A/N~ A little warning for awkward teenagers and hormones and slightly explicit material. This is the last chapter before the storm.
"Coffee." Armin supplicated.
Eren shook his head. "The doctor said no caffeine, Armin."
Armin turned his head, bright blue eyes looking up at him pleadingly. "I just want a sip, Eren." Armin shut his eyes, blonde lashes fluttering. "Caffeine makes me feel better. It also helps me think clearly."
Eren's resolve weakened. "I…shouldn't." If Mikasa were here she'd be sterner, he knew, but she wasn't and he'd always been weak against Armin's entreaties. "Fine, I'll bring a cup—but you'll only have a sip."
Armin smiled, looking like an angel who'd been deprived of his wings and needed the help of a mortal. "Thank you."
Eren grumbled as he left the room, nearly crashing into Hanji as he did.
"Is he awake?" Hanji adjusted her glasses, smelling of the cold night air. She'd been outside?
"Yeah. He doesn't remember who hit him. He said he didn't get to see the guy." Eren pushed his fists deep into his pockets. "Where's Mikasa?"
Hanji cocked her head, brown hair straggling. "She isn't here? We sort of got separated and I waited for a while but she took so long I figured maybe she returned here."
Eren shook his head, wondering if he'd upset her somehow. He had been yelling a lot. "No. I'll go look for her. Keep an eye on Armin for me."
Hanji nodded, already walking in. "Will do."
Eren made his ways to the elevators, bones too weary to walk up the stairs. He'd just been about to push the button when the elevator in the center pinged, the doors parting, a familiar voice carrying towards him.
"—do everything and anything to find you and keep you."
He found Mikasa and Levi much too close to one another, her hands clutching at the front of his jacket, his hands on her elbows, faces inches apart. Perhaps at one time Eren would have mistaken it for a romantic embrace, one of passion—but he knew what Mikasa felt for him, had accepted it without insecurity as best as a teenage boy could. Mikasa wouldn't and while many others would swear the same thing about their own partners—Eren knew Mikasa down to her very bones, knew her like the scars on his body, like the ones on hers.
She was loyal.
Every muscle in her body was bunched, her knuckles paper white with the pressure of her grip. Her lips—so often pressed together—were pulled back, teeth bared, an expression he didn't think he'd ever quite seen her wear and if he were any other person he might be frightened.
She looked on the verge of ripping the guy to shreds.
But what made Eren lose his breath was the glint of fear in her dark eyes, how fast her breaths were coming, and in the bright light of the hospital hall he could tell she was trembling—she looked the way she did when she'd just woken from a nightmare.
"Mikasa." Eren stepped forward but she didn't seem to hear him, her eyes still fixed on Levi forcefully.
Levi looked away from Mikasa, hard blue eyes scrutinizing him with distaste. He looked back up at Mikasa, fingers biting into her arms, voice low. "Let me go, Mikasa."
Mikasa whispered something thickly, looking disoriented, like she was trying to untangle her brain from spider webs.
"We have company." Levi informed her.
Mikasa's grip slackened, stepping back—weakly, slowly, as if wading through water or mud and releasing Levi would mean she'd sink down. She stumbled as she pried her hands free, pressing her back to the wall, flattening her palms against it.
"Mikasa?" Eren moved towards her in alarm, hand shooting forward when the elevator doors began to shut—like hell if he was going to leave her alone with him. "Mikasa what's wrong?"
She didn't look at him, gaze turned inwards, unresponsive. Levi grabbed her arm, pushing her out the elevator and at Eren roughly. "She's fine." Levi looked at Eren with that same critical expression, as if measuring him and finding him lacking and he loathed it because it was the same way he looked at himself.
"What did you do to her?" Eren pulled Mikasa against him—but at his touch she snapped back to the moment, turning and keeping herself between him and Levi protectively, looking as if she'd attack the devil himself to keep him safe. She placed her hand on his stomach, pushing him back—and he could feel her shaking.
"I'm fine." Mikasa took Eren's hand. "Let's go see Armin."
"No." Eren stood firm when Mikasa tried to pull him away, his green eyes fixed on Levi. "What are you doing here? I heard what you said just now—if Mikasa wants nothing to do with you, leave her alone."
Levi looked at Mikasa pointedly. "Get this fucking kid out of here."
Kid? "I heard you." Eren shook Mikasa's hand off, his voice rising in volume. "You said you were going to do 'everything and anything' to find and keep her."
"Safe," Levi leaned against the wall of the elevator as he pulled his hood up, blue eyes taunting. "I'm keeping her safe."
"She doesn't need your protection. She has us."
"Right." He pressed the tip of a cigarette to his lips. "Because tripping and holding up a garment bag is going to keep all the bad guys away. What the fuck are you, five?"
Eren felt the blood drain from his face—he lurched forward, trying to stop the doors from shutting—but Mikasa bent, lifting Eren onto her shoulder and carting him off like he weighed damn near nothing.
"Mikasa!" Eren strained against her hold, cursing when he saw the doors shut, Levi smirking at him infuriatingly as they did. "Put me down! Mikasa, I swear to god if you don't—" She shoved them into an empty hospital room, shutting the door behind them swiftly. "I don't fucking care if he's your mom's friend, I'll kick his fucking—"
Mikasa wrapped her arms around his torso, her forehead dropping onto his left shoulder weakly. He froze at the supplicating gesture, his harsh breathing slowing—she was holding onto him as if he could vanish any second, like she was shattered and he was the glue holding her together. He could feel her small shivers, hear her breath catching and his hand slid up her slender back soothingly.
"I heard what he said." Eren muttered thickly, pressing his mouth to her forehead, stemming his anger with her familiar scent. "What the hell does he want, Mikasa? What did he mean by keeping you safe? Safe from what?"
Because tripping and holding up a garment bag is going to keep all the bad guys away. It was him. It was him—and Mikasa was hanging out with him?
She couldn't know what that meant, he thought, couldn't know the guy had tried to mug him and swiped a knife at him—she would have murdered him in the blink of an eye. But why had he gone after him and why was he following Mikasa around? What the hell did he want from them—from her?
"He doesn't want anything." Mikasa spoke, almost airlessly.
Eren felt his entire body tighten, unsure if he should tell her what the guy had done, petty enough to keep it to himself until she fessed up too. "He said he wants to keep you safe, Mikasa. Safe from what? From who?" He struggled to speak, something clenched around his throat. "I'm tired of all these damn secrets."
Her nails dug into his lower back. "I don't want to talk about it right now."
Eren felt his temper surge up, his skin heating unpleasantly. "I thought—" He tried to stop himself from saying the words but they spilled from his lips anyway. "For a second I remembered that day in the alley. The way I felt. I almost thought you guys were—" He searched her features intently, searching for the right words. "I almost thought you two had something."
Her lashes lowered, guilt written in the lines of her working throat, in the way the edges of her lips tightened. "Eren—"
"You've told me he knew your mother. I didn't like him, Mikasa—I still don't—and I don't understand what's going on but there's something you're not telling me."
She stepped away but he advanced on her.
"Just tell me." He was on the verge of erupting, could feel himself shaking, didn't want to argue anymore, was so very, very tired. "Please." He pressed his forehead to hers, gripping her elbows. "Just tell me. I know something's going on and I want you to trust me enough to tell me."
He bit down hard, loathing his stubbornness as much as he let it fuel him. "Yes, you can."
