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The Fighter & The Soother

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Major Erwin Smith, a tall blond guy with flashing blue eyes and severe eyebrows, muscular broad shoulders, not the kind of guy you expect to find in an infirmary. But there’s been a breach in Wall Rose and Titans are flooding in. As well as maimed soldiers. Mainly from the Garrison since they’re the first in line to face the monsters. Which makes Erwin’s presence here even more surprising: he belongs to the Survey Corps. He belongs… He commands them. The bravest fighters humanity counts, surveying out the Walls in no fear of giants.

Well, he’s been hurt. Nothing serious: some debris falling from the sky. But he wouldn’t miss an opportunity to see her. The situation, for now, is stable, civilians have been evacuated, retreat has been pronounced, enemies are ravaging the town but there's this new card he can play: a boy, a cadet, who can apparently turn into a Titan. He needs time to evaluate his options and the blood dripping from his temple might get in the way. A situation that calls for the ‘soother’. That’s the nickname the trainees came up with back when she was touring the boot camps of Wall Maria to complete her nurse practice. Because not only does she fix your body, her smile can also make you forget any amount of pain. So he sits here, impatient, on a hospital bed drenched in someone else’s blood. Someone less lucky, he thinks to himself.

“I still don’t see why we’re wasting time here.”, grumbles his best corporal Levi, leaning on the wall at his right side, arms crossed. “Let’s just use the boy.”

The man’s not exactly famous for his grandstanding. ‘Rough around the edges’ is how he would term it. But taking the man out of the Underground City’s sewage had probably been the most fruitful move he ever made: strong, deft, righteous, composed and loyal to the extreme, the youngster had proven himself many times before being promoted. Erwin might even say it is an honour to work alongside such a fighter. With his undercut black hair falling over his endlessly tired gray eyes, his dismayed frowns and pouting mouth, his will to sacrifice what had to to ensure humanity’s future had come as a surprise. As well as his ability with a 3D manoeuvres gear. He sure is slender and muscular, but being that short would certainly prevent some from trying.

“The withdrawal of the troops gives us time to think this through, Levi. Let’s take the chance.”, replies Commander Pyxis from his armchair.

The bald old man is not wrong. Serving as the southern Garrison Regiment’s top officer for so long is testament enough to his wisdom and experience. Not that Erwin would trust him blindlessly: there’s something deviant in those sneaky little golden eyes and silver moustache. But so far, they’ve been playing the game from the same side.

“The doctor’s gonna be here in a minute, Levi. You should show her your straining, you know.”, Erwin suggests.

“Her?” There’s almost disgust in the young man’s voice. Disappointment, more accurately.

“A man has weaknesses, Corporal.”, chuckles Pyxis. Erwin doesn’t like the comment one bit.

“Like not having enough blood to power my brain while it pours through this wound maybe?”

“You sure might be light-headed.”

The gentle voice makes his two colleagues turn their head and he decides to spy on Levi's reaction: as he predicted it, his second-in-command can't hide his fascination, and that's a first for him. For the woman who now approaches him and brushes a strand of his hair out of the way to examine his injury is the most beautiful creature given to see: shiny dark long and wavy hair gathered in an elaborate but messy bun, expressive soft but defined brows, a perfect little turned-up nose, full rose lips shaped in a large grin that, by itself, could make you forget the brightness of her long-lashed teal eyes. And that's without mentioning the grace of her allure: everything about her looks firm yet supple, long muscled elegant arms and agile fingers, slanted clavicles left uncovered by her bare shoulders shirt, a narrow waist framing a tonic stomach, and toned short legs only surmisable through the light fabric of her long skirt partially covered by a red-crossed apron. The kind of woman who switches a man's alpha mode on instantaneously. Levi can do nothing but stare at her features, fighting the obvious gaping. It amuses Erwin. A lot. Finally reading an all too human expression on that face is nothing short of a miracle. He chooses to tease him:

“Levi, this is Dr Hope.”

She interrupts her assessment to look at him and nods, displaying the warmest smile. Levi recognizes it instantly.

“Haven’t we met before?”, she asks genuinely, scanning his troubled face.

He discreetly takes offence, focusing his gaze on the corner of the room before sharply replying:

“Fail to remember.”

She bites her tongue. “Well, nice to meet you.” And concentrates again on Erwin’s forehead, who doesn’t forget his social duties:

“And this is Commander Pyxis.”

“Oh, we’ve met before.”, she responds.

“A fierce woman you chose as your doctor, Major.”

She chuckles but he sees her grit her teeth, close as they are, confirming the doubts he might have harboured against the old man. She’s holding his jaw between her delicate fingers, tilting his head and inspecting the lesion. He can smell her. For a second, he lets go of his stern responsibilities and gives in to her touch and perfume, letting his eyes rest on her breasts.

With an unpeculiar irritation, his corporal interrupts: “There’s no need to idle, we know what...”

“Nothing serious”, she interjects in turn, “but you knew that, didn’t you?”

The tone she went for was nothing but annoyed and he’s not sure what it’s about: military talk taking over medical time, protecting herself from overhearing army secrets, or how obviously unnecessary her intervention was. Her skills are undoubtedly painfully needed further down the corridor, but they bothered her for a scratch. She sighs.

“I’ll patch you up, big guy.”

Erwin catches the younger man raise an eyebrow at her familiarity, and smiles. She’s a good doctor. As far as he’s concerned, she’s the best. And he heard her say once that her job is not to judge patients’ pain but to guess how to fix them. So she must have understood he needed the time off, the deliberation and the comfort of medical care. She draws the nearest trolley to her side and skilfully damps a cotton ball with a translucent liquid from a flask. She applies it softly on his bruise and proceeds to cleaning up the blood.

“How is Rebecca doing?”, chit-chats the Commander.

Levi has not dared speaking up again. Good boy.

“She’s left for Stohess.”, she uninterestedly answers.

The old man chortles. “Far away from here. From me maybe?”

“The best of us end up there. The rich would not dare to leave us to the needy.”

“Ah, you see Major Smith? Fierce and bold, that one is.”

“Since when has talking the truth been bold?”, she disputes.

“Ever since the aristocracy has held power.”

“Hasn’t it always been that way?”

She throws the spoilt cotton right in the wastebasket, proof of her savoir-faire, and picks up a needle and surgical thread.

“So why aren’t you in the Capital yourself, my Dear?”, inquires Pyxis.

She snorts. “I’m right where I need to be.”

“Where you’re needed.”, Erwin corrects.

She glares at him. “I didn’t become a doctor in those dire times to heal some jewel-covered asses’ flu.”

“Oh oh-oh!”, laughs Pyxis through his moustache. “You know it took her six months to graduate as a nurse, and only four after her practice to become a doctor, captain Levi?”

The young man is back at staring at the wall and stays way out of the conversation. But Erwin knows he’s recording every word of it.

She’s now stitching his flesh with a dexterity he dreamt about and he starts wondering if her fragrance contains some magic ingredients because he does not feel any ache.

“How do you do that?”, he ponders from his daze.

“What?”

“The soothing.”

She softly giggles. “That’s my job.”

She picks up a pair of scissors and snips the thread near his skin. “You’re all set. Good to go save us from the monsters.”

The supportive grin she gives him hides an imperceptible sadness but his courage fires up and all his thoughts reorder now to make perfect sense. Yes, that was just what he needed. He straightens up.

“You know what you have to do Levi, I let you to it.”

There’s enough assertiveness in his voice to dissipate any scepticism his delegate might have fostered. He pushes himself off the wall, salutes and strides towards the corridor. Dr Hope follows right behind after having rolled the trolley back in its place. She does not waste time bidding farewell, already concentrating on her next emergency. But they both catch Erwin’s smirk from the corner of their eyes.

 


 

“Have you worked with the Major for long Levi?”, she feels impelled to wonder, given the length of that damn hallway.

He exhales. “You… really don’t remember, do you?”

She stops dead in her tracks. He stops too, one pace ahead of her, and spins to face her. Something bothered her. She recognized him back there. She was right, they met before. But where? Her bloody memories keep on slipping through her fingers. She scrutinizes him, searching, her eyes flickering, hooking on any lineament evoking any sort of image from the past. He’s handsome. Surely she would not have forgotten such a gorgeous mouth, nor that sternocleidomastoid. As she meets his eyes, she can see he’s analyzing her too. He’s actually trying to piece together the intel she had leaked at the time to make a wild guess at what could have happened to her since. He speaks out quietly, only following the trail of his thoughts:

“There was this thing with your brother…”

He frowns from the effort of remembering. She widens her eyes at the words.

“If you know about my brother…”, she trails off in a murmur.

He hears her hold her breath, notices her blushing but does not move as she rushes past him and to the open, disappearing from view.

Chapter Text

So the news has spread: the Corporal's squad will wipe out the Titans roaming Trost while that cadet, Eren Jaeger, takes care of mending the breach in Wall Rose with the huge boulder a school was built against midtown. The details of how that guy alone is able to pick up the thing stayed out of the directives, but all the soldiers atop the Wall did not speculate for long: one second, a teenager and his trainee outfit were sprinting down the main street towards a monster, and the next, just a lightning bolt later, a 15-meter class was tearing it apart with its bare teeth. How the boy’s trick works is none of Levi’s concern, to be honest. A few minutes ago, hanging from a clocktower corbel, he spotted him carrying the rock over his shoulder. Everything’s back on track. Good.

He fires his right gear onto the next building and pushes himself off the bricks. Using the centrifugal force, he flies around a corner and comes face to face with another giant. Unphased, he calls back the grip and shoots it again to the next block, using the freefall to slash the big abnormal’s shoulder tendon. He lands on the edge of a roof and turns back to finish the job. Movement down the alley catches his eyes: there’s a wounded comrade missing two calves and a hand, crying confusedly while a woman is sitting him up against a nearby parapet, her arms wrapped under his shoulders. It’s her. He recognises her nape. The scars marking it up. What the hell is she doing here, in the field? Apparently, trying to heal the unhealable… Men don’t grow limbs back. Surely, they learn that in med school. The moment he took to reprobate allowed his enemy to swivel and covet him as its next dish. Levi nonchalantly scowls at the ogre and triggers the grapnel hanging from his left hip, aiming for a further house. He wouldn’t want it to spot and target them. Well, her: he notices she is closing the soldier’s eyelids for a last tending. He plunges in the air, trusting the grip, but the Titan somehow manages to hinder his flight, crashing its slashed arm on the 3D cable. Instead of the anchor giving way, it’s the propeller tube that detaches from his side and comes clanging a few paces from her. He gracefully manages a save using his other gear and docks back to the previous roof.

He glances down. Oh no. She grabbed the bomb cylinder and is running for it. She looks up, spots him and, no doubt not thinking it through, launches the thing in his direction. It rivets on the chimney dominating his position and pulls her forcefully towards him. She touches down awkwardly a couple of meters away. She called it back by the time he meets her. They exchange it and he manages a feeble and embarrassed

“Thanks.”

As he finishes strapping it back on, she focuses on his gestures but really wants to tell him:

“Levi, I…”

“Now's not the best time.”, he cuts her short.

“Oh… Of course.”

She takes one step back as he raises his head just to see his adversary stretch its hand to grab her. Levi throws his arm towards her,

“Esme !”

He latches on to her sleeve and yanks to pull her behind him. Finding new strength as the horrific fingers smash the chimney in front of them to pieces, he digs both his blades in the palm of the giant. With a rage he did not know he possessed, he launches himself up its arm, his swords trailing a bloody path before him until he reaches the base of the neck and spreads his arms to slice the biggest piece of flesh he can. Following the Titan's fall, he manoeuvres back to the roof.

She is standing there, beautiful as he remembers, strong, not so impressed by what just happened. She opens her mouth to phrase something but he again interjects:

“You can't stay here. In plain sight. They'll come rushing for your flesh.”

“Oh, of course, I'll find my way down.”

She gestures dismissively and starts walking along the edge, searching for a gutter to slide down from.

“There's no easy way. I'll take you to safety.”

“No no don't worry about me. I can manage.”

Her will to not be a burden relaxes him. He realises he was holding a resentment towards her. For what? Not remembering him? Silly… Another fuckwit is coming their way. He strides to her, grabs her waist and pulls her close. She gasps, finding her face inches from his.

“Cling onto me. Don't let go.” And without giving her an opportunity to argue, he jumps and lets his 3D manoeuvre gear fly them towards the outer Wall. “It's not like I owe you a thousand ones anyway.”, he completes mid-air.

It seems to calm her as well. He feels her lock her arms behind his neck, lodge her head on his shoulder and soften all her muscles to be as easy to manipulate as possible, obviously trying not to obstruct him in any way. They dodge half a dozen monsters on their way but eventually come to rest on the steep inside of Wall Rose. One last effort and he hauls her to security. The top of the Wall.

He kneels down, permitting her to rest and slightly let go of her grip on his shoulders. But she keeps her head in the space between his shoulder and neck, silently taking his smell in, panting out from the ride through horrors they just went through. He grants it, for a couple of minutes, not heeding the murmurs spreading through the soldiers around.

“You… You said my name.”, she finally whispers.

He’s still panting but allows one corner of his mouth to lift up. She finally tilts her head back and stares into his eyes. She seems satisfied with whatever she finds there because she gives him her famous soothing smile, only truer. Feeling destabilized, he gulps:

“I… I've got to go.”

Swift fear crosses her eyes but she does not let it linger.

“Levi, I found you in here.” She brings a finger to her temple. “Because it resonated here.” Her finger slides to her chest, pointing at her heart. He frowns. “I'm sorry I did not recognize you earlier.”

