“Shit.” Reiner grimaced. They were almost back to the docks on the way to the Azumabito’s townhouse.
“What?” Mikasa glanced back from scanning the rooftops. "Did you miss a turn?"
“I got drunker than usual.” He looked through the windscreen at a street sign at the corner and slowed to turn. “I’m worried about Annie’s behaviour.”
Mikasa returned to watching the streets for any sign of danger. “She’s just being herself… callous. Toying with people.”
“I don’t think so. That’s the one. 104.” Reiner pulled to a stop in front of a house. It was the corner house and although it shared a wall with the houses along the block, it was huge. He whistled. “Holy. That’s a nice house. Your clan is loaded.”
Mikasa got out. “I should beat her up.”
“Not everything can be solved with violence.”
“A lot of things can.”
“Do you know how to clear a house?” Reiner pulled a rifle from the back of the auto.
“There’s no one here but us.” Mikasa said. “Can we just… put this aside for a bit?”
“That’s how you get killed.” Reiner scanned the house. No signs of forced entry.
“Alright.” He shouldered his rifle and stepped up to the front gate, unlatching it. The front yard was a small courtyard with a stone patio surrounded by a waist height wall. He watched the dark windows of the house cautiously but they were empty and devoid of movement. Walking right up to the front door was hair-raising for him but once he’d cut the angle down from the windows he felt better. He checked the door. It was locked. He took a deep breath and got out the key, unlocking it and flattened against the wall beside it, pushing it with the butt of his rifle so it swung open inward. He watched the dark room beyond, itching to bring his rifle up.
Mikasa put a steadying hand on his shoulder. “We can just go back to the boat if this is too much.” She stepped closer. “You’ve been getting more and more obsessive about watching everything since we got here. But if the door was locked, there’s not much likelihood there’s anyone in the house.”
He let out a breath. “I’m sorry.” He stared at the ground, ashamed.
Mikasa watched Reiner, baffled by his apology and his sudden air of defeat. “Why?”
"I can't be normal."
"It's fine. None of us are." She urged them both through the threshold of the house. Beyond was the entrance hall, dominated by a clean lined wooden staircase built with Marleyan precision. Past the stair was a hall with a number of doors. At the end of the hall was a kitchen. The furnishings were minimal, but she noticed a black lacquer cabinet along one wall. It was inset with mother of pearl and the decorations reminded her strongly of Lady Kiyomi’s mansion. But there was something else strangely familiar about the floor plan and the exposed beams.
She closed the door behind Reiner and as it latched shut, the feeling of the room changed.
Reiner was looking around him, baffled. He turned around, saw Mikasa. “Why are you crying Annie?”
“What?” Mikasa said. “Is this a joke?”
“No. That’s not right.” Reiner looked at his hands, then around himself. “What are you doing here Mikasa?”
Mikasa blinked. Eren had said during their debriefing after Reiner had kidnapped him, ‘Reiner’s got a problem, he loses his memory or something. Forgets who he is.’ “Are you okay Reiner?” She stepped towards him.
“Wait !” He scrambled back down the hall, a terrified, confused look on his face. “Stop! What are you doing here?”
“We’re in Odiha, in Marley.”
“How do you know about Marley?”
“We’re allied with you against Eren, now. I know about Marley.”
“Allied against Eren.” He wiped his face with his hand. “Okay. I’m doing something weird.” He got up. “Odiha in Marley.” He repeated, looking around himself. “Where are we?”
“It’s an Azumabito house in Odiha. The Azumabito from Hizuru.”
“Alright, yeah.” He kept moving down the hall. Mikasa followed. He ended up in the kitchen, looking around till he saw a table by the window. With shaking hands he picked up his rifle and put it on the table; then he unlatched his pistol and placed it beside the rifle. “Take them away. Do it now.” He staggered to the kitchen sink, opening the faucet. “I believe you. You’re an ally. But I could forget.”
Mikasa grabbed his weapons and walked down the hall, choosing a random room. It turned out to be a library. She laid them on a desk, after a hesitation, laid her rifle down as well. She closed the door after her.
Reiner was dumping ice from the ice box beside the stove into the kitchen sink as it filled. “Talk to me about where we are.”
“Odiha in Marley.” She repeated. “We spent the evening in the shopping district.”
“Don’t come near me. You’re an ally.” He repeated it like a mantra. “But there’s a part of me that doesn’t see you as safe. I might get violent.” He dropped his head over the sink, rubbing his eyes with a hand. “Mikasa’s an ally.” He muttered to himself.
Mikasa felt pain clench in her chest. She moved over to the phonograph. It was a more modern model with the horn inside the cabinet. She picked up the first record she saw and put it on. It was a goofy child’s song. It was too surreal. She switched it out for a waltz. “You got me a ring. We went to a soda shop, we had sodas and listened to music. Jean got booze and the others got really drunk. Armin got sick. You got pissed off at everyone. Pieck drove them home.”
