((Note - the breaks in this chapter are purposefully disjointed.))

XIV. Alone

Pouting, Wendy lounged on her bed, playing with her lumpy pillow forlornly as Petra fit herself into her uniform across the room. She squeezed the cushion with a loud sigh and turned over, facing the peeling wall of the tiny apartment.

Strapping the last of her leather straps on and shrugging into her jacket, Petra cast an amused glance over her shoulder. "You're usually not this clingy. What's wrong? Bad dream?"

Silently, Wendy shook her head, burying the lower half of her face into the fabric. Petra smiled knowingly and put her hands on her hips. "We won't be seeing each other for a couple weeks at least, Wendy. Stop your sulking."

Sighing again, Wendy mumbled, "I wish you didn't have to go. I wish I didn't have to stay."

Throwing a satchel across her shoulder, she bent down to tug up her boots. "Beginning to regret not staying on to join Squad Levi?"

"Levi is an excellent soldier, I can give you that, but he has the emotional capacity of a brick." Wendy rolled her eyes. "But…I can't help but feel frightened. For you. For all of us." Feeling herself tear up uncharacteristically, the captain swiped brusquely at her eyes. "I'm so scared to be hopeful, but at the same time, I just want this nightmare to end."

"Oh, Wendy."

Wendy closed her eyes as her best friend enveloped her in a warm, tight hug. She squeezed back hard, as hard as she could. "I just want us to be happy. I want us to live completely boring lives out in the open air, and we'd wither into old age and gossip all day with all our friends around us."

Petra exhaled slowly. "Wendy…we have to be strong. Okay?"

Nodding, Wendy took a deep, shuddering breath. "I just don't want you to…leave." The word 'death' refused to leave her lips, lingering in her lungs like an unspoken curse.

"I'll try my best." Petra smiled knowingly, her cheek warm against Wendy's shoulder. "You stay safe too."

"Yeah, like I'd get hurt counseling a bunch of people with PTSD." She grunted, irritated. "I should be out there with you guys, doing stuff, not sitting on my ass trying to make people feel better about themselves."

"Don't lie. You're amazing at counseling; you just hate being left behind." Scoffing, Petra detached herself from Wendy's arms and stood, heading to the door. "Anyway, it'll just be one month and then we're all outside the walls for the supplies mission. Until then, we'll take care of your little titan shifter, don't worry."

"I can't really not worry with Mr. Negativity hanging around him all day!"

"Hange will be with him!" Petra called as she exited the apartment.

The door slammed shut, and Wendy was alone again.

"Yeah, that makes me feel even worse."

Pinching her nosebridge gingerly, Wendy nearly stabbed her quill through the parchment paper as she checked the clock on her desk for the fifth time. Penny, who was sorting files behind her, glanced at the captain nervously.

"Where the fuck is he?" Wendy snarled into the air.

"L-Leader?" Penny trembled, eyes flashing wildly to the door. "I—I'm sure Reynolds got held up. It must be something important…really important!"

"It had better fucking be," Wendy growled as she returned to stabbing the paper. "He knows I have a zero-tardiness policy."

Penny flinched with each time the pen punctured through the thin files. "I—I'll make some tea, Leader…"

"Get me some coffee," the medic grumped. "Black."

The teen winced. Leader only drinks black coffee when she's really upset, Penny thought to herself as she scampered out the door. As she did, she collided into a solid body.

"Reynolds!" Penny gasped, relieved. The sight of him, however, stopped her short. Behind her, Wendy stood menacingly.

Reynolds was a mess. His uniform was rumpled and his hair was untidy. His glasses were smudged and hung askew on his nose, and he smelled faintly of alcohol. The normally stoic man was wheezing, sweaty, and had a terrified expression on his face.

"Better make that two coffees, Penny-girl," Wendy grinned threateningly. "Looks like someone had a bit too much fun last night."

Her words were a clear enough cue for Penny to escape, braids trailing behind her in her flurry to get away. Reynolds fought the instinctual urge to follow the young girl out the door and stayed silent, waiting for his boss's instructions.

Wendy's gaze was inscrutable. "Reynolds."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Stand in front of me."

Reynolds suddenly wished that his legs weren't so long. He crossed the distance between them in three easy steps.