He interrupts her again:

“I don't care. You're safe. We'll talk later.”

He backflips through the air and goes on to carry out his duties.

 


 

They never really get to talk about that connection though.

When he spots her again, she is taking care of cadet Mikasa’s light wounds. The girl’s Eren’s childhood friend apparently, and a fierce warrior, one playing in his league for a change. Levi approaches them.

“It's good you're alive.”

Not sure which one of the two he is addressing, but Esmeralda stands up and bursts out:

“I want to assist for your next survey mission.”

“You're a nurse.”, he promptly backlashes.

“A doctor.”, she clarifies. “How many comrades did you lose of unattended injuries during your past missions?”

“We've never taken civilians along. You'd be dead weight for us.”

“Teach me not to be. You're taking rookies this time.”, she points at the general direction of Mikasa and further, Eren. “I'm sure I can align.”

“I don't have time.”

“I'll see that with Major Erwin.”, she challenges.

“Why?”

“I want to help. And I want to study Eren's regeneration mechanism. Imagine how useful for humanity any discovery of the sort would be.”

As broad as his question was, her answer seems to satisfy him.

“That'll be Erwin's decision to take. But I'm not in favour.”, he finally concludes before tramping off.

“He's protecting you.”, expounds Mikasa.

“Clearly.”, Esmeralda replies, her eyes fixed on his back. “But that's not his choice to make.”

Chapter Text

Erwin thought about it overnight... and accepted. What demons pushed him to make that decision, Levi still wonders. She was babysitting Eren when he brought her the news. She’s only been hanging around the fort for a few days, assigned to the 104th Corp cadets’ health, but the bond she developed with the kids is pretty strong. He wouldn’t have thought Mikasa was the kind to get attached to anyone but the Jaeger brat, but there she was, smiling at that Dr Hope’s banter. Armin Arlert, Jean Kirstein, Connie Springer, no doubt about these boys’ feelings towards her. In fact, the whole group seemed overjoyed by her integration in the 57th expedition outside the Walls, absolutely overlooking the danger this might put them in. Or her. Levi sullenly reminded her how much he disapproved this decision, but she only replied with a smile he read gratitude into. It fucking drives him crazy: first, she does not remember him, then she seems to, now she’s not telling him what happened, yet she acts like she can translate his every intention. He would gladly play her game if he knew the rules.

 


 

She stood at the back of the room for the whole session, arms crossed, taking in the Major’s instructions. The speech is full of military gibberish, the map of the Special Operations Squad within the formation and the flares system must go over her head. She’ll certainly need a resit through the specifics of her role in all this. Yet her eyes hardly flicker and she wears a believable concentration frown. He’s been through these explanations more than twenty times himself, spotting the differences Erwin included in the talk to send plausible traitors off Eren’s scent. Being capable of such carefully clever plans, surely he should realise the senselessness of taking her along. After all, no one knows anything about that woman. Except that ‘she is a good freaking doctor’, yeah yeah we got it. When a soldier gets bitten in half by those things’ teeth, no amount of medical advice can come in handy. Why is he the only one to see that?

The chairs grating calls him back to here and now as his battalion leaves the room with all the necessary intel. He hops down from the table he was sitting on all morning and glimpses his chief calling her over with a finger. He decides to linger, leaning in the shadows, owning up to the coming eavesdropping.

“Indulge me”, Erwin starts, “did you understand anything of what you just heard?”

She raises an eyebrow and smirks.

“I’m sticking to Eren’s sides, horseback.”, she points at the rear centre point on the blueprint on display.

“So far so good.”, he comments, amused and slightly impressed.

“I’m to concentrate on his well-being, medically speaking”, she specifies, “and we’ll pick up any wounded left behind on our way. I’ll be able to tend to them at the back of the supplies wagon.”

“I didn’t mention any of this…”, the blond man trails off.

Shit. She did better than merely understanding the plan.

“And that’s a wild guess but I assume you gave different details about Eren’s position to each squad, in order to determine where’s the turncoat, if there’s any.”

“How did you even…?”

“Oh and the flares system… efficient. Clever!”

He gapes at her. Levi is watching his esteemed leader fall in love in front of his very eyes. Not that he can blame him, he sees the appeal: kind, beautiful, and now clever. Had he not met her before, he himself would have thought her a good match for Erwin. He stares at the silence between the two, feeling like the man is about to get down on one knee. And that somehow hurts. Somewhere. Within.

“As I see it, you’re as important as the kid. Keeping you two together is not necessarily the best strategy. But that’ll be the safest position for you and the only place you can react quickly if Eren gets hurt.” So he chose to play it cool.

“You know what would really help though?”, she sheepishly asks. Erwin frowns and shakes his head. “If I knew how to fly. At least the basics.” The commander brings his hand to his chin, reflecting. “In a situation where I could climb to safety, that would be much appreciated.”

“Not sure we can afford lending you gear.”, Levi steps in, judging his intervention necessary.

“If I needed this, it'd be to pull a disabled soldier AND myself. That'd be a case of borrowing someone's material.”

Erwin starts nodding. Uh-oh.

“Yes. That’d be a minimum actually, taking you along.”, he nods one final time, decisive. “Levi, you'll train her to manoeuvres.”

Levi’s eyes widen and remain this way as his boss strides out, brushing his shoulder. She widely grins at him, not even bothering concealing her satisfaction at winning that one. Blushing, he spins around and heads for the exit.

“Tomorrow 6 am central square.”, he orders before stepping out.

“Sir yes, sir!” He hears her shuffle and understands she just saluted. Hmmf.

 


 

 

“I don't recall you showing that much taste for discipline back in the days.”, he mocks her as the camp central clock’s hands hit 6. She’s standing in the middle of the square, in a perfect soldier stance, in full gear, alone. He saw her emerge from her barack as he was getting out of bed. She stretched and ran around the sandy pitch for half an hour and has been waiting for him since. Her outfit is impeccable, she must have known he was going to look out for the details. And the details he sees. The 3D gear straps underline her perfectly sized breasts and muscular stomach and thighs. She’s in good shape, no doubt about that. He doesn’t even bother asking her how she got her hands on the manoeuvres equipment: loved and respected as she is amongst the cadets, one of them must have lent her his. Or hers. More likely his.

“You and I remember those days very differently. Sir.”, she replies with sass, still making sure he’s not able to reproach her anything.

“OK let's drop the ‘Sir’ and get to work.”

He would try to deny it but he’s actually impressed by her dedication. Of course, she became a doctor, which is dedication enough, but with her combat skills, the physique she apparently tries to preserve, and the easiness with which she blent in yesterday, there’s the question of why she didn’t go down the military path. The training they both received as children made it so easy for him. He always knew she was smarter than him but why the medical? The obvious answer does not fit his cautious habits. He would read into the young Esmeralda’s choices without difficulty, but this Dr Hope is a mystery to him and for all he knows, she left him at the worst moment. He will not trust her impulsively, despite all his heart’s commands.

She follows him to the nearest patch of forest and they stand together at the edge of the woods. He turns to face her and recognizes anticipation in her eyes.

“Do you know how this works?”

“I’ve studied last night yes.”

“OK. Follow me then.”

He shoots his left wire, lets the grapple find some bark to fix on and takes off gracefully through the canopy. Now it’s up to her to be reckless and shoot hers for the first time. She will miss the tree of course, as any rookie does. It will take an hour just for her to get used to the aiming. And this is counting on her dexterity with the bow and arrows. The regular training schedule includes two days for the balance, two more for the skill, three for studying the gear, one week to swing through the forest and then two more to wield the blades and target the wooden Titans decoys. Four weeks total. Taking into account her background, he measured he could teach her how to fly in a week tops. He starts listing the steps as he lands vertically: this morning for the targeting, they’ll get to the pull force this afternoon and then…

Her grapple crashes and secures one arm’s length above his head, inches from his own wire. He barely has time to look down before her whole body slams into his.

“Hu!”, he grunts out with his last air.

He hears the click of her trigger wrongly pushed and reacts instantly, throwing his arms in a large sweeping movement, catching her before the loosened cable provokes her fall. He hauls her to a safe position and she holds on to his shoulders, finding herself in the most embarrassing and unwanted position possible: her nose brushing his, his arms embracing her chest, her legs hanging, limp. It all comes back in a flash: a couple of days before she left, they had been running from policemen, usual day, but she had tripped over a crate on their way up the rooves. He had come to the rescue, catching and yanking her wrist. She had ended up on top of him, as close as they were now, frozen in that position and waiting until the last of the guard’s voice had faded away. At some point they had stopped listening though, because it had been some years now, years of them fluttering about and pretending not to notice the connection pulling them in, years of not finding the courage to take that extra step. But that day, on the verge of their adulthood, they had let their lips touch. She sees in his eyes they just shared the same vision. That frightens her. Rightfully so. Because it brought back vivid memories of these final days and the betrayal he suffered from when she had left. He frowns ominously and she recoils, pushing herself out of his grasp. He waits for her to reshoot her gear to the next tree a few paces away before releasing her, ever so conscientious. Furious but fair. She manages a safe landing this time, hanging vertically from a meter of cable, then turning to receive his next instructions. But she does not bother apologizing. He half expected it, traumatized as he was by the sweetness of that shared lost image, but then she has done quite a good job at following his orders just now, and there is no complain to be made as to her quick learning. She sure is gifted. So no words are exchanged. It takes him long minutes to lose his frown and find air again. Unsure what to make of this, she focuses on her manipulation. What she did wrong. So that her next shot will be flawless.

“Keeping your fingers in the slots at all time is a very good practice but you must be in full control of your nerves so that you do not trigger at the wrong moment.” He monotonously advises.

She clenches her jaw and nods. The fierceness in her eyes impresses him again. That sure looks like his childhood friend. His first and only love. But yet, it would be so simple for her to invent a lie about why she ran away right when they started uncovering that passion.

“Tch”, he vents. “Let’s practice three more simple throws and move to in-flight shots.”, he suggests. There’s no use addressing this. No fucking value in asking her now. He has a job his superior in command gave him and he intends to complete it, fully and orderly, as always. Given her starting point, it will not take as long as he thought. Good. All this bullshit is awkward enough.

 


 

After six hours of this, she’s able to jump between the trees, secure a position using both her wires, change course in the air and launch herself above the highest fixing point before finding the nearest hook to avoid her fall. All there is left is landing back on the ground.

They exchanged little to no words: he made her guess his intentions with his brood and his advice with his actions. And she read through them effortlessly. Imitating his gestures and timing, following his lead, foreseeing the next target… Nothing new to her.

“It’s gonna be lunchtime.”, he simply states.

He fires his grapple to the last tree before the clearing and executes an elegant somersault that leads him to touch down a few meters from where they started. He spins and makes it clear it is her turn. She exhales, visualizing the process and trajectory, and shoots. Her grapnel digs into the wood so close to his mark that it almost rips, but she has already dived. She’s not planning on adding a figure to her final exercise. Just not breaking an ankle will be great. She was close to a perfect score but the small play her too perfect shot is suffering from makes her landing wobbly. She thumps the ground with too much momentum and falls forward, flat on her face. She lies like that, calling her gear back to her side. She did it. Not beautifully but she did it. Inside her brain, new scenarii unlock. She will be able to help more now. She will be able to help without being a burden even. She knows how to fly. He taught her.

He’s approaching so she pushes herself off the ground to a kneeling position and checks her hands for possible damage. Nothing but scratches. She feels movement whisking her hair and lifts her gaze. He’s holding a hand out to her. She raises an eyebrow. He takes offence. Again. So she quickly grabs it before he changes his mind and pulls to get back on her feet. She can’t help but make note of the strength of his grip, the stability and aplomb he demonstrated all through their training. He is a thing of beauty when gliding. She recalls how safe it felt sleeping in his arms as a kid, and when those arms started turning into a bundle of muscles, how she did not mind at all. He seems so sullen now. Not that he was particularly cheerful then. But they had this intimate and familiar relationship.

He does not idle and takes the direction back to the camp. She follows from a distance, lingering on the memories of her childish feelings turning into this overwhelming attraction as he was growing into a man before her eyes. The things she went through after… The terrible absence, the guilt, the loneliness. She should tell him. He should know. But she needs more time to order her thoughts. After all, the reminiscence only came back when he pronounced her name. Too soon. So much to puzzle back together.

“How did it go?” Erwin’s voice calls her back to reality. Not sure which of them he addressed but she lets Levi respond:

“She’s good to go.” He passes his chief with no more than that, leaving the Major gaping at Esmeralda, shaking her head in lack of understanding. He does not question his captain. He knows that his phrase meant they had gone through the whole drill and that she had succeeded in passing Levi’s standards. But he stares at the woman with disbelief.

“What?”, she demands, slightly vexed.

“Tell me you have flaws, you must have flaws.”, he almost begs.

Only then does she understand she has done well. So she gives him a large grin, which unfortunately makes his heart melt, and just comments:

“I am starving!”

Chapter Text

“Would you like to sit with us?”, Erwin proposes her with a sign of the head as she enters the canteen around dinnertime.

She eyes the company engaging in heated exchanges behind him: Hange Zoe, the scientist weirdo officer more interested in studying the Titans than wiping them out, is making a point of shaming Levi in front of his squad for his bloodthirst, with lengthy claims that humanity cannot be saved by slashing through them forever. Esmeralda decides she likes that woman.

