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Understanding is an intimacy

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“Zeke,” she says, rising, and suddenly her lips are touching his, abruptly, clumsily. She doesn’t close her eyes, but rather looks up at him with determination from beneath her heavy lids. He blinks owlishly. Her lips are soft and pliant, he has time to think, and rather pleasant pressed against his like that, before he stops the thought right in its tracks and his head jerks back violently, sending his glasses careening down his nose.



“Pieck, st-“ he says, and his words sputter into silence as her mouth presses against his again. This time, she closes her eyes. His hands find their way to her shoulders, and he moves his head to the side, slipping out from under her kiss. “Stop! Stop. We can’t do this,” he babbles. “I can’t do this. This is wrong. I’d be taking advantage of you.” His words take on a delirious intensity. “You’re a child. I’m your superior officer. I’m eight years your senior. I’m too old for you. We can’t. We can’t.”

 

He stands there, breathless, his hands grasped firmly on her shoulders, holding her at arm’s length, and she just stands there, looking up at him in questioning silence.

 

He is incredibly fond of her, in his own way. Of the Warrior candidates, it was always her with whom he’d had the most in common. She would sit with him as he did the day’s crossword, the strange, peerless, older boy who had sold his parents to Marley, and do it with him, puzzling out clues with lightning alacrity, often faster than he did, and delighting him with her quick wit and precociousness. She had been left behind, like him, when the other Warriors had left for the mission to retake the Founding Titan. The intervening years had only strengthened their odd friendship. The last thing he wants to do now- and this feeling jolts him to his core- is hurt her. But he will not do this.

 

“I’m flattered,” he tells her quietly, “I am, truly. But you’re a child, Pieck. I’ve known you since you were ten. I’m not some- some creep, who would do that to a child.” He exhales and runs his hands through his hair, and pushes his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. There is a tension in the air, a friction between them, like the pregnant weight of the sky in the prelude to a heavy storm. Something lying unsaid.

 

Weary, he sits back down and pats the space next to him, motioning to her to join him. “Come on. Sit down,” he says with a sigh. “We can forget all about this. Are you alright?”

 

She sits beside him on the sofa, her gaze cast down, and her hands clenched into fists in her lap, grasping tightly at the folds of her skirt. The space between them seems almost chasmal. She hides her face.

 

She says nothing.

 

“Pieck?” he asks, concerned.

 

The silence that reigns in the room looms in an almost physical fashion. It endures for minutes longer than he can endure, and then minutes still after that. It smothers him like a blanket.

 

The voice that issues from her is quiet, halting, and tight with emotion.

 

“War Chief,” she starts, and halts almost immediately. She looks up at him again, and this time, meets him eye to eye. Her eyes, dark and slate-gray, shine. His expression softens with concern.

 

“I gained the power of the Cart Titan seven years ago,” she says quietly, momentously. “I’m seventeen now.”

 

The point hangs obliquely in the air, and Zeke can only see its outlines. “Go on…?” he encourages.

 

“My term is more than half over. I only have six years left,” she says so quietly that he has to strain to hear her.

 

He makes a non-committal noise, prompting her to continue.

 

“And…” she lets out a shuddering breath, “I’m going to die in six years’ time. I’m going to die without… having been kissed, without having… without having…” she pauses. Her words are laden with unspoken meaning. “l-… There are so many things I want to try. Time is… running out, for me.” She falls silent, and her gaze beseeches him to understand.

 

And he does. He understands her. He feels it like a heavy blow, like a sledgehammer to the chest, like his heart will give out. He aches with anguish and pity for her, for her and the other children that Marley has consigned to an early grave. For a moment, his blood boils with rage at the injustice, and the urge to destroy something almost brims over. There is an honour in service, and he will always be quick to reign in his Warriors when he hears mutinous talk, and remind them of that, but…

 

But at the close of the day, what consolation are honour and service in the face of death before you’ve barely even tasted the world, before having tasted love?

 

He is twenty-five. And for the first time, he realises.

 

He realises this: she will never be twenty-five. She will die at twenty-three. He will die at thirty, a year before she does, and that will be that.



He grits his teeth, and lets a breath he barely realised he was holding slowly extinguish.

 

The bastards.

 

“I’m sorry I kissed you,” she says. For a moment, his pride is wounded. I wasn’t that bad, was I?, he thinks. “You didn’t want it. I should have known and respected that.”

 

“I was… It just took me by surprise, that’s all. It was… It was pleasant,” he finishes lamely. A part of him, a niggling voice at the back of his mind, can’t help but feel that he’s handling the situation like a fool. I’m a grown man, he despairs. And I’m her leader. I should have had the presence of mind not to deal with this like a flustered idiot. To summon the dignity and authority that my rank demands.

 

And despite himself, a question has been nagging away at him. There are things going on here, things that he does not understand, and that bothers him. “I must admit - I’m curious. There are plenty of young men closer to your own age who must be dying to, well…” his eyes drift to study the ceiling, “You know. With you.” He clears his throat. “Why me? Why not…” he winced. Well, The cat’s out of the bag now. She kissed you. You’re involved now. “Why not Porco? He adores you. He’s good-looking. He’d be willing. Hell,” he snorts, “he’d be more than willing, he’d be eager.”

