes Hanji Hanji.

“I’ll change your file right away,” she whispers and he gives a subtle nod.

“Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Eren scratches the top of his head with his pencil as he stares at the pages in front of him; he’s been at this for several hours now, translating the foreign words on this page to the common tongue and his brain is starting to hurt. He hasn’t done something like this since he was little and even back then it was a pain in the ass. He really wishes that Armin knew this language so he wouldn’t be stuck doing it alone.

It’s been a couple of days since they returned from Wall Maria and Eren has spent that time almost evenly divided between attending meetings where he recounts the events that happened during the mission almost to the point it’s second nature now and sitting in his room with Armin translating and cataloging the books they found. He insisted on going through the texts first under the pretext that in order to understand anything in his father’s journals, they will need background knowledge.

Whether or not Armin believed him is inconsequential; Eren just can’t stomach the thought of reading his father’s journals, of discovering things he doesn’t want to know. Whenever he thinks about it too much, his mind goes to the vials they found and what Armin said about them containing whatever it is that creates Shifters. That just makes him think of the night he dreams about so frequently, of his father holding a needle to his arm and stabbing him with it.

No wonder I flinch when Hanji comes at me with one.

“How’s it going?” asks Levi as he enters Eren’s room, two cups of tea in hand.

Eren jumps slightly and then smiles when he sees him, grateful for the company and the tea. “Slowly,” he says as Levi sets a cup down beside him before taking the seat Armin occupied earlier before he was commandeered by Hanji to assist in some meeting. Eren takes a sip and allows the strong taste of Earl Grey to wash over his tongue and for the heat to spread throughout his body, relaxing him tremendously. “What have you been doing?”

“Sitting in shit meetings and talking with Mikasa,” replies Levi as he picks up one of the many papers Eren’s translated in the last few hours. He barely misses the irritated look that crosses Eren’s face. He frowns slightly. “Learn anything?”

“I’m not really paying attention to what the books say,” replies Eren as he resumes the task, writing down a full sentence in what feels like no time. It’s a great distraction from the thoughts swirling around his head at present. “I know what the words are, I’m just ignoring what they mean for right now.”

Levi looks at him curiously as he takes a sip of his tea. Something about what he just said rubs the wrong way on Levi’s mind. “Are you afraid of what you’ll find?” he asks bluntly, deciding to go for the direct approach.

The pencil in Eren’s hand stills and he gives Levi a short nod before he continues writing.

“I see,” says Levi as he reads the page in his hand. It appears to be about the geography of a place called Marley. This passage references a location called Liberio. “Are these your father’s journals or the texts that Arlert wanted to bring?”

“The texts,” replies Eren and he gestures vaguely at his bed. “My dad’s journals are still in my pack.” He then bolts up. “Oh shit.” He pushes away from his desk and hurries over to the end of his bed where he kneels down in front of a small travel trunk, standard issue for all Scouts to store their civilian clothes and possessions.

Levi watches as Eren rummages through the trunk, muttering to himself and swearing every other breath until he finally comes up with a small bag he recognizes as the ones they used in the exercise. Eren carefully opens it and seemingly breathes a sigh of relief as he reaches in and grabs something out of it. Levi’s eyebrow quirks up when he hears the unmistakable sound of china tinkling together.

“Oh thank the gods,” says Eren as he closes his trunk and stands back up, this time with a beautiful teacup and saucer in hand. “I was so worried that this broke.”

“What is it?” asks Levi as he puts down the paper and his teacup on Eren’s desk.

Eren smiles morosely as he comes back, carrying the teacup as if it will shatter with the slightest jostling. He puts it on the desk beside Levi’s cup, his fingers gently tracing the soft lines of the rim and handle. Levi doubts he’s ever seen someone look so tenderly at a piece of glass before.

“It was a teacup from my mom’s set,” replies Eren, frowning slightly when he sees the dust on his fingers. “I found it in the basement.”

Understanding washes over Levi and he gently picks up the teacup, pulling out a handkerchief to wipe it down with. He’s glad it’s just dust but it still should be washed properly with soap and hot water before Eren uses it.

“You don’t have to do that,” protests Eren and Levi shakes his head.

“I need something to do while you’re busy,” says Levi casually as he gently goes over the rim with a corner of the cloth. “Get back to what you were doing, I promise I won’t break it.”

“I know,” says Eren with a fond smile as he returns to the papers on his desk. Moments later, the silence is filled with the sound of pencil on paper.

Levi steadily moves the cloth over the china, watching as years’ worth of dust falls away from the teacup and on to the floor. He frowns slightly and puts the teacup and cloth back on the desk before going over to Eren’s washbasin. He’s not sure why this didn’t occur to him first but now that it has, he realizes how much more sense this makes. He fills the basin halfway with water and retrieves the cup and saucer, placing both in the water, which immediately turns a cloudy grey from the dust. Levi takes off his jacket and pushes up the sleeves of his white shirt before going to work on gently washing away the thick layer of dust that coats the only remaining piece of Eren’s mother’s tea set.

Even in the dim light provided by torches and candles, Levi can tell that what he’s holding is a true piece of art. The cup itself is expertly crafted, wide at the top with a small curve at the neck before expanding again at the base although it’s not as wide as the top half. The handle isn’t smooth like the ones Levi’s used to seeing and it’s incredibly narrow, with deep etchings that look like the columns at the capital building but much more dainty in appearance. He likes the way both ends of the handle fan out with what looks like bird feathers.

The pattern seems to be hand painted and Levi pauses for a moment to admire the work the crafter did. The roses are a soft pink, painted so well that Levi is almost convinced they’re real, the border around the upper and lower rims are a darker shade of pink and looks like the border of a lacy doily. He smiles to himself as he imagines what the rest of the set looked like, wondering how often Mrs. Jaeger used her set and if Eren ever got the opportunity to use it himself.

Something tells me that his mother never let him touch any part of it.

Levi’s smile widens marginally as he puts the teacup on the towel by the basin and reaches for the saucer next. It’s just as finely made as the teacup. It’s perfectly flat in the middle with its rim cupped just enough for someone to comfortably hold it, the glaze thin enough to prevent unnecessary sticking between the base of the cup and the middle of the plate. The cream color continues, matching the cup exactly. The bouquet of roses is in the center of the saucer, right where the cup sits, and a ring of small rose buds runs around the space between the border and the middle of the cup. The border is the same dark pink lacy pattern as on the cup.

“Was your mother’s tea set commissioned?” asks Levi as he finishes wiping down the saucer.

Eren looks up and shrugs. “I think so, Dad gave it to Mom as a wedding present.”

“Lucky woman,” mumbles Levi as he puts the saucer on the towel beside the cup. Now that there isn’t a coating of dust, the beauty of the piece shines brightly even in the slightly darkened room. He opens the table drawer and procures another towel, he then carefully picks up the teacup and uses the clean towel to dry it before water spots can form; he’d much rather have washed these with hot water and soap but that can come later, right now he’s just happy to see them clean. When he’s finished with the cup, he sets it down on the table and dries the saucer. Once he’s done, he reunites the two pieces and walks back over to Eren’s desk, setting the cup down beside him.

Eren looks over at the teacup and saucer as Levi sits back down in the chair he vacated earlier. He puts down the pencil and brushes his fingertips on the handle of the cup. “I wasn’t ever allowed to touch her tea set growing up,” says Eren quietly and Levi hums in acknowledgment as he takes a sip of his cooling tea. “The only times I could were on special occasions.” His fingertip grazes the rim of the cup. “Mom would go all out whenever she had a reason to use this, especially if it were a holiday or something.