“Jean, Armin. And… Pieck? Tell me that again. That can’t be right.”
“Jean, Annie, Connie, Armin and Pieck were drinking together tonight.”
“Jean, Armin, Pieck. Together. I’m missing something.” He took a deep breath and plunged his head into the ice water. A second later he came up for air, gasping.
Mikasa jumped a bit at the sudden movement.
“Shit.” He said, leaning over the sink again. His blond hair stuck to his face, now dark gold. His uniform shirt was soaked. He held out a hand to her. “Okay, I’m good.”
Mikasa watched him unbutton his shirt, drape it over a chair back then pull off his singlet. He open the drawers till he found a towel and started drying himself.
“What was that?”
He sat down heavily at the table. “It’s called ‘soldier’s heart.’ I get stuck in bad memories. I was in Trost.”
“Can I come near you?” She asked.
He nodded. “I know where I am now.” He glanced around the room. “There’s nothing here that’s going to take me back.”
She moved closer, touching his bare shoulders, feeling him shiver.
He caught her hand, pulling her down and catching the back of her neck in his other hand. He pulled her closer and kissed her. He was tentative, like he was testing something or unsure of something. She closed her eyes and slipped her hands behind his head, increasing the pressure and slipping her tongue over his lips and into his mouth.
Reiner pulled back, searching her face. “That’s crazy. You let me touch you like this.”
She frowned and pulled him back into the kiss.
He resisted and kissed her neck instead, then down to her shoulder.
She stopped him. “Are you sure?”
He closed his eyes. “You’re make me feel grounded. Touching you is. It’s making it all stop spinning in my head.”
Having something she could do to help emboldened her. She reached behind herself to unzip her dress, letting it fall. He stopped dead at that and looked baffled.
Her heart clenched; she watched him intently, waiting for a return of that horrible confusion. Instead, he offered her a heartbreakingly shy smile and wrapped his arms around her, returning to kissing down her throat. He urged her to sit and she did, and he continued to trail light kisses down her chest, over her breasts. He touched her with awe, like he was astounded it was happening at all. Every single touch was light and soft, all of his casual aggression gone as if it had never been.
It still set her on fire. She breathed out hard, feeling her own coiled aggression prodding her into acting. Push him down, possess him. But the thought of that helpless look returning muzzled her.
He knelt between her legs and and kissed the inside of her knee, moving steadily inward till he came to the crease between thigh and pelvis. She inhaled and slipped back a hair, and he looked up at her questioningly. She had no experience with this, but she was curious so she smiled back.
He kissed her one last time at the base of her stomach and then gave her a teasing lick, probing the knot at the root of her.
She gasped and wriggled, grabbing his head and biting her lower lip. Within seconds she was moaning, her fingers flexing a little too hard in his hair. She saw him wince and she immediately relaxed her grip. He found the rhythm that made her moans deepen and kept at it, slipping some fingers into her slick sex and massaging her from the inside out with firm strokes.
Mikasa lifted her legs, draping them over his shoulders so she could rock her hips with his rhythm. She gripped the chair seat, the wood cutting into her fingers painfully as her breath became ragged. He stroked the chord inside her, till she felt like she was going to burst. Then she did, her legs pulling him in, toes curling, tearing at his hair and screaming something even she couldn’t make out.
She fell limp and felt unbearably vulnerable, completely exposed to him; She hadn’t realized how much she could hide herself in the athleticism of sex. Still the passivity of it left her with simmering frustration; she missed his intense physicality. Although now she wondered how much of that Reiner had been a part he was playing. For her.
He continued to stroke and kiss her lightly, pulling up more spidery tingles of pleasure.
“Okay enough.” She caught his hands and tipped forward out of the chair, urging him onto his back. “If you’re going to make love to me like I’m glass, then at least let me be on top.”
She was terrified of seeing the return of that empty, confused look, so she kept herself in check, going as gently as she could. By the time she felt his fingers convulse in her hair and his breath heaving against her neck, her entire body was slick with sweat from the effort of keeping herself contained. She shivered, cold now that she was no longer moving.
He held her but there was no unnatural heat coming off him, just a normal amount of human warmth. She held him back, gently, gently… and tried to convey without words how much she did not want to see him in pain.
“You were bringing me back. Even before the ice water. You break the pattern. You’re the biggest difference between then and now.” He said after a moment.
She kissed him and stood; she picked up her dress and slipped it back on. She went to the library, pulled a blanket from the couch and brought it back to him, draping it over his shoulders and hugging him from behind. “I’m going to make something to eat.”
She looked through the cupboards and decided on a can with a bowl of soup on it. She showed it to Reiner.
“It’s chicken consommé. A thin chicken soup. It’s made ready to eat. Like a ration.”
She found a can opener and poured the contents into a pan. She looked at the stove top. Then searched for matches.
Reiner got up and turned on the burner. Flames leapt up under the pan. “It has an automatic spark.”
