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Birds of Paradis

Chapter Text

A sweet sound carried through the dead silence of the stage. All of the audience held their breaths as the song carried to the high ceilings of the opera. Even a small gasp or slight whistle in the nose would echo in the acoustic architecture and disrupt the melody. The sound slowly changed from a major key to a minor key; the sound no longer sweet, only haunting. Patrons of the opera, faces covered by the same black masks that concealed expressions of awe-inspiration, could not force their eyes open. The eyes automatically shut as the voice of the song unwavered. The voice so soft and unyielding to the overbearing presence of the audience. Those lucky enough to break the spell and open their eyes saw a beauty on the stage. The siren. The muse of the underworld.

In the center of the stage, a young male clasped his hands and sang his song of sadness. His sorrowful song reached the ears of those far and wide, but they did not move. Even when he sang at the top of his lungs, in desperation, they did not move. Silent and still. He could never bear the sight of soulless expressions from black masks that peered into his soul ever since the second concerto. A dark, layered strip of lace covered his eyes from this menace. But the audience could still see his beautiful chin, lips and his pale, jade-like skin. But his beauty was hindered by the sickly pale blue that misted over his skin. His lips were pale pink, almost purple. The audience didn’t do anything but listen. They didn’t feel like taking care of a broken bird.

The smell of new wood flooring filled the boy’s nose. Every time he came out, the stage was always clean, always new, always fresh with a hint of disinfectant. Always cold. His wings did not unfurl from his back. Most of the performers were so scared that their wings would involuntarily unfurl. They would be beaten until their wings would come out anyway. But his situation was different. One reason, it was his will. His body did not move for it was rooted in the center of the stage by paralysis injections in the legs. His throat was too out sore to raise more than the song allowed. Energy drained from his body through this song. Cold sweat dripped down his exposed spine as the only part of the beautiful ivory dress didn’t cover was the whole back. And a small cleft above his bottom. His long black hair pooled behind him in waiting. His hands clasped before his chest that dressed in ivory silk.

Gold chained his arms, wrists, neck, and ankles in the form of jewelry. He could only finish the song and then he would go back to his chambers. He could only wait for it to end, whether his body let him finish early or not. It decided not.

He was better kept when he finished his songs. He was better treated when he obeyed.

Will it reach them? Will it pierce them? These thoughts were not as strong as they used to be, in essence, these were just memories of the past. The time when he fought back, a time when he was still burning. Now, it was only a mantra that kept his mind sane in this place. His soul already withered.

Eren felt his body shake too violently as he held a note in the still air. His lungs screamed and threatened him with collapsing. His heart beat so fast and powerfully that he thought his ribs were breaking. His legs, comatose, did not react to the cacophony of his upper body. The stage felt ice cold under him and he was not there for not too long. Only one song. It felt like it lasted another lifetime.

He finished his final tune and pressed his hands against his racing heart. Eren lowered his head as he breathed heavily to erase the dizziness. The booming applaud filled the opera signaling the closing sign that the time of the siren was over. Heavy footsteps crossed the stage toward him as he heard the squeaks of the closing black curtains, shielding him from the stoic audience which clapped so enthusiastically. As the footsteps got closer to him, he raised his arms up. The strong arms gathered his fragile frame in a bridal carry as he placed his arms on the shoulders of the man to secure himself.

His upper body was tense.

They did not speak to one another, they never did. One was paid the other was not. One was free, the other was not. He was only an object in this carrier’s eyes. He was only a siren to them all.

It was a long and silent walk back to his chambers, other performers were silently waiting for their turn backstage. Some performers waiting to go back to their chambers. None talked. None made a sound. The audience settled when the curtains close and wait for the next. He listened as the heavy footsteps echo around him, bouncing off the walls of the corridor. His hair swayed underneath him. He did not take off the cover over his lids nor did he peer into the dark lace. He waited to arrive in his bedchambers. He started to feel his toes; the injections were wearing off.

A click signaled the opening of his bedroom door; the golden handle pushed the ivory door into the room. He was set onto the end of his soft mattress which that dipped slightly as he sat on it. He did not thank the man. He did not watch the man leave. He sat with hands on his lap, a straight posture and his feet hovered over the floor. The heavy footsteps left loudly through the door with a click and a second click to lock. He waited a few seconds.

His hand moved out of his lap and moved along the fabric of his ivory silk dress. Feeling the fabric from his navel, up his chest, dancing on the neck, and under the dark lace. The lace was untied, slid from his face and drooped over his shoulders. He opened his lids to reveal deep forests to a white and gold room. They were devoid of any life, any feelings.

The white walls were decorated with fading golden Ginkgo leaves and trees. The borders of the walls were also lined with dull golden paint. His bed was covered in simple white sheets with a white bed frame. Furniture in the room was limited to a dresser and a nightstand. The rooms for performers weren’t too large or small. Just enough room for the necessities. Other than the clothes for performing, there was some loungewear in basic colors that occupied the dresser.

A sniff to the air confirmed that he was the only one in the room. A familiar pressure from his back released his wings from their confinement. They almost touched the walls of the room. A deep sigh fell from his lips as did the tension from his body.

He folded his left wing toward his torso and reached a tender hand to the sparing soft white feathers that danced along his skin. He ran his fingers through the feathers and caressed one with a loving touch. The wings that adorned his back were almost bare. He traced the creamy white tip and traced the lines of the feather one by one as it slowly transitioned to cream orange and fuchsia at the stem. He pinched at the pink base and pulled. This routine repeated with more feathers on his left wings and placed the feathers beside him on the end of the mattress.

Pluck. Pluck.

A heavyweight lifted from his shoulders and he released another deep sigh. His left wing took its place behind him and folded softly as it rested on his back. The weight of the wing steadied him. His right wing folded in front of him and he repeated the ritual. His mind was calm and empty of all thoughts. The desire for freedom no longer weighed his mind. His breath shallow as normal and he stared above and through the small window at the full moon and bright stars. Another sigh left his lips.

He gathered the feathers in his hands and placed them in his treasure box that only he had the key to. The small key clicked in the keyhole and it opened. Eren placed the new feathers with all the others in the box along with other gifts he received along the years.

Nile always gave him pretty things when he was good and when Nile was still alive. He died from poisoning and it was still under investigation for who did it. Nile had many enemies as the leader of the underground club of Vivarium. Too many to hone in on who it really was. So they just let the investigation run in the back of their minds. Because of the death of Nile many years ago, he no longer had anyone to show his wings to.

“Only show these to me, Siren.” Eren was restricted from showing his wings to anyone, but Nile. It was a rule enforced strictly. Many nights did Eren regret unfurling his wings when he thought no one watched. The ghost of Nile haunted his consciousness, only when he was alone could his wings be released. Nile’s ghost even haunted and hunted those that forced Eren to show his wings. They used torturous methods and someone died after a few days of seeing Eren’s wings. He was forced to watch them die. Watch the life leave their eyes. He didn’t even show Armin, his second half, for fear that he would put Min in danger. That time reminded him of his first year in Vivarium. His rebellion, his innocence, his childhood, his willpower were all stripped from his soul when he was twelve. How long has it been since then?

The shooting stars littered the sky, but he no longer wished for anything. Wishing for things that will never come only wasted energy he needed to preserve. He watched them as the feeling in his legs started to return. Their beauty always struck him. Fleeting and bright. Short life. Eren only wanted to be like them.

He retracted his wings and kept them hidden. The wings would heal themselves eventually. The feeling of them being under his skin no longer bothered him. It felt natural. It stopped itching to release long ago.

Chapter Text

A muffled click from another room sounded through the ivory walls of his chambers. Armin was back from the performance that consisted of him displaying his beautifully colored feathers and dancing on the stage. They shared a bathroom. Eren stood and waited for the two clicks of Armin’s door as the security vulture locked it. He waited for Armin’s knock signal and they unlocked their doors to the bathroom.

From a small crack, Eren peered at Armin behind the door. Armin opened his door wide and thrust open Eren’s to hold him in a strong, as strong as their fragile bodies allowed, embrace. Eren wrapped his arms around Armin and returned the hug. Their wings not exposed.

“Min,” whispered the dark haired boy under his breath as if only air was passing through his pink lips. “Ren,” whispered the blond haired boy, a little louder than the other. Armin buried his head into Eren’s neck. Eren rested his chin on Armin’s shoulder.

He breathed in the faint smell of the rainforest that accompanied Armin. So fresh and free. He could only experience this in Armin’s arms. Eren’s scent carried notes of fig and tea; warmth and comfort. Armin ran his fingers through Eren’s long dark hair soothing both their nerves and tension. They needed each other. The time that they could tolerate being separated was not long. One couldn’t be sane without the other.

Armin pulled back slowly and inspected his best friend. Eren did the same and rested a pale palm on Armin’s milky arm. Eren no longer had the bronze tan he used to have when he was twelve and Armin no longer had the fair cream color from twelve.

“Are you alright?” Armin asked in a soft voice. His concern laid with the fact that Eren was the most controlled of all the birds in the living chambers. Eren was the most prized and the most sought out performer of Vivarium. Nile’s ghost was nothing to some of the people, vultures, here. And Eren had no strength to fight. Armin worried for his mute friend who only used his voice on stage, where he was forced to or face the consequences. It didn't matter if Eren physically couldn’t sing any longer. All because he wasted the patrons’ money and time. Incompetence was something the vultures did not take lightly.

Eren nodded to reassure his blond companion that he was just fine. Armin did not only worry about Eren’s mistreatment from others but his mistreatment to himself. The blond guided Eren back to the foot of his bed and sat him there while Armin crouched below. Wintergreen pine peered at the almost transparent blue rivers that looked up at him. A warm thin palm caressed his cheek and Eren leaned into it while he slowly closed his lids. Eren nuzzled into the familiar warmth. A caring hand tucked a long strand behind his ear.

