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Flower of the Underground (Mike Zacharias x Reader)

Chapter Text

 

 

            "You'll pay me what I am owed," growled f/n as she held her knife to the man's throat. The man whimpered in fear and reached into the pocket of his vest as he kept his fearful gaze on f/n's face. He pulled out a velvet sack of gold and handed it to her.

"There's extra! Please, just let me go! I'm sorry!"

            F/n stared into the man's eyes, her knife still over his flesh. "When someone provides you a service, better to fill their hands with gold rather than your own blood. Lesson learned, right, Silas?"

            Silas nodded frantically. F/n let him go, letting him fall harshly to the ground. She sauntered out of the dark alley and blended out into the crowd.

 

----

 

            I'll be out of the Underground soon enough, thought f/n as she added Silas's bag of gold to her makeshift treasury under one of the floorboards.

The price of passing through the tolls to the surface kept being raised over time, but f/n's particular line of work made the excursion possible. Enough for the passage, though she would have to worry about gaining citizenship afterwards.

That was the next hurdle f/n had to face if  she were ever to leave the Underground and go into Mitras, the capital behind Wall Sina. It had always been a gamble going to the surface. One essentially paid for a chance. The lottery prize of becoming a citizen was not given to just anyone who scrimped and saved to get to there. No, that would be too easy. The assimilation an underground dweller had to face was a huge undertaking and many faced such cruel discrimination that they retreated back to their old homes, with crushed dreams following closely behind. F/n tried not to focus on worrying about it in order to get through the days.

            F/n, though she was not proud of it, independently made her living as a courtesan. Locals of the underground, merchants, even a few Military Police members; it varied every day. As a courtesan, she differed from the local prostitutes as she also played and sang songs for her customers. It's what made her more appealing, particularly to many wealthy noblemen of the surface attempting to play their fantasies in the dark city below: Away from familiar eyes.

Makes them still feel more classy among their perversions, I suppose, f/n often thought.

            F/n was naturally gifted at singing, but it was Sophia that taught her how to play guitar. It was Sophia's before, but she let f/n experiment and distract herself with it, especially whenever Sophia had a client.  

F/n was only 9 when Sofia took her in. Perhaps a brothel was not the best place to raise an orphaned child, but f/n was given shelter and food to eat. Even though Sophia wasn't f/n's real mother, f/n always called her that.

            Sofia often mentioned how she used to live in the surface world and would weave images of the sun and the vastness of the sky into f/n's young mind. F/n loved seeing Sofia's face light up with smiles and laughter as she remembered her old life. The only thing f/n hated about those stories was how quickly Sofia's eyes would fill with tears when she remembered a cruel, yet simple fact: Sofia would never feel the sun again.

And she never did.

            F/n shook her head as she replaced the loose floorboard. She placed a hand over her heart and whispered, "I'll get there, Sofia. We're so close. I won't have to do this for much longer. Once I'm up there...I promise."

F/n stood up and opened her door to look out. She breathed in the musty air she longed to trade away for crisp and clean wind. As she sighed, a loud clatter rang nearby. F/n looked over to her left to see a trio of people running away from an angry merchant, who was quickly catching up to one of them, a young adolescent girl with reddish brown hair styled in pigtails. The merchant lunged forward and grabbed at her shirt.

"You bitch, you'll get what's coming to you!"
"Keep telling yourself that," she sneered with a childlike smirk. She then bent down, picked up a handful of dirt, and threw it into the merchant's bewildered face.

Each of the three suddenly shot up into the air and the grappling hooks of their gear helped them to disappear into the city with grace, speed, and ease.

F/n laughed quietly to herself as the merchant attempted to wipe soil from his eyes and pathetically stumble after their trail. As the man whined in the street and staggered away, f/n tried to recall the name of their devices. ODM gear, isn't it?

            The trio were thugs who frequently got into trouble throughout the city, but f/n didn't mind them. She did not know much about them, but knew what they looked like. Other than the young girl, the group also consisted of two males; one was a slightly older boy with blonde hair that seemed to stand every which way and had an oval shaped face. The other was certainly the eldest, but f/n was not sure how much older he was. The raven haired man carried a serious and harsh aura about him. He was short in stature, but seemed to be skilled in combat and stealth.

They left f/n alone, thankfully. It seemed respect existed even among tramps and thieves. While f/n picked one path to survive on, they chose another.

            F/n was about to close the door when she noticed two soldiers nearby, looking toward the direction of where the thugs had disappeared. They were making no attempt to catch them, which f/n found odd, but their attention was absolutely fixated.

...I've never seen these two around before, thought f/n.

            Both men were blonde and extremely tall, past six feet by a few inches. The "shorter" of the two had thick, dark eyebrows that mismatched his light hair, styled with an undercut and parted to the side. The other soldier also sported an undercut, but his dirty blonde bangs were parted in the center and hung freely in front of his face; he also had a well-trimmed beard and a prominent, slightly hooked nose. F/n then heard a loud sniff from the bearded soldier, who then turned to look toward her; the other man's gaze followed after.

"Can I help you gentlemen?" offered f/n while being subtle at the same time, in case they took their job seriously. She was tired from the day, but did not want to pass on more potential funds.

"F/n!" called out a male voice from the opposite end of the street. F/n turned her attention away from the soldiers towards the interrupting presence. Kylan, a regular. He was a worker for the Lang Company, a merchant group that mostly worked above the Underground; all their employee's black coats sported the proud Lang family sigil of a one-eyed boar on the sleeves.

            Behind him, the two soldiers in the street glanced quickly at one another, gazed at f/n and the other man's direction, then walked away silently. The bearded man stole another short look at f/n, then disappeared with the other soldier.

F/n was slightly amused. "Rude," she giggled to herself.
"What was that?" asked Kylan.
"Nothing. What do you need?"

The man pulled out a small, violet flower. "For earlier today...and the other times." He gave a sneer.
"I'm flattered," lied f/n, not taking the flower, "Is there anything you need now?"
He frowned. "Naw, got to work tonight and for the rest of the week." He looked to be around the same age as f/n, twenty-five, but his complaining reminded f/n of adolescent years gone by.
"I'm sorry to hear that," placated f/n.
"Yeah. It's hard work...but I heard rumors of the possibility of a higher pay in the future! I don't know if it's true, but maybe it'll help me see you more often, f/n."

F/n's irritability grew, but she continued to keep her composure. "So..was there something you needed to tell me or what?"

Kylan smirked, took her hand, and placed the flower into her hand. "Just wanted to give you this. And this." He gave f/n a sharp smack on her rear. "Until next time."

F/n forced a smile and gave Kylan a short wave as he walked away. With his back fading away into the streets, she then crumpled the flower and tossed it onto the ground.

            F/n closed the door. Trying to shake out the image of Kylan from her mind, f/n thought back on the two soldiers she saw moments before. She wondered why they didn't attempt to chase after the trio right away when it was apparent that they noticed them.

Lazy Military Police.

She smirked, shook her head, and prepared for bed.

 

---

 

            Around four days later, f/n carefully put away her guitar as her first customer of the morning left her home, one of those rare cases when they only wanted to hear a few of f/n's songs and nothing more. People had different ways of coping with daily stresses, whether through music, sex, drink, gambling, the list went on; people do what they needed to do to live in this world.

F/n took most of her newly received funds and put them underneath the floorboard; the rest she pocketed for the marketplace. She was running low on food.

            Before she left her home, f/n put on Sofia's old weather-worn cloak for warmth. The hem was slightly tattered from the many years and its current color was a shadow of its former forest green. The back had an extremely faint outline of the insignia that used to be there. Sofia had removed it long before she even adopted f/n, though f/n knew which symbol it was. F/n always admired it and all the stories that it came with. She felt closer to Sofia every time she put it on and today was no exception.

She grabbed a small bottle of perfume, a gift from one of her more wealthy clients, and sprayed some onto herself as f/n did every day.

"Never know when you need to go to work," said f/n out loud to herself. She put the bottle back down, turned away, and as she took a half-step, she reached back and grabbed her knife.

F/n locked her door and left.

 

---

 

            F/n walked down the street with a small bag of food in hand and headed home. As her shoes tapped with each step, f/n looked straight ahead, ignoring the wives who were trying to make sure their husbands' eyes did not slither in f/n's direction, like hounds hunting for a female dog in heat.

F/n chose a notorious livelihood, there was no use in denying that, but she wasn't wasting away like countless others who accepted their own lot in life. The allure of the surface was everything to f/n; in order to get it, she had to make money fast, one way or another.

            The street was packed today, full of market stalls with the usual old food that were just leftover products from the markets up above that didn't sell the day before. Those with money in the Underground bought what they could get. Beggars sat against buildings, hoping for someone of a charitable nature to walk by or some food would accidentally fall near them.

            As f/n made her way through the crowd, she noticed a poor young girl with her mother as they sat together in the street. They were so still, f/n wasn't even sure if they were alive at first until the little girl looked up at her.

At that moment, it occurred to f/n that she still had the bag of food she bought earlier. She pulled it out of her pocket and handed the bag to them. She could afford to buy more instead. "Here."

The little girl hesitated at first, but then started to reach forward when her mother scolded at her daughter, albeit a bit weakly. "Don't take it, Adia. Not from her."

            It stung f/n to hear that, but she didn't let it show. F/n continued to hold out the bag of food and continued to speak gently. "You cannot keep her alive with judgments...However you see me is irrelevant...But please accept it so your daughter can live and fight another day."

The woman was taken aback, yet said nothing. F/n, sensing permission, gently placed the bag of food in the child's hands, and walked away without saying a word. Sacrificing a little bit of money for a good cause would not set her back too much.

