Disclaimer: I don't own 進撃の巨人
Author's Notes: I'm sorry it took so long and I'm sorry for the cliffhanger last chapter. You have all been very patient and the reviews have been lovely, so thank you for that. Happy New Year! I hope you enjoy this chapter.
A couple things: I have changed danchou's name spelling from Irvin to Erwin… because apparently that is the official spelling now. Or always was. I don't know, the Shingeki wiki has changed it at least three times. I don't even know which it is, but I'm going to use Erwin from this chapter onwards. And eventually go back and change it in the previous few chapters. Hope that doesn't bother anyone!
Also, due to major time constraints (on my part) and just a terrible schedule that makes writing/updating rather difficult, I have decided not to have my chapters beta-ed anymore. I would like to thank jamjackevo and deathmakesapoet for their wonderful help so far. Though I have started proofreading my own work, I hope this chapter doesn't have too many grammatical errors and the like!
Spoiler alert: I have incorporated most of the events of SnK manga chapter 51 and 52 into the storyline (with a few slight changes in chronology/dialogues) so please bear that in mind if you are not up to date with the manga.
Chapter 7: Control
Mikasa spluttered as she felt herself tumble out of the moist cavern of Eren's Titan mouth into his hand. A spasm of pain shot through her side at the sudden movement, but she ignored it.
I was stupid to doubt you even for a second, she thought, guilt curling in her stomach.
She knew the tactic – after all, Annie had carried Eren in her mouth. It was the safest way to fight other Titans and run away. But yet, when Eren's jaws had closed around her, Mikasa had felt a spike of fear because of his earlier actions. However, she feared him no longer.
You did it, Eren! You controlled it!
She looked around – the Titan's emerald gaze was on her, the eyes so foreign and yet so familiar at the same time. They were deep in the forest, but it was oddly peaceful, with not a single Titan in the vicinity.
He saved me. We got away. We escaped.
Eren's large fingers wrapped around her, but his touch was soft, gentle, even tender, if the actions of an enormous Titan could be described as such.
He's so different from before… how is he controlling it so well this time?
He sat down heavily and leaned back against a large tree, still cradling her in his hands. He bought her up to his chest, almost like a giant embrace, and held her there. The tips of his long hair brushed against her.
Mikasa lay there in his hands, reaching up to touch his rough cheek.
"Eren," she said softly, "thank you. You saved me."
She placed both her hands – the whole and the torn – against his cheek. His skin was rough under her palms.
Suddenly, she felt something warm and wet splash onto her face. Mikasa looked up and gasped. Tears were streaming down Eren's cheeks like small waterfalls.
His grip around her tightened, just slightly, not enough to hurt. He didn't let go.
"Eren, don't cry. It's okay."
The dark hair enveloped her as he bowed his head, and she felt his warm breath. It made her feel oddly safe. He was shaking though, his large hands were trembling as he held her to him.
"I'm okay," Mikasa crooned, touching the rough, wet cheek. "I'm okay now. Because of you, Eren. Because you saved me."
Mikasa felt a lump grow in her throat at the sight of his tears; but also an overwhelming sense of relief and welling happiness.
Welcome back, Eren.
Eventually, she drifted off to sleep in the safety and warmth of his hold.
Mikasa cracked her eyes open. Beams of sunlight streamed through the canopy above, casting their surroundings in a dreamy, hazy light. The forest was quiet, peaceful.
This is like a dream…
Mikasa leaned back against something hard, warm – and then her heart gave a sudden, wild flutter as she realized what – or rather who it was.
Eren had probably transformed back into a human at some point when she had been fast asleep. Because he was there now, as human as ever, right behind her.
She was nestled between his legs and her back was against his hard chest. She could feel it move against her as he breathed softly. Eren's arms were wrapped snugly around her, and his chin rested on her shoulder. His brown hair was tickling her cheek, and his warm breath ghosted against her chin.
He was close, so close – she could feel him, feel the way they were pressed together so intimately. His proximity was intoxicating; Mikasa felt lightheaded. Even as children, they had never been in such a position before.
She turned slightly in his grasp so that she could face him. As if awoken by her movements, Eren cracked an eye open.
"Go back to sleep," he mumbled into her hair. "There's time."
He tightened his hold around her, his hand moving to the back of her head, pushing it back gently to rest on his chest. His actions only thrilled her more as he was conscious, or at least partially so.
He knows it's me. And he knows he's holding me like this. It can't be an accident.
Mikasa's heart was pounding and brimming with hope. She relaxed into Eren's embrace. After all, how many years had she craved to be held by him, exactly like this? It was all she had wanted, for the longest time.
Despite everything – despite the fact that she had lost a hand, broken a rib or two, and probably would never be able to fight again – in that moment, Mikasa felt more content and complete than she had ever been in her life.
She lay there in Eren's arms, refusing fall asleep. She wanted to savor every moment of this rare affection he was displaying towards her.
"Why're you still awake?" Eren grumbled after a few moments.
"I can tell." He shifted his head a little bit. Their cheeks brushed.
"I – I'm not tired anymore," Mikasa said quietly, hoping that he wouldn't hear or feel the rapid thumping of her heart.
Eren said nothing to that, but didn't release her either. One of his hands found hers – the stump. Mikasa wished at that moment that she had fingers, just so that she could thread them through his. Eren's fingers ran lightly over the healed skin.
"I'm so fucking sorry," he whispered shakily. "You don't know how much it kills me to see this, and worse, to know I did it."
"You know… when I was fighting those Titans, I really – I really enjoyed it, in a way."
"H-huh?!" Mikasa turned to face him, pulling away slightly. His green eyes were swirling with regret and anger, and a sadness Mikasa had rarely seen in them.
"All the pain. I welcomed it. I felt like I deserved it, a hundred times over. It felt good at the time, you know. It felt good to get all beat up. I thought I even wouldn't mind dying, if I could just manage to save yo-"
"Eren!" Mikasa cried. "What are you saying?!"
His eyes snapped up to hers, and he frowned at the sight of her anguished expression.
"Sorry," he mumbled. "I – I don't feel like that right now."
"It's not your fault, Eren." Mikasa found his other hand with her good one. Her breath caught in her throat as Eren immediately slipped his fingers through hers – so easily, so naturally, as if it was an instinctively tuned action.
"It is," Eren said bitterly. "You know, I really – I really tried staying away from you. I wanted to visit you when you were recovering, but I stopped myself."
"I'm glad you've come back though."
Eren pulled her back into him, his hand finding her hair, stroking it gently. Mikasa didn't know how long they stayed like that, but she fluttered her eyes shut and rested her cheek against his chest, listening to the sound of his beating heart.
I'm glad you've finally come back to me.
It was unspoken, but both Eren and Mikasa knew that things between them were finally the way they were supposed to be.
Or are they?
Mikasa wondered if it was a good time to tell him about her true feelings. He was being so sweet to her, so tender, so caring that it made her heart ache.
I love you, Eren. No, I'm in love with you, I always have been.
But she was afraid. Afraid that it would break this beautiful but delicate balance they had reached. Afraid that he would be disgusted, and start ignoring her. After all, Eren had never hinted at having romantic feelings for her.
I know he cares about me a lot. But that doesn't mean he doesn't consider me a sister. It could be entirely platonic.
Eren would probably feel to guilty to reject her outright. He'd probably feel terrible about it, sympathetic even. Worse he would pity her, and go along with it just so not to hurt her feelings. Mikasa didn't think she would be able to stand pity from Eren.
Still… the way he's holding me right now… is that really how you would hold someone you considered a sister, Eren?
Mikasa knew that Eren was entirely unfamiliar with physical affection. Their lives had been entirely consumed with fighting Titans; he probably didn't even realize the implications of what he was doing. He was just being protective.
