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Obstacle Course

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I did it. Blood drummed in all his limbs. His fists, held up for balance, were shaking. I DID IT!

Though the other trainees looked at him in shock, the only one whose eyes he sought were Mikasa's, who looked back at him levelly. Her mouth moved and Armin swallowed, but Eren couldn't hear what she said; Shadis was beginning to speak.

"Don't get too excited!" he announced, and the voice that had encouraged him was once more like a club on his forehead. "You think you can kill titans hovering there like a butterfly? You've got a long way to go before you can manage to give a titan so much as a toenail trimming!"

But Eren's mood couldn't be soured. When he fell from the 3D gear and jammed his left knee into a pebble it didn't even hurt. When Armin dragged him, limping and smiling, into the cafeteria and prompted him to eat, Eren leaned back in his chair and announced, happily, "No thanks. I'm not hungry."

Behind his closed eyes, the sight of titans falling left and right beneath his swords was filling enough.

"Come on, Eren!" Armin encouraged. "This isn't the regular food. They have nicer food since we made it into the program. See? Butter!"

But no amount of waving the buttered bread beneath his nose would shake Eren from his daydreams. Suddenly Armin felt a chill; he turned around and swallowed when he saw Sasha staring at them, nostrils flared.

"Eren!" Armin hissed, waggling the bread more furiously, to no effect. Realizing he was looking ridiculous, Armin grimaced and put the bread back down on the platter, and Mikasa picked it up.

"Eren," she called, and Eren blinked and glanced over at her. She pushed the bread against his mouth. "Eat it. Or you'll never have the energy to kill titans."

Eren's eyes widened. "You're right!" he gasped, and began to shovel food into his mouth.

Armin sighed in relief and looked over to see Sasha hunching in disappointment and pecking at what remained of her own share of food.

"You always know just what to say, Mikasa," he said, with amusement and apology, and began to dig into his own food, ignoring Sasha's watchful gaze. "But I suppose you would know best how to get him to do anything, having lived with him, huh?"

Lived with him — in that little warm house that always smelled like fresh stew and bread — in that little warm world where Eren had been able to look at things without seeing titans.

"It's easier now than ever," Mikasa said between bites, "to get Eren to do something. Even if that thing is to use rusted, broken maneuver gear."

"Did you say something?" Eren managed through a full mouth, looking up, and Mikasa and Armin shook their heads, Armin laughing nervously. Eren narrowed their eyes at them, but before he could say anything further he — and the rest of the room — was interrupted by a shriek, a clatter as a girl stood straight so fast that her chair tipped over.

"Franz!" she cried happily, and then slapped her hands over her mouth and reddened face. The cafeteria filled with laughter and hoots.

"Ooohh, Franz!" Marco cooed, and ran to embrace him. "Thank goodness you made it into training! Now we can be together forever!"

"Ahh, cut it out, cut it out — it's not like that —"

"Oh, Franz — never leave meee —"

"Marco —"

"Marco's even redder than Hannah," laughed Jean, quite flushed himself, and Armin saw Jean tuck a flask into his belt discreetly before pounding the table uproariously.

Armin smiled as he took in the room, the laughing, the grins. It probably wasn't the best idea to drink alcohol, especially given that training was starting again first thing tomorrow — and really he wouldn't have thought that this was the time to celebrate at all, given the kind of situation they had just been admitted to.

But maybe, despite everything, it was something to be happy about.

"Hey," Armin said, turning to Eren and Mikasa and taking up a mug of water. "Congratulations! Let's drink to us being the best students in the 104th Trainee Squad!"

Eren grabbed a mug and smacked it against Armin's. "To us killing all the titans on earth!"

"To us," Mikasa said, tipping her mug to theirs, "staying together."

They nodded to each other and drank.

:::

Their rich dinner didn't last long, but the celebrations continued as the trainees somehow procured more alcohol and formed an impromptu party heading into the forest. Eren and Armin parted ways with Mikasa and as they made their way to the men's barrack, Marco spotted them and waved.

"Hey, Rusty! And you, Armin! Want to join us?"

"Hell no! There's training tomorrow!" Eren yelled back.

"Good," Jean muttered audibly. "Come on, let's just leave them."

"Ahh, come on, come on — life is short, you know — and it's probably even shorter now! How about you, Armin?"

"Ah — no thanks — but thank you!" Armin yelled back, cupping his hands around his mouth.

Marco laughed. "You guys better not be heading back to the men's barracks…"

"We are! Because there's training tomorrow!" Eren shouted, and frowned when Marco and the other trainees all began to lose themselves in laughter.

"I can't believe them," Eren muttered, turning away and ranting as they walked back to the barracks. "We're here to be titan killers, not to — to dance around drunk. They're all going to be completely useless tomorrow." Snorting, Eren reached for the knob to the barracks.

