Disclaimer: I do not own Shingeki no Kyojin.
Mikasa peeked out from under her hood as the Scouting Legion stronghold came into view. The moon still hung high in the sky, and the strings of clouds glided by like lost souls.
The ride back from Stohess seemed to take a lot longer than the ride there. Whether it was because she was excited or not, Mikasa was getting a little impatient. She was going to get what she wanted, and that was a second chance to take Annie down.
She swung her head to look at Eren a couple yards ahead of her. His lean frame stayed parallel to his horse as they zipped through the woods. Even though she couldn't see his face through his hood, Mikasa knew he was lost in thought. Still conflicted, she mused. That didn't settle well with her at all.
Mikasa tore her eyes away from him and instead focused on the man behind her. Without even looking back she knew he was eyeing her. That small nagging feeling that he was looking in her direction wouldn't leave her, and she would've turned to glare at him if they didn't make it to their destination just then.
Irvin's horse at the head of formation skidded to a stop, and he wasted no time in dismounting. Mikasa and the others followed suit as Scouting Legion members crowded their Commander with urgent news and questions. The place was in a riot, with some people still trying to get their straps on and others blatantly avoiding the woods in fear of Annie.
Mikasa watched the uproar with an apathetic gaze as Rivaille dismounted behind her. She heard his footsteps coming up to her, but instead of stopping beside her he walked straight for the castle entrance. Contrary to Irvin, no one dared to bother Rivaille on his way to the building. He shooed people away with just the look in his eyes.
From among the crowd surrounding him, Irvin called out to Mikasa and the other young soldiers, "Follow Rivaille to the briefing room. Don't keep him waiting."
Jean was the first to obey orders, followed by Reiner and Bertholdt. From behind them, Mikasa kept a steady pace while looking for Eren. When she couldn't find him in the midst of the others, she started to worry. Despite turning her heel to go search for him, Mikasa didn't get very far. Armin was there to grab her arm, and she whirled her head to face him. He whispered, "Hanji took him into the castle already. She said it was urgent."
Mikasa scowled a bit, but let Armin lead her back to headquarters.
The walls only magnified the worried conversations of the Legion members. On the way to the small room they used for meetings and briefings, Mikasa felt like she was walking through a tangled web of voices. People clambered up and down the staircases with their gear and some had their weapons ready in case they stumbled upon Annie. Things were getting a bit ridiculous; it only fueled Mikasa's hate for the blonde. Even now she was indirectly pissing her off.
The briefing room was on the first floor, so it didn't take them very long to reach it. It just felt longer than usual since they had to weave through pretty much everyone to get there. Mikasa and Armin were the last ones in the room, and they stood next to the door.
Rivaille was already standing at the blackboard; his arms folded and gaze impatient. He started the moment Armin closed the door behind him. In his brazen tone, he barked, "Listen up. We don't have all day." He turned around to face the board, letting his cloak swish around his frame.
With an offhand thought, Mikasa was surprised he didn't call them "brats" or "idiots." He didn't even use any of the slang he usually threw around.
Taking a piece of chalk, the corporal stenciled in a formation and tapped the board when he was done. "This is the formation we'll use as we enter Wall Maria. It's similar to the arrangement we used last time, but since it's just us some things are different." His eyes met Mikasa's soon after he finished his sentence, and they lingered there. In that moment, his gaze was so intense it felt like hot ice. She couldn't stop the sudden shivers creeping up her back, but she did her best to squash them. There was no reason for him to be singling her out now. It was only a waste of time. When he finally looked away, she went back to inspecting the board.
Weird. It was triangular in shape, but at the forefront of the formation there were two people instead of one. Behind each of those two people, two were in line with them, and one person remained in the center of the triangle.
A rough voice cut through the air, "Jean, you and Armin will be at the front of the formation. Reiner and Bert—"
"—Wait just a minute," Jean interrupted uneasily. He almost choked when the corporal shot him a glare. In a voice even more uneven than before, he asked, "You're not going to be at the front, Corporal?"
For a moment, Rivaille didn't say anything. Everyone in the room had their eyes on him, hanging on to what he was going to say. Mikasa tried to read the look in his face, but she couldn't decipher it for the life of her. He was such a difficult person to read and she hated it. Finally, he bit out, "You two have good instincts; use them."
For some reason, that sentence set alarm bells off in Mikasa's head. There was definitely something he wasn't telling, and from what she could tell it was a lot more than just his injury. What it was, she didn't know. But there was no doubt something was hidden behind those words of his. No insults were thrown? No snarky retorts? Things were starting to feel a bit off. Mikasa turned her head slightly to look at Armin beside her, and she saw him practically mirroring the look on her own face. His brows were slightly furrowed, a gesture he would use when attempting to solve a puzzle. If he had an answer after this meeting, she was going to get it out of him.
The rest of the plan was simple, yet complicated—complicated in that there were a lot of assumptions in the original layout of the plan. Was Annie alone? Was she helped? Was she kidnapped? When they couldn't even answer the very first question asked, it was hard to determine how to work things out.
Basically, they were going to intercept Annie at the Forest of Giant Trees, the same forest from the last mission. The reason for this was that Annie was severely drained, and she would need at least a couple nights to rest and regain her energy. Furthermore, according to the landscape of Wall Maria, that was the only place she could rest at without being harassed by titans.
Mikasa understood all of this. What she couldn't understand was why the corporal was shooting her looks pretty much the entire time. At first, she thought it was because he usually looked at everyone to make sure they understood what he was saying. He was an experienced soldier; he knew whether someone understood orders with one glance. But it got to the point where she felt uneasy. It's not like she wasn't listening. So what was his deal? Surely he wasn't making sure she was paying attention; if that was the case she was going to be pissed.
After minutes of drawing lines and circles and x's on the board, Rivaille finally dropped his chalk in its container. Grabbing a cloth, he wiped his fingers while articulating, "That's it for now. I'll need to go over the rest of the plan with Irvin before I move on. That means you guys will need to be able to take on-the-spot orders in the morning. Understand?"
The soldiers repeated their affirmation in unison before Rivaille turned on his heel and walked out. As he passed each soldier, he didn't even turn his head. Only when he got to Mikasa did he shift his eyes in her direction. She didn't respond in kind, but she followed his back as he walked out the door and shut it behind him.
