A large, warm hand encompassed your forehead. "Are you feeling alright?" Erwin asked, leading you down a quiet corridor. After all, your group had arrived at the compound in the middle of the night so nobody would notice, so the silence was expected.
However, Erwin's sudden concern wasn't something you were used to. "I'm fine!" you said, a little louder than you meant to, and you pushed his hand away, feeling that he was treating you like a small child.
"_____, I'm just worried," he said, voice sounding strange. "Just a week ago, you were comatose and bed ridden due to a severe concussion. When you finally awoke, you were unable to handle light stressors without wracking headaches and passing out. It has only been a week since then. You are in no way completely healed, and you've been doing a lot of traveling on horseback, and you've been undoubtedly doing a lot of work with Corporal Levi. I want to make sure that you are alright, and that you aren't pushing yourself too hard. I know you're a strong woman," he added quickly, seeing the miffed look on your face, "but you don't have anything to prove by forcing yourself, in your condition, to do work more experienced soldiers couldn't handle in prime condition."
As a charismatic man, as the commander of the Survey Corps, and as the man who had taken on the role of older brother to you, it was startling to hear him sound so raw and, well, upset. Anger subsiding, you said softly, "I feel fine, Erwin. I haven't had anymore fainting spells, or even any headaches, since the tribunal." You paused, debating on whether or not you should tell him you had hit your head against the table when Hanji startled you that one night, but you decided against it, not wishing to agitate your adoptive brother any further. Though, now that the subject was on your mind, you began to wonder why the migraines had stopped abruptly.
Erwin did not look convinced. "Still, I don't believe that you are completely healthy just yet. You need rest, especially for the job I need you to do."
You looked at him abruptly. "A job? What is it?" Whatever it was, you'd do it. If it was for Erwin, your doting role model, you'd make sure to do it without fail.
"If I could ask anyone else to do this, I would," he said, releasing a deep breath. You knitted your eyebrows together in confusion, but remained quiet to let him continue. "But, you're the only one I trust, and you're the only one capable. I need you to protect Eren, at all costs." His expression grew grim.
"Aren't I already doing that, along with the rest of Squad Levi?" you asked, raising a brow.
He shook his head. "No. The other members of Squad Levi is keeping Eren in check, making sure he isn't-or won't-become a menace to humanity. They are ready to kill him at a moment's notice, thanks to the military police. That's where YOU come in. Eren is too valuable a commodity to just let die simply because of the fears of the government, before his abilities and control have even been tested, or possibly even trained. If we are ever to be free, I believe Eren is the key to humanity's victory."
Grimacing, you replied, "I-I kind of figured that was the case with Levi's squad. But you don't have to ask me to protect Eren. He's like family to me, too."
A faint smile graced Erwin's lips. "I know," he said, still sounding relieved. "You've known him even longer than you've known me." His expression soured. "But you do realize what I'm asking of you, don't you? Even if it means incapacitating Levi's team, I need you to make sure Eren doesn't die."
"B-but there's no way I could even hope to match Levi," you stuttered, eyes widening, "and-and I'm friends with his squad, too..." You had thought he meant keeping Eren safe from, say, thugs or underlings from the military police that don't want Eren to live, even if he is useful. Squad Levi was good, but they weren't exactly constantly vigilant. They didn't understand the concept of human sabotage. But keeping the entire squad from killing Eren?
"Levi already has his orders," Erwin explained. "He won't kill Eren. He'll just cut him out before anything happens, hopefully. But his squad is a team of seasoned titan-slayers, and Levi may not be around at every possible moment, so Eren's life is still very much in danger. As long as you are around, though, there will be nothing to worry about." If possible, his face grew even more grim. "I hate asking this of you, but I know you're one of the few people involved in the Survey Corps with the mindset to harm another human being, should the cause be just."
"That's not something I'm proud of," you said quietly, averting your eyes.
