This wasn't what you thought you signed up for.
When you joined the military all you wanted was to get out of the black hole you considered your home town, and it seemed like enlisting was your only option. Coming from a family that didn't have a lot of money, you knew the military would pay for you to move, pay you to train, pay for you to basically just do what you were told. Sure, you knew there was the possibility you would have to deploy but you didn't think it would be so soon, and you didn't think it would be this real. How many times at recruiting events had you been told the safest jobs were the ones inside the wire? That women rarely left the base unless they were specifically placed on a team designated to do so? So why as a military intelligence asset were you knee deep in the wadis of Afghanistan tracking terrorists with an infantry unit?
"Specialist (L/N), you doin' okay over there? Falling out already?" Sergeant Jean Kirschtein jabbed at you while drudging through the waters. "See, this is why I said you shouldn't come along."
"I'm just fine, Sergeant." You said sarcastically knowing damn well he knew you would kick his ass at a moment's notice. "I'm not falling behind as much as I am resisting being too close to you in case you step on an IED this time."
Even though you were joking, you knew from personal experience it was a possibility and although Jean was a pretentious dick sometimes he was also one of your best friends and you would be devastated if something happened to him. Just last month, on a mission just like this one there was an incident with another team where someone had been scouting and had stepped on an IED. Some would say it was too soon to be joking, but hey dark times call for dark humor.
"Ah right, wouldn't want to mess up that pretty face of yours." He snorted while turning his attention back to the surrounding area, but you knew that even if Jean was looking back at you he was always vigilant. It was something that had saved your lives countless times in the past with his keen sense of knowing something was wrong in the air before anyone else.
"Aw shucks, sergeant, you think I'm pretty?" Blowing kissy faces to your temporary squad leader was generally frowned upon but you couldn't resist this once.
"Shut the fuck up, (L/N). You too, Kirschtein. In case you didn't notice, we've entered the village."
Ah. Sergeant First Class Levi Ackerman. The man was pure death at a short stature and an even shorter temper. The only word that could be used to describe him was deadly, after all there is a reason he was placed as the platoon sergeant for such a sensitive mission.
Exchanging a look at Jean and silencing yourselves, you cast your gaze back on the task at hand. There wasn't much that was told to you during the briefing except that you were infiltrating a village that was known to house terrorists when they needed it, and just a day ago you had received information that one of the top ten people you were searching for had been seeking shelter there.
'This is it.' You thought as you watched the infantry teams do their best work. The village was fairly small with only 8 homes so it was easy for the teams to get all of the villagers in one spot while also searching all of the homes. After that it was time for you to shine as they lead individuals to sectioned off areas for searching and questioning.
"(L/N), wait." You turned to the sound of your name and saw Jean approaching you slowly. "Let me be your guard for this one, yeah? If the guy is here, I want to see you in action."
It would have been easy to throw a retort back at him. Something along the lines of "I bet you do" was right on the tip of your tongue, but the tension in the air was starting to make you uneasy and while you knew the other men in the infantry unit would protect you just fine, it made you feel just a bit better to know it would be Jean in the room with you.
"Sure, thanks Je-Sergeant Kirschtein."
You shared a brief nod and smile before making your way to the Soldiers signalling that the villagers were ready for questioning. Entering the home you took your helmet off and gave your weapon to Jean for him to sling over his shoulder. Taking off your helmet was relatively safe in the home, and letting your hair down would go a long way in the people being more comfortable in talking to you.
It was an arduous task to go through each villager. You had to carefully examine each face, read their body language, watch their eyes, and adjust your questioning and tone to each individual person. The men in the village were a mixture of not wanting to talk to you period, and wanting to talk to you too much. The women were extremely reserved since they weren't used to a woman being on missions with the American men during their patrols and they didn't want to displease their husbands.
Finally, a man in a long, navy blue khet partug and white pants strolled into the room being escorted by two Soldiers you knew were Private First Class Eren Jaeger and Private Connie Springer.
"Here, Ghost, he's the last one. Smug bastard too." Eren grunted while adjusting his chest rig and rifle. Ghost was the name you used on missions when around anyone that wasn't strictly allied military. When dealing with people that wanted to kill you, it was generally best they didn't know your real names which was why you also took off your name tapes while on mission.
"Yeah, he kept begging to go last. Saying he was testing something." Connie added briefly before chortling with Eren.
"Thanks, Titan, but hey how about you guys don't talk poorly about my subject right in front of him?" You neglected to address Connie, but pointed your eyes meaningfully at them before they both nodded and left you and Jean to your questioning.
"Ah, thank you for saying that. It is very kind of you to defend someone you do not know." The man said in clear English with just a slight accent. You had been able to tell from the moment he walked through the archway that this was the man you were looking for: Ezekeial, also known as Zeke on shorthand. If it hadn't been your intelligence unit already having a photo of the man, his clothing, English, and muscle tone would have been a dead giveaway that he has less than decent ties.
"Oh of course. We are always told to be aware that those around us may know English, and there is no point in offending people we are trying to work with." You stated honestly, trying to build some rapport with the man.
