Sweat beaded along Eren's jawline as his body trembled. His eyes, closed tight in terror, shot back and forth beneath their lids. The boy's teeth gritted tight as his free hand gripped the sheets until his knuckles turned white. His lips parted in a silent scream as the tremors overtook him. From outside only terrified onlookers could watch in horror as the boy suffered through a fight unknown. Even more unthinkable were the actions of the man at his side, face calm as he gripped Eren's hand just as tightly as he squeezed back.
"Corporal, please!" One of the men from outside the bars pleaded. "It isn't safe! We don't know its intent!"
"Its?" The Corporal's voice hissed.
"Eren is a he, not an it," the man spat, glowering back at the cowardly soldiers. More like cannon fodder, Corporal of the Survey Corps and soul guardian of the only human-titan hybrid Eren Jaegar thought. "You make me sick. Take your bitch ass for a walk off a cliff, but do me a favor and leave the keys at the door, huh?"
"C-Corporal Rivaille!" The man stammered, face red with embarrassment. His partner had taken the hint and had long since scampered up the stone steps away from the holding cell. "I am speaking out in your favor of survival!"
"And I am telling you to go walk your whiny waste of space off a goddamn cliff. Leave. The keys. At the door," Rivaille narrowed his snake eyes to slits, teeth clenched tight as Eren's hand nearly crushed the bones in his own. The soldier's eyes turned to dinner plates as he watched his leading officer's hand turn red then a faint shade of purple, yet his face never wavering. "You are dismissed."
Without another word the soldier dashed up the steps and locked the thick oak door behind him, his wits left down in the dungeon from which he'd ran. Seeing that the annoyance would not be returning for the rest of the night Rivaille turned his attention back to the convulsing young man, body shaken with agony unseen. A grunt escaped the corporal's lips as the pain shot from his palm up his arm, Eren's grip only tightening mercilessly. "So you finally put up a fight worth the show," he gritted, sweat dripping down his forehead. "Fight, Jaegar."
Just then Eren's lips parted and his lungs swallowed every ounce of oxygen he could before releasing a blood-curdling scream through the stone prison. Rivaille jolted, Eren's grip breaking two bones in his hand before the sound echoed up the stairs and throughout the halls.
The sound instantly drew the attention of bystanders who hurried to unlock the door, failing all the while. In just minutes they'd resorted to pounding on the door and cursing the fearful guard who'd locked the priceless corporal in with a potentially murderous monstrosity. Calls of concern and pounding continued as Eren clenched his teeth tight in pain, eyes scrunched shut.
"Ri-riri-ri-," he stammered, grip loosening. "Riv-ri-riri-ri…"
"Jaegar!" Rivaille snapped, grabbing Eren's face and turning it to his.
For just a moment the boy's eyes peeled open barely at all to focus blearily on the face before him. It was family and strong, an expression he'd never forget. One that had beaten and broken him, as well as helped him stand tall against enemies unspeakable. "Eren Jaegar, tell me who you are!"
From the door more cries of panic ensued, the door being kicked at as if an animal were breaking in, though by Rivaille's calm nature one couldn't guess that anything outside his field of vision was happening. Only Eren mattered. He was not just a matter of national security and the foundation and headman for the salvation of mankind, but he was also something more. He was a dedicated soldier full of fire and fight as well as a subtly compassionate young man willing to die for his friends. He wasn't just an it. God, he'd never be condensed down to a dehumanized title such as that. He was indescribably amounts of more.
"H-h-h-huu… hum… Ri-rir…" He stammered, eyes rolling back again when Rivaille shook the man to semi-consciousness.
"I will not lose you to a goddamn cellar prison and a fever, Jaegar! Tell me who the fuck you are!"
Eren wobbled in Rivaille's grip, body still trembling slightly as his hand wrapped around the sweat-soaked sheets. His mouth opened loosely for a moment before clenching shut in fear. He could not speak. His throat was dry and tight as if tears were burning up in shame behind his eyes, but he was already crying to the point of no end. His body was weak and hot like his passion had finally lit a tangible flame in his core. Though, he knew the answer. At least, he knew what he wanted the answer to be.
