**READ THE DISCLAIMER! None of Hajime Isayama's plot or characters are mine... Though I do wish he'd share, for my OCs are very lonely :( **
A/N: Thanks so much to everyone that favorited, followed, and reviewed! I know I'm no longer having a personal thank you section thingy, but this space just looks so empty... So... How's your day going? Good? Good... Uh, enjoy the chapter?
Okay. Bye. O.o
Chapter Six: Meeting Halfway
The waiting game was truly a trial for even the most patient of people. Karma was not and never would be one of those people. She, of course, would argue that wasn't the case. But patience was a virtue that she rarely practiced and was far from mastering, and it was inevitable that she would hit a wall at some point in time.
That point in time was now.
"AAAHHHHH!" Karma gave a deranged yell as she quite literally lashed out and punched the cement wall. Not a moment later she was hissing and cradling a fractured, bloodied hand. Breathing heavily through gritted teeth, Karma let the waves of pain pass as steam fervently worked over a clenching and unclenching fist. By the time the steam had disappeared so had Karma's ridiculous urge to take out her anger and frustrations on the innocent cement wall. Pressing her head against the cool surface, Karma squeezed her eyes shut and willed for the waiting to be over.
I can't take any more of this! Things are supposed to be different now, right? But what has changed? Karma opened one eye to look at the bars of the cell she was still being held in. Nothing, that's what. She slammed the palm of her hand beside her head. No, I take that back. No cuffs. How gracious of them to let me walk freely in a cage!
"All I'm free to do down here is punch the damn wall," Karma hissed to herself menacingly, "Joy!" she bit out bitterly and began wandering around the cell aimlessly for what must have been the seven-hundredth time that morning.
Trying to regain what little patience and sanity she had left, Karma contemplated going to sleep again. There's not much else to do here, and she had already exhausted her options in the past two days. Currently going on day three, Karma was at the end of her rope. She wasn't oblivious though. Karma had a very good guess as to why she was down here and not upstairs enjoying what, by the smell of it, she assumed was lunch.
Disobeying orders. Misconduct. Disrespect of an official. Karma quite frankly didn't give a damn which of the reasons Levi had used as an excuse to abandon her down here. All she knew was that Levi was not at all a fan of getting flipped the middle finger. Hence the three days in solitude, another obvious attempt on Levi's part to break her and quite possibly the worst punishment Karma could ask for. There was nothing worse for Karma than knowing she was wasting precious time, especially after having worked so hard to make progress. Yet, here she was, back in square one all over again.
It wasn't that nobody had been allowed to visit her. It might have actually been easier that way. Hanji had come down on several occasions, giving Karma her daily dose of ramblings that always accompanied her very, very detailed notes on titans and shifters. Petra had come to chat with her once, too, discussing Erd and Auruo's recovery process. She was a sweet girl, and the few minutes Karma had gotten to talk with her were a welcomed relief from the empty silence that filled the dead air. Eren had come down most often, always accompanied by Mikasa. He had made a habit of bringing chalk down with him so that Karma could draw things from the outside world when words alone weren't descriptive enough to satisfy his curiosity. Mikasa would on rare occasion pose a question or two and silently observed the rest of the time in a fairly relaxed manner. Karma took this as a positive sign that the girl was a little more trusting of her since seeing her transform.
They all had to leave eventually though, bound by their responsibilities. Of course, this brought up the topic of who they were having to report to. Levi, who was clearly not too busy to go to the effort of dragging the soldiers away from Karma so they could train, was apparently far too busy to permit Karma to come along.
Bastard, Karma thought bitterly as she gingerly shook her numb hand, splattering the floor with several droplets of blood in the process. Wasn't the whole point of this him training me? Making a difference? If we both have the same goals, why does he need to make things this damn difficult?! There was no doubt in Karma's mind that no difference would be made if things remained as they were. If Levi was going to be so stubborn that he wouldn't work with her until she had admitted fault, then fine, consider the lesson learned. Karma had done her waiting and was ready to move forward even if it meant swallowing a bit of her pride.
Now all that was left was to get the elusive Corporal down here. Karma smirked slightly as she glanced toward the staircase. Sure, she had her limit with patience. Everybody did.
Levi should be no exception.
Drawing in as much air as her lungs could manage, Karma faced the stairs and began to belt out, "NINETY-NINE SPLATTERS OF BLOOD ON THE GROUND, NINETY-NINE SPLATTERS OF BLOOD! LEVI COME DOWN, I'M NOT MESSING AROUND, OR YOUR HEAD WILL ROLL ON THIS BLOOD SPLATTERED GROUND! NINETY-EIGHT SPLATTERS OF BLOOD ON THE GROUND, NINETY-EIGHT SPLATTERS OF BLOOD—"
The obnoxious rendition of 99 Bottles of Beer bounced around on the cement walls, echoing straight up the staircase and disturbing the soldiers' lunch. But nobody came down the stairs, so Karma kept chanting as loudly as humanly possible, not caring if she had to scream her throat raw for Levi to eventually snap. And so it went on and on; a continuous standoff between two unyielding forces.
Karma was starting back up at ninety-nine for the tenth time when a door was viciously thrown open followed by footsteps coming downstairs. The venomous look Levi gave her the moment he came into her field of vision was strong enough to drive a weaker person to tears. Karma's mouth snapped shut and her chanting stopped instantly, but she wasn't able to stop her lips from twitching humorously as she took in Levi's pained expression.
"One more word," Levi fumed as he glared Karma down, "Sing one more word, I dare you. Try me. See what happens." Levi's face had darkened so greatly that Karma swore she could hear Death knocking on her door. But the opportunity was so tempting that she just had to push back.
"Now, now, Levi. You don't look too good! My singing didn't disturb your beauty rest by chance, did it?" she chided casually, as if Levi weren't about to strangle her through the bars of the cage.
Levi appeared so relieved that the singing was finally over that he almost ignored Karma's jab. Letting out a tense breath, Levi began to massage his temples as he snapped back, "No, of course not. Sleep would be a waste of time. Your off-key, headache-inducing voice only interrupted some very important paperwork."
"Ha! You're one to talk about wasted time!" Karma gestured around to the room that Levi ordered her unable to leave.
"Something done for the sake of making progress is never a waste of time," Levi stated simply and for once, Karma couldn't find a snappy comeback. Her mouth was open, but she was visibly floundering around for words that never came.
She actually agreed with him. No. Correction: It was the concept she agreed with, not him. Either way, Karma only managed an affirmative grunt and then tried to look anywhere that wasn't in his direction.
Levi took her silence as reason to continue, "I assume you're ready to cooperate considering that Eren was just telling me that you looked nearly ready to punch a wall if I didn't bring you up to train." Levi's eyes drifted down to the blood splatter on the ground and up again to see the splash of red obscuring what had been the Sahara Desert of the chalk drawing on the wall. "Looks like the shitty brat was right. He'll sure be upset that you botched up his beloved map though."
"I'll make another one," Karma responded robotically but didn't acknowledge Levi's comment about her breakdown. It was enough for her to be angry at her own loss of self-control; she didn't need Levi silently mocking her, too.
"So," he droned in a nearly uninterested tone, "Are you ready to cooperate?"
