A/N: I know. It's been a long 1 year and half since I last update this story. I just think it's a good momentum since SNK season 2 is already on air - and Eremika fandom is still as cool as ever. Thanks for having me!

I still can't promise on my update speed, but I do plan on finishing this story. Thanks to all of you who always supported me, and still want to read this story. Luv ya!

Zen Zen Zense is song by Radwimps, and also the soundtrack of Makoto Shinkai's movie, Kimi no Na wa (Your Name).

The words between each sub-chapters are translated lyrics of that song.

Disclaimer: I do not own Shingeki no Kyojin. I'm just a fan who loves Eremika!

Last chapter: Mikasa made up with her mother and started living in her own home, but it was already too late. She and Eren came to school to discover that their secret had been exposed and posted to the entire school. For causing the students unrest, Eren and Mikasa were called to the Headmaster's office, but instead of expelling them, Headmaster Erwin decided to reward Eren for his bravery in helping Mikasa, and gave them detention instead. Meanwhile, Nanako used the opportunity to get closer to Jean, and Ayako swore that she would clear Mikasa's name.

-I've been searching for you since your past-past-past life

I came in pursuit of that clumsy way of laugh-

Mikasa made her way down the deserted school corridors. Both hands in her wristwatch pointed sharp to display the current time – the short hand was pointing straight to the number seven, while the long hand was just a bit past number 3. It's sixteen minutes past seven in the morning – no one had been in school yet, except for some people having early club activities – and they were all out in the fields or in their own club room. Unobstructed, she climbed the stairs to reach the second floor, and started walking to the right until she reached the end of the corridor. She slid open the door to her left and entered her own classroom, went straight for the second row of tables from the door, and stopped at the second table from the front.

And there she saw it.

Painted with bold letters, the word 'SLUT' was clearly scribbled on the surface of her table. Its big size made it impossible for anyone to miss. Other insults, written in smaller letters surrounding the bigger ones, can also be found – most of them are similar to the word slut and others are just telling her to get the fuck out of school and work in a brothel instead.

Mikasa sighed. She put her school bag to the nearest table and pulled out a clean white cloth from it, which she dampened slightly with a few drops of water from her water bottle. Then, wordlessly, she proceeded to wipe the surface of her table, slowly erasing the insults and curse words until they vanished from her plain eye view.

Thank God they only wrote it with chalks, she thought. If they had written in ink or paint, it would have been impossible to erase. But, she guessed, none of the cowards who vandalized her table would have had the guts to face real vandalism charges, had they written the insults in something more permanent. Hence they wrote in something easily erased, just to annoy her.

Mikasa dragged her chair, and threw herself on it, silently contemplating the events of the last two weeks. This had been her normal life ever since those evil posters spread to the entire school. The rumors did kick in really hard. Most of the school seemed to believe them – judging by their reactions who were either gossiping about her – or started to bully her anonymously. The first morning back in school after those posters took effect, Mikasa found out that people treated her like an invisible being. She uttered her greeting to everyone in the school corridors and in class, yet no one greeted her back – no one even did as little as to look at her. She proceeded to sit at her table, and that was when she discovered the first vandalism. The word 'DIE' was written in bold black letters. It took Mikasa a few moments before she realized the she really was in center of this fiasco now, not to mention a victim of bullying. She could see a few people smirking in satisfaction over her stunned reaction, but she decided not to make a big deal out of it, and erased those writings right away. Turned out, it was only the beginning of the series of unfortunate events that befall her.

Vandalism and being singled out were not her only two problems to deal with. Ever since then, her schoolbag seemed to develop a habit of vanishing mysteriously. She would spend hours looking for it, only to later discover that her bag and all of her stuffs had been dumped in the fish pond in the school's backyard – or even other less sensible locations. She had to enter the muddy pond to retrieve her stuff, most of them already ruined due to an extended time being submerged in the murky water. Another time, she found her schoolbag empty in her seat, and she had to run around the school, asking Eren and Armin for help to look for her stuff. They finally found her stuff near the garbage dump, right in the place where they usually burn combustible trashes. They were lucky to find them before the school janitor came to burn the trashes that afternoon. Eren was downright pissed at the cowardly acts, but there was nothing they could do – for they didn't even know who the person (or persons, as Armin emphasized) behind this incident was.