"Eren," Her words cut deep, more harshly than they'd ever had before. "Stop. Stop asking me. I can't tell you. I can't."
Eren released her instantly—and she wrapped her arms around herself, already shutting herself away.
"Fine." Eren shook his head, jaw aching. "Fine."
"I'll leave this time." She began thinly, startling him at her abrupt statement. "You don't have to stay anywhere else. I'll pack as soon as we settle Armin in. I don't want him staying alone. Take…" She gave a little shudder. "Take care of him."
It took him a moment to understand what she meant; she meant to give him space. She meant to leave their apartment because she thought it was what he was going to do. He'd done it before—she had every right to think he'd do it again. He'd left her alone, soothed over his wounds with Armin and Hannes and he'd left her to fend for herself knowing she'd just lost her job, knowing she was exhausted, knowing she was backed into some kind of corner—because of a stupid fit of temper. "You're not going anywhere." He muttered.
"You can't keep going over to Armin's or Han—"
"I'm not." He raked his hand through his hair. "I'm not leaving again and neither are you. We're sticking together, alright? We all are. Family doesn't leave."
Mikasa looked perplexed for a brief moment before shrouding her expression behind her usual stoicism.
"I shouldn't have left the first time." He looked at the ground, the empty bed, the curtains—anywhere but her. "But I was upset. I'm pissed the hell off right now—but I'm not going to make the same mistake twice." He looked at her now, green eyes vivid. "Maybe you're not ready to tell me right now but you will. I'm not dropping this Mikasa. I'm asking you to trust me."
"I do." She leaned against the wall, her guard crumbling, looking haggard and stretched much too thin. "I want to."
He dragged his hands over his face. "Then why won't you tell me?"
She sat on the hospital bed. "It'll make things worse."
"How? What things?" Eren's tone dropped, his mind grasping at air, trying to find something that made sense. "Is it money, Mikasa? I know he gave you money—are you trying to pay it back? Because if it is we can figure something—"
"If I asked you," Eren grabbed her hands, linking their fingers tightly, the pressure almost painful. "If I asked you to stop hanging out with him, to keep away from him—would you do it?"
She wondered briefly—he could see the way her thin brows drew together, the way her fingers curled and uncurled—it was the way she always looked when she was preparing a lie, when she was struggling to hide something and she'd done it since they were children.
Eren shook his head, sighing. Her answer was obvious. She would keep seeing him and what he needed to understand before anything was why. "We'll talk about this when we get home."
She hesitated, nodding, grateful that he would not press it when she was so unsteady and it made Eren wonder when he had become so calm. "Let's go see Armin." He pulled her up onto her feet and kept her hand in his as they walked back.
They'd released Armin quickly—perhaps to get them all out of their hair—and they'd brought him back to their place despite his protests.
Armin sputtered, the thought of crowding their already small apartment with his problems chagrining him. "I don't have any clothes—"
"I'll pick some up." Mikasa wheeled Armin carefully down the halls, Eren pushing doors and various obstacles aside for them and frightening people out of their way by scowling and barking a curt move.
"I need to feed my cat." Armin tried again, smiling apologetically at the group of women Eren had glared at.
Mikasa slipped her hand into Armin's jacket pocket, retrieving his keys. "Hanji is driving you two home. I'm going to stop by your place and grab you some clothes. I'll feed Cleo."
Armin sighed, giving her a peculiar look but he knew he had no other choice. If he insisted on staying at his place he'd only have Eren and Mikasa move in with him and the bright side was the opportunities it would present him with to speak to Mikasa about what had occurred and discover her connection to it.
He needed to speak to Annie and with Mikasa around he knew it'd be nearly impossible. He blinked when the cold night air struck him, shivering as they wheeled him out the hospital doors. Mikasa stopped the wheelchair at the very edge of the sidewalk, removing her jacket and draping it over Armin. He shuddered at the warmth of it, inhaling her familiar scent, letting it lull him into briefly shutting his eyes.
She moved to slip her arms under him but he shook his head. "I can stand, Mikasa."
He pressed a hand to her shoulder, catching her gaze when she hunched over him. "Please, Mikasa."
Her gaze searched his for a drawn out moment and as reserved and impassive as Mikasa was Armin had always been able to discern what she'd been thinking, what she'd been feeling, and he saw something like vulnerability and guilt shift over her features, her dark eyes flickering over the bandages on his head.
She feels guilty?
"What's wrong?" Eren crouched beside them, brows furrowed in concern at their intensity—but Mikasa pulled away.
"Armin doesn't want to let me carry him."
Eren's frown deepened, oblivious. "Armin, you're not at your full strength right now. I know Mikasa can be a little rough so I'll pick you up."
"No." Armin shook his head—winced when his balance tipped at the careless motion. "Ah, wait, I…"
Mikasa touched his shoulders, fingers pressing in, making the sensation of falling over stop. He heard them mutter at each other about who'd carry him—but he felt Eren slip his arms under him, lifting him gently into the car. He opened his eyes to find Hanji sitting in the driver's seat, her glasses glinting from the glow of the hospital lights. She smiled at him tenderly as Eren buckled him in, lifting her glasses over her head.
"How do you feel, Armin?"
He let his head loll back against the seat, the heat of the car easing the ache at his temples. "Sleepy." He admitted.
Her eyes were tender. "Go to sleep then."
He looked out the window to see Eren just outside it, his green eyes on Mikasa as she walked away—and Armin knew that Eren sensed something wrong with Mikasa as much as he did.
As Mikasa poured the cat food into the metal bowl the cat wound itself restlessly between her feet. It kept meowing in disgruntlement—perhaps at being left alone the entire day or perhaps because she'd been expecting Armin and instead had found her. Mikasa wasn't much of a cat person—she rather thought the cat was attracted to her for this sole reason—but even so she could admit Cleo was beautiful even by feline standards. Her coat was a rich chocolate brown color, eyes an opulent leaf green.
"It looks like Eren." Mikasa had admitted when Armin had first shown her to them.
Eren had looked a little unhappy at the comparison but his hand had run down the cats' back anyway, his features softening when the cat nuzzled his palm with her small nose. "She doesn't have my temper, though."
Mikasa lifted Cleo up in her arms, taking care to keep her scarf away from her claws—when a sudden knock sounded at the doorway. The cat leapt away from her, and Mikasa pulled her knife from her pocket, silently making her way towards the door. It was half past midnight and she didn't know who would visit Armin at this time. She peered into the peephole—and went still.
She'd been a little too incensed to listen much to Levi when he'd tried to speak to her but his words returned to her now.
"Considering you're all the same age as Claude's daughter—"
She unlocked the door slowly, incredibly unshaken as her mind made the obvious connections. She kept her hand on the knob as she pulled it open, allowing her eyes to take in Annie's features in much more detail, comparing them to Claude's methodically, as coldly as she could.
They wore the same expression—wariness beneath the carelessness—the same ice blue eyes, the sharp nose, the bright yellow hair. That was perhaps where their similarities ended, however, Annie's build short and strong and her father's tall and stretched thin.
Annie looked irritated to find Mikasa there, her hands loose at her sides, ready for a less than calm reaction. "Where's Armin?"
Mikasa didn't look away from her, speaking slowly. "He was just released from the hospital."
Annie's gaze flickered briefly with surprise—but she shrouded it quickly, pushing her hands in her pockets, voice slightly strained. "What happened to him?"