“The day before, she’d go to the store and buy the best tea she could afford; it was usually Earl Grey or jasmine or lavender. “Something fragrant and uplifting,” she’d say whenever I would ask her what kind she bought.” His fingertip dips down to trace the roses. “Then she’d spend the whole afternoon cleaning it and polishing her silver spoons. I would help or at least I called it helping, I’m sure she thought I was just making the job harder.”

He lets out a small chuckle and Levi looks at him carefully.

“Anyway, she’d bake these shortbread cookies that were great for dipping in her tea,” continues Eren, a fond, sad smile on his lips. “I loved helping her bake, she’d always give me the spoon to lick and would let me press out the cookie shapes. I liked making stars the most; I thought they looked nicer than the circles. Then while the cookies were baking, she’d set up the table with a big white tablecloth and she’d send me out to pick flowers for the centerpiece. I always brought back huge bouquets of wildflowers and she’d always smile when I’d give them to her.” His voice cracks on the last word. “I think I enjoyed the preparations more than the actual occasion.”

His hand slips away from the cup and his head falls as tears start to drip down his nose. He brings his hands up to cover his face from Levi, not wanting him to see him like this, but it’s too late. The Captain is already in front of Eren, kneeling down to be eye level with the Shifter. Levi isn’t sure how he should comfort Eren, he’s really just running on instinct right now, but the young man doesn’t seem to mind. He decides to take a leap and puts a hand on Eren’s shoulder. This seems to break something and before Levi can fully comprehend what’s happening, Eren is falling to the floor as his arms wrap securely around Levi’s neck and holds him close as he buries his face in the crook of his neck.

Levi’s momentarily stunned and doesn’t react right away. He’s never had someone so willingly fall into his touch before, especially when they were feeling vulnerable. Not that he’s ever given someone an invitation, but he just didn’t expect the immediate reaction. When he feels Eren’s chest heave against his with quiet sobs, it reminds him that he needs to respond or do something otherwise Eren might think he’s made a mistake and pull away. That’s definitely not what Levi wants, so he wraps his arms around Eren’s torso and holds him tightly.

They don’t speak for a while and only the sounds of Eren’s muffled cries fill the room. Levi does his best to comfort the man crying in his arms, alternating between rubbing circles on his back to caressing his neck and the back of his head. The more he does, the more Eren clings to him and a strange warmth settles in Levi’s chest every time he feels him hold tighter or move closer. It’s a new thing to him being needed like this.

Eventually, Eren’s sobs subside enough that he’s able to pull himself together and away from Levi’s shoulder. When Levi sees his face, his heart clenches and something inside him screams at him to be gentle with this new face, this face of vulnerability and unguarded emotion. The Shifter’s eyes are rimmed a dark red, tear tracks glisten against his tan cheeks and his green-blue eyes hold the light of someone who’s seen far too much too soon in life and the innocence that he used to know years ago.

“I’m sorry,” he says, his voice slightly gruff and he quickly pulls away from Levi, using his sleeves to wipe his eyes and hopefully give him a moment to compose himself before facing Levi again. He didn’t intend on breaking down like he did or spending gods’ know how long crying when he should be working. If he’s going to be a lieutenant and team leader, he needs to get his act together and not let something like a teacup be his demise.

“It’s okay, Eren,” says Levi gently and Eren stops rubbing his eyes, instead peeking out from around his arms when Levi speaks. His heart races when he sees the warm light in Levi’s cool grey eyes. “It’s okay that you miss her.”

“Do you miss your mother?” asks Eren without thinking and winces slightly when he sees the space between Levi’s eyebrows crease. He lowers his arms in favor of rubbing the back of his neck. “Sorry, dumb question, of course, you miss her. She probably misses you too.”

It suddenly strikes Levi that he never told Eren about his mother, at least details beyond her name and relationship to Mikasa’s mother and that the only person on his squad who knows about her fate is Mikasa. It’s a wrong he should correct quickly. “Eren,” he says quietly as he takes Eren’s hand in his, “my mother died when I was six.”

Eren’s eyes widen and he looks torn between giving his condolences and staying silent. He opts for the latter.

Levi’s grateful for the silence, it gives him time to collect his thoughts and words. “My mother was a prostitute in the Underground, that’s how she came to have me. I don’t know who my father is and I don’t really care, it didn’t matter to me then and it doesn’t matter now. What matters to me is my mother.” He runs a hand through his hair as he tries to come up with what to say next.

“What do you remember of her?” asks Eren quietly when he sees Levi struggling for purchase.

Thank you, gods, that Eren’s not as dense as he seems.

“Warmth,” replies Levi with a faint smile. “Warmth and kindness. I can’t remember her being mean to anyone, not even the rowdy assholes that would stumble into the brothel at night.” His expression softens as the few cherished memories he has of Kuchel come forward. “She was beautiful. Long black hair that seemed to go on forever and a small bright smile on her face almost all the time.”

Eren smiles at the description, easily filling in the blanks in his mind, imagining a woman with Levi’s skin tone and angular face to go with the black hair and smile. He can easily agree with Levi’s sentiment.

“I think her eyes were like mine,” continues Levi, his thumb absentmindedly stroking Eren’s knuckles. “I don’t remember them being very big but they were always full of life, and they were a pale blue, not completely grey like mine but some days they looked the same.”

“Your eyes look blue in the right light,” comments Eren and he receives a squeeze to the hand. “What else?”

“She loved to sing,” says Levi, his smile growing fonder and just a little sadder. “ It seemed like she was always singing or humming.” He frowns for a moment. “I wish I could remember what she used to sing. All I can remember is the melody.”

Eren squeezes his hand gently. “Maybe you could ask Mikasa.”

“I could,” agrees Levi, smiling a little at Eren. “It’s still strange to think of myself as her cousin.”

Eren nods his head. “Oh yeah, definitely strange.” He chuckles as his thumb goes over the back of Levi’s hand. “I wonder if Kaileah looked like Kuchel.”

Levi smiles a little more when he hears his mother’s name come from Eren’s lips. Until now, the only other person who’s said it was Mikasa and it feels incredibly right to hear Eren say her name, especially with such reverence. “That’s possible,” says Levi with a nod. “They were sisters after all. I wonder if you look more like Carla or Grisha.”

It feels good to hear someone else say his parents’ names. Especially Levi.

“Dad said I look more like Mom than him,” says Eren with a slight chuckle and then he reaches up towards the desk, his fingers searching for the piece of shiny paper that he’s had buried beneath sheets of paper for days. His fingers graze over it and he quickly pulls it down, handing it to Levi, who looks at it curiously. “It’s called a photograph,” explains Eren when he sees Levi’s confusion. “It’s like a painting but flat and pressed onto paper.”

Levi releases Eren’s hand in order to hold the strange piece of paper better. He tilts it until it catches the light and is amazed by the brilliant depiction of the image. His eyes are drawn to the tall man in the background, a man with wire-rimmed glasses and a black beard. He can tell immediately that this is Grisha Jaeger, he and Eren share a similar face structure, but Eren’s face is softer in places comparatively. It strikes him as strange that Grisha is standing with a blonde woman and blond boy.

“That’s my dad’s first family,” says Eren, pointing at the woman and boy. “That’s his wife Dina and his son, Ezekiel. I guess that would make him my older brother.”

Levi snorts lightly. “Depending on when this photograph was made, you might be the same age.”

Eren shakes his head and laughs. “No, I highly doubt that once my father arrived here in the Walls, he was able to return to wherever he’s from to have another family.”