Erwin stopped suddenly, his features sharp and drawn in the torchlight. "You may not be, but that very ability may save another's life, a life you care about very much. Could you begrudge yourself, should that be the case?"
"I-no, but-" You paused, looking down at the floor, knowing exactly what it was you would do if worst came to worst. Despite how much you liked the members of Levi's squad, Eren mattered much more to you. "I really hope it doesn't come to that."
Erwin looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully. "Hopefully. But in this world that we live in, things tend to not happen the way we want them to, no matter how much we wish for it to." He coughed slightly. "But that's what I wanted to ask you. Now, let's get you to your room, _____."
"Oh! Right," you said, the fatigue you had been oblivious to only moments before rushing into your bones and making your limbs feel like lead and jelly at the same time. "How far is it? Because I don't think I'm going to be able to stand for much longer. All this horseback riding today has turned my legs to mush."
A rumbling chuckle came from Erwin. "We're right here." He twisted the doorknob, and the door swung open silently, revealing a pitch-black room. "The other cadets will be arriving tomorrow through the courtyard, just as we did. If you want to go see them, you can follow this hallway and go down the stairs, and the exit outside will be on your right." He then pointed down the opposite way down the hall. "My room is the last one at the end of this hallway, if you ever need anything." With a meaningful look, he added, "Good night, _____. I'll see you tomorrow." He turned on his heel, and he disappeared down the hallway.
You watched as he faded into the darkness of the corridor, and you glanced skeptically into the dubiously dark room. After a moment's hesitation, you pulled a torch out of its sconce and walked into the room. Instantly, you knew there was no way you were getting any rest tonight. The room was tiny, claustrophobically so, and there wasn't a window to be seen. In all honesty, it reminded you of a jail cell. You dropped your small bag of belongings on the desk and carefully lit the stumpy candle that was the lone adornment of the desk before returning the torch to its proper place in the hallway. You returned to the room and stared sadly at the small, though comfortable-looking bed. You very much missed the large beg in Levi's room.
Frowning, you realized you really missed Levi. Forget the bed, it was a lot more comfortable sleeping alongside someone than sleeping alone in the softest bed in the world. Especially if that someone made you feel safe and cared for. Changing into a nightdress, you sat on the bed, back against the wall, and you pulled your knees to your chest.
Why, why Levi? you thought miserably, putting your chin on your knees and wrapping your arms around your legs. Why was HE the one you thought of at this very moment in time? Why was HE always the first person you thought of any time something happened? How was it that a man you just met seemed to occupy the majority of your thoughts? Why was it that sour-faced, short man with a bad attitude and even worse way with people, why was it he that made your heart ache? Why did your mind tell you this was because you loved him?
Your head fell against the wall uselessly. You knew exactly why. He was dedicated and strong and dependable. Beneath that cold exterior of his, he was a truly caring person. Not in a warm, visible way, but in an endearing, awkward way, where he denies any sort of good will whatsoever. Yet he always does good things here and there, thinking that you don't don't notice. You smiled to yourself. Not exactly how you pictured the relationship between you and your first squad leader.
But then your heart fell. Levi was your commanding officer, after all. He was an important figure in the Scouting Legion. He didn't have time for lovesick little cadets who may not even survive their first mission. Levi had a duty to the soldiers under his command, and that's exactly what you were, a single soldier. He had to take care of many soldiers, and you were just one of many he had to look after.
You ripped your hair tie out of your hair and tossed it aside, throwing yourself face down on the bed, burying your face in the small pillow. While your body screamed for sleep, your mind refused to give you solace. It might be nice to think that Levi harbored romantic feelings for you, but you were just another person he was responsible for, only you had slightly different needs from the others. But things don't always go the way that you want.
Rolling over on your back, you stared up at the ceiling thoughtfully. While Levi was undoubtedly the first person who came to mind, he wasn't the only person who was ever kind and caring towards you. And that person had told you to go to him should you have any trouble.
