A Bedside Confession
Summary: After the battle of Stohess District, Mikasa and Armin watch over a resting Eren. Armin confronts Mikasa over the feelings she has for her adoptive brother, and finds there is more to their relationship than he had first realized.
The floorboards creaked as Armin Arlert walked up towards the window, enjoying the scent of fresh flowers which the breeze caught as it entered the room. While outside, the air had been thick with the scent of smashed mortar and an uncomfortable amount of blood, in this room, all temporarily seemed right with the world. The bright orange of the setting sun illuminated his face with a gentle warmth, indicative that summer was coming on at a fair pace. After the long and frantic afternoon where he had once again managed to cheat death despite the world falling into chaos, the relative quiet which dusk offered was a welcome relief.
Behind him, tending to a man who seemed to grow more remarkable by the day, a woman with black hair and a unique complexion sat idle. Her hands clasped around one of those belonging to Eren, keeping track of his pulse. She was his sentinel, a guardian with a selfless dedication which Armin admired.
In the silence, punctuated only by the breeze and their collective breathing, Armin was tossing the events of the day back and forth in his mind. He could see a few plumes of smoke from small fires which were still smoldering in the city which, if he was being honest with himself, he had helped destroy today. He knew it was risky to try and capture Annie in a crowded area such as this, but it was still the best plan they had going for them. And in the end, it had worked. There was no doubt the civilian casualties numbered in the hundreds, and the Survey Corps had lost more good men which it couldn't easily replace, but at least Annie was, in some form, captured.
He peered back to Eren, who had been so instrumental in the operation, even if his delay in transforming had cost plenty of lives. He slept soundly, the marks which appeared after his transformations had faded away. His body no doubt needed to recover after the beating he had received in the struggle.
Armin knew the last few days had been trying on Eren, having a second squad destroyed by a titan who had in fact been one of their comrades had to be eating him up inside. Eren always had a tendency to find himself in bad situations, often of his own volition. It was fine enough when they were kids dealing with nothing worse than bullies, but with stakes as high as they were now, Armin knew that such failures were weighing heavily on his friend's conscious. Still, Eren was not the kind to shirk his duty when faced with hardship, he'd proven that time and again since Trost.
Then there was Mikasa, who had been through her own emotional wringer these last few weeks. If Eren had one bad quality which annoyed Armin above all else, it was how oblivious he was to the damage his recklessness did to his adopted sister. Breaking the news to her on that first day of combat had been difficult enough for Armin, and he was content to never actually see how Mikasa would react to such a reality.
"Any changes?" He asked quietly, not wanting to break the harmony of space and time he found himself in.
"His pulse is still steady. Has been for the last ten minutes." Armin could feel the fatigue in her voice, the way it fell flat and disinterested. It was a tone she rarely used when referring to Eren, conscious or otherwise.
"Well that's good…probably means he's enjoying some deep sleep." Armin turned away from the window, leaning back against the sill. "I can't help but envy him right now, you too, I bet." Mikasa remained silent, keeping a watchful eye on Eren's face, attuned to the slightest movement.
"Look…" He stepped forward, laying a hand on her shoulder. "We've all had a long day. You should probably get some rest while you can. You know we're going to be dealing with a whole lot of crap from the higher-ups soon, best not to face a tribunal without-"
"I'll stay here." Her tone was nearly terse, as though the very thought of Armin's suggestion was some grave insult.
"Mikasa…" Armin placed his other hand on the shoulder, giving what strength he could to his grip without seeming too forceful. "He'll be fine. Please, if he can rest after a fight like that, then so can you."
She declined to respond verbally and merely shook her head, facing away from her Armin while keeping her gaze fixed on her sleeping brother.
"Mikasa…" He moved his right hand onto her own, still wrapped around Eren's as though a cage. "I know you've been through a lot these last few days, but you know it's alright to take a moment to relax, right? What you're feeling right now-that pulse-that means he's alive. That he's here, and that he's alright. You don't have to-"
"And that's exactly why I'll stay, Armin. Go rest if you need to, I'll be fine. Besides, best not to face a-"
"Mikasa." He put some force into his voice, growing frustrated at her obstinacy. "I get it. He's here now, and you want to be with him. But look at yourself. Those bags under your eyes are as black as your hair…how much have you slept these last few days anyway? Actually…come to think of it, have I seen-have you eaten much of anything recently?" She remained quiet, slowly moving her eyes away from Armin's gaze. "Mikasa…I don't think I'm breaking any new ground when I say that Eren wouldn't want you to be like this. You don't want the first thing he sees when he wakes up to be an exhausted, emaciated sister who…you haven't bathed in a few days either have you?"