She sweeps the room in search of her assigned team: ranks and ranks of tired young women and men too busy dwelling on spooky tales of man-eating creatures to finally admit they can’t sleep at night in fear of them. She spots Sasha Braus, the potato girl, poking out the crowd, monitoring every movement out of the kitchen. Around her, the top ten of the 104th, showing obvious signs of weariness as Eren and Jean are going at it again. These two boys will be the end of her. She sighs.

“I appreciate the invitation Major”, she faces him, “but I’d rather work at raising the troop morale again. I’ve not been very apt so far but I don’t want to let them down.”

The smile she gives him before walking off is so kind, Erwin is left wondering why he does not join her instead.

“What is it about this time?”, she bawls out when sitting down on the bench across Connie. The belligerents freeze mid-punch and sheepishly stare at her, releasing their opponent’s shirt. “Eren, come sit by me, your nose is bleeding.”

She taps the wood and the green-eyed boy skips to the spot. She remains more or less oblivious to the many glares trailing his course and the thick jealousy flooding the area as she lifts his chin up to examine his nostrils. She pulls out a handkerchief out of her puffed-up sleeve, revealing a corner of her skin inside her elbow she’s usually careful to cover.

“Dr Hope, what are those scars?”, utters Krista Reis, the sweet small blond girl sitting next to Connie.

“Nothing.”

The haste with which Esmeralda tucks her arm back in the cloth betrays her discomfort. She aims her attention back to wiping her protege’s blood. The teenager can’t help appreciating her touch and gets lost in the blue-green of her eyes.

“He was rambling about the uselessness of our governors again!”, complains Jean, hoping to ruin the moment the Jaeger brat was having.

Dr Hope wraps up her nursing and deftly shoves back the crumpled tissue up her sleeve, keeping her secrets to herself.

“Just a cut, nothing broken.”, she concludes before moving to the brooding yet fundamentally encouraging Jean. “Was it worth making him bleed though?”, she questions him. The young man’s face twists into a scowl and that settles the case. “How was your day y’all?” She changes the subject.

“Training, training, training.”, laments the sympathetic Bertolt.

“Did you get a good rest last night?”

“Yeah”, Reiner Braun, powerful rural cadet, second best after Mikasa, takes part, “The infusion you arranged for us really helped.”

She grins. “Glad it did.” She surveys the group: Mikasa Ackerman, best fighter amongst the rookies, customarily displays no evidence of fatigue; Annie Leonhardt is still wearing the world’s misery on her shoulders, no joy ever emanates from that face; Armin Arlert, little blond cutie, best known for his intelligence than war exploits, always seems cheerful around her. She worries a lot about this one: he’s not shaped for combat, yet he commits himself to his friends’ goals. “No new bruises, Armin?” He shakes his bangs. “Did the ointment help with the old ones?”

“Yes Doctor, thanks.”

She lets out a sigh of relief.

“How was your day?”, timidly inquires Krista. The girl is so empathetic, Esmeralda wonders how she’ll be able to inflict damage to anything in the field. She beams back at her.

“It was… entertaining, to say the least.”

“How did the 3D manoeuvres go?”, asks Eren, his wide eyes glowing curiosity.

“How was Captain Levi?” Connie Springer, always getting to the real questions. This one’s a little dumber than the rest, but he’s really good-willed and thorough in his techniques.

She blushes, trying to find the right word and the pause doesn’t escape the youngsters.

“He is… pithy.”

“Not surprisingly”, Connie confirms.

“But he’s an excellent instructor: I’ll be able to fly with you now.”

“What? He taught you how to shoot mid-flight?”, Eren is astonished.

“And 2-secure positions, and overjumps too.”

“And landing?”, soberly insures Mikasa.

“I would still be hanged up there if not, Love.”

“Surely, he would have helped you down in the end.”, ascertains Jean.

“He’s really mean, this man.”, replies Sasha. “Once, he caught me sneaking in the storage barn… He jostled me out so hard, I fell on my bum and it still hurts!”

She unequivocally rubs down her back and Esmeralda bursts into laughter.

“Why were you there in the first place?” She manages to articulate, knowing the reason already.

“Well, I was looking for potatoes of course!”

Everyone joins in her hilarity. That’s just when the Major and his dinner-mates approach and settle down at the other side of the table left empty. She acknowledges them, guessing she must have convinced him to support the recruits as well, but cannot refrain her giggling. The cadets courageously recede theirs, spurring her to do the same.

“Sasha, you’ve got no stealth whatsoever. You clearly never had to steal your food.” She wipes a tear from the corner of her eye.

“Because you had?”, harrumphs the clumsy redhead girl.

“Yeah well, didn’t have a choice as a kid.”

The opening to find out more about her finally showing up, Erwin does not miss the chance:

“What district did you grow up in?”

“The Underground City.”

“What? No.”, lets out Jean, incredulous.

“Why, yes.”

“I’ve heard only thugs come from there.”, joins Connie.

“Well I’m from there.”

“No, I refuse to believe that.”

“I know lots of good people from down there you know. You’d be surprised.”

Erwin knowingly glances over Levi before showing her more interest:

“How did you end up surface-bound?”

She frowns, clearly struggling to remember.

“I wasn’t really given a choice…”

“You’ve been vague about your time before Trost.”, one of Levi’s handpicked subordinates jumps in.

“Well, I… must have suffered some kind of trauma because my memory is missing some years.”, she timidly explains.

“How convenient.”, she hears Levi mutter. She chooses to ignore him.

“All I can remember is a Survey Corp returning from their mission.”, she sets out to recount, ”And how my brain fixated on the gory wounds and the severed limbs. How was it possible to leave a human being in that state and throw him at the back of a wagon without tending to his injuries… So I walked by the recruitment office and I saw the queue. Next door was the med school and there was no queue. There I realized that many people were willing to put themselves on the line and serve as cannon fodder but a lot less would sit their asses for a few years to learn about how to fix the other crazies…” She trails off. “Now I’m realizing what I’m saying is very offensive and I’m really sorry. I don’t mean to insult you, not at all. We need every one of you.”

“But you are right though.”, the commander endorses, “We need you at least as much.”

“I don’t understand why this hasn’t been done before.”, she speculates.

“Bringing a doctor along?”, cynically echoes Levi. “Because we’ve got better things to do out there than protecting one person in particular.”

“So you let your brother in arms die in the field for lack of medical support?”, she challenges.

“Tch!”, he hisses back.

She imitates his crossed arms posture, irritated.

“We needed a doctor who’s willing to ride along with us.”, intervenes Erwin. “I’ve been called mad more than once for letting you join our next expedition, you know.”

“I wonder who dared.”, she raises an eyebrow at the sulking corporal.

“I’ve been warned there’s a good chance you’ll die and it would have been for nothing.”

“Major”, she intensifies, “I want to say this now: you ought to bear no regret whatsoever if this happens, are we clear? I am doing this of my own free will and the Skies forbid, I intend to stand in nobody’s way, I’m only here to do my job.”

“You really ought to be less cocky.”, Levi now directly attacks her. “Maybe you’re not fully aware of the danger we’re running into.”

“Fear is for those who have something to lose, Captain. You don’t seem to suffer from the feeling so much yourself.”

“Tch.”, again.

A silent awkwardness flushes the table as they both hold their ground, hostile, glowering at each other.

“So…”, gingerly tries Hange. “You don’t have anything to lose Doctor? Anyone?”

“No.”, she clenched her jaw. ”Nothing, nobody… No fear.”

“Let’s just hope it serves you well in the field.”, Erwin winds up. She nods. “And since you’ve completed your 3D manoeuvres training so quickly, I suggest you join us for the combat classes the next three days before we leave. What do you say?”

“Sure thing. Might be less of a dead weight…”, she pulls a face at Levi who shakes his head.

Chapter Text

As soon as she sets a foot inside the training pitch, all eyes are on her. The cadets’ amusement is palpable and growing with every step she takes. They’re brawling in pairs and she overhears the murmurs:

“A doctor learning how to hurt people, that’s rich!”

“She’s too soft to strike anyone.”

“Who’s gonna face her? The lucky bastard…”

“Someone who’d better not harm her, I tell ya!”

She feels humbled by the attention. When she took the decision to become a doctor, some four years ago, her sole goal was to help others. She became aware of the insanity of the world they were living in abruptly and cruelly, the frailty of humans, and with it, the beauty of their relentless will to survive. So many were fighting to protect the others. She wanted to be the one who would fix them. To help the ones who helped. That made sense only to her. But at the time, there was no one around to talk her out of it. She was going to fight for the chance to contribute in the way she intended. Even if it meant using her fists.

“Good morning Dr Hope!”, Erwin hails her.

He prances in her direction. She beams and can only deplore the effect it has on him: he blushes. To fluster a man of his stature, she must have mistakenly given signs of interest. Thinking back though, she can’t find a single occurrence of her flirting. With anyone, that is. She might be doing it without realising. Or are men so desperate for tending these days that they fall in love at first touch?

“Ready to kick asses?”, he asks, playful.

“I guess so.”, she responds, unsure.

“Okay. I suggest you match up with me.”, he scans her reaction, making sure she consents. “I’d be able to hold myself back to avoid harming you in any way.”

“That’s one way to settle this.” She catches a boy whisper.

“And we’ll use your inexperience, no offence…”

“None taken.”

“...to demonstrate some moves to the trainees. Does that sound good?”

He had obviously planned that one. She nods once in return and he grins. This is a chess player, a commander capable of foreseeing the enemies’ intentions. Yet he seems disarmed when it comes to hers. Everyone in the battalion sees it. She’s conscious she can’t play dumb forever but she wishes it never comes down to having to address it.

She does not mean to be loved that way. Nor the way her brother loved her… All these people and these worthy warriors, she does not deserve their affection. She only wants to nurse their bodies to health. That’s why she begged to be here and enlisted in that campaign: soldiers need care the most. She feels grateful for all the civilian lives she improved or saved but this now is real business. Now she’s brushing danger.

“Let’s get started.”

He takes two strides away from her and lifts his clenched hands in a combat stance. She clumsily mirrors the posture, anticipating the block she’ll need to pull depending on the side he’ll choose to attack. A sudden rumour crosses the youngsters again:

“What’s he doing here? He never supervises us.”

“He’s here for Dr Hope!”

“What? You think he likes her too?”

“Who doesn’t?”

“I think he wants to taunt her.”

She turns her head. He’s there. Levi. Leaning on the fence enclosing the training area. Their eyes meet and like each time, a wave of memories submerges her brain. She knows it’s going to retreat soon and take all these moments back with it. She intends to grasp as many as she can this time. Though they’re just flashes of a many years span, she needs them to rebuild the puzzle. Like each time, she feels dizzy. He makes her uncomfortable. Not him really, but her own shame for having forgotten. Because she’s been staring, his expression turns into dismay. But she knows somehow she has seen that same face smile at her, even laugh sometimes, and maybe those lips, they are telling her a story, and this hair, she might have brushed it, and that neck, she might have kissed it, and these hands, they might have touched her in places she keeps hidden… She finds herself confused by those thoughts and hardly makes out the lecture the Major is giving his students:

“Lesson number one: stay focused on your opponent.”

He covers the space between them in a dash, aiming for her collar. She goes blank, called back to reality too fast. And with no any idea where and what fury it’s coming from, she executes a spectacular defense technique: using his speed to hoist him over her shoulder, she lets him crash face first onto the sand and, keeping hold of his wrist, crouches down to pin him with one knee on his back and a boot on his skull, twisting his shoulder at a dangerous angle that makes him groan. His voice wakes her up. Her pupils narrow to make out his other hand desperately beating the ground calling for a truce. She lets go immediately and covers her mouth in shock.

“Oh I’m sorry! I’m so sorry.”

She frantically shakes her head while he stiffly gets up, bringing his fingers to his cheek. Around them, rookies are holding off their laughs. She sees blood trickling down his jaw and panics:

“Oh my God, I’ve hurt you! Let me see.”

She brushes his hand off to expose a gashing cut under his left eye. Nothing severe, but it’s well open. She breathes in to apologize some more but a boy shouts out from the crowd:

“That was sweet, Dr Hope! Where did you learn that trick?”

The efforts it takes her to contemplate the answer actually relaxes her:

“I told you I’m from the Underground.”

“Will you teach us?”, Reiner inquires, hopeful.

Ignoring the banter, she wipes most of the blood with her thumb.

“I’m so sorry again, Major.”

The concern in her eyes obliterates any grudge he could have mustered for the humiliation and he smirks at her.

“It’s fine. Actually, my hopes of having you back alive are comfortingly rising.”

The tension easing out of her gasp warms his heart. Maybe that’s the window he has been waiting for.

“Let me fix you up.”, she offers, giving him a guilty smile, nonetheless soothing.

She grabs his elbow to lead him towards the exit and fights the urge to glance at Levi again but his disapproval somehow reaches her.

 


 

No words are exchanged along the way. Once inside the military hospital, she has him sit on a high medical bed. They've been here before, that situation. She skillfully gathers the necessities from the different cabinets around the room and sets them down next to him. Damping a cotton pad with disinfectant, she brings it to his cheek then suspends her gesture, making sure he’s expecting the sting. She applies it and he gasps. She rolls her eyes mockingly.

“Really? A grown man like you?”

He simpers. Now they’re inches apart. Her eyes focused on cleansing his skin, he scrutinizes hers. Her pores seem common enough, he tells himself, then how do they appear so smooth and silky when undetailed? The corner of her nose, that charming little bump giving it a shrewd feel. His eyes tumble to her lips, their heavenly colour, the regularity of the creases on their surface, no doubt caused by dryness. There’s a quick fix to that… Before he realises what he’s doing, his mouth is searching hers, his tongue out to moisturize them. She freezes, her eyes broaden, and soon she recoils, only to find his hands blocking her from both sides of her jaw. Her eyelids flutter while she waits for him to understand: she’s not returning his kiss. It took him several minutes to accept it or maybe he decided to linger on his only chance, but he finally backs off. Her frown is swamping him with pity and heartache. He slides his arms to his sides, freeing her. She chooses to carry on treating his wound, picking up the plaster and sticking it on his cheekbone.

