Author's Note: Good gracious this was a long time coming. I'm not going to say how long the un-edited version of this has been on my macbook... but it has been a lengthy amount. This is somewhere between the two year jump.
Chapter Twelve: Amends
There's nothing like the feeling of a bath after an intense training exercise. There is a gleaming mist on her skin and the early evening air is so very refreshing. Her breathing is still a little heavy and her muscles are pleasantly sore and her legs are just a little bit wobbly from overuse. It never fails to feel exhilarating. She's never more aware of her body than she is after pushing herself a bit further than she needs to during training. Even knowing that she's going to suffer the effects for the next couple of days, it's well worth it. She is already looking forward to doing it all again.
No one else has said it, but after their last battle, everyone seems to want and need to train harder too. They're wiser than their predecessors, who had lounged around in a drunken stupor when times were peaceful. Everyone knows better now. They all saw what they were up against. They will not be caught unawares like they had before.
More importantly, she's absolutely certain that if she didn't train this hard she would never be able to sleep at all. If given the option, she wouldn't want to ever sleep. A soldier's life doesn't allow for much of it regardless, which she counts as a positive. Even if she would not have chosen a soldier's for herself, she can appreciate the regiment; the discipline. Especially under the supervision of someone like him. He trained harder than they all did. She has seen him at night, when everyone else is in bed, doing some kind of exercises by himself. She can hardly think of a time when she's really seen him sleep. As in, a real slumber. During their mission together he always seemed to be sitting against a tree or large boulder. Sometimes he would pull the hood of his cloak over his head and give the appearance of repose, but those eyes never seemed to actually relax behind his closed eyelids. She's never seen him actually laying down, their last conversation aside.
It never occurred to her to intrude when she did spy him working out late at night. Given the status of their... she's hard pressed to call it a relationship. Perhaps bond is a better word. Even though, they had sort of, vaguely, in not so many words reached an understanding of her actions against him. She is not proud of herself for drawing her blades against him. Nor can she truly regret it. She regrets the circumstances that brought her to do it. Since, she finds approaching him harder than it had been before. She's not even sure why she needs to approach him at all. Which does not change the fact that it has changed and is evermore confusing than it had been.
Yes, she had forced him onto his back. She had pressed her blades against his neck. She had threatened him. She had even resolved in her mind that she would do it for Armin. Yet, even then, she had known she would never have been able to go through with it. She wouldn't have been able to kill him. Not when she knew him like she did. Then like always, without having to say it, she had known that he understood. He had known she wouldn't have done it either. He seems to know her better than she knows herself. Which is an uncomfortable thought even while it is a little comforting. To know that someone understands you. Seeing all that she doesn't want him to see with those sharp eyes. People always comment on how cold she is. He was the first person to ever tell her that she feels more than others.
Letting out a long sigh, she wipes her damp hair away from her face and continues on her way to the mess hall. Dinner has already been served, but a drink of water would do her some good. Tea would be better, but she doesn't have the resources for that. So water would have to do. Her abs are already making their presence known. Maybe she should do a few more stretches after her drink of water.
"You know," that familiar deep and husky voice of his says. She turns to find him leaning against the stone wall she's just walked past and frowns at the fact that she did not even sense him there. His arms aren't crossed in his usual defiant stance, but are leisurely beside him. His loose fitting shirt sways slightly in the evening breeze. He too, she realizes, has had a bath. Taking all this in, she almost misses what he says next. "If it had been anyone else, I would have been annoyed."
"What?" she asks, not catching his meaning.
"I know it was you," he states plainly.
"You gonna tell me what kind of tea this is or what?"
That's when she notices why his arms are at his sides and not crossed. The hand that had been casually at his side and previously hidden from her view was holding a tea cup. He lifts it to his nose and inhales the fragrance, closing his eyes for a moment to take in the aroma.
"It's called, 'Mulberry'," she explains suddenly feeling uncomfortably timid.
"The fragrance is very subtle... grassy," he observes, looking at the almost clear coloring of the water.
"Yes," she agrees. She has not been able to think of another word besides, "leafy" to describe it herself. "It doesn't have a very strong taste either. It's... fresh and light."
He looks at her a long moment over the rim of the cup before he takes a slow sip.
