If I had to pick a favourite time of day, it would be when the sun is just peeking out from behind the mountains and the dewdrops on the grass glisten in the early morning rays. It’s when the chickadees begin to sing their morning chorus and the Morning Glories that grow along the riverbank stretch open their petals and warm up from the chilly night before. It’s the place where I, Marco Bodt, call home.
For generations, my family has lived in a place that we call The Haven. It’s a meadow that’s far from any sort of titan life and on the outskirts of the great forest, and it’s the only place that most of us know since the great migration that happened over a century ago.
My Clan specifically lives near the center of the meadow, nestled in the trunk of an ancient, hollowed out oak. There are around…fifty of us altogether I think, and we’re a pretty tight knit community. Everyone knows everything about everyone which can be a pain at times, but that’s what makes us all so close to one another. It also just makes it that much harder for me to sneak out to catch the sight of the sun rising.
Like I did every morning, I peeked my head out from around the leaf that curtained my room and scanned my eyes across the camp. As far as I could tell, not a single soul was awake—no glitter of wings were seen below near the exit, and no one was near the berry pile sneaking an early breakfast. A wide grin spread across my freckled face.
Stretching my arms high above my head, I stifled a yawn and unfurled the bright purple wings on my back, slightly stiff from having a rock jutting into my back nearly the whole night. I gave them a few testing flaps, took another look around the camp, and then I was off, skirting around the numerous branches my Clan had carved out as walkways before I made it to the exit of the camp. The exit was guarded by thick blades of grass for protection and large mushrooms hidden among them. Anyone not familiar with the setup of our camp would have crashed right into them or got their wings cut up by the grass, but after living here for so long, I had memorized every nook and cranny in this place.
I had also learned from one of our senior warriors that if you built up enough momentum and aimed perfectly, you could get through without stopping which was a lot better than landing and pushing through the blades of grass until you were in the clear. Flattening my wings against my back, I picked up speed and hurdled through the blades before spreading my wings again and shooting upwards into the clear.
“I did it!” I cheered gleefully to myself, giving myself a wiggle to shake off the morning dew that had gathered in my dark hair, and then turned my attention to the waiting meadow.
The grassland stretched out as far as I could see, trees lining the edges and a stream running down the middle with the flowers on either side. And there, right at the farthest point of the river where it pooled into a pond, was my favourite place. It was a giant maple tree, its thick branches reaching out for what to me seemed like miles. It was at the top of that tree where I could get the best seat in the entire forest to look at the sun peak up over the mountains.
I grinned with excitement, and with one final look back at the camp to make sure that no one was following me, I sped off towards it. My favourite route was following the stream exactly as it was laid out, zig zagging this way and that way, dipping over hills and splitting into two in some places. I ran my hand over the surface of the water, breaking the stillness and splashing the flowers with droplets.
“Good morning!” I called out to them with a laugh, latching onto one of the cattails and spinning around to admire the beauty of the meadow coming to life. It was a fairy’s job to awaken the Earth in the morning and we usually did it in large numbers for safety, but there was something about doing it on my own that was so much more enjoyable. I couldn’t be this carefree and be myself when I was with everyone else. Besides, even if I was breaking the rules by being out here alone, I saved everyone a lot of work and time that could be used for gathering berries.
Pulling back on the cattail, I waited until my wings nearly touched the water’s surface before I leaned forward sharply. The cattail launched me into the air and I flapped my wings as hard as I could, propelling me over the waiting flowers. Clouds of purple and white sparkled off from my wings as I flew, showering the flowers with specks of glitter and as the fairy dust touched their petals, the flowers slowly started to open and stretch their petals out to welcome the sun that was due to come up any minute now.
I finished off the flowers along the riverbank and then made my way to where I had originally intended to go. If I was lucky, I would make it just in time—I already felt the beginning of the heat as I neared the maple tree.
