She fixes her coat gingerly, her fingers precise when she buttons it up as she goes. Petra wanted to become a neurosurgeon, and Hange thinks no other profession would fit her the most.
"See you tomorrow?" Swinging the strap of her bag to her shoulder, Petra turns back to her companion, smiling. Clamping a rose-patterned umbrella close to her body, she watches the other, as if anticipating a different answer.
"Yeah," Hange smiles back albeit weakly, rubbing the side of her neck. "Be careful on your way."
"You're gonna be okay." Her hands are warm against her cheeks, and she feels like she's standing right beside a fireplace. Zoe smiles a little brighter, her mood lifting a bit higher. And when Petra closes the distance between their lips she's soaring – like a dandelion floating in the summer wind. "Don't worry too much."
Its like magic, the way she does it. Hange squeezes her lover's arm and lets go, her smile widening. "Okay."
The door closed a few seconds later after she said good-bye. Its raining outside, hard and unceasing, coating the entire place with a blanket of gloom and an air of insignificant loneliness. Zoe took a step back to breathe deeply, resting her back on the wall to close her eyes. She had to go home, where Levi would be. Rubbing her face with her hands, she sighed, unable to calm her heart.
What would she say? Well, technically, there is nothing to be said – no explanations needed. She simply slept over her girlfriend's place for the night. Yet, behind the lies she told him the other day, lay the real reason behind her actions: to escape.
Perhaps it was just her, she didn't know. Levi is usually nonchalant about things like same-sex relationships, but why did he seem so distant after she had told him about Petra? Confusing and silly as it is, she had to go back and face him, probably ask him directly of his opinion. She couldn't go on thinking about pretenses.
With another sigh, Zoe walked back to fetch her things, silently wishing a more satisfying answer from Levi to dispel the lingering fears in her mind.
Its still pouring outside when Hange finally came home.
Her apartment, which is usually cozy, bathed in soft green and golden yellow light in this time of the day, is painted in various shades of gray, just like the clouds outside. There is no sound of a program playing on the T.V, or a game on. The couch is vacant, weirdly, yet the balcony door is wide open, making the curtains sway with the blowing wind.
And there he is. His silhouette is familiar against the glass, and Hange almost exhaled in relief to see that he was there. Levi is crouched down on the tile-decorated floor, his black hair swept back because of the wind. Between the two fingers of his right hand is a cigarette, lit and smoking against the gray, stormy background.
"I thought you quit." Zoe stepped outside, into the balcony, looking down on him. Oddly, he's wearing his uniform, the assorted greens on his camouflage pants now darker against the dim light. Levi said nothing for a while, but he returned her gaze for a brief moment, acknowledging her presence.
"I did." Bringing the cigarette to his lips, he took a long drag, making the tip burn a little brighter. "This is just for today."
Zoe nodded once, uncomfortable. There is a growing weight in her chest, a clawing feeling in her stomach, like she was about to be sick. "Something wrong?"
Levi paused, blowing out the smoke gradually. He doesn't look at her when he starts speaking. "I'm returning to duty today."
"What?" Her heart falls the moment he finished speaking. "What did you say?"
"I got a call last night –" But she's not listening anymore. She stumbles back, back into the living room, her footsteps heavy and uncoordinated. "Zoe," He calls out to her, rising to his feet to follow her, his boots hitting the wooden floor like a drum roll, causing her shoulders to jump. "They're coming... Not long, now."
"Why didn't you call me?" She couldn't even turn to look at him. Her voice is shaky, shocked. "Why didn't you tell me as soon as you knew?"
"I didn't want to disturb you," And she laughs at him, derisive. "Zoe..."
"The war is over," Hange begins bitterly, now finally looking at him. "They promised us a month, not a few days. You can't go. You can't."
Levi watched her, his eyes a darker shade of grey than usual. "I have to. You know that."