“I suppose,” says Levi as he continues to stare at the photograph. “He looks familiar.”

“My dad?” asks Eren and Levi shakes his head.

“The boy,” says Levi, turning the photograph towards Eren and pointing at Ezekiel. “He looks familiar to me.”

Eren moves closer and stares at the frozen image of his half-brother. “Really? I wonder why?”

The cogs in Levi’s head continue to turn, going over every face he can recall seeing that even remotely resemble the boy in the photograph. He can’t remember seeing any children like him and of the teenagers he knows, only a handful are even close to being as blond as the boy but none of them have the right face. Finally, he thinks about the adults he knows that may look like him and he nearly drops the photograph as that thought crosses his mind.

“Eren,” he says, looking over his shoulder at the Shifter. “I think I know why he looks familiar.”

Eren’s eyes light up and he eagerly leans in closer to Levi. “Really? Why?”

“Because he’s down in the dungeons right this second. He’s the Beast Titan.”

Chapter Text

“What do you think?” asks Hanji quietly as she glances at Armin, studying the boy’s reaction. “Too much?”

They’re in the basement of their headquarters, standing in front of a cell that used to be only for humans, but now with some modifications from Hanji, serves as the first of three Titan Shifter holding cells. Armin struggles to keep his stomach under control, as his eyes travel to the man standing in the center of the cell, bound with such simplicity, Armin can hardly believe that Hanji designed it. The man has a pair of shackles on his legs at the ankle and on his arms at the wrist. The chains are attached to the walls and are effectively pinning the man in place. It would’ve appeared to be a simple and rather ineffective means of holding a Shifter if it weren’t for the blood dripping steadily down his arms and pooling around his feet.

“Honestly, I find it understated,” says Armin admirably. “It seems your experiments are paying off.”

Hanji nods happily. “That they are, especially where real-life applications are concerned.” She reaches out and touches the bars on the cell in front of her. “Thanks to our preparations, we’ve been ready for a Shifter prisoner for weeks.”

Armin swallows hard, attempting to banish thoughts of Hanji’s “preparations” from his mind. “That’s great, Hanji,” he says slowly as if testing the words. “Have you made any progress with interrogating him?”

“No, not yet,” admits Hanji as she stares brazenly at the shirtless Shifter, she admits that he’s much more physically impressive than she thought he would be when she first ripped him out of his Titan. In fact, he looks like many of the Scouts after a couple of months on ODM gear. Her mind wanders to what she knows of Eren’s physique. She wonders how much of his body structure is the result of physical work and how much is because of being a Shifter. “That’s partially why you’re here.” She turns to him and smiles. “I thought between the two of us, we could come up with a means of dragging answers from our new friend.”

Armin doesn’t like the way she says that. “I don’t have much experience with this, Hanji.”

Hanji pats his shoulder reassuringly. “Don’t worry, my dear, I have complete faith in you.”

Armin is hardly reassured. “Should we really be discussing these things in front of him? He can probably understand what we’re saying.”

“I’m sure he can,” says Hanji as she once again turns her attention to the Beast Titan Shifter. “In fact, I’m counting on that. I want him to know absolutely everything I plan on doing to him, how I’ll slowly remove his fingernails and teeth, enjoying the way he bleeds and how smoothly the skin will tear.”

Her voice sounds like a cat coaxing a mouse into its claws: Charming and deadly. In fact, it almost sounds like a purr as she describes how much blood the Shifter will lose at her hands and what she intends to do with the pieces she removes from him. The Scouts standing guard start to fidget uncomfortably in their stations as Hanji goes into great detail about how she would love to remove the Shifter’s heart and see if he’ll still live.

“That woman is terrifying,” Armin hears one of them whisper as Hanji launches into a monologue about how difficult it is to fully understand how the human body works because all her specimens are dead and useless. He can’t help but feel the slightest bit of pity for the Shifter at this point.

“What do you say, Beasty Boy?” coos Hanji with a malicious smile. “Help a girl of science out and let me pick your body apart. I promise to share all my findings with you. I might even be nice and tell you exactly what I did to cause your death.”

“Um, Hanji,” says Armin quietly, gently tugging at Hanji’s jacket. When she looks at him, he takes a step back, terrified of the dull glint in her eyes. “I thought the whole point of aggressive negotiations is to not be so aggressive once the other party is willing to speak.”

Hanji nods and pats the top of his head. “And you’re right, but until he does, I’m going to have my fun with him.” She rests her head against the bars and stares longingly at the Shifter. “I can’t have the kind of fun I want to with Eren, so this guy’s the next best thing.”

“But what if he cooperates?” asks Armin as he looks carefully at the Shifter, although even as he asks, something in his mind tells him that the man won’t cooperate with them. Even if he’s tortured, he’ll remain silent. He can see it in his eyes.

“Then things will become boring again,” replies Hanji with a shrug and the two other Scouts in the room take a step away from her. “Erwin will be happy to have any new knowledge, be it gained through cooperation or aggressive negotiations, and he’s left it up to me to decide how we get that information.”

Armin decides at that moment that Hanji is much, much scarier than Captain Levi.

“Eren, get back here!” they hear someone shout and both turn to see Eren running towards them, a wild look in his eye and something clutched in his hand. Over his shoulder, they see Levi running to keep up with him, obviously irritated at the whole situation. “Lieutenant Jaeger, I said halt!”

Eren brushes off Levi’s orders and comes to a stop in front of Hanji and Armin, panting slightly.

“Eren, what’s going on?” asks Armin as he approaches his friend, only for Eren to breeze past him and go straight for the cell door. He looks to Hanji, who merely shrugs.

Levi comes to a halt beside Hanji, his expression verging on murderous when his eyes land on Eren.

“What’s going on?” asks Hanji curiously, her gaze cutting between Eren and Levi.

“Hell if I know, Four Eyes,” snaps Levi as he leans against the wall behind him, his arms crossed against his chest. His eyes are completely on Eren.

The Shifter takes several measured steps towards the cell door, each one echoing in the stone corridor before he reaches his destination. He wraps his free hand around a bar and stares at the man in the cell, his eyes flitting across the man’s face before landing on a familiar pair of circular wire-rimmed glasses.

“Ezekiel Jaeger!” he booms, causing the other soldiers in the vicinity to jump.

Hanji, Levi, and Armin stare at Eren’s back and then at the man chained in the cell across from them; they’re waiting for something to happen, to see where Eren plans to go with this declaration. Armin, who knows the secret of the photograph, actively avoids gaping at the other man. He can hardly believe what Eren just said.

The man in the cell lifts his head for the first time since his imprisonment, meeting the storm of green looking directly at him. “Eren Jaeger,” says Ezekiel with a nod of acknowledgment.

There’s a collective gasp from most of the spectators. It’s the first words said by the prisoner since his arrival.

“Eren, how do you know this man?” asks Hanji, taking a small step forward.

Eren doesn’t break eye contact with Ezekiel, intent to stare him down. “He’s my half-brother,” replies Eren evenly despite the blaze in his eyes. “We share the same father.”

His brother looks so much like their father that it almost pains Eren to even look at him: they share the same eyes, the same shaped face, he even has a beard like their father although his is a bit fuller than his had been. The only true difference between his father and brother is their hair. Grisha’s had been a dark brown almost black in the right light, and Ezekiel’s is the color of fresh straw.

Hanji’s jaw falls open and the air leaves her lungs when Eren speaks. That’s certainly not what she expected him to say. “You . . . You have a brother?” she stammers, her mind whirling with questions and possible breakthroughs in Titan Shifter knowledge this presents.