“You plucked again didn’t you?” Armin already knew the answer, he just wanted to make sure Eren wasn’t doing it subconsciously. Eren nodded and showed Armin the evidence of his habit that resided in the treasure box. It was a habit that developed a while back and it was a very, very terrible habit. Eren’s wings were probably bare now. Armin didn't need to see them to know. He just did. Armin knew that he couldn't help Eren, not with the environment they were in. So he did his best with what he had.

Eren’s green eyes became half-lidded and looked into Armin’s iridescent blues. Armin sighed in relief. That's good. As long as Eren is aware of his actions. Over the course of the last nine or so years, Armin didn't know if he could call it a habit anymore. Eren just did it as naturally as he breathed the still air of their rooms. Eren peered into Armin’s eyes in silence, silently asking if he was ok as well. The corners of Armin’s lips rose as he appreciated the other. They always looked out for each other.

“I’m okay. Let’s wash up?” Eren nodded and patted Armin’s head. Eren wasn’t the only one that gained a form of coping with this trauma. Armin had an obsession with cleaning his body, especially his wings. It was much more severe after his performances because he perceived the stares of the audience as dirty.

Armin moved his thumb across the pale cheek under the eye and then stood to open the small window of Eren’s room. It was too small to escape out of for the Vultures to care anyway. The mesh layer outside the pane kept bugs from the room and cool air to travel inside. Eren sat where Armin left him: on the foot of the bed where he ran his hand over the soft fabric of the covers and his silk dress.

The need to feel everything in their vicinity was also a habit they had.

Eren removed his gold jewelry and placed them in the holders. Armin cleaned his face of the makeup that he was put into for performance by the Vultures that specialized in appearances. Those Vultures always came to each performer's room before their performance.

They always say that Eren and Armin were “too beautiful,” That the two were “a pair of angels.” No matter how many times they said it he never saw it. They were imprisoned to be shown off. Caged birds.

Armin started the bath with warm water and soap. The vultures insisted on a regular hygiene routine after the performers were deemed adept enough to clean themselves without attempting to suicide by drowning. Usually the first few months in the facility, performers would be washed by vultures.

The bathroom emitted a light lemon and jasmine tea. The boys stripped and rinsed in the small shower area before stepping into the warm bath. The sound of water splashing softly against the tub was the only sound in the small bathroom.

Suds and bubbles surrounded them. Armin stretched his legs to the other side of the tub where Eren sat. Eren took one dainty, pale foot with cute pink toes and massaged it. The calluses at the bottom of the foot no longer bled or peeled. They did not obstruct the overall satisfaction Armin received from Eren’s firm kneads. Long blond hair and dark brown hair stuck to their backs and floated at the bottom of the tub. Armin shampooed and conditioned both of their hair as Eren moved on to the other foot.

Shampooing and conditioning their hair proved a laborious job under the hands of this masseuse. Still, Armin finished his job and poured a bucket of warm water over them both. Eren’s head was lowered as he finished massaging Armin’s feet, but some water got into his eyes.

Armin looked at the small drops of water that were sprinkled across Eren’s long lashes. He reached out a gentle finger to caress the lashes that trembled under his touch. Eren blinked quickly and stared at Armin with a questioning expression. Soft laughter echoed in the bathroom.

The drain plug was pulled and they dried their bodies with thin towels before using a separate towel to dry their hair. Thin loungewear covered their frail bodies this warm summer night.

Armin pulled Eren to the bed after he brushed his hair. They never slept alone, ever. It has been this way since they were children and it just felt natural. The vultures didn't try separating them when the two slept together. Vultures didn't care about what they did outside of performances. The conditioning took care of their worries anyway.

Armin shut off all the lights on the nightstand beforehand and pulled the thin covers over the both of them before they entwined their limbs underneath. Their long hair fanned out behind them, a few strands hung off the edge of the bed and touched the wooden floor.

“Good night, Eren,” Armin whispered into the moonlight. Eren interlaced their hands together and kissed Armin as his response. Slowly, Eren drifted into a deep sleep devoid of dreams.

Only memories filled Erens unconscious mind when he slept.

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“My sweet, sweet yet disobedient Siren,” a deep, malicious voice echoed around him in the dimly lit room. Eren was frozen as cold sweat drenched his back. His breaths were labored as he clenched his fists to his chest. Nile stood a few meters in front of him, and behind Nile was a vulture staff chained to the wall of the small, black room. There was a metal cart with different instruments of torture off to the side. The man was gagged with a dirty rag and still unconscious. Eren knew what was coming and it was all his fault.

This man was so nice to Eren; he was Eren’s previous guard that would transport him to and from the stage. He gave Eren little candies and chocolates after every performance and told him good job. This was Eren’s little happiness, his small light in the big, darkness. The man’s name was Ulrich and he was a gentleman. The debt from his father landed Ulrich in this career of being a Vulture and everyone could tell he did not have the disposition to survive in the underground. Yet, he lived in it.

He always wore the standard staff mask when he was with Eren, but one day, after a performance in Eren’s room he made a deal. If he showed Eren his face, Eren would show him his wings. This man made Eren feel loved and Eren felt that he may have been his first love. The sweet, short interactions with Ulrich made Eren so happy. Eren did not question the deal. Nile warned him before not to show his wings, but there was no way that Nile would find out about it. It was their little secret.

Eren agreed to the deal and Ulrich gave him a tight hug. Ulrich removed his mask, revealing his eyes and nose. There was a small, horizontal scar on his right cheek, but he was a handsome man. His temperament was gentle but firm. Eren reached out a timid hand and traced the scar, the grey eyes, the sharp nose, and the pale lips. Amusement flitted across Ulrich’s eyes and his lips hooked upward.

He held Eren’s hand on his face and then said, “Your turn.”

Hesitation was apparent in Eren’s expression. He bit his lips and closed his eyes, slowly unfurling his wings. He did not want to look at Ulrich’s expression as he saw the wings with sparse feathers, almost bald. Trembling, Eren squeezed his already shut eyes to close even tighter. A light touch traced his bare wing bones and fiddled with the few feathers that decorated them. Eren shivered.

“Beautiful,” whispered Ulrich. Eren opened his eyes abruptly in surprise only to find the sincerity and gentleness in Ulrich's gaze. Eren stood up and kissed Ulrich while wrapping his arms around his neck. Ulrich chuckled and responded to Eren’s sweet kiss.

Meetings like this occurred on a regular basis for two weeks, whether or not Eren performed. Ulrich made time to meet and give him some love.

Until Nile found out. How Nile found out was beyond Eren’s comprehension. They were so careful when meeting each other and closed all doors, blocked all windows.

Nile walked toward Eren who was frozen in place, his eyes wide as a deer caught in headlights. He couldn’t move his legs, they were injected with the paralyzing drug again. Eren watched as Nile looked crouched, looked him in the eyes and kissed his forehead. It felt dry, Nile’s lips, and so… revolting.

“I will show you what happens when you disobey me, Siren. Starting with your precious, Ulrich. Its about time he wakes up.” Nile moved away from Eren and smacked Ulrich firmly on the cheek a few times. Ulrich groaned and his hazy eyes focused on Eren’s trembling figure in front of him. Understanding flashed in his grey eyes as he saw Nile to the side. The chains rattled as Ulrich struggled in vain. Eren sobbed silently.

“Why are you crying so soon? It hasn’t even begun yet.” Nile took out a thin knife on top of the metal cart next to him. “This is your first time, Siren, so I will be gentle. One thousand small cuts will be our starting session, okay?”

Ulrich’s eyes widened in terror as he watched Nile approach. A small strange sound sounded in the darkroom as Nile executed the first cut. The sound never stopped as Nile continued cutting Ulrich’s skin multiple times. Soft grunts left Ulrich’s mouth, but he remained vigilant on keeping his voice controlled. Ulrich glared at Nile and Nile smiled sinisterly back. Some cuts were deep enough or on vital areas to where Eren would be sprayed with blood. The fishy, metallic smell of blood smothered the room and suffocated Eren.

The blood from a thousand cuts was enough to kill Ulrich. Nile released the blood-soaked Ulrich from the chains. He was breathing softly and laid weakly on his back. The paralyzing drug in Eren’s legs was still in full effect, so Nile picked up Eren and dropped him in front of Ulrich.

Hurriedly, Eren held Ulrich’s face in both hands and cried as he looked into the other’s eyes. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t tell the other it would be okay. But they both knew that Ulrich was going to die here. Although Ulrich was weak from the excessive blood loss, his eyes were lit with a fire, determined. Ulrich could see Eren’s frustration, fear, sorrow, desperation, but most importantly love in those beautiful green eyes.

Ulrich raised a hand and held Eren’s that was on his face. With a weak voice, he whispered, “I love you too.” Eren choked out a sob as tears blurred his vision, but he never blinked his eyes. He stared into Ulrich’s loving eyes and tried to convey everything in his heart to this man. It felt like nanoseconds passed by, it was too short, Eren could see the light in Ulrich’s eyes fade.

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Eren woke up with a jolt. He couldn’t breathe.

Ulrich...Ulrich. He cried out in his mind.

The violent jolt woke Armin up from his slumber and he saw Eren’s teary eyes in front of him. Warm, short breaths blew on Armin's face. He gathered Eren into his arms and stroked his long hair and back, occasionally rubbing Eren’s arms.

Armin repeated comforting words to the shaking Eren in his arms. “You’re ok. You’re safe.” Soft kisses peppered Eren’s face, who barely registered it as he clung to Armin.

It took a little while for Eren to calm down, but Armin did not mind this as he was no longer tired anyway. Eren’s tears drenched Armin’s thin shirt and he sniffled. His face nuzzled into Armin’s neck and he breathed in the comforting scent of Armin. Kisses were planted on top of his head and his back was being rubbed in circles. Eren kissed Armin’s neck in gratitude.

It was dark outside. They never slept for too long, their bodies never wanted to sleep much anyway. They laid on the comfortable mattress in the dark. Soft breaths and cricket chirps filled the silence between them while they watched the few stars that could be seen from the small window. Same stars every night, never changed. Same crickets every night. Sometimes a frog would croak, but it was rare though appreciated.