When Rivaille left, it was like a rush of silence clogged the room. No one said anything for a long time, and no one made a move to leave. As Mikasa stood there, she realized that maybe she wasn't the only one questioning the corporal's behavior. And when Jean spoke, her thoughts were confirmed,
"Hey… Is it just me or is the Corporal acting strange?"
Mikasa and Armin turned to him while Reiner answered, "He seemed all business to me. What are you saying?"
Armin murmured from his corner, pulling everyone's eyes toward him. "I see what you mean, Jean… Even his writing…" His eyes were glued to the chalkboard, and everyone followed his line of vision.
The chalk lines on the board weren't even straight, and the circles sometimes weren't even completed. Looking at the whole picture, it looked like a five-year-old tried to draw a bunch of stick figures and couldn't connect any of the limbs together. Honestly, it just looked sloppy.
If there was one thing about Rivaille, it was that he was never sloppy.
Something was definitely wrong.
Mikasa furrowed her brows before speaking out, "Let's not worry about that now. We have bigger things to tend to." Not waiting another second, she went straight for the exit and left, not caring if anyone followed her out.
"Major Hanji… I don't think… I'm the right person for this…"
"Relax, Eren. Just try. You're the only hope we have right now."
Eren once again looked at his hand, focusing as hard as he could. He flexed every muscle that he had from his fingers to his forearm, and he squeezed so hard his right hand practically vibrated. Gritting his teeth, Eren shut his eyes and let a drawn-out grunt echo from his throat. Seconds passed by, but still nothing.
As hard as the boy tried, he couldn't get his skin to crystallize.
Right after Irvin and the rest of them arrived back at Headquarters, Eren didn't even have enough time to dismount before he felt a hand grab his cloak and yank him off his horse. Before he could yell out a cry for help, Hanji bent down to his ear and whispered for him to follow her into the castle. As she ushered him back to the building, he felt like a ragdoll bumping into people and tripping on some loose grass. The only thing he could compare himself to was a dog being dragged along by its enthusiastic owner.
Eren struggled his entire way through the castle and down the stairwells to the deepest part of the stronghold—under the basement. It wasn't that long ago that he descended those steps in a rush to see what the commotion was all about. When they got to the dank depths, Hanji hurriedly shoved Eren toward the broken crystal. Her words bumped into each other like impatient people in line when she exclaimed, "Eren, see if you can reproduce this material yourself. I know it's a long shot for you to crystallize but we don't have much time. I need to know what this material is made out of and I think I can get a lead if you can unleash your hardening abilities, too."
"But, Hanji—" Eren was pushed forward one more time before he could get a reply out, and he ended up right in front of the crumbled edifice. His eyes widened slowly as he finally laid eyes on it in earnest.
It was mesmerizing. Even with the blemishes and cracks, the gemstone held his gaze like a sword stuck in stone. His turquoise eyes reflected the dim light of the crystal, making them glimmer in the torchlight of the basement. How Annie was able to create this he had absolutely no idea. It was so farfetched of an ability that he couldn't even think of how he would go about doing it himself. It wasn't something concrete like turning titan—there were no specific instructions for hardening skin. It was either he knew how to do it or he didn't.
So when Hanji kept urging him to figure it out on the spot, he was getting frustrated. He tried everything she was instructing him to do, from shutting his eyes to squeezing his muscles to clenching his teeth. But to no avail.
The boy was doing everything with full force that he was panting by the end of it. Sweat beaded down his face and stung his eyes. He bent down to put his hands on his knees, feeling like he just ran for his life. After catching his breath, Eren looked up at Hanji under sweaty brown locks.
The look in his eye was so innocent and guilt-laden that the woman just gave him a rueful smile. "It's alright, Eren. Sorry for pushing you."
"No, it's not that," the boy coughed out before standing up straight. Looking down at his hands, Eren murmured, "I feel like I can do it, but I'm going about it the wrong way."
Hanji's ears perked up like a dog. "You mean you figured something out?"
The young man's gaze lingered on his hands a bit longer before looking back at the shattered, gleaming coffin. A moment passed before his eyes roamed the ground at the bits of broken gemstone. Bending his knees, Eren reached down and plucked a shard from the floor. Hanji watched as he observed the shimmering piece, switching it between his hands. Finally, Eren pocketed the crystal shard and held his arm out. As he stood still, the squad leader stalked around him and observed him like a hawk.
Instead of forcing his body rigid, Eren took long breaths. With each exhale, his muscles relaxed and his blood pressure lowered. His arm felt like deadweight when he was finally calm, and with one final inhale he closed his eyes. Focusing all of his energy on his fingers, Eren exhaled as slow as he could.
One at a time, memories of snow and crisp air and chilly breezes blew through his mind, freezing his senses and numbing his brain. In the blink of an eye, those memories shaped into cold, distant flashbacks: Mikasa tied up on the ground in that cold cabin; trudging through the blizzard during trainee camp. He didn't know where those visions were spawning from, but they all ended with a snap when he heard a voice—
The boy gasped as he was yanked out of the snowstorm of thoughts. For a split second, he forgot where he was.
Beside him, Hanji's voice was a babbling brook, "Tell me everything. What were you thinking about? What were you doing? This is big, Eren, don't you understand? We finally have something to study!"
What do we have to study? What do I understand? Just then, Eren's vision snapped to his hand and he let out a surprised gasp.
The tips of his fingers were encased in a layer of hard material, material similar to the crystal looming above him. He almost shook his hand to shake off the foreign substance, but Hanji gripped his forearm and shot him a look. Her glasses reflected the dim light as she scolded, "You are not going to get rid of my sample! Now stay put while I write some things down."
"Y-Yes, ma'am," Eren blabbered out. His hand felt like a glove had been slipped on halfway and then left there, and it was bugging the hell out of him. But he took the interrogation process well, with Hanji asking easy questions and him being as detailed as he could.
When they were done, Hanji shut her book with one hand and stuffed it in her back pocket. "Annie was able to shed her hardened skin when she was done with it. Do you think you could try that?"
