In the middle of the night, Mikasa stirred, and woke. On the wall the clock ticked past three in the morning, and she wondered if it had been a forgotten nightmare which had woken her at this late hour.
Restlessly, she rolled to lay on her other side, and sleep again. Now facing Sasha's bed she started to close her eyes, only to discover, at the last second, that the bed next to hers was empty.
Immediately sitting up, Mikasa scanned the room, and saw that the door was open. Quietly she rose to her feet, and grabbed her scarf from her nightstand, wrapping it around her neck. In the linen closet by the door was a stack of quilts for cold nights, and she grabbed one to bring with her on the way out.
The night air was cool, and the sky was starry, unnaturally bright. She looked around on the court yard, by the quarters they now resided in, and finally spotted Sasha's form away by the gates. Stepping across the cobblestone ground Mikasa closed the distance between them, but Sasha didn't turn to see who approached her.
Dressed in her linen night gown, same as Mikasa, she was standing barefooted and looking over the iron railing. The headquarters were placed on a hill, and as such, there was a view of alleys down below.
Without announcing her arrival, Mikasa unfolded the quilt and put it over Sasha's shoulders. In turn, Sasha startled, and she spun around to see who it was. Her lips quivered, and Mikasa could see that her eyes were red and swollen from crying.
"Go… good evening," Sasha said. Her voice was silent, but the stillness of the night offered nothing to obscure it. She pulled the quilt closer around her body, but her shivering didn't stop.
Mikasa remembered how close Sasha had been to death a few days past. She remembered hearing her sob in her sleep, next to Mikasa's bed. She remembered wanting to pull her close, coddle her like a child, and say that it would all be fine.
"Are you all right?" she asked, even though it was evident she was not.
Sasha pulled the quilt even closer, and she broke eye contact as she shook her head.
"Why did you join the Survey Corps?" Mikasa asked. She had seen Sasha crying at the admittance ceremony. She had seen Sasha almost die during the battle in the Trost district.
Sasha sobbed without tears. "I… I didn't want to," she stammered. Mikasa waited for more, patiently.
Eventually, she continued. "But I have to… I failed to kill a titan. And then I apologized to it." She made a sniveling sound, and Mikasa could see tears begin to fall anew. "I really don't want to fight them again," she said into the air, staring somewhere over Mikasa's head. "But if I don't… even more people will die, won't they?"
"You don't have to sacrifice yourself for the cause," Mikasa said. She grabbed Sasha's shaking hand, and met her eyes again. "You don't have to."
"My abilities… I can be good, right?" Sasha tried to smile. "I can help the humankind… right? I can't just… die like a girl who apologized to a titan." She averted eye contact once more, and let her hand drop from Mikasa's grip. Taking a few steps forward, she grabbed the iron railing and had her back turned to Mikasa.
"When I was little, we used to have food in my village. I was a hunter, and I loved it. But then the wall fell, and there were so many refugees. They were given parts of our lands, and they hunted our food, and cut down our forest. I hated it.
"I was starving, because the food left for me and my village was getting sparser. I never went to bed on a full stomach. So I stole food, and tried to just satisfy myself. I was a selfish kid.
"Then my father caught me. And he tried to explain to me why I was wrong. That the refugees had no choice but to live there, and that I had to share. At that time, I was too stubborn to listen.
"But he was right. More people would live if I shared… and I would only help myself by stealing food."
"Sasha," Mikasa cut in. She walked up to her friend, and put a hand on her shoulder. "You are not selfish for choosing not to fight titans. You could be in the military police and help people, or you could man the walls. There are people needed for those jobs."
"You know… I am really good with the 3D manoeuvre gear," Sasha said. "My report said that I have lighting quick reflexes. I ended up 9th best. If I am that good… I want a chance to prove it. I want to save lives, and I want to help everyone. Only the Survey Corps will let me do that."
"Even though you cry yourself to sleep at night?" Mikasa pointed out harshly.
Sasha brought up a hand to wipe away her tears. "I will get better," she said. "I promise." She tried smiling again to reassure her friend, and this time, her smile looked almost authentic.
Mikasa thought for a while. She said: "Then you have to promise me something. Promise to stay near me."
"If you falter, I will save you," MIkasa said. "So stay close."
"But I can't promise that," Sasha protested. "What's the point of being in the Survey Corps if it's only to be saved by other people?"
"I hope I won't have to," Mikasa said. "But there is always a risk. Therefore… promise me you'll be fine."
Sasha blushed when she realized the magnitude of those words.
"I… I'll do my best," she said. "I won't need your protection again, Mikasa. But I will ease your mind. I can't risk having you worry about saving my hide all the time."
Sasha's smile was startlingly beautiful. Mikasa leaned forward and gave her cheek a kiss.
"Thank you," she said when she withdrew. "Now let's go inside." She turned and started to cross the court yard again. Behind her, Sasha followed, stepping softly on her bare feet, her face flushed to the point she felt dizzy.
Mikasa pulled up her scarf over her cheeks, but its dark red colour blended too well in with her face to hide anything.