 

She smiles at him. His heart is suddenly a huge bubble expanding in his chest. He is relieved. It’s funny how he’s never realised before, but even the thought of her getting upset like that unsettles him, angers him, fills him with a directionless sense of desperation, a desire to set the world to rights if only to have her smile again. He has a sinking suspicion that if anyone were to hurt her, they’d very quickly find themselves on the business end of his left hook, damn the consequences.



“He very likely would. You’re right…” she trails off pensively, and when she resumes, her voice is melancholy. “But he wouldn’t understand. And that’s not his fault, not at all. But you? You do understand. Annie, Marcel, Reiner, Bertoldt… You all know what it’s like to count the days. What it means to go to bed at night, and to think ‘One day closer to death.’ You know what it’s like, to live with a ticking clock in the back of your mind, to live to fight as a weapon for Marley… And can you imagine what it would be like for him? To never be able to remember his first without imagining her slipping down a titan’s gullet? No,” she says decisively. “He doesn’t deserve that hanging over him for the rest of his life.”

 

The blunt reminder of their grim, impending demise hovers in the air between them, tinged with the same kind of discomfort afforded to a fart at a funeral. Pieck clears her throat, and when she speaks this time, it’s with no small amount of embarrassment.

 

“I heard that for a girl… It hurts the first time.”

 

He makes another of those non-committal sounds. “It does.”

 

She flushes. “I thought… I thought that with someone more… experienced… You might be better at it. Or it might hurt less. Something like that,” she musters, and she doesn’t quite hold his eyes.

 

“Very sensible. Per usual, you’re exactly right.” He nods firmly.

 

“And, to be honest…” she bites her lip and hesitates. He looks at her curiously, supportively, and beckons to her to continue. She takes a deep breath.

 

“I thought long and hard about this. I like you. I like talking to you. I enjoy your company. I think you’re handsome. It’s simple, really. I would have liked it to have been you,” she says, and a wistful note enters her voice.

 

He shouldn’t feel like preening, but he does. He is touched in spite of himself. The thought that she hadn’t made her selection at random, but had mulled it over, reasoned to herself, and chosen him because of his own qualities… because she likes him, sends a wave of warmth through him. A soft, irrepressible smile pulls up at the corners of his mouth.

 

“Thank you,” he says, and means it. “But you should be careful- if you keep saying things like that, you’ll do my ego no favours. I’ll get big-headed.” he jokes. He absentmindedly runs his hands through his hair again.

 

“I meant it,” she says, and rises, casting her eyes about his room for her coat. “I’m sorry,” she says again.

 

“Are you leaving?”

 

“You were the one who mentioned egos. Let me escape with mine intact. Please?” She leans over to get her coat, which she had left draped over the seat at his desk.

 

“Let me get the door for you at the very least.” He rises, crosses the room in several strides, and goes to open the door for her. And he stops right there, because his mind is racing.

 

He is her commanding officer. With a word, she could be commanded to fight, to die for her country on the battlefield, and she would be compelled to obey. Even worse, he would be the one relaying the orders. And still, she would follow him to her dying breath.

 

Old enough to send to her death and old enough to become a human weapon. Old enough to be gifted a death sentence- but not old enough to know a man’s touch?

 

It dawns on him that within him exists a glaring and terrible mental dissonance. That he might be a terrible hypocrite. That he might, in fact, have been wrong.

 

He turns sharply to face her. The light flashes on his glasses; the look in his eyes is inscrutable.

 

Who is he to so arrogantly and highhandedly disregard her choice? He knows her. He knows that there’s no way that she would have done what she did without thinking long and hard about it.

 

For people like them, the freedom of choice is a rare and precious commodity. They lived by Marley’s rules and died at Marley’s leisure. Their days were measured out in Marleyan orders, Marleyan meetings, Marleyan training. If Captain Magath were to say “jump”, they would ask, “How high, sir?” and never let a flicker of disobedience cross their faces.

 

She deserved to have him consider the matter, deserved, at the very least, not to be dismissed out of hand. She deserved agency now, when agency is so rarely afforded to her. (To them both, his mind supplies.)

 

He thinks of the Eldians forced to live in within the rain-stained, concrete bounds of Liberio. He thinks of parents forced to hand over their children to the army to secure their dignity, to cleanse the stains of the crimes of their blood, to put food on the table. He thinks of children instrumentalised and forced into military uniforms, until the uniform clothed their minds because they were too young to know any better. He thinks of their superiors. There is no way they would ever allow this.

 

The word allow sticks in his mind like a barb.

 

He thinks of the parents who betrayed him.

 

And he thinks of her.

 

She deserves to live to be twenty-five, he thinks.

 

Fuck it all.

 

And so he makes a choice.  He chooses to respect her choice, to close the distance between them. He laces his fingers through her black, witch-locked hair and cups her head in his large, rough hands. He’s close enough to see every fleck in her rain-grey eyes, and the sudden surprise in her expression.

 

“Pieck,” he says, “I’ll do it.”

 

The third kiss is not like the first two. Where the other two had been a feeble testing of the water, this is like full body submersion, like diving into the sun-lit sea. He is quick to part his lips and deepen their kiss, to gently plunge his tongue into the warmth of her mouth. Her pale hands tangle themselves in his hair. Her coat slips quietly from her arms, collapsing softly as it meets the ground. Despite her surprise and inexperience, she is a quick study and she returns his touch- tentatively at first, but then eager, impassioned. A quick burst of amusement blossoms rises in him; he’d expect nothing less from her.