            F/n turned to go back to the food stall when she noticed a familiar face staring at her from a few feet away. It was one of the soldiers from yesterday, the one with the beard. F/n stood there baffled.

            Suddenly, the sound of a distant yell followed by the sounds of expelling gas and hooks echoed in the streets.

"Them again, I bet! The Military Police will catch up to them one day. Bunch of nuisances," remarked an older man to his son as they stood gathering water from the communal well nearby.

That'll be the day, doubted f/n internally. She spun around to the bearded soldier, to see if he was giving chase to the action. Instead, f/n noticed he was sneaking into an alleyway, followed by the other soldier from the previous night.

What are they doing? They're going in the wrong direction, thought f/n. Curiosity got the better of her and she followed them through the empty alley. F/n raised her hood up and treaded behind the soldiers as quietly as possible. She could completely see the back of their cloaks now that they were away from the crowd. Eventually she was able to make out the symbol they bore.

Survey Corps? I thought they just go outside the walls...What are they doing here?  She had heard about the Survey Corps from Sofia in the past, but never saw them in the Underground before.

            The alleyway maze continued until the sounds of the crowd were but a faint murmur floating in the air. The two men stopped up ahead and talked quietly. F/n did her best to hide behind old crates that stood nearby and listened. She could barely manage to catch a few phrases here and there.

"...how...sure that Lobov..."
"... our expeditions will be in je...if we don't..."
"...we need to...Perhaps we can...more inform..."
"...der Zackly...the mission...right away..."

            This went on for a few minutes, but f/n couldn't make any sense of what her ears managed to pick up and she didn't want to chance taking a glance at them either. Eventually, the men stopped speaking in hushed tones as their conversation dwindled down.

"Let's return to HQ right away. We'll go down this other alley."
"Go ahead, Erwin,  I'll be a moment," said one of the soldiers.

            Silence fell heavily in the atmosphere after one of the soldiers walked away. F/n tried to breathe as quietly as possible and stayed behind the crates. But the soldier continued standing in his ground.

Come on, what are you waiting for?! Go away!  F/n impatiently thought in her mind.

            Footsteps moved toward her direction and paused. F/n mentally beat herself down, yelling internally that she shouldn't have followed them. She reached in her pocket and readied her knife, knowing whoever was there was going to find her. In the next moment, the tip of a man's boot came into her vision.

A deep voice rumbled and demanded "What are you doing?"

            F/n stood up and sprinted in the opposite direction as fast as she could. Someone was catching up to her. When she could practically feel his breath on her back, f/n turned and swung the knife at him, but the man dodged and moved behind her. Before she could react, he enveloped his arms around f/n's shoulders and held her.

"Next time you want to sneak around, don't wear so much perfume," advised the bearded soldier smugly. "The scent was distracting me the entire time."
"What the hell are you talking about?!" exclaimed f/n angrily.

Instead of answering her question, the man took a few deep and audible sniffs near her ear. Horrified, she raised one leg forward, then kicked back at the man's leg to knock him over in a desperate attempt to break free. Although he fell, the man's firm grip on f/n's shoulders sent them both toppling down.

            F/n's back tingled in pain as she lay flat on the ground. Her attacker got up quickly, kicked f/n's knife away, and firmly brought her up to standing again. He was stronger than the usual men f/n had to fight in the past and insanely tall, much taller than f/n.

F/n growled "If you knew I was there the whole time, why didn't you say anything then?"

            The man reached a hand up towards her hood and removed it; he gazed at her silently for a few moments to study her face. Then, he briefly closed his eyes, took two polite sniffs, and looked at her again. Suddenly, he smirked and laughed through his nose. F/n's anger melted into confusion instantly.

"You with that group?" he asked.
"What group? I don't know what you're talking about."
"Seeing as you have an old soldier's cloak on and those three all have soldiers' ODM gear on, I'm finding it hard to trust you."

            F/n realized then what he was implying. "I'm not with any them. And you're going to have to believe me." F/n hesitated for a moment. "...My mother. I got this cloak from my mother. And I don't even know how to use your gear anyway," hissed f/n. She stared into the man's blue-gray eyes.

            The man scratched at his bearded chin thoughtfully as f/n looked at him. Her cloak did look extremely worn, possibly from before he himself joined the Survey Corps. He continued holding onto f/n as he looked at the back of her cloak. Though it was hard to tell at first, the man could see someone took great pains to seam rip its sigil out, but he couldn't make out which faction it originated from. What was it doing down here, he wondered. Maybe the woman wasn't lying, but he didn't want to take a chance.

He bent over and grabbed f/n's knife. "I'll hold onto this. If you run..." He tapped on his ODM gear as a warning. He faced f/n again, then, with a firm grip, led her down a different part of the alley.

"Where are you taking me?"
The man ignored her. "Erwin!"
A distant voice called out. "I'm here, Mike!"

            Mike forced f/n toward Erwin's location and brought f/n to her knees, facing the soldier with the thick eyebrows. Erwin brought himself down to f/n's level and stared into her eyes with a steel-blue gaze.

"I remember you," said Erwin. F/n said nothing, unsure of what could happen in this moment. Erwin continued speaking.

"How well do you know those three with the ODM gear?"
"Not well. We're not friends."
"Really? You were watching them quite intently that night we saw you. And now here you are."
"It's the Underground. Not much to do here, so I take what entertainment I can get."

            Mike looked away to hide his amused smirk from Erwin, which he noticed anyway, but ignored.

"What about the man that visited you four days ago, the one working for the Lang Company?"
"What of him? He just came by to court me," stated f/n with a twisted truth.
"I see..."

 Erwin changed the subject and spoke to Mike.

"Your uniform is dirty. I take it that you two had a scuffle."
"She tried to attack me with a knife. Even managed to knock me down. Briefly." Mike explained, a hint of cockiness hidden in his last word's tone.
F/n retorted back. "Out of defense. I tried running away first."
One of Erwin's distinctive eyebrows raised up. "Impressive nonetheless. Mike Zacharias is considered the strongest soldier in the Survey Corps. You must be a talented fighter."
"I'm not a fighter. I just...try to survive."
"Hmm. Yes, 'survive.' Certainly..." said Erwin. He inspected f/n's cloak. "This cloak is from an older faction, isn't it? You look too young to be a military deserter from that time."
"She said it was her mother's," informed Mike.

            Erwin continued staring at f/n, his mind reeling on possibilities that lay before him. If  Erwin played his cards right... He  recalled the young man that came up to f/n's door, the one with the sigil of a one-eyed boar on his coat...

            Erwin stood up straight and paused for a moment. Then, without warning, Erwin grinned and helped f/n up. "I see. My apologies for this inconvenience...You must be hungry. As compensation, please accompany me and Mike to lunch. I have a carriage waiting above."

F/n's eyes narrowed suspiciously. She was not naive and did not want these men to believe otherwise. "That's it? ...What's the catch...Erwin?"

Erwin gave her a knowing smile. "...I believe you and I could help each other. Not quite sure exactly how yet...but there is potential...I'm sure we can reach an agreement if you a have a price to name. I did mean it when I offered lunch, however. Think of it as...a peace offering."

Mike stood by silently and wondered what in the world his comrade was pulling now. Erwin had always been an exceptionally cunning individual, even since their early cadet years, but his craftiness occasionally teetered on the questionable side.

            F/n knew exactly what she wanted from Erwin. "Citizenship," she stated firmly. "I want citizenship up above. That's my price for helping you...Until then, will I be staying somewhere with you or anywhere else?"

Erwin nodded. "You will have to. You'll have your end of the bargain to uphold, whatever that may be. And when you are done, you are free to choose your next path."

"How do I know you're not going to bring me somewhere terrible?" she demanded.
Erwin made a fist with his right hand and placed it over his heart. "You have my word and honor as a soldier."
"Honor?" She scoffed and then glanced at Mike, whose eyes were serious and unmoving at her. She looked down at the ground, breathed in deeply, and decided to take Erwin more seriously.

"All right then...Thank you...But before we go, allow me to gather some things from home, please."
"Certainly. We have a deal, miss...?"
"Yes, we have a deal. And just call me f/n."
"Lovely to meet you, f/n." Erwin turned his attention to Mike. "Escort f/n to her home. I will meet you above. Be quick, the both of you."

Mike nodded and spoke to f/n. "Show me the way."

Chapter Text

The 'good' thing about f/n's occupation in this particular situation was that the locals were accustomed to the sight of her leading a strange man to her one-room home, so no one suspected anything unusual was happening as the two walked together.

            As they reached the stone stairs that led to her front door, she turned to Mike, who was looking at their surroundings. "Wait here. I'll be out in 10 minutes."
"5 minutes," corrected Mike firmly, without even glancing at f/n.

F/n frowned, but grunted affirmatively. She walked up the stairs and removed the key hanging from her neck on a leather cord. She turned it to unlock the door, but the lock was already undone.

What? F/n turned the doorknob, opened the door, and rushed inside. Her clothes were strewn about, the mattress torn open, the scent of her perfume completely took over the room as the glass bottle was smashed to pieces on the floor. F/n didn't care about any of that.

            She rushed to the spot where her money was hidden and became horrified when she saw that someone had removed the loose floorboard and emptied it out completely. She thought about how she saved the money over the years and all the notorious things she had to do to collect it. It wasn't just for the toll–she needed it to settle down somewhere; it didn't matter where as long as she could feel the sun. She promised herself that she would stop selling her body once she felt that damn sunlight.

            F/n searched around the room, throwing more items in a mad frenzy, desperate to find her money. She stared at every inch of the room and realized that her guitar was missing too. Unsure of what to do next, she stepped out of her home.

"Mike?!" F/n called out. Yet, he was not where she had left him a minute ago.

