Disclaimer: I do not own Shingeki no Kyojin.
The fiery disc of the setting sun disappeared behind the top of the colossal wall. Far from any civilization the Survey Corps were healing their wounds and gathering their strength, as well as fulfilling their usual duties, such as struggling with the all-pervasive dust in the hut which served as their temporary shelter. The evening, however, was the time when they could finally take a rest from trying to satisfy Corporal Levi with their house cleaning skills.
Seeking a bit of quiet and solitude, Mikasa went outside. Feeling no need to stray far away from the cottage, she leaned against a wooden post several steps away from the door. As the moonlight struggled its way through the clouds, her gaze swept the surroundings; vast open areas, forests stretching far up to the massive wall in the horizon. She breathed in the cool evening air, wondering what it smelled like in the outside world.
Would they ever get the chance to explore it? Endless seas filled with salt water, deserts of sand, landscapes of ice… Even though it had always been only Eren and Armin who openly dreamed of seeing all these wonders with their own eyes, Mikasa was also intrigued by the vision of life beyond the walls. After all, they would explore the world together, all three of them, just like they'd always planned. As unrealistic as it sounded, one was always allowed to dream.
To dream of a world where the ground no longer shook under the titan's feet.
Mikasa lowered her head. In her hands she was holding her beloved red scarf. It felt soft and warm under her fingertips, the way it always did. Whenever she touched it she felt safe, remembering that she was not alone. So many times she thought she had lost him, and yet, somehow they managed to withstand all adversities.
She was on the point of wrapping the cloth around her neck when she heard the door open. She turned around to see Eren closing it behind him.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, walking up to her.
Mikasa looked away. "I'm fine. I seem to be healing fast." The fact that her chest was throbbing as if the titan's huge fingers had been still clenched around her like snakes was a trivial detail she could omit. Sooner or later the pain would recede. She didn't need to trouble the people around her.
"It's a good thing Jean was there to save you." he mentioned somewhat grimly.
The soft evening breeze ruffled their hair as they stood in silence, gazing at the tall trees growing behind the low wall that surrounded the hut. Apart from the thick branches swaying slowly in the wind the world around them seemed dead. Only the noise coming from behind the door and their friends' chatting maintained a bit of life in the desolate place.
"Why did you say that back then?" Eren asked suddenly. Her thoughts interrupted, Mikasa turned her head toward him, confused. "Why did you say all those things at that particular moment?"
And then she understood. He meant the time when they had witnessed Hannes's death while kneeling in front of the titan that had taken Eren's mother away from them all those years ago. She could still remember that twisted smile, the one that had brutally turned their peaceful life into a nightmare. With all the chaos around them, with their friend dead and them left almost defenseless, she had known that soon the nightmare would come to an end. Was she… trying to surrender? Thanks to Eren she was always ready to fight till the last drop of blood, and yet… At that moment all she had wanted was to express her deepest gratitude to him.
Now that she thought of it, she couldn't even find a reasonable answer to his question.
"Those might have been the last minutes of our lives. I just… wanted you to know." she replied sincerely.
"You were ready to give up, weren't you?" A faint note of accusation could be heard in his voice. "Just because you knew you couldn't save us?"
Of course, he could see right through her. The questions were clearly rhetorical. Mikasa lowered her head. Yes, Eren, you're right. Why do I feel ashamed because of that? Because for one moment I wasn't as strong as I always have to be? Because I wanted to spend the last minutes of my life looking into your eyes?
She didn't say a word.
Eren continued. "And in such a moment you even thanked me for this stupid scarf. It's only a piece of cloth." he shrugged, puzzled.
A shadow of the faintest smile ran across her face. "To you it may be just a piece of cloth. But to me…" she looked down at the scarf in her hands. "…it's the most precious thing." She would never forget the sudden feeling of warmth, not only after Eren had wrapped the cloth around her for the first time, but also when she had been invited to become a part of his family. When doctor Jeager offered her a place under the roof of his house, Eren accepted her without a mere second of hesitation. Just when she had thought that she lost everything… that there was no place for her in this world anymore… that thenceforth she would experience only cold and loneliness… he changed it all.