I shouldn't read into it. It's Eren. He probably doesn't even realize the difference.
They stayed there for a while, Mikasa consumed by her own thoughts. She wished she could read Eren's mind, and know what he was thinking.
"What – are you thinking about?" she finally asked him, a little shyly.
"Hm?" Eren paused his stroking to twirl a lock of her hair around his finger. "I was just wondering about the rest of the Scouting Legion. Levi heichou and the rest. There were a lot of Titans and they would have been caught off guard."
"They're more than capable of fighting them off and there weren't any intelligent ones with them," Mikasa assured him.
"Do you think it was a coincidence though? Or planned?"
"I really don't know. It's like what happened at Castle Utgard. Titans randomly appearing inside the walls. Wasn't heichou saying that Ape Titan was behind it?"
"That hairy fucker," Eren growled. "He's responsible for a lot of this crap that's going on and he's on their side. Even if cutting his neck doesn't work, I'd really like to stick my blades up his ass."
"You sound just like Levi heichou." Mikasa giggled.
"Please." Eren snorted, before removing his arms from around her. Mikasa immediately missed his touch. Eren stood up and extended a hand to her.
Mikasa felt herself blush as she took it, letting him help her up.
"Are you alright? Do you think you can walk?" he asked.
"Mm." Mikasa nodded, not meeting his eyes.
Is this what it would feel like, if we were together? Is this how he would treat me?
His hand didn't leave hers as he led her through the forest. Mikasa winced at the pain that shot up her side as they walked, Eren setting a brisk pace. Soon enough, he noticed.
"You're so stubborn," he sighed, shaking his head. "If you're injured, why can't you just say so?"
"I'm fine, Eren."
He leaned down, nodding at Mikasa to clamber onto his back again. She did, wrapping her arms around his neck. This time, they weren't being chased by Titans and Mikasa was fully aware of how his hands cupped her legs, how the taut muscles of his arms brushed against her thighs as he carried her.
"Eren…" she murmured after a moment. "Can I ask you something?"
"Before, with those Titans. It was almost like they were afraid to attack you. Like they were obeying what you wanted. How did you do it?"
Eren's cheek brushed against hers yet again. "I honestly don't know."
"Were you – were you able to control them?"
"It seemed like that, didn't it?"
"So you don't know how?"
"I don't understand anything that happened at that moment," Eren admitted. "All I knew is that I had to protect you at any cost. Maybe that's where the power came from."
There was a familiar shout, followed by the sound of whizzing wires. From the treetops above, Jean came barreling down towards them. His face was deathly pale, his amber eyes lined with dark circles.
"Mikasa! You - you're alright!"
Jean landed shakily next to them and stood up. A few seconds later, Connie, Hanji and Erwin emerged from the trees as well.
"I told you they'd be okay!" Connie cried joyously, his face lighting up.
"Eren, let me down," Mikasa murmured.
The moment Eren had set Mikasa down, Jean had grasped her by the shoulders.
"Mikasa. Fuck. Don't do that to me again," he muttered hoarsely.
"I'm fine," Mikasa said soothingly, patting his arm, "it's okay – "
She was startled when he suddenly pulled her towards his chest.
"I was so worried –" Jean mumbled, and Mikasa was taken aback by his sudden intensity. She felt a twinge of guilt for worrying him – she knew how that felt after all, she had worried countless times over Eren – and thought that maybe hugging him back would be a good way to offer comfort.
Her arms didn't move though. She remained stiff and awkward, letting Jean hold her, but feeling nothing.
Nothing like it did with Eren…
Eventually, Mikasa settled for patting him on the back.
"I'm glad you're okay – " Jean muttered. "I really thought – "
"You thought I'd kill her?"
Eren's voice was harsh, edged with a rough challenge, and he gripped Mikasa's arm, prying her away from Jean.
"You swallowed her," Jean said angrily. "What was I supposed to think?!"
"I was saving her life," Eren snarled.
"You could have chosen a better way to do it –"
"What's that supposed to mean?!"
"Well, given your past record, you can't blame me for thinking it," Jean snapped.
Eren froze, his entire form going rigid as the chilling truth of Jean's words hit him like ice. It's not like he had needed the reminder – the knowledge of what he had done, what he nearly could have done, had haunted his every waking moment since the incident.
"Jean! Don't say that!" Mikasa reprimanded. "It wasn't Eren's fault, he wasn't in control of himself, he – "
"No. Don't defend me, Mikasa," Eren said slowly, a dangerous softness in his tone. "He's absolutely right."
Jean stared at him blankly.
"I fucked up. I fucked up twice. I couldn't control it before," Eren agreed. "But you know what, Jean? I can control it now. I can control myself now, and I'm not entirely sure of this new power, but I think I can control the other Titans as well."
"What?!" Hanji exclaimed, interjecting for the first time since she had arrived. "What marvelous new power is this, Eren?! Details, I need details!"
"I – I don't know myself," Eren admitted. "It's just – before – it seemed like – the Titans were afraid to attack me. And when I attacked a Titan – it was like they all followed my lead and started attacking it too."
Connie's eyes were as wide as dinner plates, and Hanji seemed ready to explode with excitement. Erwin walked forwards, surveying Eren intently.
"You mean something similar to what the Female Titan displayed?" he asked.
"I don't know," Eren repeated. "It's not like I screamed out or commanded them to do anything. It's just – for a few seconds it felt like they were doing what I wanted them to. I wanted them to stay away, and they did. I wanted them to let me kill them, and they did."
"Interesting," Erwin noted, before looking at Mikasa. "Did you notice anything?"
"When – when he was in human form, before transforming, I think his hands were on fire," Mikasa said. "His fists, it's like – they were surrounded with flames."
"Do you realize what this means?!" Hanji cried. "With such power – we could really – for the first time in history, humanity stands a chance against them!"
"Don't get hasty," Erwin said. "We'll need to discuss this in more detail later. Eren hasn't even confirmed the scope of his power yet, or whether or not he can truly and fully control Titans."
"I don't get one thing though," Jean spoke up sourly. "If you've had this great power all along… why haven't you used it before? We could have used it countless times – when we fought Annie, when you got kidnapped and we risked our lives to save you – even on that last mission, it was me who saved your beloved Mikasa – "
"Look, I thanked you for that already," Eren snapped, "and I also told you – I didn't know I had this power. I don't even know how I awakened it. All I know is that somehow, something happened."
"'Somehow, something happened'" Jean scoffed. "And that is the kind of weapon that is going to save humanity."
"Jean. Eren. Enough," Erwin said brusquely. "We need to get back to the headquarters as soon as possible. You can settle your personal disputes later."
He turned around and began walking, followed by Hanji.
"Can you walk?" Connie asked Mikasa. "We bought horses, but they're about half a mile away."
"I'm okay Connie, really," Mikasa assured him. "I'll walk."
"I can carry you," Jean offered immediately, but Eren glared at him, hard.
"She said she can walk. Besides, Mikasa doesn't need you protecting her, Jean," Eren said icily. His arm curled around Mikasa's shoulder, and his grip was tight.
Mikasa did not particularly enjoy being protected but Eren's possessiveness was something new to her – new and thrilling.
She allowed Eren to steer her away, leaving a befuddled Jean gaping after them.
"Bro." Connie slapped Jean on the shoulder. "Bro, Eren finally woke up. You've got competition now, like real competition."
"Do you think you can ride, Mikasa?" Erwin asked.
"Yes." Mikasa nodded.
"Danchou, she's hurt her ribs," Eren spoke up. "Riding will only shake them up more."
"Is that so?" Erwin sighed. "I don't want to exacerbate your injuries, Mikasa, but I do want to get back to headquarters as soon as possible. We can't risk running into Titans in this state."