            Suddenly, a figure jumped from her roof and in front of her; he held her guitar, using it to knock her down onto the ground. Another person on the low roof followed and helped the other hold her down. The two men pushed her back into her home and held her against the wall. A third man came up the stairs of her front door. He smiled at f/n.

F/n recognized his face. Silas.

"So, my dear, what happens if a customer is unsatisfied with the service he is given? Hmm?" Silas laughed grotesquely in f/n's face as she struggled to break free. She glared at him dangerously with venom in her eyes.

            He pulled out one of the many bags of gold that f/n collected over the years.
"I took the liberty of getting my money back. Plus interest. But you're going to give me more. Right now."

            F/n remained indignant and silent and continued to struggle. Silas angrily snatched f/n's guitar from the hand of the henchman holding it and threateningly pointed its headstock to her neck.

"This will be you if you don't do as you're told," Silas hissed. He then grasped at the neck of the guitar with both hands and in one swift motion, smashed the instrument repeatedly into the floor until it was completely obliterated. F/n began to kick the air near Silas, but the other two men tightened their grip and kicked her in the stomach. She would've folded over in pain, but the men continued holding her up against the wall.

            Silas, now more sweaty and all too pleased with himself, moved closer to f/n with a deep sneer. He reached over and groped at the back of her neck, packing his fingers with a handful of her hair.

F/n spat in his face. "Fuck. You. I'm not giving you anything!"

He cackled and shook his head as he wiped away the saliva. "Oh, apologies, I misspoke. I meant that you're going to give us more." The men holding f/n chuckled malevolently while her eyes widened in terror.

            As Silas began to undo his belt buckle, f/n mustered up every bit of energy she had to force herself forward and bit down hard on Silas's nose. She felt the cartilage crack under the pressure and his blood drip into her mouth and onto her face.

            Silas fell back and grasped at his face in pain as f/n savagely spat out his blood. His two henchmen loosened their grip in terrified surprise as f/n leapt forward to grab whatever money was in his vest. As f/n struggled to collect her money, the henchmen took out long daggers and were about to pierce her when Mike stormed into the room, with a sword in each hand.

            With a swift fury, he stabbed through a shoulder of each of the henchmen and pinned them into the wall. Mike pushed buttons on each of the hilts and ejected the blades, still stuck in the wall through the men's shoulders. As Mike stepped back, f/n's knife fell from his jacket and onto the ground near her. F/n reached for it and grasped it firmly in her hand, ready to stab into the neck of Silas as she held him down on her floor.

            Mike reached over and held back f/n's arm. She looked back at him intensely, the adrenaline still rushing through her veins. Mike said nothing, but continued looking at her with a comforting gaze, his breathing heavy yet steady. Slowly, f/n yielded her need for murder.

            But it didn't quench her bloodlust completely. Before she got up, she took her knife, placed it inside the man's mouth against his cheek. He winced in pain, but tried hard not to cry out for fear of opening the cut further.

F/n's eyes filled with tears in anger, her breathing dense, heavy, and low. It would be so easy to...but instead she removed her blade and punched Silas in the face until he was knocked out.

Mike stood still as she struggled to collect her money that she found with each of the men, in their pockets, boots, etc. When she was done, Mike turned toward the two henchmen, reinserted the blades into his hilts, and harshly pulled his swords out from their flesh. They cried out in pain, whimpering as they desperately grasped at whatever cloth was near them to stop the bleeding.

            Mike guided her to leave as f/n grabbed some clean clothes. Before she left her home, she turned towards the men, spat at them and exited out the door. Mike grabbed some wood from f/n's broken bedpost, closed the front door and placed the wood onto it to trap the three inside. He glanced behind him to call out to f/n, but did not see her.

            F/n hadn't gone far, she just needed the secluded area near her home to change her blood-stained clothes. There was a barrel of water nearby and she splashed some onto her face to clean off Silas' blood. Her hands were trembling from the ordeal. She rubbed them together to get a hold of herself.

She put on a new long skirt and discarded the other one. F/n gently removed the cloak and carelessly removed her blouse. She stared at the dark green cloak and held it in her hands, her bare shoulders tickled by her hair. There was some blood on Sofia's old cloak now. It was surprising how little there was, but it still upset f/n.

"Damn it," she grumbled.

            A few feet away, Mike had caught on her scent and looked in the alleyway. He became a bit flustered when he saw her nearly bare back, yet felt thankful she was facing away. He placed his back on the wall, turned away from f/n and murmured "When you're done, we head out."

            F/n stirred and glanced in the direction of his voice as she continued holding onto the cloak.

Mike fought the urge to look at f/n again as he felt her gaze fall upon him. It's the last thing f/n would want from a man after what had just transpired. Just look away please, he thought.

            F/n put on the clean, soft lavender top, folded her cloak, struggled to pick up the various bags of gold, and left behind her old clothing.

"You can approach me now," she called out.

Mike came closer and looked at f/n's small arms trying to find their grip on each of the numerous items. He reached behind and underneath his cloak, then he pulled out a folded, empty canvas knapsack and handed it to f/n.

"Thank you," said f/n as she hurriedly stuffed all the gold into the bag.

When she was carefully tucking in her cloak, Mike remarked, "I can get that washed for you." F/n glanced up at Mike's bearded face. He seemed emotionless, but assured f/n, "No need to worry," as if he read her mind.

            F/n pulled the strap of the knapsack over her head and shoulder and sighed. She was exhausted. Not even midday, as far as she could tell in the darkness of the Underground.

She frowned to herself and happened to see that Mike noticed her expression.

"They destroyed my guitar," she explained glumly.

            Mike nodded in understanding. As they continued walking, he pondered to himself on who f/n seemed to be, but he was not completely sure.

            From what Mike could tell, f/n wasn't a proficiently skilled fighter, but she had the spirit of one. Sometimes that's all you need, he thought, reminiscing on his own training corps days. Mike was not the most prolific fighter in his early days and now he was considered humanity's strongest. He was never particularly boastful about it, but never corrected others for placing the title upon him.

He stole a quick side glance at f/n and found, to his surprise, that she was looking at him.

When f/n caught his eye, she prodded, "Where did you go back there? Before they attacked me. I went looking for you and you weren't there."
Mike blew air from his nose. "Ordinarily, I would have known that those men were on your roof, even before you reached your front door...The broken perfume bottle in your room threw me off...thought it was just you at first, but it was much stronger than before and it camouflaged their stench. I was looking for them nearby when I heard you yelling."
"Well, what now? About them, I mean."
"I'll have to make a report at HQ and I'll inform the Military Police." Mike spotted f/n's skeptical expression. "They'll have my word as a soldier on your behalf...Self-defense."
"...Thank you...Mike."

The pair continued on toward the Underground toll gate in silence; f/n's head buzzing with excitement and uncertainty.

Chapter Text

            The merchants had sneered at f/n when she walked past their toll gate to the stairway. They could not demand payment from her since a Survey Corps soldier was escorting her.

It will be hell if I have to return here.

            Mike and f/n were currently walking up the long stairway to her unknown future. To break the silence, she struck up a conversation.

"So...how is your sense of smell so refined? Earlier, you mentioned how you normally would have been able to smell those men. I mean, is that something you train for in the military or–"
Mike chuckled. "Ahh, no. It's just a skill I've always had."
With genuine curiosity, f/n probed for more about Mike's unconventional talent. "So can you sniff out anything? Like, can you tell if someone is lying with your ability?"
"No, but strangely that is one of the odd rumors going around about me," he answered.

Everything about it is odd, Mike, thought f/n.

He continued. "Well, one thing I can do is I can roughly tell where people have come from. Not where they were born, but just where they have been recently." He then smirked to himself. "Some of the other soldiers move as far away as possible from me whenever they had just used the restroom. It's amusing. They know I can smell Titans several meters away, but they hope I can't tell what they've just done just by walking on the other side of the hall."
F/n chuckled politely. "But wait a minute...you can smell Titans?"
Mike simply nodded, but stopped speaking altogether.

Well, just a second ago, you were talking.

            Over time, the air began to feel clearer in f/n's lungs as they moved closer to the entryway of the surface. F/n's heartbeat pounded in her chest like a hammer on a nail.

            The sounds of the hustle and bustle of the capital starting echoing as f/n moved forward. After some time, a brightness could be seen. F/n audibly gasped and paused at the last stair that was still covered in darkness.

Mike was ahead of her when he had heard her gasp. When he looked at her, she was still.

"Are you afraid?" he asked.
"No, it's not that...I..." F/n's eyes welled up in tears. "I didn't think this would happen today." As the tears fell, f/n smiled and laughed. Then, she took a step and stood in the partial sunlight; her feet were warm, the air inviting. She hiked up a few more steps until her entire body was shrouded in light.

            The sense of freedom exuded and radiated from her presence at that moment, something Mike could not help but notice. Her smile was wide and her laughter was full and yet delicate.

            F/n  looked up at the entryway, still a few more steps away. She took in the sounds of footsteps walking on paved stone and a bell ringing in the distance, as if it was welcoming her to a new home.

            As f/n absorbed the city of Mitras for the first time, her senses became overwhelmed and her heart felt full of wonder. She never knew buildings could be built with such detail and be so tall. A young passerby in ornately detailed clothing, no more than seven years old, gawked at f/n in curiosity. F/n took note of the child and smiled; in return, the child immediately turned away in shyness.

F/n looked even higher and her eyes struggled to engulf the entirety of the sky. In any direction that wasn't blocked by buildings, she could see the height of the surrounding wall guarding the city.

A voice commanded out from her left.
"Mike! Over here!"

            Erwin looked princely in the sunlight as he walked toward Mike and f/n. A carriage with two horses stood nearby, along with a coachman.

