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The Master & Miss Ives

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1.

There Were Doings at Grimke’s

Hell Is Empty and All the Devils Are Here

William Shakespeare


The midsummer of 1921 happened to be a scorching one, with a heat that had never been experienced before from the mid to the western states of America. In New York, all the papers were writing about it and leaflets on ways of conduct and survival during a heatwave were being handed out to anybody that was interested in keeping cool or simply getting through the season intact.

For the Ives household, this was merely another nuisance to be added to the list of many others. Their residence in the East Egg of Long Island was flooded by boys and girls of all ages, screaming as they ran around the beaches from sunrise to late evenings. This earned Miss Ives quite a few headaches which were not at all welcomed, especially since she had all of her research to keep up with.  

The particular day of interest, however, Edith Ives happened to not be within her residence. In her stead, her assistant Theophilus Harker and the apprentice, Connie Springer were about the house taking care of the books that had been used for the latest research. The books were to be returned to New York’s Public Library as soon as possible and Connie had been set to the task, eager enough to do so especially since Mr. Harker had allowed him to take the automobile for a ride, passing the bridge if so he desired in order to get himself to one of those Brooklyn Ice Cream Parlors that were so popular.

Not long into their work, and the door to the small two storey residence had been opened by none other than Miss Ives’ older brother, Freddy Ives. His appearance, as of late, was dishevelled, white shirt stained by sweat beads perhaps some booze that he might have managed to find somewhere through his friends . His dark hair was in a disarray and red circles marked his eyes. The hint of a beard was also apparent though that seemed to be his preferred state, Theo would always note, ever since Mr. Ives had returned or rather had fled from the war.

“Ah, Theo!” Mr. Ives beamed though it was evident his heart wasn't to it as he laid his eyes on the much taller man. Theo frowned a little as he observed Freddy but said nothing, Connie as always felt discomfort whenever Freddy was closeby and it was apparent. “Have you seen my sister?” He asked after clearing his throat rather roughly. Another indication that his state of being wasn't the greatest at the moment.

Theo adjusted his round glasses over his grey eyes. “I believe she is rather busy with her work, the Commander has given her a deadline-’

“Yeah, yeah...what Erwin does with her is none of my business,” He spat, “Have you seen her?” Freddy asked again.

“I have.” Theo simply stated. Connie was still fixated in between the two men, books in his hands and not the slightest movement. Theo paid him no mind. Freddy did have a certain effect on people which ranged from disgust, disrespect and even loathing sometimes but overall people were uncomfortable in his presence.

“Will you tell me?” Freddy leaned towards the wall, his torso practically hanging from that one hand attached to the wall.

“No, though I probably should if it will get you out of this house soon, Miss Ives does not wish to be disturbed today so you may wait on her some other time.” Theo urged and waved his hand towards the door hoping that the drunk man before him would get the hint and leave already. The house had started to smell of alcohol and Theo had just finished cleaning everything to perfection. He did not want to have to repeat his duties a second time, that would be a waste of his time as well as resources.

It did not escape his notice, how the young man opposite him, gripped at the nearest piece of furniture as Theo said this and from what he noticed, Connie had observed the sudden change in Freddy's mood as much as he had. The apprentice dropped the books on a table and stared deadpanned at Miss Ives’ brother awaiting for his next movement. Theo would have smiled at the protectiveness shown if not for Freddy's annoying presence within the room.

Freddy laid his eyes on Connie then and chuckled. “How old are you, again?” He asked then which was odd since Connie had been working for the family for a couple of years now and they certainly have had conversations before.

“Fifteen.” He mumbled still unsure whether to answer or not but what harm was there in letting a drunk know his age?

“Are you done now Freddy?” Theo demanded, “We are quite busy, as you can see.”

“Right, being my sister's lap-dogs!” He spat and Connie was about to jump at him were it not for Theo's arm extending before the boy blocking him from movement.

“Right, I wouldn't expect you to understand what words like colleagues or assistants mean, after all you had one chance to find out and you ran from it.” That made Freddy wince. Any mention of deserting was always a sore spot with him and Theo knew that well enough. “Please see to it that you close the door behind you before I call the cops and let them take one sniff at you.”