"I can ride, danchou," Mikasa said, shooting a look at Eren who had opened his mouth in protest. "You're right, getting back quickly is priority. I will manage."
"We only have four horses," Hanji said apologetically, "Perhaps – "
"Mikasa can ride with me," Eren said, much to Jean's chagrin. He turned to the girl next to him. "Here, I'll help you on."
"Guess that means I'll ride with you," Connie said, mounting the horse behind Jean. "I know that I'm not the one you wanted behind you on this romantic little horse ride but –"
"Shut up," Jean hissed at him, shooting a glance over to Eren and Mikasa. "I'm not in the mood to listen to your sick jokes."
"How is everyone in the Scouting Legion?" Eren asked as they rode towards the headquarters. "Levi heichou and the others?"
"There were no casualties this time, fortunately," Hanji replied. "Levi's rather cranky since he was left out of all the fun. Other than that, everything is wonderful."
"They chose the wrong place to attack," Erwin said. "Our stronghold, filled with our best fighters and all of our supplies. It didn't hurt that you had finished off a good portion of the Titans yourself."
"And I was so close to capturing one too," Hanji moaned. "And then that silly girl killed it at the last moment."
"It was Sasha," Connie whispered to Eren and Mikasa as they rode alongside him and Jean. "You should have seen Hanji-san's face when she sliced it's neck open."
"It had been such a majestic specimen," Hanji lamented. "A ten-meter class! I had even decided on a name for it!"
"What were you going to name it?" Eren asked curiously.
"Levi Jr.," Hanji replied, and Eren could feel Mikasa laughing silently behind him.
"How did heichou react to that?"
"A very tall Titan named after a very short man," Hanji said wistfully. "I'm sure Levi would be honored. "
"I would suggest you not tell him that," Erwin advised.
"I still don't understand though," Eren said after a few minutes. "If there's no breach, how are they getting inside the walls? Is it that Monkey Titan's doing?"
"It might be," Erwin said. "It might not be. The honest answer is, we still have no clue."
"It's happened before though, hasn't it?" Jean asked. "With Connie's village, at Castle Utgard? At that time, wasn't it the Ape Titan who was behind it?"
"He led the attack, yes," Erwin nodded, "but we still don't know how the Titans made it inside the walls when there was no breach. It's highly unlikely that they've learned to climb them; one of our scouts would have spotted it."
"I – I actually have – have an idea about that," Connie said in a small voice.
Five pairs of eyes turned on him. Connie looked unusually somber at that moment, his eyes downcast.
"Hey man, are you okay?" Jean asked him. "What's up? What's your theory?"
Connie was silent for a few moments, as they rode on.
"Erwin-danchou, Hanji-san," he said finally. "I've been wanting to tell you something for awhile. Could I speak to you once we reach headquarters?"
When they reached headquarters, Connie was escorted by Hanji over to Levi's room. Mikasa was immediately lowered onto a stretcher, despite her protests.
"There, set her down gently," Eren said, not leaving her side. An anxious looking Jean was there as well, hovering over her as the medics lifted her stretcher.
"I'll trust the two of you to take care of her," Erwin said, taking his leave. "Make sure she eats something after her injuries are taken care of."
"I don't get what's so secret about this meeting that we can't go too," Jean grumbled, as he and Eren waited outside Mikasa's room for the nurses to treat her. "I mean, we're his friends, you'd think Connie would tell us."
"I'm sure they'll let us in on it if it's something important," Eren said. "What's taking them so long inside?"
The door finally opened, and two of the nurses filtered out.
"You can see her," the nurse nodded, and both Eren and Jean shot into the room.
"How bad is it?" Eren asked worriedly.
"Two fractured ribs," Mikasa told him. "At least ten weeks out of commission this time."
"You'd better take that seriously and rest this time!" Eren said.
"I'll rest until I feel better."
"No, you'll rest ten weeks because that's what they told you!"
"My body needs conditioning – "
"Oh, shut up, Miss Perfect, don't start with that crap again – "
"Forget that for now," Jean interrupted the bickering duo and turned to Mikasa. "Are you hungry? You should eat. I can bring you something from the kitchen."
"What, are you her personal maid?" Eren snorted.
"I'm just being a good friend!" Jean fired back.
"I told you, she doesn't need you babying her!"
"Mikasa's not like you," Jean retorted. "Some people actually appreciate the attention."
"Eren, drop it," Mikasa said wearily, seeing that Eren was riled up, his green eyes flashing dangerously. "Not now, please."
Fortunately, Sasha chose that moment to appear, breaking the tension as she flung the door open and skid into the room, sopping wet and, for some unfathomable reason, covered in bubbles.
"Mikasa! Eren!" Sasha shrieked. "I heard you were back! You're okay, aren't you, Mikasa?! Why on earth would you try using 3DMG if you were injured?!"
She hugged Mikasa, who shuddered slightly, spluttering as bubbles filled her mouth. "I – I'm fine. Why are you so wet?"
"Eren, you saved her, didn't you?" Sasha beamed at him. "Good for you! I knew you had it in you!"
"Th-thanks," Eren said, a little taken aback, but feeling a sudden surge of gratitude towards Sasha. Unlike Jean, at least she didn't continuously question his actions towards Mikasa.
"Why are you wet?" Jean asked her, echoing Mikasa's question. Sasha's expression grew comical.
"Oh crap! I have to go, I have to go!" she wailed. "I'd love to stay and talk, but Levi heichou said if I don't finish cleaning all the toilets by sunset, I'm banned from dinner!"
"What? Why?" Eren asked, bewildered.
"What did you do to piss off the chibi?" Mikasa asked, looking mildly amused.
"Overate and puked somewhere, I presume," Jean said, shaking his head.
"They had baked potatoes at dinner!" Sasha wailed. "My favorite! Unfortunately, my stomach started acting up right when I bumped into him on the way to the restroom."
"You puked on Levi heichou?" Eren gasped, amazed. "How are you still alive?"
"Sasha, from today onwards you are my new hero," Mikasa said solemnly. "Whenever you're hungry, just tell me. I'll smuggle you food from the kitchen myself."
"Really?" Sasha's eyes lit up and she grabbed Mikasa's hands. "Really, Mikasa, you mean it?!"
"Don't you have toilets you need to be cleaning?" Jean interjected.
"You're right!" Sasha exclaimed, suddenly grabbing Jean's arm. "Let's go!"
"What?!" Jean spluttered. "Why me?! I didn't puke on Levi heichou!"
"Please Jean!" Sasha begged, looking at him with watery eyes. "I can't do it alone and Mikasa needs to rest! I would have asked Connie but he's at some top-secret meeting with all the higher-ups!"
Sasha turned to Eren, who shook his head immediately. "I – I have to stay with Mikasa. Makes sure she eats, and – stuff."
"I thought you said Mikasa doesn't need to be babied around," Jean pointed out and Eren ignored him.
Sasha, however, bought the excuse. "You are absolutely right Eren," she said. "I trust you to take care of my dear friend. Jean and I will be back as soon as we're done cleaning!"
She then proceeded to drag a rather unwilling Jean off.
"What the heck?! Sasha! I didn't agree to this!"
"I'll give you one fourth of my secret bacon stash!"
"Let go of me, potato girl!"
"One half, please don't do this to me Jean! I thought you were a gentleman!"
"I am! And how are you the victim in this situation?!"
They disappeared around the corner, still bickering, leaving Eren and Mikasa alone.
"Sorry," Eren mumbled after a moment.
"For what?" Mikasa asked, confused.
"Before – for being so – I don't know. I hate seeing you like this, injured again. It really bothers me. And Jean. Jean bothers me too. I can't explain why, he just – " Eren broke off, a flush coloring his cheeks.