She nodded, brought the soup to a simmer and added a few spices she identified by smell. When it was done, Mikasa slid a bowl of soup in front of Reiner.
Reiner smiled. “You would have made a good mother.” He put his forearm on the table and bent over the bowl, focused on getting the food down.
Mikasa sat down next to him with her own bowl of soup. “Maybe in another life.”
They ate quietly till Reiner finished and Mikasa stopped with him. “You were in Trost.” She said. It was hard to get the words out, she worried she might be hurting him. “Was that when… Marco died?”
“Yeah. But I don’t know what caused this.” He grimaced, pained. “That’s terrifying.”
“Not knowing?” Mikasa hesitated. “You said something about Annie crying.”
“Annie?” He looked surprised. “Usually I’m talking about Marco. Hmm. I was worried about her behaviour.” His pained expression deepened. “When I got back from Paradis, Pieck was there for me. She was the only person I could tell some… of what had happened. She helped me with my problem too. After the Tybur girl, we ended up together. We were careful. Zeke told us to be. But, I guess careful doesn’t work well with two shifters. She got pregnant. Marley found out. They forced a termination on her. And they told us our relationship was seditious.”
Mikasa gasped in horror. “Why?”
“I don’t know. It didn’t violate any laws or rules. The only thing I can think of is that they decided it was a threat to our absolute loyalty to Marley. Sometimes they made arbitrary decisions like that. We had names picked out. We were going to get married secretly. We were stupid. Young. And I still thought I could have something of my own that Marley couldn’t touch. I didn’t want Pieck to be hurt anymore so I just… went back to being a zealot. Pushed her away. And then I pushed that part of me away.” Reiner rubbed his eyes. “Marley didn’t care about my behaviour after that. It was the one thing Porco figured out quicker than me. Follow orders, act like a beast when you’re not. Or maybe he was more inclined to begin with. And now Annie’s pushing that part of herself away too. Because of what I did to her in Trost.”
“She talked to me about you doing this. You’re making a lot of assumptions and they all seem to end with the same conclusion ‘I’m to blame.’ It’s not like it’s unusual for someone with a stick up their ass to lose it when they drink. I saw it enough at those stupid Military Socials in Paradis. And she lived four years paralyzed in near complete isolation in a crystal? Getting hammered and going a little too wild after all that doesn’t seem that unexpected. That was your first thought wasn’t it? Just stupid drunken shenanigans.”
Reiner stirred the remains of his soup listlessly. “Yeah.”
“Anyway. It’s not like she’s forcing herself on people or going out and killing them for fun.” Mikasa tapped the surface of the table. “At least not now.”
“Killing for fun?” Reiner shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“When she wiped out squad Levi, I had to help retrieve the bodies. What we could find anyway.” Mikasa shrugged. “I understand. It’s war. We’ve fought together now for the same goal. But there are some images that you do not forget. She’s very creative.”
“I gave the order at Trost.”
“I know. But you never struck me as enjoying any of it.”
“You don’t understand.” Reiner dropped his spoon in his bowl. “During Warrior training I would catch her torturing insects or killing small animals when we were kids. I think she was building some sort of detachment so she could survive doing what she had to. I thought it was gross at the time; I was thinking of turning her in for sedition.” Reiner laughed ruefully. “I was a real piece of work. I was certain that I would be killing the equivalent of mindless titans when I got to Paradis. People so immoral, they might as well not have minds. That was what Marley told me. I didn’t even really comprehend what I had done till six months in when they made that announcement to reclaim Wall Maria.” Reiner pushed his bowl away. “Do you know what she did at Trost after I gave the order to kill Marco? She cried. And she went around apologizing to all the dead bodies. What I ordered her to do broke her out of that place she was hiding in. And she was hiding. She had no choice in any of this. No one in her life has done anything but treat her like a tool. Even I did.” Reiner closed his eyes, head bowed. “I regret that. And it doesn’t matter that I was doing it under orders or if they would have killed me and my family. I did that. She’s not callous. And she’s not enjoying anything she’s doing. She’s struggling with being self-destructive. Like me.”
“She also said she was using you to make the decisions. She knew you were… unwell.”
Reiner shook his head. “She shouldn’t think that. Don’t put that on her.”
“She said it. Not me.” Mikasa frowned. “I get it. Annie isn’t as much of a bitch as I thought she was, but I’m not giving her a heart-to-heart. And I’m not going to be your way of defending her without having to talk to her. That’s cowardly.”
Reiner chuckled wanly. “You’re pretty insightful.”
“I am aware of the drama around me, I just never got involved.” Mikasa got up, picking up her soup bowl then his. “And look where my singular focus has gotten us.” She put the dishes in the sink and started to rinse them.
“I’m exhausted.” Reiner said, standing. “We should get some sleep. I’m sorry you had to see that.”
“I’m sorry you had to go through it. But I’m glad you didn’t tell me to go away. You let me in.” Mikasa started to put the dishes back in the cupboard. “Eren must be going through something like this, right? Something horrible.”
