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talk some sense to me

Chapter Text

 Part 1: Warning Sign

 

"We need to talk," comes the four most dreaded words strung together.

Eren finds himself immediately glancing around for escape options.

Door - Currently unoccupied but closed. It might be worth it to make a run for it. After all, Eren is the fastest out of all the Warrior Candidates (and Pieck in her human form). So he's pretty confident he will be able to at least make it to the door. Opening it to escape is a different story.

Window - Porco is standing a bit too close to it. It seems he prioritized stopping Eren from escaping through the window over the door. Damn him for knowing that Eren would default to the window as a method to escape. Since they're on the first floor and the window leads to the courtyard, it really is the perfect escape option. But alas, escape isn't looking too good through it right now.

Air vents - Requires jumping on the table and leaping to yank off the cover before jumping again to go through. Not worth the effort nor the time.

The best possible exit is the door, even if he accounts for the time it'll take to open it. But it's possible that Porco thought this through. If that's the case, then he'll be able to react fast enough to stop Eren before he can attempt to open it. Eren could very possibly end up trapped by the door. If he could just have some back up from the others, though...

Pieck is diligently making notes in her language notebook with whatever new vocabulary and grammar she's finding in her book that she's reading. Her original goal was to master the Oriental language from Hizuru before Marcel's return (Something about wanting to beat him in something academic for once). But since that mission stretched on for way too long, she switched it to mastering three languages. From the way she's going, Eren won't be shocked if she has at least five mastered before Marcel finally gets here (That idiot should just come home already).

Zeke left the room with the coffee pot, presumably to make more coffee. That means it’'ll take him at least three minutes to walk all the way down to the bathroom to get water and return, more if he is stopped by a Marleyan officer. Eren can't recall when Zeke left. It was a while ago, right? For his own sake, Eren honestly hopes that Zeke isn’t stopped by anyone and returns quickly.

As if sensing danger, Colt glances up from his crossword puzzle. He meets Eren's eyes. Then Porco's. Then he puts his head down and pours all his focus into the crossword puzzle. Willingly ignoring Eren's SOS because of Porco's potential wrath, huh? Eren isn't going to forget this any time soon. See if Eren picks up an extra piece of pastry for Colt tomorrow morning. No, he'll give Colt's share to little Falco. Take that.

No additional help from anyone in the room. If he makes a visible attempt to escape and Porco stops him, there'll be hell to pay. At this rate, it'll be the best possible plan to just wait for Zeke to get back for back up. Alright. Then for now, Eren will play nice and see what Porco wants. He just needs to stall. C'mon, Zeke. Don't take too long.

"Sure, what is it?"

"When are you going to return Marcel's doll?"

Damn it. Damn it. Damn it. Of all the possible topics in the world, Porco just had to pick that one. Not the shirt he borrowed two days ago after they got drenched in the pouring rain. Not the book from two months ago because it looked interesting and not at all like something Porco would like (Porco's tastes in stories are always more romantic-inclined. Eren's are more action and adventure based. No one asked, but Marcel's tastes used to be that of mysteries and thrillers. Eren wonders if it has changed). Not the pocketknife from a week ago from when Eren cut an apple in half for the two of them and forgot to return it.

But that damned bunny doll.

He glances at the door, willing Zeke to come back faster.

"A-ah... t-that... haha..."

Porco stares at Eren, watching the way he fidgets with surprising patience. When it becomes clear that Eren has no idea how to answer, Porco lets out a long sigh.

"I mean, I don't really care either way."

Then don't bring it up, asshole!

"But it just seems kinda weird that you haven't returned it yet, you know? It's a doll. The hell are you doing with it that you haven't given it back already?"

Damn you, Porco. If he doesn't care, then he shouldn't ask! Why the hell does it matter anyways? As Porco said, it's just a doll. What the hell is he planning to do with it once Eren gives it back? That's far more suspicious than the fact that Eren hasn't given it back, now isn't it?

The doorknob turns.