"Eren?" Mikasa reached out, tentatively taking his hand in her good one.
"Forget him," Eren said, his thumb tracing over Mikasa's knuckles, though he refused to meet her eyes. "You need to eat something. I'll get you food."
"I'll do it," Eren said, after watching Mikasa struggle with a knife and a fork for a few moments. It disturbed him to see how she couldn't even perform the simplest daily tasks by herself.
"Thank you," Mikasa whispered, as he cut her food for her.
Eren's eyes were pained when they met hers.
"Don't say that. Not to me."
He held out the fork expectantly, and Mikasa stared at him.
"I – I can eat myself, you know." Mikasa reached out for the fork.
Eren smirked slightly. "Now you know how it feels?"
She blushed, but opened her mouth, and allowed him to feed her.
"Sorry to interrupt your hot date," Levi announced, limping into the room a few minutes later and dropping himself onto the chair next to Eren.
"What the heck – this isn't – " Eren began, spluttering incoherently as his face grew red.
"Heichou." Mikasa managed to keep her voice calm and her face straight, though her heart was fluttering at his comment. "Is it just me, or have you grown shorter?"
Eren laughed, as Levi fixed Mikasa with a glower.
"And you're as much of an incorrigible brat as before. That's no way to talk to your superiors."
Mikasa bowed her head slightly. "You're right. I was out of line. My apologies."
Levi shot a still-sniggering Eren a dirty look, before turning back to Mikasa, his expression softening. "How are you holding up?"
"I'm fine," Mikasa said.
"I know how frustrating it is, not being able to use it, you know. Not being able to fight. Of course, mine is only a temporary injury so I can't imagine how much it sucks for you."
Mikasa said nothing, her gaze falling to the floor.
"As for you," Levi turned to Eren. "Heard you discovered a fancy-ass new power, huh? You can control Titans?"
"I believe so, heichou."
"Is that how you saved yourself and Mikasa after the both of you entirely disobeyed protocol and ran off together at night?"
"Sir, that was entirely my fault, Eren didn't –" Mikasa began, but Levi cut her off.
"Save it. I'll spank the both of you for that later. Right now we have more pressing concerns. Connie's just dropped a bomb, which has pretty much confirmed some of Hanji's initial doubts about the Titan origins. Erwin wants to see the two of you right now."
When they entered the room, Eren was surprised to see that not only Erwin, Hanji and Connie were there, but also Commander Dot Pixis.
He and Mikasa saluted quickly and Pixis nodded at them.
"Eren Jaeger. Mikasa Ackerman. Humanity's last hope and humanity's strongest fighter."
"Second strongest," Levi corrected. "I trained the brat myself, she still isn't close to surpassing me."
"You're getting old, Levi," Pixis told him. "Soon you'll find the 3DMG takes a toll on the muscles…"
"I've a long way to go, unlike you, you old geezer," Levi shot at him. "I'm surprised you haven't drank your way to an early grave."
"Please Levi, as if I don't know what that 'tea' you drink every day is. Stop trying to hide it, drinking whiskey out of a teacup does not make you classier."
"It is tea." Levi scowled, taking a sip from said teacup.
"And thank you for the compliment sir, but I can no longer use 3DMG properly," Mikasa spoke up.
Pixis looked at her sympathetically. "Yes, I heard, and it's a pity to say the very least. I hear that you were worth an army. Your services to humanity won't be forgotten."
"Thank you, sir," Mikasa said softly, and Eren felt the familiar guilt well up within him again.
"Don't look so miserable," Levi told her. "In fact, once you hear the big news, I think you'll feel a bit relieved that you can't fight."
"What do you mean by that?" Eren demanded, before his gaze fell on Connie.
The usually cheerful boy's face was drawn tight, and his eyes were rimmed red.
'What's wrong?" Eren asked. "Connie, are you okay?"
"Eren would you like a drink, while we wait for the others?" Pixis asked, offering his glass. "Trust me, you'll need it soon enough."
"You can't go around offering alcohol to minors, Pixis, that's a criminal offense," Levi drawled. "The Military Police would have you fined for that."
"That's why I prefer you folks of the Scouting Legion," Pixis replied.
"I'm sorry for making you get out of bed, Mikasa," Erwin said. "You need rest, but there is a truly important matter at hand."
"It's not a problem, I understand, sir."
A few minutes later, Jean and Sasha entered, along with Keiji, Raye and a few of the other scouting legion soldiers.
"I think that's everyone," Erwin said, as they settled down.
"Braus, you will sit over there, at that end of the table, at least five meters away from me," Levi said, an expression of disgust crossing his face as Sasha beamed at him.
"I'm pretty sure if I did feel the urge to vomit, I could project it in your direction, sir," she replied cheekily, and both Eren and Mikasa fought back laughter.
Levi was radiating killer intent, and Hanji had burst out laughing.
"Okay, you're golden," Hanji cackled. "I forgive you for killing Levi Jr."
"Who the hell is Levi Jr.?!" Levi demanded, narrowing his eyes.
"Enough of this," Erwin said gravely. "Let's get started. Connie, if you don't mind, if you could please repeat your story."
The mood in the room darkened then, and both Levi and Hanji's faces turned somber. Connie sniffled, before wiping his nose messily with his sleeve.
"Right," he began. "So – that time we went to my village, and found it destroyed by Titans…"
Eren felt his bones turn to ice as the cold realization of what Connie had said, and Hanji had confirmed, washed over him.
The Titans was actually my mother… she had somehow transformed into a Titan…
She was still waiting for me at home… she welcomed me back… she recognized me…
All the villagers were turning into Titans…
Experiments… cutting their necks… spinal cords… it's confirmed that all Titans were originally humans…
The words echoed in his head, taunting him, forcing him to question every one of his vows and actions.
I'll kill them all! Every fucking last one of them!
What if my mother had turned into a Titan? What if my father had turned into a Titan? What if my friends had turned into Titans?
Who was the Titan that ate mother? Who was the Titan that ate Thomas, and all the others? Who were they before? How did this happen to them?
Titans only exist to eat humans. Humans kill Titans.
Are we fighting ourselves? Are we killing one another? What is happening?
Who have I killed? How many people have I killed, promised to kill?
Eren felt his head reeling, and then suddenly he felt Mikasa's hand on his arm, her skin cool and soft.
"Eren," she asked tentatively. "Are you alright?"
Eren shook himself back to his senses, nodding. "I – I'm fine."
"Here," Mikasa said softly, handing him a tissue. Eren stared at her.
He reached up and realized that his cheeks were, indeed, wet.
"It's okay," Mikasa said, gently wiping his tears away with the tissue. Eren stared at her, and for a moment, he allowed himself to drown in her dark, dark eyes. For a moment, he forgot all the turbulent thoughts ravaging his mind, and focused on Mikasa.
Because she was Mikasa and she had always been by his side, and she was there, dabbing away gently at his tears, and for a second Eren was overcome by an urge to just hold her – and then the sudden, terrible thought assuaged his mind.
What if Mikasa turns into a mindless Titan like Connie's mother?
"It can't be!" he gasped, slamming his hands on the table. "If Titans – if Titans are just humans – then who are we fighting? Who have I killed?!"
Eren glanced around the room to see that both Jean and Sasha looked as traumatized as he did, both of them staring ahead with identical expressions of horror etched onto their faces. Connie was shaking, his head buried in his arms as Hanji patted him on the back, her face frighteningly serious. All the other soldiers were in a similar state of shock and a deafening silence filled the room as each one of them pondered the very same terrible question.
"You're asking that?" Levi's voice cut through the air. "I'm considered humanity's strongest soldier. Basically, what that makes me is humanity's worst serial killer. Humanity's mass murderer."