Eren nodded before holding his hand out in front of his face. It was amazing that he had the hardening ability as well. Even more amazing that he somehow knew how to do it. He waited to shed the crystal a little longer, wanting to perceive what he had done.
Wait. Something was in the crystal, laced through the rock. In a weak voice, Jaeger whispered, "Hanji… Look at this."
The squad leader cocked her head before extending her neck towards Eren's fingers. "What's wrong?"
"In the rock. Do you see something?"
Hanji adjusted her glasses before squinting her eyes. When she finally caught what Eren pointed out, she whipped out her book so fast Eren flinched. "Well done, Eren. I missed that before."
Eren didn't know what to say, so he just nodded. Of course, Hanji couldn't tell from the way she was bent over her journal. The boy scoffed at himself while he watched the squad leader's handwriting splatter onto the pages.
It was amazing to see her writing things down when he could barely read. Growing up, there was no need for him to learn how to read and write. All he wanted to do was join the Scouting Legion; when you were out there killing titans you weren't going to need a pencil and paper. His thoughts came back to Armin, who soaked up knowledge like a sponge. He really appreciated his friend's intelligence and drive to learn. Without him, he wouldn't have had a glimpse of the outside world.
His eyes dulled as he thought back to the days where Armin would read to him by the river. The water sparkled in the setting sun's rays as Mikasa dipped her toes in the shallow end. He could still remember how wonderful the parchment smelled and how vibrant the pictures looked. Things were so simple back then. When did everything change?
Hanji's sound of excitement kicked Eren back to the present, and the light came back into his eyes.
While she scribbled line after line of notes, the scientist explained, "If my hypothesis is right, it looks like your crystal has its own code etched throughout the framework. Kind of like how we have our own DNA, it seems as if your crystal is connected to your specific genes. Which amazes me, since you were seemingly given this ability… Maybe the substance you were in injected with…" Hanji trailed off as she turned around. Eren watched her with wide eyes as she paced a line into the floor, too confused to contribute to the conversation.
Suddenly, the squad leader stopped dead in her tracks. Twirling around, she marched right up to Eren and grabbed his forearm.
"What's going on," the boy asked quizzically as his arm was jerked forward. He leaned his head back at the exact same moment.
Hanji delicately traced the hinge in his arm, seemingly looking for something in particular. When she found it, she tapped his skin and looked up at him with gleaming goggle lenses.
"Come with me, Eren. I have an idea."
Mikasa shut the door to her room before letting out a lengthy breath. Things were getting a bit too hectic for her taste, and since she couldn't see Eren or Rivaille at the moment the young woman decided to take a break. Besides, there wasn't any reason to fuss over Annie when they weren't even going to leave yet. She had time to collect her thoughts and cool her head down, so she took it. It was a good thing, too, since Mikasa had a lot to mull over.
First was coming up with a solution to Annie's escape. It was unusual that she had even escaped in the first place. There were tons of guards around her chamber and she should've been weak and slowed down by her deep sleep. Was being fully charged after sleeping another titan ability? Hell if she knew. Mikasa couldn't wrap her head around it. Taking a strand of hair between her fingers, the woman made her way to the bed and settled into its plush. Just thinking about Annie made her head hurt, so she switched tracks and went to another topic.
Why was he looking at her so much? Did she have something in her hair; were her clothes too wrinkly for him? In a moment of self-consciousness, Mikasa ran her fingers through her locks and patted her collar down. Stupid. She berated herself for letting him dig into her brain. Why did her thoughts always come back to him? Sure, she was on his team now and yes, she did take care of him for a week.
More like babysat.
But it wasn't like she was developing feelings for him. She did admit that she liked him, but she meant that she liked him as a person. Right? He was interesting to talk to despite his bitter exterior and his bland humor. They shared quite a bit of stories when she ate dinner with him or wrapped his leg; it wasn't hard when both of them had nothing else to do. Sometimes, their fights would be the highlight of her day. It was the only time she allowed herself to let go and express her anger. If she was being honest, she enjoyed them quite a bit. He would jeer at her and she would fight back. She didn't care if he could beat her to the punch if she fought him; he never ordered her to stop. It was like their arguments were part of everyday life for them during that week. They had built their own definition of kinship, one that transcended mere acquaintance and camaraderie.
So why the hell did it feel so awkward to stand by him or meet his gaze?
Well, the kiss certainly had something to do with it. She would not stop thinking about it since then, and her dreams had been a lot more vivid and embarrassing the past few nights.
Her first kiss, stolen by her captain, her corporal.
Touching her lips, Mikasa inwardly sighed. Because that's what he'd always be. Corporal Rivaille, squad leader and captain. Maybe one day they'd both being squad leaders, working with each other on equal terms. They were on two separate tiers; just two people on the same team backing each other up. Nothing personal.
It was all business with him. Just when things looked like they were moving in a new direction, a direction that Mikasa was nervous about, he just… left. It's like she was anticipating the rush of adrenaline before the fight even began—and it turned out the fight never happened.
Things were too confusing. Maybe it was just better if she went back to being what everyone saw her as. Mikasa Ackerman: child prodigy, a woman worth a hundred soldiers, Rivaille's protégé, Eren and Armin's "bodyguard." They didn't have to know she actually had a soft side. They didn't have to know that she almost fell for someone above her rank. They didn't have to know… that she couldn't get her corporal off her mind.
He was the only one that comforted her when she broke down. He was the only one that never offered her sympathy nor asked what was wrong. He was the one that trained her to her limit and made her realize how much stronger she really was.
Mikasa finally found someone to confide in, someone to go to when she felt like she needed a slap in the face. Everyone else thought she was above them; everyone else thought she could spread her wings and fly.
And he was the only one that made her feel grounded.
The knock on the door actually made her jump just then, and she used all her willpower to sound apathetic. "Who's there?"
Rusty hinges squeaked when the door swung open, and none other than the corporal himself came in and shut it quietly. Mikasa tried to stop the flutters in her stomach but the hair on the back of her neck betrayed her. It was her fault for thinking about him so much beforehand. He was the last person she expected to see on the other side of her door. In a quiet voice, she whispered, "I thought you were meeting with Commander Irvin."