A small but loud part of Karma's brain noted how one-sided the situation seemed. Why am I the only one at fault here? Last I checked, I wasn't the only one making things difficult! How I remember it, he was the person that threw me down a well, but no, he can get away with it! Because he's the one with authority, the one with power. Well he's not the only one with power, and if he wants any of my help, something's gonna have to change on his end, too.
The voice was smothered as quickly as it had appeared. Karma knew from just how Levi was watching her unmercifully that things wouldn't work in her favor if she let her opinion slip out. Levi would just leave her here and come back later when she could give him the answer he was looking for.
She couldn't win against him. Not like this anyway. Not when he held all the cards.
So, with great difficulty, Karma told him exactly what he wanted to hear.
"I'm willing to work with anyone," Karma said clearly. A victorious smirk was tugging at Levi's lips when Karma spitefully added on, "Given that they are willing to work with me. I only give respect when it is equally returned."
Levi's eye twitched. Of course. Of course she had to turn his victory sour. He had to wait momentarily for the bitter taste to leave his mouth before he decided that it didn't matter; a victory was a victory. She knew she was at fault and had admitted it. That's all that mattered.
"Close enough," Levi huffed as he unlocked the cell door and swung it open, "For now anyway."
Karma rolled her eyes and walked out of the cell that she'd dubbed her personal hell, straining not to sprint out of the place. She did her best to mask her relief, but Levi didn't miss her immediately starting toward the stairs. In a heartbeat, Levi stopped her, quickly pulling her back to slap a pair of handcuffs on her wrists. Karma looked at the metal bracelets with a mixture of anger and surprise.
"Woah, woah, woah! I thought I was done with handcuffs!" she shouted after him, but Levi was already walking away without any intention of uncuffing her.
"You are. Inside that cell you don't have to wear handcuffs. Outside of there, however, it's my call to make whether or not you wear them," he said without turning to look back at her.
You're fucking kidding me. Swallowing back the colorful language that she wanted to unleash, Karma opted to focus on catching up with the fast moving Corporal. Taking the stairs two at a time, Karma followed Levi out of the basement. Levi abruptly halted at the top of the stairs, so quickly that Karma was almost clotheslined by Levi's arm as he pointed to a door on their right.
"The Dining Hall is through there. Everyone's on a lunch break. If you can fix something for yourself without making a mess, go ahead. If not, starve." After those clipped words, Levi was gone, walking in the opposite direction.
"Well, nice talking to you, too," Karma spitefully muttered to herself as she heard a door close and was left alone.
Exploring the castle was a tempting thought, but the idea of getting lost or caught was enough to steer Karma in the direction Levi had pointed. She was not getting sent back to that cell just after getting out of it.
Muffled chatter and laughter met Karma's ears as she cracked open the door. There was a moment when nobody had spotted her and Karma was able to observe the soldiers in one of their more candid states.
Hanji was grasping onto Eren's hands as she spoke animatedly about what Karma assumed was either titan or shifter related. Mikasa was behind the woman in a flash, politely tapping her on the shoulder. But the second Hanji turned around to face her, Mikasa shoved a loaf of bread down her throat, cutting off any protests. Hanji resorted to flailing her arms in a panicked attempt to free herself, succeeding only in knocking scorching coffee over onto Auruo who let loose a chorus of swear words. Petra futilely tried to calm the man before he ended up in a wheelchair, and Erd was sitting back, chuckling at the whole situation. It was him that eventually spotted Karma standing in the doorway. Erd had to nudge Hanji pretty hard with the elbow of his good arm to get her attention, but when he did he nodded in Karma's direction. Following Erd's gaze, Hanji's eyes grew to the size of saucers before she jumped to her feet, free of Mikasa's murderous hold.
"GAHRMAH!" Hanji exclaimed through a mouth full of bread.
Everyone's head turned to where Karma was standing, no doubt cursing Hanji for making her the center of attention. It crossed Karma's mind to just leave back through the door and take her chances exploring the castle, and she probably would have done just that had Eren not beckoned for her to come over and sit by him. Mikasa gave her a look as if she were debating whether or not to shove a loaf of bread down Karma's throat, too. She appeared to eventually decide against it, and Karma was allowed to sit next to Eren without any harm coming to her.
"So the fucker finally decided to let you outta the joint, huh?" Auruo asked with the utmost grace from across the table, face still flushed red from cursing out Hanji. He was precariously leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head, close to tipping it over and earning a pair of broken arms to match his legs in his strange attempt to look cool.
"So it seems. Levi will keep it that way if he knows what's good for him," Karma said as she poured herself what looked to be a very watery, weak cup of tea. Taking a sip, she immediately grimaced. Needs sugar, she thought to herself.
Auruo dangerously leaned back farther. "Hmph. 'Bout damn time if you ask me. Let me tell you, if I were the Corporal—"
"You aren't the Corporal, Auruo, so quit trying to act like him," Petra cut him off before he could continue explaining something that Petra had heard far too many times.
The young woman was busy working on getting the coffee stain out of Auruo's pant leg, pausing only to toss away the dirtied rag away and grab the closest cloth she could find. Petra found it a wonder that she could put up being around him, period, yet here she was, helping him even though he was acting like a complete fool. But then again, she couldn't find it in herself not to help. Between him and Erd, it seemed that she was bending over backwards for her injured teammates.
Slightly peeved but trying just to grin and bear it, Petra did her best to let Auruo's behavior slide. "Just eat your food, okay? You haven't touched anything and you need to get your strength back."
"But I can't, Petra!" Auruo exclaimed, "Didn't the doc tell you I hurt my hands in the fall? Poor Petra, you must act as my hands and nurse me back to health!" Auruo said, feigning to be struck by tragedy but still letting his arrogant nature through.
Petra twitched in annoyance and started cleaning the stain more forcefully.
Erd broke out laughing, "You didn't hurt your hands! I had the same doctor as you and he didn't say a single thing about your hands!"
One of Karma's eyebrows arched as she carefully set down her cup of tea, sensing the tension right before Auruo's so-called hurt hands were slammed on the table as he twisted to face Erd.
"I did hurt my hands, jackass! Why the fuck were you asking about my condition anyway?!" Auruo growled out.
Petra had stood up from his side and was wiping down the table before picking up the half empty cup of coffee that had made the whole mess in the first place. Steam was still rising from the cup of scorching liquid. Petra gave a sideways glance at Auruo.
Let it slide, let it slide, let it slide, she chanted in her head.
"So you wouldn't go twisting the truth like this! So you wouldn't go and take advantage of Petra's kindness," Erd said. He caught a glimpse of Petra looking like she was mentally trying to talk herself out of something.
"I'm not taking advantage of her! She wants to help me, shithead!" Auruo yelled back at Erd who held up his hands in surrender; Auruo had this coming all on his own. Putting an innocent smile on his face, Auruo turned back to Petra. "Now then, where were we before that fucker interrupted. Right, lunch! So, what will you be feeding me today, Petr-AAAAHHHH!"
Right where Petra had finished cleaning, there was another fresh coffee stain that caused Auruo to twist in agony. Petra held a now empty coffee cup and feigned guilt.