Eren gives a brief nod. “I do,” he says, still looking at Ezekiel. “I didn’t know about him until I went to the basement. I found a picture and a letter from my father explaining that he had a family before he arrived at the Walls.”

“You . . . You mean . . . Your brother’s from beyond the Walls?!” Hanji all but shrieks, deafening those around her.

“Yes,” says Eren as he brings up the photograph and shows it to Ezekiel.

The Beast Titan Shifter chuckles when he sees it. “Now there’s a relic,” he says in a language only one person in the room understands, confirming without a doubt to Eren that this man is his father’s oldest son.

“What did he say, Eren?” asks Armin, his eyes shining with interest upon hearing the new language spoken aloud.

You said you found that,” continues Ezekiel with a slightly amused smirk. “I guess Father was too ashamed to actually tell you about me. But I’ve known about you, Eren, and I’m glad we finally get to meet.

“Eren?” asks Armin, nervously approaching his friend. He’s never seen Eren so impassive before, it’s greatly unsettling. “Eren, what did he say?”

How did you find out about me?” asks Eren, completely ignoring Armin.

“Eren,” says Levi, stepping between the two young men, putting a hand on Eren’s shoulder. Enough is enough. “Either you tell us what he’s saying or I’m removing you from this room. Your choice.”

“He said that he’s known about me for years,” says Eren flatly, breaking eye contact with Ezekiel in favor of looking at Levi. “He also recognizes the photograph.”

Levi glances at the piece of paper still clutched in Eren’s grip and then at the Titan Shifter in the cell. “That language,” he says, looking back at Eren, “that’s the one your father taught you, correct?”

Eren nods and Levi does the same.

“We need to speak to Erwin about this,” he says, pulling Eren away from the bars. The Shifter resists and tries to hold on. “Eren, we need to inform Erwin of this, now.”

Again, Eren doesn’t budge.

“Eren, you are either leaving this room on your feet or on your ass, which is it going to be?” asks Levi gruffly. He is not in the mood to entertain Eren and his whims. They need to report this conversation to Erwin and inform him that Eren can communicate with him; that fact alone will determine how they proceed with the interrogation.

Somewhat reluctantly, Eren releases his hold on the bar and starts walking towards the door, giving his brother a fleeting glance as he leaves.

“Finally,” mutters Levi as he follows Eren, glaring at Ezekiel as he exits.


 

Erwin carefully regards Levi, Eren, and Hanji as they stand in front of his desk with various expressions on their faces. Hanji seems dazed and elated, Eren is surprisingly calm and collected, and Levi appears absolutely furious; although Erwin can only determine the latter’s mood based more on his body language than his actual expression. Outwardly, he appears as indifferent as usual as he leans against the wall with his arms crossed and head down.

“So the Shifter is your brother, correct?” he asks slowly, looking at Eren as he speaks.

Eren nods. “Yes, sir. He’s my father’s child from a previous marriage.”

“And he’s been living beyond the Walls this entire time?” continues Erwin and again Eren nods. Erwin directs his attention to Hanji. “And thus far he’s only spoken to Eren and in a language only Eren understands?”

Hanji nods, her eyes are shining brighter than the sun and he can almost hear the questions buzzing around in her mind. “Yes, that’s correct. It’s unclear as to whether or not he understands our tongue but he and Eren are capable of communicating regardless.” She squares her shoulders and fixes him with a serious expression. “I propose we let Eren act as translator for our interrogation and also see if he can convince his brother to assist us in furthering our knowledge on Shifters, Titans, and the world outside the Walls.”

Erwin looks to Eren. “Should we agree to this, would you be willing to act as translator and possibly attempt to ask your brother to answer a few of our more unrelated questions?”

“Yes, sir,” replies Eren immediately, barely able to keep the smile off his face. “I agree with Hanji that he’s probably our best source of information on the topics she mentioned. We’d be crazy not to at least try to get some answers out of him.”

“And what are your thoughts on this, Captain?” asks Erwin, now turning to Levi, who is looking at his boots with his thin lips turned at the corners into a sharp frown.

“I don’t approve,” he says, now looking at Erwin. “Benefits aside, we don’t know anything about him other than he’s a Shifter from an unknown location who breached the Walls and unleashed hordes of Titans on us in an attempt to kidnap Eren. It sounds like all we know about the other Shifters that have turned out to be on the other side.”

“Yes, but this time, we have the upper hand,” argues Hanji in a particularly defensive tone. “We know how to deal with Shifters now, we haven’t taken any chances with him possibly escaping, and it’s incredibly unlikely that he’ll even try to take Eren while he’s here. Besides, we’d be incredibly careful with Eren’s interactions with his brother; I’ll personally see that they are monitored and neither one is able to interact with the other beyond speaking.”

Levi clenches his jaw. “That’s not my point, Four Eyes.” He pinches the bridge of his nose in an effort to stave off his quickly rising temper. “My point is, we know nothing about him. We have no way to verify anything he says or have anyone vouch for his character. Look at what he did as a Titan; he had Eren nearly helpless to his control. We don’t know if he can still do that as a human and I don’t want to risk it by exposing them to each other.”

Hanji rolls her eyes. “Well, what’s stopping him from controlling Eren now, huh? He could’ve already been under his control before they even met.”

“And you don’t think that’s enough of a reason why we shouldn’t have them near each other?!” demands Levi harshly. “This is stupid, Four Eyes, even for you.”

Eren frowns. It really gets old being spoken about but not properly addressed. “I’m not under my brother’s control. I don’t feel at all like I did when I was, I’m still me, so I don’t think there’s a danger of having me around him.”

“Then you’re as stupid as she is,” spits Levi venomously.

Erwin clears his throat audibly and the other officers back down from the rising argument. He carefully weighs his next words. “I believe that Hanji’s correct,” he says in a measured tone. “Ezekiel Jaeger is too much of an asset not to utilize and until his fate is decided by High Command, we should use each moment we have gathering information from him, whatever it may be.”

Levi grinds his teeth and kicks his toe against the floor. Don’t they understand what a huge risk this is? Eren’s increasingly at risk the longer his brother stays here and Erwin seems perfectly happy letting them interact. He doesn’t care how many safety measures are taken, this is beyond reckless and he really doesn’t appreciate the easy way Erwin is agreeing. It’s always bothered him how quickly Erwin is to approve something that may or may not expand their knowledge on a topic, especially where Eren is concerned.

“However,” says Erwin, giving Levi a pointed look, “it would be foolish to rely solely on Eren as the middleman, so Eren, you are hereby ordered to teach your second language to Captain Ackerman and both of you are expected to attend the interrogations. There will be other requirements for these meetings, such as you will write down everything that is said by Hanji, you and your brother. Then you will accurately translate it into both languages for our records.”

“Why both?” asks Eren, already not enjoying the sound of all the work about to go into this.

“So we have the language on record,” replies Erwin and Levi’s eyes narrow in suspicion. “Furthermore, you are prohibited from visiting your brother unaccompanied by either Hanji or Levi.” Eren opens his mouth to protest but Erwin raises his hand. “I’m sorry, but it’s for your own protection. Guards will be posted every six hours at his cell and each one will know not to let you speak to him without either of your commanding officers present. Do I make myself plain?”

“Yes, sir,” grumbles Eren with a slight pout and Levi nudges his shin with his boot. Eren scowls at him.

“Now, as for Levi’s lessons, I want them to be twice a day starting tomorrow,” says Erwin sternly. “I want you, Eren, to teach him everything you know and not to leave a single thing out. This is a matter of great importance and I’m entrusting you with it, do you understand the gravity of this request?”