“I can’t imagine anyone making the decision to genocide an entire world lightly.”
“He never showed me any of it.”
“He probably wanted to be strong for you.”
“What about you?”
“I’m weak.” Reiner looked up at her from under his brows. “I wish I had Eren’s resolve. I’d have been able to stop this if I had. Anyway. It’s almost midnight and we’ll have to be at the boat before dawn.”
They walked in silence back to the stair. “This house is like a mix of Hizuru and Marley.” Mikasa said after a moment. She paused before a wedding photo. “The Azumabito lord was married to a Marleyan.”
Mikasa lifted it from the wall. The handsome Azumabito man wore the traditional dress of her clan but his wife was a pretty, smiling blonde and wore a traditional Marleyan wedding dress, lace on the shoulder over a wasp waisted bodice. “They didn’t have time to take their photos?”
“It’s Fall. Might be a summer home.” Reiner said, he took the photo from her hands, putting it back on the wall. “He looks like you. Could be your father.”
“My father was Eldian. But I don’t have any pictures of them.” Mikasa touched the photos on the wall as they continued to ascend. “They had kids.” She stopped before a photo of three children. A little girl in a shift with a bow in her hair, a smaller little girl and boy both in shorts. They were playing marbles. The two smaller ones squabbling over an opalescent shooter while their elder sister shook a finger at them. She pulled the photo down. “Do you think they’ll survive?”
Reiner looked back. “They’re lucky, their father controls part of a shipyard. They probably got on a boat. Or maybe unlucky. If they don’t get killed in the Rumbling, they’ll starve to death in a couple months. But they won’t have any chance if we don’t stop Eren.”
She clutched the photo to her chest. She started to cry. “Why did I help him?”
Reiner turned back and took the photo from her, putting it back on the wall. “Let’s get some sleep. We owe it to those we can save.”
As they ascended the stairs the children grew older. Mikasa looked at each photo—happy faces, sometimes squabbling, but the three of them always together—as she passed them; taken in the front courtyard or out in the city, most with the mountains of Odiha behind them. “They grew up in this house.”
She felt Reiner’s hand on her shoulder. “Stop doing this to yourself.” He knelt, catching her under her knees and shoulders and lifted.
She was too exhausted to resist being carried, a deep painful weight had fallen over her. She rested her head against his shoulder and he slipped his hand against the side of her head, making it impossible for her to continue to look at the pictures. He stared steadily forward as he climbed.
“How do you keep going?” She asked, faintly surprised at his stamina.
“We can still make things better.” He replied.
Mikasa woke. The guest room bed was empty aside from her. For a moment she stared at where Reiner had been, fear rising. Then she heard sounds from the main floor. She wrapped herself in a sheet and bolted down.
Reiner was in the kitchen, tending a frying pan on the gas stove top. The air was full of steam and the rich smell of greasy, salty food. “Good, you’re up. I’m frying the eggs and bacon I found in the ice box. Coffee’s on the table.”
She sat down and poured herself a cup. She sat, sipping it. After a few sips she winced, her stomach ached; the acid of the coffee making her slightly nauseous.
“It’s probably too strong.” He waved at a pitcher on the table. “Milk’ll help. Eating something will help too.”
He put a plate down in front of her along with some cutlery. She picked up a fork, then waited for him to join her.
He sat down, throwing the towel he’d had on his shoulder down beside his plate. Without preamble he started to eat, shovelling it in with the efficiency of a soldier.
Watching him eat made her appetite return and after a few bites her stomach settled.
They ate together. Reiner managed seconds, which pleased her. And in the quiet morning, weak light angling in from dawn through the kitchen window, surrounded by someone else’s domesticity, Mikasa felt almost normal. Like they were just getting up and ready for a normal day.
She finished and handed him her plate.
He scraped and cleaned them both, putting them back. And then got his great coat from a hook by the kitchen entrance. “Get dressed. Where did you put my rifle?”
The warm bubble of normalcy burst at the mention of his rifle. Back to business. She stood.
“In the library. First door on the left.” She moved over to her bag she'd deposited in the kitchen and pulled out her ODM uniform, pulling it on with swift movements.
He came back with the rifles and his pistol. He handed her her rifle, shouldered his and re-holstered his pistol. “Lets go.”
She had to run a bit to keep up with him as he moved out. He had the ability to move very quickly without looking like he was doing more than walking.
The light had strengthened, the sky was turning a grey blue over the ocean. Reiner locked the door behind her and walked into the courtyard.
“Oh.” Reiner looked up and back at the house. “It’s the roofline. It’s the same type of roofline as the houses in Trost. That’s what did it.” Reiner chuckled. “I better add that to my list.”
“I have a list of things that cause it. Most times I’m able to catch it and keep myself grounded. Pieck helped trained me to manage it and hide it. This one blindsided me tho.”
“Hide it. Let me guess, they would have executed you.”