"Work with? You must be joking. We are a proud people and will never cooperate with you." He squinted at you slightly as if trying to determine what you were insinuating.
"Well, that's unfortunate. I will say though it is great to finally have you here, Ezekeial. We've been looking for you for a long time."
At your words, Zeke stiffened and backed slowly as if he was thinking of a way to escape. Seeing Jean by the door however had him stepping back towards you, assessing you as the lesser threat.
"You see, Ezekeial, you have hurt a lot of people and you will be judged. How harshly depends on you, right now." You stepped towards him slightly, leveling him with an even glare. "Who else is an insurgent in this village?"
"Where are your friends? Who has been helping you under no threat or duress?"
"Where is the weapons cache in this village?"
Silence. A smirk. A movement by his hands as though he were going to reach for some-
"PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEAD NOW!" Jean is screaming, then. "DO IT, NOW!" Jean had his rifle pointed at Ezekeial's chest and a dangerous, focused look in his eyes.
Ezekeial listens to the man holding his life in his hands and places his hands directly on his head with his fingers interlocked as though he had done this hundreds of times before.
"Search him, Ghost. I've got you covered." Jean whispers, but in the tense atmosphere it felt like he had been speaking right into your ear.
You knew Jean was there so you didn't bother putting Ezekeial on the floor knowing he had already been searched to that extent earlier. Standing in front of him and grabbing his fingers to maintain control of him, you began your search. You could feel Zeke's muscles twitching every time you touched him, trying to inch away from your "dirty" grasp. On first search, you couldn't seem to locate what he was reaching for. There definitely wasn't anything missed by the infantry teams so you stood back up, and looked him in the eye. A small mark coming out of the collar of his khet partug caught your attention and you gasped.
"Pull up your sleeves."
"How dare you ask me to disrobe myself for you, you dirty-"
"Do it now, or I will do it for you and you won't like my methods."
He stayed still for just a moment, but realized you weren't kidding and subsequently started to pull up his sleeves while taking a glance at Jean and the barrel of his rifle.
You gasped as he showed the skin of his arms, or what was left of it anyways. Tattoos littered his skin and with what you could recognize of the language... they were names.
"These are all the names of the people who have betrayed me in the past. Let us say... they will never betray me again." Being so close you could smell the chewing tobacco he had probably been enjoying prior to your teams entering the village. "These tattoos are a reminder to the people what will happen if they are not loyal and instead fight on the side of the infidels. I will not tell you anything you wish to know, you American whore."
Swiftly, the man grabbed your chest rig and used his body weight and strength to fling you into the wall to your left. "Jean, don't!" You scrambled to get up, and screamed begging him to not to shoot the man you had been hunting for so long. He was too valuable. Had too much information.
You watched as Jean stood off with Zeke in the doorway of the house, the latter staring down the rifle like he had no fear in dying that day.
"Ezekeial, we have two ways we can do this. You come willingly and without a struggle in flex cuffs, or I take you down and you're escorted out of here being dragged and unconscious. You sure you want all your precious loyalists to see their leader like that?" You reasoned trying to appeal to his rationale of pride and loyalty.
"I would rather show them I did not give in than show that I am some rat being treated with kindness like a traitor would!" He snarled, dropping down into a wide legged fighting stance to give himself some balance in case one of you tackled him.
"That's your choice then." You said as you rushed him with your arms and hands protecting your face, putting all (weight) pounds of your weight into the tackle and successfully bringing him to the floor.
Zeke was a big guy, but something you had been taught was that technique will always be better than pure strength and size. It was easy enough to mount Zeke while defending yourself from his punches. You heard Jean curse as he radioed that they needed cuffs and a blindfold for transportation, but he was smart enough to not interfere. His extra body would have been just added limbs and it was much too close range and intertwined for him to get a clear shot on Zeke. He also knew, from personal experience, that grappling was by far your specialty. "Get him, Ghost"!
Grabbing Zeke's collar you pushed your left knee up underneath his armpit and pinned his left arm down with your right hand. Zeke bucked and shouted and kicked his legs, but you were too fast and too secure. Using your lithe body and momentum, you pushed off and brought your right leg to pin his left bicep and then swiftly brought both legs around his head and squeezed him in an extremely effective triangle choke.
While Zeke struggled, striking anything he could (you would surely have some bruises all over your thighs later), you fought to maintain your grip until he lost consciousness.
When his movements stilled, you slowly released your legs and looked down at him and trying to catch your breath.
"Holy shit." Jean mumbled, and you glared at him.
"Get the other teams, Horse!" You yelled, attempting to knock him out of his trance.
Jean started with a flushed face before nodding and shouting out the door that it was clear to come in and get the detainee.
Once Zeke was out of the room you felt like a weight had been lifted off of your shoulders. That was it. That was your final mission. Tomorrow you would be heading back to one of the main bases to begin outprocessing, and in just a week you would be catching several flights back to America. Back home.
Jean hovered over you and helped you to your feet with a firm grasp on your hand and a tug. You smiled as you righted yourself and wiped your hands on your face, suddenly feeling the dirt that you had just rumbled in.
