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Colliding Constellations

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Sitting on the rooftop terrace, you watch the sunset over a distant mountain range. You feel like you can escape and pretend you are in some sort of distant forest or jungle up here. Ferns and wildlife grow freely along the railings and encircle the open area. The only deviation from the natural world is the rough concrete flooring and lawn chairs that are propped against the cold metal railing. As you gaze out across the skyline, you try to ignore the hazy smog that ruins the view. Instead, you focus on the snow-capped vision before you. You sit back in a chair, longing to race past the sky-rise buildings and launch yourself into the natural world beyond. Still, you find yourself stuck in Shingeki City; a large town nestled by a ravine, surrounded by massive cliffs that soar above the towering lights below. In this space, you feel a sense of claustrophobia as immense buildings and light pollution close in. It’s stifling to live in such a place. However, you know you must fulfill your duty, not only to yourself but to your family as well. You can’t leave this place yet. Still, placing a fist against your heart, you vow to one day make it out of this cruel world and discover your true purpose beyond these confining walls. 

You raise your head on hearing the metallic drone of footsteps making their way up the landing. A door swings open with a crash that ruins the atmosphere you settled into.

“Yo, Nova! I thought I might find you up here.”

Glancing back, you find your best friend. Her long black hair falls to her waist and blows softly in the summer wind. She casually salutes you as she adjusts her denim overalls and white shirt, whilst carrying two bags of chips in her arms. You turn back to face the horizon. “Hey, Lily. I just needed a moment to think. It’s been a long day.”

“Oh? Trouble with the folks? You know, my grandmother will take you in anytime.”

“Thanks, but I don’t know how many of her old folktales I can take,” you chuckle.

“Oh come on, she’s not that bad.” Lily rolls her eyes and takes a seat by a large fern. She props her feet up against the railing and opens a bag of chips. “Want one?”

You shake your head. 

She pops one into her mouth with a loud crunch. “So, what’s up?” 

“What do you mean?”

“You always come here when something’s on your mind. So, tell me.” She nudges you and continues her snack.

You sigh. “It’s the same as always. I want to leave and my parents insist that I stay.”

Lily shrugs. “I don’t know why you still listen to them. You’re twenty-six, same as me, right?”

“Twenty-five, actually.”

“Whatever. My point is that you can do so much more than just take over Reader & Co. Editing Services. Besides, they’re not even home half the time, right?”

“I know, and I told them as much. Still, they have a specific path they want me to follow as their only child. At least, when I was talking to them today, they said they would give me a one-year ultimatum.”

“An ultimatum? Seriously? What a load of bull. Why can’t you just do what you want?”

“It’s complicated,” you sigh. “I’m lucky they’re giving me this long.”

Lily shakes her head. “I don’t know how you do it.”

You smile melancholically. You know you’ll have to plan your time wisely. You wish more than anything that you could do what Lily says and simply throw caution to the wind. Life would be a lot simpler if you could. 

“So, what are you going to do?” She inquires.

You trace a finger across your cheek and rest it on your bottom lip. “Well, I was thinking I’d pursue my art career while I can. You know I love to draw and paint, after all.”

Lily chuckles slightly. “That seems to be all you ever do anyways. In fact, I’m surprised you’re not doodling right now in that ratty old sketchbook.”

“It’s not that ratty!”

“Really?” She raises an eyebrow. “Show me. I know you brought it with you.”

You glance away nervously, but reveal it from inside your jacket pocket. Taking a second glance at it, the pages look completely worn and the binding is practically falling off. You quickly tuck it back out of sight again.

“See? I told you it was ratty,” Lily smirks.

“Oh, shut up,” you scowl. 

You smile slightly as you glance out towards the horizon. A warm orange glow slowly gives way to an inky blue as you glance up towards the evening sky. A single star twinkles in between the contrasting colors. Even though you can’t experience the full beauty of the night sky, you can’t help but feel grateful for witnessing the natural world above you.

Getting out of your lawn chair, you step back and lay on the cold concrete. For a single moment, you want to be able to fully experience a world without cars, sky-rise buildings, and blaring lights. 

Lily follows suit and lays down beside you, chips still in hand. She smiles slightly and reaches her hand towards the sky through the jungle of ferns that look like trees from this angle. Her straight black hair shifts softly and serenely in the warm breeze. She looks contented as she takes in the view silently.

“Lily?”

“Hm?”

“Tell me one of your grandmother’s folktales.”

“Why?” She turns to face you, propped up on her elbow.

You shrug. “Just need a distraction.”

Lily leans back and pops another chip in her mouth, considering which story would be best. Her lips purse as she thinks for a moment before sitting up. “I’ve got one,” she pauses, wondering where to begin. “Let’s see…she told me one about star-crossed lovers! So cute yet so tragic,” she squeals excitedly.

You roll your eyes. Lily seems to enjoy forbidden love affairs a little too much for your liking. Still, you listen as she begins the tale.

“It starts in the starry night sky, amongst the constellations above. One person was a famous weaver and the other a cattle herder.”

“An alien match made in heaven?”

She punches your shoulder. “Anyways, the two were lonely by themselves so the weaver’s father offered to set them up. They instantly fell madly in love. However, they neglected their duties and focused only on each other. The weaver’s fabrics were deemed useless and the cattle ran free across the night sky. The weaver’s father was furious that they weren’t fulfilling their duties, so he forbade them from seeing one another.”

“Well, that went from zero to a hundred,” you raise an eyebrow.

“Still, every year on the summer solstice on a clear night such as this one, the lovers find a way to meet. It is said that if you see two shooting stars intersect, it’s those same two lovers meeting in the night sky.”

“Ok, so what’s the moral your grandmother came up with for that one? All work and no play make Jack a dull boy? Or don’t quit your day job?”

Lily chuckles slightly before glancing at the sky above. “Actually, she claims that seeing the stars connect brings you luck in love. If both you and your soulmate see the stars cross at the same time, on the same night, you will be bonded forever. Apparently, that’s how she knew my grandfather was the one.”

“What? Your grandparents traveled across space and time to be with one another?”

“Forget it, you’re hopeless. Can’t you indulge me a little bit here?”

You smirk and lean on your elbow, tracing circles in the cold ground. Despite your attitude, you always enjoy Lily’s grandmother’s stories. They may be unrealistic, but there’s a special charm in them. In a way, you hope her tall tales are real, at least to some extent. In particular, the idea of finding someone across the galaxies may be too good to be true, but you can’t help lifting your gaze slightly towards the night sky. 

After a few minutes, a sigh from Lily breaks you out of your thoughts. “Listen, I’m here if you need to talk, okay?”

You smile. “Thanks, I know I can count on you to cheer me up.”

She grins foolishly. “Always!” 

She shifts to her feet with a stretch. “Well, I have to get going. My grandmother wants me back for tea this evening. Want to come?”

You shake your head. “Thanks, but I think I’ll stay out here a little longer.” You sit up and take out your journal, waving it through the air.

She gives you a knowing glance and rolls her eyes. “I see how it is.” She smiles and turns towards the door. “Don’t stay out here too long or you’ll catch a cold.” 

“Right,” you mutter. “I’ll head back soon.”

Lily’s footsteps fade into the distance as you continue looking out at the dark skyline. It’s eerily beautiful in a way, but the lights from the town ruin the effect somewhat. You lean back again, wishing you could be in a place where you could see the stars in all their glory. At this rate, it’ll be hard to see the evening star you glanced upon earlier. 

You sketch a small map of the constellations above, based on the limited number you can see from this angle. You’re surprised you can even find space for your drawings as leaves of paper slip from the bindings. Many are coffee-stained, but you think that gives it more charm.

As your mind wanders from the stars above, you idly sketch the image of a key. As you do; however, a flash across the sky peaks in your peripheral vision. You look up from your notebook to find a sight that catches your breath. Two stars race across the night sky, leaving streams of white, blue and purple in their wake. You’re shocked to have stumbled upon something so stunning and unusual. Before you have a chance to snap a picture on your phone, you see them overlap. The star on the left changes its trajectory and intersects with the one on the right. An ‘X’ is formed and faint sparks of light burst forth as the trails collide in the night sky. Your mind wanders to the story Lily told you earlier. Although you know it’s probably a made-up tale, you can’t help the hint of a smile that plays across your lips.

***

“LE-VIII” a voice calls through the corridor. There’s an urgent bang on the door.

Rolling his eyes, Levi glances at his comrades. They make no sudden movements. What does he have to do to get a few moments of peace? He sips his tea casually as the figure at the door tries to barge their way in. “Eren, open the door,” he sighs. 

“Yes sir,” a boy with brown hair and green eyes stands tentatively. He unbolts the door cautiously, knowing what is going to happen next. 

“Levi!” A figure with glasses and auburn hair slams open the door in his face. “I thought I might find you here!” They laugh, holding their sides.

“Eren!” Mikasa cries and rushes over to him.

“Seriously, again? Please be more careful, Section Commander,” he groans, stumbling back and rubbing his forehead. 

“Pretty sure that’s impossible,” Jean smirks.

“Get on with it Four-Eyes. I’m not in the mood for your antics,” Levi quips, sipping his tea.

“Well,” they exclaim with a suspicious gleam in their eye. “I’m glad you asked. Tonight is the perfect night to go stargazing! I thought it would be perfect to raise everyone’s spirits.”

“Seriously?” Jean complains. “Can’t you see we’re recovering from a crisis here?”

“Aw, come on. I’ll bring snacks!” They hold up a bag of apples.

“I’m in!” Sasha exclaims, racing towards Hange and immediately trying to steal one. “Come on, Connie. Help me out!”

“Fine,” he grumbles, getting to his feet.

“Shouldn’t we at least think about this? It’s the middle of the night,” Armin tries to ration with the group.

Levi glances at each of the recruits. They are weary and exhausted after all of the trauma they experienced up to this point, losing many friends and comrades along the way. He knows that feeling of loss all too well. Within the past week, he lost more friends than he could count. His entire squad was eliminated in the process. It seemed he lost his family again. Even after all of that training, their efforts still amounted to nothing. He recalls the numerous badges he collected from his comrades. If only I’d been stronger, maybe they wouldn’t have died. No, their deaths were inevitable either way. Still, he wants to give something back to his valiant comrades. He knows Hange feels the same way, even if they don’t say it openly. Perhaps this is their way of making amends and cheering them up. He wishes Erwin was here to boost everyone’s morale, but he has a meeting in Trost with Commander Pyxis and won’t be back until morning.

“Alright you win, Four-Eyes,” he gets to his feet.

“Excellent!” They squeal and leave in a hurry. 

They grudgingly follow them up the stairs and use their 3DMG to swoop up to the rooftop of their hideout. 

It’s a warm summer evening and the skies are perfectly clear. The inky canvas above is illuminated with an array of constellations, stars, and galaxies. It is a beautiful sight to be sure. Every now and then a flicker emerges in the night, leaving a trail of white in its wake. 

Levi strolls across the rooftop and sits between Hange and Eren. In a way the evening is peaceful, but they knew better than to relax. After the attack of the Female Titan, he knows that anything is possible at this point. He can’t afford to drop his guard. He doubts they will ever be able to return to a semblance of normalcy considering their constant battles. So many lives were lost and for what? Damn it! If I can’t even save the lives of my comrades, what’s the point of it all?

“Levi?” Hange’s voice interrupts his thoughts.

He glances at them, while the cadets talk amongst themselves. “What is it?”

“Anything you want to get off your chest? I know I’m not Erwin, but I’m still here if you need anything. We’re friends, right?”

He sighs and glances up towards the night sky. “I’ve been thinking, Hange. What is all of this death and destruction going to amount to? We fight and we die. Is that all there is in this world? We’ve been struggling for humanity, but why should we do that when the only thanks we get in return are ridicule and scorn?”

The cadets' ears perk up and they turn towards Levi and Hange. They want to know the answer too. What does it all mean? What are they fighting for? 

Hange sighs. “Being members of the Survey Corps means we lose people on a regular basis. Your squad members didn’t die in vain though, Levi. We’re still here for a reason. I’m sure that all of them are watching over us and cheering us on from above. Still, at least we have each other. We’ll do them proud. We’ll keep fighting no matter the cost, for humanity.”

The tension amongst the cadets eases a bit. Hange is right, at least they still have each other. Even if they die, they’ll still continue the charge and dedicate their hearts. 

Levi looks down across the plains. This world seems so small and yet, so big at the same time. He’s lost so much already, he can hardly grasp onto the hope that they will make it out of here unscathed. He feels as though he is walking along a tightrope; one wrong move and he will fall to his death. Still, he has his physical strength at the very least. 

“Hey, want to hear a story?” Hange pokes him excitedly.

“Not really,” he quips, shrugging them off.

They ignore him. “Moblit told me this tale about two star-crossed lovers who fell in love across the galaxies.”

“Let me guess, one of them was a titan?” He rolls his eyes, knowing Hange’s obsession a little too well.

“The story goes that two people met one day by chance and fell madly in love. However, the father of one of them didn’t approve and tried to keep them separated for eternity. Still, they managed to find a way to be together once a year, on the night of the summer solstice. Supposedly, if you see two stars intersect on that night, it’s the lovers, meeting. It’s supposed to bring you luck in love. If you and your soulmate see the stars intersect on the same night and at the same time, you will be bonded together across the galaxies until you find one another.”

“And you’re telling me this why?”

“I just thought it was neat,” they sit happily.

Levi narrows his gaze. “So, Moblit told you this? Gee, I wonder why that was?” He rolls his eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“Never mind,” he huffs. “Ridiculous.” He places a hand on their head and ruffles their messy auburn hair. “You’re hopeless.”

They chat idly as the stars twinkle brightly above. As the night deepens; however, the cadets eventually make their way to bed. Jean and Eren have to carry Sasha and Connie who almost fall off the roof drowsily. Levi wonders how he ended up with such a rag-tag team of misfits. In a way, they are sort of endearing. Their spirit may be just what he needs to keep the Special Operations Squad going. If they could survive this mess then maybe…

He glances down as Hange remains curled up on the shingles next to him. He sighs and places his jacket over them. He wishes he could sleep that peacefully. Life isn’t that generous though. Every time he attempts to shut his eyes, visions of his friends and family dying gruesomely plague him. He winces at the very thought and pinches his brow. 

As Hange rests beside him, he removes four badges from his jacket pocket. He sighs deeply and brushes his fingers across them. The blood from their battle blots out the Wings of Freedom on a few of the crests. 

“Petra, Oluo, Eld, and Gunther,” he whispers. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He glances up towards the starry sky. “Fellow comrades, Farlan, Isabel, and Mom; are you watching over us right now? Are you really with us?” He sighs, knowing it’s unlikely. Still, he salutes them out of respect. “I promise, your deaths won’t be in vain. Humanity will reign again someday. I’ll make it happen, I swear to you.”

A flicker across the horizon catches his eye. He glances up to find a trail of converging stars in the night. Ribbons of white, blue, and purple shine in their wake. The star on the right slowly intersects with the one on the left. A bright light erupts from the center as they cross over, forming an ‘X’ shape, ripping through the sky. Then, just as quickly as they appeared, they dissipate, leaving him in darkness once again. His mind wanders to the story Hange told him. He knows it’s unlikely, but he can’t help consider the possibility that someone is out there, thinking of him at this very moment. The thought unconsciously makes him smirk.

Chapter Text

“It’s up to you now.”

“What?” You rub your eyes as your dream takes over. 

Glancing around the empty space you find yourself in a plain white void. There is a door behind you made of mahogany with gold painted floral decals on the sides. In front of you is another entryway with a sandy-colored, plain design. You scratch your head slightly; weird dream.

“Take it.”

Your ears perk up at the tone of the deep sonorous voice. Your eyes wander towards the sound. In front of the oak, doorway stands an unfamiliar man. You don’t know how you missed him, it was as though he was blurred from view. Despite his small stature, his expression is stern and cold, knitted in uneasiness and vague frustration.

“Don’t make me repeat myself,” he grumbles.

You glance down slightly to find a golden key resting between his thumb and index finger. He holds it out to you cautiously. When you look closer, you find a red thread looped securely through the end piece. You wonder where it came from and why this stranger is giving it to you. 

Still, you instinctively move your hand towards his. As you grip the key, your fingers lightly graze his. A flash of lightning sparks as you connect at that moment. You jump back in surprise, looping the red thread around your wrist as you do. 

You see images: flickers of people, soldiers, fearsome giants, walls that reach towards the sky, and a natural world you’d only ever dreamt of. You pinch your brow as it becomes too much to even consider. Glancing ahead, you take a closer look at the man before you. It seems so obvious who he is now. You don’t know why you didn’t see it before. 

“Levi!” You attempt to reach out towards him.

His eyes widen in surprise and suspicion. He extends a hand towards you instinctively. 

As he steps forward; however, the ground opens up and you fall into the darkness. You watch as he reaches into the darkness after you. His expression is marked with fear and confusion. Still, you know this isn’t goodbye. It’s only the beginning.

“Wait for me, Levi!” You call as the shadows consume you. “I’ll find you again, I promise!”

A tear escapes from your eyes as his image fades from view. You let yourself sink further into the darkness as the world curls in on itself.

You wonder what you were dreaming of. It felt so bittersweet. You can’t help thinking you’ve forgotten something or someone. You only wish you could remember his name.

***

Your eyes flash open and you gasp for breath as the sensation of falling continues, but feels more real. You hit the ground with a smack. You groan slightly, rubbing your head as your bleary eyes adjust to the room around you. You notice something next to you on the cold floor. A chair? The toppled seat is cracked along the sides. A desk behind you shadows the rest of the room from view. The papers, once neatly stacked on the surface, now flutter down to the ground in a heap beside you. You lean against the mahogany surface as you force yourself into a standing position.

Glancing around the room, you realize you don’t recognize it at all. It looks like an office space with a simple desk, chair, and filing papers. It’s cabin-like and minimalistic in its design with very few accents or flourishes. A single window sits behind the desk with the curtains drawn. Peeking outside you see a wide meadow filled with shrubs and a stunning horizon where the sun gleams warmly across the grassy plains. 

“Where am I?” 

Your hand flies to your throat as a deep masculine tone erupts from your throat. A slight bump rests where your skin would normally be smooth. 

“What on Earth? Am I sick?” The tone resonates again. You try clearing your throat to no avail. 

Glancing down, you realize your pajamas have been replaced with a simple grey shirt and brown pants. Not only that, but something is missing. You place your hands against your chest, which is now as flat as a cutting board. Where did they go? 

As you try to contemplate what exactly is going on, you feel something between your legs pressing against your slacks. Something’s down there. Panic washes over you as you drift a shaky hand down towards the source. It connects with something large and bulging.

“WHAT?!” You bring your hand back sharply, blushing a deep shade of red at the very thought.

You waste no time, racing towards the door at the far end of the room. There must be a mirror somewhere, a bathroom, anything! Flying through the nearest doorway to your right, you find yourself in a shadowed bedroom. You head straight for the bathroom tucked away in the left corner. Making a beeline for it, you race in and slam the door shut. Shadowed in total darkness, your hand searches for the light switch. To your surprise, the wall seems bare. You open the door but find there’s nothing on the outside wall either. 

With the limited light the open door brings, you see two candles on either side of the dark mirror. Wow, talk about old-fashioned. You find a match and strike it against a stone used to prop open the door. You smirk slightly, I’m glad I remember something from wilderness training. As the candles flicker, you stomp out the match and grasp the sink shakily. 

Slowly, you bring your head up to face the mirror. 

“Who is that?” You gasp, jumping back. You lean against the wall frantically, as a frightened-looking man glares back at you. His eyes are wide and shaky, his breathing heavy. 

“What the hell? What is this?” You gasp. The man in the mirror mimics your words with the same deep velvet tone from earlier.

As you step forward, he does too. You squint your eyes, trying to figure out what is going on. He’s wearing the same clothes as you and his expression reflects your current feelings. Every move is in direct coordination with yours. You poke at your face and he does the same. His jawline is sharp, smooth, and angular. You brush your knuckles against your new face, feeling the same curves and lines mixed with the roughness that his morning stubble brings. Bringing a hand up to your scalp, you also find that your hair is shorter. It’s a dark brown color, almost black, and parted to the side. The strands hang loosely over a cropped undercut. You run your fingers through it, feeling its softness in contrast to the rigidity of his other features. 

You step back, attempting to piece everything together. So, I became a man in my sleep? It sounds like something out of a strange science fiction novel. 

You shake your head. How could I be so foolish? This is clearly a dream, a very vivid lucid dream of sorts. If that’s the case, I should be able to lie down and wake up back home. 

You take a deep breath and open the bathroom door.

You make your way back to the bedroom area and lie on top of the untouched covers. You close your eyes. Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep; you encourage yourself. 

There’s a sharp knock on the door. Startled, your eyes flash open.

“Captain Levi? It’s Moblit.” A male voice calls. “Are you alright? It’s almost time for the next recon mission. Erwin will be arriving shortly too.”

Levi? Is that this man’s name? Or rather, my name now? Wow, that’s weird to think about. 

“Y-yes,” you squeak.

“Captain?”

You clear your throat. “Yes,” you attempt to soundless strained. 

“Okay,” Moblit responds suspiciously. “We’ll be waiting for you downstairs.”

You wait nervously as his footsteps retreat down the hallway. You release a sigh and try to calm your racing heart. So, my name is Captain Levi here? What is this place? Where am I? If this is a dream, it’s a weird one. 

You glance up towards the support beams in the cabin-like space. To your left, a window gleams brightly as the morning sunlight cracks through the shutters. You try to close your eyes and sleep again, but quickly realize it’s to no avail. Your body seems to fight against you as you curl up on the unfamiliar white sheets. You sit up and sigh. You’ll just have to go through the motions of the dream and hope for the best. 

Standing, you search for anything that could give you some idea of what is going on: a phone, tv, tablet, laptop. You scratch your head in defeat on turning up nothing of value. Isn’t there anything useful here?! What, am I living in the dark ages now? Still, you notice that everything is meticulously clean and in its own place. Aside from the now messy bed and, you suppose, the broken chair; everything is prepared just so. Even as the sunbeams trickle in, not a speck of dust can be seen. You walk over to the ledge and open the shutters, letting light wash over the shadowed room.

You are stunned at the beauty of the sight before you. In the office space, you were so preoccupied with the sudden changes to your physique that you neglected to take in the surrounding area. As the morning sun pours in, you see nothing but meadows and forest for miles into the distance. There isn’t a building or sky-rise to be found. Distant evergreens and shrubs dot the landscape. Small brooks and paths roll over the small hills that occasionally jut out amongst the fields. The smell is what affects you the most though. The clean, crisp aroma of the trees and wildlife moves through your lungs as you take in slow deep breaths. There is no contamination from the exhaust of cars or vehicles. The stuffiness of the city has no effect out here. You flutter your eyes close as you inhale the magic of the surrounding area. This was what you were looking for all this time, a way to experience the true beauty of nature away from the confines of the walls surrounding you in the city.

“Seriously Krista, one of these days you’re going to have to marry me.” 

“Come on, Ymir! You know still have chores to do.”

Snapping out of your distant thoughts, you glance down to see two women in uniforms playfully poking at each other as they wander out into the field. They appear to be armed with heavy metal machines, and a series of convoluted straps that trace across their bodies. 

“Hey, come on! Captain Levi will be down soon. If he sees you two goofing off, he’ll have us all on stable duty for months!” A brown-haired boy attempts to usher them back inside worriedly. 

You pinch your brow as you remember that Captain Levi is now you. The whole thing is giving you a headache. 

Strolling back inside you wander towards a simple oak wardrobe. You figure you’ll need to make an appearance before these strangers or else they’ll come looking for you again. 

Pulling back on the handles, you’re shocked at how tidy everything is. Levi's clothes are hung up in order and color-coordinated, unlike your own. You run your fingertips across the soft fabrics.

Considering how the figures below were wearing the same outfits, you decide it must be a uniform of sorts. Reaching towards your left, you remove a brown jacket, white pants, and a light blue button-up shirt. You glance at the metal structure with the straps and belts, but decide to forgo them, knowing you could hardly even attempt something so complicated. Lastly, you grab a pair of tall brown riding boots.

Taking the clothes to the bathroom, you glance in the mirror again, hoping for at least some change in your appearance. The man still looks back at you with those mysterious, stormy grey eyes. You sigh, knowing there’s no other option but to bite the bullet. 

You remove your old grey shirt and blush furiously. Just who is this guy?! 

His arms and abdomen are so toned, you almost think they’re fake. You brush your hands against the curves; feeling each ripple, vein, and occasional scar as you stretch out your arms. Your chest is flat but gives way to an eight-pack as you trace a finger down each bump and crevice. 

What does this guy do? Is he a professional athlete or something? You remember that man (Moblit was it?) addressed you as Captain Levi. Does that mean he is in the navy or military? You wish you had the answers to your burning questions. 

You brush a hand against the short stubble forming on your jawline but decide not to even attempt shaving it. You know that technology is limited here, to begin with. If you have to use a blade, you know you’ll probably slit your own throat on accident. Definitely not worth it. 

You sigh for a moment before blushing and turning from the mirror. You realize that the next part of the changing experience won’t be so easy. You turn away from the mirror as you remove your brown slacks and change into the white ones.

Just don’t look down, you attempt to reassure yourself. You blush an even deeper shade of red; however, as you realize that you need to pee. When will this nightmare end?!

You sigh as you blow out the candle and leave the bathroom a minute later. Well, that was the most embarrassing thing ever. 

You walk over to the dresser and run your palm against the faded wood. Glancing down, you can almost see your reflection in the glimmering light. Wow, this guy must clean constantly, you think. 

You pause as your hand brushes against a folded cloth in the corner. It fans out slightly with ripples, despite its neat presentation. It seems out of place in comparison to the strictly minimalist design of the room. It’s the only thing that hasn’t been neatly put away in a drawer or closet. You wonder if there’s some sort of meaning behind it as you pick it up. 

Slowly, you unfold it, revealing a piece of fabric that looks almost like a shorter scarf. From the lining, something gold and shiny tumbles to the floor with a ding. Bending down, you pick up what looks to be a small key. A crimson thread is attached to the end piece. You can’t describe it, but you feel a certain connection to this item. Instinctually, you place the thread and key around your neck, tucking it into your shirt. 

Your turn back to the fine white cloth in your hands. Despite not knowing anything about Levi, you sense that this piece of fabric is important. You quickly wrap it around your neck over the thread resting against your collar bones. Your fingers move across the fabric automatically, as though you’ve tied it a hundred times. Glancing down, you see the cravat resting against your shirt. Weird. 

“I wonder where the Captain is. It’s unlike him to sleep in,” a voice rings through the open window. 

Glancing down from a shadowed angle, you see a small group gathering in the field with the same uniform as you. You sigh, it’s time to get moving. You step towards the doorway and the new world that awaits you.

***

“No, don’t go. Don’t leave me. Petra, please come back. Eld, Oluo, Gunther…please, no! Don’t leave me. I can’t lose anyone else. I can’t…” 

Levi watches helplessly as the Female Titan devours his comrades. He can hear their bones crunching as they scream in agony, he smells the decay and watches as their guts and organs splatter on the ground beside him. Their blood sprays across the landscape and stains his vision red. He feels sick as he relives the same nightmare over and over again. 

“Please, stop,” he whispers shakily as the dream takes hold.

He feels like a child, longing for all of the death and destruction to end. At least the dead are no longer suffering. They are free of this torment.

Then, as quickly as they started, the terrors disappear. Levi finds himself in a new blank space, squinting in the light.

He doesn’t remember arriving in this strange white void or what he was doing before, but he instinctively understands what he has to do next. If she is to survive, she will need the key that is now pressing against his palm. He can’t afford to lose anyone else, not now. He turns his gaze towards the mahogany door ahead of him. Golden hand-painted flowers gleam against dark mahogany. The door creaks open slightly and a shadow slips past its crevices. 

From the darkness emerges a young woman; stunningly beautiful, but disheveled and tired. Levi turns awkwardly as he notices she’s wearing nothing more than a pair of underwear and a tank top that barely covers the parts it should.

He thrusts the key out towards her. “It’s up to you now.”

“What?” She yawns and rubs the sleep out of her eyes. As she glances ahead, she seems to look straight through him. 

Following her gaze, Levi sees his own doorway looming behind him. It’s much plainer looking, without any of the fancy patterns on hers. Still, the smooth and pale wood is clean and glistening, just the way he likes it. Something feels off though. He turns back towards the girl in front of him. She looks like she might collapse any second. Before that happens, he needs to make sure she gets this key. He’s not sure why, but he can sense its importance.

“Take it,” he demands.

She seems to come to her senses for the first time. Her eyes focus on his as she takes in her surroundings. 

He holds the key out earnestly. We don’t have time for this. “Don’t make me repeat myself,” he grumbles.

Her eyes linger on the key attached to a crimson thread. She hesitates, but eventually reaches out to grasp it. 

Her slender fingers clasp the golden key and graze his knuckles gently. He inhales sharply as a flash of lightning sparks at the sudden connection. The girl steps back with the key in hand. He watches as her eyes dart back and forth. She furrows her brow and pinches it, gasping for breath. Then, she looks up and seems to truly see him for the first time. Her eyes widen as something clicks in her mind.

“Levi!” She calls out to him, smiling warmly.

He glances back at her awkwardly. How does she know my name? Just who is this girl? And why do I feel the need to protect her in the first place?

Instinctively, he steps forward with his hand outstretched. As he does so; however, the ground opens up into a swell of darkness. The girl slips, falling back into the pit. He reaches forward, trying to catch her. Even as he does, he knows it’s too late. Panic and dread wash over him. He senses he’s losing something important as she tumbles through the shadows below.

“Wait for me, Levi!” She calls back to him. “I’ll find you again, I promise!”

He watches as her figure disappears into the darkness below. 

He retracts his hand and finds himself standing before the mahogany doorway, which is now wide open. He glances at the bright white light before him, wondering what just happened. 

What was I doing? Was I dreaming? He feels as though he has forgotten something or someone. He only wishes he could remember her name. 

***

Levi shifts slightly in his sleep. He feels like he overslept and his head pounds as he stirs. Slowly, he blinks open his eyes. He narrows his gaze. Something doesn’t feel right. He glances down. Since when did I end up in bed? Did I wander to my room in my sleep? He remembers resting his eyes the night before, but he expected to wake up at his desk like usual. Something is definitely off. Slowly, he sits up and looks around the room. 

His eyes widen as he takes in a truly horrific sight. This space is definitely not his own. It might be his own personal hell. This has to be a horrible nightmare, right? He rubs his eyes, trying to return to reality and wake himself up. It’s no use, though. 

Glancing around the room, he sees a thin layer of dust coating every inch of the place. Papers are strewn across the floor with strange scribbles and drawings. A pile of laundry lays on top of the bed, with several pairs of socks scattered across the floor. He shifts towards the side of the bed in an attempt to separate himself from the pile.

“Who the hell left this place in such a mess?!” His hand flies to his throat. What’s going on? His tone is light, resonant, and, most disturbing of all, feminine. 

His eyes trail down as something definitely doesn’t feel right. There’s a weight on his chest that wasn’t there before. His eyes widen as he takes in the sight.

 “What the fuck?!” 

He brings his hands up to cup the curves of his chest, which is now rounded, heavy and protruding out of a tight tank top. A pair of boyshorts cling to his thighs. As he glances down, he notices that something seems to be missing as well. 

He quickly stands and searches for a mirror. He needs to get to the bottom of this situation now. He avoids papers and dusty surfaces wherever possible as he makes his way across the room. 

He leans his hand against the wall by the door. His hand clicks against something and the room is instantly bathed in light. He squints slightly at the sudden change. How did that happen? So bright, damn it. Where am I? Within the Walls they relied heavily on natural lighting, candles, and gas lamps. He’d never seen a light burn so brightly and coldly from a simple ceiling fixture. What caused this change? Could I be in the interior with the high-born somehow? No, it has to be a dream or nightmare. There’s no other way around it.

He shakes his head as a much more terrifying sight befalls him. Turning, he finds a vertical standing mirror opposite the door. He flinches slightly on catching the reflection of a young woman. He looks behind himself, but there’s no one there. The woman mimics his every movement as he leans in closer. Her expression is one of shock and confusion.

“Who are you?” He wonders aloud. 

The girl in the mirror asks the question with a light tone that is definitely not his own. Yet, he can feel the vibrations and sounds leaving his throat. He trails his fingers across his collarbone, and she does the same.

“What the hell is this?” He brushes a hand against his smooth skin, which is far softer than his own. As his eyes drift down again though, he turns away. How can a girl wear something so revealing? Do all women wear such things to bed? The most he’s been exposed to in that regard came from the women in the Underground. Even Isabel wore more than this during their downtime. Still, this girl seems to throw caution to the wind when it comes to her clothing style, even if it is just her sleepwear. Her orange tank top clings to every curve and her underwear rides up around her thighs and hips. He can’t believe she, or rather, he is wearing the same clothes as this woman in the mirror right now. 

What a bizarre and twisted dream. Did Hange slip me something while I wasn’t paying attention?

There’s a sharp knock at the door that breaks him out of his thoughts. “Nova? It’s Lily. I’m heading over to Starbucks. Want to come with?” A melodic voice chimes on the other side of the door.

He freezes. Who is that?

“Nova? Can I come in?”

“No!” He calls in the same feminine tone. “I’m fine, just leave me alone,” he responds, hoping that his sharp edge will send her away.

“Are you sure you’re alright? I can get my grandmother to make some you tea instead if you’d like?”

“That won’t be necessary,” he responds sharply. As much as he’d kill for a cup of tea right now, he knows he has to figure out what’s going on first. 

“Okay, if you’re sure. I guess I’ll head out then. You know I’m here if you need anything, right?”

“Right,” he adds quickly. “Uh, thanks.”

“Well okay,” she mutters. “I’ll see you later then.” 

There’s a pause before he hears the sound of footsteps drifting down a staircase. 

He breathes a sigh of relief. Still, he wishes he agreed to that cup of tea. 

He shakes his head. This is no time to be getting distracted. He decides that the first order of business is to find some suitable clothes before he dives into a full cleaning spree. 

He jumps from floorboard to floorboard, avoiding the mess wherever possible as he makes his way towards the built-in closet. He sighs as he reaches the blue-stained doors. Rusted bronze handles reveal a thin layer of dust. It hasn’t been used in a while, by the looks of things. 

As he glances at the pile of laundry on the bed, he shudders. How long has that been there? He looks ahead and reaches a hand out tentatively towards the handles. He swings them open in one swift motion. 

“Ugh. Disgusting,” he grumbles as dust coats his fingertips. He wishes he had a rag, but of course, there’s nothing clean in this god-forsaken place. He brushes his hand against the thin cloth of his shirt, shuddering slightly in discomfort.

His eyes scan the interior for something, anything, that he could wear to clean this place. The entire site is a disheveled mess as blouses slip from hangers, and pants lay crumpled on the floor. Still, he’s determined to find something more fitting than his current attire. From the corner of his eye, he notices a plain white V-neck shirt and a pair of black dress pants. It’ll do he supposes, for now at least. He removes them from their hangers, carefully folding them in the process, along with a set of undergarments. He blushes slightly at the thought of wearing them but knows that this girl should at least attempt to look respectable. 

He shakes his head. It’s definitely the strangest dream he’s had to date and considering most of them involve titans, that’s saying something. He pinches his brow as he thinks back to yesterday. It seems so strange to think that he was sitting on the rooftop, mourning his fallen comrades with Hange mere hours ago. Now he’s in this strangely vivid dreamscape. It’s too bizarre to think about.

His fingertips rest upon the door handle as he wonders what will be waiting for him on the other side. Still, he has to take that first step forward if he is to survive in this filthy place. He twists the knob and glances around quickly to make sure the coast is clear, before sneaking down the hallway. 

As he moves across the landing, he can almost feel the dust surrounding him. A large staircase leads down into a modern living space. It’s unlike anything he has ever seen with glass tabletops and leather furniture. The only light source comes from the open-concept kitchen where a window glistens with the morning sun. A small wooden table rests with a few chairs. It appears empty as the single ray of sunlight shines upon it. The sounds are what startles him the most, though. There’s a hum from what sounds like a metallic machine, and there are slight rumbles every now and then that he is unfamiliar with. 

Still, he makes his way across the railing and hardwood floors, being careful to keep to the darkest part of the shadows, lest anyone find him here. Even if he appears to be someone else, he can’t bear for anyone to see him in such a state. Eventually, to the right, next to a master bedroom, he finds the bathroom. Glancing at the wall closest to him, he finds a similar button to the one he found in the bedroom. Flicking it on, he is once again bathed in bright fluorescent light. He squints as he shuts the door quickly behind himself.

Inside, he finds a large, contemporary space. White tiling lines the walls and shower area. The floor appears to be white oak but feels more man-made with a soft-rippled texture under his bare feet. The accents and cabinets of the room are deep blue and gold, creating a sleek modern appearance. The only thing that ruins the sight is the heavy coating of dust, mold, and grime. It almost makes him sick to his stomach. 

Has no one cleaned this place in weeks?!

He glances at the clothes bundled in his arms. He feels even more determined to clean as soon as possible. He sighs as he glances into the large oval mirror before him. He has to do it sooner or later. Even so, he can’t watch a young woman undress like this, even if it’s technically his own body right now. He pinches his brow in confusion. 

This is dream is getting on my nerves. Still, he turns away from the mirror and closes his eyes. It’s now or never. 

Lifting up his shirt, he turns his gaze away from his new curves and rounded cleavage. That said, he can’t help but clench his teeth in embarrassment when the woman’s full breasts shift and move as he changes. Get a grip and just do it, he rolls his eyes as he continues. He struggles with the bra but eventually hooks it into place. He makes a mental note to give the females in his squad more time in the showers, considering how arduous and uncomfortable this process is.

Hauling on the remainder of the clothing, he pauses and considers what he is doing with a palm pressed against his forehead. How did this even happen? If he thinks about it too much, he is sure he will lose it. It must be a weird dream or hallucination of some sort. I swear, when I wake up, I’ll ban Hange from their weird experiments indefinitely. 

Slowly turning, he faces himself in the mirror. Despite his furrowed brow and narrowed eyes, he can’t help but notice the inherent beauty of the woman before him. Her curves are still accentuated but look more dignified in her new attire. Her soft hair falls loosely and messily but in an attractive way. Like this, he can see the smoothness of her skin, the curve of her lips, and the intensity of her gaze. Still, it’s strange that his features now reflect hers as she continues to mimic his every move. 

He places his now slender palms against the sink and takes one last glance in the mirror. Even if it is a dream, he will not stand for this shithole apartment, something needs to be done. 

His eyes trail down to an elastic band by the sink. Looking in the mirror, he knows he can’t clean with his hair hanging down in his face like this. He cautiously picks it up, gagging at the sight as strands of hair knot around it. The first order of business is to eliminate the filth on this thing. 

He quickly turns on the tap and rubs a bar of soap across it vigorously. By the time he is done rinsing it, the band practically sparkles in the light. Perfect, just as it should be.

Swiftly he attempts to tie his new locks back into a ponytail. His appearance still looks disheveled, but it will do for now. With his brow furrowed in determination, he swings open the door and prepares to scour every inch of this foul place. 

With his hands on his hips, he cautiously heads back to the bedroom area. As he returns to the brightly lit space, he quickly shuts the door and leans against the frame. Gazing down at the disaster zone, he tries to decide what to tackle first. 

Making his way through the mess, he heads towards the window, determined to let in some fresh air. Pulling back the curtains, his eyes widen at the unusual sight before him. He can hardly believe what he is seeing. 

Crowds of people line the streets, walking along specific pathways between massive, towering buildings. If he had to guess, he’d say the majority are even bigger than the Colossal Titan. In front of him, above the buildings, is a massive stone cliff spanning up towards the sky. As he opens the window, the air that wafts through is dense with an industrial tinge to it. Glancing down from the tall building he finds himself in, he sees flashing lights and metal machines that roll along next to the crowds below. Loud beeping noises catch his attention as he tries to keep track of them. The hum of chatter and the roar of engines make their way up to the open window as he takes in the new world around him. Every now and then a longer siren will pierce through the air. The most startling of all is a roar from a giant flying machine soaring above the cliffs and buildings. He flinches and ducks as it flies by like a giant bird in the sky. Despite its monstrous roar, the people below seem none the wiser. 

“What is this place?” he wonders, taking it all in. 

If Hange were here, they’d be out the door, exploring in a heartbeat. Even Erwin would be inclined to investigate. That is the entire purpose of the Scout Regiment after all. Exploration, curiosity, and the investigation of the world beyond the walls is something they live and breathe. They dedicate their hearts to that very cause, a dream to see humanity thrive. Now, here is an opportunity to do just that, right before him. 

He sighs, wondering how much of this strange landscape is real, or if it truly is all a dream. He figures it’s better than facing off against titans at any rate. Turning back, he decides to clean first and then take in the sights of the new outside world he finds himself in.

Noticing a limited selection in the way of cleaning supplies, Levi dares to leave the bedroom again. Determining that there is no one in the apartment space, he heads down the large wrought iron staircase to his left. 

Making his way towards the large floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room, he dares to pull back the curtains. Immediately, light permeates the space brightly, making him squint at the sudden change. 

Before him lies a sight even more shocking than the view from the bedroom. Towering buildings dot the landscape and fan out towards a distant mountain range. The cliff faces from before creating a horseshoe shape, encapsulating the city. Just as he saw before, there is an array of massive buildings and people bustling along narrow pathways. Multicolored, smooth metal machines dart in all directions along various roads. Flashing lights, smoke, and movement weave overwhelmingly through the cityscape. A haze settles over the area as exhaust creeps into the air. Lines of buildings seem to continue on forever. Still, he feels self-conscious as he notices movement inside the office structures across from him. 

He backs up slightly but turns sharply on instinct when he comes in contact with a cream-colored leather couch. Turning, he is faced with a room, unlike anything he’s ever seen. The walls are a pearl color that allows for light to enter the space easily. Accents of pastel blue and yellow create a summery atmosphere. Glass tables and the large floor-to-ceiling windows refract light and cast rainbows across the surfaces and walls. 

Still, the dust and dirt create a thick film over the area and furniture. Dishes are piled disgustingly in the kitchen sink nearby. How could someone let a place this beautiful become so filthy? 

His ears perk up on hearing a scuttle across the floor. His eyes dart over and he swears he sees a roach scurry underneath the couch. 

That’s it, this really is hell, he decides. 

If he had his blades with him, he would have sliced off its head in one fell swoop. Now; however, all he can do is scrub the place from top to bottom and, make no mistake, he would without a doubt.

After quickly combing through the majority of the living area, he finds a door tucked to the side in a narrow hallway. His eyes widen as he swings open the door. Before him lies every cleaning product he could ever imagine. It’s like something out of a fairy tale. With an excited gleam in his eye, he gathers a multitude of products and equipment in his arms. 

Where have all these products been my whole life? It seems too good to be true.  

Not wanting to waste any time, he gathers them all in his arms and climbs back up the stairs. With modern advancements like these, he knows he can make the apartment spotless. He sets to work, making his way through the interior with vigor.

It’s like magic; one swipe of a rag and surfaces sparkle in the sunlight. Despite a couple of surprises, seeing the strange woman reflected back at him, he continues happily. He smirks as he finishes the laundry, cleans the dishes, gathers up papers, and dusts the place from top to bottom, before scrubbing the floors.

What a wonderful dream, he sighs as he wipes down the dresser in the bedroom. 

As he continues, he notices a notebook placed by a lamp and reaches over to examine it. It looks just as messy as the rest of the room did just moments ago. Papers stick out of worn bindings and the pages are yellowed. Still, the journal holds an odd charm. He runs his fingers along the spine. He wonders if this book is important to that woman. Nova, was it? Just who are you?

Taking one last glance in the bedroom mirror, he nods with conviction. It’s time to find out what exactly is going on here.

Chapter Text

Walking down the bustling hallway, you are glad you settled on the militant style. Everyone you come across seems to be wearing a similar attire with their brown jackets, white pants, and riding boots. The only thing you’re missing is the giant metal contraptions and, what looks to be, rock climbing equipment with a series of straps and harnesses.

“Good morning, Captain Levi.” Each figure greets you with a fist over their heart and one at their back. You glance at them in surprise as you recall making the same motion as a sign of luck and determination back home. Here; however, it looks more like a salute.

“Levi!” A voice calls down the hallway. “Good morning, sleepy-head!”

You turn to see a person with auburn hair and glasses waving at you frantically and laughing.

You raise a hand awkwardly in response. “Um, hello?”

They race towards you. You feel a sudden urge to escape as they all but tackle you to the ground. 

“Oh wow! Look at you. You’re so expressive this morning. Never mind that. Tell me, is it true? Did you actually sleep more than five hours last night?! I heard from Moblit that you were snoring. Snoring!”

You dart your eyes away from them, unsure of how to respond. “I don’t know. Maybe?” 

They gasp. “Holy shit, it’s a new record! I’ll have to document this moment for posterity. I can’t wait to tell Erwin. I could just cry tears of joy!” They throw their arms around you.

You try to shift out of their grip, still feeling lost and out of place.

“Section Commander, Hange! Please stop fooling around. We need to prepare the squad before Erwin gets here.”

Glancing ahead, you see a tall man with blond hair fidgeting impatiently.

“Right, I almost forgot about that. Thanks, Moblit.” They smile, pulling themselves together. “Well, let’s get going, Levi. We’re late enough as it is.”

You follow them awkwardly, trying to make sense of what just happened. Glancing ahead at the blonde man, you realize that you recognize his voice. You wonder if he was the one who knocked on your door earlier. This is all way too confusing. Still, you race after them as they continue down a narrow wooden staircase.

At the base, Hange opens a door towards a large common area. The cabin is a distinctly militant style. The oak furniture and simplistic design are a little cold; however, the company is anything but. 

“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” Moblit glances at the scene with a nervous glance towards you. 

You simply stare ahead with your mouth slightly agape. In the warm morning sunlight, stands a group of kids rough-housing and making a mess in the small kitchen space. Bread crumbs and tea are spilled all over the table and floor. 

“I told you, stop stealing food! You’re going to cause the rest of us to starve!” The brown-haired boy from earlier argues with a girl who is stuffing her face with bread. 

“But it’s so good!” She mumbles as she takes another bite vigorously.

“Come on, Eren. Leave Sasha alone, you know she’ll never change,” a taller boy tries to pry him away from her.

“We can’t afford to fool around, Jean. You know how much of a stickler Captain Levi is. We’ll be on stable duty for months at this rate!”

“I swear, Eren if you don’t get off me right now!”

“What are you going to do, Jean-boy?!”

“Um, excuse me,” A small girl with blonde hair tries to keep the peace.

“Guys, I think we’ve got bigger problems,” a boy with a cropped buzz-cut points towards you.

“What is it, Connie? Oh shit!” Eren stares at you, wide-eyed.

Sensing his distress, the rest turn and salute. “Sir! We’re very sorry, sir!”

You shift awkwardly in place. What is this? Clearly, everyone is expecting something. You can see the sweat drip from their brows. 

“Hey, are you alright?” Hange nudges you. 

“Yeah,” you look away, unsure of what to do.

They furrow their brow in confusion before turning to the group. “Well, I think that’s quite enough for one morning.”

Moblit steps in, clearing his throat. “Right, Commander Erwin will be here any minute. Clean this mess up before he gets here.”

Immediately, the group rushes to grab rags and repair the situation.

“What’s gotten into you? Usually, you’d beat them senseless. Are you sick?” Hange whispers hurriedly.

“Um, I’m fine,” you mutter awkwardly.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but something is definitely off with you today.”

You couldn’t agree more.

“Well, you know that we still have our next mission beyond the walls today. Just don’t do anything too reckless, okay? You can rely on us if you’re not feeling well.”

“R-right,” you attempt a smile.

That only seems to cause them even greater distress. Their expression is one of shock as they shake their head and turn back to the group.

Once the kitchen is somewhat tidy, you glance towards the window. You can hear the rustle of horses approaching. You watch through the glass as three figures approach swiftly. The first is astride a white horse. His blonde hair is cropped neatly and his green cloak flows out behind him as he rides. Behind him are two men with equally stern expressions. They look exasperated, but determined as they advance. You watch intently as they turn and head towards a set of stables along the side of the building. Horses, men in capes, no cars, and no technology anywhere to be seen. What kind of strange dream is this?!

“Look sharp, cadets! Commander Erwin is here,” Moblit stands a little straighter with his fist over his heart. 

You watch as the others scramble to get into position, lining up alongside him. Not wanting to seem out of place, you do the same, standing by Hange. You can feel the tension as footsteps approach the door. 

As it swings open, you observe the Commander. Up close, you can see the outline of his strong features. His tall, bulky frame suits his authority as he strolls into the cabin. His calm, blue eyes hold a fire as they take in the soldiers before him. Still, you detect kindness in them as well. His thick eyebrows furrow slightly as he turns towards you, though.

You shift uncomfortably as he steps forward. Your cheeks redden as he towers over you. The height difference is more prominent when compared to his immense physique.

“Well, you’re certainly spirited this morning, Levi.”

The auburn-haired figure next to you looks like they are going to burst with anticipation.

“Yes, what is it, Hange?”

They begin rambling excitedly. “Levi slept for over five hours last night. Five! Not only that, but he didn’t throw a fit when the cadets were making a mess! Can you believe it? I think he’s growing up. It’s either that or he’s deathly ill. What do you think?”

Erwin clears his throat. “I’m sure our esteemed Captain is simply weary from the past week.” He lowers his gaze. “I know the losses we’ve suffered have been devastating.”

You shift your gaze as a thick wave of grief hangs in the air. 

“Still, our comrades' lives will not be in vain. As we ride today, we will not falter. We will drive the titans back no matter the cost because that is the mission of the Survey Corps. We will not yield until humanity prevails!”

“Levi, Hange!” Erwin motions to you both. “Stay behind for a moment. Everyone else, begin preparations for our departure!”

“Sir!” The recruits salute and head towards the door. 

Moblit follows after them to oversee the operation. He glances back with an uneasy smile as he closes the door behind him.

Erwin sighs and pulls up a chair by the dining table. “Take a seat,” he motions towards you.

You sit down next to Hange. You feel the sharp edges of the wood as you trail your fingers along the base. I can’t believe how real this dream feels. 

“Checking for dust?” Hange asks with a hopeful gleam in their eye. 

You pull your hand away and nod, hoping for the best.

They release a relieved sigh. “Thank goodness. I thought we’d lost you for a moment there.”

You offer a nervous smile. 

Hange’s quizzical expression returns. “Seriously, what’s going on with you today?”

“Enough, Hange,” Erwin holds up his hand. “I think I know what this is about.” He glances over at you sympathetically. “Levi, I’m truly sorry about your squad. We lost many good members of our team, comrades and friends alike. Still, all we can do is move forward from here. I know this next mission is on the heels of disaster, but I believe that we can learn and grow from our experiences in the field. No regrets, right?”

“R-right,” you mutter.

“Well then, let’s get going,” Erwin stands, but pauses by the door. “One more thing. Levi, Hange, stay alive. Humanity needs you both. Do not falter.” He gives you one last stern glance before leaving.

You salute as the door closes behind him. You begin to wonder what you are signing up for.

“Aren’t you going to put on your 3DMG?” Hange asks, glancing over at you. They motion towards the metal tanks and straps tracing across their body.

“Oh, right. I forgot,” you mutter. 

They glance at you nervously before leaving and following after Erwin.

You release a sigh before heading back to your room. What on Earth is going on? What is this mission? Who even are these people? You wish you had more answers. 

As you enter the same space from earlier, you return to the closet and find the gear Hange referred to. You’d dreaded the possibility of having to put it on, to begin with. You sigh as you wonder what you should do. Picking up the gear, you attempt to trace the straps and contraptions across your body as you saw from the others earlier. Glancing down at your handiwork after a few minutes of struggling, you notice the metal tanks are lopsided and weighing down on your right hip. You sigh in frustration as you attempt to fix it. Noticing the restlessness of the soldiers outside the window; however, you decide to call quits and head back down the stairs. It’s better than nothing at least. You hope no one will notice in the crowd. 

As you head back down the stairs and emerge outside the cabin, the sunlight blinds you. The air is so fresh and clear, you can hardly believe it. The rustic atmosphere feels magical in a way. Glancing down, you find small purple flowers by your feet. You smile a little at the sight.

“Levi?” Hange strolls over to you, wrapped in a green cloak. “That long sleep really did a number on you, didn’t it? Your 3DMG is a total disaster.”

You scratch your head in embarrassment. You suppose your attempt wasn’t as good as you originally thought. “S-sorry.”

“Honestly, what’s gotten into you? Fix it before we leave.”

You glance down and shift in place. You know there’s no way you can do this alone after trying to adjust it so many times in Levi’s room. “H-Hange?” you stammer. “Could you maybe help me fix my gear? Sorry, I’m just a little off this morning.”

They glance at you in surprise before sighing and crouching down to adjust the straps on your legs. “Maybe you shouldn’t go today,” they comment as they pull your gear tightly and re-adjust the harness. “You don’t seem like yourself. You know how important it is that we stay sharp. We can’t afford to lose you too.”

You blush and shift in discomfort as Hange continues to tighten your gear. You look away as they work their way up, pulling the straps snuggly. You become even more aware of the changes to your body in this position. Your pants cling even tighter to your athletic thighs and hips. You breathe shakily and try to calm yourself, willing yourself to keep your attention away from them as their fingers trace along your small yet muscular body.

How did things end up like this? You glance ahead as the warm spring air tempts you forward. Despite the strangeness of this dream, you know the only thing you can do is press forward. This could be your only chance to explore a world beyond the walls of your own city back home. You refuse to pass up this opportunity.

“Well, what are you going to do, Levi?” Hange tightens the belt across your chest with a final tug. 

You glance down at the, now balanced, weight. It feels strange to have this contraption fit so differently and uncomfortably in this body. Still, as you glance into their concerned brown eyes, you give them a look of fierce determination. “I’ll be fine. We have to keep moving forward right?”

They nod and place a hand on your shoulder. “That’s what I like to hear.”

“Soldiers!” Erwin calls across the field. “The time is now. Prepare to depart!”

You follow the remainder of the soldiers to the stables. 

“Captain,” another blonde soldier with a mustache calls. “Your horse is ready.” He holds the reins for a black mare. 

As you step closer; however, he sniffs your hair sharply. 

“W-what?” You jump back in surprise.

“At it again, Miche? Seriously, this isn’t the time.”

“Nanaba, can’t you tell? He smells different today.”

You glance between them nervously before taking the reins out of Miche’s hands and walking past them. You hesitate to think what these strange people would do if they found out you weren’t actually Levi. 

With a sigh, you attempt to mount your horse. Still, your short stature makes it difficult. It takes a couple of tries before you manage to get settled on the saddle. Even your horse seems a little uneasy at the prospect of having you on its back. You ride forward anxiously, wondering if you’re making the right decision by going ahead with this mission. 

As you take in your surroundings, you remove a pen and a piece of parchment from your cloak. You need to calm your nerves before you enter this strange new world. You can’t explain it, but you have a strange sense of foreboding as you prepare to depart. Without thinking too much, you scribble on the page. You sketch the key, trailing across your now flat chest, and the stars that crossed over the night before you found yourself in this strange place.

You wonder how they tie together. Before you have a chance to consider it; however, Erwin signals to the soldiers in his formation. “Alright, we will press forward to Trost Distict where the 58th Recon Mission of the Survey Corps will begin. Now, forward!” He raises a sword before racing ahead.

You follow him closely, feeling the discomfort of your gear as you ride on horseback. You press forward with the others through the fields for an hour or so. It feels calm, but there’s a strange tension that hangs in the air. Riding ahead, you venture forward until you find a large wall ahead of you. It’s almost like the entrance to a castle. The giant face of a woman gleams in the sunlight as the soldiers on the other side, raise the gate out of the ground for you to pass. It seems so old-fashioned, like something out of a medieval novel. 

Together with the others, you ride forward through the gates, into a new city. Despite its distinctly Victorian style and rustic appearance, you can’t help but be reminded of home. You wonder if you will you ever escape the giant walls that seem to follow you wherever you go. You clench your teeth as you consider the life awaiting you after this dream. 

“I bet they’ll all be eaten within the hour. Seriously, why do they even bother?” A voice mutters cruelly beside you.

Glancing down across the landscape, you find that the streets are lined with people watching you intently. Their expressions are exasperated and frustrated.

“What are they going to accomplish anyway? The Survey Corps is a joke.”

“Who in their right mind would willingly charge into the titans' jaws?”

“At least they have Captain Levi. They say he’s an entire brigade unto himself!”

You listen as their conversation continues. You feel a wave of anxiety as you wonder what exactly you’re getting yourself into. What kind of battles will you face? What are the titans? Where exactly are you going?

Before you can change your mind and turn back, the next gate in front of the far wall lifts, rumbling the ground as it towers overhead.  

“The titans in the surrounding area have been cleared away. The 58th Recon Mission of the Survey Corps begins now! All soldiers, forward!” Erwin calls in a booming voice. 

Together, you follow as everyone pushes past the gate at top speed. You find yourself back in the warm country air with plains and forests ahead. The horizon stretches endlessly as you press forward. The scent of the evergreens and grass is comforting as you take in another deep breath. You let the warm sunlight wash over you. 

You flinch and break from your thoughts as Erwin launches a signal flare into the air. Green smoke rises high into the blue cloudless sky. “Soldiers, assume your formations.”

You aren’t sure what to do as the others peel off in different directions. You feel as though the best place would be to stay with the Commander and the others from earlier. You hope no one will question your decision.

“Captain, titan to our left and closing in,” a girl with black hair and a red scarf informs you calmly.

“Right, I’ll go on ahead and connect with Hange’s team. Levi, you and your squad take care of the threat, then continue pressing forward.”

You turn to your left nervously. Your eyes widen and your breath catches as an unusual sight approaches you. The floor rumbles as the figure approaches. “What? What is that thing?” You gasp. You look ahead but Erwin is already gone. 

Panic washes over you and the blood drains from your face as you remember the conversations you overheard in the city. Who would willingly charge into the jaws of the titans? As you watch it approach, a deep crimson color spews from its mouth. Something is caught in its jaws, struggling to break free. 

“HELP! Someone, please!” A bloodcurdling cry shrieks through the landscape. There’s a sickening crunch as the creature bites down without remorse. You watch as the soldier's head falls to the ground with a thud. His eyes stare blankly up at you.

Turning and running towards your group, the naked, brown-haired giant is at least 7 meters in height. An eery smile forms across its face and its huge eyes lock on you. Its arms swing loosely at its sides as it approaches. Its massive, bloodied jaws are wide open, ready to devour you whole. 

You freeze with your mouth in a silent scream as beads of sweat drip down your brow. Fear overcomes every other sense in your body.

What should I do? What should I do?  

“Captain?” The others look to you expectantly. Their faces are laced with fear, anger, and determination. They are waiting for you to make a choice. All the while, the titan draws closer. “Captain! Your orders!”

You grasp the key hanging loosely around your neck, as the prospect of death closes in. “Levi, what do I do?”

A single word enters your mind: fight. You feel a sudden burst of electricity course through your veins. You know the next step you need to take. Before you can think about what you’re doing, you race towards the giant on horseback. You pull two swords from the metal contraptions at your waist.

Launching forwards off your horse, you attach a wire to the giant’s nape. You let the gear guide your movements. As the titan reaches for you with its jaws wide, you spin your body forward with all the force you can muster. The gas from the contraption allows you to move quickly with ease. Slicing forward, you put every ounce of your strength into a strike aimed at the titan’s neck. 

You flip into the air as the giant falls to the ground. You land on its head steadily.

As you glance down at your steaming and bloodied hands, fear and reality take hold again. What just happened? What did I do? Your memory slips as you consider your actions. What was that? What is this? Your thoughts threaten to consume you. 

The key around your neck feels like an impossible and searing weight as it pulls you down. You place your hands on your head, willing it all to stop. It’s too much. This is all too much.

“Captain?” A voice calls in the back of your mind. “Captain Levi!”

The ringing in your head grows as the world around you blurs from view. You feel yourself being pulled away from this body, away from Levi. As the world dissolves in shadow, you wish you had more time in this cruel but beautiful world. 

***

Walking back down the narrow staircase, Levi hears a knock at the front door. Instinctively, he ducks behind the railing, keeping to the shadows. Who the hell is that?

He hears the door click open and footsteps enter the apartment. “Nova? It’s Lily! Why haven’t you been answering your phone? I’ve been texting you all morning.”

Levi isn’t sure what she’s talking about, but he assumes he missed out on some form of communication with this woman. Listening to her voice, he notes that she sounds like the girl from earlier. It appears she’s more persistent than he originally thought. 

“Hey, are you home? The offer for tea still stands, you know.” She pauses at the base of the stairs. “Come on, you can’t avoid me forever, you know.” 

He hears a sigh before her footsteps creak lightly on the staircase. He figures there’s no use in hiding now. At least, he doesn’t look like himself. Still, he doesn’t know Nova at all, aside from the fact that she’s horrendously messy. He doesn’t know how she would react in a situation like this. Damn it, what the hell kind of dream is this? 

As Lily’s footsteps continue, he decides to bite the bullet and show himself. He trudges over and stands in the morning sunlight at the top of the stairs.

Before him stands a girl with long black hair trailing down to her waist. There is a suspicious gleam in her chestnut brown eyes. A smile creeps across her lips when she sees him. She chuckles slightly. “What are you wearing? You know we’re in the middle of a heatwave, right? It’s like, 30 degrees outside.”

Levi glances down at his plain t-shirt and jeans. He doesn’t think it’s that unusual. Looking at the girl; however, he notices that she is wearing a purple tank top that is tucked into a pair of yellow shorts. Across her shoulders is a blue shawl with a floral print. There it is again, that strange attire. Although he doesn’t care much, he considers how it would be a public outrage if any of his soldiers wore something so revealing outside. This world is so different from his own, so…modern. 

“Nova? What’s up? Come on, can’t you take a joke?”

He shakes his head. He needs to focus on portraying himself as Nova would. He clears his throat. “Yeah, I’m fine,” his feminine tone chimes. 

“Are you sure? I can’t put my finger on it, but something seems off about you today. You seem…I don’t know, colder somehow.”

“It’s nothing,” Levi looks away. At this rate, she’ll find out his secret immediately. He needs to consider how Nova would react. Assuming this is one of her friends, she would probably be more cordial. 

His mind wanders to Erwin and Hange. He wishes more than anything that they were here with him now. He doesn’t know what to do. Thinking back to his squad, he considers how he lost his family again. 

How did everything get so screwed up? How did I end up here, away from everyone again? Am I destined to be separated from everyone, even in my dreams?

He remembers how things usually go in his nightmares and regrets the thought instantly with a shudder. He pinches his brow, wondering if he’s finally lost his grip on reality altogether. 

“Nova? Seriously, are you sick or something? Maybe a migraine? You know, my grandmother has special teas and remedies for that sort of thing. You need to get out of the house at any rate.”

He glances at Lily and considers her idea. Some tea might help to ease his mind somewhat. He nods. “Fine. Lead the way.” He heads for the door without a second glance at her.

“Aren’t you going to get your phone?” 

“My what?”

She holds up a gold bar with a black screen that lights up when she waves it in front of him. An image of a sunflower gleams at him with numbers trailing in white across the top. 

He furrows his brows at the sight. What the hell is that?

“What? Did you lose yours? Here, I’ll call it.” She rolls her eyes and moves her thumbs quickly over the screen.

Levi’s ears perk up on hearing music and a strange buzzing sound coming from upstairs. He gives Lily one last confused glance, before following the tone. 

When he arrives in the bedroom, he sees a similar device by the windowsill. He’s surprised he didn’t see it before. Picking up the red cased tech, he sees a green button, and words flash across the screen, Incoming Call: Lily. Several hearts and smiling faces follow the name. He’s not sure how to get the thing to shut up, so he taps the green button gleaming at him.

“Good, you found it?” Lily’s voice calls mechanically from the other end.

He stares at the contraption in confusion and glances around the room. There’s no sign of the girl, and yet, he can hear her voice. He shakes his head, he can’t afford to get distracted right now. Perhaps this is a test of his ability. He knows from experience that he can only trust a rare few. In this unknown space, who knows what the citizens have up their sleeves.

Slipping the device into his pocket, he heads back down the stairs. It’s time for answers.

“Let’s go,” he motions to Lily as he passes by. 

“You could be a little nicer, you know,” she grumbles, following behind him with her arms crossed. 

As Levi steps outside, his eyes widen. Just where am I? What the hell kind of dream is this?! As opposed to the apartment window, the scene before him seems unnervingly real. 

As he walks onto the sidewalk, metal machines roar past him on sets of wheels. They screech and chug along as they make their way down long pathways extending in all directions like a maze. Compared to Trost or even Stohess District, this place is far more advanced. It seems like something out of science fiction, beyond all reason and comprehension. Tall buildings surround him and seem even greater than before. He’s surprised to find images and lights flashing across on the sides of buildings that are encased in glass and foreign metals. He can see people come and go swiftly in crowds as lights blink, hanging over the roadside by poles and wires. The metal machines wait for them to pass by occasionally. The sounds of chatter and the clicking of shoes on stone overwhelm him. His senses are heightened as he attempts to take in the scene before his eyes. He feels like he’s drowning in an immense sea of people. The cliffs on either side of the city loom over like the walls of his home. 

It seems being trapped is unavoidable, even in my dreams.

“Nova? Hey, what’s wrong?” Lily reaches out to touch his shoulder.

He smacks her hand away instinctively and jumps back.

“Hey! What was that for? I’m the one offering to look after you. You should be thanking me for taking time off to see you.”

Levi glances at his palm shakily. He feels as though his mind is going to tear itself apart. He looks up at the girl’s frustrated expression and feels a little guilty. He knows that he needs to play the part of Nova for now. “S-sorry,” he manages grudgingly. 

“I swear, you’re really off your game today,” Lily turns and makes her way down the sidewalk. “Was it your parents? I know they can be a real pain sometimes.”

Levi keeps quiet. He doesn’t know anything about Nova, but figures silence is the best way to avoid trouble. Still, he’s curious to know more about how he got here and who Nova really is. Even if it’s just a dream, it feels too real to be meaningless.

Lily sighs and pauses before a tall brick building with winding staircases leading up towards the sky. She places her hand against the glass doorway leading inside. “Nova, I know things are difficult right now but hear me out. You could do so many things with your life. You could travel the world if you wanted. Don’t let anyone hold you back, okay?”

Levi manages a nod, wondering what’s keeping this girl drawn to this city in the first place. Could there be something like the titans on the other side of those cliffs? He senses that’s not the case, but knows there must be something else keeping Nova here.

Lily smiles and pulls out a golden key before clicking the lock open and stepping inside. 

He glances down at the small object, feeling a strange sense of familiarity. He can’t put his finger on it, but there is something about that key that resonates with him. Before he has a chance to examine it further, Lily steps inside the doorway. 

In the lobby, Levi glances ahead at an abandoned reception desk that is littered with old paperwork. The tiled floors beneath his sandalled feet are worn-down and dusty. The paint is peeling off the walls and the paisley wallpaper has seen better days. He clicks his teeth in disgust. If he had the time, he’d clean this place up in a heartbeat. He makes a mental note to do so after tea.

“What are you waiting for?” Lily turns back towards him by the stairs to his left. She turns and heads up the stained carpet flooring.

Levi follows her but takes care to watch his step, particularly in his open-toed shoes. The whole idea makes him shudder at the thought. He wishes he could shower immediately to get rid of this filth.

Finally, on the third floor, Lily turns and heads down a dark hallway.

 In the background Levi can hear babies crying, people arguing, and footsteps shuffling across creaking floorboards. He feels the same sense of unease he used to experience on the streets in his youth. Flashes of memory from his days in the Underground race across his mind. A chill goes down his spine as he follows Lily who appears none the wiser. 

She pauses before a plain doorway on the far left at the end of the narrow hall. Taking out her keys again, she clicks the lock and opens the doorway.

“Grandma? I’m home! I brought Nova with me.”

Levi follows close behind as she enters a worn-down apartment space. He inhales sharply as he takes in the sight before him. With peeling wallpaper and chipped flooring, the dust and grime cling to every inch of the open-concept room. The scent of mildew hangs thickly in the air. He fights the urge to flee back outside.

“Lily? Is that you?” An elderly woman emerges into the front hall. Her grey-white hair is pulled back into a loose bun. Her wrinkles show evidence of smile lines as she welcomes them both into her home. With her presence in the desolate room, everything seems a little brighter.

“Hey! Old woman, you need to clean this place. I can see the filth just standing here,” Levi quips, unable to take it anymore.

“Nova!” Lily scolds, her eyes wide in surprise. 

Her grandmother simply chuckles though and ushers them inside. “Your guest seems nice. Though, I don’t believe we’ve met before. You can call me Grandma Mei.”

Lily simply rolls her eyes. “Come on, Grandma. Nova is practically a part of the family. You’ve known her for years.”

She squints. “Not so, I’d know Nova if I saw her. No, this is a new friend.”

Levi shifts uncomfortably. How does she know?

“Alright, alright,” Lily raises her hands in defeat but winks at him. She throughs herself onto the couch with a sigh. A dust cloud emerges from the cushions.

Levi refuses to sit under such conditions and swiftly moves to the window, desperate for air. As he pushes it open, he coughs slightly. He doesn’t understand how anyone can live like this. Still, he knows that Nova probably wouldn’t question the way things are here. He can’t afford to get carried away, especially when it seems like this elderly woman knows something is up.

“Shall I make us some tea?” 

“Yes, thank you,” Levi nods. He needs something to calm himself down at the very least.

As Grandma Mei hurries to the kitchen, Lily gives him a strange look. “Aren’t you going to sit?”

He takes one look at the rust-colored cushions and knows there’s no chance in hell that he’ll sit even for a minute. He shakes his head and attempts a smile. “I’m fine.” He leans back against the window sill and tries to inhale some semblance of clean air. He frowns, even that seems tainted with metal, smoke, and grime.

“Tell me, what’s going on with you today? Is it another one of your episodes? I know you’ve been having a tough time lately.”

Levi glances at Lily. He’s not sure what she’s talking about, but he can relate to her tone and sentiment at least. Did Nova lose someone or something too? It seems as though the closer he gets to figuring things out, the more she drifts away from his mind. Just who is she?

“Well now, here we are,” Lily’s grandmother arrives a few minutes later with a small pot and some mismatched china teacups. 

She shuffles over to him with a fresh cup in her hands. Her smile beams brightly at him.

“Thank you,” he nods, taking the cup from her weathered hands. The dark liquid swishes against the white china. Detailed designs of birds trace along the edges with flecks of gold and blue. With one hand over the top, he brings the cup to his lips. He takes a deep breath as it soothes his battered soul. He feels a sense of peace despite the strangeness of this new world. “What a dream,” he whispers under his breath.

“Hey, Nova? Why are you holding your cup like that?” Lily shakes her head as she watches him. “I swear, something weird is definitely going on with you today.”

“Lily dear, don’t you know? That’s not Nova. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the person she switched with.”

“Come on, Grandma. This isn’t one of your old folktales, you know.”

She chuckles with a twinkle in her eye. “I know soulmates when I see them. After all, I switched too, a long time ago.” She brings the cup to her lips contentedly.

Levi furrows his brow. “What do you mean, you switched?”

“Just what I said. My late husband and I met the same way. We saw the stars collide one night and the next, we were in different worlds altogether. The only thing that connected us and brought us back was a single key attached to a red thread. I often wonder what became of it. I haven’t seen it in many years now.”

Levi bites his lip. This dream is starting to feel too real. Could this old woman’s stories really be true? 

“Honestly Grandma, you know that’s just a story right?”

She smiles knowingly. “Of course, dear. That’s how everything starts, isn’t it? With a story.”

Levi sips his tea, trying to take all of this information in. What did she mean about that key? He feels it has some sort of importance, but he can’t quite figure out what.

Before he can consider it further, his breath catches and he drops the cup on the floor.

An image crosses his mind. He sees himself with his squad fighting the titans in a field. His expression is marked with fear and panic. 

His current voice calls out in his mind: Levi, what should I do?

Nova?  

He watches as a titan approaches. Desperately he thinks of a single word and wills it to reach her.

Fight!

“Nova? Hey, are you alright?” Lily calls out distantly.

As Levi glances down at his palms, all he can see is crimson blood staining them. His eyes tremble and his breathing hitches as visions of death and carnage take over. His nightmares flash before his eyes and he sees all of the people he’s lost: his mother, Isabel and Furlan, his squad, and many others. Their blood turns his vision red. The jaws of the titans loom closer than ever, threatening to swallow his family once again. Threatening to devour her.

No! I can’t do this. Not again. Please no. I can’t lose anyone else. Not again. I can’t…

Footsteps approach and he flinches at the sound.

“It’s okay,” a palm rests on his shoulder. “Rest now. You can’t meet her yet, but your time will come soon enough. Be patient. I know you'll reach her again. Just rest.”

As he shakily turns towards the elderly woman beside him, he feels a sense of release. 

Is it the tea? Or is it something else?

The world darkens before his eyes. As he hits the ground, he sees the chipped cup and tea spilling onto the carpet. He wishes he had more time in this strange place without the fear of the titans looming over him.

Please, don’t make me go back there.

Chapter Text

The jaws of the titan open wide, dripping with blood and the putrid scent of human decay. 

Fight.

I can’t.

Fight.

No, I want to go home. I don’t want to be here!

You don’t have a choice. This is reality.

It’s only a dream.

It’s not.

It has to be.

“Stop, no. Take me home.”

“Nova?”

“No!” You sit bolt upright in bed, gasping for breath.

“Nova, it’s me. Are you okay?”

You turn shakily to find Lily sitting next to your bed with a concerned expression. Her black hair falls around her yellow tank top and blue shawl. 

You glance down at your hands. Their feminine outline feels more familiar. You clutch your chest and drift a shaky hand down towards your thighs. Is everything back to normal?

“Woah, what are you doing?” Lily leans away from you slightly.

You quickly place your hands back on the bed in embarrassment but feel a sense of relief. At least it seems that you’re back home in your own body. You’re not sure how you ended up in jeans and a t-shirt though. Did I sleepwalk or something?

“Nova, would you tell me what’s going on? One minute we were having tea with Grandma Mei, and the next you freaked out and collapsed. I had to carry you home on my back! You know I’m not that athletic either.”

You stare at her blankly. “I passed out?” 

You try to think back but can’t remember the visit at all. You have a strange sense that something is missing, though.

“Where’s my phone?” You ask, noticing the feminine trill your tone brings now.

What a strange dream. You think about that mysterious man, Captain Levi, and your interactions with the soldiers in that bizarre countryside. Worst of all was the strange man-eating giants. Still, you can’t help but feel that it wasn’t all bad. You miss it in a strange way. You miss being him.

“Here,” Lily reaches towards the desk to grab it. 

As you follow her gaze, shock takes hold. Your room is cleaner than it’s ever been. It’s spotless without a single speck of dust or laundry. Your drawings are neatly stacked on the desk by the window. The blinds are open to reveal a blood-orange sunset over the bustling cityscape that slowly lights up as darkness takes over.

“Did you do all this?” You ask as you retrieve your phone.

“I wish,” she chuckles. “I was surprised too. I guess you’re growing up a bit. Or did you just tidy up for your parents' sake?”

“Shut up,” you roll your eyes.

As you look at your phone screen, you notice the time, 7:00 pm. Not only that, but you have numerous text messages from Lily and your parents. 

“Holy crap, how long was I out?!” Your brain hurts with the possibilities.

“A good few hours at least. That said, you were acting really weird today. It was like you were a totally different person. Even my grandmother was confused.”

“A few hours,” you echo. 

Instinctively, you bring a hand towards your neck. You feel for something that should be there. What is it? Something is missing, I know it. You shake your head; it’s all too much.

“Here, I can call your parents to come home early if need be?”

Your ears perk up at that. “You’re kidding, right? And waste my free time before they return? Hell no!”

Lily smiles slightly. “At least it seems you’re back to your old self now. Still, I can stay overnight if you want.”

You shake your head. “That’s okay. I think I just needed the rest. I should get back to work anyways. I have to give a presentation for my art class tomorrow, so I need to make sure everything is prepared.”

“I was surprised you weren’t scribbling away while we were out, honestly. Glad to have you back at any rate,” she smacks your back enthusiastically. 

You roll your eyes. You meet her gaze with a sympathetic smile, though. “Thanks, Lily. I owe you one.”

“Hey, anytime! Just don’t overdo it, okay?”

You nod as she stands and makes her way to the door. 

She pauses on the other side of the room. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine! Go on,” you smile with a soft chuckle.

She nods before turning back. “See ya.” 

You listen as her footsteps fade and the door downstairs slams shut. Then, throwing the sheets back, you leap to your feet, desperate for answers. 

You pace across your room as you scroll through your phone. Lily sent several texts in the morning, wondering why you seemed off. Meanwhile, there are several missed calls from your parents. You listen to a voicemail from your mom, dreading the next conversation with her.

 

Lily, 

Why aren’t you picking up? Well, anyway, don’t forget our deal. You’d better not be slacking off! I know you think this year is all a game, but it’s not. There’s a very specific time frame we need to follow. Books aren’t going to write themselves, you know. We need you at the company. Think about your place seriously. When I return tomorrow, we’ll have another talk about your future. Your father is stuck at work and won’t be able to come home this time. Typical. Anyways, I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

You sigh as the message ends. You know there’s no use fighting your parents. You’re lucky to be in the position you are. Still, you opted to take a year off to focus on your art for a reason. This isn’t the first conversation you’ve had with them. You know you need to follow Lily’s advice and hold your ground, despite the pressure. You’re a grown woman after all.

You sigh as you wander around the room. You wonder how everything became so clean. It’s almost too perfect. Did I go on a cleaning frenzy when I blanked out? 