Since then, Mikasa developed a habit of taking her schoolbag with her wherever she went – and that greatly reduced the number of incident. Above all things, despite the vandalisms she frequently experienced, Mikasa felt the pressure much more from the students' silent treatment instead. Though no one directly spoke to her – she knew they were silently judging her – especially from the way they excluded her from all activities. It was their obvious way of saying that she didn't belong there anymore. She wasn't one of them.

She knew what they were whispering behind her back. She heard them talking in low voices when she passed them in the corridors, though they always stopped when she looked around. Slut, whore, twat – she'd probably had every single insult related to adultery directed to her. Still, no one ever really approached and asked her to know the truth. They preferred to gossip, and let the rumors grow even further. Like a rolling snowball, the rumors seemed to have grown beyond control. About a week since they started kicking in, Mikasa received several unknown numbers messaging her on her phone, asking how much will it cost to take her out for one night. One guy even had the nerve to ask that question to her face. She had to fight off the urge to kick him in the groin so hard until he couldn't feel it anymore, and instead maintained her composure to speak coolly and ask the guy to get out of her sight right away.

She realized that now, to them, she was nothing more than that girl – the once popular, brightest girl in school – the role model who dug her own way to demise.

People loved that story – they didn't care if it was true. They only wanted something that they can constantly gossip about – a break from the reality and the monotonous school life that they were in.

And if there was one thing she learned from all of this – she realized that her class – her entire school even – always had their own set of invisible rules. And in this community, it was the group that held the highest authority. To be accepted by the group, one should go along with the will of the majority. Be normal, was one of them – or be sociable, and don't cause any trouble.

Once the group identified someone as no longer part of them – they will move to conduct social punishment, to beat the single one out until he or she conform to the rules of the majority. And the group had decided that she was not one of them. That's why the group moved to drag her from the top of the food chain, and tried to dump her to the lowest one. She had betrayed their trust, and as a result, they punished her. It was that simple.

Mikasa returned to the present moment when she felt her eyes began to flutter shut. She was beginning to get sleepy. Even though she could sleep peacefully now – thanks to the horror having been removed from her house – she still wasn't used to coming to school this early. It took approximately fifty minutes by train from her house to reach school, and she could never sleep in the crowded commuter train because she had to stand all the way.

She dropped her head on her table and folded her arms to use them as pillows. One good thing about coming to school early was that she could use this time to nap. She had one and a half hours before class began. That's plenty for a rest.

Mikasa closed her eyes. A few seconds later, and she already dozed off to sleep.

-Even when you completely disappear and all of you is torn into pieces

I won't be lost anymore, and I'll start searching you from the beginning again-

"Wake up, bitch."

Mikasa heard a loud crash somewhere and she woke up, startled. She felt a sharp pain jabbing her ribs. For a while, she almost screamed. She thought she was back at home and her stepfather had come to get her.

But then she caught the sight of the classroom and immediately remembered where she was. Mikasa blinked a few times to bring her eyes into focus. Slowly, recovering from the shock of being suddenly woken up from a deep sleep, she began to recognize the figures of a few girls who stood in front of her – the people who just woke her up. Not all of them were from her class – but Mikasa knew them to be one of the pack of girls that used to suck up and try to befriend her once they still considered her a popular student. It seemed like they had changed their mind now though, for their faces were nowhere near friendly.

Mikasa felt her sides and tried to recon what caused the throbbing pain she felt near her ribs. She understood once she saw that one of the girls was pushing the chair with her leg. Clearly, this girl had kicked Mikasa's chair aside – roughly enough to wake her up – and in the process, she hit the corner of her desk.

Mikasa began to hear several people laughing behind her – none too pleasantly – probably amused at the intrusion. She ignored them.

"Can I help you…?" she said. That probably sounded stupid, but she didn't know what else to say.

"Yes," said one of the girl – the one who had been kicking Mikasa's chair. She had straight black hair and droopy eyes that sort of made her look sleepy, though now she was looking at Mikasa with all her focus. Suddenly, she bent forward, and with a hiss so close to Mikasa's face that the girl had to pull back a bit, she said,"Drop. dead."

And then, before Mikasa could process it, her accomplice who stood behind her threw a crumpled paper ball straight to Mikasa's face. Out of reflex, she evaded the attack and caught the paper ball in her hand. The observers, who had so far been watching her with amusement, suddenly stopped laughing. Mikasa saw the looks on the girls' faces gradually changed from wicked victory to displease. They were looking straight at Mikasa now, their expression could only be interpreted as silent anger.