“Come on, come on,” I whispered to myself, flapping my wings faster as I avoided the branches in my fight to get to the top. By the time I broke free of the leaves and reached my special branch, the sky was beginning to lighten and the birds from the tree next to me were starting to sing their morning chorus.
I splayed out on the branch, tucking my tired wings in and soaked up the melody of the songbirds. After a moment, I parted my lips in an ‘o’ shape and whistled along with them in harmony. A few birds even flew over to investigate where my whistling had come from and settled down with me just as the first rays began their ascent over the mountaintop. Warmth bathed my skin, bare except for the thin sheet of red fabric that draped across my lower half. This was the best I had felt all week, even if this moment would only last just a few minutes more before I would have to go back. Who knows what would happen if I accidentally ran into the dawn patrol.
A shiver radiated down my spine at the thought. It was against the rules to leave the camp and not notify our leader, Erwin. He was a natural born leader with a heart of gold to match his hair, but despite that, he was the last person that you wanted to be mad at you. Ha-ha, and yet here I was every morning risking the one thing I dreaded more than anything.
I bit my lower lip and fiddled with my earring to distract myself. It wasn’t often that I had time to myself. After all, I was the prince of my Clan—next in line to lead after Erwin either stepped down or something happened to him in which he wouldn’t be fit to lead anymore. My days were filled with learning various tasks—how and when to send out patrols, what to do in the case of a food shortage, how much food gets distributed, the list just went on and on and on. I didn’t complain about it though; I was always hungry for knowledge and learning new things, but there was just never any time for fun anymore. It was painful watching my friends get to spend time together and throw a berry around or chase butterflies, and there I was learning battle theory and fairy history. I deserved to have a break once and a while…right?
I sighed loudly and my sudden noise startled the songbirds that flew off in a scatter. Realizing that that was probably a sign that I should get going as well, I spread my wings once more and followed suit, skimming down the trunk of the tree and retracing my flight along the riverbank and back to The Haven.
“Please don’t let anyone be awake yet,” I pleaded under my breath as I neared the camp. Like I had done before, I tucked in my wings and barreled through the grass, but instead of landing on the soft moss like I had intended, I crashed into the torso of the one person that I had dreaded to see.
I let out an “oomph” as the air was knocked out of me and I crashed down on my tailbone hard. It took me a moment to realize what had happened and I hardly dared to look up from rubbing my tailbone to look into the piercing grey gaze that was burning into me when I regained breath.
Clearing my throat, I glanced up from beneath my tousled dark hair to meet the blonde’s stare. “Erwin,” I greeted him politely, dipping my head in respect.
“Marco,” he responded curtly, his gaze unwavering. I didn’t know whether I should speak or try to explain myself or wait until he allowed me, but I stayed sitting until he commanded me to stand a half a moment later.
“This isn’t what it looks like,” I murmured as I stood, glancing off to the side.
“Then maybe you’d care to explain what it does look like, then?” Erwin’s voice was calm, but his bright blue wings twitched back and forth ever so slightly, like a cat when they’re irritated.
I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came to my brain as an excuse and I faltered under his expectant stare. Then Erwin sighed, soft and long and it was like I could feel the disappointment radiating off of him in waves.
“We’ll talk later after you’ve finished your studies, but in the meantime, since you’re so keen to be out and about, you’ll be leading the dawn patrol this morning.”
My chocolate brown eyes widened. “B-but, sir! I’ve never led one before—I haven’t even been part of one!” I sputtered.
The side of Erwin’s mouth turned up in an amused smirk as I squirmed. “Think of it as learning on the job. Maybe next time you’ll think twice about leaving the camp unauthorized.”
Before I could get another word in, Erwin had already brushed past me with two of our senior warriors, Reiner and Bertholdt, and was headed out of the camp, the distinctive strong flutter of their wings fading off into the distance. Where they were going, I had no idea, but there was no time to focus on that now because I had a dawn patrol to organize. Question is…how did I do that?