Quietly, you got off of your bed and tip-toed out of your room, making sure there was nobody else around. It would be odd trying to explain why you were headed to the commander's room at this hour of night. You crept quickly through the hallway, doing your best to not make a sound, and with bare feet that was a simple task. But you were still nervous about being caught, so you hoped the hallway wasn't too long.
Thankfully, it wasn't much longer until you reached the end, where there was a single door on the left, and a staircase opposite the hall. Considering the rooms were spaced apart widely, this had to be it. Shakily, you raised your hand to the door, about to knock, but hesitated. What if you accidentally woke up the others along the hall? Instead, you drummed your fingers lightly against the door, like you had years ago so you wouldn't wake up your father, but would be able to wake up Erwin, since he was a very light sleeper.
Pulling your hand away, you waited for a moment, listening for any sounds from inside the room. Surely enough, you heard the rustling of blankets and the sound of footsteps hurriedly approaching the door. You stared sheepishly at the floor when you heard the tumbler in the lock click and the door cracked open. "I can't sleep," you said quickly, not giving him a chance to say anything. Erwin opened the door completely and stepped aside, gesturing you to come in quickly.
Once the door was closed, he turned to you and asked, "So, you still have issues sleeping?" You nodded, feeling too ashamed to say anything. You looked at him sadly, hoping for some sort of reassurance. But instead, he asked, "How did you make it through the academy like this?"
"I didn't get a whole lot of sleep then, either. I would go out at night and train until I felt exhausted and went back to the barracks and collapsed in bed when I had really bad nights," you explained. "But I was able to sleep a lot better in the barracks with everyone else, because I didn't feel so alone."
"I'm sorry," Erwin said, startling you. Why was he apologizing? "It didn't cross my mind that sleeping was still difficult for you. I should have asked, and for that, I'm sorry. Tomorrow, I'll transfer you to a room with some of the recruits you graduated with. Now, let's get some sleep. Tomorrow's a busy day."
"Yes, you can sleep here with me tonight," Erwin said, grinning slightly. "Just like when we were kids."
"Please, Erwin. You're not fooling anyone," you teased, "You haven't been a kid for a long time."
"True. But that doesn't mean I couldn't have been a child at heart."
"I don't think any of us can call ourselves children at this point," you said, your slight laughter hollow. Without giving him the chance to change his mind, you crawled into the bed and pulled the blankets over yourself, which were still warm from Erwin. You felt Erwin fall into bed beside you, and you were pushed aside slightly.
"Even as an adult, you STILL hog the bed. Move over, will you?" he said, his voice light and humored. You slid over slightly, and he moved to press his warm back against yours. "Good, night, _____. Don't let the bed bugs bite."
"You're bigger than me. They'll go after you first."
Blinking open your heavy-lidded eyes, you realized with a start that it was already morning. Bright sunlight filtered through the window above the bed, coating you with a warm yellow glow and also blinding you momentarily. Once your eyes adjusted to the bright light, your mind registered the fact that for the light to be this bright, it had to be at least an hour after dawn. That meant most of the soldiers would already be up and about, making your departure from Erwin's bedroom nearly impossible if you didn't want to get caught. But right now, it was difficult to even get up.
Erwin's strong arm was wrapped securely about your waist, the other supporting your head. His chest rose and fell sedately against your back, proving to you that he was still asleep. Squirming slightly, for you felt VERY uncomfortable being completely restrained, you felt Erwin take a deep breath, and he moved his arm away from your waist to stretch, making a slight groaning noise as he slowly woke up.
You turned over to your other side, allowing yourself a full view of the sleepy commander. He twisted his head towards you, eyes still glassy and tired from sleep. "Good morning, _____. Did you sleep well?" he asked, covering his eyes with his arm.