“You don't know what you're talking about…” Freddy said ignoring the threat, a strange glint over his eyes as if the mere mention of the war brought all the horror back. Theo didn't doubt it at all. He knew Freddy had been in France after living there with his great aunts while Theo himself had only managed to join during the ending months of the war. But he would use Freddy's greatest shame against him if it meant getting rid of his presence for the time being until Edith would meet him. “Just tell my sister I came by to see her.”

“Of course.” Theo promised and with that Freddy Ives was out of the library and the house itself. Defeated and shoulders slouching as his trip to Long Island went for nought. He could go to the Museum and find Edith there but she would be escorted by soldiers and Freddy was aware that he was in no capacity to defend himself. Though he just wanted to talk...at least this time.

“Fucking prick!” He mumbled as he made his way to his car, trembling fingers managing to light a cigarette as he started the engine. He had never liked Theo, ever since Edith had come back from her expedition in the Middle East with the Brit following suit after her. Connie he could tolerate...at least the boy was American.

Containing his anger was usually quite a task for him and one that demanded alcohol. Another curse escaped his lips as he thought about the lengths he would have to go to, to be able to find one of those decent speakeasies. Probably Grimke's would be open by the time Freddy was in New York City, so the man made his way to Brooklyn, miraculously surviving the entire drive from the one place to the other.

A knowing person that might have read or might be suspicious of the story, would say that it would have been better for Freddy to die during a car crash, that way there wouldn't be a grave amount of suffering...and yet…

Freddy practically camped at Grimke's that evening. His eyes glued on the dancers whose feathery dresses were just the right amount of revealing for a man like him or the ones that were sitting on the front rows just a few feet away from the stage so the women's arses were flung properly all over their faces. Freddy was at home. There was booze coming out of small fountains and the bartender kept filling his glass with whatever for as long as Freddy kept throwing him the bills. The atmosphere was light and the lights dim enough to have him feel as if he were in between the real and the dream realms.

And there was never any want for company, though in this case, on that particular day he would have been better off alone . Better yet, it would have been for the best if he had never gone to Grimke's that night.

Alas, by 10 o'clock that night just as the speakeasy was starting to come to life, Freddy Ives was approached by two men. There was nothing suspicious about them, they seemed perfectly normal Wall Street men with their neat suits and overall glossed appearances. They sat down on the bar, covering both of Freddy's sides and with one drop of their bills on the counter the drinks began to pour and who was Freddy to even complain.

They were pleasant enough, sharing their stories and their alcohol and it didn't dawn on Freddy the reason they had approached him in the first place. He let them drive around New York during the ungodly hours, carelessly, summer wind blowing on Freddy's entire existence and it felt exhilarating. It was only after taking a piss in Central Park and returning to the car, that Freddy began to realize that he had no idea who these people were. He didn't even know their names and yet he was in a car with them, his head resting on the lowered window while one of them hummed some tune lowly beside him. The second indication was the fact that he could see New York's lights fading in the distance as forests engulfed the road until there was nothing but trees left behind them.

Fuck me! Freddy thought but soon as he was about to enquire as to their location, he was knocked unconscious in his seat.

He wasn't sure whether he had woken up or not, blindfolding had that effect on him after all. He did feel a breeze all over his body and as if he was surrounded but other than that his confusion as to his situation was overwhelming his every other sense.

“What's happening? Where am I?” He asked, moving his head hoping that the blindfold might fall from its place but to no avail. He almost laughed, he had managed to get himself into deep shit this time. Shit, didn't even get a chance to apologize to Edith! He thought bitterly as if he had accepted the fact that there was no coming out of the mess he had gotten himself in.

Soon he felt arms all over his torso and then he was being hoisted up on his feet from his previously seated position. He was now certain that they had stripped him of his clothing entirely. As they led him to God knows where, he tried to get any information as to his situation but there were no words coming out of them just occasional grunts.

Only when his feet touched what appeared to be grass and he felt the night cold all over his body, he knew that he had been taken outside. He wondered for a brief moment if they were going to let him go? Perhaps he was still too drunk to understand whether he was in a dangerous situation or some kind of kinky gathering. Fortunately for him, they did take his blindfold off so he was finally able to see for himself. Unfortunately for him, he was surrounded by strange human-like creatures with distorted bodies and faces, as if their skins were missing.

“Fuck!” Freddy blurted, a puff of hot breath coming out of his mouth. The men and maybe even the women? Were all dresses in these strange costumes and surrounded Freddy who at that point was shaking both from fear and from the cold.

