It was a desolate wasteland.

Towering dunes of sand as far as the eye could see, with only the bright blue of the stars to serve as a light in this cold, lonely world.

No great tree of light towered in the distance, its innumerable branches reaching out in billions of Paths, linking past, present and future together.

There was but one Path in this world of blue radiance. One line of light at the center of the world.

No young girl wandered these dunes, building the bodies of Titans, tens of metres tall, one pail of sand at a time. No Eldian goddess dwelled in this eternal prison, eternally trapped to her bloodline and the power that dwelled inside it.

In this desolate wasteland, all existence was naught but sand and stars.

And a bench.

It wasn't a large bench. Long enough to support three adults if they were close enough to touch.

The bench's design was simplistic, with no extra flourishes or stylized embellishments, but it was well cared for despite clear signs of wear and tear. No splinters or frayed edges, despite signs of weather wear.

Its materials also were nothing special. Made of wood with iron fastenings, it wouldn't look out of place in a public park or on a sidewalk in an upper-class neighbourhood.

The bench, so at odds with the baren world around it, drew the eyes of the sole inhabitant of this wasteland like a moth to a flame. It lay thousands of kilometres away and yet so close. The only thing that existed in the empty world.

Eren Yaeger's tiny feet brought him to that bench.

It didn't matter if his strides were short. He just had to put one foot in front of the other. Step after step.

Eren would reach it so long as he kept moving forward.

It took him years, decades, to travel to that bench in less than a second.

Eren stared at the bench with blank eyes. Its top was eye level with his six-year-old body.

Then he hoisted himself up and sat down.

The view before his eyes shifted.

The sky lightened from dark blue to a clear azure as the endless dunes of the Path were replaced with trees and a well-paved trail. In the distance, he could hear vehicles passing and spy hints of the tops of buildings peeking above the green foliage.

This was no forest, despite the denseness of the trees. This was a park, a slice of wilderness in a world of steel and cement.

It was a cozy little spot, drawing a yawn from Eren's young body.

"This bench is the meeting place," an older, tired voice told the young boy.

"Who am I meeting," Eren asked.

The man remained silent.

"Where is this? When is this?"

"Thirteen years in the future," the man answered the last question but ignored the first.

Eren looked at him then, understanding the importance of that number.

The man slumped, exhausted, against the bench's backrest. He collapsed in on himself as if he could not support the weight of his torso or head. His head rested against the wood, the seat frame supporting him so he could stare at the sky, where white clouds drifted lazily by.

His clothes were in tatters, torn and shredded and covered in blood. Small chunks of flesh were missing from his body, weeping red ichor openly. Slight wafts of steam rose from his injuries, but it was too weak to be really healing the numerous wounds.

The man's body was emaciated, skin sunken over what might have been a muscular form once, now nothing more than a husk.

A walking cane leaned against his legs, a pair of stylized wings the only ornament on an otherwise plain stick.

Grey eyes stared upward at the sky, ringed by deep Shifter Marks. More dotted his face along sunken cheeks like teeth. Still more covered every inch of exposed skin.

He looked weak. Battered. Injured. Sick.

He was minutes from death.

"Why are you smiling," the six-year-old Eren asked his nineteen-year-old self.

The older Eren didn't answer, gazing up at the blue sky with a contented, fulfilled smile on his sallow face.

It didn't matter that he would die in thirteen years. He had already died once.

What mattered was that smile.

The young boy was envious of that smile.

That pure expression of joy was the most hateful and beautiful thing Eren had seen in a long time.

When was the last time he had smiled?

"Can you do it again?"

The question was asked quietly. Softly.

There was a finality, a sense of encroaching doom and resolution in the voice.

Yet the older boy still smiled.

"Why would I?" Eren asked his older self. "I do not know why or how I was reborn in this world. My friends are not here. Historia is not here. Armin is not here. Mikasa is not here. There are no Titans, no Marley. No walls."

"Can you do it again?"

Eren looked up at the azure sky, thinking about the question.

Could he go through it all again?

All the pain, tragedy, heartbreak, betrayal, guilt, and loss?

All the crimes he had committed for which there was no redemption?

Could he repeat it, become the enemy of the world despite knowing what lay at the end?

For one last time, could Eren Yeager, the Devil, dedicate his heart to something?

"I can."

"Then you'll know why I'm smiling."

"I suppose I will," Eren murmured as a nonexistent breeze brushed past the pair sitting on the bench.

"Remember, you only have thirteen years," the older Eren said softly, his voice fading.