 

Kissing her is astonishingly easy, given his prior reluctance. One kiss slowly dissolves into another, and then another, and another, until it becomes impossible to tell where one ends and another begins. They start slowly, softly, languidly, indulging a leisurely mutual exploration until her patience grows thin with his slowness and she takes matters into her own hands, kissing him with such ferocity that he stumbles back against the wall. He chides her with a gentle bite to her lower lip in response, and his eyes light up with something akin to mischief when she half moans, half growls into his mouth. The sound tickles him, and so he does it again to hear her growl. His kisses have turned her cheeks pink as coral, and she kisses him in the same way that a half-drowned man gasps for air. When their lips finally part, her breath comes like waves crashing on the shore.

 

He is not one for half measures. If he has chosen to do this, he will do it properly.

 

“Would you like to sit down?” he asks, looking down at her in his arms. “This can’t be comfortable for you.”

 

“Mmhmm,” she mumbles, her face pressed against his chest.

 

“Come on then.”

 

He guides them back to the sofa in the centre of the room, careful to avoid the stacks of books sliding haphazardly into each other on the floor, lest he cause a small avalanche. He picks up her coat from off the floor, takes care to quickly wipe it free of dust, and drapes it neatly over the chair at his desk. He’s aware that she’s hardly the only one to have gotten flushed, and so he figures that he might as well take time to shrug off his cardigan. This he throws carelessly on his desk, before rejoining Pieck, who has taken the liberty to stretch herself out on the sofa, like a cat. He quickly unbuttons his collar, and she looks on in curiosity at the newly exposed skin.

 

“Where were we?” she murmurs.

 

He brushes a wayward hair behind her ear and caresses the side of her face as he does so, trailing his hand down the side of her face, only to perch the pad of his thumb on her kiss-swollen lips.

 

“Around about here, if I recall correctly,” he replies with a small smile, and she playfully nips at his thumb, her eyes gleaming. Thoughts kept at bay by the distraction of kissing her resurface. Her eyes are wide and inquisitive. She looks young.

 

She is young.

 

Anxiety rears its ugly head again. “Pieck,” he says, “are you sure you want to this? You can say no, you know. I would stop in a heartbeat. Quicker than that. You know that, don’t you?” he asks.

 

 

“You’re so concerned,” she marvels absent-mindedly, reaching up to touch his face.

 

He almost scoffs in disbelief. “Of course I am,” he says. “I care about you. I care about your well-being. I don’t want to hurt you, or to have you wake up tomorrow regretting all this and loathing me for letting you go through with it. Six years…” he lets loose a sigh. “Six years is… not a long time, granted, but a person changes a lot between seventeen and twenty-three. You’ll have time to do these things.” He feels old, feels the clock ticking in his head. He does not want to think that by the time she turns twenty three, he’ll be dead.

 

“And what if this is what I want?” she asks. “To do this with you?” A thought enters her mind. “Do you not want to? Am I pressuring you?”

 

“No! No,” he reassures her. “It’s just that… You’re very young. I feel rather like a lecherous old man. If I’m honest, before this evening, I was quite content to think of you and treat you as a child,” he confesses. “I didn’t realise the sense of urgency you must feel. I think I understand now, though. I know what it’s like to feel the clock ticking. And… For what it’s worth,” he adds softly, “you’re a constant delight. I’m happy to do this for you- provided that you’re certain that it’s what you want,” he adds.

 

“I’m above the age of consent,” she reminds him, slightly indignant. “I can make up my own mind.”

 

“Indulge an old man. I’ve known you since you were young,” he says. “But yes, you’re right. Per usual. I’ll endeavour to remember that.”

 

“This is what I want,” she reminds him. “And I want it to be you.”

 

“Alright then,” he says with finality, and he seals the matter with a kiss to her nose.

 

“Alright then,” she echoes with a smile, and she drags him back down to kiss her mouth.

 

Worry and self-recrimination put aside, he throws himself wholeheartedly into the duty of making this feel good for her. He kisses her until she is breathless, he swirls his tongue around hers, he sucks at her bottom lip, and her eyes grow dark with a burgeoning and hitherto never felt need. Wherever she needs him, he is there. When he begins to kiss up the pale column of her neck, her breath hitches, and when he sucks at her beautiful, translucent skin, she gasps. He tries to remember to be careful, lest he suck too hard and cause her a potentially embarrassing love-bite, but when she pulls at his hair, the thought dissolves, lost in the midst of another of her ferocious kisses. When he moves between her legs, she grinds heatedly against him, and he forgets all pretensions to virtue then and there because she is grinding directly against his hard, straining cock, and despite appearances, he really is a simple man deep down. This time it is him that groans against her mouth, a low, full, deep groan, and he can feel her lips form a smile beneath his.

He pulls back to look at her, and the sight is intoxicating; her hair, deliciously messed up, is fanned out about her head like a halo of midnight black. Her lips are ruby red, made swollen by his kisses; a small, possessive sense of triumph rises within him.  In the back of his mind, he has been devising a game plan, and he now he sets about carrying it out. He goes back to kissing her neck, and this time, instead of kissing upwards, he travels downwards, one heated kiss at a time. He reaches the collar of her shirt, and he begins to deftly unbutton it, his mouth slowly following the path of his hands, teasingly, enticingly, until her ivory skin lies exposed to him.