"It'll always remind me of home," she continued, "of finding happiness again," She raised her head and looked into his eyes. "…of you."
His eyes widened. Furrowing his eyebrows, Eren looked away.
"Don't think that it was just about the scarf." Mikasa added quickly. "It was everything that led to me receiving it."
Once again, the memories returned. She was lying on cold floor, barefoot, hearing her kidnappers talking… talking about having just murdered her parents. She was feeling dizzy. Were it because of the utter shock or the paralyzing fear, she could not tell. In her heart there was an endless void. She didn't even feel the pain. Only the cold, its icy digits running up her skin, diverting her attention from anything else. Was the time even passing? Or maybe she was just trapped in that terrifying nightmare, with no way of escape?
And then everything happened in a split second. Both murderers were sprawled on the ground in their own blood, unmoving. In the fading daylight slanting into the dark hut she saw the silhouette of a young boy, red dripping from the knife he was holding. She was barely conscious of what had just happened, still hoping that it was only a bad dream she would soon wake from. She could barely hear what he was saying to her as he cut through the rope which was painfully restraining her wrists. She was being rescued by a boy who risked his life for her, and yet… the gaping emptiness within her would not shrink.
…until the third kidnapper appeared.
If you win, you live.
The man's fingers clenched around Eren's neck as he fought for breath.
If you lose, you die.
She picked up the knife, unable to make another move. Her whole body trembled uncontrollably.
If you don't fight, you can't win!
And then she was stumbling forwards, suddenly stronger than ever before, her eyes glowing with pure determination and rage, the blade aiming for the place where the beast's heart should be…
Then she was brought back to reality. She felt hands brushing lightly against hers and realized that the fabric was slipping through her fingers. It was Eren pulling the scarf out of her hands. Had it been someone else than Eren, she would have clenched her hands fiercely without even the slightest intention of letting go. Still, she was confused.
For a while Eren stared at the red piece of cloth in his hands, rubbing his fingertips on it, seemingly deep in thought... as if he, too, were recalling the same memory.
The silence was lengthening. Mikasa kept observing him apprehensively. Wasn't he going to say anything?
"Eren…" she called.
He shuddered at the sound of his name coming from her. He tore his gaze away from the scarf. "Armin told me how you'd been acting while I got captured." he said, staring blindly into space.
A soft shade of crimson blossomed on Mikasa's cheeks. She turned away, gritting her teeth. Way to go, Armin, I wonder how much you've spilled. She promised herself to give him a piece of her mind later.
Usually Eren would only lash out on her whenever she was becoming overly protective of him or putting her own issues above her duties as a soldier. Now, probably knowing that she'd yielded to her emotions once more, would he do so again? Why would it always annoy him so much?
Why don't you realize what kind of fate you saved me from? Why can't you see that apart from you I have no one else in this world? You brought me back to life and I will do anything to sustain yours. Just… let me be here for you.
As much as she wanted him to know it… she couldn't utter a word. She closed her eyes, ready to be reprimanded.
That was when she felt something soft being loosely wrapped around her neck and familiar warmth overwhelming her. She opened her eyes to see Eren holding the loose ends of the red scarf which he had tossed over her head. His eyes were on hers.
"I said I'd wrap it around you as many times as you need me to." he said quietly. "And I will," he began to coil one end of the material around her neck, "…from now on…", he repeated the gesture once again, so that her lips were covered, "…I'll be here to do it whenever you ask for it."
Mikasa felt as if she'd fallen into a kind of trance. She stood immobilized, catching every single word. Part of her wished to close her eyes to stop the tears that were starting to well up in them, whereas the other part didn't want to lose sight of the deep celadon pools in front of her. So she kept her eyes open, letting her vision become gradually blurred.
Such a simple act it was and yet it triggered the most intense emotions in her heart, the heart of a fearless soldier. Could it be that he really meant what he'd said back then? From what she knew of him, Eren would never make empty promises.