Mike saluted him and spoke up. "Squad Leader Erwin. Sorry for the delay. We ended up running into some trouble at her home."
"You'll have to make a report of that. I'll help you with it afterwards," offered Erwin, a slight glint in his eye as he gestured to f/n with them.
"Affirmative," confirmed Mike. He then spotted a group of Military Police nearby. "I'll inform them, let them handle the mess down below."

Erwin looked at f/n expectantly as Mike walked away. "We'll speak of it later, then?" F/n sighed and shook her head "yes."

After a few minutes with the MP group, Mike returned to the pair.

"F/n, if you would step into the carriage," said Erwin.

            The three walked to the carriage and Mike opened the door for f/n. Erwin and f/n sat on one side, while Mike sat on the other. As the carriage began moving, f/n fixated her eyes out the window and took in the world before her, smiling to herself every now and then. Mike silently watched her.

            Truthfully, Mike had not seen such joy in a long while. Anyone working as a Survey Corps soldier could easily become broken and disenchanted over a short amount of time, so joy of her caliber was rare to see.

F/n's smile was a reminder to Mike that humanity still had something worth fighting for. Her aura of freedom at that moment was what he wanted for the people inside these walls. She had nearly experienced death and yet found elation in the same day. He too began looking out the window when his thoughts began to wander elsewhere.

            What did those men want with f/n? Mike did not feel it was necessary to ask f/n about the details of the situation earlier, but he felt curious nonetheless. The more he thought about it, the more he found himself puzzled by her lifestyle. He saw how much money she had gathered up, the expensive yet ill-fitting perfume she wore, the guitar that she had before it was destroyed. This woman of the Underground had more than most of the poorest citizens behind Wall Maria, and maybe even the lower classes behind Wall Rose.

Could f/n be a...
Mike tried to shake out the thought. If he really wanted to know for sure, he could ask her himself...
No, don't do that...so inappropriate. He mentally scoffed at himself for thinking of it. He and Erwin would potentially find out later. Only time would tell.

            Mike changed his focus to f/n's scent, particularly after she changed out of her bloodied clothes. There was less of the perfume smell that tainted them, so Mike was able to discern her own smell a little better. He smirked a little upon remembering it. He always smiled after smelling someone for the first time out of habit, but this time he was smiling as it was one of those infrequent times when he actually enjoyed a scent.

"Not to disrupt your sightseeing, f/n, but we'll be heading out to the Ehrmich District, just south of the capital. It'll be about thirty minutes, maybe forty. I hope you do not mind eating in a tavern," said Erwin, breaking the silence.
"I'm used to them. We have taverns down below too, you know."
"Good. Mike and I used to frequent this tavern in our younger years, so it's an old favorite."

            Mike gave Erwin a coy smile. The memories of that tavern, the ones they could remember in their entirety at least, were endless days of camaraderie, bar fights ending in peace-making toasts, and some of the strongest beer you can find behind Wall Sina. There were more than a handful of stories in that tavern for Mike with various friends, some now long gone, but he looked forward to seeing it again.

            Within the time frame Erwin had mentioned, the trio reached the Ehrmich District, and then eventually their destination. As f/n stepped out of the carriage, she observed the front of the tavern. A weather-worn wooden sign hung near its front door.

"The Quivering Pint?" inquired f/n with a scrunched-up face.
"The Quivering Pint!" exclaimed Erwin with level-headed gusto.
"Odd name."
"But very fitting. Many patrons enjoy it here so much, they don't want to leave and just keep drinking. Often, it gets to the point where they can't even hold their glasses still, hence the name," explained Erwin.

F/n shrugged. "I mostly just want to eat," she said, only half-joking. She still didn't trust the two men completely and didn't want alcohol to bring down her inhibitions. "Won't be quivering any pints today."

            Mike pursed his lips thoughtfully and gently elbowed Erwin. "But, I can, right?"


---


"Did you enjoy your meal?" Erwin looked at f/n expectantly.
"The beef stew is delicious," she said as she quickly wiped at her face with her napkin, mouth ready for the last remaining morsels in her nearly empty bowl.

            The three sat in a corner of The Quivering Pint, open enough to view the other rowdy customers, but far away enough that they could sit in peace. They sat in silence initially due to the nature of f/n's situation, but the food and drinks had welcomed them to eventually get a little more comfortable.

"Still tastes the same after all these years, huh, Mike?"
Mike nodded. "Though they used to put quail eggs in it as well."
"Quail eggs? What are quails?" wondered f/n, unfamiliar with some creatures that lived outside of the Underground.
"Easy prey," joked Mike with a soft reverberating tone. He had eased up a little after quickly downing two beers, was currently drinking a third, and became just a touch more talkative than before. "They're these small birds that can fly, but they prefer to run away from you. They're smaller than chickens and so are their eggs, but the eggs in the beef stew were wonderful. The place needed to cut some costs, so they did away with them. Big mistake, if you ask me."

F/n smiled at Mike in amusement as she noticed his increased conversational skills. "You're quite serious about cuisine."
"I can smell when ingredients work or do not work and. Those. Eggs. Worked," he said, emphasizing the last three words by tapping his knuckles on the table.

            Erwin briefly chuckled and shook his head at Mike. "Well, let's talk about the rest of the day. We are, technically, still working, aren't we, Mike?" Erwin asked as he pulled away Mike's third glass of beer. The bearded soldier agreed with a slight grunt and sat up straight to regain as much of his usual composure as he could.

F/n had nearly forgotten why she was here in the first place. Erwin was right and he still hadn't said what he was going to have f/n do. She hoped it would only be a day job, maybe a week or so. But then again, almost anything would be better than what she had been doing for the past several years. Now that citizenship in the surface area was in her sights, f/n did not feel the need to sell her body ever again.

Erwin continued speaking. "As far as your situation goes, f/n, I will need to review some further details at the Survey Headquarters to determine what we will have you do for us. I also have to speak with some of the higher-ups to establish your reward for helping the Survey Corps."
"Citizenship," reminded f/n bluntly.
"Yes, f/n. Now, we will head to HQ after this, about two and a half hours away. It will only be early evening by the time we arrive."



---

            The three made their way out the door, with the tavern's usual sounds of clinking glasses and conversation buzzing through the air behind them.

The three stepped into the carriage, with Erwin telling the coachman to ride on to HQ.

            As it moved forward, f/n questioned exactly who Erwin and Mike were; what their standing in the Survey Corps was, why they were down in the Underground in the first place. Their mannerisms also confused her as well. One minute, they were stoic individuals, then dangerous, and then the next they were generous towards her. Despite her appreciation for the meal and the opportunity to live within the surface, f/n knew she had to be careful around them.

What's their agenda?

She hoped their higher-ups that she supposedly had to meet wouldn't need too much of her.

            F/n debated with herself on what to do if something were to go wrong.

Since I'm already here, I could always try to escape if they try to do something to me. The downside would be that f/n would have to try her luck to get citizenship on her own, but at least she had more money than she thought she would at this point since she didn't have to pay the toll to go up the Underground stairway, so that could help.

            Until then, f/n would continue to be on Erwin and Mike's good graces. It was possible they were actually honorable soldiers. F/n was not certain how troops of the Survey Corps typically were, compared to those in the Garrison Regiment or who were MPs. She had heard some talk of their antics from a few others before, including Sophia, but not much. The most common being how foolish they were for going out into Titan territory when humanity had been living in peace for years.

            F/n glanced at Mike, who was sitting quietly to the right of her, staring out the carriage window. Maybe he was a bit odd with that sniffing he did when they first met, but 'foolish' she wasn't so sure about. She wouldn't know the nature of her circumstances until she reached the Survey Headquarters, wherever that was.

            For a while, f/n sat with her thoughts as she marveled at her surroundings, taking in the sights of the Ehrmich District. Those buildings were still grand to f/n's eyes, but still noticeably less ornate looking than those she had seen earlier in Mitras.


"So this district...Ehrmich, it's in Wall Sina's territory...and your HQ is in the... second wall's territory?" inquired f/n to no one in particular, unable to remember the wall's name.
"Wall Rose, yes," corrected Erwin. "Feel free to rest until then. It's a long journey."

            Over time, the outside of the carriage window changed its scenery into open fields of green grass as they left the Ehrmich District, with the occasional small forest disrupting the expanse of the pasture. Everything was new, and yet somehow familiar due to all of the stories f/n had heard from Sophia.

This is it, Sophia...I'm here.

Chapter Text

"F/n, wake up. We've arrived."

            Erwin gently shook f/n's shoulder and she jolted awake. For a brief moment, f/n had forgotten that she was no longer in the Underground, but gradually remembered the previous events of the day as she viewed the fiery sky above her. She rubbed her eyes awake, exited the carriage, and investigated the Survey Headquarters property.

            Behind f/n were stone walls and a gate standing tall at around eight or nine feet. The archway above the gate had a forged metal Survey Corps symbol on it. The courtyard, where f/n was currently in, was spacious and had a few trees. To the left of f/n were stables and a series of several small, yet long buildings. To the front was another building that looked like a dining hall and to her right was the biggest building of the three, almost like a small castle, fortified and proud. A large flag with the Wings of Freedom waved at the peak.

            F/n stretched her limbs, weary from the carriage ride. It was a continuous journey and they had stopped only once for a bathroom break.

Erwin approached her. "This way." He pointed to the castle-like building and directed his focus onto Mike. "Take f/n through the side door and wait for me in Room 20. Supreme Commander Zackley has been waiting for me and I must speak to him first. F/n, we will discuss our deal shortly afterwards, I assure you."
"Of course, you gave me your honor, Erwin, remember?" teased f/n flatly.

Mike made eye contact with Erwin and smirked. Erwin turned away with a serious expression and disappeared through the front door.