Eren nods, standing just a little straighter as he salutes the Commander. “Yes, sir. I will do my absolute best.”

Erwin smiles at his eager attitude and quick resolve. “Good, that’s all I ask. I would also like your lessons to possibly coincide with your translations of those texts you’ve been working on. I think it would be an efficient means of killing two birds with one stone, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yes, sir,” says Eren again, glancing at Levi, whose gaze is on Erwin. He notices the slight crease between Levi’s eyebrows and he wonders what Levi’s thinking at the moment; his brow only looks like that when he’s thinking hard about something and so far, Eren hasn’t detected anything that would require that much analytical thought.

“Hanji,” says Erwin, directing his attention to her. “You are to treat Ezekiel well, no torture unless required, he will be fed and treated with the respect natural to any human being. Am I clear?”

“Crystal,” replies Hanji with a firm nod. “May I perform experiments on him like I do with Eren? I’d like to do a few comparisons.”

Erwin looks at her carefully before nodding. “Yes, you may. Only they must not require him to be removed from his bindings or cell. That I explicitly forbid. He will not be moved until High Command determines his sentence.”

“Perfect,” says Hanji with a wide grin. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

Something in her smile greatly unsettles Eren. It reminds him of the way she looked when he initially asked her about her experiments; like a hungry wolf about to devour a defenseless lamb.

“Now, unless you have any further questions or concerns, you are dismissed,” says Erwin as his gaze goes to the large stack of paperwork on his desk.

Hanji and Eren salute and begin to walk out of the room, Eren silently beckons to Levi, inquiring as to whether or not he’ll be joining and Levi waves his fingers in a way that tells Eren he’ll see him later. Eren tries to linger behind as long as possible, deliberately taking his time in closing the door, hoping to catch the start of the conversation but he knows Levi too well and knows that he won’t say anything until he’s certain he’s alone with his target. Eren decides to instead wait outside the door, motioning for Hanji to move on. She does so with a knowing smirk.

“Is there something I can help you with, Captain Ackerman?” asks Erwin without looking up from his papers.

“Why do you fight, Erwin?” asks Levi conversationally but his words carry a heavy implication, one Erwin recognizes and he sighs heavily upon hearing it. “Do you fight for humanity’s survival or do you fight in the vain hope of discovering something new and unheard of?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s a vain hope, now that we have Eren,” counters Erwin, his eyes still on the paper in front of him, and Levi frowns. “Not everyone can be as noble and selfless as you and him, Captain. Some, while they do want to see humanity survive, wish to achieve other ends in the process.”

“And if those ends don’t coincide with the main goal?” presses Levi. He’s known Erwin long enough to know when the man’s being evasive and this is one of those times.

“Then they don’t,” replies Erwin diplomatically as he presses pen to paper. “Is this because I mentioned preserving Eren’s second language on the record?”

“No,” says Levi flatly. This isn’t just about that, it’s about more, about a pattern Levi has watched evolve and take shape over the years. “It’s about why you smiled when Hanji told you that Titans are humans.”

Erwin stops writing and looks up at Levi. “If you think I was smiling because I was happy about that, you’re wrong.”

“I know,” says Levi evenly. “You’re a strange man, Erwin but even you know when to draw the line.” He rolls off the wall and stands in front of Erwin desk, his arms at his sides as he evaluates the man to whom is loyalty is absolute. “Why did you smile?”

“I realized we were one step further in knowing the true nature of Titans,” replies Erwin coolly, his sky blue eyes meeting Levi’s steel grey. “Is that so wrong? To be happy about something like that?”

Levi barely resists calling out Erwin’s political answer, it makes him sick whenever people cover up their true intentions with well-meaning lies and pretty phrasing. “No, I suppose it’s not,” concedes Levi with a shrug. “So long as it doesn’t get in the way of saving humanity, I guess there’s nothing wrong with it.”

Erwin smiles easily at his friend. “Good, I’m glad we’re on the same page. Speaking of which.” He shuffles through a couple of stacks of paper, muttering to himself and rearranging a few items, before procuring an envelope, which he hands to Levi.

“What’s this?” asks Levi as he takes the envelope.

“My written consent for you and Eren to be engaged in a non-platonic relationship,” replies Erwin, biting back a huge smile.

Levi’s eyes widened marginally. “I already told you there wasn’t a need for this.”

“Yes, well, that was before Eren’s promotion,” says Erwin, shifting a little uncomfortably in his seat. “Now that he’s a lieutenant and your Team Leader, he’s been officially recognized by the military as a soldier rather than a weapon, which means he now has a chain of command. This should shut up any reg lovers.”

Levi carefully puts the envelope in his pocket. “It’s almost like you’re giving me your blessing, Erwin.”

“I am,” replies Erwin with a shrug. “You and Eren both deserve to be happy and it makes me happy to see you two together. I’d be a fool to get in the way.”

“Not like you would want to anyhow,” quips Levi and Erwin laughs. “Thank you, Erwin. I was wondering how his promotion would affect his status.”

Erwin smiles brightly. “I don’t doubt that you would’ve come up with an impressive loophole, Captain.”

Levi lets out a low sigh. “I’m going to need to if I’m going to get Kirstein out of the mess he’s made for himself.”

Erwin’s smile drops a little at the mention of the Scout. “Yes, that is an unfortunate situation.” His smile then returns. “But I’m sure that you and your squad will be able to come together and win him his freedom. Do you plan on meeting with him soon?”

Levi nods. “Yes, probably within the next couple of days. I’ll need a few forms signed by you first.”

“Let me do that right now,” says Erwin as he reaches into his desk for a stack of clean paper. He quickly puts his signature on each page, blotting the ink to keep it from running, and pressing the seal of his office beside them. “There, that should save you some time.”

With a slightly awestruck and irritated expression, Levi takes the papers from Erwin. “I knew you liked to cut corners, but I had no idea you could do that.”

Erwin lets out a belly laugh. “I try not to but in certain circumstances, I can’t justify not doing so. Take those, fill them out as you need, and then submit them. Just don’t ask for anything outlandish and I’ll vouch for anything you write.”

“Yes, sir,” says Levi, shaking his head as he heads out of Erwin’s office, closing the door behind him. Sometimes he really does wonder how Erwin became the Commander.

“How did it go?” asks Eren when he sees Levi.

Levi looks up at the Shifter and offers him a slight smile. “Fine. I just had a few questions for Erwin.”

They start walking down the hall, falling into step beside each other. Eren moves just a touch closer and Levi’s fingertips brush across the back of his hand.

“What’s that?” asks Eren, pointing at the stack of papers in Levi’s hand. They’re all blank except for Erwin’s signature and wax seal.

“Erwin’s way of expediting bureaucracy bullshit,” replies Levi as he turns down a corridor, Eren easily following his movements. “It’s to help speed up Kirstein’s legal battle. I need to put in requests to meet with him and to meet with the prosecution, the process can take a while, especially given how busy Erwin is of late so he gave us this cheat. I can submit them as soon as I finish writing the request, saving us at least a week.”

Eren’s eyebrows shoot up. “I didn’t know it took so long to get a trial moving.”

“And you wouldn’t, considering yours was an exception in almost every regard,” explains Levi, glancing at Eren as he speaks. “Honestly, I preferred that over the usual bullshit I have to deal with as a judge advocate.”

“It’s too bad you can’t beat the shit out of Jean and get him off,” says Eren with a small grin and Levi’s eyes narrow slightly. “What?”

