Wood slid against the soft curves of gentle hands. Surely the birch sheaths had seen many a better day, but they still leapt for the sun against all odds and tones of skin, young and tense in contrast with the worn and scuffed finish of the weapon, and what remained of their once fully-lacquered surface absorbed the brilliant light of the bright midday sun, reflecting the chill of something darker off its worn and wearied exterior. Dark eyes, devoid of any warmth lent to them by their seemingly esoteric surroundings, danced around one another. A shift here, a glance there. Nothing solid. Nothing similar, excepting the slight flicker of panic the pinched at one's heart every now and then, popping prematurely onto their fragile faces and morphing them into fearful facades hiding only more terror behind the semi-triumphant barricade.
The glint of the faux knife only seemed to stick around, procrastinating all farther infections into unfamiliar, unsuspicious secretaries of soul-sickness, in the eyes of its first host.
What felt like heaviness against the hands of all others was a whisper, a wisp of wind come gliding down to you, a gift from whatever typically merciless gods were looking down upon the sad human sacrifices labelled as 'military trainees.' An unanticipated form of trouble in an already spoiling paradise to many served as a break in the tidal waves threatening to swallow you whole. Finally. Something familiar. Even solely by standards of memories, so distant and dim that you could barely recall them; just bright enough to shine against the myriad menace of the storms of unchecked emotions brewing in your head from the past couple days.
Whether or not a knife should've made you feel more comfortable or not - well, that was promptly the least of your worries. As long as you knew what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and why, everything would be alright. You were absolutely not going to have a repeat of the mountain hike.
But the mountain hike had been an entirely new experience. This was as familiar as the back of your hand.
And, as the low, loud voice of your Commander rang out against the training grounds, you shifted the weapon once more into your left palm, allowing your hands to remain tucked behind your back. And, against all odds, a twinge of excitement bubbled up beneath your breath. Defense, at least then, was not your specialty. However, when armed, and given the choice of playing offense...well, that was another story entirely.
Another story that would be written in sweat and perhaps tears in just a few moments. You made sure to keep your shoulders relaxed. Let your arms sway behind you, keep your upper body loose. Allow most of your weight to remain centered round your hips. You had two legs; let it spread between them, albeit be wary of the left, which you were fronting with. A kick to that and your stance would be thrown off - just enough to keep it solid, while juggling the rest of your mass locked firmly against the seal your right hip socket formed with your femur, your kneecap, your shin. No need to keep the foot down too hard. If your partner was about to charge you like you presumed she would, it would've been precisely pointless.
Only that was the thing. Your strategy was to pretend as though nothing preeminent was transpiring. Sure, it may have been a bit preemptive, and perhaps not a particularly primed choice upon second appraisal, but it was better than none. And it would've - should've - maybe, even, still could've - worked.
Your partner, however, had either been struck with the same stroke of bogus brilliance, or else legitimately hadn't heard Shadis' words. Whereas your lack of movement was presented in a calm, cool, controlled manner, Mikasa's seemed to be almost instinctual, as opposed to a voluntary choice.
In the few seconds it had taken you to analyze the situation, however, she must've snapped out of whatever trance-like state she had been so uncharacteristically shoved in, and she lunged for you. Right hook aimed at your stomach, one that likely would've continued upwards into your chest if you hadn't seen it coming and sidestepped, on the tips of your toes, feeling rather like an unintentional dancer as your movements aligned with the changes in the wind, carrying you farther.
A low noise, barely audible, escaped from Mikasa's soft lips, and she fell back. Alright. Leave it to the trainees' top student to play the game created by the system she was rising against and above.
But once - just this once - you might've had the upper hand.
You feigned a sharp left, boosting off your foot, only to switch right mid-jab and cut her across her shoulder before quickly withdrawing and coming in hard with a right knee, only to stop inches before her pelvis at the sound of a sharp, pained inhale.
Startled, you stumbled back, fumbling the wooden knife in your hand, only to forget entirely about its existence and charge forwards just as you had previously, only without the intent of any sort of battle. All colors of clarity had flooded your eyes, leaving you devoid of anything but concern. You were sure to control the energy in your hit; certainly it hadn't been too hard? Unless she'd injured herself while...oh, you incompetent fool, you should've realized it.
Guilt washed over you like a tidal wave.
It had still only been a few days since the incident where you had nearly met your watery grave. Had Mikasa seriously hurt herself whilst saving you? Your heartbeat sped into overdrive, and you gingerly reached for her hand. Her entire frame was facing away from you now, and soft gasps escaped every now and then.