"Are you okay, (F/N)? It seemed like he tossed you pretty hard... and got a few hits in too." He mumbled, a gloved hand reaching up to wipe some dirt you had missed off your cheek.
You didn't want to blush. This was Jean. You had been best friends with him since you guys went to basic training together 3 years prior. It was just Jean, but maybe after being surrounded by him for almost 9 months in what many considered a hellish situation you started to see things a little different. So you did. You blushed. You could feel it from your chest to your neck to your cheeks. Could feel it in your bones, and at this point you were just grateful that you were covered in clothes and armor and he couldn't see all the places he affected you.
"Yeah, Jean... I'm okay. I might be tender later but it was so worth it." You whispered excitedly knowing he knew how important this was to you.
He chuckled and rolled his eyes before handing you back your helmet and rifle. Putting them back on, you both walked out of the archway and watched as Zeke and a handful of other villagers you had deemed suspicious were escorted with cuffs and blindfolds out of the village toward the site that had been predetermined as the pick up site for the Bird.
It would be a bit of a walk to the site, but the way out always felt shorter than the way in and you were on such a high you didn't think there was anything that could bring you down, not even a long trek in 100 degree weather.
Jean walked a little closer on the way back than he did on the way in which wasn't protocol, and ultimately wasn't safe, but neither of you really wanted to mention the break in standard.
"Why are you staring at me like that, Horse?" You grunted as you marched, every step slightly painful from the internal wounds on your legs.
"Do you want me to be honest, or appropriate?" You could practically hear the smirk in his voice.
"I'm worried about your legs." He sighed.
"I'm worried about your legs, and thinking about how I have never seen anything so hot as you taking him down." He sounded lighter, relieved that you were indulging his ridiculousness.
"Oh my god, shut UP, Horse. You- ugh. You're so frustrating." It wasn't fair how easy he could fluster you after such an ordeal. Two minutes ago you were convinced nothing could change your high, and yet here he was making you feel even more giddy. Stupid. Absolutely ridiculous.
He laughed unabashedly and nudged you slightly with his arm while keeping his head on a swivel around the area. You didn't want to admit it, but even that slight nudge had thrown you a bit off balance and had to hold back a wince as it caused you to step weird from your injuries.
"Sorry, sorry. I'm just in a good mood and teasing you is always fun."
You looked up at him and had a chance to look at his profile. Under his now adorned sunglasses and helmet, you couldn't really see his hair but you knew underneath he had short ash blonde hair and brown eyes. There was something about the playfulness in his tone, but the seriousness in his face that made you want to just stare at him. You knew you'd never be sated with just a glance.
"Well, ya know, you better get it all out now- I'm leaving soon." You jokingly added.
"Don't remind me."
And the air changed, just like that. It was a sad fact. You were military intelligence. Jean wasn't. You were assigned to his unit for this mission and many others on this deployment, but the truth of the matter was that you both came from different units and yours would be leaving before his.
You nudged him like he had moments before, ignoring the pain in your body, and tried to reignite the playful atmosphere.
"Aw, Horse- I'm sorry, please don't be-"
Before you could finish the sentence you saw a bright flash in the corner of your eye coming from the front of your formation, and then you heard the shouting. Before you knew it you and Jean were on the ground pointing your weapons in opposite directions searching for a threat while listening for SFC Ackerman's orders.
"CLEAR! WE NEED A MEDIC." You heard him shout, and you rushed to your feet.
"Founder, Colossal, watch mine and Horse's positions- we are headed to the front to provide aid." You yelled to Specialists Annie Leonhart and Bertholdt Hoover. They nodded once before adjusting their lines of fire so you and Jean could begin the rush to the front.
Upon reaching the front of the formation, you swiftly located SFC Ackerman kneeling in front of someone while cutting off the clothes covering their right leg.
"What do we have? What do you need?" You dropped down next to him and winced at the pain in your legs before shaking it off and remembering there were people that needed your help with much worse injuries to be tended to.
"It's Titan. His right leg is gone from about halfway down the calf and I need you to tourniquet it while I survey... the rest of the damage."
You nodded while whipping out the tourniquet you kept in your right ankle pocket. "What do you mean rest of the damage?"
"Our point man... stepped on an IED."
You could practically feel Jean trembling next to you, fear and anger coming off of him in waves.
"You mean... Titan wasn't point? Who else is hurt, sergeant!?" You finished the tourniquet and turned to SFC Ackerman in a flourish. "Tell me so I can help them!"
"Ghost..." Jean whispered, placing a hand on your shoulder and squeezing. A warning? Comfort? You couldn't distinguish the two at this point.
"Please, Horse attend to Titan so I can help him with the point man." You shrugged him off and gestured for SFC Ackerman to move.
He just shook his head. "Ghost, you can't help him."
"He's gone, Ghost. The blast completely tore him apart. We need to wait for the bird, and do what we can to control the situation."
You felt like you had been sucker punched.
"Who... who was point today?"
Silence. A sigh. Another squeeze on your shoulder.
"It was Springer. Connie Springer."
And from the distance, about 20 meters back, all you could hear was the raucous laughter of a recently conscious Zeke.