“Is this some kind of a sick game?” Freddy demanded his hands quickly reaching to cover his manhood which for some reason had gotten a little too excited because of the adrenaline. Edith was right, he thought, I am a sick bastard!

“Yes, this is a game.” One of them suddenly said but try as he might Freddy could not tell which one it had been. He took a few steps back and noticed that he was standing in the entryway of some maze-like garden. “The rules are simple, you run for your life and if you make it-

“Small chance of that.” Another said and the rest snickered.

“Nonetheless, if you make it you leave here alive.”

“And if not?” Freddy demanded though a stupid question really. He knew this all too well but he just wanted to hear the words. Yet none of them spoke which had Freddy chuckle. “Just don't scar my face, it's too pretty and it would be a shame.”

“The rest is fair game then?”

Freddy shrugged. Might as well.

“On the count to three, we'll give you a headstart!”

“How gracious!” Freddy snorted.

One

Two

Three and he was running inside the maze.

He ran...just not fast enough.

It was a Sunday.


 

July 14th, 1921

Monday, 9:36 am

“And just how much ice cream did you have yesterday? Your mother will scold me if I spoil you, be aware of that.” Edith chuckled, her porcelain tea cup barely touching her mouth. Who drank tea in the middle of summer anyway? Goddamn it Theo! She cursed and winced a little. Connie noticed this and grinned.

“If you throw some ice in, it's not that bad.” He suggested though even that did not sound that good to Edith.

“Just don't let Theo hear you.” She warned, chuckling as she settled her book on the coffee stand. “You know what he would say.”

What blasphemous words come out of your mouth.” Connie said pretending to be Theo ad Edith laughed before she had to stop to cough.

Somehow she had gotten herself tired enough to be considered sick. Dark eyes surrounded by even darker eyebags, her hair was a pile of mess instead of the neat curs that were usually held in a low bun and her fingers felt extremely limp, as if she held one more thing and they would fall off. She groaned as she heard the knock on the front door.

“I can get that.” Connie suggested.

“No, sit.” She told him, “You've been doing all this work lately.”

And it was true. She couldn't imagine what it was like being her assistant and before Connie and Theo, so many had quit when she had most needed them because of the amount of work they would have to carry out. Not Connie though and certainly not Theo who had been the greatest help to her for a good amount of four years ever since the War had ended.

Edith moved from the common area, wrapping her robe around her pajamas so as not to appear indecent in front of whoever was paying a visit. She hoped it wouldn't be anyone from work, she had been allowed two days off from Erwin and she really needed to gain her strength back if she were to move all of her work to Europe for the upcoming season.

Shuffling her feet at such thoughts, she saw Theo coming downstairs, having heard the knocking himself probably, though he came to a halt once he saw she was about to open the door herself.

Edith put on a fake smile to greet whoever had come before she opened the door and saw Theo rolling his eyes at her.

Outside there was nobody and for a moment Edith thought it had been some silly prank from the children playing around the area. She would have closed the doors if she hadn't heard the screams coming from the streets and the pointing that had her look down at her porch. Her smile fell and her face turned into an unreadable expression. Eyes hollow as if she was looking past the mess of flesh that had been placed before her.

Her brother's head was intact and in the middle of the pile of limbs that had been placed almost in a comical manner. He had no torso though. The screams almost turned her deaf but she didn't dare to move even an inch, not until she was pulled back inside by Theo and Connie who went outside instead of her, locking the door behind them until she was within the walls of her home all alone.

It took fifteen minutes for her to snap out of her frozen state. She looked around and saw the book she had placed along with the teacup on top of the coffee stand. Outside people were screaming and the sound of the police coming made her confused. Had something happened?

She felt like she had missed something, the memory of what she had seen completely erased from her mind as it struggled to make sense of the situation. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand as sweat had began to form.

“I don't understand…” She mumbled.


 

July 14th, 1922

Tuesday, 5:17 pm

The priest was visibly sweating. The heat along with the heavy robes that he had been wearing as he continually cleared his throat and reached for water, made the entire event a complete waste of time. Edith sighed, she had been holding that umbrella over her head so that the sun wouldn’t hit her too hard but wearing black continuously and especially during summer had been a struggle. She repeated her demands to the priest that he should hurry up already and be done with the speech already.

The old man would clear his throat and ignore her.