Wracking my brain as I tried to recall the section I had studied about patrols, I flew up through the hollow trunk until I reached the main area where the Clan usually met—a large flattened out area of wood that was left when the trunk was originally carved out by our ancestors. Slightly above that area was another smaller one where Erwin addressed the Clan during meetings. Maybe that was the place to start?
I settled on the smooth surface and stuck my pinkie fingers into my mouth, whistling out a tune resembling the songbirds from earlier this morning to summon the Clan. Moments later, there was some shuffling heard, and one by one, leaves that shielded the rooms opened and the glitter of variously coloured wings filled the trunk with a soft light as fairy after fairy came to settle in front of me. Most of them were groggy and bleary eyed, their hair disheveled and their movements slow. No one looked like they were amused to be here.
With a small nervous laugh, I waved at the crowd below, clearing my throat. “Uh, good morning, everybody!”
There was a pause and no one said a word in reply—just someone yawning was heard from the back of the crowd.
"Erwin asked me to lead the dawn patrol this morning, but I’ve never, heh, I’ve never done this before so, um…I guess I need…”
I bit my lip once more, my eyes darting around the camp desperately as I tried to remember what I had been taught. Come on, Marco, THINK!
“Um…three! I need three volunteers to come with me this morning to go wake up the flowers!” I laughed nervously, swallowing the lump in my throat. How did Erwin manage to do this every day?
“I’ll come, I’ll come!” a peppy voice called out and my eyes zeroed in on Armin, who unlike everyone else looked lively and ready to go. The long haired blonde was flapping his wings excitedly, and at my gesture to invite him up on the perch, he gave a twirl and was up there instantly.
“Alright, I need two more!”
A few fairies mumbled under their breath about wanting to go back to sleep and I felt my skin beginning to prickle with heat. No one was ever going to take me seriously as leader. Sensing my nervousness, I was glad when it was little Armin who stood straighter and addressed the Clan with a voice that echoed along the hollow walls.
“Alright guys, listen up! We have a job to do and it’s our duty to the Clan and to the forest that we get the morning patrol done! Eren! Sasha! Shake off the sleep because you’re coming with us!”
The two brunettes looked up immediately, Eren looking as though he had just been jerked out of a sleep, and Sasha let out a whine.
“Can’t we eat first before we go? I’m starving,” she complained, holding her stomach to supress a gurgle.
Armin cast a sideways glance at me for approval, but I just shrugged half-heartedly in response. Erwin hadn’t said anything about eating, but if memory served me correctly, the Clan wasn’t allowed to eat until the first collection of berries was brought in.
“If we find something on the way back, then maybe we can stop for a half a second as long as we bring enough food back for the Clan,” Armin reassured her. At the promise of food, Sasha’s eyes lit up and she tugged on Eren’s arm to jerk him out of his half-snooze.
“Well what are we waiting for, then? Let’s go!” she cried, dragging Eren in tow behind her as she flew up to join Armin and I.
With my group solidified, I apologized to everyone who I had woken up for the meeting and gestured to my group to follow me. Since I wasn’t alone, I did the standard exiting procedure which meant landing and carefully walking by all the obstacles that blocked the entrance before taking flight again.
Sunlight bathed the meadow and glistened off the dew drops that still clung to the blades of grass, and the earth was alive with the sound of birds and rustle of rabbits in the undergrowth that had only just woken up. I had already done most of the work this morning which didn’t leave us much to do except take care of a few flowers and do a quick sweep along our borders. After all, I probably wasn’t the only one who snuck out in the early morning. Anyone from the neighbouring rival Clan could be out here trying to make off with a berry or two.
Armin flew up beside me with Sasha zig zagging in the back behind us as she flicked around to catch a glimpse of a berry bush. Eren brought up the rear, still looking dreary eyed and tired, but he did his best to keep up and keep a look out. After almost coming full circle of our borders, a smile crept its way onto my face. This wasn’t bad for my first dawn patrol, right?
“You did well today, Marco.” Armin’s voice suddenly cut into earshot as though reading my thoughts and I smiled over at him, rubbing my neck in embarrassment at his praise.