“Do you resent me?” he asks, repeating the same question he asked Eren after the trial. Despite the passage of time, beating the crap out of Eren still weighs heavily on Levi’s conscience, and he often wonders if the Shifter honestly understood or just said that because he was afraid of the repercussions of not.

Eren shakes his head, his gaze hard with determination. “No, I never have and never will. I know why you did it Levi, and I’ve never questioned it. If you hadn’t, I’d be in some underground laboratory being dissected, or dead. You saved my life.”

And you saved mine. Levi nods before reaching into his pocket and pulling out an envelope, which he offers to Eren.

“What’s this?” asks Eren as he takes it and starts to open it.

“Erwin’s written permission for us to start a relationship,” replies Levi nonchalantly and he smirks when he sees Eren’s cheeks turn a deep shade of garnet. “Now that you’re a ranking officer, it would be against regulations for us to be together unless we have our commander’s permission. Now we do.” He stops walking and so does Eren, they face each other and Levi tries to at least appear more composed than he feels. His eyes are downcast and his head drooped slightly to prevent Eren from seeing the apprehension he knows is on his face. He curses himself for his bashful behavior. “That is if you still want to. I’d understand if you didn’t, I mean, I haven’t been completely clear with you regarding my . . . How I feel towards you . . . And . . . Well . . .”

Eren stares at the small, unimposing envelope as Levi continues to struggle for words. It astonishes to him how much joy a simple piece of paper can give him, and when he looks back at Levi, he smiles wider and happier than he has in days. He reaches out and takes the other man’s hand in his, effectively cutting off anything else Levi may try to say.

“Yes,” he says earnestly, his tone and gaze full of assurance. “Yes, Levi, I want to be with you.”

Levi squeezes his hand, both to convey his relief and to ensure his swirling thoughts and racing heart that this is actually happening and not some kind of dream. He might kill someone if this is actually a dream. “Good,” he says as his mouth curves up into a small but genuine smile. “It wasn’t much of an option anyway.”

Eren throws his head back and laughs.

Chapter Text

Mist clings to the morning air as the sun slowly begins to emerge above the horizon, casting thin rays of yellow and pink light through the grey dawn. Birds chirp in the distance and the air is cool, giving it a more decidedly spring-like atmosphere than summer, and a gentle breeze teases the leaves of the trees. It’s calm and serene, a picturesque morning, and all Eren wants to do is crawl back into bed and sleep for another six hours.

Currently, he and Levi are riding from Headquarters to Wall Sina and the headquarters for the Military Police. They’re going to formally meet with Jean and the judge advocate representing the offended party for the trial as well as a few officials to discuss the particulars of the tribunal. Well, Levi will be doing most of that, Eren will be investigating some interesting claims Jean’s mother made after she visited him in prison. If all goes well, Jean will be able to go back to headquarters with them, but that’s only if her claims check out. Otherwise, he’ll be stuck waiting while others discuss his fate. It reminds Eren a little of his own trial, although it seemed like his fate had already been decided when Levi and Erwin came to speak with him just hours beforehand. Jean’s fate is still up in the air and could very well go either way depending on which side presented the stronger argument.

He yawns loudly as he watches the scenery outside the carriage pass by, struggling to keep his eyes open as the steady rhythm of the carriage wheels and hoof beats tempt him back to sleep. His stamina is impressive but being up this early seems to be pushing its limits. Suddenly something grabs and shakes his shoulder. He jumps and turns to see Levi frowning at him, he offers a sleepy—and slightly guilty—smile.

“Get used to early mornings, Lieutenant,” says Levi as he releases his hold on Eren’s shoulder and moves back to sit on his spot on the bench seat. He picks up a small stack of papers and a pen. “As Team Leader for Squad Levi, I expect you to meet with me before breakfast to discuss training exercises, give squad updates, and go over reports.”

Eren groans as he sits back in his seat, pounding his head slightly against the wall above. “Why does anyone want to be promoted? It just means more work.”

Levi smirks as he makes a few marks on the paper he’s reading. “More money and prestige is typically why most want to be promoted. I could honestly care less about being made a section commander, I already do enough of Erwin and Four Eyes’ work as it stands.”

“So that explains why Hanji hasn’t been demoted,” Eren says with a cheeky smile. He has always wondered how Hanji managed to keep her position despite the obvious neglect of her regular duties. “You’re so nice, Levi.”

“No, I just didn’t want to send Moblit to an early grave,” replies Levi with a slight scowl. “Gods know the man drinks enough already.”

Eren frowns at the mention of Hanji’s currently less than present keeper and right-hand man. “Do you think he’s the traitor, Levi?”

Levi looks up from his paperwork and at Eren, observing the worry etched into the young man’s normally smooth features. He decides that he really doesn’t like that look on Eren’s face. “Yes, I do,” says Levi resignedly. He’s not happy to admit it out loud, in fact, he wishes it weren’t the case, but all signs point to that conclusion. “I wouldn’t mention it to anyone else, I shouldn’t have told you before but you already came to that conclusion on your own so it would be pointless in keeping it from you.”

Eren gives him another sleepy smile before he moves over and puts his head on Levi’s shoulder. It doesn’t go unnoticed by him that Levi tenses at the contact. “Something wrong?”

“No,” says Levi slowly, turning to look at Eren. “It’s just . . . I’ve never had someone do that.”

“Do what?” asks Eren through a yawn as he settles himself more comfortably against Levi.

Levi doesn’t even want to breathe right now, in case it’ll break whatever has come over Eren and make him move away. Answering might do the same.

“Put their head on my shoulder,” replies Levi quietly as he resumes his paperwork, although now more than acutely aware of Eren’s presence. The warmth coming from the other man is intense and easily cuts through his jacket and shirt, he can smell the soap Eren used that morning to bathe and it gives him a new appreciation for the bland military soap, he can even detect the subtle rise and fall of Eren’s chest. It’s somewhat overwhelming to his senses to have him so close but he isn’t about to push him away, if anything, he wants to pull him closer.

“Really?” asks Eren incredulously, moving his head so he can see Levi better. “Does it bother you? Should I stop?”

He moves to adjust his position slightly and in a second he’s being pressed closer to Levi’s side. He stares up at the other man in bewilderment only to find Levi’s face as impassive as usual, except for the gleam of worry in his silver eyes. Eren wants to say something to reassure Levi that he wasn’t going to leave but words won’t do him the proper justice. Instead, he casually slips his arm around Levi’s waist and hugs him closer just as Levi’s arm moves from around his shoulders.

“This is nice,” comments Eren as another yawn bubbles up in his throat. He nestles his head against Levi’s shoulder and practically melts when he catches the scent of the Captain’s aftershave. “We should do it more often.”

“Maybe,” says Levi casually as he sinks further into Eren’s warm embrace. “Maybe not in a carriage though, you can’t be comfortable in that position.”

“I’m plenty comfortable,” Eren says with a contented sigh. “You’re probably the one who isn’t comfortable, what with another person leaning on you and everything.”

Levi moves in just a little closer. “No, I’m fine.”


 

“Captain Levi Ackerman and Lieutenant Eren Jaeger of the Survey Corps,” announces an MP in a rather bored tone to go along with his flat expression. He doesn’t even spare Levi and Eren a passing glance as he exits the room, shutting the doors behind him.