"Follow me," said Mike to f/n.

            He walked f/n to the left, following a worn trail that wound itself to a small wooden door. When Mike opened the door, it led to a spiraling set of stone stairs, going both down and up.

"We're headed up to the third floor. Room 20 will be all the way down the hall and to your right."

F/n stepped inside behind the towering soldier, hoping she didn't make a grave mistake.

---

"Erwin, you're late. Your message said to come here in the mid-afternoon, but you've made me wait here for close to an hour. What was it you wanted to speak to me about?"

            The Supreme Commander, Darius Zackley, sat alone at the head of a long table before Erwin, who had just entered. Zackley was an older man in his late fifties, but still formidable looking. He had medium-length white hair that he slicked neatly back, a full beard and glasses. He was a key figure for humanity as he had authority over all three military factions.

"Pardon me, Supreme Commander," saluted Erwin, "Something came up and delayed my arrival. I originally wanted to talk to you as I was concerned over the future decision of the Parliament regarding our expeditions...However, certain events in the Underground have shifted my focus."

            Darius Zackley narrowed his eyes at the man standing before him.

"The Underground? Have you spoken with Commander Shadis about any of this yet?"
"Not at the moment, Supreme Commander."
"...Well, speak freely, Erwin."

Erwin straightened himself up, composing himself and his thoughts, careful on not revealing too much too soon.

"I want to recruit three specific individuals from the Underground into the Survey Corps, sir. I know, I have made a hasty decision outside of my jurisdiction. Yet today, I have found someone else...someone crucial who will aid in making it possible to recruit them, for the benefit of the Survey Corps."

            Zackley looked at Erwin apprehensively.

"That's quite a request, Erwin...Who is this 'someone' you speak of?"
"A woman named f/n from the Underground. She is willing to help us out in return for citizenship."
Zackley made a small grunting noise, suppressing his urge to scoff. "And the other three, what makes them so special?"
"It seems they've gotten a hold of ODM gear some time ago," explained Erwin, "Word on the streets of the Underground is they're more than fairly proficient, despite never having formal training. I've seen how they move too. Very impressive."
"Do you plan on moving the entire Underground to the military, Erwin?" asked the old man sarcastically.
"The more skilled soldiers we have, no matter where they're from, the more successful our future expeditions will be, which may help gather more support from the government and the citizens. And if they–"

Zackley raised a hand to silence Erwin. He sat for a moment, pondering to himself.

 "All right, Erwin...Write me up a formal request of your intentions. I have many matters to attend to, but you have my word that I will look it over."
"Yes, sir. I shall write my request tonight. In addition, have you reviewed the new strategic proposal from Commander Shadis today?" asked Erwin.
"A quick glance... I expect to see you and Commander Shadis there around 6 pm tomorrow to discuss it, after my meeting with Parliament and we both know how long those can drag on. Now...I need to return to the Military Command Headquarters. You are dismissed, Erwin."

Erwin saluted the Supreme Commander with a proud fist over his heart and exited the room.

            Darius Zackley removed his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, worn from the long work day. He took a sip from his glass of water nearby and looked out the window, absorbed in his thoughts.

---

            Mike sat in one the chairs across from f/n.

            The room was bare, save for a table and two chairs. The full knapsack Mike let her use for her belongings lay in the middle of the table. A thin window with iron bars was positioned close to the ceiling, so most people wouldn't be able stand and look out of it, unless they were Mike's height.

            The two had been waiting for some time and the lack of conversation made f/n uncomfortable. At some point, Mike had briefly left to pick up some blank paperwork and was now writing a report quietly. The scratching of his quill was the only sound that f/n could hear.

"So...what do you soldiers do every day?" asked f/n in an effort to break the silence.
Mike continued writing, but answered. "We train, go on patrol, fulfill duties as they come and go. About once, sometimes twice a month, we go on expeditions outside the walls."
"What are your expeditions like?" inquired f/n.
Mike shook his head, refusing to give a description.

            F/n felt uneasy. She had heard a few rumors here and there about the Titans beyond the walls, but she was never worried since she lived in the Underground. Admittedly, that was the one good thing about living there.

It became quiet once more and f/n gave a small sigh; her efforts to start a conversation were in vain.

So serious.

She was puzzled by the man before her. Despite the situation, they seemed to have enjoyed each other's company in the tavern just a few hours prior...but then again, maybe it was only because they need something from her.

            Even still, it had been a long time since she had spent time with anyone like that; her lifestyle in the Underground brought many into her life, but not with any sincerity since they paid to see her. The sense of loneliness remained, no matter who she met. F/n did not necessarily consider Erwin and Mike her friends, especially under the circumstances, but the meal they shared at The Quivering Pint only reminded her of her longtime solitude.

But f/n assured herself that she will soon start her life anew. There would be plenty of opportunities to create new relationships. She just needed to do whatever Erwin asked of her first.

And if it ended up being too much for her to agree to, she could try to escape later in the night. F/n still had her money in the knapsack and she was already on the surface. It would be hard, but it wasn't completely impossible.

Freedom was so very close.

            Suddenly, footsteps could be heard outside the door. It opened shortly after and a man with intense eyebrows entered the small room. Mike stood up and saluted his comrade.

"Squad Leader Erwin," he declared.
"Apologies for the wait, Mike. F/n," said Erwin. He took the seat in the chair previously occupied by Mike, who now stood nearby.

F/n exhaled in relief. "Well...what did you all discuss?"
"That you shall help us...for the benefit of the Survey Corps," stated Erwin bluntly.
"I know that much already...Is that all they said?"

            Erwin ignored her question and glanced at Mike for a brief moment. Without a word, Mike picked up the knapsack in the middle of the table, and handed it to Erwin. F/n stood up from her chair, with her arm reaching out.

"What are you–"
"If I may?" asked Erwin. A hint of risk hid itself within his tone.

F/n hesitantly relented and sat back down, watching Erwin open up the bag and neatly laying out its contents onto the table one by one. F/n's old cloak, a few extra garments, and the numerous small bags of money were sprawled out in front of her eyes.

"You have quite a bit of money for someone in the Underground...Are you a thief?" prodded Erwin.
"No, I don't take what doesn't belong to me."
"What do you do, f/n?"
"...I look out for myself," said f/n, her words treading carefully out of her lips.
"And how do you do that? " pressed Erwin. Mike's gaze toward f/n intensified with interest and curiosity.
F/n looked Erwin straight in the eyes. "I entertain."
"By what?"
"I sing. And I had a guitar, but that was destroyed when Mike and I ran into trouble at my house."

Erwin glanced at Mike, who gave him a silent, confirming nod. "I see. So, you entertain them with your music then?"
"Yes."
Erwin's eyes narrowed as he asked "And how else?"

            F/n shifted uncomfortably in her seat. F/n wanted to lie, afraid what they would do to her, yet she sensed that Erwin somehow already knew. She answered almost in a whisper. "I also was a...courtesan."

            A heavy silence engulfed the room, choking f/n into a urge to run out of the room, but her belongings were too far away for her to get them back. "I did what I had to do," whispered f/n, in an attempt to explain the past few years of her life.

Erwin continued calmly, but with authority. "Did you work for anyone? A brothel, perhaps?"
F/n shook her head. "No...Though, when I was a child, I used to live in one with Sophia, my...mother. After my first bleeding, the owner wanted to use me for his business when he found out, but  Sophia wouldn't let him...We ran away that same night." F/n took a deep breath. "It was just the two of us struggling for a few years. Then she died when I was 16...She didn't want me to live a life in a brothel."

"And yet you ultimately chose 'independent' prostitution to support yourself?" challenged the Squad Leader.
F/n confronted him with a glare. "Playing music in the streets can only do so much when practically everyone around you is poor."

Erwin pressed on. "If everyone is poor, as you say, how did you amass so much money with your other skill?"
"Some of your fellow surface dwellers like to keep their secrets as furthest in the dark as possible."
"Those particular clientele, who were they?"
"It varied, but many were rich or well-off enough. Merchants, aristocrats, and on the odd occasion, a few Military Police members."
"I see...all that for the money...F/n, why would you choose such a...despicable lifestyle?"

F/n was taken completely aback at his choice of words. She had been called many things in the past, but somehow the way Erwin hissed "despicable" curled itself into her heart. The years of enduring shame suddenly escaped into the air, no longer in her grasp.

As Mike looked on at the visibly distraught woman, he couldn't help but wonder what Erwin was accomplishing by berating f/n. His comrade was exceptionally crafty, sometimes to a fault.

What is Erwin planning?

            F/n's stood up from her chair, her voice impassioned despite the tears in her eyes.

"No matter how much disgust you throw at me, it doesn't compare to how I felt every single time I was down on my back...I didn't do it for pleasure, I didn't do it for those bastards, I did it for my goddamn life." F/n felt a lump in her throat as her emotions ended her words. She looked away toward the high window, then weakly pointed to the darkening sky behind it. "I wanted to be part of that...the other things that the world could offer me..."

            Erwin assessed the woman sitting across the table from him for a moment, her quiet sobs the only sound to hear. He then walked over to f/n, reached into his pocket, and handed her his handkerchief. She dabbed at her eyes with it.

F/n spoke up after composing herself. "You know my past now. But I don't see how you knowing about it will help you. I agreed to assist you, just tell me how and let's leave it at that."

            Erwin's tone changed, his voice soft and comforting. He placed a hand gently on hers. "I regret my behavior, f/n, and you have my sincerest of apologies. I just needed to know exactly who it is I am working with, you see. Forgive me."

He then returned to his chair. "Still, you're right. Let's move onto how you can help...Now, I must share some details with you first. Four days ago, my squad captured a spy working for Nicholas Lobov, a Senator in Parliament. Do you know of Lobov, f/n?"