Hange scoffed, shaking her head. She could feel the rush of blood to her face and head, making her eyes burn and water faster than she could hide them behind her hands. "I told you – being a soldier was a bad idea. But you never listened, did you? You never did. Now you're just a dog that obeys without question every time your master calls." Turning back, the brunette landed on the cushion with a silent plop, sending a stray pillow bouncing off the couch. She exhaled long, rubbing her palms against closed eyes. "You could have been many things, Levi. Being a soldier shouldn't have been one of them."
"I'm not as well-off as you," He began, joining her on the couch, "And not as smart, as you. I have no parents to send me to med school, like you do. I don't have any special talents to earn myself a decent meal everyday. But there aren't as many requirements needed to enter the Army, and it didn't require a lot of money, either. You know I have no other option."
"You had a choice. There were so many other choices," Zoe looked back at him, separating herself from the comfort of her hands. "So don't tell me that bullshit."
"I'll come home alive," He promises her, but deep inside he's scared that he won't be able to keep it. The call never specified why they were so unduly forced to return to duty – it was labeled as an 'emergency' – no other details were given, sending him wondering, fearing. "I'll come home to you, alive."
That's all he could give her: unsure promises. All uncertain and meaningless when he's out there in the field in the mercy of a sniper's finger, pressed close against a gun's trigger. Zoe blinked back her tears, her chest getting tighter by the passing minute. "Don't make me hang onto words like that, Levi." Because Fate is cruel, and it knows too well how to make hearts bleed.
"I won't," The bitterness in her voice; the hint of resentment in it, sent a jolt of pain through him. "...I won't."
And she pulls him into her arms. Her sob came out softly, all breathy and silent. Levi buried his face against the crook of her neck, drowning himself in her presence because this might just be the last time he would be able to do it. The smell of her hair and the heat of her skin and the feel of her touch against his body – he memorizes it all like a song, so he wouldn't forget the flow of her melody when he's out there so close to death. Zoe's breath hitches in her throat and she lets out a cry, calling out his name in a whisper, tightening her arms around his shoulders as more tears spilled down her cheeks.
"You'll be in my dreams," She began, her voice pained and strained, "The ones where there's no wars to wage or monsters to fight. The happy ones."
And the knock on their door signaled the end.
Its hot and humid and Zoe thinks bitterly, this would have been a good day to experiment on things.
Except that today, bits and pieces of her comrades are scattered all over the grass like animals butchered for a feast. Whether or not it was a good day to practice science is long lost in her mind now, especially when Levi is lying down on the ground, neck bent and broken, jaw dislocated and tongue lolled out, left shoulder and left arm bitten right off.
Hange stepped closer to examine him. She thinks its funny that the same tongue lying against Levi's parted, blackened purple lips once grazed against hers in a heated kiss.
Adjusting her goggles, she took in a deep breath, smelling rust and acid the air, drowning out the usual fresh and sharp scent of the forest. Before standing up she felt the ground quiver as if in excitement, and for a moment the earth beneath her seemed alive.
Eren made his way toward her, his footsteps heavy as he moved as a titan. The Scouts came in after him, their 3D-maneuver gear whirring as they traversed through the trees. One after another they landed on the grass, feet taking them closer to where she stood, eyes wide, shocked, to see what lay behind her.
Hange felt the wind stir as Eren knelt down, his enormous hand reaching out toward her – or at least, toward her general direction. She knew that he saw him too. But what she did not expect was to see a red scarf falling down from his thick, giant fingers as he scooped Armin and Mikasa's torn bodies up. Hange did not even notice them there beside her beloved, lying on the soil as dead as he is.
The titan brushed his finger against his sister's face, as if trying to nudge her awake. He prodded at Armin's chest as gingerly as he could. When they did not respond, Eren groaned, standing up straight, causing the trees to stir and the ground to tremble once again. Hange could not even bear to look at him any longer as the titan groaned louder and louder, as if calling his sister and his best friend's name out. It has been long since she had cried.