"Afraid she can't help you with that. No one's going to die just because you said 'drop dead' to her face, you see," Mikasa heard a familiar mocking voice coming from behind the girls. They look startled and immediately turned to face the owner of that voice. Mikasa, meanwhile, smiled at the figure standing behind them.

"Say, you're blocking the way to my seat," said Eren, the owner of that voice, to the pack of girls. "I feel like being nice today, so… can you move…?"

For a few seconds, the girls just stood in their places, looking at Eren. Then, one of them who finally returned to sense, spoke to her friend.

"Let's go."

She made her way out of the scene, and one by one, the other girls followed her suit. "Thanks!" said Eren – more mocking than sincere, to their retreating backs, a gesture which none of them made an attempt to return.

"Morning," Eren greeted her, throwing himself down to his own seat.

"Morning," she replied.

"Ain't that lame…?" he remarked, nodding his head to the band of girls who had disbanded themselves and now returning to their own seats, still looking grumpy.

"Isn't the sky blue? Isn't the weather cold in winter…?" Mikasa answered him with another question. "Lame, yes. But I've seen this far too much. Like you said – this is a cruel world after all."

"Never thought you'd use my own words against me," Eren's voice returned her to reality. "But it's still ten years too early for you to reach my level, Ackerman," he suddenly spoke with mock heavy voice and furrowed his brows, to which Mikasa laughed as a response.

"Are you trying to impersonate someone? That doesn't come even close to anyone, you silly."

"But you like me that way," he grinned. Mikasa chose not to answer, turning around to face the other way instead. One deep breath from her lung to calm herself down, and then she brought up her interlocked fingers to her face to hide her smile.

The whole school might be against her right now, working actively to bring her down. But she didn't feel afraid. Strangely, she felt that as long as she had this boy by her side – Eren – then she could do anything.

-Where do I start, the story during the time you were asleep

I came to tell you the stories worth millions of light years-

"I don't know why you said nothing at all these ordeal," Ayako mentioned at lunch while sipping on her strawberry yogurt drink – the only thing she had for lunch. "I mean… those posters aren't even that convincing, when you think about it. You could have just said that it's all a bluff and you just went to visit Yeager's house… or something. I bet people will believe it."

"It's too late at this stage. People will hear what they want to hear," said Mikasa. "Or… believe what they want to believe. Let me help you, Armin," she said to the blonde boy who had been busy scooping out tea leaves from the canister and boiling water to prepare some hot green tea. Armin smiled appreciatively to his friend while Mikasa took over to prepare four ceramic cups for the party, absent-mindedly wiping the cups with clean cloths before tidily lining them up on the table.

It was nearing the end of January, and as usual their group gathered for lunch in the empty Home Economics practice room, trying to make something warm much suitable for winter. The only difference this time was Ayako's presence among them – Mikasa had asked her to join Eren and Armin for lunch since two weeks back.

"Anyway, what good will it be even if I denied the rumors…?" Mikasa continued, still at Ayako's question. "It is true. I did go to Eren's house and… and live there for a while."

She blushed slightly. She was about to say 'live together with him' but it's probably not a good idea. Eren cleared his throat.

"Even so, are you just going to stay silent against the bullies…?"

She shook her head apathetically. "Let them do what they want to do. They'll get tired eventually."

"Well, if you knew this world is cruel after all – why didn't you fight it?" he pressed on, a little impatient.

"Eren's right," Armin joined in. He lifted the pot of boiling green tea off the stove, then started to fill the four cups halfway close to the brim. Mikasa picked one of the cups and blew to the surface of the hot liquid slowly, while listening to Armin talking. "Bullying victims tend to be socially awkward kids, or someone people perceive to be weaker than them. The bullies want a target that will not put up a fight. And you… you are none of those, Mikasa. You are perfectly capable of standing up to those bullies… so I didn't know why you let them on like this."

"Don't tell me you're going to play victim again – after all this time," said Eren. Mikasa caught the ever-familiar flaring tone in his voice, and decided to act quickly.

"That's not what I meant," she said, before Eren could go into another one of his rage fit. She knew where he was coming from. Why bothered to gather up the courage to fight her horror – if she will just submit to another bully again this time?