You walk over to the dresser where your notebook is laid neatly in the corner. You open the worn bindings, desperate to relieve some tension. You settle back on the edge of your bed with a pen in hand. You flick through the pages, trying to find a fresh space to do a warm-up sketch.

“What?!” 

The first page you open has a message scrawled in neat, yet frantic handwriting. 

 

Clean your damn room, brat! 

                     - Captain Levi

 

You never let anyone write in your journal. It’s your own private space. Not even Lily has seen your sketches. So, how did this happen? You think back to your dream. No way. It’s impossible, right? Still, you have the proof right in front of you. Levi’s signature gleams back at you in the darkening glow of twilight. You brush your fingertips over the penmanship.

“Just who are you, Levi?” You raise your head and glance out the window towards the cliff face.

With your pen in hand, you sigh. It’s time to make your move. Pressing the blue ink to the crinkled page, you write a response. You don’t know if he’ll find it, but you have to know the truth. You have to know if he’s even real. 

Placing your notebook down, you get to your feet and wander towards the mirror on the wall behind the door. Your reflection stares back at you as usual. There’s nothing out of the ordinary from what you can tell. Still, you wish you could feel his piercing stormy gaze one last time in the mirror. Placing your fingertips against the glass, you wonder if you can reach him somehow. Still, they simply tap against the glass. 

You watch as an inky blue encases the sky and shadows the room. Lights pop up in the cityscape, invading the peaceful darkness. 

With a sigh, you stroll towards your desk and look down at the neatly stacked papers. Picking the first page up, you see an image of the city you were working on. Still, another idea floats into your mind as you consider your own artwork. 

Flicking the desk lamp on, you pull up your swivel chair and roll up your sleeves, getting down to business.

You start with the backdrop of the rolling hills and meadows, before outlining a circular wall around a quaint town. You add depth and layers, working within the perimeter, before expanding outward beyond the borders. You add the face of a woman to the gate before sketching the citizens in their miniature form within the drawing. Lastly, outside the barrier, you add the soldiers in cloaks with their metal tanks clinging to their sides. They ride atop horses into the gleaming sunset beyond. A desire to free themselves from the clutches of this world sparks forth and blazes within their eyes.

As the lights in the city shine and the moon rise in the sky, you put down your pen. Wiping your graphite and ink-covered face, you step back to admire your handiwork. Although flawed in some areas, it reflects the dreamscape you entered. You figure it could be another piece to add to your portfolio, while also acting as a sign for Levi, should he return to this world.

You blush, considering how Levi could have been in your body too. You feel self-conscious at the very thought. If I was him and he was me, then that means…this outfit…he… 

You squeal and cover your face at the very thought of him seeing your naked body. Then again, you saw his too. You trace a finger along your arms, remembering the sensation of his toned muscles and structured physique. Your skin is much softer and less toned than his. You bring your hand towards your chest. Did he touch these? Trailing your fingertips down, you trace a line towards your thighs. Did he touch this? 

You wonder what exactly happened during the time he was in your body. If he even was, you remind yourself. 

You shake your head and lie back, pressing your notebook to your chest. 

“Levi, are you really out there?” 

You hold your hand up towards the ceiling, wondering if you’ll ever meet him in person. 

***

I know soulmates when I see them.

What do you mean?

I was a switch too.

What are you talking about?

Fate dear. A connection to your one true love across the very stars themselves.

Bullshit.

Say what you want. I’ve lived through this myself.

How?

The same way as you. I saw the stars collide that night, many years ago.

But that’s impossible.

Is it? 

It has to be. This is just a stupid dream.

You’ll know soon enough.

“Yeah, sure lady.”

“Huh, Levi? Who are you calling lady?” 

“Shh. I think he’s waking up.”

Levi groans and peeks his eyes open, squinting in the sunlight. Two familiar figures lean over him. 

“Hange…Erwin…what are you doing here?”

“Levi! You really scared us there. I swear I thought you were speaking in tongues at one point, babbling about soulmates.”

“Hange, please,” Erwin raises a hand. “He’s in no condition to be interrogated like this. Now, how are you feeling, Levi?”

He groans as he sits up, there’s a sharp pain in his ribs and his chest is wrapped snuggly in bandages. “What happened?” he mumbles with a palm against his forehead.

“Well, first, you were acting really weird yesterday morning. I was especially scared when you didn’t yell at the recruits for making a mess in the kitchen. Normally, you would have beat them all to hell, right? Then with the mission, you nearly forgot your 3DMG and I had to fix it for you. Me! I thought you were okay beyond the walls, but apparently, you froze before slaying that titan. Man, that one was a beauty. I wanted to take it back with us, but of course, Erwin said our priority was to get you back to safety. What a pain, am I right?” They ramble on.

“Shut the hell up,” he rolls his eyes. As they continue; however, the memories of his strange dream return. He remembers Nova. A strange girl with a messy house in that big city. He remembers being in her feminine body. Just who is she? How did she enter my mind? It’s too complicated to describe. In a strange way, he feels like something is missing without her, though.

Glancing down, he recognizes his own masculine features. His chest is flat again and wrapped in bandages. His white pants cling tighter than before.

He breathes a sigh of relief but does his best to keep his emotions in check for his fellow comrades. What a strange dream. It felt so real. I swear, I could feel every curve of that woman’s body. His breath hitches slightly at the thought. What am I thinking? It’s not like she’s real, to begin with. 

“Levi? Are you feeling sick? I can make soup. I swear I’ve been practicing. I won’t burn down the hideout this time, I swear!”

“That’s enough, I think he simply needs to rest. Go on ahead and I’ll meet you shortly.”

“Fine,” Hange sighs before standing and heading towards the door. “Seriously though, Levi. I’m here if you need anything. We all are.” 

As the door clicks behind them, Levi sighs. “Erwin, would you tell me what the fuck is going on here? What about the mission? What was Four-Eyes even talking about?”

“Shh, it’s okay.” Erwin glances down at him with kind yet concerned eyes. “It was my fault for sending you out into the field so soon after the death of your comrades. You put on a brave face, but I can see through that stern expression. I know it must have been so painful for you to lose them.”

“Sure,” he mumbles. So, I went on the mission after all? If that’s the case, why don’t I remember anything? He glances up into his bright blue eyes. “Tell me everything.”

Erwin narrows his gaze. “As far as I could tell, you simply weren’t yourself. You were formal, even with me, and you seemed confused in a way. I can’t explain it exactly, but it was as though you were a different person.” He sighs. “I should have stayed by your side, looking back on it, but that’s all we can do now.”

“And the titan?”

“You took care of it if you recall. Although, the recruits indicated that you seemed hesitant and fearful until the moment of truth. You collapsed shortly after. We turned back, considering your condition.”

“Why? You should have pressed forward. What the hell were you thinking, moron?”

Erwin chuckles slightly. “You should know better than anyone, we can’t afford to lose your skills in battle. Without you, half the company would have been lost. It was simply a rational tactic to ensure our success in the future.”

“I see.”

“Besides, we were all concerned about you, Levi.” He reaches over and gently grasps his hand. “I couldn’t afford to lose you too.”

Levi glances towards the window, now basked in bright golden light. “Sure.” He sighs and turns back to face him. “Thanks, Erwin.”

He nods before standing and releasing his grip. “I’ll check back in later. I need to plan for our next mission and get things in order. I’ll sort through all of the paperwork too, so just stay here and rest for now. Understand?”

“Yeah.”

Erwin gives him a small smile before leaving and shutting the oak door behind him. 

Levi sighs and leans back against the pillows on his bed. What the fuck is going on? He wishes he had more information. 

Recognizing that lying down isn’t going to solve anything, he slowly eases himself into a sitting position. As he glances around the room, his eyes narrow. Did someone have the audacity to break into my quarters? His clothes are strewn across the floor in a heap. His 3DMG is shoved against the dresser. 

“Damnit, Hange. I’ll make you pay for this,” he grumbles as he stands and makes his way forward to clean up. 

As he inches towards the other side of the room; however, he notices the door to his office is open. Strolling through the doorway, a disturbing sight meets his gaze. Papers litter the ground and his chair is cracked on the floor. He balls up his fists, trying to contain his wrath.

“Hange!” his tone rises. 

He’s about to storm out the door and beat them senselessly when he steps on a leaflet. Stepping back, he bends down to pick it up. On the page is the image of a key and two stars colliding in the night sky. 

“What the-” his hand trembles slightly against the page. His gaze drifts to the base of a page where a messy signature glistens in the sunlight: Nova Reader. His eyes scan towards the desk where a golden key attached to a red thread gleams brightly. It mirrors the sketch on the page perfectly.

“Don’t tell me,” he strolls shakily towards the desk. 

Picking up the key between his thumb and index finger, a flash of images spark in his mind. He sees himself interacting with his peers and subordinates. His movements are awkward and stiff. He tries to appease his comrades but fails miserably by acting the complete opposite of how they would expect. As they enter the field beyond the walls, fear floods through every pore of his being. Only one world keeps him moving forward: fight. Then, all is lost to the darkness. 

Coming back to reality, he glances shakily down at the key still resting in his palm. Nova, was that really you? What the hell is happening? Are you even real? Judging by the sketch and the key in his palm, he thinks it’s reasonable to draw certain conclusions. 

He remembers Grandma Mei’s words clearly: I know soulmates when I see them. After all, I switched too, a long time ago...when the stars collided. 

“Was that all real? That world with strange technology, strange people, and that woman…was it all real after all?”

He places the red thread around his neck and presses the key to his chest. “I will find you, Nova. I’ll get to the bottom of this no matter what it takes.”

Chapter Text

In the white void, you reach towards the plain oak door before you. Grasping the key still wrapped around your neck by the crimson thread, you wonder if you’re dreaming or simply facing the truth. You know you saw that note from Levi and you know there’s a possibility you might switch again. Not only that but there’s a chance you could forget everything once you give him the key. Still, there’s no other way. You need him to remember everything when he enters your world.

As the pale door creaks open, your breath catches. It’s him. “Levi?”

When the small masculine figure steps into the light, his face is marked in confusion. “What is this? Speak. Who are you and where the hell am I?”

“Levi,” you pause as his expression becomes more defensive. You release a sigh and remove the key from your neck. “Here. Everything will become clear once you take this.”

“Tch. What’s a key going to do?”

“Just take it. Everything will make sense once you do. Please, trust me.”

Sensing your resolve, he steps forward cautiously. Reaching forward, he grasps the key between his thumb and index finger. As he does so, there’s a spark of electricity between you. 

Stepping back in surprise, you watch as his expression softens and his eyes widen in recognition. You chuckle to yourself. It’s about time. That damn idiot. 

He glances at you as if seeing you for the first time. “N-Nova?”

“Yeah,” you smile. “It’s me.”

He reaches his hand out towards you, but as he does, the ground opens up and he falls into the shadows. 

“No! Without the key, there’s no way you’ll survive!” He calls back, fighting against the darkness.

“Don’t worry,” you reach down towards him. “We’ll meet again soon, Levi.”

The last thing you see is his fearful gaze. I never thought I’d see that kind of expression on his face. 

You stand and prepare to head towards the oak door before you. Glancing back one last time at your own mahogany door, you hope that he’ll be alright even with the key. After all, your life isn’t easy either. Still, you know the task at hand. You clench your fists and take your first step forward. 

As you do so; however, something wet spills from your eyes. Tears? But why? You feel as though you’ve forgotten something important. If only you could remember his name. 

***

You feel weightless and at peace for a moment, before falling from your chair with a crash. 

“Ouch!” You rub your head from where you fell. 

Placing a hand on your cheek, something seems off. “What? I’m crying? I didn’t think I fell that hard.” 

Your hand flies to your throat. “What the hell?” 

Your eyes drift down towards your distinctly masculine physique. “Huh? What? What is this?!” You seem to be wearing a military uniform, complete with a harness and buckles too. 

Glancing around, you realize that you have no idea where you are either. This must be some mistake, some wildly messed up dream. 

You lean on the desk next to you, stand, and make a beeline through the door to your right. As you approach the bedroom; however, you have a strange feeling of deja-vu, as though you’ve dreamt this before. You glance down at your now masculine hands.

“Just what is this?” 

There’s a knock at the door that makes you flinch. 

“Levi? It’s Erwin. The recruits are ready for your instruction. Don’t be late or you’ll miss breakfast, okay?”

You open your mouth, trying to think of the right words. Levi? That name sounds so familiar. 

“Levi?”

“Um, right. Understood,” you clear your throat. 

“Are you alright?”

“Just fine. Go on, I’ll meet you out there.”

You wait until his footsteps retreat before releasing a pent-up breath. You need to figure out what’s going on and fast. 

Continuing to make your way into the bathroom, you light the candles and tentatively look in the mirror. A small man glares back at you. His expression is surprised and confused. Still, you can’t help but think that he looks familiar. 

Bringing your hand to your jawline, you feel a slight stubble. Funny, it was smooth last time. 

You pause for a moment. How did you know that? 

Shaking your head, you blow out the candles and walk back towards the office space. There has to be some sort of clue or direction you should take. 

Walking towards the desk, you find a neat stack of papers piled efficiently in alphabetical order. Talk about a neat freak. On top of a series of reports is a piece of paper that looks somewhat familiar. 

Taking it in your hands, you inhale sharply. This paper, this sketch, it’s mine. But how? Tracing your fingertips over the image of a key and a colliding star, you wonder what it means. Flipping it over, you find a note in quick but neat penmanship.

Oi Brat,

What the hell do you think you’re doing? My office was a complete mess because of you! Not only that but Hange and Erwin told me you almost got yourself killed whilst in my body. It sounds strange, but if you’re seeing this, it means we switched again. If that’s the case, we’re going to have to make some rules. Use the following as a survival guide. I can’t have you dying in my body. Maria forbid I get stuck in yours. Anyways, pay attention to the following:

  1. Keep your surroundings clean at all times. You are not in a pig stye. Use a broom, duster, rag, and clean the floors daily. Believe me, I’ll notice if you haven’t done so. Be sure to scold anyone else who doesn’t follow this rule while you’re at it. I have no patience for those who don’t clean up after themselves.
  2. Although it may be uncomfortable, take care of my physical hygiene as well. I refuse to be like Hange who never bathes. Also, don’t forget to shave my face. A scruffy appearance will not do in the military under any circumstances and looks filthy. 
  3. Make sure your 3DMG is working and adjusted correctly. Hange informed me that they had to fix your equipment last time. To make sure that doesn’t happen again, I will leave a set of instructions on my dresser.
  4. Don’t die. If you see a titan charging, strike the nape without hesitation. With my physique, your reflexes should be improved at any rate. If you are in need, rely on Erwin or Hange to help. Stay sharp, brat.

 - Levi 

Your hands shake as you glance at the writing. Switching? What does that mean?  You shudder at the thought. Still, you have a feeling that you’ve gotten in way over your head. What was all that talk about gear and not dying anyways?

You feel like you’ve had a long night of drinking and are only just remembering things now as they are revealed. It’s frustrating, not knowing what’s right around the corner. Still, you know you can’t stay here forever. 

Glancing at the paper before you, you turn your attention to Levi’s hygiene and 3DMG, figuring it will take your mind off the present situation anyways. 

You awkwardly shower and change as instructed, being careful not to look down too much as you do so. Seriously, does every inch of this guy have to be so goddamn perfect? 

Then, you attempt to shave his face. Without modern advancements, and never having done so before, you find it challenging. You do your best but come away with a few nicks even so. You hope that Levi won’t berate you for cutting his perfect jawline. 

Next, you attempt the 3DMG. With instructions, you find it easier to buckle the straps. Still, it takes you a few tries before you get it right. As you work your way up his legs, towards his thighs, you blush slightly. Just ignore it, just ignore it, just ignore it, you will yourself. Still, the heat in your face rises, even more, when the bulge in your pants begins to grow. You take a deep breath and try to move on from that embarrassment. How do guys live like this? So uncomfortable. Frantically, you finish adjusting the belts and sigh deeply. I don’t even know the first thing about being a guy, let alone this one.

Calming your emotions, you pull yourself together. You don't have a choice in this matter either way. You turn and head out the door. 

“Levi, quick!” A figure bolts past you. “Erwin said we could go beyond the walls today! Isn't that exciting?!"

You take in the sight before you. The person currently jumping up and down looks familiar. Hange, if you recall correctly. You pinch your brow, as your head begins to ache in confusion. How do I know all of these random names?

“Hey, are you alright?”

Glancing up, you nod. “I’m fine, just a rough night I guess.”

“Well, that’s not unusual for you. Come on, we’ll be late if we don’t hurry!”

You follow after them and emerge onto a familiar sight. A group of kids are fighting over a loaf of bread and tea. Moblit is frantically trying to get them back in order. 

“Seriously? Erwin and I leave you alone for five seconds and you’re already tearing the place apart?”

You chew your lip nervously, remembering the note Levi left. ‘I have no patience for those who don’t clean up after themselves'. Exhaling, you realize you can’t avoid this issue forever. You need to take a stance or else there’ll be hell to pay later. 

“What do you think you’re doing?! Clean this mess up immediately!” 

To your surprise, the ragtag group seems to take your words to heart. 

“Sorry, Captain!” They salute and scurry to get everything cleaned up. 

“Here, I snagged you some bread if you want it.” Hange nudges you.

Taking it gratefully, you watch as the others rush by. You feel as though you should help but your mind is too preoccupied with thoughts of Levi being in your body right now. If this is real, could he be taking classes and giving my art presentation? Even worse, has he met my mother? A wave of panic washes over you at the very thought.

Clearing your mind, you attempt to resume your official demeanor. 

The door opens as the recruits finish cleaning the last of the dishes and cups. 

As Commander Erwin steps through, everyone salutes. You do the same. 

Strolling over towards you, he gives you a strange look. “Are you sure you’re alright, Levi? You're acting awfully formal again.”

You release your salute, trying your best to fit in. “Oh, sorry.”

He smiles slightly, which makes you blush. Just who is this guy? Why is his presence strangely comforting? 

“Well, the time has come for our next mission. Seeing as we had complications last day, we will continue with a smaller elite squad.” Erwin glances your way with a nod. “Captain Levi will escort his new squad on their first official mission alongside Section Commander Hange. The goal will be to have Eren assume titan form and attempt to communicate with the titans. If we are successful, it could mean victory for humanity in this war. Remember that as you go forward.”

You glance at him, confused. Titans? Titan form? Everything is starting to sound like a science fiction novel.

 “Commander, just give the word and we’ll leave immediately. Come on, let’s go!”

“Calm down, Section Commander,” Jean sighs. 

“We should at least make a plan first, considering the last expedition,” Armin steps forward.

“Right, what would you suggest, Recruit?” Erwin nods to him.

“Well, for starters, rather than having the Captain act alone, perhaps we should have a small elite squad working alongside him. Of course, I mean no disrespect. Still, we shouldn't turn back under any circumstances. Therefore, I think we should position Mikasa, Sasha, and Reiner by his side at the very least.”

“I agree.” Erwin glances your way with a mix of concern and understanding. “Make sure Hange is by his side as well. Even though they will be in charge of the experiment, we must make sure this mission runs smoothly.”

“Sir!”

As Armin and the recruits run off to prepare, Erwin walks back towards you. 

“Levi, don’t overdo it." He reaches his hand up towards your face but drops it with a sigh. “Just be careful out there, alright?”

You glance up into his sparkling blue eyes. They’re kind but hide a fire within. His smile is warm and filled with an affection you’ve never known. You sense that Levi and he have a bond that runs deeper than mere camaraderie. 

Clearing his throat, he turns from you and walks back towards Hange. You watch with a strange curiosity, wondering how you ended up in this place. 

After the recruits gather the horses and prepare their gear, you join them. It’s time to face your fears and ride into the sunset beyond.

Erwin salutes you from the ground. “Dedicate your heart, Levi.”

You glance down at him with a slight smile. You can’t help but hold a silent promise in your heart to return to his side. Placing your fist against your heart, you nod. “I will.”

“Alright, let’s go! Come on!” Hange calls as they ride forward. 

The squad follows closely behind them. With one last glance back at Erwin, you pull your horse forward and race after them. As you continue forwards, y consider Erwin and Levi's bond. Their connection clearly goes beyond friendship. Their bonds…no, all the bonds within the Scouts seem to mean something deeper. You think of Lily and how she’s stood by you through thick and thin. You wonder if Levi is with her right now. 

“Hey, we’re approaching the gates!” Hange calls as they ride ahead towards a giant wall.

Once again, you have a sensation that you’ve seen this place before. The image of the woman’s head on the door beckons you forward into the town beyond. As the medieval structure rises and grants you entrance, you take in the sights of the town. People step to the side as you ride through the streets, heading for the other side. You hear whispers and gossip from the sidelines as people gawk and stare. Buildings tower over you, but they aren’t half as big as the ones back home. It truly seems like a world straight out of a Victorian novel.

“Ready?” Hange calls again, as the gates on the other side open onto a wide stretch of meadow. 

Together with the Scouts, you head forward into a free countryside. It's beautiful, but you feel as though there's something lurking in the shadows. The word fight breaks through your thoughts, although you’re not sure what it means. What are you supposed to fight?  

“Captain?” Eren pulls his horse beside yours.

“Hey, stay alert! Don’t forget we’re in titan territory now." Hange calls. "We’ll resume Commander Erwin and Armin’s suggested formation. Sasha, Mikasa, and Reiner, up front with Captain Levi and I. Everyone else, split into teams of two so we aren’t clumped together. We’ll head towards the forest so we can use our 3DMG to take care of the titans with ease.

“Sir!”

You’re impressed with Hange’s seriousness. Even if you don’t know anything about titans, their command and logic seem sound. 

“Right, so we continue forward?”

Hange’s face turns dark, and for a brief moment, you are worried they’re going to turn on you. “Ahhh! I can’t believe we’re really going to communicate with a titan! This is going to be so much fun. I can hardly wait!”

Flinching at their exuberance, you sigh and roll your eyes. Sometimes they remind you so much of Lily it’s uncanny. They’re almost like a mad scientist.

“Hey, I hear footsteps,” Sasha indicates pointing East. 

Everyone stops immediately.

You hear it before you see it. A deep rumbling breaks through the earth from a distance. Then, through the trees, a strange naked giant jumps and twirls, racing towards your group. 

“Damn it, an abnormal,” Reiner indicates, launching a black signal flare into the air.

“Captain, I can handle this one,” Mikasa prepares to advance. 

Despite her initiative; however, the single word of fight rings ever stronger in your mind. You glance down at your masculine hands. Levi wouldn’t hesitate under any circumstances. No, this is something you have to do. 

Riding forwards, you approach the titan. It’s more horrifying up close with an eery grin and blinding speed. Arms flailing, it opens its jaws to devour you. At the moment of truth; however, you remove your blades and attach your gear to its side. Leaping off your horse, you spin and slash through its ankles. Then. launching yourself up to its nape, you slice through it with ease. With one foot on its head and the other planted on its neck, you stand tall as it falls forward. Removing your dulled blades, you watch as steam evaporates from its body. 

Your hands shake as you consider what you just did. Somehow, it seems more natural this time to have killed it. You feel the athletic muscles in Levi’s body twitching and responding to the adrenaline rush coursing through your veins. Glancing down at your wrists, you see the titan’s blood evaporating on your skin. It stings with the heat, but that’s the least of your worries. 

“Way to go, Levi!” Hange races forward excitedly. “Another one bites the dust I guess. Still, did you have to take down the poor thing so soon? We could have captured it and used it in our experiment.”

“Never mind that, we should get going.” Glancing around, you wonder if there are more of these things around. 

Getting back on your horse, you continue with the group towards the wooded area in the distance. You try to get that thing out of your mind as you press forward. Mikasa and Reiner take out the remaining titans in your path. Breathing a sigh of relief, you feel grateful that you have such skilled soldiers on your side at the very least.

“Woohoo! Let’s get some titans!” Hange calls excitedly as you approach the forest. 

“Hey, up here!” Krista calls from the treetops. “We’ll take care of the horses if you’d like!”

“Sweetie, are you trying to alert every titan in the world of our position?”

“Sorry,” she blushes.

“Hey, Connie! Did you bring any snacks?”

“Why would I do that Potato Girl? We’re on a mission.”

“What? No snacks? What about lunch?! We’ll all starve to death!”

“Alright, that’s enough. We need to get going.” Hange launches themselves off their horse into the treetops. “Right, let’s discuss the mission.”

You follow suit, swinging yourself onto a nearby branch. 

Armin nods and takes out a detailed set of plans, holding it up for the group to see. “Right, our position is at this green dot. Our goal is to interact with at least one titan. Under the supervision of Section Commander Hange and Captain Levi, Eren will undergo his transformation. From there, he will head to the center of the forest. In the meantime, we will ensure that the titans who do enter this area are not abnormals and appear to be within a somewhat similar weight and height classification.”

“D-does that mean we actually have to fight them?” Sasha shudders.

“Only the titans that are out of the ordinary. As part of Levi’s squad, I’m sure you’re more than equipped to handle this task. Now, Eren, if you will.”

The other recruits take a step back as he jumps down from the treetops. You are unsure of what’s going on until he bites down on his hand. A bright flash of electricity sparks, rumbling through the forest. You have to hold onto the tree trunk as the blast hits you. 

As you bring your arm down to glance through the fog, you see a massive titan standing before you. Your eyes widen and fear takes over. What the hell?

“Well done, Eren!” Hange squeals and jumps down onto his shoulder. 

“What the-?”

“Eren? Can you hear me? Please answer!” Mikasa calls. 

The titan turns its head and slowly nods to her. 

A look of relief spreads across her face.

The Section Commander simply gives her the thumbs up. “Don’t worry, Mikasa dear. We’ll take good care of him, won’t we Levi?”

You nod, but hear an unnerving chuckle escape their lips. You hope you’ll make it back in one piece at the very least. 

You watch as Eren walks forward with the Section Commander still on his shoulder. Could that really be him? There’s no time to think as more giants begin to circle around the trees. It won’t be long before they begin their pursuit.

Following Hange and Eren, you stand guard from the treetops. 

“Alright Eren, the rest is up to you. Just try not to get eaten,” Hange encourages. 

“Are you sure this is safe?” You swing down by their side. 

“Of course not. We have no idea what’s going to happen. Still, it’s our only option. Don’t you think it’ll be fascinating to see the results of this little experiment too? Communicating with titans...the very thought makes my heart flutter!”

Sitting down on the branch beside them, you sigh. This ragtag team of misfits is odd, but they’re endearing in a way too. Without meaning to, a smile creeps across your lips. 

That sensation is short-lived; however, as the first footsteps enter the forest. A chill goes down your spine, and you return to a standing position, blades at the ready. It takes all of your willpower not to cut the creature down immediately as its massive figure comes into view. 

“Try saying hello to it!” Hange calls excitedly. 

Eren releases a guttural cry. The titan roars in response.

You can’t help but think this sounds like a conversation between dinosaurs. 

They continue for a moment before the titan turns on Eren and attacks. Before you have a chance to react, he lands an uppercut and sends it flying through the trees. 

Continuing for the next number of hours, you wonder if the experiment will ever end. Your stomach growls in protest as the sun dips down beyond the horizon. Eren is clearly out of breath after fighting off so many titans. You can only imagine how Sasha feels since she always seems to be hungry. You chuckle at the thought.

“Levi?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” you mutter.

“Captain!” A voice shrieks in the distance. “Incoming!”

You glance up at the sound. 

“Damn it, looks like it can’t be avoided. Still, why are there so many now?”

Your eyes widen as ten huge figures come lumbering through the forest towards you. One or two was enough fighting as far as you’re concerned. Now, this just seems excessive. You look to Eren’s titan, hoping for one last fight. 

“Eren?” 

His titan is face down on the ground. The top half of his body is exposed with the other half buried under the titan’s nape. 

“I’ll get Eren, you take on the titans,” Hange motions to you. 

"But, Hange-"

“That’s an order, Levi! There’s no time!” They call back, leaping down onto Eren’s titan form.

You glance down at your hands shakily. How am I supposed to take on so many? Maybe Levi could, but I’m not him. I’m just one person. You consider heading back towards the squad, but know that you’ll have to fight the titans in your path either way.

You sigh and grab a fresh set of blades. “Get it together, Nova,” you whisper. You sincerely hope that any injuries you incur won’t affect you back home. 

Charging forward before you can change your mind, you fly through the trees.

In no time, you see them. Their number has grown. Now, at least fifteen have appeared. You look ahead, but can’t see the Scouts anywhere. Perhaps an abnormal crossed their path? 

There’s no time to think. As the titans lock their huge eyes on you, they charge forward, reaching out and trying to grab the wires attaching you to the trees. You’re too quick in this form though. You slice through the first two easily. They topple to the ground without any resistance. The next few are more difficult as they reach for you at every turn. Still, with Levi’s reflexes, you almost feel invincible. At the tenth, you feel more comfortable flying through the trees in his body. All you need to do is stay on mission and you’ll get through this. You slash and cut your way through each of them, spinning through the air. 

After you cut through the last one’s nape, you drop to the ground, exhausted and covered in blood. 

“Levi, are you alright? Sorry, I know that was probably a lot, even for you,” Hange comments. They drop down with an unconscious Eren draped across their shoulders. 

You manage a sigh and get to your feet slowly, feeling every muscle ache. 

“Come on, let’s go back.”

You nod, feeling a sense of relief course through your veins. At long last, this nightmare will be over. You pray that you’ll wake up in your own body tomorrow. 

Together with the Scouts, you retrieve the horses and return through the plains. The blood-red sunset behind you is gorgeous. If not for the giant humanoid creatures, you’d stay to watch it; however, you dare not risk it. 

You sense the tiredness of the group as they ride ahead. Still, there’s a sense of relief that everyone is returning in one piece at least. You didn’t realize the importance of the military’s role until you arrived here. You suppose Levi lives in a cage of his own in a place like this. You’re lucky there are no titans back home at least. 

Sasha suddenly stops in her tracks. “Something’s coming.”

An eerie silence befalls the group as you wait, hearing footsteps approach. Then, from behind the shadowed treetops to your left, a titan on all fours appears. Blood drips from its jaw as it smiles on spotting its prey. Its head turns sharply to the right as it makes a beeline for the group.

“Shit! Shit Shit! What do we do?!” Connie calls from the far right flank.

You watch as it heads towards Sasha. Her expression is one of pure terror as death closes in. There’s no time, not even Mikasa can get to her side in time since she's carrying Eren on her horse. Everyone reaches towards her desperately, riding as swiftly as possible.

Your body moves before you have time to react. You leap in front of Sasha with blades drawn. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.”

“C-Captain!”

Attaching a wire to the titan’s nape, you swoop forward, ready to cut it down as you did the others. Before you can; however, it grabs your wire. Your eyes widen as you free fall through the air. Shit, I’m too slow after that fight in the forest. What would Levi do? Think! Damn it! You’ll die here if you don’t!

Before you have time to come up with a plan, the titan reaches out grabs you tightly. You feel your insides being crushed with its iron grip as it squeezes you. Damn it, it wasn’t supposed to go like this. 

As its jaws open, you almost pass out. The scent of blood and grime hits you in a wave. Its massive teeth and cold eyes hold no remorse. You kick and fight, but it’s no use. Glancing back, you see Sasha staring up at you, frozen in fear. 

“Help,” you beg. “Please, don’t let me die like this. Levi, please save me. Levi!” 

The titan's jaws close. 

Chapter Text

Walking through the oak door, Levi finds himself back in the white void. He doesn't recognize this place, but it feels oddly familiar in a way. A tall mahogany door with a floral pattern painted in gold stands before him. 

“Levi?”

His vision clears and he sees a young woman standing before him. She looks relieved to see him somehow. Still, how does she know his name? He’s never met her before, as far as he can tell. “What is this? Start talking. Who are you and where the hell am I?”

“Levi,” she pauses and removes a golden key attached to a crimson thread from her neck. “Here. Everything will become clear once you take this.”

It looks similar to the key to Eren’s basement in Shiganshina, but he senses it might hold even more importance himself personally. He wouldn’t dare let her in on that fact though. “Tch. What’s a key going to do?”

“Just take it! Everything will make sense once you do. Please, trust me.”

Her brow is furrowed and her eyes hold a quiet intensity. He can tell she’s serious. Stepping forward he follows her lead, grasping the key between his thumb and index finger. As he does so, there’s a spark of electricity.

He stands frozen as visions flood into his mind. He sees the same woman painting in her room, spending time with her friends, and defying all rationality in a city surrounded by cliffs and mountains. Then, he sees himself, and the first time they switched bodies. He feels her shock and surprise; her fear when faced with her first titan. Everything suddenly becomes clear. But one thing doesn’t quite add up…

His eyes refocus and he takes in the sight of the woman before him. “N-Nova?”

“Yeah,” she smiles warmly. “It’s me.”

I have to go to her. I need to protect her from the cruelty of this world.

He extends his hand, but as he does so, the ground opens up and he falls into the shadows. 

His eyes widen. He can’t leave so soon. No, she needs this key more than me! 

He struggles against the shadows, pulling him in. She needs to remember. “No! Without the key, there’s no way you’ll survive!”

“Don’t worry,” she reaches down towards him. “We’ll meet again soon, Levi.”

Her smile is melancholic, as she watches him fall.

No, it can’t end like this. There’s no way she’ll make it out of my world without this key.

“Nova, please,” he whispers as the shadows drown him. “Stay alive.”

***

A knock on the door causes Levi to stir in his sleep.

“Nova? I’m coming in.” The door creaks and footsteps enter the room.

“Hmm?”

“Honestly, what are you still doing asleep? I thought you said you were going to work hard. It’s almost eight o’clock.”

As the curtains are drawn back, the sudden light causes Levi to jolt awake. He blinks his eyes open as he faces a pale blue wall. He’s warm underneath the covers of a foreign bed. As he glances down, he flinches. Shit, not again. Don’t tell me this dream is recurring or something. 

“Nova?”

Registering the unfamiliar voice, he turns to find a tall woman with long hair pulled into a tight bun. Her eyebrows are knit together and her cold eyes stare into his soul. 

“Who the hell are you?”

“Excuse me, young lady! That’s no way to talk to your mother. You’re lucky I’m giving you any semblance of freedom at all. In fact, I should insist you work for the family company right now!”

Nova’s mother, huh?

“Hey! Are you listening to me?”

Levi nods grudgingly.

“Honestly, you’re hopeless. At least you cleaned while we were gone. Still, I won’t let you off the hook so easily. Get dressed and come downstairs. We’re going out before your classes.”

She strolls out and slams the door behind her.

Levi releases a breath and sits on the edge of the bed. He knows he should be trying to find a way out of this strange world, or hell, even worrying about the changes to his body now that he’s in Nova's world again. Still, all he can think about is her mother. She seems so stern and strict. Still, he senses that she’s only doing what she feels is best for her daughter.

In the past, he only knew his own mother to be kind-hearted and warm, rather than stern. Still, she would sometimes scold him for not cleaning up properly when he was little. As always, he wishes he had more time with her.

Damn it, damn it, damn it! What is this shit? Is it possible that even my dreams are taunting me now? Mom, I just wish…shit, what’s going on?

He sighs and shakes his head before pulling himself together. He doesn’t have time to reminisce or think about Nova’s mother, no matter how much he wants to experience that love again. 

'Levi? Come here and let mom cut your hair. It’s getting so long.'

Mom. He clenches his teeth, desperately willing the memory away. If only they had made it above ground, maybe she would have lived. The least he can do now is makes sure his cleanliness makes the world a little safer for those around him.

Glancing down at his distinctly feminine palms, he still feels filthy. It never goes away. The filth of this world never leaves, even when he is in a different form. Still, he can’t waste his time thinking about regrets and fears. All he can do now is move forward. 

Walking towards the mirror, he sees Nova in her typical attire. A yellow tank top and blue pajama shorts that cling to her curves. Honestly, this girl is too much. He notices a key attached to a red thread, hanging from her neck. He clutches it and feels closer to her in a way. He wonders why the object keeps popping up in his dreams and whatever the hell this is.

He turns towards the dresser and opens the drawers. He’s surprised to find that she’s made a mess of things already. It’s only been a day or so. How has this woman survived this long in such a state?

Eventually, he settles on a black sleeveless high-neck shirt and white pants. It’s not much, but the top reminds him of home at the very least. He still remembers the look on Hange and Erwin’s faces when they presented him with a white turtleneck sweater for his birthday last year. His squad was shocked to see him in such casual attire the following day. His gaze trails down as he remembers he’ll never get to share those moments with them again. He closes his eyes in the memory for a moment. At least he has a new squad now. Still, it’ll never be quite the same as before.

He glances up and turns his attention to the desk by the window where Nova’s notebook gleams in the sunlight. Walking over, he finds it opened to the page he wrote on the last time he was here.

“The hell?! Guess I was right to think it wasn’t a dream after all.” He sighs as he traces his finger over his own penmanship. As he does so the page flickers in the breeze, revealing notes on the other side. “Hm? What now?”

As he turns the page, his eyes narrow. Nova’s handwriting gleams back at him.

 

Levi,

That is your name, right? I don’t know what’s going on here, but I saw your note. For your information, I’m not a brat! I’m just a normal woman in this city, so lay off! My cleaning skill has nothing to do with the situation we are in. So, on the off chance that you are real and this isn’t a dream, please pay close attention to the notes below:

  1. Check my phone messages first thing in the morning and throughout the day. I heard from Lily that you're clueless about technology. What are you, an old man? Anyways, it has facial recognition, so you shouldn’t need the passcode anyways. Oh, and no funny business either. Don’t go snooping through what isn’t yours. Just check my texts and I’ll handle the rest.
  2. My mom might be coming home in the next day or so. So, don’t act rude or curse in front of her. She’s a bit of a stickler for perfection. Just go along with whatever she says. Let her ramble all she wants. If my dad miraculously turns up, feel free to ignore him. I do it all the time. 
  3. I do attend art classes every other day. If they happen to fall on a day where we’ve switched, get Lily to drive you to the college. Just sit quietly, and for god’s sake, don’t make anything or participate. If someone questions you, just say you aren’t feeling well and leave. The papers on the desk, of what I assume is your hometown, are for a presentation tomorrow afternoon. Worst case scenario, just talk about what you see on the page.
  4. Lastly, just go with the flow and follow along. Don’t question anything or try to go against the grain. Judging from what I’ve seen in your world, I can only assume you aren’t used to city life. Technology is vastly different compared to the fields and antiquated styles I saw. I guess, if you have any questions, just go to Lily or Grandma Mei. They’ll always help you in a pinch. Lily is my best friend after all. She’ll know what to do if you get stuck.

Anyways, try to hang on just a little bit longer. Hopefully, the next time we switch will be the last.

- Nova

 

Levi rolls his eyes, she's so long-winded. Still, he clenches his teeth as he combs through the details. So, this isn’t a dream after all? Shit, how are we supposed to keep going like this? 

There’s a knock at the door. “Are you ready yet? Hurry up!”

“Hm,” he responds gruffly, still glancing at the page.

He places the notebook back on the dresser. He wishes he knew more about this girl. She seems awfully pushy for his liking, but it can’t be helped. He stands in front of the mirror and looks at her image staring back at him. She’s so beautiful, and yet, she feels so far away. He taps the glass with his fingertips, willing himself to reach her somehow. Still, he knows it’s no use. 

He sighs and leaves the room, heading towards the bathroom to at least attempt some personal hygiene. He wonders if Nova is tending to his body right now. The thought makes him shudder, considering her complete disregard for cleanliness. 

He brushes her teeth, washes her face, and pulls her hair back into a ponytail. She needs to look at least somewhat presentable.

With a sigh, he steps back out into the light. He grabs her sketches and shoves them into a bag with her phone before descending the stairs. Nova’s mother is waiting with her arms crossed on the bottom floor. Getting a better look at her, he can see her stern expression. Determination seems to be woven into every pore. She checks her golden watch every now and then in frustration. Her blue pinstriped pantsuit clearly defines her superiority.

He remembers Nova’s comment to lay low and just follow along. Still, that isn’t his style. This isn't going to be easy. 

“Nova! Come on, we’ll be late!”

“For what?”

She rolls her eyes. “I texted you. Didn’t you get my message? I said we were heading to the office this morning. I want you to get a sense of what your career will entail, once you get over this silly art business.”

Levi’s temper flares for a moment. He doesn’t appreciate her tone and controlling aura. Still, he respects Nova’s wishes and follows close behind as she locks up the apartment and heads towards a sleek black BMW parked next to the sidewalk. 

Tentatively, Levi follows her lead and opens the door on the opposite side. What is this thing? He lowers himself onto the white leather seat. It’s far more comfortable than any chair he’s been in.

“Aren’t you going to put on your seatbelt? Come on, we don’t have all day.”

He notices a strap across her body. Is it something like 3DMG? He reaches behind and pulls the cord down, clicking the buckle into the side of his seat. He feels it tighten across his body. Weird. The strangest part occurs next; however, when Nova’s mother presses a button next to him. There’s a roar, and the whole machine comes to life, vibrating in place, before taking off down the road. He tries not to draw attention to his surprise, but can’t help but grab the side of the car for dear life. What the hell is this thing? 

He watches through the window as monstrous buildings and people zoom by. It seems strange to be in such an other-worldly place. He almost forgot how massive it is, even bigger than the walls themselves. Half the buildings are the size of the Colossal Titan alone. 

After a few minutes, Nova’s mom pulls the car over by a large glass building with windows reaching up towards the sky. 

“Alright, let’s go,” she turns off the vehicle and removes her belt before stepping out into the sunlight.

Levi follows suit, closing the door behind him and squinting in the sunlight. 

“What are you doing? Come on!”

Levi grudgingly heads towards the door, feeling as though he might fall backward as he glances up at the tower before him.

“Ma’am?” A man in a black suit greets him and holds the door open. 

“That’s sir to you,” he grumbles.

When the attendant gives him a quizzical look, he remembers he’s still in Nova’s body. Still, this guy shouldn’t make assumptions. Who cares how I prefer to be addressed? 

He sighs, remembering Hange and the Scouts. He hopes they are doing alright without him. He supposes that with Commander Erwin there to guide them, they’ll be fine. He should know how important Eren and the others are by now, right?

Walking into the glass building, he finds an equally formal and magnificent interior. With a very industrialized appearance, it’s nothing like the building Lily’s grandmother is living in. This space is distinctly official, clean, and minimalistic. There are steel desks with personnel at each one, guiding clients as they come and go. The floor-to-ceiling windows reveal the massive cityscape beyond. Even the floors beneath him are made of white marble. He feels as though he is tucked away somewhere in the interior. Still, the technology and views portray a very different picture.

“Nova! Come on!”

He glances up as her mother motions for him to enter a small metal box. He steps forward but is skeptical about the ordeal. As he walks inside, she presses a numbered button labeled 20. He pauses for a second, then flinches and clings to the side of the box. They’re rising up. There’s no 3DMG, but they’re rising at a rapid speed. 

“What’s wrong?”

Noticing her skeptical look, Levi attempts to compose himself and clears his throat. “Nothing,” he mutters.

There’s a ding and the box stops on the twentieth floor. As soon as the doors open, Levi is met with a flurry of people ushering Nova’s mother out. 

“Mrs. Reader, you need to sign this document.”

“Don’t forget your appointment at eleven.”

“Here’s your light soy vanilla latte.”

“Mr. Reader called. He won’t be home for another week or two.”

“You’ll need to read these drafts before tomorrow.”

Nova’s mother takes their demands and comments in her stride as she walks down the hallway. 

“Jen, see to it my daughter is led to her private study.”

“Yes, ma’am. Right this way, Ms. Reader.”

Turning, Levi finds a young woman with glasses and a stack of papers gesturing towards the opposite hallway.  He glances after Mrs. Reader before following Jen’s lead. 

Taking the lead, she guides him past rows of cubicles filled with people talking on phones, using headsets, and monitoring screens. Levi doesn’t know what world he happened upon, but it is certainly different from his own.

“In here,” Jen motions. 

He follows her towards a side room tucked away to the right. As he steps inside he is awe-struck by the intricate paintings and designs on the pale grey walls. They add color to the industrialized locale. Straight ahead, behind the desk is a large set of floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out onto the city and mountains beyond. 

“I know Mrs. Reader tends to bring you to the office in hopes of recruiting you, but try not to get discouraged. I can tell from the paintings on the walls alone that you’ve already found your true calling.”

Levi looks back at the woman, who fidgets with her glasses. She has a kind face and her dark asymmetrical hair frames it just so. Despite her formal appearance, he senses there’s a warmth within her, not unlike his comrades back home. 

“Thanks,” he nods to her.

She smiles and leaves, closing the glass door.

Glancing around the room, he takes in the paintings before him. Nova clearly has a talent and a good eye for detail. Gorgeous water-color flowers and sketched landscapes gleam back at him in the sunlight. He’s tempted to touch them but feels that he might ruin them somehow by doing so. 

Wandering towards the desk, he looks down at a stack of papers. Most of them are decorated in sketches. He wonders how Nova’s mother was planning to recruit her when this girl’s mind is clearly preoccupied with other things.

His eyes catch an envelope to his left. Picking it up, he finds it’s addressed to Nova. He doesn’t like the idea of going through her things, but figures he needs all the information he can get at this point.

He traces his fingers across the folds hesitantly, before slipping his thumb underneath the seal. He carefully pushes upwards, opening it without tearing it apart. As he cautiously glances inside, his eyes widen for a moment. So this is her plan. Damn it, I hate shit like this. 

He sighs and lays the envelope back on the desk.

Taking out Nova’s phone, he knows he needs to get her out of this situation as quickly as possible. He dials Lily's number.

“Nova? Is everything okay? You don’t usually call."

“Shut up. I mean, listen. I need you to take me to the college.” 

“Sure, why the urgency though? Your class doesn’t start for another hour.” 

“Just do it.” He glances outside, pinching his brow. “Meet me at Mrs. Reader’s place of work.”

“You mean Reader & Co.? What are you doing there? Don’t tell me your mom is up to the same old crap as usual.”

Levi hangs up. She’ll get the message either way. Nova did say he could rely on her if needed.

Moving swiftly through the hallways, he’s careful not to draw attention to himself. Still, his reflexes and abilities aren’t the same in this body.

He carefully slips into the elevator and glances at the numbers before him. If they are on the 20th floor, then number one should lead to the ground level, right?

He swiftly pushes the button and watches as the doors close. 

A familiar figure pushes through the crowd towards him. “Nova?!” Mrs. Reader calls. “Where do you think you’re going?! Come back here, young lady. Hey!”

The doors slam shut before she can push through the crowd, and the elevator drops down. Feeling a little more used to the sensation, he simply waits for the box to stop and the doors to open.

When they do, at last, he tares through the hallway and runs back onto the sidewalk. He knows Mrs. Reader will probably find him, but there’s no other option. He can only hope that Lily will show up soon.

He waits on the next block for a few minutes until a familiar figure pulls up to the curb in a blue Honda. “Get in!” Lily calls, shifting her gaze nervously towards the building. 

Levi runs down the sidewalk and jumps in the car. “Go,” he instructs. 

As he takes a deep breath and settles into his seat, Lily glances at him in confusion. “Why the sudden rush? I know you hate it there, but you don’t usually call for backup.”

“It’s nothing, just take me to the school.”

“Nova, I know you. What’s really going on?”

“It’s none of your business!” He snaps. He instantly regrets his actions though, on seeing the expression on her face.

“If you want out, I can drop you off right here!”

“No, I didn’t mean that. Look, it’s just been a long morning.” 

Lily shakes her head. “Maybe art class will help you out at any rate. Do you have everything you need?”

Levi nods. “Though some tea would be nice.”

“Tea? Don’t you mean coffee? You only ever drink tea at my grandmother’s place. Are you sure you’re feeling alright?”

“Oh, right,” Levi suppresses a grumble. It’s not refined and has a horribly bitter taste in comparison to his favorite teas. 

After going through the Starbucks drive-through and picking up a light lunch, Lily drives towards the main campus of Shingeki College. Levi nibbles on a plain scone and grudgingly drinks the coffee Lily ordered for him. She seems perfectly content sipping on an obnoxiously pink drink in the meantime. Disgusting.

His attention diverges as he glances out the window of the car, though. He stares in awe as tall buildings and a series of skywalks come into view. Before the central tall white building is a large fountain on a cobblestone road. 

“I’ll pick you up at three at this spot, alright?”

“Right. Thanks,” Levi nods, stepping out of the car. 

As Lily drives away, though, he realizes he has no idea where to go from here. He steps forward even so and walks along the path, towards the main building. 

After wandering around for several minutes, he’s still hopelessly lost. He sits down on a bench and glances around at the space. Students walk to and from, past pillars and walls, talking and rushing around to their classes. He wonders how they can navigate such a large place so easily.

Glancing down, he sees the key, still hanging from his neck. He picks it up and brings it close to his face. Where do I go? He wonders silently. He sighs, like it would be that easy. 

Standing, he prepares to call Lily to take him back to the apartment or to her grandmother's. He needs to get answers somehow. Something clicks in his mind though. Nova?

As though on autopilot, he knows instinctively where to turn. It’s as though he’s been taking this route all his life. He narrows his eyes skeptically but follows the new path in his mind even so. 

Walking past the many twisting roads and large cobblestone courtyards, he eventually comes to a large glass building. It almost looks like a series of building blocks stacked asymmetrically on top of one another. Though, he supposes it’s not the strangest thing he’s seen in this world. 

Taking a step forward, he walks through the front door and takes in the sights before him. He stands in awe as he glances at his surroundings. A large mobile of multicolored birds hangs from the ceiling, which reaches up towards the sky. Plants and tiny gardens are cropped to mimic the outdoors. Splashes of color from murals and artwork decorate the walls. So this is an art school, huh?

Walking forward, he makes his way to the stairs. Surprisingly, he finds himself out of breath after three flights. This body is weird. His chest feels heavy as he tries to catch his breath. Just keep going, almost there.

“Nova?” 

He looks up to find a tall man with blonde hair standing before him.

“Come on, we’re going to be late. Do you have your sketches ready?”

“What?”

“Don’t tell me you forgot! The sketches for your presentation.”

“Oh, right.” Levi opens up his bag and finds the images of the landscapes from Nova. He’s not entirely sure what he’s supposed to be presenting, but he figures he can wing it at the very least.

“Oh good, you had me worried there.”

“Sorry, do I know you?”

“Come on, we’ve been partners since the Fall semester.”

Levi looks at him skeptically. Even with the key jogging his memory here and there, he has no idea who this guy is. 

“Chris Hamlin. Ring any bells?” He teases. His expression changes on seeing Levi’s confused expression. “Come on, Nova. Stop playing around.”

“Right, sorry,” Levi mumbles. Just go with the flow. 

Walking down the hall alongside Chris, he walks through the doorway into a large lecture hall. The dome shape and sloping floor are unlike anything he’s ever seen. The seats are plastic, but there have to be at least three hundred in the room. On the wall ahead of him is a massive floor-to-ceiling screen. A smaller desk stands at the front with a lamp hovering over a grey box. A small white-haired man with glasses stacks papers and looks at those already seated with a quiet intensity. 

Taking a seat in the back, Levi watches as the professor begins the presentation. “Alright, let’s begin. Welcome everyone, today we will be reviewing your travel sketching and landscape design pieces.”

Levi watches in confusion as each student brings forth gorgeous representations of art and design, projecting them onto the large screen. 

“Nova Reader, you’re up,” the professor indicates after a few presentations. 

Levi stands, despite being unsure of what's going on. He walks down the path and heads towards the desk. As the others did before, he places Nova's sketch on the strange device that projects the image for all to see. He glances up at the magnificent and accurate representation of Trost District. What am I even supposed to say?

Before he can begin; however, his eye catches something in the sketch. 

Some quiet chuckles emerge in the group as they watch him stare in silence at the screen, blank-faced.

“Shut the hell up, brats!” He hisses in response.

“Ms. Reader, are you alright?”

“Shit, this is worse than I thought.”

“Excuse me?”

“I have to go,” he glances at the small crowd. “For what it’s worth, Nova should be commended as an artist. Whatever happens, don’t let her fall down the shitty path her parents want her to pursue."

“Ms. Reader, explain yourself this instant!” The professor stares at him in shock.

Ignoring the class, he grabs the sketch and runs up the sloping hall towards the door. He swings open the doors and flying past the hallways. He pays no regard as he slams past other students and teachers. He ignores their complaints and taunts as he runs back towards the pavilion. 

Outside, he gasps for breath and holds up the key still around his neck. Glancing at the sketch, he sees an image of himself. Around his neck is the very same key. Nervously, he removes the object from around his neck. As he does so, he feels his memories fade slightly.

What’s he doing here? How did he get to this place?

He glances at the key and wraps it back around his neck. Immediately, his thoughts become clear again.

Shit, she’ll never survive if this is all it takes to forget the world around her. If the mission back home goes ahead and she has to leave Wall Maria, everything will go to hell. Damn it, what if she gets herself killed? What then? 

His mind reels as he fiddles with the key, trying to figure out a way back.

Taking out Nova's phone, he knows what he has to do. He dials Lily's number for a second time.

"Hey you, what's wrong? You're done early?"

"I need to see Grandma Mei immediately. There's no time to explain."

"Nova?"

His eyes widen and he drops the phone as a voice pierces through his mind. Help. Please, don’t let me die like this. Levi, please save me. Levi!

He clenches his teeth. He's too late. Fight, he urges. Fight!

As he clutches the key around his neck, he sees a vision of himself struggling, the jaws of an abnormal titan open wide, ready to devour him.

“No, I won’t let it end like this. I won’t let you die in that place. You’ll get back here, I promise.” 

Breathing heavily, he tries to come up with a solution. He glances down at the key, knowing it's his only hope.

Please work. He brings it to his lips and closes his eyes. Take me to her.

He focuses every ounce of his energy on transporting himself back home. He remembers the night the stars collided in Wall Maria. He remembers when he switched bodies with her for the first time. He remembers Grandma Mei and the broken teacup. He remembers her.

"NOVA!"

Chapter Text

“Sasha! Look out! Hey!”

“Captain, what’re you…no, wait!” 

“Help. Please, don’t let me die like this. Levi, please save me. Levi!”

Opening his eyes, Levi finds himself in the grip of an abnormal titan. Its jaws open wide and it places him on its tongue, preparing to devour him. 

There’s no time to wonder how he got back in his body. He has to survive first. He releases his blades swiftly, cutting through the titan’s teeth at the moment it bites down.

“Captain!”

“Don’t just stand there, Braus! Get out of the way!”

Swiftly, he launches his gear onto the creature’s nape, avoiding its desperate reaches as he does so. Tightening his grip, he swings through its neck in one fell swoop. Flipping through the air, he lands on the grass and approaches his squad.

Connie is crouching next to Sasha, holding her head protectively as they both reel from shock. 

“Don’t do that to me, idiot. I really thought I was going to lose you this time.”

“Y-yeah,” she stammers, leaning into him through tears. “T-too close.”

The others ride swiftly towards them across the fields.

“Shit. What the hell is going on here?” Levi pinches his brow, feeling overwhelmed with the sudden change. He can’t remember what he was doing moments ago. How did he even get here?

“Levi?” 

He glances up towards the figure on horseback. “Oh, it’s just you, Hange.”

“Are you alright?” They ask, riding towards him. “I thought for sure you were a goner. You’re cutting it a little close, don’t you think?”

“I survived, didn’t I?”

“Hey, Captain! Over here!” Jean leaps off his horse a short distance away.

“Jean, what the- who is that?!” Reiner exclaims. 

Bertolt looks on suspiciously. “Hang on, is that a woman? Where did she come from?” 

“No idea,” Jean crouches down beside her.

Levi walks over to him suspiciously but stops on seeing the girl. She looks familiar somehow and yet, all he can remember is her name. “Nova?”

“Huh? You know her?” Hange brings their horse towards Jean.

Levi shakes his head. “Not exactly.” 

Still, as he approaches he feels oddly drawn to her presence. Her hair strewn across the grass, she looks oddly peaceful despite being unconscious. The sleeveless shirt and white pants look oddly familiar to him just as she does herself. As he crouches beside her, he notices a red thread hanging from her neck with a key dangling from the end. He reaches out to grasp it. It’s almost as though it’s beckoning him forward. 

“Hey, Levi?” Hange’s voice breaks through his trance. 

“What?” He grumbles in frustration. 

Mikasa rides forward, still holding onto an unconscious Eren. “We need to get back. The sun is almost set and we’re still in titan territory. We can’t afford any casualties. Plus, we need to get Eren checked out. He’s still not coming to, and I-” her voice cracks slightly as she ruffles his brown hair.

Levi sighs, what a troublesome group. Still, he wishes he knew what happened mere moments ago. It’s as though his memories are clouded somehow. “Fine. Jean, take care of the girl.”

He nods and drapes her over his shoulder with Reiner’s help before climbing back onto his horse.

“Here you go, Captain.” Krista brings Levi’s steed forward.

“I know you’re our boss, but try not to get yourself killed,” Ymir quips beside her.

Levi reaches towards her, scowling, but knows there’s no time to argue. He gets back on his horse and pulls ahead of the group next to Hange. 

“Hey, are you okay?” They whisper. 

Levi looks back towards Jean who’s still carrying Nova. Why do these strange things keep happening? If only I could remember her…

Curling his fingers into a fist, he looks ahead. “I’ll be fine,” he mutters. He doesn’t have time to think about her while danger still lurks around every corner. He needs to remain focused on the task at hand. 

-

Riding in silence, the weary group returns to Trost. With torches held high, the gate is raised and they enter the district.

Keeping his gaze fixed on Wall Maria, Levi tries not to think about the whispers and mutterings of passersby. 

“Only a single afternoon? Ridiculous.”

“At least their limbs are still intact this time.”

“What? Is that Yeager kid really unconscious at a time like this? The Survey Corps really are slackers, huh?”

“Wait, who’s that girl? I don’t remember her from before.”

“What is she? Someone they hired to keep the men company? I bet they’ve been fooling around with her all afternoon.”

“So that’s where our hard-earned taxes are going? Disgusting.”

Levi’s ears perk up and anger surges through his veins. He shoots a deadly gaze towards the merchants below. Glancing back towards Jean, who looks uncomfortable, to say the least, he notices her attire. It’s a little modern to be sure, but not warranting these comments by any means. He makes a mental note to return later for revenge.

“Hey, Levi. Stay focused. We’ll figure everything out, don’t worry,” Hange attempts to reassure him.

Calming his fury, he nods. With Eren and Nova still unconscious, they need to get them back to the hideout as soon as possible. 

He wonders what Erwin will think of all this. Surely, he’ll come up with some sort of plan or understanding with Nova at the very least. Levi only wishes he could remember more about her. That key…there’s something familiar about it.

“Raise the gates!” The Garrison on the far side calls as they prepare to exit the town. 

Together, they leave the comfort of the city torchlight and emerge in the darkness of the fields. 

As they continue forward, Levi can feel the tension amongst the recruits. He, Hange, and Erwin have been on many expeditions where conditions were far worse than this, but the recruits are not used to change. They may have faced off against titans and terrors in the past, but traveling under the cover of darkness is a whole other matter. Even though they are out of titan territory, the Survey Corps knows better than most that anything could happen at a moment's notice.

Looking forward through the inky darkness, he feels a droplet of rain on his cheek. The others inhale sharply and flinch behind him. He can’t blame them, considering his own experiences in low visibility storms. His mind reels with images of titans devouring those closest to him. He can see their faces, hear their cries, and smell their blood. 

Big bro-

He clenches his teeth. Now isn't the time to be thinking about that. I need to stay focused, and bring my squad home safely…this time at least.

“Isabel, Furlan. Watch over us,” he whispers. 

“Levi-” Hange starts.

“Don’t. Just keep moving forward. We don’t have time for sentimentalities.”

They nod, but give him a concerned glance, knowing how difficult storms are for him even to this day. 

With their hoods up and their capes pulled close, they ride towards the distant light. 

Levi’s heart softens at the thought of seeing Erwin again. He needs to talk to him, to understand what’s going on. If anyone can help him out, it’s him. 

“There it is! We actually made it!” Connie cheers. 

“Let’s get some food! Seriously, I’m going to starve,” Sasha cries, almost falling off her horse. 

“Eren, just hang on,” Mikasa rides ahead of the group at top speed, heading for the stables. 

Levi rolls his eyes. Those two are hopeless. Still, he’s not oblivious to their situation. Anyone with eyes can tell Mikasa’s in love with that brat. What she sees in him he’ll never know. 

“Captain, what should I do with this girl?” Jean inquires.

“Seriously? Do I have to do everything around here? Bring her inside with Eren and see to it that she’s treated for any injuries. I’ll question her with Erwin later.”

He watches as Jean nods and rides ahead with Nova still unconscious in his grasp. 

“Levi,” Hange places their hand on his shoulder. “I wish you would tell me what’s going on. Erwin and I are getting worried.”

He shrugs them off. “It’s fine.”

Riding ahead, he leaves Hange behind in the rain. He can’t bring himself to explain things when he doesn’t know what’s going on himself. It all feels like some surreal dream. 

He brings his horse to the stables and removes his gear. His only concern now is getting back inside and speaking with Erwin. Then, he’ll confront the girl and see just who this Nova person really is. 

He runs his fingers through his hair, feeling the droplets fall along his face. He’s overdue for a shower as well, by the looks of things. He makes a mental note to calm his mind with some hygiene and a cup of tea later. 

“Levi?” A familiar voice enters the stables. 

His heart beats faster at the sound. He’s never been more grateful to hear that tone at a time when he feels so lost and confused. Turning, he finds Erwin standing in the torchlight. 

“I’m glad you made it back in one piece. You had me worried earlier.”

“Right, sorry.”

“Are you okay?” He steps closer. 

Levi inches back. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t need to hide from me. I know it has been a difficult couple of weeks.” 

Levi sighs and looks away. “Did you see that woman?”

“Ah yes, Nova was it? Kierstein indicated you found her in titan territory.”

“Yeah.”

“He also mentioned that you seemed to know her somehow.”

“No!” Levi looks up and sees Erwin’s eyebrow raised slightly. “Well, not really. That’s what I wanted to discuss with you actually. Come on, let’s talk inside. You know I hate weather like this,” he shivers as a single droplet falls through a crack in the stable and lands on his shoulder. 

Erwin nods and ushers him into the hideout.

Together, they enter the warm, comforting structure. They remove their wet cloaks and hang them up to dry. 

“Commander! Captain!” Their fellow comrades salute. 

“Sir!” Jean runs through the hall to greet them. “The girl is tucked away in an empty room in the veterans' quarters. She’s still unconscious, but stable for now. Krista has offered to look after her for the time being.”

Erwin and Levi exchange glances before walking ahead of the group. 

“At ease. Recruits, take the time to rest and recover from your mission. Section Commander Hange, how is Eren?”

Levi feels a twinge of guilt on seeing their typically upbeat personality falter slightly. “He’s stable. Mikasa is tending to him now. Still, I wish we could’ve learned more from our expedition.”

Erwin walks over to her gently. “Don’t worry, no one was killed and everyone made it back safely. I would say your mission was a great success considering that.”

Hange glances towards Levi but quickly looks away and turns their attention towards the recruits. Sasha and Connie are already fighting over dinner alongside the others. 

Levi wishes he could indulge with them, but knows he has a job to do. He walks forward, heading towards the stairs. He needs answers now. 

“Levi?” Erwin hurries after him. “Why the rush? What’s going on?”

Levi doesn’t respond but keeps walking through the halls until he reaches the veterans' quarters. He takes a deep breath before heading down the hallway. He stops at the door on the right across from his own.

“Levi? According to Kierstein’s report, she’s still unconscious. We won’t get any information out of her at this rate. Besides, if she was found in titan territory, who knows what she’s been through.” 

He ignores Erwin and gives a slight knock. Slowly turning the handle, he pushes the oak door open slightly. 

His heart races on seeing the woman tucked into the large bed. Her hair is splayed on the pillow, and warm blankets drape across her frame. A cold cloth rests on her forehead, and her cheeks are reddened slightly with a fever.

“Commander, Captain!” Krista salutes on seeing them. “I’m sorry, I would have prepared her better had I known you were going to visit this soon.”

Ewin nods. "It’s fine, cadet. Thank you for taking care of her even so.”

“It’s no problem. I’m happy to help,” she smiles warmly despite her wet clothes. 

“Go take care of yourself, Cadet Lenz. We’ll take it from here.”

She stands and salutes. “Commander. Captain.” She walks past them and out the door, closing it behind her. 

Without further ado, Levi steps forward and pulls up a chair beside Nova. “Just who the hell are you?” He sighs, knowing it’s useless to ask questions right now. Still, he notices something once again that catches his eye.

“Levi?”

He holds up a finger to silence Erwin. 

Reaching forward towards her neck, he touches a thin crimson thread hanging loosely around her. It’s so simple, and yet, with every touch, he feels closer to her. Dragging his fingertips down slightly across her chest, his palm rests on the small golden key. 

A spark of electricity courses through his veins. His eyes widen as he remembers what happened before he arrived home. They swapped bodies again. He was looking at the world from her strange perspective earlier today. He was at her college when he heard her voice cry out for help.

That brat, I knew she wouldn’t survive without the key. How could she have been so reckless? Now, even worse, I'll have to keep her scrawny ass alive somehow. If she couldn’t even manage a single afternoon, how am I going to help her indefinitely? No, I’ll have to find someone else for the task. Not to mention, she’s impossibly messy.

Erwin watches as recognition and a strange softness flood into Levi’s gaze. Who is she to him? He’s not sure, but he does know that he hasn’t seen that kind of expression on Levi’s face in a long time. He feels almost jealous of this woman in a way but knows that’s ridiculous. Still, there’s a connection that he can’t quite understand. Something is tying them together like an invisible thread that can’t be broken.

He sighs, “Let me know if she wakes up. I’m going to check on Hange and the recruits.” 

Turning, he makes his way towards the door. Before he can turn the handle; however, Levi grips his jacket sharply. 

“Don’t leave, not yet.”

Erwin turns to find his subordinate looking away, biting his lip slightly. He’s scared. Although humanity’s strongest soldier never shows it in public, he can tell. 

“Levi?” He sighs on seeing his troubled gaze and walks across the room, pulling up a chair. “Tell me. What’s really going on with you?”

“Nothing. I’m just tired. You know I don’t sleep well. Sorry to have bothered you. Go on and help the recruits.”

“Levi,” Erwin softens his gaze. “It’s okay. You can talk to me. You know me. I’ll always be here for you.”

With a sigh, Levi walks over and sits on the edge of the bed, across from him. He steals a glance at Nova. Her chest rises and falls shakily. If she didn’t have a fever, she’d almost look peaceful. Instead, her face is reddened and contorted in discomfort. He looks away, what a troublesome woman.

“Levi,” Erwin reaches forward and grasps his hands. 

He grumbles, knowing he can’t resist that piercing blue gaze…he never could. He starts from the beginning with the colliding stars and Hange’s story. He recounts his switches with Nova and his meetings with her friends in that strange place, Shingeki City. He ends by discussing his last memories at the college before he found himself back home. He knows it sounds ridiculous, but if anyone can make sense of things, it’s Erwin. 

He pauses as he takes in the information. 

“Erwin?”

He holds up a finger before standing and making his way towards the open window. “I knew there was something wrong. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. To think that you were someone else this whole time though.”

“I’m just as confused as you. So, does that mean you believe this convoluted story?”

“Levi, don’t you realize what this means?”

“Hm?”

“There’s another world out there. A place without titans and monsters. A place where we can be free. A place with more people than just those confined within the Walls. Can you imagine if we could get everyone there somehow? The possibilities, they’re endless.”

“Erwin, I hardly understand what’s happening in the first place. I feel like I’m going insane here! I don’t...I can't understand it.”

He strolls over and crouches down beside the bed. “Levi, I know it’s difficult but this girl, she’s the key to our survival somehow. I noticed how your expression changed when you touched the thread too. Whatever it is, you two are connected, bonded together in some strange way. Believe me, when I say, we’ll figure this out together.”

"Tch, fine." He knows there’s no stopping Erwin and he can’t hold anything back if they are to figure this out.

“That key seems to be the link causing our switches and taking our memories. When one of us is wearing the key, the other’s memories become clouded somehow. Mine were until I touched the key around her neck, just now. If not for that key, I probably wouldn’t have made it home either.”

“Oh? And how did you get home?”

Levi pauses for a moment. He’s not sure of the specifics, but one detail does ring out in his mind. “I followed her voice. When I heard it, my mind went blank. All I could think of was saving her.”

Erwin smiles sadly. “Well, at least you’re here now.”

Levi raises an eyebrow. He knows that look. “Erwin please, you have nothing to worry about. She’s the messiest, most annoying person I’ve ever had to deal with. You’re the only constant in my life. Once we figure out how to get her back home and stop these occurrences, everything will go back to the way it was. I promise.”

Erwin stands and makes his way to the door. Before he opens it; however, he turns back with a solemn glance towards Levi. “That’s what I’m worried about.” He steps outside and closes the door firmly behind him. 

“The hell?” Levi mutters under his breath. What was that about? Sometimes Erwin can be so convoluted. 

He glances towards Nova. Her breathing seems to be easing slightly. Her features are illuminated in the flickering torchlight. Seeing her like this is entirely different than viewing things from her perspective in the mirror. He reaches forward with the back of his hand and brushes his fingertips across her cheek. She still seems so familiar, and yet so distant. He hardly knows the real her even now. 

She stirs at his touch, and he pulls his hand back swiftly. 

Her eyes slowly open as she turns her weary gaze towards him. “Levi?”

Chapter Text

You watch as the titan’s jaws opened wide, shutting your eyes tightly and wishing desperately for Levi to switch with you again. You would do anything to get away from this dangerous world. You just want to be back home, away from the trauma and fear. 

“Nova?” A familiar voice breaks through your thoughts.

Slowly blinking your teary eyes open, you emerge into a familiar world. Immense cliffs rise on either side of the city below. Standing on the rooftop terrace, vines and plants create a tropical atmosphere. The air, while industrial, still feels fresh and comforting. 

“Nova?”

You turn to find a familiar figure standing behind you with a broad smile. You grin eagerly back and run to his side. “Big brother, Elio! I knew you wouldn’t leave me behind.”

“That’s right. We’re going to leave this place behind once and for all. You’ll love it, Nova. My friends told me that beyond the city and mountains lie lush forests, meadows stretching beyond the horizon, and best of all, the sea.”

“The sea? Isn’t that the watery thing?”

He chuckles warmly. “Yes, it’s massive. A huge body of water that extends beyond the horizon far into the distance.” He holds his arms open wide in excitement.

“Wow,” your eyes shimmer with anticipation. “I can’t wait!”

He smiles before glancing at the sunset suspiciously. “Mom and dad will be home soon. We need to leave while we can. Are you ready to go?”

You nod determinedly. “Aye, aye, Captain!”

“Right, then let’s get going!” He places his fist on his heart. “Onwards into the next world!”

You smile as you make the same gesture and run down the stairs after him. 

You swing open the door into the blinding light beyond, ready to embark on the next journey together with Elio by your side.

 As you step outside; however, the ground opens up and you tumble down into a shadowed abyss. You reach your hand up, trying to find your way back to the light, but it’s no use. You can’t change the past. 

“Elio,” you whisper as you tumble through the darkness.

“Nova?” A familiar voice calls through the darkness.

Glancing ahead, you see a figure walking towards you. It’s Levi, the man you’ve been switching bodies with. He crouches down beside you with a sympathetic expression. Reaching out, he grabs the key around your neck. 

“Hey what’re you-”

You stop in surprise as he brings the golden key to his lips. 

Blushing slightly, you feel yourself being drawn towards him. The crimson thread around your neck seems to call to you both, pulling you together. Instinctively, you wrap the thread around his neck too. You stare into his cold gaze for a moment before feeling a sense of weightlessness. Together you float upward, pressing your foreheads together, as you drift towards the light.

-

You hear the rain against the windowsill first, pounding and rattling the shutters. Your body feels as though it’s aflame and it’s so heavy you hardly have the strength to raise your head. There’s a slight pressure against your cheek, bringing you back to your senses. You groan slightly as you come to, opening your eyes in the dim lamplight. The beams creak above your head as the storm rages on. 

You turn your head slowly to find a familiar face staring down at you with a furrowed brow. “Levi?”

“It’s about time, you damned brat.”

“So, you’re real after all?”

“Isn’t that obvious?”

You groan as you attempt to sit up, your whole body aching.

“Tch. Don’t overdo it. You still have a fever.”

Your vision goes blurry and the damp cloth falls from your head. Your memories are hazy as you try to think back to the strange dream you had. Elio. I haven’t dreamt about him in a long time. As your mind shifts to memories of Levi kissing the key around your neck, and the feeling of connection between you two, your cheeks redden in embarrassment.

The sudden heat makes the room spin. You drift to the side onto Levi’s shoulder.

He catches you grudgingly. “Didn’t I tell you not to overdo it? Damn it, you’re going to be trouble for me, aren’t you? Just when I thought this madness was over.”

“Hey, at least we’re in our own bodies this time,” you chuckle wearily. “I guess we’re finally meeting in person, huh?”

Levi sighs. Shouldn’t her priorities be where she is and how she got here instead? I’ll never understand her. 

“I’m Nova,” you say in barely more than a whisper. With every muscle aching, you know that if not for his support, you’d fall out of the bed and flat on your face. 

“The name’s Levi,” he grumbles before placing your head back on the pillow. “Now get some rest. You’re no use to anyone like this, damn brat.”

You smile slightly. Although he has a sharp tongue, you know he means well. Closing your eyes, you allow yourself to slip back into unconsciousness. 

-

“Can’t I take over watching her? I promise I won’t be too invasive.”

“Back off, Hange. You’ll overwhelm her with your absurd obsessions.”

“But you haven’t left her side all night. Come on, just for a little while?”

“No way.”

“Why? Oh, I see, you have a thing for her, don’t you?”

“Section Commander, that’s enough. Levi's been through enough as it is.”

“Tch. This is so annoying.”

“So noisy,” you groan, wiping away the sleep from your eyes as you glance at three blurry figures.

“Yay! She’s awake!”

You jolt upright as a familiar figure with auburn hair and glasses leans over you excitedly. 

“H-Hange?”

“Oh my god,” they quiver. “I can’t believe it. She actually remembers me! How? When? Tell me everything! What was it like being in Levi’s body? Was it weird? Wonderful? What was the vantage point like considering he’s so small? And how did you accommodate being the opposite gender? We all know about Levi’s-”

“Hange, that’s enough! Back off, four-eyes,” Levi steps in with an annoyed expression.

“Aww come on, don’t be shy. It’s perfectly natural. Now that I think about it, how did you feel in her body? Did you touch everything; truly experience her femininity?”

You both blush, unable to look at one another as the reality of your situation sets in. 

“That’s enough, Section Commander. As Levi mentioned, we don’t want to overwhelm the poor girl.” Despite his authoritative tone, you can tell the tall blonde man is holding back a smile. 

You turn your attention towards his towering presence at the end of the bed. “Commander Erwin?”

“Indeed,” he nods. “Fascinating, so you remember everything from this world?” 

You glance down at the key still hanging from your neck. As you pick it up with your index finger and thumb, your mind seems to clear. You remember this world more vividly and all of the exchanges in-between. Still, this isn’t what you had in mind when you thought of switching back with Levi. You think back to your own world and your memories of your brother. 

“Shit, I need to get back to my world!” You realize as panic sets in. Regardless of Levi’s presentation of your art project the other day, you have a history test coming up too. If you so much as get a B on anything, your parents will pull you out of college for sure. “Damn it,” you clench your fist, slamming it on the bed. “I don’t have time to laze around here. I have to go.”

“Where? Back to your own world?” Hange places their thumb on their chin.

You nod slowly. “If I don’t get back, my parents…they’ll…”

“They’ll what?”

Levi’s brow furrows in understanding. “They’re not here now. Just focus on yourself.”

“I want to know! Any information could be helpful, you know,” Hange whines.

Levi shoots them a fierce look.

“It’s okay,” you reassure him. You turn your gaze towards Hange and Erwin who look on expectantly. “Things are just complicated between me and my family. I have to work hard and get the best grades I can or else they won’t take my career path as an artist seriously. Maybe it sounds dumb, to begin with, I don’t know. Either way, I know they’re looking for the smallest slip up to pull me out and have me run the family editorial business instead.”

“So, it’s some kind of indentured servitude you’re facing?” Hange looks on expectantly.

You shake your head. “No, not quite. It’s more like we have conflicting views on what’s best for me.”

“Tch. I’ll say.”

“Well, maybe if we knew more about how you got here, we could help you return home. Perhaps, we could all find a way to your world considering the circumstances.”

You glance into Erwin’s determined expression filled with cautious optimism. You hate to crush his dreams but you’re not sure how things ended up like this in the first place. “I wish I could give you more information, but I know as much as Levi. One moment I was looking up at the intersecting stars, and the next I found myself in Levi’s body. The only thing that seems to connect us together is this key and red thread. I don’t know where it came from but it seems to link us somehow, even across dimensions.”

Erwin pauses, taking the information in. “So, this key is the source of the transportation to another dimension? May I see it?”

You nod and remove it from around your neck. As you pass it to Erwin, you notice Levi’s gaze shift uncomfortably. 

When he takes the key, you feel a weight return to your body. Your memories are hazy and your vision blurs. Where am I? What was I doing? 

As you turn to Levi, you can tell he has a similar sensation. His expression is distant as he places his palm on his forehead. 

“Hey, let me see,” you hear Hange mutter distantly. 

Your consciousness slips further and further away as they pass it between each other, examining every feature. 

“Hey, Levi!” You hear Hange call before there's a loud thud.

“Give him the key, now!" Erwin’s muffled voice booms.

You feel as though every breath is slipping from your grasp as you sink into the darkness. Then, just as quickly as unconsciousness beckoned, your senses clear. Gasping for breath and coughing, you open your eyes wide. Your ears ring with the sudden change.