"Wait," Armin said, and put his hand out to stop Eren from opening the door. "Why are the lights on?"

"Huh?"

Armin pointed at the window around the side of the building, which was glowing orange. "I thought everyone was heading out into the forest," Armin said, "but the lights —"

He was interrupted by a muffled noise within — a creak — a noise, a creak — a noise, a creak — Armin's eyes widened and he covered his mouth.

"What?" Eren hissed. "What is it?"

"Let's go, Eren," Armin decided through his palms and fingers, "let's go party after all," but when he grabbed Eren's arm and began to flee, Eren pulled himself away and went to the barrack window.

"What is going —"

"Sshhh!" Armin pulled him down, but Eren kept his eyes above the windowsill. Though the lights were quite dim, he could make out an odd shape moving on one of the beds — or rather, two odd shapes —

"Wh..."

Armin was pulling at his sleeve in panic to get him to leave, but Eren wasn't paying attention. He continued to stare, not realizing he was doing it, mouth slightly agape.

"Eren," Armin wailed, yanking him down, and finally Eren collapsed down, flushing madly. Just like earlier in the day, his blood drummed — but the effect was decidedly different, and — concentrated — in more places than others.

"Yeah," he said finally, voice shaking. "Let's go party."

:::

The girl's barracks were empty when Mikasa returned. The were probably all out in the forest. Her hand lingered on the doorknob. Should she go join them? But there was training tomorrow — Eren had made it — there was still a lot to do. Especially if Eren had managed to use the 3D gear even with it being rusted.

She pushed herself into bed and stared at the shadowed ceiling. If Eren kept going at this pace, he might eventually outrun her. And once he had his eyes on a titan, she knew that he wouldn't look back.

The door creaked open. Mikasa sat up to greet the newcomer, and a large shadow fell across her hand. The enterers didn't greet her; instead she heard fingernails scrabbling at the door frame, a suck of breath.

"Goodnight," someone whispered hoarsely, and then, a giggle, a reply: "Goodnight."

Mikasa stared. Hannah waved and giggled and closed the door, then turned, and jumped when she saw Mikasa staring at her.

"Ah!" She squealed — and then sighed, in relief. "O-oh, Mikasa, it's just you." Her cheeks were flushed. She adjusted the collar of her uniform.

"Just me?"

"Yeah — uh, I just mean — that is — I'm glad it's you —- and not someone else."

"Why?"

"Oh, come on, Mikasa, it's okay." Hannah smiled at her, then scanned the room. "Is, uh…is Eren still here?"

"Why would Eren be in the girl's barracks?"

"What do you mean, why?" Hannah laughed. "I thought you and Eren…you know…" She wrung her hands, but continued, determined. "I thought Eren and you — you know — slept together."

"Not since we were young," Mikasa replied, bewildered.

"Y…young?" Hannah's eyes widened; then she laughed. "No, I mean…come on…I mean…don't you…?"

"Have sex?" Mikasa finished, and Hannah's laugh was a little too high. She scratched the back of her head.

"No," Mikasa continued, seeing that Hannah was only going to continue scratching at the back of her head bashfully. "We don't. But it's nothing to be embarrassed about."

"I'm sorry, Mikasa, I just thought — we were all so sure that Eren was interested in you — and when he went on the gear today, the only one he looked at was you —"

"Eren is way more interested in titans than he is in any human being," Mikasa told her, and Hannah laughed.

"Oh wow, that's — that's pretty — um. Ew." Hannah composed herself, began to strip down to her underwear and pull back the covers of her bed. Mikasa could see red circles on the back of her neck, a freckling of tiny bruises.

"Are you okay, Hannah?" Mikasa asked. "What are those?" And Hannah looked startled, then patted her neck and laughed embarrassedly.

"Oh," she murmured, "they're kiss marks."

"Kiss...?"

"Yeah! Um, you wouldn't think it, but Franz is a little...he can get kind of...uh, you know. Or maybe you don't, I guess..."

"Does it hurt?"

"No," she murmured, unable to contain her smile, "it feels really good," and she pursed her lips, and then burst. "It feels so nice. I never imagined it would feel like that — I was always kinda scared, you know? But feeling so — so close to him — I mean —"

She fumbled. "I mean, I know we're all here because of the titans, we're all just faceless soldiers to serve humanity and whatever Shadis says...but with Franz...when we're together, and he looks at me...I really feel like someone sees me. Also," she added after a bashful silence, "it feels really good," and Mikasa watched her rub her kissmarks, rub her helpless grin.

"Um, anyway, goodnight, Mikasa! Thanks — thanks for listening."

"Goodnight," Mikasa replied, and switched off the lantern near her bed. She lied back down and stared at the ceiling. This time when she closed her eyes Eren was not charging out in front of her, but was behind. His mouth grazed the back of her neck. Underneath her warm blanket her skin prickled.