"HUMAN!" Eren screamed, body pulsing a few times before becoming completely limp in Rivaille's loose grip. Seeing the boy's exhaustion he gently set him back down on the bed, hand letting go of his shirt collar. Though, it was harder than theory. Rivaille's broken hand was tightly bound to the flimsy fabric of Eren's collar and he could see what removing the hand would take.
Ears ringing with pain from the boy's scream the corporal peeled each finger off the cloth, teeth locked tight in pain as his digits fought any movement. Let us set and heal, they moaned. Though, healing in a fist-like shape wouldn't do a man of war much good besides pounding a podium. Even then, he wasn't the bureaucratic type.
"Fucking hell," the man hissed, finally pulling his hand free just in time for the soldiers to break in the door. Up to twenty different members of the Survey Corps flooded the small passage to the end of the cells to see the source of the screams.
"C-Corporal Rivaille," Jean gasped, seeing the blood dripping from the man's palm.
"I said a goddamn medic you thickheaded brat! I need six fever reducers, a pan of ice water, and towels. Also, if it's not too much for your scrawny ass to remember, a fucking first aid kit and a bottle of whisky would be nice!" Rivaille snapped, Jean turning white as he spun around and ran back up the steps along with Sasha and Connie, both frightened enough to run from that order. "G—fuck," he hissed, shaking the hand out and instantly regretting the motion as agonizing, throbbing pain followed. But there was a time and a place for expressing pain and in front of nearly twenty subordinates was not that time or place.
"Rivaille, sir," Hanji murmured cautiously while the others stood back. "Is Eren alright?"
"I'm not sure. Aren't you supposed to be the monster expert, glasses?" He scowled, more and more of the soldiers scampering off.
"I've only discovered as much as I can with four subjects, all of them killed by the unknown attackers," Hanji laughed nervously. "Though, Sonny and Bean showed no signs of serious illness. The same goes for the other two."
"Your obsession with them disgusts me, glasses."
"What? And you think your obsession with beating Eren doesn't disgust a few here? We've all got our vices, Corporal," she smirked, lenses glinting in the torchlight as she watched the boy sleep. Eren's ragged breathing broke the stilling silence of the holding cells as Rivaille watched him. He refused to address the issue as pain preoccupied the conscious mind exceptionally well.
Within minutes Jean had returned with the alcohol and first aid kit, Connie and Sasha carrying the ice water basins, towels, and medicine. Gasping for breath, Jean spoke. "What is the booze for?"
Without a word Rivaille took it in his unwounded hand and surveyed the bottle. No one dared speak as he clenched the cork in his teeth and ripped it out, spitting the stop on the ground. Hanji, Jean, and Connie all watched in amazement as he tilted the bottle, bottoms-up, and chugged the entire thing. Sasha only gaped in amazement. She'd surely have to ask the corporal how he swallowed his food so quickly as it could be advantageous to her later.
"That's what it was for, you little snot. Now give me that kit and clean Eren up. If his fever spikes again then we can assume he'll be brain dead by dawn."
The man took the first aid kit and sat it down in his lap as he took a seat on a chair beside the boy's bed. Hanji scooted closer and watched as her commanding officer loosely stretched his fingers as much as he could and set the bones before wrapping them tightly. Her wide eyes turned to Jean and the others who were struggling to lift Eren off the bed to change the dripping sheets.
"Newbies, come on!" Hanji laughed, grabbing Eren under both arms and lobbing him over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. "Titans are very light in actuality. Taking into account Eren's infinitesimal weight, he should be easy to lift! And you're expected to carry an injured man to safety, tsk, tsk," she laughed loudly, spinning on one foot to show how effortlessly she could carry a teenage boy made of solid muscle.
She still thinks of him as a titan, Rivaille sighed in his head, looking down at his hand. At least she's not afraid of him.
When Rivaille looked up again the trainees had successfully changed the bed sheets by lining the mattress with clean towels. Hanji had laid Eren back on the bed while Connie and Sasha rung out icy towels and laid them across him. After they'd wrapped him in cold towels and cleaned his face of sweat they moved back for Rivaille's approval.
"Disgusting work," he spat, the three new recruits jolting. "But it's all we can do for now."