Faster than she had withdrawn, Mikasa turned back to her friend with a frustrated glare. Armin withdrew his hand and moved back to the windowsill, the scent of the fresh flowers gave him something more refreshing to smell as he turned his back on the setting sun. "You know I'm right."
She remained quiet for a moment before responding, the neutral tone of earlier had finally dissipated. "And so what if you are? Is it so wrong to want to be with him? To be at his side?"
"When it's at the point you're ignoring your own wellbeing just to spend a few minutes with him, then I'd say yes. I know-I know it's a lot, watching someone you love being so close to the brink of death all the time. I mean-well I saw it firsthand, so I know. But if you…Mikasa?"
He noticed how her hands had retracted from Eren's own and come up to cover her face. Her body seemed to tense up, fingers pressing firmly against her forehead. Armin wracked his brain, trying to think of what he had said to cause such a reaction, but was left with only questions.
"Mikasa…" He approached again, sitting down on the bench next to her and, with some hesitation at first, placing his arm around her shoulder. She removed her hands from her face, cheeks reddened, eyes clearly moistened, and lip barely held from quivering without control. "I-he has to-why? Why does he always have to go and do this?"
"Easy, Mikasa…calm down. It's alright" He had never seen her this way before. For a moment he feared that this was the beginning of some demonstration of her fear of losing Eren, yet as he took a better look at her, he found that this was something altogether different. He was not looking at fear, at least not one of loss. He drew her closer in, as he had done with Eren on a few occasions when memories of Shinganshina grew to be more than he could handle. She remained silent for a while, composing herself.
"Why does he-why does he have to go and do these things…nearly get himself killed all the time? Doesn't he-doesn't he know how-how much I-" She stopped, her tongue dancing around a particular word.
"Oh-wait, is that what this is about?" He spoke softly, having never directly broached the topic with her before, and cautious of how to approach a topic in which he had little experience.
"Mmh? What's that supposed to mean?"
"I-well I mean not to brag but…they don't say I've got brains for nothing. If I could figure out Annie for a titan then…well in all fairness the signs of…well, you and Eren eh-uh-well more so you and…it's not like it isn't obvious is what I'm saying."
"…Obvious?" She looked up to him, face showing a growing tension of concern.
"Yeah well…I mean it isn't like people haven't noticed, not like I haven't noticed of course. You know…this. This absurdly defensive posture you keep whenever Eren's around, especially when he's like as he is now. How you go out of your way to care for him, to the point you're looking worse than him at times. How it's hard for me or anyone else to ever get him alone because you're never more than a few feet away at any given time. You know exactly what I'm talking about."
She veered away from Armin's gaze, looking to Eren out of the corner of her eye."It's not-"
"You love him, Mikasa." He cut her off, tired of evasion and refusal. She remained quiet; a surge in the breeze cooled them both as blood surged in temperature. "Like I said, to most everyone it's pretty obvious…except yourself and…well, I hate to say it but Eren can be…dense about certain things."
Armin could see a faint smile emerge on Mikasa's lips as her face began to loosen, the emotional stress upon it began to fade. "You've…well you are right about that but-but…I mean I don't…you love him too don't you? Is it-is it so strange to love a titan-man?"
"Of course I do…he's my oldest and best friend. And-well whatever he is, however he became like this, nothing's going to change that. But that's not what I'm talking about, Mikasa, and you know that."
"Mikasa, you know one of these days you're going to have to talk with him about this."
"Because to be quite frank about the way things are going, odds are one of you is going to lose the other at some point before you say something. So you either live the rest of your life with having never told him, or you leave me alone to break it to him once you're gone. And honestly, I don't like either of those options."
"Armin…" Her voice grew more frustrated, cueing Armin to pull his arm away and fold his hands in his lap. Mikasa took several hard swallows, her eyes shut for a moment as the room fell into a brief silence.
"You love him like nobody else could, Mikasa…and I really think he loves you in much the same way. That's a love which I-well I can't say I know it well but-but whenever I see it, it makes me happy. The way you love him…it's not something we see often these days what with-well, you know. And it's not something which benefits anyone by being kept under wraps like this."