Finally! Eren finds himself grinning before he can stop himself. Porco seems to have read what that grin means because his lips begin to curve into a scowl. But that's too late! Eren must have lulled Porco into a false sense of security by engaging with him. Because when Eren bolts for the door, Porco doesn't react right away. If Porco didn't see that one coming, then this is Eren's victory!

The door opens before Eren gets there. And just a bit, Eren's really glad that he didn't move any earlier.

"Good. You guys are all here," Commander Magath says as he walks in.

Eren straightens and salutes. He hears the others moving to greet the Commander, too. Oh, so now they're paying attention. But when Eren needed their help, they all ignored him.

"Zeke?" Magath asks.

"Getting water for coffee, sir," Eren answers.

Magath scowls. "Of course, he is. Fine. I'll wait."

Although having Magath in the room makes everyone tense and uncomfortable, Eren is rather grateful for it. It gives him the perfect excuse for ignoring Porco.

*

"Zeke and Pieck, both of you will be dispatched in three days for the next wave of war efforts," Commander Magath says.

Eren wants to complain that it's too soon. Zeke has been home for less than a month since the last war effort. What do you mean another one? But he's no longer the brash, young child he once was. He doesn't voice his dissent.

"Will any of the Warrior Candidates be coming with us?" Zeke asks.

Magath levels a rather judging look at the three Warrior Candidates. And yeah, Eren gets it. The three of them are not very reliable. That's why they were passed over in favor of the other Warrior Candidates to inherit the titans. Colt is too anxious and meek. Porco is too stupid. Eren is too aggressive. In fact, Eren won't be shocked if the Marleyans are currently looking into getting more Warrior Candidates that aren't so faulty.

"It was deemed unnecessary to have the Warrior Candidates as well."

Translation: The Marleys don't trust their current three Warrior Candidates.

Eren would laugh if it wasn't so damned pathetic.

*

"You guys are lucky," Colt remarks lightly as he flips through a children's book.

The three Warrior Candidates are at the bookstore to look for small gifts for Zeke and Pieck to enjoy while they're out on their mission. Or at least, Eren and Porco were. Colt is looking through the children's books out on display for Falco. But now that he's said those words, both Eren's and Porco's attentions move away from the book about coffee for Zeke to Colt.

"Lucky?" Porco echoes.

Colt glances up from the book and gives them a rueful smile. He's going to say something really self-deprecating, Eren thinks. That's the only time Colt smiles like that.

"Even if you guys weren't 'acceptable' Warrior Candidates back when we were kids, both of your older brothers are current Warriors. Eren, you'll inherit the Beast Titan. Porco, you'll get the Jaw. But I..."

"There are still three other titans you can potentially get. Four, if you don't mind growing boobs. I bet you'd make a great Colossal Titan. Both you and Bertolt are quiet and meek," Eren points out.

Porco nods in agreement. "And out of the three of us, you're the most meticulous. Isn't that why Pieck was chosen for Cart? By that logic, you'd be a great Cart Titan, too."

Colt stares at the book, looking uncertain. There's more to this than just the topic at hand, isn't there? Eren exchanges a glance with Porco. From the look of it, Porco has arrived at the same conclusion as Eren.

"Did someone say something?" Eren ventures to guess.

Porco cracks his neck, getting ready for action. Eren rolls his eyes at him. Show off. What's that going to accomplish? Frighten Colt? The person they should be aiming their anger at isn't here.

"It's... not like they're wrong, though. We're slowly approaching the time to open up the Warrior Candidacy exams again. What if those kids outperform me? What if I can never be a Warrior?"

If Marcel was here, Eren imagines that he would've known exactly what to say. Marcel would smile friendly and comfort Colt. He'd be patient and take care of this so that it'll never be an issue for Colt ever again. That's just the kind of person Marcel is.

But Eren is not Marcel. And Porco is most definitely not Marcel.

At times like these when Eren doesn't know what to say, there's just one thing he can do. He glances at Porco, who grins back at him. It takes Colt two seconds too late to realize what's happening. By then, Eren has Colt caught from behind, preventing him from escaping.

"N-no! Don't do this! Please!" Colt begs, his eyes wide in fear.