Soon Hange could hear footsteps coming closer to her. The Legion – or what's left of it, advanced, their faces tired, most stricken with grief. Erwin emerged from the flock of green, his eyes more sunken than ever before. He regarded Hange with a simple look, yet he did not touch her, like he feared that the act would hurt her. Blue, lonely eyes traveled down, down toward the earth where Humanity's Strongest lay with his squad – children still, but soldiers all the same. Together they fought, and together, they shared the same fate.
Commander Erwin Smith drew his fist to his chest – to his heart in a salute to honor the dead. All followed him. Hange could only cry harder, and Eren could only growl louder.
Then the earth shook again. Hange did not take her blades out like everybody did.
And the sound of the titans' footsteps signaled the end.
Levi woke with a start, inhaling deeply as he sat up. The smell of musty wood filled his nostrils, and for a second, he thought he'd sneeze.
"Just a fucking moment!" He snapped. Swinging his legs off the bed, he rubbed a side of his face, willing himself not to punch the person who's knocking this hard so early in the morning as he headed toward his front door, grumbling. Looking through the peep hole, he grunted, before unlocking and opening the door widely.
"Good morning," Hange greeted him with a wry smile, striding right in as she looked at him, amused. "I hope I didn't wake you up."
"Be thankful I didn't punch you the moment I opened the door," He shot back, rolling his eyes. Once the door is secured, he followed her, falling to one of the chairs beside their dining table before yawning. "So?"
"What?" Hange grabbed a bottle of scotch on the table, now half empty. Reaching for a glass, she poured herself some before looking at Levi.
"You went off on your own again, didn't you," Throwing his hands in the air, he sighed in annoyance. "The drop-off was supposed to be done by us. Not you only."
"Does it matter? It went off without a hitch. No big deal." Shrugging, she tipped the glass, sipping some alcohol.
"'Without a hitch'?" Levi repeated sarcastically, while motioning all over his jaw. "You call what's on your face, 'without a hitch'?"
Zoe sighed, placing her glass back on the table before absentmindedly rubbing the bruise on her jaw. "I was ambushed on my way back by some assholes. I took care of them. They may have sneaked a hit or two, but nothing too serious." Levi snorted at her reply, standing up and walking toward the kitchen once she finished speaking. "I have news, though. Good news."
"Rations are coming sooner than expected?" Back with a wet towel, he dabbed carefully at the dried blood at the corner of Hange's lips.
"Even better," The brunette grinned, her eyes lighting up. "I got us a job."
Levi paused, quirking an eyebrow at her. "What kind?"
"The kind that pays us with guns and ammo," Playfully, she tried to bite the fingers that cleaned the blood off her skin, but Levi is quick to move. "You're not going to like our employer, though."
"If its Nile, I'd rather not take the job." Zoe laughed at his reply, but she shook her head.
"No, its not my asshole of a resident. Its the Scouts."
The name rang in the near empty apartment, making it almost eerie. The Scouting Legion, they called themselves. Fighting for humanity's freedom, fighting for the day when men would rise again to its former glory. The resistance. This was bad news.
"Zoe," Levi shook his head, sighing thoughtfully. "We talked about this. We don't meddle with the Scouts. We don't meddle with anyone that'll cause us trouble."
But she is stubborn, he knew. She'll not take no as an answer. "Its just a simple smuggling job. Hannes wants something sneaked out of the city. And the pay is good – Levi, he showed me the guns. If we could get our hands on that..."
Moving away, Levi strode over to the sink, turning the tap and washing the blood out of the cloth. "I don't care about the guns. You and I – we have survived this long because we chose the ground we walk on. Wisely. And right now you are not making a very wise decision, Hange."
"What I'm making is a risky decision. A gamble. People who don't take risks don't survive that long either."
"We take risks when the situation presents itself to us." He shot back, turning back to look at her before wringing the towel and hanging it on a nearby stool to dry. "Have you taken a look outside lately? The military is getting more and more aggressive in hunting the Scouts down. They don't even give a shit if they don't have concrete proof – if they catch even a word of you being involved, they'll drag you right down the street for public execution."
