Disclaimer: Not mine. Obviously, guys.

"Corporal, it was a joke." Eren shifted uneasily, trying to orient himself so he wasn't quite so close to the blade at his neck.

Seriously, who attacked their charges with actual steel?

Corporal Rivaille's only response was to shift his grip on the handle so the blade was a degree closer to Eren's carotid artery, stilling Eren instantly. The Corporal's face, though, didn't change a wit. As if this entire affair was no concern of his whatsoever, and he wasn't actually the one straddling a Titan-subordinate-possible-savior-of-human-kind.

All of the sudden he was back in the courthouse, gritting his teeth against Corporal Rivaille's shadow as he stood over him with all the authority of master – face a complete mystery, boot a literal pain in the ass; Mikasa's outraged face blurring from his vision as Rivaille came closer and closer, kicking and punching and whipping him down – all without any change of face.

Eren shook his head slightly, letting the memories drip down his head, down his shoulders, to his feet, into the ground. Shake it off, Eren.

When he was fully back in the present, Eren shook his head again, this time a little bitterly. What a perfect mask, he thought, not without some resentment. What the hell does it take to break this guy?

Eren tilted his head back just enough to meet the Corporal eye to eye and searched for something, anything, that might betray the stoic façade. The Corporal didn't even so much as blink, letting Eren look, almost daring him to find what was hidden inside.

If there was anything hidden inside.

Eren tried. Hell, he really, really did. But those eyes were harder than the Rose Wall, and seemingly twice as impenetrable – it was hard to look straight at them without being reminded of the ring of boots on flesh and a merciless judge.

Kicking and punching and whipping him down, faint jeers from a crowd – a crowd

Kicking and punching and whipping him down – to protect Eren from the bloodthirsty crowd – thirsting for Eren's Titan blood.

Eren's eyes widened as he realized. There. Right there was what Rivaille had been hiding all along, stowing it deep within walls of glacial calm and masking it prettily in arrogance so no one would bother trying to unearth it.

Kindness. Corporal Rivaille…was kind.

A man, lying on the ground with Death so close that his breath smelled sickly sweet, like rotting flesh and mortician's fluid. And Corporal Rivaille, come this way by accident and purpose, just in time to witness the man's last moments.

"Corporal…did I…contribute to the human cause? Or did I die…pointlessly…without even...making a difference?"

"You've done more than enough already. For now…and for the times to come. I will take up your will. It shall give me strength."

A kind man should not have been made to fight this war – but Rivaille was resilient, and Rivaille was wise, and Rivaille had taken all the death and despair that had been handed to him without batting an eyelash.

Because there was reason for the suffering. A cause that was larger than the both of them, larger than any one soldier or any one death. And for that cause, Rivaille would do anything precisely because he was kind and unselfish.

Suddenly, Eren was certain that Corporal Rivaille would watch himself burn – and gladly – if it meant humanity could be saved.

Eren felt a sudden need to gather the Corporal up in his arms, not to protect (like the Corporal needed that), but to comfort. Rivaille would more beat him black and blue before letting him do anything like that, however, so Eren tugged him closer by the fabric around his neck instead.

Rivaille let him, although his gaze never left Eren's.

Eren cleared his throat. "We will eradicate the Titans." You aren't alone. Let me in.

There was silent intake, and for a horrible moment where Eren thought he'd screwed it up and Rivaille had not received the message after all and it was all just a horrible miscalculation on his part. Then –

"…even if it's the last thing we do. You have my word." Understood.

They breathed in together, the tandem of brother-in-arms and men prepared to spill blood for each other because they might die at any moment. There was no permanence. There was no stability. This was war.

But Eren did not think he imagined the edges of Rivaille's eyes warm just a bit. They had become the slightest shade lighter –

After all, who else but a Titan could break an impenetrable wall?