Mikasa stepped forward. "Don't you know?" Annie clenched her fists at Mikasa's proximity. "He was with you, wasn't he?"
Annie took a step back, grimacing at the accusation. "I let him walk home alone." She looked away, eyes shutting briefly. "I didn't think..."
Mikasa was at the very edge of her restraint, could almost feel the girl's throat beneath her fingers, imagining how frightened Armin must have been, imagining him helpless and hurting—but she shouldn't, not if she wanted to keep a clear head. She knew Levi had been the one to strike him, but Annie had still lured him over there and abandoned him knowing he could have been badly hurt and he had been—maybe that had been her intention.
But maybe Annie wouldn't have lured Armin at all if her father hadn't ordered her to.
And her father wouldn't have ordered her to if it had been for Mikasa's connection with Armin.
She really had no one to blame but herself—for Armin's injury, for Carla's death, for Grisha's disappearance, for being unable to save her parents—for the horrible things that had happened to them all.
She didn't think she could bear any more guilt than she already did. She needed to do what had to be done and stop hesitating.
She needed to leave.
"Keep away from him." Mikasa spoke, heart heavy—and as if moving of their own volition her hands lashed out, gripping Annie's jacket and hauling her against the brick wall. "He wouldn't have been out there if it hadn't been for you." There was a small voice of reason in the back of her mind, one that told her Armin had made his own choice and risked it willingly—but she could only remember the blood in his yellow hair and on his small face, how slight and broken he'd looked on the bench, his cry over the phone.
How terrified she'd been.
Annie shoved at Mikasa, her breath fogging in the cold night air. "Don't touch me."
Annie shoved at her again, breaking her hold—and then she struck her ribs, Mikasa hissing at the pain. Annie swung again but Mikasa twisted, the heel of Annie's hand striking her cheekbone instead. She jerked back when Annie punched at her again, catching her wrist and twisting her to the side. Mikasa delivered a swift kick to the side of Annie's legs, Annie striking the ground hard.
Mikasa crouched over her—Annie scratched at her, nail catching on her lip and tearing her skin viciously—but Mikasa shoved her down, knee pressed to her chest to keep her from moving. "Stop." Mikasa caught her breath, tasting the copper of her own blood. "Stay away from Armin. Stay away from Eren. If I find you anywhere near them again—" Mikasa pressed her fingers to her throat pointedly and Annie struggled to breathe. "I'll break you."
Annie looked up at Mikasa, blue eyes burning, teeth bared and it was perhaps the first time Mikasa had seen the girl so desperate—to be freed or to hurt her or both, she didn't know. "Maybe…" Annie gritted her teeth through her words. "You're the one who should keep her distance—for their sake."
Mikasa released her like she'd burst into flames—and Annie kicked her hard, making her stumble back to keep her balance. Mikasa stood, the words echoing within her skull painfully, leaning against the wall heavily. That was what she'd known, it was what she'd been planning on doing—but it burned to have it said to her, to have someone else tell her the truth, that she was the threat to her own family. She wiped her bloodied lip, stepping back into Armin's home—when Annie suddenly called out.
"Wait." Annie paused, still on her back, scowling up at the night sky, looking as if she'd rather swallow poison than speak. "He's—" She clenched her jaw, still breathing harshly. "He's alright, though?" Her blue eyes glittered in the low light, something like misery twisting her lips, something like despair in the rasp of her voice. "Armin's okay?"
Annie was like her, she knew. Young girls who had seen too much, who had grown strong beneath the weight of the pain. Being reserved helped in being careful, in being protected and protecting—but her guard was gone as she lay there on the ground, eyes flickering with tears she wouldn't shed.
Had she really not meant to hurt him?
Mikasa slid her cold fingers around the door knob, her breath slowing. It didn't matter. They both needed to stay far away from them. They had the same thorns wrapped around them, the same claws and teeth and pressing any closer would only cut the people around them up. "Yeah." She picked up Cleo, deciding she might as well take the cat with her. She didn't think she'd let Armin back home for a long, long time. "Armin's safe—as long as he's away from you. As long as he's away from the both of us."
She shut the door, pretending not to hear the soft breath of relief Annie gave to the night.
Eren lifted Armin up the stairs gently, placing him on his bed and tucking him in. He smoothed his blonde hair away from his face, placing his medication on the nightstand beside the bed along with a glass of water.
He'd wanted to ask him a million questions—what were you doing over there, at this time, with who, don't you know how dangerous it is?—but he'd held his tongue. Armin's head had been hurting and as soon as they'd gotten him in the car he'd begun nodding off.
Eren removed his jacket as he walked down the hall, his body feeling terribly worn down.
Hanji was sitting in the living room, straddling the arm of the couch, scrolling through her phone. She'd been unusually quiet during the drive, lost in her thoughts, the working of her jaw the only tell of her inner distress. She looked up suddenly, her glasses glinting with the light from her screen eerily. "I called Hannes."
Eren scowled. "You shouldn't have told him." He could hear Hannes calling him an idiot already.
Hanji hummed. "He didn't answer—I'm sure he's asleep—but he'll hear it in the morning and I'm sure he'll be pounding on your door bright and early. He's like your father, you know. He cares about you like you all were his own and he most definitely deserves to know." Hanji slid her phone into her pocket, clasping her hands the way she always did before giving him a lecture. "I also think,"
"Don't." Eren shook his head, walking over to the kitchen as if he could cut off the conversation with mere distance. "Don't think."
"It would be better if you all lived with Hannes, Eren." Hanji looked at him sternly. "Just until you all graduate."
"No." Eren mussed his hair. "We've already caused him enough trouble."
"You have," Hanji smiled a little. "But he's always wanted to take you all in, Eren. When I was your social worker I asked him once—if he'd be willing to adopt you and Mikasa, even Armin."
Eren kept his gaze on the kitchen table. "We don't need foster parents." He muttered. They'd had enough unpleasant experiences to know being adopted wasn't in the cards for them. Eren had been too angry, too hurt and rebellious and Mikasa had been too silent and reserved to form any bonds with anyone else. They'd been too old, too troubled, wounds too fresh—who wanted a bunch of troubled teenagers? How many times had they gone through it? How many times had they tried? How many times had they threatened to separate them?
"Hannes is different, Eren." Hanji was watching him with that perceptiveness she'd always possessed and it made him uneasy. "You couldn't get rid of him if you tried and vice versa. You're all already a family—think of how good it could be, Eren." Hanji lifted her hand, counting off. "You wouldn't have to worry about rent. Mikasa wouldn't have to work. Hannes would have someone to come home to instead of being alone. You could take care of him as much as he'd take care of you."
Eren scowled. "Maybe you should move in with him."
Hanji looked taken aback for a moment—but recovered. "You want me to be your mom?"
Eren sat down, weakly dropping his head onto the table. As sharp as the woman was sometimes she really didn't understand. But what could he say? Mikasa had lost her parents, he'd lost his, Armin had lost them too—and they didn't want to risk it again. They'd been on their own since they were kids and trying to find replacement parents wasn't something they wanted.
There was always a chance of them being taken away again.
There was only so much they could live through.
"We're fine." Eren muttered, unsure if she'd be able to understand him, muffled as his words were pressed against the table.