And then her hand was in yours, and she was turning to face you, and she looked okay, thank goodness, but why was she coming with her shoulder swinging and oh crap.
The elbow to the collarbone was rough, but your squirming had presumably thrown off her original intentions of your chest by a few centimeters. She recoiled almost instantaneously, and you took that moment to enact your revenge. You let her fall back, yes, let her believe she was safe, just as she had let you believe she was harmed, and then you darted forwards, fully flinging yourself at her, catching the same elbow that had just rebounded with one hand and grasping her other wrist tightly with your spare arm, before twisting back and kicking, sharply, against the crook where her bust met her hips, your foot hooking around the sweet spot and sending the both of you to the ground.
She landed with a hard thump beneath you, and was immediately struggling against your grip, landing a few good kicks and knees, throwing you off for a few moments before you planted yourself atop her hips. In a flash your knee was on her arm and your own forearm was pressed against your neck, the wooden point of the dulled knife hovering less than millimeters above her barely visible Adam's apple, bobbing hairs away from its target.
"I think that's one point for me," you sputtered out, breathless, eyes wide with a mixture of pleasant discomposure and watered-down respite. Whether or not Mikasa had been actually trying, you didn't know, but if she had been...well, consider this the first thing I've done better than you. "But I have to say, you put on quite a show. I was actually worried for you, for awhile there."
Her eyes were as cold and emotionless as always, only their apathy was amplified via the sharp rays of light cutting through the clouds atop her, illuminating those stormy gray eyes like lightning brewing underneath a rainstorm.
And then suddenly you were being flung back, falling crassly and ungracefully against your shoulder-blades, the rest of you thudding against the barely-present undergrowth. Still, you shoved the knife behind your back, preparing yourself for the conclusion of her counterattack - only it never came. Instead of following after you, Mikasa was up on her feet, taking long, purposeful strides towards the Commander, leaving you truly and absolutely stunned. Was this another act? What the hell was going on?
You rose hesitantly to your feet, stomach still aching from where Mikasa had managed to throw you off of her, fighting against the pain and leaning against a nearby tree. She was already out of your sight by the time you regained your bearings, and you couldn't help but feel more in the dark than ever, even as the sun shone, pure and unfiltered and unadulterated, down upon your bruised frame. "D-did I do something wrong...?"
Your vociferated thoughts fell upon nature's deaf ears.
What should've been a simple exercise was suddenly so needlessly, convolutedly complicated. Your feet, once so sure of their own stance, comforted by something no one else could've so much as solicited to find contentment in, were now taking a route of their own, guided by some unseen hand down an unknown path, footfalls faster than heartbeats and heartbeats faster than thoughts could be created, processed, put in action. Moving without thinking was one of the absolute worst things someone may pull while fighting, but you were no longer in combat; at least, not in the sense of Commander Shadis' activity. A war between minds worked their mysterious ways a bit differently.
It wasn't long before you almost collided with Eren, winding up with both of you mirroring one another's disconcertment, only for you to abruptly break the awkward silence accumulating between the both of you. "Hey, Eren - have you seen Mikasa?"
He tilted his head, slowly nodding, eyes narrowing with a hint of confusion. "Yes, she just passed me...apparently I'm supposed to be sparring with you now...?"
"What?" The surprise in your voice came out far too oversaturated, and you paled at its severity. "I - Mikasa was my partner, that's why I came looking for her. Who told you to partner with me?" And, although your voice remained as blank of a slate as you could allow it to be, the suspicion tugging at the corner of your lips and the slight cocking of your eyebrows managed to escape the tightly-guarded fences of your own presentation.
Eren bit his lip and shifted his weight from opposing feet, and it was only just then made apparent to you that he was just as in the dark as you were. "Commander Shadis. I guess he felt bad after seeing Annie cream me..." he broke off into a weak laugh, clearly trying to dispel the distressing atmosphere falling behind both of you. "So he put Annie with Mikasa. Then I guess Mikasa got you again, yeah?"
You did your best to shrug off the strangeness of it all. "She seemed a little bit confused, so I think that's why I actually managed to beat her." Upon seeing the look of complete and total shock on Eren's face, you chuckled, shaking your head ruefully. "Trust me, it's exactly as odd as it seems. I'm sure it's just a one-time thing."
"Maybe Shadis should've put you with Annie instead," he mumbled briefly, before setting his stance. You'd seen him set before. He had his legs a little bit too wide, shoulders a little bit too hunched, chest a little bit too far out. Every aspect of someone doing what they thought was proper. Albeit, it had significantly improved since last sparring match, when you'd been with Historia and he'd been with Armin. Perhaps something of Annie's excellence had rubbed off on him.