"The situation is presenting itself to us, right now – don't you see? The moment we have those guns we'll never need to take jobs for what, a year? Maybe even two. Ammo is like gold, these days. And all we need to do is smuggle some little thing out of here. Come on, Levi. It's just a simple job. We've done it a dozen times before. Why can't we do it now?"
Levi stared straight at her eyes without saying a word. He had always thought they shone like bronze and gold together – like fire and earth, like passion and madness blended and melded perfectly. It was beautiful, how they twinkled in the light, but it's different, now. Sometimes it scared him how much she had changed after the world ended.
"No," He repeated, crossing his arms. "We're not taking the job."
Hange sighed in defeat, scratching her head as she strode toward the door. "No, no. You are not taking the job."
Panic started to rise in him, like bile and acid up his throat. "Zoe, for fuck's sake – would you stop being such a child? Just let it go. Hannes will find someone else to do it."
"I already said yes to him," She confessed as she undid the locks, turning the knob once she was done. "People are wary of the Scouts, more than ever. He'll have a hard time finding someone who'll do it."
Cursing, Levi pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. "Hange, seriously, who the fuck cares about the Scouts? Since when did you care?"
"I don't care about their 'cause'. I care about what they promised me. Hannes is injured. He's desperate. Desperate men are honest. Nobody just gives away a shit ton of guns like that for a smuggling job. It's a once in a lifetime deal."
"Exactly," Walking toward her, Levi reached for the door to close it, but Zoe relented. "No one does that these days. There has to be some kind of catch."
She must have seen the reason in his arguments, because finally, she released her hold of the door. "Okay," Closing her eyes, she placed her fingers on her temples, thinking for a moment. "Alright, alright. Listen. I will go to Hannes – wait, just fucking listen to me first – I will go to him, and I'll ask him what he's intending me to smuggle –"
"See? He didn't even tell you –"
"We were in a difficult situation; some guys were on our ass, long story – just – would you please shut up for a second!" Gripping him on the shoulders, Zoe shook him, her eyebrows furrowing in light frustration. "I will ask him, and if there is indeed a catch as you say, then I won't take the job."
Levi studied her critically, his lips tugged down in a frown. "...And if there isn't?"
"Then I'd be coming home with a tons of guns and ammo," A smile was her reply to him, dismissing his disapproval.
"No." There was no way out of it. If there was something that never changed in her, it probably was her stubbornness. "You and I will be coming home with tons of guns and ammo."
First, it was fever.
Once bitten, the body responds as it would when you're hit by seasonal flu. After the fever, comes chills, and then there's seizures when the fungus takes a hold of the nervous system. And then, you die – at least, the human part of you does.
And that was how the world ended.
Levi had not realized the Apocalypse was starting when he left Zoe to serve his country once more. Zoe had not realized either, when she went to work the next day and simply thought she had been given an unusual case.
But when countries started falling, Levi knew he had to come home to her before it was too late. She is his only refuge, his only family. If all of humanity was to perish, he'd at least want to spend his remaining days with her. Except that twenty years later, he did not die; neither did she. They endured and survived like trees of old – persisted, just like the fungi that brought humanity to its knees.
They were partners. They always were, since childhood. When Levi wielded a blade, Zoe became his shield. When Zoe aimed a gun, Levi watched her back. Alone they were vulnerable, but together, they were invincible.
"Through here," Zoe guided him into a room. They have traveled through a few streets, including the underground tunnel where there used to be a train station. Once they escaped past a few infected, they went through a couple more of streets and into a house or two, and then in an apartment building. The Scouts hid themselves well, he had to give them that. After looking through the window to check if anybody was around, Hange walked up to a wooden closet and knocked on it five times, before raising her hand up to stop him. He wondered how she became so resourceful. He knew half of the entrances and exits to other camps while she probably could draw a map where every known passage to every spot in the city could be found.