“Thanks,” I laughed nervously. “But you were the one who did most of the work.”
It was Armin’s turn to be embarrassed. “I just know a little bit about Clan procedure and the rules,” he admitted modestly. “When it comes to flowers and the animals, you’re the expert on that.”
What Armin said was true. Since I had been sneaking out, I had become extremely familiar about the various flowers that bloomed in the meadow and the animals that lived here. I knew how much sunlight the flowers needed, what kinds of foods that the animals liked to eat, whether the flower needed direct sunlight or little sunlight, I was the guy to ask on all things nature related.
“I could spend all day out here,” I told him, twirling once in the air to take in the scenery around me. “To be honest, I’m really jealous of all of you when you get to be free and go on patrols while I’m stuck in the camp all day.”
Armin smiled gently, running his hand along a foxglove as he passed it. “If we’re being honest here, I’m the one who’s jealous of you,” he said, his voice quiet and face flushed.
“How so?” I asked, cocking my head to the side in confusion.
Armin paused for a moment. “I’ve always been more of a thinker than a doer,” he murmured. “I like to plan things out and know the theory behind things. I like learning about Clan history, battle procedures, food rationing, emergency planning, and all that kind of stuff. I mean, I’m not exactly the strongest fairy in the Clan,” he added with a laugh, flexing his thin arm as a joke. “I could never be a decent warrior in battle, and I’m too small to bring back a decent amount of food, so there goes my life as a Collector out the window.”
“I’m sure there’s something that you could do,” I reassured him. “What about a Healer? I heard Levi’s looking for an apprentice to take under his wing.”
Armin cringed at the thought. “I’m a little squeamish around blood,” he admitted, toying with a strand of his golden hair.
At his crestfallen expression, I felt my own heart sink in sympathy and I flew over once I fixed a curl on a bluebell petal, placing a comforting hand on his small shoulder. I searched his eyes for the smallest trace of hope, but I only found fear and uncertainty.
“Try not to worry about it too much, Armin. There’s still plenty of time to figure it out. A lot could change this year.”
Armin smiled weakly, putting his hand on top of mine and giving my fingers a squeeze. “Thanks, Marco.”
I smiled down at him, hoping that he would cheer up from this, but before I could say anything more, a yell of anger and a screech of fear made both of our heads flail around, and it was only now that I realized that Sasha and Eren were nowhere to be found.
“Oh no,” I whispered under my breath and took off in the direction of their screams. “Come on!” I called after Armin, beckoning him to follow me. I was a faster flyer than him and didn’t wait for the smaller fairy to catch up as I zipped up the river to where Sasha and Eren were.
I should have been paying more attention! If anything happens to either of them, it’ll be all my fault!
Another scream filled the air and it made my already racing heart beat faster against my ribcage. Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay!
“Sasha! Eren!” I yelled, and a heartbeat later, Sasha called out my name desperately.
I swerved off to the left to where I heard her voice and beat my wings hard. At first, I didn’t see them, but as soon as I skirted around a bush, I found them. Sasha had her back against a thick mushroom and Eren was on the ground, locked in combat with another fairy with two-toned hair as they rolled scrapped on the mossy ground.
“Hey, hey, hey, break it up! Break it up!” I cried, charging head on at the other fairy and bowling him off of Eren. The momentum that I had gotten from flying sent the fairy flying clear and I tumbled with him into the wildflowers, avoiding his flailing limbs as he tried to swat at my face. His hand connected with the side of my head and he knotted his fingers in my dark hair and yanked it to the side hard. I cried out in pain and my arms loosened just enough so he could wriggle free and a shoot a blast of fairy dust from his wings at me.
“Marco!” Armin cried as he finally arrived, rushing to my side as I frantically wiped the dust from my eyes while Eren and Sasha gave chase to the mysterious fairy who ran off rather than flew. By the sound of the surprised yelp a moment later, they had managed to catch him.