"I was," Rivaille replied as he sauntered over to a chair, "But he's a little busy at the moment."
Mikasa believed it, with all the chaos erupting right now. She wasn't even in her room for five minutes before she heard shouts echoing in the hall. "So you came here."
"Where else would I go," the corporal muttered, resting his elbows on his knees.
Emotion shot Mikasa down like a lightning strike. To think that Rivaille, the person who'd been either avoiding her or making her feel uncomfortable, would say such a thing made her feel things she wasn't used to. All her life, she'd been pushed away or too revered to feel wanted. Either Eren was telling her to not worry about him or she was left alone since she could take care of herself.
But now, she felt wanted. This is what she had been yearning for ever since her parents died on that fateful day. She always felt wanted by her mother and father; they never made her doubt that for a second. The only reason she was "wanted" by those thugs was so that they could sell her off for God knows what. The only reason she was adopted by the Jaegers was because she had nowhere else to go, not because they wanted a little girl to keep. The only reason she was "wanted" by the Scouting Legion was that everyone thought she was a prodigy.
This was something entirely different. No one just came into her room and told them they wouldn't be anywhere else.
And what hit her even harder was that she felt needed. Rivaille wasn't the type of person to voice his emotions to anyone or admit his shortcomings. He was the type of person to always keep to themselves when they needed a place to go. But he was here, with her and no one else.
Mikasa was starting to rethink that kiss.
The young woman snapped her head up to impatient eyes looking at her. "Sorry," she breathed as she felt her cheeks warming, "I didn't hear you."
Rivaille scowled before he ordered, "Quit daydreaming. You look dead when you do."
"I hope you didn't come here just to tell me that."
"No, I didn't." Sitting upright and throwing his elbow across the back of his chair, Rivaille admitted, "I came here to tell you that you might be going on this mission without me."
"—Let me finish. Geez. I just don't think I'll be able to heal in time, so I'm going to need someone to take my place. Hanji can't do it since she has to take care of that 'titans in the wall' shit, and Mike can't take my place since he has his own squad to take care of now."
Mikasa knew immediately where this was going, and she didn't like it in the slightest. Before Rivaille could continue his explanation, she stopped him with a hurried, "I don't like the sound of that."
"This is an order, Ackerman. I can't do anything about it. You're taking my place, so don't screw it up."
There were so many words bubbling up in Mikasa's throat that they clogged it up. There were so many questions that she wanted to ask, but she couldn't pull a single sentence out of her mouth.
He was supposed to be coming with them. They need him more than ever right now. She struggled to say what she wanted but she was afraid that it would come out more emotional than she'd liked. God forbid she gave him the wrong idea. But how could he say something like that at a time like this? Who was going to be there when she lost control again?
Suddenly, Mikasa realized something. He was trusting in her. Rivaille was putting things into her hands, something that took a lot of courage since she screwed up the last couple times. He certainly wasn't going to say it directly, but Rivaille's voice was full of confidence. Still, she had to voice her thoughts, "I can't. You saw what I did last time."
Rivaille looked her dead in the eye with his icy orbs. His silky rough voice chilled her when he replied, "No, I didn't. I wish I did." He leaned his head forward, his bangs shifting in front of his eyes. "You brought Annie down even when Eren in his titan form couldn't. From the looks of things, you don't need me."
"Yes, I do," the young soldier blurted before she could stop herself. She didn't miss the small spark in the corporal's eyes, the small window to his thoughts. Shit. If she couldn't even keep her cool here she had no hope in the morning. Hurriedly, she corrected, "I mean: we do."
The man regarded her for a long moment. Mikasa felt bare under his gaze, wanting to know everything he was thinking about behind those eyes. She looked away at the lantern resting on her nightstand, watching the fire flicker in its wick.
"I'm sorry, Mikasa."
Ackerman sighed before giving him a look.
"I can't go with you."
A loud bang shot through the tension so fast that even Rivaille flinched. Both he and Mikasa snapped their heads towards the doorway to see a ravenous Hanji Zoe dragging a reluctant Eren Jaeger behind her.
In the creepiest voice Mikasa had ever heard, the mad scientist exclaimed, "I happen to have a solution to that, Rivaille. A solution you're not going to refuse."
Rivaille shot Mikasa a look when they voiced their rejections simultaneously, while Eren just blanched on the spot. Rivaille certainly wasn't going along with Hanji's idea, but he didn't think Mikasa would be so against it, too. Maybe it was because her precious Eren was going to succumb to needles. How protective of her.
The corporal was grateful for Hanji's interruption, though. He needed something, anything to break the tension clouding the room. It caught him completely off guard when Mikasa looked so reluctant to hear his news. Honestly, he thought she would either not care about his absence or be thankful for it. She was the one that said she'd be better off when she didn't have to take care of him anymore, right? This was her chance and Rivaille was so sure she would take it.
But when he saw that look in her eyes, he didn't know what to say.
Maybe the pain from his leg was messing with his mind, or maybe those damn dreams were getting to him, but it looked like she didn't want him to leave her.
Well. That certainly complicated things. For one, he couldn't do anything about it. If he went with them on the mission, there was the risk of his leg getting even more injured. In turn, this would hinder their advancement and either result in them leaving him behind or having to wait on him. Both of which he hated the mere thought of. Rivaille didn't want a single soul dying because of his inability to fight. It was painful just watching the female type lay waste on the town, knowing full well that Mikasa was in the fray. She was fighting the biggest threat to the Scouting Legion and he was nowhere near being able to be there with her. They were a team now. He was supposed to be fighting alongside her, not playing some shitty bystander. He couldn't protect her like this—a thought that haunted him every night.
If he was ever responsible for her death, he would never forgive himself. Memories of the last mission flashed through his mind but he refused—absolutely refused—to think about that right now.
Besides, his concern wasn't just about her. There were other people—kids—going up against an unknown enemy and he was supposed to lead them with a mangled leg? No way. They need a leader they could trust. Those kids need someone strong; someone they think is incapable of being wounded. And that wasn't him, but Mikasa. Mikasa had enough strength to survive an apocalypse. If he was a storm she was a hurricane.
And here he was betting everything on her and she flat out refused.
"From the looks of things, you don't need me."
