❝ she is made of ice
but i want nothing more than her warmth ❞
The world never quite seemed to care about the way in which it portrayed itself. In one light, all was sharp and clear, the rights and wrongs, the goods and bads, glimmering in their spectrum of different colors and different meanings. In another there were only the blurred in-betweens. In one light, you were always taught what to think. How to act. What to feel. What to think. What to do and say and be. In another, it was all your own fault such happenstances occurred.
The world around you was not what you considered it to be. The logic within your mind and the logic that the earth itself held were two very different things, but as soon as you saw everything for what it was, nothing ever seemed quite as beautiful as it once had. You didn't know truth from lie or internalization from realization. All you believed with complete certainty was that nothing was pure from the touch of life's cruel hand.
There were only two perspectives.
Until she showed you the third.
start ⇻ 03132018
finish ⇻ ????????
slow updates ;-;
Chapter 2: [ i ]
You revisit a painful place for both you and the one you hold dearest.
A silent night had settled down upon the barren world, and with it, almost as though an avalanche of afterthought, a myriad of clouds, completely covering the skies and the stars, consuming the contaminated surface surrounded by circumfulgent shines. The wind whispered a tale of trial and tribulation and was the last true testimonial of what had once flowered where darkness now flourished. Shade painted every last part of open earth in a smoky hue, fabricating films of an impending fire, replaying one that had either once burned brightly and fallen, leaving all around it in ataxia, or reveling in the revelation of one that would soon scourge the shadowed surfaces of all substances.
In its prophesied place stood a barren field of frozen grass, dotted only occasionally with a few desperate, depleting dewdrops that had yet to succumb to the tenacity of the temperature's drive to termination. Breezes blew louder here, seemingly shaking the crystalline structures to their shuddering centers, transmitting the stoic song of stilled particles pieced together into a somber ceremony of disquieting solitude.
An ashen crunching was the only thing to prevail above the howling of the air. Swift feet, staunch with a clear service but slow and scrupulous with forethought, fell reluctantly upon the grave ground. The only place light shone was from a well of will within two heavy eyes, tainted with a task too trying to complete and yet too troublesome, far too much so, to leave it be. Against the dark night, the two specs of shaken irises stood out within a shaking body. Whether the coldness around her or within her caused such shivers was a question not even she could repute with complete and certain honesty.
Her breath, labored and uneven, billowed around her gentle face like clouds; fog far too low for the sky and far too high for the earth, instead residing in a makeshift crown around her frigid face. The bag slung across her shoulder seemed to grow exponentially in weight against the uphill elevation of her path. She shifted it from one side to the other, exerting as much strength as remaining in her bones to keep it level. The ounce of feathers against her back felt like a pound of steel, bestowed with such a sense as that of her situation.
Her legs ached with a pain too great for someone her age. With every rise and fall rose and fell the weight of the world, her world, and the world of all else so unfortunate as to wind up enveloped in all the cracks between her logic and her reality, her mind and her being. Her world had never truly been hers and the worlds of those around her had never been truly theirs, but rather some monstrous agglomeration of the animosities hidden within both, bound together in a red string of fate and linked, forever unchangeable, to one another.
Those foretold futures had never received the chance of transitioning.
Not until now.
The girl finally crested the crust of the hill, nearly stumbling as the inclined slope beneath her plateaued out into a single uniform landscape, no discongruence or dissemblance from one sit to another, one footstep to the next. Her breath billowed out before her as though a transparent shield. It intertwined and intermingled, implying some form of substance before being blown away by the greater force of the earth's exhales, carried off into the dark night sky. She let her eyes wander upwards, following the remnants of her life as they ascended. It was then that the image she'd dreaded so long to forget was freshly branded upon her brain.
The fog from her lungs suddenly stopped flat within her chest and in its space was corrosive clarity. Tendrils of turmoil wrapped themselves around her still body, squeezing her heart tight and clenching her fists against the sides of her hips, forcing her frozen lips to come to an icy close. Whispers of disembodied voices began to swirl around her, tandem with the talons of fear, sinking into her skin and slowing her to a motionless stand.
Sky, earth, girl, and house, all shadowed by the lack of lighting, stood in an enclosure, slowly ebbing the life out of one another.