“Thanks,” I breathed, letting Armin help me to my feet before I flew off again in pursuit. By the time I rejoined the others, the other fairy had his face pressed down into the moss, his bright green wings flailing about as he tried to heave Eren off of his back and shake Sasha from his legs. Eren held fast and gritted his teeth, forcing the fairy’s arms with his free arm and leg down as he struggled.
“Don’t even think about it,” Eren grunted. “You’re not going anywhere.”
Armin raced over to Sasha and helped with the fairy’s other flailing leg and I crouched in front of them.
“What happened?” I asked Eren.
“I caught this trespasser trying to make off with some berries,” Eren spat, refusing to let the fairy below him breathe even when he began to let out muffled yells of protest.
I stared down at the squirming fairy, his wing flaps getting more desperate as he fought for air and I reached for Eren’s arm. “Let him up,” I ordered.
Eren’s sea green eyes flashed to mine. “Are you serious?!”
“Do you want to explain to Erwin that you killed another fairy over a few berries?” I asked, my eyes narrowing.
Eren held my gaze steadily and he snarled before he released the fairy’s head. With a strangled gasp, the fairy shot their head up immediately and gulped down massive amounts of air, coughing and sputtering as they thrashed about.
“Get off me!” he wheezed weakly, his voice no more than a whisper.
I nodded to my Clan mates and the hesitantly let him go, ready to spring forward if he tried anything.
The fairy struggled to breathe and he rolled over onto his back now that he was free, his skinny chest heaving and lips parted as he recovered. I had never realized what terrible condition he was in before, but now that he was all exposed, I could see nearly every one of his ribs, and when he breathed his entire body seemed to shake with effort. His body was also adorned with scratches and covered in dirt and his two-toned hair had moss and dried leaves stuck in it. I didn’t recognize him from the gatherings, so my guess was that he was either a loner or he was in training. Eren seemed to recognize him though, and the brunette had a malicious gleam in his eyes mixed with satisfaction at seeing this fairy at a low point. As soon as the fairy tried to stand, Eren shot forward and kicked him hard, planting a dirty foot on the fairy’s chest to hold him back down.
“That’ll teach you from trying to steal from us again,” Eren sneered.
“Eren!” I grabbed him from behind and dragged him off of the fairy who had begun to cough and wheeze again. Eren flailed and kicked, trying to break free from my firm hold on him.
“He deserves it!” the brunette spat. “This isn’t the first time that he’s been caught doing this!”
“Fuck off, Jaeger!” the fairy growled as he got to his feet shakily.
“Eat shit, horse-face!” Eren retorted, his flailing legs hitting me in the groin and I let go of him with a cry of pain.
But before Eren could attack, a shrill whistle sounded and through the undergrowth, Erwin, followed by two senior warriors, Reiner and Bertholdt, entered the clearing. Erwin’s nostrils flared in anger and the unknown fairy instantly took an offensive stance, his lip curling up in a snarl.
“What the hell is going on?” Erwin demanded, his eyes flashing to each of us.
“I caught Jean on our territory, sir,” Eren said, stepping forward and glaring at the rival fairy. “He was trying to make off with some berries just like last week.”
Erwin stepped towards Jean, his lip curled up in the beginning of a snarl. “Is this true?” he asked with a low growl.
Jean took in a deep, shuddering breath and met our leader’s eyes steadily. “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have to! My Clan is starving, and our leader is sick. We cleared out the last berry bush on our side of the border. There’s no food left,” Jean replied in a similar tone. “I’m just trying to keep my Clan alive.”
I looked to the fairy and there was no doubt in my mind that he was telling the truth. His legs quaked underneath him as if they already couldn’t support his bony figure and his cheeks were sunken and hollow. If he were healthy, he could have easily fought Eren and I off and escaped without a confrontation, but there was a hint of desperation in his voice that I picked up on as he explained the situation in detail to Erwin.
Erwin just listened, taking in every word, but judging by his stance, he wasn’t so quick to sense the truth as I was.