The sun started to rise slowly with pink and purple streaks to guide its ascent. Armin got out of the bed and walked across the floor with jingles in his step, an anklet that adorned his pale foot and a matching one adorned Eren’s. One of Nile’s gifts to Eren and Eren gave one to Armin long ago. They never took it off. Eren laid in the bed with languid laziness and listlessness before he brought his body up in slow tempo.

Armin changed his shirt then came back to the bed just as a knock sounded from the door of Eren's chambers. The door then clicked open signaling that it was time to eat breakfast. The vulture left the door open for them and went to inform the other birds about breakfast. Eren and Armin knew well enough to not run away. There was a time when they were so adamant about it, but that was an old tune.

They washed their faces and brushed their teeth before leaving the room.

They knew where the food was so no one needed to guide them anymore. With their hands clasped together, they walked along the hall to the feeding grounds.

Chapter Text

At the feeding grounds, they saw every bird that belonged to the Vulture business. The older residents, the ones that were there for a longer time, ate slowly and chewed softly as their bodies were incapable of stomaching anything anymore. The newer additions ate with the gaze of starvation and the hands of gluttony. Poor things would regret it later.

Eren and Armin sat at a random table, no one talked to them anyway so it didn't matter where they sat. The feeding hall was so large that everyone could sit as far apart as they wanted.

No one here knew their true names, vultures, and performers, everyone called each other by their stage name. Vultures told their names to the performers when they wanted to, however many were nameless to the performers or used nicknames. The ones who introduced themselves were the makeup and costume vultures because they spent the most time around the performers.

The food that the performers were given was not much. Some higher earning performers got a little more than the rest but that still wasn’t a normal amount that birds needed. Armin slowly picked at the meal on his plate and then lifted the spoon to his lips and chewed. Bland. It was the same meal every time. He didn't know what it was and didn't want to find out. During the first few tries of this food, Armin threw up and couldn't eat for days. He became a slow eater by the time he assimilated here. Eating was never enjoyable, it really felt like a chore. Something he had to do because his body needed it. He needed it to live.

But what was the point in that?

Armin used his left hand to eat because Eren’s held his right hand under the table. He didn't mind.

A strangled cry ran throughout the feeding grounds. Eren and Armin slowly lifted their heads to the sound to find a kid flipping their tray over and doing the same to others she did not know. Her brown hair was tangled and knotted. Dirt covered her clothes. Bruises littered her pale arms. The trays belonged to the older residents and did not mind the interruption as their stomachs probably couldn't tell the difference with the amount of food they had. This kid was probably recently taken from her family and stressed about the situation.

“We have to escape! Get off your fucking asses already!” The child pulled at another resident to move in a desperate attempt, screaming when the older did not share her sentiment. They all knew how it would end; it was pointless. The youth screamed in frustration when she saw that no one moved from their original positions.

Armin and Eren remained where they were and continued to eat as the child was apprehended by security. She bit one of the vulture’s hands as he reached for her; she broke the skin and tore off the muscle in her mouth. That vulture fell to the floor and clutched his hand while cursing her out. The girl spat to the floor and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
Armin couldn’t stop watching her ferocious endeavor. It quickly came to an end when one of the guards came behind her and forced her arms to her sides with his hold. She continued to kick and scream madly in the guard’s hold. Armin saw another guard join and swiftly punched the girl in her gut.

A forced cough and a groan left her mouth as she slumped in the guard’s hold. The men walked off with the girl to the conditioning hall. Armin was reminded of Eren and his first time in Vivarium when they would try to escape and found that they could never escape this place. Conditioning and torture awaited them as punishment. They soon found that it was better to be docile if they wanted to live. Again, what was the point in that?

He ate the food that he could and picked at the rest on his plate as he waited for Eren to finish or signal him to get up. Eren lightly tugged at their joined hands, telling Armin that they were done. They offered the food that they didn’t finish to the birds that had their trays flipped which was accepted gratefully. The two walked to their room the get dressed for dance rehearsal.

“Nephele. Siren,” A deep voice called out to them, one that sent a shudder through their bodies. They turned inward, toward the direction of their joined hands and looked behind them.

“Yes, Sir Zackley?” Armin answered to the tall man for both of them. Both bowed their heads in the overbearing presence of Zackley’s authority. Zackley was the man who oversaw everything that occurred in the Vulture business after Nile died as the current head Vulture. Zackley was a determined man and did not waver in the face of unprecedented difficulty.

The head vulture’s strong build was accentuated by the collared white button-up and black slacks he wore. His grey hair was styled in a slick back fashion and his beard was trimmed short, the glasses only made his piercing gaze sharper and more menacing. Fear emerged every time that he called to them, the reason was always the same, gratitude. Not in the way that gratitude was given between friends, no. Zackley’s gratitude came in the form of testing beyond their limits of pain and consciousness. Times like those, although extremely rare, made Eren speak. To say that they were trembling in fear was a fairly good estimation, but it made Zackley even more ambitious so to speak.

He was worse than Nile. Nile was impulsive while Zackley was very controlled. Everything he did had a level of control either over himself or others. This was something that proved to be terrifyingly powerful in Zackley’s hands. Eren and Armin knew this fact better than anyone else here.

Armin was told that this vulture treasured the two of them and only wished to treat them well if they obeyed. Only, when they were obedient there was still punishment waiting for them. Armin couldn't figure out this vulture's mindset. Was lighter punishment his way of rewarding them?

“Follow me.” They all walked in the direction toward Zackley’s office.

They walked the long hallway dressed with ivory columns with gold flowers molded into the tops where the column met the ceiling. The floor was covered in grey and white tile that was always cold to the bare feet of Armin and Eren. They weren't given shoes or socks plus could only wear them during practice and performance. Never in private.

The closer they got to Zackleys office, the more their minds got into the conditioned mode that Zackley spent months to perfect. As Zackley entered the key into the knob and clicked as it turned, a sweet scent invaded their noses.

Their eyes hazed. Their minds were not their own and their bodies moved without their permission. Armin's consciousness took a back seat and watched as his body moved on its own. He was worried of course. But he was used to the pain. At least the conditioning gave him pleasure from the pain. It didn't allow their minds to fight back in any case. All they could do was watch.

They stood at the doorway as Zackley made his way to his desk chair. The man's strong stature took long, powerful strides and gave them the view of his muscled back. Zackley was an attractive man for his age and kept his body in good shape over the years. But his mind was demonic. The motivation behind his actions was to “school young birds into perfect models.”

He sat on the dark leathered chair with a straight back and raised a hand to beckon the two toward him.

“Come.”

In their haze, the two walked over and sat on Zackley’s lap. With synchronized actions, Armin and Eren laid their heads on Zackley’s chest. Through the daze, Armin could vaguely see Eren’s lifeless green eyes. They stared at each other, accepting their fate. Occasionally, Armin could see in Eren’s eyes as he stared while doing acts that were controlled by Zackley, flashes of fear and helplessness.

Something that Zackley could never remove from their psyches no matter how much training he forced onto them was apparent in the room once again.

Since entering the room and until they left, Armin and Eren never let go of each other's hands.

Chapter Text

A groan left Armin when he woke to a knock on the door. He looked out the window and saw that it was still day and glanced at Eren sleeping. His body ached with any move he made. Armin slowly moved off the bed to not wake Eren and answered the door. There was a group of makeup and dress vultures outside of the door.

“Oh good. You're up. You and Siren have been requested by two separate and very important patrons so we're here to get you ready.”

While it seemed to them, Eren and Armin, that they had been asleep for a few hours the reality was that they were asleep for a few days. Since Zackley’s conditioning, they have slept for days after every summoning from the head vulture. Their perception of time was already skewed since coming to Vivarium as they couldn’t grasp hours or days. They vaguely understood that their time in Vivarium was as long as years due to their bodies’ growth.

A black suitcase was rolled into the room with squeaks and the rest of the staff followed. Armin returned to the side of the bed to wake Eren up. With a light shake, Eren cracked open his eyes to Armin and the group of vultures behind him. Eren rubbed his eyes and sat up before being dragged by a vulture into the bathroom to change his clothes. His outfit consisted of a sheer black babydoll with long bell sleeves and a black tanga underwear. The hems of the outfit were lined with black fuzz. None of it covered up anything. Vultures pinned Eren’s hair up in braids and started to put makeup on his face.

One of the makeup artists with short white and blue hair hummed and put a finger to their chin.“Hm. Should we go for a heavy sultry look or a soft, but brightening look?”

“I think that the soft would work better. Make sure to accentuate his eyes,” said another with curled, long lavender hair.

“Does it really matter? Siren wears lace over his eyes anyway,” said the vulture that made his outfit.

“Patrons are allowed to take it off though,” hairdresser reminded them, still putting his hair up with multiple braids. Eren sat silently, staring at his hands. His hands were trembling as he forced himself to keep still. A tight feeling in his gut increased as time ticked by. He couldn't pay attention to their conversation anymore and looked at Armin through the mirror.

Armin sat next to him, dressed in a simple, but elegant cream satin dress which had an M-slit from the upper thigh to right above the ankle. The top of the dress was a halter which complimented his shoulders and his arms. Armin was getting his makeup done by the vulture with white and blue hair. It was simple and fair, making him seem even more elegant. His golden hair was curled into loose waves.

Eren felt dirty, uncomfortable in his own skin compared to Armin. He reached a hand toward Armin’s and was immediately held by the other. Armin could feel the trembling in Eren’s hand and squeezed it to comfort him.

The vultures finished dressing up the two youths and started to pack up their equipment into the black suitcase. Eren and Armin sat on the bed facing each other. Eren’s arms were shaking even more than before and Armin rubbed his arms. His own hands trembled. There was nothing he could say to comfort Eren because he was just as scared. They couldn't tell who was shaking more. Eren held Armin’s face and stared into his fear filled ocean eyes. He touched his forehead to the other’s, not closing his eyes. Armin held the hands on his face as he looked into emerald green forests that held as much fear as his own.

