He's- Anxious wouldn't quite cover it but worried or anguished don't fit either.
He's filled with fleeting emotions, that boil together and curl tightly in his chest.
He's also calm. Confident. He knows what the plan is. Both plans. The only unknown variable... is whether they'll listen.
They have no reason to.
The things he's done- the things they've done...
He doesn't regret it. Any of it. He was following orders, fighting for the right to a better life, once he'd be back. For his family, while he lived and after his death. He never thought-
He's come to like it here.
Not half as much as his partner but-
It's a start.
Here, he is-
Here, they are.
More than weapons.
More than the descendants of a long vanished country.
More than just Ymir's people, a problematic race to be subjugated and kept in near slavery.
Not Christa's Ymir. Not that one, no.
Things are so much more complicated than any of those people born and living inside these walls could ever imagine.
Not that it's any of their fault. They're not half bad, regardless of his partner's sometimes frustrated feelings on the matter.
Neither demons nor angels.
Just people. Trapped within the walls, but free. Free to live and be. To come and go.
Somewhere out there, beyond a set of walls but still within the other one, Reiner howls.
Bertolt refocuses, grips the inside of the barrel with near bruising strength, mere seconds before it shakes and gets thrown in the direction the howl came from.
He just hopes he'll have a chance to talk.
Bertolt presses his hand to that broad chest.
Alive. He's alive.
It's a near thing. Head blown to pieces, forced to move his consciousness to the entirety of his body, human and titan.
Barely kept alive by his beating heart.
Fighting the enemy, drawing them all to a single spot. All according to Zeke's plan.
If that was what they were following.
But... he's alive.
If he hadn't been...
Bertolt's brows furrow, then relax.
"Sorry to ask you that but could you move a bit?" He's not even sure Reiner can hear him.
He should, his titan's body ears don't seem to be damaged.
"I'm going to blow up the whole area. If you can't, I'm sorry. Brace yourself."
Bertolt squeezes Reiner's chest, feels the titan twitch in response. Good.
Not perfect but nothing ever was.
Hook and line, the pull of triggers and he dances, air rushing to his sides.
This whole clusterfuck of a situation-
The insanity of the whole mission-
He'd never questioned why Marley had sent kids instead of trained soldiers. It wasn't his place, he just had to do what he was ordered to. But the longer it goes on, the more the sheer madness of it all becomes evident.
It's hard to tell if it was all Zeke's idea. The man's chasing the ghost of someone, hunting down a memory. Zeke's on his own personal crusade and the lot of them had just been swept up, dragged into it. Under official orders, of course.
The cable pulls, sings as he turns and searches.
Why send children on such an important mission? It doesn't make sense.
It never did. None of it did.
Whatever Zeke's after is long gone. The Founding Titan is in the hands of a guy who wants-
But isn't that what everyone wants?
Green catches at the corner of his eye, fluttering and then gone. The glint of metal on the other side, on a roof, trying to hide in non-existent shadows.
They've been surrounding him. He had noticed but... it wasn't important yet.
Promise me you'll try your best.
I'm counting on you, buddy.
I don't want to go back.
If Reiner had died, none of this would have mattered.
If Reiner had died, he would have killed them all.
"Bertolt! Let's talk!"
Armin can see the shape of their ex-comrade a couple roofs away.
He can also see Hange's squad, some zipping away toward Reiner's location, some moving to surround Bertolt.
If he can buy enough time, keep him busy long enough-
...why isn't Bertolt answering.
He's looking around himself, searching the roofs-
No. He's not looking at the roofs.
He's looking at the walls surrounding Shiganshina. Why? Is another attack incoming?
Armin tenses. What's next?
He's not expecting the grapple that anchors itself near his own or the sudden whir of Bertolt's lines as he zips toward him.
Armin fumbles to get a sword out. He remembers the exercises, the tests, when they were all still cadets. 3rd best. He's no match for Bertolt's skills with a sword, even less considering that the ex-cadet could turn into the Colossal Titan at any moment.
He just needs to buy some time, just a bit longer. If only his hands would cooperate and stop shaking-
"How serious are you about wanting to talk?" Bertolt's voice is clear, though a bit hushed.
What? Armin blinks, brain integrating the confidence, the determination in Bertolt's eyes. The way he's holding himself. The focused expression on his face.
... is that really Bertolt?
"We don't have much time, Armin."
This isn't- What's going on? Is he really getting a chance to negotiate?
"What do you want?" Armin brings the hand that's not holding a sword and shaking in a hold position order, hoping someone will see it.
Bertolt observes him for a moment, silent and Armin can feel the trickle of sweat running down his back.
"If our Captain, the Beast Titan as you call him, has a single moment of suspicion concerning our loyalty, we're dead." Bertolt's gaze is piercing, intense and sharp with single minded focus.
Armin can't remember a single instance of the tall and shy Bertolt being like this.
Wait, focus. Loyalty- He can't mean-
"We can't stop fighting you. I have- We have to keep going with the plan. Because if he suspects for one second that we're no longer on his side, he'll tear us from the napes of our titans and give us to some titan to chew on."