“We’re going to need to remove this if we’re to continue,” he says. His voice, usually clear and rich, has been made ragged and deep with desire.

“Okay,” she says, and she wriggles up to take it off, one arm at a time, before tossing it on the floor. Whilst she does, he makes a pest of himself, pressing small kisses against her exposed shoulder, winding his muscled arms around her. “Would you like me to take this off?” she asks, pulling at her bra.

“No, no,” he says hurriedly, “Let me.” He makes quick work of it, nimbly unfastening the clasp at the back without giving it a second glance, and busies himself kissing her collarbone. He takes a moment to think of the difficulty a less experienced man might have had with it, thinks of inexpert and selfish hands fumbling at her, and not for the first time that evening, he concludes that she might have been right about everything. Quite typical, really, he thinks. When is she not?

He had had been hard and eager before, but at the sight of her small but perfectly formed breasts, his cock twitches and aches in its hardness. She looks shyly at him, and she is self-conscious in her nakedness; she has never been this naked in front of a man before. This is patently ridiculous, he thinks. It has been a while since he has had the opportunity to do this, he admits to himself, but his cock feels as stiff and hard as an iron bar. Despite his prior compunctions, it is transparent now; he wants her.

“You’re beautiful,” he tells her. “Please- don’t be shy. I want you to feel comfortable.” The moon is high in the sky; shining through a gap in the curtains, the moonlight picks out her alabaster skin in silver strands- much like the illumination in a fine tapestry, he thinks as he admires her. “You should lie back down and make yourself comfortable.”

“No.” she says.

“No?” he says, momentarily disarmed.

“You’re still wearing your shirt. That’s hardly fair.”

He wants to kiss her breasts right this instant. He wants to cup her breasts and feel the weight of them in his large, rough hands, to take her rosy nipples in his mouth and savour her cries of delight when he tugs at them gently with his teeth. He is impatient. The moonlight flashes on his glasses. “I’m sure I can handle the injustice,” he says dryly.

“Who said anything about you?” she teases.

He laughs then and stretches. Well, if it makes her feel better. “Fair play, Pieck, fair play. What do you want of me?”

“Hmm,” she thinks for a moment. “Lie down for me.”

He obeys, as pliant as a lamb, but he is a big man, and the sofa isn’t quite big enough to fit the width of his shoulders. He stretches out his legs, and he has to adjust himself so that he fits. “What do you have planned?” he asks.

“You’ll see,” she says. She gathers her skirt around her knees, and then, she straddles him. And there is no way that she can avoid feeling his erection. When she realises where she is sat, and what she is pressed against, she flushes.

She is rapidly derailing his plans, but he cannot bring himself to care. She’s always had a tendency to disarm him, but it’s something that he’s always enjoyed about her. She couldn’t be dull, even if she tried. He is painfully aware that his cock is now separated from her warm mound by only a few thin layers of clothing. Grinding against her is not something that he actively decides to do, but still his hands seem to be holding her hips, and he seems to be grinding up against her anyways, and she is responding in kind, and pleasure is building slowly in his cock, and a sudden pang of ravenous desire washes through him, and he thinks- he thinks he thinks too much.

She mimics him, and uses what she’s learnt from him. She starts at his mouth, and kisses downwards. He feels the soft pliancy of her lips as they brush down his neck, and his hips jerk upwards when she takes his skin into her mouth and bites him. She makes quick work of his shirt, and when he lifts himself up to take it off, he relishes the moment when his hot, bare skin makes first contact with hers, wraps his strong arms around her again, and adores the feel of her breasts pressing against his chest. Perched atop him like this, her breasts are easily accessible, and is tempted to bend down and take them in his mouth, but he doesn’t want to rush things. He wants to tease her, to make her squirm and beg for him before he enters her, to have her slick and hot and ready for him. His hips cannot help but buck upwards at the thought. And, he thinks, more importantly, he does not want to hurt her when it finally happens; he wants to keep any pain she might feel to a minimum. And so he holds off, lies back down, and cedes control.

She gently brushes her fingertips over his hard, muscle-bound chest, over his shoulders, around his well-defined arms, lingering on the scarring on his left arm. And then she stops.

“I’m not really sure what to do next,” she confesses, embarrassed.

“That’s okay,” he says encouragingly. “You’re doing wonderfully. I mean,” he gestures downwards, “you can tell, surely?”

She smiles, heartened by his words. “What should I do now?”

“Well, in honesty, you’re doing the most important thing right now. Good communication is essential to making sure that everyone’s having a good time. It’s always good to get feedback to get a good idea of what the other person enjoys. There should be no shame and no secrets in the bedroom,” he lectures.

“And what do you enjoy?” she asks emboldened.

“Oof. Okay… Lest I fall at the first hurdle and make a hypocrite of myself…” he exhales, feeling flustered. “Scratch me. Use your nails and trail them down my sides. Kiss my chest. Bite me. Don’t worry,” he reassures her, “you won’t hurt me.”

“Use my nails…” she repeats in concentration, and she runs her nails lightly over his skin. He shivers despite the heat, and then she scratches him- hard- and he gasps, his eyes fluttering shut. “Like that?” she asks.