"Oh, Auruo, I'm so sorry!" Petra's voice was flat, making it clear to even Auruo that it had been intentional. "My hand slipped." Grabbing another cloth, Petra threw it in Auruo's direction. "My hands are so clumsy! Yours, though, seem perfectly fine. Why don't you go ahead and clean up this mess instead, hm?" Giving a sickly sweet smile and not waiting for an answer, Petra left Auruo with his face frozen in pain and shock.
Erd snatched up an apple and moved to follow after her. "Now, let me tell you, if I were the Corporal," Erd mimicked Auruo down to even his cocky body language, "I'd say you've deserved that for quite some time." Auruo's withering glare had no effect on Erd who simply took a huge bite of his apple. "Just saying," he added as he strolled out the same door Petra had left through.
Auruo was momentarily at a loss before he got up and hobbled out a different door, trailing curses the whole way.
Karma stiffly sat there, unsure of what to do or say. "Well. That was entertaining." She looked away from where Auruo had taken his leave to shoot a comment in Hanji's direction. "Didn't know the meal came with a show."
The woman snorted humorously before raising a dismissive hand. "Ah, don't mind them," Hanji quipped, sliding into the spot next to Karma. "This kind of thing happens pretty often actually. Nothing to worry about though, Erd is really good about sorting these things out, and they'll be back to normal before you know it!"
Hanji passed a plate of food to Karma that she was fairly sure generously exceeded the normal rations. "They are a team after all," Hanji continued and began pushing around some mashed potatoes on her own plate, "Us soldiers might fight amongst ourselves every now and then, but we're ready to put our necks on the line for each other at a moment's notice." The woman stopped fiddling with her food to shoot Karma a smile. "And I guess that's what the Scouting Legion is really about at the end of the day."
Karma gave a slow nod, absorbing the full meaning of Hanji's random train of thought.
They don't just fight for their cause... These people would take a bullet just so their comrades wouldn't suffer the same fate—dedication at its finest.
The weight of the subject finally seemed to register on Hanji, who decided to quickly change topic. "Enough of that! So about you, I hear from a little birdie that you'd be training with us from now on! If you are, I call being your partner in all our exercises. It'll be great, we can—" Hanji's energetic speech was disrupted as Mikasa cut in.
"Hanji's last partner went into her lab and was never heard from again," she cautioned, "I already warned Eren not to go in there, I suggest you do the same."
"Mikasa! That's a myth and you know it!" Hanji nervously chuckled, glancing at Karma to make sure she wasn't buying what Mikasa was selling. "I scared him off, that's all! Don't go scaring off Karma, too!"
Mikasa shrugged indifferently. Eren dug an elbow into her side and rapidly whispered something about Mikasa being too serious that nobody could tell when she was joking.
"She's just kidding, I promise," Hanji stressed and grabbed Karma's hands. "So about you training with us. Is it true?" Hanji leaned forward excitedly, hungry for any information Karma could supply her.
Karma let out a deep sigh and shook her head. "Your guess is as good as mine. A certain Corporal neglects to keep me up to speed on this sort of thing."
Hanji collapsed onto the table in a heap, "UGH! None of us know anything! I hate when he doesn't let us in on his plans!"
Geez, she sure is desperate to know what's going on. Then again, so am I... Karma decided to try to fish for any possible information.
Biting off a hunk of her bread, Karma asked as casually as she could manage, "You've worked with him for a while now though, right? What do you think he'd do?"
This seemed to drag Hanji out of her disheartened state, and Karma could see the cogs working in her brain. "Hm, well, I'm not a hundred percent sure about anything, but I do have a guess..." Hanji trailed off as if debating telling her. Karma nodded for her to continue and suddenly Hanji was gushing information like she had been keeping a journal dedicated solely to Levi's behavior, which could very well be true.
"Well, he'll probably make sure all of his bases are covered before moving onto anything too major. I think he'll most likely work with you individually until he thinks you're reliable before putting you to the test, and even then he'll probably keep it simple and stick inside the Walls," she paused, mentally calculating and double checking herself, "My best bet, if I had to give you one, is that he'll use you to take out the other shifters hiding inside the Walls. That's the only thing I can think of right now, anyway."
Immediately after disclosing that tidbit of information, Hanji eyes snapped to focus intently on Karma in a way that should have triggered some sort of suspicion in the girl if she hadn't been so caught off guard. Karma wasn't able to hide her surprise at the revelation and visibly choked on the piece of bread she had been eating.
There were other shifters in the Walls.
Sure, Karma had guessed that the Female Titan hadn't been alone in her goal to capture Eren and they were bound to be sticking close to their target, but the fact that the shifters hadn't made a break for it already was truly shocking. The Female Titan probably knew that the shifter she had fought was taken in by the Scouting Legion, and she had no doubt relayed that information to all of her allies. So why stay? Why risk hanging around when there was the possibility they could get sold out at a moment's notice and face a fate worse than death for their treason? No sensible person would do that; surely Hanji was mistaken.
"You sure that the shifters haven't bolted? They're still here?" Confusion was thick in Karma's voice.
Hanji was raising her head to nod and had her mouth open to answer when a cold, clear voice rang out through the Dining Hall.
"I leave to eat in my study for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes. Is that how long it takes for you to go selling us out, Hanji?" It briefly occurred to Karma that she hadn't even heard him open the door, let alone creep up behind herself and Hanji. "Is it too much to ask for you not to go leaking information to the very last person it should be told to?"
Hanji rightfully jumped in fright, but her excitement high was incapable of being rained out. "Levi! Karma's going to be training with us, right? Please let her come with us!"
Levi deftly dodged Hanji's question and raised a hand to silence her. "You're getting ahead of yourself, we'll worry about group training later." The Corporal pointedly ignored Hanji's put out expression.
Levi reached past Hanji for the coffee pot, calmly poured himself a cup and was about to get out his flask when Hanji snatched the cup away from him. The Corporal stared at his empty hand for a second before glaring daggers at Hanji who had the sensibility to dance out of his range.
"Oh, no you don't! You already had your cup this morning. Unless you're going to make a normal cup of coffee, you're cut off." She paused to look at the bargaining chip in her hand. "But I'm open to making an exception if Karma gets to train with us today."
Her tone was too hopeful, setting herself up to be shot down, which Levi did immediately.
"No, Karma is only working with me today. Now I suggest handing that over before somebody gets hurt. If I'm stuck with this annoying brat for the rest of the day, I'm going to need that to make sure I don't lose it and burn down this whole bloody building," he threatened, hand stretched out, waiting impatiently.
Hanji held out as long as possible, but Levi's gaze was becoming progressively more lethal. "Oh, fine!" she caved, stomping her foot in frustration as she handed back his coffee to which he immediately added his usual amount of liquor. "But Karma had better be working with the rest of us tomorrow! You can't keep her away forever," she added huffily, words falling on deaf ears. Levi was already downing his coffee and was past hearing anything she had to say.
It's better than nothing, I guess, Karma thought to herself as Levi motioned for her to stand and follow him. So what if I have to put up with Levi. At least I get to train even if it's not with everyone else. At least I get to do something instead of pointlessly wasting my time. Karma had barely finished the thought when everything ground to a screeching halt.