Patron’s had no restrictions when they requested the company of the performers, especially high paying ones. Eren and Armin were the most expensive ones in this business. The only rules that were enforced were no killing and no harm to the face. But there were ways that patrons worked around that. There were ways that made them wish they were dead. Rarely did patrons not harm them, maybe once in a blue moon. Their interactions with patrons were always terrifying. But they couldn't do anything to change their fate.

A knock on the open door signaled the time to see their clients.

Armin hugged Eren and pulled back to look into his eyes with an indescribable feeling. “I'll see you in two hours ok?”

Eren nodded and kissed Armin, lingering for a little bit to keep his sanity. They were both taken away in separate directions. The feeling of dread in Eren’s gut didn't go away. He walked through the hall of screaming from the other booked rooms with chills forced down his spine. The walls felt like they were closing in. A force knocked the air out of his lungs and Eren could only breathe through quick gasps as his vision slowly blacked around the edges. Screaming from the other rooms were louder with each step he took.

The dread amplified exponentially and when he stood in front of the door, the one thing that protected him from this patron. His mind yelled at him to run away. Menace flowed from the crack under the door. His heart raced and wanted him to go with it. He couldn't. If he ran, there would be worse consequences than what lay behind the door. His gut told him that either situation was probably the same. There was no escape. The vulture that led him to the room opened the door and pushed him in.

Eren peered through the lace over his eyes and froze. The menace emitted from the man in a grey suit and a dark smile. His elegance was only a facade that covered the deep maliciousness emitting from his body. It was almost its own entity with how thick it seeped from the man’s pores and how suffocated Eren felt.

The man stood from the couch and walked over to Eren. He was much taller than Eren and he had to crane his neck to look up at the man. Eren flinched from the cold hand placed on the dip above his bottom while the other caressed his cheek. He shivered from the cold look in the man’s eyes. The patron smiled at this reaction.

The depth of the patron’s voice penetrated Eren’s bones, “Hello, my lovely, little Siren.”

 

Armin stood in front of his patron’s door and the Vulture that lead him there knocked on it. A muffled “come in” answered from the other side. The vulture opened the door and led Armin inside before closing it softly. The man was tall, wore a simple navy blue suit that complimented his breathtakingly blue eyes. He had neatly styled golden hair and a warm smile. A handsome man.

Armin steeled his nerves, his body stiffened. A warm smile was a complete red flag. The warmest smiles in this world meant the biggest betrayals and heartbreaks. Warm smiles were foreshadowers of pain.

The man gestured for Armin to sit at the plush chair next to him, “Please, sit.” His voice was deep and authoritative. Armin obeyed, his movements were robotic. “Hello Nephele, I’m Smith. It’s nice to meet you,” Smith politely stuck out his hand and Armin took it. Smith shook his hand with a firm grip and a smile. Armin could feel his caution spike as Smith placed his briefcase, previously on the floor, in his lap.

“Do you like to read?” A gentle gaze landed on Armin’s confused expression. Armin looked at Smith like he was insane. The briefcase opened to reveal a few different novels. What? This man really paid for him just to read books? Armin knew he was expensive for a night, but to read? Armin was baffled.

Armin finally spoke with a soft voice, “Yes, I do.” Truthfully, Armin did not know how to read. He only answered positively to appease the client.

“Great. You can pick any books here.” Smith laid out the different books on the table. Armin held back his tongue when he wanted to ask if Smith was out of his mind, but he knew better. Caution was still strong in Armin because the nice, normal-seeming ones were the most disturbed in the head. Armin couldn’t risk his life over a question like that. But he was more confused about what this man wanted from him.

“Sir,” he hummed in response, “I don't really how to read.”

Smith lifted his head with a piercing blue gaze and a small smile, “Ah. Call me Smith. Well, we have about two hours. I can read to you and you can learn along the way. Sound good?” Armin nodded, his heart still alert but more curious now. Armin picked up a book with a picture of a clear sky, sunrise, and a deep blue sea.

Armin looked around the room as Smith busied himself putting away the other books. It was decorated in Victorian style with deep teal wallpaper, ivory columns, and borders. The king sized bed next to them had a golden canopy frame and deep ruby wine covers. The pillows were also wine colored but decorated with golden patterns and golden tassels. Golden frames captured paintings of meadows and vases with flowers. The floor was covered with dark oak and shone in the warm lighting.

After the books were put away, Armin turned his gaze to look at Smith. Strong was the feeling that Armin got from this glance.

He didn’t trust this man’s genuineness and kindness. While Armin was glad for this change of pace from the usual patrons, he was surprised and confused about why he wasn’t being harmed or objectified or tortured? Was this some sort of mental torture that he couldn’t figure out? It must be.

He looked at Smith’s mature features again and felt his heart skip despite his mind. A deep, calming voice filled the silence of the room as Smith read the book about the ocean. Armin found himself entranced by this voice and closed his eyes to focus on the sound. He heard words that he did not understand and would ask about it almost every few pages. A red blush rose to Armin's cheeks because of his embarrassment, but Smith did not tease him. Instead, Smith patiently explained each word that he did not know. How strange. This was the most comfortable facade Armin ever experienced from a patron. Even if it was a lie, Armin wanted to indulge in it a little longer.

“Do you like the ocean?” Smith paused his reading to ask this simple question.

Armin’s calm expression faltered. A trick question? “Um, I’ve never been there. But I want to see it.” Awkwardness seeped into and oozed from Armin’s frail body.

He didn’t like talking about himself to patrons. They were never truly interested in his life anyway, just his body. Even if they were interested in his life, he was too expensive to visit regularly and chit chat about the little things. The patrons were fleeting in his life and being invested emotionally in fleeting things was wasteful. Armin pulled up one of his legs and folded one under the other, his anklet jingling slightly. His head was starting to hurt from all the information processing.

“Would you like to take a break?” Armin stared at Smith in surprise. No one ever asked him that before. They were always swept up in their self-interests to care about his. Is this another mind game?

“W-why do you ask?” Armin dug his nails into his leg that was resting on the chair.

“You seem like you need it.” Smith smiled.

“Huh?” Armin’s surprised thought comes out of his mouth without his permission and he shuts his mouth quickly.

Smith chuckled and gestured for Armin to get up. The older man’s hands moved upward and Armin anticipated some unprecedented punishment with a flinch only to peek and find the man stretching his arms up. Armin unclenched his fists and slowly copied the movements of the other. They exercised together.

“This is strange,” Armin whispered under his breath, but Smith still heard it somehow.

“Why is that?” Smith's brow raised and Armin cursed himself out as he felt fear pool in his stomach. This mistake was about to cost him his life.

“N-nothing.” Armin started to tremble from the anxiety that wrecked his mind and he flinched away from the man. Shit shit shit. Sweat formed on his back. A large hand rested on his shoulder and Armin jumped in his spot, about to release all bodily excretions from all exits.

“Calm down,” Smith said in a soothing tone, but Armin couldn’t hear it over the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. “Hey it's ok, I’m not going to hurt you,” his tone was softer this time. Armin was suddenly embraced in strong, warm arms into a comforting chest. The older man smelled really good, like eucalyptus and tea. Circles were rubbed into the smaller one’s back with a firm, but kind hand. Armin buried his face in Smith’s chest and took deep breaths while hearing the soothing deep voice saying “you’re ok. It's all ok.” After a few minutes, Armin was feeling calmer and lifted his head from Smith’s chest, noticing that he left tear stains on the older man’s suit.

“S-sorry I got it dirty.” Smith looked down at his damp suit and laughed.

“This can be cleaned easily. Don’t worry.” With that Armin felt really comfortable and no longer felt the caution that he did earlier. Smith was different from all the other patrons that visited him. The older man looked down at Armin with a soft smile, “feel better?” Armin nodded.

The younger male felt bold, “I can’t imagine that you’d only come here to read with me.”

“Oh?” The corners of Smith’s lips turned up and his eyes held a playful light, “And what did you imagine, Nephele?”

Armin stared blankly at Smith as his mind ran all the scenarios that he’s experienced so far, ones that he could imagine and ones he couldn’t. Thoughts that ran through his mind were influenced by the anxiety attack he just experienced. He felt the color drain from his face and his eyes glossed over as his mind played a particular time he didn’t want to remember.

Armin could barely register that Smith cursed as Armin slowly grew limp in his arms and didn’t respond to his stage name being called. His mind took him elsewhere, somewhere unpleasant. He didn’t think that he was this susceptible to the pain of his past. In whatever was left of his consciousness, he sighed with despair and a trace of frustrated helplessness.

 

“No! No! I’m sorry! I was being good I swear!” Armin screamed at the top of his lungs as two security vultures carried him to the conditioning room. Chants of being a good boy left his mouth and fell upon deaf ears. He screamed, kicked and sobbed. For what reason was he was being punished? He couldn’t remember.

The doors opened and he thrashed wildly when a sterile smell reached his nose, but his body was too weak compared to the massive muscle of the security. He was thrown onto a metal table and strapped down: torso, arms, and head.

“Shh, you’ll feel better soon. I promise,” a sickly sweet voice whispered into his ear and a cold hand patted his head. Who was talking to him? The voice reminded him of the previous times he was in this place. He never saw this person’s face, only that this person always handled the conditioning hall. His body was drenched in cold sweat.

He stared above him, paralyzed with fear and tears running down his face. They watched as the machines pierced Armin’s skin with needles as thick as pens, injecting him with a foreign, and most likely illegal, substance. He roared as it happened.