"Levi," Erwin said warningly. "I told you this before. Just drop it."
"Why though?" Eren asked plaintively. "Why is this happening? How?"
"We have no answers to any of that, Eren," Hanji said grimly. "All we know is that somehow, people inside the walls are turning into Titans. And it's also extremely likely that the Titans invading from outside were once people too, though we don't know where exactly they came from. Our only answer to those questions is now gone."
"Gone?" Erwin asked sharply. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, I meant the Titans we had captured," Hanji waved him away. "Sawney and Bean."
Both Levi and Erwin watched her carefully.
"Not that I would be able to experiment on them if they were here." Hanji gave a bitter laugh. "How heartless does one have to be to experiment on humans? How many people have I tortured in the name of research?"
"Hanji," Erwin said heavily. "Nothing good will come of dwelling on it."
"Perhaps I'm the one the Imperial Police should have tortured instead…" Hanji murmured.
"What?" Levi asked sharply. "What did you mean by that just now?"
"Never mind, I'm being delusional," Hanji muttered. "Just losing my mind a bit. I think we all are."
"Hanji, you're hiding something," Levi stated. "Spit it out. Who did the Imperial Police torture?"
"Pastor Nick is dead," Hanji said finally. "He died a couple days before the freak Titan attack on the headquarters. Apparently he was robbed and killed in his sleep by some money thief, or so the Imperial Police say."
"What the fuck," Levi hissed, setting his teacup down. "He was our only source of information about those wall cult bastards. How was he just conveniently killed?!"
"The Imperial Police murdered him," Hanji said. "I'm sure of it. I saw his body – his nails had been torn off and he was bruised all over. The thief would have to be a pretty sadistic one to take all that trouble hurting him before killing him off, if all he was after was his valuables."
"Those motherfucking cunts," Levi cursed. "They tortured him, didn't they? Tortured him for information. Is that how it went, Hanji?"
"I think so," Hanji said. "I shook the Police Commander's hand. His knuckles were skinned. Either he had been punching a wall, or punching a person. I'm pretty certain it's the latter. It's a pity… Nick and I were on good terms. I was pretty sure he was close to spilling."
"Need we fear that he has spilled his secrets to the Imperial Police?" Erwin asked.
"I don't think so," Hanji shook her head. "If nothing, Nick was loyal to whatever group he was in. No amount of verbal persuasion on my part could get him to utter a word. Given the state of his body, I think he withstood the torture too. That's why they were forced to kill him, rather than keep him captive for more information."
"Is there a chance that they killed him after obtaining the information?" Erwin asked.
"There's a possibility, but I don't think that was it. They seemed pretty edgy about the entire thing too. If anything, all we've learnt from this is that the Imperial Police cannot be trusted."
"Enemies inside the wall, and out," Mikasa murmured. "It's never been safe anywhere, has it?"
There was silence for a moment, as everyone turned to face her.
"Mikasa?" Eren asked.
"I'm really sorry about what happened to your mother, Connie," Mikasa said. "In fact, I'm really sorry about this entire situation. After Levi heichou, I'm probably the soldier that's killed the most Titans in this room – the most humans. And I understand why everyone is upset at Connie's discovery. But I don't understand how it changes anything."
"What are you trying to say, Mikasa?" Erwin asked.
"That we still have to eradicate all the Titans, regardless of what they might have been before."
"What?!" Connie's head snapped up, his eyes still watering with tears. "Gee, Mikasa, I knew you were cold, but I didn't think you were heartless!"
"How could you say that Mikasa?!" Sasha cried, tugging at her hair. "We can't possibly kill the rest of the Titans knowing that they were humans like us once!"
"Maybe I am heartless," Mikasa said monotonously, her face devoid of any emotion. "Most of my heart was taken away from me when I was nine. The rest of it is enough to care for a select few people. Anyone who endangers them or is a threat to them has to be eliminated, human or Titan."
"Mikasa, I understand where you're coming from," Levi said lowly, "but – "
"But what, heichou?" Mikasa's eyes were blazing, and she seemed unusually riled up. Eren stared at her, still feeling a bit shocked by her words.
"Just because they're humans?" Mikasa asked, an edge of derision coloring her voice. "What makes humans so different from Titans? Maybe it's the fact that Titans don't torture their prey before killing them. Humans kill humans too, and do all sorts of heinous, unspeakable things. If I recall correctly, my parents weren't eaten by Titans. They were killed by humans – by monsters – as bad as the Titans we hunt."
She's right, Eren realized, with growing horror. She's absolutely right. The Imperial Police killed and tortured Nick. They were ready to dissect me and kill me as well. They closed the gates all those years ago and let people die and fall prey to the Titans because if they hadn't, people would have fought for survival, and killed one another.
Mikasa's voice quavered slightly, as she continued. "Years ago, Eren and I killed those humans – and I would do it a hundred times over if another human, in Titan form or not, tried to hurt Eren – or Armin – or someone I care about. I call it self-defense and protecting my loved ones, but if that makes me a cold-blooded murderer, then fine, that's what I am."
There was a shocked silence in the room at this, until Eren finally spoke.
"I agree with Mikasa," he said quietly. "I – I was there all those years ago." He turned, locking eyes with her. "I don't understand you entirely, Mikasa. I didn't see what happened to your parents. I didn't see what you saw and I don't know what you felt. But I did see their bodies, and I know how I felt then. I know how I felt when I saw you, lying on the floor, helpless. I killed two of those men myself after all. Humans are monsters. Not all of them, but some of them are – and if they are the enemies – then maybe… maybe we have no choice."
"But my mother wasn't like those murderers!" Connie shouted. "The people of my village weren't like that! I'm really sorry about what happened to your parents, Mikasa, but I can promise you that the villagers who were turned into Titans were nothing like the men that murdered your parents! They were kind, simple, honest, good-hearted people who – who just worked in their farms and little shops – trying to make enough money to support their families – and my mother – my mother was caring – kind – loving – and I promised her – I promised her I'd come back –" Connie choked, the tears streaming down his face again.
"All these villagers turning into Titans – they're not the greedy, cruel kinds of humans that reside in the interior wall!" Sasha cried hysterically. "They are good people, like Connie said. Why must they suffer this kind of fate? It's so unfair! I don't understand what is happening!"
She burst into tears at this, and Erwin stood up, sighing as he placed a hand on her shoulder, and on Connie's.
"I've asked myself the same question, and I'm afraid I have no answers for any of these questions at the moment. We have three sources of information – one was killed by the Imperial Police, one is currently deep within Titan territory, and the other," Erwin looked at Eren meaningfully, "still requires a key to unlock it's secrets, a key we haven't found yet, though finding it remains a priority at this moment."
Of course… the box! If only we had a way to open it!
"What about the plan to seal the hole and retake Wall Maria?" Levi asked. "I thought that was also top priority."
"Levi… Erwin and I both feel that maybe… maybe we should put that plan on hold right now," Hanji said.
"What do you mean?" Levi asked.
"Pastor Nick's death… this entire wall Titan thing…" Hanji sighed. "I don't know why, but it's all giving me an uneasy feeling. There's also the matter of Eren's new power, and how well he can control it. I also think it may be a good idea to test his ability to harden into a crystal beforehand."
"You don't want to kill Titans anymore," Levi said bluntly. "That's the real reason, isn't it, Hanji? You're a lot less eager to face them and slit their necks and conduct all your creepy little experiments on them – "
"Yes! Yes I am," Hanji said in a steely voice, her glasses flashing. "I admit it. I feel horrible about the things I have done, some of the things I will, eventually, have to do again. But it's all for the sake of humanity."