As if whatever tiny glowing ember that had kept him going for so long was finally sputtering out.

"Then I should get started," Eren said, standing from his seat.

The trees disappeared with the azure sky as his feet met the sand.

All that remained were the dunes of The Path, the countless stars above and the bench.

And a six-year-old Eren saw it all.

The Path.

The Enemy.

The Walls.

And the cost of it all.

"I see," Eren said, eyes gazing at the future he would build.

"Not yet," his older self corrected with a long, weary sigh of relief. "But you will."

The man on the bench, Eren from thirteen years in the future, died with a smile.

The bench faded from the Path.

Though Eren could see his future memories passed back to him by himself, there were gaps. Holes in a tapestry. Voids of darkness in an otherwise clearly illuminated Path.

He could not see the bench, who he would meet there or when it would be.

He could not see a reason to smile.

But he could see the end.

So Eren walked forward, gathering sand to build.

Even if he did not have a reason to advance now, Eren knew he would one day.

That was enough.

Eren Yeager would continue to push ever forward.

And, on a bench thirteen years away, Eren Yeager died alone with a small, content smile.

"Sir, please wake up," Sona Sitri shook the man's shoulder gently but firmly.

"Mm...?" He murmured groggily as he awoke.

"Are you alright, sir?" She asked, stepping away slightly as he grasped his cane tightly and used it as leverage to sit up on the bench.


"You were crying," she pointed out.

The man raised a hand to his cheeks, feeling the two liquid streams. His hand followed the trail of tears up to the wet bandages that wrapped from the tip of his nose to his forehead.

"Huh," he murmured softly, as if surprised.

"Is everything alright, sir?" Sona asked. "Do you need medical attention? Shall I call an ambulance?"

"No, I am fine," he shook his head as he wiped his cheeks. "A long dream. That is all."

"If you are certain," Sona asked dubiously, eyeing his skinny frame. "What are you doing here this late? Are you a student of Kuoh University?"

This park separated the high school from the university campus, and while not private property per se, it was hardly used by anyone besides Rias' Peerage.

The only reason Sona had even found the blind young man on the bench was because she was patrolling the school grounds.

Well, it was less of a patrol and more of a victory lap.

Her election as student council president might have been an almost forgone conclusion, but it was still another step toward her dream coming true.

It might be prideful to want to inspect her 'spoils of victory,' but she was a devil. She was all about pride.

That inspection had found the young man sleeping on the bench in the park, well inside the wards they had over this park area. Which is why she had approached in the first place.

"No, I am not smart enough for university," he denied with a sigh as he leaned more heavily on his cane. His voice was... off, Sona realized. Dead. Empty. Like all emotion had been drained from him.

"Intelligence is not a requirement for school," Sona insisted, the comment pushing her buttons. "Only a willingness to learn. To claim stupidity as an excuse is nothing but cowardice and laziness. There is no one too stupid to learn. There are only those who refuse to."

There was a beat of silence.

"You're right. Ignorance is no crime," the young man gave a tired nod. "It is only a crime if you refuse to change after learning. Only a genuinely thick blockhead would do that."

For some reason, Sona was sure the young man was talking about himself.

Sona realized she might have said too much.

The man on the bench, blind and weak, definitely had his own circumstances. He probably had a good reason for not going to school. Perhaps he had difficulty with brail, or his goal was something his physical condition prevented.

Either way, if Sona wanted to accomplish her dream of building a school for everyone, she would need to stop passing judgment so quickly.

Especially with how young she realized the man truly was. He was only a few years older than her at most.

Sitting on the opposite side of the bench, Sona looked out through the thick throng of trees. Some hundreds of meters away, hidden from view, was the old clubhouse where Rias lived and met with her Peerage.

"So long as you know that, it is never too late to learn."

"Sometimes it is too late," he rejected firmly. "Too late to travel the world, even if you want to. To visit the poles, a volcano, or a desert. To see the ocean. Sometimes, you don't have the time or the ability anymore."

He sounded so tired.

So worn down by the beatings of the world that all he wanted to do was sleep.

Sona wondered what he had gone through to sound so exhausted despite only being a teenager. It was a voice she had only heard a few times. When her family talked about times before her birth or on the few occasions her aunt spoke of home.

"You never answered my question," Sona pointed out. "If you aren't a part of the university, what are you doing here? You are not part of the high school either, or I would recognize you."

"No, I am not a student at all. I was just passing by when I found this bench. It seemed like the best place for a nap. No memories to bother me." Though he did not smile, the way he spoke made her think that the ability to forget was the greatest gift in the world. "Just the wind, the sky, and the trees. I'm moving into the area. There are no rules against me being here, right?"