“I can’t take this any longer.” She huffed, pulling at the collar of her black shirt. Theo sighed and shook his head. He was in no better condition and Connie had given up entirely but still, the image they were putting forth was rather disrespectful.

“I should remind you Edith, it was your idea to have the anniversary of your brother’s death conducted this way.”

“He just had to get himself killed during summer.” She whined and the gasp that escaped the priest was one of pure shock. He looked at her, eyes wide and mouth gaping.

“You- you ought to go to Hell.” He screamed.

“Perhaps that won’t be necessary.” Edith said, “Have you ever read any Shakespeare?” She asked him then and seeing as there was no reply she smiled lightly. Who would blame him? The world had been plunged into chaos for a decade now, who had time for the classics? Though she had wanted to tell the priest that he had misunderstood her when she spoke of her brother being killed and that in truth she still had a hard time remembering what had happened to him or when it had happened. Theo called it shock but then again she had never been one to understand psychology or its mechanisms.

With that being said, the three of them were soon in a car heading back home where Edith could return to her pajamas and subsequently, to her bed. She knew however, that there would be no proper sleep for her, no matter that she had done just that for an entire year having abandoned her work for the comforts of her house - rarely even going outside and making sure that the only people she ever got to interact with were Theo and Connie. Maybe the postman on occasions, whenever she was feeling particularly bold. Her thoughts now were occupied by Connie who would be leaving her soon. She observed him and thought bitterly about how much he had grown in the two years he had come to her service. Would his mother be proud? She had taken him from her with the promise of apprenticeship and there he was now, ready to leave her in order to become a man by joining the army.

“There are so many jobs out there...like,” She bit her tongue as she considered, “accounting?” She suggested though she winced just at the mention. Connie snorted at that.

“I have to go, no, I want to because it’s time I stopped depending on other people for once.” He said, “Not that I am not grateful for all that you have done for me.” He quickly added, a light shade of pink gracing his cheeks. It made Edith’s burdened heart a little lighter. “Besides who knows,” He added, “You might even come back one day and we might work together.”

At that her smile fell. She hadn’t even written to them letting them know she wouldn’t be going back though her great uncle had given enough justification to the higher ups in her stead. She wasn’t even supposed to be working with the military in the first place. What was an archaeologist doing in a regiment anyway? She was supposed to be looking at artifacts not dead bodies. She thought about the last time she had seen a corpse - after her brother’s as Theo constantly reminded her - she would have panic attacks and she would throw up at once whereas before the incident she had never been troubled by even the most gruesome deaths. It had been a sign that she would not get back to that research. Maybe a quiet job at some museum or college would be enough though she doubted she would master the courage to leave the covers of her bed ever again. Her only consolation at this point, in Connie’s case, was that he would be under Erwin’s command and that was enough to grant her some peace of mind. He would be safe, as long as he followed the orders and in any case there were no wars at the moment to begin with.

That evening, she felt better. Retreated in one of the seats in the garden with only the waves and the distant laughter of children accompanying her as she read through the newspaper. Apparently the Bavarian Reiss family had fallen into the hands of a cult just like the one that had found her brother a year ago. One of the family members had escaped and was currently nowhere to be found.

Poor girl, Edith sighed, at least they won’t go knocking on her door. She thought as she slowly turned back inside in order to get another piece of that lemon cake which Theo had made. She could convince him to marry her and make her lemon cakes forever but that would be too much for Theo to bear, she considered. A sudden knock on the door, made her drop her fork on the floor, the metallic sound ringing in her ears as she stared towards the direction of the door with wide open eyes.

Another knock and she sucked in her breath. She slowly approached her living room where the entrance way was right next to the staircase which led to the upper floor. She looked around trying to see if Theo or Connie were there and cursed at the thought of being left alone at a time like this. She was frozen to her place just like a reindeer caught in headlights. Shoulders stiff and gaze fixated as if whatever or whoever was at the door had come for her.

Quick steps down the stairs broke her stance and she took a deep soothing breath once she saw Theo emerge. He glanced at her once and smiled reassuringly, his round glasses having fallen to the bridge of his nose.

He opened the door and the evening sunset rays barged inside along with a man who was almost Theo’s height. He came inside with a confident smile, dressed in his military uniform, all khaki and some badges pinned to his chest. He took off his hat to reveal a bald head and the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes became accentuated as they fell on Edith.