Exactly like that,” he says instantly. She grins in delight.

She bends over, and as she moves down his body, her breasts caress his chest. She kisses him there, steamy, open mouthed kisses, inching with every kiss slowly closer to his nipples. She flicks one experimentally with her tongue, and he hums with pleasure. She tries pressing down hard with her tongue, and he moans quietly. When she bites down, his breath hitches and comes out in a hiss and his pelvis rocks upwards, desperately seeking her wetness. She raises her head in concern.

“Pain?” she asks sharply.

“No, no,” he says. His voice is thick. “Pleasure. Definitely pleasure.”

She moves to the other nipple and repeats the process, but this time, she weaves the actions together, transitioning from one into the next smoothly, and by the end, he is groaning loudly, hips thrusting against thin air.

“As lovely as this is, you’re spoiling me, Pieck,” he groans. “This was supposed to be about you. I’ve been greedy. Please- let me spoil you.”

She is enjoying herself. That much is obvious. She wilfully ignores him in order to kiss her way down his abdomen.

“Pieck, this is starting to feel very unfair,” he complains. “I’ll make it worth your while to stop. Please. I promise.”

She doesn’t stop immediately. Her kisses trail all the way to the band of his trousers, and he is all but squirming for her to continue when she does. When she eventually does gives way, she rests her head on his chest, and looks up at him with a very self-satisfied expression on her face.

“I’ve gone and done it,” he despairs, stroking her hair. “You’re never going to listen to me again.” She just giggles. He cannot bring himself to regret his choice to do this.

“You made some very interesting noises, War Chief. And what was it you said? That you could handle the injustice?”

He glowers.

“If you’re going to call me War Chief, you can damn well listen to me. To my bedroom. Now. Forward march. On the double,” he orders. “I’ll have you on latrine duty for disobedience.”

She stretches and slides off him clumsily. He rises in a far spritelier fashion, and the change in position makes the tent in his trousers obvious.

“Come on,” he says. He takes her hand in the darkness, and navigates her around the table. “This way.”

His rooms in headquarters are larger than hers, a privilege afforded to him on account of his rank. Despite the impending thrill of kissing him and being kissed by him, she is obviously intrigued by his living quarters, and makes no secret of her interest. The hallway is unlit, but she still cranes her neck in attempt to get a better look at the books on his shelves as he strides quickly to his bedroom. He makes an internal note to let her take a closer look in the morning, and perhaps even make her a few reading suggestions. Her reading tastes are esoteric, ranging from formal logic to comic poetry, and his own tastes even more so. But for now, he has a game plan and he intends to stick to it.

His bedroom is dark but for a shaft of pale, reflected moonlight coming through the window, and so he walks briskly to his bed to turn on the lamp on his bedside table. The room remains dim, but the worst of the darkness retreats to the corners and a warm, soft amber glow illuminates his bed. The space is safe, secret; shared. He turns to face her.

She is looking about curiously, but it is a disappointing sight. His bedroom reveals little about its occupant. A wooden armoire. A plain chair. A single bed. A bedside table with a lamp, a glass of water, and a pile of books- and a picture of an elderly man and woman, people, whom she knows from hazy memory, to be his grandparents. It is sparse bordering on severe, the bedroom of a man who wants to spend no longer than necessary packing when the time comes to leave, or of one, perhaps, who does not like to advertise his attachments and has made a habit of secrecy, even in his own spaces. She grows pensive, and sits on the side of the bed. A knitted blanket lies atop the comforter. That at least speaks of some human comfort. He sits next to her, and she rests her head against his shoulder.

They sit a few minutes together like that, their hands clasped together in his lap, and savour a moment of peace in sanctuary, peace in a barbarous and demanding world.  

“I meant what I said before,” she murmurs to him. “I think you’re beautiful too.”

Military training had recast his adolescent body in muscle and sinew, like some old bronze god of yore. He grew tall, broad-chested, athletic. He doubts there is an inch of softness left to find in him. He is iron ore made steel, steel forged into a revolver; a perfectly crafted human weapon. He knows that the eyes of others linger on him, knows the embers of lust that smoulder in their eyes, and knows the not infrequent, furtive encounters in darkened rooms, with men and women both, that those embers spark. But he has never much concerned himself with his appearance. His body is Marley’s weapon. It has been forged for Marley, and its existence will find its end at the bottom of a titan’s stomach. At the end of the day, the beauty of his body is incidental, currency to be traded for sex when the mood takes him. It does not belong to him. His body does not belong to him. Neither beauty nor body are his.

They are tonight, he thinks forcefully.

He is doing this because he loves her, because he respects her, because he understands the ever-present panic of living your life with the hiss of sand running out of an hourglass.

Because she wants it and he wants to please her. Because he wants it, and, he admits to himself, he will enjoy doing it a great deal.

Because Marley would not want it.

If his body is Marley’s weapon, made to crush its enemies and strike fear into their hearts, then the highest form of resistance would to take back his body and to use it to love her, to love her with all the tenderness he possesses. And so that is what he will do.

And she knows that. Of course she does. What is true for him is true for her, because they are the same, him and her. Humans turned weapon. Ticking time bombs. They are looking for the same things.