As soon as the compound entered, his body burned like someone threw him into active lava. It engulfed him in a matter of seconds. Another injection penetrated his skin, and the burning sensation was replaced by extreme cold. The two varying temperatures played around in his body, switching at random, but never allowed him to rest. His mind paralyzed from being swallowed by intense heat and cold. Time seemed endless. The pain never simmered down but increased exponentially. He couldn’t see anymore, his eyes were burned out of existence then frozen solid. His ears too. All he felt was the unforgiving torture.

 

Just kill me, he thought. Please just kill me already.

 

A cool hand gripped his chin and he hissed at the temperature difference. “Nephele, look at me.” He couldn’t see anymore. Was this voice mocking him?

Suddenly, light filled his vision and so did Smith. Smith was using his other hand to force Armin’s eye open. Air rushed into Armin’s lungs and he shot up. Smith quickly moved back on the bed to not get headbutted. Labored breaths worked Armin’s frail chest as he stared back into Smith’s frosty blue eyes. Eyes that held so much concern in them that Armin couldn’t process it well over his episode. Smith held Armin’s face in his hands and commanded, “Breathe. Deep breaths. That's it.” Armin blinked slowly, he wiped his face of tears that fell without permission.

“Thank you,” he whispered. Smith gave him a warm smile and continued to hold him in his strong arms. Protected, Armin felt like he was being protected in this short moment in time.

 

A knock on the door signaled that their time was up and Armin threw his arms around Smith’s, drawing the older man in for a hug. The embrace was returned, Smith buried his face in the crook of Armin’s neck.

“Please come visit me again.” This was the customary phrase that all performers had to say after their time with their patrons, but this time Armin was sincere. Smith nodded and smiled warmly in response.

“Goodbye,” Armin moved from the bed, the embrace, and went to the door. He opened it to see a security vulture waiting for him, wearing the signature vulture mask. As the door closed behind him, he faintly heard “Armin” whispered under a breath.

He whipped his head back to a closed white door. The security ushered him to move to his room. The hall echoed with their steps, one a consistent clack of wooden heels and the other a jingle after every other step. After the door closed, a dark expression replaced the warm smile on Smith’s face.

 

From his small window, Armin could see the rays of the sun fading from pink to purple. He went to Eren’s room to see if the other returned from his session yet. When he opened the door, he gasped and ran to Eren’s limp body on the bed. From the neck down, Eren was covered in dark purple, swelling bruises, and clotting cuts. Tears welled in his eyes as he checked if the other was breathing; he choked a sob when Eren’s breaths were shallow. but present. Armin checked, from what was visible, that Eren was covered whole in bruises.

Oh, Rose! He fell to his knees as he sobbed. He felt so useless, there was nothing he could do to stop this and nothing he can do to relieve the pain. Eren groaned, startling Armin into standing. Armin hovered over Eren with tears dripping from his face and onto Eren’s. The brunette moved his arm to wipe the tears from Armin’s face only to wince as his whole body hurt from the motion. He hissed when he saw the dark discolorations on his skin and felt them all over his body. Eren laid still on the bed, staring back at the blond wiping at his tears.

“Blink once for no, twice for yes,” Armin’s voice trembled as he furiously wiped at the tears on his face. There was no end to them and he stopped his useless administrations. They fell freely from his face and onto the bed. “Was anything broken?” Eren blinked twice and Armin choked.

“Did the medic fix it or give medicine?” Eren blinked twice, the medic gave him intense pain relief medication, but he still felt some pain. Maria, he could feel everything. And he was still in the fucking outfit. Armin saw that too and offered to help Eren change into something warmer and more comfortable.

Armin changed out of his outfit first then moved Eren slowly into a sitting position on the bed. The clothes were laid next to him and Eren slowly lifted his arms for the blond to take off the garment. Eren felt slight movements of fabric with ten times the pain but refrained from wincing. Armin didn’t need more reason to cry over him. The process was slow and every few seconds Armin would ask if he was in pain to which he blinked no. Eren sighed with a slight wince because of the fractured ribs. He was getting impatient with himself and his lack of speed.

Was this really the life he was doomed to? Yes. Yes, it was.

He sucked up the pain and placed his hands on Armin’s face after they both finished dressing for comfort. He forced celestine blue eyes to stare into his malachite green ones and gave, or what he hoped, a look that told Armin that he was going to be ok and to stop crying. Armin somehow understood Eren and flashed him a weak smile.

They laid down slowly, Eren adjusting to each motion, and they stared into each others’ eyes, interlocking their fingers.

“I love you,” Armin landed a soft kiss on Eren’s lips.

Eren blinked twice, sleepily. I love you, too. Armin pulled the blanket over them both and went to sleep.

Chapter Text

The pair were left alone for a few days to recuperate aside from the occasional knock telling them to eat. Eren didn't think about the man from last night ―at least he tried not to. Flashes of the man and what he did shell shocked Eren into staring into space. Only Armin could bring him back. The two didn't attend rehearsals for their acts, no one forced them to either. It was not a secret to anyone what the patrons did to the performers. The vulture staff knew that the mental states of the performers were in desperate need of recovery after each patron visit, so they left them alone. All the performers weren’t social, so they didn’t need to worry about random people coming in and disturbing them.

It didn't matter if they attended or not anyway since they knew what to do. It was ingrained— no imprinted into them. Especially the consequences. Attending just gave them something to do.

Sometimes the vultures talked about the events in their lives or things in general when they walked along the hallways to guard. There wasn't much for them to guard, so they entertained each other with dialogue. It was always quiet in the living area thus the discussions of the vultures could be clearly heard by the performers. Eren heard them say that the biggest banquet of the year was coming soon and Vivarium was the hosting venue this year. The higher powers in the Vultura family were under pressure while getting everything in place for the banquet to be perfect. After all, it was the event that brought the most money to the Vultura family.

The banquet was held at a different location under Vultura's jurisdiction. Every year would change locations, but usually, there was a pattern to the venues. Eren and Armin performed at the few that were held in Vivarium and those times were when Vultura made the most money. Performers were stationed to one venue for their whole careers. Because of Eren and Armin, Vivarium was the most anticipated venue for the banquet by the guests. Usually, patrons could order only one performer to accompany them, but the banquet had included a program of an auction house. Patrons could order as many performers as they wished for one night as long as they won the bids.

Eren laid on his back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Most of the pain was subdued by the ointment that the doctor, but Eren was still listless. Armin laid next to him, their hands entwined under the thin blanket. They stared at the blank ceiling in silence. The guards moved to a different hallway and their conversation could not be heard. Days in Vivarium were always spent like this: blank. No thoughts ran through their minds and everything that touched their sensory perception was empty. They were used to this void. There was a time when they wished for entertainment or something to do, but the hope of that only made them suffer more. That hope was extinguished long ago.

Eren reached his free hand to Armin's soft hair and Armin did the same to Eren's hair. At least it was something to do. Armin took a lock of his own hair and a lock of Eren’s and braided them together. They didn’t know how to braid hair until they watched the hairdresser do it on them. They learned many things from the vultures accidentally. Eren stared into Armin’s sea blue eyes and stayed like that for a while, blinking slowly, ingraining the image of Armin into his brain.

Armin moved closer to Eren on the bed, circling his arm around the other and touched their noses. Warm puffs of air gently blew across Armin’s face, his eyelashes quivered as he tried not to blink after every puff. Eventually, they grew sleepy and closed their eyes to the vast darkness. There was nothing to do here besides sleep. Their time passed like this for many days until it was almost the time of the banquet. Vultures came in to assess which outfits, hair, and makeup that Eren and Armin were to wear on the day of the banquet. There were two outfits that were picked for both of them; one for the performance and one for the display case. Eren and Armin did not pay attention to the vultures and their minds wandered into space while their entwined hands ground them to the earth.

More vultures came in after the previous left. One was Armin’s dance instructor who dragged them to the dance studio and taught Armin the program a few times then let Armin try on his own. Armin only needed one time to perfect the routine, but the instructor was anxious. Armin was told to do it a few more times to ease the instructor. Eren watched as Armin danced. The moves accentuated the flexible and thin body of the blond and bathed his body in elegance. When Armin lightly flapped his wings he looked ethereal. Eren always watched Armin practice dancing whenever he could and he never got used to how beautiful Armin looked. In this stark white dance room, Armin was glowing.

Armin finished the routine with some sweat on his forehead while the instructor praised him then pointed out some things to watch for. Armin heard the vulture but did not keep the advice in mind. After wiping his sweat with a small towel, Armin walked over to Eren and helped him stand. They walked to their room with a guard.

Many of the vultures were scrambling to get all the preparations finished and perfected before the banquet, so there were many people rushing through the halls. Eren and Armin tried to avoid getting bumped into, but they still collided with someone who wasn’t looking. They walked on without worrying about the other person and the guard didn’t want to stay around too long, so they went to their room.

Eren did not have an instructor for singing because his songs were created naturally and originally. Whatever he felt is what he sang, so the Vultures were not worried about his performance. It was not like the patrons were going to complain about his songs; they liked all of them. Eren couldn’t make a bad song even if he tried to, his instincts did not allow it. No more vultures came into their room and bombarded them with their nervousness. Eren and Armin continued their time in peace before the banquet.

 

A heavy sigh echoed in the dimly lit conference room. “We were only able to obtain three invitations to Vultura’s banquet.” Pixis’ voice was heavy and solemn. “Can you handle this? The numbers have changed, but the plan is still the same.” Pixis glanced to his left at the blond man in a white button-up shirt. Erwin crossed his arms in front of his broad chest and thought for a moment as he calculated the operation with the changes included.

“There should be no problem,” Erwin returned Pixis’ inquiring gaze. “There should always be room for improvision.”

Pixis hummed, “Good. Our infiltration will begin near the end of the auction. You three will enter through the inside and open the doors of the south wing. Levi, remember to get the records on the drive. Not only is this mission to infiltrate and retrieve information, but also a rescue. We’ll handle the rescues. You three focus on the retrieval of information and join the rescue squadron when you finish.”