"What humanity?" Levi scoffed.
"I admit that I am not looking forward to facing my next Titan," Hanji snapped. "But that is not my reason for delaying the retaking of Wall Maria. I truly believe Eren's abilities need to be honed; after all, we have only one chance at this so we have to give it our best shot. We can't let it rest on the possibility that he may somehow be able to magically recall a new power again."
"I also personally fear that the Imperial Police may come after Eren again," Erwin spoke up. "Even if they don't, their possible involvement in all these issues can no longer be ignored. I find it highly suspicious that I was summoned to a three-hour long meeting on the morning that the Ape Titan attacked."
"The stingy fuckers didn't give us much money anyways," Levi added. "Your point being?"
"There are traitors within the walls," Erwin said. "We don't know who, we don't know how many, we don't even know how they are associated with the Military Police. But something tells me that they are connected to the Ape Titan somehow, to the attacks, to the villagers transforming into Titans and to Pastor Nick's murder. If anything, Nick's case has made it clear that they are not afraid to go to any extent to eliminate possible threats to them. And if that's the case, we need to get Eren to somewhere safe, somewhere out of their sight."
"What's safer than the headquarters?" Levi asked. "All the strongest soldiers are here. Those military dogs hold nothing against my troops."
"They may not, but they can still coordinate Titan attacks," Erwin replied. "Even if they weren't behind the Titan attacks on the headquarters, it is now common knowledge that the entire Titan-slaying forces are amassed at the old castle. Though I do not doubt the Scouting Legion's strength, such large numbers do make us an easier target."
"So what do you propose we do?" Levi asked.
"I am mandating the formation of a new Special Operations Squad under you, Levi," Erwin said. "The goal will be, of course, to protect Eren. Not so much against himself this time, as much as against others, though you still need to look out for him when he transforms. I have faith that Eren has regained control of his abilities, but we've learned our lesson, some of us more so than others."
He shot a significant look at Mikasa, who dropped her gaze to the floor.
"No matter how he may act, caution must be exercised around Eren when he is in Titan form," Erwin continued. "But you will not reside in the castle. Instead, you will be staying in a remote location in the hilltops within Wall Rose – even if Titans were to appear inside the walls, it is atop a steep mountain and not likely that they would venture there. The place is entirely cut off from civilization, so you are not likely to be discovered by anyone, much less the Imperial Police. I think you will be safe if you stay there."
"Stay there and do what?" Levi asked. "Train?"
"No," Erwin shook his head. "You won't be training. We don't want you attracting attention. Even Eren won't be transforming – he just has to work on figuring out the crystallizing ability that Annie demonstrated when in human form. And figuring out the answer to another key issue at hand. The rest of you will be lying low for a few weeks, until we find out more about the situation in the interior walls."
"So basically you want me to babysit Eren again, along with the rest of the dolts you assign to my new squad," Levi said disdainfully. "Sounds fun. Can I ask who you propose to add to my happy little family?"
Mikasa straightened up at this, looking earnestly from Levi to Hanji to Erwin.
"I know I can't fight to protect Eren," she began, but Erwin waved her off.
"Don't worry Mikasa, of course you're going."
"Oh, wonderful," Levi said sarcastically. "My favorite."
"Thank you," Mikasa said.
"Were you that worried about being separated from me?" Eren asked, half-joking as he looked over at her.
Mikasa blushed, averting her eyes.
"Erwin, please," Levi groaned. "Don't tell me I'm going to have to spend weeks shut up in a little house with this husband and wife couple here. I'll feel like I'm intruding on a honeymoon."
There was a round of protesting from Eren, Mikasa and Jean at this comment, and even Erwin chuckled.
"I thought the three of you would have had enough bonding time during your last solo mission?"
"I don't want to live alone with these two and suffocate from all their unresolved sexual tension."
"Hei-heichou!" Eren sputtered, going red. "I don't know what you're saying."
"Stupid chibi," Mikasa was muttering, her face as red as Eren's. "Stop talking or I'll make you."
Jean on the other hand looked ready to jump out of his seat and pounce on either Levi, Eren or Erwin at that moment.
Fortunately however, Levi's snarky comments had served to lighten the previously stiffening atmosphere of the room; even Connie and Sasha were grinning slightly.
"Well, Levi, since you insist on having more members," Erwin said, smirking, "I should add that Kirchstein is also a part of your so-called 'happy little family'."
Jean looked overjoyed at this, though Eren's face soured instantly.
"What? Really? Him?" Eren asked. "You want me to live in a house with him?"
"Eren, you little shit, shut up," Levi snapped. "I should be the one complaining. Now I have to listen to not one, but two cranky, whiny teenagers bitch about how they fail at love and life. Geez, Erwin, you're enjoying this, aren't you? They should enlist you to the Imperial Police. You'd be adept with coming up with new ways to torture prisoners, wouldn't you."
"Perhaps I would be," Erwin deadpanned. "They did request me multiple times to transfer, though naturally I declined."
"You can transfer?!" Jean exclaimed. "How?! I thought only the top ten trainees can join!"
"I was the top trainee," Erwin said. "And I joined the Scouting Legion. But on occasion, they have asked specific soldiers to transfer. Levi was asked as well."
"Levi heichou?" Jean stared at him. "You declined as well?"
"Took a dump on their offer letter and sent it back to them in a matter of response," Levi said, wrinkling his nose in distaste.
"He's joking," Erwin said quickly, sighting the half-awed and half-disgusted expressions that had crossed Jean and Eren's faces.
"Is he really though?" Hanji asked rhetorically.
"Moving on," Erwin said quickly, "don't you want to know the rest of your squad, Levi?"
"It's a torture-Levi squad isn't it?" Levi asked, sarcasm lacing his voice. "Let me guess… you wouldn't have added that filthy little vomiting slob, would you?"
"Huh?" Sasha asked, sitting upright. "Me? I'm in heichou's Special Operations squad?"
"Indeed you are," Erwin said. "Congratulations."
"Whoopee!" Sasha cheered, lightening up. "It sounds like fun!"
"Erwin, I sincerely hope that you die," Levi hissed darkly.
"Should have killed me when you had the chance." Erwin shrugged.
"And you," Levi turned to Sasha, eyes glinting maliciously. "If you puke or spill food or generally create a mess even once – I will force you, and yes I mean tie you to a chair and force you – to sit down in front of me while I eat an entire meal of all of your favorite food – after which you will be sent to bed without any dinner at all, I don't care if you die from starvation."
Sasha stared at him, trembling in fear. "U-understood sir. No – no puking. Or anything."
"Levi should be the one joining the Imperial Police's torture squad, not Erwin," Hanji commented.
"Connie Springer," Erwin said finally.
"Yes sir?" Connie asked, jolting upright.
"The final member of Levi's squad," Erwin told him.
Levi nodded. "Okay. You, at least, I have the least incentive to kill so far."
"That's because you haven't lived with him yet, heichou," Jean muttered.
"Excellent," Levi said. "Eren, Mikasa, Jean, the puking girl and Connie."
"My name is Sasha!" Sasha wailed. "First potato girl and now this!"
"You asked for it," Connie pointed out. "Every time, you ask for it."
"And what will you and Hanji be doing while I play house with this merry band of morons?"
"We're going to Wall Sina," Erwin said. "At least I am, along with Keiji and Raye. I want to try and find out more about this wall cult and whatever interior politics they have going on. Hanji will continue her experimentation here."
"Why does she get to do what she wants when I'm stuck with these idiots? Let us switch places. I'll command the remaining scouting legion troops. Nothing ever good comes out of Hanji messing around in her lab."
"Actually, I think I'm pretty close to an important discovery," Hanji informed Levi, her eyes shining. "I think I found – "
"Save the lecture," Levi cut her off. "I was joking. Eren is my responsibility, and I will look after him, along with the rest of these brats."