"We'll be in my office working on paperwork," Levi said, the words ringing out like a death sentence. He shot a knowing look at Karma and smirked as her face became at war with itself, torn between horror and indignation. "Problem, Karma?"
YES, I have a fucking problem with that, you ass!
"Why the hell would I do pointless paperwork when I should be training?!" Karma roared at the stupidity of what Levi had suggested, doing her best to censor the raging thoughts going through her head.
"Because you interrupted me doing paperwork earlier with your awful excuse for singing. What goes around, comes around," he said coolly, looking smug, "Or so the concept of Karma works as I've been told."
She was going to kill him. She was going to fucking kill him. Karma's hands twitched eagerly at the idea of strangling him. Her murderous thoughts must have translated to her face because Levi dismissed her before she went any further off the deep end.
"My study is the second room on the left, East Wing. I'll be there in five minutes. Make a mess and you'll be the one cleaning it up, so I suggest you be on your best behavior."
Levi then turned his back on Karma to ask Hanji if she had heard anything from Irvin. Karma didn't move an inch; she just stood there, eyeing a butter knife on the table that she was debating sinking into Levi's back. There very well could have been a blood bath if Mikasa and Eren didn't step in. Mikasa swiftly grabbed the knife, moving it out of range as Eren took hold of Karma's arm to steer her away from where she was boring holes into Levi's back.
"I know where it is, I'll take you there," Eren said tentatively as he and Mikasa escorted Karma out of the Dining Hall, leaving Hanji and Levi alone.
The moment the door clicked shut, Levi's coffee cup stopped just short of his lips. Glancing back to make sure they were alone, Levi spared no more time in cutting to the chase.
"Her reaction when you mentioned the other shifters—did she seem surprised? Did it seem like she thought they'd already left?"
"What? No 'good job'?" Hanji disheartedly asked the unimpressed Corporal. "I thought I stayed fairly in character. I don't think she suspected a single thing. I'm pretty sure I got a raw, honest reaction out of her," Hanji deservedly praised herself.
By her standards, everything had gone flawlessly. The plan had gone off without a hitch. It was something she and Levi had been working on the past few days since confirming that the suspected titan shifters were indeed inside the Walls. With Karma as a test subject, the two soldiers had devised a plan to guess the course of action the other unpredictable shifters would take. Takes a shifter, to know a shifter, right? Levi had guessed that Karma would be fishing for information the minute she was freed, and had told Hanji to take full advantage of it. It had been Hanji's job to get Karma to react to the planted information that there were shifters inside the Walls. Hanji was only grateful that Karma did not know her well enough to see through the staged act.
Levi rolled his eyes and appeased the woman. "Fine. Good job, Hanji, you did well. Now, about her reaction?" Levi prompted, attempting to steer the scientist back on track.
"Oh, right," Hanji shook herself back to attention, "She looked like she was thinking the same thing as you: that all of the shifters weren't going to hang around when it's so dangerous for them." Hanji wove her fingers together in thought as she dissected Karma's reaction. "Karma looked surprised that they hadn't left already considering she could be used to blow their cover."
"They're going to be looking for an opening," Levi mused, mentally envisioning the Wall layout and pinpointing any weak points. "Tell the Garrison to double their security perimeter. I want every gate heavily guarded and a Wall patrol around the clock. There won't be a single chance for these pests to escape."
"You already asked for the security perimeter to be doubled just last week, Levi. They were nice enough to oblige you then, but if you keep bossing around the officers of the other branches, they might stop listening to you," Hanji pointed out as she took a heaping spoonful of mashed potatoes, making Levi inwardly cringe at her messy eating habits.
"Tell them to double it again," Levi pressed, "We're not letting them slip away from us now."
Hanji took one look at Levi's stone-set face and knew there was no making him budge. There was no persuading him when he was this committed to a decision. She could trust his judgement though. Even the head officials of the other branches had to acknowledge his skill with handling situations at times like this.
"I'll get the message out to the Garrison immediately. Do you still want me to contact Irvin, too?"
"Yes, I need to run something past him concerning Karma," Levi said distractedly, eyes flitting in the general direction Karma had left in, "Get ahold of him as soon as possible."
Things were more urgent than he had first suspected. They had to get moving and quickly. Time was working against him, but Levi couldn't afford to waver now. There was too much on the line to start second guessing himself. He'd have to piece everything together and make it all work in time. Nothing he wasn't capable of.
There was only one major obstacle left to clear.
That obstacle went by the name of Karma.
"Paperwork. Fucking paperwork. I put my neck on the line to help these people and what do I get? Fucking paperwork?!"
Karma sat in one of the spare armchairs in Levi's study, darkly muttering to herself as she wrestled with a ring of keys. Her feet were propped up on Levi's desk, purposely hoping to piss Levi off by screwing up his perfectly organized office. Served the Corporal right. This whole situation was absolutely ridiculous. Levi was going to have her do paperwork when there were rogue shifters inside the Walls? Because that makes sense!
Karma rolled her eyes at how absurd the whole thing sounded.
Why isn't he taking action? That's part of his job, right? Then why would he be here and not out there leading his squad?
That's when everything clicked and Karma inwardly groaned. What was it that Hanji had said? Something along the lines of "making sure you're reliable before putting you to the test"?
Is that what he's all concerned about? He's not pushing to try to capture the shifters because he thinks I won't be reliable? That I'd double cross them? How many times do I have to prove myself?! I wouldn't still be here if I wasn't actually interested in helping them! Karma closed her eyes as she felt a fierce headache sneaking up on her. I can't take much more of this bullshit.
Finally, after fiddling with the keys for so long, there was a soft click as the handcuffs unlocked and slid off of Karma's wrists. She had just begun massaging the red indentations away when there was another click, this time the door opening.
Levi walked in, and Karma was unsure if he was stressed, tired, or both, but the Corporal looked fairly strained. That is, until he set eyes on the boots set on his desk and Karma's uncuffed hands. Agitation quickly replaced the strained expression on his face. Briskly walking to his desk, Levi forcefully shoved Karma's feet off the pristine wood before sitting down himself.
"At least tell me that Hanji didn't just hand over the key to you," Levi said defeatedly, not even attempting to force Karma back into the cuffs.
"Nope, but she had the key ring in such an easy place to pickpocket that she might as well have handed it to me," Karma said casually and waited for the backlash. None came. Levi's nose was already buried in a pile of paperwork, no longer acknowledging Karma's presence.
She waited. Still nothing. The silence only deepened, slowly taking an unsettling turn. Still, Karma waited, until the silence became maddening.
It all felt so wrong. The absence of tension left her disoriented. Coming into this office to face Levi alone, Karma had expected insults to be flying left and right, maybe accompanied by a fist or two if things went really downhill. She most certainly hadn't expected this. He wasn't trying to force her back into handcuffs, he hadn't lost his head over her messing up his desk, and he was seemingly ignoring her on top of everything else.
The odd, unaccustomed silence had made Karma uncomfortable to the point that she felt obliged to break it.
Karma awkwardly cleared her throat and waited for Levi to quirk an eyebrow at her before continuing, "So... About that training. I was thinking that this paperwork could be an optional thing and we might just jump straight into—" Karma's weak proposition was instantly crushed by a shake of Levi's head.