“Yes, commander Pixis.” Erwin, Levi, and Hange saluted Pixis’ orders before discussing the operation in detail once more. How to dress, how to talk and temperament were all important pieces of the disguise the three needed to blend in with the upper echelon that attended this underworld event. Five people for the retrieval mission all practiced the proper conduct for two weeks prior. Although they only obtained three invitations, there was not much to adjust for this mission. They equipped stealth mechanics on their communicators. The banquet was tonight and everyone was on edge from the nerves.

They had enough suspicion to launch an attack on Vultura. Vultura was involved in illegal drug trafficking, sex trafficking, prostitution, illegal arms trade, massacring of innocents, and many other capital offenses. Tonight’s banquet was the military’s only chance to gather physical evidence of their crimes as Vivarium was the main branch of the Vultura mafia. Small fry were no longer enough for the military. They chased the lower ranked gang members for a few years and it was finally time to cut off the head of the beast. Everyone knew that this mission would be bathed in blood even though it was a rescue mission. The two main objectives were to obtain all the records and to eliminate all enemies. Rescuing the victims was just the guise to bloodshed.

The meeting between the main actors of the mission concluded and everyone went out to prepare. Erwin and Levi walked together down the corridor of the base’s west wing to the dormitory. They did not live here normally, but the mission required them to live at the base because their homes were far across the country. They needed to immerse themselves into their upper-class facades while planning the mission.

“Are you nervous?” Erwin always asked this even though he knew Levi was never nervous on missions. His hand softly touched the back of Levi’s.

Levi threw him a side-eyed glare, “No.” He took Erwin’s hand in his and held it firmly. No matter how many times he told Erwin that he liked how assertive the blond was, Erwin would always tease him with false timidity and get on his nerves. They have been in a relationship for a few years. At first, there was resistance on Levi’s part because they were both alphas and his fear of commitment and abandonment, but the attraction had been there for as long as they could remember. Erwin eased his way into Levi’s life with offerings of comfort and love. Levi was confident in their feelings for each other but was worried that their instincts would interrupt the relationship with an omega.

Alpha and alpha relationships were not uncommon as there were much more alphas and betas compared to omegas, but the possibility was still frightening to Levi. Erwin joked about an omega partner for both of them to stimulate the pheromones and give them better sex, but he would always reassure Levi that there was no separation in mind. They had been together for a long time, even before they became a couple. Erwin did not plan on leaving him anytime soon.

They entered the room and found two suits laid out on the bed. Everyone knew they were in a relationship because they did not hide it. It did not hinder their official duties anyway, so they were left to themselves.
While they were getting dressed, Erwin spoke, “On my prior mission, I met an omega named Nephele. I told you before remember?”

“Yeah. What about it?” Levi adjusted the laces on his black oxford shoes. Erwin talked before briefly about the encounter with Nephele and what happened, but there was no personal input. It was similar to a report. However, this time he told Levi about what he felt.

“I get a strange feeling from him, but I can’t pin it down to the specifics.” Erwin’s eyebrows tightened. “However, it's not a bad feeling. Just irksome. Anyway, Nephele was interesting. I’m sure you’ll feel the same.” Levi helped adjust Erwin’s dark silver tie in the blue checkered dress shirt and a navy blue jacket. Levi ran his hand through his hair with some styling gel. Levi’s attire was much more simple a black button up, black jacket with silver flower embroidery, and black pants.

“Hm. You talk as if this person will be involved with us?” Levi could feel Erwin’s intrigue, and he was not angry about it. There was some feeling of jealousy, but it was not bothersome. Erwin chuckled and coaxed Levi with kisses all over his face. Levi was outwardly irritated, but the kisses softened his heart piece by piece.

What they did not know was that Nephele was not the only one that would be involved with them.

Chapter Text

Eren felt an itch, a familiar, yet unbearable itch. He squirmed on the bed as he tried to cool his back on the surface of the mattress. It was a few hours before the start of the banquet and he was in his room. Armin was finalizing the group dance that came before his solo with the instructor and other birds. It wasn't time for Eren to get dressed yet; he was alone in his room. The itch started to tingle and burn as if millions of fire ants crawled and bit his back. He needed relief.

He needed to pluck.

He calmed his breathing and listened to the sounds around him. There was no other sound but the blood pumping in his ears. Slowly, he got up and sat on his legs. A shaky breath left his lips and he released his bare wings in the room. Some feathers were growing in since the last time he saw them. His hands reached for his left wing and plucked all the feathers that he could pinch. A weight lifted from his chest. His head felt hazy and his body felt light.

The right wing came into his grasp and he pinched the roots of the feathers then pulled them out. A sigh of relief escaped his lips. The burning sensation no longer existed. Only now, a few beads of blood emerged from the skin of his bare wings. He moved his legs from underneath and got off the bed. There were no first aid kits in the bathroom. All medical needs went to the infirmary, but the doctor did not treat them properly. Plus, they would probably torture him instead of helping him.

It wasn't a major problem anyway. Eren took a damp cloth to his bloody wing and dabbed softly. Such contradicting treatment on his wings became the norm after some odd years. Sometimes, when he subconsciously plucked, Eren would not clean up his bloody wings. They were tucked back into his wing space and the blood would clot on its own. Some parts of his wings did not grow feathers anymore or grew them so slowly that it didn't matter. It wasn't something that bothered him. No one would see anyway.

He tucked his cleaned wings back into his wing space and laid down. Occasionally he could hear shuffling as a vulture or performer rushed past his room to set up the banquet. None of it entered his mind. He just laid on the white bed in the white room. None of it mattered.

A jingle of a bell rang from down the corridor. It was faint but recognizable. Armin. Only Armin mattered. In this blank and quiet world, only Armin mattered.

The door opened to reveal the small blond with ocean blue eyes. Armin shut the door behind him and walked to the bed then laid next to Eren. Eren shuffled closer to him and laid his head on the blond's chest. He couldn't see Armin practice because the instructor did not allow it this time. He missed Armin. Eren buried his face in Armin's neck and took a deep breath in. Fresh rain caressed his nose and he sighed in comfort.

Armin rested his cheek on Eren's head and looked at the foot of the bed. Cream colored feathers of all sizes were scattered around the bottom. Armin comfortingly stroked Eren's soft arms and earned a purr from the brunette. He did not ask Eren about his plucking this time because he wanted to comfort his important person not remind him of his insecurities and anxieties. Eren always comforted Armin when he had a breakdown and scrubbed his body until it was bright red and his feathers bled. Their legs tangled and they cuddled and comforted each other until the vultures came to get them ready.

In the white room, on the white bed, and under the white blanket, it was warm.

 

The vultures dressed Eren in a long, ivory gown with blue accents. His hair was left natural and straight with a white lace headband on his head. His eyes were hidden behind a white lace blindfold that was secured with a tie in the back of his head. A pair of closed eyes were embroidered on the blindfold in silver.

Armin wore a red layered dress that bloomed at the skirt. His hair was pinned in a crown braid and his makeup was bold, but not exaggerated. He looked like a rose, beautiful and dangerous. His ballet shoes were dyed in the same color as his dress.

After they finished getting ready, Eren took Armin's hand and Armin pulled Eren to him. They touched foreheads and looked into each other's eyes.

They were led backstage where all the other performers were located. Armin was escorted to join the other dancers who were dressed in a different color than Armin, making him stand out more. Eren was placed into a silver, tall, and slim cage. It was only big enough for him to stand or sit on his knees. The guard that placed him inside took out a syringe. Eren clenched his fists. His nails digging into his palms. The syringe pierced his legs and a numbing sensation came instantly. The door of the cage was closed, but not locked. Eren wouldn't be able to get out anyway. Eren shifted slightly so that he could sit his bottom on the cage floor between his feet. He was still kneeling, but he was not sitting on his legs.

Eren heard the chatter behind the curtains. The other side. It was so loud compared to the silent backstage. He rested his head on a steel bar in the cage and grasped another in his hand. He would go last, he always was. The occasion did not change this fact. Many performers moved to the stage to entertain the guests, but the chatter never ceased. The stage was filled with sweat and performers that went unnoticed by the vulture patrons. They were only a background to the lives of the patrons.

Eren only saw the side of the performance instead of the front. It was Armin's solo dance now. He watched how Armin danced with the other dancers before this and Armin was beautiful even from the side view. Armin twirled and hopped on the stage in his red dress. He looked like a blooming red rose. So beautiful. Even the patrons noticed because the noise lowered significantly. Although there were a few mumbles that were heard.

Armin was captivating. Armin was charming. Armin was dazzling. Eren was in the dark and covered behind a veil of lace. He gazed at the dazzling red light from afar. A tremble sifted through Eren. His stomach churned and flipped. He could not do anything to appease his fear. The weight in his chest grew heavier and heavier as Armin's performance reached its finale. Armin posted after his last move and earned a loud applause from the audience. The curtains closed and he returned to the backstage. They were unable to silently comfort each other as Eren's cage was immediately lifted by two guards and placed in the center of the stage. He heard an introduction for himself then the curtains opened.

He took a deep, shaky inhale, closed his eyes and let out a soft melody.

 

A sweet sound filled the banquet hall. Soft and light, everyone stopped speaking immediately. Masquerade masks all turned to the stage to appreciate the dark-haired beauty in white. They all wondered what the youth's eyes looked like underneath the veil. But their thoughts drifted off slowly as the song of Siren invaded their minds and carried them along the waves of melody. All they could feel and hear was the sound of the sea in the voice of the Siren. The sky was grey with a storm nearing. The ocean was vast but felt so lonely. The powerful waves crashed against sharp rocks in an attempt to engulf something and fill the void of isolation. Siren’s song pulled them into the sea with the emotion of saving the beautiful creature that was drowning in misery. Even if the Siren did not know the words to the feelings, the song transcended the words that could not be spoken. Those who listened to the Siren’s song suffocated with heartache. The song ended with a low tone that forced an ache in those that listened. A long pause of silence engulfed the hall before a clap resounded followed by many.