"I'm sorry for the way I've always acted towards you." he confessed, no longer able to look her in the eyes. "I guess I just don't know how to show you… that I care about you, too." The words came out louder than he'd intended them to.
Eren could never get rid of the lingering feeling of guilt which gnawed on him whenever someone died or suffered because of him. But this time it had been different. This time it had been even worse.
While he was carrying Mikasa away from the raging titans, she was trying her best to choke back the sounds and not to moan in pain. Her rib injury was quite serious and still she was forced to endure the ride back to the wall. He could almost feel her grimacing against his back as she held on to him firmly on the horse. Later, while he was setting her down on the stretcher, something crumbled inside him. He was the one to blame for her state. Neither Armin's reassuring smile nor her claiming to be fine could change that. Suddenly the roles were switched. Now he was the one looking after her, worrying about her wellbeing, watching over her while she was sleeping.
Mikasa was almost unaware of the single tear that rolled down her cheek and vanished in the folds of her scarf. She had never expected to hear it from him, albeit she secretly yearned for it deep inside her heart. Sometimes he had been giving her reasons for thinking that she wasn't dear to him. And now the unexpected humbleness in his voice clearly proved that he was being sincere. What was it that had suddenly impelled him to speak his mind?
And then it dawned on her that it had all been in her head. She had always focused on him continuously rejecting her protection. But things were completely different when he kept his mouth shut.
He had been ready to fight the Smiling Titan barehanded to protect them, just like she could always go to any lengths to protect him. He'd carried her on his back to safety, just like she would always come to his rescue when he was in trouble. And when she had woken up in her bed after having her injury tended to she found him napping on a chair next to her, just like she would never leave his side when he was recovering. What more proof did she need?
Mikasa felt something melt inside her heart.
Even if Eren had intended to say anything else, he was stopped by Mikasa who flung her arms around him rapidly, almost knocking the air out of him. He could feel her soft hair against his cheek as she clung to him, nuzzling into the crook of his neck.
Completely caught off guard, Eren stood motionlessly as though he'd been petrified. Only on very rare occasions could he see her letting her emotions take over, and in most of the cases, if not in all of them, he had been involved. Having fully realized what had just happened, shyly and awkwardly, he wrapped an arm around her back, still too insecure to return the hug properly.
He could feel her shaking slightly, but there were no sobs to be heard.
Why was this situation so uncomfortable and foreign to him? Had he already disposed of all emotions other than grief and rage? He'd always claimed that feelings were for the weak. The world was a battlefield; their life – a never-ending struggle. In such a world there was no place for the weak. Only the ones who'd abandoned their humanity had the chance to survive. His heart was so filled with utter loathing of the titans, the urge to avenge his mother and his comrades, that there was no place left for the ones he held most dear and who were still alive.
Mikasa and Armin…
He would always be deprived of what he loved, so perhaps… he was just afraid to love them, lest he lose them?
She was a relentless killer, one of the strongest and most powerful persons he ever knew, nevertheless, these qualities could never repress all the affection she had to give. Eren remembered exactly what Armin had told him earlier. She had been completely broken after losing him again, she was ready to kill anyone who would try to stop her from taking him back, and all she ever wanted… was to be by his side.
Suddenly something snapped inside of him and he embraced her tightly, squeezing his eyes shut.
In response, Mikasa clenched her fists in his shirt, hardly believing in what was happening. Gradually she relaxed in his arms. Had it not been for Hannes's sacrifice, she wouldn't be able to do it ever again. The thought of losing her family would always break her heart. She couldn't afford to let it happen again. Therefore she had promised herself she would protect Eren at all costs.
Yet again they had narrowly escaped death. All that mattered at this moment was that he was with her, holding her close. Mikasa smiled weakly, savoring his proximity. Thanks, Armin. I owe you for this one.
For the first time in what seemed to be forever… she was happy.
I'm not sure whether I should continue this. Please, let me know what you think of it so far.
Thanks for reading!