Pale wooden frame collided with whitewashed stones, rectangular in shape and packed together one atop another, sealant tan between them, keeping them sturdy and strong despite wear and tear. The bricks had lost some of their luster and fallen into grayish-brown hues, ivy starting to sprawl across them as though as natural as the chipped paint covering the dark front door. Water stains leaked down the sides of the walls and left streaks through the colored surfaces while another darker liquid could barely be spotted. The pale moonlight played off its vermillion hue, however, and reflected the color into the girl's unmoving eyes.
She opened her mouth to speak and clutched at the strings of her sack, pupils dilating, face stricken with something of grief and memories; anger and surprise. Her mind fumbled for words but came up empty - however, not before her feet had begun taking her forwards. It was almost involuntarily. Half of her heart begged for mercy, pleaded to flee to safety, flee away from this place and all that surrounded it, but the other sat with a solid reserve, a rock within her cardiac cavity, heavy and unforgiving.
The oaken planks of stairs leading up to the porch groaned beneath her weight as she reached the top, quick movements drawing to a lull as her face faltered mere centimeters from the front door. Its timber trajectory curved softly before falling down into two parallel lines; grooves in the wall that had remained untouched for ages.
The girl had only seen it once before, but her memory of it remained unchanged. Nothing much about the house had habituated. It was the same as it had been, all those years ago.
A different light, but so brokenly, bitterly, brutally similar.
Bracing herself, she reached out. Cold brass met her frostbitten hand but was insignificant to the acerbically algid aura exuding from the building in its entirety. Escaping heat from the girl's mouth met much more marked temperatures from the layer of memories, cracking and breaking, beginning to fall from the sky as though crystalline stalactites replaced rain. She allowed the fear to frame her face one last time before gathering her composure and opening the unlocked door.
Not a single light greeted her. Instead, she was left, standing, arms glued to her side like pathetic picks already encased in the very ice of anxiety they were supposed to be hacking away at, breathless and still, wind knocked from her chest by the fist of years gone by and memories suppressed.
It was exactly the same.
All of it.
The patterned carpet beneath the finely-crafted dark mahogany dining table was still bunched beneath two tipped-over matching mahogany chairs, exposing parts of what once would have been a covered tile floor. Dirt-caked footprints left their solemarks upon the now-dusty rug, varying in size and shape, all leading to one place and one place alone, however. A layer of dust had settled upon everything, but the knitting supplies atop the table especially. What had once been vibrant hues of oranges and blues now sat beneath grayish overlays, already dim in the absence of light but dimmer in the absence of touch and love.
One color, however, was left completely and totally unmarred.
It mingled with the carpet. It touched the table and clung to the sides of the walls for dear life. It hung against the small textiles as though in some sort of sociopathic safety, staining the colors crimson. It fell into place with the meeting sites of the musty footprints, and then, suddenly, was no longer a trickle but a spattering, and no longer a spattering but a pool, immeasurably deep and growing, larger and larger, convulsing in its sole visitor's horror and engulfing her with fright and rage and sadness and every last emotion she swore not only to herself but to those whom she loved to not feel.
And it was this that froze her more than anything.
Stiffly, but with a mind twisting and turning like a whirlwind, she navigated her way to the single chair that remained untouched and upright, carefully calculating her footsteps to avoid collision with the confounded claret stains that crept their way down into the back of her mind, the back of her throat, barely forcing down a retch. With a mechanical precision she clasped her hands in her lap and took in a deep breath.
"It's been awhile, hasn't it?"
The first sentence to leave her mouth hardly did anything to break the silence. It was quiet and reserved, as though refraining from its job as a supposed icebreaker, cracking nothing but the girl's own voice and altering no part of the eerie atmosphere. Nevertheless, she clenched her hands tighter together and continued, "A long time since my last...visit."
A visit. Yes. That's what is was. That's what it had been. A visit with unintended consequences. A visit without a foreseeable outcome; a visit whose end she never had a chance to predict, but a visit whose end dictated a number of consequent decisions in her life.
"I'm here again," she started once more, quiet. "I swore I wouldn't, but..." A glimmer of scarlet liquid caught her attention, deeper and closer than any other stain had yet done so.. "...But promises never got us very far."
The blood was evidence enough.
The blood was reason enough.
Reason enough to keep going. Talk louder, and faster, because there was more to say, so, so much more to say than she'd been managing. "Once, I would've apologized for that. Now it seems like it's exactly what we deserved." She closed her eyes. "I'm not here to - apologize. Not to you. Never to you. You may have raised me on a bed of lies, but you were wrong to think that I'd never realize the truth."