Not a minute had passed when the closet door opened. Curiously, Levi peered closer, while Hange opened both the wooden doors and pushed the various clothes aside. There another door – disguised as the back of the closet – was open, revealing a boy who then motioned for them to come in before scurrying away.
Once through the secret passage, Levi found himself in another room. It was simple and tattered, just like everything man-made. The paint on the walls was washed out and chipped, the wood rotting in some parts. Sunlight flowed right in like water, shades of yellow and orange spilling in and coloring the walls with warmth making the sight all the more sad, like he was looking at something long forgotten.
There was a bed in a corner, and on it sat Hannes, a member of the Scouting Legion. As Hange said, he was injured – a splint on his arm decorated his form, and there was a paleness to his skin, like he had recently lost a lot of blood.
"I was beginning to think you weren't coming," The blond man commented, flashing a grin, albeit weak. Hange returned the gesture, nodding in recognition.
"Well, we got hold up on the way here. The tunnels are infested with the infected. Won't hurt to be too careful, y'know." She answered, sparing his injured arm a glance. "But before anything else, I wanna know what we're risking our asses for. You really didn't have the chance to tell me, and I got too excited at the mention of ammunition. So," Shrugging and averting her eyes to look at him directly, Zoe put on a more serious face. "Let's see it."
Hannes stared at her for a few more seconds before heaving out a sigh. Then, he looked at the boy sitting on a stool beside the window – the very one who opened the door for them.
Zoe furrowed her eyebrows, confused for a moment, but Levi was quicker than her to comprehend.
"Are you telling me we have to smuggle this boy out of the city?" Levi's tone was incredulous. Hannes looked like he had expected the argument. "Fuck no. You can find someone else to do the job."
"Levi," Zoe turned to him, her eyes narrowed. "Wait –"
"See?" This time, it was the boy's turn to speak. "Hannes, I told you they'll never agree. Why can't you just come with me instead? We can take Erd and Gunter with us -"
"Eren," Hannes interrupted the brunet sharply, his tone commanding. "I told you dozens of times already. I cannot travel. I already sent out the remaining Scouts with us. Just – just let me speak, boy."
For a moment there was silence, as both of the parties did not speak.
"Zoe," Hannes began, his voice a little hoarse, "I've known you before the Fall. I was nothing but a lowly guard in St. Sina's, while you were the brightest intern of your batch. People saw a greatness in you. You were destined for many things. Yet you remained humble."
"That was a long, long time ago, Hannes." But that brought a smile to Hange's lips. "The flattery of dead men don't matter to me."
"But I am not dead yet," He too, let a smile graze his own, making the corner of his eyes crinkle. "Zoe, I asked you to take this job, because I knew you would understand." The blond man then looked over at the boy, Eren, before nodding. "I want you to look at him, and tell me you'd take him to Trost, safely."
All eyes were on the brunet now. He didn't move for a moment, as if hesitant – only another word from Hannes made him roll up one of his sleeves, checkered cloth folded messily up to the teen's elbow. Eren held his arm forward, slightly tanned skin showing something that made Levi draw his gun and aim it on the boy's head.
"Oh my god," Breathlessly, Zoe stared, wide eyed. She didn't even had the sense of stopping her companion from pointing a gun at the kid.
"Please, listen to me for a moment before you pull the trigger," Hannes raised his hand, blue eyes at the weapon Levi was holding. "Eren was bitten three weeks ago. Three weeks – imagine that. For all I know, once you get bitten, you've got a few hours at most."
"That's – That's impossible," Hange shook her head, disbelieving, but her feet took her closer to the teen, her curiosity rising. "I've seen people get bitten and turn right before my eyes – children! This is impossible, this is..."
"Zoe," For the first time in a while, Levi spoke, his tone urgent and commanding. "What are you doing?"