“I’m sorry.”, he mumbles.

“Please don’t be.”, she reassures him.

“I just thought…”

“It’s not…” She lifts her gaze to his. “It’s not what you think.” Before lowering it. “I don’t remember much from before but… I think I was in love.”

“Why aren’t you searching for him?”

“The shame.” She clenches her teeth. “I feel so ashamed. I forgot. I need to piece my memories back together.” An imperceptible notion passes over her features. “But something tells me I’ll find him along the way.”

Hope. That’s hope he sees. Or maybe more than that.

“If you haven’t already.”, he nudges, knowingly. She doesn’t respond, which only confirms his inkling. “I wish I weren’t born up here suddenly…”

“Don’t say that.”

He’s dreading the impact her soothing smile will have on him, and there it is. So supportive it crushes his heart.

“I’d die for you, you know that?”, he laments.

“You’d die for any human. You’re our saviour.”, she tilts her head, pulling the perkiest face, wrinkling her nose. “And I’m here to make sure our saviour stays alive.”

“We don’t deserve you.”

She blushes and he wishes she could mend the pain in his chest too.

“We should go back, don’t you think?”

“Not that there’s much I can teach you apparently.”

She scratches her nape with an embarrassed moue.

“Told you: I'm working on that conundrum.”, she chuckles.

 


 

After a full day of drilling, Levi expected the trainees to be worn out. Yet tonight, there's that gathering again: a dozen of cadets jostling one another against the wall of the sanitary barrack.

“Oi!”, he simply reprimands.

None of them risks double-checking his mood: they're all gone by the time he's standing where they were. The Major approaches, drawn by the agitation.

“What was that about?”, he questions.

“It's the third time this week: they meet here for some reason…”

His sentence trails off, veiled by a faint humming. They both pivot their head searching for its source and spot a dent in a low plank of the wall. They look at each other, the explanation dawning. Erwin leans in to have a peek. He straightens up at once, letting out a sharp “Yep”, reinforcing Levi’s theory. Well, there’s no reason he shouldn’t peep himself: a woman is taking a shower, oblivious to her exposure. Despite the angle and the vapours, he discerns her silhouette. This and the mellow singing, it can only be Esmeralda. Despite his grudge, her tune echoes right into his anamnesis, comforting. And the shape of her, it...

“Hem!” His boss clearing his throat pulls him from his reverie.

He stands back up and stares at him, unblinking. His usual self.

“Someone ought to mend that.”, he merely comments.

Erwin snorts and starts ambling towards the fort. His second-in-command shuffles along. A comfortable silence settles but the need to confide gets the most of him:

“I kissed her earlier.”

Levi stops in his tracks. The commander needs to know: he confronts the short man and investigates his face. Surely he’ll be able to read something there: a clue, an emotion, anything.

“I kissed her and she turned me down.”

“What a bitch.”

Now that’s interesting. He says those words but there’s a gleam in his eye he’s never seen before. Could it be relief?

“You know what they say about little boys liking little girls?”, he teases.

“Sir, please…”

And yet… He’ll be more forward then:

“That time I introduced her to you in Trost, it was not the first time, was it?” His lack of answer is an answer in itself. One he expected. Erwin lowers his gaze, a bitter smile on his mouth. “Well, if it’s you, at least I’d have no regret.”

“Me what?”, the young man is losing his patience.

“The guy she’s looking for.”

He pierces him with a glare intended to destabilize, before tramping off.

Chapter Text

‘Is the sun outside the Wall brighter or are my eyes messing with my brain?’, she wonders as her stallion aligns his gallop on Erwin's. She can feel Levi and him observing her. They all know it's her first time out of town and these two are particularly curious about her reaction. She wishes she could remain unreadable but she’s overwhelmed by the warmth directed at her. She takes it in, shutting her eyes. A life of darkness. Maybe it was worth it after all. When she opens them again, they’re so far away from the city, she has never felt so defenseless in her life. Riding through those endless grasslands for hours on end could have promised freedom in another life but she glimpses the Major’s signal triggering the Long Distance Enemy Scouting Formation: the battalions disperse, leaving her with an even greater sense of solitude and vulnerability. It’s just six men and a wagon, heading straight to hell. Her survival instinct draws her to Levi. He’s been nothing but cold for the past weeks, but whether it’s his title of humanity’s strongest fighter or the reminiscence of his arms shielding her from nightmares, he’s all the hope she’s lost.

It doesn’t take long for the first red flare to rip through the air, miles off. Following the plan, they change course but her apprehension doesn’t dissipate. Yet an undertone gradually takes over: are they hurt? The ones who fired, do they need help? Do they need her?

“Dr Hope?” The concern is Eren’s voice attains her core. She shivers and turns her head, realizing she had been slightly deviating towards danger. His bright green eyes focused on her, she remembers the point of her presence here: she’ll protect him, no matter what. If she can help others on the way, great, but him first. Steeled with resolve, the heat she gathered from the sun turns into fierceness. She grits her teeth and nods at the boy then notices Levi staring at her… and smirking. It’s not the comfort her smile usually provides but her courage sure galvanises her companions.

Less than an hour later, they spot their first Titan. It’s huge, of course, and ridiculous, to the extent of being abominable: it awkwardly creeps in their direction, its flaccid belly getting in the way of its awry legs. Each part of it looks human but then, not quite. Esmeralda discerns the tissues, the muscles, the bones, she could name them. But none of it concurs with the structure it’s supposed to be, they’re not the right shape, they’re not right at all. Examining it with a medical eye somehow allows her to conquer her fear. After all, they have that weakness at the base of the neck. If it comes down to this, she’ll cut it. She’s seen them do it, these mighty military angels, gliding and slicing at will. Even from that far though, she can make out the carnage taking place in the impact area.

“Straight ahead, Hope!”, the Major yells.

The flares system doesn’t prove as secure as she had initially envisioned: having the column sidestepping the obstacles, thus avoiding clash, did not prevent the creatures from chasing it. They are now being tailed by a number of them. A number that didn’t find it difficult to pick, chew and swallow about twenty percent of the side and rear guards. Only three bitten officers found themselves on their path and she’s now doing her best to ease their pain, jounced around at the back of the cart. All she gets from them are cries, whines and grunts and these sounds are ghastlier to her than the ludicrous giants. She concentrates on her nursing, refusing to let herself convey an ounce of complaint, angst or despondency.

“What the fuck is that thing?” she hears a rider exclaim.

She looks up for a second: there’s a female Titan heading their way. That’s never been seen before! And there’s a thing about it… It appears more human than the others. It takes after Eren’s metamorphosis. Could it be like him? The traitor maybe. She has no time for speculation: however distant the bitch seems for now, she runs fast. Close by, Levi has his eyes fixed on her, half his face smeared with the remains of the last monster he chopped down on the way. She frowns and he replies with a controlled bow. She reads confidence and encouragement in it and it incites her back to her duty. She soldiers up.

“We’re almost there, maneuver to the canopy as soon as we’ve crossed the wood edge!”, orders Erwin.

 


 

It's like catching your breath after being held underwater until your lungs are about to explode. The safety of the height. The trapping of it too.

“Three minutes rest before Levi’s squad moves out! The rest of you, your mission is to draw the enemy’s attention from them!”

The commander’s instructions are clear, but they are met with mixed opinions: the safety of the position sure is reassuring but that abnormal is preoccupying. They have a little time to spare but understanding that Eren will serve as bait for Levi to drive it into Hange’s trap unnerves Esmeralda.

“Dr Hope, I suggest you stay behind this time. There’s plenty of cadets you’ll be able to help in addition to the three you already saved.”, Erwin addresses her.

“But…”

“This plan has become tricky. I’m sorry I can’t come up with anything safer for everyone.”

She pats his shoulder in an attempt to comfort him, but he’s already surveying the horizon, mentally assessing the interval the land between them allows. She withdraws, searching for activity, and spots Levi wiping some of the Titan gore fuming from his forearm. Stepping closer, she recognizes minor lesions on his skin.

“I know it’s mostly not yours but I’ll clean that blood off your forehead.”, she announces, fumbling in her utility belt for antiseptic and gauze.

He looks up, unimpressed, but lets her do her thing. She swabs the incision above his brow, knowing the product will help him feel cleaner. Obviously. His gaze avoiding hers finds the 3D gear fastened around her waist: it came down to borrowing it after all.

“Good thing I taught you how to manoeuvre.”, he comments.

“Indeed.”

“Esme…”

Her heart sinks at the call of her name. Only he knows it. Only he is permitted. But diving into his glare, she understands he’s waiting for that explanation. And she’s not ready.

“I know…”, she hopes to manage his expectations.

“Will you talk to me?”, he pleads.

“Not… until I…”

“Doctor!”, screams out a hasty fellow, “I need something to stop the bleeding! Please!”

She peeks over the man’s shoulder: a soldier is missing his foot. She hurriedly glances at Levi, her eyes full of promises, before striding off to her obligation. Only when she hears his grapnel shot does she realize she might never have a chance to give him the reasons.

 


 

The Walls be blessed, they made it back to the fort. Not only, or importantly, herself but the 104th, Erwin and Levi. While tending Eren and Mikasa’s injuries, she learns of the elite squad demise, how they all ended up crushed or gnawed off besides Levi, how the boy confronted the female Titan one-on-one, failed, and was retrieved from the monster's mouth by the skillful girl and their captain.

“Guilt must be tamed, Darling”, she allays his disgrace, “or it’ll end up crippling your grit.”

The sadness in his eyes weighs her optimism down but she has to carry on. They’re all sound, whatever state of mind they came back in, she’s thankful for that.

She exits the treatment room, giving the youngsters a well-earned rest, and heads towards the laundry to trade her soiled apron for a clean one. Right before the corridor corner, a nurse calls her out:

“Doctor, the chieftains are ready for you.”

Esmeralda responds with a blank stare before retracing her steps, downcast. Echoing along the hallway through the open door, she overhears the exchange as she closes in:

“... all that’s been going on, that’s what you chose to disparage? I mean, we didn’t come near achieving any of our goals, mainly because a massive unknown put a stop to our mission, and you’re arguing the point of having brought her?”

“The uselessness.”

“She saved eight men.”

“Three.”

“No. She patched up five more that would have certainly died from blood loss when I had her stay at the vantage point. And she came back alive. What exactly are you complaining ab…”

She decides to come in and goes straight for the cabinets, silently deploring the lack of any cure against their massive masculine ego. She tries to harbour a don’t-mind-me attitude but they both act disgruntled and stop talking. She spent more time assembling her surgical tray than she should have, now it’s time to do her job. She turns. The Major and his second are each leaning against a medical table facing each other, shirtless, and for Levi, trouserless. With their mirrored crossed-arm posture, they look like a pair of sulking kids.

“Who do I start with?”, she chirps, actually amused by the sight of them.

“Me.”, the blond man cuts in with authority. “And then I’ll leave you two to it.”

The snarl escaping the younger man’s throat is nothing but ominous but she’s got no time to feed their rivalry so she complies.

“Captain, please climb up, I’ll have a look at that strain later.” She noticed his disequilibrium and now that she caught a glimpse of his calf, the muscle tension suggests deeper damage.

Erwin mostly sustained superficial bruises that she softly rubs with an ointment of her making, finishing on a large brownish contusion on his biceps whose shape and firmness she can’t help but admire.

“Healthy legs? Nothing you want me to check?”, she quizzes, stepping back.

The man slowly shakes his head before putting his shirt back on and stomping out with no more words. She has already directed her attention to Levi, kneading his gastrocnemius, assessing the gravity of the injury.

“That’s worth a four weeks rest.”, she comments, guiding his foot down carefully. “I’ll give you a salve to ease the pain.”

He remains unresponsive, head dropped, black streaks of hair falling over his exhausted eyes. Now to the eye-catcher: there’s an impressive ugly gash on his left thigh. She identifies the work of Titan teeth. A brush only. He’s too swift to have been ensnared. But deep enough to still be oozing despite the thorough cleaning he no doubt performed around it. And the shape of the jaw resumes higher on his pectoral up to his clavicle.

“That’ll require some needle work.”

She deftly pours ethanol to anaesthetise, gets a hold of the prepared tool and starts stitching. The operation is fastidious, complicated by the sturdiness of his muscles, and she’s nothing but meticulous. But lulled by the ambient silence, her mind starts wandering: memories of similar scenes, childhood laughters, a fireplace, teenage years, the touch of his skin, the darkness of his blood, these marks, these abhorrent creatures, the feast they served them, these strong men torn in two, the screams, the calls for help she could never answer… She can feel her eyelids flickering but can do nothing about it. He knows that tremor too well: she’s having an episode, just like when they were family.

“It was wrong…”, he mumbles, “You being there, seeing those things.”

As sweet as his voice and claim are, pulling her out of the outbreak at hand, she takes offence:

“I think I handled alright.”

“You handled shit.”, he barks back. “What good were you to my squadron exactly, Hope?”

Ouch. She had no idea she could be in such pain with no harm done to her body. She keeps her mouth sealed, focusing on her sewing rather than his insult. He keeps going:

“Hope… What a stupid alias…”

Useless, she might hear it, but she won't let him scorn her intelligence.