They, of course, don't listen.

Porco mercilessly tickles Colt's sides until Colt is breathless and in tears. When Eren thinks that Colt has been properly punished, he lets Colt go. That becomes a signal for Porco to stop, too. They make sure to apologize to the bookstore employees for making so much noise. And probably because of their status as Warrior Candidates, none of them dare to complain.

"Don't think too much about it," Porco tells Colt. "At the end of the day, we're all just fodder for Marley to do as they want. Anyone can tell you that both Eren and I were the better choice for the Armored than Reiner. But they chose him anyways. It might end up like that or it might not. Who the hell knows what they think?"

"But I don't think it'll be bad to have another 13 years to live with your brother," Eren says lightly.

That must have been the correct thing to say, because Colt's eyes light up. There's an almost shy smile on his face as he looks down at his feet.

"Oh," he says, giggling softly. "I see."

Eren feels himself relaxing at the sight. What a relief. It was solved so easily. Perhaps he's not as bad with words as he first feared he was. He thinks it'll impress Marcel for sure.

"By the way, if you're getting that book for Falco, make sure it's not the latest one. He already has it," Eren adds.

Colt's expression falls. "Huh?"

"Jeesh, you spoil that kid rotten," Porco mutters, shaking his head. He holds up the coffee book they were looking together just moments ago. "But your pick for your own brother is this. Zeke is going to cry if he hears."

"N-no, he won't!"

But Eren isn't sure if that's the truth. Zeke has cried for far less. It's completely possible that Zeke will cry if he hears that Eren is more in-tune with Falco's tastes in books. But in his defense, Falco actively tells Eren what he likes and doesn't while Zeke professes his love for anything and everything Eren gets him. It makes it hard to pick presents for his older brother because of it.

"Y-you're not going to tell him, are you?" he finds himself asking finally.

Porco stares at him for a beat longer before smirking. Eren realizes that he made a mistake a step too late.

"If the War Chief asks of us, we can't refuse him, you know. But I guess we could be convinced to forget that this happened for... ice cream. What do you say, Colt?"

Colt smiles. "Chocolate ice cream."

"You guys are the worst!"

*

It's nearly dinner time when Eren finally gets home with gifts for both Zeke and Pieck. There's no need to be secretive and hide that he has a gift for his brother, but Zeke absolutely adores surprises. So Eren does what a good brother should and pretends badly that he doesn't have anything for Zeke (Belatedly, he can't help but to think this might be the reason why Zeke is so convinced that Eren can't lie).

He knows it's working from the way Zeke's eyes light up in anticipation and Carla laughs. Grisha, at least, looks amused by his attempts.

"Let me just put my things away and I'll join you for dinner."

*

When he gets to his room, he is greeted by the sad reality of Marcel's bunny doll on his desk. Its poor left arm has ripped off from its body, and the stuffings keep falling out, despite Eren's best attempts to keep them inside the body.

The poor bunny fell into this state when Eren was over at the Galliard's two days ago, looking for relief from the pouring rain. While Porco left to find him some dry clothes for them to change into, Eren discovered this little guy in the corner of the bookshelf in the living room.

Around the time Falco was born, Marcel decided that his gift for little Falco will be a doll that he made (Porco made a rattle, by the way. And Eren helped deliver the kid, so he wins by default. Oh, in case you were wondering, Marcel gave up two weeks before Falco was born and handmade a children's book instead). He spent months beforehand practicing. This little bunny tucked here must have been one of the failures, because its stitching is a mess and its left arm is much larger than the right. The button eyes were put on lopsided, too. But all the little mistakes makes it all that more charming.

Eren thought it was cute.

So he did the natural thing of picking it up.

How was he supposed to know that the arm will fall off?

Thinking back on it, he realizes that he probably could have put it back before Porco returned and pretended that he had nothing to do with that doll. But it turned out he was more honest than he ever gave himself credit for. Because he hid the rip from Porco and borrowed the damned bunny.