"That's it, kids! Lesson over, class dismissed," Hanji beamed, clapping her hands signaling their departure. No complaints were made as the three filed out, faces pallor from what they'd heard and saw. If Mikasa or Armin knew of how terrible Eren's state they might finally snap. Thankfully it was mutually agreed between the three that the boy's condition was privileged information and on a strictly need-to-know basis.
Hanji turned back to Rivaille who was beginning to feel the numbing effect of the alcohol throb through his veins. He took in a slow breath of relief through his nose before turning his sharp eyes to the girl who jumped at the look.
"Tell me, Hanji," the man spoke softly, head still spinning from Eren's scream. "How often did you see a titan out of prime?"
"In top condition," the corporal restated, body beginning to sway.
"Hardly ever. Unless they were dying they've never shown signs of weakness or disease, let alone something as bad as fever pitched night terrors."
"You think that's all it is?"
The titan aficionado turned back to Eren who'd begun to sleep soundly on the bed, body still hotter than possible. Her thoughts spun around theories and the base-level knowledge of the creatures. So little intelligence had humanity collected in all these years that it was almost a joke, but you work with what you've got.
"Titans reach that heat when they're breaking down, but Eren's clearly intact," Hanji nodded, lenses casting off a flickering light. "When I picked him up I nearly dropped him because he was so hot."
"So you think he's dying?"
"No, no. Not dying, perhaps… They say when life was pretty stable outside the walls people would get sick from stresses outside their control. Too much pressure from educational institutions and thankless deeds coupled with a hard home life often got young humans this sick before. Perhaps… he's fighting his identity."
Rivaille looked at the girl as if it was the dumbest idea on the earth. How could Eren be fighting with a being that didn't have its own consciousness because he piloted the body? What a stupid idea, really Hanji. Why don't you quit while you're ahead.
"You've got to be kidding me… tell me again why I let you on my squad?"
Hanji squeaked, face going white as she threw up her hands in defense and shook them. "No, no, you misunderstand. All this time everyone's been asking him who he is. Outwardly he's clearly a human but he is obviously something not alike from the rest. Being such a violent outlier than damage the human psyche, wouldn't you think?"
"Didn't fuck me up," Rivaille muttered, sucking his teeth in boredom.
"Well you were crafted out of the hatred of Lucifer himself and forged in hellfire with the soul of a demon as the rumors say!" Hanji protested. "Eren is a teenage boy who's being threatened with death if he can't control something he knows barely a thing about!"
The corporal couldn't deny that. Not to mention that an entire race of imbeciles and bigots were picketing his execution. If he was ever brought up to the gallows there would probably be cake and wine just to celebrate their first killing of a new kind. How sickening this race was at its bare bones. He could only be thankful for people like Hanji and himself who saw something more than a monster with human skin. Though, Hanji's protective nature was more of a crude scientific sort of love.
Seeing that there wasn't much else to do Rivaille leaned back in his chair and sighed, consciously keeping his hand still as he could. Hanji saw beads of blood blossom from beneath the bandage, but she dared not say anything. The last time someone was naïve enough to point out one of his injuries the kid was sent to the infirmary with a cracked rib and several bruised bones. The scary part was that Rivaille was holding back then.
Hanji jolted, looking to her commanding officer with sweat beading along her neck. "S-sir?"
"Don't let anyone stupid in here while I'm gone," Rivaille muttered.
Just as the girl bent to see the corporal's face he collapsed face first onto the floor. A scream escaped her as Rivaille's body became rigid on the floor, eyes shut tight. Hands clasped her over mouth and eyes wide, she watched as the man's body relaxed. Cautiously she bent at the knees and reached out one hand, the other still sealing her cries behind her lips. One gentle shake of the man's body and she knew. "You passed out?" She sighed, voice pitching in shock. "You shmuck. You can be so careless sometimes, oh, man," Hanji groaned, picking Rivaille up and throwing him over her shoulder much like she'd done with Eren.
Seeing no other option she began walking out of the cell, kicking the barred door shut behind her. Her feet stopped for a moment to watch Eren's body turn slightly and sleep more soundly. What did that soldier see in that kid? Beyond a weapon, there was something pacing in Rivaille's head. But again, she liked her straight nose and more than sufficient eyes. After all, you don't kick a tiny, height-complex stricken dog, do you?