“I guess I don’t have to worry about that anymore.” Reiner’s brow drew. “That’s strange, it’s not having much of an affect on me this morning.”
“That was their solution to everything. Execution. You’re so blasé about it too.”
“What do you do to a defective part? You replace it.” He looked out at the docks. “We’re close enough to walk over. Hmm.” He moved down to the courtyard gate and opened it, waiting for her to join him. Mikasa stepped out beside him and glanced back at the house. It would be flattened by noon.
Reiner caught her hand. “Mr. and Mrs. Braun of 104 Dockside Lane, Odiha. They had three children. Two girls, one boy. He was a businessman; she was a teacher. A respectable, ordinary middle class life.” Reiner smiled at her, ushering her through the gate. “Sounds nice, huh?” He closed the gate behind them. “A nice fantasy.”
Mikasa said nothing as they walked down the cobble street towards the back of the Azumabito’s hanger. They passed the Hizuru engineers, who waved, and walked down the dock to the ship’s stair. The stair was long and they walked it in silence. When they got to the top Mikasa turned to him. “You going to go talk to her?”
“I have to find Armin. See how he’s doing. But yes, I will talk to her.”
Mikasa noticed Reiner was not looking at her again; there was also a certain agitation to his movements.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Just nervous.”
She felt herself holding her breath and let it out. “I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah.” He strode off, moving with purpose towards the helm.
Mikasa leaned on the gunwale, watching the waves, listening to the seagulls cry overhead, then looking up across the harbour to Odiha. In the morning light the white stone work and white washed brick gleamed, like clouds.
She felt someone settle in beside her.
“It’s so quiet. And beautiful.” Pieck said, she’d folded her arms over the gunwale, leaning her head on her hands. “It’s been there over a century. You can tell because of the stonework.”
“And in a couple hours it’ll be gone.”
“Like it never was.” Pieck smiled sadly. “I’m waiting for Jean to get up. He’s… not feeling well.”
“Hangover?” Mikasa turned around, folding her arms over her chest. “I’m sorry.”
“Taking things away from you.”
“Do you mean the town or…? If you mean Reiner. I appreciate the sentiment but no. Marley took him away from me.” Pieck nodded to herself. “So he told you.”
Pieck leaned back on the gunwale, looking up at the sky. “There are some things that happen that just can’t be undone. You’ll never stop loving that person, but it’s too painful to be with them anymore.”
Mikasa watched her, feeling she’d walked into the middle of some other couple’s tragedy. It made her uncomfortable, so she looked out at the ocean again.
“I think Annie’s right. You are a strange match, you know that? But he’s certainly risen to the challenge. You’re quite fierce. Just be careful. He’s a very gentle person at heart.” Pieck tilted her head, smiling at her. “I think you are too, though.”
Reiner found Armin at the helm, working with Hange and Onyakopon to prepare the equipment. After nodding at the others he’d crouched next to Armin, who was busy coiling rope. “How you feeling?”
“I’m fine. Like I said, I was sober by morning. No hangover.”
“What happened with you and…?”
“She passed out in her cabin. Alone. I went back to mine.”
“I gave you stupid advice. I’m sorry.”
Armin shook his head, a small smile on his lips. “Four years on the front lines. There isn’t one of us who has a clue what that’s like.”
“Levi. Hange.” Reiner said.
“Maybe. Anyway. Pieck told me that Annie’s decided she’s going to go to Hizuru.”
Armin sighed. “It’s not like anything was declared official. As far as I know we’re just… fooling around. She doesn’t owe me anything.” Armin shook his head. “She’s always had this wall around her. I never knew you could create one while touching someone at the same time.”
Reiner watched the ocean waves; the constant movement was soothing somehow. “I know what Annie is doing. Because I’ve done it. She’s pushing you away because she thinks there’s nothing in her that’s worth having. She doesn’t want to hurt you. She just doesn’t know how to be with you.”
“Yeah, she thinks she’s a monster. Well so am I.” Armin finished coiling the rope in his hands and tied it in a deft knot. “She was drunk. I was drunk. Connie was drunk. I’ve got better things to worry about. If she wants me I’m here. I’ll be here till she’s ready.” He set it aside in the pile they’d been building. “If you want to tell her something, tell her we don’t have much time left, so there’s no point running from what she wants. And she’s not going to change how I feel by running. She’s just going to waste time. Can you pass the next rope?” He pointed.
“Yessir.” Reiner smiled and got up, fetching the rope and handing it to Armin. “I got something else I need to do.”
“I think we’re fine here without you.” Armin glanced up at Hange who was helping Onyakopon pack the parachutes.
Reiner nodded and set off down the deck, moving from the helm to the bow; scanning the bridge windows.
Eventually he saw a flash of gold in his peripheral vision. He angled his head so he could see better without being obvious he was looking.
Annie had emerged onto the deck. She had her hoodie up and her hands in her front pocket as she slunk towards the bow. Ah the walk of shame.