And all of a sudden, he grounds to a halt, sucker punched by a strange terror, the peculiar dread of being confronted with someone who might actually understand him, of being observed and comprehended. She had intimated as much herself.

To be understood is a terrible thing.

It feels like prison searchlights shining on his soul when it seeks to flee into the night.  Unused to such an intimacy, he shies away. The realisation is still too profound, too visceral, too frightening to voice, and so he kisses her again to dampen the frantic beating of his heart.

“Lie down,” he tells her, and she does so.

There are more important things to do dwell on right now, he thinks. They are still half-clothed, for instance. And at the end of the day, had he not concluded that life was all about having fun?

He has a game plan.

He kisses her chest, gently pressing his mouth against the swell of her breasts. He will tease her, tantalise her, kiss her everywhere but where she desperately wants to be kissed. He gently strokes around her breasts with his fingers. Her hairs stand on end, and she shivers lightly. He kisses in slow, concentric circles, again and again, careful to avoid her nipples. It is maddening for her, and she pushes her back up in the hope that he might end his teasing. When she starts to keen with every touch, then, and only then, he kisses the places she so longs to be kissed, circling her nipples with his tongue, sucking them, rolling them in his mouth. He bites- but gently, ever so gently, and she finds herself crying out his name. His every touch sends pleasure dancing around her body and down to her core, and she rocks against his pelvis in a desperate bid for relief; desire and pleasure lace together in her, each chasing the other, and they wind tighter and tighter in her loins as she grows more and more desperate for him.

He moves south, and the slow, constant trail of kisses he plants down her abdomen fill her with anticipation. She smells fresh, like lavender and rosemary, like skin and the clean, bright smell of sun-dried linens, and he is charmed. He kisses the smooth skin above the waist band of her skirt, sketches light, delicate lines with the tips of his fingers, presses the heat of his mouth there. He is trying to intimate one thing to her, written in the brush of his lips and in the sketch of tender caresses, and that one thing is: downwards. I will move downwards, further and further and further, inch by shaking inch, and then- then I will touch you where you so want me to touch you. But not yet.

And intuiting this, she trembles.

He pulls her skirt down an inch, and places his mouth against the exposed skin, lets her feel the heat of his breath; she hums in pleasure. He does it again, exposing the top of her underwear, and this time licks slowly down her hip bone; she gasps loudly, and the sound goes straight to his cock. He pulls her skirt off her and throws it over his shoulder. He has more important things to attend to. Her legs are lithe but muscled, her figure small and willowy, but still strong. She moves to help him take off her underwear, and he stops her hand in its tracks, placing it gently by her side.

“Not yet,” he says.

He rolls the band of her underwear down another inch, and is greeted by soft pubic hair the colour of midnight. And of course, he kisses that too. He repeats this glacial, teasing attack drifting downwards again and again and again, numerous times, until she is driven wild, practically thrusting into his mouth. He is relentless, irrepressible. His cock aches, and he is sure that the front of his underwear will be damp with pre-cum, but he pays it no heed. He has set himself a task, and he will not waver from it. Her underwear is about her knees, and her arousal visible on her reddened lips when finally, she cracks.

“Please- please. Take them off,” she begs him.

He presses a swift kiss to her knee, and obeys. Her underwear follows her skirt, arcing carelessly over his shoulder, and he figures that whilst he’s at it, he might as well take his trousers off, and so he sits on the side of the bed, unloops his belt, and makes quick work of them. As his hands move to slide down his underwear, she speaks.

“Wait!” she blurts out. “Can I?”

Surprised, he moves his hands away. “Of course you can. Go ahead. All yours,” he says, and stands so that she has room to get at his boxers. “But the minute you’re done, we’re going right back to where we were. No funny business. I haven’t finished with you yet,” he warns.

“But that’s not fair. That’s not equal,” she complains.

He bends over to kiss her forehead, and she looks at him with her big, gray eyes. “I know, my dear. But that’s the way it’s going to have to be this time, I’m afraid. With men, it’s a one and done thing. We’d have to wait half an hour or so before we could go again. I don’t want to even get close to running the risk of getting overexcited, climaxing too soon, and ruining things for you tonight. This way, I know I’ll last exactly as long as I need to.”

It is clear that it doesn’t sit entirely well with her, but she accepts his logic. When he straightens up, his cock is almost level with her face, and he is embarrassed to see that he was entirely correct in his suspicions about the state of his boxers; they are smeared with pre-cum.

She traces her fingers along the v-shape where his abdomen meets his pelvis, and he gets goosebumps. She is endlessly fascinated with his bulge. First, she runs her fingertips along its outline, to explore its contours and edges; after a while, she replaces her finger tips with her lips, and feels its warmth and the smoothness of the fabric on her lips. All he knows is that death is at hand, and that death takes the shape of her ruby lips brushing along his cock. If this is death, he thinks, I can live with it. Finally, she hooks her fingers beneath the waistband, and gently tugs them down, taking the time to kiss the line where his ashy blonde hair appears. He sighs happily. As she tugs his boxers down, they snag on his hard length, and his cock springs back like a catapult, hitting his stomach. He cannot help but snort at the absurdity, and her eyes sparkle.

He is beautifully made- long, thick and gently curved, with a mess of coarse blond curls at his base. She is suddenly startled by the thought that soon he and she will be connected and joined by that part of him, that it will soon slip inside of her, that the boundary between the two of them will blur and merge until it is not quite clear where she begins and he ends, and that secret knowledge crashes like a riptide over her head, dragging her down into the ocean swell. It fills her with a throbbing, desperate need. She makes a noise.