"Yes, I do."
He couldn't stop the look he gave her. His body reacted before he could hold himself back. When she uttered those words Rivaille glanced at her in earnest. It was as if everything that had been going on between them was more real than he thought.
At first, he was just messing with her. What else could he do when he was incapacitated and he had a pretty girl taking care of him? It was enjoyable when they verbally jousted. She was the one that made things easier for him, no matter how many times she made him want to choke her. Rivaille had been injured before, and if he was honest the last person that took care of him was boring as hell. She barely spoke and when she did it sounded as if she thought he would bite her head off. That never settled well with him; he felt like a jackass without even doing anything.
But Mikasa was different. She challenged him and didn't even care that he was injured. For Christ's sake, she knocked him on his ass. No one had ever dared to put him in his place, and to be honest it was a little refreshing.
But the tension was there. It was always there. He was acutely aware of it after the trial, and even more so when she reminded him that she never forgot what he did. That's when things started getting out of hand. He didn't need to rush into her room to save her from her nightmares. He didn't need to tell her that he'd teach her how to be selfish. He didn't need to shut her up by kissing her. Rivaille didn't know when the hell all of that started, but there was this primal need awakening in him. What started out as a seed grew into a vicious plant with roots, refusing to leave his thoughts. The arguments got more heated and the rope between them tightened little by little. The arguments, the tension; did he really think they were just temporary? Did he really think the rope between them would eventually snap?
No. They were just temporary. He needed to let go of the rope before it was too late.
"I'm sorry, Mikasa."
The look she gave him almost made him change his mind.
"I can't go with you."
What the hell was he going to say after that? If Hanji didn't burst into the room like it was Wall Maria how the heck was he supposed to excuse himself? He could've just walked out like he always did. Something pricked his chest when he thought about it. Everything sounded like a horrible move at that point, so Rivaille just ended up wishing for a miracle.
And he got Hanji Zoe and Eren Jaeger.
It turned out that the former had a plan to get him back on his feet by morning. Intriguing enough. She didn't need to pause dramatically after saying so, though. He gave her an impatient look and drawled, "Well, spit it out already."
"With pleasure," the squad leader chimed. Lifting Eren's arm up, she revealed a small gauze at the junction of his arm. Hanji's excited tone flew through the air as she spoke to Rivaille, "You see: Eren here can heal much quicker than normal humans, but we all knew that. I mean, the first time you knocked a tooth out of his mouth he was able to grow it out after the trial!"
Damn it, Hanji, not in front of Ackerman. Yup, there was the glare.
The squad leader didn't seem to care that she just threw him under the cart. She thought nothing of the glare Rivaille was getting shot with when she kept clucking, "I had to know the secret to this ability. At first, I thought it was because of his newfound titan power—something to do with his titan form being able to heal itself quickly. I thought, 'maybe it was because of the titan's genes mixing with his.' But how was that possible? It made more sense if he already had those genes. But then how was that possible? There's no proof that he had this ability from the start. There was something integral missing to the puzzle, and it took me until today to figure out just what that was! Right, Eren? We went down to the crystal chamber and found the last piece!"
Rivaille deadpanned. He felt like a little kid was forcing him to appreciate their artwork or something. Looking straight at Eren, he asked, "So you were a part of this, brat?"
The poor boy just gave him a desperate look. "No, I… I have no idea what she's talking about."
Hanji continued as if they didn't even interrupt her, "Hear me out. When I inspected Annie's crystal in the first place, I saw little strands running around the framework of the gemstone. I thought they were just the cracks and dents, but after seeing Eren's crystal everything's clear now—"
"—Wait just a second," Mikasa cut in. Swerving her head to Hanji's victim, she queried, "Eren, you made your own crystal?"
The boy nodded slowly in return. "Yeah. I don't know why, but somehow I knew what I needed to do to harden my skin. And I just… did it." Eren looked down at his free hand when he said that, and his eyes glazed over in thought.
"He did," Hanji piped up giddily, "And he was able to point out the strands in his rock, too. I missed them at first, but now everything is clear: each titan crystal has that specific titan's DNA encrypted into it. Which makes a lot of sense, since it's just the skin hardening itself. Even if a part of your skin falls off it still has your DNA in it."
Rivaille was getting pretty impatient at this point. All he wanted to do was have a nice cup of tea and go the fuck to sleep. No more child's play. "Hanji, this is getting ridiculous. We don't have time for your explanations; just spit it out already."
"Okay, okay." Disappointed, she lifted Eren's arm again and pointed to the gauze. Immediately switching from thrilled scientist to blunt doctor, she drawled, "I extracted some of Eren's blood and plan on injecting it into your leg."
"I refuse!" Mikasa's arms were folded tightly to her chest, her brown jacket sleeves crinkling in the middle. Rivaille was just thankful that he wasn't the only one alienated by this plan. What the hell was Hanji thinking? It was at the top of the bullshit pyramid.
The corporal sighed before assuming a nonchalant position in his chair. Continuing his refusal, he bit out, "First of all, I'm not going through with this plan without any proof of it working."
Hanji's mouth dropped a little and she stuttered, "W-Well, I haven't ran any tests since we're on a time constraint, so—"
"—Exactly," the man scoffed. His eyebrows deepened. "I'm sorry, Hanji, but I won't do it."
"But, Rivaille, this is your chance. I found a way to get you out there."
"No, I refuse to take that brat's blood," Rivaille shot while extending a finger towards Eren, "It's tainted, is it not?"
"It's not tainted," Mikasa shot back at him, "Nothing's wrong with Eren."
"Except the fact that he can turn into a beast," the corporal bitterly reminded.
Great. Just when things were starting to work themselves out, they found themselves in yet another argument. When was this rift between them going to patch itself? Why was he even fussing over it when he wanted it this way? He was getting more frustrated and confused by the second, causing his voice to come out harsh, "I don't want that power, and if I catch it through this I'd rather stay behind."
Mikasa's face faltered slightly at his words and he regretted them immediately. Hanji only had good intentions, and he wasn't even congratulating her big discoveries. It was amazing that she was able to come up with a way out so soon and yet he was completely against it? It was unlike him to be so selfish at a time like this. He knows they need him on this mission and there was a way for him to do it.