The truth of the carnage. The truth of the occurrences. The truth of the bodies that had once cluttered the floor like dolls, whose only remainders and reminders were the sanguine fluid they'd left behind.
Her eyes were open, but her gaze was no longer above her. Instead, it fell to her hands, shaking with the weight of the world above them. "I didn't come here to see you. I've paid those few respects already." The air was chilled and crisp as she pulled the bag from off her shoulders, opening a small pocket sewn into the side as though an afterthought, and retrieving the object of her journey.
A scarf. Every stitch was meticulously crafted, perfect down to the very technique used to make it, mirroring the most valuable fabric accessories one could find in even the highest-ended of markets. The fabric was warm beneath her fingers but cooled quickly upon contact with the murky table, as though every object of the scene exuded an inescapable chill that would sap the glow out of any and all substances to cover one another. Its colors somehow managed to ward off the darkness, though.
Its carrier carefully bestowed it in the middle of the table before breaking her hold on it and retracting her hands. "I only came to do what was necessary," she murmured, suddenly hunched into herself.
The scarf's material was a perfect match to that which lay, dustied and dirtied with time, on the opposite side of the table.
"Someone told me to bring this here. It's - where it belongs." Her voice continued to trail off, softening with every moment that her eyes darted from one cloth to another, from mother's work to daughter's craft. "Miss Ackerman, Mister Ackerman - I think you'd be very proud of your daughter. She's toughened up, because of what happened to you...but I know she still loves you. And she misses you, with all of her heart. That's why she thought to make this." The girl's gaze settled upon the scarf. "For you. I'm sorry that she - that she couldn't be here in person to deliver it. But she wanted a part of her to be closer to you than ever. And so - I-I hope that you're happy. Wherever you may be."
Yet her eyes caught once more on the cruor stains, and she felt her eyes beginning to tear up, throat growing tighter than it had been during her talk, if such a concept was even possible. "I'm sorry that she chose me to deliver it, though."
And as her emotions began to spill over, her cheeks wetting and her tears falling to the floor, melting into every etched line of every last memory that had been made there, the girl buried her face in her hands and bit back a sob. "But I know what happened. I know, now, a-and..." no, no more sobs would be held out. Her eyes were too red and hands were too red and cheeks were too red and the stains were too red, too red and too everywhere, reminding her of exactly who she was and exactly why she deserved every last second of the suffering she endured. "I'm sorry. I-I can't begin to - to even start...." Her heart was hard and heavy and a solid chunk of metal puncturing her chest and lungs and making it hard to breathe and hard to see.
Only one thought kept her going. "I'm sorry that it was me. I'm sorry that I didn't see it sooner - that I didn't realize what - what was happening then, because maybe I could've...I-I should've..."
No words could express her sorrow as she sat between the broken families that a single string of events had so deeply intertwined together.
Mikasa, and her scarf, and her murdered family.
You, and your regrets, and your murdering family.
A different light, but so brokenly, bitterly, brutally similar.
A training incident on a rainy day leads to you helping a previously unknown teammate.
Rain flooded the fleet of feet falling vociferously upon the flowing ground, precipitation packed and pressed, precast into particles of nonpermissive punch, just strong enough to gain attention but not so heavy as to linger and leave any remaining after-effects henceforth. It hit the hard soil sharply. Even the grasses, which were so brave as to remain raised, poised as though a valiant warrior preceding a victorious battle, against the ghastly winds, began to bend beneath the obtrusive burden of the objectionable blasts of hail.
The temperature had frozen over, flickering and fluttering, as though fearful of further falls, just above unfathomable frigidness. As if sight amidst the storm wasn't difficult enough to determine, the detrimental chills sent down the earth's spine cooled its very core, numbing its burning base to a glacial ball of heat too inordinately invalidated to impose any improvements. It sat as a brittle, breaking boulder in the great, gelid chambers of the world's intricate innards, tugging at the tides of tension nestled deep within the hearts of its creatures.
So affected was the earth as to begin to shiver. A sudden striking of shakes seized its surface, trembling in trepidation, as the hearts and minds of the 104th Trainee Divisions' members did, reflected and equally exposed in wide eyes, set jaws, and taut bodies.