The latter huffed. “I thought you were one of those cult assholes.” She spat.

“It sounds like you almost wished it had been them.” He said, a tone of amusement in his voice.

“It depends on what you are here for, Commander Pixis.”

The man feigned surprise and then offense. “Can’t a man pay his soldiers a visit once in a while?”

“I’m not a soldier.” She said and looking at her upside down, he nodded.

“No, you are not.”

Sighing once again, Edith looked at Theo. “Could you have tea brought out? Commander Pixis is very fond of the scenery the garden provides,” she said then turned to the commander, “we wouldn’t want to deprive him from it.”

Several minutes later, the two of them were seated in Edith’s previous location. She was still in her baby blue pajamas, shirt buttoned up awkwardly and one end of the pants longer than the other but then again she was but a person recovering from trauma, who cared what she looked like. Once the tea was set, spiked up with whiskey as per Pixis’ humble order, she observed him as he lifted the china piece to his lips. So much for an official keeping up with Prohibition laws.

“So why are you here?” She asked him again.

“Have I ever mentioned that I rarely miss the chance to be in the company of a beautiful woman?” He asked with a chuckle but she didn’t follow.

“My mother always said I was average looking.” She blurted which only made him laugh out loud even though she had said that in all the seriousness she could muster.

“Ah Caroline, what a fine woman and very intelligent.”

“Quite dead as well.” She added.

“Alright, I get it.” He said raising his hands in defeat, “I'm here because Commander Zackly asked me to.” He revealed and reached within the inner pockets of his jacket before he handed her a letter. She took it and looked at it, contemplating whether she should burn it or simply throw it away.

“Before you think about doing anything but read the letter, I should let you know that I have been given orders to make sure that you do.” He let her know and she glared at him then at the letter momentarily.

“Then this is definitely not a letter indicating just how concerned my uncle has been for the past year.” She teased trying to lighten the mood.

“We were all concerned, especially since you used to work with such fervor.” He said, “But let's be realistic, you were granted a year as per request. The year is over now and this cult or whatever it is has taken over half of Europe...hell it reached here even.”

“So hire a cult-specialist if that even exists.”

“Well, that's the thing! There isn't one to take seriously enough to work under a military division.”

“You’re not looking hard enough.” She mumbled still wondering about the contents of the letter.

“Ah, I almost forgot this one!” He snapped then and went about looking in the inside of his pockets once again drawing another letter. “This one is from Erwin.” He let her know and Edith felt herself sink further down her seat.

“There is no backing out of this, is there?”

“If you had truly wanted to retire, you would have done that already but I suppose each and everyone of us are suckers for attention.” He told her and she would have argued against that if not for the burning sensation she felt on her hands as they held the letters.

“Fine…” she sighed and the amused expression returned to Commander Pixis’ face. He rose from his seat and downed his cold by now, tea.

“I’ll see my way out then, wouldn’t want to disturb you from your studying.” He beamed and she narrowed her eyes.

“I don’t respect you enough to show you to the door, anyway.” She teased and he laughed once again. His hand reached for her head and he ruffled the already mess of hair that was there to begin with.

“Seriously kid, we need you for this one and think about what you have to gain as well.”

Edith bit her cheek, preventing herself from saying anything else. To say that she had not thought about the possibility would be a lie. A chance to see those who had brought death to her doorstep, to justice but she had found that her courage had left her, drained within one single morning.

She allowed herself, however, to summon some of that courage into opening the letters. Zackly’s came first and to her mortification it was a four page long scolding from his wife Maria - aka her great aunt - which had her every hair rise in horror. Had she completely forgotten to call them? It was a miracle that none of her great aunts hadn’t come howling outside of her house during the past year, what with Edith ghosting on them entirely. Along with the four page letter there was also a tiny one, almost the size of an index card from Zackly himself letting her know of the attached pass that would allow her to resume her work under Erwin’s division. Next came the Commander’s letter which she found hard to open due to her trembling fingers. She had abandoned them, in the middle of everything. An operation that could have prevented more cult deaths.

How would she face them now? All those people that she had followed into war at the age of eighteen when others girls in her place were still at school or probably planning their dream wedding. She felt sweat form on her temples as her eyes were laid on Erwin’s neat handwriting. That at least gave her some relief, that he had bothered to write himself rather than have his secretary type everything away. Though the letter by itself was nothing more than a command, to be ready for pick up before their departure.