"You want to defect to our side?" Armin's voice is shaking, a mix of fear and bewilderment.
It makes no sense, why would they want to join forces with the Corps? All Reiner's group has done so far, is try to destroy humanity within the walls and abduct Eren.
"I don't care." Armin snaps up and meets Bertolt's gaze. There's no lie in those eyes. Bertolt means it. "But... Reiner does. He wants to live here, among the people living inside the walls, as a free man."
Armin remembers hearing someone say that the only reason Bertolt hadn't been in the Top 2 of their group, instead of in 3rd place, was because he lacked drive, the will to fight.
It sure looks like he found it, some time between when they'd last clashed and now.
"What tells me this isn't all a ruse?" His body is still terrified, he can't help it. "That you won't transform into Titans and try to kidnap Eren all over again." He shouldn't give him ideas but he needs to see on the other's face-
Bertolt frowns, looking thoughtful before it smoothes out and Armin fights the tremor of panic and elation that agitates him.
Bertolt hadn't even considered it.
Words are words but the expression on Bertolt's face is no lie-
"What tells me you won't stick a blade through our necks when we don't expect it?"
They stare at each other for what seems like an eternity. Whatever Bertolt is reading on his face, it must convince him to not just push his blade through Armin's chest and be done with it.
Bertolt sighs, gaze fleeting to where Reiner is. "I have a plan. But whether it can be carried out successfully will be on you."
His cut-off ear stings.
It doesn't hurt that much, he's used to far worse but ... he hadn't quite expected Mikasa.
It was like her to try and get the drop on her targets. To be honest, he should have seen it coming.
But the talk with Armin had gone so well. Better than he'd expected.
Then again, it had only been Armin there. His word against the rest of the Corps anger and hatred.
It's not much to go on.
Bertolt sighs, pulls on the triggers, focusing on the trajectory, the distance, the amount of gas he's got left. Just for a moment, he flies and there's nothing but him and the singing metal at his fingertips, an empty city and the distant cries of spooked horses.
The cracking shot of a flare gun.
He stirs, cables whirring, and stops on a small tower. Red stains the sky, aimed opposite to where Bertolt's headed.
Bertolt stills, waiting. Cables whir, green cloaks flap to the wind and they pass by him. He must be noticed by more than a few because he can hear shouts of alarm, see their movement become frantic.
The flare gun fires again, crimson staining the air, imperious and demanding.
Bertolt keeps going, ignoring the startled noises, back bowing as he fires and pulls himself forward. He knows where he's headed, but he's not sure where he'll transform at exactly.
No. That's a lie.
He knows exactly where he's going to transform. They've spent months (weeks?) in Shiganshina, waiting, training and Bertolt spent a lot of that time mapping the streets and alleys and towers.
His own memories of passing through the streets surrounding him as a child are ... faded. Dim and bits and pieces here and there, excitement and horror, terror of failing to achieve his own part of their mission, of being eaten as well, worry for Annie, exhausted and passed by his side, relief when Reiner had come back for them, in his titan, through the screams and heavy footsteps.
He's sorry it had to happen.
He doesn't regret his own actions.
He wishes they could have snuck in, stolen the Founding Titan and snuck back out.
But Marcel's death had put that plan in the ground before Bertolt ever had a chance to formulate it. Dreams eaten by a slumbering titan.
It's just that fucked-up, isn't it?
Because no matter how much Bertolt wants to find another reason for Marley's decision to entrust its titans to a bunch of kids-
What a joke.
They've never been anything but prisoners, raised to trust the enemy and operate its deadliest weapons. They're expendable. Brainwashed by propaganda. Useful only as long as they blindly follow orders and perform beyond expectations.
Weapons to be used and replaced.
Before coming here, before getting to know the people inside these walls? Hadn't he been just like that?
Blind and ignorant.
Scared and hateful.
He pushes and pulls, watching as more cloaks pass him by, letting his body gather speed as he releases anchors, sets them again-
But. He's not scared anymore.
The slightly higher row of towers are right there. He can't delay any longer. The weight of his own body gives him impulse and speed.
Triggers pushed, he flies high and true. Twists on himself, observing. He wonders whether the Corps soldiers got far enough that they won't die when he transforms.
There's the smoke of Reiner's body, but he can't see the giant crouched shape anymore.
He can't see a single cloak either, but that doesn't mean much.
If they didn't, well.
Too bad for them.
Light and heat and steam, before darkness wraps around him and he goes up up up.
His field of awareness widens, almost painfully so, as nerves and flesh forms out of nowhere. Bones stretch and legs come down to support his considerable weight. Still, he remains aware of his own small and vulnerable body, encased in the neck of his titan one.
He opens his eyes, watching the ruin, the fire and destruction his transformation have brought.
Zeke's plan. He needs to-
His titan body is. Slow. So so slow.
Burning houses and rocks crumble and gather under his hand, into his palm as he rakes his fingers through the ruins of Shiganshina.
He'd try to avoid the Corps but he can't really.
First, because it needs to look like he was trying to hit them.