So why was he refusing so intensely?
Rivaille didn't know why. Nothing made sense right now and that damn lump in his throat was making him choke. He was injured. He wasn't going to go out there.
The corporal snapped his head up to see Hanji leaning over him. When did she get there? Was he that distracted by his own thoughts to not notice her? Her eyes were wide when she whispered, "We're going to do this. You're going out there. They need you." Turning swiftly on her heel, the squad leader called Mikasa and Eren over, "You two, hold him down!"
Both of the younger soldiers looked uneasy, but Eren came running over and Mikasa followed suit. Rivaille cursed fiercely and threw his arms out, but Hanji pinned both of his arms down while Mikasa held his shoulders and Eren his legs. Rivaille attempted to kick Eren, but flashes of pain zoomed through his injury and he gasped. Mikasa's fingers dug into his shoulders the more he struggled. Angrily, he seethed, "Fuck you, Hanji. Fuck all of you!"
Hanji's eyes started to water as she held up a syringe. A few drops of clear liquid oozed out while she whispered, "Forgive us, Rivaille. We're just trying to help."
The corporal could only get a few colorful words out before he felt a prick in his neck. Slowly but surely, the room started to darken and his vision started to disperse. Voices melted into slurred speech and the hands on him seemed to float off his body. With one last speck of light, everything went dark.
"Do you think this was the right decision?"
"…No. I don't."
Mikasa felt sick.
Eren put a hand on the back of her chair as they observed Rivaille's sleeping form on her bed. They didn't want to carry him back to his own room, so Mikasa offered to give hers up.
After Hanji sedated the corporal, she took out the vile containing Eren's blood. Mikasa and Eren eyed it with disgust as the squad leader siphoned the crimson liquid into a clean syringe. Even though Hanji seemed gung ho with her plan, when she finally got to it there were tears in her eyes. Mikasa and Eren exchanged a glance, letting the woman have her moment. It looked as if she didn't want to go through with it any more than they did. No one doubted that behind that bubbly exterior of hers was a pure conscience. She probably had a better one than most people in the Scouting Legion.
It wasn't about her newfound discovery at all. It wasn't so that she could show off her scientific prowess. She knew Rivaille had to go out there because those kids weren't going to survive without him. And as much as she tried to take that as an insult, Mikasa agreed. Rivaille was the strongest out of all of them and he was the only one capable of leading them. Mikasa was strong, but she wasn't a leader. Armin even pointed this out to her a little over a week ago. Rivaille had put his trust in her, but even that wasn't enough to jar her out of her opinion.
The whole time Hanji injected Rivaille's leg and cleaned it up with gauze and wrappings, she never said a word. All of the excitement was erased from her stature and left a calm woman behind. It was like she was a completely different person. Eren and Mikasa stood there awkwardly as she worked, not knowing what to say or do to help her.
When she was done, Hanji stood up and turned to them. She couldn't hide the fact that she was upset, but she smiled at them and rambled, "According to my data, this should take effect within five to six hours. If that's the case, he'll be waking up with two healthy legs." Turning to the door, she said, "I'm going to head back down to the chamber now. Eren, meet me there in an hour, okay?"
The boy cocked his head up and affirmed, "Y-Yes."
Mikasa couldn't help but admire the older woman's self-control. She was obviously in some sort of mental torment, but anyone seeing her walk of that room wasn't going to be able to tell. They wouldn't have known that she just forced her teammate to take a titan shifter's blood cells.
The door closed with a small click, and the two kids just stood there in silence. The only other person in the room was knocked out on a chair. Mikasa turned towards him and scowled. "Eren, we should move him."
After observing the corporal, Eren agreed, "Okay." He made a move to lift him up before Mikasa stopped him,
"Wait. Take his cloak off first."
"Huh? You do it."
"Why me," Mikasa retorted before bending down and unfastening Rivaille's cloak. The smooth material was warm as it wrapped around her fingers. Folding it as neatly as she could, Mikasa set it down on her nightstand. Eren watched her smooth her hand over the stitched wings, wondering what she was thinking about. He didn't have time to mull over it, though. Mikasa quickly slipped her hands under Rivaille's armpits and motioned Eren to get his legs. Lifting him up, they scooted over and gingerly placed him on her bed.
Eren scratched his head while Mikasa took the chair and planted it next to her nightstand. The candle was slowly burning out, but both of them made no move to do something about it.
They watched over Rivaille for what seemed like the longest time. There wasn't much to say, so conversation wasn't helping the time go by faster. If anything it felt like they stayed like that the entire night. Mikasa knew that Eren didn't feel any less horrible than she did. Rivaille wasn't going to forgive them. They helped him, but against his own will.
After an hour finally passed, Eren put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I'm going to see Hanji now," he whispered, "Need anything?"
"I'm okay," Mikasa whispered in reply. The only thing she needed was sleep and a clear conscience. Eren left without another word, and she was left by herself.
Things weren't going to be pretty when Rivaille woke up. He was going to know that Eren's blood now ran through his veins. It was a scary thought for someone that hated the titans with a passion. If he ever had the titan ability, what was he going to do to himself?
After half an hour passed, Mikasa was out of thoughts to thing about. Good thing, too; she didn't want to think anymore. It was late and she was mentally exhausted. In the morning, she was only going to be focused on one thing only, so now was the time to relax…
The young woman snapped her head up. Rivaille wasn't supposed to be awake yet. As Mikasa looked toward her bed, she saw the corporal's tired gaze watching her. Tiredness was laced through her own voice when she asked, "Corporal, what are you doing awake?"
The corporal said nothing, but just stared at her. His lidded eyes roamed her body, and for a second Mikasa didn't know what to do. Why was he even awake? It hadn't even been two hours yet.
"I told you to call me Rivaille," the man slurred. He slung an arm over his forehead and drawled, "I hate it when you call me that."
"You told me to call you that," Mikasa sharply reminded him. He wasn't about to put the blame on her. Besides, where the hell did that attitude of his come from? He was snarky, but he never revealed stuff like that to her. "Remember?"
"I didn't expect you to obey me so quickly." Rivaille planted both elbows by his sides and pushed his upper body off the bed. "You usually don't follow my orders."