"So we've come to an understanding then," Erwin said heavily. "Good." He turned to Eren. "I trust you remember your objectives."
"Yes sir," Eren nodded. "Crystallization. And the key. I understand."
"Alright," Erwin said, satisfied. "As for the rest of you – you are members of Levi's Special Operations Squad, which means that you will obey every single word and order that comes out of his mouth. Whether it is to clean toilets or kill Titans or retreat to a safe location – or kill humans – whatever he says, you obey. Every single one of you."
Erwin looked at Mikasa again as he said this, and she bit her lip.
"Mikasa, I've added you to the squad because of your closeness to Eren, but you are primarily there to rest and let your ribs heal fully. You won't be fighting, and you won't be training. In fact, you won't even having your 3DMG –"
"But danchou – " Mikasa gasped.
"Levi will have extra supplies with him in case of an emergency, but I fully expect you to rest and recover this time," Erwin said sternly. "No more secret night practices for you."
"Yes sir," Mikasa mumbled, looking rather dejected.
"I think that's all for now. Levi, Hanji, stay back, but the rest of you are dismissed."
"Wait!" Eren called suddenly, as they began to filter out of the room.
"Is there something you wanted to talk about, Eren?" Erwin asked.
"There is." Eren's jaw was hard. "Armin. His secret mission to Wall Sina – it's been taking a really long time. I want to know how he's doing and when he'll be back."
"Yeah," Connie piped up. "Especially if the people inside are as dangerous as you all say. Is it really safe for him to be there alone?"
Hanji and Levi exchanged a look, and Hanji cleared her throat.
"Eren, I'm so-"
"Armin will be alright," Erwin spoke up, interrupting Hanji mid-apology.
"How do you know?" Eren demanded. "What if the Imperial Police catch hold of him?! People know of his connection to me, what if they – "
"Armin will not fall into the hands of the Imperial Police," Erwin said. "In fact, despite his company, he may still be in a safer place than we all are at the moment."
"What does that mean?" Mikasa bit out. "Where is he?"
"Eren. Mikasa." Hanji's face was anguished. "I am sincerely sorry for lying to you, but I had no choice. Given your conditions at the time, we couldn't risk you running after him."
"Where is he?!" Eren asked again.
"With your fellow squad members." It was Levi who spoke up this time. "He was kidnapped by the Armored Titan. He'll be deep in Titan territory by now, so don't any of you dare go after him."
It had taken a while to calm Eren, Mikasa and the others down. After Hanji's profuse apologizing, Levi's threats and Erwin's explanations, they had agreed not to run after him.
Even so, the former members of the 104th training squad weren't in a particularly happy mood after the meeting had ended and they had been dismissed. They had collected in Mikasa's bedroom to discuss the recent updates, since both Eren and Jean had insisted that Mikasa get back to bed immediately.
"I still can't believe they would lie to us about Armin," Eren fumed. "Levi heichou, Hanji-san. I trusted them!"
"It really makes me angry too, but I think I can actually understand where they're coming from," Sasha said, surprisingly the voice of reason. "If they told you, Eren, you'd go running after him. And then Mikasa would go running after you, and Jean would go running after her. I don't think that would end so well."
"Besides, there's a chance they won't hurt him," Connie said hopefully. "Christa's with them after all, I'm sure she'll stop them from –"
"Please, like Christa can do anything," Eren snorted. "Who would listen to her? And don't tell me they won't hurt him –"
"They were our friends once, weren't they?"
"They're murderers," Eren growled. "They've murdered our families, turned people into Titans… I swear if they fucking lay a finger on Armin, I'll rip them all to pieces."
"They probably took him as bait," Mikasa spoke up after a moment. "They probably took him to get to you, Eren. Erwin danchou was right about that. As much as I want to go after him, if it means losing you… we'd be falling right into their trap…"
"Still!" Eren punched the table again. "It's Armin they took, those fuckers – "
"There's really nothing we can do about it," Jean said bluntly. "And Armin is smart, smarter than all of us. He'll figure something out, I'm sure."
"That he is," Connie agreed. "All that Imperial Police stuff and the thing with Pastor Nick… to tell you the truth, I didn't understand half of what they were saying. I don't get what's going on."
"Me neither," Eren muttered, before adding glumly. "If Armin were here, he could have explained it to us."
"He'll come back, Eren," Mikasa said softly, reaching out to take his hand in her good one. "I'm sure he will."
Eren said nothing after that and Jean's gaze immediately fell to their linked hands, his hazel eyes narrowing in displeasure.
"You know what though?" Sasha piped up, sounding cheerier than before. "It'll be kind of like old times again won't it, with our new squad? Since it's us trainees of the 104th again. Living together in the mountains, not having to worry about fighting Titans, for at least a while… I don't know about you guys, but as terrible as this sounds, I needed a break. It could be fun, you know?"
"We'll see about fun," Jean muttered, his eyes still on Eren and Mikasa.
"You're right though. We have been together from the start, haven't we?" Connie said, before adding glumly. "It would sure be nice to have some of the others with us too…"
"We don't need them," Eren said viciously. "Other than Armin, we don't need the others."
"I know, I know," Connie said sadly. "It's not possible. I just miss those times, you know, when we were all friends. And people like Marco… Tomas… I miss those guys."
"Yeah," Jean agreed quietly, his eyes clouding over. "It sure would be nice to have hi – them around."
"I – I get it! I already said I wouldn't go hunting."
"I heard that potato girl!"
"Stop calling me that!"
Eren pulled back the cloth covering his mouth and paused his sweeping of the floor, as Jean and Sasha entered the cottage, bickering loudly and carrying large crates of food rations that had been delivered.
They had been at the cottage for two weeks, and things had been relatively peaceful; peaceful meaning that there had been no Titan attacks and nobody had died. Other than that, it had been quite a rambunctious affair.
"Wait! You guys!" Eren called, panicking as the pair tracked mud onto the floor. "You didn't clean your shoes properly before coming in!"
"Of course we didn't," Jean shot at him. "Can't you see we have our hands full right now? Nobody cares about that."
"Yes, yes, Levi heichou cares!" Eren insisted. "Don't you understand? Do you think your excuses will satisfy him? If I hadn't made your bed for you this morning – "
"Oh shut up!" Jean shouted, his eyebrow twitching. "Are you my mother now?!"
"Eren's become quite the housewife," Connie snickered. "Levi heichou has you whipped."
"Connie, you forgot to do your dishes after lunch," Eren groused. "Poor Mikasa was trying to do them for you, and with her hand –"
"Oh, poor Mikasa indeed," Connie rolled his eyes. "She wanted to them, Eren. She wants to do work around here. She's getting bored sitting in bed all day, it's not my fault she's crazy like that."
"Mikasa's not supposed to be exerting herself!" Eren cried. "You shouldn't have let her!"
"Doing dishes isn't exactly exerting," Connie shrugged.
"I'm going to go check on her," Eren muttered, the moment Jean was out of earshot.
He rushed upstairs, to the bedroom Mikasa shared with Sasha, and opened the door only to be greeted with the site of Mikasa, wearing black shorts and an extremely tight, short, purple top, attempting to do crunches on her bed.
"Mikasa!" Eren cried, flustered as he tore his eyes away from the expanse of bare, toned stomach. "What the heck do you think you're doing?!"
"Crunches," Mikasa replied flatly, curling her torso back up.
"No – no – stop it! Stop it!" Eren rushed forwards, grabbing her shoulders, anxiety overcoming his initial embarrassment. "Are you mental?! It's not even been a fortnight and Erwin danchou said you were to have bed rest for ten weeks – "
"I am in bed though –"
"Don't be stupid, Mikasa!" Eren groaned, raking a hand through his hair in frustration. "What were you thinking?!"