Had it not been for the clopping of hoofs and quivers from ice-crusted boots, the shaded figures would have rendered themselves indistinguishable against the morose night, melting so materially into the misty, merciless foliage composing their fated setting, mimicking even the most meticulous of details with each rustle of a cape and trail of a track and labored, labyrinthine breathing. The capricious crusade managed to cram itself into alignment with the even more capricious surroundings. Each amalgamated into and out of one another, until they were no longer two separate entities, but rather one fickle, ferocious force, no longer fragmented but fighting as a unification.
The sack slung across your shoulders was heavy. Its rough, razorlike fabric moved methodically back and forth with every footstep, an automated saw scratching, back and forth, into the raw flesh hidden beneath what were, luckily, layers of clothing; a mechanical device devoted solely to contribute to the training ritual of supposed 'stamina tests.' Within the first five minutes of the run, about half the participants had fallen behind, either prey to Shadis or an assisting leader, or, in worse circumstances, falling flat to the freezing floor. Not long had passed before you realized that most who fell did not return.
Slippery grounds, ankle-high with water, did not exactly propose the best arrangements for the trainees. After nearly half an hour of the exercise, only a handful of what were once clustered, cheerful recruits remained. Most had probably never endured something even remotely similar to the predetermined activity.
To you, however, it was a routine.
Flecks of frozen particulates caught on your eyelashes, resting for a few heartbeats in solitude before being bumped by your ever-moving body, only to land farther down your face and evaporate back into the same atmosphere they once so wretchedly came from. In all fairness, you weren't sure whether the sheen of liquid that had encoated you was fabricated from clouds or your own exhausted sweat.
Look forward, secure a straight path. Look downward, secure a safe route. Glance to the side, secure knowledge of any oncomers. Land lightly on your feet. Breathe in. Breathe out. No matter how labored each and every movement grew, you stuck strictly to your mantra. Keep going, and you would succeed. Stop, and - don't. You wouldn't stop. The conviction within your heart cut as crossly as the coldness held within the air. There would be no stopping. A finish line laid in solitary wait somewhere ahead. How much longer it would take, how much farther you would have to go - you were unsure. But nothing could drive the hope of the checkpoint from your broken record of a mind, caught on the same sentences, replaying the same thoughts, over and over, no matter how scratchy the quality of the voice or scraggly the sound of the breaths.
Your lungs felt too small for the pulsating pendulum placed, ever-processing, within your chest. The power reserved within it had been fully and completely circulated outwards. The tugging of tired muscles and begging of beaten bones added an immediate increase of weight to the bag around your back, but you kept pushing. Each yard was a mile and each step was a marathon. Water had begun to seep into your boots, and your feet, sore and bruised from the abrasive trek, were offered a bath of sheer ice and nothing but another source of discomfort.
By then, you'd already learnt how to properly block out the abrupt noises from around you, recognizing them as mere distractions and nothing else. Your mind was set solely upon the prospect of the path. And yet, as a pair of voices seemingly drew ever-closer, your filtering couldn't help but falter.
One was a head of hot air, somehow lit ablaze despite the dampening rain, brunette locks mingling wildly with the green of his cape. His voice was vaguely familiar to you. Upon arrival a night ago, he - Eren - had so diligently proclaimed his desire to eradicate the titans from the face of the world.
Considering his hunched posture and loud, gasping inhales, like a fish so desperately out of water, you couldn't help but feel a pang of sympathy. "How the hell," he panted, between breaths, "is this going to help us...when we'll all be...on 3DMG?" Although positioned behind him, you could so easily picture the anger held within his teal eyes.
It was at this time that you first took into account the appearance of his companion. Yesterday, the only person you'd seen him surrounded by was a blonde boy with a bowl cut, whom you were rather certain you'd passed earlier on the trail. Thus, the long-haired ravenette girl was a new sight to your eyes. As the water in the central area of the path deepened, you swerved to the side, over to slightly less-slick grounds, inadvertently falling just behind her.
"The gear will only work with tall structures around." Her voice, soft but confident, was a calm within the storm, and the sound of it somehow compelled your composition further along. "We won't always have a forest around us." She seemed to have gained a better grip over her stamina - even breathing, even inhales, even exhales, steady forward movement. You couldn't help but notice that your heads aligned in the inspection of your surroundings, either. Apparently your ritual wasn't something only you knew of.