"I know he has jurisdiction over the stairway in the Underground. But I've never seen him, I don't believe."
"When I questioned the spy," continued Erwin, "I learned that he was keeping an eye on the Survey Corps for Lobov, who, shall we say, is not completely enamored by our work outside the walls. We also found out that Lobov has a strong connection to Arthur Lang, head of the Lang Company."
F/n sighed. "The Langs," she repeated, understanding what Erwin was getting at. "That's why you asked me about that man that visited me. Kylan."

            Erwin smirked at f/n.

"Correct. Kylan was Senator Lobov's spy. Mike and I were following him to the Underground to capture him...Then we saw those three thugs...then we saw you. And after your little scuffle with Mike this morning, I knew we had found a key player, a fighter in your own right...And knowing you like I do now, I believe you are the means to gather the evidence we need against Lobov."
"What evidence?" questioned f/n.
"Kylan assured me that there are incriminating documents within the Lang warehouse that potentially expose Lobov's true intentions, but we ourselves are unable to secure them. I speculate that Lobov is hoping to move certain funds around, but that is all that I will say...F/n, I want you to find those documents and bring them to me."

            Erwin stood up once more and walked up to f/n, his demeanor stoic and calm.

"Because of your background, it is best if you were to 'play to your strengths' let's say. With it, you would be able to get closer to those documents. After that mission, however, we may need your further assistance."

Before f/n could open her mouth in protest, Erwin put a hand on her shoulder.

"In return, not only will you be given citizenship, but the Survey Corps will also offer you a place behind Wall Rose to call your home, completely free of charge. In addition, you will be provided a small monthly pension for up to one year to help you adjust to your new lifestyle." he said.

            F/n's eyes widened and her hands covered her mouth in shock at the new offer proposed by Erwin. Even Mike looked surprised; the Survey Corps was not made of money and government funding was stingy enough as it was.

F/n shook her head, reminding herself not to be naive.

"What if I refuse your offer?" demanded f/n.
"If you refuse or should you even think about betraying us, you will go back to the Underground. Since you are not a citizen, the Military Police will escort you to your old home and I can guarantee that they will confiscate your belongings and money." Erwin then walked toward f/n's money on the table. "To ensure you don't escape if you accept our offer, we will hold on to all your money. We will not spend it, but neither will you until you have upheld your end of the bargain."

            F/n looked away from Erwin and thought about the prospects laid before her. This man was ruthless. One moment, he offers her a meal and citizenship, and the next he threatens to send her back to the Underground without any money.

Are all those in the Survey Corps like him? The rumors of their so-called foolishness now fell short to f/n.

This Erwin Smith was unlike any other.

"...How much are you expecting me to do? How far do you need me to go?" she asked quietly as she looked back into the steel-blue eyes of Erwin.
He then asked her, "How far are you willing to go for freedom?"

            His question resonated in her ears like echoes reverberating off the rocks in the Underground. She stared at the old cloak on the table and thought of Sophia. F/n promised she would become a citizen and now the opportunity was there in front of her. F/n reminded herself if she was willing to do what she had been doing for the past few years, then making a deal with Erwin was not much different, other than a greater reward.

Erwin broke f/n out of her thoughts, stating, "You must decide here and now...Have we reached an agreement? Our offer is non-negotiable, f/n."

Chapter Text

            The sky was completely dark by the time they were done with her in Room 20. F/n smacked her lips, thirsty from all the details she had to recount regarding the incident with Silas, so Mike could finish his report to hand over. Why she was attacked, who they were, establishing her act of self-defense, peppered with a few half-truths. Occasionally, Erwin, hovering over Mike, would whisper suggestions to him as he wrote.

            After they were done, Mike gathered up his report and handed it to Erwin.

"Come up to my office immediately after taking f/n to the basement," softly spoke Erwin. "I will brief you on further details there."
"Understood...F/n!" gently ordered Mike, "Follow me."

F/n did as she was told, moving down the corridor, and back to the stairway they had come in earlier. In her hands, she carried her spare clothing and cloak. F/n left her money with Erwin as part of their agreement.

            F/n and Mike headed to a room for her to use in the meantime, located somewhere below the castle. Although there were barracks located near the courtyard, f/n could not use them. She was not a soldier and non-military people were rarely allowed on Survey Corps property.

"When we reach my room, I'd like some water, if possible," requested f/n, licking her lips with a dry tongue.

Mike softly grunted an affirmative.

            The stairs ended at another long corridor, this time lined with torches on one side and several jail cells on the other; all were empty.

F/n couldn't believe her eyes.

"You're putting me in a cell?"
"You're not a prisoner," Mike reminded her.
F/n widened her eyes in disbelief. "I kind of am since you're keeping my money hostage."
Mike stopped in his tracks and faced her. "You won't be treated like a prisoner, I assure you...For one thing, you'll get better food than what we would normally hand out to one."

            Mike opened one of the cell doors and held it open for f/n. The metal bars creaked and echoed loudly in the empty hall.

"And you would know all about good cuisine, am I right?" f/n teased, stepping inside.
Mike smirked, remembering their conversation about the tavern's beef stew earlier.

He then closed the cell door and began walking away.

"You're not going to lock it?" f/n called out.
"No need. We know you're not going to run away without your money...I'll be back with your water and something to eat."

            After she listened to the sound of Mike's footsteps fading away, f/n inspected her makeshift bedroom. It smelled musty, but not filthy. There was a bed with no pillow, a small wooden table with a rickety chair, and a chamber pot below the bed. F/n set her belongings down on the table and sat on the bed. It wasn't the softest, but it would have to do. She sprawled herself onto it and stared at the stone ceiling. It was almost as if she was in the Underground once more.

            After ten minutes or so, f/n heard Mike approaching. When he came into her view, she saw that he carried a bowl with a spoon in one hand, a cup of water, and a pillow tucked under an arm. F/n got up, opened the door for him, and sat back down on the bed as he set the food and cup down on the table.

Placing the pillow on the bed, Mike said "Noticed you were missing one...I'll see you in the morning." He pivoted to leave.
"Wait! I need to tell you something," said f/n hopefully.

Mike paused for a moment. His bangs shielded his narrow eyes from f/n, who was unable to discern what he was thinking. He exhaled.

It would only be a few moments. Erwin could wait a little longer.

He sat by f/n, and looked at her expectantly. Mike's neatly trimmed beard framed his unmoving lips.

After a moment, f/n spoke up. "I just wanted to thank you for helping me back in my home...I don't think I ever thanked earlier and I–uh, w–well I probably would have been killed."
"...You're welcome...I'm sorry about...back in Room 20," he rumbled softly. "Erwin is...well...Erwin is how he is, but he is not a cruel man, I can assure you."
"Ahh, it doesn't matter, I guess. I'm fine," lied f/n, shrugging off the topic. "So...how well do you know him?" She grabbed the food from the table, sat back on the bed, and began eating her soup to give Mike a chance to speak.

"...I've known him since our Training Corps days when we were just cadets, so very well. Though he's still hard to read at times, even for me," admitted Mike.

            F/n continued eating and sat silently, waiting for Mike to elaborate more, but instead he just wordlessly sustained his gaze on her. Feeling awkward once more, she finished the last few drops of the soup and reached over to her water.

"Well, thank you for these...Oh, and the pillow! Heh...I don't need to keep wasting your time," she said, chuckling nervously.
"No time was wasted," said Mike frankly.

F/n smiled at his remark.

He felt his heart jump slightly in his chest, but his face gave nothing away. He took the spoon and empty bowl from f/n's hands and stood up to leave, feeling confused by his internal reaction toward f/n.

He spoke. "I will be by early tomorrow morning to wake you up."
"All right...Mike...good night."
"Good night...f/n."

            F/n took another sip of her water and rested her head on the pillow as Mike closed her cell door and left.

For the "strongest man in the Survey Corps," he's not very forthcoming in conversations, she thought, but admitted to herself that someone worse could have been handling her.

            F/n hoped that tomorrow would go over more smoothly than this day had been. She turned to her side and eventually fell asleep.

---

            Mike reached the second floor, where Erwin's office was located. He knocked at the door.

"Yes?" called out the voice of the Squad Leader.
"It's me," answered Mike.
"Come in. Close the door behind you."

Mike Zacharias entered the room. Erwin sat at his desk, filling out the formal request for Darius Zackley. A few lit candles and neat stacks of paper were lined up beside him, like little makeshift fences. Erwin looked up from his work, but carried on moving his quill across the page.

Mike approached the desk and sat in the chair across from his friend, crossing a leg over a knee.

"You didn't have to talk to f/n like that. Calling her despicable," gently scolded Mike.
"You know why I said–"
"I could figure out why," bluntly stated Mike with a sharp sniff afterwards.

Erwin stopped writing, but continued looking at the piece of paper in front of him. "I didn't actually call her despicable, but rather she chose a path that was...In any case, that woman herself is far from it. The lifestyle...the fact that some people feel they need to live that way...that is what's truly saddening and despicable. I believe we can both agree f/n is someone that deserves better."

            Mike rubbed at his beard thoughtfully, gazing off to the distance. "Yeah, well...whatever it is you're dragging her into, I think you can trust her."
Erwin cocked up an eyebrow. "Oh? ...And what about you?"
Mike gestured with a questioning open palm. "I'm not the one making the schemes, Erwin." He then stood up, helping himself to a glass of Erwin's whiskey at a nearby table. "...But yes, she seems trustworthy to me too...She is, well..."

There were many adjectives Mike could say about f/n. He gave thought to her for a few seconds and replied.


"She is headstrong..." Mike then looked expectantly at his comrade. "Anyway, are you going to make me do all the talking this time or are you ever going to tell me exactly what the hell is going on?"