But this time she had a completely different reason.

"I am capable of putting up a fight," she ensured them. "I can end those bullying if I want, but I just… don't want to. I think it's the best course of action… for now."

Eren raised his eyebrows. Her explanation clearly didn't satisfy him. "Meaning?"

"This whole school is at unrest because of the rumors," Mikasa continued. "And since we both barely escaped expulsion – I just don't think it's wise to put ourselves at risk of receiving another detention. It will be playing exactly into the enemy's hands – I mean the person behind those posters. So I'm just going to lay low for now."

Silence for a few moments as Mikasa's words sunk in to their minds. Then it was Armin who spoke first.

"I can hardly say otherwise," he said as he sipped on his tea. Then, casually, as though he had nothing to do with the ongoing investigation on Nanako, Armin asked, "Do you have any idea who's behind all this, Mikasa?"

There was a slight pause before the girl answered. "No," she said. "At least, not for now."

Armin and Ayako exchanged meaningful glances. Just this morning actually, the two of them met to discuss the ongoing investigation updates. They had been meeting several times over the two weeks, to go over their action plans. Contrary to Ayako's initial thoughts - the investigation was stuck, and Ayako almost felt like she was looking for a needle in a haystack. But this morning, Armin finally came up with a brilliant investigation lead.

"Mikasa felt like she was being followed on the afternoon two weeks ago," said Ayako, thinking carefully. "It was on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it couldn't have been Nanako herself who followed her, because she was present at our drama club practice that afternoon. I was there too, so I could testify. She didn't leave the club room long enough to be able to follow Mikasa and Eren."

"That leaves us with two options then," said Armin. He held up two fingers. "One, Nanako is not acting alone – she has an accomplice. Or two," Armin bent the second finger. "We dropped our current assumption that Nanako is behind all these incidents, because she might be innocent."

"No, I'm sure she's guilty," Ayako insisted. "There must be something unusual about her activities… we just need to find that out."

"Then I think our best bet will be the photography club… or to find someone related to photography in this school who has been making contacts with Nanako recently," said Armin. Ayako blinked, not following his logic. "Why?"

"I had a friend who is a professional photographer look at the picture. I knew him from Shiganshina Christmas Town Hall – back in December. He said the quality of the picture suggested that they were taken with professional camera," Armin explained. "Also, when I think about it, it's high probability that it's a camera with a strong zoom lens. The person taking pictures can't get close to Eren and Mikasa while following them. It will be really suspicious if people saw someone walking around with a big camera and secretly taking picture of the pair."

"I thought detectives do that all the time when they were investigating adultery suspects."

"Detectives are trained at following people. I doubt Nanako's accomplice is," Armin sighed. "You can't compare them. That's why they must have chosen a safer way – to tail Eren and Mikasa from distance."

"But then how come Mikasa still felt like she's being followed?"

"Her senses have always been sharper than a stray cat's – she mentioned it to me once," said Armin. "You must have known also what happened in her house – she practically could never put down her guard even when she was asleep… even the slightest sound will wake her up. I think it sort of developed from there."

Ayako gave it a few seconds of thought, then nodded. "That makes sense," she said. "So – are we starting with the photography club…?"

"I will look into the photography club. I have a friend who is in that club. Meanwhile, can you observe and investigate if Nanako has made contacts with someone unusual…? It can be anyone outside of her circle. If she started making contacts with them around two weeks ago – that will be our biggest lead."

Ayako only realized that she had been spacing out when Mikasa called her name out loud.

"Ayako!" she snapped back into reality, and saw her black-haired friend's face in front of her. "I've been calling you. The bell's rung. We need to head back to class."

"Alright," she said, albeit her mind was still scattered to the event this morning. Ayako took the empty yogurt drink pack in her hand, drank the last few gulps of her tea, and hurriedly washed the cup on the kitchen sink. "Let's go, then."

Can you observe and investigate if Nanako has made contacts with someone unusual…?

"How am I supposed to do that?" Ayako thought to herself. If Nanako was meeting with anyone to set up the rumors, it would be in secret. Surely she wouldn't be able to find it out easily. Ayako racked her brains to find out the most feasible solution to doing her task – but there really was only one solution which she could come up with.

She had to start doing a detective work – following Nanako and trying to find out if she had met with anyone in secret.