Eren's voice still somehow penetrated the thick fog of noises that sat like an impenetrable bubble around you. "This is still stupid."
The girl's voice paled in comparison. Now, it appeared even lower. "Just keep going. It'll end soon." And it was these words you found yourself repeating under your breath as you continued forth.
Her words seemingly struck a chord within her male companion, as he fell uncharacteristically silent. Nothing but the noises of the natural forest occurred for a few more moments. Once more your mind was focused upon the goal, the goal, and nothing but the goal; there was nothing but the road and its end. Make it there and you could rest. Heart kept on beating. Lungs kept inflating, deflating, inflating, deflating; an uncontrollable but comfortingly constant reminder. Footfalls. You and your body and your mind and -
" - Eren!" A panicked voice suddenly slit your silence, and with a quick turn of the head you found yourself in the loud rumble of tumultuous thunder, following some unforeseen lightning strike. Shade had suddenly fallen above your head, and, feeling the shaking reverberations of nature's cacophonic ire, you glanced up.
A mammoth morphology masquerading under the glaring misnomer of a tree towered above you, convulsing back and forth in the wind. But the shadow continued to consume you.
And you realized in a split second what the lightning had struck.
Why the girl had shouted the boy's name.
Why you would be crushed in two seconds flat.
Your eyes snagged on the girl, who had shoved the boy forwards and out of the danger zone, and waited for her to reach the small patch of undarkened, watery undergrowth herself. But as you leapt forwards, tucking your body under yourself in midair, holding your breath and bracing for impact with a freezing, half-flooded ground, hopefully managing to avoid the fall of the giant oak, you realized, with tantalizing terror, that she was doomed to the same path as the tree she had so desperately devised to avoid.
And just moments before your body hit the gravel you outstretched and arm. Your eyes were shut tightly against the wind and the chill and the hail and the rain and the dirt and the fear and oh the fear it was swallowing you up it was consuming your soul but please just let you have caught her let you have saved her don't let this be the end don't let this be the end don't let the tree fall not yet not yet no no no no.
For the second time that night, the ground shook. Not from the coldness. But from the impact of your spine, raw and worked, from an hour of arduous labor, followed by the rest of your jet-lagged, thorn-torn body, just moments before you gathered enough time to shield your head and duck down, make yourself small, and brace for impact.
The earth shrieked beneath your befallen body. Your legs and knees shivered and trembled and convulsed, a seizing, shaking horror that held your heart tight within its icy clutches and refused to let go until it had traveled up your green-and-purple-bruised backbone, squeezing your skull between its sharp nails and knocking your brain against the sides of your head until, in a moment just as quick as it had come, it left.
Icewater stained your cheeks and clung like skin to your chapped lips, and your mouth tasted like coldness and dirt, mud and polluted water, something raw and irony and meaty and something numb. Your fingertips were frozen beneath the flooded stream, as were your elbows, knees, and feet. You were utterly petrified.
With a watery cough you shakily managed to right yourself, barely remembering to pick up the sack that had tumbled ahead of you mid-fall, before casting a fear-stricken glance behind you.
There were only two sights that would be awaiting you.
There was the tree. Its sheer mass had caused a crater in the mudstream surrounding it, and rocks, once rightful, strong barriers against the erosion of the cold rainfall, now lay crushed, broken and battered into what could barely be classified as shattered pebbles, beneath the gargantuan branches and tremendous trunk.
Terror enraptured your soul once more. No no no. Where was the girl?
Frantically, you threw your things aside, racing back the few feet to where you had once stood, kneeling down despite the reeling pain throughout your aching body, breath quickened and desperate, eye wet with some precise mixture of hail and bitter rainwater and salty tears, the strength of the situation fully sinking into your weary body for the first time. Your nails gathered mud beneath them as you dug frantically, eyes darting deliriously about, searching for a sign of something, anything...the girl that you could've sworn you'd grabbed, but with the sinkingly shocking reality that you had missed beginning to settle in, seeping into every crack in your tense, terse, trembling form, furious at yourself and at the world, no longer caring about finishing and only caring, only hoping, only praying that she had somehow made it out, that your eyes were just too blurry to find her, and your head was just too muddled to think straight.
Your throat constricted as a splotch of red lingered in your peripheral vision.