"No paperwork, no training. I need this finished before I can start anything else." Levi gestured around at the stacks of paper on his desk and exhaustedly explained, "These are all the search warrants needed to search every damn crevice where those shifters could be hiding inside these Walls. It might mean searching through every castle, home, and dark alleyway in this godforsaken place, but if it means capturing the bastards, then it will have all been worth it in the end." Levi left out a strangled sigh and looked pointedly at Karma. "And neither of us are going anywhere or doing anything until this shit gets done."
Heaving a stack of completed paperwork into Karma's anything but eagerly awaiting arms, Levi pointed behind her to several organized stacks of warrants. "I suggest you get to work. I need them sorted by Wall, district, and address. Let me know if you start struggling with your ABC's and 123's."
Karma stood with the heavy load in hand and almost careened forward from the weight of the stack. "Geez, how cruel can this world get?" she asked in exasperation, undoubtedly miffed but slightly comforted by the fact that Levi had taken a small jab at her, restoring the natural order of their unusual relationship.
"Very," Levi remarked sourly as he returned to the warrant in front of him, tuning out Karma's persistent grumbling as she actually did as he directed for once.
Several minutes filled with only the sounds of shuffling paperwork ensued. When everything had settled and he deemed it safe to steal a glance, Levi briefly lowered the warrant he was holding. Karma's back was to him as she grumpily sorted through the pile she had been tasked with. Knowing he wasn't being watched, Levi let out the breath he had seemingly been holding in since entering the room.
This was going to be a great deal more difficult than he had first anticipated. Why does this have to be so hard? Levi asked himself angrily as he massaged his aching temples, the mounting effort put into remaining calm and collective proving to be too much. I need her on-board with this, but why is it so hard to get her to cooperate? I've tried every method to break this girl, and I've run out of time.
Levi kept himself from slamming his head on the desk. One day is all that I have. I can't afford any more slip-ups. I can't get angry. I can't snap at her. I can do that for one day, right? He didn't have much of an option anymore. He'd have to get Karma to see things eye to eye with him.
The Corporal desperately ran a hand through his hair before reaching over to open one of his desk drawers. He reached inside and pulled out its contents, placing them in front of him and thinking about what Hanji had told him. The scientist had advised him to use this to get Karma to level with him, and Levi had to admit that it probably was his best bet. The only other time he had seen the girl's walls be brought down was when she had been talking about her past, doting specifically on her family.
So this would make sense, right?
Levi hesitated as he looked over the photos yet again.
Both were clearly very personal, but for vastly different reasons. The first one was a light-hearted, candid picture capturing three people: one young woman and two little girls. The woman was caked in flower as if someone, or two someones, had covered her in it purposely. On either side of the woman were the culprits—identical twins—that were sporting some of the largest grins Levi had ever seen. It was an amateurish photo, tilted and accidentally blurred by the shaking arm of the giggling child that had snapped the shot. The laughter almost translated through the photo, humor dancing even in the eyes of the simmering woman sandwiched between the twins.
It had taken Levi a while to sort out which twin was which. He had originally thought Karma to be the one on the left because of her lengthy hair, a near exact replica of the older Karma. He didn't understand that he had mixed the two up until he looked to the twin on the right, the one he now discerned as the real Karma.
Sorting them out had gone past appearances. The two were exactly identical in every way except one; Vanessa had long hair that trailed down to her waist while Karma sported short hair that ended above her shoulders. Levi had decided Karma to be the one on the right not because of how she looked, but how she acted. Caught in the brief moment of time the photo had captured, the laughing twin on the right could be seen looking not at the camera, but over at her sister. From how Karma had spoken highly of her sister, Levi figured Karma to look up to Vanessa, who had taken on the role of the protective older sibling. From there it was fairly easy to guess that Vanessa was in fact the one with long hair, arm slung protectively around the others in the picture, and that Karma was the one with short hair, looking over at her amiable sibling.
The roles of both twins were only further cemented in the second photo which appeared to be a family portrait. It went unsaid that this picture was far more poised and professional than the other, but the love could still be easily seen past all the formalities. Karma's parents stood with their daughter in front of them and, consistent with the other photo, Vanessa could be found smiling with her arm slung around her sister.
They looked like a tight-knit family, and it was only because of the overly picture perfect vibe that Levi had managed to spot the one thing that seemed out of place. Vanessa was looking off to her side uneasily, with what looked to be measured caution. Her wary gaze trailed off camera, however, because of the major disturbance that had ruined the ultimately perfectly cared for picture.
The entire left side of the picture had been forcibly torn away.
Levi thumbed over the ragged edge of the torn photo, trying to feel out the invisible threat Vanessa had sensed that had been ripped away. The fact that it was ripped bothered him. When Irvin had given these to him he said it was this way when he found it. For once, Levi's clean-freak nature had nothing to do with the reason he found the torn photo unsettling. It just seemed odd that something so cared for could accidentally get ripped.
Tearing his eyes away from the photos to glance back up at Karma, Levi debated with himself a while longer. Just because he had made progress the last time Karma's family had been mentioned didn't guarantee it a second time. From all the time Levi had spent fighting with Karma, he had learned that it didn't take much to make things go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.
Then again, he reasoned, this might be the only chance I get. I don't exactly have any other tactics up my sleeve.
Looking back once more at Karma, Levi finally made up his mind to take the risk.
"You grew up to look just like her."
Levi's clear words broke the eerie silence and caused Karma to jerk upright at the sudden noise. She turned around to look at him.
"What do you—" Karma's mouth lost the ability to form words when she saw what Levi was holding in his hands. All color drained from her face in an instant.
The Corporal held up both of the pictures for Karma to see across the room. "With your hair grown out you're the spitting image of Vanessa," Levi restated, feeling hopeful when Karma got up from where she had been sitting on the floor and began bridging the gap between them.
"Where did you get those?" Karma asked in a small voice as she approached him, eyes not leaving Levi's hand.
"What? Thought the pickpocketer couldn't get pickpocketed?" Levi briefly goaded before remembering he wasn't supposed to be trying to get a rise out of her. "They were confiscated off of you when you first arrived. I got them a while after we transferred you here," Levi admitted honestly as Karma came to stand directly in front of him.
Looks like Hanji was right. She's definitely at least interested in the photos. Maybe there really is some progress to be made here...
"Give them back."
The demand cut cold and harsh, catching Levi off guard. His eyebrows arched in surprise and he looked at a loss.
"Give them back," Karma repeated more forcibly, shocking Levi out of his stupor.
Levi quickly backtracked in an attempt to save himself, "I'm going to, I just wanted to ask—"
He got cut off when Karma lunged for the pictures without warning. It was by reflex alone that Levi managed to dodge Karma's hand that ended up sending one of the stacks of paperwork cascading to the ground in an unorganized heap.
"Now. I want them back now," Karma bit out harshly, looking ready to lunge at him again if he didn't hand them over immediately.
"Woah, easy there," Levi said, taking several steps back, leaving only the desk to separate the two of them, "I just wanted to ask some questions, no need to get riled up over nothing."
Karma's eyes narrowed menacingly at Levi telling her to calm down. This wasn't nothing. Not to Karma, at least.