 Glancing to your left, through shaky breaths you find Levi in a similar state on the floor. “D-damn it,” he croaks. “What the hell was that?!”

Erwin crouches by his side with concern. “Are you alright, Levi? What happened?”

“Huh, it seems that this key is almost acting as a life support. Try to sever or remove it and their lives hang in the balance.”

“The hell?” You gasp. “This hasn’t happened before, though.”

“Think about it, has anyone else tried to touch the key other than us?”

You glance at Levi who’s still trying to catch his breath. The key and thread hanging from his neck are a darker reminder of your shared connection. “No, just Levi and I,” you mutter. 

“Fascinating,” Hange’s eyes gleam. “I can’t wait to see what else lies within this key.”

“Shit, what the hell were you thinking giving them that key?” Levi turns on you.

“Did you have a better idea?” 

“Enough, you both need to rest. Clearly, this is far beyond anything we can control. The Section Commander and I will work towards finding a solution to this strange phenomenon. That said, it will likely take time considering this new turn of events.”

You glance down at the sheets and clench your fists. You need things to go faster than that. You can’t just sit around here, waiting for something to happen. “I’ll help too, I’ll do whatever I can to take you back with me.”

Erwin and Hange smile. “Then it’s settled.”

Still, they turn expectantly towards Levi, waiting for his response. He looks distinctly annoyed as he leans against the windowsill. Still, sensing the gaze of his comrades, he sighs. “Fine, but don’t expect any special treatment. So long as you’re here, you’ll train and work alongside everyone else. In exchange, we’ll try to get back to your world.”

You smile warmly. “Thanks, all of you. No matter what, we’ll figure this out together.”

You watch as Erwin and Hange leave to deliver the morning report. Erwin turns slightly at the door with a melancholic smile towards Levi, who quickly turns away. You’re not sure what the exchange means, but you can tell there’s something going on between them. You knew from the first moment you entered this world that their bond is something special. You can’t help but feel a little jealous in a way, but you quickly shove that thought away. 

As the door shuts behind him, Levi turns to you with his brow furrowed. “You didn’t tell them everything.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t play dumb. I saw the envelope in your mother’s office. I know what they’re trying to bribe you into joining the company.”

You shoot him a fierce glance. “So, you went through my things? That wasn’t yours to look at!”

“Please, we were literally in each other’s bodies. We couldn’t get much closer. I had a right to find out as much information as I could get.”

“So that means you can give and take whatever you want? What else did you look through?”

“Damn it, how did I get stuck with such an arrogant brat like you?”

“If you want arrogant, take a look in the mirror!”

Levi sighs, “Don’t you see? I was trying to help you, to help both of us.”

“So, that makes it okay?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“So-”

“Urgh, just listen! You may not have seen the cruelty of this world until recently, but your world isn’t perfect either. Still, unlike us, you have a chance to leave all of that behind. So, why don’t you?”

Glancing down you fidget slightly. “You may have seen my world, but you still don’t understand. There are many different kinds of hell both here and back home. I guess I'm starting to realize that we don’t always have the luxury of escaping our past or our future.”

Levi stands and makes his way to the door. “Believe me, I understand that sentiment more than anyone else here. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we can’t live with regrets. Don't make a choice based on what everyone else wants, think for yourself. That's the only way you can keep on living.”

As he shuts the door behind him, you stare at the pale white oak. Tears stream down your face as memories resurface. 

“I promise I’ll do whatever it takes to keep your dream alive, brother,” you salute as the rain outside continues.

Levi stands silently on the other side of the door. 

Chapter Text

Levi banged on the door to Nova’s room. Seriously is she going to sleep all day?

“Oi, brat! Wake up!”

“Come on Levi, do you want to scare her off?”

“She should be scared, considering what I have in store for the cadets today. Besides, where else is she going to go?”

“Seriously? You really are hopeless when it comes to women.”

“Shut up Four-Eyes, you’re no better with your obsessions.”

“At least I know how to treat titans with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Levi rolls his eyes. “I’ll never understand how Moblit puts up with you.”

Turning his attention back to the closed door, he sighs. “Only one option left.”

“What’re you- Levi!”

He kicks the door open with a bang. 

“You can’t just barge into someone’s room like that!”

“You didn’t seem to have a problem with it earlier.”

“That’s different, she hasn’t gone through the dregs of the military yet.”

“She will soon enough.”

Walking towards the edge of bed Levi finds Nova snoring soundly. How can she sleep with all of this racket?

“Oi, brat! Get up! Come on!”

Waking with a jolt, Nova smacks her forehead against Levi’s. 

“Shit,” he hisses rubbing the new pulsating red mark.

He glares across the room as Hange tries to keep from laughing. Stupid brat. He turns his sharp gaze on Nova who looks up at him wearily. 

“Is it morning already?” She grumbles, rubbing her eyes. Her hair is splayed out in a tangled mess. Her head bobs as she tries to stay awake. 

“Tch. So annoying. I can’t believe Erwin forced me into this. Why couldn’t she be on your squad?”

“I’m conducting research in the field today. Besides, you’re the best at training new recruits. I’m sure you’ll do just fine, Levi!” Hange smacks Levi’s back with a chuckle. 

He glares at her in disgust. Touch me again and you die. 

“Don’t give me that look, I know deep down you’re a softie.”

“Shut up.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll head out with Moblit while you’re handling things here. Good luck, Nova! You’ll need it.” They wave and head for the door.

“Hange.”

“Hm?”

“No detours.”

They smirk mischievously. “We’ll do our best.”

Levi rolls his eyes, hearing Hange laugh as they walk down the hallway. They really are hopeless. How does Moblit stand them?
Turning his attention back to Nova, who is dozing off again, he decides he has no other choice. He grabs her shoulders forcefully and shakes her aggressively. “Hey, I said wake up!”

Nova groans and comes too. “What? Oh, Levi.”

“That’s Captain to you, brat.” He walks over to the window and opens up the curtains. 

She squints as the early morning sun streams through the shadowed room. “Hey, what’s the big idea? So bright.”

“Tch. Did you already forget? You’re training with the recruits today. Cadet Lenz laid out a fresh uniform for you on the desk. Get up and get dressed. That’s an order.”

She grumbles and grudgingly gets to her feet after seeing his fierce expression. 

Her frame is slightly different than he remembers. Previously, he didn’t notice the lines and tiny blemishes tracing across her body. Even in her borrowed nightgown, he can still see every curve and trace of her frame. 

Reaching up, he places his hand on her messy hair, ruffling it slightly. It’s hard to believe she’s actually here in front of me.

“Hey, what are you doing?” She tries to smooth her hair. “Crap, do I have bedhead again?”

Removing his hand awkwardly, he clears his throat. “J-just get dressed and meet us outside.”

“Yeah, fine.” She trudges over and grabs the uniform. 

“Don’t be too long. Training starts in ten minutes.”

“I said fine, Levi.”

“Captain Levi.”

“Captain Bossy is more like it,” she mutters under her breath.

“What was that?”

“Oh, nothing,” she smiles innocently and heads for the adjoined bathroom.

Levi rolls his eyes and steps back out into the hallway, closing the door behind him. “Seriously, how did I get stuck with someone so troublesome?” He glances down at the key tucked safely behind his cravat. If only I could get rid of this thing, we’d be free at last. I’ll have to tell Hange to speed up their research. I can’t take much more of this.

-

Levi taps his foot as the recruits practice their hand-to-hand combat. “Tch. Where is that girl?”

“Levi!”

“Shit.”

Nova runs towards him with her 3DMG tangled around her legs.

“Seriously? Did you learn nothing from our switches?”

“What? Oh, come on. I didn’t have your instruction guide this time so I had to make do.”

Levi glances around as the recruits continue their training but exchange glances between them. What a pain. He turns Nova around and steers her towards the edge of the hideout. He shoots the others a glance that says keep training or else. 

“Stand still,” he instructs in a shadowed area by the stone wall.

Nova blushes slightly as he crouches down and begins reworking the straps and harnesses. “W-what are you doing?”

“Grow up. You need to put on your gear properly. Honestly, do you want to get yourself killed?”

She averts her gaze as he traces each strap up her legs, towards her thighs. Her breath quickens with every touch.

Damn brat, do I have to do everything for her? Still, he can’t help but blush slightly as he works his way up her body, feeling every curve as he tightens the bindings. He pulls the straps tighter along her thighs, noticing as she shifts her footing, doing her best not to express any emotion. Just keep going, almost there, he reassures himself. 

He stands up before wrapping his arms around her waist. As he pulls her in by her hips, he catches hints of citrus and vanilla. Her warm breath caresses his neck, as he tries to maintain his composure. His discomfort grows as she tenses at his touch. He reaches down and quickly tightens the straps around her ass. He notices as she squirms at his touch. 

He pulls back quickly and continues to work his way up her torso, after clearing his throat. Nova relaxes slightly as he works his way up her abdomen. After reconnecting the remainder of the bindings, he leaves the last strap across her bust, open. 

“You can do the last one,” he indicates gruffly.

As she peels open her eyes awkwardly, he storms off. 

Why the hell did Erwin place me in charge of that damned brat? He feels the heat rising in his cheeks at the mere memory of what just happened. Shit, I need to calm down. This is ridiculous. Who the hell does she think she is? I can’t believe this girl!

“Levi?”

Glancing up, he finds Erwin walking towards him across the fields. Shit. 

“How’s the training going?” He looks on mischievously.

Following his gaze, he finds the cadets watching with reddened cheeks, trying to hide their amusement. 

“The hell are you staring at?!”

Immediately, they disperse and continue their training. Connie and Sasha continue to watch and giggle anyway. He doesn’t know where to begin with those two.

“Levi,” Erwin glances towards him. “I know training Nova is difficult, but we don’t have a choice at this point. Having her work alongside the recruits is the only way to keep her safe.”

“That seems likely, having her train with a bunch of kids who face death every day. Yeah, real safe.”

“At least she’ll be prepared for the trials ahead. You know as well as I do that the threat we face lies beyond the titans. Besides, you two are connected, so it’ll be beneficial to observe you both.”

“Bullshit, I know you and Hange are just toying with me. Did you enjoy seeing me in such agonizing discomfort?”

Erwin sighs. “It’s not the first time I’ve seen that look in your eyes, Levi. I wonder-”

“Just shut up!” 

I can’t stand this. I know Erwin is testing me, that bastard. 

“Levi-”

“We’re done.”

Levi storms off towards the recruits who are back to staring at him. “Get to work everyone! And you, Nova, pair up with Kierstein for training! Armin, you’re with Commander Erwin for today.”

“Sir!” They respond. 

Leaning back against the fencepost, Levi wonders what he has gotten himself into. If only we hadn’t seen the stars collide. If we’d glanced up just a second later, would everything have carried on as usual? He looks over towards Erwin who smirks before heading off with Armin to discuss strategy. What a pain, this whole thing is so troublesome. Erwin, just what are you thinking?

Glancing up, he watches as Nova fumbles with her knife.

“Here, hold it like this,” Jean instructs. “If you try to dodge from that angle, you’ll get stabbed. If you block from the side; however…” he shifts his footing and disarms her, forcing her to the ground as he does so. “You’ll be able to get the jump on whoever is attacking you.”

Standing with his arms crossed, he sees a flicker in Nova’s eyes. She’s holding back. It’s almost as though she’s done this before. Was it when we switched or before we met? 

“Alright, let me try again,” she stands, dusting off her uniform. 

Levi watches as she tries and fails several times to block Jean’s attack. 

The others are preoccupied with their own training. Mikasa continually beats Eren, but is sure not to hurt him in any way, always holding back for him. Levi makes a mental note to switch up the partners so she can get some real training.

Reiner and Bertholt continue on as usual, but he catches their occasional glimpses towards the others. They’re almost like the older siblings of the group, but they seem to be holding something back as well. 

Ymir and Krista are doing fairly well with their training. Even so, a similar situation seems to be developing much like Eren and Mikasa. Ymir tends to hold back around Cadet Lenz far too much, and Krista does the same. There’s more fire in the both of them than they realize though. 

In the meantime, Armin is training with Erwin to develop his mental capacity and penchant for strategy. He can tell, he’s raising Armin to be his successor. They are both so similar and yet there’s something that sets them apart as well. Levi supposes the next generation will be up and coming soon enough. 

Sasha and Connie are fooling around as usual. If not for their keen instincts and skill on 3DMG, he’d have their heads, or better yet kick them out of the Survey Corps altogether. Even now, after spending so much time together, he wonders why this ragtag team of misfits joined the Survey Corps in the first place. 

He wonders if Nova will follow suit considering the sense of camaraderie the others seem to instill. Even as a Captain and a man who has seen so much death, destruction, and heartbreak, this group has a strange way of pulling him in and helping him to feel hopeful again.

“Hey, are you alright?” Jean exclaims as Nova slips and falls face-first into the dirt. 

Levi sighs, he’s just about had it. “Recruits! Listen up. We’ll practice the disarming technique once more before we move to the trees for 3DMG training.”

Stepping forward, he grabs Nova’s arm and hauls her towards the front of the group.

“Hey, what’re you-”

“This is the proper demonstration of the technique, which you are all sorely lacking. So, watch closely.”

Before she has a chance to react, Levi goes on the offensive. He slashes down with his knife and attempts to sweep her leg. 

She darts back instinctively, before glaring at him with a mixture of fear and determination.

That’s right, show me your true abilities. 

Nova’s eyes darken and she twirls her blade loosely, ready for the fight.

Levi’s expression hardens. I know that look. It’s the same one I saw back in the Underground. It’s the face of someone who has seen too much. Someone fighting on instinct to protect themselves alone.

 He steps forward, preparing to strike. Before he can; however, she throws her blade in the air. 

“What?!” Sasha exclaims. 

Levi glances up as the blade spins above their heads. So that’s her plan. 

During the split second he’s distracted, she turns on her feet, twisting to the side, and knocking the blade out of his hand. She then delivers a swift round kick to his abdomen. As he buckles over, she strikes the back of his neck with a flick of her wrist. As he crumples to the ground, she sits on his back and raises her arm, catching the handle of the blade as it falls into her grip. She holds the blade threateningly against his throat.

“Captain!” The recruits stand in awe on seeing him pinned to the ground. 

Levi feels the cold blade loosen against his skin as Nova returns to her senses. 

“Huh? What was I just doing? L-Levi?” She gasps and climbs off his back. “I’m so sorry, are you alright? What did I do? I don’t understand.” 

She covers her face as reality sets in. 

Coughing slightly, Levi gets up and dusts off his clothes. She didn’t hold back in the slightest, interesting. Damn it, I’m filthy now, all for this.

He clears his throat as he addresses the recruits. “As you can see, even Nova has skill far beyond you brats. I expect you to give it your all next time or else there’ll be hell to pay. I swear, if you’ve been holding out on me, I’ll have you cleaning the stables for the next month!” 

“S-Sir!” The recruits salute.

“Now go prepare for 3DMG training. We start in five.”

The group grumbles, but after a steely glare, they run along without complaint. 

Only Nova remains, shaking and holding her sides. 

Levi sighs, he figured this would happen. “Those moves, where did you learn them?”

“I-I don’t know. I just did it. I don’t…remember,” she wipes her brow, crouching down shakily.

“Did your talent come from our switches or did something happen before we met?”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on, there has to be something. No one becomes that skilled in a matter of hours. I knew you were holding back, I could see it in your eyes. I recognized that expression from when I was your age. It was all I could do, just to survive. So, tell me how you got like this.”

“I-I can’t. I’m sorry, I just don’t know.”

Levi groans. We don’t have time for this. We need answers now. “Tell me, Nova! Come on. A thought registers in his mind. “Did you learn that technique from your brother?”

Immediately he knows he crossed a line. Her eyes widen as she stares up at him. Tears stream down her petrified face. “H-how do you know about him? How?! Was it mom?” 

He shakes his head and remains silent as she searches his eyes for answers.

He sighs and places a hand on her head, ruffling her hair. “Hey, it’s alright now. Go clean yourself up and meet us at the 3DMG training grounds.”

Nova stands and pushes past him, refusing to look back. He figures he probably deserved that. Still, they need answers. 

She’ll need to accept her past sooner or later. Maybe then, things can go back to the way they were and Erwin won’t look at me with that bittersweet gaze. As soon as I can get rid of this girl, things will finally return to normal. 

Erwin’s words pierce through his mind though: that’s what I’m afraid of. 

Damn it, just what is he plotting? 

-

“Again!” Levi calls from a tree branch. While the others are being diligent in their training, Sasha and Connie are goofing off as usual. 

“This one’s going to be mine!” Connie calls adamantly. 

“Not if I get it first!” Jean quips. 

Both approach the dummy titan getting ready to strike when Sasha jumps in, slicing through the nape and swinging around gleefully. 

Levi groans. “You need to learn the formations! Do you three want to get yourselves killed?!”

“N-No Sir!” They cower as they swing back up to the treetops. 

“Next group!”

Eren goes ahead, followed closely by Mikasa who brandishes her blades at the ready. While he provides a distraction, she swoops in and swiftly takes out the nape without wasting any time or effort. Although Eren is sloppy and average at best, Levi can see the terrifying determination in his eyes. He may be able to turn into a titan, but that isn’t the only thing that makes him formidable. 

Mikasa on the other hand is nearly as fast and skilled as himself. He knows their shared history, still, there’s something about her. Ackerman was it? He knows that name and the associated abilities that go with it. He clenches his teeth at the memory. 

They continue on for another ten minutes before a familiar figure swoops in awkwardly, nearly hitting a tree on her way. 

“So, you finally decided to join us, Nova.”

“Hey! You’re that one who took down Captain Levi! Join our team! Please, Captain?” Sasha begs.

“Give it a rest, you can barely hold your own anyways. You’d only slow her down.” Jean rolls his eyes. 

“But it would be awesome!” Connie grins, elbowing Sasha and nearly pushing her out of the tree. 

“Everyone shut up!” Levi stands with his arms crossed. “She’ll join Mikasa and Eren for now.”

“Good idea. Let’s see how she stacks up against the genius.”

“Springer, I swear if you say one more word I’ll knock you out of that tree onto your ass!” Ymir quips.

“Everyone resume your positions! Nova, get ready. Group 2, start again!”

She glances in his direction nervously. He can’t blame her for feeling anxious. After her performance with hand-to-hand combat, anything is possible as far as he’s concerned. Will she retain the skills she picked up being in my body, or will she falter?

Glancing at the training dummy he considers how unrealistic it is. If not for the recruits' battle in Trost and their experiences against the Female Titan, none of them would be standing here today. In fact, it’s a miracle they are here at all. Still, he chose them as his next Special Operations Squad for a reason. The only oddball out now is Nova with her lacking skill and zero experience. That said, if she could handle a knife as she did earlier, it’s possible her 3DMG skills will not be lacking either. Bit by bit he’s sure that he’ll figure her out. 

The treetops rustle as the three approach the target. He watches keenly as Eren swings out, once again as the diversion of the group. This time there are two behind him though. As he swings forward in front of the dummy, Mikasa approaches from behind. Nova hangs back but is still close enough to jump in if need be. 

“Now!” Mikasa calls. 

Nervously, Nova removes her blades and swings them across the nape. 

Too shallow.  

“I’ve got it!” Eren rushes in on seeing the opening. As he slices; however, one of his blades slips from his grip. “Oh crap! Look out!” 

“Nova!” Mikasa calls swinging down, trying to get to her in time. 

Nova glances up, but the blade is already falling at a sharp angle towards her. She’s not skilled enough to evade at this rate.

She won’t make it in time. Levi jumps off his branch swiftly grabbing her and knocking the blade out of her path. As he does so; however, he feels a flicker shoot through his brain. For an instant he sees things from her point of view, glancing up at his fierce expression before returning to normal.

He jumps to the ground with his arm still wrapped tightly around her shoulders. Letting go, he places a hand on his chest, where the key rests beneath his cravat. 

Looking over, he sees Nova looking equally stunned as she places a hand on her own chest. 

What the hell is going on? 

Chapter Text

Walking past the grounds swiftly, you place your hand on a nearby tree. What was that just now? You remember seeing Eren’s blade fall and Levi rushing to your side. Still, it seemed as though you switched with him again. One moment you were looking up at his stern expression and the next you were staring down at your own frightened gaze.

Not to mention the knife fight you had with Levi earlier. Something’s off, you just can’t seem to grasp what it is. Levi mentioned something about your brother too. You don’t know how he got ahold of that information in the first place. You bite your lip, reeling with everything on your mind. It’s enough to send your head spinning. 

“Hey, it’s Nova, right? Are you okay?” A girl with long blonde hair approaches you with a canteen of water. 

You smile gently and nod. “Yeah, you’re Krista, right? Krista Lenz?”

“Yup, that’s me,” she smiles while handing you the canteen.

Taking a gulp, you breathe a sigh of relief. Your mind clears slightly as the cool liquid spreads through your cells. “Thanks, I needed that.”

Sliding down the tree, she joins you on the ground. “How are you holding up?”

“Fine, that Levi is a nuisance though.”

She giggles slightly. “Don’t let him hear you. He may be small but they don’t call him Humanity’s Strongest Soldier for nothing. He’s a god in his own right.”

“He’s that powerful?”

She nods. “He can be tough, but he means well. Deep down he truly cares for all of us, including you.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“It’s true. He’s just been agitated after what happened to his last squad. You see, they were all killed on our last big mission along with many others. What you see now are the survivors of that journey beyond the Walls. So, if he trains us hard it’s only because he wants us to keep on living. It’s a chaotic world and our lives are on the line every day, so we have to be prepared for whatever we face.”

You hug your knees close. You remember hearing about Levi’s squad during your switches, but somehow learning about it like this makes it feel more real. You remember all of the Survey Corps badges you found in his drawer during your first switch. Were they all from that mission? Or did they go back farther than that? 

You take a deep breath and get to your feet. “I’ll train hard and survive. You’ve all been through enough. I can’t afford to let you carry my weight. I’ll do whatever it takes to hold my own until I can get back to my own world.”

Krista smiles and joins you. “Right, let’s work hard together!”

Heading back towards the hideout, you watch as the sun sets beyond the plains. It truly is a gorgeous sight to behold. The trees appear to be aflame with a glowing orange light, while the night sky looms overhead mixing indigo and gold together. Occasional stars twinkle in the dimming light. 

You think back to the night you saw the stars collide. It seems like so long ago now. So much has happened over the past week or so, it’s hard to believe you’re actually in this new world. Still, you can feel the crunch of the grass and stones beneath your boots. Taking a deep breath in, you smell the gentle evergreens and wildlife surrounding you.

“Krista!” Ymir runs out to greet her. “I saved you a plate. Get inside before Sasha eats it all!”

“R-right! Come on, Nova,” she reaches out with a smile. 

Ymir rolls her eyes but nods her head in the direction of the hideout. “Come on, newbie.”

You smile and follow them inside. As you step into the dimly lit porch you find a familiar yet peculiar scene. 

“Hey, that’s my portion! Back off, Sasha.”

“No, that’s mine!”

“Um…everyone, please calm down.”

“Shut up, Armin!”

“Hey, don’t talk to him like that, Jean-boy!”

“What did you say? Lay off you suicidal maniac!”

“Watch it with the nicknames!”

“You started it!”

You stand blankly in the dining area where stew and bread are spilled all over the table as the recruits fight amongst themselves. The other soldiers, who are seated at their own tables, merely continue their meal and give the recruits an occasional eye roll.

“Hey Reiner, stay away from my Krista!”

“She’s not yours!”

“Please, stop it you two.”

“Y-yeah, she’s right.” Bertolt tries to calm them down.

Staring at the unfolding scene, you wonder where they get all of their energy after such an exhausting day of training. “What the hell is all this?”

You feel a hand against your shoulder and flinch slightly, turning around sharply.

“Hey, Nova! Fitting in okay?”

“Oh, Hange.”

They chuckle slightly. “I know we’re a bit of a mess around here, but don’t be afraid to dive in. Come on, join us!”

Glancing back towards the recruits, you wonder if that’s possible. You duck as a loaf of bread sails overhead. 

“Oi!” A stern voice snaps behind you. Your skin prickles at his threatening tone.

Levi steps forward with a menacing scowl and the bread in hand. “Who the hell is wasting food?”

“S-sorry Captain!” The recruits stand and salute despite being covered in the stew.

“I told you before, this is all the food we have. If you continue wasting it there won’t be anything left. Besides that,” he walks over to the table and swipes his index finger over the mess. “This is unacceptable! Clean it up right now and go to bed. Or else,” he tares the loaf of bread apart.

“Yes sir!” The recruits scramble to clean the mess.

“Honestly, they’re all hopeless.”

“I’m happy to see you in such high spirits again, Levi.” Hange smiles, throwing their arms around him.

“Back off, Four-Eyes.”

“Levi!” Erwin enters the room, removing his cloak as he steps inside. “I see you’ve got the recruits in order again.”

He smiles warmly as he catches your gaze. “How was your first day, Nova?”

“Oh,” you shift uncomfortably. You’re not sure how to respond considering Levi’s fierce instruction and the mishaps that occurred. “It wasn't great,” you mumble.

“She was fine,” Levi admits casually.

“Well, that’s high praise, Levi. I guess we can expect good things from you, trainee,” Erwin salutes.

You salute back, but give Levi a confused glance. You’re certain you were far from fine during your training. He ignores you, staring ahead silently as the recruits continue to tidy up.

“Oi! You’re not cleaning properly,” he steps forward determinedly, leaving you behind. 

He grabs a rag from Connie and proceeds to lecture the group on proper cleaning practices. You roll your eyes. I’ll never figure this guy out. 

“He’s an odd one isn’t he?” Erwin comments beside you. “Understand that he means well though. Underneath that tough exterior, there’s a caring person longing to save his comrades and humanity itself.” He pauses with a kind expression. “It’s one of the things I admire most about him.”

Glancing at his reminiscent and loving gaze, you see the admiration Erwin has for Levi clearly. Placing a hand against your chest where the key used to lay, you feel a little guilty. If not for your connection with Levi, perhaps he could have lived a different life. You glance over as he continues scrubbing the table vigorously. You know that resting behind his cravat is the key and the thread binding you to him. 

“Hange,” you turn towards the auburn-haired figure, gathering your resolve.

“Hm?”

“Let me help you with your research. If there’s a way I can get back to my world and help everyone in the process, I want to do whatever it takes.” 

Hange’s eyes light up with pure bliss. “Really? You mean it?!” They grasp your hands tightly. “Come with me, together we’ll embark on a journey of scientific discovery!”

“Um, okay? Wait, right now?!” You don’t have time to reconsider as Hange takes your hand and runs towards the hallway, pulling you along. 

Glancing back, you see Levi’s confused expression and Erwin’s smirk.

Forging ahead, you have no choice but to follow Hange through the winding hallways. You almost forgot how big this place really is. Heading past the cabin-like common area with several confused soldiers, you head for the back door. They swing it open with a bang.

“S-Section Commander!” Moblit turns around at his dimly lit table. 

The cool night air makes your skin stand on end, despite your military jacket and cloak. Around you is a small area marked off by tents and tall fences. The warm lamplight clears the area for an inviting outdoor workspace. Moblit and a few soldiers are pouring over what look to be intricate maps and designs.

The night sky is the most surprising of all though. The milky way and distant stars shine brightly overhead. The moon itself gleams onto the grassy courtyard with its silver beams. The sight fills you with a sense of curiosity and peace. This world really is as beautiful as it is cruel. 

“Section Commander, what are you doing here? I thought you were going to call it a night? You really should take the time to rest every now and then.”

“There’s no time for that. Guess who decided to join us?!” Hange pulls your sleeve sharply, bringing you over towards them. 

“You're the new recruit, right? Nova was it?”

You nod shyly, still unsure of what’s going on.

“With her help, we’re sure to make progress in our connections to this new world!” 

Moblit smiles slightly. “Is that so? Well then, welcome aboard.”

“Now I know we decided that Levi should have the key, but I think if we’re going to work together we should have you switch it each day.” 

“R-right, sure.”

“What is it? Is something wrong?”

“Not really, just…what if Levi and I end up switching bodies again when we transfer it?” 

“You didn’t the last time, did you? Plus, if you did I think that could be all the more exciting!”

“Like hell, it would!” The sharp tone makes you jump.

“Levi! I’m so happy you could join us!”

“What are you doing Four-Eyes? I hope you didn’t force her into any unnecessary experiments. We need her in one piece you know.”

“Oh come on, she was the one who approached me. Besides, we need as much information as we can.”

Levi turns his gaze towards you expectantly. 

“It’s true. I just…I wanted to help out however I could. If today has taught me anything it’s that I can’t just sit around waiting for something to happen.”

“I see,” Levi sighs. “Fine then, do what you will.” 

Bringing his hands behind his neck, he removes the red thread and key before handing it over to you. “Take it.”

“Wait, right now? Are you sure?”

“Just do it before I change my mind. You need it, right?”

Sensing Hange’s hungry eyes you grab the key swiftly. As usual, you feel a slight shock at his touch. Your mind clears quickly and you feel more relaxed placing it around your own neck. 

Looking ahead at Levi, he seems more fatigued than usual. You feel bad in a way, almost as though you are taking a part of him along with the key. Still, you know there’s no other choice. You’ll have to continue sharing it until you can sort out this mess. 

“Thanks,” you nod.

Hange pushes Levi to the side. “So, tell me, how do you feel? Did you switch bodies again? Levi, are you in there?!” They yell in your face.

“Shut up,” Levi kicks the backs of their knees.

“Ouch, why so mean Levi?” Hange crouches down in pain. 

“Honestly, control yourself.”

“So, how do you feel?” They try again.

You pause for a moment. “Better,” you decide. “I feel more focused or something. I can’t quite describe it.”

“Fascinating,” Hange gleams. “Moblit, did you get that?”

“Uh, right!” He takes out a notebook and begins writing furiously. 

“What else?”

You glance down at your palms. You’re still not sure what happened during your training sessions, but you know your connection to Levi is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. There’s something binding you together. Not only that, but you remember the image of your brother that appeared during your knife fight with Levi. Still, that’s private information and you don’t trust them enough to tell them all of the details at this point. You still have no idea how Levi even found out about him in the first place. 

“I’m not sure,” you respond. “I know we switched briefly earlier. I think, whenever I’m in great danger things change somehow.”

“Interesting. What about you, Levi? Feel any different?”

He sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “Not really, just tired. I guess that’s not unusual though.”

“It’s unusual for you to admit it. I’ll get Erwin to bring you some tea later if you’d like.”

You catch a slight blush emerge on his cheeks. “I’m fine. I can still work.”

“No, no. I won’t have you running yourself into the ground. Now go, scram! We have work to do,” they push him towards the door.

He shoots them a sharp look before turning his gaze to you. He releases a sigh before heading back inside. “Later.”

You feel a sense of relief, knowing he’ll get some rest. You remember the fog you felt during the day and feel bad that he’ll have to endure the same conditions for the time being. Still, you’re sure that having Erwin by his side will help. You look down, feeling a little jealous of their bond. 

You exhale before turning your attention to Hange and Moblit, who are pouring over a set of documents. You need to stay focused on the task at hand. Walking closer, you find that the illustrations are familiar. “Is that-?”

“Hm? Oh, these? Good eye. Yes, Krista found them in your pocket the other day.” They flip through the sheets. “So far, we have designs resembling the Walls and Trost District, as well as this unusual image with buildings and figures unknown to us. Levi gave us some insight into the life you lead in your world, but we need more information. For example, can you tell me the intricate details of what this creature is here? Where are they raised? What is their primary method of communication?”

You suppress a laugh. “You mean a car?”

“A car? What’s that, some sort of cow?”

At that you buckle over with laughter, holding your sides. Noticing Hange and Moblit’s confused expression, you attempt to regain composure. “S-sorry, it’s just such a bizarre thought. A cow…” you laugh. “Anyways, no. Cars are machines made from metals and steel. They run on an engine with wheels and a lot of other intricate details. You sit inside it to drive, and it can seat at least five people depending on the make and model.”

“Oh, I see,” Hange’s interest piques. “Tell me more. I must know everything about this new world.”

Together you spend the next several hours discussing the intricacies of buildings, cars, cities, styles, schools, and more. By the time the sun rises, you’re completely spent and your voice is hoarse. 

“Now, let me tell you all about our world,” Hange begins.

You hold your hand up. “Section Commander the sun’s rising, and I’m exhausted. Can’t this wait till tomorrow, or rather later on? I need sleep,” you put your head against the table..

“Oh right, I guess you’re not used to pulling all-nighters. Very well, I’ll let you go for now. We’ll start again in a few hours though.”

A few hours?! You decide it’s best not to argue either way. Pulling yourself out of your chair you trudge back inside. God, how do they stand it? Working all day and night like this and then going again? It seems like torture. 

Yawning, you rub your eyes as you make your way back down the wooden hallways and up the stairs. With bleary eyes, you wander down the veteran’s corridor towards your makeshift room. Time for sleep. 

Opening the door you trudge forward, desperate to remove your gear. Catching movement out of the corner of your eye; however, you freeze. Your eyes drift towards the bed on your left. A sliver of sunlight cuts through the blinds lighting up the shadows. 

Your eyes widen and you cover your mouth to suppress a scream. Erwin and Levi lie shirtless in the bed beside one another. Their light snores fill the silence of the room. Slowly and silently you step out, closing the door softly behind you. 

Oh my god, what did I just see?! I knew they were close, but I didn’t realize their relationship went that far! Thank god they were asleep. But wait, what were they doing in my room?  

You smack your forehead, realizing your mistake. I’m such a dummy! You walk swiftly towards the door on the opposite side of the hall.

You open it cautiously, before deciding that this is definitely the room you were assigned. Shutting the door, you begin peeling off the layers and contraptions lacing your body, before collapsing on the bed. 

Despite trying to sleep, your eyes remain open, still reeling from what you just saw. Erwin and Levi. Levi and Erwin. Your mind won’t stop replaying the image of the two of them in bed together. On the one hand, things make more sense with the slight sense of jealousy you got from Erwin. There was also Levi’s occasional blush at the mention of Erwin. Still, you feel that your bond with Levi is also important in some way. Glancing down at the key around your neck, you wonder what the purpose of seeing the stars that night actually was. Are you and Levi destined to be together or was that just a farce? Or is your relationship deemed to be strictly platonic? You can’t say for certain what will happen.

Giving up on sleep, you turn your attention to the desk by the window. A few blank pieces of paper and a pen lay at the ready. With a sigh, you get up and wander over towards the chair. You stare at the pages for a moment before twirling the pen between your fingers. You begin your sketch, releasing your emotions onto the paper.

By the time you finish, the room is bright with sunlight. You wipe your brow, feeling both tired and invigorated. You glance down at the page, before releasing a sigh. You crumple it up and throwing it in the trash. You’ve vented enough, now it’s time to get back on track. 

As you put on your 3DMG you’re careful to buckle it up correctly. You don’t want to cause any more problems between Levi and Erwin. Still, you can’t help but wince as the bruises from yesterday become more pronounced. How do the soldiers wear this crap all day?

Gathering your courage, you leave your room and walk down the hallways towards the common area.

“Reader, you’re late!” Levi stands before you with his arms crossed as you enter the room.

Shit, I thought I’d have more time before I ran into him. “Um, sorry.”

“Get going. Outside now!”

“But I thought, I mean Hange said-”

“I don’t give a rat’s ass about Hange! Go!”

You don’t argue and walk past him, feeling the heat in your cheeks rise as you think about what you found a few hours ago. 

He gives you a confused look but continues forward, stepping outside after you. 

“What are all of you doing? I thought I told you to tidy this place up!”

The recruits race past you carrying hay, raking leaves, and helping to set up a fence surrounding the area.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Join the others!” Levi instructs.

You nod and follow the others towards the stables. Stepping inside the wooden structure, you release a sigh and lean against a post.

“Are you okay?” Krista inquires, from the stall beside you.

“Oh, hey. Yeah, I just didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“Oh yeah? I didn’t hear you come in last night. Did the Section Commander keep you out late?”

“Yeah, we were talking till dawn. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still working. Seriously, how do they do it?”

“I know, the veterans have a lot of stamina. Captain Levi suffers from insomnia apparently, but he still has the energy to train us during the day. Commander Erwin handles so much paperwork, I don’t know where he has the time to relax at all.”

“You’d be surprised,” you mutter under your breath.

“What?”

“Nothing. Well, I guess I’d better help out or Levi will have my head.”

Krista chuckles slightly and joins you.

You continue to work with the others, being careful to avoid Levi’s stern gaze as you do. 

“Nova!” A familiar voice calls. 

Dread flows through your veins, but you turn and smile anyways. “Section Commander Hange, what can I do for you?”

“Oh sure, you address them by their proper honorifics,” Levi quips at the entrance to the stables. 

You quickly avert your gaze.

“Hm? Hey, did you sleep at all? I swear you’re just like Levi. Well since I have you here, let’s go!”

“Oi! Hange, she’s not done here yet.”

“Oh come on, we need all the help we can get. Don’t worry Levi, you can come too.”

“Who’s going to look after the recruits? They’ll slack off otherwise.”

“Get Erwin to do it.”

“You know I can’t, he’s riding into Trost today.”

“Then I’ll have Moblit take care of things. Come on, I need you both together to get the most out of my research. I’ve been wide awake thinking about it!”

“Seriously? You’re such a pain.”

“I knew you cared. Let’s go!” They grab yours and Levi’s hands, pulling you across the fields.

“Hey, let go! I never agreed to this!”

Levi continues grumbling along the way as Hange pulls you both along.

By the time you reach the compound behind the hideout, Levi looks like he’s ready to kick Hange again. You back away as soon as they release their grip, hoping to avoid his rage. You're surprised someone so small can hold that much intensity and fury in his body. You know better than to tell him that to his face though.

“Why did you bring us here anyway, Four-Eyes? What do you want?”

“Oh Levi, don’t you know by now? I want to see the beautiful bond that is your blooming love.”

“W-what?” You stammer, immediately turning bright red. 

Don’t they know about Erwin and Levi? Unless…is it a forbidden romance? 

You turn towards Levi who’s positively fuming. You can practically see the flames rising from his aura. Hange, in the meantime, is beaming as usual.

“Okay, okay, enough teasing, I get it,” They raise their hands in defeat. “Still, I am curious about your connection. I want to get a better look at the key you possess. We know that if you remove it and give it to someone else, you go into respiratory distress. That said, we still don’t know what would happen if you laid it down or even if I were to hold it while it’s still in your possession. Since we wouldn’t want the other person to collapse and die in the process, I figured it would be best to bring you both here.”

“Die?” You gulp anxiously. 

“Oh don’t worry, the chances of that are slim. I’ll just have to be as careful as I can. Don’t forget, we have humanity’s strongest soldier to worry about. I wouldn’t let him die at the very least.”

“Why does that feel like an insult?” 

“Well anyway, let’s get started.”

Levi rolls his eyes. “Make it quick. I’ve got double the work today with Erwin gone.”

You glance in his direction. When did Erwin leave? It must have been in the few hours after you left Levi’s room. You didn’t hear him get up though. Still, it must be hard being apart from each other. Though it’s only been a short time since you got up, you sense that Levi is restless and agitated.

“Reader?” He glances in your direction. 

“What?” You return to your senses.

“I asked if I could see the key,” Hange repeats.

“Oh, right,” you fumble with the thread around your neck. 

“What’s the problem? Hurry up,” Levi scolds.

“Relax, I’m getting there,” you quip back. He’s still as bossy as ever. 

You hold the key out towards Hange, but feel anxious considering the last time you did so you almost collapsed. 

“Don’t worry, I’ll have either you or Levi hold the key the entire time,” they reassure you. “Now, let’s see.”

They reach out and touch the key with one then two fingers, being sure that you are continually holding onto the faded gold. They brush across the metal, tracing every loop and intricacy it holds. Moving to the thread, they weave their fingertips across the crimson string. 

“Fascinating.”

“What?”

“Neither you nor Levi are reacting to my touch like last time.”

You glance towards him, they’re right. You don’t feel the same constricting force and your breathing is steady. The same appears to be true of Levi who looks unamused but relaxed. 

“Now, let’s try something a little different,” Hange states with a suspicious gleam in their eye.

That can’t be good.

“I want you to place the key on this table of your own volition. If you feel the slightest change, pick it back up. Understand?”

You nod and glance at the golden sheen in the sunlight. Here goes nothing. You step forward and shakily place the key on the table before you. You shut your eyes tightly, waiting for the constricting pressure to return. Pausing for a moment, you peek open your eyes. You feel nothing, everything is the same as it was before. 

“Levi?” Hange’s voice rings out behind you. “Levi! Nova, grab the key!”

You turn to find Levi clutching his chest tightly before his knees buckle and he collapses to the ground, gasping for air. Shit. You quickly grab the key and rush towards him. 

“Are you okay?” You bend down by his side, placing your hand on his back.

“What the hell? Shit.”

“Here.” You take the key and wrap the crimson thread around his neck as he attempts to recover his senses. 

Immediately his expression refocuses as he looks up at you. “Damn it all. Now we can’t even put the damn thing on a table? Honestly, I wish I’d never looked up at the stars that night.”

A pang rips through your chest at his words. “Yeah? Well, same here.”

You stand and storm back towards the door.

“Hey, we’re not done yet! Nova!” Hange calls.

“Yes, we are.” You slam the door behind you. Damn it all, why did I have to get stuck with this guy? I can’t believe him. I can’t believe any of this.

Chapter Text

Storming inside, you slam the bedroom door behind you. Why am I so upset? It’s not like I asked to be here in the first place. Still, Levi could have at least acted like he wasn’t annoyed by my very existence back with Hange. 

Sliding down, you lean against the doorframe, bringing your knees up to your chest. Worst of all, it seems like he doesn’t care about me in the slightest. I’m just in the way in this old-fashioned wilderness. 

A knock at your door makes you flinch slightly. 

“Nova?”

“Y-yeah?” You quickly brush away a tear.

“It’s Krista, are you okay? We saw you run past the common area.”

“We?”

“Yeah, I don’t know why she dragged me here though,” Ymir responds with an annoyed tone.

Standing, you open the door slightly. Krista’s warm smile permeates the darkness, while Ymir’s attitude reminds you of someone you’d rather forget right now. You sigh and swing open the door for them.

Krista’s expression lights up even more as she steps forward. 

“Wow, nice place you got here,” Ymir walks through the sunlit room. “You should see our quarters.”

“Yeah,” Krista chuckles. “It’s hard to get any privacy in the barracks. The bunk beds aren’t the most comfortable place in the world.”

“It’s not like we aren’t used to it after our training though. Besides, we’ve slept in a lot harsher conditions.”

You give them an awkward smile before sitting on the edge of the bed. 

“So, are you going to tell us what’s going on? Krista seemed pretty insistent that we stop by.”

“I’m fine, I’m probably overthinking things.”

Krista walks forward and goes to sit next to you, wrapping her arm around your shoulders. “It’s okay, you can talk to us.”

You glance up at Ymir’s annoyed expression. Strangely enough, you get the same aura from her as you do with Levi. Despite that tough exterior, she really does seem to care for her comrades, and for Krista in particular. She won’t rest until both of your minds are at ease. 

You clasp your hands in your lap. “It’s this whole situation really. It seems strange, but one moment I was living in a big city and now I’m here, living in the dark ages. I thought…I thought that due to our switches, Levi and I shared some sort of connection. Now it seems like I’m just in the way.” You chuckle slightly. “I guess I was pretty stupid, thinking we were destined to be together in the first place.”

Krista pauses as she takes in this information. “Who’s to say you’re not? I, for one, haven’t seen Levi so energetic or determined in a long time. Maybe it’s your influence that causing this change.”

“Maybe, but that doesn’t matter now. Not after what I saw.”

“Hm?” Ymir raises an eyebrow. 

With a sigh, you stand and trudge towards the garbage can. You pause for a moment before picking up the crumpled page and smoothing it out. You walk over and present it to them. 

“Oh!” Krista gives a slight jolt of surprise.

“Ha, I knew it! Looks like you owe me, Krista dear.”

You blush slightly and turn away. You can’t believe you drew that image in the first place.

“Hey, it’s okay. You never know, perhaps there’s another explanation.”

“Another explanation as to why they’re naked in the Captain’s bed?! I seriously doubt that.”

Your face burns a deeper shade of red at the very thought. “A-anyways, I’m sure he has no interest in me. He’s made that very clear. Honestly, I just think I need to be alone for now.”

“Works for me.”

“Ymir!” Krista shakes her head before placing her hand on yours. “With Captain Levi, things aren’t always so clear cut. He has a strange way of showing it but I’m sure that deep down he does care about you, whether that be as a romantic partner or as a subordinate. We’re like his family after all. You just need to talk to him. He’s really kind if you get to know him.”

“Are we talking about the same person?”

Krista shoots Ymir a sharp look. 

You glance towards Krista whose expression is warm and inviting. “Why do you care so much about me anyway? You only just met me a couple of days ago really.”

She smiles as though the answer should be obvious. “It’s what we do in the Survey Corps. We look out for one another. Besides, I can’t quite put my finger on it but you seem like a really caring person.”

Ymir glances towards the window with a sigh. “Yeah, what she said. You’re not terrible or anything I suppose.”

Glancing between the two of them you smile slightly. “Thanks, both of you.”

After they leave, you release a sigh. I can’t keep hiding forever. I’ve interrupted the Regiment’s way of life enough as it is. I can’t let my emotions get in the way. 

Securing your 3DMG, you pull yourself together and step back outside. Hange was right, I need to keep going. My work for the day isn’t done yet. Even if Levi is a jerk, I need to follow through with their plans.

You take a deep breath as you approach the back door. You can hear Hange talking animatedly to their subordinates. Turning the handle, you step out into the bright outdoor space. 

“Nova! You’re back! I thought you might be sick or something. Or perhaps Levi was just being a pain in the ass again? Well, I told him he was either way. That man really can’t read the room, can he? Anyways, I’ve got everything set up so let's get going!” 

You breathe a sigh of relief as Hange carries on as usual. Thankfully, it seems like your outburst earlier didn’t disturb the peace too much. 

“Now, let’s talk about the drawings you made of Trost District. I’ve been dying to know, did you create them during your switches or when you were back in your own world?”

Walking over to the table where your sketches lay on display, you brush your fingers over the pages. You feel a pang of homesickness as you breathe in the scent of the ink. The white paper differs from the yellowed parchment in this world. The blue ink stands out against the eggshell backdrop. Despite the lines and sketches of this world, you feel as though it brings you closer to your home in Shingeki City.

“Nova?”

“Oh right, sorry. I sketched these back home. I actually left these pages with Levi during one of our switches since I had to give a presentation to my art class. I guess that’s why it was in my pocket when you found me.” You trace your fingers over the folds of the paper. You almost forgot about your school and life back home. Despite only being in this world for a couple of days, you feel as though it’s been years.

You wonder if anyone back home even knows you’re here. Are they worried? Are they looking for me? Lily and mom probably are, albeit for different reasons. Thinking about them, your sense of urgency to return home grows all the more. You need to get back to them before you’re kicked out of school too. If that should happen all your plans and dreams for the future will fall apart. You can’t let that happen no matter the cost.

“Wow,” Hange rambles on. “So that means you created this piece while you were in that technologically advanced town of yours. Judging from the penmanship and markings, the ink you used wasn’t from a quill or ordinary pen. The blue hue of it is particularly interesting along with the significantly lighter strokes. How did you achieve such a feat? Did you use some sort of coloring agent or dye? Then there’s the paper itself. It’s so white in color the sun almost reflects off of it as opposed to the older parchment we have. I wonder if there’s a way to obtain such materials here? You do use trees as your source of material, right? Or perhaps there’s something else?”

You smile slightly. Despite Hange’s obsession with minor details, it’s nice to hear someone so intrigued by your art. You’re not used to the attention. Only Lily and her grandmother ever thought your drawings meant anything. You think back to your brother for a moment. Yes, he liked them too. 

“So tell me, what are the most significant changes in your world compared to ours?” Hange inquires with an excited gleam in their eye.

“Oh, um,” you pause for a moment. There’s so much here that appears from another time altogether. It’s hard to pinpoint the specifics in a condensed manner. “I guess the biggest changes are the titans, of course. Also, your world seems really old-fashioned compared to mine. Back home we wouldn’t think twice about phones, cars, and technology. Still, seeing everything here makes me appreciate what I have back home all the more. It’s hard not being able to text my friends or check on social media several times during the day. Then again, I guess it’s nice to have a digital detox too.”

“Back up,” Hange places their thumb against their chin. “What do you mean by ‘social media’ and a ‘digital detox’? Does it have to do with the communication devices you referred to as phones?”

You chuckle slightly. You almost forgot how different things are here. “Yeah, social media is basically different sites where people talk and share parts of their lives. A digital detox simply means taking a break from phones and technology, which is what I’m doing now I guess.”

“Interesting, so things are really that different from here? What’s similar in that case?”

You pause, placing a finger on your chin in thought. “Well, for one thing, the Walls you have kind of remind me of home, not that there’s anything life-threatening like the titans in our world. It’s just…you get the same sense of confinement in our city. The people are also similar, although I think the camaraderie you share is warmer somehow.”

Hange nods still enraptured about the connections between worlds. “Moblit, are you getting all this?”

“Yes!” He responds from the other side of the table, scribbling furiously in his notebook.

“Oi, Hange!”

“Levi, I thought you were with the recruits?” 

“They’re on their supper break. You should go in too. You’ve been working for over twenty-four hours now.”

“Has it been that long? Weird, I don’t feel tired at all. I just have a little more work to do here. I haven’t even begun to describe how things operate to Nova here.”

Your face drops. There’s still more? Glancing at Hange, you notice the dark circles hidden behind their glasses. Seriously, how do they keep going like this?

“She’s done for the day,” Levi insists, grabbing your arm.

“Hey, let go!”

“Come on,” he ushers you along. 

You glance up, trying to wriggle free. His lips are pursed and his brow is furrowed with mixed guilt and frustration. 

He pauses as you enter the deserted common area. Down the hall the scent of fresh bread and vegetables wafts into your nostrils, making your stomach growl with anticipation. You want nothing more than to dive into whatever feast lays before you.

“Listen,” Levi starts, shuffling awkwardly in place. “You shouldn’t have run off earlier. Do that again and I’ll have you cleaning the veterans' quarters for weeks.”

Your eyes narrow. No apology for being a jerk? No explanation? This guy really is impossible. You shake him off and push past him before he can say anything else. Despite what Krista said about talking things out, you have no patience for his bullshit.

Entering the dining area, the same sight, as usual, befalls you with the recruits carrying on and making a ruckus. Catching Krista’s gaze, you quickly wander towards her and Ymir’s side. 

“Nova! Come sit down! Sasha, pass over a bowl of soup,” Krista smiles brightly.

“Sure!”

“Hey, don’t take a sip out of it!”

“It was only a little one.”

You smile as a bowl is passed to you. Despite their antics, they have a warm aura that draws you in. They really are like a family. 

As you bring the spoon to your lips, the warm broth soothes your tension and helps you to relax. Despite being watery and bland compared to your usual tastes, there’s something about it that fills your soul. The more you drink the sleepier and more content you become. 

“So, did you talk to the Captain after?” Krista inquires.

You choke slightly. “N-no. Well I mean, I saw him. He just…well,” you try to gather your thoughts. “He didn’t even apologize for earlier. Maybe I’m just being petty, I don’t know. It just seems like there’s something off between us like we lost something when I arrived here. I don't know, I just thought he was different.”

“Don’t worry, Captain Levi may speak in a crude manner, but his actions speak volumes. He’s not the kind of person to say things outright either,” Armin reassures you.

“Yeah, he can be a little difficult,” Eren agrees. 

“Don’t let him hear you or you’ll be on stable duty for weeks,” Jean elbows him.  

The group shudders at the very mention of it. 

You smile, gazing into your bowl. “I guess cleaning the veterans' quarters isn’t so bad in comparison.”

“He said that?”

You glance up at the surprised glances around the table. “What?”

“Oh, nothing,” Sasha chuckles, whispering something to Connie. 

You give them a strange glance before continuing with your meal. 

“Hey, why don’t we all go to Trost tomorrow? We have the day off, right?” Krista suggests.

“Why?” Armin asks.

“Why not? If Krista wants to, I’m going,” Reiner smiles. 

Ymir holds her close. “I’ll be going too. I’m not going to let my precious Krista out of my sight, especially with you there.”

“We should really check with the Captain and Commander first,” Eren comments. 

“Why? You scared?”

“Shut up, Jean-boy.”

“What did you say?”

“Enough!” Sasha interrupts with her brow furrowed in seriousness. “We have a mission to uphold if we are to go.”

“Huh?”

“The mission is…to get as much meat as we can from the higher-ups' stash.”

“Of course,” Connie rolls his eyes.

“Please, at least think about this. Eren’s right, we have duties to uphold,” Armin tries to reason with them. 

“It shouldn’t be a problem if it’s our day off. If the trip isn’t approved, I’ll distract the Captain long enough for all of you to leave undetected,” Mikasa volunteers. You don’t know her that well, but sense that her words hold meaning considering the surprised glances exchanged around the table. 

“It’s settled then!” Krista claps her hands in excitement. 

“Yeah!”

“Oi! What the hell are you brats so excited about?” A voice breaks through the cheers.

“Oh, C-Captain Levi,” Armin stutters. "Well, it's just that...you see-"

“Sir, Sasha passed some gas,” Mikasa comments casually.

The recruits do their best not to laugh as Levi sizes them up. 

“Honestly, get a grip all of you, and clean up this mess.”

“Sir!” They respond through chuckles. 

As soon as he leaves, they burst out laughing. You can’t help but join in. Despite everything, you feel connected to them too. 

As you help the recruits clean up, you slowly feel that you’ve become a part of their group. It’s true that you’ve only known them for a few days and you're a few years older than them, but they treat you like family. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever felt before. You feel as though you have a home at last. 

Once they disperse, you set off back down the hallway towards the veterans’ quarters. 

“Oi, brat!”

You exhale sharply, trying to contain your frustration before turning around with a forced smile. “Captain Levi, what can I do for you?”

“Oh? It’s Captain now is it?”

“What do you want from me?”

He rolls his eyes. “I heard you and the recruits talking earlier.”

“Oh? Eavesdropping, were you?” 

“No, that’s not what I-,” he pinches his brow. “Damn it, why do you have to be so difficult?”

“I could say the same.”

“Anyways, I’m going to Trost to meet Erwin tomorrow.”

“Good for you.”

“Right,” he gives you a confused glance. “I’m just letting you know that I’ll be going to.”

“Great.”

“Fine, then.”

“Fine.”

You stare at him for a moment before turning around and heading back to your room. What kind of crap is he trying to pull now?

“Oi!”

“What? What could you possibly want now?” You turn around in frustration.

A faint blush emerges on his cheeks. “D-don’t, I mean…j-just make sure you don’t wander into my room tonight,” he turns and walks off before you have a chance to speak.

You stand in the hall, wide-eyed in shock. “W-what?!” 

How did he know? Did he see me yesterday? Oh god, oh god! What about the Commander? Shit!

Hearing footsteps down the hall, you turn quickly and fumble with the handle to your room. You step inside and stand on the other side of the door, wondering how on Earth you’re going to face him again tomorrow. 

Chapter Text

Levi stands in the common area, watching the sun slowly rise in the pale blue sky. He wishes Erwin was here to help him with his present situation. Whenever he’s gone he feels as though there’s something missing. He knows what he would say though. 

Glancing down at the key resting behind his grey shirt, he knows what he has to do. He’ll have to endure some brain fog and fatigue for the rest of the day. After what he’s put her through, Nova deserves to have at least one day of clarity. 

He winces at the thought of their last conversation with Hange. The Section Commander chewed him out after Nova stormed off, and rightly so. It wasn’t that he was angry at her, he was simply frustrated. Their life-force is inexplicably tied to this key? What kind of bullshit is that? 

He also heard Nova creep into his room the other night. He groans at the very thought. That damned brat. What was she thinking? 

As the sound of footsteps reaches his ears from down the hall, he sighs and slips outside through the back door. 

“Hange.”

“Levi? On your way to Trost already?”

“Yeah. Are you still okay to handle things here?”

“Oh yes, Moblit and I are going to have so much fun,” they chuckle suspiciously.

“I’ll keep them on track, sir,” he smiles behind them nervously.

“See to it that they do, and clean up while you’re at it. I won’t be back until later so I expect the place to be spotless when I return.”

“Sir!”

“It should be easy with the recruits gone anyway,” Levi mutters under his breath. 

Turning, he heads back towards the door.

“Levi?”

“Hm?”

“Did you apologize to Nova?”

He pauses without turning back.

“Oh, come on. You can’t avoid her forever. She deserves an explanation at the very least. Don’t forget, she’s not a soldier like us.”

“Well, maybe it’s time she saw this reality for what it truly is. That cushy lifestyle she leads isn’t close to the suffering we experience every day.”

“She’s seen the titans firsthand, Levi. Maybe she’s not a soldier yet, but she’s trying. Besides, everyone has a past they’d rather forget, including her. You of all people should be able to relate to that.”

Levi considers his own history. The faces of Isabel and Farlan drift into his memories. 

“Just think about it.”

He pushes forward without another word. He doesn’t have time to think about sentimentalities right now. The most he can do is focus on the present moment and make sure he’s strong enough the protect those dear to him. 

“Morning, sir!” Jean stands at the ready beside his comrades who are dressed casually for the outing. They shift uncomfortably as they wait for him. Nova, who is still wearing her uniform, refuses to meet his eye. Krista, on the other hand, stares daggers at him.

He sighs. “Let’s go.”

The recruits nod and step outside into the morning sunlight. 

“Reader!”

Nova turns around. “What?”

He exhales sharply. He can see the dark circles under her eyes. She hasn’t been herself since she gave the key to him. He knows the feeling all too well. A part of him hates what he’s done to her without even realizing it. So, even if it means he has to endure the same discomfort, he’s determined to help her return to her senses. 

He reaches behind his shirt and pulls out the key. “Here, take it.”

Her eyes widen. “Are you sure? I mean, it’s okay if you’d rather not be all muddled right now.”

“It’s fine. Just do it before I change my mind.”

A gentle smile curves across her lips. “Okay, thanks.” 

As her gentle fingertips graze his rough knuckles, a spark ignites slightly. When the key is transferred to her, he feels his mind cloud over. His years of insomnia seem to catch up with him during these moments. Still, he can see the frustration in her expression relax as though she’s been set free. Seeing her in this light makes all the difference. He takes a deep breath and surges forward, heading outside with the others.

Together they walk towards the stables and get their horses. Taking his own, he feels comforted. No words are needed with his dark steed, thankfully. This creature was also gifted to him by Erwin on his 30th birthday. He smiles as it nuzzles his hand, looking for apples undoubtedly. He makes a mental note to buy some in Trost. 

As he throws himself onto its back, he rides in line with the others. When everyone is ready, he gives the signal to push forward. Together they race across the plains towards the horizon where the sun shines brightly overhead. 

Glancing back, he catches Nova’s awkward aversion towards him. He still needs to fix that it seems. The others seem focused on the task at hand but are more relaxed in the daylight. He turns back towards the grassy plains. They’ve all been through so much, the least he can do is give them this one day out. He resolves to find Erwin and leave the recruits to their own devices. They don’t need him hanging around, spoiling their fun. 

After some time, the fields and forests reveal the familiar gates of Wall Rose. As they ride closer, the Stationary Guard raises the posts for their entry. The ground shakes with the effort and the bell tolls.

Emerging inside the district, Levi wonders if Nova saw this town as well. The last time they passed through here, she was unconscious and riding with Jean. Still, he remembers the depictions of Trost and his world in her sketches. He also knows what she saw on the other side of this town. The recruits too, each one of them knows the horrors of the titans and the potential danger always lurking. It’s the bridge between beauty and catastrophe.

“Captain Levi, bring your horses around the back,” an elderly voice chimes.

“Commander Pyxis.”

“Looks like the whole gang is with you, although this one is new. I don’t believe we’ve met, my dear.”

Nova looks around awkwardly before giving him a slight smile.

Levi rolls his eyes. The Commander is making his move as always. 

“Everyone, let’s go.” He pulls ahead, eyeing Pyxis before heading down the cobblestone road on horseback. 

After making his way past a few alleys and side roads, Levi pulls his horse in front of a barn-like structure. Getting off, he guides it into the stables with the assurance of future treats. The recruits and Nova follow suit. 

“Now, it’s roughly noon so we’ll meet back here around tea time before we head out.”

“Tea time?” Nova glances between the group.

“Four o’clock,” Armin responds.

“Wow, you really don’t know much, do you?” Sasha turns her head.

“Stop, that’s rude. She knows when to eat doesn’t she?” Connie elbows her.

“Of course, but tea time is included with meals. You need four per day to survive right?”

“Huh?”

Levi looks between the group, wondering why he agreed to go with them in the first place. 

Krista grabs Nova’s arm, breaking the silence. “Come on, let’s go shopping. Your military uniform isn’t going to cut it here. You need some casual clothes too.”

Levi remembers the outfits he frequently found himself in during their switches. Skimpy shorts and revealing tank tops will not go over well in a place like this. Still, he can’t help but blush slightly at the thought. 

“Captain?” Krista notices his awkwardness.

“Um, right. Find something more suitable for Reader. If you need funds, I’ll cover whatever you buy.”

“Even food?!” Sasha drools.

“Not that! I meant for Reader’s attire. I’ll handle the food rations.”

“Seriously? Can’t we get some meat or something?”

“Hardly,” Levi sighs. “Get it together, Braus.”

She pouts, but he ignores her pleas. 

Glancing at Nova, he’s pretty sure she’s been wearing the same uniform for days now. Disgusting. He’ll have to order a few new sets if she’s going to be staying here for an indefinite amount of time. He knows from experience that she’s one of the messiest people he’s ever met. The very thought of cleaning her apartment sends a shudder down his spine.

“Well, I’ll leave you to it,” he responds before leaving them behind and strolling down the main road. Glancing back slightly, he sees Nova surrounded by the recruits. Hmm, it seems like she’s fitting in at any rate. 

He turns away and begins his trek towards headquarters. Along the way, there are several people who recognize him, though their comments are less than friendly. The ones regarding his height are particularly annoying, but he pushes forward even so. The thought of seeing Erwin again keeps him from starting any fights. He can’t afford to lose his cool in a place like this. He’s not in the Underground anymore. 

As Levi walks through the alleyways and cobblestone streets, his mind drifts to when Nova found him the other morning. For years now, Erwin and he have shared a room. Recently, in order to conserve space, they’d pushed the beds together. He discovered that it made cleaning easier as well. Still, he hadn’t mentioned his living situation to the recruits as it seemed too personal to divulge. Looking back on it, he enjoyed the way Erwin respected his privacy enough to keep it a secret. Yes, there were many things he liked about him. 

Recently, their relationship became stronger. Perhaps it was pity for what he lost, but Levi could tell Erwin was acting differently. He brought tea late at night and soothed his tears when he grieved for his lost comrades. He always seemed to be there when he needed him the most. 

Then, when Nova came along, things changed again. Levi wanted things to go back to the way they were when they fought for humanity side by side. Still, Erwin’s response to that sentiment was ‘that’s what I’m afraid of’.

Damn it, what did he mean by that?

To top it all off, the Commander seemed particularly attached to him the other night. After heading back to his room, Erwin presented him with a piping hot cup of tea before bed. Although Levi typically slept in a chair due to his insomnia, Erwin insisted that he lay down in his own bed for once. As Levi drifted off, the Commander watched over him, reading his books and combing through the remnants of his paperwork. Each time Levi awoke from his nightmares, Erwin was there to comfort him and coax him back to sleep. If not for the interruption, he might have gotten more than four hours of sleep for once. 

Then there was Nova. Why did she have to walk in at that moment? Any other time, she would have found Erwin sleeping in his own bed and me in my chair. Shit, she’ll probably tell the cadets something annoying now. 

Pinching his brow he wonders how to handle this situation. He’s glad he decided to peel away from the group at any rate. 

“Levi? What are you doing here?”

Spinning around, he finds himself face to face with Erwin. He made it to Headquarters without even realizing it. The Commander’s gentle face is filled with surprise and warmth.

Levi shuffles awkwardly. “Erwin I-I, well the cadets were going into Trost, so I figured we’d pick you up along the way.”

The Commander smiles softly. “That’s awfully generous of you. I’m just finishing up an errand. I’ll meet you in the usual place in an hour, okay?”

“Understood,” Levi responds stiffly before turning to leave.

Erwin reaches out and grabs his hand. “Thank you, Levi. I mean it.”

“Sure,” he responds, turning back to face him. He glances into his deep blue eyes. There’s something else there besides friendship, causing his heart to stir.

Erwin pauses with a longing gaze before quickly releasing his grip and walking back towards Headquarters.

Levi watches him slowly disappear into the crowd. Shit, Erwin. Just what are you thinking? He looks down at his palms, closing them into fists. He knows that look the Commander gave him all too well. Something is going on with him. He just can’t place what it is, let alone his own feelings on the matter.

Walking back along the main road, Levi attempts to take his mind off of the present situation with his usual errands. He makes his way past shops and stalls, buying supplies and goods. He stops more than once at local tea houses, admiring the leaves brought in from the interior. The thought sets his mind at ease, as he remembers his first experience with such brands. 

He won his first set of rare tea leaves during an arm wrestle back in the Underground. He, Isabel, and Farlan enjoyed the best cup of tea in months that day. He smiles as he remembers how they laughed and enjoyed themselves back then. It wasn’t long after that he met Erwin and everything changed. He exhales as troubling memories surface. Still, since that time, Erwin became the most important person to him. Hange too, the Survey Corps became his family. 

Glancing ahead, he sees Sasha and Connie tare through stalls, grabbing all the food they can. He chuckles slightly as he moves forward through the crowd. 

“I don’t know. I don’t think this is my style, Krista.”

His ears perk up slightly, and he turns to his left where a boutique stands. Through the open window, he sees a girl standing before a mirror in a white dress shirt and a long navy skirt. Her hair is pinned back but still tumbles down in unruly fragments.

“Oh come on, you look great!” Krista smiles warmly, spinning her around.

“Why did you drag me along?” Ymir rolls her eyes in the background. 

As Nova turns around to face the window, her beauty radiates through the tilted glass. Her startling eyes warmed in the sunlight, the gentle curve of her lips, the way her figure clings to the fabric even in her present attire; it doesn’t feel real even though he’s seen it all before. The crimson thread around her neck sparkles as slivers of sunlight pour through the open door to the left of the shop.

“Levi?”

Noticing her gaze, he quickly turns away and steps back onto the road. 

“Hey, look out!”

He spins to the side, as a horse and carriage ride through the streets. He nods an apology to the driver who gives him a disgruntled stare. 

Turning back slightly, he sees Nova, Krista, and Ymir standing just outside the shop while the storekeeper fusses over her payment.

With a sigh, he walks away from the scene. Perhaps it’s the brain fog or his own feelings, but he can’t seem to pinpoint what he wants. Damn it, why did I have to get stuck in this situation. He strolls along a couple of side paths, not wanting to encounter the watchful gaze of others. He needs time to sort out what all of this is. 

Coming towards a mote, he walks towards the edge. Crowds pass, but pay him no mind as they stroll to and from. Sitting down on the side, he gazes into the sunlit stream. His worried expression glances back at him. His brow is furrowed and his expression is equal parts frustrated and uncertain. 

He rolls his eyes and throws a stone into the water. It’s no wonder his comrades look at him with fear in their eyes. Still, it’s all he can do to maintain his authority and status considering his height. Not that he cares what anyone thinks of him in the first place. 

As the ripples spread outward, he sees the faces of those he’s lost. He misses his comrades, each and every one of them. If only he’d been stronger, maybe they wouldn’t have died. He thinks back to his battle with the Female Titan. He couldn’t defeat her back then. Where did that leave him now? Perhaps he was right not to care anymore. Maybe he shouldn’t care about anyone ever again. 

“Levi?”

He sighs and throws another stone into the stream. “You made it, I see. So, what do you want, Erwin?” 

“Levi,” he starts again, taking a seat next to him. 

His large frame creates a shadow over the water. Typical. Still, the warmth that Erwin emanates is comforting in a way.

“Come on, you can talk to me. I know you haven’t been yourself since you met Nova. No, it was before that, wasn’t it?”

“I’m fine.”

“Don’t give me that. Losing so many comrades, subordinates, and friends takes its toll doesn’t it?”

“Sure.”

He glances up towards the sunlit sky with a pause. “Do you still remember what I told you all those years ago?”

Levi sighs. Of course, he remembers, how could he not? He can still picture the events so clearly. He left Isabel and Farlan behind while he went to try and kill Erwin, like a damned idiot. The storm was raging outside and he left them all alone. Then, when he returned…when he returned…

He pinches his brow as he remembers their demise. He found Isabel’s severed head staring up at him in surprise. Her mouth was still open as though she were calling out for her ‘big bro’ when the titan’s jaws closed on her neck. Then there was Farlan, he saw the titan devour him and toss the remains of his body aside like he was nothing. His guts spilled onto the cold ground, while his eyes remained open with shock and fear. 

Levi blacked out shortly after in his rage and pain over their deaths. It’s unbearable to think about, even now. Still, the person he blamed most of all was Erwin, and then himself. He thought of ending his own life right then and there. The guilt overwhelmed him entirely. That is until Erwin gave him a new purpose, a new way to move forward. 

“No regrets, right?”

“That’s right, Levi. No regrets.” Erwin wraps his arm around him tenderly, pulling him close. 

Levi leans into his grasp, resting his head against his broad chest. “Erwin, I don’t know what to do. I feel like I have both everything and nothing. Tell me, what’s the right choice here? For once, I just need someone to tell me what it is.”

“You know I can’t do that. Whatever your decision, whether it be me or her, it has to be yours alone. Just know that I’ll support you, no matter what. You may be my subordinate, but you also mean more to me than you’ll ever know. Though some things undoubtedly will, that fact will never change.”

Levi closes his eyes. “Well, that doesn’t help me at all.” 

He feels Erwin’s chest rise in a soft chuckle. 

“Even so, I think you’re right,” Levi exhales softly.

“Oh?”

“We can’t go back to the way things were. Whatever happens, we need to keep moving forward. Just give me this moment, this one moment to have you by my side before everything changes. For now, just let me be with you like this.”

“Levi-”

“Please.”

He feels Erwin’s grip tighten around his arm. Glancing out towards the sparkling water, he feels as though he’s witnessing the calm before a storm. Still, he rests his head against Erwin and closes his eyes, slipping further into his embrace.

Chapter Text

The recruits gather together as the sun dips down in the late afternoon sky.

“Sasha, stop eating all the free samples. We need to get going!” 

“One more, Connie. How often do we get meat? That’s right, never! We need more. More I say!”

“You already stole the rations from the officers’ pantry!”

“Shh! You want all of Trost to hear you?”

“Come on, let’s get going. The Captain will get angry if we’re not punctual,” Armin tries to reason with the group. 

“Hey Nova, that dress is really something,” Jean smirks.

“Lay off, horse-face. Can’t you hold it together for a single afternoon?”

“Back off, Eren. I can say what I want.”

“Ugh, there they go again,” Ymir rolls her eyes. “Seriously, if they cause you any trouble, come to me and I’ll knock some sense into them.”

You chuckle as you walk with the group. In your present attire, you almost feel like you’re one of them. Still, a skirt and dressy top are hardly your style. It would be more likely to find you in a paint-splattered shirt and jeans back home. You hesitate to think about the outfits Levi probably wore during your switches. At least you had a uniform in this world. You blush at the thought of wearing his clothes and being in his body. So embarrassing. Still, there's no point in getting worked up over nothing. You know that for sure, now.

“Nova? What’s up?” Krista asks beside you.

You shake your head. “Nothing really. It’s just weird to be wearing such formal clothes.”

“Formal? I’d say this is pretty standard for a woman of your age.”

“Krista dear, that sounds like an insult.”

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

You raise your hands slightly. “No, no. It’s fine. No offense taken.” 

Even though the recruits have a good ten years under you, they seem so understanding and mature at times. It’s hard to believe they’re still kids. You suppose that’s due to the harshness of their world and the threat of the titans. In their fifteen years, they’ve seen more death and destruction than you.

“This is the place, right?” Reiner scratches his head as he glances at the map in his hands. 

“Should be,” Armin looks up at the sign. “Trost Teas and Confectionaries, right?”

“Sounds like something the Captain would choose,” Eren comments.

“Let’s go in. We don’t want to keep him waiting,” Mikasa strolls forward and opens the door. 

Inside is a Victorian-style shop with ornate wood-paneled walls. The backs of the chairs are carved into a floral print while the tables are lined with white linen. At each seating area, there is a set of fine china outlined with intricate multicolored designs. The confectionaries and tea sets seem like something out of a Dickens’ novel. It’s a place your grandmother, or even great-grandmother probably would have dined. 

Pictures of the previous owners and their families hang from the walls in hand-painted oil designs. You admire the craftsmanship of the artwork in the room. The attention to detail is more than you could hope to achieve in a modern city.

On the far wall ahead of you lays hundreds of tea leaves in small containers. The wooden counter displays fine china sets and antique plates in a glass casing. The shop owner hurries along, preparing each guest’s order.

The place is comfortably full, with tea-drinkers who look like they are a part of a film set. The suits and dresses of those who are seated, are similar to your own but seem more formal if that’s possible. The frills and long skirts take up plenty of space. They seem to be something you’d wear to a formal party and not a casual tea shop. Looking at the clothes of the recruits and your own, you almost seem dressed down for the occasion. 

As you scan the room, you catch two people sitting at a booth near the far right window. They seem contented but melancholy. As Levi looks up from his teacup, you avert your gaze quickly. You remember how he ran from you earlier and almost got run over by a carriage. Seriously, what is his deal? Then again, as you glance between him and Erwin, you can tell you’re out of place. You know now more than ever that you don’t belong in this world.

“Hey, aren’t you going to order?” Krista pulls you along. 

You take a deep breath. You refuse to run away as he did. You won’t give him that satisfaction. “I’ll just take a coffee.”

Krista and Ymir give you a strange look. “What’s a coffee?”

No coffee either?! This really is hell. “It’s a dark caffeinated drink that’s definitely not tea,” you grumble, making your way past them. “I’ll just have whatever everyone else is having.” 

You march over to Levi and Erwin’s table, not caring that they might be sharing an intimate moment. You slide into the booth on the opposite side. You notice Erwin’s sad smile as he glances your way. Levi looks unfazed but sips his tea in an odd way.

“Hey, why are you holding your cup like that? There’s a handle on the side right?"

“Tch. Don’t you have any manners, brat? This is tea time, not roller derby.”

“I’m surprised you know what that is.”

“I picked up a thing or two from that annoying friend of yours.”

“First of all, don’t talk badly about Lily or you’ll have me to answer to.”

“Wow, I’m scared,” he keeps his gaze fixed on his tea.

“Second, how did roller derby even come up in conversation?”

“Why should I tell you?”

“I don’t know, maybe because you were in my body and now you’re pretending like it never happened?” 

“Well, I’m sure you had plenty of fun times fighting titans and practically getting yourself killed in mine. Do you know how many bruises and sprains I got because of your recklessness?”

Is he still trying to pick a fight? You’ve had enough, whatever he’s plotting. You stand up and lean across the table. “I guess I should have broken a few bones while I was at it, small-fry! Maybe then you’d actually take me seriously!”

He glares at you across the table. You can tell he’s positively seething. “At least I didn’t kill you, brat. If not for you, we wouldn’t even be in this mess!”

“Well, if you-”

“Levi, Nova! Stop it, that’s an order,” Erwin commands with a firm hand.

You stare into Levi’s eyes, not wanting to show any signs of weakness.

“Calm down,” Erwin repeats, placing his hand on Levi’s shoulder. 

Grudgingly, you both sit back, turning away from one another.

“Hey, don’t tell me the fun’s over,” Ymir smirks. 

Krista walks behind her with a worried gaze.

“Seriously? Why are you two fighting at a time like this?” Eren takes a seat next to Levi. 

“Did I say it was any of your business, Yeager?” Levi shoots him a deadly gaze.

“No sir. Sorry, sir.”

“Levi,” Erwin gives him a sharp glance. “Don’t.”

As the rest of the recruits take their seats around the table, a shroud of tension settles. The group is silent for once, casually nibbling on sandwiches and drinking tea. 

You’re fed up with the whole situation. Levi is in his thirties, right? Shouldn’t he be more mature? Yet, somehow he seems just as rowdy as the others. It feels like you’re back in high school with all of the drama and annoyance. You never thought you’d find yourself in this situation, so far away from home. Then again, you never really had a romance of any sort, to begin with. All your life you seemed to be locked into whatever your parents wanted from you. There was never a time when you could argue or fight for what you wanted up until you decided to start art school. Now, being here, you feel like something within you has shattered, as though you have no more limits. It’s an odd feeling but even though you’re fighting back and causing a scene, you are free for the first time in your life. 

You finish your tea as the group begins to talk animatedly again. Sasha, though clueless at times, attempts to break the ice by causing a scene herself and stuffing a whole loaf of bread into her mouth. 

“Hey, what are you doing? You’ll choke like that!” Connie tries to pry it from her. 

“Forget it, she’s hopeless,” Jean rolls his eyes.

“Everyone, don’t forget we’re in a nice tea shop. I’m sure the Commander and Captain are less than pleased with this behavior,” Armin tries to calm them down.

Glancing over, Levi looks like he’s going to strangle someone. That said, Erwin looks mildly amused with the scene. Oddly enough, the tension seems to dissipate with her outburst. Even though people are staring again, you don’t care. Everyone follows their own rules in this ragtag group. It’s comforting in a way.

“Feeling better?” Krista nudges you.

You didn’t realize it but a smile slowly began to form across your lips. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Hey, if you’re going to make a ruckus then get out!” The store owner barges out from behind the counter. 