There are three other people in the room, one is seated at the head of a small rectangular table and the other two are standing at his flanks. The man seated looks to be about General Zachary’s age, with neatly combed salt and pepper hair and a matching beard that doesn’t have a hair out of place, his eyes are dark mahogany and seem magnified behind his square glasses. One of the two people beside him, a woman of Mikasa’s stature, has hair that looks like living fire pulled up in a tight bun and piercing blue eyes that remind Eren of Annie’s; this woman looks like she could take him down in one hit, too. The man has sandy blonde hair that looks like Mike’s used to and bored looking green eyes, he’s standing at attention but his body language suggests that he’d rather be anywhere but here.

Eren tries not to look away when those three pairs of eyes bore into him like he’s the one being accused of treason; then again, he shouldn’t be all that surprised by their reaction, despite his accomplishments he’s still a monster to them. He glances at Levi, noting the tension around the man’s eyes.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” says the man seated at the table, wearing full MP regalia. Eren suddenly feels out of place in his Survey Corps uniform. “I am Major Patrick Walsh, judge advocate for the prosecution.” He points at the other two people at his sides, also in MP uniforms. “This is Captain Emilia Quail and Captain Anders Devon, my assistants and the officers in charge of organizing the tribunal.” He gives Eren and Levi an obviously well-practiced smile. “Your reputations precede you, gentlemen, I’m very much aware of who you are.”

“Good,” says Levi in a detached tone. “Can we get this over with?”

Walsh’s fake smile falls easily and is replaced with one as neutral as Levi’s. “Yes, we can. Is Lieutenant Jaeger staying for this or will he be waiting outside?”

“He’s going to speak with Scout Kirstein,” replies Levi before Eren even has the chance.

Walsh eyes Eren with a somewhat malicious glare. Levi makes a show of reaching into his brown leather bag and extracting a piece of paper Eren recognizes as one of the many Erwin gave him the other day. He steps forward and puts the paper down on the table, Walsh leans over and takes it, reading it carefully before setting it back down.

“Commander Smith gave us permission to speak with our comrade and your commander approved it,” drawls Levi as he sits down in the empty seat across from Walsh, putting his bag beside him. He looks over at Eren. “See if you can find someone competent enough to take you to Kirstein’s cell. Come back if you can’t and we’ll see if either of these two dumbasses can actually be useful.”

It takes every ounce of willpower Eren possesses to not crack a smile or let out even a small chuckle, especially when he sees Quail and Devon’s faces. Their reputations as soldiers may have preceded them, but it’s obvious that nothing prepared them for Levi’s frank and barbed tongue. Eren almost wants to sit in on the meeting to watch Levi work.

“Yes, Captain,” says Eren, giving Levi a perfect salute before turning on his heel.

“Oi, Eren,” calls Levi just as he reaches the door. “If anyone gives you trouble, tell them to come talk to me. I’ll set them straight.”

“Yes, Captain,” says Eren smothering a grin as he flees the room.

“What an obedient monster you have, Captain,” says Walsh once Eren is out of the room. “It seems you were right about him being trainable.”

Levi doesn’t outwardly show how pissed Walsh’s words make him. Instead, he distracts himself by imagining the screams Walsh would let out if he dipped the man’s feet into a vat of bubbling oil. “Eren’s obedience stems from respect, not fear, Walsh. Just as it does for every soldier. Although, I would hardly expect someone in the Military Police to understand the difference between respect earned and respect bought.” It gives him more joy than he’ll ever say when Quail and Devon openly glare at him and Walsh shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

They can play whatever game they want, they’re just amateurs compared to me.

“Shall we proceed with the meeting?” asks Walsh smoothly, probably in an attempt to prevent Levi from getting in more digs at the Military Police.

“Absolutely,” replies Levi as he leans back in his chair, one arm slung over the back and the other on the table. “How would you like to start?”

“With this,” says Walsh as he pulls out a paper from a bag beside him. Levi recognizes it as his list of stipulations for Jean’s trial. “What gives you the right to make such demands, Captain?”

“Regulation 153-6 subparagraph B,” explains Levi, watching with satisfaction as Quail quickly pulls out a copy of the regs and starts flipping through to the page. “It states that in the event of a tribunal, the offender’s military branch is permitted to handle the proceedings as they see fit, so long as one other branch agrees to the appointment.” He pulls out an envelope from his bag. “Commander Pixis signed off on this just yesterday.”

He sends it down to Walsh and Devon picks it up. He opens and reads the contents before showing Walsh, whose brow creases.

“Any more questions, Major?” asks Levi casually, eyes resting heavily on the other man as he seems to wrestle with his composure.

Walsh barely contains his hostility as he meets Levi’s gaze. “It hardly seems convenient, Captain, for this tribunal to be held at Survey Corps headquarters when the defendant is being held here.”

“Thank you for bringing that up, Major,” says Levi as he extracts yet another envelope from his bag. “We’ve made a request to have Kirstein moved from your care to ours, as per regulation 174-6C paragraph four. Quail, find it and read it out loud for us. Slowly, if you would, so Walsh can understand what you’re saying.”

Quail gives him a withering look as she flips through the book, looking for the regulation he rattled off and he knows when she finds it by the way her eyes narrow.

“It states,” she says, her voice tight as she speaks, “that should an offender experience cruel and unusual behavior from the imprisoning branch, the offender is allowed to be returned to their governing branch for holding until the tribunal.”

“Scout Kirstein has not experienced any such treatment from us!” thunders Walsh, breaking his calm demeanor.

“I would beg to differ,” counters Levi as he stares down the other man. “Commander Smith received a very concerning letter from the boy’s mother, detailing his treatment exactly; she even mentioned that she wasn’t permitted to speak with him for more than a few minutes, which is against regulations. Family and their military branch’s personnel are permitted four hours of visitation with an offender per day with permission, which his mother had. Lieutenant Jaeger is going to investigate those claims to determine their validity.” He narrows his eyes at Walsh. “I do hope for your sake, Major, that this doesn’t come down on your head.”

Walsh sneers. “Lieutenant Jaeger won’t find anything to support your request, Captain. Kirstein will stay here with us until his tribunal.”

Levi is so glad he said that. “Well, Major,” he says as he reaches for his bag. He puts it down on the table and casually knocks it over, watching with some satisfaction as dozens of envelopes spill out of it. He allows himself a moment to take in the MPs’ astonished gaze. “I came more than prepared for this. Jean Kirstein will be leaving here with us one way or another.”

Walsh stares at the sheer amount of paper sitting just a few feet across from him. He knew that Levi was a skilled judge advocate, but he didn’t quite realize the scope of his skill. After a few moments, he clears his throat. “Well, Captain, I appreciate the work you’ve put into this, your concern for your squad member is admirable,” says Walsh, grasping at straws. “I would, however, like to propose something else. A tribunal now would be costly and unnecessary when this could just be resolved today. Would you like to hear my proposal, Captain?”

Not really.

“Sure,” says Levi uneasily. Never, in the history of the Walls, has the Military Police ever offered a plea deal in a treason case. The very idea makes Levi worry about Jean’s life and he hopes Eren can find something that will give them leverage to ensure Jean’s transfer. They need to get him out of here.


 

Déjà vu overwhelms Eren as he’s led down to Jean’s cell. He may not remember the specifics of his own journey down to the pits beneath MP headquarters but he does remember the walls and the cells and the way the light streams in through the ceiling. He sees the door at the far end of the hall that leads to the courtroom; even now he can feel the cool grip of the iron shackles on his ankles and wrists. Absentmindedly, he rubs his wrist.

It’s a good sign that Jean is on the first floor of the prison, rather than in the depths as Eren had been, it means they don’t see him as much of a threat and should be treating him fairly well. He hopes that’s the case, he really doesn’t want to bring Jean back because of mistreatment. And Jean probably doesn’t want the rest of the Survey Corps to know that his mother is the one who told Erwin about his current living conditions.