The girl snickered to herself as she imagined Corporal Rivaille as a fuming Chihuahua, ears back in anger as he snapped at the ankles of the unsuspecting. Soon her soft chortles became lip-biting laughter as she emerged from the dungeon. People gaped as they saw Rivaille swaying on Hanji's back, her lips parted in an uncontrollable giggle as she strode down the hall. Trainees parted like the red sea as she turned down the main hall and up the stairs towards the man's private quarters.
Rivaille as a tiny dog. Oh, how the humor never ceased.
The world outside was cold and damp. It made him shiver in shock, curling into himself to try to keep warm. Though, inside it was a fire burning through his bones and demanding cries of pain. No matter where Eren reached nothing brought him relief, but that painful equilibrium was all he could bear. Any hotter or colder and he'd have a meltdown.
I can't… c-can't breathe…
That's… oh, yeah… Rivaille…
"I will not lose you to a goddamn cellar prison and a fever, Jaegar! Tell me who the fuck you are!"
It's so hot… someone drown me… I can't keep this up… I can't breathe…
I have to answer… I'm… not them… I'm not… I… I want to be… I am…
Eren gasped, eyes widening as his body was wracked with a wave of shock. The boy's entirety was trembling beneath the damp towels before he regained his full consciousness. Eyes shooting around the room he saw that it was nearly empty except for one Hanji. She folded her arms over her chest and beamed brightly, face shining with pride.
"Morning, sleeping beauty!" She snickered, Eren blinking in confusion. "Don't remember anything?" He shook his head. "To be expected. You had quite the fever yesterday."
"We don't know the exact number, but you burned my hand." Hanji held up her hand that was loosely wrapped in a bandage.
Head lowering at the thought of hurting more people, Eren began to question his humanity. How many had he heart unconscious? If he couldn't even be safe when he was sleeping then how could he guarantee that he could keep them safe when he was awake? "Oi, oi. Don't sulk," she shooed the bad energy from the air. "Though, I'd check in with Rivaille. He's not talked to anyone since you calmed down."
Without a word Hanji unlocked the cell door and took a step inside, smiling all the while. She strode over to Eren's bed and helped peel the lukewarm towels off his body and unlocked his chain. "Legally I still have to keep you shackled until you're in his custody, but I think we can let this fly."
The two began scaling the steps into the cool light of the recently set sun, the hall devoid of any life beyond their own quiet footsteps. Knowing the trauma he must have endured Hanji kept the conversation to a minimal unlike their first meeting. Eren's eyes kept to the stone floor as they made their way to the long hallway leading to the spiraling stairs.
For such a serious headquarters the details were quite intricate. Then again, Survey Corps HQ wasn't always a fortress of solidity. Once it held aristocratic parties and regal families in the palace home, but they'd long since died away. Now stiff, military-grade boots strode along the floors with cloaks fluttering behind them. Though the twin wings showed a symbol of great skill and bravery, some saw it as the mark of the fool or even worse, a target.
Looking up for the first time in what seemed like an eternity Eren saw that he was facing the base of the staircase, Hanji already hallway around the spiral. "What are you waiting for, Jaegar?" She grinned encouragingly, offering her hand. Not wanting to seem even weaker Eren began walking up the stairs beside her, body still aching from what the girl had said was a fever.
By the time they'd plateaued to the top of the stairs Eren's body was wobbling on the heels of his feet. Hanji asked if he was alright, but he could only give a ragged breath-laden nod. Seeing there was no helping the stubborn ox that Eren was she sighed and turned to open the door.
"Glasses! Were you raised without the concept of knocking?" Rivaille hissed from his desk, head turning and glowering at the two menacingly from over his shoulder. "Well, look who's awake," he raised his eyebrows, turning his head back on his work as they entered.
"Woke up just a bit ago," the girl grinned proudly.
"Leave," Rivaille muttered.
"Huh? But I brought you your prized titan!"
"I meant you, glasses," he hissed.
"What about me?"
Eren stood back and watched the old married couple bicker before a hard stare forced Hanji back out of the door, watching him precariously. She mouthed something to the boy, but he didn't catch it on the account of his lack of care.