“Guess that’s our cue,” Jean rolls his eyes.

“S-sorry sir,” Armin makes his way out of the booth. 

Erwin simply chuckles as Levi sips his tea grumpily. “Guess we’d better be going, huh?”

“Fine,” Levi rolls his eyes, slamming the cup on the table. 

“Chill out,” you furrow your brow.

He gives you a confused glance before sighing deeply. “I swear, I can’t understand half of the things that come out of your mouth.”

You scowl at him but notice a subtle smirk cross his lips. It’s so faint, you almost second guess yourself. Weird.

“Hey, good to go?” Krista pats your back.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry, guess I got a little caught up in everything.”

Krista smiles slightly before Ymir goes to her side and drapes her arm across her shoulders. 

“Don’t sweat it, Nova. The Captain can be a real jackass sometimes, but he means well.”

“Ymir! Stop, he’ll hear you.”

“Whatever.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that about him,” you respond. “Still, he seems more like a jerk than a good guy. There’s just something about him that gets on my nerves.”

“He has that effect. Once you get to know him you’ll be fine though. Soon enough, he’ll be bringing you tea and kicking you in the gut, just you wait.”

“Um, what was that last part?”

“Hey!” Sasha waves to you at the front of the group. “Come on! We need to get going before sunset!”

“On our way!” Krista calls back. 

Reiner looks like he’s going to pass out from witnessing her beauty, but Ymir holds her protectively. “Back off, Braun.”

You chuckle slightly. Some things never change.

As you reach the stables, you stop by Levi’s horse. You’d grown fond of it, during your switches. It helped you when you were frightened and guided you forward when you faced death. Even if Levi is a pain in the ass, his horse isn’t. You trace your fingers softly along its mane. 

“Oi, brat! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Oh, nothing,” you mumble, walking further down towards your new horse, a russet steed with a black mane. 

Looking back, you see Levi glancing at you sympathetically. He waits as the others bring their horses outside with Commander Erwin in the lead. Then, glancing cautiously behind his shoulder, he makes his way towards you, bringing his horse forward. 

“Here, take her.”

“What?”

“It’s fine, just take my horse for tonight. You grew close to her during our switches, right?”

You stare at him, stunned. Is he actually trying to be nice for once? 

“How did you know?”

“I could tell from your expression, brat.”

“Don’t call me, brat. I have a name, you know.”

“I-” he stops himself and sighs. “Just take her, Nova.”

You pause; he seems sincere. Stepping forward, you lead your horse out of the stables and switch the reigns with Levi. 

“Thanks, Captain,” you smile slightly, before guiding his horse towards the entrance. Before you can step outside; however, you feel a hand on your shoulder. 

You turn around quickly, ready for him to turn on you, but Levi's expression seems awkward and remorseful instead. His eyes are cast down towards the hay-covered ground. 

“Hey...I’m sorry.” 

Your eyes widen slightly in surprise. “Y-yeah, me too.”

Refocusing your attention, you lead Levi’s horse into the chilly evening air. 

“Come on, let’s go already,” Connie complains. 

Sasha licks her lips. You already know that she’s preparing for her feast of meat tonight. 

“Hey, Nova. Isn’t that-”

You shoot Krista a sharp gaze that says, later. 

Climbing up onto Levi’s horse, you ride with the others back through the city towards Wall Rose. Levi rides in front of the group with Erwin silently. His expression is unreadable as he forges ahead. The Commander looks equally focused, but there’s a hint of sadness surrounding him that you can’t quite explain. 

As you ride past the gates and into the fields, you let the sunset wash over you. You feel so free, riding like this. It reminds you of when you switched with Levi for the first time. Regardless of the terrifying titans beyond the Walls, the natural beauty of this world truly is stunning. When you saw it for the first time, you thought you’d died and gone to heaven, or perhaps had a wonderful dream. Now knowing it’s all real, makes it even more stunning. Taking in the scent of evergreens and dirt, the sound of horses galloping and birds chirping and feeling the wind as you ride forward; you feel completely at peace. 

You close your eyes and let go of the reigns for a moment, feeling the wind dance across your fingertips as you spread your arms wide. It’s only when Levi’s horse jolts forward that you grasp the reigns and open your eyes to the orange glow the sunset paints across the landscape. 

Drifting your gaze forward, you see Levi staring at you with a faint smile playing across the corners of his mouth. The sunset reddens his cheeks and creates a warm glow around his figure. Breaking from his thoughts, he quickly turns back away from you. You blush slightly as you continue onward. 

By the time you reach the hideout, the sky is quickly darkening and the first stars twinkle brightly in the indigo sky. The warm golden light from the building is inviting and lulls you into contented tiredness. 

Following the others, you guide Levi’s horse into the stables. Climbing off and unhooking the saddle, you smile slightly. Never have you felt so at peace in the evening air. You pat the horse’s side before walking back towards the hideout.

Before you can; however, you find Levi leaning against the stable entrance. 

“Um, thanks for that,” you mumble. 

He briefly looks up towards the night sky, before sighing and turning away from you.

You throw up your arms in exasperation as he walks off. What the hell does this guy want? He’s impossible to read. Honestly, is he a jerk or a caring person? Why can’t he just decide?

Still, you can’t help but think there’s a reason behind his cold persona. The recruits said he was kind at heart. Could that really be true? As you head inside, you find yourself equal parts confused and curious as to who Captain Levi really is.

Chapter Text

- Earlier in Trost -

“Levi,” Erwin sighs, holding him close by the stream.

“I know,” Levi responds, glancing out across the sparkling water. “We have to face reality, don’t we?”

“Yeah,” he rubs his shoulder slightly. “It’s time.”

Erwin brings his hand towards Levi’s face and cups it tenderly, staring into his deep blue-grey eyes. As the Captain’s eyes widen in surprise, Erwin plants a tender kiss on his forehead. Then pressing his forehead against his, he closes his eyes for a moment.

“Well, we should get going,” he pulls away and stands with a stretch.

Still frozen in surprise, Levi feels more confused than ever. Erwin, after all this time…do you really want us to part ways? He bites his lip. Of course, Erwin doesn’t want that. He probably wants me to be happy or some bullshit. Why can’t he think of himself for once? 

“Levi?” The Commander reaches his hand out towards him. 

“R-right,” Levi takes his hand and allows himself to be led back along the pathway. “Erwin, I-” he pauses as the Commander winces. “Never mind.”

The rest of the journey is spent in silence until they pass the recruits gathered around a fruit stall. Glancing over, Levi sees Nova laughing and conversing with the others in her new attire and messy hair. It seems like she doesn’t have a care in the world. How can she be so carefree and positive? She’s in a new world altogether, one filled with so much cruelty. He doesn’t understand how she can keep going like this.

In the meantime, he’s here moping around, feeling sorry for himself. He hasn’t taken the time to consider what it is he truly wants in this life. Is there more to living than just killing titans? He hasn’t considered that fact lately. For a while, his squad filled the hole in his heart. Now, he feels at a loss. Between Erwin and Nova, it’s like he’s falling down that never-ending void again, stuck between worlds and lives. Still, he knows there’s a connection drawing him towards a harder but more fulfilling path. There’s something stirring that wasn’t there before.

“Erwin?” 

“I know, Levi,” Erwin smiles melancholically. “I know.” Stepping ahead, he walks past him towards the tea shop. “Well, shall we?”

With a sigh, Levi walks forward. He wishes more than anything that he could live two lives in two worlds; one with Erwin and one with Nova. But this is reality, a cruel world where difficult choices are made every day. It’s just as Erwin said, he can’t go back to the way things were. 

He takes a deep breath, feeling emotion swell within him before sitting down beside Erwin and awaiting the recruits’ arrival. 

- Present - 

Removing his boots and gear, Levi stares into the dimly lit mirror of his bathroom. His eyes have dark circles underneath them and his head is pounding. He feels unsteady after the day’s events. Why did this girl have to come into my life now of all times? And why didn’t Erwin tell me the truth about how he felt earlier? It doesn’t make sense. 

Splashing some cold water on his face, he tries to regain his composure. He grips the sides of the sink, taking a deep breath before buttoning his shirt and setting out back down the hallway. I can’t keep running away forever.

“Levi,” Erwin sits down with a cup of tea in the common area. “Come sit.”

Strolling over, he sits down and pours himself a cup of tea. After taking a sip, he knows he can’t stay silent forever. “Erwin, I-”

He holds up his hand to stop him. His expression is pained but determined. “Levi, I’ve decided to move into the spare room downstairs.”

Levi stares at him for a minute. Is he joking? “Spare me your teasing, Erwin. I’m not in the mood.”

“I’m serious. I’ll pack up my things after supper and be gone before you turn down for the evening.” He sips his tea as though this were a perfectly natural discussion amongst comrades.

“What the hell?” Levi seethes. “Just what are you plotting, Erwin? If this is your shitty idea of testing me, you can go straight to hell.”

Erwin gently places his cup down on a coaster. “Levi, I just need some space. The other night, when we slept side by side, I received quite the wrong impression. That said, seeing you care for Nova’s needs, even seeing you two fight; it gave me a better understanding of your connection.”

“Is this about the freaking horse? That was nothing,” he pauses, trying to maintain his composure. “Erwin please, I still need you. You said you’d be there for me regardless, right? Just tell me what you want.”

“What I want,” Erwin pauses. “Is for you to be happy, Levi.”

“I’m happy with you.”

“Maybe so, but we both know where your heart truly belongs.”

Levi chuckles coldly. “My heart? Please, that’s bullshit. We both know my heart died long ago along with my comrades. Besides, that girl is the messiest, most unruly annoying person I’ve ever met. The only reason we’re connected is because of those goddamn stars and that fucking key! I never asked for any of this! Can’t you see? Damn it all Erwin. Why can’t you just fight for what you want?!”

A creak in the floorboards makes them both flinch slightly and look to the door. Nova stands with a stunned expression on her face. “Oh, sorry. I was just looking for the Section Commander,” she gives a fake smile before running back down the hall.

“Shit, now I have to deal with that too.”

“Levi,” Erwin smiles sadly. “You and I both know what this is really about. You’ve already made your choice, right? So what are you waiting for? What’s holding you back? Is it me?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

Levi glances up at the wood-paneled ceiling, creaking with the howling wind. With a sigh, he glances ahead at Erwin. “What if I lose her?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean. This stupid shitty world isn’t like hers. She lives amongst buildings and technology beyond anything we’ve seen, but she’s safe there. Even though her parents are a pain in the ass to deal with, nothing can kill her there. Not like the titans.”

“So, you’re worried about her being in our world?”

“Erwin, I lost my entire squad to the Female Titan. What if you or she are next? Sometimes, I think it’s better to just leave things be. Not caring is better than getting my hopes up and getting everyone killed in the process. That’s why I need her to hate me. I need her to keep her distance, or else she’ll wind up dead like everyone else I’ve cared about.”

“Levi, even though we’re soldiers, we’re human too. We can’t stop living because things become difficult.” He glances out the darkened window with a sigh. “In my life, I’ve sent more people to their deaths than I can count. In fact, I gave up my first love Marie to Nile Dok for that very reason. I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t joined the Survey Corps and joined the Military Police instead. Then, of course, I met you and my whole world changed.”

He pauses in thought. “You’ll always be my person Levi, even if that means we need to remain friends and comrades as opposed to lovers. We can’t hold each other back either. I know you felt something for Nova from the first moment you met, maybe even before. It’s worth your while to see where it goes at the very least.”

“Erwin,”

“It’s okay. You don’t need to say anything more. Just go and find her. Make sure you cherish each moment together.”

Levi narrows his gaze but knows he’s serious. He stands and heads towards the doorway, pausing by the frame. “You’re my person too, Erwin.”

As he walks down the hallway, he hears Erwin release a shaky breath and pick up his teacup.

“I’m sorry,” Levi whispers, continuing towards the veteran’s quarters. 

The dim light from the torches warms the darkness of the hallway before him. Levi stops in front of his own room before releasing a sigh and turning on his heels. Walking across the creaky floorboards, he stands by her doorway. Raising his hand, he pauses before giving a gentle knock. 

He waits until footsteps emerge and the door clicks open. 

Nova stands before him with reddened eyes, looking less than pleased to see him. He can’t blame her. After what he’s put her through, he knows he doesn’t deserve her forgiveness.

“What do you want now?” She sniffles.

“N-Nova, I-I-”

“Spit it out! What do you want?”

“N-nothing,” he turns on his heels and walks back towards his room. Why the hell is it so hard to talk to her? Still, he knows he can’t back down. He can’t afford to live with any more regrets.

Standing in the middle of the hall, he turns back. “Get your 3DMG and meet me on the roof.”

“The roof? But why?”

“Just trust me.”

“Why would I do that?” She crosses her arms in frustration.

“Nova, please. Just give me this one chance and I’ll never bother you again. Please.”

She pauses and purses her lips. “Give me five,” she mutters before closing the door. 

Levi walks back to his room, wondering what on Earth he’s thinking. Still, something about her defies all logic and reason. It reminds him of their switches; she almost seems like a dream instead of a real person. They came to each other from across the stars and together they have to figure out what exactly this thing is. Only then can they decipher how to break this strange spell they’ve been put under. 

Walking towards the window, he glances up at this starlit sky. This is it, his chance at happiness. Even though Erwin and he undoubtedly share a connection, there’s something about this girl that’s different from anyone he’s ever met. She’s impulsive, kind, artistic, bold, and she brings warmth everywhere she goes. She’s like the sun; she lights up every room she’s in even if it’s her messy apartment. 

Glancing down at his hands, he thinks about the blood that’s been spilled on them and all the obsessive cleaning he does to try and wipe it from his memory. Then this girl came into his life with her paints and papers, redesigning his whole perspective on things. If it’s with her, perhaps he can tolerate a little mess here and there. 

Walking over to his closet, he suits up in his 3DMG. He glances back at the two beds crammed together. He traces his fingertips over Erwin’s side and bunches up the fabric in his fist. He pauses for a moment, then smooths the bed. No regrets.

Glancing out towards the moonlit starry sky, he’s reminded of the night the stars crossed. With a smirk, he clasps the last strap across his chest and opens his bedroom door. He’s certain he’s made the right decision. Even if their relationship is broken beyond repair, he has to at least try. He can’t close off his heart forever, not anymore, not to her.

Chapter Text

You tie your hair up and change into a familiar outfit from the day you entered this world. Bringing the high neck up to your nose, you take in the scent of home. It feels good to have a memento of Shingeki City. You haven’t worn it in a while, but Levi must have some taste in style considering he didn’t go for your paint-splattered t-shirt. Then again, his aversion to mess probably steered him clear of that in the first place. 

Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, you take a deep breath. For all Levi’s worth, you get the sense that something changed in him today. He’s less cold somehow, despite being such a jerk.

Then there was that moment you walked in on earlier. Seriously, do Levi and Erwin spend any time apart?! You still remember Levi’s harsh tone as they fought. The worst part was the confirmation of what you already knew, that Levi wished you’d never met. You can’t say you blame him, he isn’t exactly easy to get along with himself. Still, he seemed so sincere and apologetic when he came by your door. 

What the hell is he plotting? What’s his game? Does he intend on stringing me along to make Erwin jealous? Or is he going to feed me to the titans on our next mission? 

You glance at your weary face before splashing some water on it, trying to stop overthinking the situation. You wish more than anything that you could text or call Lily or even your mom for that matter. Not having access to technology and basic amenities are starting to take its toll. You have no idea what’s waiting for you each day. It feels as though your connections to your life back home have all been severed. You have no way of knowing how to overcome each challenge since you’re so used to looking everything up online. The only clue you have to get back is this freaking key. You feel like ripping it off your neck and being done with this whole thing. One day at a time, Nova. Just one day at a time. 

Walking through the bedroom area, you buckle up your 3DMG. You’re impressed with your ability to lace it up now compared to when you first arrived. It almost looks like you know what you’re doing. 

Opening the door, you head through the quiet hallways, towards the front entrance. The stairs squeak slightly as you walk through the torchlit space. 

There’s a light in the common area as you approach the edge of the stairs. Your breath catches slightly as you see Erwin asleep on the couch. He looks peaceful, but when you remember the conversation from earlier, you feel a twinge of sympathy. Being in love with Levi, or whatever their relationship entails, can’t be easy for him. That fight earlier must have worn him out too, not to mention your own dealings with the Captain. Your relationships have been tumultuous at best. 

Noticing a wool blanket on a chair nearby, you pick it up and drape it across him. “Sleep well,” you whisper before heading through the front door. 

Outside the wind is chilly and leaves rustle slightly in the breeze. Your boots crunch through the stones and grass as you try to figure out the best angle to get onto the roof. Why did he pick such a strange meeting place anyway? Maybe he’s planning on pushing me off? You shake your head. You need to try to think positively. He seemed so genuine earlier, the least you can do is go in with an open mind.

As you head around the side of the building, your eyes widen at the vision before you. Bathed in starlight, sits Levi with his gaze fixed on the distant crescent moon. His pale skin is smooth and his expression thoughtful as his undercut shifts slightly in the wind. If not for his uniform, you might think of him as an angel, or perhaps a compassionate devil. 

Sensing your gaze, he turns around slightly. “Oh, you’re here. Come on up.”

Shaking away your daydreams, you launch your gear forward onto the slanted roof. 

You’re better at maneuvering your gear now, but your foot slips slightly on the shingles. “Crap.”

Before you fall, Levi quickly stands and wraps his arm around you, grounding you in place. “You alright?”

He’s so close you can feel his breath tingling your neck. “F-fine."

Together, you sit down and stare up at the sky. Your eyes widen as you glance up at the Milky Way and countless constellations. Never in your life have you seen so many stars shining so brightly above you. You reach your hand up as if to find your way back home across the heavens. You wonder if the people you care about are still looking for you. They’ll have to search an awfully long distance to come across this place. You chuckle to yourself at the thought.

“What?”

“Oh nothing, just thinking about home.”

He glances up at your hand, still suspended in the air. “We’re a long way from Shingeki City now.”

“You’re telling me,” you sigh.

“Do you miss it?”

“Yeah,” you wrap your arms around your knees. “I know the people there aren’t as friendly as they are here, but they really do care, even mom and dad.”

“They have a pretty strange way of showing it.”

“That’s not fair, you don’t even know them,” you narrow your gaze.

“I know enough.”

“From what you saw in that envelope back in my mom's office? Please. You don’t know anything about my world.”

He looks down, resting his arm against his knee. “Maybe so. There are a lot of similarities between them though.”

“Oh?”

“This world is cruel, Nova. But much like yours, there are certain things one could consider beautiful. That’s what we’re fighting for. That’s why we’re soldiers. We want the freedom you have.”

“Freedom huh?” You sigh. “There’s less freedom than you think, Levi. A lot less.”

“You live in a bustling city without titans; a world surrounded by life and hope. What don’t you have?”

You pause and glance up at the stars. How can I make him understand? “I guess, we don’t have this. Or rather, I don’t.”

“What?”

You spread your arms wide. “Look around you. You can go anywhere you want. You can step outside and see past the horizon. You can look up at the stars. You can follow your own path without the pressures and judgment of others.”

“There’s plenty of pressure in this world,” he mutters.

“Maybe, but it’s different. Back home, intelligence and networking are everything. Every move you make is monitored and people judge you based on your success. The rise in technology and the pressure to conform to society are unreal. At least here, you can be yourself.”

He pauses for a moment. “Be myself? Please, if I expressed how I truly felt, no one would take me seriously. We come back after each mission as failures. We barely survive every time we leave the Walls. We aren’t human, not really. We’re cannon fodder, cattle being led to the slaughter. What could you possibly understand about that?”

You think about your family back home, and your brother. “Not all of us live in peace and happiness, Levi. Not all of us live to tell the tale, even in my world.”

He glances at you, sensing that he hit a nerve. Still, he waits for you to explain.

You glance up at the stars. “I’ve lost more than you know.” You consider your past, wondering where to begin. “I guess it all started fifteen years ago when I was just a little girl…”

-

Standing on the rooftop terrace, you take in the sights of the city. 

“Nova?”

“Big brother, Elio! I knew you wouldn’t leave me behind,” you grin as he strolls towards you with his dark hair and bright smile.

“That’s right. We’re going to leave this place behind once and for all! You’ll love it, Nova. My friends told me that beyond the city and mountains lie lush forests, meadows stretching beyond the horizon, and best of all, the sea.”

“Wow, I can’t wait!” You jump up and down excitedly.

He smiles before glancing at the sunset suspiciously. “Mom and dad will be home soon. We need to leave while we can. Are you ready to go?”

You nod determinedly. “Aye, aye, Captain!”

“Right, then let’s get going!” He places his fist against his heart. “Onwards into the next world! I’ll go get the car. You wait here, okay?”

You smile as you make the same gesture for good luck as he leaves. Too excited to stay still; however, you decide to wait by the curb. Running down the stairs after him, you swing open the door into the blinding light.

 As you run outside, you see your brother begin to walk across the road as cars zoom past. They honk and swerve out of the way as he continues forward.

“Elio!” You call desperately.

He glances back at you in surprise. His face is filled with terror and remorse.

“Brother, what’re you-?”

I love you, he mouths before the truck comes. 

It’s over in an instant. 

There’s a scream as the vehicle crashes into the stop sign at the end of the road. 

 Your breath catches as red floods your vision. Beside the dark pickup truck lies your brother’s severed arm outstretched, still reaching towards you. 

“No, what? No, it can’t be,” your eyes widen. “El-io, El-io. Big brother?” 

As the blood underneath the truck pools and extends toward the sidewalk, you gag. Still, you can't seem to make your legs move. Someone screams in the distance. Only later do you realize it was you.

“Escape…this…world…” a voice mutters through the sirens and cries. 

That voice haunts you to this day. His last words are forever etched in your brain.

-

You glance across the dark plains. “My brother had so much pressure placed upon him to take over Reader & Co. He rebelled and got into trouble a lot as a result of my parent’s overbearing nature. After one particularly bad fight, he decided he was going to leave everything behind. Still, I insisted on going with him."

“After he died, my parents placed more and more pressure on me to continue the family business. I guess it was their way of keeping his memory alive. Still, I never forgot his final words. I’ve been trying to honor his will in my own way ever since. Elio always loved my art, so I planned on selling it to find a way out of the city. I guess I ended up leaving home either way though,” you smile to yourself. “I wonder if he’s up there somewhere, looking back at me now.”

Levi glances up at the stars. “I’m sure he is. All we can do now is keep the memory of the fallen alive, your brother included. I guess we’ve both seen our fair share of loss.”

You nod, wondering what he’s lost. You know about his squad; however, there seems to be more locking him into a pattern of despair. You can see the hurt in his eyes. With a sigh, you decide to take a leap of faith. “What about your family? What were they like?”

“That’s-”

“I know,” you shake your head, regretting your question. “None of my business, right?”

“Would you let me finish for once?” He shakes his head. “I was going to say that it's a long story.” He fidgets slightly. “But if you’d like to hear it, I’ll tell you what I’ve endured.”

You turn towards him with a nod. 

He sighs. “Well, where to begin…”

-

“Levi? Come here and let mom cut your hair,” Kuchel smiles.

“Mom?” He looks at her weary face. It’s getting thinner by the day.

“It’s important that you take care of yourself and look sharp. Maybe then, someday you can see the sun.”

“The sun? What’s that?”

Her face brightens slightly. “It’s a warm light that shines high above the sky in a world that’s clean, where the wind blows freely.” She sighs, laying back on her pillow. "I’d love to see that world someday.”

“I want to see it too. We’ll go together, okay? Promise?” He holds her hand tightly.

“Promise,” she whispers, drifting off to sleep.

Levi crawls beside her, refusing to let go. The cries and violence from outside permeate through the thin walls of their home. As his eyes begin to close, he squeezes her frail hand a little tighter.

When morning emerges deep in the Underground, Levi rubs his eyes. Unlike the world above, morning and night hold no meaning in this dark place. The only indicator of daybreak occurs when the torches are snuffed out. 

With a stretch, Levi sits beside his mom. She’s still sleeping from the looks of things. Rather than wake her up he does the morning chores for her, folding the laundry and dusting. Maybe if he cleans well enough, she’ll get better. He smiles at the thought. 

On the counter lay a few copper coins. He picks them up and runs them through his fingers. Seeing his mom, still asleep in the bed, he decides to find some food for them. Perhaps he could even make a stew with the scraps he finds. 

The store clerk down the road tries to shoo him away, but he manages to grab a couple of apples and a potato before he’s chased away. Not enough for a big meal, but they’re lucky to get this much in the first place. 

With his arms still full, he pries open the door. “Mom, look what I’ve got!” 

His face drops as he enters the dark room. “Mom?” She’s still, too still. 

He drops the food on the floor and rushes towards her bed. “Mom! Wake up! MOM!” 

She doesn’t respond, as he shakes her cold figure. 

“Mommy!” 

He crawls beside her, holding her close in his arms. 

Sobbing, he hears a rustle and turns towards the sound. A rat sits on top of the laundry. Jumping off the bed, he shoos it away. As it darts around his legs and runs back towards his mother’s neatly folded dress, something snaps within him. It’s the filth of this place that’s the problem. It’s the reason his mother got sick and it’s the reason she…

He takes a knife from the kitchen table and hauls the rat to the ground. He stabs it again and again until its corpse lies decimated on the cold dirt floor. He won’t let anything tarnish his mother’s precious things.

Looking down at his shaking blood-stained hands, he realizes he’s seen the filth of this world before. It’s everywhere, contaminating every part of this cursed world. As he tries to wash the dirt away in a pail of water, the blood seems to cake on. He can’t get rid of it no matter how hard he tries. 

Turning back, he sees his mother’s lifeless form. She’s still beautiful even in death. He remembers her smile, expecting her to open her eyes at any moment. 

He holds her dress close and returns to her side, determined to keep her memory alive. He’d do anything just to feel her presence by his side again. Anything.

-

“A man named Kenny found me a few weeks after her passing. I still don’t know much about him, honestly. He taught me everything I know about survival. Without him I would have died, sitting by my mother’s bedside, wrapped in her dress.” He glances down at his cravat, running the material gently through his fingers.

You’re always amazed by the horrors the soldiers endured, and Levi is no exception. He’s been through hell and back many times over. You can see it in his eyes and in the way he cherishes that fabric he clings to. The insomnia, the obsessive cleaning, pushing people away; it’s all starting to make sense. 

“Later, I met two friends who became like family to me.”

“Oh? What are their names.”

He pauses for a moment. “Their names were Isabel and Furlan.” He leans his head against his forehead. “If not for me, they’d probably still be alive too.”

More death, more destruction. It’s a miracle this guy hasn’t been completely overtaken by grief and trauma. “H-how did they die?” You ask tentatively. 

He looks into your concerned eyes. “The usual, titans. It was a stormy night back then. We had just joined the Survey Corps. Yet I left them alone in the fog, obsessed with my mission and a personal goal. When I returned…when I returned…” He shudders and turns away from you, masking his overwhelming emotions.

“Hey, it’s okay. You’re safe now,” you place a hand on his shoulder. You can feel him shaking slightly; however, he doesn’t shy away from your touch. He may be a jerk at times, but you feel connected to him all the same. Hearing his story, you begin to understand why he was acting so coldly.

“I’m sorry, Levi.”

He chuckles slightly, brushing away a silent tear. “I thought I told you to call me Captain.” 

As he turns back to face you, his slight smile makes you want to melt away. It’s so kind and warm. You wonder how he can still smile like that after everything he’s endured.

With a deep breath, his expression becomes more serious. “Nova, I’m the one who’s sorry. The way I treated you…” he sighs. “I just need you to understand.…I-I have a tendency to push people away because it’s easier to handle the pain. I figure, the further people are from me, the safer they’ll be. So, please understand that if I come across as cold, it’s simply been to protect you.” His cheeks redden slightly. 

You pause for a moment. “Bullshit.”

“What?” He turns to you sharply.

“Bullshit. You’re not being a jerk to ‘protect me’. It’s because you’re scared. You’re scared to let people in because what if they die too? But you can’t let yourself stop living because of that. It’s like you said, we have to keep fighting, right? So let’s fight this world together and take responsibility for our own lives.”

He glances at you in surprise before shaking his head in exasperation. “You really are something, you know that?” He reaches over and ruffles your hair. 

“Hey,” you grumble, laughing as he messes it up.

You smile, finally understanding what Ymir meant. Despite the trauma, every person you’ve met thus far is kind in their own way. Even Levi who seemed so cold at first now seems a little more human in a way. You watch as he smiles genuinely, laughing alongside you.

Chapter Text

You wake to sunbeams streaming through the curtains early the following morning. For once, you feel like you’ve had a decent night’s sleep. You stretch and get out of bed, wandering towards the window. Peeling back the curtains, the sun’s warmth permeates through the remains of the night.

You smile to yourself as you sit on the edge of the sill. You saw a new side of Levi last night. Despite your limited knowledge of his relationship with Erwin, you’ve developed a new respect for him. He’s been through so much but still manages to smile and carry on even so. His strength and will to keep living are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. How does he do it? What keeps him moving forward in this cruel world? 

Glancing down at the key, still swinging from your neck, you wonder where to go from here. Running the gold through your fingers, you watch as it shimmers in the morning light. You’ll have to ask Levi what he really thinks about your connection at some point. You need to face the truth together if you’re going to be stuck like this. 

There’s a sharp knock at the door, snapping you out of your thoughts. 

“Nova? It’s Krista. Can we come in?”

You get up, trying to fix your bedhead. “Yeah, sure.”

You unlock the door and let them in. 

“Looks like someone had a good night,” Ymir pushes past you and sits on the edge of your bed. 

“How are you doing after your fight? I can’t believe Captain Levi was so rude to you at the teashop in Trost. I was going to stop by earlier but it didn’t seem like the right time. Maybe if we talk to Hange and the Commander, we can sort something out?”

You almost forgot about that incident. Could that really have been yesterday? It’s hard to believe considering Levi’s change over the past few hours. You hope he doesn’t revert back to his cruel persona. At least now, you’re starting with a clean slate and a better understanding of his situation.

You glance at Krista’s concerned expression. 

“I’m fine. We worked things out…at least, I think.”

“Oh really?” 

“Yeah, he’s not so bad once you get to know him.”

“Is that so?” Ymir winks. “Has he got you cleaning the veterans’ quarters yet?”

“No, why?” 

“Oh, no reason,” she chuckles. 

“Don’t tease her, Ymir.”

“Sorry, sweetie. You know I can’t resist an easy target.”

“What does me cleaning the veterans’ quarters have to do with anything?”

“You really want to know?” Ymir smirks.

“Don’t,” Krista warns. She turns back to you with a smile. “It’s nothing really. The Captain is just a little obsessive over his cleaning practices.”

“I’ll say,” Ymir snorts.

That, you knew already. You remember waking up after your first switch to find your room in a near immaculate state. Now, knowing his story, you understand why he cleans so intently. Despite your own messy demeanor, you think you can indulge in his cleaning practices every now. At the very least, you can pick up your old clothes off the floor. 

Walking towards the window, Ymir gazes out across the fields. “Ha! Looks like Jaeger and Kierstein are at it again. How about we go down there and watch the spectacle?”

“I swear, it’s always the same with you,” Krista rolls her eyes. You catch a gleam in her eye as she looks up at her, all the same. “You coming, Nova? Training will start soon. I understand if you’d rather skip out because of the Captain, though. We can make something up if you’d like?”

You shake your head. “Nah, I’d better go. Hange probably wants me for their experiments at some point too. I’ll meet you both down there after I get changed.”

They nod with a smile and head towards the door. 

“We’re here if you need anything,” Krista reassures you. “You can rely on us.”

“Thanks,” you smile.

As the door shuts behind them, you sigh and walk towards the window. Eren and Jean are still fighting near the training grounds. You don’t know where they get their energy. 

From the shadowed entrance, a familiar figure emerges. Your heart skips a beat as he walks along the grassy path. You can almost hear Levi’s frustrated tone as he marches towards them and gives them both a sharp kick to the gut. 

You chuckle slightly. He’ll never change.

Strolling back towards the bathroom, you quickly shower and put on your day clothes. You’re not used to wearing formal button-up shirts, but are slowly adjusting over time. At least the uniform compliments your appearance somewhat. 

Tying your hair into a ponytail, you take one last look in the mirror. Like it or not, you have to keep fighting in this cruel but beautiful world. You need to focus on yourself, working with Levi rather than for him. If this is going to work you have to be equals. You won’t settle for anything less. 

Hauling on your 3DMG, you step forward confidently. It’s time to face reality, whatever that entails. 

As you walk into the hallway, something odd catches your eye. Moblit groans as he walks up the stairs, carrying Hange in his arms. 

“What happened?” You exclaim, rushing over to help him.

“Oh, Nova. Don’t worry, this happens every now and then. Hange just wore themself out working so hard. They haven’t slept since you left for Trost.”

“How do they do it? That’s too much for anyone! Doesn’t anyone help them out?” You regret your question, seeing Moblit’s expression.

“Believe me, we try. They don’t let anyone touch their precious experiments though. I would know, it’s been five years now that we’ve been working together.”

“Wow, that long?” You open Hange’s bedroom door.

“Y-Yeah,” he stumbles past you. 

Glancing ahead, you’re shocked by the state of their room. It’s almost as bad as your own back home. Papers lie everywhere and a thick layer of dust coats every corner of the place. The bed looks as though it hasn’t been made in weeks.

Moblit pushes past the mess and lays them gently on the bed, pushing scraps of paper out of the way. He adjusts the covers and tucks them in comfortably, before removing their glasses and releasing their hair tie. 

He pauses as they release steady breaths. Leaning down, he brushes a strand of hair out of their face and kisses them tenderly. 

You blush at the sight, turning towards the open window to give them some privacy. Outside, it appears as though the recruits are already getting started with their training. Crap, Levi’s going to be pissed. 

When you turn around, Moblit stands a little straighter and heads towards the door. “Ready? You don’t want to be late.”

“Y-yeah,” you continue forward. You give Hange one last glance as they begin snoring, before heading back into the hallway. 

As you walk alongside Moblit, you feel a twinge of envy. What he has with Hange is clearly special. If Levi didn’t already have Erwin, you wonder if things could have been like that between you. Someday, maybe you’ll find the right person.

“Alright, I’m going to finish up the work Hange and I started. We’ll continue our research once they wake up. Sound good?”

You nod. “Thanks, Moblit.”

“No, thank you,” he smiles before heading towards the back door. 

You stroll in the opposite direction, walking through the front door and onto the training grounds. 

Outside, the recruits have already left their station and are using their 3DMG in the forest. Levi stands on a nearby branch, judging their every move. 

You shudder at the thought of his reaction to your tardiness but know there’s nowhere to escape. With a sigh, you launch your gear onto the branch beside him.

“I see you made it,” he grumbles. “What were you doing all that time? Taking a shit?"

"Jerk," you grumble. It seems that he hasn't changed at all. Seriously what is he, twelve?

"Anyways, team up with Arlet and Kierstein for now.”

Back to normal, I guess. You sigh and head towards Armin, who looks nervous enough as it is. Still, as you turn back you catch a hint of concern in Levi’s eyes. Is he worried about me? Or is he still thinking about his fight with Erwin? You don’t have time to consider it before Jean interrupts your thoughts.

“Hey, you ready?”

“Yeah, let’s go,” you respond. 

Armin nods to you both. “Right, Nova and I will cause the distraction. Jean, you take down the dummy.”

Confirming the plan, you get into position.

“Team Kierstein, go!” Levi calls from a distance. 

Together, you launch your gear forward. You’re surprised with how natural 3DMG has become even after a few short days in this world. You suppose your switches with Levi helped in that regard. If you could take down a titan back then, why not now? 

The dummy appears before you have time to react. 

“Nova, watch out!” Jean calls. 

Swerving, you fly in front of it, being careful to avoid Armin along the way. Together you intersect paths, while Jean slices the nape. When the job is done, you swing higher into the treetops. 

“Too slow, do it again,” Levi comments nonchalantly. 

“Are you kidding?” Jean grumbles. 

As you repeat the formation, again and again, you feel Levi’s gaze trained on you. What the hell is he thinking? Why can’t I get a read on him? 

You keep going until you barely have any strength left. The others remain in the trees, watching as you wear yourselves out. They look equally confused and concerned as you repeat the exercise. 

“Caaaaptain,” Jean swings onto the ground. “Can’t you criticize another group? Seriously, you’re killing us.”

“Is that so?” He responds cooly. “Do you want to be cannon fodder on the battlefield? Choose your words wisely, Kierstein.”

With a sigh, you try to reason with him. “Come on, Levi. We’ve repeated this exercise for close to an hour. I think we’re well prepared for whatever comes our way.”

The others stare at you, stunned that you have the gall to stand against him.

“I thought I told you to call me, Captain,” he quips. “You’ll stop when I say so.”

You scowl but notice a faint smile play across his lips. What is he, some sort of sadist? You roll your eyes. This guy will be the death of me. 

Still, you can’t help but notice the unusually dark circles under his eyes. That’s right, I still have the key. He must be feeling off after spending over 24 hours with a clouded mind.

Glancing down at the red thread still clinging to your neck, you exhale. You know what you need to do.

“Nova?”

“One second, I’ll be right back,” you swing forward next to Levi.

“Can I talk to you alone for a moment, Captain?”

He narrows his gaze, but swings onto the ground and walks back towards the hideout. 

Once you reach a shadowed area, he turns to you. “What do you want, brat?”

“That’s Nova to you.” 

Reaching behind your neck, you pull the red thread over your head and grasp the key in your palm. “Here, it’s about time you had a turn with this thing.”

“It’s fine, keep it.”

“I wasn’t asking. You need your strength. You’re humanity’s strongest soldier after all.”

“Maybe, but you need to stay focused. Without that damned key, you could easily die out there.”

“Levi, come on. We said we’d take responsibility for our own lives, right? You don’t need to protect me. Just take the freaking key. Also, by the Walls, give us a break will ya?”

He rolls his eyes. “Fine, you win. Happy?”

Reaching forward he grabs the key, sending sharp sparks between you. Your eyes widen; however, as he leans forward with his startling grey-blue gaze fixated on you, mere inches away. He traces his index finger lazily over your wrist, before pulling back and grasping the key between his fingertips.

He strolls past you, wrapping the thread around his neck and tucking the key safely behind his cravat.

You stare at him, mouth slightly agape. What the hell was that? You grasp your wrist loosely, still feeling the remnants of his touch, and walk back towards the training grounds. Your mind feels foggy after relinquishing the key, but you push through it. You’re supposed to be a soldier after all.

Armin gives you an odd look as you return to the treetops. “Are you okay? Your face is all red.”

“I’m fine,” you squeak. 

Glancing over at Levi, he looks as cool and calm as usual. Perhaps I just imagined that slightly intimate moment? You try to put it out of your mind as you continue your training. 

Mercifully, he gives your group a break at long last. Then, after each team has a turn, Levi calls a quit. “Take a quick lunch. We’ll meet for cleaning duty after.”

As you swing down from the trees and head back inside with the others, you’re tempted to talk to him. You know the reason he’s pushing you so hard and yet, what can you say? How can you begin to understand his feelings?

“Nova?” Krista walks beside you.

“Sorry, I was just thinking about something. Everyone has it pretty rough here, don’t they?”

“What do you mean?” She stares at you with her big blue eyes.

“Oh, nothing. Sorry, I asked,” you push forward. 

You stay quiet during your lunch break, despite sitting with the others. Fatigue creeps up on you like a dark cloud. You eat your bread and soup numbly as you think about the morning’s activities. Your cheeks flush again, as you remember how Levi traced his finger over your wrist. What the hell was that about? 

“Recruits!” Erwin emerges in the dining hall. 

“Sir!” Everyone stands at the ready in salute.

“I’ve received the permissions for our next expedition. It will be in three days' time. We’ll be heading into titan territory to further explore Cadet Yeager’s titan abilities. Train hard. That is all for now.”

“Sir!”

Breaking from the group, Mikasa makes a beeline for the Commander. “Sir, if I may, shouldn’t we wait before sending Eren back into the field? We still need to train the newer recruits too.” She glances your way nervously. “Also, don’t forget that last time Eren was knocked out cold. We should focus on his abilities here before sending him into the fray.”

Erwin sighs, having heard her pleas before. “We don’t have time to hesitate. I assure you, his health and safety are of the utmost importance. That said, we need to continue our advancement if we’re going to make it back to Shiganshina.”

“But-”

“Cadet Ackerman, please try to understand that our intentions are just.”

She bites her lip in frustration and turns back to the group. 

You watch as Erwin stares at all of you with sympathy. Catching your eye; however, he turns quickly and leaves resuming his usual stoic demeanor.

“Mikasa, why do you always have to butt in and bother the higher-ups? I can handle myself!” Eren turns from her and storms off down the hall.

“Eren!” 

It seems like everyone has relationship issues to work through. Still, from an outside perspective, you can tell that he cares deeply for her. If nothing else, you can still see him sulking by the door.

“Oi! Break time’s over,” Levi steps into the hall, pushing Eren forward as he does. He’s wearing a bandana, mask, cleaning gloves, and an apron. Excessive much? 

The recruits rush to clean up their scraps before following him back to the common area. You follow suit. 

“Now, here are your placements. Braus, Kierstein, and Springer will manage the training grounds and stables.”

“What? Why?!”

“Why not the kitchens?”

“Stealing meat from the higher-ups needs a fitting punishment, Braus.”

“Why punish me too, though?” Jean complains. 

“Don’t test me, Kierstein or you’ll be on stable duty for the next month. Next, we have Braun, Hoover, Lenz, and Ymir in the common area. Ackerman, Jaeger, and Arlet are assigned to the dining hall.”

“What?” Sasha complains hopelessly. 

“No sneaking inside either, Braus. I trust you won’t disappoint me where that’s concerned. Now go!”

The recruits rush to their assigned placements.

You glance around. “Um, where should I go?”

“You’re with me,” Levi sighs heading towards the stairs. 

You follow behind, confused. Wait, could it be…?  You keep going as he makes his way down the upstairs hallway.

Holy crap, Ymir was right! You step into the familiar corridor with your face aflame. 

“What is it?”

“N-nothing,” you squeak. You clear your throat. “Um, what are we doing here?”

“Cleaning, of course. What else?”

“R-right.”

“We’ll start with your room. Knowing you, it’s probably a stye by now.”

“W-wait.” This is happening too fast. “Why mine?”

“Problem?”

“N-no.”

“Then let’s get going.” He grabs a broom and a couple of rags from the supply closet and marches down the hallway. “If only I had some of those modern cleaning products,” he mumbles under his breath.

“What?”

“Never mind. Are you going to open the door or not?”

Nervously you step forward, fumbling with the key. 

Walking inside, you feel embarrassed by the mess. You haven’t made your bed and your clothes are still strewn across the floor. 

“I knew it,” he sighs. “Come on, let’s get started.” He rolls up his sleeves and thrusts a broom out towards you. 

Taking it awkwardly, you watch as he continues on as usual. Perhaps his slight touch earlier was an accident? You shake your head and try to put it out of your mind again. You can only hope he doesn’t come across anything intimate. 

“The hell is this?”

Crap, what now? You glance towards the desk where he’s casually dusting. He holds a crumbled piece of paper. 

Your eyes widen as you remember your last sketch...the one of Erwin and Levi naked in his bed.

“No, that’s personal! Don’t open it!” You launch yourself across the room.

It’s too late; however, as he unfurls the page. You can’t see his face from this angle, but his shaky hand tells you all you need to know. You’re doomed.

Chapter Text

Levi stares at the intimate sketch before him. It’s surprisingly well drawn with Erwin’s toned body and loving expression. His own appearance seems restful, something he’s not used to. Their bodies are intertwined in a warm embrace as they sleep soundly beside one another.

“Hey, no! Don’t look at that!” Nova flies towards him desperately. 

“So, this is what you think of me?” He brushes his thumb across the print.

“W-well, I just tried to sketch what I saw. N-not that I saw anything,” she waves her arms frantically. “Really, I didn’t! I guess I saw what I drew there, but it wasn’t supposed to be scandalous. Please, you have to believe that it was an accident! I don’t want to get in the way of your personal life. Really I should have thrown it away. You can give it to me and I’ll dispose of it.”

He sighs, she’s hopeless. He had a feeling something like this might happen considering the little moments she witnessed. Admittedly, he didn’t deny any claims about their relationship. Maybe he wanted to keep living in the ideal world Erwin dreamed for them. Still, he knows what he wants now more than anything. No regrets. 

“What am I going to do with you? Stupid, brat.”

“I’m sorry. Please, just spare me my humiliation,” she covers her face in embarrassment.

She’s something else. Despite fighting against me every step of the way, she’s surprisingly self-conscious at times. 

Glancing down at the page, he entertains a thought. “W-well, m-maybe you could…I don’t know…d-draw a picture of us sometime?”

“Huh?” She peeks through her fingertips.

Smoothing the page, he lays it face down on the desk. “Forget it. Get back to work, brat.”

“Wha-?”

“I said, get back to work,” he gives her a sharp glance.

She straightens up and takes the broom, quickly getting back to sweeping. “I have a name, you know.”

He continues along, cleaning as usual. He blushes as he thinks about the sketch even so. He and Erwin looked so close. After all these years, he wishes he could be that intimate with someone.

He thinks back to his switches with Nova and seeing her naked body in the mirror. His only thought was how risqué she looked and how terrifying it was that he was in a strange woman’s body. Now; however, the memory makes his heart flutter and his cheeks redden. So much has changed in a mere few weeks. 

Nova Reader, I want to find out more about you. I have a feeling our similarities extend beyond our traumatic pasts. Even though you’re troublesome and annoying, there’s just something about you. 

“What are you staring at?”

“O-oh, n-nothing,” he stammers.

She gives him a confused glance but continues on. 

As they make her bed, Levi can’t help but gaze at her from across the sheets. Her expression is focused but relaxed as she straightens and smooths them out. He notices the curve of her lips, the intention within her eyes, and the way her body moves as she adjusts her position. Her ponytail swishes from side to side as she works, leaning over the frame. 

She puts her hands on her hips and pushes a few strands of hair away from her face. “What now, Levi?”

“Captain.”

“Captain Bossy’s more like it.”

“Do you always have to be such a pain in the ass?”

“To you? Yes.”

He rolls his eyes. “Come on, let’s head to my room next.”

“Y-your room?”

“Problem?”

“N-no. Wait, I thought you weren’t going to bother me again. I don’t have to follow you all the time, right?”

He raises an eyebrow. What the hell is she talking about now? 

“It’s just…it’s just…”

“Just what?”

“Doesn’t it seem…I don’t know…private?”

“We just cleaned your room, didn’t we?”

“Y-yeah.”

“Look, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Stay here for all I care.”

“F-fine! I’ll do it since you won’t shut up about it.” She pushes past him. 

He shakes his head. She’s such a mess sometimes, in more ways than one. Still, as they walk across the hallway he grows more nervous. Maybe he should have assigned her to work with the recruits instead. 

“Nova?”

“Hm?” She turns by his door. 

“N-never mind.” He steps forward, undoing the lock and leading the way inside. 

She chuckles beside him.

“What?”

“Nothing. I’m just wondering what there is to clean?”

Is she blind? He can clearly see the dust drifting in as the sun streams through the open window. The floors are full of grime, not to mention the laundry still needs to be folded and put away. 

“Start with the dusting. I’ll put away the laundry. You can handle that much, right?”

“Hey,” she scowls. “I may be messy, but I’m not that bad.”

“Your room suggests otherwise.”

“Well it’s clean now, isn’t it?”

“Only with my help.”

“You’re so annoying!”

“Likewise, brat.”

The two turn away from each other in contempt.

Why did I have to get stuck with such a troublesome heroine? Is it too late to go back to Erwin and beg for forgiveness? Still, looking back at her now, he can’t help but admire her fiery spirit. 

He glances down at the red thread hiding behind his cravat. Despite all that’s happened, he’s somewhat grateful for this opportunity. Still, he’d rather not be bound in such a confining manner. He wants the opportunity to get to know her when both of them are in their right mind.

Despite feeling more rested with the key in his possession, he can see the fatigue is slowly draining Nova. He grips it tightly as he glances at her weary figure. If anyone is going to have the key for the upcoming mission it’s going to be her. He refuses to allow her to go into battle without it. He knows he should follow her advice and let her be, but he couldn’t bear it if she died like everyone else. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if she was sacrificed too.

“Levi?”

“Hm?” He glances up at her concerned expression. “Sorry, it’s nothing. Keep going.”

Turning back to her duties, she seems less focused somehow. She exhales heavily, leaning against the bedside table for support.

“Hey, are you alright?”

“Fine, why?”

He pauses as she glances at him through tired eyes. “Take a break, Reader. You don’t need to push yourself so hard.”

“I said I’m fine.”

“Enough, I know you’re feeling fatigued. Without the key that’s bound to happen. I would know. Just lay down and rest.”

“Here?” She glances at his bed nervously. “N-no, that’s okay. Really, I’m alright.”

“I wasn’t asking. Lay down before you collapse.”

“It’s fine. I’m not going to…not going to…” She wobbles in place, her eyes rolling back. 

“Oh for Maria’s sake,” Levi drops his broom and rushes to her side as her knees buckle. He quickly lifts her up in his arms. “Honestly, you really are hopeless.”

“Sorry,” she whispers against his chest. “That damned key…really is a pain…”

“I know.” 

Carrying her over to his bed, he lays her down gently and wraps the blankets around her.

He closes the curtains to make her more comfortable. From the shadows, he glances down at her weakened frame. He traces the red thread around his neck with his finger before removing it. He approaches her silently.

“Don’t even think about it,” she mutters through closed eyes. 

He pauses as she reaches a hand out towards him. 

“You…need it more than I do. I’m…just a pawn here.”

His eyes widen. Is that really what she thinks? He takes a deep breath and puts the thread back around his neck, sitting on the bed beside her.

“Listen, Nova. You’re far more than a pawn. Without you I…” he pauses, hearing her slow and even breaths. 

Leaning down, he gently picks up her extended hand and holds it tightly in his own. Then, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear he leans towards her, cupping her face softly. “You’re the queen. That’s why I’ll do whatever it takes to protect you.”

He stays by her side until he’s sure she’s sleeping soundly. With a soft smile, he decides to prepare some tea for when she wakes up. 

Removing his cleaning gear and donning his jacket he quietly slips out the door, stealing one last glance at her peaceful face. With a smirk, he closes the door and makes his way down the hallway. 

He wishes things could be different, but at least she’s getting the rest she needs. Maybe he’ll check on the recruits first to give her more time to relax.

Heading down the stairs towards the common area, he runs into a familiar figure.

“Levi! Have you seen Nova? I need to test some new experiments on her.”

“Shut up, Four-Eyes.”

“What’s up?”

“N-nothing.”

“Something to do with the new recruit?” They wink.

“I said shut up!”

“Okay, I get it. If you see them though, let me know. It’s annoying, but I think the next few experiments will be a little extravagant, so it’ll be better to prepare her in advance.”

“Oh?”

“Let’s just say, they might test her pain tolerance if nothing else.”

Levi’s gaze sharpens. He knows that look in their eyes. “The hell are you planning?”

“Don’t be mad, you can come too. I just need to find out if she still feels pain while connected to you. You felt whatever happened to your body when you switched back, right? I need to know if it’s the same when you’re both in one place. We’ll have to see anyway.”

Without hesitation he shoves them against the wall, pinning them by their collar. His gaze is steely as he considers their plans. He knows them far too well to just let them get away with this. No one will harm her, not on his watch. 

“Hey! What’s gotten into you?!”

“No more games, Hange. You’ll leave Nova out of whatever sick experiments you’re planning. If you need someone to test things on it’ll be me and me alone, understand?”

“F-fine,” they choke out. 

“Promise!”

“Jeez, I promise! I promise!”

Levi slowly releases them. 

They grasp their neck, coughing and trying to recover their breath. “What the hell, Levi?”

“Stay away from Nova,” he warns.

“I get it, but there’s no need for that kind of reaction. We need to know all we can about the key. It involves both of you, you know.”

Levi grits his teeth. He knows that and yet, he can’t bear to put her through the hell they undoubtedly have planned. Nova may not be a titan, but he knows Hange doesn’t exactly have a gentle touch. If pain is going to be involved in their experiments, he knows to expect the worst. He’ll do whatever it takes to reduce her chances of getting hurt, even if that means taking it all on himself.

“I’ll meet you outside in an hour,” he mumbles before trudging down the hallway.

“Thanks, Levi,” Hange sighs. “Sorry for the trouble. I know this isn’t easy for either of you.”

He continues on to relieve the recruits of their duties, before heading to the kitchen to prepare some tea. He’s not sure what Hange has planned, but he can’t help but wonder if it will affect Nova too. Considering their strange link, anything is possible. He already knows that separating each other from the key will result in their inevitable end. He’ll never forget the feeling of gasping for air, choking under an invisible force. He can only hope that Nova won’t have to endure that kind of suffering. He knows that he alone can handle Hange’s bizarre antics at any rate, and if anyone is going to be subjected to them, he will. 

As the kettle boils, he pours two cups of black tea. He knows she’d probably prefer the strange drink from her world known as coffee, but he can’t think of a proper substitute. It’ll have to do for now. 

Heading back upstairs, he walks down the hallway and inches the door open with his foot. Nova is still asleep it seems. 

Laying the mugs down on the table, he sits on the side of the bed. “Oi, brat. Wake up,” he softly shakes her shoulder. 

She doesn’t react to his touch.

He pinches his brow as memories of his past resurface. 

“Nova!”

“Hm?” She grumbles.

He breathes a sigh of relief as her eyelids flutter open. He should’ve known she’d be fine considering her heavy sleeping habits. 

“Levi?” Her cheeks redden as she rubs her eyes and sits up. “Did I fall asleep? Sorry, I didn’t mean to. I-”

“Calm down, it’s fine.”

She glances up at him, still embarrassed. 

You’d think she’d be used to waking up in my bed by now. “Here,” he retrieves a mug of tea from the bedside table. “Drink this, you’ll feel better.” 

“Oh, thanks,” she responds, surprised. 

He sips from his own mug in his usual fashion.

Glancing up from her mug, she gives him an odd look. “You never told me why you drink tea like that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, why do you hold your mug in that way?”

“Didn’t I tell you to mind your own business?”

“Oh come on, don’t leave me hanging.”

“Annoying brat.”

“Oh forget it, you’re hopeless.”

“Why can’t you just let it go?”

“Because it’s so much fun tormenting you,” she sneers.

He rolls his eyes as she stares up at him with wide expectant eyes. “Tch, damn brat. It’s not like it’s a great story anyway.”

She leans in closer. Funny, she can almost seem cute when she wants to. 

He glances up towards the ceiling, remembering that day. “It was when I was still a little kid, shortly after my mother died. I worked up enough money to buy my very first tea set. It wasn’t anything fancy in the Underground, of course. Still, it was something to call my own. I didn’t have a place to stay, but I had that tea set. Anyway, when I made my first cup the handle snapped off. My first teacup crashed to the floor. I guess, since then it’s just been a habit of mine to hold it from the top instead.”

Nova wraps her hands around her own mug with a sympathetic smile. “I guess we all have our fears.”

“Tch. Who said anything about fears?”

“It’s written all over your face, dummy,” she smirks. 

“Give it a rest.”

“Well, if you’re not afraid, then try holding your cup from the handle.”

“What?”

“Oh, come on. No big deal. I’ll even hold my cup in your fashion.” She adjusts her hand position to rest on top of the mug. She glances at Levi expectantly. 

Why is she such a damn pain? With a sigh, he moves his other hand to rest on the handle. 

“Now, let go of the top,” she encourages.

“Watch it, brat.”

Damn it, how the hell did I get roped into this? His hand shakes as he peels his fingers off the top one by one. He expects it to fall instantly. 

“Don’t spill it now,” Nova chuckles. “We’ll both take a sip on the count of three. Ready?”

“This is ridiculous.”

“Three…two…one!”

She takes a sip, attempting to drink from underneath her hand. As she does so, she spills tea down her shirt. “Ouch, hot!”

Levi’s cup spills too as he takes a shaky sip, before quickly bringing it back down on the saucer.

Glancing at the blankets, he finds they’re covered with stains from their tea. “Great, now I’ll have to do the laundry again.”

“It was only a drop or two.”

“Are we looking at the same thing?”

“I’m sure even you can ignore that little spill.”

“Why should I? A mess is a mess. I’m not sleeping in that.”

“You never sleep anyways.”

“I sleep enough, brat.”

She rolls her eyes and gets up with a casual stretch. “Well then, I should leave you to it. Hange probably wants me for one of their experiments by now.”

Levi bites his lip nervously. “No, it’s fine. I’ll handle Hange, you finish your tea.”

“Why? I thought I was useless at cleaning.”

“That’s why I didn’t ask you to clean. Just stay here and try not to cause trouble.”

She pouts before giving in. “Fine.”

At least he doesn’t have to worry about her wandering off. “By the way, feel free to use the parchment and pens for your sketches. Just don’t leave them uncapped and try to clean up after yourself. Got it?”

She rolls her eyes, but he catches a gleam of excitement in them all the same. 

He nods and heads for the door. “Should anything happen, come find me immediately. Don’t play the hero, okay?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just promise me.”

“Ok, fine. I promise,” she responds curtly. “But what’s this about?”

He leaves quickly without responding. It’s better if she doesn’t know what’s about to take place. He can’t risk her getting in the way or trying to stop him. 

Closing the door, he walks down the hallway towards the stairs. It’s time to face whatever unnerving experiments Hange has planned. So long as Nova’s safe, he’ll endure any torment. 

He heads down the stairs towards the guest bedroom. He pauses before giving a slight knock. It’s now or never.

“Erwin. I need a favor.”

Chapter Text

Levi steps into Hange’s workspace as clouds begin to pass over the darkening sky. He’s lucky there are no titans lurking around, considering their antics. It looks like a storm is brewing even so. 

“Oi! Where are you? I don’t have all day,” he grumbles. 

“Captain, sorry to keep you waiting,” Moblit emerges from the other side of the fence, attempting to put up tents in preparation for the rain.

“Out of the way,” Hange stumbles forward, nearly falling into him. “Whew, I thought I’d never get through all of that paperwork.”

“Um, you didn’t,” Moblit mutters.

“I guess you’re right,” they laugh heartily.

“Let’s get this over with, Four-Eyes.”

“Levi,” their tone grows serious. “Sorry to put you through this old pal. You have to understand that I’m just doing what’s necessary.”

“You don’t need to explain, just do it.”

“Right,” they nod to Moblit who picks up a set of documents and heads into a tent near the fence.

“Follow me.”

Stepping inside, they light a lantern to cast a warm glow over the area. The rising wind causes the flame to flicker slightly. 

“Take a seat, Levi,” Hange points to a chair at the end of a long table. 

He does so grudgingly. “You mind telling me what exactly you’re planning?”

“Moblit, get the checklist,” they hold out their hand. 

He approaches nervously with a clipboard.

“Let’s see, first up are some basic indicators: pinpricks, hot and cold stimuli, and such. Then we’ll progress to more advanced pain tests.”

Levi exhales, thinking about Nova sketching peacefully in his room. Hopefully, Erwin has the decency to follow his instruction. “Alright.”

They nod. “Get me the supplies, Moblit.”

He leaves quickly, taking the lantern with him as the first droplets begin to splatter. The tent is left in encroaching shadow. 

Hange leans against the table. “Listen, I know this isn’t easy. I’ll try not to go overboard if I can help it.”

"Don’t worry about me. So long as Nova isn’t hurt in the process it’ll be fine.”

Hange bites their lip nervously. “I’ll do my best to make this as quick as possible.”

When Moblit returns with the tools, Hange releases a breath. “Ready, Levi?”

“Come on, Four-Eyes.”

Nodding to Moblit, Hange begins their experiments. 

The first is a simple pinprick. Holding the needle to the lantern flame, they sterilize it before approaching him. 

“Here we go.”

He looks unfazed and doesn’t so much as flinch as they poke his finger, drawing a minimal amount of blood. Hange swabs it to test for any changes in his constitution.

“How did that feel? Did you experience any pain?”

“Minimal.”

“Right,” Hange responds, containing the sample. “Next is a reaction to a cold stimulus. Have you prepared the ice water, Moblit?”

“Here,” he responds, holding out a glass bowl filled with the brim with frozen shards and cold water from the stream. 

“Well Levi, if you would be so kind as to put both hands into the bowl.”

He plunges them into the frigid water without hesitation. He can feel the change in temperature on his skin, but the pain isn’t excruciating by any means. He waits calmly and pulls them out after several minutes. 

“Okay. Above-average pain tolerance, but that’s not unexpected. Next is a heat stimulus, are you ready?”

Levi nods. This is pathetic. I thought Hange would have more intensity than this. Still, he can’t help but feel a sense of relief of this is all Nova has to endure. 

Moblit presents a second bowl that’s steaming in contrast to the cold stimulus before.

“Alright, Levi. One more time,” Hange observes his every move.

He sighs and quickly plunges his palms into the hot water, feeling a sharp sting. He winces slightly at the sudden change. Once he adjusts to the temperature, he waits a few minutes before removing them.

Nova hasn’t come running out to meet me, so that’s a good sign at least.

“Alright, we’ve done basic mechanical, cold, and heat tolerance tests. Next, we’ll step things up if you’re ready.”

“Come on, Four-Eyes. How is this supposed to help us at all?” 

“We’ll see soon enough,” they comment, scanning through the checklist.

“What now?” He has a feeling the real experiment has only just begun.

Hange pauses. “Well, we’ll be sure not to incur any lasting injuries. That said, we need to instil pain strong enough to cause an effect. Basic stimuli won’t cut it considering your unique abilities. Then again, we don’t want to cause excruciating injuries either in the case of Nova’s potential involvement.”

“Hange,” Levi narrows his gaze.

“Yes, I know. Any sign of a connection between you and we’ll stop immediately.” 

They sigh, trying to decide on the next pain technique. “Most of these were used for titan experiments. You; however, are a different case altogether.”

They glance down at his feet. “Yes, that might work.”

“Um, Section Commander?”

“Yes, perfect,” they chuckle suspiciously. 

“What’s the plan, Four-Eyes?”

“Levi, take off your boots for a second. I want to check something.”

“Why?” 

Seeing the intrigued look in their eyes he sighs. They’re so annoying when they get like this. Bending down, he detaches his boots from his 3DMG and slips them off, exposing his feet. It’s then that he understands their game. His ankle is still bruised from the Female Titan’s attack.

Nova made no mention that her ankle was injured during their switches. Could that mean that she won’t feel my pain now?

Hange chuckles as they bend down, examining his foot. 

Levi rolls his eyes. “Whatever you’re planning, just do it already.”

“If you insist,” they push up their glasses. They carefully grasp his foot with a wild look in their eyes. “Here we go.”

Levi watches as Hange quickly moves it sharply to the right and left without warning. 

He winces slightly. “What are you trying to do here?”

Flexing it forward, Hange’s eyes sparkle. “It’s always fascinating how quickly you heal. You’re remarkable to be able to move a sprained foot normally after only a couple of weeks. The question is whether it’s due to your own power.”

“Focus, Four-Eyes.”

“Right. So, how’s your pain?” They continue excitedly examining his injury.

“Not unbearable,” he sighs. 

“Wow, that bad huh?” Hange releases his foot. “It’s still not enough though. We need something that’s going to at least elicit a solid reaction out of you. Well then, we’ll have to step things up even further. Hmm, let’s see…what to do.” They return to the checklist.

Moblit stands nervously, knowing their antics a little too well. 

“Ah, here we go! That might do it,” they exclaim.

“Figure something out?”

“Sorry to do this to you Levi, but it’s for the best. I’ll avoid your trigger fingers, wouldn’t want to lose those.”

“What are you going to do? Chop them off?”

“Sadly no, that would be a little too extreme I think. No, I’m simply going to break a couple of your fingers. The little ones will do nicely, won’t they? You don’t need those to fight, do you?”

“I thought you said it wouldn’t be extreme.” He rolls his eyes, there they go again with their sadistic tendencies. 

“It won’t be in the big scheme of things. Besides, I can reset it and you’ll be back to normal in no time. I doubt it’ll take even a week to heal knowing your constitution.”

“Section Commander,” Moblit glances at them nervously.

“Oh, he’ll be fine. Besides, we knew that it was likely we’d have to resort to more intense methods of pain induction.”

Levi sighs, he supposes he has no choice in the matter. He knew he’d have to succumb to more intense pain sooner or later. “Fine, then.”

“Right,” they nod, motioning to Moblit who stands at the ready. 

Hange grasps his right digit securely. “On my mark. Ready? Three…two…one!”

Levi tenses as they pull back sharply on his left finger, snapping the bone. 

“Shit,” he groans sharply as the pain scales up his wrist and intensifies further. Glancing down, it looks to be a clean break at any rate. 

Hange takes a breath before re-aligning it with a quick flick of their wrist. 

“Damn it!”

“I know this isn’t easy, just try to bear with me. Ready for the next one?”

Levi gives them a sharp look but sighs and turns away even so. 

“Right, here it comes.” They stand on the opposite side, grasping the little finger on his left. They count down from three again. They quickly snap his finger back.

There’s a sharp crack and the pain intensifies again. “Fuck, Hange! Was it really necessary to break both of them?” He winces, fighting through the pain.

They reset it quickly.

He groans as it snaps into place.

“Sorry, Levi. There’s just one more test I’ll perform.” 

“The hell are you talking about? Haven’t you done enough?”

He watches as they tape his fingers together. He hesitates to think of what could be more painful than breaking his bones. He can only hope that Erwin is keeping his promise in the meantime.

-

“Erwin, I need a favour.”

The Commander opens the door slowly. “Levi? What is it?”

The dark circles under his eyes are much more prominent now. Levi bites his lip, thinking about what his friend must be enduring considering recent events. “Sorry, I can ask someone else.”

“Levi, tell me.” The Commander repeats with a more focused tone. 

He sighs and looks back into his concerned gaze. “It’s Hange. They want me for their experiments. They’ll likely cause injury or pain, knowing them. Still, there’s no one else I trust more for this. I need to make sure Nova doesn’t get hurt in the process considering our connection. Would you look after her for the time being?” He glances down. He doesn’t expect him to say yes, not after the other night.

Erwin smiles. “Of course, I’ll take care of her.” 

“Really? But I thought…”

“Levi, we may not be romantically involved, but I still care about you. If it means your happiness and aiding in humanity’s victory, I’ll do whatever it takes. You can count on me.” He places his fist against his heart.

Levi’s expression softens. “Thanks, Erwin. If anything happens, if she feels any pain…”

“Don’t worry, you’ll be the first to know if the experiment ends up affecting her.”

He nods. “I trust you, my friend.”

-

Levi can only hope that Erwin will give him a signal if need be. He has to hold onto his trust in him. He can’t let anything derail his concentration now.

“I’m sorry, Levi. I promise after this we’ll be done.”

“Fine. Do what you will.”

Hange bites their lip in mixed concern and excitement. “Now, I’ll warn you it’ll be a little more invasive this time.”

“Whatever, just get on with it.”

A slight chuckle escapes their lips. 

“Section Commander? You’re not seriously thinking about that are you?” Moblit hovers behind them nervously. 

“This is Levi we’re talking about. Standard methods of pain are likely useless considering his high tolerance. If we really want to draw upon their connection, we need to go to extremes.”

“The hell are you plotting now?”

“We’re going to use a new contraption I’ve developed based on Nova’s depictions of electricity in her world. It’s fascinating really. Basically, we’re going to use a metal rod as a conductor and channel the lightning from the approaching storm directly into your body.” 

“Great, so you’re going to electrocute me then?”

Hange ignores him and takes a long metal rod from Moblit’s supplies.

“Section Commander, please be reasonable. We haven’t even done any trial runs yet. We have no idea how this could affect him. It could kill him if we’re not careful!”

“Sounds promising,” Levi retorts.

“We have to try, Moblit. If we don’t we may never discover the secret to their connection. Just trust me on this.”

He bites his lip but nods. “Any injuries or hesitation and we stop the test immediately. Understood?”

“Look who’s giving the orders now,” Hange smirks, adjusting their glasses. “Alright, let’s do this. Begin attaching the conductors.”

Nervously, Moblit gives in and approaches the Captain with a set of tabs and wires in hand, which he links to the rod. He removes Levi’s bindings swiftly. “Excuse me, sir. If you would be so kind as to remove your shirt, so I can stick these on? We need to have a direct connection in order for this to work.”

Rolling his eyes Levi removes his jacket, cravat, and white dress shirt. He folds them neatly, pausing on his cravat. Please, protect her mom. With any luck, Nova won’t feel a thing.

Turning back, only the key remains hanging against his bare chest. 

“Oooh, someone’s been working out,” Hange teases. 

“Lay off, Four -Eyes. Do what you need to do and let me go.”

“Fine, fine. My, the key certainly is golden. I wonder if I could take it for a quick second?” 

Levi grabs their wrist before they have a chance to touch it. “Don’t even think about it. You know the risks in tinkering with that thing.”

“Oh alright,” they pout, stepping back.

Moblit continues attaching the wires to his chest, back, limbs, and temples. He waits with a mouthguard at the ready. 

The storm continues to rage outside as they prepare the scene, finally binding Levi to the pole. Rain splatters against his head, as he sits against the rod near the entrance.

“Hange, I swear if this hurts her-”

“Yes, I know. I’d never do anything to intentionally harm, Nova. I promise. With any luck, this will only affect you. Still, we have to try either way. There’s been no sign of her so far, so that’s something at least.”

Levi bites his lip anxiously. Did I make the right decision in coming out here? What if Nova’s been feeling every sensation so far? Maybe I should have brought her out here with me. He considers how she’d probably insist on taking part in the experiments too, though. He couldn’t risk it. No, it’s better that he didn’t mention anything to her. 

“Alright, we need a signal for this one. Tap your finger three times against the arm of the chair if the pain is too extreme. Sound good?”

He nods.

Hange motions to Moblit who gives him the mouthguard and ensures he’s directly connected to the rod. Then he straps Levi into the chair again, so his movements are limited.

“Here we go. All we can do now is wait. Judging by the storm’s distance, lightning should strike at any moment. Prepare yourself.”

Levi braces the chair. Knowing Hange, the pain could be more than anticipated. Considering he’s a sitting lightning rod right now, anything is possible.

Thunder rumbles in the distance, and the rain becomes heavier.

“Alright, Moblit make sure he doesn’t bite his tongue. Here it comes.”

As lightning flashes, it hits the rod with a bang. Electricity courses down through every fibre of his being. His body tenses and his fists clench tightly. He gasps for air as the pain quickly recedes.

All too soon; however, a second strike hits the rod. This time it’s more forceful, rattling his bones and skull. He cries out against the mouthguard, biting down hard. It shakes him to his core as every cell tenses and strains. His eyes water as the pain intensifies. He resists against the restraints and blood drips down as he digs his nails into his palms. 

Images flash across his mind. One moment he’s restrained to a chair, the next his voice is shrill and shrieking against Erwin’s chest. Glancing up, his eyes widen as he sees the Commander’s concerned expression.

“I’m here. They’ll be done soon. Just try to hang on a little longer. Stay with me now.”

“Erw-ah! Y-you…promised,” he grits his teeth as a feminine voice replaces his own. 

His vision turns white and he cries out in searing agony as the pain intensifies even more than before. His back arches and his mind goes blank. All he can think about is the pain. Someone, anyone, just kill me.

He’s thrown back into the chair, gasping for breath and shaking from head to toe. 

“Levi, are you alright? Talk to me,” Hange approaches.  “I’m sorry, that was too intense wasn’t it?”

Sh-she’s in trouble. She felt everything, didn’t she? I need to get out of here, now.

He grunts harshly, resisting against the restraints with every remaining ounce of his strength until they snap free. He pulls the wires off his body quickly.

“Hey! You’re in no position to get up right now!”

He grabs Hange’s throat, still feeling the tingling of electricity coursing through his veins. “Were you in on this too? Did you know? Was that your plan all along?!”

“Captain, stop!” Moblit calls, trying to come between them. 

Levi pushes him aside easily. “Answer!”

“N-no! I don’t know what you’re talking about!” They struggle against his grip. 

He throws them against the table before stumbling back inside. How could Erwin let her suffer like that? What the hell is going on here?!

“Captain, what’s wrong? We heard screaming. Is everything okay?” Eren glances at him from across the common area. 

“Shh,” Mikasa covers his mouth. “Not now.”

A wise decision on her part. The next person who gets in my way will feel my wrath.

He approaches the guest room and kicks the door down. No sign of Erwin or Nova. 

He turns quickly, taking the stairs two at a time before heading down the hall towards the veterans’ quarters. He pauses at his own door before slamming it open.

Inside, Erwin stands casually, awaiting his approach. Nova stares ahead blankly, trembling on his bed. Her hands are blistering and two of her fingers are upright but bent at odd angles. His eyes widen and his vision turns red seeing her in such a state.

Marching over, he glances up at the Commander before throwing him against his desk, kicking him in the gut, and retrieving a knife from his belt. He slams it into the table next to his head. “I’m going to suggest you start talking.”

“Levi, I-”

“No bullshit either. What the hell were you thinking?!”

Erwin sighs, as though expecting this outcome. “Believe me, I had every intention of telling you from the moment she realized what was going on. She insisted on seeing the experiment through to the end.”

“That’s a load of crap and you know it. She wouldn’t risk her life like that. She wouldn’t throw away our future so carelessly!”

“It’s the truth, whether you choose to believe it or not.”

“Bullshit! You jackass, you didn’t even try to stop her, did you? Did you flinch when she was writhing in pain? Or did you just stand idly by telling her to fucking ‘hang on a little longer’.” 

Erwin’s eyes flicker slightly. “I’m sorry, I should have tried harder to stop the experiment. She was absolutely insistent, refusing to back down until the bitter end.”

“But she did want to back down, didn’t she? Don’t mock me, I heard her screams. I felt her pleas for the pain to stop at the very core of my being. She was in so much pain she wanted to die, Erwin. Now, look at her. You call this trying?! Why didn’t you get help sooner? You’re the fucking Commander!”

“Levi, please try to understand.”

Feeling his rage explode, he raises his fist and delivers a sharp right hook to Erwin’s jaw. 

He spits blood before turning back to Levi. “You’re right. It was my fault she ended up like this. I thought I was helping humanity by letting her remain here, but I suppose I was wrong. I’ll do whatever I can to help now, though. No regrets.”

“Get out,” he hisses, tightening his grip on Erwin’s collar.

“Levi, please I-”

“Get the fuck out of here now, shithead!” He throws him to the ground. 

Erwin grunts as he hits the floor. 

Levi retrieves his knife, shakily. No regrets? That asshole, using that phrase at a time like this.

Seeing Levi’s threatening gaze and seething rage, he stands and calmly makes his way towards the door. “I’m sorry I let you down.”

As the door shuts, Levi drops his knife and turns to Nova who’s still staring blankly at the wall. He should have seen this coming, should have known from the start. He pauses, he did see this coming. He knew what he was getting her into from the moment Hange mentioned the idea and yet, he went through with it anyway. 

How could I have been so stupid? This is all my fault. I never should have agreed to this. 

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he places his hand on Nova’s head. She makes no movements or reactions to his touch. His hand shakes, seeing her like this.

“Nova?” His voice cracks. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry. Please just come back to me. Don’t you dare leave me too.” 

He feels the key still on his bare chest. He takes it off and wraps it around Nova’s neck. You’d better do your fucking job, stupid key! Now, fix her. Give her back her strength!

Leaning down, he presses his forehead against hers. He feels the spark connect them together again as usual. The reminder of the electric shock sends a shiver down his spine, but he refuses to let go. 

“Come on,” he gathers her limp frame in his arms. “Please, Nova. You know what I've lost, so don't do this to me."

He closes his eyes, feeling her shallow shaky breaths against his chest. 

She stirs slightly in his arms and coughs. “W-where am I?”

“Nova?” He gasps, pulling back. Relief floods through his veins, seeing her weary gaze staring up at him. 

“Levi. I’m sorry…I wasn’t…strong enough,” she whispers.

He squints his eyes shut to keep from breaking down entirely.

“It’s fine. Just rest now.”

Closing her eyes, she relaxes into his arms.

As he places her back in his bed, he vows that when she comes to he’ll train her harder than anyone else. He won’t rest until he’s sure she can survive in this world...until she’s the strongest soldier alongside him. He’ll do whatever it takes to make sure she lives. It’s the only way he can atone for his actions.

Chapter Text

-Earlier that Night-

Sitting down at Levi’s desk, you think about what to sketch. With a smile, you begin drawing in the candlelight. You trace the sharpness of a jawline, then the cool intensity of a pair of eyes. There’s so much anguish, but also a sense of empathy you never knew was possible hidden behind them.

He’s been through so much. We both have, but in different ways. I never lived in poverty or fought against the titans, growing up. Compared to him my life has been a dream. 

You pause on the slight curve of his lips, gazing at the stoic face on the page. You can’t keep going like this. He’s a stubborn jackass who always finds a way to torment you, but there’s something about him that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s as though his icy persona is a perfect match for your fire. Still, you’re sure there’s no way he’d ever feel complete with you. 

Flipping over the other sketch you made, you find the image of Levi and Erwin. Things would probably be easier for them if you weren’t here in the first place. You wish you could find a way to be less of a burden, considering their obvious partnership.

Getting up, you decide it’s time to find Hange. Whatever experiments Levi’s doing with them, he shouldn’t have to go through it alone. You need to do something useful rather than just sitting here and waiting.

You walk towards the oak door and prepare to find them. As you open it; however, you find Erwin standing before you. His hand is raised as if to knock.

“Commander, sorry I didn’t see you there,” you salute.

“It’s fine,” he reassures you. “Mind if I come in?”

You nod and step aside. “Be my guest.”

He walks towards the window with his hands behind his back. He pauses as he reaches the desk, though.