Mikasa let out a sigh in an ultimately vain effort to relieve stress. The setting sun was creeping down the walls, a beam of light passed by Armin's head and illuminated her forehead. "Yes. I know Armin. I know what you're talking about and I've thought it all before. Dozens-hundreds of times. It's just-just…how?" She looked up to Eren, chest rising and falling slowly in the unconscious rhythm of deep sleep. "How do I-how do you tell someone like Eren-after everything we've been through…it's as though after everything he's done for me it-it would just seem inadequate. Just…so inadequate."
"W-what? Inadequate? I-" Armin found himself struggling to comprehend such an idea as Mikasa reached a hand back towards Eren's.
"I know it sounds strange, even I'd be inclined to agree with that. But it's…it's hard to put into words but-but Eren-to me he's-he-that day we met…that's not something that can be-that can be repaid Armin. Eren's done so much for me he-he gave my life hope and purpose after…" She trailed off, trying to organize a mind which had every unsettling memory of past and present, as well as the ugly possibilities of the future all trying to be recognized at once.
Armin lowered his head, feeling mildly anxious. One hot night in Shinganshina, a couple of months before the wall fell, he and Eren had walked around the neighborhood waiting for things to cool off enough to sleep. Running out of things to talk about, Armin had tried once again to learn more of how Mikasa had entered their lives; Eren had never said much other than her parents had died and they considered it the right thing to do. When Armin finally convinced his friend to speak, the explanation he got, light on details as it was, made Armin nauseous. Out of respect, he'd never broached the topic with Mikasa, Yet he'd always known an event such as that had to have had some great effect on her, even if he had never endeavored to imagine it too vividly.
"What good…what good is love to a person who's already given you everything you could ever want?" Mikasa began to run her scarf through her fingers. "Why upset everything by bringing up-by asking for something that's so inconsequential in the scheme of things." Her fingers ran over the fabric with a delicate reverence one usually reserved for holy relics or treasured family heirlooms.
"Because…" Armin started, looking to the bandages wrapped around Eren's head. "…determined as he is, we both know there's going to come a time when he's going to struggle immensely. When, to him, it's going to seem as though the entire world is falling apart. That there's nothing left to fight for."
Her eyes closed as she took in a deep breath, exhaling slowly as he body slowly relieved itself from the tenseness of earlier. "…you mean…"
"People fight best when they have something unbreakable to fight for, Mikasa. When he fights, he needs to know that you love him, more than anything else. Because I know that's something-this love is something which can never be broken. If he knows that then...well, that's one weapon the Titans will never see coming, I guess." Armin was happy to see a more solid smile develop on Mikasa's lips, her initially defensive posture opening up.
"Yeah, I guess you're right about that. It's just…finding a time to tell him. This isn't…this isn't a thing you just bring up."
Armin stood up from the bench, stretching his back and enjoying the warm sun on his skin. "I'm sure you'll find a good time, though I think we'd all prefer it done before he really needs it."
"Ha…I'll try. Soon. I Promise."
"Good." Armin stepped back towards the window, brushing aside the thin curtains which felt like feathers through his fingers. The sun was taking its time to set, treating the city to a pleasant view to compensate for the destruction it had endured that day. "And besides…" He spoke softly, almost hoping she wouldn't hear him. "…I think you'll find he loves you more than he lets on sometimes. In fact…from what he tells me-and don't tell him I said this-I'd even say he loves you even more than you love him."
"Mmh?" She turned to him, her smile playful and eyebrow raised in curiosity. "Really? You-he talks to you about me? About what? What does he say?"
"I-uh…well…I mean…well we talk about things about…well things and-manly…you know what? I'm going to go see if Jean's here yet, he said he'd stop by soon enough." Armin walked for the door with an anxiousness he usually only felt around Titans. "You um-well why don't you tell him and ask-ask him yourself I'm sure…sure he'd love that." The floorboards continued to squeak with each step he took beyond the doorframe, accelerating towards the staircase at the end of the hall. "And I'm serious, get some sleep!"
Mikasa was left alone, her hair wafting in the breeze which began to carry the chill of the approaching night. Seeing Eren asleep, oblivious to the pains of the world as he took some well deserved rest, Mikasa resolved that she, too, would find some time to sleep soon enough. After she took his pulse one last time, just to be sure.