"There aren't," Sona answered the question.

Technically speaking, this wasn't school grounds but a public park. There was no rule or law preventing anyone from wandering in. That was why there were benches in the first place.

But there was also a ward around the area that prevented people from coming in or noticing anything from inside. A ward designed to keep the practice of the young Peerages unnoticed by the city's populace.

A ward that might have been bypassed by pure accident by a blind man because it was intent and sight-based. He had no magic, no supernatural power that she could feel, so it may have been purely accidental.

Sona considered having her family servants change the ward to be more complete when a thought entered her head.

"How old are you?"

"Seventeen," he answered with a tilt of his head in her direction. "Why?"

"Why aren't you in school? Are you transferring in?"

"No, I am not going to school. I haven't for years since... this," he vaguely waived an arm over his body.

"When was the last time you had the chance?" Sona felt a pit in her stomach as he answered.

"In this country? I believe it would be the equivalent of... Elementary?" The way he half asked his answer filled the young heiress with horror.

"Do you know Japanese?" She asked the question desperately, though it didn't come across in her voice. Sona always maintained a professional demeanour when she could.

They had been speaking in English this entire time, which she had no trouble with, thanks to being a devil. Devils had an inherent ability to speak all languages fluently, but that was different for everyone else.

Kuoh was more metropolitan than most parts of Japan and thus had a higher percentage of people who were fluent in the lingua franca of the world. But a blind man should definitely speak the local language.

"I don't."

"What about your family? Are they familiar with the area or Japanese?"

"No family," he shook his head. "No friends. Just me. I'm all alone."

He didn't sound sad. Just a matter of fact.

The sky was blue, fire was hot, and he was alone.

Sona could only stare at the absurd existence before her for a second.

"If you don't speak the language, go to school or have family bringing you here, why are you moving to Kuoh?"

"I am here to meet someone," he shrugged softly.


"Don't know."

"Where then? And when?" Sona asked sternly.

Her wariness against the boy was starting to be replaced with genuine worry. There had to be someone out there who cared for him. He wouldn't have been able to survive otherwise.

"Here, on this bench," he said, patting the wooden seat between them. Then he paused as if searching for the right words. "As for when? I don't know exactly. Within two years. I know that much."

Sona mulled over the situation. Something had to be going on here that she wasn't getting.

"Do you have a place to stay?"

"A hotel nearby until I get a permanent address," he nodded, and the young devil sighed.

That was something, at least.

For a moment, Sona considered offering the young man a place at Kuoh Academy to keep an eye on him. Considering that Sitri and Gremory owned the school, it was well within her power, to say nothing of hypnosis. The gender restriction was to be removed this year to allow the heiress' Peerage to attend with them and widen the pool of potential recruits.

Eventually, Sona shook the thought away.

No, even if the boy wasn't years behind his peers, which he was, Kuoh was simply unequipped to handle a blind student on top of not knowing the local language.

A failing she would address in the future, but one that was relevant now.

Still, letting him go while he was so helpless in a foreign environment did not sit right with her. Rias might be a closet Otaku, but Sona knew that the Japanese were not kind to foreigners as a general rule. It was one of the reasons she was using the pseudonym of Souna Shitori rather than her actual name. Unlike Rias, with her red hair and outrageous... proportions, Sona could pass for Japanese, which made things easier for her.

This boy, on top of being foreign and not speaking the language, was clearly disabled. Sona could hardly think of an appearance more likely to ostracize someone in Japan. Sona might be a devil, but she still had a conscience.

"Are you still there?" The boy asked, his head facing the forest. "You are being quiet."

"I am still here," Sona answered seriously. "I am just trying to think about what to do with you."

"Do with me?" He repeated. Something in his voice made the young heiress hurry to explain.

"It wouldn't be right to let you leave when I can do something to help."

"You do not need to do anything," he insisted with a frown. It was the first show of emotion Sona had seen since waking him up. "I do not need help or a minder. I do not need to be babied."

"I am sure you don't," Sona agreed, though not in a patronizing way. She was well used to dealing with the pride of young men. If nothing else, he had moved to a foreign country alone in his condition. If that didn't speak about his ability, nothing did. "I was just wondering if you would like me to teach you Japanese?"

His frown lessened as he gave it some thought.

"It would be more convenient to be able to talk to people," he admitted grudgingly before suspicion entered his voice. "But why are you offering? You do not know me, and I don't know you. I can't pay you. I can give you nothing but my thanks."