Wendy took in the overly tousled hair, the stale beer smell, and half-unbuttoned shirt coolly. Her eyes fell on something hidden slightly behind his open collar and flipped over the fabric lightly.

Reynolds flinched at the contact, his eyes flickering down to where hers were glued.

It was a reddish-purple mark. A kiss mark.

"So," Wendy spoke carefully, "apparently a few too many beers and a bar wench were enough to make you neglect your duty, is it?"

Her words were meant to stick in the places that hurt most. Hearing them leave Wendy's mouth just made Reynolds feel even more nauseous.

Feeling a strange surge of courage from somewhere within his hangover-ridden skull, Reynolds lifted his head recklessly. "Did the reason why ever occur to you?"

Wendy's eyes flashed. In an instant, Reynolds was on the floor, clutching his stomach.

"Percy." The word came out brokenly, and Wendy berated herself for losing track of her attitude as a officer. The medic leader took a deep, shuddering breath before turning her back to him. She clenched her fists and spoke clearly and resolutely.

"Reynolds. I am signing you off for two weeks' leave. If you can't get your shit together by then, I'm dismissing you from the medic team."

Reynolds was on his feet in an instant. "Wendy, I—"

"Get out."

Penny chose this time to knock on the door shyly. "Uh, Leader? I brought the coffee…"


Both girl and man scampered out of the room as fast as they could, leaving the medic leader to bury her face in her hands and let out a broken sob.

Sighing, Wendy leaned on the wall as she listened to the patient on his cot choke out his story. She bored holes into the air, jotting random notes down in her notebook for the weekly report.

Name, Matthew Morrison. Age, 20. Injuries, 3 broken ribs, lost leg, PTSD, depression, night terrors.

"...We were going to get married, you know," the soldier moaned. "I promised her. But—but I couldn't get to her in time. I couldn't protect her. She was right there in front of me, just a few feet away, but the titan—the titan—" He broke off into another bout of weeping.

"I see," Wendy murmured.

"She trusted me, and I let her down. I wish I could've died along with her."

The image of Emmy suddenly flashed across her eyes.

Jaw working, Wendy snapped her notebook shut and stood. "If that's the case, then by all means free up a cot for someone else to use. Dead people are useless in war. Those who have given up are no better." She ignored the soldier's disbelieving glance. "We don't have time to mourn, kid. Not in this era. Move on or move out."

"Then what would you say I should do?!" the soldier screamed angrily. "I lost the love of my life!"

Wendy paused at the doorway. Her face was devoid of emotion, and when she spoke, she was nothing like the bright-eyed, smiling medic that would sit next to each cot for hours on end, encouraging each patient earnestly. "Never let anyone get that close to you again."

The next week, Wendy found herself staring into the eyes of a stubby-nosed redhead clothed in the trademark, revealing rags of a barmaid. She folded her arms threateningly. "Who are you?"

The barmaid scowled. "Are you Mister Reynolds's boss?"

"I am," Wendy replied, tipping her chin up. "And who are you to be speaking to me like that?"

"No one important," the barmaid retorted. "Just a barmaid." She paused. "Joy's my name."

"Okay, Joy," Wendy asked, "what brings you here into the military complex?"

"Nothing, 'cept I think you're a witch." Joy aimed a slap at her, but thought better of it and stuck her hands into the pockets of her revealing skirt. "For hurting Mister Reynolds like that. You had no business to!"

Reynold's floozy. I see. Wendy narrowed her eyes. "And for some reason, you have the right to stick your nose into Reynolds's and my business."

"Of course!" Joy snapped. "'Cause I love him, that's why!"

"Oh, do you?"

"Yeah!" The barmaid's cheeks turned a ruddy, splotchy red color and she shouted, "I love him more than an uppity, Sina-born noble like you ever will!"

Struck silent, Wendy clenched her hand for a split second before loosening. For a moment, she felt envious of the girl before her, whose only concern was defending the man she loved. Who could happily proclaim her affections without fearing the consequences. Without fearing death.

Unfreezing, she sighed and ran her tired fingers through her hair. "Then tell your Mister Reynolds congratulations for me." With that, she turned on her heel and left Joy the barmaid standing at the entrance of the medic division, gaping.