"Yeah. Thanks," you said sheepishly. You stood up quickly and smoothed your dress down self-consciously, feeling uncharacteristically nervous and flustered. But then, you had never woken up next to someone quite like that. It felt so intimate. "I'm going to, um, get going now. I don't want to be seen leaving, you know. Don't want to give people the wrong idea or anything." With that, you scurried from his room, wishing you had chosen to stay dressed in pants and a shirt. Maybe then you wouldn't feel so awkward. You left, leaving Erwin staring after you dazedly and confused.
As quickly as you dared, you ran through the corridor, much darker than the room Erwin had occupied, due to the fewer number of large windows. It was difficult for you to see. That's why you were startled to see someone exiting your room suspiciously. You hid behind the corner turning down the hall, poking your head out slightly. Thankfully, whoever it was didn't notice you, as they ran off quickly in the opposite direction. You waited a moment, frozen, but then you ran to your room, wondering why on earth someone would be in your room. You had nothing to steal. Your sapphire ring was on your hand. Still, you looked through all of your things, accounting for everything and not finding anything that shouldn't be there. Double checking under every spot you could think of, you still didn't find anything. Unable to think of anything else to do, you dressed in uniform and headed back out to search for Squad Levi.
"Are you serious?" Eren asked incredulously. He was brushing down his horse, but he paused to look at you, his features twisted with confusion.
"I don't understand either," you shrugged, likewise taking care of Mahira. "Nothing was gone, but nothing else was put there. It doesn't make sense, but I don't know what to do about it, either. It's not like I can report anyone, because I didn't see the person's face and I have nothing to prove it happened at all." Instead of telling him where you were returning from, you told him you were out for a morning run, then returned to your room to change clothes. Made things a lot less complicated. "Not like it matters, anyway. I'm transferring to a room with some of the members from the 104."
"But why would someone be in your room so early in the morning?" Eren mused.
"Maybe because they wanted to catch this pretty girl sleeping?" a deep, familiar voice said behind you, clapping large hands over your eyes. "Guess who?"
"Reiner, there's really no point of playing games with someone who can recognize your voice," you said, pushing his hands away from your face. Then you grinned and spun to face him. "But I'm still happy to see you, big guy!"
"Everyone," Eren breathed beside you, and he rushed forward in to the group of trainees-no, new recruits. "It's so great to see you all..." he said emotionally. You felt a pang of guilt strike you, and you glanced at Jean before you could stop yourself. He caught your gaze, and you wondered who looked more guilty, you or him. Eren looked back at you, and followed your line of sight to Jean. "Kirstein? What are YOU doing here?" Eren said incredulously. "Weren't you the one going on about how you were getting away from the titans by joining the military police?" He looked among the faces gathered around. Your heart fell; you knew exactly who he was looking for. "Where's-?"
"He's dead," you said quickly, hoping to spare Jean the words. "Why else do you think Jean's here?"
"No, that can't be," Eren said, stoutly refusing to believe you. But from the looks of his closest friends and the rest of the top ten, he wavered.
Jean turned to you. "How did you know?" he asked.
"I didn't see him at the ceremony," you said dully. A burning anger surged inside of you. You punched the wall of the stables so hard that Mahira neighed in surprise and began nickering loudly. The skin on your knuckled was scraped off, and you knew you were going to have bruises, but you didn't know how else to express your rage. "Why?" you choked. "Why Marco? He was in the top ten. He was a wonderful person with a strong sense of duty and cared about all of his comrades. How is it that a man like him dies, and those, those beasts in the capital, who murder and pillage the society, they don't die. Why? Why?" You gritted your teeth and fought against the tears, but there was no use. Hot, salty drops streamed down your cheeks, causing you to become even more angry.
You felt several pairs of arms wrap around you, and several heads filled your vision. "We live in a cruel world, _____," Mikasa whispered in your ear.
"Lots of things happen to people who don't deserve it," Krista piped from underneath your arm. Her face was also streaked with tears.