It won't be an easy work, she sighed. But didn't she promise herself that she would find the person behind those posters – even though she had to search the whole school up and down?

And of course – she wouldn't abandon Mikasa. And all these are just simple sacrifices – compared to what Mikasa had done for her.

Sliding open the classroom door – Ayako made up her mind. Investigation process will commence today, straight after school. Whatever Nanako was up to – she will bring it out to light – and make sure to clear Mikasa's name.

- I want to try loving your pain that doesn't disappear

I've met your hand at the far edge of a few galaxies -

"Hey… what's the best way to follow people without getting caught?" Ayako asked Armin, who stared at her, startled. When the bell rung to mark the end of school period that afternoon, Ayako had run past Mikasa, uttering a hurried 'see you tomorrow' as she waved her hand carelessly – and straight to Armin's class where she gestured the boy to come out and follow her to a safe place.

"Seriously…? You're asking me that now? The target is going to get away before we're even finished briefing you."

"Well… I really don't know! That's why I'm asking! I wouldn't want to ruin everything, you see…"

Armin looked at her with a doubtful expression.

"Look, we can always change places. You can go to the photography club, and I'll follow Nanako…," he offered, but Ayako cut him.

"No! Let me do this! I can do this!" When Armin still didn't look convinced, she added. "I'm more suitable for this job. I know Nanako's patterns better than you do… she's in the drama club and all… And I knew Nanako because she used to be Mikasa's friends. We used to hang out a few times."

Armin was beginning to be swayed by her arguments. He finally relented.

"Fine," he sighed. "First of all, your appearance is too memorable, especially your long hair. Try to make yourself less conspicuous. I suggest you tie up your hair and put it inside a cap. And since this is winter, make good use of scarves so that your face won't be seen." Ayako nodded, making a mental note to everything Armin said.

"Then, when you follow her – don't walk directly behind her. Take the opposite sidewalk if you can – but if you can't – give the target 10-20 meters of distance between you. Don't look straight at her – pretend you're checking your phone, or look at shop windows, or anything. Just don't be too obvious… what?" he directed his last question to Ayako, who began to look at him strangely.

"You seem awfully proficient at this."

"Just general knowledge that I learned from books. I had too much time spent in the library," he said. "Anyway, it's not as if I've ever used that knowledge to stalk someone…"

"Who are you stalking, Armin?" came a voice from behind him that nearly made him jump.

"Mikasa!" he said, too surprised to hide his thoughts. "I – I thought you were at detention."

"I am at detention," she said calmly – and Armin saw that her hands were full with paper documents. "Mr. Levi assigned me to help with paper works in the teacher's office, and I'm just heading there now. But what is this I heard about you stalking people…?"

Cursing at herself for not choosing a more proper place for her secret conversation with Armin (actually, carrying out this conversation in the corridor beside the staircase was nowhere near discreet), Ayako stole a glance to her watch. It's already 3.30 PM, Nanako should be exiting school gates soon. She needed to go now, or Nanako will be out of her sight. She didn't want Mikasa to know about this investigation because she knew exactly what Mikasa was going to say. She wouldn't agree to them trying to uncover Nanako in secret – she might not even think that it was Nanako in the first place.

But Mikasa's prowling glances were unavoidable in the least sense. Helpless, Ayako sent a sideway glance to Armin, who was also discreetly looking at her. Mikasa furrowed her brows at their odd behavior.

"You're being weird," she said.

"No," said Armin and Ayako in unison, almost immediately. But this only raised Mikasa's suspicion.

"Why are you following someone in secret…? Are you –"

"No," they said again, hoping that Mikasa would drop the topic, but she didn't budge. After one last awkward glance to Armin, and another one to her watch (she really should go) – Ayako finally let out a long sigh, and grabbed Mikasa by the arm.

"Listen, Mikasa," she said, looking at the girl straight in her eyes. "You might not agree with what we're doing right now – but I promise I'm going to clear your name! One way or the other, I'll find the person who started all these rumors, and make sure that they get what they deserve. I promise you! So – for now, just stay still and let me do the work. Okay?" Before Mikasa had a chance to finish the sudden declaration from her friend – which she had no idea how to make head from tail of – Ayako checked her watch one more time and cursed to herself.

"Shit! I have to go now or I really will be late. The rest will be explained by Armin." She hurriedly went past Mikasa and descended the stairs. "Bye!"