"It's a very subtle tea," she explains inanely, nervous under his appraisal. She knows how much he enjoys tea but this one was not like he was used to.
"It is very refreshing," he agrees, still looking into the tea cup. He slowly swirls the heated water around, careful not to spill any over the edges. "There's no kick to this though, like in my black tea."
"No," she replies with a shake of her head. "It's supposed to be kind of a remedy."
They look at each other a moment before she explains.
"My mother told me it was a Japanese remedy to help with various problems," she says feeling shy somehow, to share this with him. It's in her to tug on her scarf but this time, she is already aware of its absence on around her neck. Consciously, she brings her eyes to his. "One of them is inflammation. To... help with your leg."
It's the first time she's seen such surprise cross his face.
"That... is incredibly thoughtful," he states slowly.
Which puts them both at a loss.
She can feel her cheeks turn pink under his intense gaze. This tea is not just a gift. It's an apology. A balm. An offering. It represents how much trouble she knows she's been to him. His leg would not have been injured were it not for her major blunder. Her disobedience to his orders. She should have learned from that. She defied him again by threatening him with her blades. All caused by an emotional response which proved that she was not wise enough.
"Your mother told you about this tea," he repeats, throwing her out of her thoughts.
"It was a tea her people drank," she answers.
"Did she also teach you to do this?" he asks, reaching into the back pocket of his pants and brings out the small pouch that she had placed the meager amount of mulberry leaves she had been able to purchase with her limited soldier's pay. Though not a well known or even popular tea around town, she couldn't afford a lot. So in order to compensate she had been a little creative in its packaging before sneaking it into his room.
"My mother's family had a tradition of embroidery," she shares. "I am out of practice."
"It's good," he comments, looking over her careful stitching.
"How did you know?" That he can tell how much effort she has put into this offering makes her somewhat bashful and she cannot help the vulnerability in her voice when she asks.
The look he gives her is uncharacteristically sheepish.
"I wasn't entirely sure."
She blinks at his response. He had wanted this gift to be from her as well as knowing it was from her.
His face shifts back to his usual stoic expression but just a touch more stern. "I already said I knew you wouldn't have actually killed me." It sounds harsh but she sees through it.
"I had resolved in my mind to do it."
"But you didn't. I'm here, aren't I?"
There's so much she wants to say but her mind goes completely blank as she stares at him in frustration. The many thoughts and words she wants to say start to mingle and contort in her mind and her mouth refuses to articulate them.
"Stop it," he orders with a snap. "Now sit here and breathe."
Without thinking, she does just that. Then a mug is placed in her hands.
She looks down and sees the creamy brown color of her tea with milk that she has been craving just moments before. Without even having to taste it, she knows it's made just as he knows she likes. After her own tea excursion, she knows just how much he spends on these precious leaves and appreciates this that much more.
"You didn't have to..."
"No, I didn't," he agrees, cutting her off. He doesn't turn to look at her, but continues sipping from his own cup.
"Thank you," she says in an almost whisper and takes a long savoring sip of her own. She breathes in as she feels the warm liquid slide down her chest and lets out a contented sigh. It is just what she needed. Everything inside of her seems to ease and she takes another appreciative sip.
"Tell me about your parents," he says.
While it seems like an order, there's something in his voice. It's not a casual question and she knows it. There's a softness that makes him sound almost vulnerable. There is genuineness and an earnest interest. A branch to bring them closer when they had taken two steps back. A difficult branch to grasp when she tries not to think of her parents. Her last images of them...
"Your mother taught you embroidery. What did your father teach you?" he leads.
She has to think a little harder. Those memories are buried under the pain of how she lost them. Then flashes of her childhood fly past her vision. The laughter they had shared. The carefree feelings of youth. The security of having two people who loved her. The memory of two people who had been alienated because of their birthrights and the love and acceptance they had found with each other.
"He was supposed to tell me how people had babies," she says with a low chuckle. "My mother said he should be the one to explain."
She lets herself smile as she turns to look at him. His face has softened and there's something glittering in his eyes that she cannot name. A deep emotion she is not experienced enough to understand. All she knows is that it makes her heart beat faster and it turn makes her want to tell him more. So she does. As the sky darkens to expose the stars above, she finds herself telling him of memories that she has not remembered in a very long time. All while feeling that they've recovered those backwards steps and moved forward once again.