To Karma, this was the straw that broke the camel's back. He had crossed the line.
"No, no, no. You already got the chance to ask your questions," Karma snapped as she moved around the desk to reach for the photos.
"And I only got half of an answer," Levi impatiently argued, getting frustrated as he swiftly dodged Karma's hand for a second time, "Listen, alright? Just answer one question and I'll let you have them back. One question, that's it."
Karma paused for half a second, silently simmering but trying to keep it under control as Levi lifted the ripped photo for her to see.
"Why is this one torn?" he asked simply.
Might as well ask, Levi thought, clearly realizing his attempt to get Karma to level with him had been a complete failure. It's not like it could get any worse.
The emotion that took over Karma's face told Levi that he was wrong. It could get worse. Much, much worse.
Karma's fury was at an all time high, surging out with the force of a natural disaster. Worse than that was the silence. It was silent fury that was pouring from Karma's eyes, willing for Levi to choke on his own words and drop dead at her feet.
"I'm about to be very generous, Corporal," Karma's mouth didn't even move as the contemptuous words leaked through her clenched teeth, "And I suggest you take full advantage of my generosity."
Karma took one more measured step closer to him, eyes never breaking away from his.
"I'll give you one more chance to hand over the photos and act like you didn't ask me that."
The venomous hiss left an ominous threat looming in the air. Levi's eyes narrowed at the challenge. He had forgotten everything entirely. The promise he had made to keep things civil between them was thrown out the window. Not even the pressure of his time constraint was enough to make the impossible possible. All that remained was habit and the urge to fall right back into the normal routine of constantly being at odds with Karma.
Levi had finally cracked.
"Not until I have my answer." Levi rose to the challenge, matching Karma's intensity for all his worth.
Karma wasn't having any of it, and her volume took a drastic leap. "It just got ripped, okay?! Sometimes life happens, and things get torn that can't be fixed! That enough of an answer for you?!"
Not waiting for an answer, Karma lashed out and successfully snatched back the photos before Levi could react. Before she could get away, however, Levi had her arm in a bone-crushing grip.
"Not quite. Try again," he threatened.
Karma fought his hold with all of her strength but he didn't budge. "And why don't you try keeping from butting in on something that clearly isn't your busine—"
Her seething voice was cut off as Levi grabbed onto the photos with his spare hand. Karma froze up. If they were both pulling on the pictures, that meant...
"STOP IT! YOU'LL RIP THEM!"
The frenzied scream had its desired effect; Levi let go immediately as if he had been burned. He took a step back and watched as Karma fervently picked up the dropped, but otherwise unharmed, photos and appeared to be experiencing hysterical fits of varying degrees of anger.
Now look at what's happened, Levi angrily thought to himself, raking both hands through his hair in anguish. Now everything has turned to complete shit. All because I just had to ask her about it.
Placing both photos carefully in the chest pocket of her uniform with a shaky hand, Karma gave one more look in Levi's direction before turning to the door. "Well, as great as it's been chatting with you, I think I'd much prefer to punch a couple more walls. So, if you don't mind, I'll be leav—"
"Like hell you'll be leaving," Levi growled out, having let the pressure of everything get the best of him. "I don't have another three days to spare for you to get your act together! I don't have that kind of time!"
"My act together?!" Karma whipped around and jabbed a finger in Levi's chest. "Well maybe you would've had more time if you weren't wasting it on pushing me around and making me do whatever pointless thing that takes your fancy!"
Their arguing had crescendoed into a full-on yelling match and was one push shy of spiraling into a fistfight when Hanji burst through the door.
"Woah, woah, woah! What the hell is going on in here?!" Hanji exclaimed at the two bloodthirsty fighters ready to duke it out. The woman's arrival didn't cause either to budge; both continued to glare the other down.
"Your advice failed, that's what," Levi snarled out, "This brat isn't capable of seeing eye to eye with her own damn reflection. This whole thing has just been a waste of time, and Karma won't cooperate for the two seconds it takes to see that I don't have any more time to fucking waste!"
Fire surged in Karma's eyes as, yet again, Levi made her the only one at fault.
"Oh, no! You aren't pinning this all on me anymore! I've done everything you've asked! I took all the shit you've delt me, put up with all the trials, all the questions, all the waiting, and for what?! More shit! More trials! More questions! More waiting! Well, you know what?! I've had it!"
Hanji's head whipped back and forth between the two as they started throwing accusations. And the accusations only kept coming, each word coming out of the other's mouth inspiring a new surge of anger. It got to the point where Hanji felt she would develop whiplash if the argument went on a moment longer.
Levi and Karma both snapped their heads in Hanji's direction, readily anticipating her to back each of them up. Hanji just stood there, at a loss.
"What are you, five-year-olds?" she asked in confusion at each obscenely unreasonable person, "And blind five-year-olds at that? Can you not see how ridiculous you guys are being?" Hanji then snorted and went on to add, "I mean, Irvin keeps refusing me funding to research the possibility of genetically altered titans that can be kept as pets, but you don't see me complaining, do you? It's a little something called maturity, and it's about time you guys learned it."
Two pairs of eyebrows furrowed at what she was implying.
"You don't understand, Hanji, just let me handle this," Levi ordered, but Hanji didn't let him get any further.
"No, I understand perfectly fine. It's you two that are having problems understanding this," Hanji snapped.
"You," Hanji singled out Levi, "You need to start seeing things from her perspective. Karma's spent more time chained up and cut off than out in the real world, and you wonder why she isn't cooperative? You haven't given her a single reason to cooperate! You've threatened her into doing everything that you want, and you actually think that'll make a difference? It's called give and take, Levi, not just take!"
Karma was nodding in agreement just as Hanji flipped on her.
"And you," Hanji pointed at her, "You need to start looking at the big picture already. This cause is beyond the needs of one person; it's about the good of humanity as a whole. You've got to learn to be more flexible, even if it means taking orders that seem to hurt more than they help. Have some trust in who's giving those orders. Levi knows what he's doing, okay?"
"And both of you need to ask yourself something," Hanji said in the calmest voice she could manage. "Is proving your point really so important that you're willing to sacrifice your goals for it?"
Her question was answered with complete silence.
Hanji gave a deep sigh and looked between the two of them. "We're all working toward the same thing here, alright? Can't we agree on that much?"
There was a pause and Karma and Levi briefly exchanged eye contact. Hanji tensed for the telling moment where they could both fall back into their routine argument. They quickly looked away from each other, but neither made a move to start back up the fight.
"Good," she exclaimed with finality, "Now that that's settled, I'll give you each some time to cool down and think things over before giving this another try."
Moving forward to take Karma by the hand, Hanji tugged her in the direction of the door. Karma followed her compliantly without a word.
"I'm going to go take Karma to have a bath and after that I want you both to talk this out like adults. No more of this childish fighting. Just two people trying to meet halfway. Got that?"
Hanji watched as Karma turned her head slightly toward Levi who had done the same. They remained like that for several moments before nodding at the same time. Hanji breathed a sigh of thanks at the miracle.
"Good grief," she breathed in relief, "I don't get paid enough for this shit."