And second... they're so small. Like mosquitoes, zipping and flying around, hard to catch and hard to see.
Bertolt throws debris in a circle toward the city, toward the outer walls. Fire blooms, smoke rises.
He might have just killed them all.
There's nothing he can do about it.
So he turns on himself and heads for the inner wall.
If they can kill the horses, Eren won't be able to escape. That was the plan.
It will take him some time to get there.
He focuses on guiding the gigantic body he calls his, producing hot steam when his ears catch the sound of zip-lines, when silhouettes start dancing around him, trying to aim at his neck.
Some of them survived.
It should be all show and no danger.
He's not sure he can trust them. Not fully. So it'll be their fault for getting too close if they get hurt or die.
Eren howls, headed his way and Bertolt pauses, ready to make his body kick him away.
Reiner tackles Eren aside.
"I'm not sure what Reiner will do if he wakes up. You hurt him, enough that he might be working on instincts right now." Armin had looked away, mouth set in a grim line. They'd all seen what a transformed Eren losing control of himself was like.
Armin had looked back up, determined and- Bertolt had to quash that, right there.
"If he dies, I will kill you all." They stared at each other and he-
He needed Armin to understand. Where his loyalty laid exactly. That it wasn't a threat, just a warning of what would happen. A mere statement. "Make sure he stays alive. Don't stop yourselves from fighting him. He won't expect less and neither will our Captain."
The nod had been curt.
He's not sure what else he'd expected.
Bertolt turns his head, trying to keep the fight between the two shifters at the corner of his eye, even as he keeps moving toward the wall.
Moving this body is a fight.
He remembers the first days of earning his title of warrior, his first transformation, when every movement had been exhausting.
It wasn't that it took a lot of energy but it was an exercise in waiting and focus.
Even as he keeps track of what's happening around him, part of his brain needs to keep his body moving.
If he got too distracted, the titan would stop.
If he tried to move as he would move his human body, the titan would stop or collapse on itself.
And his skin-
It's not ... a feeling he has any liking for in any way, to feel the skinless, scorching hot body of a 60m giant as if it was his own.
An exercise in patience and pain tolerance.
In focus and awareness.
Somewhere, all the way down to his ankles, Eren howls, and sends Reiner flying toward Bertolt.
Reiner rolls on himself before he can hit his foot, and charges again.
He wonders how much Reiner remembers. How aware of his surroundings his partner is.
Enough that he's not blindly attacking Bertolt.
Not enough as to not get into an all-out brawl with Eren.
One time, Reiner had described what it felt like, to be the Armored titan. To be encased in armor and hard muscle, the near invulnerability, the confidence that titan carried.
It must be nice, Bertolt remembers thinking, to feel so good after a transformation.
He hasn't stopped, but it took his foot a beat too long to start moving. He's slow enough as it is, he can't start getting slower.
Screams, sudden and unexpected, and the whines of the horses.
He knew Zeke was going to start throwing debris, rocks and whatnot onto the soldiers that had remained outside.
He just wasn't expecting it so soon.
He hasn't even reached the wall yet.
Something must have happened. Shit.
The tiny shape on top of the wall jumps down. Captain Levi? No, the soldier who'd earned the title of "Humanity's strongest" would have lunged at him, not away.
The commander then? It would have been the best place for Erwin Smith to keep track of what was happening on both sides of the wall, to direct one group or the other if needed.
And with Bertolt's approach-
The lack of knowledge regarding Armin and Bertolt's uneasy alliance-
The commander had made a choice.
Something hits his ankle, his heel and Bertolt stops the steady stream of steam pouring out of his body, pausing to look down.
Even in his titan, this close, he'd be burned to a crisp if he was exposed to Bertolt's steam for too long.
It's very much not the point.
Reiner tries to get Eren away from Bertolt. He too must have noticed that Bertolt's steam came to a stop.
They roll around and grapple at each other, pushing and pulling and snarling, and even if he wanted to, Bertolt wouldn't be able to move forward still. Too much risks of him crushing one or the other to death under his foot.
Again, not the point. Even more so because Reiner is right there, trying to protect him.
But Bertolt's ears catch on to the sound of zip-lines being fired, of gas being stream-released. He moves, arm trying to catch them.
Way too slow.
And his natural defense, the steam that pours out of his body is unusable. He can't risk destroying the very thing they'd been sent to get. He won't risk killing his partner.
For the first time, while using his titan, he's ... vulnerable.
Just as he told Armin.
It should be terrifying.
He can feel the undercurrent of fear and worry but it's muted, drowned under focus and determination, how aware of his surroundings he is as he keeps track of Eren and Reiner and the soldiers climbing over him-
Pinpricks of pain at his nape, sharp pain slicing at his arms and legs. But the worst of it is the way his awareness snaps abruptly, painfully back into his body.
He wasn't ready for that. The dizziness hits him like a rubber band being snapped back into place.
He's never been-
Bertolt feels himself waver, feels the colossal mass under him shudder.
He... falls? flies?
Before what remains of his consciousness fades out, he hears Reiner roar.