"I want to be a teacher," Sona said resolutely. "One who will accept anyone. If you are willing to learn, then I will teach. As simple as that. Will you let me teach you?"

It would cut into her time as co-owner of the land, King of her Peerage and the new student council president.

But this was a chance.

She didn't know his circumstances, his goals, his history, or even his name. He was blind, claimed to be stupid, and was missing a decade of education. He also had a stubborn streak, a clear measure of pride, or he wouldn't be out here all alone.

Teaching him would be incredibly challenging.

But that was precisely why she wanted to teach him.

Sona Sitri did not dream of being a normal teacher.

Sona Sitri dreamt of a school for everyone. Her school would not discriminate on age, ability, race, status, or creed. Her dream school only had one requirement.

All who were willing to learn would be taught.

No exceptions.

It was a dream that flew in the face of thousands of years of tradition, a complete rebellion against her society and how the world worked.

It was a dream that only a handful supported and billions derided.

But it was Sona's dream.

One she would accomplish no matter what.

This blind, sick boy would be her first student.

First, she would teach him Japanese, then catch him up to his age group. Her job would only be done when he aced the entrance exam to the university.

If he was willing to learn.

"A teacher that accepts everyone, huh," he said softly. "That's an admirable goal. A good dream."

"I am dedicating everything to achieving it," Sona declared passionately, even if her voice remained as serious as ever.

For a long moment, neither said anything.

"I will be a terrible student. I am no one special. I have no talent or genius. Things others grasp after one try will take me ten."

"It doesn't matter if it takes a hundred. A good teacher never gives up on their students. So long as you put forth the effort to learn, I will never abandon you."

"That's all I've ever been good for," he said. Another hint of emotion. Derision. "Blindly putting forth an effort, no matter the consequences. I suppose I will have to one more time."

"Then here is your first lesson," Sona said with a smile as she stood from the bench. "In Japan, when giving greetings, you are supposed to bow and address your teachers with the suffix 'sensei.' My name is Shitori Souna. Last name, then first name. You can call me Shitori-sensei when I am teaching."

While she taught him, she would look into him. There was no way he was all alone. Someone had to care for him, care that he was here. Maybe not family, but at least friends? Maybe whoever he was supposed to meet here.

He couldn't be all alone.

Nobody was born alone in the world.

"You'll have to forgive the lack of a bow," the young man said as he slowly rose to his feet, leaning heavily on his cane and holding out his hand to shake. "I am afraid I will not be able to get back up again. It is nice to meet you, Souna. My name is Eren. Yaeger Eren, if we go by this country's customs. I will be the worst student you will ever have."

Sona stepped in front of the young man who had faced the wrong direction and shook his hand.

"I will be the judge of that."

And so, a devil shook hands with The Devil.

It was the first meeting on the bench.

So... what the hell is this?

For those of you coming to this story from my other work, Rapturous Rhapsody, you will guess this is the surprise I was hinting at. I fully intend to keep my promise to finish that story, and I will only work on one story at a time. But, between volumes 2 and 3 of RR, when I intended to edit that work, I had this idea and decided to write it out to get it out of my head. But then I kept writing. And kept writing. And kept writing.

In the three weeks between the epilogue of Volume 2 and the start of Volume 3, I wrote 60k words of this fic. Though it is all unedited and will thus be released weekly on Tuesdays as I edit, I wrote enough that from today, I have enough chapters to last till the end of RR and, therefore, can solely focus on it till it's done, and I will shift to this one. Chapters will be short, between 2.5k and 4k on average.

So what is 'On the Bench?'

It's a short story (probably not going to pass the 150k mark (so short by my standards)) that acts as a continuation of Attack on Titan. Yes, this means it is entirely cannon-compliant. Even the parts you don't like. I will repeat it again. I will be sticking as close to canon as I physically can. I started this story partly to give myself a form of closure.

I liked and didn't like the ending of AOT. It was the ending the story needed and was building up to, but I did wish for more of a happy ending. So this is my effort to give myself that in the only way I can.

On the Bench is also an experiment. I think I have improved with character writing over the years, and I want to push my boundaries a bit. More specifically, in tone and themes. Can I convey two diametrically opposed tones, like AOT and DxD, while remaining true to the characters AND telling a decent story? We'll see.

This is not going to be an action-focused fic. I am not reinventing the wheel or attempting anything as ambitious as RR.

This is me examining and playing with some of my favourite characters. I hope you will enjoy it, and I will see you on Tuesday for chapter two of On The Bench.