"Oi!" said Armin, who wasn't too keen on the idea of explaining the whole situation by himself. He tried to stop her – but the girl already disappeared from sight. Armin covered his face in frustration and sucked in a deep breath, before finally looking sideways at Mikasa.

"Care to explain to me…?" she asked – rather impassively – but Armin knew that he had no option to say no.

"I'll help you take those documents to the teacher's room," Armin offered. "Meanwhile, we can talk on the way there."

"Don't worry. I'm strong. Stronger than you are – Armin. I can take these prints by myself."

Ouch. "If you say so," Armin forced out a grin at Mikasa's unintentional verbal slaughter at his pride.

"So… what was that about…? Ayako was talking about following someone, and then clearing my name…"

"We're investigating someone," Armin said, no longer feeling the need to hide things from his best friend. "Ayako thinks she might be related to all these incidents surrounding you and Eren." He wondered if he might be able to get away without mentioning the name – but soon Mikasa's question destroyed his hope.

"And who is that…?"

"Umm…," for a while, Armin contemplated whether he should really tell her – but then he gave up and decided that he might as well open it up all the way.

"it's Toda Nanako from your class," he said. This brought a reaction not quite as he expected. Mikasa halted her steps, and suddenly looked at him – startled.

"You think it's her…?"

"Ayako thinks so," said Armin. "She seems pretty sure about it – why are you that surprised…? What happened between you?"

"It's a long story," Mikasa started. But Armin shrugged. "I've got plenty of time," he assured her with a smile, which Mikasa returned.

"Well – long story short – the guy that she likes didn't return her feelings. Instead, he is into me. But – his feelings are one-sided too. I thought that I'd made that clear, but one day I just… accidentally did something that sent a wrong signal to him. So now Nanako thought that I'm this horrible, back-stabbing boyfriend stealer who would let a guy on even if I didn't like him. And she sort of… hates me for that," Mikasa paused. "She used to be my best friend, but we stopped speaking ever since."

"Was that guy Jean Kirstein?" Armin asked, and Mikasa blushed slightly.

"You really are sharp."

"It's not that much," Armin grinned. "Jean's crush for you has been a public secret ever since he confessed."

"Don't you bring that up," Mikasa lamented. "I've had enough with being the topic of public talks in this high school."

"Sorry – so Toda Nanako actually likes Jean?"

"Yes – and to complicate things – I didn't actually know from her… not directly. I happened to overhear her conversation when I was in the ladies' room. That's when I actually got to know her real feelings… that she hated me."

"And now that you're constantly being rumored dating Eren – it doesn't exactly make things better," Armin said – beginning to see the light of things. "That explains why she would target you and Eren, then."

"Precisely," Mikasa affirmed.

"Does Ayako know about all this?"

Mikasa shook her head. "I never told her. But she did see Nanako's behavior toward me. And she was there when Nanako asked me if I've moved house – because I always came on the same train as Eren – during the time I... stayed in his house."

Even now, the words 'stay in his house' still felt odd-tasting on her tongue. She almost felt like she had confessed to cohabiting with a guy from her class. And when she thought about it, her stomach gave a weird churn.

"She meant well," said Armin. "Ayako, I mean. The first day we discovered those posters, she asked me to conduct a joint investigation with her right away. She is really serious about clearing up your name."

"I hope she doesn't get into trouble," Mikasa sighed. "You guys really shouldn't have done this for me, you know."

But Armin only smiled. She had known Mikasa for too long to not know that the girl was actually deeply grateful to both of them.

- I've been searching for you since your past-past-past life

I came in pursuit of that loud voice and tears -

"So – let me get this straight," said Eren. He held his burning cigarette between the middle and index finger of his left hand, and massaged his temple with his right hand – as though he's having a severe headache.

"All of this shit we went through is because some girl from our class likes that Horseface?"

Mikasa blinked. "You're making it sound way too simple. Did you even listen to my explanation…?"

"Yeah – but it's about the only takeaway point that I could find." Eren shook his head disbelievingly. "Damn it. If she likes Horseface that much – why didn't she just ask him out or something? Why go through all this trouble and drag us in?"

It was late afternoon that day, and Eren had asked Mikasa to go home together after they were both done with fulfilling detention duties. They were now standing on the sidewalk, outside of a convenience store on their way from school to the station. The cold weather made them crave something warm – Mikasa had got herself a warm bottle of royal milk tea, while Eren settled with hot coffee. It was then when Mikasa briefed him about her previous conversation with Armin – and the potential culprit behind the poster incident.