Theo came outside soon, folding the newspaper neatly and picking up the empty teacups.

“Well?” He inquired. Edith looked up at him with a hard to read expression. He couldn’t tell whether she was relieved or anxious about Pixis’ visit.

“I’m expected back.” She let him know and it annoyed her that he smiled the way he did. Was he relieved that she was going away? Had she been a drag to deal with during this year?

“You could have said no.” He pointed out as if reading her thoughts. “Taken your time with recovery and then we could hop off into the next ship to whatever place you wanted.”

“No, it’s better this way and I’ll be able to keep an eye on Connie as well.” She said though it sounded as if she was rather trying to convince herself. “They will be coming to pick us up.”

“I’ll help you pack.” He offered.

“Pack yourself as well then, you’re going to open the house in Paris.” She said getting up from her seat and stretching her arms for a bit. “If I’m to deal with this crap again then I need your eyes and ears, maybe your brain a little too.”

“Glad to come in handy.” He said with a chuckle, thankful that she seemed to liven up a bit.

“Do we have anymore alcohol?” She asked then and he frowned momentarily before considering.

“Why do you ask?”

“This might be my last day home, If they’re coming for me might as well make it a challenge.” Edith reasoned and with a mischievous grin, she was back inside the house.

A While Later

“I don't see why a simple soldier couldn't run this errand. ” Levi complained for the hundredth time that evening. Hanji focused as she was in her driving, since God forbid anybody from allowing her partner touch the wheel, rolled her eyes at him.

“Come on shorty, it's like I'm trying to explain things to Oluo!” She cried and he turned his face away from her, visibly annoyed at the comparison. “Erwin’s idea of making Edith feel a little more welcome! You know, seeing some friendly faces?” She said this as she glanced at Levi's glaring expression.

“Or she can just follow the damn rules like everybody else.” He spat.

“You're not still angry, are you?” She questioned him though her eyes remained on the road.

“I couldn't care less.”

She sighed. “Just leave the talking to me and - oh here we are!” Hanji announced as she parked the car a little down the street from where the house was. They both got out with Levi following solemnly after Hanji as she patted her uniform down and fixed her glasses and hair. She rang the bell before she turned to Levi with haste and tried to make him smile by dragging his cheeks. He slapped her hands away at once.

“You're no help, you know that?” She whined with a pout.

“And you're trying too hard.” He said in his defence.

The door was opened a couple minutes later and much to Hange's delight it was Theo the first person that they came to see.

“Oh, you two are early!” Theo said pleasantly then urged them to come inside. Hange had called before hand letting him know of his arrival which had instead resulted in a three hour conversation about science.

“Theo! It's been too long.” Hanji beamed as she leaped in for a hug. It was always a delight to hug Theo what with his height.

“Far too long, though I did not see you answering any of my letters.” He teased her and she grinned awkwardly, her hand rubbing the back of her head.

“Come on now, you know I’m not good with having to write stuff down.”

“Perhaps it's for the best, and you are here now so I should definitely show you what I'm working on.” He suggested and Hanji gasped at that.

“You have my complete attention!” She beamed.

“I appreciate the enthusiasm.” He said chuckling, “But oh - Miss Ives will be down...in a while.”

“A while?” Levi spat, eyebrow raised. He had come into this to pick her up so that they would leave, not linger around.

“She is a little predisposed and to be fair, we were expecting you tomorrow morning.” Theo explained. “Now, Miss Zoe! I have just the vintage for the occasion.”

“Ah, you are too much.” With that the two of them were gone with Theo leading the way to his study.

Levi was left by the staircase, staring at the house which was quite familiar to him from earlier times. How many times had they all been in here? Sighing he thought he might as well help himself out as he ascended the stairs to the second floor. He remembered there being a library and a study, three bedrooms and a bathroom. A certain Fourth of July party came to his mind as he looked around to see that everything remained intact. The flowery wallpapers, the black and white photographs on the walls, an achievement reward, flower vases on the surfaces, and piles of books here and there which made his anxiety levels rise a little. They just needed a bit of order in the library which was where he was headed towards as the song coming from the gramophone only picked up. It was Josephine Baker for Edith that evening and slightly before he walked inside the library, he wondered whether she had changed.