“Sir?” You wonder what he’s staring at. Then you realize the parchment is still flipped over. Shit. “Please sir, don’t look at that!” Not again.

He smiles sadly. “You’re artwork is very well done. You can capture the essence of a person in a single sketch. It’s truly amazing.”

“No sir, really. I made the image of you and the Captain on a whim. Honestly, I didn’t mean any harm by it.”

He turns back to you warmly. “I know, Reader. In fact, I find it rather endearing. If only that image spoke the truth of our situation.”

“The truth?”

He sighs. “Never mind, it’s unimportant. Now, I suppose Levi told you why I’m here.”

“No?”

“I see. Well, there’s no sense in troubling you until we’re certain.”

“What do you mean?” You frown, watching as he stands by the window nonchalantly. Certain about what?

“Ouch! The hell?” You glance down at your index finger. A drop of blood spills onto the wooden floorboards. A paper-cut?

Erwin turns and quickly goes to your side. “Are you alright, Reader? Let me see.”

Before you can contemplate what just happened, pain courses through both of your hands. Why are they freezing all of a sudden? Glancing down at your palms, you find the skin is reddened and sore. 

He sighs. “I was afraid this might happen.”

“What? What do you mean? Ah!” Your hands sting sharply, freezing one moment and burning the next. “The hell?”

Erwin turns towards the door. “Let’s go. This experiment must come to an end, quickly.”

“Experiment? Erwin, tell me what’s going on. Does this pain have something to do with Levi?”

He looks at you kindly, but with a certain intensity, you can’t quite describe. “You’re sharp, Reader, but here’s no time to explain. It’s over, we need to tell Hange and the others to stop. We don’t have much time before they begin the next test.”

You glance at your wrists shakily. Test? You turn your gaze to Erwin, stubbornly. “Tell me everything, now. I won’t leave until you do.”

He glances at the door worriedly and bites his lip, but gives in with a sigh on seeing your intent gaze. “Hange’s experiment is testing whether the connection between you and Levi is still potent. During your switches, you felt each other’s pain on returning to your own bodies. They’re checking to see if that still stands. If they can figure out that much, we may be able to decipher the truth behind your connection. That said, enough is enough now. I made a promise to Levi to keep you safe and I intend to do so.”

You hold up your hand. “Wait, so if that’s true then Levi is being subjected to this pain directly? Damn it all, why didn’t he just tell me? I would have taken his place in a heartbeat.”

“Can you blame him? Don’t you think he knew that already? It’s why he opted to take your place. It’s why he’s out there right now and I’m here with you.”

You narrow your eyes. “I don’t need a babysitter. If they’re testing our connection, I’ll hold out as long as I can. They need as much information as they can get.”

“Why? That’s unnecessary. You don’t need to force yourself.”

“I’m not forcing anything. All this time, I’ve been slowing everyone down. I’ve almost gotten Levi killed during our switches. I refuse to wait by the sidelines any longer. Let me do this, Commander. Let me dedicate my heart too. I may not be strong like him, but I can do this.”

“That’s enough, Reader. You have no military training to withstand such pain, and we’ve already determined that you share a connection.”

“Erwin, I’ve survived for this long. I’ve faced the titans, albeit in Levi’s place. All I can say is that I refuse to leave empty-handed. I swear if it gets to be too much I’ll go with you. Just let me do this for him, for everyone. If this brings Hange and Levi a step closer to finding a way back to my world, I’ll do whatever it takes. Just picture it, Erwin. We could save humanity if only we could find you a way back to my world.”

He steps back, processing this information. “That’s fine, but Reader what about you? There’s no telling what experiments Hange has in store. I won’t let you suffer for something that may not even work.”

“I know them. They aren’t going to kill him, so they won’t kill me either. As I said, I’ll tell you if it’s beyond my tolerance level. Just let me try, even just for one more test.”

Erwin crosses his arms, frustrated by your stubbornness. He knows Levi would object to this wholeheartedly. On the other hand, if they can get even a single step closer to saving all of humanity, perhaps it would be worth it. 

He pauses, trying to see the situation rationally and without bias. What is the best solution here? He focuses his gaze sharply on you, knowing what has to be done. “If I see the slightest indication that you might not be able to handle the pain, we’re going down there whether you like it or not. Understood?”

You nod determinedly. Whatever happens, you refuse to sit by and let Levi endure the pain alone. You’ll do whatever it takes to help him, to help all of them. They didn’t ask for your presence here and they deserve more than what they received.

As you sit in anticipation, the next test comes fiercely and without warning. The little finger on your right-hand snaps like a twig. You cry out as it breaks and dislocates. Then, it snaps back into place with a jolt. You huddle on the ground, fighting back tears as the pain remains.

“Damn it, I should have known Hange would go to extremes,” Erwin crouches down beside you. “Come on Reader, that’s enough.” 

He attempts to pick you up, but you push him away sharply.

“No, I’ll be fine,” you gasp. “I won’t let it end here. We’re so close, I can feel it. Levi’s not giving up, so I won’t either.”

The little finger on your other hand snaps. “Fuck!” You cry out, holding your hands close to your body.

“That’s it. We’re going, now. I’ve given you a chance, but breaking your bones is not the way we’re going to solve the mystery behind your connection.”

He picks you up and throws you over his shoulder as you kick and flail against him. 

You refuse to back down, though. You won’t let it end like this. Levi’s still fighting so you will too. “I’m not done yet. I’m not!” 

As he makes his way to the door, you twist in his grip. If you’ve learned anything from your few days of military training, it’s how to fend off against an attacker.

Calming yourself, you swing your legs up and land a kick to his face. 

He stumbles back slightly with a sharp grunt. “Stop being so difficult, Reader. This is not the time.”

“Put me down, now! I’m not giving up. I may have a couple of broken fingers, but I’m not helpless!” 

He pauses as you struggle. “Why-”

Using his hesitation against him, you spin your legs to wrap around his neck. Then, pulling his head back by his hair and pressing forward, you attempt to force him to the ground. 

He struggles against you and twists to the side as you continue to yank on his hair. Turning, he throws you down on the bed, pinning your arms as you frantically try to resist. “Stop it, Reader. That’s enough. Why are you so intent on this? Can’t you understand that seeing you hurt would be even more agonizing to Levi?”

Still trying to resist, you stare up at Erwin in frustration. “I can’t sit idly by while my friends are devoured by the titans, Levi in particular. That stupid key is weighing him down, I can tell. On the battlefield, he’ll falter the way he is now. I just…I need to do this. If there’s a way I can protect him, I’ll do whatever it takes.”

 “You’re so stubborn it’s unbelievable.” He sighs and releases his grip, sitting next to you on the bed. “You know, Reader, you might be the perfect match for Humanity’s Strongest Soldier. I can see now why Levi cares for you. You’re fiercely stubborn, tough, and determined; but you also have a greater heart than anyone here.”

You sit up and turn to face him. “Come on, everyone knows that all Levi really cares about is you.”

Erwin shakes his head. “You’d be surprised. Maybe I thought that way before you came into this world, but now I know the only one for him is you. I’ve never seen him so passionate about anything before. It’s like he’s finally found something he wants to fight for. Judging by your determination it seems that you’re the same.”

Your eyes narrow. “But Erwin, aren’t you and Levi…I don’t know, close? You saw my sketch. I just drew what I saw, albeit accidentally. Honestly, I didn’t think Levi had much interest in women to begin with.”

Erwin glances sadly towards the rain-splattered window. “Levi and I have always had a complicated relationship. There was a time when we were more than friends; however, that time has long since passed.” 

“Oh?”

He smiles softly. “Levi is the kind of person who looks beyond face value and sees people as they truly are. I can tell, he sees more in you than your connection through that key. That’s why you need to stop this. He made me promise to protect you, and I swore that I would.” 

He stands and reaches his hand out towards you. “Come on.”

Your eyes widen as the truth settles in. “Erw-”

You’re cut off by a sharp electric shock that course through your veins. It only lasts a moment, but you feel your whole body tense. It takes everything for you not to bite down on your own tongue. If Erwin hadn’t been there, holding you steady, you probably would have. 

As the sensation lessens, your fingers and toes twitch slightly. “W-what was that?”

Erwin’s expression turns dark. “Hange,” he snaps. He bends down and gathers you in his arms. “We need to go, now. Shit, I wasted too much time. I should’ve ended this from the start.”

Before you can make it to the door; however, the next shock comes. 

You cry out in desperation as electricity wracks through your body in a flurry. The pain courses through every cell overriding every thought you had before this incident. All you can register is the fierce intensity as wave after wave overwhelms you.

Erwin holds you close. “Reader! Just hang in there. Damn it, there’s no time!”

Krista and Ymir run into the room. “What happened? What’s going on?”

“Tell Hange to call off the experiment, now!” He orders. “Go!”

As they run out the door, Erwin places you gently back on Levi’s bed. He stays by your side, willing you to fight through the pain. “Stay with me, Reader. Help is on the way. You’re going to be okay. Please be okay.”

You open your mouth in a silent scream, the pain growing too great. You gasp for breath, willing yourself not to pass out. “Erw-ah!”

You feel your consciousness shifting as the pain continues. One moment, you’re screaming into Erwin’s chest and the next you’re struggling against confining restraints, your voice muffled by a mouthguard. Hange and Moblit race towards you, trying to stop the experiment before it’s too late.

Then, in an instant, you’re back in Erwin’s arms. “Reader, talk to me. Are you alright? Nova, answer me!”

Your body continues to shake in the after-effects of the shock. “Levi,” you breathe.

“Nova,” he whispers. “This is all my fault. I should have acted sooner. It was my own selfishness that led to this. The idea of humanity’s survival blurred my judgment. I failed both you and Levi. I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am.”

He sits beside you for a moment, before sensing something rapidly approaching. He stands and waits calmly by the window.

The footsteps come quickly as you stare blankly ahead. There’s a crash from below.

“He’ll be here soon.”

The steps gradually become louder by the stairs and through the hallway. Levi quickly throws the door open with a bang. 

Relief floods through your veins seeing him stand before you. He’s okay. You try to reach out to him, but find that you can’t muster the strength to move an inch. 

Seeing you collapsed on his bed, shock and rage overcome his expression. The pain in his eyes is raw and unyielding. You’ve never seen him like this, not even when he talked about his cruel past. You want to tell him that Erwin tried his best despite your stubbornness, but you can’t utter a word.

You hear him threaten the Commander behind you, kicking him into the desk and slamming his knife into the table. “I’m going to suggest you start talking.”

“Levi, I-”

“No bullshit either. What the hell were you thinking?!”

“Believe me, I had every intention of telling you from the moment she realized what was going on. She insisted on seeing the experiment through to the end.”

“That’s a load of crap and you know it. She wouldn’t risk her life like that. She wouldn’t throw away our future so carelessly!”

Desperately, you want to call out to him and tell him that it really was your fault. If you had only approached him sooner, you would have been fine. It was your own stubbornness and recklessness that led to this mess. 

“It’s the truth, whether you choose to believe it or not.”

“Bullshit! You jackass, you didn’t even try to stop her, did you? Did you flinch when she was writhing in pain? Or did you just stand idly by telling her to fucking ‘hang on a little longer’.” 

“I’m sorry, I should have tried harder to stop the experiment. She was absolutely insistent, refusing to back down until the bitter end.”

Yes, that’s right. Please see reason, Levi. 

“But she did want to back down, didn’t she? Don’t mock me, I heard her screams. I felt her pleas for the pain to stop at the very core of my being. She was in so much pain she wanted to die, Erwin. Now, look at her. You call this trying?! Why didn’t you get help sooner? You’re the fucking Commander!”

Your mind reels, hearing that Levi felt your pain too. So, we switched after all. Those bindings weren’t just some freak hallucination. If only we knew more, we might be able to control these small switches.

“Levi, please try to understand.”

You hear the sound of his fist connecting with Erwin’s jaw. You’d wince if you could.

“You’re right. It was my fault she ended up like this. I thought I was helping humanity by letting her remain here, but I suppose I was wrong. I’ll do whatever I can to help now, though. No regrets.”

No regrets.  

“Get out.”

“Levi, please I-”

“Get the fuck out of here now, shithead!”

You hear a crash as Levi throws him to the ground. Getting up, Erwin makes his way to the door without another word. 

He glances towards your trembling figure. “I’m sorry I let you down,” he sighs before leaving.

No, Erwin come back! You try to cry out, but find it’s useless. You’re completely frozen.

As the door shuts, Levi turns to you. You can see the pain and regret deep within his eyes. He looks to be on the verge of tears as he gazes at your figure. If you were able to, you’d burst into tears yourself. Seeing him in agony is torture in its own right.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he places his hand on your head shakily. 

“Nova?” His voice cracks. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry. Please just come back to me. Don’t you dare leave me too.”

Levi, please don’t look at me like that. If only I could move, I’d reassure you that I’m going to be fine.

You watch as Levi takes the key off his own neck and wraps it around you instead. He pauses before leaning over your trembling frame. As he presses his forehead against yours you feel his warmth emanating through you. It’s soothing in a way, just knowing that he’s here with you.

You feel the spark ignite and jolt something within you, bringing you back to your senses. You slowly gather the strength to move your index finger.

“Come on,” he pulls you into his arms. “Please, Nova. You know what I’ve lost, so don’t do this to me.” His breath tickles your ear, sending a slight shiver down your spine.

You feel your own breaths gradually gain strength. You cough slightly, as your body adjusts to the change. “W-where am I?”

“Nova?” He gasps, pulling back. You can see the relief in his expression as his eyes widen.

“Levi. I’m sorry…I wasn’t…strong enough.”

He pauses and closes his eyes for a moment. “It’s fine. Just rest now.”

Sleep sounds good at the very least. You sink into his grasp, grateful that he’s watching over you. Next time, I’ll be stronger. I’ll make sure he never has to worry about me ever again.

Chapter Text

Slowly opening your eyes, you find yourself in Levi’s room. Your head is splitting and your muscles are stiff. What the hell happened last night? You remember the excruciating pain, Erwin by your side, and Levi holding you close. 

You wince as a sharpness rips through your hands and wrists. Raising them you find they’re wrapped tightly in bandages. So that wasn’t a dream, then?

You try to sit up, but find there’s a weight on your abdomen. Glancing down, you find Levi sleeping with his head resting on your stomach. His brow is furrowed but his breathing is steady as he rests. Was he here all night?

Lying back your memory begins filling in the gaps of the night’s events. Levi went through so much pain and anguish. Even so, you wish you had his strength. If you did, you wouldn’t be lying here in his bed.

You take a deep breath. Not anymore. I refuse to be a burden any longer.

Levi stirs underneath you. Whoops, did I wake him? He’s such a light sleeper.

Slowly opening his eyes he groans and glances at you sleepily. “Nova?”

“Levi.”

He sits up, cracking his neck and stretching slightly. “How are you feeling?”

“Sore and tired, but alright. Are you okay?” You ask, leaning against the bed frame.

“I’m fine,” he mutters, turning away from you.

You drop your gaze. “Listen, Levi, I’m sorry. I should have been stronger last night. Instead, I only caused you more trouble.”

He stares at you in surprise. “Don’t blame yourself, it had nothing to do with you. If it was anyone’s fault it was mine. I shouldn’t have engaged Hange in their stupid experiments to begin with.” 

He winces slightly on seeing your bandaged hands “I shouldn’t have trusted Erwin either. That bastard, what the hell was he thinking?”

“It wasn’t his fault. I fought tooth and nail to stay and wait it out. I didn’t give him much of a choice in the matter. I guess, I thought keeping quiet might help Hange with their experiments. By the time I decided to call a quit, it was too late. The damage had already been done.”

“He still should have gotten help by force if he had to.”

“Believe me, he tried to drag me out several times.” You scratch your neck and chuckle nervously. “I think I kicked him in the face at one point too. He’s probably black and blue by now.”

“Tch. Serves him right.”

“Levi, I thought I could save you and humanity itself from this world if we could only draw upon our connection. I told Erwin as much too. I was the one who roped him into this and planted the idea in his mind. I guess my hopes turned out to be a farce though. I dedicated my heart for nothing. You were right, I shouldn’t have played the hero.”

He takes a deep breath and reaches a hand forward, cupping your cheek. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I understand that you did what you felt was necessary. That’s all any of us can do. Just don’t be so reckless in the future. You don’t have to do everything alone. We’ll find a way back to your world together, okay?”

You nod, blushing slightly. “Together then.”

Glancing down, you find his hand is wrapped in bandages too. It’s so strange that your connection extended that far. Is it really true that you both experienced the same pain? It’s hard to believe considering how he seems perfectly fine.

“By the way, I checked with Krista, who’s been insistent on caring for you. She thinks you’ll be good as new by tomorrow.”

“Oh yeah? Good to hear.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of time.”

A bad feeling floods through your veins. “What do you mean?”

Levi sighs. “You want to get stronger, right? Well, if that’s truly the case, we need to make sure you don’t become a titan’s breakfast in the meantime.”

You gulp. “What did you have in mind?”

“From here on out, you’ll attend private lessons with me.”

“Great,” you roll your eyes teasingly. “More time with Captain Bossy.”

 “I’ll warn you now, it’ll be grueling. That said, I won’t rest until you’re stronger than anyone else here.”

“Yeah, I’m going to pass. Don’t really feel like dying today.”

“Get serious,” he quips. “This is the only way I can ensure that you’ll live to see another day. Get dressed and meet me in the forest with your 3DMG in ten.”

“Ten minutes? But that’s not enough time to get ready!”

“You’re lucky it isn’t five, brat.”

“That’s Nova to you.”

“Just do it.” He pauses on seeing your frustrated expression, though. He shifts his gaze anxiously. “I just can’t…I can’t lose you too.”

“F-fine,” you stutter, surprised by the sudden emotion behind his sullen expression. 

Returning to his usual demeanor, he storms out of the room without another word. 

You flop back on the bed, knowing you have to get stronger so as not to hold him back. Your cheeks flare red at the thought of his soft expression and the way he cupped your cheek all the same. Was Erwin right about Levi’s feelings after all?

Shaking your head, you sit up and swing your legs over the side of the bed. You need to focus on the task at hand. You’re still a little weak from last night, but you feel better with the key secured around your neck. You’re not sure how Levi’s still standing without it. It’s taking all of your energy just to pull yourself together. 

Heading for the bathroom you take the fastest shower of your life and quickly change clothes. Just doing that much helps you to feel marginally better. You tie back your wet hair and buckle into your 3DMG. It’s time to get serious. 

Stepping outside the walls of the hideout, you take in the scent of the post-rain grass. The humidity is both comforting and unsettling as you consider your new training regimen. Under Levi’s command, you’re not sure if you’ll even survive the day. That said, you understand that he’s only doing this to help you. You smile slightly at the thought. 

Considering his actions last night, you never knew he cared so much. The memory of how he held you in his arms, willing you not to leave lingers. Could he really think about you as more than a subordinate?

Glancing down at your bandaged hands, you know that you still have a long way to go if you’re planning on fighting alongside him. Your work is only just beginning.

“Nova!”

“Krista,” you watch as she runs across the training field towards you with her long blonde hair flying in the breeze.

“Are you alright, Nova? We were all so worried when we heard your screams. You should really stay in bed and rest today.” Her typically upbeat expression is laced with concern and guilt. “The Section Commander and Captain told us briefly what happened, but didn’t go into detail. I still can’t believe you were made to suffer like that. Erwin didn’t strike me as the sadistic type.”

“He’s not,” you sigh. “What happened was because of my own volition.”

She crosses her arms. “I doubt that somehow.”

“It’s true. I’m alright, really. Thanks again for helping out. Levi told me you looked after me.”

“Of course I did. I couldn’t just leave you like that. I would’ve stayed all night, only the Captain kicked me out,” she scowls. “Listen, you really shouldn’t be out and about yet. If anyone argues with you, I’ll set them straight,” she cracks her knuckles.

You chuckle slightly. Krista doesn’t seem like the threatening type somehow. “It’s fine. I'm actually training with Levi now anyway.”

“He’s making you train in this state? That jerk! I’ll have a talk with him,” she starts marching across the field. 

“Krista, wait it’s okay,” you gently grab her shoulder, admiring her courage. “I want to get stronger. I refuse to be a burden any longer.”

“But you’re not a burden, far from it.”

“She’s right, Krista dear,” Ymir slings her arm over her shoulder. “We all have to pull our own weight. Just let her be.”

“She shouldn’t have to go through all of that, Ymir. She’s not completely healed.”

“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” she rolls her eyes. “Come on, let’s get going.”

“Hey, get back here you two or Commander Erwin will be pissed!” Eren calls from across the training grounds. As he makes eye contact with you; however, he makes his way over. “Nova, are you alright? We were sorry to hear what happened.”

“It’s fine,” you mutter. “I guess Commander Erwin is taking over your group today?”

“Yeah, apparently Captain Levi demanded…I mean requested some time off. Are you joining us?”

You shake your head.

“Someone’s got a hot date with the Captain,” Ymir smirks. 

“It’s not a date!” You shoot her a fierce glance but blush slightly. 

“Anyway, I’d better get going. Tell everyone I’ll see them later. Hopefully, I’ll get a break here and there.” You have your doubts even so.

“Right, we’d better get back too. See you later!” He waves. 

Krista gives you a concerned glance while Ymir winks. They chase after Eren, heading back to their combat training. 

You take a deep breath. It’s time to face whatever hellish training Levi has planned. You shudder to think about the grueling workouts he’ll have you endure. 

Heading towards the forest, you launch yourself into the treetops. 

Landing swiftly on a nearby branch you glance around. He did say to meet him here, right? You scan the area.

Without warning, a titan dummy emerges in front of you. Shit! You fly back, hitting a tree. You pause before releasing your blades. You wince as your grip strains against your broken fingers. Damn, that hurts! Refusing to give up though, you launch forward and attempt to slice through the neck. Too shallow. Crap, I thought that was going to work.

“You’re late,” Levi stands on a branch to your left. “And it seems your reflexes are just as slow as ever.”

“Hey, you caught me off guard. How was I supposed to react?” You exclaim, landing on the opposite side.

“With quick judgment and superior instincts. Honestly, it’s a wonder you haven’t been killed yet.”

“You should’ve seen me last night,” you mutter under your breath. 

You see him furrow his brow. A hint of guilt flashes across his eyes before he resumes his usual demeanor. “There are several points we need to work on. First are the basics of 3DMG. You will study each and every technique closely and perform it flawlessly after I demonstrate it. Fail to do so, and I’ll have you studying mechanical theory and the history of the Walls well into the night.”

“Captain Bossy really is back.” You roll your eyes. 

“Get serious. Out there it’s life or death. You’ll be put in a position where no one will be around to help, likely more than once. You’ll watch the people around you get eaten alive, and you’ll hear the sounds of their organs being crushed in the titans’ jaws. You’ll witness horrors, unlike anything you’ve ever faced. That’s why I’ll push you harder than I’ve ever trained anyone. Understand?”

“I know,” you mutter. “I’ve fought the titans before, Levi. I took out at least ten before I ended up here.”

“Only because you were in my body and had my help in doing so. Now, that’s likely not the case.”

You sigh. If only you could switch on-demand here. The only way that seems to happen; however, is when you’re on death’s door.

“Fine. Show me what to do, Captain.”

He rolls his eyes, picking up on your attitude. “We’ll start with some maneuvering techniques. Keep your feet apart, knees bent, and your blades at the ready. Feel the way the pulley system works as you move. Follow me closely, and at least try to keep up.”

Before you have a chance to react he jumps out of the tree, flying through the air. He’s clearly a natural as he flips and twists, making his way through the forest with ease.

Realizing he’s getting away, you follow suit. Your wires hook on branches, and you find you have to re-adjust more often than you’d like. 

Damn, he makes it look so easy. 

Still, you’re a fast learner and pick up on his movements quickly. You remember your basic training and the days you spent on 3DMG in Levi’s body. This is nothing in comparison.

You smirk as he glances back at you. His expression is unreadable, but you get the sense that he’s at least marginally impressed that you’ve made it this far.

“See how you handle this,” he mutters before dropping close to the ground. He uses the swinging momentum of the wires to launch himself high above the trees. He hovers for a moment like a bird soaring through the air, before reattaching the cables to the branches below. He twists horizontally through the trees with agile precision before righting himself.

“Wow, beautiful,” your breath catches. You’re not sure how you can compare to that. It seems an impossible feat considering your own basic skill level. 

With a deep breath, you know you at least have to try. Swooping down you follow through, praying that the momentum will be enough to send you flying upwards. Here goes nothing.

You shut your eyes tightly as you try to propel yourself back up through the air. You peek your eyes open slightly and gasp as you realize you actually accomplished the feat. You can see the sun high above the trees, the hideout nearby and the recruits training down on the ground. It’s amazing, what a view. 

Before you can fully grasp your surroundings; however, you drop back down through the forest. Shit, how did he propel himself again? You fumble with the wires, trying to connect to a nearby branch, but miss it. You can’t stop your fall as you tumble down towards the forest floor.

“Seriously? How many times do I have to keep saving your ass?” Levi swoops down and catches you with ease.

Landing flawlessly, he sets you down on a branch. “If you can’t do this how do you expect to face them, damned brat? You need to stay focused. You’re not nearly ready for life beyond the Walls. Even with the key in your possession, you can’t compare to any of the trained soldiers.”

“Sorry,” you turn away. He’s absolutely right, you’ll get yourself killed like this. Shit, I thought I was better than this. 

“Let’s go again,” he flies back into the trees. 

Feeling a little dejected, you launch yourself after him. You need to get stronger before the next mission, otherwise, you’ll just end up getting in the way again. You're running out of time as it is.

Steeling your resolve, you fly through the trees and do whatever it takes to memorize his movements. You remember some of his techniques from your switches, including the way his body moves and adjusts as he uses the gear to its fullest extent. Flips and twists are natural to him. The biggest asset he has is his unyielding determination though. Even with all of that speed and strength, it’s his resolve that keeps him going despite the fear. There’s a reason he’s known as Humanity’s Strongest Soldier, but physical ability only covers a portion of that. 

You take a breath and calm your mind, willing yourself to remember how it felt to have his abilities and to be in his body. You listen to the rustle of the leaves, feel the wind on your back, and take in the sunlight leaking through the treetops. Every part of your surroundings is vital as you follow close behind him.

As you watch his back, you can almost see the image of yourself flying through the trees the first day you arrived in this world. It seemed so natural back then. It can be now too, I just need to focus. You concentrate hard, closing your eyes and focusing every ounce of your being on the task at hand. 

When you open them again, Levi is gone. You glance around worriedly before another titan dummy appears in your path. Steeling your resolve, you quickly assess the situation. If I were Levi what would I do? Without hesitation, you pull back into the trees and change up your grip on your swords. Then, swinging forward with a spinning motion, you place every ounce of determination you have into slicing the nape. 

You easily cut through this time and launch yourself back into the trees, ready for the next step. 

“Not bad,” a voice calls to your left. “Still, you dulled your blades. Do it again.”

Glancing down, you find they’re cracking. Too much force? You quickly switch them out and follow after Levi who’s already pushed ahead. 

Flying forward, you watch as he twists easily through the woods, swinging through the branches with ease. He seems flawless, aside from his bad attitude. 

Gritting your teeth, your determination grows. You need to show him that you can handle this training as well as any soldier. Thinking back to your friends, you know they’re putting their best foot forward too. You can’t waste time waiting for someone to save you anymore. You have to do as you said and take responsibility for your own life. Flipping your grip around your blades, you prepare for the next drill. 

Another titan dummy appears before you. You change tactics quickly, going from smooth sailing to offensive maneuvering. Using the momentum of the 3DMG, you spin yourself through the air as Levi does. You slice through the nape, using three-quarters of your strength this time. You land smoothly on a branch to your right, still in a fighting position with your blades at the ready. 

“Better,” Levi huffs, swinging onto the branch beside you. 

Your gaze is unwavering as adrenaline courses through your veins. “I can do better. One more time,” you insist.

“Take five, cadet.”

“I’m fine.” 

“Too much work will only dull your senses,” he sighs, taking a seat. He removes a jug of water from behind his cloak. “Here, you need your strength.”

“Really Levi, I can keep going.”

“Captain,” he reminds you. “Besides, I can see it in your eyes. You need to rest.”

You gaze at him for a second, but notice the sweat dripping from his brow. He’s tired too; without the key, you can only imagine his exhaustion. Giving in, you sit beside him and take the jug. The cool drink soothes your tired muscles and works its way through your body. 

You sigh, “How am I going to survive out there? I’m not like you, I’m not even like the recruits. I hardly ever went to the gym before coming here. Most times I just hung around in my room, sketching. Pretty lame, huh? Sometimes it feels like I can’t do anything right. Not in this world and not back home either.”

“Give yourself some credit,” he takes a drink. “You’re better than you realize.”

“That’s quite the compliment, coming from you.”

“Shut up.” He glances up as the sun peeks through the evergreens. “You’ve survived this long, you’ve fought hard, and you’re an incredible artist. What can’t you do is the real question?”

“I don’t know about all that. I still can’t keep up with you and I nearly died last night.”

He pinches his brow sharply at the memory. “That’s why we’re training,” he gives you a sympathetic glance. “I need you to keep pushing forward even when things seem impossible. I need you to be strong even without that key around your neck. We both have some work to do where that’s concerned.”

He stands. “Now, come on. There’s no sense in moping around. Try that technique again and then we’ll move on to knife training. You aren’t done by a long shot.”

“Oh come on, we just sat down.”

He gives you a look. 

“Fine,” you grumble. You grasp the sword handles tightly. You’re determined to sharpen your skills. You’ll be stronger next time, for sure. 

-

By the time you finish for the day, the sun is already setting. You lay on the ground staring up at the treetops as your heart races in your chest.

Levi sits beside you, out of breath but still attempting to keep up appearances. “We only have one more day before the mission.”

“I know, I know,” you grumble. You wince as your tired muscles beg for relief. “Damn it, I'm so stiff. I can hardly even move."

“I’ll say. You went non-stop for hours even with your injuries. Your stamina is impressive if nothing else.”

“Well, what can I say? I’m probably the most stubborn person you’ll ever meet when I put my mind to something.”

He dares to smirk and lightly punches your shoulder. “That’s an understatement, brat.”

“I have a name, you know,” you quip playfully.

“You mean annoying brat isn’t it? I don’t remember calling you anything else.”

“Well, you can forget about me calling you Captain either way.”

“You just did, brat,” he rolls his eyes, though they hold a hint of amusement. 

You smile and look back up towards the trees, now bathed in deep orange light. It almost looks like they’re on fire. Your expression turns grim as you ponder what your future has in store for you.

“Levi?”

“Hm?”

“Will I ever get back home?”

"I already told you we'd find a way together."

You shake your head. "Don't give me false hope. I know we're back at square one." 

He gives you a sympathetic gaze.

“If we found a way back, would you really come with me?”

He looks pained at that. “Nova, I...I guess it depends.”

"On your loyalty to the Scouts or your loyalty to Erwin?"

He sits up in surprise. Glancing down at you, his eyes reveal his true feelings. 

You keep your eyes focused on him. "I'm not blind, Levi. It's okay if you pick Erwin and the Scouts over me. Just tell me what you really want. I'm sick of this game we seem to be playing. I need to know how you truly feel before it's too late."

You wait for his answer but it doesn't come. He simply keeps looking at you with the same uncertain expression.

“We should get going,” you turn away and stand up. You begin heading back through the forest toward the hideout.

“Wait,” Levi stops you. 

You turn slightly, meeting his sympathetic gaze. 

“Levi!”

“Damn it, Four-Eyes,” he hisses.

You don’t give him a chance to continue. Pity is the last thing you want right now. It seems Erwin was wrong about Levi’s true feelings. Even so, you can feel his gaze pierce your back as you make your way through the training grounds. You resist the urge to look back. 

You wish you understood more about your connection. What is your relationship with Levi going to lead to? Will it be more of this waiting around, being helpless crap? No, you refuse to be a pawn in this sick game any longer. You can’t bear to stay here a moment longer. 

Removing a piece of parchment from your jacket pocket, you unfold it to reveal Levi’s stoic face. You trace your thumb over the curve of his lips, he’s so beautiful and he doesn’t even realize it. Still, you can’t wait forever. You tare the image in two and throw it on the ground, determined to leave the past behind you. You trudge into the dining hall, leaving him trailing behind you.

-

Levi pushes past Hange whose animatedly discussing their next experiment. He desperately wishes he could tell you everything, how he's never felt this way about anyone, how Erwin can't compare, but the right words seem to evade him. Every time he opens himself up, it feels like he loses those he cares about in the blink of an eye. He wouldn't be able to bear it if that happened to you too. Still, he knows he won't be able to live with himself if he doesn't take that next step forward either.

He's about to chase after you, but when he sees your furrowed brow and the way you rip up the parchment, he pauses. He bends down to retrieve the pieces as you continue forward. His eyes scan the finely detailed lines of his own face and the wistful look in his eyes. He glances ahead at your determined back, hair unraveling around your shoulders. 

His breath hitches as emotion swells within him. What he wouldn’t give to live a normal life with you away from all of this. Reality is cruel though, and with the mission only a day away his tensions are rising. 

He takes a deep breath and places his hand on his chest. He needs to make sure you have the key at all times, even if that means he can’t act as Humanity’s Strongest for much longer. He’ll do whatever it takes to ensure her safety. 

Chapter Text

Levi sits on the roof as the moon shines overhead. Its glow bathes him in an ominous light. The calm before the storm is ever-present, causing anxiety to swirl within him. 

He thinks back to Nova’s private lessons over the past couple of days. Her strength and quick thinking are now superior to the recruits. He’s not sure if it’s due to their shared connection or her own willpower. Either way, she’s a force to be reckoned with. 

So why am I still so worried about her? In his heart, he already knows the answer. With the next mission only a few hours away, both of their strengths will be put to the test and their weaknesses exposed. He knows all too well the potential for disaster lurking around every corner. 

He remembers the night before he lost his dear friends, Isabel and Furlan. The indigo sky loomed over them as they gazed upon the stars as well. Back then their smiles brought him out of the darkness of the Underground and into the light. Without them, he wouldn’t even be here.

He sat like this with his former Special Operations Squad too. He remembers Oluo’s imitations, always trying to be more like him, annoyingly so. Then, Eld’s calm leadership reigned the group in when they got too rowdy.

Gunther’s cooking was a menace but his confidence and closeness to animals always reminded him of Isabel in a way. Then, there was Petra. Sweet girl, she was kind and compassionate to everyone she knew but she was also tough when it mattered the most. Her smile lit up the darkness and kept them going when things seemed hopeless. 

Now Levi sits alone wondering where the light went. 

Sure he has Erwin, Hange, and the new recruits, but things are different now. Ever since Nova arrived, he’s felt his sense of control slowly slip away. As Humanity’s Strongest, he has to maintain a stoic and collected persona. Now, his identity seems to be crumbling away, his walls shattering piece by piece.

After the last experiment, in particular, he lost faith in his friends and even more in himself. He feels as though placing his trust in anyone now will only lead to more suffering. He’s tired, so tired of the unending pain and tragedy. 

The sound of footsteps snaps him out of his thoughts. He should’ve known they’d show up. 

“Back off you two. I’m not in the mood for a friendly chat.”

“Levi, please. We need to talk.” Erwin sits next to him casually. 

“It’s okay, old pal. We’re here for you.”

“I said back off, Four-Eyes.”

“Levi, please understand, we only want what’s best considering the circumstances.”

Feeling his rage and frustration swell, he grits his teeth and sends his fist flying back in Erwin’s direction.

He catches it easily, despite Levi’s struggling.

“It’s okay to feel upset. We are to blame for what happened after all,” Hange takes a seat on the other side.

“Both of us were simply acting in humanity’s best interest. We put you and Nova in danger to do so. It wasn’t fair to exploit you like that.” Erwin pauses, releasing his hold. “That said, we need to look to the future now. We can’t afford to hold back.”

“We know you care for Nova, but you’ve trained her well enough. Don’t you think it’s time to let her take responsibility for her own life? Being so protective all the time will only get you killed in the field.”

“My personal life is none of your concern, Four-Eyes.”

“Levi, we’re your comrades. After all this time, we need to be able to trust each other.”

“Trust?! Bullshit. I trusted both of you and look where it got us. Nova almost died because of the hell you put us through. I refuse to let her become a corpse on the battlefield like everyone else.”

Erwin sits with his gaze calm and steady. “I understand. I’ve sacrificed more soldiers than I can count. Their blood is on my hands alone. Your comrades, friends, and Nova’s life too; I was the one willing to risk it all each time. It hurts to see those we care about fall in battle, but it’s the life we lead. We don’t have a choice when it comes to survival.”

“This isn’t only on you, Commander. I went too far as well. Still, Levi, you can’t keep going like this,” Hange encourages. “We need to fight together now. We need Humanity’s Strongest back in action.”

“Can’t you see? I’m the only one who understands the burden she bears. I can be Humanity’s Strongest and protect her too.”

“She’s her own person, Levi. You’ve trained her hard enough. You have to trust that she’ll be alright.”

“Erwin, with all due respect, back the fuck off! You don’t have any idea how important her survival is to me. It’s not enough to say her blood is on your hands if the worst comes to pass.”

“You’re right, but it’s her decision to make. Whether she joins us on this mission or stays behind is on her.”

He bites his lip, not wanting to face reality. Despite training her and witnessing her quick improvement, he can’t bear to let her go. 

“Levi, we know that you feel each others’ pain and that this key binds you together. We’re just one step away from discovering the truth behind your switches too. While things may seem bleak, there’s still hope if we keep forging ahead.”

“So what, you’re going to treat this mission like another one of your fucking experiments? I don’t think so.” He gets up and points his blade at Hange. “You touch her and you’re dead. You hear me?”

They sigh, unfazed. “Levi, you know that was never my intention. I only want to unlock your potential. With your connection, we may have a way to change the future and save humanity.”

“Enough Hange,” Erwin indicates calmly. “We’ve given Levi enough to think about for one night. All we can do now is await Nova’s decision come morning.” 

He stands and walks across the shingles. He pauses on the edge of the roof. “Whatever happens, don’t do anything reckless, Levi. We need you…I need you to live.”

He swings down on 3DMG and heads back inside. 

Hange glances over at his stubborn grimace and cold gaze. “She’ll be fine. Even if you don’t have faith in us, have faith in her. The very fact that she’s survived this long without formal training shows just how similar she is to you.” 

Stepping back they follow after Erwin, glancing up at the roof one last time before heading inside. 

When he hears the doors close, Levi releases a sigh and glances up at the stars. He pushed Nova relentlessly over the past couple of days without giving her any indication of why he was so intent on ensuring her safety. He thought it might be better that way, making sure she didn’t have any distractions before the mission. Now; however, he has his doubts. 

From his jacket pocket, he removes the torn image of his own face. The look in his eyes conveys the emotions he locked away so long ago. It’s strange to think that someone he’s only known for a few short weeks could see him in such an intimate way. The thought scares him more than the titans themselves. 

He’s not used to feeling so uneasy. He can barely even keep his thoughts together when she’s with him. Her gentle smile, stubbornness, and compassion fill him with a warmth he can hardly begin to comprehend. She’s the sunlight in the icy cold of this dark reality. He can only hope her light will continue to shine. 

He takes in the sight of the stars one last time, remembering the night they crossed over. If he hadn’t looked up that night maybe she’d be sound asleep back in Shingeki City in her messy apartment. She might not have met him, but she’d be safe. She’d be away from the threat looming over her now, and this damned connection. 

He clutches his chest, feeling exhausted in the absence of the key. He feels weaker both physically and mentally. Still, knowing that she is up to full strength in his stead is more than enough to keep him going. Should she decide to go through with this mission, he will do whatever it takes to keep her from harm.

-

The following morning, Levi isn’t surprised when Nova’s involvement is finalized. He suspected that would be the case from the start. Still, the worried glances of Erwin and Hange are not lost on him. 

She stands tall beside the others, suited up in her 3DMG, prepared to charge into battle. There’s a fire in her eyes spurring her on and her chin is raised in stubborn confidence.

Levi walks over for one last-ditch effort to convince her not to go through with this. 

She turns and quickly ignores him before he gets the chance to approach her. He supposes he can’t blame her. Unlike the first day, they hardly talked during training yesterday. When they did, he tried everything he could to get her to back down from the fight today. Much to his dismay, she wouldn’t budge. 

There’s nothing left to do now, but make sure she doesn’t get herself killed. 

As he walks outside with the others, towards the stables, someone grabs his shoulder. He turns back sharply.

“Levi, remember what I said.”

“Back off, Erwin. I’ve made my choice.”

“I know, but don’t let it ruin you. Don’t die out there, no matter what happens.”

He shrugs him off. “I’ll do whatever the hell I want.”

Storming into the stables, he watches as Nova saddles up. She looks so strong with her green cape around her shoulders and her expression focused with resolve. 

He exhales, knowing that Erwin and Hange are right. He can’t keep coddling her. It’s just as she said that night underneath the stars, they need to take responsibility for their own lives. 

As Nova guides her horse forward, she doesn’t so much as give him a second glance. Determination swells around her in a fierce aura. His heart pounds at the sight. She’s come a long way from the timid sketch artist she used to be. By all rights she’s a trained soldier now, lacking only in experience. He wishes she could stay away from the field all the same. The world outside is far more dangerous than she realizes.

Guiding his horse out of the stables, he watches her steadily approach Krista and Ymir. The key still hangs securely around her neck. She knows better than to convince him to take it back now. She can be stubborn, but he would surely win that battle at the very least.

“Soldiers!” Erwin raises his blade. “Advance! Continue the standard formation to Trost. Wing Spotters, resume your positions, and document our route. Reader, prepare the maps.”

Nova nods in response, pushing ahead beside Mikasa and Eren, who are beside the cart in the Centre Wing. From a long tube on her back, she removes the most detailed sketch of Wall Rose and Trost that Levi’s ever seen. 

Did she do all that herself? Amazing. With what time though? He didn’t give her many breaks during the day. He can only hope she’s had enough rest as it is. 

“We should continue south towards Trost District. Considering our position, if we cut across the plains to the right, our estimated arrival time will be three hours instead of four.”

“Thank you, Reader,” Erwin keeps his gaze fixed ahead. 

Levi glances over at Nova’s focused expression, combing through her map as she rides forward. Her cartography skills are astonishing to say the least. He can only hope she’s prepared to fight just as well as she draws.

“Levi,” Hange rides beside him. “You ready? I’m positively bursting with excitement!”

 The gleam in their eyes tells him all he needs to know.

“Just three hours until we come face to face with them. I can hardly wait! How will Eren react this time? Will we finally be able to communicate with the titans? The very thought sends my heart aflutter!”

“Reign it in, Four-Eyes.”

He catches Mikasa’s sharp gaze aimed at Hange. The last thing he needs is for the Ackerman to go ape shit trying to protect Eren. Honestly, this group is such a pain to deal with. At least he can count on their experience in the field. Nova, on the other hand…

“She’ll be fine,” Hange comments casually, reading his expression. “Eyes forward, Captain.”

“Watch it,” he snarls but continues on even so. 

-

As they approach Trost, his breath hitches and his heart pounds. Just beyond this town lays their true objective. The real mission is only a few miles away. 

As usual, when they ride through the town, large groups of civilians crowd around to taunt and ridicule. 

“There goes our hard-earned tax money.”

“How much do you want to bet that none of them survive this time?”

“My guess is they’ll be back within the hour.”

“Filthy scum, what’s the point in sacrificing your lives for nothing?”

Levi rides along, used to the annoyance that is the townspeople here. “Just shut up.”

Erwin rides along without comment, his gaze focused on the Wall. Nova is just as determined behind him. 

“Hey, there they go! Mirabelle, look! They’re ready for another fight. Oh yeah, they’ll beat the titans this time for sure!” A boy calls from the sidelines, standing on a nearby carton. His sister nervously stands beside him, with eyes filled with wonder.

If only they knew the truth of what lies beyond the Walls. 

“Attention! The titans have been cleared out of the surrounding area. The Survey Corps is now approaching the gate!”

Levi glances up as Rico Brzenska gives the order, firing a green smoke signal near the entryway.

As the gate rises, Erwin takes a deep breath. The moment it’s high enough to ride through, he snaps the reigns on his horse. “The 59th Recon Mission begins now! Soldiers, advance!”

Together, they ride into the uncertain territory before them. Once a safe haven for many, it’s now overrun since the attack on Shiganshina.

As they leave the few remaining houses behind, two titans rapidly approach. “Tch. Seriously? The Garrison is falling down on the job.”

Erwin motions to the group. “Support Squad, dispatch. Remove the threat.”

Two soldiers from either flank immediately launch their 3DMG up to the rooftops as their horses ride on. Their expressions are fearful, as they know what’s about to happen. They’ve seen it all before. 

“And so it begins,” Levi exhales as their screams rip through the air. He feels their blood splatter against the back of his neck and shudders.

“Forward!” Nanaba calls. “Don’t look back!”

The recruits seem nervous but continue on.

Thankfully, the sacrifices of the Support Squad buy them enough time to carry forward without incident. 

“Soldiers, deploy long-range formation!” Erwin calls as the gates become distant and the plains extend past the horizon. 

Without hesitation, the group splits off. Had Levi not insisted, he’s sure he would have been separated from Nova. Now, he watches as she heads behind the Cart Convoy into the Standby Position. It’s the safest place to be in, considering the limited titan exposure and access to a flat working surface just ahead. He’s sure Erwin planned it that way, considering her lack of training and experience.

He follows closely behind as Mike and Henning make up the Rear Guard. He keeps a close watch in the unpredictable surroundings. 

A heavy silence falls across the group. Only the sound of hooves, birds and the occasional breeze cuts through the air. The tension is palpable, as the group lies in wait. 

As expected, the sound of the signal flares cuts through the air sharply. Red smoke rises to the right. The group adjusts accordingly, evading the threat. 

Having completed many missions himself, Levi doesn’t feel particularly fazed or terrified of the titans. He knows he has the skill to defeat any who block his path. His real concern lies with his comrades. How many will they lose today? He considers the numerous badges he’s collected over the years. He can only hope he won’t have to add too many more to his collection. 

As they pass the scattered house and abandoned village, his senses sharpen. They’re waiting for them, they always are. 

The footsteps come suddenly and without warning to their left. It’s time. 

He watches as Nova removes her blades, breathing rapidly with mixed fear and determination. He doesn’t give her a second to even contemplate killing it. There’s no need for her to risk her safety so early on.

Swooping forward, using the rooftops as leverage, he spins forward and slices the nape in one blow. Then, with ease, he swings himself back onto his horse as though nothing happened.

“I had it handled,” Nova scowls.

He shakes his head. “Eyes forward, brat. A thank you will suffice.”

She grumbles but turns ahead. 

He releases a shaky breath. That was too close. He grips the reigns tightly, willing himself not to act on impulse. He needs to keep Erwin’s formation in mind, and yet, he can’t bear to put her in harm's way. 

The Spotters warn the group from that point on of incoming attacks. Levi easily dispatches the threats bearing down on the group, while continuing to charge forward.

By the time he reaches the trees, he hates to admit that he’s growing weary. Without the key, his strength and stamina are, quite frankly, ordinary. It’s frustrating to be in such a position. Even so, looking ahead at Nova, he feels a slight sense of relief. She’s made it this far without injury at least. 

“Side Wings fall back to the trees. Center Ranks, enter the forest!” Erwin calls, riding ahead.

The gleam in Hange’s eyes grows as they prepare for the next step. Mikasa looks disgruntled but eventually allows Eren to ride into the trees while she stays behind. 

“Reader,” Erwin calls. “Chart our course and dictate the most appropriate location to begin the experiment.”

“Sir!” Nova jumps from her horse to the nearby cart and removes the maps from her back. 

Levi gazes down as she combs through the surrounding area, drawing lines and channeling all of her focus into the mission. She bites the back of a pen, deep in concentration. He wants to tell her that’s unsanitary, but there’s something sensual in the way she cocks her head to the side and considers the next phase of their journey.

He gulps, trying to keep up his stoic persona. He can’t afford to get distracted right now.

She pauses for a moment, then looks up. “If the Side Wings can control the stream of titans coming into the forest, two miles should be enough to ensure we are in a secure position.”

“Understood. Nanaba, relay the information to the recruits,” Erwin instructs. “Nifa, guide the horses away from the area. Everyone else, deploy 3DMG and prepare yourselves.”

The blonde soldier salutes and launches into the trees, while the red-haired girl begins to gather the reigns of the soldiers’ steeds.

Levi watches as Nova takes a deep breath, preparing for the fight ahead. 

Eren, in the meantime, gets into position with Hange and Moblit. The latter looks nervous as the Survey Corps prepares for the main objective of their mission.

“Fall back!” Levi calls sharply, moving higher into the trees. 

With her map in hand, Nova swings opposite him. 

Erwin fires a green signal flare from a tall branch further ahead. 

In the distance, a bolt of lightning rips through the sky threateningly. A roar cries out from the forest, causing all soldiers to cover their ears and block out the shrieking. If Levi concentrates hard enough, he can hear someone cheering as well. Damn Four-Eyes. 

“Make way, and stand back!” Erwin commands. 

Thundering footsteps emerge behind them. The soldiers hardly have time to turn around before the first giant is upon them. 

“Steady, men. Don’t provoke it,” Erwin comments. “Keep your distance.”

The sound of blades clinking and shaky breaths cause a thick tension to hang in the air. Levi simply looks forward, unfazed. It’s just one titan after all, though he suspects most are more concerned about Eren going wild. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s lost control.

Clambering forward, the black-haired 10-meter barges through the forest, naked and oblivious to the experiment at hand. Its jaws are wide open in an eery smile, ready to devour all who block its path. 

Eren steps forward to intercept it as a 15-meter titan, shaking the ground as he does. 

Nova’s eyes tremble slightly and her breath catches as the two cross paths. Her fingertips hover over the handles of her blades. Levi can’t blame her for being nervous.

Crows caw and the evergreens rustle in a moment of silence as the titans pause. The nearby soldiers hold their breath in anticipation.

Then, Eren lets out an earth-shaking roar. Levi grips the trunk of an evergreen for support, while the others attempt to cover their ears. That kid, what the hell is he thinking?

His gaze narrows as they wait for the titan’s reaction. There’s a pause before it too lets out a great cry. Eren pauses before nodding to the titan. 

Can they understand one another? Someone else seems to be wondering the same thing.

“Eren! Tell me, what did it say? Come on, out with it! I have to know! Oh right, you probably can’t talk as a titan. Just try it for me? Please!” 

“Section Commander, calm yourself,” Erwin orders with a steady tone.

“Aw, that’s no fun. We were just getting to the good part.”

“Let him continue the mission without interruption.”

“Fine,” they sigh and fly solemnly back to the treetops. 

“Section Commander, please. You need to be more careful.”

“Ah, Moblit! Did you see that? Our Eren certainly is a popular guy, isn’t he?” They cackle. “Let’s try another one. Come on, let’s go!”

“Shut up, Four-Eyes,” Levi glares at them. “Do you want to get us all killed?”

“Oops, sorry,” they swing casually on a branch with their 3DMG. 

Levi shakes his head. They’re hopeless. Still, their enthusiasm broke the tension somewhat. That’s good; everyone needs to loosen up a bit. If they’re too stiff, their senses might dull. In this line of work, the slightest hesitation can kill you.

Another set of footsteps emerges. This time, a smaller 4-meter enters the forest. 

This one seems a little difficult for Eren to converse with. Rather than pausing and unleashing a distinct call, it merely walks past him without a second thought. Eren attempts to block its path and force it to face him. 

Erwin raises his hand. “Let that one go. We’ll move on to the next one.”

Eren turns and nods, awaiting the next titan. 

Hange chuckles maniacally and scribbles notes in the meantime. “Whoops, guess that one was a swing and a miss. Oh well, what’s next?”

Levi narrows his eyes in the direction of the recruits. His skin prickles slightly in the cool breeze. The others seem none the wiser, but he can tell something’s off. He glances over at Nova who has a pen in her mouth again and is continually charting their course. 

Looking at the tree across from him, he makes eye contact with Erwin. They exchange a knowing glance. 

When the black smoke signal emerges from the edge of the forest, neither are surprised. 

“Soldiers! Halt the mission. Prepare for an attack. Eren, remain in titan form but be prepared to defend us.”

He nods, while Hange squeals in delight. 

“Section Commander, I’m counting on you, Moblit, and Levi to defend him at all costs. Mike, Gelgar, and Henning take it out. Lynne and Nifa assist. Reader, continue charting our course. Find the safest route for Eren’s retreat in the case that things go south.”

What? Shouldn’t someone be protecting Nova while she works?  

“Erwin.”

“Levi,” the Commander responds patiently, glancing ahead at the distant smoke. “We have a duty to uphold. Obey my orders.”

Levi grits his teeth. He knows that, and yet…

“Levi!”

He swings across the trees towards Nova stubbornly. His weapons are brandished daring anyone to cross him. Whether it be a soldier or titan, it doesn’t matter.

“What the hell are you doing, Levi?” Nova hisses shakily. “Get back to your station before you ruin the Commander’s plan.”

He looks to his right where Erwin is eyeing him suspiciously. He exhales and turns, letting him carry on protecting her. 

The other veterans remove their blades tensely. 

“Get ready and dedicate your hearts. Protect Eren, no matter the cost.”

The soldiers salute as they prepare for the onslaught.

There’s a thick moment of silence before it approaches. The sound of raspy breaths and blades clinking echoes through the forest. 

They hear it before it comes into view. Several earth-shaking booms erupt in the distance. Then, Nanaba and Mikasa emerge from the shadow of the forest. 

“Commander, we held it back as long as we could. It’s just too fast!”

“Understood,” Erwin responds calmly. “Stand at your assigned positions. Nanaba and Ackerman standby.” He glances at Levi, but the Captain refuses to move a muscle. 

“Levi, just go,” Nova tries to shoo him away. 

“Shh,” he hisses back. 

The rumblings grow louder as trees quake and snap in the titan’s wake. Then, it breaks through. It jumps and spins, faster than anything they’ve faced before. 

“Advance!” Erwin raises his sword. 

Mike, Gelgar, and Henning spring into action without hesitation. Nifa and Lynne stand on opposite sides, ready to provide support. 

Henning attempts to swing down and slice the nape. It’s too fast; however, and continues forward towards Eren. 

“Cocky bastard. Get back here!” Gelgar swings forward. 

Mike sniffs the air in concentration as the titan’s speed increases. He pauses for a moment, then swings in front of Eren. 

“Found you,” he slashes his blade across its face. The titan doubles back in pain. 

“Eren, Hange, Moblit. Retreat! Reader, what’s our status?”

Shakily, Nova fumbles through the maps. “Head west and circle back through the forest. Use the trees as cover, but stay close enough to the edge where you can make a quick escape if need be.”

“Understood. Go!”

They nod and begin their retreat. Hange and Moblit provide cover from behind as Eren tares through the forest. 

Levi glances back at Nova’s frightened form. She seems to be in shock, but he can still see the fire in her eyes. Whatever happens, he won’t let it die out. He keeps his eyes fixated on the giant before them, jumping and running erratically at top speed. 

Lynne and Nifa jump in and attempt to take it down as it heads in Eren’s direction. Still, it quickly evades them. 

Gripping his blades, Levi prepares to advance. This will be easy work. 

Before he can; however, Mikasa jumps in front of the titan calmly without hesitation.

“Ackerman, move!” Henning calls. 

“I won’t let you get away!” Nanaba cries, launching a surprise attack and slicing through its nape in one fell swoop. 

The titan falls to the ground with a thud. Its corpse steams and creates a thick smoke over the area.

“Honestly, I thought I was going to have to wait all day for you to take it down,” Nanaba smirks. 

“Oh please, we had it covered,” Gelgar rolls his eyes.

“You think so? I’m surprised you didn’t piss your pants.”

“Back off, Nanaba! We had it handled. Right men?”

“Right,” she crosses her arms, unconvinced. 

“Enough! We’re not out of danger yet,” Erwin calls. “Retreat for now.”

The veterans nod and gather their things, flying back towards the recruits and horses. 

Nova gathers her maps and straps them onto her back with a sigh. “Well, that was intense.”

Levi gives her a reassuring look. His eyes widen; however, as a shadow approaches behind her.“Look out!” He calls, pushing her out of the tree hurriedly. 

She swings to the side with a confused glance and lands on a nearby branch. She pauses in shock as a titan springs out from between the branches. 

“Get out of here! I’ll handle this,” he prepares his blades.

Levi sneers as the titan approaches with its limbs extended and mouth open wide. 

“Levi!”

As it attempts to devour him, he holds open its jaw with his blade. “Go, now!”

As the titan grabs Levi, he slices through its fingers. They tumble to the ground as steam erupts from the stumps. They regenerate quickly, though. 

Swinging forward, he tries to buy as much time as he can for her to escape.

He sees a slight movement out of the corner of his eyes. He turns sharply in recognition. “No, don’t do it!”

Nova smiles warmly from a safe distance before yanking the key off her neck and tossing it to him. 

He catches it quickly and attempts to rush back to her side. The titan blocks his path though. 

Quickly throwing the key around his neck, he feels a surge of energy course through his veins. 

“Damned brat. I would have been fine.”

He struggles against the titan as it continues to snap at him. 

He stops in his tracks; however, as a bright light erupts from the key. Nearby, Nova unleashes a sharp cry. 

“No, stop! Nova!” Levi calls, feeling his consciousness slip as the key continues to glow.

He struggles for a moment but finds that he’s forced back, unable to fight the connection between them. 

There’s a spark of light as the titan lunges for him, and then everything goes dark.

He groans, his head splitting, as he sits back up. He blinks his eyes open wearily. The sound of blades clinking and heavy footsteps cut through the forest. Everything feels hazy as he returns to his senses. As he takes in the sight before him, his eyes widen in shock. 

He sees himself fighting the titan ahead. Glancing down, he finds himself in Nova’s body once again. Without the key; however, he feels lethargic but determined to protect the one fighting for him now. With all of his strength, he gets to his feet. 

He winces as dizziness overwhelms him. “Nova!” He calls in her shrill, yet croaky voice.

Her movements are swift and unyielding as she dodges the titan’s attacks. She doesn’t hesitate for a single second. She uses every ounce of the strength she’s obtained from the key, her training, and his own body to take it down. 

She spins the hilts of the blades through her fingertips until her grip is just so. “Come and get it,” she grits her teeth as the titan springs at her. 

Using the techniques he drilled into her, she spins along its arm with ease. It tries to grab her, but she’s too quick. She lands each blow with force and precision, being careful not to dull the blades while still making an impact. She brings the beast to its knees. Then, flying through the air, she flips and lands one last strike on its nape with a sharp battle cry. 

The titan buckles and collapses underneath her. She points her blade at the base of its skull as it begins to disintegrate.

“Don’t mess with Humanity’s Strongest,” she gasps before stumbling off its corpse.

Swinging to the ground, Levi approaches her aggressively. “What the hell is wrong with you? What were you thinking, damned brat?!”

She chuckles, which seems odd coming from his lips. “Scold me when we’re back to normal.”

“Tch. So annoying,” he mutters.

 Before he can continue; however, he feels a strange wave of exhaustion hit, more forceful than the last. “The hell?”

“Levi?”

He tries to stay awake, but her body resists. His knees buckle underneath him as he collapses to the ground. Shadows overwhelm his vision as he stares into his own eyes. He fights to stay conscious but knows it’s impossible in his present condition.

“Levi!”

His own worried gaze stares down at him before he slips away. Damn it, I couldn’t even tell her the truth…about how I really feel…about how I…

“Levi!” 

He feels a sudden pressure on his face filling him with warmth and life. His heart flutters at the sensation. His consciousness shifts as he fights his way back to reality, feeling stronger with each passing second.

Feeling more in tune with his surroundings, his eyes drift open. He finds himself leaning over Nova who gazes up at him with a faint blush on her cheeks. His eyes widen and he pulls back in surprise. 

“N-Nova, I-I’m sorry.” He moves to get up, but she grips his arm tightly and pulls him back down.

“Don’t go, Levi,” she whispers. “Not yet.”

He sighs and looks into her tired gaze and bruised complexion.“What were you thinking? Honestly, look at you.”

She sighs and stares into his deep stormy eyes. “Isn’t it obvious? I wanted to protect you for once.”

“What, but why? I should be the one protecting you.”

“You really are dense, aren’t you?” Her cheeks redden slightly as she cautiously reaches up a hand to cup his face. “Can’t you see? I can’t stop myself from wanting to be by your side. I can’t stop myself from wanting you…no matter how hard I try not to.”

Levi’s eyes widen in recognition. “Nova.” 

He shuts his eyes tightly, thinking back to all those times he pushed her away out of a fear of losing her. What a fool he was to do so. Still, he never imagined that she would actually return his feelings. 

He considers the torn drawing and the wistful look she drew in his eyes. She knew all along, didn’t she? 

Leaning forward slightly, he brushes a tear away from her cheek with his thumb. His hair brushes against her face as he dares to get closer until her steady breaths mingle with his own. “I’m sorry, you damned brat,” he whispers against her soft lips.

“Shut up and kiss me, Levi.”

“That’s Captain to you.”

He leans closer until he seals the connection between them. He feels a spark of electricity as his rough lips meet hers. The world goes quiet as they lean into one another. For that single moment, there are no titans or soldiers or worlds, just Levi and Nova together at last. 

His desire grows as the taste of her tongue on his lips feeds into his craving. His pupils dilate as she slides her fingertips underneath his jacket, lacing them through the straps on his 3DMG. He crushes his mouth into hers while propping himself over her frame. His fingertips graze her neck and trace across her collarbone as he caresses her softly. He chases the sensation, pulling her closer against him and parting her lips with his tongue. He feels her desperate response beneath him. Her fingertips inch themselves up and lace through his hair as she pulls him closer. 

More, he wants more of this feeling. Even if they were to be eaten alive by titans right here and now, at least he’d have her.

Reality brings him back to the present, though. He pulls back, eyes lidded and breathing heavy. He glances down at Nova’s sultry frame. Her eyes are dilated and heavy with desire.

Oh, how he wishes he could take you right here on the forest floor, but this is titan territory and the others are waiting for you. He releases a sigh, willing himself to calm down. 

“Levi?”

“I-it’s fine. W-we should be going.”

Nova smirks knowingly as she sits up. “Don’t think you’re getting away from me that easily, Captain,” she smirks, grabbing his lapels and planting a tender kiss on his cheek. 

She stretches as she stands and dusts off her clothes. “We need to talk when we get back to the hideout. No more running, okay?”

“No more running,” he agrees.

Together, they deploy their 3DMG and make their way back through the trees. As they do, he can’t help but feel an inexplicable pull towards her as she flies beside him with her gentle, yet determined smile. He can’t help the soft curve that forms across his own lips. Brushing his fingers across them, he desperately wants to feel her touch, even just one more time. He wants to feel alive again in the warm embrace of his queen.

Chapter Text

As you fly through the forest, you glance at Levi’s stoic face. Nothing seems to phase him, not even the intimate moment you just shared. You stand corrected; however, when you find the slightest hint of a smile curve across his lips, so subtle that if you blinked you’d miss it. As he casually brushes his fingertips across his smooth lips, you inhale slightly. It seems so strange to think that Levi could really care for you as more than a subordinate, yet here he is letting his mask crack ever so slightly.

“Nova! Thank Maria, you’re alright! Do you know how worried we were?!” Krista flies towards you as you reach the edge of the trees.

“K-Krista,” you stammer, trying to recompose yourself. 

“Levi, where were ya?” Hange waves excitedly from a distant branch. 

He sighs, returning to his usual cold persona. “We ran into some trouble.”

“Oooh, find a nice titan for me? Let me see! What kind was it? Normal or abnormal? Give me the approximate height and weight. Any specific identifying features? Did it feel pain? Oh, I could just go see it myself I suppose.”

Levi swoops towards them. “Nova killed it. She saved me out there.” He gives you an appreciative glance. “Now let it go, Four-Eyes.”

“Seriously?” Hange turns to face you. “Impressive, my dear. Still, couldn’t you have at least captured it? I wanted to see it too,” they complain.

“Enough, Section Commander. I’m sure the Captain and our newest recruit are exhausted from the attack. Let’s get going before more arrive. We’re not out of danger yet.” Erwin nods, giving you both a knowing glance as you carry on. 

As you head to your horse; however, he stops and pulls you aside. “Reader.”

“Yes?”

“Well done, I’m impressed you managed to take down a titan on your first day, relatively speaking.”

“O-oh,” you fidget. “Levi did most of the work, really."

He smiles kindly. “Our Captain rarely praises people without a good reason. Chin-up, soldier. You’re a full-fledged member of the Survey Corps now.”

As he walks off, you feel vaguely uncertain. It feels as though you’re hiding some terrible secret, though you have a sneaking suspicion that everyone already knows how you feel about Levi. Erwin must know at the very least. You wonder how he’s taking this situation. It can’t be easy for him considering his shared history with the Captain. 

The recruits avoid your gaze as you rejoin the formation on horseback. You dare to steal a glance at Levi as he rides behind you. He only lets his gaze drift for a split second before refocusing on the road ahead. 

You can only hope he won’t avoid and evade the issue surrounding your connection when you return. Considering how you both came from different worlds, there’s a lot to discuss. You frown, Captain Levi is many things but he’s lacking in communication, least of all when it comes to matters of the heart. He’s more of a man of action than words. 

You carry on the rest of the way by Eren and Mikasa’s side, keeping your gaze fixed. You can feel the stares of the other recruits but decide to ignore them until you're back safely at the hideout. You need to think things through on your own as well.

As you enter the gate through Trost a few hours later, you keep your thoughts busy and attempt to calm your still-pounding heart.

You place a hand against your chest, trying to calm your nerves. It feels odd without the key. You thought you’d be more fatigued, but somehow you’re more energized than ever. You suppose recent events gave you an adrenaline boost where that’s concerned. 

“Hey look, some of them actually managed to come back alive this time.”

“Yeah, but they were only gone for the day.”

“Look at those injuries. You’d think they’d train harder than that.”

“It’s a waste of time and energy if you ask me.”

“Seriously, why do we even let them back in?”

“We should let the titans get rid of them next time.”

You grit your teeth as the civilians' comments continue to sting. Can’t they see you’re risking your lives out there?! You feel like sending them out on the next mission to see how they like it.

Glancing ahead at Erwin, you find he’s as calm and collected as ever. The other recruits ride along solemnly. The veterans are pretty beat up, but aside from a few broken bones and minor injuries, they’ll be okay with some rest. You are missing quite a few even so. The earlier titans took out a fair portion of the brigade on the front lines.

“Hey look, they’re back! I bet they gave the titans hell. Don’t you think so too, Mirabelle?” The boy from earlier grins and pumps his fist. 

The little girl beside him nods with a smile. 

You fight back tears at the scene. Even with all of the ridiculers and naysayers, these children still haven’t lost their faith in humanity. They still have spirit and life within them. You remember a time when you were hopeful like that too; back with your brother in Shingeki City. Those days seem so long ago now, they’re almost like a dream.

You wonder if you’ll ever return home again. Even if you do, what will become of Levi and the others? You wish you had more answers. 

Riding past the town, you make your way through the gates of Wall Rose and into the plains that will lead you back to the hideout. The overcast skies threaten rain as you continue through the grassy area. A tense mood settles over the group: relief in the majority’s survival, but frustration in the limited progress you achieved. 

Mikasa reaches out to place a hand on Eren’s shoulder, but he rides ahead. Armin gives her a sympathetic glance. 

You purse your lips in understanding. Yours isn’t the only challenging relationship within the Walls. 

Riding in silence, you reach the hideout as evening clouds loom over the horizon. The lights within the building are warm but dimmed on your return. You’re surprised anyone is left, considering the majority were on the mission. 

A bald man from the Garrison stands confidently at the entrance with a smirk on his face and a flask in his hand.

“Commander Pyxis,” Erwin says nonchalantly, approaching him. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“As calm as always, I see. When you’re ready, we need to talk in private.” He gives you a suspicious glance and takes a long drink from his flask. 

Erwin nods. “Very well, we can meet in my office. Feel free to make yourself at home, Commander. I’ll make my way in shortly.”

Pyxis narrows his gaze slightly but carries on inside. 

Levi rides past and makes his way beside Erwin. He speaks in a hushed tone, but you’re close enough to hear even so. 

“What the hell is that old bat up to now?”

“Levi, it’s fine. I can handle whatever Pyxis throws at me.”

“You know he always backs the winning side. We’re not exactly returning victorious from our missions these days. Plus, I didn’t like that look in his eyes.”

He glances back at you, but you turn away quickly.

“Erwin, I swear if you put her in harm's way again I’ll do more than knock your teeth out. Don’t forget, you still have to earn my trust. No more bullshit, got it?”

Erwin’s eyes dart swiftly to you and he smiles sympathetically. “I know, Levi. I won’t make that error again. Whatever Pyxis wants this time, I’ll ensure it doesn’t involve her to the best of my ability.”

“No, not to the best of your ability,” Levi narrows his gaze. “She won’t be involved at all, end of story. Got it? Any trouble and you go straight to me.”

“Right,” he nods and turns.

“Erwin!”

The Commander turns back with a serious but knowing gaze. The two pause in silence before breaking apart in understanding.

Nova looks at the exchange, not entirely sure what’s going on. Who is this Pyxis guy anyways? You know he’s the Commander of the Garrison and notably excessive, particularly in his drinking habits, but that’s about it. 

“Hey, Nova. Let’s go. I think Sasha’s going to pass out from hunger, soon,” Krista encourages. 

You turn back to the stables reluctantly but realize you’re famished as well. It’s time for a break after an excruciatingly long day. 

As you guide your horse inside after the others, you push your hair back with a sigh. You really need a long, hot bath too. If only you had such luxuries here. You miss being able to soak in the tub with a bath bomb, some scented candles, and Netflix at the ready. Here, you’re lucky to get a five-minute lukewarm shower before you’re called back to action. The lack of technology, the absence of a phone, and even basic appliances are a real nuisance at times. Every now and then you swear you can hear the sharp ping of your phone, only to realize it’s not at your fingertips but in another world entirely. 

“Oi, brat.”

You turn to find Levi leaning against a post. The others have already trekked back inside. Your heart pounds slightly at the mere memory of your last exchange.

“L-Levi,” you clear your throat awkwardly. 

He glances towards a crack in the ceiling, revealing the heavy ink-like sky. His eyes narrow slightly. You remember how his friends were killed on a stormy night as well, the sight must make him uneasy. 

“We should talk privately too. Meet me in the watchtower after supper.”

“A-alright,” you mumble, surprised by his direct tone. A sense of unease washes over you though, as he grits his teeth and turns away. “Levi?”

He leaves without another word, but you can tell from the subtle way he dips his head that something is weighing on his mind. Is it the presence of Commander Pyxis or something else entirely? You bite your lip in anticipation, wandering back towards the hideout in silence.

The scent is the first thing that hits you before you even enter the hideout itself. It’s familiar, something from home that warms your heart. You can almost taste the deliciousness that awaits you. As you eagerly step forward into the dining area, you find the recruits are rowdier than ever. 

You’re about to ask what’s going on when you find Sasha being held back forcefully by Connie and Jean. A large pork roast sits in the middle of the table. The steam that erupts nearly knocks you over. You salivate at the mere sight of the meat. For the past number of weeks in this world, you’ve been living as a strict vegetarian. Now you almost feel like Sasha, fighting to dig into the rich roast. You wander over towards the heavenly scent that awaits. 

“Here,” Krista smiles, handing you a plate. “You’d better grab a portion quick or the others will beat you to it.”

The veterans and other soldiers seem to be thinking the same thing as they make their way towards the table. Soon enough, you’re pushed and pulled by the crowd, fighting to get a slab. You have to push a few people out of the way to get a bite. Sasha tries to steal your portion more than once. 

“It’s meat! Real meat!” She sobs, taring into a humungous piece. 

You place the first bite into your mouth and feel a ripple of pleasure work its way through your throat and down into your stomach, tingling your senses. “So good,” you mumble. 

“Someone’s happy,” Ymir smirks devouring her own portion. 

You smile sheepishly. “It’s just been so long. I almost forgot what it tasted like. It’s funny the things you take for granted.”

Someone breaths down your soldier. You turn and nearly jump out of your seat as Sasha stares you down, inches away from your face. 

“Um, hi?” You squeak. 

“Nova,” she growls.

“Y-Yes?”

“You have meat in your world?”

“Yes?” You inch further away from her.

“Every day?”

“Just about,” you chuckle nervously.

She grabs your soldiers. “Take me to this magical land, Nova! I need to get there,” she stares you down earnestly.

“Quit it, Sasha,” Connie reigns her in. “Give her a break!”

He and Jean wrangle her away as she keeps fighting her way towards you.

You can’t help but laugh. “If we find a way back, I’ll be sure to get you all the meat you want,” you reassure her. 

“You mean it?” Her eyes sparkle as they tie her to a post, kicking a screaming.

“Promise.”

She sobs at the prospect. 

As you continue eating, you consider whether you’ll ever get home. You shake your head. No, you need to get back for their sakes, each and every one of them, not just Levi. These soldiers put their lives on the line every day. As you glance around, you see several in bandages and badly bruised. Some are even missing limbs or eyes. It’s a gruesome sight, but the recruits don’t seem fazed in the slightest. 

Glancing down at your own condition, you realize you got away lucky. There’s a bruise forming on the side of your forehead, likely a mild concussion, but other than that you’re fine. Even Levi seems to have sustained more injuries than you. You need to do your best to save them all from this cruel world.

You finish eating and carrying on with the others as the feast continues. Despite Erwin’s prior engagement, you’re surprised you Hange and Levi aren’t in the dining area. Did they have more work to do? They must be exhausted.

“Hey, you alright?” Eren asks. 

You nod. “It’s nothing.”

Before you can contemplate excusing yourself to find them, the door swings open with a bang. Levi stands with a disgruntled expression. The recruits silence themselves immediately. Hange waves but pauses on seeing Sasha restrained away from the others.

“Um, what’s going on?” They ask.

“Isn’t it obvious? The recruits are causing trouble as usual. Seriously, Pyxis has spoiled all of you rotten.” Levi marches down the stairs and stands before Connie and Jean who are still trying to hold back Sasha. “Care to explain?”

“Sorry, sir!” They salute nervously. “Sasha is…well…”

“The usual?”

“Yessir.”

He turns to the girl, weeping and struggling to break free. Stabbing a piece of meat with his fork, he brings it over and shoves it in her mouth. “Here, stop being such a pest.”

She cries tears of gratitude as he turns to the others. “Clean this mess up and go to bed.”

“Sir!”

You notice how Levi’s gaze drifts to you before he strolls back out of the room. Only Hange remains, excited to finally get a piece of pork after months of vegetable stew. You wonder if he’s had anything to eat yet. He should really take better care of himself sometimes. 

As you help the others clean up the mess they made, you sneak a plate under your arm determined to bring it to Levi once you’ve pulled yourself together. 

You head to your room first, desperate to at least change before approaching Levi. Despite being inordinately messy yourself, you still feel grimy from the day. You place the plate on the dresser before flopping down on the bed. The wave of fatigue finally catches up with you. You’re surprised you lasted this long without collapsing entirely. 

Holding your hands up, you see the dirt caked in your fingernails. Levi would be disgusted if he saw it. You chuckle to yourself at the thought. If anything, he’s fun to tease. Then there was that kiss. Your cheeks redden at the very thought. Honestly, you weren’t sure he’d have the guts to actually do it. That said, you kissed him first, albeit for different reasons. Now, you have to figure out where to go from here. 

Sitting up, you decide to bite the bullet. You head for the bathroom and shower the mud and dirt off your skin. The cool water isn’t off-putting anymore considering your switches and extended stay here. 

You shudder slightly, remembering how you switched bodies with Levi intentionally during the mission. Now that you’re growing closer, the thought sends butterflies straight to your stomach. You push the thought away as you pull yourself together. A seed of anxiety gnaws at you though, considering how Levi wanted to speak with you in private. You’re still not sure the reason, but his expression earlier was concerning, to say the least. 

Tying your hair into a loose bun, you attempt to make yourself look somewhat presentable. Sorting through the mess of clothes you’ve strewn across the floor, you find a green skirt and white dress shirt. It’s definitely more formal than you’re used to at home, but it seems to be the casual style here. This place really is from a different time altogether. 

After lacing up a pair of boots, you take a deep breath and grab the plate, before heading into the hallway.

Walking past the rows of bedrooms in the veteran’s quarters, you find a set of stairs leading up to the lookout space in the North Tower. You’re thankful you don’t need 3DMG at the very least.

As you reach the top of the spiral staircase, you find yourself in a storage space filled with old trunks, rugs, and cushions. You can tell Levi did his utmost to clean the area, as everything has its own space and there isn’t a cobweb in sight. 

He stands by the window in a simple grey shirt and brown slacks, watching as the clouds finally break and rain pours down from the heavens. The shadows cover most of his features but you can still make out the sharp curve of his jaw, the quiet intensity of his eyes, and the surprising softness of his lips. 

“Levi?” You start, breaking the silence.

He doesn’t move a muscle as you walk across the room placing the, now cold, plate on a coffee table.

“Reader.”

Your heart pounds fiercely in your chest. You’re sure he can hear it too, knowing his keen senses. 

Without the presence of a screen or glass the wind and rain push his hair forward causing it to drip slightly as he turns to face you. Even like this, he still seems so mysterious. You can’t bear to tear your eyes away from his piercing gaze. 

“We need to talk.”

You nod, expecting this. You were the one who suggested discussing your relationship on your return, after all. Still, you’re not sure if you’ll like what he has to say.

He places his hands behind his back and tilts his head up. “As you know, Commander Pyxis and Erwin are currently discussing official matters. Only…I can’t help but wonder…”

“If Erwin will tell him about our connection as well,” you fill in the gaps. “I suspected as much from your discussion earlier.”