"Well," Hanji stood, fiddling with her keys. "We'll talk about it tomorrow. I'll come check on you all after work." She stood beside him, ruffling his hair affectionately. "Get some rest, Eren."
Eren sighed. "Yeah." He sat up, looking at the clock. "I'm just going to wait up for Mikasa."
Hanji peered out the window. "She's just pulling in. I'm going to head on home now." She buttoned up her jacket quickly. "Good night, Eren. Think about what I said."
She slammed the door much too hard, earning a thump and a shout from the neighbors on the floor above.
Mikasa slung the duffel bag strap over her head, carrying Cleo up the steps swiftly. She was running on the little energy she had left now, desperate to collapse into bed. She'd made it about halfway when she nearly collided with Hanji, her energy palpable.
"Oh! You brought Cleo?" Hanji tried to pet the cat but it hissed at her. Hanji laughed. "Damn cat never liked me. Armin says it's because I'm unpredictable and it unsettles her."
Mikasa had known Armin had brought Hanji over to his place quite a few times but their familiarity still sometimes left her brooding. It had been the cause of much talk among the peers and school staff alike—but it had quieted when they'd discovered she'd been their former social worker, her interest suddenly justified in their narrow-mindedness. Mikasa had always been a little wary of the eccentric woman, grudgingly coming to accept her because of Armin's attachment and how much he enjoyed her company.
Armin had never had many friends to begin with and Hanji had always given him an intellectual outlet—one she and Eren had never been able to quite provide as well as she had. It had evolved from grudging acceptance to a genuine fondness with the woman's eccentricity, with her passion and intelligence and kindness and Mikasa sometimes thought if she had had an aunt or another adoptive mother she would not have minded if it had been Hanji.
"Mikasa," Hanji began, reaching up to lift her chin, her eyes fixed on her mouth. "Who hit you?"
Mikasa pulled away, touching her cut lip. She'd almost forgotten about her scuffle with Annie. How would she explain this to Eren? She'd been so tired she hadn't been able to think of anything beyond getting home and sleeping.
Mikasa looked down at the cat in her arms. "I surprised Cleo. She scratched me."
Hanji sighed, pulling her glasses up onto her head—and Mikasa knew the lie had been useless. "Mikasa—the man who struck Armin and who tried to mug Eren and I—you know him, don't you?"
Mikasa lifted her gaze in brief surprise. "The man…you and Eren were mugged?"
"Almost mugged." Hanji corrected, her features stern. "He didn't tell you, did he?"
Mikasa shook her head.
Hanji nodded, the knowledge only confirming her suspicions. "It's the same man, isn't it? Short, dark hair, blue eyes, constipated expression?"
Mikasa felt the control slipping from her grip, recalling Levi's words of keeping everything between them, if anyone else knew it would only hurt them. "He's not…" Mikasa looked away. Lying had never been her strongest suit. "He's trying to help me." It was all she could say and she knew it wasn't enough that Hanji would dig because that is what she did best—but instead Hanji gave her a small sad smile, and she knew she would not push her for anything more.
"You know you can come to me for help, Mikasa." Hanji reached out, placing her hand on her shoulder, ignoring the disgruntled rumble Cleo gave at the contact. "You know I can have you all moved into another town, another state—if you need me to."
Mikasa shook her head. "No, thank you." What good would it do? She'd be gone in no time and they'd be safe—or at least safer.
Or would they?
This neighborhood was still awful, still dangerous and what guarantee did she have that Claude wouldn't still have run of the town once she and Levi were gone?
Wouldn't moving Eren and Armin to another neighborhood, a good one, secure their safety much more surely?
"Are you sure?" Hanji murmured, as if sensing her struggle.
"I…" Mikasa ran her fingers through Cleo's fur, finally sure she was making at least one right decision. She may have to run—but Eren and Armin would still have each other, still have Hanji and Hannes and perhaps with a good neighborhood they'd be able to find peace and happiness and stability.
"I think moving would be the best." Cleo nuzzled her throat, sensing her distress. "For all of us."
She had not finished closing the door before Eren's eyes fixed on her split lip. "What happened?"
Mikasa licked the cut self-consciously. "Cleo scratched me."
He narrowed his eyes. "That's complete bullshit, Mikasa."
"When did you almost get mugged, Eren?" She felt her own anger claw up her stomach. How many times had Eren asked her to be honest with him? Ask her to tell him everything, to trust him—when he'd been keeping secrets of his own.
He cursed, hands clenching. "Hanji told you, didn't she?"
Mikasa pressed her lips together—reminding herself that she should direct her anger towards Levi and not Eren but she felt it twist her up anyway. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because," Eren gestured. "You'd overreact—and besides, that's in the past. What happened to your lip?"
Overreact. She spoke very quietly. "It's in the past." She moved to walk down the hall—but he grabbed her sleeve, tugging her back. He sighed wearily, his thumb passing over her lip, brows furrowing at the deepness of the scab.
His green eyes didn't move away from her, swallowing her whole the way they always had, an anger and tenderness in his gaze that weakened her. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"
She shook her head, trying to slow the skittering of her heart. "It's just a scratch."
He watched her intently for a few more moments—but gave in, shoulders slumping. "Have you eaten today?" Eren asked, taking the bag off her shoulders and shutting the door behind her.
She put Cleo onto the couch, letting the cat explore the inside of their apartment, hoping their landlord wouldn't discover they'd brought a cat. "I ate breakfast." She murmured, too tired to let her anger linger.
Eren sighed, shaking his head as he grabbed a pan. "Let me make you something. You shouldn't fall asleep on an empty stomach. You'll wake up with a headache."
Mikasa didn't argue, grabbing two glasses and plates instead, placing them on the table while he cooked. She didn't really know when Eren had become the cook but she knew that she was grateful—she was a decent one, but she'd never liked cooking, never enjoyed it while Eren always had.
Armin had set a few things on fire the few times he'd tried to cook and Mikasa had cooked a dish well enough but she'd never gone out of her way to add any spices or flavors or quite cared about the taste—food was fuel and nothing more. Eren had swept them aside whenever they'd tried, telling them to sit—and they'd watched as he'd chop and slice and salt everything diligently, green eyes intent as he arranged the food on the plate until he was satisfied.
Eren pressed the small slivers of chicken against the sizzling pan one last time before sliding them onto their plates, passing her the black pepper before she could ask for it. She sprinkled it as he tugged out two Tupperware bowls form the refrigerator, serving them both a side of cold salad and fruit.
She chewed slowly, watching Eren fuss about the kitchen like she always had.
"I'll clean up." She watched as he placed the pan in the sink. "Eat."
He sat, digging his fork into several pieces of lettuce. "Is he bothering you?" Eren looked her straight in the eye—he always had—and the green of them intensified in the low light. "I heard what he said, Mikasa." His fingers were white about the handle of the fork. "We can tell Hannes."
She shook her head. "You misunderstood."
"Then help me understand."
"He just wants to help me. That's all." She pushed her plate away—but Eren pushed it back.
"I'm not hungry."
"Eat." Eren insisted, chewing around a scowl. "I cooked that for you."
"You can finish it."
"You drowned it in a mountain of black pepper." Eren swallowed. "I take one bite, I die."
Mikasa shoved another piece of chicken in her mouth reluctantly. She really didn't think she put that much black pepper.
They finished dinner quietly, tiredly, the only sound of the dishes clinking and the water running as Mikasa washed them. Eren pulled himself up on the counter beside her, looking out the window thoughtfully as he sat with his hands clasped.