He started to move towards the gunwale, angling towards her subtly. She didn’t notice for a few steps, then he saw her flinch and dart towards the next door along the boat deck. He turned on his heel and sprinted towards the door, managing to get there first.
He dodged the jab and blocked her takedown, getting her back before realizing. He had her by the waist from behind and she looked up at him, furious.
“Shit, sorry.” He let her go.
“You got lucky. And I wasn’t about to crack your skull on the deck by throwing you over my shoulder.” She shook out her hair, put her hood back up and started to walk off.
Reiner grimaced. “Wait. I didn’t mean to start this like that. I heard you’re going to Hizuru and I wanted to tell you something. Annie, please stop.”
She hesitated, half turned.
“I regret leaving you behind. On Paradis.”
She shrugged. “Pieck told me that Zeke beat the crap out of you and threatened you with execution.”
“I should have gone over his head. I could have—“
“Reiner, stop.” Annie turned around the whole way. “You aren’t responsible.”
They stared at each other. After a moment Annie shrugged again and started to turn.
He continued. “I’m not done. I hate that you were left behind. I wanted to protect you both and I hated that you were treated like a strategic asset not a person.”
“We all were. It’s not like I’m special.”
“I’m worried you’re making the same mistakes I did.”
Annie closed her eyes, she stood stock still, pain radiated off of her. She didn’t move to leave so he kept going. “You want something, but you don’t think you deserve it. So you push it away.”
“He should hate me.” Annie bowed her head, pushing her hands deeper into her front pocket. Her shoulders started to shake.
“He told me you’re wasting your time running. Because it’s not going to change how he feels.” He stepped forward and pulled her into a hug. He felt her grab the front of his jacket, leaning into his stomach, shaking harder. She was a full head shorter than Mikasa. So small, a little ball of muscle and anger. Reminded him a lot of Gabi, somehow. “Mikasa told me what you said. But you’re wrong about this. Someone needs to take responsibility for what happened to you Annie. Because you were treated like shit. And Marley won’t and Zeke won’t, so I will. I should never have forced you to go to Paradis, I should never have made you take Marco’s gear. You should have been given so much more than you got. I don’t have the right to ask. But will you let me do that for you at least?”
“Maybe.” She held on harder. Eventually she backed off, rubbing her wet eyes, still hiding in her hood.
“Also you’ve probably confused Connie. Good luck trying to explain any of this to him. You might need to draw some pictures.”
Annie snorted. Then she winced, hiding her head in her hands. “Oh my god. Why did I fucking do that?”
“Yes.” Reiner nodded in sympathy. “I’ve had mornings like this as well.”
“But that’s you.” She grimaced. “You… are…” She waved her hands at him. “You.”
“You make that sound like an insult.”
She put her hand over her mouth. “I’m not drinking again. Ever.”
“It’s okay. Getting drunk. Doing stupid shit.” Reiner grinned, remembering what Mikasa had said. “It just makes you a normal girl.”
Annie shook her head. “You’re still crazy, you know that?”
“If you’d been treated better, that’s what you would have been Annie. A normal girl.” Reiner leaned close. “He’s at the helm helping pack the chutes.”
“What do I say?”
“‘I’m sorry I put my tongue down another man’s—‘
“Agh!” Annie pressed her hands to her head. “Stop!”
Reiner laughed. “Rejoice. You have something ordinary to regret. You could also go with, ‘I didn’t mean to drive you away by hitting on—‘”
“Shut up.” She slapped his shoulder and tried for the back of his head. “Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.”
He lifted his hands to ward off her blows. “A much fun as it is to torture you… stop being a coward and go talk to him.”
She went still for a long moment. And then she grabbed her hood, pulled it down and darted toward the helm. Reiner watched her lurk at the corner for a bit, then finally work up the nerve to turn it and disappear from view.
Reiner watched where she’d disappeared for a moment then turned back toward the bow. Mikasa still stood, watching the sea.
She stood very still as she watched, poised like a cat. He remembered when he first saw her during the cadet induction, even then there had been something about her that made him take notice of her.
He paused for a long moment, trying to burn the beautiful, graceful image of her into his mind. She somehow must have sensed him looking at her, and she turned, smiling.
His heart lifted for a split second, then his stomach sank. “Time to end this,” he muttered to himself.
Mikasa knew something was wrong the moment Reiner did not return her smile. He stalked toward her and it was like a storm was gathering around him.
“What’s wrong.” She asked when he got to her.
He didn’t answer. Instead he pulled off his ring. “I’m returing this to Odiha.” He moved to throw it.
Mikasa caught his hand, panic rose inside her. “Why?”
“You didn’t let me finish before you said yes. I was going to tell you. Just one day. Then it’s over.”
“You said I could decide—“
“No. You can’t. I’m not letting you.”
“You’re not letting me chose you? Why?”
“No matter what I got to be something other than a soldier once. Can’t we just leave it at that? Please, Mikasa?” His gold eyes were anguished, he tried to pull her hand out of his grip.