"I'm so sick of sitting around not being able to do anything! We'll have to leave this place sooner or later, and we'll have to face the Titans again! I can't let myself grow weak – "
"Mikasa, please." Eren squeezed her shoulders, his green eyes imploring. "It bothers me too, being holed up here when the Titans are still out there, when Armin is still out there."
"So then –"
"But they're right. Erwin danchou and the rest. As much as I hate to say it, there's nothing we can do. I'm trying to work on the key and the crystallization but I haven't gotten anywhere with it yet. But I will figure something out, and until I do, you need to rest and let yourself heal properly this time."
There was a silence after that, as Mikasa and Eren stared each other down. Finally, Mikasa relented, sighing.
"Alright, Eren," she said softly. "I'll rest. For now."
"Thank you," he told her seriously, and she nodded.
They stayed like that for a few moments, Eren's hands not leaving her shoulders, until Mikasa raised her good hand, her fingers skimming along Eren's cheek.
"You know… you've grown up a lot, Eren," she murmured. "I wouldn't have expected you to be the one telling me to take care of myself."
Eren cracked a small smile. "That's true. I may not show it much, but I do worry about you a lot too, you know."
Mikasa's dark eyes sparkled as she leaned a little towards him, and Eren felt his heartbeat quicken. Her hand was now resting at the junction of his neck and shoulder, her fingers playing with strands of his hair.
"I know you do. I'm sorry for worrying you," she said softly.
"I guess it's like you're having revenge on me, huh?" Eren joked. "For all the worry I put you through before."
His hand slid up her neck to cup her cheek, and he caught sight of her blush, and her shy gaze, which she quickly averted from his own.
What am I doing? What is even happening?
"Eren," Mikasa breathed. "I…"
Eren gulped, feeling the pounding of his heart increase tenfold. They were close – very close – and he was now acutely aware of the fact that her arms, and her stomach, were entirely bare.
I should leave. I should leave now and –
"EREN! MIKASA!" Connie hollered from downstairs. "DINNER IS READY!"
Eren released Mikasa immediately, jumping to his feet.
"E-Eren?" Mikasa was staring at him, bemused.
"Let's go for dinner," Eren said quickly. "I'm starving. Really starving. You should eat too, given that you were exercising, though you really shouldn't have been doing that."
Mikasa slid out of her bed, stretching her arms up.
"I'm going to go check on them actually," Eren said. "Make sure they don't – spill anything. Because if they did Levi heichou would be on my case. Come quickly."
"Eren, wait – "
"Oh, and put a shirt on, will you?" Eren added, his voice coming out a little higher pitched than he had intended. "We don't need Jean passing out on the dinner table!"
He slammed the door behind him as he exited her room, wondering if he had imagined the momentary look of disappointment on her face.
At dinner, Mikasa was back to her usual calm, collected self. Her face had been entirely blank when she had entered the room and seated herself besides Sasha, though Eren had noticed that she was avoiding his gaze.
He chose not to bring it up though – he had no idea what had been going on with him and Mikasa off late. Something had changed between them – but Eren wasn't entirely certain what.
"I'm back," Mikasa announced, placing a stack of wood on the floor.
It had been three weeks since they had been living in the cottage nestled among the mountain, and as serene a place as it was, Eren felt his blood pressure escalate, yet again.
"You went to chop wood?!" he yelled. "What the hell, Mikasa?!"
"My body is getting dull," she insisted.
"You're not a wild animal, you know!" Sasha cried, backing Eren up. "You need to rest. Eren, tell her she needs to rest!"
"I've been telling her," Eren groaned, smacking his head. "I've tried to stop her but she won't listen to me. Last week, I caught her doing sit-ups…"
"You – you what?!" Jean spluttered. "You were spying on Mikasa?! How dare you!"
"Huh?!" Eren's cheeks flamed at the insinuation. "Jean, you sick fuck!"
"I'm not the one who's sick here!"
"Don't fight again, you two!" Sasha implored.
"Jean, you got mud onto the floor again today morning," Eren snapped, changing the topic. "One more time and I'll have you cleaning toilets, I swear – "
"Just because you're heichou's favorite doesn't mean you can order me around!" Jean yelled back. "Cleaning toilets, my ass! I'll have you clean my –"
"Shut up, both of you!" Connie wailed. "If we wake Levi heichou up from his nap he'll punish us all!"
Leaning against the doorframe, Levi watched the bickering teens, smirking for a moment at how terrified Connie was of his wrath.
The boy reminded him of Aurou at times, with his half-fearful and half-reverent manner.
Eren definitely reminded Levi of himself, though he would never admit it. Somehow, with all his fretting over cleanliness, Levi found that the brat seemed surprisingly more grown-up as well, though also anxious.
Can't blame him though, if he's seeing what I'm seeing.
Levi's eyes then fell on Mikasa. Her cool demeanor was nothing like Petra's. Petra had always been chirpy and full of smiles in the early days, despite the fact that they were soldiers fighting monsters.
But still, as Levi looked between Eren, Mikasa, and the other members of his squad, he couldn't help but make the comparison.
Let's just hope that it doesn't end for them as it did for me… as it did for my first squad…
Author's Notes: I hope you enjoyed that chapter! I think overall it was a lot more chilled out and light-hearted compared to the previous ones, but I feel like you all deserved a break, as well as some ErenMika fluff! I hope it wasn't an overload!
I'm sorry for being such a tease with the action, but there will be an ErenMika kiss eventually I promise you.
I also tried to incorporate some of the exact dialogues from the anime/manga into this (the part where Eren talks about liking pain/wanting to die, and the bits with Squad Levi minus Armin/Christa at the end) though of course, I had to make some changes (since for example, Armin isn't part of the squad and nor is Christa). I left out parts of the manga (like the scene where Connie talks to Levi, Erwin and Hanji about the Titans attacking his village and Hanji's flashback about Pastor Nick) because I didn't want things to get too repetitive, and I'm assuming most of you have read the manga so are already familiar with those events. There's more than enough conversation in this chapter already, haha.
Next chapter will (most likely) feature: Armin, and some answers about the elusive key and box!
Finally, a bit of a warning: chapter 9/10 onwards this is going to start getting dark. You might hate me for it, given how dark some of the previous chapters were, but I have some twisted stuff planned. Characters are going to suffer, emotionally and physically. A couple of important characters may even start dying a few chapters down the line – in fact, other than Eren and Mikasa, I won't promise that anyone stays alive. It pains me to kill characters and as much as I would love a happy ending, I want this to stay true to the gritty, dangerous tone of Shingeki… and we all know that Shingeki is a survival story, and not everyone will make it through, and a lot of important characters will die before the end.
That being the case, I will warn you all at the point when the fluff ends and the shit starts to go down. It would sadden me to lose readers, but I don't want to subject anyone to having to read stuff that would upset them. The next 1-2 chapters will probably be alright, but I think from after chapter 10 is when it will get even darker. Whatever it is, there will be an author's note before the chapter to warn you. If you wish to leave the story at that point, please feel free. I don't mean to make this all sound overly melodramatic, but I know the thing with Mikasa's hand did upset a lot of you (don't worry though, things will heal… in the future… hopefully…) so I just want to put that out there.
I think this is the point of the story where everyone is relatively safe and happy in their cozy little cottage in the mountain, but that will only continue for another chapter. So yes, enjoy the peace while it lasts. (wow, what a positive and upbeat way to end an A/N)
Please do review, and let me know what you think! I am incredibly grateful for you all for having been so patient, supporting and just generally wonderful so far! Happy holidays!