But you see, Eren has been helping out around the house ever since Zeke became a Warrior and was sent off on missions. He's stitched up rips and fixed buttons on clothes. And when he or Porco doesn't want their parents to realize whatever stupid thing they've done, he's also stitched up some nasty gashes on himself and Porco. So it's not just ego speaking when he says that his stitches are professionally neat and pretty.

It is way too glaringly obvious that his stitches are nothing like Marcel's amateurish ones.

And therein lies the problem.

No matter how much Eren tries to replicate Marcel's stitches, the arm will not attach back to the body like it should. On top of that, the stuffings in the left arm have fallen out, making the arms even out. Eren fears that at this rate, the bunny will lose all of its individual quirks that Marcel put in.

He wants to return the bunny. Of course, he does.

But he also doesn't want to give up and return it like this.

Sorry, Porco. Wait a bit longer for this doll.

*

A week after Zeke and Pieck have left, it becomes clear why Magath didn't want to send the Warrior Candidates on the war efforts.

The Warrior Candidacy Test have opened up again.

"Children between the ages of five to seven are given the chance to win honor for their family..."

Porco leans in close to Eren's ear so that he won't be overheard by anyone else. "Honor, my ass."

"You can say that because your brother already won that honor," Eren whispers back.

"Not much of an honor to begin with. He hasn't been around for the last five years, in case you forgot."

"That has less to do with honor and more to do with him."

Porco rolls his eyes, pulling back a bit, a clear sign that he's going to get aggressive. Eren can't help but to grin at that. It's been a while since they sparred. An entire day, in fact. Once upon a time when Marcel was still here, he used to keep track of the wins and losses of all of their little squabbles. But they've long lost count in the five years that Marcel was gone. Eren is certain that he's winning, though.

"Shall we let our fists speak for us?" Porco says, pretending to be a polite gentleman.

Eren laughs. "Why, darling, I thought you'd never ask."

*

Magath heaves a heavy sigh when he sees the leftover signs of Porco's bloody nose and the beginnings of a black eye on Eren. But he must have more or less gotten used to this, because he doesn't lecture them like he used to when they were younger.

"I was going to remind you about the importance of upholding your dignity, especially with the Test coming up. But I see that it wouldn't have mattered."

It takes everything Eren has to not grin like an idiot. And he thinks that this is a sign that he has matured that he isn't purposefully riling up Magath like he used to.

"Sir, will it be expected of us to help out during the Test?" Colt asks, mercifully taking the attention away from Porco and Eren.

The two of them shoot their friend a grateful look, but it doesn't look like Colt is looking at them. Now that Eren looks closer, he can't help but to note how pale Colt looks. Did something happen?

"Of course," Magath says. He pauses for a second with a disgusted look aimed at Porco and Eren. "At the very least, I expect you three to take this seriously. These new Warrior Candidates will be your juniors, so treat them as you would a younger sibling."

Eren wonders if Magath realizes that neither Eren nor Porco has a younger sibling.

"Now then, these are what we're looking for in terms of skills and personality. If you see any kind of foul play, I expect you guys to report it."

*

Colt's mood does not improve, even when Porco and Eren double-team with jokes and small pranks. And seeing that Colt hasn't told them why he's so down, Eren understands that this has to do with the Marleys or the upcoming Test. So he and Porco both patiently wait until they're back in Liberio to demand answers.

"Falco wants to take the Test."

Just a little, Eren wants to rewind time so he doesn't have to know about this. He opens his mouth and then shuts it fast. Because what are you supposed to say? Knee-jerk reaction says that he should congratulate Colt. That he should be celebrating something as "wonderful" as the Grice family pushing out of the hell of shame that Colt's uncle forced them in. But he knows what it means to be a Warrior. He heard Zeke break down in the bathroom in the middle of the night, thinking that everyone else was asleep. He saw the fragility in Pieck's smiles, just a second away from shattering. And that's not to mention his own feelings on their short time limit or the growing fear that keeps gnawing at him that with every day Marcel doesn't return, he's losing another day that could have been spent together.

Knowing that, how can he say such insincere things as '"Congratulations?"

"I-it's possible he might not make it," Porco says softly.