The moment the door sealed him in Rivaille's private room Eren became hyperaware of everything. The scribbling noises of the corporal's pen on the long sheet of paper, the way the window was open, letting in a soft breeze that made the flames of the candles dance in their glass cases, and the way that he was just wobbling side to side like an unsteady building in a storm.
When he thought there would be no end to the writing Rivaille put his pen down and stood up, the chair groaning on the wooden floor. Eren's eyes shot up to see the shorter man striding towards him with importance and his hand stiff at his side. It was wrapped in a bloody bandage, but he dared not say anything.
"Fever down?" The corporal asked, placing his uninjured hand on Eren's forehead. "Substantially." Unfortunately curiosity got the best of him.
"Y-your hand, sir."
"What about it?" The man spat, eyes narrowing threateningly.
The boy could feel his throat tighten in fear of the surprisingly intimidating man. Corporal Rivaille was a critical, cynical man of taste and habit. The first encounter outside of childish admiration that Eren had experience with the bitter man had been a boot to the face, knocking a molar clear across the room. Now it was as familiar as working partners that was probably only for the bettering of human survival rates.
It seemed that only Mikasa and Armin truly cared for him as a human being, but Eren could see it in their eyes. Each time he transformed their bodies went rigid with doubt. Mikasa held her blades at the ready, memory darting back to when he'd gone out of control. Surely her pin-sharp instincts had adjusted accordingly to the sight of him. As for Armin he was probably adjusting slowly, but his face showed otherwise. Jean only spat bitter words of constant doubt laced with grief. And as for anyone else Eren wasn't sure because their motives for staying with the Survey Corps were probably fear-driven. God knows that Sasha and Petra didn't stay because they wanted glory. Hell, why did they stay?
Before Eren fever-stricken head raced around useless thoughts any longer Rivaille snapped his fingers in the boy's face. Grey-blue eyes blinking awake from his daze, the boy focused on the curious eyed man watching him from his height below.
"You really don't remember anything, do you, brat?"
"Just… coming out of the titan body and… Mikasa and Armin screaming," Eren cringed, hand coming to his left eye where a throbbing headache beat at his memory. His teeth gritted as the slow, digging pain faded slightly as he put the recollection to rest.
"The collapse from the proxy was sudden," the corporal nodded, turning back and dragging the chair noisily across the floor with his good hand. "Hanji thought that maybe you'd done it, but when we came close we saw that you weren't exactly in control."
The man dropped the chair at the side of the bed. Still tired from drinking through the pain, humanity's greatest soldier slunk into the chair and motioned for Eren to sit on the neatly made bed. It was something. Despite a near crisis situation Rivaille still had time to fold the corners of the comforter beneath the mattress and press the sheets crisp. Some perfectionist he was. Even his kills were clean and precise.
"What do you mean?" Eren asked, nervously sitting on the bed.
"The titan's shell broke down faster than we expected and you were still inside. The screaming you remember was probably your friend's attempts to cut you out of the body before you burned up inside," the man recalled, words concise. "When the girl had ripped back the skin of the neck she saw that you were completely unconscious and much of the muscular tissue had attached to your body."
Eren shuddered, eyes wide with horror as he imagined the scene. Once before, Armin had stabbed him through the left shoulder to get him conscious in the body of the monster, but he'd never been completely fused before, at least not so completely that his body was hard to differentiate from proxy tissues. He was almost afraid to sink his canines into the base of his thumb. What if next time his body did not survive the molecular transformation and he became a solid titan, void of all humanity and conscious actions.
"Luckily we were able to get you out in time, but we had trouble getting you back to the cell," the man continued, eyes closed as he slowly unraveled the bandages around his wounded hand. "Since you were so closely assimilated with the titan flesh your body was a staggering temperature. An hour had passed before your body was nearly approachable. Hanji and Armin ran buckets of water from the well back to you to reduce your temperature and even then your body was surely breaking down."
He was so hot that they had to dump buckets of water on him? They say that when your head gets too hot you can't think straight and all thoughts go to insanity. What if the other titans, humans with that ability of morphing, had succumbed to the heat and lost themselves in a hunger for something whole. Others, innocent people, could have drowned in base instincts of animosity and insatiable hunger for survival because of a brain fever. Though, they could never truly know because trying to get that close to one of the creatures could easily result in your death.