"In a few moments. I just need to finish this for Zackley. Then I'll give you the entire rundown. It doesn't look like I need to tell you to make yourself comfortable," teased Erwin, gesturing to Mike's glass with his quill.

            The bearded soldier gave a boyish smirk before downing the rest of his whiskey in one stinging gulp. "You're going to have a lot to explain to Commander Shadis tomorrow, Erwin."

Chapter Text

            The gentle snores of Mike's comrades hummed through the air of the barracks as the tall soldier rubbed the sleep away from his eyes. He awoke much earlier than when the others were due to.

            He lay still in his bed as he thought about the dealings he was tasked with for the day. He had to bring f/n in early to meet Keith Shadis, the Commander of the Survey Corps. And because Erwin was also meeting Darius Zackley with Shadis later today, Mike had to be the one to stay behind, checking on f/n and making sure she didn't wander.

Babysitting duty was not Mike's ideal day.

            He did appreciate how laidback she seemed to be, quite the opposite of someone like Hanji, a fellow spectacled soldier of the Survey Corps. Mike was fairly tolerant of the different quirks of others, particularly since he has one himself, but even he needed a respite from her excitement every now and then.

            Today, however, was not a day of rest. Mike sighed as he left the warmth of his bed. He quietly rummaged through his personal trunk and grabbed his uniform and a clean shirt.

            After he changed in the communal bathroom and tidied up his bed, he exited the barracks and into the courtyard. The fresh morning air entered his nostrils, cooling and inviting. He breathed in deeply as he made his way over to f/n's room in the main building's basement.

            When Mike reached her cell door, he found that f/n was already awake and sitting up on her bed. She was staring and holding onto her cloak, almost in a trance. Mike cleared his throat to reveal his presence, breaking f/n out of her reverie.

"Oh, morning..." She looked at him briefly, but continued softly rubbing her fingers on the cloak. It still had a few small bloodstains on it from the previous day.

            Mike entered the cell, remembering his offer to f/n to wash it.

"I'll get that cleaned today, if you still wish," he offered once more.
"You don't–" began f/n, but her speech faltered. "...Yes, I would appreciate that. I'll leave it on the table. You can get it when you're ready."

            Mike couldn't help but notice the faint scent of the Underground still lingered on f/n as he stood by her.

"There's an extra room where you can bathe on the second floor. It's usually meant for the Squad Leaders, but it should be fine for you to use," he offered.
"And if it's not, you can always blame it on Erwin," joked f/n softly.
Mike pursed his lips thoughtfully. "I suppose I could." He laughed through his nose shyly and stopped just as quickly. "In any case, it's early enough in the day that you don't have to worry about anyone else bothering you, if you're quick."
"As long as the water is cleaner than in the Underground, I'll make due."

            F/n stretched out her limbs as she came off the bed. As she gathered some clothes, she asked "What's the plan for the day?"

Mike led f/n into the corridor and the two climbed up the stairs as he spoke.

"I'll take you up to the fourth floor where you'll meet our Commander, Keith Shadis. Erwin will be there as well. Stay close to me. It's early enough that no one will see you."


---

            After Mike closed the bathroom door for her, f/n looked around and was surprised to see not a bathtub, but a shower. She had heard about them before, but no one in the Underground had the means to have one. She undressed herself and stepped into it.

F/n looked at the knobs curiously. She turned one of them that said 'hot,' but it did nothing. She tried it with the other 'cold' knob, but no water came out. F/n frowned to herself. She tried the hot water knob again, but this time she pulled at it.

Scalding hot water rushed out of the showerhead above her and she yelped in surprise and pain. F/n immediately pushed the knob to stop the water flow.

            She sighed heavily. She knew about many of the different aspects of life up above and yet she couldn't help but feel a little stupid over her shower struggle. It was almost like a different world. Embarrassed, f/n wrapped herself in the towel Mike got for her and barely opened the bathroom door.

"Mike?" she whispered in a meek voice, "We don't have showers in the Underground...so I'm having a bit of trouble figuring this out."

            Mike took notice of her towel. He closed his eyes, mentally preparing himself for a second, entered the bathroom, and headed straight for the shower, without trying to look at her. F/n stood back watching him as she tightly clutched her towel to her body. Her cheeks were warm and red, caused by both the hot water and her inner humiliation.

"You turn each knob to determine how warm or cold you want the water to be," he explained to her as he looked at the shower. "More heat comes when you turn this knob to the left, same with the cold on the other knob. Then you pull them out. They can still be turned and adjusted even then, so you can get a more comfortable temperature."

Mike demonstrated as he explained. When he turned on the water, he held out his hand to check the warmth.

"This should be good."

Amazed at the shower, f/n put her hand into the water as she stood closer to Mike. "It's perfect," she smiled, turning to Mike, "Thank yo–"

            F/n remembered she was only in a towel and took a few steps back from the soldier, who was trying his best to respect her privacy. "S-sorry to make you come in here. I just didn't want to burn my existence away, heh," f/n chuckled nervously.

            Mike nodded and began walking away. "It's just new to you...you're welcome."

Without another word, he left the room and closed the door behind him. He sighed to himself as he leaned against the door.

Inside the bathroom, f/n rubbed at her cheek and stepped into the warm running water.

            When she was finished, f/n put on clean clothing, a long peasant skirt, a white blouse, and a vest, and did her best to towel dry her hair as much as possible.

F/n gathered her old clothing, stood behind the door, and called out for Mike. She opened the door cautiously and saw the tall soldier standing nearby. He looked up at f/n as she stepped out into the hallway of the second floor. Mike discreetly took in her scent. He looked down and smiled to himself.

            It had been a long time since Mike had been around a woman this much, outside of other female soldiers. He had tried and failed a few times in his youth. Yet, as Mike grew older, he began to take his job as a soldier more seriously, preferring to keep relationships and the like to a minimum. The risk of death in the Survey Corps was so high, he never did make it a priority. But Mike was intrigued by f/n. Her scent had a fine, sweet quality to it, now pure and untainted. Once the Underground odor was washed away, her personal scent did not remind Mike of anything in particular; it was just simply her and he liked that.


---

"Enter," called a gritty voice from behind the door.

            Mike opened it for f/n and allowed her to enter first. After he closed the door, he saluted to the man standing before them.

            Commander Keith Shadis looked to be in his mid forties; his dark hair was thinning and he had intense, deep-set eyes.

F/n felt intimidated. Mike towered above her easily, but the Commander seemed to be an inch or so taller than even him.

Erwin sat among a cluster of chairs next to Shadis' desk. The blonde man stood up and guided f/n to one of the chairs as he greeted her. "Good morning, f/n. I hope you've slept well."

There he goes with the pleasantries again, she grumbled in her mind.

"It was all right. Thank you."
The Commander moved to his desk and shook her hand. "I am Commander Keith Shadis."
"Morning, sir," said f/n.

            Shadis sat in his chair and inspected a piece of paper. Mike took a seat next to f/n.

Shadis spoke up from the report. "So we're holding you refuge until this gets sorted out, huh?"
F/n felt puzzled at his choice of words. "Refuge? I–"
"There are fears that this Silas will find a way to get back at f/n," interrupted Erwin quickly.
Shadis frowned, "I'm sure f/n can speak for herself, Erwin."
"My apologies, Commander."

F/n briefly glanced at Erwin. She saw his eyes flicker at her quickly, like a lightning strike.

F/n cleared her throat and went along with it. "I was saying that yes, refuge is what I need. Silas has much influence in the Underground and elsewhere," she lied, "I'm afraid someone will retaliate against me on his behalf."
Shadis nodded. "My condolences for the event, f/n...but I must say it is highly unusual that the Military Police aren't taking care of you."
"They didn't want to keep f/n in the same building as the criminals responsible," explained Erwin.
Shadis retorted "Yes, but they have other outposts where she could–"
F/n cut him off. "With all due respect, Commander Shadis, Silas, with his followers, would have found me regardless. They would have expected me to be housed somewhere by the Military Police."

            Mike was mildly impressed at the way f/n was looking at Shadis. He was a formidable man and many of the young soldiers tried to avoid the Commander's gaze unless absolutely necessary. Mike spoke up.

"As you can see in my report, Commander, she pleaded to come with me and Erwin when she saw that we were Survey Corps."
"He saved me, so now I'm your responsibility," added f/n. "...If they hadn't found me, I would be another dead body rotting in the streets of the Underground." She held her gaze, knowing full well that her last sentence was at least the truth of the matter.

            Shadis sat quietly for a moment, thinking to himself. He stood up from his chair and nodded.

"All right...I still have a few reservations, and questions, about this situation," said Shadis emphatically while staring at Erwin in particular. "But I won't turn you away. The Survey Corps continues the fight for humanity, even if it means saving some from other humans."
"Thank you, Commander Shadis," stated f/n, "I owe the Survey Corps my life."

Erwin's lips gave way to a diminutive smile, barely noticeable. Mike sat still in the chair, wondering if her last statement was as sincere as it sounded or if she just said it to further convince Shadis. If it was sincere, Mike felt slightly flattered.

"Where did you have f/n sleep last night, Erwin?" asked Shadis.
"The lowest floor, in one of the cell rooms. It's best if she keeps a low profile, even from the other soldiers," suggested Erwin.
Shadis frowned once more, but nodded. "Understood...My apologies for your room situation, f/n, but even with that in mind, we typically do not allow civilians to be on Survey property. The barracks are for soldiers and all the Squad Leader rooms are being used. Are you, at the very least, comfortable?"
F/n shrugged her shoulders and smiled. "Comfortable enough. Really, the only thing I wish for is a window, but I'll make due."
Shadis managed a small chuckle, a rare occurrence. "If only I had the ability to–"

            Suddenly his office door opened enthusiastically, like a gale of wind forcing its way through a field. Mike and Erwin immediately stood up and surrounded f/n, trying to block the view of whomever walked in. A spectacled woman with red-brown hair tied in a ponytail charged in and saluted excitedly.