“You don’t understand. If Pyxis were to find out, that would change everything. We wouldn’t be able to carry on as we have. It’s likely he’d exploit our connection for his personal gain. He’s not one to follow standard protocol.”

“I figured that from his excessive drinking habits and reputation.”

“He’s also cunning. Nothing slips by him undetected. Even meeting here like this is an incentive for him to investigate further. We can only hope Erwin will actually follow through this time in keeping you safe.”

“I don’t need to be protected.”

“It’s not your physical safety I’m worried about. You proved your skill on the battlefield today. No, it’s the fact that word of our connection might spread.”

“Okay, why is that such a bad thing?”

He sighs and pinches his brow. “You just don’t get it, all of the military ops are connected. With Pyxis in command, it’s hard to say whether he would bring this to the attention of the Military Police or work alongside us. We would have to bargain for his favor, which isn’t an easy feat. The Military Police are notably against us and would do whatever it takes to exploit the connection we have, even going so far as to kill us if that’s what it takes. There’s too much on the line. It’s best if no one outside the Survey Corps knows the truth.”

“So, what do we do? What are you saying?” You glance at Levi’s nervous expression and your voice cracks slightly. “Do we just end this before it goes any further?”

At that, his gaze turns soft and he approaches you. He pauses for a moment before gently cupping your cheek. He brushes his thumb across your face and glances into your eyes, nervously avoiding his. “We’re far beyond that point, damned brat.”

You dare to look into his impossibly close, stormy gaze. You feel your breath quicken as it mixes with his. “What do you suggest we do then?” You whisper. 

“We do whatever it takes to survive,” he breathes, his voice heavy with desire. He lets his thumb drift over your already waiting lips. 

He drifts his fingers down and tilts your chin up as the storm continues to rage. As lightning flashes outside, you see just how much he’s holding back. His eyes are heavy and lidded with anticipation. The vein in his throat throbs as he attempts to keep himself in check. His calm facade cracks as small raindrops from his hair splatter on your cheek like tears.

Placing a hand around your waist and the other gripping the back of your head, he loses all control. He kisses you tenderly, drifting his other hand across your face and wiping away the droplets. He loops his fingers through your hair and tugs your already-loose bun undone. As it unravels past your shoulders he pulls back slightly before deepening the kiss, desperate to have you despite the risk.

You moan slightly at his touch, feeling desire overwhelm you. “Levi,” you groan, feeling him press against your body.

“Captain,” he mumbles, lazily trailing kisses down your throat.

His hands drift down, only to rise up underneath your shirt, fingertips light but growing in anticipation. You gasp at the sensation, feeling your desperation rise. You step back, urging him to follow as you lean against the brick wall. 

Pushing you back with his hands against the stone, he gasps for breath. “I…we…”

You draw him back into the kiss by his lapels. He obliges, pulling you even closer. You feel his desire burn as he all but rips open your shirt. The buttons fly off and dance onto the floor. 

Your skin tingles as droplets of rain splatter against your bare skin. “L-Levi,” you gasp as he works his way between your breasts without hesitation. His lips are soft but his urgency leaks through as he kneads them in his palms.

A warm sensation begins pooling within you as he all but devours you. You groan and lace your fingertips through his hair as his mouth works over every inch of your skin. His lips brush against your stomach and abdomen before he continues, making way towards the folds of your skirt. On his knees, he glances up to check on you.

You nod with a hand still on his head, guiding his face between your legs. "Don't stop."

His pupils dilate and he pulls up the fabric, bunching it in his fist as he worships your skin. He places rough marks along your calves before working his way up to your thighs. 

As lightning flashes again, you see the hunger and urgency of a man possessed, but something else behind his eyes. The knowledge that if you do this, there’s no going back. One more move and you’ll find yourselves in even more danger than before. 

“Levi-”

“Shh!” He stands in a flash with one hand over your mouth. 

You jerk a little in surprise at the sudden change. His eyes are cold and dangerous as he pauses, not daring even to breathe. The sound of footsteps on the floor below recedes.

You wait for a moment until he releases your mouth and sighs, stepping back.

“Levi,” you gasp and lean against the wall, pulling the remnants of your shirt together. 

He sits on a nearby chest, pinching his brow. 

You walk over and crouch down to meet his gaze. Taking his hands in your own, you look into his dark eyes. 

“Listen to me, Levi. No one said this would be easy. I can’t count the number of times we’ve tried to avoid each other in the past few weeks. Perhaps it would be better if we did. Still, you can’t deny that like it or not we’re connected. Now, after everything we’ve been through, I’ve made my choice. So tell me, what’s yours? I need to hear you say it.”

His eyes lace with surprise and a hint of guilt. “Don’t you already know?” He presses his forehead against yours and closes his eyes. “It’s you. It’s always been you, ever since that day. The day I saw the stars cross over.”

Your heart swells at his words. “Yes, ever since the stars crossed."

Chapter Text

Levi watches from a distance as Nova talks with the recruits in the common area. Her smile is infectious as she laughs alongside them. He wishes he could go over there and join in, but knows his work isn’t finished yet. If he wants to walk confidently by her side, he needs to make sure his connection with her remains a secret from the Garrison and MP’s. It won’t be an easy task and he doubts Nova understands the full extent of what the discovery would entail, but he knows the potential for disaster lurking around every corner.

With a sigh, he turns and heads back towards the Commander’s office. 

“Levi,” a voice calls out to him in the hallway.

He shuts his eyes and furrows his brow before turning. Of course, it had to be her. “Nova.”

She simply stares at him, concern laced within her eyes. “What’s wrong?”

He bites his lip, unsure how to respond.

“Don’t say 'it’s nothing' or I’ll punch you,” she teases. “Seriously though, tell me what’s going on.” She raises her fingertips to trace across his jaw. 

If only he could continue to hold her and feel her touch at this moment. He closes his eyes and exhales before grasping her palm. “I’ll tell you everything once I’ve handled things on my end. All you need to do is stay alive, understand?”

She nods but an edge of disappointment trails across her expression.

He rolls his eyes and quickly glances around the hallway to make sure no one is looking. Then, tilting her chin with his thumb, he kisses her softly.

Her face turns a bright shade of red and a smile creeps across her face. 

“We’ll talk later,” he reassures her, running his fingertips through the loose strands of her hair. 

He can feel her spirits lift behind him as he walks back towards Erwin’s office. 

He bites his lip, remembering how he couldn’t control himself when they returned from their mission. That evening, he felt every inch of her soft skin and kissed her body as though she were the last person on Earth. He wanted…no, he needed every part of her, and she needed him too. Their bond, while fraught with difficulties, sustained them at that moment. He even went so far as to tell her his choice, that she was all he ever needed in this life. 

He clutches his jacket pocket where the badges of Isabel and Farlan reside. Telling her his feelings was dangerous. The last time he did so, he lost the very people that were his reason for living. Closing his heart off afterward seemed to be the best course of action. Now; however, everything has changed. Nova makes him feel different than anyone else. With her around, he almost feels a sense of hope again. 

Standing before Erwin’s office, he takes a deep breath. It’s time to shut down his emotions again. He needs to think clearly in order to make rational decisions with his comrades. 

Opening the large oak door, he finds Erwin and Hange already waiting in earnest. The paisley rug, expansive desk, and large window portray an air of superiority only a Commander could provide. The bookshelves on either wall are stocked with political texts and documents in an orderly fashion. 

“Levi,” Erwin begins.

“Commander,” he crosses his arms. 

Erwin trails his fingers over a large hardcover entitled, The History of the Walls and its People. “Let’s begin.”

“Oooh, can we start with my latest finding?” Hange interrupts, eagerly adjusting their glasses. 

Erwin looks like he might argue, but gives in. “Very well, Section Commander.”

“Oh, goodie!” They exclaim. “Let’s begin with the first discovery of the sun’s trajectory and how that affects titans' behaviour, before discussing the pattern and charting of stars.”

“Get to the point, Four-Eyes. I don’t have time for your nonsense.”

Hange pouts. “Fine, but you’ll be missing all of the little details that lead up to the intricacies of space and time itself.”

“Hange,” Erwin gives her a look.

“Oh fine, very well,” They stand and make their way over to a map and drawing on the coffee table. “Examine the following depictions as created by our dear Nova Reader.”

Levi crosses his arms and makes his way over beside them. 

“I’ve been working with our newest recruit to chart the timeline, planetary alignment, and celestial mapping from the time you first switched to the present day. We know already that you both saw the stars collide in your individual worlds. Turns out both of you saw the stars at the same time and on the same date too.”

“Your point?”

“When did you get that key?”

Levi glances down at the golden object against his chest, hidden from outside view. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Just tell me."

He rolls his eyes. “When we switched.”

“Right, but Nova drew this image before you even saw the stars.” They hold up a rough sketch of a key.

“How did you get that? I thought her journal was still in her world.”

Hange shakes their head. “This sketch was something she kept even closer than the technology she talked about. You may not have realized it, but this image was in her pocket on her arrival.”

“So? What does that have to do with anything?”

Hange grumbles in frustration. “Don’t you see, Levi? Your connection began before you saw the stars.”

Levi ponders this. “So, you’re saying we’ve been connected for longer than either of us realized?”

“Exactly! It wasn’t just written in the stars, there’s something far deeper at play.” Hange pauses and walks to the window. “You said you had dreams of her before she arrived in person, right? Aside from your switches, of course.”

Levi thinks back, those visions seem so long ago now. “Yes.”

“And in those dreams, what happened?”

“I don’t know, I saw two doors in this white space and then the ground opened up and swallowed Nova,” he scowls. “This is ridiculous. It was just a dream Hange, get serious.”

“I am,” they place their thumb against their lip in deep concentration. “Was the key in these dreams?”

“Sure.”

“Levi,” Erwin glances at him. “This is important.” 

He sighs and glances back at Hange. “In the dreams, I gave Nova the key before she fell. Each time we switched our roles would change in the giving and receiving of it.”

“I see. Now, you mentioned the two doors as well. Did you go through one of them?”

Levi pauses and nods. “Whenever we switched, I’d go through her door and when we returned to our bodies, it was the other way around.”

“Hm…and we know you switch when in peril or danger.” Their eyes suddenly light up and they grab Levi’s shoulders. “By the Walls, I’ve just realized something!” 

“Get off of me,” he complains. 

“Explain, Section Commander.”

“Right,” they step back with an eery gleam in their eyes. “It’s so simple, why didn’t I see it before?!” 

“Tell us, for Maria’s sake,” Levi rolls his eyes. 

Frantically, Hange reaches for a pen and paper and begins scribbling urgently. “Those weren’t only dreams you were having.”

“What do you mean?”

“Consider this diagram,” they refer to their rough sketch. “On either side here, you both were living individual lives. Nova was in Shingeki City and you were within the Walls of our world. The colliding stars acted as a catalyst, here,” they draw two lines branching from two stick figures towards the top of the page. “This event wasn’t the first time you were connected, though. It merely sparked a cascade of events.”

“You’re not making any sense, Four-Eyes.”

They flip over the page. “Okay, consider how a faucet works then. If you turn the tap a little, you’ll get single droplets in a slow stream. If you turn it all the way forward; however, the water will gush out,” they sketch the slow versus quick stream. “Your connection with Nova up until the moment you saw the stars was much like the slow drip of a tap, open only partially. It may have resulted in Nova drawing the key without knowing where it came from, or even a shared moment where both of you lost someone dear to you. The colliding constellations; however, sparked the rapid cascade. All of a sudden, without warning, your worlds merged. The only separation between the two now is the void you described from your dream. It’s the place where the lines between fiction and reality blur.”

Levi stands frozen as he considers this prospect. Nova and he were connected even before their initial switch?

“What does that mean for us now?” 

Erwin steps in with his hands confidently behind his back. “It means, we have a way to escape this world. All we need to do is see if we can find a way into this white void you described. We already performed several tests regarding your connection to the key, but now we have a direct lead. The fact that you switch bodies when in peril is the first step.”

Levi narrows his eyes. “Erwin, don’t forget our deal.”

“Yes, I quite understand,” he nods, unfazed. “The deeper we investigate, the more likely it is that Pyxis will discover your secret too. The only choice we have is to solve this mystery quickly and decisively.”

“And how do we do that?”

“By finding other ways to test your connection,” Erwin pauses on seeing Levi’s icy glare. “Without harming either of you, of course.” He bites his lip. “There must be another way.”

“The next time you switch the key with her, come to me,” Hange indicates, eyes still full of excitement and wonder. Levi steps back but they shake their head. “I merely want to observe the connection between you, nothing more.”

He sighs. “I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

“Not if we want to save both you two and humanity itself. This could be huge, Levi, even more so than the secret behind the titans. A way to bridge worlds together, can you imagine?”

Levi glances down at the ornate rug. He should be curious and interested in all of this, but somehow he’s more concerned with Nova’s safety than humanity’s. 

“Levi,” Erwin pauses, glancing at Hange.

They look between the two men before chuckling nervously. “Oh, you want a private little chat, don’t you? My bad, I’ll see myself out. Toodles, you two!” They snicker before waving their goodbye. 

“Good grief, they’re annoying.”

“Maybe so, but they have a point. We need to investigate the possibilities as much as possible before Pyxis and the others find out.”

“Any news on that front?”

“I told the Commander the other day that Nova was a mere new addition to the team and nothing more, but you know him. He’s cunning if nothing else. I get the sense he already knows something and is feigning ignorance until the moment suits him.”

“That old bastard. What the hell is he plotting?”

“Well, we can be rest assured that unless he plans a surprise visit to catch us off guard, he won’t return until next month. That said, there will be plenty of meetings in the meantime involving him at the headquarters in Trost. We’ll have to play our cards right if we want to continue this project.”

“I see, so we’ll have to lay low until then. I assume you’d rather I separate from Nova to keep suspicion and leaks from arising within the Scouts?”

Erwin looks at him sympathetically. “Levi-”

“Don’t patronize me, Erwin. Just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it. I trust your judgment after all.”

“I’m not trying to patronize you,” he sighs. “I don’t wish to keep you apart. We’re well beyond that point, I would say.”

“Tch, you’re telling me.”

Erwin purses his lips, knowing the next step, no matter how dangerous it might be. “That said, I’m assigning you both a mission.”

“What?”

“A trip to Trost. You’ll prove to Pyxis that you’re not directly linked.”

“Are you out of your mind?! This is Pyxis we’re talking about, not some ignorant MP. He’ll see through us right away.”

“There’s no other option. We need to keep an eye on the Commander, Garrison, and MP’s without arousing suspicion. It won’t be an easy task, but it’ll buy us some time at the very least. It’s better to have him lean towards our side. We need control and stability if we’re to manage this situation. By convincing him of your Captain/Subordinate relationship, it’s possible that he’ll let us continue as usual. Even if he remains unconvinced, there are other opportunities for connection such as Premier Zackly.”

“You’re insane.”

“Maybe. Still, this is the only choice we have to garner support.”

Levi turns and considers his and Nova’s position. At least he can protect her if she’s nearby. Still, proving they aren’t connected won’t be easy, particularly when it comes to the Commander of the Garrison. 

“Fine, but I’ll confirm with Nova first. If she deems it too dangerous, we won’t go ahead with it. Understand?”

Erwin’s eyes wrinkle in contentment. “Very well.”

Leaving the Commander’s study, Levi wonders if he made the right choice. Either way, he’ll protect her this time. He’ll make sure their secret is kept out of the Garrison’s watchful eye. All the same, the prospect of traveling together with Nova is both relieving and troubling. Will their union result in joy or tragedy? Only time will tell.

Chapter Text

Glancing in the mirror, you prepare yourself for the coming mission. Convincing Commander Pyxis that you don’t share a bond with Levi seems almost impossible at this point. You trust Erwin’s decision though, you don't have any other choice in the matter.

There’s a slight knock at your door, breaking you from your thoughts.

“Who is it?”

“Krista.”

“Come in.”

The blonde recruit enters your room cautiously with a bright yet concerned gaze. 

Walking out to greet her, you sit down by the window. “What’s up?”

“I heard that you’re leaving with the Captain for a few days.”

You nod, “Yeah, it should be interesting if nothing else.”

“But won’t it be dangerous? Perhaps you should think about it a little more. If Pyxis finds out-”

“I know,” you sigh. “But this is what we have to do. It’s the only way to save everyone within the Walls. We have to try at least.”

“Isn’t there another way? Don’t forget what happened the last time you tested your connection.”

“It’ll be fine, Krista,” you take her hands. “There’s no physical experiment this time. Besides, Levi will be right by my side the whole way through. Even if we have to keep up a professional appearance in front of the Commander, I think we can handle it.”

She bites her lip but nods. “Well, write to me if you need anything, okay? Ymir and I will ride to Trost against orders if that’s what it takes.”

You chuckle slightly. “That won’t be necessary, but thank you.”

“Well, if you’re sure.”

“I am.”

She steps back and heads for the door. “Oh, and congratulations on the promotion by the way. I think you’re the only soldier besides Levi who’s risen through the ranks so quickly.”

You smile slightly, adjusting a new pin on your lapel with the Wings of Freedom. 

“See you later, Nova.”

You inhale as she shuts the door behind her. What a strange twenty-four hours it’s been. Even so, your work is only just beginning.

After fixing your uniform and donning your 3DMG, you prepare to leave the hideout alongside your Captain. 

“Good luck, Reader,” Erwin pats your shoulder in the front hall. 

“Ma’am!” The recruits salute as you leave and head for the stables.

The attention is a little embarrassing and pressuring, but you suppose one gets used to that sort of thing as a high-ranking official. 

“Ready?” Levi nods, already astride his horse in the fields. 

You smirk. That’s right, it doesn’t matter what your status is. The fact is that you are now professionally obligated to stay by Levi’s side. Together, nothing can stop you. 

Guiding your horse out of the stables, you take one last look at the hideout. Erwin and Hange salute from the entryway.

“Dedicate your hearts,” Erwin raises his chin and stands tall.

You nod. “We will.”

“Tch.” Levi rides ahead without another word. 

“See ya,” you call before racing after him. 

The sun rises over the distant plains towards Wall Rose ahead. You contemplate reaching out to Levi as you ride beside him, but hold yourself back. After yesterday, you want to be certain that you are upholding the utmost discretion as you ride into town. There is no room for error on this journey. That said, you’re not sure how long you can hold back either. 

As Levi purses his lips in silence, you suppose he’s considering the same dilemma. 

Glancing up towards the sky, you think about the previous evening’s events. 

-

“Hey,” you grab onto Levi’s sleeve as he leaves Erwin’s office. “What’s up?”

He gives you a sympathetic gaze. “The Commander is being a pain in my ass is what’s up.”

“Literally or figuratively?” You smirk.

“What do you think, dummy? Honestly, I told you already that I choose you.” He pats your head and ruffles your loose ponytail.

“Hey, stop that. I was only teasing. What can I say? It’s fun to get a rise out of you at any rate.”

He raises an eyebrow before turning his gaze to the hall window. “Things are changing quickly, Nova. We have to prepare ourselves in case the worst happens.”

“What do you mean?”

“You think this world is only perilous because of the titans, right? That’s a dangerous way of thinking that could get you killed.”

You bite your lip. After Levi’s concern regarding Pyxis and his own impulsivity lately, you suspected something larger was at play. “Tell me what’s going on then. I’ll do whatever it takes to protect you and the Survey Corps.”

He turns to you, his eyes filled with inescapable sadness. You can tell he’s doing everything just to keep it together. 

“Levi?”

“Let’s talk in my office.” He strolls past you without another word. 

You follow close behind, albeit warily. 

He opens the door for you and you stroll in cautiously. Closing it, he releases a breath while leaning against the frame. 

The rustic oak reminds you of the dreams you had of this very door, though you suppose they weren’t dreams after all. No, all this time your switches have been quite real. The thought sends a prickle down your spine. 

“Levi, I-”

He holds a hand up to stop you. “Do you want to know why I did my best to disregard you when we first met?”

His question catches you off guard. You stumble through your answer, trying to put the pieces together as you talk. “I don’t know, I guess it was easier to keep your distance considering your comrades and past. Pretending our connection was merely a dream was a simpler way to carry on. Perhaps, you still harbored feelings for Erwin too.”

He shakes his head and glances up at the ceiling as if he can reach through the cracks and touch the stars themselves. “You’re not wrong, but you also don’t know the whole truth. In reality, I knew from the moment I first laid eyes on you, during our very first switch…I knew then that I couldn’t live without you. That thought terrifies me. I’ve never…never been so helpless or vulnerable.”

You stare at him in surprise. He’s not usually so vocal or emotional, yet here he is bearing his soul. You can see the mixed emotions swirling within his stormy eyes. His eyes always give away his true feelings. 

“Levi,” you walk over and press your forehead against his. “I feel the same. It’s always been you; wherever we are it will always be you. Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.”

He pauses for a moment, feeling your warmth. He takes a cleansing breath before pulling back slightly. “It’s for that reason that you deserve to know what’s really going on. I need you to know how I feel before I tell you Hange’s news and Erwin’s plan.”

“Levi,” you place your palm against his cheek. He grasps it tightly before continuing. 

He starts with Hange’s discussion about your shared connection, the reality of your dreams, and the possibility of escape. 

“So, it wasn’t just the stars colliding that sparked our switches and my coming here? How long have you known?”

Levi pauses. “Technically, I only found out an hour ago. That said, looking back on it, I’ve probably known for a while now. Every now and then, visions will seep into my mind. I suppose I was too distracted by the titans to realize the dreams of another world were actually memories of yours.”

You bite your lip. You can’t say you weren’t expecting this. Looking back on it, you’d had dreams of this world too, or rather a desire to get to the plains beyond Shingeki City. You always wished to see the sunset beyond fields and forests. Now that you’re here, it’s familiar yet eerie in a way. The reality that you’re still caged in is ever-present. 

You sense that Levi feels the same. Although there are no titans in your world back home, you still have responsibilities and things that hold you back within the walls of the city. You’ve seen things that are cruel and gruesome yourself, none the least is your brother’s death. You shudder at the thought.

“What else, did Hange say?”

He turns back to you after surmising that you’ve processed the information. “The void,” he begins. “Do you remember the white void and the doors?”

You pause and nod. “I assumed they were just dreams. So, you saw them too?”

“According to Hange, we were actually caught between worlds; yours and mine. If we could just get back there, we might be able to find a way to bring everyone to your world.”

You glance down. Everyone? Really? It seems like a pipe dream. Your memories are foggy without the key, but you vaguely remember reaching out for Levi as the key dangled between you. Could that really have happened? 

Looking at Levi now, his expression is deadly serious and filled with worry.

You realize you don’t have time to keep second-guessing and theorizing though. “Alright, what happened next?”

“After Hange explained how the stars acted as a catalyst for our connection, I had a little discussion with Erwin.”

“Oh?”

“It seems that Pyxis is in the dark for now, but that likely won’t hold for long. We need a plan to keep him in our good graces. If things go awry it would spell trouble for the entire Survey Corps. Keeping a secret this big could very well be seen as treason. Thus, Erwin wants us to jump straight into the flames and convince him our relationship is strictly professional.”

“Wait, what? Shouldn’t we avoid him?”

“Tch. You’re telling me. I told the Commander his plan was a shit storm, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Apparently, he thinks this is the only way we can distract him long enough to discover the mystery behind the key and our connection.”

“So, Pyxis is going to come here for that?” You scratch your head.

“No, Erwin may be reckless but he isn’t stupid. He plans on sending us to Trost to meet him instead. Apparently, Hange is close to a breakthrough, so we’ll only need to stall for a few days.”

You sit back against the desk and take in all of this information. It seems unreal to begin with. How will you manage to convince the Commander of the Garrison that you don’t harbor any feelings for your Captain? Especially when it’s obvious to everyone here that you’re involved, at least to some extent. 

“Hey, we’ll figure out a way to make this work.” Levi tilts your chin up and kisses you softly.

You relish in the feeling, but somehow become even more concerned considering your position. How on Earth are you going to pull this off?

Silencing your racing mind, Levi pulls you closer and kisses you tenderly. You sink into the feeling, wrapped in his warm embrace. 

As he pulls back, he gently tucks a lock of hair behind your ear. “We’ll figure this out together,” he repeats. 

You smile as he makes his way towards the door, comforted in the thought that he will be forever at your side.

-

The following day, you make your way towards Erwin's office to discuss the details of your mission.

“Come on, Reader," Levi rolls his eyes, strolling by your side. "After we get this over with, we still have some last-minute cleaning to take care of.”

“Cleaning?”

“Did you really think I’d leave without making sure your room was tidied up?”

“Who says it’s not tidy?”

He raises an eyebrow.

Fair enough. 

Making your way behind him, you follow him into the large office space. Erwin is waiting beside Hange in militant attire for your arrival. 

“Greetings to you both, please sit.”

You take a seat in one of the leather-bound chairs behind his large desk.

“I assume Levi informed you of our discussion yesterday.”

“Yes.”

“Isn’t it fascinating?!” Hange squeals. 

Erwin raises a hand to silence them for the time being. 

“So, you understand the current circumstances with which we find ourselves?”

You nod in response.

“Good, in that case, we can begin moving ahead with the plan.”

“Yes!” Hange jumps up. “Oh, Reader I’ve been dying to see what will happen when you exchange the key. We’ve seen so much, but this is something I just can’t wait for any longer.”

You glance nervously at Levi who sighs in indignation.

“Hange,” Erwin’s tone has an authoritative yet caring edge.

“Right, sorry.”

He continues, “As planned, while the Section Commander continues their investigation, you will both head to Trost to confer with Commander Pyxis. I’ve informed him of your imminent arrival. You will be stationed for a total of three days before returning. From there, we will attempt to enact a plan to make our way to Shingeki City."

“All that in a manner of days?” You pause. It seems like too much for such a short time period. 

“We don’t have the luxury of waiting,” Erwin continues. “The moment Pyxis becomes aware of your connection everything will likely fall apart. Thus, we need to act decisively and swiftly if we are to succeed in achieving victory for humanity.”

Victory for humanity…those words hang heavily on your heart. So much is riding on this mission, it’s enough to skyrocket your anxiety. 

Sensing your tension, Erwin exhales and walks towards you. “I’ve devised a plan to make things easier on you both.”

“Oh?” Levi mumbles, glancing up briefly.

“Indeed. After some consideration for the situation you find yourselves in, I’ve decided to promote Reader.”

“Promote her?”

Erwin moves to stand tall before you. His presence alone is immense. “From this day on, Reader will be Captain Levi’s Lieutenant. Always by his side, the role involves acting as his personal guard and partner.”

Your eyes widen at the prospect. The thought of being so close to Levi makes you feel both relieved and uneasy. 

“It would be typical for a Lieutenant and Captain to be closer than most. That said, intimate displays of affection should be withheld. I’m sure you understand why.”

“Right.” Levi nods with a nonchalant expression.

You wonder how he can be so carefree about the whole thing. You wish you could be more like him, casually holding everything together despite the pressure this situation has caused.

“Well, we’d better start preparing,” Levi comments, rising from his seat.

“Wait!” Hange exclaims. “The key!”

“Oh right,” you mutter halfway across the room.

Levi turns reluctantly and walks back towards you. Hange looms between you both, adjusting their glasses and leaning in hungrily. You give them a wary glance but quickly turn away as Levi’s gaze fixates on you.

His expression is neutral, but his eyes reveal his concern. The news of your connection and the pressures of the mission are not lost on him after all. The thought comforts you slightly. Knowing that he is going through the same emotions is reassuring.

As he locks eyes with you, he removes the golden key attached to the crimson thread and pulls it slowly over his head. 

You don’t hear Hange’s barely contained squeals in the background. Your gaze merely focuses on Levi and the link between you both. Reaching out, you graze his fingers whilst holding the key. Before releasing it, his index pauses on your wrist tenderly. You feel your heart melting away at his touch before the spark ignites, sending a slight jolt through both of you. 

“Woah! Did you see that Erwin?!” Hange breaks the spell you were under.

Levi steps back, recomposing himself, while you wrap the key around your neck and touch your wrist absent-mindedly.

“Amazing,” Hange frantically takes out their notebook and writes furiously. “Okay, so there was a moment where you physically connected with the key between you. Then, BAM! It was almost like Eren’s titan signal but on a much smaller scale. The tiniest of electric shocks kickstarted your connection, like a charger or boost. One person’s energy was transferred to the next.”

“Our energies were transferred?” Your mind blurs despite having the newfound clarity the key gives you. The information you’ve received is far too overwhelming.

“Now, if we consider the wattage and threadbare count of the string, perhaps we could get more information into your connection. I wonder if the key is pure gold or a mixed alloy? Perhaps I should examine the alchemical compounds and take the key, just to be safe. Oh, the possibilities are endless!”

“Shut it, Four-Eyes.”

“Hey, no need to be rude, Levi. You do want to save humanity, don’t you?”

“Hange, Levi, enough,” Erwin raises his palm again. He exhales and pinches his brow. You understand the sentiment. Your mind is reeling and utterly boggled. 

“Hange, you and Moblit will be tasked with research. That said, the key will ultimately lie in Levi and Reader’s possession.”

“Aww,” they complain. 

With a brief nod, you exit the room. As you walk back down the hall, you absentmindedly twirl the key around your neck. 

“Hey, don’t play with it,” Levi rolls his eyes before gripping your hand and leading you towards the veteran's quarters. “Come on, let’s get to work.”

As uninteresting as cleaning sounds, you’re glad of the break. You force yourself to calm your mind and take things one step at a time.

Despite all of the information you’ve received there’s only one thing you’re certain about, and that is your rapidly growing affection for Captain Levi.

-

Riding into the bright sunlight, you flick the reigns on your horse. You turn to the man stoically riding beside you.

“Levi?”

“Hm?” He looks ahead as he rides. 

The warm sun paints his dark hair in an angelic light. Were you not on a high-stakes mission, you might actually say the words you’re thinking aloud. 

You shake your head with a slight smile. “Nevermind.”

He gives you a quizzical look but continues on. 

You watch as the sun rises higher in the sky, guiding your way forward to the gates of Wall Rose. 

Chapter Text

“Elio, please! Stay with me. Don’t leave me! No!” 

Whose voice is that?

“Big brother?” There’s a pause before it changes into a haunting tone from the past. “Big bro?”

A girl with bright red pigtails and a white sundress comes into view. She stands in the middle of a crosswalk, gazing back with a nervous smile. “Big br-”

The truck comes out of nowhere, crashing into her small body and spinning out of control. Blood splatters across the asphalt, staining hands and painting the world in crimson. The girl’s head rolls to the ground, detached from her body. Pale green eyes stare blankly with an expression frozen in shock.

“Isa-no…not again…please…” Panic wells from within as even breaths turn shallow. A sharp cry shatters the vision into shards of glass as shadows reign overhead. “Isabel!”

A woman sobs bathed in the light above. “I’m sorry,” she whispers as her tears fall into the darkness below. “I’m so sorry.”

-

“Levi! Hey, wake up!” Someone shakes his shoulder roughly. 

Jolting upright, Levi sees the woman from his dream sitting on the edge of his bed. Still shaking with fear, he reaches towards her tentatively. “N-Nova?”

She nods and leans into his shaky hand. “I’m here. It’s me.”

Leaning back, he places a palm against his forehead which is now stained with beads of cold sweat. The breeze from the open window sends a chill down his spine. He glances around, finding himself in a quaint bedroom. The off-white walls reflect the sharpness of the moonlight, which streams through the sheer curtains.

That’s right, we made it into Trost just as the sun was setting. After a bite to eat, we retired to our separate quarters. Yet here Nova is, sitting at my bedside despite the risks to our safety. 

He glances back at her concerned expression. The moonlight creates a glow about her that causes his stoic demeanor to slip slightly. 

He clears his throat before pulling away from her awkwardly. “Sorry if I made you worry. I’m fine now.” 

Noticing the tears in her eyes though, he pauses. Reaching up instinctively, he brushes his thumb across to catch them. 

“Hm?” She glances down before placing a hand on her own cheek. “I’m crying?” She turns and brushes them away swiftly. “I guess neither of us had pleasant dreams.”

The thought makes Levi’s unease grow. Could his dreams still be connected to hers? He can hardly tell what’s fact or fiction anymore. The lack of control he feels sends his mind spinning, but he doesn’t let it overcome his sense of duty. He needs to focus on the task at hand for now. 

“You should go back to your room.”

Nova leans back with a nod, understanding the importance of success in their mission. “Sorry, I just heard you cry out and I thought…well…I thought…” Her gaze shifts uncomfortably.

“Hey, it’s fine,” he reassures her. “It was just a nightmare.”

“Right,” she stands and opens the door, pulling it to behind her. She stands in the hall for a moment, not realizing it's still ajar.

Through the slight opening, Levi watches, mesmerized by her beauty. His dear lieutenant inhales and smooths her hair back in the dim candlelight. The flickers of the flame dance across her silhouette. She closes her eyes for a moment and pauses, relishing in the stillness of the night.

Levi can’t help but do the same, feeling the warmth her presence brings. A sense of calm and ease settles his wavering thoughts. So long as his queen is near, he can accomplish any feat. Laying back, he slips into an unusually restful slumber. 

-

As the sun rises behind the curtains, Levi is already awake and prepared to begin their deception. It won’t be easy, but he’s certain he can overcome any obstacle. If he can spend his average days fighting titans, he can certainly stall a Commander for a couple of days. He can only hope Hange won’t delay…who is he kidding? If anything she’ll overdo her research. 

After hauling on his uniform and tying his cravat in place, he makes his way to Nova’s quarters. Knowing her, she’ll be sound asleep without a care in the world. 

He remembers seeing her figure in the hall last night as he drifted off to sleep. With a gulp, he recomposes himself and knocks on her door. There’s no time to get flustered now. 

Naturally, there’s no answer from the other side. He bangs his fist harder. “Lieutenant?” 

Still nothing.

“Nova?”

He rolls his eyes and tries the door. Clicking it open, he peeks inside. Her room is a fair bit smaller than his own with a cot by the window, a small bedside table, and a dresser to his right. The entrance to an ensuite bathroom resides to his left.

Glancing down, he furrows his brow. Seriously? We’ve only been in Trost for a single night and already her things are strewn across the floor. “Tch. Damned brat.”

“That’s Lieutenant to you,” a groggy voice responds.

Glancing towards the bed, he watches Nova sit up and rub her eyes before stretching slightly. 

“Get up, we don’t have much time.”

“Hm? For what?”

“Don’t play dumb. We have a meeting with Commander Pyxis in twenty minutes. Come on, get dressed.”

Nova’s gaze trails towards the pile on the floor. “Oh, right.”

“Don’t tell me your uniform is in that mess.”

“Hey, I was tired when we got to our rooms. I figured I’d unpack later.”

“Oh, it looks like you unpacked alright. Damn it, everything is going to be wrinkled now.”

“Once I tuck in my shirt and put on my gear, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

Levi purses his lips and crosses his arms. “Get in the shower. I’ll handle this mess.”

“I thought we were pressed for time.”

“We are, so get going!”

“Alright, alright,” Nova rolls her eyes, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. 

“Come on.”

“I’m going, Captain Bossy. Honestly, just relax,” she complains.

Levi sighs as she shuts the door to the adjoined bathroom. What’s he going to do with her?

He glances back at the pile of clothes and gathers them in his arms. He places each piece on the dresser and begins sorting through them. It feels strange to be going through Nova’s things, but he won’t stand for any semblance of untidiness. In the absence of an iron, he does everything he can to press out each wrinkle before folding her things neatly. Then, turning to the bed, he smoothes out the sheets and props the pillow back up. He continues until the room is cleaner than it was upon their arrival. 

When Nova peeks through the door in nothing but a towel, her eyes widen. “What's all this?”

Levi blushes and heads for the door. “Just hurry up and get dressed.”

His hand pauses on the doorknob, as he hears her footsteps behind him. 

“Thank you, Captain,” Nova whispers. Droplets from her wet hair drip onto his lapels. Her scent is rich with notes of lavender and tea leaves. She kisses the back of his undercut, just behind his ear before stepping back. 

Fluttering his eyes closed for a moment, it takes every ounce of his willpower not to indulge her desires and take her on the very bed he just made.

He opens and shuts the door swiftly before he can change his mind. Covering his mouth and leaning against the wall in the empty corridor, he attempts to calm his growing arousal. Even after seeing her naked body for himself at the start of their switches, he can’t help but want her now more than ever. He can’t help but long for what he can’t have at this very moment. His mind drifts to their night in the attic, and how he almost lost all semblance of control. Considering their position, he can’t afford for that to happen again…not here at least. 

Suppressing his aching frustration and desire, he takes a deep breath. The mission, focus on the mission. You’re Captain Levi, damn it. You have a reputation and responsibility to uphold. 

As he pauses, his tension gradually releases and he exhales the last of his arousal. He takes a deep breath and continues walking back down the hall. 

He waits for a few minutes at the main entrance of their hotel, before Nova emerges on the base of the stairwell. He clears his throat and removes all traces of emotion from his expression. They are in the public eye now. Pyxis could have spies and onlookers all over town for all they know. It’s time for the walls to come up and the act to begin. 

Nova nods in silent understanding before falling into step behind him. Her new lieutenant badge gleams in the early morning sunlight. Her expression is neutral and calm, expertly performing the role of guard and comrade in arms. 

Together, they make their way out onto the bustling streets of Trost. Onlookers scowl and grumble at their Survey Corps uniforms. Levi and Nova pay them no heed as they walk silently towards Headquarters. 

As the large castle-like structure comes into view, Levi pauses on the side of the road. Civilians walk to and from, and carriages roll along the cobblestones nearby. 

“What is it?”

“Just preparing myself.”

“Nervous?”

“Tch. As if,” Levi rolls his eyes.

“We’re in this together either way.”

Levi stands stiffly, trying not to think about how close Nova is standing or how the light dances across her wide eyes. 

“Don’t worry, Captain. I’ll follow you to the end, whatever may come.”

Levi turns, recognizing Nova’s determined and unwavering expression. 

His mind drifts to his dream about Isabel. In a way, it felt more like a memory. He understands now more than ever that Nova learned to keep her emotions at bay too, hiding from the real world, just as he has. Even when faced with death and fear, she’s managed to remain strong, even stronger than him at times. She’s truly amazing. 

Clearing his throat, he recomposes himself and steps forward. It’s time to face reality. 

As the two reach the entrance to the massive stone towers, Levi holds out a hand to stop Nova. He turns over his shoulder and gives her a sharp glance. “Remember the plan.”

She nods with fierce resolve. It’s time. 

Opening the double doors, Levi steps inside the large entryway. The interior is adorned with green velvet carpets and bright open windows, streaming sunlight into the cold space. Passageways extend in every direction, along with several escalating wooden staircases. 

“Captain,” a familiar cold tone calls to his right. From the extending columns to their left, a woman with blonde hair and glasses emerges. Her expression is stern as usual, as she fixes her jacket adorned with a crest of roses. 

“Rico Brzenska.”

“So, this is the new Lieutenant?” She scowls. 

“Yes, Lieutenant Nova Reader.”

“I see. Follow me,” she motions, heading back down the hall. 

Nova gives him a questioning look, but he dares not respond. The slightest expression could easily give them away. 

Rico makes her way through the long hallway and through the courtyard, cutting across the castle. The beaming sun grows warmer as it rises higher in the sky overhead. 

Levi notices as Nova glances up at the birds flying overhead. He understands her sentiment all too well. If only we could be free like them. 

“Hurry up,” Rico encourages, making her way south. 

Levi follows her into a large building ahead. The interior is similar to the main entrance with green carpeting, though the walls are a cream colour rather than harsh grey stone. It seems warmer somehow, though Levi knows it’s anything but. Very soon, they will have to meet with the Commander of the Garrison, and whomever else he decides to bring along. Just two days, he reminds himself. After that, it will all be over. 

Rico pauses before a large set of mahogany double doors leading to a conference room. Two guards stand at each side. One is a tall man with slicked-back hair and a long green jacket; the other is a young woman with short red hair. Levi recognizes them as the Commander’s personal escorts…figures he’d have them tagging along. What a pain.

“Gustav, Anka; the Captain and Lieutenant of the Survey Corps are here to meet with the Commander.”

“Right,” Gustav steps aside curtly. 

Anka knocks on the door. “They’re here, sir.”

“Right, send them in,” an older tone responds from the other side. 

Rico steps forward and opens the door to the large conference room. “Well?” 

Levi steps ahead of Nova without a word, hearing her footsteps trail calmly behind him. He can’t see her face but suspects it’s as stoic as his. 

Inside, sits a large wooden conference table and rows of tall seats adorned with green cushioning. Tall floor-to-ceiling windows cast a warm glow over the room. Slight cracks and breaks in the stone act as reminders of the disaster that was Trost’s recent past, though. Levi still remembers returning from a mission to find the place in ruin and disarray, with Eren at its core. It seems so long ago now that they had to endure such hardship at the hands of the titans. They lost so many comrades on that mission alone. It took him hours to clean up the mess, largely alone since the others were too slow. He had his old squad back then, his family. Now, here he is in Trost again, meeting with the Commander for a very different reason. On this mission, he refuses to lose anyone else. 

“Greetings, Captain Levi. It’s nice to meet you as well, Lieutenant Reader. I must say, you are far more beautiful and lovely than I’d imagined.”

Nova shifts a little behind Levi. “Thank you, sir. It’s an hour to meet you.”

“And polite to boot,” he adds.

Levi rolls his eyes and scowls. The Commander is up to his old tricks again. He'd better keep it in his pants or else.

Pyxis motions behind him towards two figures in the shadows. “Floch, Sandra; see to it that our guests are made comfortable.”

Levi furrows his brow as two soldiers step forward. One is a young man, roughly Eren’s age, with a mop of red hair and an entitled gaze. The other is a girl with cropped brown hair, who looks a little uneasy about the situation. 

Stepping forward, Levi fights the urge to grumble at them. He can’t decide whether their decision to join the Garrison was intelligent or not. At least in the Survey Corps, the recruits have the courage to face destruction head-on and rebel against it. Still, he has no right to judge. Perhaps, they made the smarter choice remaining within the walls. He knows how quickly that plan can go south even so. 

He and Nova take a seat on either side of the Commander. 

“Well now, tell me a bit about yourself, Lieutenant.” Pyxis crosses his hands in amusement.

Levi clicks his teeth, knowing he's decided to bait Nova from the beginning. 

She appears unfazed and stares straight into the Commander’s intrigued gaze. “Let’s see,” she pauses. “I graduated from the 104th Cadet Corps as a new recruit. I recently joined the Survey Corps but was rapidly promoted to Lieutenant due to my advanced skill set.”

“Oh?” Pyxis leans forward. “You must be incredibly talented to rise through the ranks so rapidly.”

Levi leans back and crosses his arms. He can feel the way Pyxis is slowly manipulating the conversation in his favor. He’s likely already gathered assumptions and is merely looking for details and evidence concerning Nova’s identity and relationship to him. Still, she's holding her own, which is impressive considering the Commander's experience and age.

“I suppose.”

Pyxis turns to him. “What say you, Levi? For Erwin to appoint her as your personal attendant must mean something. Correct?”

Levi sighs, expecting this response. “She’s as important to me as your personal guards are to you, nothing more.”

“Still, you must have recognized her skill. I heard from the Commander himself that she’s participated in more than one expedition.”

“It’s true,” Nova responds in his stead. “It seems slaying tightens is rather a specialty of mine. Much like our esteemed Captain, I have a different way of doing things. I’d like to see this as an advantage to the war against the titans.”

Pyxis turns. “I see. And what exactly is ‘your way of doing things’?”

Nova pauses in contemplation. “I suppose, I don’t experience the same level of fear the others feel towards the titans. To me, they are simply an obstacle in my way. It is nothing more than taking out the trash, from my perspective. My methods of disposal may be unconventional, but I’ve been trained by the best. Captain Levi ensured I was well prepared for whatever those monsters threw at me.”

A smile creeps across Pyxis’ lips. “So, the Captain himself trained you, eh?”

Shit.  

“Tell me, Captain, was the decision of promotion solely Erwin’s decision, or did you have a hand in her advancement as well?”

Levi sits forward slightly but ensures he keeps all traces of emotion off his face. “I recognized her strength, but it was Erwin who made the decision.”

“I see. Well, I should very much like to see this skill set you speak of. Considering the top-ranked recruits were unable to secure a place in advancement so soon, makes me believe there must be something special about Lieutenant Reader. What do you think?”

Nova nods. “Whatever you’d like, sir. I’d be more than happy to demonstrate my skills.”

Levi bites the inside of his cheek. What is she thinking? She’s playing right into his hands. Her sly expression makes him believe she has more in store for this encounter though. 

“I’m intrigued. Perhaps we can explore such advancements in the training grounds.”

Nova nods. “Cert-”

There’s a knock on the door. The Commander’s expression becomes even more cunning as he turns to Floch and nods. 

“Please tell our esteemed guest to enter."

The doors swing open to reveal an older man in a long green military jacket. He’s small yet stocky with receding grey hair and a full beard. His glasses sit on the bridge of his nose. His very aura exudes authority and respect as he enters the conference room. 

“Thank you for joining us, Premier Zackly.”

Chapter Text

The old General steps into the conference room, led by the two Garrison members who were guarding the door. He nods to Pyxis. “Good day, Commander. I see your guests are already present.”

“Captain,” he nods to Levi before turning to you and removing his cap. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, at last, Lieutenant. I’ve heard many things about you. My name is Premier Darius Zackly. I’m the Commander-in-Chief of our three military brackets.”

Knowing your place, you nod. “The pleasure is all mine, sir.”

The corner of his mouth twitches in a smirk. 

“Please, take a seat and join us, sir. We were just discussing the background and impeccable skill of the recently appointed Lieutenant.” Pyxis stands and offers his seat.

The General takes his place while the Commander walks to the window with his hands clasped behind his back. 

You catch Floch’s gaze and the distrust deep within his eyes. He maintains his stance close behind Levi. You can’t help but feel like a rat caught in a trap. There are too many guards. Even with the little information you know about the military itself, you know something’s off. 

“Tell me, Lieutenant Reader,” Zackly begins. “Why did you join the Survey Corps? What exactly are your intentions?”

“My intentions, sir?”

He nods. “Considering Pyxis’ report from his meeting with Commander Erwin, it has come to my attention that you joined the regiment only recently. That said, given your age and abilities, it seems unlikely that you would join the military from a mere occupational standpoint. Indeed, many of our recruits joined the military, particularly the Survey Corps, due to personal vendettas against the titans or a desire to protect one’s own. Take Cadet Yeager, for example, he was there when the attack on Shiganshina took place and lost his mother in the process.”

You consider his past, knowing only limited information about Eren, to begin with. You more or less took everything in its stride when you began your switches and arrived in this world. Still, across the table, you can see Levi’s jaw clench at the very mention of this event. Clearly, it’s a source of great pain and possible information that you may be missing. 

Keeping any trace of confusion or uncertainty off of your face, you nod. 

“Of course, you must know all of this, having grown up with him during the 104th Cadet Corps training. Yes, it must have been quite a shock to see him transform in Trost five years later. To think, one of our own could be a titan himself.”

“Indeed,” you respond calmly. 

Zackly’s eyes narrow. “I’m sure you can understand why our suspicions have grown since this incriminating event. A great deal of attention and suspicion has surrounded the Survey Corps since then. Our citizens and soldiers have grown cautious concerning the idea of a titan living among us.”

“I’m sure that must make matters complicated,” you dare to speak up with a hint of intrigue. Levi’s gaze tells you to be careful, but you carry on. “However, shouldn’t the citizens feel more at ease now? He is, after all, an amazing product of science and a great weapon in the war against the titans. He’s also under the close supervision of the veterans of the Survey Corps.”

“Hm,” you hear Pyxis shift. “That is true, though the previous mission against the Female Titan proved that others like Eren may walk among us. Not every product of such 'science' is on our side.”

“Sir?”

 “If I may, Lieutenant, what the Premier and I are trying to say is that we are concerned about your sudden presence. You see, we have the roster of all those who graduated from the 104th Cadet Corps and there is no such mention of a Cadet Reader among its ranks.” 

Panic wells within you, though you can’t say you didn’t expect this outcome. Levi’s gaze widens slightly before turning neutral. You understand, it’s important that you stay calm and think things through. Looking back on it, you can understand their line of thought at the very least. Perhaps you can use that to your advantage.

“Well,” you take a deep breath. “In fact, I was actually taken in by the Survey Corps.”

Levi shifts slightly in a warning. You disregard it. “Not that long ago, I was found and trained by them.”

“Oh?” Zackly leans forward. “Explain.”

“It’s true. I wasn’t lying when I said I was born in a village near the Interior. That said, my brother and I longed to venture to the outside world. We ran out past Wall Rose and into the overrun territory in Wall Maria. We didn’t understand the toll that would be paid. It wasn’t until I saw my brother being eaten alive that I understood…this world really is hell.” 

You close your eyes as the dream of your brother being devoured by titans comes back in full force. It felt real enough that this lie seems like the truth. You know; however, that in reality, it was Levi’s own memories. You can feel still feel the blood and rain splattered against your face, the scent of decay, the titan steam, and a pair of cold grey eyes staring up at you.

“I see,” Zackly clasps his hands. 

“Why did you lie, then?” Pyxis walks to Zackly’s side, so he can analyze your expression. “You understand that doing so is considered treason, correct?”

“I’m sorry, it’s just difficult to talk about,” you comment sincerely. “Besides, I knew that the Survey Corps was under suspicion, to begin with. The world is in a state of disarray, so it hardly seemed an appropriate time to bring up such matters.”

“You may very well be correct, though truth and honesty are of the utmost importance right now. We can’t afford to have dissent amongst our ranks at a time of civil unrest.”

“Of course, I apologize for my transgressions.”

“Now, now. Don’t worry, we won’t be punishing you at this time. Though, we should ask whether or not you are linked to Cadet Yeager.”

“Connected to Yeager?”

“My apologies, a better question is: are you connected to them?”

Your heart pounds as the tension rises. You can feel all eyes on you, boring into your soul. Every guard, every citizen in this cruel world, all are focused on you.

You swallow cooly and still your nerves. “No sir, I am not connected to the likes of them. I am not like Eren or the Female Titan. Be rest assured gentlemen, I am not a product of science or anything of the like.” That you know of.

Pyxis sighs and the room returns to normal. The thick cloud rises, and you feel the tension lift from your shoulders along with it.  

“There is one more question I have for you, Lieutenant,” Zackly speaks up calmly.

“Yes, sir?”

“Tell me, have you come across this object?”

You glance at a piece of paper with the hand-drawn image of a key. Continuing to keep all emotion off your face, you trace your fingers across the ink. It doesn’t appear to be your own drawing; however, it is definitely an image of the key you have around your neck right now. There’s only one way to get out of this. 

“Isn’t that the key Eren Yeager has?”

Zackly and Pyxis exchange a glance. “It does resemble the object Cadet Yeager possesses; however, the detailing is slightly different. As opposed to a diamond shape, this key has more of a floral pattern. We do have our suspicions that the two may be connected though. Please, let us know if you come across it or have any information regarding it. If found, it could spell humanity’s victory.”

“Really? How fascinating,” you lean forward challengingly.

“Indeed,” Zackly and Pyxis pause with their gaze fixated on you. Across the table, you can feel Levi itching to grab you and remove you from this interrogation.

After a minute, the tension breaks again and they step back. Zackly gets up from his chair, and you follow suit. 

“It was a pleasure meeting you, my dear,” Pyxis shakes your hand with an eery grin. “I believe I will take you up on your offer to observe the results of your training tomorrow.”

You nod. “Of course, sir.”

“Why don’t we meet by the Walls at sunrise?”

“It would be my pleasure.”

“Feel free to join us, Premier Zackly,” he adds casually.

The general doesn’t turn as he puts on his hat. “Unfortunately, I have other matters to attend to. I wish you all the best though. Commander, Captain, Lieutenant.” He takes his leave with Brzenska close behind. 

You watch as he disappears down the hall. With a sigh, you turn to go with Levi by your side. 

Pyxis grabs your arm before you can leave though. “Care for a drink tonight, Lieutenant? I find you quite fascinating, I must say. It would be a shame not to treat you to a friendly glass of wine.”

“She’s otherwise engaged,” Levi sneers, reaching for you. 

You ignore him and brush him aside. “I would be delighted, sir.”

“Excellent, it’s a date then. I’ll see you at the Rose Pub at eight o’clock.”

You smile cooly and walk out the door with Levi scowling behind. You know the minute you are alone, there will be hell to pay. 

You carry on down the halls, ignoring the dark presence creeping behind you. 

As soon as you exit Headquarters, Levi turns on you as expected. With a scowl he pins your wrists against the stone wall, hidden by the shadows.

“What the hell are you thinking?! What was all of that? Are you trying to get yourself killed?!”

“Relax, Levi. I’m just putting contingency plans in place.”

“The hell does that mean?”

“I’m giving them what they want for the time being. I’m playing it safe.”

“How does telling them that nonsensical story help with anything? And was that about going out with Pyxis? Are you out of your mind?!”

“Jealous?” You smirk. 

He grips your wrists tighter, causing you to wince slightly, though you chuckle even so. 

“The hell are you smiling at?”

“Do you really not get it, Levi? I’ve met many men like those two. They think they’re being covert and cryptic, but in reality, they only want three things.”

“Oh?”

“Sex, booze, and power.”

He gives you a skeptical look. "That's even more cause not to go, shitty brat."

“It's the perfect opportunity. I want to see how much information I can drag out of them, especially since we are trying to stall for time and throw them off the scent of the Survey Corps. I have a feeling they know more than they are letting on. If I can just weasel my way into Pyxis' good graces and earn his trust, perhaps we can kill two birds with one stone. We can save humanity and discover more about their true objectives.”

“But there’s no guarantee. Didn’t you hear me when I said this could separate us, or worse, get us killed? We don’t have time to play games.”

“You’re right, but I knew they were suspicious. They didn’t believe us from the start. You knew that already too, right?”

“I know, that bastard Pyxis is cunning, but we can’t just throw caution to the wind. You can’t go rogue without telling me.”

“Sorry,” you mutter. “Just try to understand that I’m doing this for both of us. The story I thought of was far more convincing than the one the Commander created. At least it was close enough to the truth that it was believable. Besides, I experienced the trauma of the titans first hand, so I could discuss the issue at the very least.”

Levi releases your hands but turns away stubbornly. “You don’t know the first thing about what I’ve experienced.”

You feel like arguing back, but know there’s truth in his words. You may have dreamt about his trauma, but that doesn’t compare to actually knowing how he felt and how he feels right now. You reach a hand up towards him but pause halfway.

“So, what now?”

“Now?” He turns back to you with a glare. “Now you tell me your plan for tonight in explicit detail. Leave no stone unturned.”

-

Changing out of your military attire, you glance in the mirror at your own silhouette. It’s dimmed by the candlelight, but you can still make out your frame in the mirror. After weeks of training, you’re more toned and in shape. You can only hope you can use your femininity to your advantage when faced with the old Commander. You remember the sheen in his eyes when he looked at you earlier. His stare wasn’t only filled with manipulative glee, no there was something else there too. Something that makes you shudder at the very thought.

You put on the navy blue skirt you bought during your previous excursion to Trost, tie a brown belt across the waist, and button up a white dress shirt. Although makeup and accessories are limited in this world, you make do with some light rouge. You lace up some formal boots and complete your look by tying your hair into a high ponytail. There, all set.

You step out of your room and into the hallway where Levi is waiting in a grey shirt and black pants. His expression is filled with mixed awe and uncertainty. If only he could be the one escorting you this evening. 

“Wow, um…you look…”

You chuckle slightly, enjoying the way he occasionally stammers in your presence. It’s strange to think that he can go from cold and dominant one moment to flustered and submissive the next. 

“Thanks,” you grin.

He sighs, returning from his temporary slip in composure. His eyes narrow with concern. "Are you sure you want to do this? There are other methods we can choose from. Erwin said-"

Stepping forward, you place and finger on his lips, cup his face tenderly and lean in. “Don’t forget, I’m doing all of this for us, Captain. It’ll be fine, I promise.” Casually, you slip the key into his palm, feeling the way you both jolt against each other with the slight twinge of electricity. 

Hearing the way his breath hitches makes you smirk. “I’ll be back soon,” you salute before strolling casually down the hallway. You feel his gaze pierce your back as you walk straight into the lion’s den. 

-

“My, you're certainly dressed for the occasion,” Pyxis greets you outside the pub. A large sign decorated with the rose symbol of the Garrison hangs overhead. The gas street lamps create a quiet and leisurely atmosphere as the moon rises high in the sky. Somehow, knowing that the titans are lurking on the other side of the Wall sends ripples of unease through you.

Through the windows of the pub you see several soldiers and citizens gathering around to drink and make merry, as though it is their last day on Earth. For all you know, it very well could be. 

“Shall we?” Pyxis continues.

You nod with a smile. “Thank you, sir.”

As you step through the porch of the bar, the stench of alcohol hits you in a wave. You thought it would be more upscale at least, though considering this town is like something from the Victorian era you shouldn’t be surprised. It’s not as sleek as the coffee shops you have at home or as wild as the clubs you frequent with Lily. Instead, it’s filled to the brim with deep oak walls and plain mahogany tables. Soldiers lean back in chairs with large frothing mugs, their faces tinged a tipsy pink. Hand-drawn images of newspaper clippings and previous owners from the family business hang along the walls. 

Ahead, the cash is lined with throngs of citizens trying to get their next fill. The barkeep seems overwhelmed but pleased with his business. His balding head glimmers in the dim light. He throws a rag over his shoulder and expertly pours, satisfying each of his customers without issue. 

“Hendricks!” Pyxis makes his way calmly through the crowd. 

“Commander,” the soldiers part for him and raise their mugs.

“I’m here with a rather special guest. Send over your finest vintage to the table by the window, if you please.”

“O-of course sir,” the bar-keep nods and scurries away to the cellar. 

Pyxis nods, paying you no mind as he claims a spot near the open window, causing a young couple to move to make room in the process.

Without batting an eye, you calmly take your place. 

Pyxis drapes his arm across the back of his chair and stares out at passersby on the main road. “I’m pleased you agreed to meet me this evening.”

“Of course, sir.”

“Come now, no need for such formalities. Dot Pyxis is just fine.”

You nod and carry on. “Why did you wish to meet me here in the first place?”

“Is it a crime to ask a fine young soldier out for a drink?”

“No, but I assume your intentions are not merely to become a drinking buddy of mine. If you're not careful, I might just drink you under the table.”

He chuckles sarcastically. “You are sharp, I’ll give you that. Still, I’ve been around a lot longer than you, my dear.”

“Of that, I am sure,” you mutter cooly.

He gives you a keen stare. “Well, at any rate, your quick wit is amusing today the least.”

You give him an innocent smile and his eyes narrow slightly.

“Here, sir. I’ve prepared the wine,” the bar-keep indicates with a large bottle and two glasses. 

“Ah, thank you, Hendricks.”

Glancing at the bottle, you don’t recognize the label. All you can tell is that it’s a deep red. 

He pours a little in Pyxis’ glass to taste. 

The Commander takes a slow sip from the glass and sits back contentedly. “A fine wine indeed,” he nods.

The bar-keep smiles and pours two hefty glasses before leaving the bottle on the table and scurrying back to the cash. 

You take a slow sip, but find it’s much more acidic and tangy than you’re used to. 

“Is it not to your liking?” Pyxis leans forward with a sly grin. 

You clear your throat and compose yourself. “I’m simply not much of a wine drinker myself. It is bracing all the same.”

The Commander laughs heartily. “I’m sure, to a young woman such as yourself, it would taste a little strong. As a soldier; however, it’s important to enjoy some of life’s great pleasures. You did issue a challenge, did you not? Come now, let us toast to our newfound camaraderie, and to your stunning beauty.”

“You flatter me,” you smile, ignoring his blatantly sexist undertones. You tap his glass with your own. You brace yourself and take a longer sip, willing yourself not to wrinkle your nose at its flavour.

“Ah, you deserve such praise, my dear. Tell me, does your appearance come from your father or mother?"

You pause and refill his, already empty, glass slowly but lean into the facade even more. You’ve been waiting for this. “Unfortunately, I do not know. You see, my brother and I were on our own from the start.” 

Pyxis glances at you cautiously. “Is that so? I’m sorry to hear that. How did they pass?”

“Disease, mainly. There was a terrible flu one year, and they simply couldn’t get well again. It came and went with the falling of the snow.”

“I see, I suppose even in the Interior, these things happen.”

“Yes, unfortunately we had to live in the Underground for some time, but managed to claw our way back out.”

“The Underground?" he nearly spits out his drink. "That’s a cruel place. I’m surprised you made it out alive. The only one I know who did is Captain Levi hismelf.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s why we were drawn to each other,” you continue. “We met in the Underground, you see. We vowed to make it out one day. I suppose after my brother died, that’s why I opted to join the Survey Corps as opposed to any other regiment.”

“Really?” He leans closer, as you refill his glass once more. The man can drink if nothing else. You signal for the bar-keep to bring another bottle. “So, you were childhood friends then?”

You gaze into his eyes for a moment before leaning back with a chuckle. “Hardly, he's ten years my senior. Still, I always saw him as a role model. Perhaps that’s what drove me to improve upon my skills and sharpen my focus.”

“Well, that is a fascinating story. I never would have guessed you came from such a poor upbringing.”

“I wouldn’t call it that. We were quite content,” you smile softly. 

“Of course, my mistake. The important thing is you’re here now.”

“Well, I did want to ask you a few things as well, Com- I mean, Pyxis.” You reach across the table to take his hand tenderly.

He glances at you with rosy cheeks as he downs another glass. “Anything, my dear.”

You grin innocently. “Thank you, sir. I just really need to know...” you pause and bite your lip. 

“Yes?” He leans closer. 

“Why are you so curious about me anyway?”

He chuckles cooly and for a moment, you think you’ve lost him. “Well, my dear, who wouldn’t be curious about you? You're a young woman who was found with a mysterious key around her neck. From what we can tell, your story sounds an awful lot like a repeat of history.”

So, your hunch was right. He knows everything already. You pour another glass. “A repeat?”

He nods, the effects of the alcohol growing stronger by the second. “This isn’t the first time someone such as yourself has appeared out of the blue. First Dr. Yeager and then that girl from the Cadet Corps, Ymir I think. Honestly, can you blame us for being suspicious?”

The mention of those two catches you off guard, but you continue pressing him. “So, they showed up in the wilderness too?”

“Indeed, though considering our track record now, stranger things have happened. You seem trustworthy enough, though the Garrison will still be keeping tabs until we are certain.”

Damn, so close. “What would I have to do to earn your trust, sir?” 

He grins, and you feel a shiver go down your spine. There’s no way in hell you’ll satisfy his needs that way. 

You clear your throat and refill his glass one last time. “How about this, think of it as a gesture of good will. We will meet at the top of Wall Rose, where the titans have been known to gather beneath. If you have any doubts about my story, you can simply remove my gear and push me off the Wall. If you trust me; however, you can watch as I make quick work of the beasts below as a testament of my skills. Either way, there is no harm done to you, and you can observe my abilities first-hand.”

He glances at you suspiciously. “And Levi?” He slurs. 

“Do whatever you would like with him. He may be my Captain, but his presence is irrelevant in this exercise.”

He narrows his gaze. “Why go so far?”

“It’s all to earn your respect, Pyxis. I admire you and Premier Zackly a great deal.”

“Is that so? Perhaps you’d like to do me one more favour and return to my quarters for a nightcap?” He tugs your wrist forward until your noses are almost touching. 

“Perhaps another time, Commander. I don’t want to anger my Captain.” You pull out of his flimsy grip with a smirk and stand. 

You glance back with a wink as Pyxis downs the remainder of his drink. 

You stroll out casually having finished your objective for the evening. The cold evening air tugs at your hair and skirts. You inhale sharply and release the tension.

You’re grateful now more than ever that you talked things through with Levi beforehand. Otherwise, he’d never agree to your recklessness. You're still not sure that he will, to be honest.

Now, it’s up to Erwin and Hange to back you up. You can only hope that the Commander's letter was truthful. Everything must go exactly according to plan tomorrow. 

Chapter Text

Captain Levi and Lieutenant Nova Reader,

I hope your journey into Trost was safe and pleasant. By now, you’ve likely met with Commander Pyxis and Premier Zackly. I’m sure you are well aware of their present knowledge at this point too. I could tell when I spoke with the Commander on his earlier arrival, that he held several suspicions regarding Nova already. Be careful and tread lightly in this regard. Try to find out how much they know already and what exactly their plan is. We must know on which side they stand when the time comes to venture beyond the Walls. Pyxis is known for his neutral stance; however, he will often back the winning side in an argument and is eccentric, to say the least. The Premier, on the other hand, has a twisted darker side; you should already know to which I am referring, Levi.  Use this to your advantage in the coming days. 

There is news from Section Commander Hange as well. Their research has proven fruitful over the past twenty-four hours. They believe that during your next switch, they may be able to find a way to bring us all to Reader’s city. The catalyst for your switches is strong emotions. Therefore, we must use more extreme measures to cause this effect between you both. Judging from your last switch, placing you in harm's way may be our quickest option with the little time we have left. 

We need to find a way to get the Garrison to back down as well (troops have already been sent to keep an eye on us). Recruit Arlet and I have devised the following plan in that knowledge. Please adhere to it with the utmost stringency:

First, I ask you to find a way to summon both Premier Zackly and Commander Pyxis to the Wall in Trost at daybreak tomorrow. It is imperative that both parties are present as witnesses.  It is crucial that the Garrison trusts us enough to let Hange continue their experiments as well. Find out what Pyxis and Zackly know and use that to your advantage. Do what you must to make this happen, even if it means lying about Reader’s past or making a deal with the Commander. After you are certain of their attendance and trust, regroup until the coming day. 

Meet at the Wall in Trost at six o’clock the following morning and prepare yourselves for the next phase. At precisely six-thirty, Reader will engage the titans below. Be sure that the Commander and Premier witness this event. When Reader reaches her limit against the titans, that’s when you will switch. At that point, Hange and I will be ready to lock on to your position. The Recruits will stand in as a backup in case things go awry. 

I understand this is a lot to ask of you both, but please consider the benefit to humanity. We could very well win the war against the titans this way. I thank you in advance for your service. Dedicate your hearts!

Sincerely,

Commander Erwin Smith

 

“Tch. Always so formal,” Levi scowls as he fumbles through the leaflets.

Glancing out towards the moonlit sky, he knows his task has only just begun. While Nova took on Commander Pyxis, he will have to convince Premier Zackly to attend tomorrow’s demonstration. What a pain. Just what are you thinking Erwin? Are you and Hange really going to come all this way for some experiment? 

He bites his lip thinking about Nova’s insistence on attending drinks with Pyxis as well. He can only hope that old coot won’t try to pull anything on her. If he does, he’ll have more than a few words for him. 

Damn it all, what started as a way to stall the Garrison, quickly became something more complicated. Nova also has a tendency to overdo things and puts herself in harm's way for those she cares about. He knew that even before she arrived in this world. 

His mind flickers to the envelope filled with cash during one of their first switches, as her parents tried to bribe her into the family business. His head aches just thinking about it. She’s strong enough to handle herself, but the world always seems to bring her down more often than not. He wishes he could protect her from that cruelty. All he can do now; however, is follow the path that has been set for him. 

He puts on his green military jacket and prepares to intercept Premier Zackly. He already knows where he’ll be at this time, creepy old bastard. The thought brings back painful memories that he’d rather forget. 

Closing the door behind him, he walks into the crisp night air, dimly lit by the occasional lantern. He’s tempted to turn and run back to Rose Pub but forces himself to continue forward. He has to trust that the information he gave her regarding his own past and the Underground will be enough to get her by with the Commander. He holds his cravat a little tighter against his neck. The key behind it taps against his chest like a second heartbeat. So long as he has it close, nothing can keep them apart. 

He turns down a shadowed alley to his left. The putrid scent, coughs, and cries tell him all he needs to know. It’s similar to parts of the Underground where poverty and filth were rampant. Despite feeling a sense of revulsion bubbling within, he forces himself to continue. He walks around puddles and past smokey doorways until he reaches a dead end.

Above him is a faded sign that reads The Dark Lantern. A set of stairs leads into a darkened space below.

Outside, women in low-cut dresses and boas smoke and gossip. 

“Hey there, honey.” A tall brunette in a wine-coloured gown approaches him. “Why don’t you step inside for a spell? I bet a soldier like you could use some downtime.”

Another woman wraps a blue scarf around his neck, beckoning him forward.

Levi ignores their advances. “I’m looking for someone.”

“Oh? You mean me?” A blonde woman with a sheer pink outfit grins and caresses his arm. 

“No, Premier Darius Zackly.”

They back off and look between each other. The brunette nods and the women dart inside. 

“What do you want with the likes of him?” She crosses her arms.

“I just need a quick word.”

“I see, I’m surprised you would come to a place like this just to see the old General. No one comes this way unless they’re looking for something…specific.”

“It’s fine. I’ll do whatever it takes to see him.”

“Bold young man, aren’t you?” She steps forward, taking a draw from her cigarette. 

Levi sighs. “No, I just don’t care. I grew up in a place like this myself, so it doesn’t bother me. I’ll wait if I have to.”

The woman eyes him suspiciously, but steps aside. “The General is on the second floor, the last door on the right. If anyone gives you trouble, tell them Madam Jacqueline granted you entry.”

“Thanks,” Levi nods before stepping through the doorway. 

Inside is much of what he expected. Deep velvet curtains and dimly lit candles cast shadows as silhouettes dance across the walls, which glow silver and gold. The sounds of pleasure echo through the thin walls. Women in exotic dresses dance past him enticingly. They offer him fine wines in exchange for favours, which he promptly declines.

They make their way towards drunken soldiers, refilling their cups and guiding them towards the surrounding rooms. The soldiers follow giddily with tightened pants and eager expressions. 

Walking past the inn’s rooms to the stairwell, Levi catches glimpses of naked bodies intertwining and moving in ecstasy through the peepholes in the doors. The sounds of pleasure and desire are too many to block from his mind as he continues forward. He takes a deep breath and steels his resolve, pushing his emotions aside once again.

As he carries on upstairs, memories of the Underground and his own upbringing drift through his mind. Every step feels like a moment frozen in time. He remembers, after his mother’s passing, how the women of the brothel often gave him shelter whenever he was in trouble. Even when Kenny went above ground to slit the throats of MPs and bloody his hands, they took care of him until he returned. Levi will always be grateful to them for protecting him from that life and keeping him from growing up to be like that man. At least he learned to develop a shred of human decency in his youth. 

Even as a child, Levi knew of his mother’s work and lived in a place such as this for a time. It was only later that he realized it was her work that eventually killed her, not just the filth of the Underground. The very thought makes him sick. He wishes he could protect the women of this brothel from the same fate. 

As he ascends the stairs, the moans of pleasure and the cheers of alcohol grow even louder. Cushions cover the floors and dark sheer curtains let only a sliver of moonlight through. Women in thin silk dresses with barely concealed breasts sit on the unbuckled laps of soldiers who grind and paw at them, drinks still in hand. 

“Why don’t you join us for a spell?” 

“We can make it worth your while, soldier.”

He marches past them without a second glance, down the hallway to the last door on the right. He gives a sharp knock and leans against the wall.

“Who is it?” A soft feminine tone croons on the other side of the door.

“What is the meaning of this interruption?!” A voice booms.

That’s him alright. “It’s Captain Levi, sir. I’m going to suggest you get dressed and pull yourself together unless you want me to barge into your room right now.”

“The audacity,” he grumbles, but Levi can hear his belt buckling even so. 

He rolls his eyes as he waits for the old man. Tch. Disgusting.

The door creaks open a few minutes later as a young woman with dark hair and a sheer red gown grants him entry. 

“Care to join us, sir?”

“Definitely not,” Levi scowls.

She nods and slips outside to join the others in the main hall. 

“What do you want, Captain?” Zackly buttons up his shirt hurriedly.

“I need to talk to you about Lieutenant Reader.”

“Oh? Couldn’t this have waited until tomorrow? Can’t you see I’m otherwise engaged?”

“You mean you can’t keep it in your pants, old man?”

His gaze narrows. “How dare you speak to your Commanding Officer in such a tone. Don’t you know who I am?”

“Who you are is irrelevant. The way I see it, your reputation outside of the office precedes you, disgusting as it is. I also know the way you and the Commander plot and scheme. You will only back the winning party, correct? So why target the Scouts so heavily now? What do you stand to gain?”

“Why should I tell you anything, soldier? Especially in a place like this.”

“Because if you don’t, your deplorable character will be revealed. Who will respect you then?”

“The people will understand art if they see it for themselves.”

“Fine then, shall we go and see just who will respect you?” Levi turns and heads for the door.

“No!”

Levi leans back against the door frame with his arms crossed. “Then start talking.”

“Alright, fine. Cheeky bastard,” Zackly grumbles. “We know, alright?”

“Know what?”

“That Nova Reader was found outside the Walls of Trost and that she holds a key that could mean humanity’s victory. Pyxis and I had the Garrison keep tabs on the girl the moment she arrived. Whether or not her story about her brother is true, I cannot say. We need more information and we suspect the Survey Corps is hiding something regarding your connection. So, tell me, soldier, what is your relationship to the Lieutenant?”

“I’m the one asking the questions.”

“She wasn’t promoted on a whim was she? No, there had to be another reason. Could it be-”

Levi’s gaze narrows and his fingers drift to a knife concealed in his pocket before he recomposes himself. “If you want answers, you will meet us at daybreak on the Wall.”

“Now why would I do that?”

“Have you forgotten that your reputation is on the line?”

Zackly chuckles. “It’ll take more than blackmail to convince me. Tell me what I’ll receive from this little encounter?”

Levi sighs, knowing it’s time to play the only card he has left. He reaches behind his cravat and removes the key, to which his life is so closely tied.

“Ah, I see,” Zackly’s eyes twinkle with amusement. “You’ve got my attention, soldier.”

“If you want to know how it works, you’ll meet me at the prescribed time and place.”

“Very well then. I’ll see you tomorrow, soldier. I am most intrigued.”

Levi turns and wanders back through the hallways in a daze. He hopes he made the right decision in revealing the key. Either way, the truth will be presented tomorrow whether they like it or not. He can only hope Nova’s life will be spared should Zackly turn against them. He knows his penchant for extremes and eccentricities alongside Pyxis. That said, Zackly is far more disturbed and won’t hesitate to perform horrific experiments on both of them. If they thought Hange was bad, this guy is a hundred times worse. 

“Hey, darling, why don’t you take a moment to relax?” The dark-haired woman curls her finger by the window enticingly.

“We can help you,” another attempts to guide him towards the soldiers already enthralled by the, now naked, women upon them. 

“Thanks but no thanks,” he mutters. “I’ve got a job to do and a woman to see.”

He leaves and heads straight for the Rose Pub. There’s no way he’s leaving Nova alone for another second. Those old men can go straight to hell if they so much as touch a hair on her head; the Chain of Command be damned. 

Chapter Text

You stroll through the city streets after your meeting with Pyxis. You know it went according to plan, but you can’t stand men like that. It’s like he could see right through you. You’re still not entirely convinced that he’s not playing you for a fool. Either way, you’ll have the last laugh. You bite your thumb slightly, wondering if everything and everyone is ready for your plans tomorrow. Your anxiety rises at the very thought of facing more titans, but you know you have the skill to fend them off. You are on par with Humanity’s Strongest now, so Levi says. Plus, you're a Lieutenant. Still, a part of you feels that the titles and honorifics are just a farce. Deep down you’re still the same art student who couldn’t even stand up to her parents in the end.

You think back to your life in Shingeki City. As usual, you wonder if you’re even being missed by those you hold dear. The only thing your parents would miss is your presence in carrying on the family line. Lily may notice your absence though. You wonder how she’s doing back home with Grandma Mei. You remember sitting in her old apartment sipping tea with the scent of spices and tobacco wafting through the room.

I know soulmates when I see them. After all, I switched too, a long time ago…My late husband and I met the same way. 

You stop in your tracks and place a palm on your head. What was that?

We saw the stars collide one night and the next, we were in different worlds altogether. The only thing that connected us and brought us back was a single key attached to a red thread. I often wonder what became of it. I haven’t seen it in many years now…Just be patient and trust the process.

You crouch down on the cobblestones as memories come flooding back. Only, they aren’t your memories, are they? No, these must be Levi’s memories. What’s going on? 

Your brain feels like it’s being pulled apart at the seams, as his thoughts blur with your own. Are you Nova or Levi? Sometimes you wonder. The longer you spend without the key, the more things seem to be colliding lately. 

You need to find a way to return home and sort through everything. If you could only speak with Grandma Mei again, maybe you could connect some of this information. 

You miss your old life now more than ever. Compared to this world, your own seems like a breeze. The amenities you took for granted, the access to technology, the warmth of your bed, the days you spent painting canvases; you feel their absences now more than ever. If only you could get back to the world you once knew. 

“Nova?”

You glance up on hearing the familiar tone. 

“Hey, it’s alright. You’re safe now. I’m here,” he bends down and puts his arms around you.

“Le-vi,” you mutter blankly.

“Did Pyxis do something to you? I swear if he did, I’ll cut him down right here and now. Where is he? That old bastard.”

You shake your head, feeling his warmth soothe your emotions. “No, that’s not it.”

“Then what?”

You turn away, embarrassed. Compared to his past and trauma, your issues seem insignificant. “It’s nothing.”

He frowns and messes up your hair with a sigh. “It’s okay. You can tell me. I’ll listen.”

You smile slightly and lean against his jacket. “I miss home.”

He pauses for a moment before resting his hand on the back of your head, bringing you closer. “It must be tough, being away for so long. Soon enough Hange will get us back though; it’ll be even better if they get Armin on their side. However this turns out, I know we’ll find a way back to your world. You’ll see Lily, Grandma Mei, and even your pain-in-the-ass parents again; I promise.”