"Do you think we'll always be together?"
Mikasa looked at him in brief surprise, looking down at her soapy hands. "Yes and no."
Eren leaned back, his head resting against the cabinet awkwardly. "I know a lot of friends go their separate ways when they grow up and stuff." He shrugged. "But we're different. Me, you and Armin…we're a family."
Mikasa rinsed the glass, fingers clasped about it so tightly she was sure it'd shatter. "Those break up, too."
"We won't." Eren reached over when she shut the water off, tossing her the hand towel. "We've survived a lot, you know." He bent his head, eyes unfocused, looking much younger for a moment, reminding her of when they'd been children, of the way he'd always believed and strove for the impossible and the way she had always known better. "I don't think anything could separate us."
Mikasa dried her hands slowly, swallowing the tightness in her throat. "What brought this on, Eren?"
"I don't know." He jumped off the counter, grabbing her hand. "Maybe thinking about life after high school, I guess. College, career choices and all that crap. You still haven't told us where you plan on going."
Mikasa pulled her scarf up with her free hand, saying nothing. She didn't think she could lie again, didn't want to put yet another stone between them. "I…just haven't thought about it." And she hadn't, really. How could she with everything going on?
"Are you sure?" He held her gaze, his face only inches from hers, his eyes asking her to tell him the truth. "There's not another reason?"
For a moment she weakened. For a moment she imagined telling him everything, about Levi and Claude and Annie, telling him that all of the wounds on his soul had been because of her existence. For a moment she tried to imagine what he'd say, what he'd think and feel, imagined him holding her and telling her they'd figure something out, that no, she wouldn't leave and he wouldn't let her.
Or would he hate her? He'd be angry, she knew, perhaps he'd feel hatred towards her but Eren was good, Eren would still not let her face it on her own, and while he kept her by him his resentment would only grow.
Either way he would not let her leave.
And staying meant risking his life, risked losing him, seeing him dead on the ground like the way her parents had been broken, risked seeing Armin lifeless on the ground—and no matter how weak she felt, how much she wanted to confess everything and cling to him with all of her might she couldn't, and wouldn't.
She'd done enough.
She shut her eyes, curling her fingers tightly. "No."
Eren frowned—but gave in. "Alright." He sighed wearily. "Let's go to bed."
Mikasa nodded, letting him pull her close, his mouth touching her forehead. "I'm still not dropping it, though." He breathed.
She shut her eyes, wrapping her arms around his neck and breathing in his scent. "I know."
The boy never did learn how to give up.
Eren had just gotten ready for bed when he found that he needed to go to the bathroom, reluctant to use his own lest he wake Armin.
He crept over to Mikasa's bedroom, knocking on the door softly. She was most likely asleep and if she was he wouldn't wake her. He pushed the door open a sliver, peering in—and found her sleepily sitting up in bed.
"Shit—sorry—can I use your bathroom?"
Mikasa nodded groggily, raking her hair back.
He walked in, leaving the door open behind him. "Go back to bed."
She nodded, lying back onto her side and pulling the covers up to her chin. He shut the bathroom door behind him, quickly doing his necessities and brushing his teeth. He washed his hands and found no hand towel to dry them with, stepping out of the bathroom and grabbing her towel off her chair. It was the same dark purple towel she'd had wrapped about her bare body when she took a shower, and the thought made his throat a little dry. He put the towel back down quickly.
He looked over to her, seeing her curled on her side with the blankets drawn up to her nose. "You asleep?"
She kept her eyes closed. "No."
"Well, you should be." He fidgeted a moment, licking his lips.
He saw the small smile she tried to hide. "Good night, Eren."
He moved over her, pressing his hands onto the mattress on either side of her and she angled her upper body up to face him. "Good night, Mikasa." He traced her features with his gaze slowly, eyes stopping at her soft mouth, at the small wound there. He dipped his head lower, slowly, hesitantly, as if asking if giving her a good night kiss was okay.
She tipped her head up in answer, touching his mouth with hers, swallowing the small sound he made. Their mouths moved together gently, the room dead quiet, punctuated by their soft breaths and the harsh beating of their hearts. He'd never known his mouth could feel so much, that a kiss could be felt deep in his chest, his stomach, the arches of his feet. It made his skin warm and his blood warmer, every shift of her lips and brush of her tongue robbing him of breath—and he finally understood why people kissed the way they did, as if they wanted to devour one another, as if they were starved.
She broke the kiss for a gasp of breath and his mouth followed hers instantly, his teeth catching at her bottom lip and urging her lips back to his. He let her pull him atop her as he shoved the blankets aside, his knee sliding between her thighs and pressing up, parting her bare legs so he could crouch over her—and he shut his eyes when he found the only thing she wore was an oversized t shirt, skin warm and soft beneath the cotton.
She tugged his shirt off his head, her palms smoothing down the sides of his neck and over his broad shoulders. Her fingertips lingered over the scar on his left shoulder, pressing into it as if she could erase it from his body. His own hands roved over her, hesitantly at first then more surely, hooking her legs over his narrow waist, sliding up her flat stomach.
He broke their kiss to pull her shirt off her head, baring her body to him, his eyes tracing over her helplessly. The line of her throat had always looked frail, the sharpness of her collarbones deceptively cloaking her strength. Her breasts were small and full, and his hands and mouth ached to feel them. Her stomach was as hard and defined as his own—but her skin was soft, incredibly sensitive to his touch. He slid his palms over the swell of her hips and to her knees, slipping back up to retrace his steps.
He looked back up—and found her gaze fixed on his features sharply, reading every flicker of emotion he gave. She did not look ashamed, nor embarrassed and he wasn't surprised at her confidence, letting it calm his nerves if only a little.
He slid his mouth down her throat, lingering over the thrashing pulse at the base of it as his hand tentatively slid between her thighs. She stiffened for a moment and he froze in response, swallowing thickly—maybe this was too fast, too much too soon.
"Mikasa." He muttered, thoughts hazed but clear enough to know where this was going. "I…" She arched beneath him again, parting her thighs further.
"It's okay, Eren." She dragged her nails down his back slowly, hard enough to sting and make his back muscles bunch—but it felt good, too, and if touching her like this made her mark him up he couldn't bring himself to mind much at all.
Eren shuddered, nodding and dropping his forehead to hers. "Okay."
Their breaths mingled as he slid his hand over her, his breath catching at the softness of her center. And it was odd—he knew the strength of her, knew she was very much stronger than him, had seen the brutality as well as the grace of it—but he was suddenly very afraid of hurting her.
Shakily, he pressed a finger into her, throat working at the scorching wetness. "Is this okay?" His voice was a croak.
She squeezed her eyes shut, brow furrowed, dropping her head back onto the pillow. "Yes."
He moved his fingertip higher, knowing enough to know what he was looking for—and if he hadn't been sure he'd know when he did find it her body informed him, her legs jerking and her back arching when he brushed across it.
She didn't make a sound as he pressed in again, her hands clawing at the sheets beneath her. He watched her features raptly, the way her lashes fluttered, her cheeks and chest flushing red prettily. He quickened his touches, circling experimentally—his breath catching when she gave him a soft moan, the sound spiking his blood.