"Once you'd cooled off Hanji threw you over her shoulder and sprinted towards your room. While she moved you she called out orders for supplies. I have to admit it to her, the girl's morale never falters in any situation."
"How… I'm not dead, but…" Eren stammered, hands shaking in his lap.
"It probably has something to do with your resilience thanks to body with titan blood. If you didn't have that regenerating property you'd be dead by the time your friends pulled you out," the corporal nodded, staring at the purple, black, and yellow bruising on his hand. The kid had really done a number on him, hadn't he?
Silence stretched between them as Rivaille grabbed a glass bottle of what appeared to be brandy off the nightstand and pulled the stopper off with his teeth. For a mannerly military leader he sure used his mouth a lot. In a moment of shock, shoving everything aside, Eren watched as the man gulped the entire bottle down and dropped it back on the little wooden table with a loud bang.
"What?" He asked, face disinterested as he turned back to the confused young soldier.
"Why… your hand, I mean… what?"
"Huh? Don't look so surprised you little shit. You did this number on me!" Rivaille barked, rubbing his mouth with the back of his good hand.
"Well who fucking else? I didn't lose an arm wrestle with a colossal you moron!" The corporal snapped sharply. Though, Eren had to admit that it wasn't something he'd put past the small, angry man, arm wrestling the greatest threat to humanity. "When Hanji put you on the bed your body immediately began convulsing. Mikasa was snapping at asking me what was going on and nearly losing composure when I ordered she leave. That was one hell of a fight."
"Wait, wait… convulsions," Eren nodded, urging the man forward on the topic.
"You reached a degree of heat that bystanders could only gape at and soon people gave up. Two guards watched your cell while I oversaw your progression. Soon the tremors escalated to balling the sheets in your fists and gritting teeth. Then, towards the end, your fitful gasping became screaming. But I fixed it."
The deadpan of the situation almost threw Eren off the bed. How could the corporal just be so proudly blunt? 'But I fixed it,' as if there was just a magic spell that put the boy into a deep sleep. Though, Rivaille didn't seem up to explaining the trick as his head was craned back, eyes closed to null the pain wracking through his arm. Eren was sure that the corporal's injury had everything to do with how his fever-driven madness had ceased and he was determined to find out, but not that night.
The boy wobbled in place again, head becoming foggy as he pressed his hands against his knees to steady himself. If he passed out there he would surely be labeled someone to frail to handle the pressure of humanity's success. How could he hold up the name of a species when he could barely keep his head up? Though he wished to know the answer and would have gladly spent hours thinking up ways to cut every titan—even the colossal titans—down to size, he was losing his grip on consciousness fast.
"Just sleep, Jaegar," Rivaille whispered, eyes still closed. "Don't fight a recovery when you're weak enough as it is."
Pride taking a sucker punch, Eren dug his nails into his knees. He would not succumb to the corporal's spiteful words. He had to keep awake to prove him wrong. He had to make someone believe he was better than a weapon or a monster. He had to… he had to… he had to aim his head for that pillow or he was going to collapse onto the floor.
Rivaille's eyes popped open as the clattering of Eren's body crumpling to the floor in a heap of limbs broke the meditative silence. A frustrated sigh escaped the older man as he stood up from the chair and jerkily straightened Jaegar out on the floor. After a painful effort at making him a bit more comfortable Rivaille pulled the comforter off the bed and over the body's frame. "I told you to sleep. That meant on the bed, you little shit," he spat, walking over the body and climbing into bed. It wasn't so bad, sleeping with the sheets and the thinner blanket on top, but it wasn't the same as the plushness of a soft duvet. Whatever. "Enjoy that, brat."
Head swimming with the beast Rivaille took no time in falling asleep on the bed, hand rigid and held close to his chest so that he would knock it on anything in the middle of the night. If that happened he didn't have any confidence in holding up his stoic façade around the subordinates. Hell, if that happened all fucks had gone out the window and the sailor's mouth would come out. After all, who can without a good, solid, "FUCK," when you're angry and in pain?
Those thoughts were put to rest as both of the young men fell victim to the sandman, breathing filling the quiet room. Maybe tomorrow wouldn't be so disastrous. After all, each dawn is a new day and another chance. Though, one can only hope that Eren has more dawns in his future.