Terror tore at your skin, at your eyes, at your lungs and heart and mind, and you ran to it - a moth towards a light, something that could so easily kill but so hardly could be resisted. Just let her be okay. Just let her be okay. Just let her be okay.
And suddenly there was a head, and then a body, and the red was not claret liquid but a scarf, and the branch was not a branch but a girl, and fear was not fear but relief, and death was not death but life. A cut had etched itself across her cheek, but that was all. At least, that was all that could be determined at present, as you rushed to her side. "You - you're not hurt, are you?"
And suddenly there was a pair of eyes on yours.
She was still pressed to the ground, sitting on her feet after her first failed attempt to recover her balance, swaying back and forth, suddenly as fragile as the wind would have her, but her eyes, so stormily gray, so alarmingly widened, so surprisingly settled upon you, so illuminated by the faint dots of light allotted by the clouds that brewed, the same color as her innocent eyes, only far more menacingly, up above. Sharp lashes encompassed with crystalline figures, surrounded by a dark halo of drenched obsidian hair, framing the fearful expression that had fallen across her soft face. They struck an unforgettable feeling into your very soul.
The same feeling that you had felt before, so many moons ago, in so similar a situation that it sent a shudder down your spine.
"Me..." The girl struggled to get up once more, and, with your sudden help, managed to successfully stand upon her steadied feet. She pressed a hand against the cut on her cheek before pulling it back, and inhaling sharply. "I'm alright. Were you...?" Those eyes begged an unspoken question.
"I'm alright," you repeated, reprieve alleviating your stolen soul from its captors of consternation, remission flooding your burning body harder and faster than the water pooled around your feet ever could. It was then that you noticed how thoroughly soaked her shirt had grown - and the absence of her protective cape. Simultaneously, you saw the trembling of her fingertips, compressed taut against the strings of her sack but nevertheless escaping her controlled composure.
Your eyes travelled back to the spot where the girl had once lain, trapped, undoubtedly fearing for her life just as disastrously deeply as you had, and saw the tattered remains of what had once been a shining badge of honor. Quickly enough, your own cape was removed in a shuffling of cloth, and you were holding it out to her. The rain freely struck you now, but you were beginning to grow used to it. "Here."
Her eyes, alluringly deep, returned to your face, and she murmured, after a moment of nothing but the sound of hail hitting the waterlogged undergrowth all around you, "Thank you."
You nodded. As she wrapped it around herself, hesitating momentarily to engage in another unspoken conversation with you - are you really sure I may have this? Yes, I'm sure, please take it - you reoriented your gaze onwards. Somehow, despite after what felt like minutes of being dragged behind, quite literally, no one had passed the two of you. No footsteps could even so much as be heard in the distance. According to all calculations, that was good - you still had enough time to make up for what you had lost. Then again, no good would come from standing around.
"Are you ready?" you inquired, before realizing your intention to speak it aloud.
"Yes." A pause, and then, "I need to find Eren."
A smile couldn't help but settle upon your dirt-smeared face. Even after everything, she was still loyal to the boy whom she had attempted to save. "We will. But we should get moving."
In moments the two of you had set off again, starting at a brisk jog, allowing the feel of movement to return to your bodies and the circulation of blood to resume as normal. The chill hung around you like a thousand eyeballs, but it was so easily combated by her glance. Every now and again you would catch it, just briefly, lingering upon your form before abashedly darting away.
Every now and again, you would return the gaze.
The pouring rain and squashing surface of the earth beneath your feet managed to fill the silence between the two of you, even if only temporarily. Your pace had increased a great deal by the time you forgot what should have been the most obvious consideration. "I'm [y/n]." Soft, sweet, and succinct - everything it felt as though it needed to be.
"Mikasa," she replied, softer, but cautiously. From what you'd determined so far, she was quiet, but sure in herself. "And - th-thank you. For that."
Some portion of your body - some uncouth, unintelligent, uninformed atrocity - burned to question what exactly it was that she'd meant, but the rational side, the side that had just recovered from the shock of near death and the sight of near death and those gray eyes, somehow managed to keep you warm regardless of the increasing amounts of freezing water falling from the infuriated clouds. You sensed the silence as something cherishable, and didn't dare to break it once more.
You were rather certain your small smile had been seen when you gazed over at her just seconds later and saw the same expression, mirrored so clearly in eyes so filled with storms.
A sparring match brings back unwanted memories.
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.