"Mikasa," Eren covered her mouth with his, breathing in her scent, the very air from her lungs. He brushed the roof of her mouth his tongue, her thighs clenching around his hand, her body tightening. "You're so soft." Her legs began to tremble, and he hoped she couldn't feel him shaking, too, that she couldn't see how insecure he was.
He pressed his thumb into her, catching the small nub between his fingers carefully, the bed creaking as she shook, her nails digging into his skin painfully. She groaned his name, burying her face in his throat and breathing harshly, her knees hooking over his hips. He tried to pull away to keep watching her expression but she only clung to him harder, digging her nails into him fiercely.
He licked his lips. "Am I—does it feel good?" The question felt awkward but he couldn't be sure, could only hazard a guess, his control restrained by a frayed thread. He'd been hard since he'd first kissed her but now it was almost an ache. He wanted to feel her around him, wanted to connect them, wanted to lose himself in her and damn the consequences. But he didn't want to screw this up like he usually did, didn't want to mess up and leave her dissatisfied.
She nodded, pressing another moan against his mouth, letting him hear the pleasure he was giving her. Her hand slid down his stomach, sliding beneath the band of his shorts, gripping his erection tightly.
He cursed, jerking into her hand helplessly. "Wait, Mikasa, I…" But she moved her hand and all his focus centered on the feel of her fingers and soft palm wrapped around him, a groan vibrating in his throat. But no, this wasn't how he'd wanted it to go—he'd wanted to focus on her, to make sure she was satisfied first.
If he could even accomplish that—because he desperately needed to.
"Wait, Mikasa." He gripped her wrist, tugging her hand away from him with a hiss. "Not yet." He slid lower, out of her reach, his mouth slipping over her chest and down her stomach. She threaded her fingers in his thick brown hair, parting her thighs willingly for his head—when they suddenly heard a thunk and a curse come from the hall.
They both stiffened simultaneously and Eren lifted the blanket over them both instantly.
Mikasa sat up but Eren kept her on the bed—where had she pulled a knife from?—and Mikasa's features went carefully blank. "Armin?"
Eren's neck cracked when he turned to look, seeing a flustered Armin in the doorway, his hands clapped over his eyes. "I'm sorry!" Armin stumbled, voice warbling. "I just woke up alone and I heard a noise and I came to check on it and—I'm sorry—I just—I'll go away now."
Mikasa put the knife down, sliding over to the other side of the bed. She pulled her shirt back on and so did Eren, trying to cool his body and thoughts.
"Fuck." Eren groaned, raking his hands through his hair. "Armin saw—he saw us—we were—"
Mikasa was blushing furiously, staring at the floor as if it could swallow her whole. "You should go talk to him."
"Me?" Eren croaked.
Suddenly she was pushing him out the door, slamming it shut behind him much too loudly—earning another thump and shout from the neighbors above.
They ate breakfast as if they were in a cemetery—quiet, uncomfortable and morbid.
Eren busied himself a bit more than usual at the stove, making one too many pancakes and piling them on their plates as if they could create walls between them. Mikasa ate them all diligently while Armin mostly fiddled with his fork, sighing and finally putting it down.
"You two know…to use condoms right?"
Eren nearly tipped the pan over, hearing Mikasa quietly choke on her mouthful.
Armin smiled sheepishly. "I'm just…I'm glad you two are alright, you know." Color dusted over his cheeks. "But you two aren't exactly known to think clearly when it comes to each other. So I just want to make sure everything is…taken care of."
Eren sat down, dropping his head into his hands and groaning.
"Armin," Mikasa pulled her scarf up higher than usual. "We're fine."
"Okay." He spun his fork nervously. "I just wanted to make sure. You should always wear condoms." He shut his eyes as he forced himself to continue. "It's not likely but even the slightest—ah, insertion—can cause pregnancy, you know."
Eren was sinking lower and lower in his chair.
Mikasa frowned suddenly, her embarrassment dissipating with her next question. "Where did you learn these things?"
Armin blinked. "I read a lot." He licked his lips. "I've even lent a few books to Eren."
Eren looked about ready to crawl under the table—when a hard knocking sounded at the door. Eren leapt to his feet, stumbling towards it like it would offer him salvation. "Coming!" He ripped the door open—and even at Hannes's furious expression Eren slumped in relief. "Hey Hannes."
"Hey? Hey?" Hannes stepped forward, looking livid, skin mottled red. "I get a message from Hanji telling me Armin was beat up and left bleeding on a bench where you two went to pick him up without calling the cops—without calling me—and taken to the hospital and you tell me 'hey'?"
Eren touched the back of his head, scowling a little. "Well when you word it that way—"
"Is there any other damn way to word it?" Hannes shouted, slamming the door shut. "What the hell were you thinking, Eren?"
Eren huffed, gesturing vaguely. "We took care of it ourselves, didn't we?"
"Yeah, next time you might not be so lucky, Eren." He looked to Armin, eyeing the bandages around his head. "You alright, Armin?"
Armin nodded. "Just a little headache and lightheadedness."
Hannes grunted. "What were you doing over there in the first place?"
Armin averted his gaze. "I was…visiting a friend."
"The only friends over there are drug users and providers. I thought you were smart enough to keep away from that, Armin."
"Hannes." Mikasa chided, her dark eyes switching from him to Armin in concern. "It isn't like that. Armin isn't like that."
"I thought you would be the levelheaded one, Mikasa." Hannes shook his head. "I thought you would call me."
"We weren't thinking clearly." Mikasa explained quietly, guilt beneath the impassiveness. "By the time things settled down Hanji had already called you and left you a message."
His scowl lessened slightly. "This is the last straw." He gestured to them, the apartment, looking suddenly awkward. "You're all moving in with me."
"What?" Eren shook his head. "No. We're fine. Graduation is around the corner and—"
"I don't give a rat's ass." Hannes snapped. "You're going to be going through the Police Academy anyway so since you're not moving off to college—"
"Police Academy?" Mikasa's question was terribly quiet, voice soft, knife-like and it silenced them all more effectively than a shout would have. Her dark eyes were fixed on Eren and there was no escape from her scrutiny. "You're going to be a police officer?"
"I…" Eren fumbled, throwing Hannes a reproachful glare. "Yeah. Yeah, it's what I want to do, Mikasa."
Mikasa didn't look away. "When were you going to tell me?"
Eren crossed his arms. "When you told me what you were planning to do."
Mikasa watched him for a few more moments, perhaps trying to grasp his spitefulness—but Hannes interrupted them. "If you want to enter the Police Academy you're moving in with me."
Eren's green eyes flashed in fury. "Are you telling me if I don't move in with you I won't get into it?"
"That's exactly what I'm telling you." Hannes jabbed a finger into his chest. "Becoming a police officer isn't only about the physical, Eren, it isn't about shooting the bad guys—"
"I know that—"
"It's about being responsible, about learning how to control your temper, your emotions, and being able to handle situations that are out of your control. You can't do any of that."
"You can't. Not like this. Not struggling to make it on your own and going through intense testing and training—you'll break, Eren."
"No, I won't."
Eren paced, gesturing angrily as he spoke. "You really think I'm that weak, Hannes? I've been through—I watched my mother—"
Hannes looked away. "It's because of that, Eren. It's because of those things that you need to clear your head and heal before you enter the Police Academy. You won't make it without letting that go, first."
"And if I don't?" Eren's jaw clenched. "If I don't 'heal' beforehand and I don't move in with you?"