You fell back, albeit into a different position. No use keeping the same stance every time. This time you fronted with your right, falling back on your left, but still keeping the knife behind your back. You flashed it for a second before tossing it behind you once more, as though some macabre magician, and then he was rushing you.
This was rather predictable. Of everything you'd learned about Eren through Mikasa, he was rather hotheaded. Someone in need of protecting. Wanting to play the offense, and, verbatim "Kill all the titans." Of course he'd come at you first. The dodge only took a slight sidestep for you to fully evade his full-on attack, and with a sharp turn and switch of weight, you were leaping up and at him, landing lightly with your feet hitting his back before rebounding, just enough force to push him down and allow you to land atop him, pinning him beneath you with the knife held at his side, a spiteful smile swinging its way onto your lips as victory, real and genuine, no holds barred, flooded your body. "Got you," you grinned.
And yet - instead of shoving you off (which you'd graciously left him room to do if he so chose), or shoot off some of his rather 'colorful' vocabulary - he lay there, motionless, face hovering just above the ground. He was as still as a stone, and for a few moments you wondered if he was attempting to pull the same act as Mikasa had. Perhaps it was some weird Jaeger family tradition? You'd be lying if you said your skills had just materialized out of thin air, though...
Somehow you still hadn't learnt you lesson, and, yet again, so very similarly, albeit less gracefully, Eren managed to worm out from under you and pin you down. Your knife fell just out of reach, but in a scrambling second you reclaimed it, before Eren had his hands round your wrists, and its sheath nearly rested against your neck as you fit it between the inches of air separating his head from yours. One upward movement and you would have him, but he was holding you down, hard. You grit your teeth and attempted to lift him off you, but his hands travelled to your shoulders, and in the sheer strangeness of the moment you let your muscles relax, nervously, but nevertheless still unclenching your jaw, and your hands, and the tightness in your chest left with your next slow exhale, soft and silent against the ever-building breeze.
The only thing you didn't release was the knife. And you'd be damned if you let it go now.
A flame of a gaze was burning into your soul, tarnishing your eyes and setting your heart on fire with its sheer unbridled rage, evidently attemptedly kept in check but managing to escape in all the little ways. Eren's face betrayed him now just as yours had to him, only mere minutes ago.
His breaths were slow and ragged as he began, darkly, "I understand now...why Mikasa requested a new partner..."
What? Your inhalation caught in your throat, forming a lump, large and raw and asphyxiating in and of its existence, growing so large until the world was nothing but you and the boy failing to hide his abrupt outburst of anger and the girl with the stormy eyes, somewhere nearby, close enough to sense but too far to see or hear or feel beside you. Why would she ask for a different partner? Surely there was some reason, but was it...you? Maybe you really had done something wrong, and the act hadn't been an act at all, merely a misconception of misinterpreted misinformation gathered by your pathetic brain in an attempt to stitch together some logical conclusion out of a situation in which there was no tangible sense to be seen. The wound might not have been external, but internal.
And yet, even then, what was it that you had done? You'd simply fought the way you had been instructed to, years ago, by your father. You remembered training sessions in early spring weather, not too unlike that of the world surrounding you now, beneath a bright blue sky and a brilliant yellow sun, each conspiring together in their own unique ways to provide a favorable outcome for you, one where you would learn and grow, laugh and love, work and play, and feel, above all else, at home.
At home, until the ice came and took him away.
Now there was no home.
No home but the cold, dark shackles of this invisible prison, physical and emotional and real and all in your mind, all at once, swirling and crashing down, incapable of rationalizing your situation and yet simultaneously unwilling to let it go.
"What's going on?"
It took you a moment to realize that the soft, frantic voice you'd heard was your own.
Eren's grip grew even harder against you, something you wouldn't have thought possible just mere moments ago. His voice was rough and raw and ready to explode. "You fight j-just like...like how they did." They with animosity. They with antipathy. They with abhorrence as red as blood.
They without the knife in your hand, because suddenly it was gone, and Eren was gone, storming off back into the remainder of the day, leaving you helpless and alone, suddenly cowering in your own shadow, back against the hard ground, rocky and sharp against your shoulders, the impact of each and every pebble undoubtedly imprinted in your skin from how long you'd been held against them.
They with you down in the dirt. They leaving you alone. They no longer they, numbers cut in thirds, and then gone entirely, vanishing like vapor.
They were gone.
It was only you and the ice, left behind.