Colt makes a face. "Porco, I made it as a Warrior Candidate. You don't believe that."

"You make it sound like you're not a good Warrior Candidate," Eren protests. "You're level-headed. You make good decisions. And you're not an unpredictable egghead like Porco and me. The only reason they didn't choose you when we were kids was because the others were in leagues of their own... except for Reiner. I still don't get why that guy was chosen. So..."

That's not it. Those are not the words he wanted to say. He finds himself burying his face in his hands.

"I'm sorry. I don't know what to say or how to respond."

Colt's smile is crooked. "Yeah, I figured. Sorry for dropping this on you guys. I... don't know how to respond either. I know Falco wants me to be supportive. But... it's scary. I don't want my baby brother to go through this. I don't want him to be under constant watch by the Marleys. I don't want him to have a time limit on how long he's going to live. I don't want him to be a soldier that has to take others' lives under orders. But most of all, I don't want him to end up like me."

"How... are your folks handling it?" Porco asks.

"Just what you'd expect from adults," Colt grumbles bitterly. "They're ecstatic."

Eren wishes he knew what to say. He wishes he knew what to do. And from the uncertain look on Porco's face, it's clear that he doesn't know either. They're both action-oriented people who prefer to swing their fists over comforting others.

If someone as kind as Marcel was here, what would he have said? If someone as kind and smart and in-tune with other people like Marcel was here, what would he have done?

Marcel, Eren finds himself thinking not for the first time in the last five years, please hurry home.

*

"Eren!"

The loud shout is the only warning Eren receives before Gabi throws herself at him from behind. With a loud giggle that tugs at the corner of Eren's own lips, Gabi grins up at him. She recently lost her front tooth. And that gap in her smile endears Eren a lot more than he thought it would.

"Hey, Little Bug," he greets.

"I'm not a bug!"

She releases him so that he can face her. A quick glance assures him that she doesn't seem to have any visible injuries. So that can't be the reason why she waited for him at the clinic. Then...

"I'm going to be a Warrior Candidate like you!" Gabi tells him excitedly. "So you can't call me 'Little Bug' anymore!"

He freezes.

As shameful as it sounds, he can't bring himself to smile. He can't bring himself to be excited with Gabi. It might be because he just talked to Colt and Porco about this. But he didn't really think about it. Gabi is about Falco's age, isn't she? Who else falls into that category? Which other small child that stops by the Jaeger Clinic will also end up at the Test? Which one of them will suddenly have their life spans shortened to just 13 years?

"Eren?" Gabi asks hesitantly. She must have picked up on his unease, because her excited grin is gone.

He needs to encourage her. He knows that. You never know who is listening in on your conversations. One wrong word can mean the worst for his family. He's gotten the lecture about how they lost Zeke's mom plenty of times before to not know that by now. He has been schooled in how to behave in public since birth to not know this by heart. He knows what he has to do. He knows what he has to say.

"Think you can keep up?" Eren manages to say.

He ruffles her hair to prevent her from seeing his expression. He doesn't know if it's believable, but she bursts into a fit of giggles. Before she notices again, he needs to grin. C'mon, he's so good at this when adults or Marleyans are around. So why is it so hard to pretend in front of children?

"Mommy said that my cousin is the Armored Titan. Do you think I can inherit that when it's time?"

"I don't know. You have to be really good to be a Warrior," Eren teases.

It's easier to grin now. When he's just teasing someone, it's easier to not think about what it means to be a Warrior or a Warrior Candidate. Or that Zeke has been sent out to fight again. Or that Marcel hasn't returned from his mission from five years ago.

It's easier.

"Is that why you're not one right now?" Gabi asks.

Eren laughs and pinches her cheeks. "What's that, Little Bug? You want me to pull out all of your teeth?"

"Mean! You're mean!"

*

The button eyes of Marcel's doll stare at Eren almost pityingly. Eren moves it face down so he doesn't have to see it anymore.

*

In the days leading up to the Warrior Candidacy Test, there are more families with children that stop by for a check-up. Few families take the time to ask Eren about what it's like to be a Warrior Candidate. Eren doesn't know what else to do but smile in answer.