He walked in on her dancing - rather ridiculously - one hand wrapped around a whiskey bottle that God knows where it had been bootlegged from. She was in her famously blue pajamas, sunglasses on her eyes, hair framing her face. She had cut it, he noticed, it was shorter now than before but then again it was something of a trend nowadays from what he had noticed and from what he had heard from Petra. Sighing, he knocked on the door but she didn't budge. Edith continued her dancing undisturbed, still having not noticed him.

“Fucking brat!” He cursed and just as he was about to approach her, she turned.

“Did I hear some cursing?” Her warm and raspy voice from the alcohol surprised him. He hadn't heard that voice in a year but he hadn't expected to have missed it either. “That must be Captain Ackerman!”

“You've had one too many wouldn't you think?” He said as he crossed the common area of the library to where she was dancing.

She chuckled then hiccuped before bringing a finger to her lips.

“Shhh...don't tell the guys that are supposed to pick me up.”

“Why not?” He indulged her.

“They're from the military!” She whispered to him as if she didn't want anyone to hear. But then she turned back to continue her dancing, almost falling to the side but she held herself from the corner of the table next to her. Edith chuckled and placed down her bottle as if it was some precious treasure. “Want some?” She asked him but Levi declined and then she shrugged.

“How about some dancing?” She suggested, approaching him with her shuffling feet, “You were never the dancer though, Captain.” She whined.

“Alright, enough of that.” He was about to pull the plug of the device when she shuffled in front of him, glasses still on her face so he couldn't see whether she was pulling his leg at that point or genuinely trying to get him angry.

He walked to the other side of her but she shuffled in front of him again, still dancing - worse than Erwin himself during those Christmas parties - before she let out a smile.

“Come on, Captain indulge me for a bit! You come here to take me away from my home and you can't even grant this poor soul her last wish?” She pouted and he allowed her to grab his arms ever so lightly. Her touch burned his wrists as the skin tried to recall the feeling of her hands on his. It had been an excruciatingly long time. Had there been a different way? What if he had visited her or perhaps taken the year off like she had?

Edith moved his hands though his torso remained still as his eyes were fixed on her. Until he was snapped by his reverie because of his own hand flying to his face. He went rigid at once and she stepped back, barely containing her laughter.

“You shouldn't slap yourself there Captain.” She half said half hiccuped.

“You forget yourself brat, don't make me put you over my knee.” He spat.

At that Edith stopped dancing. She took off her sunglasses and laid them on the table, her dark eyes glinting with mischief.

“So you don't want to dance,” she pointed out, “But you do want to wrestle!”

“What the fuck are you on about?” Levi demanded before seeing her lunging at him, headfirst to his torso, throwing both him and herself on his back on the couch and with a bounce to the floor.

“Um!” Connie walked by the library, hearing what was sounding like another Great War and probably the casualties being the furniture themselves and he was unsure whether he should intervene. He knew they had guests, he had met Captain Zoe downstairs as Theo explained some sort of chemical reaction to her.

He sighed then. “Probably none of my business anyway.” He said and with that he was off to his room to finish packing.

Damned bitch! Levi huffed and allowed himself the small rest he could afford to get by being pinned to the floor, his hair falling back while his hands were on Edith's wrists who was trying to apply pressure to his shoulders to hold him down. He could throw her over in a minute. She was evidently tired, panting like she had just ran a marathon but the worst of it all was the way she was straddling him, sitting over his torso, a single strand of her hair falling to the bridge of his nose as she tried to regain her breath. Her warmth overwhelmed him which he told himself, was the reason why he hadn't moved yet. Though part of him knew that he had just wanted to have that proximity with her again. He allowed himself this one indulgence.

Then she lowered herself a little, and his hands moved to her shoulders as she folded her arms to his sides. Her face was practically hovering over his, breaths mingling and he found his hands lingering a little to her waist which was partly uncovered due to her now half unbuttoned shirt - he wondered momentarily if she would get angry that her pajama shirt would be ruined because of her wrestling - the thought went away as he felt her lips just at the corner of his mouth. He would have tried to turn the other way, eyes closed, remembering what it had felt like once upon a time, his skin ablaze where she had attached herself to him and her smell of peaches and summer numbing out his senses in the most pleasant ways. But much to his disappointment, her face slid down his neck and he soon heard her first snores.