“Yeah? Well, better than nothing.”

“Rather nothing than bullshit.”, he snaps. “We were born nothing, why do you try so hard to leave a mark?”

“I don’t care about that. I never did and you know that.”

He squints. “So, you do remember.”

Shit, she gave it away. She gulps, hoping to buy time but he keeps frowning at her, demanding a response.

“Bits.”, she finally lets out.

“Which ones?”

“The good ones.”, she timidly insinuates, blushing.

He contemplates her answer for a while. “You’re missing a lot then.”

Raising her widened eyes from the sutures, she gapes at him and objects:

“It wasn’t all that bad.”

“We were two kids who didn’t matter. We went our separate ways and now we matter.”

“I thought I was good for nothing?”

“You bloody were out there!”, he grumbles, “But you count here. I don’t get why you stick around the Corps. You’re worthless to us.”

A vision flashes through her brain. “You played that trick on me before.”, she snickers, focusing back on his wound.

“I don’t play tricks.”

“You did. That time the Zaykaun gang almost got us…”

“Don’t act like you know me.”, he threatens, revolted.

“Levi, I don’t understand why you’re so upset with me, but I swear I’ll tell you everything once I know… Once I know why I forgot. That’s the only piece I’m missing.”

“I don’t care, Esme.”

She clenches her jaw. “I might die fooling myself, but I do not believe that.”

“Suit yourself.”, he retorts before zoning out.

She completes closing the gouge, knots the thread and proceeds to his shoulder. She prefers using a wool pad to administer the bactericidal this time. She can’t help but acknowledge his overall robustness, and how he barely reacts to the prick of the needle. He’s always been tough, she recalls, she always appreciated that about him. Not that she needed him to protect her or anything, but he never wasted time on unimportant matters, not even physical pain. Instead he would train, until he overpowered her. And clean, he loved cleaning, that perky OCD of his. And loot. That, they did together. Food, goods, anything they could distribute or resell. They were good at it. And the celebrations always involved him tweaking her nose, patting her head, sometimes pressing his forehead against hers. She loved that. But not as much as the cold evenings by the hearth, her reading out a book they had recovered from a robbed pocket, him laying on their bed that was a blanket on the ground, his head resting on her stomach. She would mechanically fondle his slick hair, he would listen to her voice until drowsing. Just visualizing this scenery appeases her. The control she already has over her stitching sharpens. Soon enough, she channels so much gratitude and affection that he cannot ignore it. Through the touch of her delicate fingers flows a sincerity he did not think he missed that much. It relaxes him too.

He’s there with her now: down under, where the fighting does not matter. They didn’t own much. Often, she had to read the same book over and over. He had no interest in listening again. Their silences were always comfortable. But sometimes she would hum and croon random, forgotten melodies. He never told her but he treasured them. After a while, she would slide down alongside him and fall asleep facing the fire, his arms wrapped around her. Just that last night. Before she disappeared. They had slumbered facing each other, intrigued by the startling kiss that had happened earlier. Yet the fatigue of the day had defeated them and he had woken up the next morning, oblivious to it being the last, and got awestruck by her unasked-for beauty. She was all he had. All he needed. He had told himself then, he would make love to her that evening. He had no idea how, no experience, but he knew that’s what he craved for. To caress her all over, eat her mouth, drink her skin.

A tune escapes her lips. He shifts his gaze to them. She ties the final suture and puts down the instrument. She uses an additional linen to cleanse the scars, he’ll appreciate the sanitation. And now all that’s left is her staring right through him. He hates it. He loves it. Who the hell is she? He longs to kiss her.

“Captain?”

They both jump at the cadet’s unexpectedness, Esmeralda steps back.

“Major Smith said I’d find you here.”

“What is it?”, Levi asks, exasperated.

The teenager holds the salute. “We received new intel about our enemy. We might be able to attack their headquarters. The major calls for a meeting in his office.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Count me in too.”, the woman interjects before the boy steps out.

She’s now rinsing her equipment on the other side of the room. As much as he wishes to talk some sense into that stubborn woman, he’s aware of how fruitless trying would be. He gets dressed, acclimating to the stretching of his flesh. When she spins around, unlacing her apron, she’s flaunting a smile. Is she defying him? He discharges his irritation in a breath and storms out.

She trails close behind. Yes she’s pleased. Nursing him reminded her how much she would sacrifice for his health, for his life. She now remembers why she went through an ordeal. Not only is he safe, she’ll soon be able to explain him the reasons of her departure.

Chapter Text

She has won. She always wins when it's about argumenting. She spent more than an hour disputing how sending her head-first into that confrontation is the best version of Erwin's plan. And there's nothing he can do: Levi knows nothing he’d say now would convince the squad. He did emit a disapproving sound at her suggestion but she lost everyone in long and clever speeches about their individual strengths and the best combination of them. How that resulted in her being the only option to play bait, the riskiest role in all this, is beyond him. But he took his decision immediately after the Major’s first nod. So he sits back, hardly listening to her ranting, already thinking ahead.

“I’m glad we’re all on the same page.”, wraps up Erwin.

He inaudibly snorts.

“Dismissed.”

As soon as the words are pronounced, he leaps from the sill he was sitting on and out the room, to everyone's surprise. It's time for dinner, yes, but the precipitation is out of character. Inquisitive looks go round the room before Esmeralda steps in:

“I'll handle this.”

She's been leading the session in more than one way, her tone is nothing but self-assured, and nobody stayed oblivious to the peculiar play going on between the two, so they let her go after him.

 


 

She follows him along the corridor.

“Levi.”

He pays her no mind and keeps on walking resolutely. She won't drop it.

“Levi!”

He climbs the stairs up to the dormitories. She’s on his heels. He punches his room door open and she sneaks in before he slams it shut.

“Levi, talk to me.”

He doesn't. He starts fumbling around his shelves and drawers, retrieving a backpack, throwing it on the bed, picking up objects from his limited collection before sending them flying to that same spot. She observes him for a while, staying out of his way. Given his selection, it promptly dawns on her: he’s got all the intention of leaving ahead and fighting that monstrous thing on his own before the rest of them even reaches him.

“What the hell…”, she babbles.

Content that he gathered everything he needs, he swiftly crams the items into the bag, throws it over his shoulder, and goes for the door. She snatches him before he reaches it, framing his face with both her hands, forcing him to stare back. Her features are not meant to express that much worry, he thinks to himself.

“No. Don't do this. Please.”, she begs, shaking her head uncontrollably.

He shoves her hard. She thumps against the door. He now expects her to get mad and let him go out of resentment. Easier. But she, in fact, spreads her arms across his exit.

“Listen, let's stick to Erwin's plan, we can do this.”

Okay, this is getting bothersome, his eyes turn threatening. Out of option, she cries out:

“Let's go together then! Just the two of us. We won't tell anyone.”

He freezes. That was unexpected. Why would she cooperate now? He scrutinizes her: she’s trying to hide it, old habit doubtlessly, but there it is, plain old fear in her eyes, he can read it. She’s scared shitless. Which means...

He tosses his pack aside, lets it land on top of the nearest furniture, takes one step and grabs her head, leading her mouth to his. The movement causes her to crash against the panel, just deepening the kiss. She grips the front of his shirt, dropping all her walls, actually pulling him in. He gives in too. He’s in control, yet her coaction impels him to linger. Only once his tongue is saturated with her taste does he back away. As he dives into the turquoise of her eyes, a wave of doubt submerges him.

“Is that a trick?” He hears himself blurt out.

Her panting halts, her irises shrink and her eyelids stretch open. If he didn’t know better, he would believe he saw a tear well in their corner. If it is, it’s not one of sadness, but of anger. She hustles him away with one forceful push, snatches the bag, and disappears out the door before he realises what he’s done. Well, he hurt her. He’s not sure how, nor why he feels guilty about it, but he pursues her.

 


 

“Esme!”

Now it’s his turn to struggle drawing her attention. He catches up with her as she nears the squad’s common room. He doesn’t scan the area but he’s sure they’re all there, now pricking up their ears.

“Esmeralda!”

He clutches her arm. She whirls, shoving him away emphatically.

“Don’t…”, she menaces.

“I'm sorry.”

“You are?”

“I'm not sure what I did. But I'm sorry.”

“You're not.” She grimaces disgust. “You insulted me back there.” He squints, his customary blank face expressing surprise. “Of all people, I'd think you'd know me the best.”

“Why?”, he challenges. “Because we knew each other when we were kids?”

They hear their comrades stir and gasp at the revelation. His sullenness intensifies. “People change.”

“No, they don't. They just wear masks.”, she shrugs. “And I've shown you all of mine.”

“That was more than a decade ago. Never seen that Dr Hope one before.”

“Oh my Lord, Levi! Don’t you trust anyone? Like ever?”

His jaw clasps, jabbing his muscles through his skin. “I did once. And she left with no explanation.”

Hurt, she counters with resentment. “You have no idea what I've been through.”

“Exactly.”, he snarls.

She clenches her fists and abruptly rotates towards the group.

“Major, Captain Levi was planning on disobeying your orders and go confront our target on his own.”

She lifts his bag in the air as evidence. Levi gulps, extends his arms up and plucks it from her, gutted.

“Levi!”, exclaims Erwin, genuinely bewildered. “Care to explain?”

He looks at her glaring back. She holds her ground there, enraged, offended and hurt. Beautiful.

“Spit it already!”, she urges, tired of his silence.

“What?”

“Why the mixed feelings? What’s tearing you apart like this?”

“Where the fuck were you?”, he finally spits out. “Why did you leave me behind? What did I do?”, he ends up screaming.

Her features turn into a frown, and then sadness.

“Oh, Levi.” He hates the pity. Even more than the eventuality she might hurt him again. “I didn't…” He exhales, coming through as annoyed but in fact hanging on to her every word. “He ca… He came back for me.” He scowls, not daring to understand. “M-my b-brother found me again.” She stammers but she’s determined. “Took me back to it.”, she ends in a whisper.

He searches for words, to apologize, but then, what for. “You ran away?”

“Four years ago.”

“Why didn’t you…”, he wanted to ask why she didn’t come back to him but she cuts him short.

“I had forgotten you.” He hates that answer. And she knows it. But it’s the only one she’s got. “It’s… what I had to do to survive.”

She chances a glance at the others and enters a reflective state. He understands her hesitation: revealing everything to them, he’s not sure himself he wants to be exposed like that.

“Maybe we should…”

But Erwin doesn’t give them a choice.

“No. You’ll have that talk here and now.”

“What does it matter to you?”, Levi protests.

“I can’t afford running into battle with my two front soldiers in dissent.” They both raise an eyebrow. “And you two have been secretive enough. I’d dare say we deserve to know.”

“That’s very daring indeed.”, Esmeralda comments.

But she breathes in and makes for the nearest seat. Levi simply leans against the wall just behind her and crosses his arms. Two pouting kids being told off.

Since both of them stay mute, Major Smith kicks it off:

“You met before that day in the infirmary, right?”

She exhales.

“We met when we were six or seven.” She can’t help but notice the smirks. Even Mikasa’s. Everyone suspected. “I had been… looked after by my brother for a time.”

“Looked after...”, Levi dismally snickers. She swallows, visibly uneasy.

“It’s true he’s not been the best brother if I’m honest. I ran away. I was wandering about the Underground City for some weeks when a stranger caught me stealing and decided I would be of value to his scheme. He took me along, promised to teach me how to survive.”

“He certainly delivered, can’t blame him.”, punctuates Levi.

“Happened that guy was… a friend of Levi’s mother. He was passing through town, wanted to say hello. We took Levi along.” He fixes the ground, silently appreciating her lack of detailing the circumstances of their first encounter. She inhales. “And after some years, some training, he just left. Ditched us.” He stays emotionless while she stares mid-air, proof of how painful their shared memory is. “But we still had each other so we carried on.” He loses himself in the remembrance, focusing where she is as if these were the good times. There’s even joy in their eyes just then. A flicker. “Until… My brother came back for me.”

“How?”, sincerely questions Levi.

“Oh, you don't remember?”, she snorts, “We caused quite a commotion that day. All eyes were on us.”

“That fight I started?”

“Because a shopkeeper was kicking the crap out of a kid like us, yeah.”

“Are you saying…”

“He had been looking everywhere Levi. If not that day, he would have found me soon enough.”

“But…”

“It's not your fault, asshole!”
Jean, Connie and Hange giggle. She's the only person who dares to talk to him like that. She carries on, her pupils still dilated:

“Took me back to horrorville. Same old. Brotherly love and shit.”

Levi is growing as restless as she's still. His fists so tight they start trembling, his jaw clamped to hurt.

“What are we talking about exactly?”, wonders Erwin.

Levi upholds his dreadful glare to him, ready to pounce.

“Constant darkness, mental torture, forced cannibalism, regular beatings and stabbing and daily rapes.”, he recites in a monotone but extremely dangerous voice.

“Three a day.”, she specifies with no apparent emotion. “But then, he did something odd. I mean, odder. He brought men and boys in my cell, and slit their throat in front of me”,  she pauses, “before feeding them to me.” A convulsion ripples through the team. Sasha, shocked, brings her hands to her mouth. “It took me four guys to understand.”, she continues, “Because this one said something along the lines of ‘Remember me, I'm Levi…’”, she struggles to recollect the name, “Argh can't remember though…” She shows signs of shame but keeps going: “My brother was looking for that dumbass.” She points a thumb behind her. “I must have mumbled in my sleep.” She doesn't need to give an example for him to picture her desperately calling his name in her distressed nights. “He would have carried on until he found his target. He's a real hunter, this one. Only way to set him off the scent was to make him believe it was just a fantasy. A piece of my imagination. And there's no lying to my brother. He knows. He just knows. So it had to become my imagination.” She finally meets the Major's fixated gaze. “So I had to forget.”