“Reiner, Bertholdt, make sure that this thief makes it over the border and doesn’t take anything with him,” he growled as Jean finished. “And don’t think that this won’t be mentioned at the next Gathering.”
“Sir,” the two warriors nodded in unison, and a flash of anger appeared in Jean’s eyes.
“There won’t be a next Gathering if we’re all dead!” Jean spat, his hands curling into fists. Sensing the growing hostility, Reiner was over him and gave the fairy a rough shove towards the border.
“Move!” the warrior ordered.
“Don’t touch me!” Jean shied away from Bertholdt who tried to grab hold of him, and his amber eyes connected with mine briefly. “You can’t just let us die!”
I looked away in shame at the ground, but if I spoke out it would be disobeying my leader, even if I knew that it was wrong what he was doing. At one point, Jean tried to make a dash for it to go back for the berries he had collected, but Reiner knocked him down with a swift punch and only then did Bertholdt manage to get a hold of him. Together, they flew off with the winded Jean draped over Bertholdt’s shoulder until they reached the border and threw him back over like he was a piece of trash. They appeared a moment later and Erwin nodded in approval.
“It’s done?” he asked, and both warriors nodded their heads. “Good. Let’s all head back to camp, then. Marco, your patrol will bring up the rear to make sure that he doesn’t return. Is that understood?”
“Is that understood?” Erwin repeated more firmly this time.
I looked away from him and off to the side, not meeting his stern gaze. “Yes, sir,” I murmured under my breath.
“Good. I’ll see you all back at camp shortly.” And with that, Erwin took flight, Bertholdt and Reiner in pursuit.
Once they were gone, Eren let out a huff and crossed his arms as he fluttered off the ground as well. “If you ask me Erwin went way too soft on that horse faced bastard,” he said, his mouth twisting as though he had tasted something sour.
I didn’t say anything in response; I glanced over to where Bertholdt had carried Jean off and I had a sinking feeling that the two-toned blonde was still where they had left him, battered and bruised, hungry, and having to go back to a hungry Clan…
“Still…” Armin murmured under his breath. “He did look like he was telling the truth. You can’t fake starvation.”
Sasha nodded in agreement, holding her stomach to suppress a hungry growl. “I can’t even imagine what it must be like for their Clan. I wouldn’t be able to survive very long.”
“We at least could have given him a berry or two to take back,” I chimed in, not taking my eyes off of the distant border. “For all we know, he could be dead by tonight…”
“Oh come on, Bodt,” Eren sighed. “You don’t actually care do you?”
I turned back around to face him. “Rival Clan or not, no one deserves to starve to death. If we don’t look out for each other, there won’t be any of us left one day.”
“Yeah, and if we give them food, then they’ll take advantage of that and soon everyone will be starving!” Eren shot back, his wings flapping angrily. “God help the Clan when you become leader. You’ll be the death of us all.”
Then, without waiting for a reply, Eren turned up his nose and flew away.
It was hard not to feel slightly hurt at his words; I had full confidence that I had the ability to lead the Clan one day. All I wanted was to be a good and just ruler who was respected by his Clanmates and was trusted to make the right decisions. So far I seemed to be off to a rocky start...
I snapped out of my thoughts and saw Armin coming towards me, a worried look across his face.
“Sorry, I just zoned out for a second,” I apologized, rubbing the back of my neck.
Armin reached out and briefly brushed my arm. “Don’t take what Eren said to heart. You’ll be a great leader one day.”
I smiled weakly and looked back over at the border. “Thanks, Armin.”
I felt Armin’s eyes on me and I could almost feel as though he were silently judging me. “There’s nothing we can do,” he said softly. “Erwin gave the orders already. Come on, let’s go back to camp.”
“Yeah, let’s go! I’m starving! With any luck, the first Collectors will be back with fresh berries!” Sasha added, flapping her wings excitedly.