"But you're my squad leader now. I had to." Why was she having to remind him of all this? He was sure forgetful when half-conscious.
But Rivaille leaned back on his palms and shook his head. "You should know that your orders are only suggestions. I only say them because I have to."
"…What?" Something was definitely off. The Rivaille she knew would never say something like that out loud. What was going on?
"You heard me. I'm not repeating myself," the corporal slurred again as he looked at the sheets around him. It was like he was seeing them for the first time. This was very bizarre. It was as if he wasn't himself—
Suddenly, a flashback came to Mikasa. It was of a time back at the Jaegers' house: Eren was acting strangely after Grisha gave him some type of ointment. The young Mikasa asked why Eren was acting weird, and the elderly man said something about "side-effects" of the medicine he gave. Was this the same thing? Was Rivaille suffering some type of "side-effect" from the injection?
When Mikasa came back to reality, she stared straight into icy orbs. Only this time, they looked like they were glazed over.
He was definitely not himself right now. He looked drunk.
"—You need to lie back down," Mikasa ended her statement with a clipped tone. She didn't need to deal with this right now. Especially since his lips were hovering… right above hers… Mikasa tried to lean back, but she felt a hand clasp the back of her head. She gasped, "Rivaille…"
"See," the man murmured. His grip on her hair was firm, but not forced. Leaning forward, his lips came up and ghosted over her nose. Mikasa shut her eyes tightly as he whispered, "That wasn't so hard."
This was wrong: he wasn't himself and she knew it. Rivaille deserved to know what had happened to him, whether Mikasa wanted to tell him or not. Gathering all the courage she could muster, Mikasa grasped his arm and pushed it away from her head. In a flash, Rivaille slipped out of her grip and pinned both of her arms to her sides. The sound of chair legs scraping stone echoed throughout the room.
"What's wrong, Mikasa," the corporal asked seductively, as if he wasn't the problem.
"You need to listen to me," the young woman whispered as her cheeks seared, "You've undergone a procedure. You aren't being yourself right now and you need to rest." It was embarrassing how shaky her voice came out. She was sure Rivaille wasn't going to believe her.
But he responded, confused, "Procedure? What procedure?" He lightened his grip on her wrists and stepped back. Subconsciously, he knew what it was and he was scared. He was injected with titan's blood; who wouldn't be? But Mikasa still needed to tell him. He needed to rest before he delayed the medicine's effects. It she was responsible for him she was going to do her job. Unlike last time when she let him walk all over her.
Slowly, she explained, "You were badly injured, and Hanji found a way for you to recover on time to go on the mission with us."
"Mission?" The corporal slowly straightened his spine and stood upright. Recognition seeped into his eyes just then, and Mikasa regretted telling him the moment he remembered. His voice was rougher than sandpaper when he lashed out, "You guys forced me to take Eren's blood, didn't you? You held me down and you sedated me and you injected me!"
Mikasa got out of her chair just in time for him to grab it and fling it across the room. Wood smashed into stone and pieces of the chair rocketed from the point of impact. She observed him with wide eyes, not knowing what to do at all. This Rivaille was so different from what she was used to. The real Rivaille was reserved and understanding, not a rampaging bull. "Rivaille, what the hell are you doing? Get yourself together," she ordered in a strong voice.
"What am I doing? What are you doing? I just told you that I was putting the mission in your hands and you betrayed me," Rivaille snarled. He marched up to her until they stood millimeters apart. Even though she was taller than him by a few inches, she felt like he was a tower and she was a flea. "I trusted you. You're the one going out there; not me!"
She considered hitting him five hundred times already. If it knocked him out, even better. Things were getting so out of hand that she thought he was pulling pranks on her. But the emotion in his voice was too real for his actions to be fake.
The only question running through her mind was, why? Why the hell was he acting this way? Why the hell was he so insistent that she went out there by herself? This wasn't like him at all. She tried her hardest to make her voice solid, "I'm not going to lead them. I can't even control myself and you know that."
"So you went against my wishes? Your own corporal's orders? I let you stay on my team. I let you have your way. Besides, wasn't your only goal in life to protect your precious Eren?"
Her emotional dam snapped. Seeing an opening, Mikasa thrust both of her hands out and pushed Rivaille backwards. While doing so, she yelled, "This isn't about Eren!"
The corporal looked shocked until she came at him. He hit an emotional nerve and he was paying for it. Everything fueled her body and she was practically flinging herself at him. Her punches were daggers, but Rivaille was able to block them all. This angered Mikasa to no end. He was medicated and she was sober. Another punch blocked. Kicks didn't work either. She growled in frustration as he grabbed her leg and sent her straight to the ground.
"Why the hell did you betray me, Mikasa," the man growled into her face.
She tried to slap him, but he pinned her arms yet again to the cold floor.
"Tell me," Rivaille seethed, "Now—"
"—Because I'm scared, Rivaille!" Tears leaked out of her eyes before she could stop them. She couldn't protect so many people at once and she knew it. She couldn't even keep her promise to protect one person; how the hell was she going to manage five? Images of blood and loved ones on the floor blitzed through her mind, reminded her of her failures. All the emotions that were stirring in her stomach boiled over, and everything broke down. "I couldn't protect my parents," she choked out. She couldn't look Rivaille in the eye. Every secret disappointment she had been keeping in flowed out of her mouth and spilled onto the floor, "I couldn't protect my parents, and they died. I couldn't protect Eren's mom, and she died. I've seen my family die twice, Rivaille. Eren's the only family I have left…" Two streams of tears rolled diagonally down her face, leaving behind lines of sticky skin. She felt Rivaille's hands loosen their grip on her wrists, and she let out a shaky sigh. After a couple deep breaths, Mikasa finally turned back to the man above her.
His face was shrouded in shadow under his suspended bangs. Mikasa couldn't make out his expression at all, and she was perturbed by his silence. Did he hear anything she said? Did she confess her whole list of troubles for nothing? The corporal was so silent that Mikasa started to worry. She was about to ask what was wrong, if the next thing he said didn't render her speechless,
"I've always thought of my squad as my family."
Mikasa took in a short breath. The man above her still wasn't showing his face. Her features softened with each word he uttered as she realized where he was going with this.