“No.” She repeated.
His expression darkened. He braced himself and pulled her off balance, into his center of gravity and he turned sharply. She didn’t have time to let go so she followed, sent in a stumbling circle around him. He tossed the ring to his left hand and threw it.
Mikasa didn’t even remember herself jumping; all she knew is that she snatched the ring out of the air and landed with perfect balance in a crouch on the gunwale of the ship.
Reiner gave her a death glare for thwarting him. And she could feel the atmosphere around him thicken, crackling with sudden fury. For a moment she thought he might send her flying off the gunwale with the ring. She gripped it harder.
Then he sneered in disgust and turned on his heel.
“You’re terrifying when you’re angry, Braun!” She called after him.
“So are you, you fucking Ackerman.”
“Do you two have to be so loud?”
Mikasa turned with a snarl. “What’s it to you?”
Jean and Pieck stood on deck a few paces away, Pieck’s arm through Jean’s as if they were on a stroll. Jean had a hat pulled low over his eyes, his hand pressed his head, wincing. “What horrible vibes.”
“Lover’s quarrel.” Pieck said to Jean. “Let’s leave them to it.”
Jean ushered Pieck back around. She waved over her shoulder. “Don’t kill each other.”
She ignored them, jumping onto the deck and hitting it running. She managed to get to Reiner before he turned around the end of the Bridge to walk to the helm. She grabbed his lapels and slammed him up against the Bridge. She felt him tense to retaliate but it never came, instead he just breathed hard and glared at her. “Keep the ring. It’s not part of the tradition. It’s meaningless.”
Mikasa shoved her left hand in his face, showing him her ring. “You said this meant you are mine.”
“I lied. This is your first lesson. Men lie.”
“You don’t get to run away from me.”
“What are you going to do? Keep me chained in your basement?”
Mikasa glared at him. She pulled the vial out of her pocket and threw it with one smooth, quick motion.
He tried to grab for it, but he wasn’t near as agile as she was. It sailed over the deck and landed some meters distant in the ocean with a tiny ‘plop.’ Reiner leaned over the gunwale, looking stricken. He turned to her. “What are you doing, you idiot?”
“I’m not taking it.”
“You’ve made that decision after three fucking days? You don’t even have a fucking clue who I am or what I’ve done.”
Mikasa groaned. “You’re so much like Eren sometimes, you know that? You take everything on yourself.”
“I should have told you no when you came to my cabin. Every step after that I’ve fucked up even more.” Reiner grabbed her upper arm, pulling her close. She winced, his grip was tight enough to feel like his fingers were grinding against bone. “Even if you set aside every horrible thing I’ve done, I’m a mess. Defective. I don’t even know how to be normal anymore. I’ve been training or fighting since I was six. There’s nothing left to me but this stupid war. I’m not going to get away from it, ever. Last night was proof enough of that.”
“Oh God, shut up!” Jean shouted at them, several meters down the deck. “We’re trying to take a constitutional. Enjoying our last few minutes with eachother before we have to suit up and get on the flying death trap. Like sensible people. Unlike you two idiots getting into a wrestling match over who gets to sacrifice more. Playing some fucked up game of relationship chicken! And stop running around the deck. Choose a lane!”
Mikasa and Reiner watched the pair retreat again. She turned back. “You let me in.” Mikasa levelled a glare at him, keeping her voice low. “That means you’re stuck with me.”
“Stuck with you? Aren’t you going to get the old Eren back?” Reiner retorted, also whisper shouting.
She closed her eyes. “The old Eren isn’t coming back.” Her heart broke saying it. “He killed children.”
“Yeah, so have I.”
“Have you ever intentionally targeted children?”
Reiner went silent. He continued after a moment. “I never had civilian targets again after Paradis. If Marley’d made me do that again, then I would have taken the Armour from them. With a bullet.” Reiner closed his eyes. “I might have been able to stop this in Libertto. But I would have had to kill Falco and a an apartment block full of families to do it. I just sat there and did nothing. And they died anyway. That resolve… the ability to do anything to win. All of this would be over if I could have done that.”
“You were weak.” Mikasa said.
“And Eren is strong. You got it.”
“You are weak because you let people in and you won’t target kids. Then I’m weak too. It’s funny.” Mikasa laughed ruefully. “Eren was always obsessed with being stronger than me. Well now he is.”
“If you end up pregnant, there’s no coming back from that. It’s pretty much the end of you and Eren. I mean it might not be as much of a relationship-ender as turning into a giant devil slug and laying waste to the country-side but it’s up there. Are you really ready to let go of him that much?”
“What about you?” Mikasa said. “You think you should be thrown out because you have a problem?” Mikasa leaned in close. “Is that your thinking or Marley’s?”
She stared him down; he stared back with the same ferocity.
Shouts from the docks filtered up. The Hizuru engineers waved at them from the hanger.
He turned away from her. “We’re out of time. Pieck can get you more.”