"I hate it," Eren admits to Porco's back.

He's in Porco's shared room with Marcel (not that Marcel has been around for the last five years for this to count as his room anymore). They're both on Porco's bed. He has his face buried against Porco's back, and Porco's doing the good friend thing of pretending that he can't tell that Eren is crying by pretending to be more interested in the magazine in his hands.

"You're sending your kid to become a dog for the Marley. How the hell is that honorable? What the hell's so great about killing others for their sake? What the hell's so great about dying for their wars? I would rather have Marcel and Zeke at home than for my family to have 'honor.'"

There's just the smallest of tenseness in Porco's back. That's the only warning Eren has before Porco suddenly turns around to face him. He feels Porco's arms around him. And it's only then he realizes that Porco is trembling. That he has been selfishly demanding to be comforted, but Porco needs it just as much as he does.

The two pretend that their eyes aren't red and puffy when Eren leaves before it's dinner time.

*

Six children are chosen as Warrior Candidates.

It makes Eren sick to his stomach to congratulate them with a smile.

*

Training with the new Warrior Candidates feels like a spit to the face at times.

Eren knows it's because they're literally training bunch of babies who are holding guns for the first time in their lives. But damn, he feels so impatient. For the sake of training these kids, the three of them were not sent with the Warriors to provide support. He knows that in the long run, their help isn't all that necessary compared to the might of a titan. But sometimes there's a sinking feeling in his gut that makes him fearful that Zeke, like Marcel, won't come back for multiple years after leaving.

Since he knows these kinds of feelings of his will be grating for Porco and Colt, he keeps it to himself.

It takes Zeke and Pieck two months to wrap up the battle.

But instead of heading home, they are sent out again. This time, to Paradis.

*

"Marcel's coming home!" Eren shouts at the bunny doll. "Please! Fix yourself!"

The doll does not move. It does not answer. It doesn't fix itself.

Eren groans.

*

"Do you think that Marcel has changed a lot?" Porco asks hesitantly during lunch.

Eren pauses in mid-bite of his sandwich to glance at his friend curiously. The two of them have been abandoned by Colt, who insisted that he needed to eat lunch with his little brother who protested against that. Colt looks like he's out of place, sitting with bunch of children while eating lunch. Eren and Porco are a bit further away. They use the tree in the courtyard to provide back support and shade.

"I mean we changed a lot, too," Eren points out. At least, he would like to think so.

Porco makes a face. "But did Marcel change? They were on that island for five years. What if his temper became short? Does he still care about the detective series he used to love? Will he be happy with the fact that we've diligently collected every single book that came out for him? Will he... be happy to see us again?"

It's unusual for Porco to put this much thought into anything. This must really be messing with his head. Eren thought that Porco would be happier that his brother is finally coming home. But perhaps that's too naive of a thought process?

"What did you break?" Eren asks.

"Why is that your immediate reaction?! You have zero tact."

Eren rolls his eyes. "Well, it's not like thinking like that is going to help anyone. Marcel is Marcel. Whether he changed or not is something we'll find out. Worrying about it now isn't going to change who he has become."

There's a look on Porco's face that Eren isn't sure how to read. Then Porco glances away to eat his sandwich.

"Hey, are you still going to do it?"

"Do what? Don't be so vague," Eren complains.

Porco makes a point of not looking back at Eren. Whatever he wants to say, he thinks it's going to make Eren mad. That's stupid. Porco should just say it instead of beating around the bush. He should know Eren better than that by now.

"I mean confessing. You said that you wanted to confess to him when he came back. Are you still going to do that? He won't be the same person as he was five years ago. It's very possible that the things you liked about him then isn't the things you like now."

"And?" Eren asks. He finally takes a bite of his sandwich. "At the end of the day, it's still Marcel. For the remainder of his short life, I want to spend it by his side."

"What if he doesn't want to?"