"My squad's been the closest thing to family I've ever had." Mikasa didn't miss the slight tremble in his fingers. Soon after, Rivaille's shoulders started to shake and his hands gripped her wrists like shackles. Mikasa started to struggle until Rivaille revealed twin streaks of hot tears tearing down his face. His eyes were full of raw emotion when he cried out, "You say you've only seen your family die twice? Mikasa, I've seen my family die too many times to count…" The voice that started out so strong dwindled into a soft cry as the man choked up.
Mikasa felt tears racing down her face as the corporal lowered his head onto her chest. She bit her lip and shut her eyes as he started listing off names, first and last. With every new name, Mikasa's heart sank more and more. These were people Rivaille had trained with and spent most of his life with, people that fought by his side. Rivaille's shoulders wouldn't stop shaking as the last of the names leaked from his mouth, "Erd Gin… Gunter Shulz… Auruo Bossard… Petra Ral. All of them. Are dead." He snapped his head to the side, furrowing his brows. "Every single one of them didn't deserve to die. And I never got the chance to tell them that. I never got the chance to say goodbye."
The only sounds in the room were two people trying to get themselves together. Mikasa didn't have anything to say to Rivaille. Her heart felt like it had been shattered in two. She never thought Rivaille would ever mention any of this to her. In a way, she felt like she took advantage of him. He was completely controlled by whatever was in Eren's blood. Come to think of it, it made sense to her now. Eren was always blatant with his emotions and his blood had an exceedingly low boiling point. It never took much to get him riled up.
But it was his blood, so of course he was used to it. On the other hand, Rivaille was a person completely in control of his emotions. A person like him being exposed to Eren's crimson fury was undoubtedly going to be unstable.
Still, it broke Mikasa's heart to know what he had been feeling this entire time. If anything, it made the corporal's actions clear to her now. The way he treated her as soon as she entered his squad, the way he tried to get her to quit. Everything was because he didn't want to lose her just like everyone else. He didn't want to be responsible for her death.
Well, she wasn't going to let that happen this time. Lifting her arm, she was able to pry herself from his hand and rested her fingers on his head. The man let her roam her fingers over his dark locks, sighing into her bosom. Thinking that she should say something, Mikasa just whispered, "Then you should never hold anything back again."
What she meant was words. She didn't expect him to grab her head and smash his lips against hers.
Chills sped across her entire body, her limbs taut and her toes curling. Raw emotion emanated from his lips as his fingers dug through her hair. Rivaille was pouring everything into that kiss and into Mikasa's being. His kiss was desperate beyond belief and his hands felt hot with need.
The whole time, Mikasa thought this was wrong. He wasn't himself and she knew it.
It felt so good.
Relenting, she reached up and grabbed the back of his head while returning the kiss with fervor. The man's lips were raw, scratching hers with every twist and tearing through her soul. It was the kiss of a man washing away his fears. A mysterious warmth pooled under her stomach, fueling Mikasa to sit up and wrap both her arms around his neck. She felt Rivaille pull away and take his warmth with him, but she was lifted from the ground before she could wonder why. How he was able to carry her, she didn't know. Plush sheets plunged around her as she was thrown onto her bed. Rivaille was quick to pin her arms above her head before ravishing her neck like a beast. Mikasa's mouth betrayed her as she let out a fluttery moan. She bit her lip in embarrassment, but Rivaille lifted his head to look at her. One of his hands unclasped her wrist and he stopped to lift her chin up.
"Don't ever be embarrassed again," he ordered huskily before kissing her harder than the first time.
This was wrong.
He wasn't himself.
"Rivaille," Mikasa gasped while taking his head in both of her hands. The man halted immediately and had a frightened look in his eye.
He looked guilty. Whispering, he asked, "Is this too much?" His lidded eyes were storming with lust and need. They were captivating in the firelight, masked by his sweaty brown locks. Mikasa almost gave in to him again, but she had to put a stop to this before they did something he'd regret. He probably won't even remember what happened when this was over. He was going to rest and tomorrow they would be teammates again.
Teammates. Nothing more.
It would've been so easy to give in to this Rivaille. He was all fire, a complete opposite to the Rivaille full of ice. Both of them were so different that it was hard to think that they were the same person. But Mikasa wasn't going to take advantage of this. If she was going to give into any Rivaille, if the real Rivaille were to ask, she would go to him in a heartbeat.
So there it was. All along, she knew she liked her corporal. There was no getting around it.
"No…" she whispered, wondering if that was a lie. Scooting out from under him, she patted the bed spot next to her and squeezed out, "You need to rest. Now."
The man just stared at her, his eyes swirling with conflicted emotions. She knew she was being confusing to no end, but this was for his own good. With a troubled look on his face, the corporal placed himself onto the bed as Mikasa got up. His arm shot out to grab hers, and she furrowed her brows.
"Stay here," Rivaille whispered. His eye were started to droop and his grip on her hand lightened. She looked at the door with a guilty face. Her conscience was already tainted enough as it was; she didn't need another reason to feel horrible. But the man pleaded, "Mikasa. Please."
The candle that was barely lasting a couple hours ago burnt out and plunged the room into darkness.
With one last sigh, Mikasa tightened her hand on Rivaille's and settled into the bed.
Tomorrow was the start of a new journey.
It didn't hurt to have one last night of solace.
To be continued...
Note: Credit for the idea of injecting Rivaille with Eren's blood goes to beautiful tumblr user princessaryastark.Thank you so much, dear!
Easter Egg: Just come up with a number of people Rivaille listed off and you'll get a sneak peek! I want to see how many people you guys think Rivaille had to see pass away... I know it's sad, but... Yeah, it's just sad I'm sorry :( You can guess here or on a fan mail on tumblr.
Note 2: It's RIVAMIKA WEEK on tumblr October13th-19th! You know what that means? This will likely get updated during that time! I will try my best to type up the next chapter, and I'll at least have the sneak peeks out by that week (on here and on tumblr) for sure. I'll be busy with drabbles, too, so look out for those if you're interested!
Note 3: (EDIT) My new tumblr url is digibears. Folla if ya wanna holla! Wow that was lame.