“You two go on ahead and I’ll catch up. I promised Levi I would bring back some herbs for him yesterday.” Sasha instantly narrowed her eyes in suspicion at my words, but a gurgle from her stomach stopped whatever objection she was about to say.
“Okay, but I’m not sticking around to carry anything back,” Sasha said impatiently, taking flight and looking longingly towards the direction of the camp. “You promised a dawn patrol and then food, and I’m holding you to that. You coming back with me, Armin?”
Armin glanced from Sasha to me, and then back to Sasha before he nodded slowly. “Yeah, I’m coming. Don’t wait for me though; my wings are kind of tired.”
Sasha didn’t bother to object to this. “Alright, see you two back at camp then!” she called, and within a heartbeat, she was gone.
I watched her go, then let out a small sigh and folded my arms across my chest. “You’re not going back with her, are you?” I muttered under my breath.
“N-no, I am!” Armin protested. “I—I just—” He let out a long sigh and let his head droop which made his hair fall over his face. “Just be safe, Marco.” His last words were hardly a whisper and I felt a twinge of guilt at his crestfallen expression.
“I’ll be fine; really,” I reassured him and put my hand on his shoulder like I always did. “You don’t need to worry about me.”
Armin raised his head slightly and covered my hand with his. “You’re my best friend, Marco. I’m always going to worry about you.”
A small smile tugged on my lips. “Then as my best friend, you know that you can trust me, right? You won’t even know I’m gone, I’ll be back so fast you won’t have time to worry about me. Go catch up with Sasha; I’ll be right behind you.”
“You promise?” Armin asked, extending his pinky finger.
I wrapped my own with his and genuinely smiled. “I promise.”
Armin held his gaze on me for a long time before he nodded and released my pinky, flying off into the forest.
I waited until the glitter of his blue wings faded from view before I took flight and headed in the direction of the fallen berries. Neither Reiner nor Bertholdt had bothered to pick them up and they were right where Jean had left them. There was an arrangement of blueberries, huckleberries, and even a few honeysuckle flowers in the mix, my personal favourite snack.
Gathering the berries up in my arms, I retraced my steps and followed the trail that Reiner and Bertholdt had taken Jean. Our borders were marked by the stream that cut into the forested area and just on the other side of the stream, I caught sight of Jean.
The other fairy was seated up against a mushroom with a long blade of grass in his hands, fashioning a sort of bandage for his foot. He wound it over and over again, then pulled it tight and held it in place with a bit of a pine needle. His face was twisted with pain and when he tried to stand, he nearly fell over again, his legs shaking as he fought for balance. As much as I wanted to help him, I hung back out of view for just a moment, not wanting to startle him, but that plan soon went down the drain as I lost grip on one of the blueberries and it rolled into the stream.
“Crap!” I instinctively cried out and in a panic, I dropped the remaining berries in my scramble for the fallen one. The rest of the berries rolled down the small slope and into the stream as well and I splashed in after them, trying my best to make sure they didn’t float away.
With all my splashing, it didn’t surprise me that Jean had noticed my presence and he was looking over at me with an unreadable expression. I must have looked ridiculous with my hair soaked and an arrangement of berries floating all around me.
“Heh heh, whoops,” I said with a sheepish laugh, but Jean did not look so amused. In fact, he turned up his nose and scowled.
“Did you come back to finish me off?” he growled.
My eyes widened at his accusation. “No, no!” I protested, splashing around some more as I rounded up the berries. “I, uh, I actually came to—whoa!” I slipped on a wet pebble and fell right back on my butt, scattering the berries once more and showering both myself and Jean with water droplets.
Jean jumped back from the water, but with the state of his foot, he too took a tumble and fell backwards, the water hitting him anyways.
“I’m so sorry,” I sputtered, getting to my feet and starting towards him, but Jean shot me a glare.
“Stay away!” he warned, drawing his lip back in a defensive snarl.
I held up my hands in front of me. “Whoa, hey, it’s okay. I just want to help you.”