"But that's just the way the world works. The only thing we can do is fight to keep this from happening to other people," Armin said, his head lying against your cheek.
"We have to fight for humanity against those monsters if we can ever hope to live in peace," Jean said, resting his chin on your head.
"I-I'm so happy you guys all decided to join the Scouting Legion," you sniffed.
"Yeah, yeah," Ymir said, standing behind Krista, but even she had her hand on your shoulder reassuringly. "Well, it's all nice and everything to share our feelings with each other, but I think we need to get going, before the squad leader gets agitated at us for taking so long."
"Oh, that's right," you said, realizing you had work of your own to complete, like finishing cleaning out Mahira's stall. "I've got some work left, too. But," you said, smiling slightly as the group of people hugging you stepped back, "I'll be going along with you all to your rooms tonight, since I'll be rooming with some of you!"
"This is just like old times!" Connie said, throwing himself on the nearest bed.
"Get off. That's MY bed," Jean snapped, tossing his things on top of Connie, who squealed in pain. "You can have the top bunk like you did in the trainees' barracks."
"But I don't want to have to climb up there," Connie whined. "Can't I just lay here for a while, at least?"
"Come on, guys, quit your bickering," Reiner said, before Bertholdt put a hand on his shoulder, shaking his head meaningfully. Reiner closed his mouth and said nothing as he threw his things on the bottom bunk on the other side of the room.
Your expression was a mixture of amusement and of sadness. Your friends still looked the same, but they were like completely different people now. Much older, much sadder. It really hurt to see such a sudden change. "Hey guys, sorry I can't stay. Now that I've shown everyone to their rooms, I need to go get my things and take them to my own room with Mikasa and Sasha." You stepped out of the room and waved. "See you all later!"
"Actually, since it's still pretty early, Armin and Eren are coming in to chat for a while before turning in for the night. We didn't have enough time to talk about, well, what happened," Reiner added hesitantly.
"Since you disappeared along with Eren, you've probably got a lot to say too!" Connie said, now laying on the floor, having been evicted from the bed by Jean.
"The last thing we heard about you is that you were out of your coma, but nothing else. You just vanished," Bertholdt put in. "We had no idea if you were alright."
You rolled your eyes. "It's me. I'm always fine, right? But, sure! I'll drop by! It'll make it a lot easier for you guys to bring Eren here if a member of Squad Levi is here with him, even if I'm a girl."
"Wait, you mean you're part of the Squad Levi?" Connie said incredulously. "Is that where you went?"
You nodded. "Yeah, but wait until I come back to talk about all that, when Eren is here. He can help explain with me."
"Hurry back. I'm really tired of waiting around," Jean said, lounging on his bed.
"I'll get back when I get back," you said, snorting. You left down the hall, moving quickly, just so you could get back to Eren as quickly as possible. You quickly ran upstairs to your room and grabbed your things, then you ran back down to the bottom floor, where all the recruits were assigned, and you hurried into your new room. Sasha was already asleep, and Mikasa sat on her bed, looking thoughtful. Her feet dangled from her perch on the top bunk.She looked down at you when you opened the door.
"You look bothered," she noted as you dropped your things on the bunk below her.
"Everyone looks so different now," you confessed. "They aren't like they used to be before the titan invasion of Trost. They're all so much older now. It just seems wrong to me."
"That sounds just like what happened to you after Wall Maria fell and we met you two years later afterwards," Mikasa responded. "Being thrown into a terrifying environment suddenly does that to people."
Frozen, you stared at your belongings on the bed. "Did-did I really act that differently?" Mikasa nodded. You changed into a plain shirt and pants. Then you left the room without another word, breathing heavily. That was NOT something you wanted to talk about right now.
"Oi, _____!" You turned to see Eren and Armin approaching. Eren grinned at you. "Coming to join us? It'll be just like old times!"
"Yeah, but hopefully I don't get stuck in the boys' dorm like old times," you snorted.