“Grandma Mei,” you pause at the mention of her name.

“Hm?”

You stand and sit on the railing, leaning out towards the river. 

“Hey, what are you doing? Be careful!”

You ignore him as a gentle breeze swirls around you. “Levi, do you remember anything from your switches with me?”

“Of course. I especially remember your messy room, damned brat.”

You shake your head. “No. I mean, do you have my memories?”

He pauses for a moment. “I don’t know. I guess, based on what you’ve told me, sometimes I dream about your past.”

“Right,” you mutter, but tsk at the thought. “No, that’s not it. I remembered Grandma Mei’s story and how she switched too. The key and the process…what exactly did she mean? Clearly, she survived without it, but how?”

“Grandma Mei, huh?” Levi leans against the railing beside you. He remembers glimpses, including the broken teacup and how she reassured him that he would meet Nova in time. 

“You know,” you glance up towards the darkened sky. “Before we switched for the first time, Lily told me a story that supposedly came from her grandmother. She said that across the universe, two soulmates met and fell in love. They neglected their duties; however, and were forced to be apart. Still, when the stars are bright enough on the summer solstice, sometimes the stars collide. If you look up at the sky you can see the soulmates reuniting once again.” You reach your hand up as if to touch the heavens above.

Levi turns towards you, admiring your beauty as your hair blows softly in the wind. Your eyes are filled with a fire that sparks something within him. 

You smile down at your Captain warmly. 

“We’ll find a way back to your world, I promise.”

“Levi, I-”

You slip back on the railing and lose your balance. Your heart pounds as you tumble back towards the cold water below. Shit.

As you fall, you remember the void and falling from the light into deep shadow. “Levi!” You call, reaching your hand towards him. 

Instead of watching you from a distance in your dreams though, his hand connects with yours and latches on tightly. 

“I’m not letting you go,” he reassures with a smile. 

Tumbling forward, he protects your head as you both fall into the stream below. 

As you hit the dark water in the dim lamplight, you struggle for a moment before coming up for air. The chill freezes you to the bone, as the water ruptures and threatens to push you back under. You cough and sputter, trying to stay afloat and make your way towards the shore. Despite the warm weather, the river is freezing cold. 

Levi emerges beside you and coughs slightly. He pushes you forwards, as you make your way towards the river bed. 

Together, you climb back to the shore and collapse on the damp ground.

For a moment, you simply catch your breath and stare at one another in surprise. Then you burst into gentle laughter. 

Leaning closer, he brushes the wet strands of hair away from your face. His expression is filled with tenderness and warmth.

You lean a little closer, feeling drawn to his presence.

“Hey lovebirds, get a room!” A drunken soldier hiccups as he passes by. 

You pull apart immediately and clear your throat. “Uh, we should get back.”

“R-right,” Levi mutters. He stands and offers you a hand.

You shiver as the breeze rips through your soaked clothes. Pulling your blouse closer only seems to make things worse. 

“Here,” Levi throws a black jacket over your shoulders. 

“Huh? Where’d you get this?”

“Never mind that. Let’s just go." He starts making his way back to the hotel. 

You follow close behind, pulling the warm jacket close with a smile. 

-

When you return to your lodgings, you pause at the door across from his. “Levi,”

His door is already shut firmly behind him though. You sigh, supposing his non-reaction is for the best. 

Once inside your room, you strip down and jump in a hot shower. It stings from the cold, but you feel your shakiness slowly subside and your muscles relax. You stand in the warmth, simply letting the water calm you and bring you back to your senses. You touch your breastbone where the key would normally hang. It feels strangely empty without it but, so long as you’re alive, you know Levi is taking good care of it. Knowing him, he probably polishes it daily. You chuckle at the thought. 

In your towel, you dry off and head to your drawers to pick out some pyjamas. You hold up the black shirt Levi wore the last day you switched in Shingeki City. You’re not sure why you brought it, but the little piece of home is oddly comforting. You inhale the scent of acrylic paint and ink that clings to it even now. You pull it over your head and put on a pair of plain white pants, before sitting on your bed and glancing out at the moonlit sky. 

You lean against your palm, wondering what tomorrow will bring. Will you find yourself back home? Or not? You remember Levi’s kindness and warm embrace by the riverside. The way he looked at you after you told Grandma Mei’s story…no, even before that…he’s always looked at you that way, hasn’t he?

Your mind wanders to Shingeki City. You see yourself in a flimsy tank top and a pair of underwear. Your expression is surprised as you reach forward, stunned by your own appearance. Fingertips stop just short of you though as the glass barrier from the mirror keeps you from interacting. Levi? Is that you?

You shake your head out of the memory. You need answers before your mind takes over completely. You need to discuss things properly with Levi before tomorrow. Marching to the door, you swing it open and head over to Levi’s room across the hall.

Before you can knock, the door opens. Levi’s raven hair is still wet, but he’s changed into a blue shirt and grey pants. His eyes glimmer with something unreadable. He doesn’t look surprised in the slightest at your arrival, and instead pulls you inside and closes the door tightly behind him. He leans against the door with a sigh.

“I remember.”

“What?”

“I remember your memories.”

You blush slightly, considering your last thought. “Oh, is that so?”

“Yeah. Those weren’t really dreams, were they? You really saw your brother die that day.”

You sigh and crouch down before him. “Yes, but I remember the trauma that happened to you too. Things like the Underground with Isabel and Farlan. Aside from what you told me already, I saw it all from your perspective too.”

He flinches slightly at the mention of their names. 

You place your hand on his. “So, what now? Any idea what’s going on?”

He sighs and glances up at the ceiling. “Not a clue. The only thing we can do now is follow Erwin’s plans. I'm sure Hange's developed a few theories too."

You bite your lip in frustration. “Do you always do that?”

“What?”

“Go along with whatever Erwin says?”

“I don’t-” he stops himself. “It’s a long story. If you saw my memories, you should already know.”

You turn away with a sigh. “Is it because you still love him?”

He whips around to face you. “What?”

“You told me you were together, but after everything that happened, you chose me right? That doesn’t mean you don’t love him though.” You glance down and fidget with the hem of your shirt.

He turns away, blushing. “I-it’s not like that…not anymore.”

“Then what? Why do you still hang on to his every word?”

He pauses before looking back at you, his face illuminated in the moonlight. “It’s because I made a promise not to live with regrets. I dedicated my life to the Survey Corps so that I could live for those I lost. Maybe then, they could see the sun and experience the beauty of this world too.”

“I see,” you smile. “I'm sure they will." Standing, you make your way to the door. You don’t want to push him any further unnecessarily. He’s been through enough as it is. 

“Nova.”

“Hm?”

“Why do you care so much?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re always looking out for others to the detriment of yourself. During your time here, you put up with my indecisiveness, went on missions, and endured Hange’s torture. Hell, you’re on this mission now too, pretending we’re not as close as we are. So, why do all that?”

You smile slightly and pause by the door. “Why do you think? Dumbass.”

His eyes widen in recognition. “Nova, you mean you-”

You shake your head and turn back to him, blushing slightly. “It’s fine, Captain. I know our situation is tumultuous at best. I just thought that…well…before we leave tomorrow, I-”

Before you have a chance to continue, he silences you with a kiss. His fingertips trace your jawline, running upwards through your hair. You sink into his embrace, as he presses you against the door. He grips your waist firmly, pulling you even closer to him.

You gasp for air, thinking about your mission. “Levi, wait. We don’t have to-”

He releases you from his grip, before looking into your moonlit gaze. “Don’t you understand how I truly feel, yet? Don’t you know how difficult this is for me too? Honestly, damned brat.”

“Captain…Levi.”

He rests his head against your shoulder in a moment of vulnerability. “Just for tonight, let’s forgo the formalities.”

You glance into his eyes, laden with desire and an inability to hold back any longer. Fuck it, consequences be damned. Tilting his chin back up to meet your lips, you lock him into your embrace. You latch onto his lapels, refusing to let go as he crushes his mouth onto yours urgently.

He spins you around in a gentle dance, before pushing you back onto the bed. His hands press on either side of the mattress, caging you in. You relish in his possessiveness. You know that you’re still in control either way. Twisting your fingertips through his hair, you pull him down, while angling your knee in between you both. He lets out a slight groan at your touch. 

The key dangles from his neck as a reminder of your ever-present connection. The golden hue taps against your neck as he leans over you. The red thread shimmers in the dim light. 

He pauses for a moment, taking in your beauty. Then, he gently lowers himself down. He lifts your leg onto his waist, longing to shower you with his affection, if only for tonight.

You trace his arms with every touch, as his mouth explores every curve of your body, worshiping your figure. When reaches the sweet spot on your neck and traces his fingertips over your throat, you can’t take it anymore. You reach up and, in one swift movement, rip his shirt open. The buttons fly across the floor. 

He kisses you fervently, ignoring the mess, before reaching for your shirt and hauling it over your head. His lips only leave yours for that moment, before crashing back into them. You wrap your arms around his neck, tracing his undercut and running your fingers through his silky dark hair. You can’t help but focus every ounce of attention on the raven-haired angel before you. 

Slowly, but deliberately, he removes your trousers. You move your legs slightly as he grips each calf, pulling the cloth off each one. His touch is gentle, yet firm as his gaze moves over your silhouette. Your hair splays back on the pillows as you watch him remove his remaining attire. 

With only your underwear remaining, he hovers over you. Propped up on his elbows as he tempts you further, reaching his fingertips lower with every kiss. You feel your arousal growing, as the cotton covering you becomes slick. Your chest heaves in anticipation. 

Levi presses against you slightly, before reaching up and unhooking your bra. His mouth moves from your neck to your nipples. 

“C-Captain,” you groan as the heat in your body rises.

He moans against your breasts. “I thought I told you to forgo formalities.”

You glance down, finding his eyes are teasing, daring you to push him further. With a smirk, you understand. You hook your leg underneath him, before flipping your positions. Pinning his hands by his head, you move against him. 

He lets out a low warning groan. You take that as a sign of intrigue, longing to push him further. Reaching a finger upward, you hook into the waistband of his undergarments and ease them down. He’s already hard in anticipation. 

You lick your lips, but before you can move down, he grips your waist tightly. 

“N-Nova,” he grunts. “Are you sure?”

“More than I’ve been about anything,” you smile gently.

He returns it in kind, brushing his fingertips across your curves.

Eyes heavy and lidded with desire, you push your panties aside and ease yourself down onto him.

He groans at the sensation and you pause for a moment feeling him enter you.

Levi pauses and reaches a hand up towards you in concern. “Are you alright?” 

You smile and kiss him in response. “Are you?”

“God yes,” he whispers.

You smirk, pleased with his reactions. The stoic Levi Ackerman is putty in your hands. You move your body, drawing out every ounce of his desire. You tease and torment him, alternating speeds as you grind against him.

He responds in kind, not willing to let you take control any longer. He flips you over and pushes back into you. The sudden sensation causes your back to arch and a moan escapes your lips. 

“Looks like I’ve finally got you where I want you,” he mutters huskily into your ear. 

“L-Levi,” you whisper. In an instant, any hold you had on him disappears. 

He laces his fingers through yours, and a smirk curls across his lips. “Are you just going to lay down and take it?”

Your eyes flash open at his words. This guy. In response, you wrap your legs around his waist and push him back into a sitting position. 

“Tch. Damned brat.” 

“Captain Le-” You don’t make it any further as the wave of rising pleasure explodes. You rake your nails across his back as the sensation builds to a point.

Levi groans as your walls tighten around him. He continues pushing into you until your voice becomes ever louder. He covers your mouth hastily, feeling the way your muscles tense and shudder. Seeing you in such a state causes pleasure to overwhelm him as well. You cover his mouth in turn as you ride out your desire together.

For an instant, you feel a spark between you. One moment, you’re on Levi’s lap, and the next you’re looking at your own face swathed in pleasure. You feel his erection pulsating and your walls gripping it, coaxing out everything he has. Your bodies become one as you feel both sensations intermingle. 

It’s only when you come down off the high that you realize you’re looking at yourself, heaving for air. Strong emotions…shit.

Levi’s eyes widen as he eases himself off the body that should be his. He collapses on the bed beside you.

You look on, equally confused. 

“Levi?” You ask in his signature deep tone. 

“Well, shit,” he mutters in your feminine voice.

Chapter Text

Levi lies awake, remembering the previous night fondly. He’ll never forget Nova’s kindness, passion, and gentle smile. She cares, really cares about him. Last night, they truly became one. He hadn’t felt that way since he saw the stars collide on the clear summer night. He knew she meant more to him than anyone else at that moment.

Turning over he finds his own body sleeping soundly beside him, knowing that your soul resides within. Stretching out his palm, his arm is far more slender and delicate than he’s used to. He traces light circles, trying to wake Nova. She remains still, being ever the deep sleeper. 

He sighs before clearing his throat. “Nova. Oi, Nova,” he shakes her shoulder lightly. 

“I’m awake,” she mutters in his masculine tone. 

He pulls back. “Couldn’t sleep?”

“No.”

He sighs. “I guess you picked that up from me. At least you didn’t have the nightmares, right?”

She turns to face him, staring back with his own steely grey eyes. The early morning sky paints a blue glow across his face. “I’m so sorry, Levi.”

“What? No, this isn’t your fault. I just…I couldn’t-”

“Hey,” she whispers in his deep tone. “No regrets, right?”

His eyes widen and he takes a deep breath. If there’s one thing he doesn’t regret, it’s the night they shared together. “No regrets,” he smiles, before kissing her, or rather his, forehead. 

Seeing a smile on his own face is a strange sensation. When was the last time he truly smiled genuinely?

“Come on,” Nova sighs. “It’ll be sunrise soon.”

He nods and sits up, looking around for his clothes. He quickly realizes; however, that he’ll need to change into Nova’s attire instead. He pulls the blankets over his exposed figure and looks away in embarrassment. Nova seems to be thinking the same thing as she slides down under the covers.

Levi hurriedly rummages around and pulls on her dark shirt and white pants. “I-uh, I’ll be g-going now,” he stammers, pulling her hair over his face.

“Y-yeah,” Nova nods. 

“Meet outside in ten,” he responds curtly, before hurrying out the door and slamming it closed. 

He takes an exhausted breath outside and heads over to her room. God damn it, why did this shit have to happen? Why didn’t we change back overnight?

Shaking his head, he enters Nova’s room and leans against the door frame. Good grief.

Glancing up slightly, he sees her clothes strewn across the floor again. Shit, does she have any common decency? Honestly, it’s not that difficult to tidy up after yourself. Damned brat.

With a sigh, he begins folding everything and stashing her attire in the dresser drawers. As he goes along though, he finds a piece of parchment buried underneath her cape. Unfolding it, he finds it's a letter. 

Dear Mom and Dad,

I know it’s hard to accept, but I’m leaving. This world is a cruel place and I refuse to remain stuck behind the walls of Shingeki City any longer. There’s more out there just beyond the mountains; of that, I am certain. I need to find my own path, in this world or the next. I need to find my own freedom. Whatever happens to me, please don’t let Nova get sucked into your ploy. She doesn’t deserve to be forced to stay here. Let her be free and find her own way. Please give her the love she deserves before it’s too late. I’ll see you again someday.

Love,

Elio

Levi’s hands shake slightly on reading the note. Without realizing it, his eyes fill with tears. This world is indeed a cruel and beautiful place, just as it is where Nova’s from. With a deep breath, he folds it back up and lays it on the dresser. He’ll do whatever it takes to fight for her freedom.

Changing into her military attire, he focuses on the task at hand. Perhaps it’s a good thing they switched. This way, he’ll face the titans in her stead. That said, if they switch back as planned, she’ll be thrown into the fray. He knows he trained her well even so. Yes, he has to have faith that she can survive this too. They’ll show everyone how strong they really are. 

Placing his palms on the windowsill, he looks out at the dark blue sky, still dotted with distant stars. Erwin, Hange, you’d better be there to fight for Nova as I will. His nails dig into the wood, scratching it slightly. Bringing them back, he holds Nova’s hands up to the dim light. He can feel the artistry radiating from her fingertips. Her creativity is unparalleled amongst them all.

She’s so passionate and doesn’t realize her true strength at times. He thinks back to the way she raked her nails across his back last night. His fingertips dance across his shoulders with the memory. He trails them up to his neck, before feeling a slight sting. His eyes widen at the memory of what he did. 

He quickly heads to the bathroom. Standing before the mirror, he finds a red mark at the base of Nova’s neck. Shit. He pulls her dress shirt and jacket up a bit to cover the mark, before wrapping her cape across his shoulders. He glances at her stern expression in the mirror. Her hair is mussed from the previous night and only a hint of rouge remains on her face. He washes it clean and ties her hair back in a ponytail. It’ll have to do for now. 

He steps forward into the hallway and is about to head down the stairs when he hears a sudden cry.

“Shit!”

The hell?

Running across the hall, he hauls open the door to his room. “Nova?! Oi, answer me!” 

There’s a rustling near the bathroom.

He runs across to find Nova, still in his body, on the cold, damp floor.

“Hey!” He crouches down beside her. She’s holding her neck warily. 

“What’s wrong? Let me see.”

He peels back her hand slightly, to find a glaring sheen of red. “What the hell is this?!”

Nova bites her lip nervously, before responding in his deep tone. “I was just following the usual routine when we switch. The blade got away from me though.”

“Huh?” 

Her now grey eyes dart away from him rapidly in embarrassment. 

Recognition floods through him. So that’s what this is. He can’t help but chuckle a little at the thought.

“What? Come on, Levi. It’s not funny.”

He bursts out laughing in her shrill tone, unable to contain himself any longer. “I’m sorry. I just didn’t expect that you’d go that far, damned brat.”

Nova shifts uncomfortably. “Well, I know how annoyingly picky you are about this sort of thing. Excuse me for trying,” she rolls her eyes.

 For a moment, he can almost believe he’s looking at himself. “Come here,” he motions. “I’ll help you. Don’t worry about it.”

Grudgingly, Nova submits and allows him to take a closer look. 

He examines the small nick on the side of her neck. It’s not deep, thankfully. “Come sit down,” he pulls over a stool for her. “I’ll help you do this properly. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all.”

Nova blushes slightly but sits down willingly. 

Levi smirks at the sight before preparing a towel, soap, and shaving cream. He rinses the blade Nova was using under hot water. “Ready?”

“Just do it,” she rolls her eyes. 

He brushes his fingertips across her jaw, before giving her a quick kiss. Nova’s cheeks burn a bright red, which is an odd sight to see on his face. 

He moves to his usual routine, rinsing her face gently with a cloth. Even in his body, she relaxes slightly at his touch. The sight is oddly comforting. He tilts her face back towards him and rubs the cream on evenly. She sits perfectly still with her eyes closed, allowing him to work away. He’s more cautious than usual with his blade, so as not to harm her even in this form. His touch is gentle, and he checks in with her from time to time to make sure she’s doing okay. She merely mutters a ‘yes’ as he continues.

He rinses her face and runs a hand over the smooth skin. His now long hair tickles her face gently as he leans over her. “Done.”

His typically cold eyes hold a kind sheen as she turns back towards him. “Thanks, Levi. Sorry, about earlier,” her hand covers her bandaged neck slightly. 

“Don’t worry about it,” he turns away. “A-anyways, w-we should get going.”

She nods, standing and donning his jacket and cravat over 3DMG. “Let’s go.”

Taking a deep breath, he stands and heads back towards the door. 

“Wait,” Nova pauses behind him. 

“Hm?”

She pulls on his hair, tightening the band holding it together. “There, now we’re good.”

Levi rolls his eyes, though he can’t help but admit that it feels more secure. Together, they walk down the stairs and into the street beyond.

Outside, the town is slowly waking up. Storekeepers bring out their goods and open windows as citizens begin to wake. The sky above them grows brighter as the sun threatens to peek through the horizon. They need to reach Wall Rose quickly. He turns to Nova and nods. Launching his 3DMG forward, he flies across the rooftops with Nova close behind. 

Being in her body feels odd. The bindings are tighter across his chest, and he has to push his hair out of the way every now and then. Still, at least he can spare her from the Commander’s scrutiny, even just for a little while. 

He launches his wires to the top of the Wall and flies forward towards the distant sunrise. Nova lands behind him shortly after. 

“Oh wow,” she mutters, looking out at the broad landscape

The trees and fields are bathed in a deep blue that lightens gradually. The houses below the Wall are worn down but still stand, with the coming of a new dawn. The only disruption to the peace is a slow rumble, as titans begin to stir. It won’t be long now before they gather around the boulder in the Wall, circling the mass of citizens on the other side. 

Turning to face the city, Levi witnesses similar stirrings amongst store clerks and people setting up for the day ahead. There’s an air of tension considering the attack on Trost months ago. There’s no place that is truly safe from the titans anymore. Still, if they can find a way back to Nova’s world, perhaps they will be free of this hell. He realizes that this could be the start of a new era void of the trauma the titans bring. 

He glances over at Nova, who stands stoically in his form. Her expression is unreadable, but he can tell she’s nervous. There’s a lot riding on this experiment. Glancing around, he wonders if Hange and Erwin are camped out somewhere with the recruits, waiting for their moment to harness the power of the stars. It’s up to them to make this happen.

“Hey,” he places a hand on her shoulder. “It’s going to be okay. We’ll switch back, I know it. Hange will find a way to get us back to your world. They’re persistent if nothing else.”

She smiles slightly, but it’s a fake one. He can’t blame her considering the stakes. If they fail, who knows what Zackly and Pyxis will do. Besides that, considering Elio’s note, there will be other challenges facing them in Shingeki City too. 

“Ah, good morning Captain, Lieutenant,” Pyxis nods, strolling over. 

“Commander Pyxis,” Nova nods. 

“Hn,” Levi responds. On seeing Pyxis’ eyes narrow though, he gives a salute. He has to keep in mind Nova’s personality. She still acts with the usual formalities…what a pain.

“Greetings, I trust your evening was well spent,” Zackly approaches shortly after. 

The two men stare Nova and Levi down after their encounters the previous night. They know they are up to something but can’t figure out what. 

Zackly stares down at Nova, his eyes dropping to her chest. She pulls her cloak a little closer around her shoulders. It takes Levi a moment to realize, Zackly is ogling the key tucked safely behind the cravat around her neck. In this form, he must not be able to tell the difference between them. That’s good, they just need to keep up the act a little longer. 

Glancing over at Pyxis; however, he can see his lips curl into a knowing smile. 

“I must say that I’m quite intrigued by your skills, Lieutenant. Beauty, that you are. After our conversation last night, I am eager to see what you have to offer.”

What is this old fart playing at? Damn it, does he suspect? No, there’s still time. Taking a deep breath, he gives the Commander a forced smile. “You’re too kind, sir.”

He chuckles darkly, his golden eyes crinkling. Zackly stands tall without batting an eye. 

“Shall we begin?” the Premier walks towards the edge of the Wall. “It seems we’ll soon have company.”

Glancing down, Levi sees at least ten titans grabbing at the Wall, demanding entry. He glances over at Nova. Her expression remains the same. She’s doing well with her facade. All they need to do now is find a way to switch at the moment of truth. He hopes Hange is ready. In mere moments this could all be over. Peace is just within their grasp. 

“Good luck, Lieutenant,” Nova offers with a salute. 

He nods, ignoring the stares of suspicion from Zackly and Pyxis. From this moment on, they’ll be under scrutiny regardless. With their combined knowledge, the two old men will undoubtedly desire the power of the key. They need to find a way to Shingeki City before then, or it will be too late. He shakes his head, he needs to focus. He has to trust that he and Nova will be able to make it out of here in one piece.

As the sun breaks through the horizon, the world lights up in fire. It’s time. He gives one last glance back towards Nova, before launching himself down the Wall. 

“Hey, uglies,” he mutters as the titans grab at him, jaws open. He whips around, launching himself through the air. Spinning forward, he slices through two of their napes in a row. 

He flies back onto the rooftops, as two more grab at him. “Nice try, but it’s the end of the line.” 

Hooking a wire into the next titan’s shoulder, he launches himself forward, avoiding its grasp as he does. He slices through the nape with ease and uses the momentum to blind the other titan. Standing on its head, he replaces his blades. 

“Tch, shut up. This will all be over quickly,” he flips back and slices its neck with ease. 

Landing back on the rooftop, he glances up towards the Wall. What the hell is taking so long? Nova should have switched by now. He can’t see what’s going on from this distance. Damn it!

A titan jumps towards him while his back is turned. He flips back and slices its nape. Blood splatters on his uniform. Tch. Disgusting. Just two left. He gives one more glance up, before striking down the titans approaching. There’s more coming in the distance, but that’s enough for now. 

He attaches his gear to the middle of the Wall and hovers above, trying to find a good vantage point. If only he could see what’s happening above him. 

His blood runs cold, on hearing a deep cry.

“Get the hell off me!” His own deep tone calls.

“Please, sir. You don’t understand what this will do! We need them together. Can’t you see the importance of this mission? We could save humanity!” Hange struggles.

“Exactly, which is why we must take them into custody and find out everything we can. They are already switched, you see,” Pyxis comments casually.

“I know that, but this is our one opportunity. As soon as the sun reaches its peak, we can harness its power. Please, this is the only way! We’re running out of time!”

“Enough, Section Commander. Pyxis, take the Captain into custody, or rather, the Lieutenant.”

Shit! Where the hell is Erwin and the recruits?!

He flies up to the top of the Wall to find the Garrison prepared to strike. Several soldiers have their guns pointed at Nova and Hange.  

He draws his swords, prepared to do whatever is necessary. “Let them go,” his eyes narrow. “I won’t ask a second time.”

“Ah, Lieutenant, or is it Captain? Yes, everything makes sense now. I must say, Nova did a fine job with her little lies. I could tell she was spinning in snippets of the truth, which is quite compelling. That said, I’ve been playing this game a lot longer than either of you.”

“Please, sir! There’s more at stake!” Hange cries, being held back by two members of the Garrison. 

“Section Commander, please try to understand that we are doing this for the sake of humanity. We are on your side and will use your expertise; however, you will not go behind our backs any longer. This is what has to be done.”

“Bullshit,” Levi levels his swords at their throats. 

“Levi,” a familiar voice gives him pause. 

He turns to find Erwin behind him, standing as bold as ever. He gives him a slight smile, before turning toward the others. “Now!” He fires off a green smoke signal.

From below the Wall, the recruits fly up towards them. They disarm as many Garrison members as they can. Mikasa makes for Nova, who is still in Pyxis’ grasp and levels her sword.

“So, you’re planning a coup d’état?”

“No, the opposite in fact,” Erwin responds calmly.

Levi flinches slightly at his words. Could he? No, Erwin would never betray him. 

On cue, Hange breaks free from the hold of the Garrison and heads for him.

“You want to fill me in on what the fuck’s going on?” 

“Nova, oh you’re actually Levi, right?”

“Spill it, Four-Eyes.”

“You’ll see.”

“Now, Arlet!” Erwin calls behind him. 

“R-right!” The blonde kid runs between himself and Nova. Bending down, he connects what looks to be two wires.

Levi glances down, finding they run in both directions endlessly. “The hell?”

Armin cries out as he connects the wires together. “Now! Do it!”

“Go, Levi. You need to make contact with Nova,” Hange pushes him forward. “It’s now or never!”

Across from him, Mikasa disarms Pyxis and releases Nova, urging her forward. 

“Go!” Armin calls.

Levi reaches his hand out and grasps Nova’s fingertips. He pulls her into a close embrace, feeling the key underneath. The wires light up as they come together. A spark connects them, more powerful than usual. Still, he refuses to let go. 

His consciousness splits between his own body and hers. Glancing into her eyes as they switch, he mouths something he should have said a long time ago. 

I love you.

Chapter Text

“Nova?”

Huh, whose voice is that?

“Nova!”

Levi? No. Who?

“Hey!”

Peeling your eyes open, you find yourself face to face with your brother. “Elio?”

His warm smile and soft golden hair shimmer in the white void before you. He envelops you in a warm embrace despite your frozen surprise.  “I thought I’d never see you again.”

Shaking your head slightly, you wonder what’s going on. You pull back in shock, taking in his image. It’s really him, he’s right before you. Is this a dream? It has to be, right? “Wait, how are you here? What is this? What’s going on?”

“Shh,” he holds a finger to your lips. “I don’t have much time.” He glances around with a stern expression that’s reminiscent of someone else you know. 

Wait…Levi. Where is he? Did you switch again? Glancing down at your hands, you find your body is distinctly your own. So where is he? Your memory is hazy. You rub your hand against your throat, wondering if the key is safe in his possession. You’re still alive at the very least…then again, you’re not entirely sure. Everything in this void seems like a contradiction of sorts.

Elio smiles knowingly. “Hey, it’s okay.”

“No, I need to find him. I need to find…”

He takes your hand. “It’s okay.”

Your eyes fill with tears as reality sets in. Even if it is a dream, it’s a wonderful one. You squeeze his hand tightly and twist into his chest, resting your head against him. It’s so warm and comforting. You never thought you’d be able to experience his light again. 

“I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” he whispers, holding you close.

Before you can dissolve into tears; however, he points to a figure emerging from the shadows. It’s hazy, but your eyes widen as you begin to make out the details. 

“Grandma Mei?”

The elderly woman smiles softly steps forward, before enveloping you both in a tight hug. “Oh, my darlings.”

“Grandma Mei, what?” You pause on seeing Elio’s expression. His brow is furrowed and tears dance along the corners of his eyes. 

She cups his face tenderly, before turning to you and placing a hand on your head. She ruffles your hair softly, as she used to when you were a small child. It feels strangely familiar. 

“I don’t understand. What’s going on?”

The exchange a nervous glance and turn to you.

“The time has come for you to make a choice, Nova.”

“A choice?”

“Will you be with the one you love or go your separate ways?”

You pause in confusion, before registering her comment. “I want to be with Levi, of course. Wherever he is, I’ll go too.”

Grandma Mei sighs. “Then it’s time for me to share my story.”

You watch as she closes her eyes in concentration, before glancing upward. “It was over 60 years ago…”

-

“Come on, Mei! We are going to be late if we do not hurry!”

“Wait up, Emma! Oof!”

The girl ahead pauses before bursting into laughter. “Honestly, you are so clumsy. Look at you, you are covered in grass stains from head to toe! What will your mother think if she sees you like this? Come on now, I will dust you off. There,” she sweeps a white handkerchief across her face.

“I can do it myself. I’m not a child!” 

“Oh really, says the teen who nearly fell off the train yesterday.”

“I’m not that bad,” Mei rolls her eyes. “Besides, I’m closing in on sixteen, thank you very much.”

“Well anyway, let us just lay back and watch the stars.”

Mei huffs, pushing her dark braid behind her back and crossing her arms stubbornly. 

“Oh come on, if you are lucky they will bring you true love,” Emma entices her. With dark blue eyes sparkling in the moonlight, she inches towards the young woman before her. “Your mother told me about them. It is said that if you see two stars crossing over at the same time as your soulmate, you will meet across the galaxies.”

“That’s not true, my mother is always making up stories.”

“Well, maybe so but it is nice to dream, is it not?”

“I suppose.”

“Come on,” Emma wraps an arm around her friend. “Let us give it a try at least.”

With a sigh, Mei lays down beside her. Emma is more of a sister than anything. Having moved to Shingeki City when she was just eight, the woman beside her was her first friend and helped her adjust to her new life. Together they formed a kinship learning about each others’ lives and worlds. 

Now, as she looks up towards the shooting stars in the night sky, Mei wonders if they can stay like this forever. Soon Emma will marry, and she will be left alone. What will be waiting for her after her friend moves on? Will she be destined to spend eternity with only her parents to support her? Now more than ever, she wishes she could have someone by her side like Emma does. 

As the night sky deepens and the stars grow brighter, Mei watches them shift and twinkle. One star shimmers purple and blue. Then, without warning, it explodes in a coloured light before splitting apart and racing across the sky. As they pass overhead they intersect and cross over, dissipating into the night. 

“Hey, did you see that? So beautiful!”

“See what?” Emma turns groggily to face her.

“Those stars, they were incredible!”

“Really? How unfortunate, I would have liked to see them.”

“Yeah,” Mei stares at the sky as a gentle summer breeze drifts across the mountain range. She has an uncomfortable feeling that change is on the horizon. 

- The Next Morning -

When dawn breaks, Mei stretches out and welcomes the new day, only something feels off. Glancing at her surroundings, she finds they are unfamiliar. As she looks down, she finds herself bare-chested in a pair of brown pyjama pants.

“What? What is this?!” One hand flies to her throat and the other lands across her flat chest as a deep tone resonates.

As her eyes trail back down, she finds a strange-looking key that hangs around her neck from a red thread. She holds it tentatively to the light from the window beside her.

Before she can examine it; however, there’s a  sharp knock on the door. “Isaac, it’s time for breakfast!”

Isaac? Who’s Issac?

Standing, Mei makes her way to a small vanity by the bed. Glancing in the mirror; however, she finds a tall man with brown hair standing before her. His eyes have a blue-grey tint to them and his features are somewhat handsome if she’s being honest. She jumps back in surprise, as he mimics her every movement. He looks the same too. No way! It can’t be, can it?! She stretches her face and the man in the mirror does the same. 

“Hurry up now, boy! Don’t keep your mother waitin’,” a sharp tone calls.

Could he be talking to me?

Deciding she needs answers, she goes to the dresser and finds a white dress shirt and pants. She nearly passes out with embarrassment but continues forward even so. 

Stepping into the small cabin-like space, she finds a middle-aged couple seated at a wooden table. The man with parted black hair sips tea, holding his teacup oddly from the top rather than by the handle. The woman smiles warmly as she approaches her. Her long brown hair tumbles across her face despite being tied up in a bun. Her warmth complements the icy cold of her partner.

“Well? What are you standing around for, boy? Sit down and eat before your meal gets cold.”

Unsure of what else to do, Mei sits beside the woman currently serving up a bowl of porridge. She takes a tentative bite, noting it's bland compared to what she’s used to. 

“Is something the matter, dear?” Her kind eyes search Mei’s foreign gaze.

“N-no…only…” She can’t help it anymore, she needs answers. “Who are you?”

“Huh?”

“What’re you talking about now?”

“Sorry, I’m just confused. I woke up in this strange place, and I have no idea where I am, or who I am…”

The couple stares at him in disbelief. The older man slams his cup on the table, splattering tea and staining the wood. “Don’t,” he grimaces.

“Pardon?”

“Don’t you dare mock our past! Honestly, haven’t we suffered enough?”

“What are you talking about?”

The two exchange nervous glances. The woman goes to the window and pulls across the blinds swiftly, blocking out the light.

“Have you forgotten everything I taught you, boy?” He runs a hand through his hair with a sigh. “Never forget the fate of our clan, Issac. We Ackermans need to fight to survive.”

- 3 Weeks Later -

“Mei, dear. Can you hand me the flour, please?”

Nodding, the young woman pushes the bag towards her. With her hands continually working, she kneads bread dough alongside her mother. As she does, she thinks about the boy who haunts her dreams. Every other day, she finds herself compelled to walk through the pine door, into his world. Who is he exactly? Why is this happening?

Mei!

Her eyes snap up as a voice interrupts her thoughts. Issac?

“Honey, are you alright? You look pale,” her mother places a hand on her forehead.

Mei, please! Help me! 

Dropping the dough on the floor, Mei whips around. Where is he? 

An image of a strange man floods into her vision. He’s armed with a knife and poised to strike. An electric pulse seems to work its way through her veins. She feels the key pulse against her chest rapidly.

“Darling, what is it?” Her mother prods concernedly. 

Dropping to her knees, Mei sees the man charge at Issac. “No!” 

Gripping the key, she wills herself to switch with him, anything to save him.

She feels her consciousness shift until the man with the knife is standing above her instead. She catches the knife just in time, without stopping to consider the switch that occurred.

Narrowing her gaze at the intruder, she refuses to let Issac be killed. After disarming the ominous figure, she grabs a poker from the wood stove, it burns bright orange at the end. She levels it at his bulky form threateningly. 

As he charges again, she springs forward shattering the floorboards below. Running forward, she drives the spear straight through the intruder’s gut. 

“Damn, bastard,” he stumbles back, coughing up blood. “You’ll kill us all. Can’t you see?” He slumps back, heaving for air as the wound spreads. Blood trickles from his mouth and stomach as he attempts to staunch the bleeding.

Mei steps back as the reality of the gruesome scene overwhelms her. Dropping to her hands and knees she wretches. 

“Issac?”

A familiar voice brings her back to her senses. Her breath shudders as she turns her head. To her left her own figure lies unconscious beside Mrs. Ackerman, who is rapidly bleeding out. 

Rushing over, Mei shakily tries to stop the bleeding. “No, please no. He can’t lose his mother, he can’t.”

“Shhh,” she holds a weary hand up to Issac’s face. Mei flinches at the touch. “Take care of my boy,” she whispers. Her palm drops to the ground as her eyes glaze over. She lies perfectly still and lifeless, no longer able to feel the warmth of her own child.

“No, no. Mrs. Ackerman! No!” 

Footsteps approach rapidly as Mei sobs over the woman’s cold frame. 

A pile of logs crashes in a heap by the doorway. “Rachel? Rachel!” 

“I’m s-sorry,” Mei stammers. “I couldn’t protect her.”

“What happened?” He asks through gritted teeth. “Tell me now, boy.”

Stepping back, you reveal the man with the poker still wedged in his stomach. His breathing is laboured as he struggles against the spear. The blood from his wound pools around him further with every movement.

Mr. Ackerman takes one last glance at his wife, before narrowing his gaze at the intruder. A cold intensity envelops him and his eyes flash with rage. Mei watches as he retrieves a knife from his belt and walks toward the figure.

Mei bites her lip, turning as her own frame stirs beside her. Thank goodness the real Issac is still alive. 

When Mr. Ackerman stands before the intruder, Mei knows what’s about to occur. She turns away as the knife is brought down, slashing him in a final fatal blow. His blood splatters across Mr. Ackerman before the intruder’s body goes limp. 

Walking back, he drops the knife and crouches beside his wife. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he inhales sharply before placing his bloodied hand over her eyes. He shakes slightly, trying to keep from breaking down altogether as his tears form heavily. His gaze drifts to the girl in the corner, though, bringing him temporarily out of his despair. “Who’s this?”

Mei stiffens slightly. “Um, an innocent. She was attacked by that man as well.”

“Take care of her for now. We’ll send her on her way once she’s well.”

Mei wants to argue but decides against it. She doesn’t want to test his patience. Standing, she gathers her body in Issac’s arms and heads towards his bedroom.

Laying her body on the bed, she takes a seat on the edge. Spying the key though, she dares to retrieve it. A spark connects them, instantly. Then everything fades into darkness.

Chapter Text

“The Ackermans were targeted for generations, “ Grandma Mei sighs. “Poor Mr. and Mrs. Ackerman, they suffered so much. Even before the attack, they lived constantly on edge, waiting for something to tear them apart. It was a miracle Issac’s younger brother fled when the tensions started to rise.”

You frown. To think, Lily’s grandmother endured so much with the same link across the stars. “Why were they targeted?”

Grandma Mei bites her lip. “Well, the Ackermans were a special clan. They had a power that could triumph over anyone, even the king.”

“The king?”

She nods. “The higher-ups of Issac’s hometown grew anxious about the clan’s strength and intelligence. They sought to eliminate them and destroy their immense power. So, on the day I arrived to save him, the goal was to wipe his family off the map.”

“But then, how did you escape? Did Issac and Mr. Ackerman survive?”

“It wasn’t easy. Issac and his father were forced into hiding and had to renounce the Ackerman name. They hid in plain sight as refugees for years. Unable to return to my own world, I opted to join them. Still, due to my predominantly Asian heritage, I found myself in a similar situation as them." She pauses, reflecting on her past. “Together, Issac and I trained to protect ourselves against those who would seek to harm us. He had an astonishing skillset, even back then.”

“I see, sounds familiar,” you mutter. 

Grandma Mei smiles softly. “There were happy times in that world too though. Don’t forget, Issac and I were soulmates. Our story didn’t end there.”

“Oh?”

“We married a couple of years later and had three beautiful children. Even now, I think about them every day. My family still means the world to me.”

-

“Issac, dear?”

“Hm?”

“Is everything ready?”

“Yes. Come on kids, let’s get going.”

“Yay! Let’s go!”

Two small children run down the hallway towards them. 

“There are my darlings,” Mei smiles. 

The little girl before her raises her arms expectantly. Her dark hair falls in soft waves around her shoulders. Her white dress flows as she twirls. “Look at my new dress, Mommy.”

“What a pretty girl." Mei picks her daughter up and holds her close.

"Careful dear," Issac reaches towards them protectively.

Mei smiles softly. "Don't worry, I'm fine."

“Stop being such a baby, Kuchel," the older boy scoffs. 

“Now, Kenny." Issac places his hat on the boy’s head gruffly. “Be nice to your sister.”

“Hmph, fine,” he grumbles. 

Mei can tell that he’s happy, even so. That boy is a handful, but he has a kind heart despite his attitude. 

“Alright, let’s go!" She smiles, opening the door to the warm summer day before them.

Issac picks up the basket filled with goods and a picnic blanket. He holds Kenny’s hand tightly as he tries to run away at every turn. 

Mei laughs at the sight. In the bright summer air, everything feels perfect. She inhales, taking in the scent of the fresh grass and blossoms around them. They step forward towards the distant fields. She hopes every day can be as wonderful as this one. 

When they reach the top of a nearby hill, she places Kuchel down on the grass. The children roam and play, while she looks on. They really are adorable, even that rascal Kenny who’s pulling on his little sister’s hair. Poor thing, if she gets another brother, she’s doomed. 

“Dear?” Mei leans against the shaded tree.

“Hm?” Issac turns. “Hey, let me help you down.” Grabbing her arm, he eases her onto the blanket and takes a seat next to her. 

With a smile, he glances at her large belly. Very soon a new life will be among them. He places an affectionate hand on her abdomen, while she smiles and continues watching the children play. 

“We’ll stay like this forever, right Issac?”

He exhales and rests his palm atop her head. “Of course,” he whispers. His brow furrows though. How long can they pretend to be the perfect family like this? Sooner or later, the truth will be revealed, of that he is certain. All they can do is enjoy this moment while it lasts. 

They continue on until the sun sets beyond the horizon, blazing red amongst the trees.

“Mommy!” Kuchel runs towards Mei in tears. 

“What is it, sweetie?”

“Get back here, Kuchel!” Kenny runs after her, holding a rat by its tail. 

Mei resists the urge to chuckle as she holds her daughter close. The baby kicks with excitement. 

Issac rolls his eyes and steps forward. “Alright Kenny, that’s enough for now.”

“But-”

Issac gives him a stern look. On seeing his son's frown though, he pushes his hat further over his eyes. “Come on, kid. Let’s go back.”

With Issac’s aid in getting to her feet, they make their way back home. “Maybe next time we can visit Grandpa in Mitras.”

“Yay, Grandpa!” Kuchel squeals. 

“Seriously? Why do we have to see that old geezer?” Kenny mumbles.

“I wonder how he’s doing? Maybe this little one will be able to see him soon too.”

Issac glances up at the setting sun. “From what I’ve heard, he has his own tea shop in the Capitol but he is growing weary. Ever since my mother’s death, he hasn’t been the same. I suppose that’s a part of the curse of our family. He lost his whole reason for existence.”

Mei looks down, remembering the horrible day when Mrs. Ackerman was killed. “He still has you though. This family will help him to carry on.”

“I suppose you’re right. Anyway, that’s enough talk. Let’s get home. It’ll soon be time for the children to go to bed.”

“What? I’m not tired!” Kenny insists though he yawns in spite of himself. 

Kuchel rubs her eyes, further emphasizing his point. 

Mei smiles at the sight. Despite the hardships they’ve endured, their children brought light into their lives. Vowing to remain in this world instead of her own, she leads a comfortable life filled with beauty and love. She refuses to give that up under any circumstances. 

Glancing up at her husband, she squeezes his hand tightly. 

Together, they carry their children back into their tiny home. Kuchel sleeps soundly against her chest, while Kenny clings to Issac with his father’s hat still drooping over his face. 

After carrying them inside, they tuck the children into their beds for the night.

Mei and Issac return to the living area where a gentle fire burns in the woodstove. 

“What a day,” Mei yawns, leaning back in a rocking chair. She rubs her belly gently, calming the stirring infant within her.

“Yeah,” Issac sighs, across from her.

Staring into the fire, she can’t help but feel that there will be a change coming with this child. The thought terrifies her. With their switches, anything is possible. It’s been eight years since she first arrived in this world, but the threat of her return back to the city looms over her head. 

Her husband seems to be thinking the same thing as he gazes into the fire. 

“Issac?”

“Hm?”

“I love you. Wherever I am, I will always love you.”

He glances at her melancholy expression. His eyes widen and he moves to sit in front of her. “Mei? Tell me, what’s wrong?”

She glances into his wide eyes, filled with love and concern for her well-being. It brings tears to her eyes. She knows all too well that this cannot last. 

Issac grasps her palms shakily. “Hey, it’ll be okay. We’ve made it this far, haven’t we?” He kisses her stomach affectionately. 

Mei sighs, before glancing down at the key still hanging from her neck. It's time, now before it's too late. “Here,” she removes the red thread and hands it to him. 

“What’s this for? You know you need it to keep up your strength.”

“Take it, my love,” Mei whispers.

His eyes widen. “Wait, you don’t mean…”

Mei nods. “It’s time.”

“No, you can’t leave, not now,” he stumbles back. “Y-you’re pregnant, who knows what going back will do to you now.”

“It’s not something I can choose this time, Issac. I can feel the pull. I have for years in my dreams, but every time I’ve returned home to you.”

“So stay again, damn it! You have Kenny and Kuchel. You have me! Please don’t do this.”

Tears stream down her face. She can feel her consciousness shifting even now. The longer she stays away from her own world, the harder it will be to keep her own sense of self. Soon, she and Issac will be one and the same. Her entire existence will be nothing more than a wonderful dream in the minds of those she cares about. She will disappear from both worlds completely, never to return. Such is the fate of all those who switch. 

Mei glances down at her large belly. By the time this child is born, it will be too late. It's now or never.

“It’s selfish. I just want this child to live and grow up, even if we have to live in different worlds to survive. Considering the pull to my world, I’m worried this child might disappear along with me if we stay. Maybe it would be easier though if we simply ceased to exist. In a way, we would be nothing more than a happy memory. That way, there would be no one to grieve or miss.”

“No!” Issac grabs her shoulders fiercely. “No matter what, you and our child have to live! We are bonded for life, and that means no matter where you are I will always have a part of you with me. I’ll make sure our children remember you, just as you’ll take care of this little one. I just…I want…” He buckles over as the truth pierces through his soul.

Bending down, she holds her husband tightly in her arms. “This child will never forget what you’ve done for us. They’ll know of our love and how we crossed space and time to be together. They’ll know everything, I promise.” Mei shakes slightly, while the child kicks fiercely within her. 

Issac kisses her tenderly with tear-stained cheeks, before reaching for the key. “I promise, I’ll keep Kuchel and Kenny safe. They’ll never forget you.”

“I-Issac.”

 “Shh. It’s okay. I know we’ll meet again my love, in this world or the next, on the night of the summer solstice.”

As she breaks down in sobs, Issac takes the key with a warm smile. “I love you, Mei.”

A strong electric signal sparks between them. Before it can sweep her away, Mei cries out. “I love you, Issac Ackerman. I always will!”

 

4 Years Later

As stars emerge in the deepening sky, Mei sits excitedly awaiting the beginning of the summer solstice. Her eyes remain peeled, keeping an ever-ready watch on the skyline. She knows she can trust her dear friend Emma and her young daughter, Miranda to take care of little Rachel. While her daughter is safe with them, she'll return to other her family for this one day.

She imagines Issac’s stoic face turning gentle and affectionate, as he rushes to her side. Her children must have grown quite a bit by now too. Every year that passes, she’s reminded of how much she’s missing. Now, in her fourth year since she left, she can scarcely imagine how much they’ve changed. 

The last time she visited, Kuchel’s beauty had grown and she was beginning to fight back against Kenny’s torment. Her son, on the other hand, was just as rambunctious as ever. Will he be the same now? She knows her absence was incredibly difficult on them. She regrets leaving her dear children and husband every single day. All she can do now is enjoy what little time she can spend with them.

As the night grows darker, shooting stars begin to dance across the sky. She takes a deep breath and watches as two intersect with blue and purple streams, flying overhead. Take me home, she pleads. 

When she opens her eyes, she finds herself in a white void. Across the way is a rustic plain-looking door. She runs towards it, unable to wait another moment until she can see her family again. 

“Issac!” She calls desperately, swinging it open.

When she opens her eyes again, she sobs in relief. Before her is her dear husband, sitting on a tree stump, quietly awaiting her return.

His eyes widen on seeing her approach. “Mei? Mei!” He stands as she runs towards him.

“Issac!” She crashes into his embrace, causing him to fall back onto the grass. She showers him with kisses and tears. 

“I missed you so much, my love!”

“I missed you too,” he smiles and pulls back her long hair to look at her face. “You still look the same.”

“So do you.” She sits back and brushes a tear from her eye. 

Issac sits up to meet her and kisses her tenderly. “Welcome home.”

“It’s good to be back,” Mei smiles.

“Come on, the children are waiting." He stands and offers her a hand. 

She grabs it excitedly. Her anxiety grows at the prospect though. How much will they have changed this time? Will they still care for her, or even recognize her?

“Hey,” Issac squeezes her palm. “It’ll be fine.”

Taking a deep breath, she follows him back towards their quaint home. A dim light shines from a candle in the window. 

As her husband opens the door, her eyes immediately fill with tears. 

Their old home looks the same with its comforting warmth and cozy atmosphere. She can feel the love still present in this place. The house where they lived together in peace and harmony is still here. Those happy memories are overwhelming and seem so distant now. If only they could have stayed like this forever. 

By the wood stove, Kuchel and Kenny sleep soundly against one another. Her little girl has grown into a young lady with her long black hair and soft features, which resemble her own. Her son is now approaching his teen years and has his arm draped protectively over his sister. A felt blanket is draped across them carefully. 

“Oh, my darlings,” Mei whispers shakily. “I’ve missed you so.”

Issac wraps his arm around her and kisses her head softly. 

Bending down, she watches over them as they rest. She bores the memory into her mind, determined never to forget how peaceful and filled with love they seem in this moment. 

Issac sits by her side, never letting his hand leave her figure. As he casually strokes her arm, he notices she’s gotten thinner. He can’t imagine the burden leaving must have placed on her. For this single day, he’s determined to love and devote himself to protecting her again. 

As the sun rises and streams through the window, Mei and Issac continue to watch over their children.

Kuchel is the first to stir. She yawns and rubs her eyes sleepily. As she adjusts to the space, she hones in on her parents. “M-mommy? Mommy!”

As she runs to her side, her brother falls to the ground, waking on impact. “Ouch, hey Kuchel,” he grumbles. Glancing up and rubbing his head, he watches the scene before him.

“Oh, Kuchel. I missed you.” Mei scoops up her daughter. She notices her face has changed to become slightly more mature than last year. Her little girl is now at least seven years old. The thought brings a tear to her eye as she holds her close. 

Issac smiles softly and turns to Kenny. “Aren’t you going to say hello to your mother? Go on, son.”

“Why should I acknowledge the bitch who abandoned us?”

“Kenny!” Issac scolds him. 

“No, it’s alright,” Mei places Kuchel down and approaches the boy. She sighs, her son has been through so much since her absence. At this point, he’s hardly even a child. He had to grow up so quickly without her by his side. Standing before him now, she finds he’s grown much taller too. From this point on, he’ll only continue to drift further away from her.

She pulls him close to her side while she can. “I can hardly call myself a mother at this point. I failed you and I am so sorry. I should have seen what my absence would do to you. Perhaps it would have been better if you’d all just forgotten about me.”

“Tch. You’ve got that right.”

“No,” Issac steps in. “This isn’t your fault. No one is to blame. Our very union is nothing short of a miracle.”

“Bullshit!” He pulls away from Mei’s grip, glaring at her. 

“Kenny,” Issac bends down to face him. “Please understand, this is tough for all of us. Honestly, sometimes I wonder if we made the right decision too. That said we can’t live with regrets. If we do they’ll consume us. No matter the cost, we have to keep moving forward.”

Mei frowns, knowing that he’s absolutely right. All they can do now is accept their fate and keep going. Nothing they do will change the fact that they only have this one day a year together.

Kenny hesitates, before turning and running past Mei. He heads outside and slams the door behind him.

Issac sighs and turns to face his wife. “Sorry about that. I think he’s hit his rebellious phase early.”

“Issac, take care of Kuchel will you?”

“Hm?”

“I’ll be right back.” She gathers her courage and heads for the door.

“Hey, wait!” 

Mei gives him a warm smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon. This is something I have to do…for my son.”

He nods and picks up their daughter as she cries for her mom.

Taking a deep breath, Mei heads outside. She runs through the streets, in a more modern skirt than the surrounding area will allow, searching for her son. Where is that boy? He couldn’t have gotten that far, could he? What if he went beyond the Walls?! Oh god, please no! The thought stirs anxiety within her as she sprints.

“Kenny! Where are you?!” She calls in the middle of the street as onlookers give her suspicious glances.

She pauses as she looks ahead towards the fields. Up on a hill sits a single tree in the warm sunlight. A boy with brown hair sits with his arms wrapped tightly around his knees. He’s shaking slightly as the wind stirs the leaves around him.

Gathering her skirt, Mei walks up the hill towards him and slowly sits by his side. 

“What do you want, old hag?” He sniffles, turning away from her.

Mei watches as tears flow down Kenny’s cheeks. He bites his lip, quelling his emotions. The sight leaves a hole in her chest. How could she leave her son behind? What kind of mother does that? She waits for him to speak, knowing no words could ever ease his pain.

“Why?” He starts in barely more than a whisper. “Why did you leave?”

“Kenny, I-”

“Don’t you understand what that did to Dad and Grandpa?! I basically had to raise Kuchel by myself.”

“But Issac-”

“That deadbeat's always working, so he’s never home. It’s all we can do to get by. I just…I feel so…”

“Alone.”

Kenny glances up at her with teary eyes. “Don’t go, Mom. Can’t you stay a little longer this time?"

Mei’s tears overflow and she pulls him close. “If I could, I’d spend every day with you and Kuchel. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't regret leaving you. The thought that your sister, Rachel, can’t ever meet you tares me apart inside. It kills me just thinking about it. This is the best I can do though. I’m so sorry, Kenny. I’m so sorry.”

“Mom,” he sobs into her shoulder.

As the sun rises higher in the sky, Mei vows to spend every waking moment with her family. Even if they have just one day, they will make the most of it. They will live without regrets, just as Issac said. 

“We should have a picnic,” Kenny suggests.

“That’s a wonderful idea." She ruffles his hair. 

“Hey lay off, old hag.”

Mei chuckles as they begin to head back. 

“What should we bring with us? What are your favourite foods these days?”

“Well, I don’t really care either way, but Kuchel likes apples.”

“We’ll have to bring some with us, then. Maybe we can even make an apple pie.” Mei smiles as she glances at her son. He’s so strong and tough now. She wants to give him this one day just to be a kid again. He’s only ten after all. He shouldn’t have to carry the burden of being an adult so soon. 

“We’re home!”

Opening the door to their house, Mei freezes. A heavy iron scent hits her before she can make it through the entryway. She stares into the shadowed entryway.

“Dad?”

Mei’s eyes widen and she flies in front of her son. “No, Kenny. Don’t look! Get out of here!” She attempts to cover his eyes, but he pushes past her. 

“No, Dad!”

He runs ahead. Mei remains frozen in place. This is a nightmare, it has to be. It’s just some sick nightmare!

She tries to scream but no sound comes out. Issac! Her knees buckle and she falls, retching by the doorway. 

“DAD!” Kenny gathers his father’s head in his lap, rocking back and forth. 

Shakily, Mei crawls over to them. “I-Issac,” she whispers. “Please, no.” She kneels by his side, holding onto his hand as Kenny cries. 

As she glances down, she finds that his organs are spilling onto the ground from a deep stab wound. His face is pale and his eyes are glazed. Hope floods through her veins; however, as she picks up a pull from his wrist.

She glances over at her son. His eyes are wild and filled with something sinister. “Kenny, listen to me. Get your sister, and find a doctor. There’s no time. If we want to save him, we have to act quickly.”

“K-u-chel,” a weary voice coughs. 

Mei freezes and glances down at her husband. “Issac?” She holds him closer as blood froths around his lips. “Don’t talk, just hold on. We’ll get you help.”

She turns back to her son. “Kenny, grab your sister and go now!"

“They…took…Kuchel.”

Mei gasps and stares at her husband. They took Kuchel? No, please no.

Kenny stands with a darkened expression.

“Wait! Where do you think you’re going?!” Mei grabs his arm before he can run out the door.

“Let go of me! I need to find her!”

"No, we need to stay together! I can't lose you too! We'll find her, I promise."

“Under…ground…” Issac chokes.

Mei's expression drops as she looks up at her son. "Kenny?” 

He stiffens, as though he’s been struck by lightning. The floorboards crack underneath him and he rips his arm out of her grip. He grabs a paring knife from the table and runs out the door.

Mei has seen that look before on Mr. Ackerman’s face after his wife was killed. She can’t let her son go down that path. If he does, he’ll live a life filled with despair and anguish. No, she won’t let the Ackerman curse take him too. She won’t let her son become a slave to his emotions.

“Kenny! Come back!” She stands and is about to run after him when a hand grabs her ankle.

Glancing down, she finds her husband holding onto her weakly. Somehow, he managed to crawl over to her. His intestines spill from his side and his blood coats the floorboards. He coughs and gasps for air as he attempts to hold her back.

Mei crouches down and holds him close as his grip loosens and his eyes roll back. She grasps his hand tightly. “Issac? No, please just hold on my love. You need to live. You have to keep going for Kuchel and Kenny.”

“Take care…of…Rachel."

“What are you saying? Come on, stay with me. Please, don’t leave me!”

“I…love…you…” He smiles brightly before closing his eyes. As he exhales, his hand drops limply to his side.

“Issac? Issac! ISSAC!”

Glancing down, Mei finds that the key is slowly disintegrating in a golden light. “What? What is this?” She holds her hands out in front of her but finds they are slowly becoming transparent. “No. No! I need to protect my children!”

She turns and runs towards the door, desperate to get to them before it’s too late. She becomes lighter and feels a pull forcing her back towards her own world. The sun shines brightly overhead as she runs through the streets. “No, please. I have to save them!”

She looks down as she floats upward, leaving their world entirely. “Kenny, Kuchel, I love you! Please, just stay alive until I can return!"

 

***

Mei wakes back on the grass in Shingeki City as the same sun shines overhead. She glances around, finding her beloved family has disappeared entirely. She's back in her own world with no way to return. The key around her neck is gone for good.

She inhales sharply before letting out a bloodcurdling scream. “NO!”

“Mommy?” Rachel makes her way up the hill with Emma close behind. 

Her friend rushes to her side and holds her close as she cries uncontrollably.

“Shh, shhh,” Emma soothes her. "It'll be okay. We're here."

As Mei’s vision refocuses, she glances down at the small city before them. “I need to find a way back.”

“What?”

“My family needs me and I won’t abandon them. I need to find a way home.”

“It’s okay. You have a family and home here with your daughter."

“No, I need to find Kenny and Kuchel before it’s too late. If I can’t protect them, I’ll have nothing. Nothing at all.”

Rachel watches from the sidelines, unaware of her mother’s toil.

-

Nova pauses in shock and silence as Mei's story comes to an end.

“I failed as a mother. I couldn’t protect my husband or any of my children.”

“Grandma Mei,” Nova sighs. “That wasn’t your fault. You didn’t fail. You still had Rachel, right?”

She shakes her head miserably. “No, I shut down shortly after my return. I neglected my daughter and focused all of my energy on finding a way back. It turns out, I couldn’t save her either. The best I could do was care for her legacy in her stead.”

Nova bites her lip, remembering Lily’s troubled past. Her mother passed away shortly after her birth. After that, Grandma Mei took her in and raised her as her own.

 “Only your grandmother could bring me back to reality in the midst of my despair.”

“My grandmother?”

“Emma Reader, of course,” she smiles.

Nova’s eyes widen. Suddenly Lily and she seem closer than ever. “Did you ever find a way back to Kuchel and Kenny?”

She shakes her head. “Though I feel closer to them in this void between worlds. I can see my family more clearly than I ever thought possible.”

You glance around at the white space. Could this really be a place between worlds? If so, how is it that you're seeing Grandma Mei and your brother before you?

Elio turns to you sharply. “Listen to me, Nova. Think very carefully about what it is you want. Is it worth it to spend a few precious years with Levi, only to eventually be separated? You have your whole life ahead of you. There’s still time for you to change your fate.”

“I-I…” you pause, considering the path before you. You remember everything that occurred in Levi’s world, working with everyone to protect them from the titans. Are you really going to give up on their dreams now? Then again, how long will Levi be able to stay in your world and vice versa? How long will that peace last?

You look up towards Grandma Mei who’s standing silently in the background. She looks forlorn, lost in her memories. With a deep breath, you step forward and take her hands. As you do, a memory from Levi floods through your mind. Kuchel, you know that name…Kenny too for that matter. Suddenly, it all makes sense. You saw the stars cross over that night for a reason. 

“Grandma Mei. I’ll protect your grandson and Lily. Your story won’t end here, I’ll carry it with me forever. It’s okay now.”

Elio inhales sharply as you continue shakily. “You can tell Kuchel that her son, Levi, is still alive and well. He’s bossy, has a foul mouth, and argues about everything. He cleans incessantly to the detriment of others, and he can be a real pain. Even so, he’s a great leader who carries forth the memory of his family and dear friends. He’s humanity’s strongest soldier, but he’s also a deeply loving and caring man. He has the biggest heart of anyone I know. I love that about him...I love him. He’s…he’s just…”

Elio holds you close as you sob through the rest. 

Grandma Mei glows with a faint golden light, smiling warmly at you. “Levi, is it? Someday, I’d like to meet my dear grandson. Take care of him for me…Nova.”

You watch as her image fades and floats towards the stars, which have emerged above you. The white void fades into a dark blue night sky as you watch her drift away. You swear you can see three stars link together in the newfound darkness. You smile, supposing she found her way home.

“It’s time for me to go as well, sister” Elio sighs. “Go, be with the one you love. I can tell, you already made your choice long ago.”

“No, I won’t leave you! What if I can’t see you again? I refuse to lose anyone else. We can figure this out!" You take his hands desperately. 

“It’s okay. Keep living for both of us. No matter what life throws at you, never give up on your dreams. Oh, and keep the Captain safe.” 

“Wait, what? Elio, no!”

Before you have time to process his words, a figure in a Survey Corps uniform joins his side. His blonde hair is tied back and his green cloak shimmers in the night. “It’s time, Elio.”

Your brother sighs and squeezes his hand with a smile. “Okay, Eld.”

“Wait, Eld? As in Eld Jinn from Levi’s Squad? How is that possible?” You remember the name from Levi’s stories of his past. This man was his second in command and a friend of his who died at the hands of the Female Titan. 

He smiles softly and salutes. “Take care of Captain Levi.”

“Wait, brother you…you switched too?”

He embraces you warmly and pats your head. “There will undoubtedly be challenges ahead, Nova, but I know you can do this. Walk through that doorway and save the Survey Corps. Just take that first step.”

“Elio…please...”

You reach out but he and Eld dissipate, floating above towards the starry sky. The world around you begins to crumble and fade. 

No, it can't be. They're really gone, aren't they? You crouch down, buckling under the weight of the world. The sky seems to dip, falling towards you as your emotions stir.

Keep going, don't give up! Your brother's voice echoes in your mind. 

"Elio?"

There’s not much time left. Go!

Glancing ahead you take a deep breath and quell your grief for the time being. You stand and step forward towards the doorway ahead, painted with golden flowers. This is what you have to do. You can only hope he’ll be on the other side, waiting for you. 

Before you can turn the handle; however, you feel a strange presence behind you.

Take care of my son.

You pause with your hand outstretched. Taking a deep breath, you smile softly. I will, Kuchel. 

Turning the handle, you take your first step forward towards home.

Chapter Text

Levi stands in the white void, staring ahead at an unusual door. It appears to be made of frosted glass and has no handle. 

What the hell is this? 

He’s about to approach it when a familiar voice interrupts him.

“Levi?”

There’s no way, it’s not possible. He shakes his head. He doesn’t have time to waste on delusions. 

“Hiya, Big Bro!”

“Calm down, Isabel. You’ll scare him. After all, he hasn’t seen us in quite a while.”

“All the more reason to be excited!”

He grits his teeth. What the hell kind of sick joke is this? He turns aggressively with the intention of slashing through the deception.

“Levi?”

He freezes and turns with his blade raised. His arm shakes and his eyes widen. Tears well in his eyes uncontrollably. There’s no way, there’s just no way.

“Mom?”

A young woman with long wavy black hair and gentle grey eyes smiles softly. “I’ve missed you, Le-”

Before she has a chance to finish, he drops his blades and flies into her arms. He grips the white fringes of her neckline, clinging to her essence. 

She wraps her arms around him tightly and rests her head on his shoulder. 

“Mom,” he shakes, unable to continue his stoic demeanour. 

“Oh, Levi. I’m so sorry.”

He closes his eyes, willing her to stay with him a little longer. Her words register in his mind, though. He loosens his grip. “Sorry, for what?”

“For leaving you so soon. You went through so much in my absence, didn’t you?”

“He had us though! Come on! When are ya gonna notice us, big bro?”

He pauses and looks past his mother. A girl with red pigtails and a boy with messy blonde hair stand in the background, waiting patiently for his attention. 

“How-?”

“Are ya gonna stand there gawking, or come say hi already?”

“Patience Isabel, I’m sure spending time with his mother takes priority.”

“But I wanna see him!” The redhead fights against the blonde, who is keeping her from running to his side.

Levi glances at his mom, then back at his friends. His mother steps aside encouragingly, while he stands in shock for a moment. “But it can’t be…”

“Oh for Maria’s sake,” Isabel finally breaks free and rushes to his side at top speed. 

“Big bro!”

“Hey! Oh never mind,” Furlan sighs and strolls over.

Levi stands, frozen, as Isabel tackles him and sobs into his shoulder. 

“I thought I’d never see you again, Big Bro!”

“It’s good to see you, boss,” Furlan smirks and punches his shoulder. 

“You guys,” Levi breathes. “How is this possible?”

“We don’t have much time,” his mother steps forward from the background.

“Aww man, no fair,” Isabel grumbles.

He smiles softly. He missed her childish antics. He relied on Erwin and Hange to fill the void Isabel and Furlan left behind. Even now, sometimes he can see his old trio in the next generation; particularly with Eren, Armin, and Mikasa. 

“Levi,” his mother breaks through his thoughts. “Listen, my darling. I wish we could be together for longer, but you have to go. You have to keep on living. There’s no time to waste.”

"What?" He shakes his head. “No. Now that you’re here with me, there’s no reason to return to that stupid shitty world.”

“You still have that foul mouth, I see,” Furlan rolls his eyes.

“Levi,” his mother sighs in a tone he remembers all too well as a young child. “You can’t give up. Don’t you remember what Kenny said all those years ago?”

He pauses. “How did you-”

“We’ve been watching over you all this time. We always will be, so long as you keep forging ahead. Now, tell me…what did he say?”

Levi pauses and pinches his brow. That man, who was he exactly? He hasn’t thought about him in so long. The man who abandoned him as a child. 

“He told me I had to be strong in order to survive in this cruel world.”

“Exactly.”

“And do you remember what Erwin said?” Furlan steps forward.

Levi bows his head. “To live without regrets.”

“Bingo!” Isabel chimes in.

“You have so much to live for, my darling. Least of all, your love.”

“Nova.”

His mother nods. “You’re journey isn’t over yet. It won’t be easy, and there’s bound to be endless hardship. Even so, you need to find a way to protect each other, just as my parents did.”

“Your parents?”

“Mei and Issac.”

“Mei,” Levi pauses. That name sounds familiar. Wait a minute-

“Do ya get it now?!”

“Hush, Isabel.”

“Aw, come on. He’s still so slow.”

“You’re one to talk.”

A thought registers in his mind: Lily's grandmother from Shingeki City. "Grandma Mei, huh? Looks like things are even more complicated than I realized.”

Kuchel stares up into the darkening void. “My mother and niece are still in that world beyond the stars. Find them, Levi. Things will become clear once you do. The key will guide your way."

“Fine. But…what about you?”

His mother smiles melancholically. “We’ll always be watching over you, as we have been all this time.”

“Out of the question. I’ve come this far. I won’t leave you behind,” he narrows his gaze.

“Always so stubborn,” Furlan shakes his head. “Listen, Levi. There’s no way for us to return to the land of the living. Our time is over. It’s a miracle we can even talk to you right now.”

“No, I’ll find a way. I’ll stay here as long as it takes.”

“Son, please understand-”

“No! I won’t. I can’t lose you, not again.”

His cheek suddenly stings with sharp pain. He glances ahead to find Isabel standing in front of him with her arm raised. Her green eyes are piercing and her lip quivers slightly. 

“Isabel.”

“Levi, there’s no time. You have to leave us behind. I wish there was another way, but you have to accept that we can’t go with you.”

“But-”

“Yer humanity’s strongest soldier, damn it! So start acting like it. Choose to live, Big Bro!”

Furlan places his hand on Levi’s shoulder. “Listen. You deserve to be happy. It’s okay. You just need to take that next step forward.”

Kuchel smiles softly and embraces her son. “Levi, you’re not humanity’s strongest soldier just because of your physical strength. No, deep down it’s your love that makes you strong. Our family carries with it not a curse, but a treasure…a great capacity to dedicate our lives for the sake of others. It’s all for the sake of love.”

“What do you mean? Our family?”

“There’s no time to explain. All will be revealed in due time. For now, go find Nova."

“Yeah, and don’t hesitate so much, Big Bro!” Isabel sobs. “Tell her how ya really feel!”

His eyes widen and he chuckles a bit. “Thanks, I needed that.”

Isabel and Furlan gasp at his genuine smile, while his mom watches contentedly. 

He steps forward and embraces his friends. “I love you all.”

“What’s going on? Is he sick?”

“Maybe it's a mental breakdown,” Furlan chuckles.

Levi steps back and turns to his mother who stands with her arms outstretched. “Mom.”

“Take care, my son. I will always love you. Just stay alive, understand?”

“I will, Mom.” He holds her tight, breathing in her scent one last time. "I promise, I will."

“Now go! Nova and your friends are waiting for you on the other side.”

He takes a deep breath and steps back, taking in their image one last time. He turns before he has a chance to change his mind and faces the glass door. “Goodbye, my family,” he whispers before sliding the door across.

He steps forward into Shingeki City, determined to find his love.

-

“Captain? Oh my god, he’s dead!”

“Section Commander, keep your voice down.”

“You don’t know that! LEVI!”

“Please, Section Commander. This is clearly a medical facility of sorts. I doubt the staff will appreciate it if we’re being too loud.”

“Forget it, Armin. It’s hopeless.”

“Where are we?”

“Something smells like soup!”

“Sasha, Connie. Now’s not the time.”

“Just forget it, Mikasa. Those two dummies wouldn’t know left from right.”

“Be nice, Ymir!”

“Section Commander, don’t touch that!”

“But it’s shiny and beeping! It’s a journey of scientific discovery!”

“Hey, wait! It looks like he’s waking up.”

“Levi! Talk to me!”

Peeling open his eyes, Levi finds Hange and the recruits leaning over him. They’re dressed strangely in white lab coats and blue scrubs. “You guys.”

“He lives! It’s a miracle!” Hange wraps their arms around him. 

As his head spins, he pushes them gruffly aside. “Get off me, Four-Eyes.”

“Looks like he’s back,” Armin sighs. 

“Would someone tell me what the hell is going on?” His head pains as he squints amongst the bright lights and sounds. 

Reiner steps forward. “We did it, sir. We made it to Nova’s world.”

“At least, we think we did,” Bertolt shifts uncomfortably.

“What do you mean, you think?”

Krista glances down at her feet. “Well, it seems she’s not able to tell us if this is the right place.”

Ymir steps in gruffly. “What my dear Krista means is that sleeping beauty is still unconscious in the next room.”

“What?!” Levi throws back the blankets and attempts to sit on the edge of the bed, before a wave of dizziness hits. He slumps to the side, only to be caught by Eren.

“Please, don’t push yourself, sir.”

“Armin’s right, you need to rest for now. Let the Commander and doctor handle things for now,” Eren eases him back. 

“Commander…" he pauses. "Wait, where’s Erwin? And what happened to Pyxis and Zackly.”

“Slow down, Levi,” Hange sits on the edge of the bed. “They’re outside having a little chat.”

“The hell does that mean?”

“Now that we’ve found ourselves in this strange world filled with technology and shiny things…”

“Section Commander!” Armin stops them before they can touch Levi’s IV bag.

“Right,” they clear their throat. “Now that we’re here and the plan was successful, or so we think, they are trying to figure out the next steps we should take. Commander Pyxis and Premier Zackly are arguing that Erwin was too hasty in his plan to transport us here. They still want to isolate you and Nova and experiment on you to find out all they can about this world. Our esteemed Commander, on the other hand, is trying to convince them that we have an opportunity to save humanity by staying here. By keeping you two together, we have a chance to bring the remainder of humanity to this world instead, and away from the threat of the titans. There’s only one problem…”

“Nova hasn’t woken up,” Levi finishes their sentence. They nod. 

He takes a deep breath. There’s only one way out of this. He reaches for his arm and removes the IV. 

“Hey, what are you doing?! You're not up to full strength yet.” Krista tries to push him back, but he brushes her aside. 

“Just let him go, sweetie. You know how stubborn he is.”

Levi pauses for a moment, remembering his encounter with those he loved back in the void. He shakes his head though. He needs to find Nova first. He needs to find out what happened to her if he’s going to make things right again. 

"Move it, brats."

Leaning against the wall, he stumbles forward. When did he get so weak? Could it be because Nova is unwell? There’s no time to think about it. 

He pushes open the door and steps into the hallway, despite protests from his comrades. The facility is horribly bright as he continues forward. Beeping noises and people in strange clothes rush to and from. The scent of old soup, antiseptic, and illness is overpowering. He can hear people coughing, crying, and generally conversing in each of the rooms. He glances inside them tentatively, as he searches for Nova.

“She’s no use to us like this,” a familiar voice causes him to pause. 

“So what would you have me do, kill her?”

“If that’s what it takes.”

Levi narrows his gaze and leans against a door to his right. Through the frosted glass, he can make out three figures. 

“Captain Levi would never allow that.”

“So, force him to cooperate. If they have such a strong bond, won’t he be able to wake her up anyway?”

“He’s not awake himself. So, how would you propose we do that?”

“What a disaster.”

“What if we were to keep both of them asleep instead? We could move both of them without them even knowing it.”

“Why are you so insistent on separating them?”

“Considering what that girl said, there’s no sense in arguing any further. Listen, Commander Erwin, it seems to me that the longer they stay together, the more likely it is that their separation will end in tragedy. The curse of the key is all too real if what she said is true. It’s better that we stick to our original plan and conduct experiments while we still can.”

“Unfortunately, I have to agree with the Premier. Saving humanity must be our priority over any sort of love story the two might share. Our present situation dictates that we must do what we have to in order to survive.”

“Please, see reason Commander Pyxis. We don't even know who she is. That girl could easily have lied to us about their situation.”

“I’m sorry, Erwin. It's the only lead we have right now."

“The matter is settled then. We’ll separate the two while they sleep.”

Erwin’s frame shifts to face the door, as Levi watches from the side. 

He slips down the hallway, out of sight. He has to wake her up before those two old farts get a hold of her. 

“Pssst!”

He turns to find Hange down the hall to his left. They motion for him to follow them inside. 

Glancing around to make sure no one sees him, he darts after them. Hange hauls him inside and shuts the door, before pulling a large set of curtains around them.

“The hell are you doing, Four-Ey-”

“Shh!” They hold a finger to their lips, and gesture behind them. “You didn’t give me a chance to tell you where she was, dummy."

Levi stares at them for a moment, before turning his attention to the figure resting soundly in the bed. His breath hitches slightly as the machine beside her beeps methodically. 

“Nova.”

She’s covered in bruises. Her right arm is wrapped in a cast and a set of bandages are wrapped tightly around her head. She’s breathing raggedly into an oxygen mask, and a series of wires are connected to her left arm and chest.

“What the hell happened?” He hisses.

“I don’t know,” Hange bites their lip. “She was like this when we arrived. You were unconscious too but didn’t have any injuries to speak of."

Levi steps forward and gingerly places his palm against her swollen cheek. “Nova?”

A spark flashes between them as he makes contact. A memory floods rapidly into his brain. He remembers the last time they switched when he was still in Shingeki City. He was desperate to find a way back to his world to save Nova. She was in trouble and reeling in the jaws of a titan. His only thought was willing himself back home. He didn’t notice the road ahead. The truck came out of nowhere at the very moment he found himself back in his own world. 

Pulling his hand back, his eyes widen. Those bruises, and her ragged breathing...could this all be the result of his own carelessness? What the hell is going on?! 

"Levi, look!"

His eyes trail down towards the key, still hanging from her neck. It shimmers in the light, slowly disintegrating into dust. 

Chapter Text

The machine above Nova’s bed lets out a harsh even note. The key around her neck glows with warm light and begins to fade, slowly disintegrating as the tone drones on.

“What is this? What the hell is going on?!”

“Levi, please. Can’t you tell…she…” Hange places a consoling hand on his shoulder, but he shrugs them off.

“No, it won’t end like this. We’re supposed to have more time. There has to be a way to save her!”

Bending over Nova, he gathers her frail body in his arms and holds her tightly. As he traces the fine crimson thread above the fading key, an idea sparks within him.