"Commander Shadis! Good morning! I hope–"
Shadis frowned more deeply than before. "Hanji! How many times do I have to tell you to knock first!?"
            Hanji put her hands up in apology, but continued walking toward his desk. "Sorry, sorry, Commander, I just wanted to ask–Oh, hello! Who are you, woman-that-Erwin-and-Mike-don't-want-me-to-see? Hi, I'm Hanji Zoë!"

            Hanji stretched out her hand in-between Erwin and Mike and waited for f/n to reciprocate. F/n apprehensively offered her hand and shook Hanji's, who had a firm, genuine grip.

Erwin shook his head, feeling beaten. He trusted Hanji, but did not feel the need for her to be involved in the situation.

"My name is f/n. It's lovely to meet you."
Hanji continued smiling at her. "Now, what's a beauty like you doing here? Are you one of us? Did you just get stationed here?"
"F/n is seeking sanctuary here for the time being," explained Shadis, "We're supposed to be keeping a low profile on her. Only the people in this room are to know of her which, because of...your eagerness, now includes you."
Hanji's excitable features melted away into a brief moment of seriousness. "Understood, Commander Shadis." She then smiled once more at f/n and said "Don't worry! Your secret is safe with me!"

            Shadis' eyes darted back to f/n and softened. He then addressed the room. "Well, all of you, I have some matters to attend to right away. Squad Leader Erwin and I have an important meeting later today and I must prepare for it until then. Erwin, we'll speak more of this afterwards. Hanji, whatever it is you wanted, can it wait?"
"Yes, sir."
"You're all dismissed."

            The soldiers saluted their Commander. As everyone turned to leave the room, Hanji placed an arm around f/n's shoulders.

"Have you eaten breakfast yet? You must be hungry!"
"She cannot go into the dining hall, Hanji," reminded Erwin firmly.
Hanji's eyes grew wide and pleading, like a child apologizing after being scolded. "I just heard the Commander's orders, Erwin! I know better. Right, Mike? You know I wouldn't forget?"

            Mike simply grunted in mild annoyance. He took Hanji's arm off of f/n's shoulders, which relieved f/n immensely.

"Fine," said Hanji, "I have to do some training anyway." She then playfully spoke to f/n in a not-so-subtle whisper. "These men want you all to themselves, don't they?"

            F/n felt not only her own embarrassment, but also the discomfort of the two men walking with her due to Hanji's joke. She left them in a state of unaware mirth.

F/n cleared her throat and tried to alleviate the situation. "So! If I cannot eat in the dining hall, where should I go?"

            Erwin looked out into the corridor to make sure the coast was clear before the three of them exited.

"Back to your room. We'll bring breakfast."
"Great," said f/n disappointedly.

---

            Erwin and Mike returned to f/n's room with a tray full of food to split between the three of them. Two rolled up parchments lay on the tray as well. F/n took this moment to scold the two soldiers.

"You two couldn't have prepared me first before meeting him?! I could have blown your cover!"
"But you didn't," reminded Erwin.
"How am I 'helping for the benefit of the Survey Corps' when you're not even telling your own Commander about this? Why did you lie to him?"
"F/n, do not worry about all the details. Certain precautions need to take place."

            She sighed, unsatisfied with Erwin's 'explanation.' She took a small bite of an apple on the tray and relished the taste of fruit that was not sabotaged by bruises.

"...Still, that's pretty ballsy of you, Erwin, for lack of a better term," admitted f/n.

            Erwin shrugged as he sternly consumed some bread with jam. He sat in the chair of f/n's room, while Mike sat beside her on the bed, silently drinking a small amount of milk. Mike had nearly choked on the liquid upon hearing the word 'ballsy.' Must have been an Underground term.

"About my room," opened f/n, unaware of Mike's reaction, "how do we know other people aren't going to come down here? Won't they see me?"
"These cells are hardly used, so there's no reason for anyone to come down here. We mainly deal with Titans. I hardly doubt they would fit down here," said Mike, the first time he spoke since the meeting with Shadis.
"Well...what about that spy you told me about, Erwin? Where is he being–"

            Erwin firmly set down a hand on the table, not quite slamming it, but enough to give a warning to f/n.

F/n's patience was being tested, but she relented, allowing herself to use the food to physically silence her tongue.

Erwin continued. "You and Mike will head out to the Stohess District, the eastern side of Wall Sina. That is where the main Lang Company building is located. That is where you will find the documents we need, in Arthur Lang's office."
"What are the documents exactly?"
"The documents need to prove that Lobov is attempting to settle suspicious matters and conspiring with the Lang Company. They may be letters, forms, maybe some sort of code. There may be talk about the Military Police, perhaps. Take whatever may be pertinent, even if you're not certain," said Erwin.

            He took hold of the two parchments on the tray and laid them out on the table. F/n and Mike stood up to look over. Both were maps, one of humanity's remaining territory behind the three walls and the other was a detailed layout of the Stohess District.

"Tonight, after Commander Shadis and I return from our meeting, you and Mike will head out under cover of darkness to Stohess. Bring camping supplies to create a small hidden base for yourselves outside the district. Tomorrow morning, scout out their main office and figure out what you need to know. The layout, who is working, plan out possible escape routes, etc. Mike, don't wear your uniform once you reach your camp."
"Yes, sir."
Erwin carried on. "After observing the area, do what you need to do for your disguises and wait it out. You will return to the Lang Company the same night, with Mike posing as a potential rich customer. I'll hand you plenty of money right before you depart. And f/n?"
F/n swallowed. "I'll do what I know." She sighed. This is what you agreed to do.

            Erwin placed a hand on f/n's shoulder in reassurance.

"Just do enough to get close to the documents...There should be some place in Arthur Lang's office with files and recent correspondence. The room is locked, so you will have to get the key from the foreman somehow...." Erwin then reached into his jacket pocket and procured a small vial with a dropper. "I didn't have this until now. A way to avoid going too far."
"Hanji?" inquired Mike, after he gave a quick sniff in Erwin's direction.
"Precisely."

He handed it to f/n. As she inspected it, she realized it was a barbiturate of some sort and immediately felt relieved. Just two drops in someone's drink would render them unconscious in a minute. F/n took the vial willingly.

Perhaps Erwin isn't as ruthless as I thought.

"What will we do until nightfall then?" asked f/n, still examining the vial.
Erwin answered, "You'll lie low here for now. Mike will bring you lunch later. Perhaps a few books. So you won't get bored...you can read, yes?"
F/n looked at Erwin with an incredulous expression and reminded him of the vial in her hands. "I'm reading this label just fine. So...yes."
"I didn't want to assume," said Erwin frankly. He watched as f/n put away the vial into her vest pocket. "Now that this is settled, please excuse me, both of you."

            As Erwin exited, f/n stared at the maps on the table. Sophia had explained a little bit of the walled world to her in the past, but not too much. Whenever she spoke to f/n, she mainly focused on the beauty of sky and the sun, never really bringing any attention to the political borders and its technicalities. It all looked like a bunch of lines and scribbles to her.

            F/n looked behind her. Mike was towering over her, as usual, and also looking at the two maps. He took the next twenty minutes pointing out key areas to her like where they would make their base, describing what certain areas were on the map, and giving f/n a rough idea of where the warehouse was in the Stohess District. Afterwards, Mike finished up and started rolling up the maps.

"Erwin must trust you a lot to carry on this mission alone with me," opened f/n, trying to start a new conversation with the soldier, "Are you also a Squad Leader like him?"
Mike shook his head and laughed through his nose. "No, Erwin is my Squad Leader. I'm, I suppose, his vice captain."
"Oh...I simply figured the so-called strongest soldier in the Survey Corps would also be one."
Mike shrugged. It's true he had the highest kill count of any other soldier. "It's everyone else that likes to point out that fact," he admitted.
"Ahh, but you just confessed it is a fact," teased f/n "so you know you could have a higher position than you do now."

            Mike stared at the woman before him. Even when he was being frank and truthful, she occasionally found something to tease, but not in a cruel or demeaning way. He sighed, looking down, and looked back up to give her a small, amused smirk. She smiled back.

"So why aren't you one?"
Mike just gave her a shrug. He was never one to climb the social ladder. Whenever the time came for him to become a Squad Leader, then that's when it would happen. For now, he was content following Erwin.

"Ok...in any case, I'm relieved that Erwin gave me this," said f/n, bringing attention back to the vial, "I suppose he's not as coldblooded as he seems."
"He gets that often...I have other tasks that need to get done before we leave tonight."
"Yes...Well, I would help you, but, you know." She gestured to her cell.

            He turned away for a moment ready to leave, remembered the tray now emptied of food, and awkwardly went back to grab it from the table. He noticed her folded-up cloak at the corner of the table. He held it underneath the tray so he could finally wash it.

"I'll return later with lunch and some books."
"Sounds good. Thank you, Mike."
Mike grunted once more and left her room. She smiled as his footsteps faded away.

            F/n found herself more and more curious about the man and his colleagues. She had seen such a serious side to them, but they were certainly a quirky bunch too. Particularly that Hanji.

I guess you have to be in order to fight the Titans so often. You're either brave or you're crazy. Or both.

At least she didn't have to worry about that. Mike's unwillingness to talk about their expeditions earlier made her wonder about the horrors she had only ever heard of.

It must be terrifying.

            F/n shook her head, reminding herself that she had her own issues to deal with. She stretched out her limbs and began to rummage through her few belongings to prepare for the night.