“Scout Kirstein,” says Eren’s escort as they stop at one of the cells, “you have a visitor.”

The escort salutes Eren before retreating a few feet away from the cell.

“Why the hell did he salute you, Jaeger?” asks Jean as he comes to stand at the bars. He leans against them, giving Eren a perfect view of his present state.

His appearance startles Eren greatly. His once clean-cut face is now covered in almost two week’s worth of stubble—it can be considered a beard at this point—huge black circles rest under his dull eyes, his skin is sallow and waxy and Eren can see his cheekbones more prominently. His hair is shaggy and looks greasy. Eren can almost guarantee that Levi will make him bathe before they get in the carriage.

“Because I’m now a lieutenant and the Team Leader of Squad Levi,” replies Eren, trying to sound smug but his heart isn’t in it, so he comes across as uninterested instead. “You’ve missed a lot, Jean.”

Jean hangs his head, averting his gaze. “I know.” He then looks up. “How’s Toria doing?”

“Fine,” replies Eren with an easy smile. “She had to have her back repaired and had over a hundred stitches but she’s surprisingly upbeat about it. She calls them her war scars and has started to compete with other Scouts who come into the infirmary about whose scar is bigger. She’s won almost three hundred dollars so far.”

Jean snorts and then chuckles. “Sounds like more of Ymir rubbed off on her than I thought. I feel stupid thinking she only learned to swear.”

Eren laughs. “I know what you mean. It’s so strange to hear ‘fuck’ come out of her mouth.” His lips then quirk into a sly grin, one that Jean immediately copies. “She and Armin have been spending a lot of time together lately. If he isn’t helping me with translations, he’s in the infirmary with her. I even caught them holding hands a few times when I went to see Mikasa.”

Jean’s smile falls at the mention of Mikasa. “How’s she doing?” he asks quietly. “Did she lose her leg? Is she able to walk?”

The sheer amount of concern in his voice is enough to soften Eren’s heart enough to not berate him for asking about his sister. He might not like the man but he loves his sister and anyone who can speak about her with such genuine emotion might not be so bad. Maybe.

“She’s doing better,” replies Eren, rubbing the back of his neck. Mikasa is making progress in her recovery, but even he knows it isn’t going as fast as she wants and it’s frustrating her to no end. “She’s on bed rest right now and on medical leave for at least six weeks. She’s going to start therapy as soon as her stitches are out and her ankle’s mended. Being solitary is driving her up the wall.”

“I’m glad she’s alright,” says Jean, his body visibly relaxing. “I was so worried that she’d have to have her leg amputated, her knee was so fucked up.” He licks his lips and his eyes dart around the room, looking at anything but Eren. “Has she . . . has she said anything about me?”

“Not really,” says Eren directly. There’s no need to mince words and sugarcoat things, not right now. “Then again, the only person she really talks about these days is Levi.” He feels something in his chest twist when he mentions it; this happens every time either Mikasa or Levi says they’ve seen each other.

Jean’s expression darkens. “Oh really? And what exactly is she saying about that pipsqueak?”

Eren is taken aback by Jean’s tone. If he didn’t know better, he’d almost say Jean sounds . . . “Are you jealous, Jean?” asks Eren wryly, unable to prevent the smile that breaks out on his face. “Are you jealous that Mikasa’s talking about our illustrious captain and not you?”

“Laugh it up, Jaeger,” says Jean with a scowl as Eren starts to chuckle. “I’m already down, so just kick me in the balls already.”

“Oh I would love to,” says Eren as he calms down. “You absolutely deserve it but you’ve caught me in a merciful mood, so I’ll ease some of your suffering. Mikasa’s not interested in Levi, at least not romantically, because let’s be honest, that would be weird considering they’re first cousins.”

Jean’s eyes widen to the size of saucers. “Are you shitting me, Eren? Mikasa and the Captain are cousins?!”

Eren nods. “Yes, they are. Their mothers were sisters.”

“Oh holy fuck, there’s a whole family of them,” says Jean in disbelief as he almost sinks to the floor from shock. Levi and Mikasa are powerful individuals and he can only imagine what type of family they came from in order to achieve that kind of prowess. He then straightens up. “Well shit, we should just conscript them and have them fight the Titans instead of all of us. They’d definitely be better than us.”

“That would be a great idea if more of them were alive,” says Eren carefully and he’s glad that Jean assumes a more somber expression. “I’m not going to go into specifics because it’s not my story to tell, but what I can say is that as far as we know, Mikasa, Levi, and their uncle are the only living Ackerman.”

Jean looks at Eren curiously. “So the three of them have the same last name? And they have an uncle?”

Eren nods, a little confused. “Yeah, apparently he’s the man that ambushed you in—”

Suddenly Jean reaches out of the bars and grabs Eren’s cloak, pulling him hard against the cell door. Eren trips more than walks before he lands on the cold metal.

“Jean, what the hell?” he asks as he struggles to get out of Jean’s grip but he holds him fast.

“Shut up and listen to me,” says Jean in a hushed tone, his eyes darting around the room and hallway. “You and the Captain need to get the fuck out of here.”

Eren stops struggling and instead moves closer. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“That man is here,” whispers Jean desperately. “Kenny Ackerman, Mikasa’s uncle, the man who shot us. He’s a member of the Military Police. He heads the Anti-Personnel Control Squad and is part of the Interior Squad. He’s the man who arrested and brought me down here.”

“Are you sure?” asks Eren quietly and Jean nods. “Shit. Why didn’t you tell us?”

“I didn’t think it was relevant,” snaps Jean as he lets Eren go. “I have a few more pressing issues than telling the Captain that his gun-crazy uncle is a member of the Military Police. Just take my advice and get the hell out of here.”

“We’re not leaving without you,” says Eren fiercely. “Levi is doing everything he can to ensure you’re released into our care, that’s why we’re really here. He doesn’t give two shits about how the trial will proceed but he does care that you’re here and not with us at Headquarters.”

Jean looks baffled and a little flattered at the fact the Captain is actually concerned about him and his well-being.

“Now, can you tell me anything about how they’re treating you?” asks Eren, pulling out a pad of paper and a pencil. “Anything at all?”

“I get two meals a day, usually military rations and water,” replies Jean, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the thought of the wood bars he’s eaten for several days. “I’m taken to the toilet twice a day but I can’s shower or shave, just wash off . . . certain parts every few days. I can’t write letters, I can’t receive letters, and my mother visited me once but couldn’t stay for very long. That’s it.”

Eren narrows his eyes at Jean after he finishes writing down everything that is already in the letter Jean’s mother sent to Erwin. “There has to be more,” says Eren sternly when he notices the strange look on Jean’s face.

Jean glances around before swiping the paper and pencil away from Eren, silently urging him to remain quiet. “I already told you everything, Jaeger,” says Jean firmly as he writes quickly. “The MPs are treating me fairly well considering my status as a traitor. There’s nothing to report, I’m fine.”

Just as Eren opens his mouth to retort, the paper and pencil are shoved back into his hands just as his escort approaches. He quickly slips the items into his pockets.

“Lieutenant, your time is up,” says the escort, glancing at Jean, who is looking down at the floor. “I will take you back to your quarters.”

“Alright,” says Eren stoically. “It was good speaking to you, Scout Kirstein.”

“And you, Lieutenant Jaeger,” says Jean, saluting him and Eren bites his cheek to keep from laughing.