“Can I touch you?” she asks.

“You know that’s not wise. I wouldn’t have the strength of mind right now to make you stop,” he confesses.

“Can I kiss you then? Just a peck?”

He groans. “You’re not helping me here. But go on. I trust you.”

She gingerly wraps her hand around his girth, but her hands are small, or perhaps he is large, and so she cannot make it all the way round. He feels like silk, like the lightest, softest, warmest velvet, wrapped around steel. At his tip, a tiny glassy bead of pre-cum glistens. She lowers her head, stretches out her tongue to taste it, and kisses him. She hears a hiss of in-drawn breath, and she knows well by know that it signals pleasure, not pain.

“Lie back down,” he tells her. She obeys quickly, legs outstretched, not in the mood to delay her own gratification any longer. “I’m going to need you to lift your legs up,“ he tells her.

“Like this?” she asks, moving them.

“Perfect. Exactly like that.”

He lies between her legs, resting on his elbows, and bows his head. At first, she is unsure of what it is that he’s about to do, but then he slowly traces up the fold of her inner lips with his tongue, and with a shock it becomes clear in an instant exactly what it is that he is going to do. She squeaks and grabs fistfuls of his hair. He stops instantly.

“Are you alright? Do you want me to stop?” he asks in a husky voice, concerned.

The thought of it is agonising.

“Please keep going,” she pleads.

“If something feels bad, tell me and I’ll stop instantly,” he commands. “In fact, if something feels particularly good, tell me that too, and I’ll make sure to keep doing it. Like I said before, communication is key.”

When he presses his tongue against her folds, they part as easily as tissue paper. She tastes sweet, salty, musky, a distinctly feminine taste entirely indescribable, but a taste which he savours all the more for it. He licks upwards, upwards in search of the place that he knows will have her writhing and pulling at his hair. He finds it quickly, and brushes over it with his mouth. She cries out, and her legs quake. After his long efforts coaxing and teasing her, he knows it won’t take long until she comes undone under his mouth. The question, he ponders, is whether to keep her in this state long enough for him to slip inside her, or whether to let her come first; both have their merits. He is undecided, and so he decides to go where fancy takes him. He circles her clit over and over and over with his tongue. When he presses his tongue down hard against her and applies more pressure, she cries out his name. The shock of arousal that it sends through him is dizzying. When he slowly, carefully inserts a finger inside of her, and uses it to press against her anterior wall, she does so again.

She knows she is very close now, though close to what she cannot say. Tendrils of fire course through her, stoking a raging inferno sat in her lower belly. A throbbing intensity builds and builds and build; need and pleasure coil tighter and tighter within her. She thrusts against his finger wantonly, trying to find greater purchase, and cannot ignore the stroke of his beard against her thighs and most intimate places. It is the filthy thought of her arousal slickening his beard that sends her over the edge, and suddenly, very suddenly, the sensation spiralling up and up and up- she comes. Her back arches upwards and her head jolts back, and she cries out as wave after wave of white-hot intensity rush through her.

He moves his mouth away from her then, presses a gentle kiss to her mound, and wipes his face with his arm, before moving up the bed again to lie next to her. She lies in a post-orgasmic daze, her breath coming quickly, stupefied slightly in the wake of her pleasure. Her hair, a tangle at the best of times, is a chaos of voluminous snares and confused knots about her head. They lie facing each other, forehead touched to forehead, close enough to feel the warmth of the other’s breath on their faces. She strokes his hair, absentmindedly, and her hands brush down his face to rest on his glasses. He is self-conscious of the way his erection, stiff and clumsy, pokes at her belly.

“I think you should take these off now,” she says, and moves to gently slide them off his face. He flinches, and it is barely noticeable, but she notices it, sees the way that he forces himself into stillness. He hesitates, and then slides them off himself and places them atop the pile of books on his bedside table.

It is funny how much of a difference a pair of glasses can make. Without them, he looks younger, far more like he did when he was only seventeen. But it is more than that- without them he looks exposed, vulnerable even. She hadn’t realised how much his glasses had acted as a barrier, how much they served to obscure and deflect. But she sees him now, sees the youth in his eyes, and sees the thin current of tension running beneath the easy going exterior, and it resonates within her. She strokes his hair, she presses a kiss to his forehead, and they lie together a while. The tension melts away.

“How do you want to go about this?” he asks tenderly.

“I really don’t know,” she says honestly. “I don’t know what I’m doing. What are the options? What do you think would be best?”

“Well, there are two options, really,” he muses. “I think it would probably be best for you to go on top. That way you would be able to control the pace of things. You’d be able to stop if things got too overwhelming.”

She considers it, but something about the idea is off-putting.

“I think I’d think too much to be able to enjoy it,” she says. “What’s the other option?”

“That I go on top,” he says. “But you’d have to tell me if something was hurting. I mean it,” he looks at her seriously, “It will hurt, but don’t try to suffer through anything that makes you miserable, not when I can stop it.”

“I like the thought of you in control better, I think. It feels reassuring.” She kisses his nose. “I know that you’ll look after me.”