The curtains closed and Eren waited for the guards to retrieve him. Although the patrons heard the sound of misery and need for comfort, no one came to the Siren’s rescue. They only wished for him to be caged in this desolate place to fulfill their own needs.

However, in the booming applaud of the masked audience, a tall, blonde man with the physique of Zeus and his dark-haired partner that was shorter by a head resonated with the song. They could feel a burning ache in their chests after hearing the exquisite voice of the Siren and desired him. They felt this earlier when they watched the flaming rose dance beautifully on the stage. Both glanced at each other, knowing the feelings that the other felt. They wanted to dismiss the feelings as the excitement of this being part of an audience that was enchanted by beauty and performance. But, they knew that it was just a flimsy illusion keeping them sane. The tightness of their dress pants also proved them otherwise.

A vulture in a half-white-half-black mask announced the auction would start in a few minutes where they could bid for any of the performers, as many performers as they wanted, for a whole night. Hange chuckled beside their two friends and looked at their blushing and confused expressions.

“We did come with a budget for the auction. Maybe we can order that dancer and the singer for the night.” Hange’s lips quirked up as Erwin and Levi whipped their heads to them. Levi scowled and Erwin had a displeased look. Despite the exterior, Hange could feel the poorly concealed sexual tension that surrounded the other two from the last two performers.

Hange wore a slim-fitted burgundy dress for the banquet and their usual messy ponytail was combed into a straight and neat ponytail. A gold-lace mask covered only the top half of her face. Hange played the elegant, charming woman who was accompanied by two handsome men and although Hange’s gender identity was not a woman, they played the part extremely well and had fun at the same time. “Let loose you two! You both are acting like you shoved a stick up your ass, someones gonna be suspicious.” Hange snickered as she watched their faces turn white then red behind their black half-face masquerade masks. They were stiff because of a different reason.

Erwin cleared his throat and calmed his turbulent heart to focus on the mission. The outside team was waiting for the auction to end so that they could get inside. Right now security was focused on the main banquet hall, thus they were lax in the other areas of Vivarium. At this point, Pixis should be waiting with his favorite flask of whiskey outside for the signal. In the banquet hall, there were frequency interrupters for the communicators of the guests for an extra layer of security. The vultures monitored the communicators for any abnormal behavior or communication from the guests. However, Erwin and his team accounted for this matter and equipped a jammer on their individual communicators so that they could operate without suspicion. All they needed to do was slip under the radar and out of the hall.

The lights in the hall shut off and spotlight flickered onto the stage. The whole venue of the banquet hall was old-fashioned, not much of the modern technology made its way here except for the communicators of the guests and the frequency interrupters. The feeling that came from the venue and its decor was “antique”. Although, Erwin doubted that the vultures intentionally set up this theme with all the money they own. The auction slowly progressed as the less popular performers were auctioned first. The performers were all locked in cages for display as if they were objects. A few patrons ordered them in groups. It wasn’t hard to guess what that the patrons were thinking about doing.

Nephele was rolled onto the stage in a silver cage. The firey red dress stood in contrast to the silver steel bars. Nephele’s eyes were closed as if he accepted his fate and did not care who he was bought by. He surrendered himself to the hands of a stranger that he could not see. A sting pierced Levi’s heart. He couldn’t buy this performer and save them from the hands of the filthy patrons that surrounded them. His main objective was not the rescue, but the information. By the time they retrieved the information, the performers would already be left to the patrons and their devices. Levi looked to Erwin and saw that the other expressed a similar dissatisfied look on his face. Levi reached his hand out to Erwin in comfort and uncertainty about why they were feeling this way. Erwin entwined their fingers, anchoring himself to his lover. A similar thought ran through their minds.

They hoped that they wouldn’t be too late.

Chapter Text

Eren heard the shouts in the audience of numbers, prices as they bid for his company. Not that any of it was his in the end. Eren only sat in his cage under the bright spotlights that shone through his closed eyelids. His legs were slowly gaining feeling as the paralyzing drug wore off. Defeat shrouded his being. There was nothing he could do but sit quietly and wait. He hoped that the accompaniment with the patron would be quick, but his history with the patrons dismissed his hope as a small ant on the road. Most likely that it would drag on, Eren hoped his mind would take him elsewhere. If that was a true skill, he would be sane in this insane place. Yet another pipe dream. A wish that will never come. All he was was a caged bird. Only allowed to sit quietly. No resistance. No extra troubles.

A gavel pounded as the highest bid was declared, not that he paid attention. A sigh left his slightly parted lips. His fingers folded the fabric of his dress and rubbed the fold between them. A guard rolled him off of the stage and the banquet concluded. Guests were welcome to stay to enjoy the food or leave with their chauffeurs. Eren heard the chatter grow farther and farther as he was rolled down the halls and toward the patron-ordered rooms.

“Ren,” a whisper came from his left.

Eren opened his eyes to find Armin's staring at where he thought Eren's eyes were. Eren did not lift his opaque veil, but he whispered “Min” to reassure the other. It seemed that they were both ordered by the same patron. They were the only two-headed the same direction. All the other performers were taken to other halls and other rooms. Light squeaks were heard from the carts that wheeled them. The silence was filled, but it wasn't a pleasant replacement. The guards were quiet and so were the caged. Only anticipation and dread filled Eren and Armin's bodies to the brim.

When they reached their destination, Eren noticed two additional guards at the door. They stopped the guards that were transporting the caged performers and each held out a syringe. One syringe for each performer. Eren clutched his dress in fear. The patron specifically ordered for the syringes to be administered before they entered the room. Eren was afraid of the needle, afraid of what was in the syringe and afraid of what it would do to him. The guards injected them in the arm. Eren and Armin wanted to hold each other's hand. But they couldn't with the cages. There was not enough space to put their arm through the bars.

Eren felt a slight burn from the solution instantly after it entered his body. The guards opened the door after injecting them and wheeled them into the room. The patron had on a white full face mask with a gold outline. An expression of sorrow was painted onto the mask in gold. The man sat on the plush armchair a few meters away from the large canopy bed. The covers were black and grey, muted and silent.

“Place them on the bed,” ordered the patron before he sipped his cold drink. The guards opened the cages and lifted the two out, not the least bit gentle. Armin and Eren were laid on the black covers and they quickly noticed that they couldn't move their limbs much. The guards left the room with squeaking wheels guiding their path. The door closed softly. The two heard the man take another sip from his glass cup. Their limbs felt heavy, so heavy that they couldn't twitch even a finger. Their minds started to warp as the ceiling they stared at began to swirl from the inside. The sips of the patron were amplifying then tapering off, repeating this cycle again and again. A few pants left their mouths as their bodies began to heat up. Dizziness overwhelmed their minds and heat overwhelmed their bodies. They tried to reach out to hold each other's hand, an anchor, but they couldn't defeat the weight.

They were barely able to process the sensations that their minds were bombarded with. A cool touch landed on their cheeks. Eren wanted to move closer to it and Armin received more of it. The coolness left Armin's cheek, leaving him a panting and whimpering mess. The coolness lightly traced Eren's face, he saw a vague shadow through the lace. The lace was removed, but very slowly. Eren watched every detail of the lace coming off of him as time seemed to slow down around him, but he was moving faster than time. Armin believed that he saw many particles that floated in the air at s higher magnification. A dip to the right of Armin caused a ripple in the bed, they were floating with the waves. It was becoming too hot.

Armin and Eren craved the cool touch, whimpering for more. The relief came, but torturously slowly. Every inch of their bodies was being traced by a thin thread of cool relief. It wasn't enough. The coolness’ trail was being engulfed by the flames of their bodies. Eren huffed. Armin released a ragged breath. Colors began to dance in front of their eyes, colors that did not exist in the room before. They were glowing, flowing in and out of their sight. Bubbles of neon lights danced, warped and morphed into different shapes before them. The cool relief turning into more than a fleeting trail.

A distinct pinch of pain entered Armin’s body, but compared to the immense heat of his body, it was barely noticed. The pain dispersed, followed by fresh relief entering him, curing the heat from the inside to the outside. Underneath that relief laid the deep instinctual fear of being unable to control their bodies and what was truly happening beyond the drug-induced daze and incoherency. Not much could be done to stop the fear or the actions that were causing their guts to flip and lurch.

Eren and Armin surrendered themselves to the relief as their minds floated along the sea.

 

It was dark. Armin could feel his body was tied and constricted. His hands were tied together above his head and hung from the bedpost. He tugged, but couldn’t release his hands from their hanging position. He tried to open his mouth to call for someone but was met with resistance. His mouth hurt to open. He couldn’t open his eyes, they hurt when he tried to open his lids. The room smelled familiar, metallic and a little fishy. It was blood. Armin tried moving the rest of his body, only to find that his legs were also tied together. A muffled scream forced its way out of his mouth, it hurt. Whimpers were heard next to him, it was Eren. He did not doubt that Eren was in the same position. Armin cried out to Eren. He felt the bed lightly bounce a few times and heard rustles of the bed sheets. Eren was thrashing and whimpering. Eren hummed and whined. Eren panted as anxiety took hold of him.

Armin tried to roll and shuffle over to Eren and ignored the burn from his wrists as the rope tightened. He was pulling against the restraints to the point of almost dislocating his shoulder. Eren felt his shoulder being touched by a sticky and wet thing, he jumped slightly. Armin whined as he bumped his head onto Eren’s body. Eren shuffled closer to Armin. Their bodies pressed together as the familiar scent of blood invaded their noses. Eren whimpered and opened his mouth as much as he could and whimpered “Min” loud enough for Armin to hear the fear and anxiety in his voice. Armin trembled, shaking Eren, who pressed their bodies close, with him. Armin couldn’t open his mouth at all. Tears ran down his cheeks, but they stung his eyelids.