Hannes held his gaze for a long time before speaking, voice low. "I'll tell them I think you're unfit to be a police officer."
Eren laughed, the sound bitter, livid. "Yeah. I guess you will." He grabbed his jacket, pulling it on as he walked towards the door. "I'm going for a walk."
"Eren," Armin called but Eren slammed the door without another word.
Hannes cursed, breathing deep and slow. "I'm going after him." He looked at Armin and Mikasa, pointing at them sternly. "You two stay put."
The door slammed shut for a second time and Mikasa began to wonder if they'd need to repair it before they moved out.
They did as Hannes had asked, staying in the apartment for the entire day. Armin enjoyed Mikasa's quiet company, let her fuss over him as she wrapped blankets around him, changed his bandages and made sure he took his pills on time—but as they sat on the couch and watched the cartoons she was so fond of he couldn't help but remember the man who had struck him, the man who had spoken to her that day in the alley.
He reached for the remote, lowering the volume before speaking. "Hey, Mikasa…"
She blinked, looking as if she'd been lost within her thoughts. "Yes?"
"I remember who struck me." She went very still at his words. "Actually, I've known this entire time but I told everyone I didn't because…" He looked at her intently, blue eyes steady and perceptive. "Because I've seen him before—with you, Mikasa."
She did not look at him, her breath bated, her fingers curled into her palms. "Armin…"
"The day Annie and you fought—I saw you speaking to him in the alleyway. Levi, right?"
Mikasa shut her eyes, her breathing shallow.
"You can tell me, Mikasa. You know you can trust me."
She was beginning to shake now—and Armin reached out, taking her hand and threading their fingers together. "I'll deal with it on my own." She squeezed his hand to show her gratefulness, her hair falling forward as her brow furrowed. "The less you know…the safer you are."
He frowned. "Mikasa—"
Someone slammed into their front door, making them both jump. Mikasa was on her feet in a flash, fists clenched as the door was shoved open—and Hanji stumbled in, hair loose and jumbled about her jaw and shoulders. "Good morning!" There was a large envelope tucked under her arm. She dumped it on the table and sat on the couch beside Armin, ignoring Mikasa as her hands touched over Armin's bandages. "How do you feel?"
Armin sighed as Mikasa shut the door, smiling at Hanji welcomingly, his thoughts still on Mikasa's words. "I feel fine."
"Hm," Hanji hummed, gaze stern. "No reading or studying. Take it easy."
Armin nodded, letting her ruffle his hair affectionately. "Of course."
She turned to face Mikasa now, accepting the cup of coffee she handed her. "Oh, thank you. I can't stay very long. I've been asked to help decorate for prom." She sighed wearily. "Also, I saw Hannes and Eren leave just now. They looked miserable." She sipped lightly. "I'm assuming Eren didn't take moving in with him too well, did he?"
Armin sighed, pulling the blanket onto his lap. "You have no idea."
"You look beautiful, Mikasa."
Mikasa startled a little, lifting her dark eyes to find Sasha standing down the hall. Sasha was wearing a pale ice blue dress, the skirt touching the ground, the slit coming up to mid-thigh, exposing pretty silver heels. The top was a tight fitting corset, covered in iridescent jewels; her hair pulled up and riddled with glittery pins and intricate braids. Her lips were colored a soft sea shell pink, her eyes sharpened with neatly applied eyeliner, making her usually round and cheerful expressions seem darker and sultry.
She was lovely.
Sasha grinned, kicking her hip out in a pose—then laughed at herself, flushing a little. "You should have seen Connie's face! Knocked the wind out of him." She walked over to her, grabbing her hands and pulling her to face her. "I can't wait to see Eren's face when he sees you, though!" Sasha pulled back a little, eyeing the short black dress, the filmy, shimmery material, the long expanse of Mikasa's legs. "Jean's going to cry." Her large brown eyes snagged on her painted red lips—and the red scarf wrapped around her waist.
Mikasa touched it possessively.
Sasha smiled. "You look like a princess, Mikasa. Or like one of those girls who pretends to be a normal high school teenager but is also a vampire slayer at night." Sasha blinked several times, grimacing. "This mascara is killing me. How do I look?"
Mikasa eyed her once again, how graceful she looked, poised and regal. "Like a queen."
Sasha laughed now. "I do, don't I?"
"Sasha," Mikasa watched her continue to blink, the words tumbling from her lips before she could bite them back. "Thank you."
Sasha's laughter cut off at her sudden seriousness. "For what?"
Mikasa frowned, recalling thoughts of sitting with the girl for lunch, of how Sasha had never shied away from being her friend when other girls had, of the way Sasha put her chin on her shoulder and asked for a bite whenever she ate, the way she'd never let her be the odd person out when they'd needed partners in class. "Just." She wrung her fingers in the material of her scarf, pushing everything down with sheer force of will. Calm, controlled, she reminded herself. Now was not the time for sentimentality. "Thank you."
"Oh." Sasha bit her lip—and perhaps she sensed the heaviness Mikasa was struggling with because she reached out, touching her hair gently. "You're welcome." She ran her thumb over scarred knuckles. "And thank you, too. For lending me pencils and helping me with homework and not letting anyone call me names."
Mikasa nodded—and Historia came down the hall, smiling at them both. "Our ride is here."
Sasha made a soft sound, grabbing the small bag of cosmetics she'd brought, grabbing Mikasa's hand and squeezing affectionately. "Let's go have some fun."
"Man, this is stupid." Eren kicked a soda can off the sidewalk, the streetlamp overhead elongating his shadow. "Why couldn't we just pick her up? Why did we have to get ready separately?" He threw the questions at Armin angrily, his hands stuffed in his suit jacket, his converse scuffed and worn, a sharp contrast to his suit. He kind of liked the way they looked with the suit though, a piece of his personality still present—and maybe he thought, he looked a little cool.
"All the girls wanted to get ready at the same place and your place was picked since you two are going to move out of it." Armin explained for the fifth time, sitting on the bench calmly, blue eyes scanning the crowds slinking into the front entrance. Eren had agreed to move in with Hannes after nearly an hour of arguing. He hadn't had much reason to fight but what had convinced him was when Hannes had told him Mikasa would be able to quit her job and focus on school, that the worry of bills wouldn't be hers anymore.
It hadn't been for him at all. It had been for her.
"Stop tugging at your sleeves." Armin chided.
Eren sighed. "They're late. Maybe we should go over and see what's taking them so long." He eyed Armin thoughtfully, gauging his reaction.
If Eren looked like a punk trying to dress up Armin looked every inch a young wide eyed prince among the common people, suit dark and tailored to perfection, collar up and crisp. His shoes looked so glossy he'd almost thought they were wet and his blonde hair had been pulled back into a neat ponytail, his small but sharp jaw exposed handsomely. "I wouldn't advise it. Unless," Armin fidgeted with the buttons at the hollow of his throat, unbuttoning three of them. "You want to be surrounded by half dressed women and get thrown out by Mikasa again."
Eren clucked his tongue in irritation. "No, I just—I mean it's not like I couldn't pick her up. Like I couldn't see her. It's not like we're getting married or anything." Eren flushed suddenly, becoming very, very warm.
"You're blushing again."
"No, I'm not." Eren bit out. Armin was fiddling with something sparkly and silver now, and Eren narrowed his eyes. "Are you holding a hair clip?"