“I’ll certainly try my best. Are you absolutely certain that you want to do this?”

She let out a shaky breath. “Yes. I’m certain.”

He leans over and rummages through the drawer in his bedside table for a condom. She watches on curiously as he pulls it down his length. Everything is new for her, and she intends to learn as much as she can.

“What now?” she asks.

“Grab my pillow and place it underneath you,” he instructs.

“Why are we doing that?”

“It generally creates a more pleasant angle for the woman involved,” he explains. “Remember before, when I used my fingers? I curved them upwards. The anterior wall is where it will feel best.”

She is full of questions. “Why does that feel best?”

“Pieck,” he laughs, “I can take questions now, or later. I thought you were impatient.”

She ponders it for a moment. “Later,” she decides. She turns to get his pillow, folds it, and places it under her hips.

“A good choice,” he murmurs.

He kisses her knee, parts her legs, and settles there between them. He feels the heat of the length of her pressed against him, her soft, heavy breasts pushed up against his chest, and a frisson of desire runs down him. He has been so patient all evening, and the time is now at hand. He bows his head to kiss her, claims her mouth with his own, and explores her mouth anew, pressing his tongue to hers in an intricate dance of submission and dominance. He puts his hand between his legs, around his aching cock, and places his himself against her. She is slick, incredibly slick, and he is thankful that he spent so much time teasing her. Slipping inside her will not be hard. She rubs against him, overcome once again by passion and desire, yearning for the sensation of fulfilment. He supports his weight on one arm, finds her hand, and squeezes it in reassurance, and she squeezes back.

He braces himself, and he pushes himself slowly inside her. Her breath hisses out, and she squeezes his hand tightly, almost so tightly that it hurts. Tears spring to her eyes. He stills at once.

“Are you alright? Do you want me to keep going?” he asks, his voice rough. A bestial part of him wants nothing more than to buck his hips, to fuck in and out of her, but he will not. Under no circumstances will he do that.

She nods, trembling. “Keep going.”

He pushes all the way in, and she clings to him. She is shaking like a leaf, and he is overcome with sorrow. He presses cups her face and plants small kisses all over her hair.

“I’m so sorry,” he says. “If it’s worth anything, that’s it done. The worst is over now. It gets better from here.”

“This was my choice,” she reminds him, her voice tremulous. And mine, he thinks. A rare choice for myself, and for you. He thinks, the highest form of resistance.

The sensation of this is peculiar. She feels tight, stretched, and so oddly full with him. He withdraws ever so slightly, and pushes back in gently. His thrusts are more like a soft rocking than anything else, a mild precursor to what is to come to ease her gently into the act. Despite the pain, it does not take her long to adjust, and soon, the oddity of being filled by him is transformed. He presses against places inside her that she never knew existed, for which she has no name, but which send deep, throbbing pleasure through her. That which is painful slowly becomes pleasant, and soon after, pleasurable. That which is uncomfortable becomes comfortable, and then exciting. The strange becomes desirous, the odd, oddly inflammatory. And then, she moans, and this is no moan of pain, but rather delight. This time, when he asks whether she’s okay, she brims with pleasure.

His thrusts grow harder, quicker. She is liquid fire around him, stroking and squeezing every inch of his cock, and with every thrust, his pleasure spirals higher and higher, and all he wants to do is fall. But not yet.

He alters his thrusts so that he grinds against her clit with every movement. She responds instantly, and her hips start to sputter against his, reciprocating his thrusts. His eyes screw shut, and every rocking movement of his hips draws a groan from his lips. It is too intense, he is too close, he is in danger of falling, of cumming, of spilling inside her, and he cannot do that. Not until she comes again. If she does, he will certainly cum with her. He has danced along the knife’s edge too long already. Her name bursts from his lips.

“I’m close,” he tells her, and he intertwines his fingers with hers.

That is all she needs to hear. The thought of him, of this man and all that he is to her, caught in the spasms of ecstasy, spilling inside of her, is more than enough. She comes suddenly, without warning, and he follows immediately after, the glorious pulsations of her sex squeezing him, and sparking his own orgasm. He groans loudly and his hips arch upwards of their own accord as he spends himself deep within her.

The temptation is to collapse atop of her, and rest his weight on her, but with his last remnants of control, he gently manoeuvres their bodies so that they lie side by side, his cock still inside her.

His forehead is coated with sweat, she is flushed pink, and they lie there, short of breath, but sated and content, faces pressed against each other. His beard strokes against her cheek. He is exhausted.

“Was that good?” he mumbles, honestly unsure and desperate to know.

She looks at him, and cannot help but laugh at him. She kisses his nose teasingly. “Yes. It was wonderful.”

“Are you going to stay here with me tonight?” he asks.

“Can I?”

“The bed is small, but I’d like you to,” he admits. He looks exposed again, vulnerable.

She thinks about what it means to understand someone and what it means to be understood in turn. Understanding is an intimacy, a proximity, and intimacy an act of understanding. Their lives are complex, brutal, and, above all, short and there are some things -terrible things- which can only be understood by those who tread with you along the same path. Annie, Reiner, Bertoldt and Marcel are gone, and have been for years. It is just them. He might seem aloof, but she sees him. She knows him. He might fear it, but he longs to be understood just as much as she does.

“I was hoping you would offer,” she says.

When they sleep, they sleep soundly.