“Now now.” A voice rang from somewhere in the room. It was eerily calm. Heavy footfalls made their way toward the two on the bed. A cold hand stroked Eren’s face, earning a flinch from the brunet. “Stay still or you’ll ruin the beautiful art that I made with you two. Art that is worthy of the high price I paid for the both of you.” Armin whimpered and turned his head from the hand stroking his cheek. The man clicked his tongue. “I warned you to stay still.” The calm voice turned rigid in an instant. Eren and Armin felt their bodies tense in apprehension.

 

Levi slipped out from the banquet hall with the help of the stealth module on his communicator. Erwin and Hange were left in the banquet hall to scout for the higher tier mafia members and mingle with them. Levi went off to find Zackley’s office and notify the other two to meet him once he found it. Silently walking through the halls of Vivarium, Levi noted the ancient designs of the venue. It seemed as if Vultura wanted to solidify its adoration for the old era’s style, but Levi knew that it was a facade. This place was a prison and the simplicity of it was enough to drive anyone to the point of insanity if they stayed long enough. The gold lining on the pillars and walls were cracking and the white walls were slowly yellowing. Levi’s hands twitched and itched to beat whoever terribly maintained this place. The blueprint on his communicator showed that he was close to a potential office.

The communicator scanned the inside of the room to check if anyone was inside. It was clear. He opened the door and searched a few filing cabinets, scanning everything he found. He cursed the Vultura’s paranoia on technology, all paper. It was wasting so much time and was mostly records of a high tier member’s projects. After saving the scans to his communicator, Levi left the room to the next potential office.

“Fuck, did you see Nephele tonight?”

“Yeah. Just a glance tho,” two guards were talking loudly, approaching from the right hall.

Levi held his breath as they passed by slowly. He couldn’t knock them out without alerting someone else. He didn’t find the main objective and couldn’t risk being exposed so soon.

“I would fuck Nephele. Damn, I wish we could’ve seen the performance.”

“Eh. I’m more into Siren. The mute thing turns me on.” Levi let out a slow exhale and inhale at the same rate. His heart flared with disgust at the guard’s remark.

“Wanna bet who rakes in the most cash tonight? Siren or Nephele?”

“Let’s get the others in on this too.” Their chatter distanced as they rounded a corner and went out of the vicinity.

Eyebrows drew closer as Levi felt a strange pang as he listened to them mention Siren and Nephele. He worried about them, but they weren’t his main objective. Levi was confused. Why was he so focused on those two? He excused it to the tension of the situation and dispersed the worry to all the victims of Vultura. He found a few more offices similar to the first and rushed to gather the information before he found the right office.

Levi scanned the room from the outside and disarmed any security measures before entering. He messaged the other two his location and got a message back saying “ETA 10 minutes” from Hange. The office was bland. White walls were accompanied by a dark oak desk, a black swivel chair, two black couches with a glass table in the middle, and many steel cabinets behind the desk.

Levi shuffled through the filing cabinets in the office trying to find where the most important documents were stashed. He looked for contracts, time stamps, letters, anything that looked important. Surprisingly, no dust floated in the air. Everything in the dark office was extremely clean.

There were a few locked drawers in the desk, a typical sign of secret files. Levi smashed the lock and sifted through the files.

Erwin and Hange came in by the time Levi laid the documents across the desk. Hange went to scan the files from the cabinets that Levi left open. Levi was rigid, holding a file in his hands. Erwin cautiously joined Levi at the desk and glanced at the file that Levi held in his hands. Erwin froze.

Large monetary bank transfers were printed on the files and handwritten notes were attached to them. Names of terrorist organizations were listed in the notes as the sponsors and the things they bought ranged from illegal drugs to confidential government information. Vultura was much more than they suspected and much more dangerous to the national security of Paradis. Vultura was planning to profit from a war against Paradis.

Erwin opened his communicator’s interface and called Pixis, briefing his fellow commander about the discovery. Pixis messaged back to wait while he sent an emergency message to their superiors that notified them of the discovery and the change in plan. Pixis messaged Erwin back with the change in operation: eliminate all vultures on site and especially Darius Zackley. While this upcoming massacre of vultures did not solve the problem of leaked government information nor the problem of war, Pixis’ plan was to wipe out the main source before weeding out the moles in the system. Surprisingly, he got clearance from the superiors.

Hange looked at the time. The auction was finished and they needed to let Pixis’ team inside. Pixis told them to wrap it up, scan every little detail then burn it. Erwin left the room to let the other team inside while Hange and Levi hastily scanned everything they could find and upload them to their communicators. Levi discovered a few flash drives hidden in a false drawer in Zackley’s desk, but only had enough time to upload the content on his communicator. They ransacked the office for other hidden files and then timed a bomb for five minutes to blow up. Erwin opened a door and the soldiers rushed in. All vultures that were seen were eliminated. Guns fired in the silent halls and decked the walls with blood. More vultures came to the scene. The bomb in Zackley’s office went off and shook the earth.

Over the radio channel on the communicator, Levi heard Petra shout, “They called back up!”

Oluo cursed over the com as more gunfire was heard from all. Shouts of battle followed the carnage. The raid began to resemble a battlefront as the smell smoke and blood ran rampant in the air.

“Enemy vultures down, squad L rendezvous squad T,” Mikasa’s calm voice buzzed in Levi’s communicator. Erwin gave Levi and Hange machine guns, but no protective gear, because he “couldn’t carry it all”. Levi itched to bring the butt of the machine gun down on Erwin’s head. Hange screeched like a banshee as they killed vultures left and right, a maniacal glint shown in their eye fuelled by the reality that they will die if shot even once.

“Copy squad T-” a loud boom interrupted the radio followed by cursing. “They’ve got a grenade launcher! Take cover!”

Hange laughed maniacally as they shot the enemies with chilling accuracy, dodging bullets and fists. The objective to rescue the victims was forced to the end of the list as more and more vultures joined the fight. Levi cursed Erwin for not giving them protection and ripped off a bulletproof vest from a dead body, ignoring the shivers of disgust that ran down his spine.

Erwin did the same and swiped a different gun and some ammunition from another body because his own ran out.

“Smith, your communicator tells me that you’re coming behind the maniac with the grenade. Take them out,” ordered Pixis with a sobered voice.

“Copy that,” Erwin looked to Levi and Hange who were covering for him while he navigated towards the target. The earth shook more violently as they got closer to the target, the walls of the building fell apart and were mostly just rubble. A screen of grey and the mixed scent of burnt flesh and smoke filled the air. It was dangerous to breathe here, but they didn’t have time to think about it too deeply. Hange flanked the right and Erwin to the left, they walked slowly and cautiously.

“We’ve taken care of most of the enemy vultures. Don’t worry about them, take care of that troublemaker.” Rico’s voice filled their ears between the gaps of the mini-earthquakes. Erwin spotted the enemy pointing the launcher in different directions and firing with no set goal except to fend off his oppressors.

Levi aimed a shot at the enemy’s hand right as he was about to pull the trigger and fire another grenade. Erwin swiftly shot at the man and ended his life. “Enemy down.”

“Alright. Everyone, our objective is to rescue the victims. Clean up any strays you find laying around.” After Pixis’ command, everyone released a breath they didn’t realize that they were holding. “Who had an eye on Zackley’s location?”

“Sir, he was never at the banquet in the first place,” Rico’s voice had a bit of reprimand laced within it. Well, Zackley was not the main objective tonight, but he was going to be in the near future with all the documents they found.

Everyone mobilized to the patron rooms and picked rooms to break into and remove the victims from the situations. Erwin and Levi rushed to a room they felt a strong pull towards. Their guts were screaming at them to go to this room and quickly. Erwin kicked the door open and froze after rushing in.

They were late.

 

Two bloody bodies laid on the bed tied up in red rope. The only thing that Erwin could see to determine who they were were the hair colors: one blond and one brunet. But even then, the hairs of the two bodies were soaked red with blood and their bodies had dried blood coated almost like a second skin. But that wasn’t the worst part.

Levi checked the room before he focused on the two on the bed. The shower was running in the background and humming could be heard from it. Levi turned his gaze to the two on the bed only to be met with eyes and mouths sewn shut with red threads. Levi’s blood ran cold and he quickly ran over to check on them, bumping into Erwin in the process. Levi placed a finger under their noses; they were still breathing, but it was extremely faint. Levi took out a combat knife from the side of his gun and cut at the rope on the blond’s hands. The blond flinched instinctively when Levi touched his skin. Erwin was next to the blond in a flash.

“Nephele, it’s Smith,” Erwin received a small whimper in reply. “You're okay don't worry. We're taking you out of here.” Levi finished cutting the ropes from Nephele and Erwin held him in his embrace. The sewn parts of their bodies were fresh, there were no proper tools to help remove the threads. They would need to wait to get back to the base before properly removing them without pain.

Erwin messaged Hange about the situation so that they would set up the necessary medical equipment for on-site treatment and ready the medical bay at the base. A sharp cry sounded from the brunet. Siren panicked. He couldn’t see who was touching him and couldn’t do anything. His hands were free but were clenched in fists to his chest as he curled up into a ball.

A weak hand searched its way to Eren’s nose. Eren inhaled the familiar scent of rain underneath the smell of blood and relaxed a little. Eren held Armin’s hand and trembled.

“Don’t be afraid. We’re here to rescue you.” A deep, comforting voice sounded in his ear and he was pulled into the same embrace that sheltered Armin.

The patron responsible for doing this stepped out of the shower only to get beaten to death by an angry silver-eyed man.

Chapter Text

Hey otters (i decided to call u that spontaneously so it'll change or stay the same.) I know I said I would post a chapter last week but I have not had the energy to do so because all my professors have been stepping on my neck in assignments. I would hope to update as soon as I can since this coming week is the last week of exams for now. I apologize for the delay. Life has been hectic, I just got into a little fender bender today so I'm stressed from that too.... haha. Well, the good news is that I got called to get an interview for a job so I hope that goes well. I am going to erase this when I post the next chapter because I freaking hate announcements adding to the chapter count. Thank you for not firing me with update questions and such. You are very much appreciated.