Again, Porco won't meet his eyes. Where is he trying to go with this? Does he want to hear Eren say that he gives up that badly? But how can he give up when he hasn't even seen Marcel yet? Unless Marcel brings back someone from Paradis while saying, "I plan on spending the rest of my life with this person," Eren refuses to give up.

Why should he?

Marcel promised him.

It's something that Eren never told Porco.

But on the night before Marcel was sent off, the two of them snuck out. There's no place in Liberio that is private enough for a talk, especially not for children their age at the time. So they defaulted to the cemetery. Because who would ever expect children to talk privately there in the middle of the night?

"There's something I want to tell you when I return," Marcel said. "Will you please wait for me?"

Eren isn't stupid. He knows what Marcel plans on saying.

So he's going to be the petty boyfriend who says it first. If Marcel wanted to say it first, he shouldn't have made Eren wait five years.

"I'll lock him up and refuse to let him leave until he agrees," Eren jokes.

Porco's head snaps over to him in disbelief. "You can't do that! He's my brother! You can't hog him like that!"

Whatever reservation Porco had before that made him so hesitant and uncertain seems to be gone now. That's good. Eren doesn't know how to be gentle. When Marcel returns, he can comfort them and soothe away their worries like he used to. But until then, all Eren can do is joke around and hope that it's enough for Porco.

"Hah! I made you look at me!"

He laughs as Porco's expression turns into that of pure disgust.

"You're the worst. I hope Marcel rejects you!"

*

Everyone from the Warrior Division gather together at the harbor to greet the returning heroes. Although it's such a glorious occasion, no one else from the Liberio internment zone has been invited. It's just those from the Warrior Division.

That should probably have been a sign.

Eren shifts his weight from his left foot to his right, unable to stand still at the thought of Marcel finally returning home. Sure, his brother's coming home, too. Not to mention the others, but... it's Marcel.

He's been waiting.

"If you need to use the bathroom, you should probably do that first," Porco snickers.

Eren turns to him with a grin that's all teeth and no charm.

"Don't start, you two," Colt warns them.

The two of them pout at their friend, who just gives them a stern look. Can't Colt tell that Eren and Porco are just trying to work off their nerves? Does he have to block them off like this?

"Oh, there's the ship!"

Eren straightens.

Finally.

After five years of waiting, Marcel is home.

*

...

Hey, this is a joke, right?

A damned joke that they're playing. Zeke probably let it slipped just how much Eren was looking forward to their return. Pieck jumped in on it, because she loves to play around like that. Reiner and Bertolt had no balls to refuse her. Annie didn't care enough to dissent. So Zeke felt bad for being the party-pooper and went along with it. And Marcel...

Someone, please tell him that they're joking. Because there's absolutely no way that this can be the truth, right?

"I-I'm sorry," Reiner chokes out, his voice shaking with tears. "I don't know about Annie's status, but both Bertolt and Marcel perished in the line of duty. I... I'm the only one who made it back."

Eren's fist makes contact against Reiner's nose before Porco and Colt both restrain him. But he felt the crunch of Reiner's nose against his fist. He sees the red of blood before Reiner covers it up with his goddamned titan healing.

It takes him a second to realize that the yelling he's faintly registering is coming from himself.

"Tell me that you're joking! Tell me that you're lying! Reiner, you fucking asshole! Why the hell are you the only one back? Return him! Return Marcel!"

It's a joke, right? It has to be a joke. It has to be. There can't be anything else. There can't be-

"Eren," Zeke says.

His voice is gentle but firm. He stands right in front of Eren, both of his hands on Eren's shoulders.

"If you throw a fit like that, Porco can't grieve."

Porco can't...?

The fight leaves him. Seeing him relax, both Porco and Colt releases him. Colt looks heartbroken. He looks like he's desperately looking for something to say that might be comforting, but he's coming up empty. And...

Porco won't meet Eren's eyes.

*

The funeral is held two days after the return.

There's no body to mourn.

Not for Bertolt.

Not for Marcel.

Not for Annie, but she's not confirmed dead.

They bury two empty caskets in the ground.

And then their attention turns towards the new Jaw Titan that was brought back from Paradis.