“What is it? Did you figure something out? Tell me!”

Ignoring Hange, he gently lifts the key off of Nova’s neck and places it around his own. He jolts slightly as the usual spark ripples through him. He leans down and loops the thread around her fingertips. He brings the key to his lips, desperate to find her again. 

“Come back to me,” he whispers softly.

He hardly notices when the door slides open and footsteps race across the cold floor.

“Sorry, this is a private room,” Hange smiles awkwardly as the curtain is pulled back. “Would you mind giving us a moment?”

“Nurse, please remove these two. There’s no time.” The doctor races to the bedside and attempts to remove Levi. 

“Back off, unless you want to die.” Levi gives her a threatening stare and removes a scalpel from inside his sleeve.

“Where’d you get that, Levi? Always full of surprises,” Hange laughs whilst struggling against a distressed nurse. 

“Call a code!”

“Please sir, there’s no time if we want to save her. Just give me the scalpel,” the nurse approaching Levi stands with her hands raised in surrender. 

The doctor ignores Levi’s threatening gaze and moves to the other side of the bed. She removes her stethoscope and places the bell on Nova’s chest whilst motioning for another member of her team to bring the crash cart. Then, she immediately switches to CPR, throwing her entire wait upon Nova’s chest. 

“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?!” Levi raises his blade to the doctor’s throat as she continues. 

She doesn’t so much as flinch knowing that if she stops, even for a moment, Nova will die.

The nurse across from Levi gives him a determined stare as she prepares an oxygen mask. “Please, trust us.”

His eyes widen at the phrase he remembers all too well. He watches as the doctor and team continue CPR, undeterred by his presence. Petra, are you watching us? Are all of you here with Nova and me right now?

He closes his eyes as memories of his recent past return. During the selection of his former Special Operations Squad, he chose Petra not only for her skill with a sword but also for her uncanny ability to bring soldiers back from the brink of death. She studied directly under Dr. Yeager for a time, after all. He carried on her will after her death and is aware of the steps that need to be taken to save Nova now. He was simply too blinded by fear and rage to see it before. This world, these people, he needs to trust them now. 

The nurse ahead of him places the oxygen mask on Nova’s face and regulates the flow before turning back to him. She nods in recognition.

Slowly, Levi untwists the thread from around Nova’s palm and slowly steps back. Shakily, he glances at the key, afraid it might vanish into thin air with any separation. It continues glowing, but the disintegration seems to be slowed. He brings it to his lips one last time, willing Nova to live. 

“This way, sir. Let us do our job,” a nurse by the door beckons him back towards Hange. 

Grudgingly, he follows suit. He pauses by the door as the doctor barks orders and cracks down upon her ribs. He flinches at the sight and turns away before he can change his mind. 

The nurse closes the door and pulls to curtains across, shielding Nova from view.

“Levi,” a familiar voice responds in a soothing tone. 

“Damn it, this wouldn’t have happened if I’d only been more cautious back then.”

“Don’t blame yourself.”

“How could I not have seen this coming? I was too distracted. I’m humanity’s strongest soldier, but all of that means nothing at a time like this. How could I have left her body in the middle of the road like that? I should’ve known this would happen. If I’d only thought of it, I could’ve warned her or done something to protect her. Shit, shit, shit!”

“Levi.”

“What?!”

“Look at me.”

He turns sharply, coming face to face with Erwin’s sympathetic gaze. 

“Do you remember what I told you?”

“The hell are you saying?” He grits his teeth. “If you tell me to live without regrets one more time, I-”

Surprisingly, Erwin pulls him forward without a second thought. It takes Levi a moment to realize his Commander is hugging him, holding him tightly against his chest.

“I will always be on your side, Levi. Whether it’s titans or the threat of death, we’ll face it together.”

He closes his eyes and breathes in Erwin’s comforting scent, now dulled with antiseptic. He takes a shaky breath, unable to suppress his emotions any longer. “Damn it all to hell.”

“Can I interrupt?” Hange’s upbeat tone cuts through.

“What is it, Four-Eyes?” Levi rolls his eyes and pulls away from the Commander, only to be tackled by Hange. “Hey, get off me!”

“Aww, but our little Levi is so sad!” Hange squishes him in a tight embrace. 

He thrusts his palm into their jaw, trying to get away.

“Is there any news on Nova’s condition?” Armin steps forward alongside the rest of the recruits. They stand disguised in medical scrubs with concerned expressions, watching the scene unfold.

“You’re all here.”

“Where else would we be?” Krista smiles warmly. “You’re our Captain and Nova is our Lieutenant. We’ll follow you both to the end. Besides that,” she glances down nervously. “Nova’s our friend too.”

“That’s right, there’s no way we’re letting it end like this,” Eren glares ahead fiercely.

“Stop trying to act all tough. We’re lucky you didn’t end up in here considering your track record, suicidal maniac,” Jean rolls his eyes.

“What did you call me?!”

“Settle down. This is a hospital,” Mikasa glares at them. 

They instantly straighten up. “Yes, ma’am!”

“Whatever happens, we’re here for you, sir.” Reiner salutes. The rest of the recruits follow suit, displaying their support.

“Thanks you guys,” Levi smiles slightly. 

They stare in awe and shock at his sudden display of emotion.

“Are you okay, Captain? Do you need a snack? I took an apple from the tray over there, if you’d like one.” Sasha salutes with a mouth full of food.

“Hey, why didn’t you save any for me?” Connie groans beside her. 

She stares at him as if the answer were obvious.

“Enough, let’s move to the waiting room. We’re only getting in the way here.” Erwin guides the group forward and down the hall.

Levi can’t help but notice his suspicious glance towards the room. He nods slightly and turns back. 

“What was that about?”

“Let’s go,” Erwin steps forward, ignoring his question.

Levi considers demanding answers but turns away. He trusts Erwin to do the right thing.

As they sit on the wooden chairs and couches, Hange rubs Levi’s back reassuringly. Exhausted, he doesn’t try to shove them off this time. His only thoughts are of Nova’s survival. He glances down at the key nervously.

“Captain, I-” Armin stops himself. There are no words that could possibly comfort him right now. 

The others simply wait with bated breath, hoping for her survival. Every footstep and beep of a machine sends a jolt through the group. Yet, all they can do is await the doctor’s word.

“Levi? It is Levi, right?”

He glances up, only to find the one familiar face standing by the doorway. “Lily.”

“So it is you,” she glances at the group with a weary expression. “Can I speak with you in private for a moment?”

The others glance between them as Levi stands and makes his way towards the dark-haired girl. 

Lily turns partway down the hall, out of ear-shot. “So, it’s true then.”

“Hm?”

“The switches. I knew something was up, though I must say it seems like something out of a science fiction novel.”

“Tch, you’re telling me. How did you know it was me?”

She takes a deep breath. “Because the switches happened to my grandmother.”

“Grandma Mei?”

She nods solemnly. “I didn’t believe her at first and passed it off as a folktale. But, in her final days, she told me the full story. It was only then that things started making sense. I knew Nova was acting strange, now I know why.”

“You said her final days. Did something happen?”

Lily grasps her arm nervously and turns away. “She passed this morning actually. I was on my way to pick up Nova, or rather you when it happened.”

“I’m sorry. I guess time hasn’t passed that day since it happened.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nevermind. Tell me what you want from me.”

“Always so rude,” Lily scowls. “I can’t believe I didn’t know it was you sooner,” her expression softens as she continues. “Anyways, I suppose I wanted to give you a word of warning. I can’t let anyone else die today, least of all Nova.”

He narrows his gaze. “So, what is it then?”

“As I said to those two old guys earlier, if you and Nova remain here it will only spell trouble for you both. The heartbreak will be that much worse if you stay here. I know from personal experience that the curse lasts lifetimes.”

“Curse? The hell are you saying?” Two older guys? Her words began to make more sense as he pieced them together. “Wait, it was you all along? You were the one who spoke to Pyxis and Zackly. But how did you get them to trust you?”

“In a new world, you’d be surprised what people would believe. My mother’s death was a direct result of that damned key around your neck. My grandmother was devastated after being separated from her family and neglected my mother as a result. So, the curse continued and my mother was stolen from me too. I was taken in by my grandmother but all she would talk about was that stupid folktale. Soulmates across the stars…what bullshit! In the long run, it’s just a crappy long-distance relationship. Now look at her, my grandmother’s dead and Nova might not make it either! I refuse to lose her too, damn it!”

“So, you’d subject her to the experiments Zackly and Pyxis are planning to conduct? Maria knows, it’s lucky they haven’t found me yet.”

“Maria?”

“Nevermind, you don’t understand. Stupid brat, if things keep going the way they are she really will die!” He chokes on the last word as reality sets in. 

“It’s better for you two to be separated now. If you spend any more time together your bond will be broken anyways.”

“What makes you so sure? What makes you think you know anything about our bond?!”

“You’re forgetting, I’ve known Nova for years. You’ve known her for what, a few weeks? A few months? You don’t know anything about her!”

“Quiet down.”

“What is it, Erwin? Can’t you see we’re busy?”

“You’re only drawing attention to yourselves. Now, Lily was it? Let us find a quiet place to talk away from prying eyes. It’s been difficult enough to keep the Premier at bay.”

“Plus, Pyxis.”

“That won’t be a problem.”

Levi gives him a skeptical glance.

Erwin sighs. “You didn’t think I would submit to their whims, did you? Zackly has always been…difficult. Luckily, Pyxis and I are on proper terms still. We’re employing a plan to counter the Premier, but we can only hold out for so long. For now, we need to keep you away from prying eyes. Pyxis is guarding Nova as we speak.”

“Damn you, Erwin,” Levi hisses. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“Because, you would have marched over to guard Nova’s side along with him, am I wrong?”

Levi grumbles.

“Doing so would have spoiled our plans, regardless.”

“So, what about Nova?” His heart pounds as he awaits the Commander’s response.

“No news yet. The recruits are on standby for the time being. Come, it’s not safe here.”

“Sounds like you’re going to start a fight,” Lily rolls her eyes. “Try not to cause more trouble.”

Ignoring her, Erwin motions to a supply closet. The three of them pile inside the narrow space.

“Well, this is cozy,” Lily jests.

“Who knew Nova’s friends were this annoying.” 

“Best friend.”

“Whatever.”

Levi reaches back, on the verge of throwing cleaning supplies at her but realizing that would be a waste. He’d almost forgotten what a luxury they are.

“Both of you, hush,” Erwin silences them and leans back against the wall. “Now, Lily, care to explain yourself? What is your true objective here?”

“Why should I tell you?”

Oh great, there he goes. Levi rolls his eyes.

Erwin smiles coldly, his manipulation tactics and thought processes are evident in his gaze. “True, you’ve scarcely met me or any of us for that matter. I am aware of your position in this world, though. Lily Mei Zhang, born of this world and daughter to Rachel Ackerman Zhang. Your mother died shortly after your birth and was largely neglected by your grandmother who switched long ago. You were raised by Mei Ackerman, grandmother to Levi and the next in a long line of Ackermans to undergo such a switch. The last was Nova’s brother, Elio who was connected to the Survey Corps member, Eld Jinn.”

Levi glances at Erwin. “How the hell did you know all of that? Were you planning on sharing that information at any point or were you going to keep it to yourself?”

Erwin smirks. “I just told you, didn’t I? Besides, I have my ways and reasons.”

“The hell? Explain yourself, Erwin,” Levi demands cooly.

“There’s no time.”

“Bullshit! Tell us everything you know, now.”

“I already did.”

“That’s a load of crap and you know it! What else is there, Shithead?!”

“Stand down, Captain. That’s an order.” Erwin gives him a warning glance.

Levi grits his teeth, but sighs. “Fine, but you’re telling me everything after. Don’t think you’re getting off that easy.”

He nods. “Now, Lily, I suggest you start talking.”

“It seems you already know everything anyway.”

Erwin shakes his head and steps towards her. “Not everything.”

She crosses her arms, undeterred as the Commander looms over her threateningly. 

He smirks. “You’re a bold one, aren’t you? There’s not many who disobey my direct orders.”

“Maybe you’re just not as scary as you think.”

He steps back with a slight chuckle. “Perhaps you’re right. Still, I need to know one thing, at least.”

“What?”

“How did you persuade Pyxis and Zackly to believe your story?”

“I already told Levi-”

He shakes his head. “No, blind faith isn’t enough. There had to be a reason or method you used. Considering you only met them today, they would be unlikely to trust your word alone.”

She shifts uncomfortably.

It’s then that Levi realizes what Erwin trying to draw out of her. “This wasn’t the first time you met them, was it?”

Lily sighs. “No.”

Erwin’s eyes narrow ever so slightly as if to say checkmate.

 Lily glances between them, knowing her secret has been revealed. “The truth is we met a long time ago, in one world or another.”

Chapter Text

“Hey Lily, did you ever meet your parents?” Nova asks on her balcony, as they gaze up towards the stars.

Lily shakes her head and devours another handful of chips, offering the bag to her friend. “No, but Grandma Mei told me a bit about them. Apparently, Mom looked just like me with her long dark hair. The only difference is that she had Grandfather’s eyes.”

“Oh, what colour were they?”

“No clue,” she shrugs and laces her fingers behind her head. “As for Dad, my grandmother never even met him. Though apparently, he was a few years older than Mom.”

“Do you think you’ll ever look for them?”

Lily frowns slightly. “I wish I could. According to Grandma Mei, Mom died when I was a baby. Perhaps, I’ll find Dad someday though. No,” she shakes her head. “I will find him, no matter what!” She reaches her hand towards the sky and closes it into a fist. 

“I’m sure you will. We can find him together,” Nova smiles warmly. 

***

Levi glances at the young woman before him in the storage room. Reflected in her eyes is something he recognizes all too well…grief and cruel heartbreak. 

“Your full name isn’t really Lily Mei Zhang, is it?” Erwin narrows his gaze.

Lily’s eyes widen as she glances up at the Commander. She sighs and leans back against the wall. “So, you already know then. In truth, if we had stayed together as a family, my surname would be Pyxis. But that’s all in the past now.”

“I see.”

Levi crosses his arms. “So, when were you planning on revealing this little detail? Does Nova know?”

She shakes her head. “I didn’t find out until recently. I wasn’t even sure if it was real. My grandmother told me about him long ago. Still, I never expected that he’d turn up here from another world entirely. I always assumed Grandma Mei made up fantastical stories to keep me entertained as a child. It wasn’t until Nova switched that I learned the truth.”

“So, what is the truth? Tell us everything,” Erwin demands.

She sighs and gives him a frustrated scowl, which he ignores. “Fine, but it’s not a pleasant tale.”

“Try us,” Levi rolls his eyes.

She clears her throat and begins.

-Ten Years Ago-

“Grandma Mei?” Lily knocks at her bedroom door and takes a deep breath. 

“Come in,” an elderly voice responds.

Gently clicking open the door, Lily finds her grandmother sitting at her desk, looking out over the mountainous horizon. She has a habit of doing that from time to time. Occasionally, Lily finds soft tears forming in her guardian’s eyes, as though she’s longing for something she can’t have.

“Grandma,” she begins with a sense of determination. 

The woman sighs and turns towards her granddaughter. “It’s time, isn’t it?”

Lily nods and takes a seat on the quilted bedside. The scent of spices hangs heavily in the room and china antiques dot the room. In her grandmother’s hands lies a single red thread that gleams brightly against the rising sun. 

“I’ve asked you this before,” she begins shakily. “But now, I ask that you don’t brush me aside. I need to know what happened to our family. Who are my parents?”

Her grandmother bows her head solemnly. “Rachel was a kind child, you know. It was my absence that lead to her end. If only I hadn’t neglected her so, perhaps things would have turned out differently. I’m so sorry, Lily.”

“Was? So then…”

Her grandmother nods.

Stilling her resolve and taking a deep breath, she reaches forward and places a hand on her Grandmother’s lap. “It’s okay. I’ve known for a while that Mom passed on. I could see it in your eyes whenever I asked about her. That said, please tell me…is my father still alive?”

Grandma Mei squeezes her hand gently. “My late husband is no longer with us, but I’d like to believe your father is still out there somewhere.”

Lily nods, feeling a sense of hope and relief flood her veins. “What were they like?”

Glancing into her grandchild’s eyes, she smiles softly. “You’re grandfather was the best thing that ever happened to me. We met long ago, on the night the stars collided. On that day, I was transported to another world and found myself in his place. Only later did we meet.”

“Come on, I know you’re making that up.”

She chuckles softly. “Well anyways, we fell in love over time. His family wasn’t well-liked back then, though. Perhaps people feared the power they held. Still, we got by, and eventually, we married and had three beautiful children. I still think about Kenny and Kuchel every day. I pray they are alive and well.”

“And Mom?”

Grandma Mei’s eyes turn sorrowful as she turns back towards the window. “Shortly before I was to give birth to your mother, your grandfather and I were separated. I had Rachel in this world, but I found that I could only see my dear husband and children once a year at most.”

“Did you divorce?”

“No, nothing like that. It was more that we were forced to be apart. Even now, I still love your grandfather very much.” She holds up the thread in her palm. “This string is all I have left of him.”

“I see. So, what happened to them?”

Her eyes crinkle and darken. “On the last day I visited my dear family, Issac was murdered. I don’t know where Kenny and Kuchel ended up, but I haven’t seen them since. Perhaps someday, we’ll meet again. Regardless, the stress of their loss and the grief I felt put a strain on my relationship with Rachel. She grew up alone since I focused all of my time and energy on finding my other children. It’s my greatest regret, even now.”

Lily frowns and takes her grandmother’s story in. “So, you still don’t know what happened to Kenny and Kuchel?”

She shakes her head. “I wish I knew. I’d like to think they grew up and have had children of their own by now.” she smiles melancholically.

Lily frowns. Her grandmother went through so much trying to find her family. It was no wonder her mother grew up lonesome. 

“Rachel was a kind girl and a fine young woman. She was beautiful and strong, just like Issac. Her eyes reminded me of him so much, it was difficult to look upon her face at times. The heartbreak was simply too painful. Even so, she didn’t let my abandonment deter her. I’m ashamed to say I let my friend Emma raise her alongside her own children for the most part. Still, Rachel visited every day in the hopes that I would realize the error of my ways. It wasn’t until she was gone that I realized I lost what little I had left.”

“How-” Lily bites her lip. “I mean, what happened to her?”

Her grandmother sighs heavily.

“If it’s too painful, it’s alright.”

“No,” she shakes her head. “You deserve to know about her, about both of them.”

Lily waits with bated breath. The answers she longed for are finally within her grasp.

“Your mother was much like myself. She found love across the stars as well.”

Lily pauses before curling her hands into fists. “No, please tell me the truth this time. I-I need to know.”

Her grandmother looks surprised. “That is the truth. Your mother similarly fell in love in another world.”

“Damn it! Just when I thought I was so close!” Lily storms out of the room with tears in her eyes and slams the door.

“Wait!” Grandma Mei frowns, knowing her story hasn’t reached her grandchild yet. She’s certain; however that someday everything will make sense. 

- 3 Days Ago - 

“Nova’s been acting so weird,” Lily mutters to herself as she drives away from Shingeki College. “She’s not herself at all. Honestly, I don’t know what’s gotten into her lately.”

Her phone buzzes in its holder. Grandma Mei. “That’s weird. She doesn’t usually call.”

She presses talk as she continues down the winding road. 

“Lily?” A raspy voice answers.

“Grandma? Hey, what’s wrong?”

“Come home, there’s something I need to tell you.”

“What is it? I’m on my way back. Just hold on.” She swerves the car around and drives towards her apartment building. She can tell from her voice alone that something is very wrong. What the hell is going on?

She jumps out of her car and races into the old warn-down apartment building. She flies up the stairs and tares down the narrow hallway before stopping at her grandmother’s door. She takes a deep breath and unlocks it, running into the main room. 

“Grandma? Where are you?! Hey, answer me!” She searches the small apartment, before pausing by her bedroom.

She breathes heavily and gives a slight knock before swinging the door open. Her breath hitches as she finds her grandmother wheezing in her bed. 

“Lily?” She gasps and reaches her wrinkled hand forward.

“I’m here, Grandma. What happened?” Lily rushes to her side and grabs her thin hand. Was it always this tiny? 

“It’s started again. Nova and Levi, they are ones.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Protect…my grandson. Don’t…let Nova…feel the same heartbreak I did.”

Lily places her palm on her grandmother’s forehead. She’s running a high fever. “Stay with me, now. I’ll call the hospital.”

“No,” her grandmother grabs her arm sharply. “Stay, there’s more I need to tell you.”

“It’s fine, I can use my phone right here.”

“No. Just listen, please. You need to hear this.”

Lily pauses with her phone still in hand. Grandma Mei’s eyes are filled with fierce determination.

“Your father’s name is Dot Pyxis. Find him, he may be able to help Nova and Levi. Just don’t let the curse continue. You have to help Nova save everyone, you have to…”

“Grandma?” Lily watches as her hand slips down onto the bed and her eyes begin to close. “No, no, please. Stay with me! I need you. I still need you, please! Grandma!”

She sobs by the bedside as the life drains from her grandmother’s face. Despite a single tear still resting on her cheek, she looks contented and peaceful. “Oh, grandma.”

It’s a long time before she has the strength to call the hospital. She can’t bear to be separated from the woman who raised her all this time. If anyone was a mother to her, it was Grandma Mei. She can’t begin to imagine a world without her.

Even after the paramedics take her away, she sits in her grandmother’s chair with her head in her hands. Grandma Mei was the only family she had left. Now, she feels completely alone. Her heart can’t handle any more loss. 

We met across the stars. Her grandmother’s voice rings in her mind.

“Huh?” She glances up and finds the red thread still on her desk, gleaming in the sunlight. “Oh, Grandma Mei,” she reaches forward and picks up the thread. 

A spark flashes through her mind as she touches the fine material. What? What is this? Wait, are these… 

She watches her grandmother’s story unfolds in her mind. Memories of the past resurface and bloom forth. She sees the truth that she’d dismissed over and over again as an old folktale. She watches as her grandmother’s heartbreak with her family’s separation carries through into her mother’s childhood. 

As Rachel grows up, Grandma Mei turns cold and distant, lost in her grief. Her mother tries to cheer her up, but nothing can quell her sorrows. In a lonesome and grey world, her mother glances out the window up towards the distant skies, where the stars gleam in the night. As they cross over, the memory shifts.

 Lily finds her mother atop a giant wall with a man roughly ten years older than herself. He’s handsome enough with deep golden eyes, though his hairline is already receding. Her mother’s smile is warm and comforting as she rubs her pregnant belly. 

Wait a minute, is that my dad? No way.

The memory shifts again to the moment of her birth. Her mother looks to be in agony, as she grips the man’s hand tightly. Beads of sweat line her face as she gasps for breath. Nuns working as nurses surround her in a small bedroom space. 

“Rachel, please hang on! Don’t leave me, not now.”

“I’m sorry, Dot. I don’t think I can hang on any longer. The pull is just too strong.”

A key hanging from the red thread around her neck glows and begins to crumble, threatening to break with the slightest movement. 

“No!” He cries, kissing her hand and willing her to stay. “You need to live, at this rate you and our child will…”

“It’s okay,” she whispers. “No matter where I am, my heart will always belong to you.”

As the key finally disintegrates into dust, her mother’s image fades from view and disappears. 

“Rachel! No! Come back, please don’t leave me!” The man sobs by an empty bedside, as she is forced back to her own world.

Lily finds herself being pulled away as well. “No, dad!” She reaches out, desperate to stay with him. There is no choice; however, as she is transported back home.

The final memory is of her grandmother. Still only middle-aged, she watches in shock as her daughter appears on her bed, crying out in agony.

“Rachel? What is it? What happened? Why are you-” Her eyes widen in horror as her eyes turn to her daughter’s pregnant belly. “It can’t be.”

By the time the doctors arrive, it’s too late. The child is born and rests soundly in Mei’s arms, but Rachel lies with heavy eyes and weakened breaths on the bed. 

“M-mom?”

“What is it, sweetheart?” Mei sobs as the baby cries in her arms.

“Please…take care…of Lily…” 

“I-I will. I promise, she’ll grow up differently in a warm household. I’m sorry, Rachel. Just please…don’t leave me too!”

Her daughter reaches a weakened hand towards her before it drops with her final breath.

“Rachel? Rachel!”

As the doctor takes her pulse he shakes his head. “I’m sorry.”

A nurse quickly takes the child as Mei drops to her knees. 

“No, not my baby! Haven’t I lost enough?! Bring her back. Just bring her back!” 

The memory darkens and Lily is thrust back into the same room she just came from. Glancing around the room, she can still see her mother’s image on the bed. She glances down at the crimson thread shakily. Why didn’t she believe her grandmother sooner? Perhaps if they’d worked together, she could have grown up with a father at the very least. Hugging her knees to her chest, she wonders what to do next. Who does she have left to rely on?

Your father’s name is Dot Pyxis. Find him, he may be able to help Nova and Levi. Just don’t let the curse continue. You have to help Nova save everyone.

Lily remembers her grandmother’s last words all too well. Dot Pyxis, Nova and Levi. She’ll save them no matter the cost. 

She takes out her phone, only to find a new message from Nova. She quickly checks her voicemail.

“Lily? It’s Nova. Can you come and pick me up? I’m at Shingeki College. I have a crazy stor-”

The sound of a car horn and skidding tires rings through the line, along with a distinct crash. Then, the line cuts out.

“Nova? Nova! Hey, answer me!”

Lily drops her phone and runs out the door. Hopping in her car, she cuts corners and speeds towards the school. Please don’t be too late. When you turn the corner, she’ll be waiting for you on the sidewalk, just like always!

As she steers the car; however, she finds a line of cop cars at the scene. The ambulance has already come and gone. A blue convoy is totalled against a nearby streetlight. The heavy scent of iron wafts through the car window. 

“No, please no!” She slams her palms against the horn, releasing a drawn-out tone.

A nearby officer turns and makes his way to the car. “Sorry ma’am, this area is blocked off.”

“What happened?” She breathes shakily. 

“Accident. A young woman was hurt pretty badly. They took her to the hospital a few minutes ago.”

“Then, she’s still alive?”

“It was touch and go, last time I saw. Do you know anyone involved?”

“Nova. My friend Nova Reader. Is she okay? Please, tell me she’s okay!”

“You’ll have to go to the hospital for that information. Here,” he takes out a notepad and rips off a sheet. “Take my number in case your friend remembers anything.”

“Thanks,” Lily stares blankly ahead and pulls the car away. Please live, please don’t die! I can’t lose you too! She wills silently. 

When she arrives at the hospital, she finds Nova’s been moved to the Intensive Care Unit. Running through the hallways, she heads up the stairs towards the correct floor. She taps her foot in the elevator, willing it to go faster, before flying out past a few doctors in scrubs. She makes her way down the hall and runs through the door.

“N-Nova,” she gasps. “Nova Reader. Where…where is she?!”

The nurse at the front desk holds a finger to her lips before approaching quietly. “Are you a family member?”

Lily pauses, knowing they won’t let her in otherwise. She nods quickly.

The nurse gives her a skeptical glance but motions for her to follow along. “Come with me. Ms. Reader is still in critical condition for the time being. Once she stabilizes, we’ll move her down to the orthopedic unit.”

“Orthopedic?”

“She fractured several bones during the accident. Our main priority now; however, is simply keeping her alive.”

“What about her parents? Are they here?”

The nurse bites her lip and shakes her head. “We tried contacting them, but there’s no response. It seems you’re her first visitor.”

“Damn them, leaving their daughter to suffer alone,” Lily hisses.

“Hm?”

“Nothing. Can I see her?”

“Right this way,” she motions down the hall. 

Lily follows behind her, feeling her heart pound in her chest.

As the nurse pulls back the curtain in a room to her left, tears fill her eyes. “Oh, Nova.” She leans by the side of her bed. “Not you too. First your brother, and now this? Haven’t our families suffered enough?”

The nurse sighs and heads back towards the door. “I’ll give you a moment.”

Lily sits on the side of the bed and holds Nova’s battered hands tightly. “Don’t you quit on me too. I can’t lose anyone else today. Grandma Mei…she…” she bites her lip and clears her throat before continuing. “Well anyway, I’m sure…I’m sure Levi’s somewhere out there waiting for you. So, you have to live. If not for me, then for him. Please, stay.”

As Nova continues to breathe in silence, Lily glances down at the key still hanging from her neck. Damn it, it’s that key’s fault, isn’t it? If it didn’t exist, we could all live normal lives. Perhaps then, Nova would be safe. We’d be going out for coffee and she’d drone on about her sketches. If only she’d never seen the stars and hadn’t met Levi, none of this would’ve happened. Scratch that, if my grandmother hadn’t seen the stars perhaps I would have had a normal childhood. Maybe then, my parents and I could live together. Shit, how did we even get here?

“Excuse me, miss? Can you tell me where I am exactly?”

“Not now, old man. Can’t you see I’m busy here?” Lily sighs and glances up at the man before her. As her eyes connect with him; however, she gasps. It can’t be. Those eyes.

“My apologies, only I didn’t expect to see such a beautiful young woman in a place like this. Wait, who is that beside you?”

“Dad?”

“Sorry, I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Oh, nothing. My apologies.” Lily bites her lip. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking.

He gives her a strange look. “Could you tell me your name at least, young lady?”

“It’s Lily, Lily Zhang. Sorry for my earlier rudeness.”

He waves his hand. “It’s no trouble. I understand that you must find it strange seeing an old man such as myself in a place like this.”

She glances at his odd attire decorated with badges of honour and a large sash. There appear to be larger compartments and harnesses across his distinctly militant uniform. “Are you a soldier or something? That outfit…”

“Oh, this?” He glances at his red sash. “Indeed,” he salutes in an odd way. Lily has only ever seen Nova and Elio make that gesture. “My name is Commander Dot Pyxis of the Garrison Regiment stationed in Trost.”

“Dot…Pyxis,” her eyes widen. “So, it is you. Dad.”

“Sorry?”

“It’s really you. I can’t believe I found you, and of all times too.”

“I think you must have me mistaken for someone else, my dear. Now, would you care to tell me what exactly this place is? And is that the Lieutenant beside you?”

“You look so different, but those eyes…” she gasps. Yes, it must be him. His head is now completely bald, and his wrinkled face looks significantly older. Still, those golden eyes and moustache are unmistakable.

“I can ask someone else if need be. I’m simply looking for my comrades.”

“No, please stay!”

“Oh? Can you provide me with more information?”

Lily bites her lip, determined not to let him go. “This…this is a hospital. In the bed is my friend, Nova Reader. But dad…I mean, Mr. Pyxis…can you really not tell who I am?”

“Should I know you?”

“It’s,” she shuffles uncomfortably. “It’s just that…well…I’m your daughter.”

He unscrews the top of his flask. “My, you are persistent. Unfortunately for you, there was only one woman I ever truly loved and both she and my child are long gone from this world.” He takes a long drink.

“This world? Or your world?” Lily clenches her fists, desperate for him to understand.

He pauses and brings down his flask. “What did you say your name was?”

She places a hand firmly on her chest and looks boldly into his eyes. “My real name is Lily Zhang Pyxis. My mother was Rachel Mei Zhang…or rather, Ackerman.”

He grits his teeth and narrows his gaze. “How do you know that name?”

“Seriously? Do you still not get it?! That day when you thought my mother disappeared, she really came back to this world. I was born here in Shingeki City. Please dad, just think about it.”

He drops his flask as recognition flows through his veins. Those eyes, her mother’s eyes. Yes, of course. She has to be Rachel’s. “That’s not possible.”

Her eyes soften. “It’s true. I recognize your name and those eyes. There’s no doubt.”

He stands frozen for a moment, before walking blindly forward. With eyes still wide in shock, he steps forward. “Did you say your name was Lily?”

“Yes.”

He grits his teeth, quelling tears that threaten to spill over. “So, she named you after them. Of course, she did...that woman.”

“What do you mean?”

“They were her favourite flowers. Lilies,” he glances tearily at the young woman before him. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. “I thought I’d never see you again. I assumed…” his breath hitches slightly as he shakily bows his head.

Lily steps forward as tears spill down her cheeks. She wraps her arms around the older man. “Dad.”

Chapter Text

Amid the embrace of his daughter, Pyxis pulls back sharply. “Your mother. Where is Rachel? Don’t tell me, she…”

Lily frowns and turns away. “Mom…Mom didn’t make it. I’m sorry, but it’s only me now.”

He releases her and steps back shakily. He pinches his brow with a deep sigh, before recomposing himself. “I see. I suspected as much.

“How…how did you even get here?”

Brushing aside the last of his emotions, he turns to the battered girl behind Lily. “It was all because of Lieutenant Reader. If not for her, we never would have made it. Luckily, Zackly is still in the dark regarding Erwin and my mission.”

“Your mission?”

He shakes his head. “Never mind that for the time being. We’re here now. The others must have ventured over as well.”

“From where?”

“From the most dangerous place ever to exist. Our world is quite different from your own it seems. Tell me, what is the total population here? It must be well over one thousand, correct?”

Lily scoffs slightly. “One thousand? Try a million in Shingeki City alone.”

“One million?” His eyes widen. “Wait, you said in the city alone, you mean there’s more?”

Lily nods curiously. He really is going into this place blind. “Across the world, there are roughly seven billion people. That number is rising every day too.”

Pyxis leans against the wall in a state of shock. He pauses to process this information, reeling with that single fact. 

“Um…Hey, are you okay?”

“Clearly, the titans no longer pose a threat. Judging by the attire of those present in this facility, we’re likely in a futuristic society rooted in peace and cooperation amongst its people. It’s unlikely that military rule is present, though I have yet to venture outside the walls of this unique compound. Still, how did the Lieutenant end up in such a condition if titans weren’t the cause? Could it be there’s another threat this world faces?”

“Titans? What are you mumbling about?”

“Tell me, how did this happen to the Lieutenant?”

“You mean, Nova?” Lily turns to face the young woman behind her. “There was a car accident. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I don’t…I don’t know if she’ll pull through the way she is now.”

“Hmm, well I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. At least the key around her neck is still accounted for. Still, how should I explain this to the Premier? Commander Erwin is one thing; at least he can be reasoned with. Zackly, on the other hand, is unpredictable on his best days. If not for him, we probably wouldn’t be here. Now, we just need to consider-”

Lily clenches her fists.“Just shut the hell up!”

Pyxis turns with a narrowed gaze. He doesn’t seem remotely surprised by her sudden outburst. 

“Would you tell me what the fuck is going on around here? I can’t…I don’t know what the hell you’re even saying!”

Pyxis’ wrinkles crease slightly. “I see, you have a sharp tongue don’t you? There’s not much time before the others join us, but I’ll briefly explain our situation. Perhaps, with our wit combined, we can find a solution. You are related to me by blood after all. I should hope that you inherited some of my guile.”

Lily sits on the edge of the bed with her arms crossed. “I’m listening.”

***

There’s a knock on the door half an hour later.

Lily takes a deep breath still reeling with the story of Nova’s adventures in the mysterious world beyond this place. It seems like something out of a science fiction novel.

“Commander,” a powerful voice booms.

“Come in, Erwin,” Pyxis responds without turning.

Lily finds a tall blonde man with an air of authority pull back the curtains sharply. His bright blue eyes turn suspicious on seeing the two of them together. 

“Commander, who is this? Is that the Lieutenant behind her? What’s our current status?” 

Pyxis holds up a hand. “Settle down, Erwin.” He removes his flask and takes a swig. 

Lily rolls her eyes. Why does her dad have to be a raging alcoholic to boot?

“Care for a drink?”

Erwin shakes his head. 

“Ah well.” He places the flask back in his pocket and gestures to Lily. “This is Ms. Zhang. I believe she has some information, which may be quite useful. The Lieutenant’s condition is unknown, but judging by the machinery connected to her, I think it’s safe to assume that her situation is dire at best.”

“I see, and how can this young woman help us?”

“It seems that she is well acquainted with the Lieutenant. She also has prior experience with this phenomenon. It may be worth our while to hear her perspective.”

Erwin eyes her curiously, before a flash of recognition sparks in his gaze. “Very well. In the meantime, what shall we do about the Premier? He’s unlikely to be so forthcoming in this world considering his previous actions.”

“A private meeting is in order. We will discuss matters as a larger group, once these matters have been resolved.”

Lily glances between them as an unspoken agreement is made. 

“Where are the recruits and the Captain?” Pyxis continues.

Erwin’s gaze turns concerned and caring. “The recruits made it over in one piece, but Levi is still unconscious.”

“I see, perhaps that is for the best. Have the recruits remain with him, while we handle things here.”

“Understood.”

There’s a knock at the door and neither seems surprised. 

“Premier Zackly,” Erwin begins cordially, yet cooly.

“So, this is where she is. Erwin, you’ve gone too far. We should have taken the time to experiment while we had the chance. Now the key, our one connection home, could very well be ruined.” 

Lily watches as an older man with greying hair approaches Nova’s bedside. She can’t quite put her finger on it, but she can feel a dark tension spread throughout the room. The lack of trust is unwavering between the men.

An ominous grin crosses Zackly’s bearded expression before his grey eyes calmly lock onto Lily. “Who is this?”

Lily freezes, sensing the older man’s unnerving stare size her up.

“Commander Erwin, would you excuse us for the time being?” Pyxis responds coolly.

Erwin nods and steps out. Lily suppresses a shiver as a chill works its way through the hospital room.

“Well? What is the meaning of her presence, Pyxis? Another one of your eccentricities?” 

“Perhaps,” he chuckles, removing up his flask again. He takes a long drink before turning back to the Premier. “The truth is, this woman can help us.”

“Oh?”

Pyxis nods to her to explain.

Lily takes a deep breath. This is the only way she can save Nova. She has to still her fear and remain strong. She’s a Pyxis after all. Her mother’s kindness, compared with his cunning nature, will serve her well in this instance. Despite the grief she feels, hope reigns with her father by her side. 

“Premier Zackly, my name is Lily Zhang. I may be the only one who can fully understand your present situation.”

“Oh?”

“You see, my grandmother was placed in a similar situation as Nova. She found her partner across the stars and swapped bodies with him until they were reunited in person during the direst of scenarios. That said, the key also brought great tragedy to them, as it does for all who possess it. As a result, my grandmother was separated from her family and lost those dearest to her.” Turning back, she glances towards the thread still hanging from Nova’s neck. “This single object poses a great threat, even now.”

“I see, so it’s just what I thought after all.”

“So, in order to avoid that fate, we must do whatever it takes to protect Nova and Levi from themselves. They are on borrowed time at best. It’s debatable whether Nova will even survive.” Her voice chokes slightly as the truth pours from her lips.

Pyxis nods and turns his attention to Zackly. “As you can see, that object is detrimental not only to the two of them but to all of us as well. If we allow them to remain together, we could become wrapped up in this twisted curse. As predicted, we cannot permit the Captain and Lieutenant to remain together.”

The Premier nods, pleased with this development. “Well then, Pyxis. Are we in agreement?”

Pyxis narrows his gaze, but nods. “Always, Premier.”

“Very well,” his lip curls in an unsettling smile. “And Erwin?”

“We will discuss this with him shortly. I wanted to ensure that we are on the same page so that we can face Erwin together if need be.”

Zackly nods and turns to Nova.

“Ms. Zhang,” Pyxis faces his daughter calmly. “Please excuse yourself for the time being, while we sort matters here.”

She nods solemnly and glances back towards Nova, whose breathing is unsteady. She stands and pauses by the door. “By the way, gentleman. In order to be less conspicuous, it may be worth your while to get some disguises.”

She bites her nails as she heads back down the long corridor. What the hell is going on? Whatever happens, Erwin and dad had better keep Nova safe. 

As she makes her way towards the waiting room, exhaustion hits. She falls into one of the chairs and pinches her brow. Tears build up behind her tired eyes. It’s too much, it’s all simply too much. Between her grandmother, Nova, and her dad, everything seems to be spiralling out of control. Besides that, Zackly’s twisted plot seems utterly insane. Does he actually think he can experiment on Nova and Levi? What even would that entail? If he somehow manages to get the key, that could kill them! Her worries seem endless as she places her head in her hands. 

Emerging footsteps bring her back to reality. She quickly stands and heads back down the hallway. Hopefully, Erwin and Levi can be trusted in this mess. It’s not like she has any other option though. Grasping at the hem of her blouse, she commits herself to the plan ahead.

***

“Why the hell didn’t you mention your agreement sooner?” Levi narrows his gaze towards Erwin. 

“Would it have helped?”

“Of course, it would have, shithead! I could’ve-”

“Protected Nova?” Erwin finishes. “Honestly, Levi, have you learned nothing? You showing yourself would only give Zackly cause to control you both. It’s a miracle he doesn’t realize your condition already. It won’t be long before he searches for you either.”

“That’s all the more reason to protect Nova!”

“And what would happen to you?”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“Seriously?” Lily seethes. “You’ve only known her for what…a few weeks? Why the hell do you care so much?! She’s my best friend you know. I’ve known her since she was born! We grew up like sisters. What makes you think you can help her now?”

Levi takes a deep breath. “It doesn’t concern you.”

“Don’t give me that crap! I’ve lost enough today. On top of that, I just found out my dad is a Commander in your world. So, don’t you dare tell me this doesn’t concern me!”

Levi grits his teeth, ready to take a stand. Erwin holds his arm out in front of him though. “Enough. This is no time for arguing. We need to consider our next option.”

“Which is?” Levi glares at him. 

“To save you and Nova both. Regardless of your relationship, there’s no doubt that you are connected. Levi, you love her, right?”

“Of course, but-”

“Then, we will fight to keep you together and to break the hold the curse has on you both.”

“So then…”

“That’s right,” Erwin nods. “We need to find a way to keep both Nova and Levi in this world without being torn apart.”

Chapter Text

“Captain, are you okay?” Krista runs to Levi as he re-enters the waiting area. Commander Erwin and a frowning dark-haired woman follow close behind.

“Who’s that?” Ymir gestures toward her.

“An intruder! Don’t worry, we’ll protect Nova from the enemy!” Connie and Sasha stand in ridiculous fighting stances.

“Calm down you two,” Armin attempts to settle them down.

“Everyone shut up!”

The group turns to look at Mikasa whose gaze turns steely. 

“Now, care to explain our current situation?”

“There’s no time,” Levi sighs. “She’s Nova’s friend. Now pay attention, brats.”

“Recruits,” Erwin stands before them.

The group rushes to salute.

“We have a new mission. There are many things unknown in this world. I must admit that I am unaware of its operations, myself. That said, we are Scouts and our goal is to journey far beyond the reaches of the Walls. We go where others dare not. So we will investigate this new land, although we know not what it holds.” He glances back towards the hospital ward. “Listen well, young soldiers. Starting today you are no longer cadets or new recruits, you are full-fledged veterans. Make use of this status and help us make our way in this new land.”

They salute readily with determined expressions. 

Levi merely rolls his eyes. Erwin is such a smooth-talker.

“Right, we will separate into teams to gather intelligence and protect Captain Levi and Lieutenant Reader. Their safety is paramount. The Captain, Section Commander Hange, and I will return to the Lieutenant’s side to protect her against Premier Zackly.”

“What about Commander Pyxis?” Eren grits his teeth. “I thought he was our enemy as well?”

“No,” Armin pauses in thought. “Judging by the presence of the Lieutenant’s friend and the Garrison Commander’s penchant for eccentricities, I believe he is posing as a double agent of sorts. That’s the only explanation considering his position. Knowing the Commander, he wouldn’t be so blind as to follow the selfish whims of the Premier. That said, he cannot actively go against him without the threat of insubordination. Still, this is merely conjecture.”

Erwin nods. “Astute as always, Arlet. Indeed, Commander Pyxis is playing his usual cards and backing the strongest horse. We must be cautious, though we can assume he is on our side until we free ourselves of our current predicament.”

“Get on with it Erwin, we don’t have time for this,” Levi rolls his eyes.

The Commander purses his lips, knowing the Captain is anxious to get back to Nova. “Very well, Section Commander Hange is already guarding the Lieutenant as we speak. There is no time to waste. Our plans are at hand.”

“Sir!” The group salutes.

“Soldiers Ackerman, Yeager, Kierstein, Springer, and Braus will investigate the world outside of this structure and gather intelligence regarding how this world functions, any threats, and information you deem appropriate. Please note that I will only be able to keep the Section Commander at bay for so long. They will likely reconvene with you shortly after our debrief. Until then, Ackerman and Kierstein will be in charge. You may separate into teams as you see fit."

They salute readily, though Sasha and Connie continue picking at a hand-washing poster in the corner as they do. 

Erwin turns to Ymir, Krista, and Armin. “You three will keep an eye on Ms. Zhang,” he motions to the woman beside him. “She is a dear friend of the Lieutenant and has connections to our present situation. Work together and try to find a way to save Levi and the Lieutenant.”

Armin and Krista look terrified, though Ymir nods lazily in agreement. 

“Arlet, you will spearhead this operation.”

“Are you sure?” Armin responds shakily. “Perhaps-”

The Commander glances at him kindly but firmly. “Arlet, I trust you wholeheartedly. With your mind, I am sure a solution can be found.”

He nods and stands nervously beside the others.

Erwin turns to the final team. “Soldiers Braun and Hoover, you will be stationed in the hospital and will act as our defence if necessary. In the meantime, I want you to gather as much intelligence regarding the operational systems and the Lieutenant’s present condition as possible.”

“Sir!” They salute.

“Very well, you have your assignments. Now go!”

“Wait!” Lily holds up her hand.

Erwin turns and halts the group. “What is it?”

“Take these,” she reaches into her bag and pulls out five devices.

“What are those,” Sasha and Connie immediately become distracted by the colours and shiny glare.

“Cell phones. I…borrowed some,” she looks away quickly before turning back. “You can use them to communicate if need be. I’ve already plugged in the numbers for you to call or text each other. Just press on the name of the person you want to talk to and you should have a direct line.”

Most of the soldiers look confused and offer an awkward thank you. Armin and Erwin; however, nod and take them readily with a keen appreciation for the objects. 

“Now, let us begin the next mission of the Survey Corps! Go!” Erwin holds out his arm sharply.

The soldiers depart and head their separate ways as instructed. 

***

“Eren, don’t leave my side,” Mikasa instructs as the group heads down the final stairwell. 

“Don’t baby me, Mikasa.”

“Come on you two, stop playing house. We all know you’ll cling to Mikasa’s side anyways,” Jean rolls his eyes.

“No, I won’t! Besides you’re no better, horse-face!”

“Suicidal maniac!”

“Guys, stop fighting. Look!” Sasha points towards the end of the stairwell where a bright light shines through.

It takes their eyes a moment to adjust, as they enter the lobby of the hospital. Nurses, doctors, administrators, and patients run to and from as strange sounds carry through the large hall. 

“This place is huge,” Sasha stares across the foyer.

“Hey, Connie! Come back here!” Jean rushes after his comrade who makes a bee-line for the front door.

Jean pauses to admire a brunette woman in scrubs before Eren elbows him and forces him to stay on task. “Why you-”

“Look,” Mikasa pauses in the doorway as Sasha and Connie stand on the nearby sidewalk. 

Stepping forward, they join them and pause in shock. 

“Impossible,” Jean whispers.

“It’s so…big,” Sasha trembles. 

“Those buildings have to be even taller than the Colossal,” Connie mutters.

Before them, the city lies ahead with huge glass sky-rise buildings surrounding them. Cars and citizens bustle across busy roads and crosswalks. Crowds push past them without a second thought. If they look closely, they can see the distant mountains and cliffs that encircle the cityscape. The sun sets with a deep red glow beyond the hills, despite the creeping artificial glow from the concrete jungle.

Connie is about to step forward when Mikasa quickly hauls him back. A red Buick zooms past, beeping angrily without remorse.

“What the hell is that?” He gasps. “Wait, they’re everywhere!”

“Could they be cows? Or horses?”

“Do they look like Jean? They can’t be horses,” Eren jests.

“Back off!”

“Hey, look there,” Mikasa points. Flashing lights and a loud blear from a siren causes them to take cover.

“What the hell is that?” 

“Some kind of abnormal titan?” Sasha suggests. 

The truck pulls swiftly up to the curb. Two men in uniforms jump out of the vehicle. “Hurry, get him into surgery!” 

From the back of the vehicle, they carefully remove a young man wrapped in blankets on a stretcher.

Jean holds out his arm to keep the group back as they rush forward.

A man in white scrubs approaches them hurriedly. “We need an IV drip stat! He’s lost a lot of blood. Knife wound to the stomach.”

Jean glances to the side as the man wheezes and holds his side. A deep red sheen is rapidly spreading, despite the heavy bandages pressing against his wound. His face is rapidly growing pale and is drenched in sweat as shock overwhelms him. The second paramedic presses on the wound in an attempt to staunch the bleeding until help arrives.

“Sorry, that’s beyond our field of expertise,” Jean responds casually but firmly.

“What do you mean? You’re doctors aren’t you?”

“Jean, maybe we should help?” Sasha approaches shakily, but he holds her back. 

“Can’t you see? This world is totally different from ours. Hang back and let them do their thing,” he whispers sharply.

“Um, what’s going on? Holy crap! That guy was stabbed, wasn’t he?!”

“Jean’s right. We can’t get involved,” Mikasa pulls Connie back before stepping ahead of the group. “Bring him inside, we’ll be there shortly,” she nods to the paramedics. 

They give her a quick glance before heading inside with the patient.

“Run,” Mikasa commands.

“What? Clearly, that man needs help!” Eren exclaims.

“Back off Eren. We need to find out where the hell we are before jumping into anything. If there are strange metal creatures like these roaming around,” Jean points towards the cars. “Who knows what advancements they’ll use on that poor guy. Just look at the Lieutenant.”

“Maybe they’ll turn him into a metal robot or cyborg,” Sasha bites her nails nervously.

“Seriously, have you been hanging around the Section Commander again?” Connie sighs and points toward the cars. “Besides, they already have cyborg horses.”

“I think you mean cows.”

“Does that look like a cow to you?!”

“Well, they don’t look like horses either!”

“Quit it, you two,” Jean scolds them. “We need to get going before those guys come back.”

The group nods and begins following pedestrians casually along the sidewalk. 

“Be careful,” Mikasa warns. “Those metal contraptions are what injured Nova.”

“R-right,” Connie scoots away from the roadside as a car whizzes past. 

“Ugh,” Sasha groans. “Is there anything to eat here?” She sniffs the air. “Wait a minute,” she stops in her tracks. “It can’t be…” she pauses, before taking off down the road. 

“Sasha!” Jean and the group run swiftly after her. “Get back here!”

“Sasha! Wait for me!” Connie calls.

“Hey, you need to pay for that!” A voice booms to their left. 

Turning the next corner, they find a food truck inscribed with the phrase: Senior Alberto’s Pizza, along the side of a canary yellow van.

“Wait, the horse cooks?” Connie scratches his head.

“Hey guys, look what I found!” Sasha yells through a mouthful of pizza. 

“You can’t just take food off the rack!” A large man with a greasy stained apron, barks at her. “Pay up before I call the police!”

“Sasha, get back here!” Mikasa calls sharply. 

The man stares down at the approaching group. “Pay up, docs.”

“Sorry, our friend has a bad habit of devouring everything in sight,” he elbows her sharply. “Honestly what are you, a titan?” He turns back to the group. “Anyone have any coins?”

“Seriously? Even I kept my wallet,” Eren rolls his eyes and reaches into his lab coat pocket. He hauls out a bag of copper and silver pieces. 

Jean rolls his eyes and takes it. “How much?”

“$6.50.” He eyes the bag warily. “Spare change won’t cover it. Don’t you have cash with you?”

“Cash?” Jean glances back at the group who shrug their shoulders. “Well, we have six copper pieces we can give you?” He holds a handful up to the window.

“What are these? Pennys?” He tosses them back. “The hell kind of mind-games are you playing? I swear, you docs think you can get away with anything,” He takes out a device, similar to the one Lily gave them. He presses a few buttons and holds it up to his ear, glaring at them. “Yes, police? I have a few doctors here stealing from my van.”

“Run!” Jean hisses sharply. 

They take off down the road as the man yells obscenities at them. They fly down the next street corner and make a beeline for the park ahead as sirens blare down the road. 

They gasp for breath near a hanging cherry tree, hoping the police won’t come after them. 

“Damn it, not even five minutes in and we’re already wanted criminals,” Jean crouches by the trunk. 

“What did you expect, offering him copper pieces like that?”

“You were the one who gave me your wallet in the first place,” Jean argues and tosses the small bag to Eren. 

“Damn it!”

“So, what now?” Connie glances ahead as the cop cars turn the corner towards the pizza truck. 

“Now,” Mikasa sighs and glances at her scrubs. “We find new attire. We can’t go around like this or people will get suspicious, not to mention the trouble we’re already in.”

“Right,” Jean nods. “Afterward, it might be best for us to split up.”

“Are you nuts?” 

“Take a look around, Eren. We’re already in trouble and people will get suspicious if we clump together like this. Besides, our task is to gather intelligence, isn’t it? We’ll cover more ground if we separate.”

“What about them?” Eren scoffs, pointing behind him.

Turning, Jean finds Connie and Sasha trying to catch ducks in a river as civilians glance at them suspiciously. “Damn it!” He takes off after them. 

“Eren,” Mikasa grabs his sleeve before he can follow. “We should stay together, while Jean takes care of those two.”

“Why?”

She blushes slightly. “Well, it’s dangerous out here. Besides, those three are always together, aren’t they?”

He runs a hand through his hair and sighs. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Then it’s decided,” Mikasa nods. “Jean, Connie, Sasha, let’s go!”

The frantic group pauses, soaking wet and follows her orders.

“So, where do we get new clothes?” Jean tries to wring out his lab coat sleeve.

“There,” Mikasa points to a store across the street.

“But we don’t have any money,” Eren protests. 

She continues ahead, regardless as the group shrugs and follows after her. 

After narrowly dodging the beeping cars across the street, they head into a boutique, still dripping wet and weary from their journey. A bell announces their arrival as they step through the glass door.

“C-can I help you?” A young woman glances up in surprise from the cash. She eyes them suspiciously as they begin filing through the racks. 

“Wow, these clothes are so scandalous and weird-looking!” Sasha sorts through a row of lingerie. 

Jean smacks his forehead and turns to the store clerk. “Please, excuse my friends.”

“Do you need anything?” She glances at them in concern. 

He turns as Sasha makes her way to the swimsuit rack. “Yes, desperately,” he sighs and stalks over, trying to guide her towards some sensible outerwear. 

“Perhaps something like this?” The store clerk holds up a rose pinafore and white t-shirt.

“We’ll take it!” Jean grabs it and tosses Sasha into a dressing room. “Behave yourself,” he barks. 

In the end, each looks more appropriate based on the styles of the new world. 

Sasha twirls in her outfit and lace-up sandals. “Wow, this is so much comfier than the clothes at home.”

“You said it. Though the tags are itchy,” Connie scratches his neck, as the collar of his green jacket irritates him. “Plus these pants are weird,” he motions to his baggy jeans.

“I don’t know, I think they look pretty cool,” Jean turns in the mirror to get a better look at his leather jacket.

“The only one who thinks that is you,” Eren rolls his eyes.

“It’s better than your weird-looking shorts. Besides, who chooses a navy shirt to pair with them. How boring can you be?”

“Well forgive me for trying to blend in, unlike you.”

“Why you-”

“Um, does this look okay?” Mikasa steps out of the dressing room nervously.

Jean and Eren freeze and blush as she makes her way out.

“Y-you look-” Jean stammers. 

“Beautiful,” Eren responds, mouth agape. As Mikasa blushes; however, he quickly clears his throat. “I mean, don’t you think you’ll stand out in that?”

“I think it’s fine,” she smiles and heads for the door. “Shall we?”

“H-Hey! You need to pay for those! Wait!” The clerk calls after them. 

They hurry out before nodding to each other. It’s time. 

Jean, Sasha, and Connie run down the sidewalk towards the east end of the city. Mikasa and Eren nod to each other before walking west. 

Eren turns to Mikasa as they continue on. “Why choose that outfit of all things?”

“You don’t like it?”

“It stands out,” he grumbles. 

“I picked it because it matches my scarf,” she touches the fabric warmly.

Eren sighs and turns towards her. “Here, it’s tangled in your dress.” 

Mikasa blushes in the light of the city as Eren wraps it for her. As the sun sinks and the skies turn a deep blue, the buildings and street vendors shine with a warm glow. 

“There,” he turns quickly and continues walking.

Mikasa pauses and smiles before continuing toward him.

Eren purses his lips and trudges ahead. Damn it, why did she have to wear that? The image of her white sundress and long pink sweater invade his mind and remind him of their shared past. 

Together they continue on past the city lights. 

“Mikasa?”

“What is it?”

“What am I-?”

“Hm?”

He shakes his head. “Nevermind.”

In the shadows, he doesn’t see the rosy hue of her cheeks. 

***

“Bertolt, any news?”

“I’ve navigated the floors and drew a map of our whereabouts.”

“Let’s see it.”

He unfurls a piece of plain white paper with distinct markings.

“Damn it, I wish we had Nova’s mapping skills right about now.”

“Come on,” Bertolt sighs. “Anyways, this seems to be the general layout.”

“So, we’re on the third floor then?”

Bertolt nods. “The first floor is reserved for admittance and emergency medicine, the second is primarily internal medicine and pediatrics.” He points to the next stairwell. “Then we have the ICU, which is where we are now. Across the hall, there is orthopedics and surgery. Then, on the fourth floor, there’s oncology and cardiac. The top floor is reserved for neurology. That said, there are a lot of hidden pathways and offices that I’m still mapping out. It looks like the technicians do their work in the basement.”

Reiner sighs as he looks at the crude drawings with scribbles and stick figures. “Do me a favour Bert? Don’t become an artist.”

“Shut up,” he rolls his eyes.

“So, next up is to investigate the Lieutenant’s condition. From what I’ve heard on the ward, she was struck by something called a car. She broke four ribs and an arm. The most concerning issue is her head though. Apparently, she hit it pretty hard when she was struck. The doctors aren’t sure when she’s going to wake up at this point.”

“I see,” Bertolt frowns. “Damn it, when did our mission get so screwed up? Will we ever get home again?”

“Hey, I’m sure we’ll be just fine. We’ll be back in Trost before you know it.” Reiner places a consoling hand on his shoulder.

Bertolt gives him an uneasy glance. “Right…Trost.”

“Hm?”

“Let’s get going. We should reconvene with the others.”

***

“Why did we get stuck with princess guard duty?”

“Be nice, Ymir.”

“At least we have Armin who's at least somewhat intelligent.”

“Let’s just try to cooperate. There’s a lot riding on what we find,” Armin takes a seat at the conference table.

“So start thinking, brainiac.”

Lily glances between them nervously and leans against the windowsill.

Armin retrieves a piece of paper and a pen. “Well, let’s start at the beginning.”

“Nova first appeared the day of our first mission, since Annie’s attack,” Krista comments.

He shakes his head. “Even before that, when they switched for the first time.”

“When was that?” Ymir grunts by the doorway.

Armin places the pen on his chin. “At least two weeks before her arrival, from what I can gather. The Section Commander mentioned that the first incident likely occurred the night we went stargazing. That said, it looks like we have to factor in Ms. Zhang's family history as well. Tell us, did you notice anything strange about the Lieutenant a few weeks ago?”

Lily pauses and sighs. “Well, she seemed colder and more aloof. It was like she lost her mind or something for a while there. I was worried about her, to be honest.”

“When did you first notice this change?”

“Two weeks ago. I remember, I went to take her out to breakfast when she flat out refused. Not to mention, her apartment was insanely clean. She’s usually the messiest person ever.”

The others exchange a glance. Definitely Captain Levi. “What else can you tell us? Any information you can provide would be useful.”

Lily sighs. “It’s a bit of a long story.”

Armin nods. “Please, tell us everything you know.”

She takes a seat and starts from the beginning. 

***

“Shit, how did things end up like this?”

“Just be patient, Levi.”

“Shut the hell up. We’ve waited long enough.”

“Erwin, Levi!” A familiar voice calls down the hallway.

“Commander Pyxis, what is it?” Erwin demands.

“Where is Ms. Zhang?”

“With Arlet, Lenz, and Ymir. Now, tell us what has happened.”

“Damn.”

“Speak,” Levi responds cooly. After exchanging a terse glance with him; however, his eyes widen. “No,” he whispers before taring down the hallway.

“Levi, wait!” Erwin rushes after him. 

Swinging open the door to Nova’s room, he sinks to the ground. “We’re too late.”

Chapter Text

“Take care of my son,” Kuchel whispers.

“I will,” you respond confidently, before turning the handle leading into your reality. A tear falls down your cheek as you think about Elio and Grandma Mei. You won’t let their sacrifices be wasted. You’ll find Levi, no matter the cost.

“Reader? Hey, Nova!” A familiar voice calls in the cold darkness. 

You groan as your eyes adjust to the musty, shadowed space. Is this a basement? The smell of antiseptic permeates the air and is mixed with dense cleaning products. Levi would approve.

“Nova!” The voice calls again.

You register the desperate tone to your right. Your voice comes out in a dry croak. “Hange?”

“Oh, thank Maria! I thought we’d lost you. We’ve all been worried sick!”

“Where are we? Where’s Levi?” You groan and attempt to get up but find your arms and legs tightly bound to a chair. The ropes itch and burn against your skin as you struggle helplessly. “The hell is this?”

“Zackly,” Hange hisses. “That delusional old man is going to kill us at this rate.”

“Zackly?” Slowly your memories of Shiganshina return. Erwin and Armin’s plan must have worked after all. The last thing you remember is a blue car coming out of nowhere, heading straight for you. “Shit, Levi’s probably out of his mind.”

“The Captain can handle himself,” Hange mutters simply. Still, you detect a hint of worry in their voice. 

“Are you sure about that?” Zackly’s menacing chuckle sends a shiver down your spine.

You…what the hell do you want from us? What are you plotting?!”

A glimmer of light reflects off his blade before he pulls a cord attached to a hanging lightbulb. The old man is still adorned in his military attire, though his jacket is removed and replaced with a blood-stained apron and gloves. His grin is eerily wide in the shadows and you shudder to think what he could possibly have planned. 

Glancing towards Hange, you find they’re covered in bruises and the left side of their face is swollen. They struggle and glare at the premier, despite being bound in a similar manner as you. Their wrists are rubbed raw, straining against the tight ropes.

The bruises and breaks you’ve sustained aren’t pleasant either. You glance down at your exposed legs. Your hospital gown doesn’t leave much to the imagination as nasty purple bruises blotch your skin. Your arm sears with pain against a thick cast reaching towards your elbow. Every muscle aches and your throat feels like sandpaper as you breathe shakily. What the hell happened? 

Zackly reaches for a tray of iron and silver tools to his left, including several scalpels, forceps, and surgical instruments. “Now, where to begin?” He eyes them with ominous interest. 

“What kind of trick did you pull to get us down here?! The Scouts would never let this happen!”

“Funny you should mention them.” He grins, twirling a small blade between his thumb and index finger. “I hope they’re doing alright…your precious Captain, in particular.”

“What did you do?!” You demand, struggling against the ropes until your wrists ache. You shake your head. There’s no way Levi could have lost to the likes of him.

“Oh nothing at all, not yet anyway. Still, the fun is only just about to begin.”

“He’ll find me. He won’t rest until your sick plot is dealt with!”

“Is that so? How wonderful,” Zackly smirks and licks his lips. “Perhaps if I send him a warning, he’ll find you sooner.” Hange’s eyes widen as the premier saunters towards you. Despite your hospital garb and grim condition, you narrow your gaze and refuse to shy away from him.

Stepping closer, the premier places a scalpel against your throat. “Cry out. Go on, scream! I want to hear every sound your body can make.” He drags the dull edge of the blade down your chest.

You grit your teeth and struggle, before spitting in his face.

He chuckles and casually brushes the saliva away with his thumb. He licks it off menacingly. “Keep going, it only turns me on.”

“You disgusting pig!”

“That’s it, cry out for mercy,” he laughs. “Maybe I’ll be lenient.”

“Like hell I will, bastard!”

“Nova,” Hange cautions.

Zackly chuckles ominously and steps between your legs. You lean away instinctively as your courage wavers slightly. He stands close enough for you to feel his foul breath across your cheek. He tilts your chin up and leans down until your lips are mere inches away from his. 

“Don’t worry pet, you’ll obey me soon enough. I’ll put both of you to good use.” He looks between you and Hange hungrily.

You turn away with a shudder of disgust, as he smirks and licks his lips.

“Let her go! It’s me you want! I have all the information you need,” Hange speaks up desperately.

“Ah yes, Section Commander,” he turns his attention to them and casually strolls over. “I almost forgot about you. That wonderful mind of yours will certainly be useful. But first, perhaps you could give our esteemed Lieutenant some encouragement. You know the tragedy that will befall the two lovers, should they remain together, after all.”

“What is he talking about?” You glance between them in confusion. Do they mean his Ackerman bloodline? But how could they possibly know that? “Hey, Hange? Talk to me!”

They sigh. “Reader, don’t tell him anything.”

Zackly chuckles coldly. “Don’t resist me now. I already know of their necessary separation after all.”

“Necessary separation?”

Zackly turns back to you, with a grin. “Don’t tell me you didn’t know? Oh, this is perfect.” He leans down to whisper in your ear. “The closer you are to Levi, the longer the curse will take hold…until you share one body alone.”

“One…body?”

Hange drops their gaze miserably.

“Would someone tell me what the hell is going on?! Where is Levi?”

Zackly traces the dull edge of the blade with his index finger. “Ah, how interesting that you haven’t picked up on it. Well, let’s see if you can figure it out as the Section Commander did. They were really quite helpful, you know.”

You tremble as he steps closer. “What are you going to do?”

“Send him a message,” he whispers, sending a chill down your spine. Raising his blade, he slices down across your cheek. 

You freeze for a moment in shock, as warm crimson droplets fall onto your gown. Pain suddenly ripples through your face like a flame as you wince and hiss, unable to lift a hand to soothe it. The burning sensation intensifies to a point. “Damn you!” Your eyes widen as a familiar feeling overwhelms your senses. You hear a sharp curse in your mind, that can only belong to one person.“Levi…there’s no way.”

Zackly chuckles. “Yes, you see it now don’t you?”

“But…all this time…those switches…it’s not possible.”

“How dense are you, Lieutenant? All this time together and you never realized? You’re not just swapping bodies aimlessly, you are actually becoming each other. With every passing instance, you are drawn together. Soon enough, one of you will fade away while the other remains.”

You freeze and tremble as blood continues to roll down your cheek “So, Levi…he…”

“That’s right,” Zackly chuckles. “Everything you feel, he feels too; and the longer you spend together, the greater your connection will be.”

“But the switches…”

“…Draw you together; even closer in moments of weakness,” Zackly finishes. “But here’s the catch…” He brings the blade to your jaw as blood stains the silver sheen in crimson. “You’re both on borrowed time. Sooner or later, you’ll both fall to the curse.”

You set your jaw, refusing to believe him. Still, Grandma Mei’s story floods through your brain. All this time, you thought it was the Ackerman bloodline that was cursed but maybe it was something else…

“That’s right, your connection is slowly killing you both. So long as that thread and key are around your neck, there is no escape. You will be bound to it until your end.” He pulls on the thread tightly, so her face is mere inches from his. “So, perhaps I should just kill you now and put an end to your suffering. Besides that, I have my suspicions that we’ll remain here should we eliminate you from this world. It will be as though you never existed in the first place.” He traces his blade down your throat with a grin. “Or maybe, I’ll enjoy myself with you first, so he can see what true pain really is.”

“Don’t!” Hange struggles. “Zackly, you don’t know what you’re dealing with here. You could kill Levi too!”

He chuckles coolly. “Or maybe, the Captain will forget about his precious Lieutenant altogether.”

“What are you talking about?” You gasp and struggle.

“We won’t know until we try, will we?” 

You stare determinedly into his cruel gaze as he handles the key and runs his fingers around it. “Back the hell off!”

Zackly smirks. “You have a fire, don’t you? Just like Levi.”

“So, what are you waiting for? Do it!”

“Reader,” Hange warns. “Don’t…”

“All in good time. We’re only waiting on one. I want him to see the moment the light leaves your eyes. Let’s see how long it will take. What if I cut out your tongue? Will he feel that? Or maybe…” he licks his lips and drops his gaze.

“You bastard.”

“Shh,” he picks up a clamp and approaches you. 

“No, don’t…” You shirk away.

“Don’t worry, I only want to send a message. I won’t go overboard…not yet, anyway.”

“Please,” you lean back and clench your teeth hard, as he grabs your jaw sharply.

“Now, now. Be good and I won’t have to break you.”

As he attempts to pry your mouth open, you bite his finger.

“Ah!” He backs up, holding his hand. “I knew you were a fighter, but this is just too good.” Stepping closer again, he caresses your jaw. “Now, be a good girl and open up.”

You shake your head adamantly, refusing not only for yourself, but to save Levi from this anguish as well.

“Very well then.” He pulls on a pair of gloves and steps closer with the clamp still in hand. 

You shy away as he presses his nose against yours. His broad smile glints coldly in the dim light.

“Stop it, Zackly,” Hange resists. “Leave her alone!”

“Now now, Section Commander. Cooperate or you’ll be next.”

You force your mouth shut and grind your teeth together as he leans forward and kisses you. Jerking your face to the side, you struggle to keep away from his tight grip.

He chuckles and pulls away only slightly. “I hope you’re ready, pet.”

Your eyes widen in horror as he brings the clamp to your lips. 

“Open up,” he repeats. Forcing it between your teeth, he pries your jaw apart until it’s gaping open.

Desperately, you attempt to close your mouth, even a little under the pressure. Your eyes begin to tear up as the pressure against your teeth rises in agony. “AAAH!” You cry out as something snaps. Excruciating pain radiates up towards your ears, as your jaw dislocates sharply. Your vision turns white as the searing pain continues unbearably. Someone screams, but the voice seems distant.

“That’s much better,” Zackly chuckles as your jaw hangs open limply.

Crying out and writhing in pain, you tip the chair back, only to have Zackly right it again. The force rattles your brain and sears the pain further into your skull until your vision is blurred and dotted with spots.

“Ready?” He chuckles coldly.

“Stop it, Zackly!”

You glance up in tears and attempt to shake your head, only to be met with more pain. Your head feels disconnected from your neck. All you can think about is the torture ahead. Your captor grabs your jaw, causing you to squeal even louder.

 “Shut up! We’re just getting started,” he grimaces. His aura emulates a disturbing sense of pleasure and satisfaction as he watches you cry out desperately beneath him. The begging and pleading from your tear-filled eyes only seem to spur him on. “Let me see that pretty mouth of yours,” he twists your jaw until your screams die out, and you’re left only in open-mouthed, silent pain.

“Stop it!” Hange cries against their bindings. “I…I can give you more information! You don’t have to do this. I only told you part of my findings. There’s more, please!”

“Save your babbling. Can’t you see I’m busy? Don’t worry, Section Commander, you’ll have your turn soon enough. But first,” Zackly grins back at you. “Someone needs to be taught a lesson.”

Reaching into your dislocated jaw with a pair of forceps, he roots around the back of your jaw. You inhale sharply and tense up, knowing what’s coming next. Without hesitation, he yanks out a molar. You wail, arching your back. “Fuck!”

“See this, Levi!” Zackly holds the tooth in the air. “This is just the beginning! Get down here before I send her back to hell!” He cackles and sighs as he admires the bloodied extraction with disturbing admiration.

Blood drips down your throat and pools as you writhe and gurgle.

“Shhh,” he smirks as Hange curses under their breath. He removes the clamp from your jaw, causing it to gape limply to the side. Blood pours out from your lips, staining your throat bright red.

“Please,” you beg, wincing with every word. “No more.”

Zackly grins. “I was hoping you’d say that.” He grabs your hair and pulls your head back as you cry out. “Should I go for an eye next? Or maybe, I should destroy something even more enticing…something that would shatter Levi completely, besides your untimely death…” He points the blade at your abdomen. 

“No!” Hange struggles. 

Your breathing quickens as he approaches. Is this it? If he decides to kill me then so be it…anything to put me out of this agony. Just don’t hurt Levi. Don’t make him suffer any more than he already has. You close your eyes desperately as tears stain your bloodied and bruised figure.

Zackly’s gaze trails down your body hungrily. “I wonder if Levi will feel this?” He whispers in your ear causing a chill to erupt down your spine. The glow of the blood-stained blade shimmers as he brings it down in one keen strike. “Say goodbye to your future, Lieutenant.”

“Fat chance, shithead.”

It’s over before you can process what’s happened. There’s a sharp grunt and a thud, before a sharp clang on the ground. Your jaw seers as the impact reaches your battered body. Wincing, you dare to peek your eyes open. Instead of Zackly standing ahead with his eery grin and brandished blade, the Wings of Freedom face you. Never before have you been so comforted by the sight.

“Levi.”

“Don’t move. This will all be over soon.” His voice is strangely cold as he faces the premier with deep disdain. His jaw is bruised but he sets it in keen ferocity. He counters Zackly’s fire with chilling ice. He removes his blade smoothly without hesitation. 

The premier chuckles and gets to his feet. “I was hoping you’d show up for the grand finale. Perhaps you’d like to see your dear Lieutenant cut up even more. Don’t worry, I’m sure you can taste every drop of blood I drain from her, can’t you?”

“Tch. Shut up.”

“Always so calm. I’m looking forward to seeing the moment you realize she’s forever out of reach; when the memory of her very existence leaves those cold eyes of yours.”

“You won’t get the chance!” Levi swings his blade and attacks in a blind fury. 

You watch in awe as he rips through the basement with blinding speed. Despite being so small, his power is astonishing to behold. It’s like a god resides in his body.

Zackly struggles but is clearly no match for the Captain. He reaches towards the tray of instruments and grabs a knife, swinging it in desperation as Levi continues his assault with deadly precision. 

The Captain slices across his cheek in a flurry. Grasping at it, the premier stumbles against a wooden pillar. 

“What’s the matter? Not enjoying yourself anymore? Come on, let’s have some fun!” He swings again, slashing the other side hurriedly. He stands before Zackly and kicks the blade out of his hand, before knocking him to the ground.

“Levi,” you gasp and cough as your jaw cracks further. 

Hange holds a finger to their lips. “Don’t.”

“Ah!” Levi cries as he kicks him repeatedly. “Don’t you ever…lay a finger on her…again! You mangey…filthy…animal!”

You watch in horror as he beats him senseless. “Stop,” you whisper. 

He kicks his face until the bones crack underneath. Picking up the fallen blade, he slashes across the Premier until his blood begins to pool on the floor. There’s a scream, and you realize it’s Levi’s agonized cry. 

“Stop!” You struggle against the bindings and dare to speak up against the gurgle of blood still in your throat. Levi doesn’t listen; he hardly seems to be of this world.

“It’s useless, just wait until he’s calmed down,” Hange sighs. 

“STOP!” You focus every ounce of your being on Levi until his will becomes your own. You can feel all of his rage, anger, and pain. He’s not only raging at the torture, he’s scared more than anything that Zackly could be right. You feel it too. Perhaps this world will collapse in on itself, or you’ll lose yourself when the red thread is finally cut. You take a deep breath and refocus your energy. 

Levi? 

The white void reappears as you open your eyes. Glancing down, you see your hospital garb is still stained and bloodied, though your injuries seem to have healed. As you look ahead, you see Levi’s door; the route back to his world is still there. Only, he’s not the one standing before you enraged and in pain. Instead, a small emaciated child looks up at you emptily. 

“Wait, who are you?”

“She’s dead.”

“Who’s dead?” You look around but don’t see anyone besides yourself. Stepping forward, you crouch down in front of him. “What’s your name, kid?”

He looks up at you miserably. “Levi…just Levi.”

Your eyes widen in surprise. You raise a hand to touch him but hesitate. “What happened?”

“I couldn’t save her. It was all that filth. All of that disgusting filth! If I’d gotten her above ground, she would have lived.” He covers his head in his hands and wails a heart-wrenching, guttural cry.

Instinctively, you wrap your arms around him tightly. His scream sounds like that of a poor wounded animal. “It’s okay,” you whisper. “I’m here, I’ll protect you. Just come back to me.”

“Don’t go!” He cries over and over again.

You soothe him and ruffle his hair gently. “I won’t. We’ll find a way out of this. Just come back to me, Levi. Please, I need you.”

He sobs quietly but his figure remains that of a small sickly child, clinging to you desperately. 

“I…I love you,” you whisper. 

He continues clinging to you tightly, shuddering with his tiny frail hands gripping your blood-splattered hospital gown. 

A lullaby gently flows through your mind as you hold him. It’s simple but beautiful. You vaguely remember the tune from years ago, though you wonder if it was a distant dream instead. An image of a young woman with grey eyes, comforting a raven-haired child stirs within you. Without meaning to you hum along, trying to comfort the crying child. 

As you continue, the child’s grip loosens slightly and he relaxes into your arms. Running your fingers through his hair, you feel comforted knowing his mind is being put at ease by the tune. You close your eyes and hum the rest of the lullaby as he rests his head softly against your chest.

“It’s okay,” he whispers. “I’m here.”

Your humming slows to a stop as you slowly open your eyes. Instead of a small child, your Levi holds you close with his head still resting against your beating heart. 

“I’m sorry, I should never have left you.”

You shake your head. “No, if not for me we wouldn’t even be in this position. I’m just glad you’re okay.” You run your fingers against his undercut, tenderly.

His expression remains stoic, but you could almost swear a hint of a tear begins to form in his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so sorry.”

Cupping his cheeks and bringing his face to meet yours, you smile softly. “You have nothing to apologize for.”

“When I heard your cries and felt your pain, I…”

“Shhh,” you place a finger to his lips. Leaning down, you kiss him tenderly, reassuring him that you’ll figure this out together.

He kisses you back passionately, as though every embrace is now on borrowed time.