The rooftop was cast in the warm glow of the sunset—a scene that would have otherwise been peaceful if not for the circumstances. Levi assumed Hanji had picked the top of the tower as the meeting place because of its so called calming effect. He didn't mention the fact that the calmness could quickly be disturbed by somebody being hurled over the side of the tower. That probably wouldn't be wise to point out.
Levi stood alone on the rooftop, intently focusing on trying to forget those thoughts. He had received a much needed wake up call and wasn't about to put it to waste. Hanji was right. He and Karma needed to reach common ground and put this all behind them. Their fighting was only going to make the situation worse, and they were at the point where if they weren't mature about this, they would pay dearly for it.
No pressure or anything.
The creak of rusted hinges announced Karma's arrival. Hanji had to give the girl a small nudge in Levi's direction to get her walking toward him. Silently, Karma walked cautiously over to stand at the wall overlooking the tower's edge, a safe distance from Levi. Hanji gave a victorious grin when neither showed hostile intentions.
"I'll be back when you've worked it out. Nobody comes back inside until then!" Hanji chirped before shutting the door and locking it, giving a telling click that showed she was true to her word on not letting either Karma or Levi back in until they were on good terms.
Neither of them moved or spoke. They were just standing there silently, a ten foot gap between them that seemed impossible to bridge. The silence was finally disturbed when Karma accidentally sneezed. Levi started and looked over at the sudden interruption to find Karma running her hands through her hair that hadn't properly been dried in Hanji's rush for the two to mend things between themselves.
"Ugh, it's still damp. Fantastic. Because getting sick is exactly what I need on top of all of this," Karma stated sourly.
"Just another reason to cut it off," Levi said as the girl fumbled to get her wet hair to stop blowing into her face, "First you almost get scalped because of it, and now you'll catch a cold from it."
"Heh, not happening," Karma said firmly, now protectively running a hand through her hair. Levi shrugged and dropped it, sensing Karma had an emotional attachment to her hair. In the same moment, the Corporal reached inside his jacket to pull out his flask which he took a swig from automatically.
Karma caught the action and pointed it out. "What about you then? Would you be able to give up drinking? It probably serves just as much a purpose as my hair does."
Levi gave the metal flask he held a once-over and found himself unable to give a straight answer. "I don't know," he answered truthfully, "It just makes it easier, I suppose. It's easier to handle memories I'd rather not remember and hold onto the ones I can't afford to forget." Levi took another swig and blankly stared forward. "It's a demanding job. I've got to deal with it somehow."
He heard Karma give a grunt of what sounded like approval and suddenly noticed she wasn't so far away anymore. The flask was unexpectedly taken from his grasp, and Levi looked over to see Karma holding it.
"I'll drink to that," she said in agreement with Levi's rationale. Levi's nose instinctively wrinkled in disgust as Karma took a sip of the alcohol.
"That's vile," he snapped, quickly taking back his flask, "And you're sick, too, to make it worse."
Karma started laughing at Levi's clean-freak nature. "I've got titan blood running through my veins, remember?" she said humorously as she pointed toward herself, "I was being sarcastic before—I'm not actually able to get sick. Plus, that's alcohol. It would kill off any germs that I did have."
Levi gave a huff of disbelief. Heightened immune system and alcohol properties be damned. The Corporal started cleaning the flask anyway out of impulse. Karma just rolled her eyes and chuckled to herself at the stupidity of the action.
They drifted back into silence again, but the quiet was no longer laced with tension. Karma quietly watched the sun sink lower as Levi continued to wipe his handkerchief over the mouth of his flask, both consumed in their thoughts.
Levi was still thinking about what Hanji had told him. He had reflected on everything that had happened since Karma's arrival, and after it all he was shocked that Hanji was actually right. Having done the math, Levi guessed that Karma had spent three days in prison for every one day she was let out, and the daily routine for her consisted of her life or freedom getting threatened to be taken away. At the end of it all, he was left puzzled as to why she had made the decision to stay at all. To go through all of that and still have the resolve to stay and fight for their cause... Levi was unable to understand it.
"Why do you fight?" He asked the question without realizing it.
Karma looked away from the sinking sun and quirked an eyebrow at him. "Why do I fight? With you? Well, if I didn't already spell it out clearly enough, it's because you can be pretty damn unreasonable."
"No," Levi shook his head, "I got that much, thanks. I didn't mean why do you fight with me. I meant, in general, why do you fight?"
"Oh," Karma gave an empty chuckle at mistaking the meaning of the question, "That's definitely a harder question to answer."
She went silent and Levi wondered if he had stepped on a touchy subject again. He waited, nonetheless. Karma eventually spoke.
"I keep finding myself asking that question more and more lately, and I come up with fewer and fewer answers every time," she said distractedly, looking again to the sun as if it had the answers she was looking for. Her face had become all too serious as she continued, "I'm dreading what happens the day when I can't come up with even one."
She trailed off in thought for a minute, but her eyes never stopped searching the sky for answers. After a while, she gave a hollow chuckle and smiled.
"Hope is a funny, fickle thing," she breathed out, "It'll lead you to the ends of the Earth on the promise of fulfilling everything you've ever dreamed of." Suddenly, Karma's face fell. "And then the next thing you know, it's gone, and you're left with the reality that you're trying to accomplish something that no single person on the face of the Earth is capable of accomplishing."
The sun finally sank beyond the horizon, abandoning Karma's eyes to wander around, hopelessly lost.
"Hope can give courage and take it away in the same breath. It's truly a blessing and a curse all in itself." Karma breathed out a deep sigh at seeing darkness slowly take the place of the sun. "Leaves me wondering sometimes if something so unpredictable is worth fighting for in the first place."
Levi had stood listening intently the whole while. When Karma had finally finished, he found himself trying to make heads or tails of her answer. He even went so far as to ask himself the same question.
What was he fighting for exactly?
He didn't have an answer. He fought for something, he was sure of that much. But when he tried to put a label on it, Levi wasn't able to do it.
Could it be that he and Karma weren't really that different after all? That both he and her were being led on a Hope-inspired wild goose chase with no end in sight? Was he even capable of reaching that nameless goal at the end of the chase, or would he be played the hopeless fool chasing some impossible dream?
After a long debate, Levi was left confused and unsure. One thing, however, he was certain of.
Levi wouldn't let himself be played for a fool; not if he could help it.
Karma was completely oblivious to Levi's inner debate and had turned her back to the sky. Languidly stretching her arms, she started moving in the direction of the tower's door.
A chilly breeze caught the girl off guard and caused her to shiver. "Brrr! Let's head back in," Karma said to Levi over her shoulder, "I might not get sick, but I can definitely freeze my ass off. I've still got that key ring, so I should be able to open the door—"
"If it were more than just one person, would it make a difference?"
The abrupt question from Levi made Karma turn back around.
"What do you mean?" Karma asked.
"If it were more than one person that wanted something accomplished, could that change anything?" Levi rephrased himself. "You said the reality is we're trying to accomplish something no single person is capable of accomplishing. Do you really believe if people like you and I worked together, that we would have a better chance of succeeding?"
Levi waited for Karma to take the time to think over his question, but she responded immediately.
Karma gave a genuine smile and a small but certain nod.
"I wouldn't be here if I believed otherwise," she said confidently.