It was Armin's turn to flush pink now. "It's a brooch."
"Whatever it's called." Eren tried to grab for it. "Who is it for?"
Armin jerked it away. "No one."
"Armin." Eren kept trying to grab for it. "Let me see it."
"It's private." Armin walked around the bench.
Eren contemplated jumping over it. "Now you're blushing."
Armin clenched his small hand around the small piece, flushed bright red. "No, I'm not."
Eren sat down reluctantly, relenting before Armin could combust. "Fine." He looked at him over his shoulder. "Sit down." He let his head drop back, looking up at the sky. "I got Mikasa something too."
Armin sat beside him. "What is it?"
Eren reached into his pocket, tugging out the heavy locket they'd examined that night they'd scuffled with the thieving couple. Eren held it out, the chain glinting as it spun slowly in the low light.
Armin took it tentatively. "You kept it."
Eren nodded. "Cleaned it up a bit with the money we got from selling the rest of them."
Armin pushed the latch, opening the locket gently. He didn't look surprised to find a photo of the three of them—damp messy hair and sunburnt skin, Eren's arms wrapped about both their skinny necks. He could remember that afternoon—Hannes had picked them all up on a whim, taking them to the water park they'd never been able to get into without parents. Eren's grin was the brightest, his front tooth missing, knuckles scabbed over from a fight from a week before; Armin was hugging Eren tightly, long blonde hair wetly plastered to his skin like a flattened squid; and Mikasa had her wet scarf wrapped around her chin and mouth, her eyes watching them both with a warmth she'd always shown but never spoke.
"I didn't know what other picture to get." Eren cleared his throat. "There was one when we'd graduated eighth grade but I looked pissed as hell because Jean called you creepy and you looked sad and Mikasa had her scarf over her face."
Armin winced. "Yeah, I remember." Armin touched the photo gently. "This one is perfect."
Eren cocked his head. "You're not just saying that?"
Armin shook his head. "No. I'd tell you to change it if I thought there was a better photo." Armin handed it back to Eren, watching him carefully place it back into his pocket.
Armin conceded, holding the small brooch up for Eren's inspection. "It was my grandmother's."
Eren took it much the same way Armin had grabbed the locket, carefully, as if worried he'd snap it with the slightest pressure from his fingers. It was just as antique as the locket seemed if not more ostentatious—sapphire jewels encrusting the polished gold in the shapes of stars.
"Who is it for?"
Armin smoothed the front of his jacket nervously. "Annie."
Eren froze. "Armin…" He'd never call Armin naïve—Armin knew of their world much too well, often preventing Eren from being too naïve himself—but giving a girl who wasn't doing too well a family heirloom was asking for disaster. "You know she's—"
Armin nodded. "I know. I'm risking quite a bit by handing this to her." Armin pulled in a deep breath. "It's very hard. I lost a lot of family memorabilia when they broke into my house. This is one of the few pieces left to me. I remember my mother wearing it on special occasions and thinking it made her look like royalty." His sad smile made Eren's throat ache. "She'll know how important it is to me. She'll know it means the world to me. If she sells it for some quick cash then I'll know." Armin's slender fingers plucked at invisible specks on his sleeve. "If she doesn't…"
Eren nodded, handing him the heavy brooch back. "Hey Armin," His throat felt thick. He did not often like bringing up Armin's parents, especially not his father—but he wanted to make sure Armin saw the similarities, saw that he may be doing this, unnecessarily risking precious things, for some misguided sense of guilt from his past. "This isn't because of what happened to your dad, right?" Eren shut his eyes, forcing the words out. "You know it isn't your fault. You don't have to try and save Annie because she's going down the same road."
"It's not." Armin shrugged. "My dad's overdose was no one's fault but his own. My mother never understood that. I knew it from the beginning."
Eren looked at him now, finding Armin calm and composed, blue eyes thoughtful and sincere. "You sure?"
Armin nodded. "I do want to help her and it isn't how you would do it. I don't want to save her. I just want to be her friend because she doesn't have any and she reminds me of myself. My dad had mom and me. He had his own parents. He had everyone—but he was always off in his own head, alone. He never wanted any of us. Annie…" Armin turned the brooch over, examining it idly. "Annie is very much here. She's smart and—you might not think it—she's compassionate. But she doesn't have anyone."
Eren pondered. "Just make sure you know what you're getting into, Armin. I don't want another incident like—" Eren touched the small bandage at his temple. "this to happen, alright? Mikasa and I grew like fifty gray hairs over that night."
Armin nodded, his smile a little abashed. "Sorry."
"You should have seen Mikasa, though." Eren's gaze turned inwards. "Jumped out the car before it even stopped moving. Made it to you in a split second. I'd say she'd be the best cop out of all of us but…"
Armin frowned. "But?"
Eren's brows knitted together. "I don't know. Mikasa's just been acting weird lately, that's all."
And at that Armin stayed very, very quiet. "Actually, Eren…there's something I need to tell you. I think I know why Mikasa has been acting the way she has—and I don't think you're going to like it."
Hanji eyed the cop car in dismay. "Hello, officer Hannes."
"Just Hannes." Hannes corrected, hands running over his body as he searched for his wallet.
"You're taking us and the girls to prom…in a cop car?"
Hannes laughed a little, holding out his arm for her. She took it, her emerald colored dress shimmering prettily in the moonlight. "It'll be a good warning for anyone who wants to try anything." He led her to the passenger side of the car, pulling something out of his pocket. "Brought my badge, too. I get the feeling I might need it tonight."
Hanji slid into her seat, catching the figure of a shadow slinking into Mikasa's bedroom from the corner of her eye. She paused for a moment, recognizing the short, graceful figure, her brain working quickly to connect the dots. She looked away, calm and coming to one conclusion. "I find Tasers are much more useful."
"Come on you guys, we're leaving!" Sasha called from the doorway and Mikasa's heart stuttered when she saw her bedroom door pull close very slightly, a shadow flickering across the floor. She pulled back as the rest of the girls moved forward.
"I forgot something. I'll be right out." She murmured, making her way down the hallway, the click of her heels sharp against the linoleum. She entered her bedroom, shutting the door behind her quickly.
Levi was sprawled on her bed, one boot propped up on her sheets, the other dangling off the side as he thumbed through a book she'd had on her drawer. "Why the fuck do girls have to wear so much perfume?" He scowled. "I'm getting a fucking head ache."
Her gaze hardened. "It's not time yet."
He put the book down. "No." He sat up—brows rising when he eyed her dress, blue eyes catching over her makeup. "That's a good idea." He murmured. "The makeup makes you look older. It'll help us look less suspicious when we board the plane."
She clenched her hands into fists. "It isn't time yet."
He sighed, flipping onto his back again. He tugged his knife out of his pocket, twirling it as he spoke, the weak afternoon sunlight glinting off of it prettily. "I just came to check if you had everything ready."
She pressed her back against the door, her eyes fixed on the bed, her packed suitcase tucked beneath it. "My suitcase is under there. I've been ready." She breathed deeply. "You know I am." Her voice strengthened. "Why are you here now?"
Levi tossed the knife up—the point digging into the ceiling neatly. He shrugged, bending down to tug out her suitcase, feeling the heaviness of it, not possibly understanding how much it weighed. "Just wanted to make sure you wouldn't change your mind." He turned his head, blue eyes burning. "The flight is tonight, Mikasa. Don't be late."