Erwin switches to Levi: he now gives off something far different from the rage he diffused earlier. He understands his mistake. Still, a part of him argues he could not have known and he was right to be cautious, better safe than sorry. But he hurt her. He really did not want that. She resumes:

“Good thing about overly manipulated brains is, you can play with them yourself easily. Well, easily… It took all the will in the world to convince myself this was the only way. But once the decision was made, poof, the memories were gone. The names. The faces. The smells.”

She sniffs, maybe a tearful allowance.

“So what you said earlier”, Erwin deduces, “about having to forget Levi to survive, is more accurately that you had to forget… to protect him.”

Levi now turns his face and concentrates on her, fighting the remorse. She smiles her soothing smile:

“If I had not done it, my brother would have found him, killed him… and that would have killed me.” Levi quivers at the words, losing his resolves. “So what I said earlier was accurate major.”

“How did you break out?”, Hange wonders.

“I'm not sure. Like the first time I guess. When you hit rock bottom, there's that insanely human impulse to survive that gives your kick a special force.” She gives it a moment. “I just had to get out or die and I chose out when the first opportunity showed up.”

“But since you had no memory, how did you find your way back?”, Erwin ponders.

“I wandered for some time and ended up following some merchants from a distance and landed in Trost somehow.”

“Had you forgotten about the Titans too?”, wonders Eren.

“Everything was a blur. Yes.” She frowns a little. “But it didn’t take long for me to come across their dirty work. As I told you before, I happened to be there the day a Survey Corp was coming back. I smelt blood, I smelt death. Those I didn’t forget.” She closes her eyes. “I wanted to help. I wanted to help so bad.”

Every soldier in the circle relate to the feeling. Eren in particular.

“That’s why you imposed yourself on the 57th.”, comprehends Levi.

“I didn’t impose myself, I asked nicely!”

Erwin chuckles, sending Hange in a fit of laughter, inviting everyone to join in. Esmeralda looks at Levi over her shoulder between two giggles and he grants her a rare but genuine empathetic smile. She gets up to face him. The collective attention sharpens.

“So you trust me?”, she probes. He doubtfully bends his mouth. “Bro, did I ever let you down on a job? Ever?” He softly snorts at the reminiscence of their childish stunts and slowly shakes his head, never detaching his eyes from hers. “I can do this. Trust me.”

“It's just… You don’t have my experience.”

“That's why I go first and then , you jump in.”

“You don't know how fast it goes with these things.”

“I've seen enough, thank you. But I know I can handle it.” He lowers his gaze, pouting. “You've seen me fight. I think I'm not too rusty.” That makes Erwin smirk, recalling how she kicked his ass when they trained for the expedition. Makes more sense now. But Levi’s still to be convinced. “And you've taught me how to fly. Think I did alright.” He nods his head once. “So I distract the son of a bitch and then you save the day. Makes sense, doesn't it?”

He fixes her with a look.

“What if you get hurt?”

She holds out her hand.

“Hi Levi, I'm Doctor Hope, nice to meet you.”, she emphasizes.

Everybody titters.

“You'd better be very careful tomorrow, or I'll kill you myself.” He grabs her offered hand, pulls it up and presses it against his chest in a sort of shared salute. She warmly smiles, proving she remembers their gang’s routine, and throws herself around his neck. They all share a sigh of relief when Levi returns the hug, recognizing his childhood friend at last.

“Now we'd all better get a good rest. Tomorrow won't be idle.”, advises Erwin, concealing the bitterness at the sight of them behind forced paternalism.

 


 

Their comrades diverge to their sleeping quarters and Esmeralda and Levi are left to walk down the hallways together, back the way they came. They reach her door in a quietness loaded with an unspoken nostalgia of childish jokes, nocturnal embrace and inconceivable absence, and come to a halt. Confusion hangs in the air as none of them are quite sure what they’re allowed to do. So she plucks up courage and presses a kiss on his cheek.

“Good night, doofus.”

She retreats to her room and only slows to examine him through the closing gap.

“Still, you proposed to go together.”

She suspends her gesture when his voice dies. Yes, she was desperate. Desperate to protect him.

“Well, after all, you’re humanity’s best warrior.”, she faintly justifies.

“You seemed pretty freaked out.” She’s intrigued by the smirk he’s wearing. “‘Fear is for those who have something to lose’.”, he quotes.

It dawns on her: that’s why he kissed her. She gave it away. She conceals her blush behind the wooden panel.

“You're all I have.”, she confides from her hiding spot.

“Thank you.”, he returns, hopefulness in the eye. He's got a reason to fight. A real reason. “And sorry for… insulting you earlier.”

She delves into his traits while he lowers his gaze. He’s the most handsome thing she’s been given to see. Despite not having seen much, she judges, something so balanced in his proportions, the roughness of his jaw, the strength in his eyes, the cuteness of his nose, the attractiveness of his lips, his delicious lips, makes her bite hers. Wearing a mysterious yet knowing smile, he turns to peer through the door slit.

“Good night.”

He addresses her with a warmth she did not realise she had missed so very much until now. Yet she lets him walk away to his room.

Chapter Text

They didn't expect to find so many Titans around the place. She might have made a grave miscalculation. Yet, with the time she spent convincing everyone, there's no backing out. She remembers picking her steed for his sturdy long legs ; how she ratifies her own choice now. The dapple stallion dodges and outdistances the monsters with so much ease that, for a moment, she thinks herself out of danger. About a hundred paces more and it’ll be Levi’s turn to shine. There’s that 5-meter class ahead. She’ll circumvent by the left. Almost there.

She detects the rustle too late: it had been running towards her from the side, concealed by the high trees in the near wildwood, and slams her off her saddle with a swipe of its arm. She rolls and slides toward the stoned walls. By the time she comes to a rest and straightens up, the horse is out of sight and a solid 13-meter is overlooking her. If not for the lack of breasts, she would have deemed this one a woman: long black hair, sneaky slanted bloodshot eyes, and that wide eerie grin showing far too many teeth. She lifts herself up hastily and adorns both her gears with a blade, ready to fight. The thing roars before attacking, thrusting its hand to grasp her. She leaps aside and shoots her left grapnel to its shoulder. The details of the plan they discussed yesterday at length are now a blur. This is about surviving. Her name is being called in the distance: if she had time, she would worry it is not one of her brothers-in-arm crying for help before his demise. But she now crouches on her enemy’s clavicle and braces herself for impact as its opposite hand is coming her way. She slashes three of its fingers, its blood spurting out onto her, and sprints for its nape, releasing her now dull sword and replacing it skillfully. She learnt from Kenny not to allow one idle second in combat, never. And from Levi, that there’s no point in giving up. She knows the outcome of this battle depends on this blow: Titans must be killed quickly, for speed is the only aptitude their smallness grants humans over them. Only the survivor can avail.

The rhombus of flesh detaches with a gruesome slimy sound, a geyser of gore rains down on her back as her power leads her over its shoulder blade and plummeting from its height. Right there, mid-air, she lets herself feel victorious. For one second. Before its two-fingered hand, projected by the spin it initiated in its death fall, hits her right in the guts, its sharp nail slicing through her skin. She crashes to the ground in a deep thump, dropping her weapons, and lays there, covered in blood, not so sure about the amount that used to belong to her. Her brain functioning on adrenaline reminds her about the smaller one she passed earlier: it’ll be on her in an instant, and there’s nothing she can do about it. With the prospect of her ending rush images: past, future, she can’t tell, but there’s a smile, there’s his hand too, and there are Levi’s eyes. At least, she got to kiss him one last time. ‘Don’t give up!’, his teenager voice yells at her. She throws her eyes open. She forces her brain to assess her condition: the cut might go as deep as the intestines but if she concentrates on her posture, she might be able to stand up, keeping the organs inside. She bends her elbow and begins pushing up when the Titan’s head comes tumbling into view. She relaxes: he’s here.

“Esmeralda!” Levi rushes to her side, falling to his knees. “You idiot!”

She chuckles softly as he rolls her over, supporting her head with his hand. That beautiful and stupid face. How she loves him. She coughs, it hurts down to her spine. Oh how she'd like to sleep.

“Esme, stay with me!”

He shakes her and she tiredly stares at him, a genuine but sad smile on her mouth.

“I'm not going anywhere.”, she laboriously utters. She sights Mikasa and Eren approaching, their outfit coated with the same substance hers is. She realises just then how they resemble Levi and herself at the same age, gender switched nonetheless. For some reason, this thought comforts her. As well as their obvious concern when they catch a glimpse of her. “This is where I always wanted to die. Just not yet.”

“Here? On the Ehrmich’s plains?”, he wonders.

She laughs but feels blood coming up her throat. She chokes on it.

“In your arms, doofus.”, she’s able to articulate.

She arduously brings her fingers to the strands of hair cascading down his forehead, imprinting their texture, their shade. The distress in his eyes moves her, tears forming in her own. She trails his jawline and rests her hand down his cheek, her thumb fondling his lower lip. He uses his arm to support her back, gently sitting her up, and leans in to place his mouth on hers. She half-opens it, afraid he would repulse at her sanguine taste, but he actually ventures his tongue on its rim. She lovingly returns the caution while his other arm slides under her knees and, in a movement that seems effortless, he lifts her and gets up, never detaching their face until she gives in to the pain and faints, resting against his shoulder.

He briefly scans around: everyone is back on their horse, awaiting the next command. He whistles. His gelding neighs from afar before galloping his way. He somehow manages to mount without losing his grasp of her and install her sidesaddle before him. Erwin meets him as he trots towards the castle’s gate.

“The place’s empty.”, the commander explains. “He must have been able to flee while we were getting rid of the giants.” His chief’s eyes linger on the treasure he’s guarding. “We need to get back to town quickly. That wound needs tending, they got her good.”

The Major spurs his steed and sets the squad into motion. Levi dawdles behind him for a while but finally aligns. He observes his superior: this man is far from a fool, yesterday’s revelations must have hinted enough for him to draw conclusions. He remembers how it ached when he told him he had kissed her. He would hate to be the cause of his heartache. But then… The blue eyes are piercing him. He must have stared unsubtly. For once, a very defined emotion leaks through the corporal's frown: guilt.

“I’m sorry.”, he blurts out.

“For what?”, replies the blond man, “Loving her better than I ever would?”

Levi is left gaping and the answer hanging as his wise leader prompts his horse to accelerate towards the Wall.

 


 

“...vi!”

She wakes up screaming, jerking up. The nightmare fades immediately but leaves her an unbearable sensation of failure and a tremendous ache around her abdomen. Someone stirs at her bedside. She would look but there’s this stench… a familiar stench.

“What were you dreaming about?” Eren’s voice betrays disquietude. “You called my name.”

“Yeah you sounded worried someone would turn him evil. And you were calling Levi over and over.”, adds Hange.

Esmeralda investigates her surroundings: she recognizes the bedroom, her protege is seated next to her, the scientist weirdo right behind, by the foot of the bed Mikasa is standing guard, at the table further back Armin is flipping through a book, Jean is leaning against the right-hand wall chatting with Connie, and Sasha is of course foraging. But they’re not who she’s looking for. He’s here, he must be here, his odor is so strong.

“Where is he?”, she seethes.

“He’ll be here soon, don’t worry. We’re in his room.”, answers Jean, drawing closer, oblivious to the craziness arising in her eyes. They’re bouncing from one corner to the next, her neck muscles so tense her face starts turning crimson.

“She’s not asking about Levi.”, figures Mikasa.

Everyone’s attention sharpens: there’s a sense of danger about her attitude. Sure her hair is nothing but a disheveled mess, she underwent a rough operation at their arrival and she’s been in a coma ever since, despite the restlessness of her sleep. But she gives the impression of a prey gauging its nearest escape route from a predator. She loudly sniffs. Her dilated pupils flip to the door. He must have stood there. She must retrace his steps. On pins and needles, she yanks the bedsheets aside, climbs down and trips, her legs benumbed. Eren darts to support her. A burning pain stabs at her whole torso, from the wound up to her sternum. She huffs, bringing a hand to her stomach and identifies stitches under the thick layer of bandages. She staggers, lightheaded, and finds the night table to lean on. Sweating, she takes a moment to pant it out. From that uncomfortable position, a silvery gleam catches her eye: she spots a food tray, laid on the round table Armin is now standing by. There it is again, the scent. She inhales and lets her snout draw her to it, seemingly ignoring her brief feebleness, driven by a distrustful insanity. She barely manages to hobble and collapses over, her hands resting on each side of the cursed object. The way she glowers at it, both terrorized and violent, urges the blond boy to circumstantiate its presence here:

“A soldier brought this… for you.. when you’d wake up.”

“He was off.”, intervenes Mikasa, to the point, “Sent him away.”

“Good girl.”, Esmeralda approbates, in nothing but a rumble of menace.

Confused glances are exchanged in her back. Only the Ackerman girl stays focused on her mentor, having perceived the hazardousness of the man when facing him. He looked and acted orderly enough but there was an instability about him, a brittleness she decided not to gamble. And as he saluted and left, she sort of knew, he only left because he chose to.

“Who is he?”, she plainly asks.

Dr Hope takes a minute to bridle the aversion her jerking nose conveys.

“My torment.”, she finally answers.

“Ours.”

Levi’s input startles them. They turn around to find him standing in the door frame, with a profoundly concerned expression.

