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A golden cage does not feed the bird

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The night was chilly. As the previous ones, Eren couldn’t bring himself to sleep, being too tormented by his thoughts of what happened since he enrolled in the scouting legion. He decided to go to the roof of their headquarters, supposing that fresh air could help him relax a bit. Contrariwise to his hopes of being alone there, he perceived a silhouette sitting no far from him. Eren discretely turned around, though he didn’t have the time to start walking to the opposite way.

"Eren. No need to be discreet now. Come here."

The younger’s body stiffened when hearing Rivaille’s voice. He approached his corporal, hoping he wouldn’t be punished or anything for going out of his room at such hour without warning anyone.

"Y-yes sir?"

"Sit down."

He did as told, although his uneasiness didn’t fade away. An uncomfortable silence took place until Rivaille spoke up again.

"Can’t sleep, can you?"

Eren shook his head, not trusting his voice to reply.

"Relax a bit or else you won’t be able to get some rest and that would be more problematic for tomorrow.”

"Yes, s-sorry sir."

The youngster inhaled deeply to calm himself down, knowing now that there wasn’t any problem with him being here. Even though the fresh air helped him to relax, he couldn’t push his thoughts away yet. A long and this time more comfortable silence was present. Eren turned his head to watch the Corporal who had his eyes closed, then pursued the conversation after a bit of hesitation.

"Why are you fighting them, corporal?"

At this, Rivaille slowly opened his eyes, still looking ahead of him.

"What, getting philosophical at this hour?"

"You must have a purpose, right? I don’t think you would still be here otherwise..eh, sorry sir."

The corporal kept quiet for a bit, considering the question.

"Can’t let them win. I can’t stay here without doing anything. I know my abilities, so I put them on use."

"But..wouldn’t that result in being a tool?"

"And what do you think we are, Eren?"

Rivaille voiced his words watching Eren straight in the eyes, causing the latter to drop his to the ground. It’s not that he wasn’t aware of their role, but couldn’t they see themselves as anything else?

"I wanted to see the outside world. That was my wish since Armin showed me a book about it. There seems to be so many marvelous and unknown things that nature brought, and it’s frustrating to have the view cluttered by walls. But, strangely, I’m also afraid."

"Of what?"

"Afraid of what will await us" Eren continued his speech, surprised to have the corporal’s interest.

At this, Rivaille couldn’t help but sigh deeply, closing again his eyes.

"Don’t be such an annoying brat again."

"Huh?" confusion drawn on his features, it was the only word which managed to escape from his mouth. Rivaille frowned, showing his usual annoyed expression for the first time tonight. How this simple minded kid has shown so much willing and motivation while being so naive, he didn’t know. He was fighting body and soul for something he was afraid of and didn’t even know why.

"There will be chaos. Redistribution of lands will be necessary. Conflicts will arise. Wars of power and resources possession will surely burst. Are you sure you want that?”

"Who wouldn’t?"

The firm answer surprised Rivaille, who didn’t expect to meet the younger’s determined eyes. He, however, wasn’t fast enough to argue.

"Hope is people’s strength. Until now it has been restrained. I believe that if humanity can come over titans, it can come over intern conflicts."

The corporal sighed again.

"It’s not that simple. Greed and envy are in humanity’s nature."

"I prefer to live in a conflicted and free world rather than an illusory peaceful one."

This time Rivaille couldn’t help but chuckle. He really was irremediable.

"Your naivety will lose you"

"I think it’s my strength"

He was true. In a way, Rivaille envied him.

"…A golden cage does not feed the bird, huh."

It must be the first time Eren saw a so genuine yet mournful smile drawn on his superior’s face, and he didn’t know what to do with it.

”..what?”

"Don’t forget your manners, brat. It’s an old saying."

…An old saying?

"Sir…isn’t that forbidden? Did you read about the old and outside world?!"

"Calm down. Yes I have."

"But why?"

Now he was really making a habit of sighing. He looked up at the sky, searching his words. He hesitated to go forward on this conversation which took a too personal aspect to his taste. But yet again he guessed he owed that to him.

"Because I was like you."

Those words were spoken carefully and silently by the Corporal. He didn’t like to remind himself of that time when he thought that everything was possible and hope was blindly guiding him.
Eren found it hard to believe. He seemed to be as far as possible to have some similitude with him.

"…Why aren’t you anymore?"

"Life happened, Eren. To keep being alive is quite a burden in our world, and you know it."
Of course naivety and illusions would be crushed at some point. That’s how cruel their world was.

"B-but how do you keep fighting then..? You lost so many people and…you can’t continue forward without purpose, right? I-I mean, you must still have a reason to fight…"

"Oi, calm down! And why the fuck are you crying?"

Why…? He didn’t even notice he was crying.

"I..I do know we’re only tools, but we accept that to someday be able to fight for ourselves.. Even if our struggle won’t be over after killing the titans, the future will still be brighter as we will be able to fight for our own freedom, think of ourselves as individuals and not being pawns for the greater good anymore…"

Rivaille didn’t know what to give as a reply while his subordinate shyly hold his wrist, still looking at the ground.

"I..don’t want you to fight without aim, to go through so much pain only feeling like less than a human.."
He was the one who should feel like that.

The shorter man exhaled annoyingly once again.

”..C’mere”

Eren approached and jolted, surprised to feel Rivaille’s hand hesitantly caressing his hair.

”..S-sir?”

His hand slowly dropped to end at the nape of his neck.

"It isn’t because I’ve changed that I don’t have any purpose anymore. So stop being a troublesome kid worrying about everything, your brain is too small to need being filled by that."

Rivaille didn’t have the time to pull back his hand that he felt the other body shifting and arms wrapped around him. After a long and awkward moment during which the corporal analized in what position he was -Eren against his torso and between his legs-, the younger dared to speak up.

The next 30 minutes were filled by Eren’s sobs, gripping tightly at Rivaille’s shirt while repeating himself over and over again, like a prayer wished to be answered.

”Please, do not lose yourself.”
Eren just couldn’t bring himself to lose the only fragment of humanity present in his current life.

Rivaille allowed him this tight and desperate embrace, loosely letting his arms around him. Sometimes, he really didn’t get that kid who, in the end, seemed to be the most human of them all. After crying out for some time, the youngster finished falling asleep.
The older one inhaled deeply, thinking of what have been said while absent mindedly caressing Eren’s hair. He then decided to carry his subordinate to his room the most discretely possible.

That night, Rivaille remembered why he wanted to fight titans in the first place. Why he did keep hope and keep fighting no matter what.
He did it for people like him. Even though their, his innocence will be lost sooner or later, he doesn’t have to lose hope as well. That’s why he has to keep moving forward himself; he was his guard after all.
What an irony to fight for someone he might have to kill someday, he thought.
He turned around a last time before quitting Eren’s room, watching the peaceful expression drawn on his face.

"…Such an annoying brat."