Hange took Eren's bitten arm into her hands, pulling it closer to her face, eyes widening behind her gritty glasses. The bite wound didn't exactly heal completely, since the fungus obviously grew on the site of entry, but, it didn't damage any of he surrounding area. Chewing on her lip, she ran a finger along the crusty, hardened skin, where the Infected's teeth might have sunk into, studying it carefully. This is...
"You know what this means." Hannes' voice sounded nervous, for some reason. "Bring Eren to Trost. The town library will be your rendezvous point. The Scouts will meet you there. Tonight, at midnight."
The old man's certainty made Levi more irritable than he already is. "And what exactly makes you think we'll take the job?"
Hannes simply looked at Hange, his gaze unusually grave. Levi waited for her to back him up, but there came none.
For the first time in his life, he hated Zoe for being quiet.
The gun is heavy and icy in his hand, but he could not let go of it; he could not bring the barrel away from his temple, because Zoe is doing the same.
Her hands are shaking, fingers feeble against the weight of the metal. For a moment, he doesn't remember why they were standing in the middle of the road, a pistol each aimed on their heads while a stolen car hummed beside them, the engine running still. But when the first bomb hit Shiganshina, it all came rushing back to him.
When you jump, I jump.
She began crying. She shut her eyes tightly, her finger pressed close to the trigger.
"Zoe," His voice was broken, like his heart. Levi thinks of telling her his feelings before they died, but he remembered suddenly that Petra had only turned today. A wave of jealousy, hurt, and shame passed through him, but he chose not to speak any further. His heart wasn't the only one broken.
Another bomb landed, making the earth shake. They had to pull the trigger now.
"Remember me." We'll meet again in the next world, and maybe there, things will be better. Levi closed his eyes, putting his finger on the trigger, his muscles crying out in protest. Put the gun away, put the gun away. "Don't forget about me." But he's so in love, so deeply in love, that it didn't matter that Zoe wished to die because her beloved had died. It didn't matter that she didn't love him back. When you jump, I jump. You are all that matters to me in this ending world.
Another bomb landed. The air started turning into wind, slowly getting flavored with smoke.
"I can't do it," She said after what seemed like years, her voice breathy and barely audible. Guiding the pistol away from his head, she took it from him, making him open his eyes again. "What am I doing?" Zoe sobbed, her eyelids swollen and red. "What am I making you do? You are the only one I have left, and I... I – oh god, what was I –"
Another bomb fell, dangerously close to where they were, but that didn't make him stop from kissing her.
(This is not the dream that I wanted for us to be in.)
When he pulled away, she was wearing her usual glasses but she wore a cloak of green decorated with splattered red. He tore his eyes away from her and saw that he was one step away from plummeting to the ground from a tower.
"When you jump," Zoe was crying, but she was smiling. "I jump."
Levi woke with a start, his lungs expanding quickly as he settled back to consciousness, limbs uncoordinated for a moment as he sat himself up from the sofa. The smell of rain filled his nostrils, eyes drinking in the dim-lit room. This room was unfamiliar. Where was he?
"I hate bad dreams." Eren was near the window, hugging his knees as he sat on a tattered chair. "Its as if the world we live in isn't bad enough."
Right. They had taken the job. He almost forgot. Zoe had led them to a hideout nearer to the borders, so their trip to Trost would be faster. "What do you know about bad dreams?" Thick with sarcasm, he settled back to the sofa, sighing as his head hit the musty cushion.
Eren said nothing for a while, returning his gaze outside. The soldiers were beginning to patrol the streets. "More that you'll ever know, old man."
A/N: Sorry for the really late update. I got really busy and really lazy. Working in the hospital is tiring.
But anyway! I hope I had done my job well. I aimed for a chapter that would seem a little dream-like and disorganized, also a little vague. I wanted to make the readers a little confused. I hope I managed to pull it off. If not, well, at least I tried.
I hope you guys had a great Christmas. And Happy New Year and advanced Happy Chinese New Year! Stay sexy.