"Because – not everyone is as straightforward as you," Mikasa answered, playing with the bottle of royal milk tea in her hands. "And because she hates me, I think."

"There's really no telling how deep girls will sink in just to get revenge," Eren drew a long drag from his cigarette, and rolled his eyes. "Scary, that," he continued as he blew out his cigarette smoke.

"I find it scarier just how fleeting most things are," Mikasa replied. Eren looked sideways at her, questioning. "When you think about it – things like relationship are so fragile. Nanako was my best friend since junior high school. And now, suddenly she hates me. I didn't even realize when things were beginning to go south. And I couldn't even patch things up when I knew our relationship was broken. Maybe… I'm just bad at these things."

"At what?" Eren asked curiously, blowing another cloud of silvery-white smoke.

"Making friends," she answered. "It's just that – you can never know people's true intentions when they befriend you. They can act all nice when they're with you – but only because they need something from you. There are all motives to being a friend – sometimes I just… don't see the point in it."

"I disagree," Eren scoffed. "You can't call those people 'friends'. They're more like… parasites. Or eczemas. True friends will stick with you just because they like who you are – and nothing more."

"Touché," Mikasa muttered.

"Well, it's true," he insisted. "Take Ayako, and Armin. You didn't even ask them – but they wanted to clear up your name. How is that not a true friend?" Eren finished smoking, and flicked out his portable ashtray to put out the cigarette.

"Speaking of which," he said after an extended pause. "Am I also your friend?"

"Huh?" The question came so suddenly that Mikasa wasn't prepared for it.

"Well," said Eren, hiding his awkwardness by pretending to sip on his empty coffee cup. "I'm just curious."

"Of course you are my friend," Mikasa said, at loss of what to say. He didn't seem satisfied.

"Just friend?"

"No," her answer surprised him, and he turned around just in time to see her blushing scarlet – almost the same color as her scarf. "I mean… definitely, you are not just a friend. You are…," she contemplated for a few seconds. "A special existence."

"Is that supposed to be a compliment?"

"I rarely ever call anyone a special existence, so… yes, it is." He didn't think it was possible, but she was turning even redder now, while she purposefully averted her gaze away from him.

Standing there, with her lower face buried in her red scarf to withstand the cold – her cheeks blossoming with scarlet color, and her straight black hair falling perfectly to frame her face – she suddenly looked so pretty in his eyes. And Eren couldn't help but be drawn by her magnificence.

Mikasa, meanwhile, tried to feign ignorance at the boy standing beside her. She reached to her school bag and picked up her phone, checking the train timetable to keep her occupied.

"My train is about to arrive in ten minutes," she announced. "We'd better start walking…"

But Eren was no longer listening. He leaned in closer to Mikasa – and before the girl had any time to react, he had bent down and kissed her on the lips.

It took her completely by surprise. For a few moments, she just stood frozen in place, her breath seemed to have stopped in her throat – while her brain tried to process what was happening. A thousand sensations seemed to have gripped her at once. His lips – warm and soft, tasting like a mixture of his cigarette smoke and coffee. His smell wrapped around her, familiar and comfortable like the home that she always loved. The biting cold on her cheeks, the heavy thumping on her chest, which felt like it was about to explode – and the awkward position of her hands, still holding her phone and a bottle of royal milk tea. She slightly wondered if this was how it felt, being kissed for the first time.

And then, just as suddenly as it began, Eren seemed to have snapped back to his senses. He pulled away, terribly stunned by his own actions – just in time to see Mikasa looking back at him in shock probably even greater than his own.

Shit! he thought to himself.

He'd just kissed her.

She still didn't say anything.

Without even asking for her consent.

Mikasa's hands went up to her lips. It seemed like she was still recovering from the events that just happened.

She'll hate him for sure!

"I – I… uhh…," he stuttered, struggling to find words to even describe his own feelings. "Sorry. I didn't mean it…. I'm so sorry."

Without another look at her – Eren dashed off in the opposite direction from the station. "Eren!" he heard Mikasa calling him in surprise, but he didn't stop. Damn him and his lack of self-control! It was all going so smoothly between them, and he just had to ruin it. Why did he have to be so stupid?

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