“How did it go?”, is all that matters to Hange.

“Not good. They won’t clear the Survey Corps of the MPs murders and conspiracy accusations. We’ll have to flee for now. Major Smith will reach out with instructions. Esme and I, we’re going to scour the old Saiguen District for more evidence and bring it back before this turns sour.”

“But she’s hurt!”, objects Eren.

“Like I don’t know.”, the short man shuts him up.

Something in his intimidation alarms her: he’s oddly impulsive. Why would he take the risk to be slowed down by her? After all the resistance he put up against her mingling with military affairs… The reason suddenly appears to her clear as day: he has seen him. In the corridor, somewhere on his way here. He sighted the dreadful man.

“Did he…”, she starts, meaning to ensure he’s alright.

“Can you ride?”, he cuts her short.

His urgency daunts her more than the fragrance of decay filling the room. She wants to make sure though. She aims her attention back to the tray and carefully lifts the plate cover. The shock passes over her face before translating into relaxation: there’s no more doubt now. Sasha sneaks behind, peeking over her shoulder, hoping for food, but retches when she spots flesh floating in clotted blood. Fingers. An eye. Esmeralda slams the cloche down.

“I’ll get ready.”, she assertively announces.

Chapter Text

They’ve been riding all afternoon and these rocky lands are nothing but deadly once sunlight is gone. Their horses are tired anyway. She follows suit when Levi brings his steed to a walk. They’ve not spoken a word since they left the fort. He didn’t even take time to give her the details. All he wanted was to lead her as far away from ‘him’ as he could. He won’t let him take her again. Not on his watch. Even the few Titans they passed and outran don’t compete with the threat he represents. And Titans don’t seem to like climbing to heights anyway. So this place here seems the safest for now.

He chooses a grassy outlook protected from view by a wild range of trees and bushes. A few steps out would let them see in a far distance but they would be invisible from a stranger’s eyes. He reins up and the horses come to an halt. He throws his leg over and hops down, securing the lead rope around a trunk. She follows his lead. Their childhood training, his military background and her knowledge silently combine into a rocky firebed built in a dash. He lights the dry branches and that’s the signal to finally settle down.

She lets herself fall to the ground, cross-legged, and brings a hand to her waist. She exhales. In a slow, obviously painful movement, she pulls her shirt out of her trousers and reveals bloody bandages dripping down her leathers. He observes her from across the flames, impassive. She tugs at the soaked linen and unwraps herself. Once she reaches the skin, she plucks out two broken surgical threads.

“Amateurs.”, she comments, irritated. It actually makes him grin.

She wriggles her backpack down her shoulders and takes it to the front, shoves her hand in and pulls out a first-aid kit. She opens it, picks the needle and sterilizes it in the fire. Satisfied with the process, she resumes inserting a new thread in the eye, grits her teeth, and without hesitation, sticks the metal in her skin. She goes around the gash three times dexterously, but by the time she knots her work and cuts the long end with her teeth, her hands are covered in slimy blood. She sits there, a confused look on her face, holding her hands out, trying to figure a solution to clean herself before wrapping the wound.

“Let me help you.”, he offers from his observation point, before coming around to kneel in front of her. He detaches her flask from her pack and twists it open to pour clear water over her elegant fingers. She whispers timid thanks, puts the tools back in the box and takes a roll of fresh gauze out of it. But her frown as she looks down at her stomach explains him she’d like a better hygiene around her scar before closing it in. That’s his area. He unties his ascot, uses the flask again to humidify the cloth and closes on her skin. She jerks, stopping him in his tracks. He looks up. It’s like she’s seen a ghost: him using a white scarf to wipe out blood?

“C’mon”, he grumps. “It’s not like I don’t have a dozen at home.”

Her mouth draws into a smile as he carries on cleaning her blood. He doesn’t restrain himself from examining her exposed body: the softness seems sweet enough to eat, yet he feels her muscles through the fabric. It reminds him of how he used to rest his head on her belly and take long naps while she was reading one of her stolen books and running her fingers through his hair, singing him to sleep. He judges he has done his best and steals the roll from her hand. He proceeds to dress her wound, wrapping the fresh linen five times around her torso, skimming over the many tiny scars on her back. There seems to be new ones. But last time he checked was 12 years ago or so. She holds her elbow high to leave him full access. She usually feels very shy about the parts of her body her brother marred. But she knows he’s seen the marks before. Even if he hadn’t, she trusts him. The manipulation brings his whole body closer to her, his face inches from her shoulder. He knots the bandage tight, making sure it’ll be secure, and stays there. A long minute of silence goes by before he rises his gaze to her face, lingering on her lips. He gulps. Her breath picks up pace with her heartbeat, and he feels it. He dives into her eyes and she shivers. She advances ever so slowly, unsure at first, and her mouth softly grazes his. Moving her chin out, she teases him.

“I want you.”, he begs. She searches his irises in awe but he’s locked their tongues together, ensnaring her jaw with his hand. He pushes a knee to the ground to find balance and throws his other arm to her back, crashing his chest against her, his tongue going deeper. She moans. He half-opens his eyelids to make sure it’s a pleasure sound and goes back at it. By the time his fingers run through her hair, hers are finding ways through the buttons of his shirt to go explore his body. He’s never been touched like that before. She used to be tender with him when they were kids, she knew the caresses that made him feel secure, but the warmth she emits now is pure desire. Sexual. It’s his green light. He gently but firmly pulls a handful of hair down and her neck offers itself to his kiss. She sighs like hell, her whole body violently trembling. So she likes it here, he takes note. His hand resting on the small of her back descends assuredly to her belt and presses her slacks rim down before piercing through and reaching her butt. She’s torn between keeping on exploring the contours of his abs or moving on to his crotch, not that there’s a bad choice here, but she finally goes for the latter, unbuttoning three times before gaining entry to his underwear. The moment she seizes him, he twitches and comes back to her mouth, toppling her down to the ground rather urgently, guiding his hands to her hips and eagerly yanking down her trousers, which yield with no unfastening whatsoever. He wants to taste her all over, he’s dying to know the feeling of penetrating her at last, yet he doesn’t forget she’s badly wounded, so for a minute that feels like an eternity, he detaches his tongue from her touch and takes care of undressing her legs. Her boots first, her breeches, all the way down, revealing another of her brother’s cruel canvas, and her panties at last. He tosses it all aside, ensuring they don’t end up dirty nor burnt, and returns to her, between her now exposed thighs. He takes a moment to inspect the regular narrow cicatrices: she explained to him once how the psycho used to stab specific parts of her body with a dull blade, sinking the metal as far as he could before reaching a disabling organ, over and over, creating these painful ranks of sticks. She had shown him the small of her back, her nape, and the inside of her elbows, but he had yet to discover the frame of her groin. He knows how self-conscious she is about them, so he does not loiter, goes straight for her core and gives it a lengthy lick. She shrieks, gripping his hair with both hands. But he does not stick around: she’s already so wet, the gripping was only a dismissing. He lays a few compelling kisses over her abdomen but soon meets the bandages. He progresses, crawling over her, fondling her modest breasts for a moment with his fingers and teeth and finally arrives at his favoured position. He exhales when finding her lips again and pauses there, his cock venturing at her entrance, his arms outstretched on both sides of her face. The fire throws gleams around her features and he can do nothing but taking in their absolute perfection. He reads anticipation as he crosses her cruelly inviting glare but he resists for another moment. Her dark hair falling on her forehead, her kind yet decisive eyebrows, her cute turned-up nose, yes cute, her silky cheeks turned cherry-pink by the heat of both the fire and their embrace, her full-on rose lips, ever so prompt at spilling smiles and encouragements… Every inch perfect. And her eyes. He’s known those eyes for so long. It’s like it’s all he has ever known. It’s like before them, there was nothingness. Their almond shape, these long and thick eyelashes, and the green of her irises. A green that turns blue when she remembers, and brown when she’s sad or upset. He has drunk those colors, came to despise them out of frustration, thought he was purged of them, but they crashed back into his life and there was no rehab from them.

She’s laying so still, hardly blinking. She doesn’t want to lose one second of him. Her hands rest on his chest, taking in the landscape of his lean and muscular body through the silk of his shirt. She reads his face like an open book. Where anyone else sees apathy, she recognizes a range from annoyance to control, anger to interest, violence to amusement. Only fear. She’s not seen fear a lot on that man’s face, that wonderful face. Family, security, home, yes. Gradually love and attraction. Then she had had to forget. What a waste. She will make her brother pay for that. But when it came back to her, when he called her name on that roof, shielding her from death once more, there was that unknown spark that added to the lot. Craving. She has fought valiantly these past months, but there is no more enemy now. She digs her nails into his skin, ever so slightly. He interprets that as a demand - which it sort of was, guides himself and enters her. She arches, giving him the opportunity to slide one arm under her. He intends to support her upper body to protect her from any pain the movement might cause her. He flexes his gluteus to keep the back and forth rhythm. She loses her shit.

“Ah, aah Levi!”, she doesn't even try to keep it down.

He regularly pecks her jaw, neck or mouth but mostly, he examines the every emotion shaping her features. He has no name for them. But they resonate with his own.

“Are you okay? Is it okay?”, he pants out when she frowns a little bit too much.

“More than okay, doofus! Ah! Don’t stop!”, she urges.

He obeys.

“Levi, oh Levi!”

Her walls close in on him as she orgasms. He lets himself go as well. The dance stops. He pants out, bent on her neck. He sees her goosebumps under his breath. For some reason, that makes him smile. His kisses on her flesh make her quiver.

“Did you learn that in the army?”, she asks between two gulps, her tone playful.

“No.”, he replies, offended. “Did you learn to be a prick-tease in your cell?”

“Might have. But that’s certainly new.”

“What is?”

“The orgasm.” He widens his eyes. “Last time I heard of it was in med school and there was no practice session.”, she giggles. His expression turns to pity. She punches him in the shoulder. “Don’t you fucking dare.” She wriggles under him and gives her flanks a twist, locking his penis in an uncomfortable position. He groans. “I’ve learnt this as well.”, she threatens with pride and a teasing smile.

“I’ll shut you up.” He stuffs his tongue in her mouth for one last long and sensual kiss that leaves her speechless indeed. He satisfyingly smiles before getting out of her now relaxed core.

After reordering themselves and their camp, he sits down, his back against a boulder, and enters an intense reflective mood, the flames swaying in his pupils. She joins him, carrying her blanket, throws it over them, snuggles against his chest and places his arm around her shoulder. She closes her eyes. It takes him several minutes to notice she’s falling asleep like that. He leans into her hair and inhales her perfume. From her doze, she hears him say:

“The days I did not love you were not worth living.”

She gives in to fatigue.

Chapter Text

His heels clasped together, his hands joined in his back, Levi delivers his report of success to his major. They made it: they reached Saiguen and brought back the missing evidence with them. Now it’s Erwin’s job to present them to the court and prove the Survey Corps’ innocence from all that mess. After diligently answering all his chief’s questions, he’s now growing restless, tapping a finger against the others rapidly.

“Are we done here?”, he blurts out at the end of a longer silence.

“Why?”, inquires Erwin. “You’ve got somewhere to be?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

He hesitates, takes a minute to assess the repercussions of his answer. But goes for it after all.

“Where she is.”

He never detaches his eyes from the blueness of his, who pays back in his own coin. Their contest goes on for a lengthy stillness. After which Erwin finally exhales.

“I’ll let you go but tell me this first”, he gulps, “how is it like, to be loved by her?”

His genuine curiosity incites Levi to play it fair. He gives it a thorough reflection, looking for the right word, the exact depiction, and finally chooses:

“Fulfilling.”

Major Smith stays unflappable but Levi knows all too well the revolt his reply provoked in his commander’s heart.

“Dismissed.”

The signal interrupts all his concerns. He wheels and strides out the door.

 


 

He rushes to her room. She’s sitting on her windowsill, staring at the cadets in the courtyard downstairs, gently smiling. He knocks softly, she turns her head and her smile widens. He closes the door behind him as she climbs down from her vantage point and covers two steps in his direction. He spins to face her and the resolve on his face makes her stop in her tracks. She loses her smile, concerned at first. He pounces on her, pins her to the wall, swallowing her mouth, his hand pushing the back of her head, shielding it from the impact with the rock. She grips his shirt and they’re back in the position they were in when they first kissed. Well, as adults. Except, now, there’s no doubt anymore, no insult intended. So she tugs at his buttons, impatient, and it drives him crazy. Within an instant, he’s kissing down her neck, alternating bites and licks. She starts breathing out loudly, grinding her thighs against his groin. He brings the hand that was resting on the wall so far to the small of her back and trails down to her butt, lingers a while there, rubbing and kneading her perfectly shaped body, before sliding to her thigh that he firmly catches and brings up his side.

“Ha Levi…”, she can't suppress.

She pulls his damn shirt out his trousers but all the fucking 3D gear straps are in the way of his skin. Frustrated, she turns her attention to his flies and unbuttons the thing. She shoves her hand in, sending bolts of electricity in his body. He bites her nipple through the fabric of her cloth to return the favor. She shrieks, absolutely unable and unwilling to keep it quiet. He now swiftly uncovers her breasts and starts playing around her areola with his tongue. By then, both her hands are working him, her eyes rolling with desire. Following the unveiling, his movements bring him to her long skirt that he urgently creases up to reveal her legs. He won’t take this shit any longer. He places both his hands on her buttocks and carries her with ease. Her back supported by the wall, her sensitive chest at the most convenient height, he shoves her underwear aside, thrusts forward and finds her core. She exhales in delight as he comes and goes. Her fingers now entangled in his slick black hair, she moans and pants and looks for words to describe what’s going on in her body and brain but nothing comes out except images and smells and sensations too good to be true. A couple of minutes later, he gives a final advance and grunts, ending this with a bite of her skin, right above his playing area. She cries out:

“Levi!”