Levi just stood there and let it all sink in. It all made sense now. Karma had already made the decision to stay because even if she was fighting for a hopeless cause, she felt her chances would be better here with him.
And, somehow, the Corporal had come to the realization that he felt the same way. Karma helping him truly was the best chance he had at keeping Hope alive.
The realization struck Levi with overwhelming force and left him reeling. Some part of his conscious acted on its own accord and he found himself reaching inside of his pocket. He had been holding onto it, knowing its worth to Karma would make it very useful somewhere down the line, but he no longer felt the need to hold something over the girl to get her to cooperate.
Karma had started to shiver again, her damp hair not doing her any favors. "Well, now that we've sorted that out, how about we go back inside?"
She was halfway to the door when Levi stopped her.
Only partially turning back in her hurry to leave, Karma just quickly said back, "Yeah?"
"Catch," he ordered. A blurred glint of silver flew her way, and Karma was barely able to lift her hand in time to stop the projectile from hitting her square in the face.
"Oi! What are you trying to start here—" Karma was close to chucking whatever Levi had thrown back at him, but was quickly silenced when her thumb brushed over the familiar, soothing metal.
"Thought it was about time for you to have that back," Levi said as he watched the girl open her hand and came close to tearing up. "You've earned it," he quietly added.
Karma was examining every inch of the necklace like she thought it would disappear right before her very eyes. Her thumb repetitively brushed over the engraved names, Vanessa and Lillium. With the necklace in hand, it felt as if the two people she had most dear were standing right next to her. She could feel her eyes filling with tears of happiness, but blinked them away as quickly as they had arrived.
"Thank you," she finally fumbled out after rediscovering the ability to speak. Levi wordlessly nodded.
This is him meeting me halfway, Karma recognized. He's promising to be more considerate. Karma looked over the necklace again and realized all that was left was for her to meet him halfway, to show that she would be more cooperative. But how am I supposed to—
A thought struck her, and Karma ran with it.
"Carmen," she said in an unsteady voice, "My real name is Carmen."
Levi's eyes widened a fraction. He hadn't actually thought he would get Karma, or Carmen rather, to willingly give her name any time soon. Still, this was a pleasant surprise.
"Good to know," he said and then quickly added, "But I'd be lying if I said I didn't already know."
It was Karma's turn to be surprised as she spotted Levi's lips twitching upward in a sly smile. "How could you have—"
Karma's eyes widened and she reached to pull out the two photos from her pocket. There, on the back of the photo with herself, Vanessa, and Lillium, was writing.
Vanessa (9), Carmen (9) Happy birthday, girls -Lillium
The familiar cursive writing made Karma feel ridiculously stupid. Of course he figured it out, Karma mentally shook her head at her own stupidity. All he needed to know was that my sister's name was Vanessa.
"Should've known you'd find a loophole to figure it out," Karma said good-naturedly.
"I did warn you that I don't play fair," Levi reminded her, strolling over next to her with a victorious smirk.
"I should've known something was up when you decided to rename me Karma." The girl shook her head in annoyance at missing such an obvious sign. Nobody would pick something so close without already knowing the truth.
"That was actually a coincident," Levi admitted, "I got the photos after naming you. Though I find it funny that I was so close without even trying."
"No kidding," Karma chuckled as she compared the two names, "Kar-ma and Car-men."
Both of them smiled at the dumb yet amusing twist of fate before drifting into a comfortable silence.
It was so odd—them getting along. It wasn't bad, not in the least, but it was most definitely odd. They had managed an entire hour alone, and neither person seemed to regret it. Maybe they had even decided that they welcomed the experience.
Levi stuck his hand out to Karma. "I take it we've reached an agreement?"
Karma cocked her head to the side as she looked at Levi's hand. "Well, if you insist," she rolled her eyes dramatically before shaking his hand, "I take it we do. Wouldn't Hanji be proud?"
Levi's gaze drifted off toward the door behind Karma. "I don't know. Why don't you ask her?"
Lifting a finger to signal for Karma to stay silent, Levi took the key ring that Karma had taken out when moving to leave earlier. Walking on feet silent as Death itself, the Corporal approached the door to the stairwell and opened it fluidly. From behind the door poured a heap of tangled bodies, the frontmost one being—of course—Hanji.
"Levi! Karma!" Hanji laughed nervously at being caught, "So great to see things work out between you two! Not that I was eavesdropping or anything, I was just waiting by in case there were screams or something!"
Levi raised an eyebrow, not buying any of it. "Oh, really? And everybody else just decided to accompany you?"
Hanji looked around her to the other members of the Scouting Legion that were currently attempting to untangle themselves. "They just wanted to help if anything went wrong! They were really worried, honest!"
"Give it a rest, Hanji," Levi sighed as Hanji breathed out in relief, "At least everyone's in one place. Makes this a hell of a lot easier."
Giving a sideways glance, Levi waved Karma over and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"I'm only going to say this once, so listen now, and listen good," the Corporal demanded and waited for the wriggling mass of bodies to stop and pay attention. Clearing his throat, he continued, "Due to recent events, I will be revoking Karma's prisoner status. She will work at our side as an equal and is allowed all rights and privileges a normal soldier has. Any problems or questions about this decision I will deal with personally, so I suggest not having any for your own sake. That'll be all."
Levi turned to Karma and gave her a jarring push toward the rest of the Scouting Legion members. Then came the golden words that would change everything:
"Welcome to the Scouting Legion, Carmen."
A/N: I'M ALIVEEEE~! Woah, did I seriously let three months slip away from me? I'm disappointed in myself... Oh, well. Volleyball season will be over soon so I should have more time to write soon :) Thank you for being patient, my lovelies! Know that I would never abandon you; I wouldn't be writing this with a fever of 102 otherwise! (Sorry if my writing suffered because of it :( )
Okay! Big things this chapter! There was some serious amount of Levi and Karma time (bet you suckers thought I meant there was going to be tons of light-hearted fluff, but NO, I went deep this chapter)! We got Karma's real name, and man, did it take a lot to get it! There were a lot of Hanji moments, and is she ever a joy to write! And possibly one of my favorite things in the world... There was plot development! The wheels are in motion now, and the plot is going to hit full-force this next chapter, so I'm super excited for that. **IMPORTANT** HEADS UP: This next chapter will hold certain SPOILERS about titan shifter identities, so if you aren't up to manga chapter 42, I highly suggest reading up to there before my next update!
Another important thing that I have to say is that I am absolutely touched by how much love you readers have shown this story. I mean, we hit 200 followers! How crazy is that?! I can honestly say that I never could have imagined something like this, especially since it's my first attempt ever writing anything like this. So I'd just like to give a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart, and in the spirit of reaching 200 followers I'd like to have a little contest! There will be two winners for this one and I will pick the winners from my favorite two reviews. One of the prizes will be getting to pick a character name for an OC that will enter the story somewhere in the future, and the other prize allows the winner to ask me three yes or no questions about the story that I must answer honestly, so it's a perfect chance to test out those predictions of yours!
Yet again, thanks so much for reading, and feel free to favorite, follow, and review! A question for my lovely reviewers: Why do you think the second photo was torn? I'd love to hear what you guys think!
Have a SUPERMEGAFOXYAWESOMEHOT day! :D