Levi groaned and cursed under his breath. He wondered what was wrong with him to have such thoughts at a time like this. Taking a deep breath, one hand wrapped around her back while the other went to her leg as he lifted himself and in the process lifted her as well. He took her to her room as she unconsciously wrapped her arms around him and then gently laid her down on top of the covers. It was too hot for them anyway. Sighing, he took one last look at her before he left the door to her room open just in case and then followed the stairs down to where Hanji and Theo were.

They both lifted their heads at the same moment, the room reeking of sulfur and other metallic scents.

“Oh Levi, interested in some science at last?” Hanji beamed.

“Fuck no. Just came down here to tell you that we might have to stay after all.”

“Excellent!” Theo cried, the goggles on top of his head as he looked from Levi to Hanji. “The guest room is ready if you would like to lay down and oh there is also dinner available!” He instructed but seeing as he was keeping them from doing whatever they were doing, Levi simply went back upstairs to said guest room. The first thing that came into view was an old photograph.


 

Wednesday, 3:05 am

Edith woke up with a groan accompanied by a headache which she would have rather avoided especially as she remembered the events of the previous night. She whimpered as she saw the state of her pajamas as she sat up, hands smoothing her hair before she rose with a huff. Theo and Connie were probably still asleep so she would have to fish for one of Theo's herbs by herself if she wanted to survive.

Walking out of her room she only noticed the dim lights coming from the library next to her room while the rest of the house had been cast into shadows from the darkness outside. Edith put on her robe now as she felt a chill and made her way to the library.

It was her turn to freeze in her tracks as she saw Levi standing by the table, a series of photos in his hands. She knew that he would have noticed her though he didn't show it, instead focused on the pictures.

He didn't seem to have changed much from what she noticed at a first glance, now that she was sober though she still remembered the feel of his cheek against hers. Great job Edith, already made a fool of yourself! She thought and cursed herself for her foolishness. He probably hated her for having left the way she had.

She approached him and saw the dark circles underneath his eyes become even more prominent. The photos in his hands were from a box that she had hid in the guest room since she rarely even got in there. There were several of them with Levi, Isabel and Farlan on top of an automobile, around the time Edith had enlisted for the war. It had been during a fanfare in Coney Island where the soldiers had been allowed to have one great night of fun before they were thrown into the horrors of Europe.

There was another one of her along with Petra, Oluo, Gunther and Mike who had bought them all ice cream. The others were stacked back into the box and she smiled a little at the fact that he still remembered where to find things.

“Sober now?” He hummed though he still wouldn't get his eyes off the photographs. Edith hugged herself.

“Right...sorry about that!” She apologized, “You must think I'm such a terrible host.”

“I wonder about that,” Levi said, “The guest room was ready, dinner too and everything else so I'd say you made a nuisance of yourself on purpose.”

“That would mean that I knew you were coming.” She chuckled then sat down on one of the couches, her cold hands falling over her eyes in an effort to soothe her headache away.

“Who knows, perhaps you found out somehow, you did make it your life mission to annoy me once.” He said and it would be a lie to say that Edith was not surprised he still remembered or that he had taken her words seriously. He sat down on the chair opposite hers, the box with the memorabilia and photos still on his hands.

“Why did the commander send you of all people?” She asked him then and the question didn’t seem to bother him, no matter how it sounded.

“Beats me,” He sighed, “Though Hanji claims he did it because he wanted you to feel welcome.”

“Am I welcome?” She asked him then and for the first time in a while, his eyes fell on her own. She couldn’t read his expression and the one second silence in between seemed to last a long time.

“So long as you follow the orders and not make yourself a hindrance.” He answered and she almost smirked. Ouch!

He picked up another picture and stared at it for a while. “You never told me why you even joined in the first place, an eighteen year old girl had no place in the war.”

Edith rose from her seat and walked over to him, taking the photograph in her hands and after taking a good look, she threw it in the box, closed it up and snatched it from Levi’s lap. All the while he was observing her every move.

That last picture had been the only one, someone - probably Hanji - had managed to snap of the two of them together. His military jacket thrown over her shoulders as she had a stupid grin on her face, while he refused to look at the camera but she had managed to convince him to pose with her because of VE day, during their final days in London.

“I’ll tell you when I’m drunk again.” Edith mumbled, “Get some rest.” She added and with that, she was out of the library.