And they lock in that awkward position for more than a minute, trying to find air. And composure. He very carefully lets her slide down but manages to stay inside of her as her lips come caressing his nose and then his mouth. He dives into her eyes and remembers what he intended to tell her before.

“Half an hour.”

“Half an hour what?”

“That’s the max time I can stay away from you without worrying too much.” He kisses her fondly.

“You know I can handle myself, doofus.”

“Can’t help it.” He kisses her again gently.

“You didn’t worry that much in the underground.”

“You have no idea.”

She giggles, wrinkling her nose in the cutest way. “You know I loved you already then?”

“Did you now?”

“I fell for you… at an age I’m not even sure is proper.”

This time, he chuckles. “Like when?”

“When I cut your hair. The first time.”

“What? We were like… nine!”

“I know…” She blushes but keeps her amused smile.

“Why then?”

“T’was the first time you trusted me.”

“That’s not true. I trusted you from day one.”

“You were never the trusting kind. And if I held a weapon or anything alike, you turned into a wolf. This time, I had the scissors, and you relaxed.”

“You had me at the apple.”

“Of course!”, she laughs, “The first time I treated you rough.”

“I saw the strength in you. Everyone was seeing it but since we were family, you were always so soft with me. Even in training. And yet you could twist me like you wanted.”

“I still can.”

“In your dreams.”

“But that day...”

“You showed me you didn’t need protection.”

“We all need protection.”

“Esme”, he presses his forehead against hers, “I’m sorry I failed you.” He doesn’t give her time to counter. “If I hadn’t let him take you from me, if I had been able to protect you…”, he stares right at her. “You would have known what an orgasm is a lot sooner.”

She widens her eyes, processing the words, and bursts into laughter. “I can’t even argue with that!” She jerks her head back against the wall.

He can’t repress the pride and amusement from his face, which are emotions you don’t often see there. But the extended smile he tries to contain reach his eyes which turn gently playful. He waits for her giggles to recede before adding:

“I will die at your side with so much pride. Now that we’re together, there’s nothing else that can stop us.” He caresses her cheeks and she gives him her truest soothing smile.

“I’ll be with you. Always, Magpie.”

“Wow, that nickname comes back from a looong way.”

“A loooong way indeed.”

Chapter Text

That same night, way past the battalion's curfew, when all the corridors and rooms were plunged in the dark, save for the individual candlelights, a half asleep Levi hears a double knock on his room door. He grunts from his bed and sits up as the door opens and closes behind a hooded figure. She lifts her gaze, allowing him to recognize her in the light of his candle, and advances, expressionless, towards his windows.

“Esme, what do you…?”

She hushes him with a raised finger and draws the curtains over his right-hand window. Then proceeds to the other side of the room. He throws the bedsheets aside and lets his legs dangle down the side, observing her, still not fully awake. After she’s done, she turns to face him, a sly smile on her face. She takes down her hood and steps closer to him, but stops a few paces away. She then slowly, sensually, tugs at her cape’s cord, unknots it, and let the cloth crash to the ground. She’s wearing nothing but her boots. Nothing. He can’t hide the shock from his face. Taken aback, he doesn’t know where to look but something very obvious happens between his legs instantly. Since all he’s wearing himself is night shorts, the movement catches her eyes, and she raises an eyebrow at him, not trying to be subtle. He thus takes the liberty to take her in from feet to eyes, lingering on the delicious parts he can already feel under his fingertips, her beauty only rendered more luminous by the firelight. He made love to her twice but never saw her entirely nude like this. He’s not the kind of man with a list of favourite things but surely, if this image could stay with him until the end and flash in his mind before he dies, he’d die a happy man. The devotion and admiration in his features soon intimidate her as she realises she hadn't really thought this all through. She just missed him. His smell. How could she have forgotten his smell? How could she stay away from it now? She takes just one extra step and lifts her foot back in the air for her to catch and start pulling at the boot to complete the look.

“Tch.”

She freezes in her tracks, looks at him: he’s got the most intense gaze she’s ever seen him cast her. She behaves like a prey spotted by her predator and slowly brings her foot down. He steals her sly smile and taps his right thigh. It does not occur to her to process the gesture. She instinctively walks two steps and raises her leg again but to rest her booted toes where he showed her. He eyes inside her thighs, tilting his head before glancing up mischievously. She blushes and refrains an open smile. She doesn’t know what it is: his all-out confidence, or maybe his disregard for her scars, but he bewilders her. He brings his hands up her calf, grasps the rim of her boot and gently, slowly, pulls it down. When he reaches the talus, he uses one hand to support her ankle out of the shoe, and let the thing thump to the ground before laying her small foot back onto his skin. He then deposes a light kiss in the inside of her knee, his hand resting on the exterior of her leg, and another up the knee, and another inside her thigh, on the blemishes, and another higher up, and higher, and a last one at the entrance of her groin, each one sending flashes of pleasure through her core. He withdraws, leaving her frustrated, and carefully puts her foot back down to the ground. He then straightens and taps his other thigh. The anticipation crossing her face pleases him. She raises her right foot and there goes the undressing and the kisses. One, two, three, closer, closer, he plants one more this time, right on her slit. She jerks her head back, her eyes convulsing, but he then straightens, leaving her near folly.

But before she can make a sound, his hand still resting on her thigh slides down her knee and pulls it to the bed. She lets him lead that dance. His burning desire seemingly taught him the steps. Her knee crashes past his side and following the movement, he brings her other leg on his other side. There straddling him, she relaxes her spine and leans on his lap. Her hands find their way to his face, cradling the soft skin of his neck and caressing his lower lip with her thumb, while his climb up her back, exploring the landscape of her shoulder blades, careful not to spend too much time over her brother’s work. She leans in for a kiss, which he generously renders, passionately sticking his tongue out to meet hers. She fondly ensnares his head, crashing her nose against his cheek. With the inclination the position gives her body, he accompanies her down to the head of the mattress, his strong arms holding her with ease. While smooching her, he moves her right leg back to his other side. Now sitting beside her, on the edge of the bed, he sets his hands on both sides of her head and pushes up to face her.

She is flustered. Strands of hair sticking to the drool their tongues mingling traced around her mouth, her cheeks turning red from the heat he provokes in her. He amusingly smiles and lets his stare scan her every pore. But she grows impatient and her hand claws down his chest, hoping to leave scars for others to know... She was crawling over his last set of abs when he catches her wrist and locks it back beside her head. She frowns, not happy with that development.

“There’s something I’d like you to do for me.”, he tauntingly murmurs.

“You’re not the captain of me.”, she defiantly replies. He likes it.

“Shhh.”, he hushes her, leaning in to whisper in her ear. “You’re gonna stay quiet now. Whatever I do to you, I don’t want to hear you moan or as much as breathe out.”, he straightens back. “I want a silent play.”

She looks concerned but he catches a gleam of excitement at the border of her irises, and it’s all he needs. Still holding her wrist firmly, he uses his other hand to reach out for the candle plate on his night table. She follows his movement back from the corner of her eyes. He carries the thing at a dangerous angle across the bed and, with a precision he is famous for, drips a patch of liquid wax right on her nipple. The sensations plying her body are nothing she would have thought could have existed: the minor physical pain gets promptly covered by the pleasure running from the burn to everywhere in her body, and his tongue now lavishing her neck on kisses makes her want to beg for more. But she feels compelled to obey his stupid rule. So she battles her vocal chords and seals her mouth, wriggling her head and fingers to let out everything she can. She’d like him to look at her so she could at least try to convey that she wants more. He’s still holding the candle in his right hand but he’s very concentrated on her incredibly sensitive area where her neck and shoulder meet. After minutes of this though, he sits back up and without further due, pours another beam of wax on her other nipple. This time, he stays there and watches her curve her back and roll her eyes, a calm and controlled smile on his lips.

He puts the dish back on the table and slides his feet under him so that he’s now kneeling next to her. He charges back at her neck. She can’t find rest now, she wants him all over and more, dying in anticipation and crying from the frustration of not being able to scream his name. He catches her other wrist with his other hand and clamps her like that for a time. She’d give anything for him to throw his leg over her and start grinding but he just enjoys the control, playing at biting her ear lobe and licking and licking. But finally, he surely glides his left hand down her length, from her wrist, over her breast, grazing her stomach, making a circle over her belly button and finally reaching his goal. His fingers scan the area like a soldier on reconnaissance but soon enough he identifies her clitoris. And there he starts the combat. Teasing, spinning, advancing, he tests every move, reading her response through the fight she’s losing with her throat. Still tasting her flesh around it, he feels the desperate vibrations she’s failing to hold in. He bites when she disobeys.

He decides he found her preference and keeps on striking upwards over her pleasure point while moving his kissing to her mouth, hoping to make it always more difficult. The delight he finds in her ordeal births feelings of envy and greed, everything he didn't let himself feel since she had gone. And he loves it. Oh he loves her. But now's not the time to tell her. No sound. He wants to hear nothing but her desire for him. How she lets him play with her like that is amazing enough. But he pushes his luck and keeps on rubbing. Catching her lower lip between his teeth, he looks up. All he sees are the white of her eyes, turned upside down by his fury. He trails kisses down to her left breast. She’s so close. He’s not sure how he knows but there’s something in the flexion of her thighs against his working hand. He heads for the little cap the wax formed over her nipple. And with a quick movement of his tongue, he flicks it off. She bolts, like she’s been stabbed in the back. She arches her whole body, bringing both her hands to her mouth to muffle her cries. He takes advantage of her orgasm and moves right to the other side where he repeats the trick. She arches back, bringing her knees up and shaking her head from side to side, begging him to stop so hard he can almost make out the words in his head. He ceases the rubbing but lets his hand linger, covering her vagina. He feels her wetness reach his fingers. A distant part of him grosses out at the idea but he shuts him up right away. He sits up and adoringly watches her spasms, sensing them with his hand as well. Her eyes are shut tight, her hands crush her jaw and she slowly lets the endorphins travel throughout her brain until she can finally relax and loosen up her muscles. Only then does she allow herself to open her eyes.

He’s staring at her, the most adorable and gentle smirk on his beautiful face. She doesn’t know how to respond to what just happened. The torture of his rules certainly did not ruin his efforts at pleasing her. If she’s being honest, it might even have made it better. She sits up and comes crashing on his lips, holding out both hands to cup his stupid face. He chuckles under her kiss. And it annoys her. So she throws her hand right at his penis and grabs it through his shorts. He gasps. She smiles, not detaching from him. But just when she thought she had got the upper hand, he attacks back, pushing her head with his and letting them crash back on the mattress, careful enough to place himself between her legs this time. She didn’t let go so she starts playing in that new position. After all, it’s her turn. She proceeds to pull down his shorts and when they are out of arm's length, she uses her feet to drag the cloth down his short but lean legs. Now in the nude like her, she’s letting the touch of his skin impregnate her whole body. She wanks him like a retaliation to what she suffered before, but she knows she can’t compete. He’s so hard anyway. It’s not like she had a lot to do to bring him here. Not being able to give him a taste of his own medicine really frustrates her. So she brings a hand to his skull and clasps a thick strand of his hair to pull his tongue out of her mouth, but she keeps hold of his lower lip with her teeth. He hisses with the pain, which satisfies her. So she guides him to her core and as he enters her, she exhales and lets go of her catch. He takes a moment to assess her will to fight more, thrusting with all his strength, but she’s gone back to wonderland, desperately digging her nails in the skin of his shoulders. He bows to her mouth again, keeping the rhythm. Her fingers dance down his back, reaching his butt, and clawing in. Like an invitation to go quicker, harder, an invitation he honours gladly, leading him to his own orgasm very soon after. She pants out as silently as she can manage, still playing the game, and he lets all his air out through his nose to play along too.

There, in their common bliss, he keeps his arms outstretched, his face hovering over hers. They're not panting, just calmly finding a regular breathing cycle. Her eyes flutter, searching his features, jumping from his fringe to his chin to his cheekbone to his nose and going around again. He just stares right at her lips, imprinting their shape, texture and taste on his own, working hard at detailing every sensations going on in him now to burn them in his brain. There's no coming back from this, no coming back from her, not that he'd want to. They've gone through enough. In this shitty world where death awaits any man earlier than it should, she came to him. Twice. What has he done to deserve a second chance, he wonders. What has he done to be part of her life, at all? He gulps, suddenly humbled by her presence, his sassy self still shrivelling from the fuck she gave him. He can't believe she looks at him with so much… what is it, pride? He's a streetboy. A thug with no plan, no future. She's a queen. She could be. With her intelligence and kindness and perfect beauty. Yet there she is, her legs open around him. The only one. The one who made her come. She smiles at the thought and he recognises fatigue in her eyes. Honestly, he really needs the sleep too. He slumps to her side. She stays on her back, gradually falling asleep, her hands resting on her belly. He finds the cover and throws it on top of them. He watches her as long as he can, his lips stuck to the skin of her arm, his fingers brushing the bumps inside her elbow. But tiredness also catches him up. Before he knows it, his eyes close, his breathing slows down and all he hears is the air coming out of her nose. He hopes he hears that sound forever. And despite the well-deserved sleepiness taking over, his heart can’t wait to see her face again when he wakes up in the morning. And every morning he has left to live.