“Oh really? You didn’t say much when your warriors decided to attack me!” he spat, and then broke off in a cough which shook his whole body.
I drew my shoulders back and narrowed my eyes. “What did you expect me to do? My leader was standing right there!”
“So you’re a coward then,” Jean retorted, his voice cracking.
“I’m not a coward; I’m loyal to my Clan. I happen to be next in line to lead the Clan when Erwin steps down.”
Jean’s eyes flicked up and down my body and then snorted, a smirk crossing his face. “Well, excuse me then, your majesty. Where are my manners?” His voice was thick with sarcasm and he did a mock bow while supporting himself on the mushroom.
My ears burned with embarrassment and anger. I was beginning to see why Eren disliked this two-toned brat. “I wouldn’t be so rude in your situation,” I warned him, folding my arms across my chest, “especially when I was actually going to give you those berries.”
Jean straightened his back and raised an eyebrow, copying my stance. “Well you did a fine job of that—they’ve already floated away.”
I glanced down the stream and sure enough, the last blueberry floated out of sight as the stream curved. “Crap,” I whispered under my breath.
“Whatever,” Jean grunted, heaving another nasty sounding cough as he turned to limp away. “We don’t need your stupid berries anyways.”
A growl suddenly erupted from his stomach loud enough for me to hear and Jean’s face twisted in pain as he tried to cover it up. It was obvious that he hadn’t eaten in days, and despite his snarky attitude, I wasn’t about to let him and his Clan die.
“Wait,” I called after him and he halted from his unsteady gait, turning his stiff neck around to look at me. “Just, don’t go anywhere, okay? I’ll be right back.”
Jean snorted again. “You expect me to wait around here while you get your Clan to come over and finish me off?”
“You’re hopeless,” I whispered under my breath. “Just stay here.”
“Oh believe me,” Jean muttered, hobbling over to a mushroom and sliding down it till he was seated on the ground. “I’m not going anywhere.”
His indifference made my skin prickle with irritation, and if I had even a sliver of common sense in my body, I would have just left him there to starve. But of course, the better part of me took over and I flew away from the stream to the nearest blueberry bush which conveniently was next to a honeysuckle one. I picked as much as I could carry and made sure to spread my pickings out so that the Clan wouldn’t notice any missing spaces. Our Collectors were not only responsible for collecting food, but for checking each bush and making sure that there were enough berries left to last the season.
With my arms loaded with berries and honeysuckles, I made my way back to the stream and surprisingly found Jean in the same place against the mushroom. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t expected him to leave.
“See? I told you I’d be back,” I said, fluttering over the stream and landing in the shallows so I still wasn’t technically on Jean’s territory.
Jean flinched backwards and grew defensive again with me being so close to him, his hands clenching into fists. “Just leave them on the ground,” he growled after a moment.
“O-okay, just take it easy,” I stammered, moving slowly so I didn’t set him off. I carefully placed the berries on the ground one by one, not taking my eyes off of Jean as I did so. His amber eyes watched me cautiously, and although hostility still clearly burned in them, I caught a faint glimmer of relief. As soon as I put the last berry on the ground, I immediately fluttered backwards over the stream.
“I’d help you take them back to your camp, but I don’t think they’d be too friendly about that,” I said with a sheepish laugh.
Jean wasn’t listening though; he was focused on the berries in front of him and his body shook as though he were crying. Just his expression was enough of a thank you to me, and I retreated back into the bushes so I was out of sight, but I didn’t head back to camp right away.
Parting the leaves of the bush ever so slightly, I watched as Jean stumbled forward, almost as if he were in a trance, and then fall to his knees in relief in front of the berries, running his hand over the blueberry’s smooth surface. Then, almost in an animalistic fashion, he tore into the berry, shoving handful after handful of sweet berry juice into his mouth. It splashed his face and ran down his neck and torso, staining his body with a deep purple.
I watched him for only a few moments before I smiled and turned to head back to camp to get the lecture of my life.
Oh, Marco. How are you going to get yourself out of this one?