Ignoring the people around her, Wendy returned to her office and locked the door tightly before sitting in her chair, listening to the clock tick and the sound of her own breathing. The two constant variables in her life: time and her own life.

That is, until she died, of course.

There was a knock on the door. "L-Leader?" Penny's quivering voice was muffled through the oak door.

"I'm a bit busy right now," Wendy said, staring at her hands as she spoke tonelessly. "If it's important, just relay it to me through the door."

"Oh. Yes. Um." There was an agitated hiccup before Penny continued. "A man in the psychiatric ward...Matthew Morrison was his name...he was discovered...hanging from the ceiling fifteen minutes ago."

"I see. Call the morgue and have them take care of it, then. Move the other patients away."

Wendy felt Penny's presence linger at the door before shuffling away, disappointed at the lack of reaction.

Guiltily, she closed her eyes and tried not to feel lonesome.

Another week passed before Wendy found Reynolds standing before her desk once more. He seemed apologetic. Wendy didn't care.

"Joy, I heard she—" he started.

"Reynolds, ready to get back to work?" Wendy interrupted coldly.

"Yes, but—"

She thrust a stack of files at him. "I'm relegating the counseling duties to you from now on."

"Counseling?" Reynolds juggled the papers clumsily, caught off guard. "But…you love that stuff."

"I don't know." Wendy turned away dismissively. "I just can't seem to stomach it anymore."

A month passed in this manner.

Wendy spent less and less time with her division, only relegating minimal amounts of time to training Penny and Jo. She ignored Reynolds's pleading stares and stopped laughing at Fred's terrible jokes. Yosef was the only one who could pull more than a one-worded response out of her once in a while. Her smiles dimmed and she receded from the crowds noticeably, immersing herself in her work.

Time at the apartment made her worry for Petra, so one weekend, she packed up all her belongings and had them moved to her room in the barracks.

Most of the time, she spent her days alone, either working in her office or puttering around in her garden.

The numbers and plants were easier to deal with than people. Wendy took solace in that fact.

When she was by herself, she couldn't hurt anyone.

And thus, no one could hurt her.

Petra burst into Wendy's office the moment she returned to a half-empty apartment and a concerned medical division. The confusion was practically rolling off of her in waves.

"What's going on, Wendy?" she blurted. "Everyone's been saying you've been acting distant, and suddenly all your stuff is gone from the apartment. It's only been a month. What happened?"

"Welcome back," Wendy smiled weakly. "The mission was successful, I presume?"

"Forget the mission." Petra slammed her hands down on Wendy's desk. "What happened?" She peered into her friend's eyes searchingly. "Did Reynolds screw something up again?"

"No!" Wendy said quickly. She avoided the girl's probing stare. "I just…it was a conscious decision on my part. I want to focus more on the war, and people will just get in the way."

The medic swallowed hard. "For that reason, I have decided to move back into the barracks. I apologize for not informing you about the move sooner."

Hurriedly, she brushed past Petra, who stood stock-still and openmouthed. "Now if you'll excuse me…I have work to do."

Petra unstuck herself after a few long moments before staring at the spot her friend used to be, confused. She snapped out of her reverie when loud footsteps echoed in the hallway, followed by a bang of the door against its hinges.

Levi poked his head into the office, scanning the room before looking disgruntled. "Where's Pixis?" he scowled. "For fuck's sake, did she run off again…"

Petra lifted her face. "Corporal…"

The short, cranky man halted mid-tirade. "Petra?"

"Corporal," Petra breathed, near tears, "there's something wrong with Wendy. And I—I don't know what to do."

Levi stared at his subordinate for a half second before sighing loudly. "Can't even rest for a good minute before I have to clean up Pixis's damn messes again…" He massaged his temples irritably.

"Which way did she go?"

A/N: Sorry about going AWOL - PG muses are going through a dry spell, and I've had this chunk of a chapter sitting around for MONTHS. I'm seriously thinking about reworking most of the plot I had in mind at the beginning (as in, the plot that hasn't been published yet). I won't be doing rewrites of the previous chapters, but I want to take the future of this story through some serious consideration. I obviously don't want to let this story go, but I sort of need another inspirational jump start before I can start writing again.

Many thanks to all who kept on reviewing and reading even after the long break. Finally, congratulations to the winner of the 300 reviews contest, ShutterBlinds!