“I’m not taking it.” Mikasa said as she pushed off the gunwale. “You just want to dispose of defective equipment without regrets.” She walked backwards, throwing her arms wide. “Marley’s gone, Reiner. You decide if you want to be so loyal to a failed state that you still see yourself through its eyes even when it’s dead and gone.”
The Scouts and Pieck stood in a line by the flying boat. They were suited up and waiting for a final inspection before getting on the flying boat. Mikasa stood at the end, glaring at the concrete in front of her. Reiner frowned at her, then shook his head.
Reiner stopped before Jean. He checked the fit of Jean’s straps, looking for anything too loose or tight. He was good. “Sensible people, huh?” He leaned close, “Kirchein! HOW IS YOUR HEAD?”
Jean winced and shielded his ears with his hands. Reiner caught his shoulders in both hands, grabbed his jacket fabric and, without preamble, pulled him in for a loud kiss. When he was done he grabbed Jean’s face. “If you survive this drop, I’ll treat you to the Braun experience. And since I am such a gentleman, I’ll even give you a reach-around.”
There was dead silence. Then Connie screeched with laughter, slapping his thighs. He pointed at Jean, who was beat red and cringing. “You asked for it!”
Pieck shook her head beside him. Even Armin had dropped that look of quiet misery, his expression lightening for a moment. “No you will not!” Mikasa called from the back of the line.
Connie laughed even harder at that.
Jean straightened, he was still blushing but grinning. He grabbed Reiner’s hand in his fist. “Those could be your last words, Reiner.”
Reiner gripped his hand back and slapped his shoulder. He moved over to Connie. And started to check the shorter man’s harness. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine. Pieck gave me something. Worked well.”
“I meant… you and Armin and Annie…”
“Yeah that was weird.”
“Are you’re okay?”
Connie looked at him like he was dumb. “I just said, it worked. No hangover.”
“That’s not what…” Reiner trailed off. “You know what, forget it.” He slapped Connie’s shoulder and moved on down the line to Pieck
Reiner inspected her straps. “Feels weird to check you. You probably should be checking me instead.” Reiner chuckled.
She looked at him with sad eyes, then threw her arms around his chest.
“Pieck.” He warned. “We have to get ready.”
“Just let me stay like this for a little bit.” She laid her head against his chest. “This is the first time I’ve felt safe being lead into battle by you.”
“Safe? This is the most dangerous mission we’ve ever been on.”
“Yeah. But every other time it felt like I was following you directly into a blast zone.”
“Pieck.” Reiner caught her face, brushing away her tears with his thumb. He had never considered what it felt like to be led by him. “I’m sorry.” There was a weight of unsaid things between them. “But Jean is not happy and Mikasa is visibly making plans to murder you.”
She sighed and let him go. “Thank you.”
She just smiled.
He shook his head in confusion and moved on. Armin.
Armin was suited up perfectly. Reiner checked everything anyway. Till he heard Armin take a small, shocked breath.
He glanced up. Annie was standing a little aways from them. She had her ODMG gear on and was carrying a chute.
“So you decided not to chicken out.” Connie said as Annie moved past him towards Armin along the line.
Annie hesitated, then flushed, grabbed the side of her hood closest to Connie to pull it down and half ran to Armin.
Jean slapped Connie. “Leave her alone. You should be ashamed after what you did.”
“The hell did I do?”
“Taking advantage of a drunk girl.”
“I was drunk too!”
“That’s no excuse.”
“That’s different. It’s something girls do.”
“Would you two fucking idiots shut up?” Annie shouted at Jean and Connie. “Never talk about it again and I won’t kill both of you.” She turned back to Armin, leaning into him. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Armin snorted softly, shaking his head and settling his arm over her chest and stroking the side of her head. “It’s okay. Just don’t do it again. And don’t run.”
“Okay.” Reiner said and moved along again. He got to Levi. Tested his straps. All in order. He nodded. “Captain.”
Levi nodded back, “Captain.” He put out his uninjured hand to shake and Reiner caught it. “Thanks for taking care of the brats.” Levi said.
“No, I’m sure it was.” Levi gave his hand a final shake and let it go.
Finally, Mikasa. Reiner had felt her watching him this entire time. He breathed out hard as he stepped in front of her. She was standing still for inspection but seemed to vibrate with anxious energy.
She moved to hug him. “Please don’t shut me out.” She whispered.
Reiner caught her collar in his hand, his forearm across her chest. His other hand fisted in her shirt front. It was a set up for a collar choke but he didn’t tighten it; just used it to control her from getting too close. “There’ll be time enough for that after, Soldier.”
He leaned close to her ear. “You are a fucking savage, Ackerman.” He let go of her jacket to pat her down. He found the ring in her back pocket. “Once again, you’ve cornered me.” He let her go, ducking a bit so he could put his hands uncomfortably close to her face. He slipped the ring back on. “Since you’ve decided you’re going to let go… I’ve got to choose to live.”