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Live and Let Go

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“Yelena said Eren knew.”

Reiner glanced up, staring at Onyakopon, his brow drawn. Onyakopon wasn’t looking at him, he wasn’t looking at anyone. He knew the impact of his words.

Everyone in the room—an austere officers’ mess dominated by a long table, ringed with benches along three walls and a galley along the fourth, now repurposed as an impromptu strategy room, it’s only luxury was that it only stank of burnt oil, coal and tar, it didn’t reek of it—went still, it was already silent but there had been motions, rustles, coughing, sighs. Now there was nothing but the sound of the wind and the waves, the creek of metal and the ever-present churn of the engines.

Reiner’s eyes flicked to Mikasa, sitting by herself on a bench by the wall. Despite her quiet stoicism, he knew this would have the most intimate impact on her. He’d already figured out that Armin had started to detach the Eren currently destroying the world from the Eren whom he loved. As far as Reiner could tell, Mikasa hadn’t. He suspected she might not be able to. The pale, dark haired girl made no outward sign of discomfort, but her eyes got glassier and somehow, without moving, she crumpled further into herself. Reiner grimaced and tightened his folded arms around his chest, putting pressure against the sudden bloom of pain. He wasn’t injured. But he hurt looking at her hurting. Reiner even as a child always been perceptive about the people around him; he took care to observe them and understand their thinking and feeling. When he was younger he had used this skill to judge their loyalty to Marley. Preparing lists of suspected traitors. As an adult looking back, it filled him with shame, but he retained the habit of observation. He watched all of the people around him covertly. But out of all of them her pain affected him the most. He hadn’t yet had the time to figure out why.

Onyakopon cleared his throat and Reiner’s eyes snapped back to him, watching the dark-skinned man struggle under the sudden and intense attention of the others. He swallowed, gathered himself and ploughed on. “Eren knew that a limited rumbling to destroy the allied fleet would cripple every country including Marley. Yelena told him. She explained the economic devastation it would cause. No one would be able to attack Paradis for decades; it’s likely they would have sued for peace. Eren didn’t have to launch an attack on the entirety of the Marleyan continent or…” Onyakopon trailed off, the words unsaid. But it hung in the air. _My homeland._

“And the instant they rebuilt they would be back on us like wolves on a lame sheep.” Jean stood with enough force to overturn his chair, his hands balled into fists at his side, his longish brunet hair sliding into face.

Onyakopon didn’t answer immediately. He was never needlessly confrontational. But Reiner could see his anger in the tightness of his shoulders and the clench of his jaw. Justified anger. After a moment he spoke in the same low, hushed voice. “Why do my people have to bear the cost of a war between two nations that have both subjugated us? When this is over, you will have a home to go back to.”

Jean had no answer and no way to oppose what Onyakopon said. So the two men stood, staring at the table. Both straining in their own misery. Jean was right. Onyakopon was right. And it didn’t matter.

Jean started to cry, helpless stupid sobs. Hange, who was carefully feeding small sips of broth to Levi in the corner of the room winced at the sound and looked back. The misery of everyone around her had started to darken her usually cheerful expression. Onyakopon’s shoulders lost their tension as he half turned away from Jean. Reiner could read his thoughts: Jean’s just a kid. And he was still processing killing his fellow trainees just a day ago. Reiner watched Pieck touch the side of Jean’s arm, her soft eyes tender. Jean sat, getting control of himself, wiping his face, while she ran her hand over his shoulders.

Reiner looked to the rest of the pale and exhausted faces around the table. Armin had caught Annie’s hand in his own sometime during the almost confrontation, Annie was still crying, tears trailing down her cheeks. Everyone at the table had been crying, so much that no one even bothered to try and hide it anymore. Like being in a trench and pissing yourself when the shelling started, it just happened. Reflex. There was no point feeling embarrassed.

Well. He hadn’t cried. The circumstance was so surreal. But he deserved it. He hated that others had been dragged into his punishment but he couldn’t get into the headspace of grief for his own loss. Because he deserved it. His homeland. His hometown. His family. Wiped out by the hand of vengeance. The hand of a man he had wronged.

Reiner closed his eyes. Wishing, not for the first time, that Eren had killed only him during the strike on his hometown. But, of course, that was never an option. He pushed himself off the wall he’d been steadfastly leaning on for the last hour.

Without acknowledging the tension or the terse words, Reiner walked to the table and unrolled one of the maps, using glasses to hold down the corners. “Where did she say he’s going next?”

“Fort Salta.” Onyakopon said simply. “We have to intercept Eren at Fort Salta.”

Reiner grunted. “The aerial boat base. Makes sense. But…” His brow drew, he tapped his finger on the location of the base at the southern of the Marleyan continent. “Why now?”

Onyakopon blinked. Hange looked back again. “What?”

“Well.” Reiner picked up a balled-up rations wrapper and put it at the northern end of the continent. “Port Acrifa. That’s where the united fleet was. He had to move his wall of titans from here…” He tapped the huge island of paradise off the east coast and a forth of the way down. “To here.” He pointed to Port Acrifa at the northernmost tip of Marley. “With the element of surprise and the fact that the Titans can swim deep underwater to avoid detection… It would have made more sense to split off his forces, send them covertly by ocean around the north eastern coast, through the straights, and attack both the allied fleet and Fort Salta at as close to the same time as possible.”

“You’re right.” Armin angled his head to look at the upside-down continent of Marley.

“By the time he marches his titans from here,” Reiner pointed at the northern tip of Marley, “to here,” he pointed to the mountains at the southern border. “Most of the planes will have been evacuated. He can destroy the base itself thus limiting their refueling and repair options, but while they’re in the air they’ll be his biggest threat.”

“Aside from us.” Hange half-whispered.

“Hm.” Reiner wasn’t sold on that. “I would have split the forces and hit Fort Salta as soon as possible. Particularly with time to prepare.”

“Then why didn’t he?” Jean asked.

Connie hopped over from the bench against the wall, seeming to find this a more interesting topic than whatever had absorbed his thoughts up to this point. “Maybe he can’t do that? You know, split off groups of Titans?”

“It’s possible.” Armin shook his head. “Probably not a good idea to assume Eren has limitations in commanding the Colossal army. It’s complex enough to reorganize the wall titans from a line to a formation. And get them swimming in some kind of order. Also he would have had to be able to move separate groups of titans to get Wall Rose, Maria and Sheena to unite into one formation.”

“You Warriors got the drop on the brat.” Levi’s voice was raspy, like he was speaking through a fist full of thorns. He had propped himself up so he could be heard, but his arms shook under his own weight. “He wasn’t expecting you to take the attack to him. He had to hit the fleet first and fast. Or he wasn’t smart enough to figure it out in the first place.”
Reiner’s mouth opened, momentarily stunned. He glanced over to Pieck. The pain and fatigue on her features lifted for the briefest of moments. She caught his gaze. And a small smile brightened her eyes. All that hell. Losing Porco. _It wasn’t for nothing._

“What you did might have saved Fort Salta.” Hange finished Levi’s thought.

Beside Pieck Jean winced and hid his face in his hands. Reiner could read that too. Regret. Guilt. All of them—Mikasa, Jean, Connie and Armin—had fought to stop Reiner and the Warriors from preventing Eren completing his plan, not really knowing what that plan was. But Reiner knew Connie had lost his trust in Eren sometime before and Armin… was no longer seeing Eren the same way either. It was Jean and Mikasa who were suffering the most.

Pieck had stopped touching Jean, her features troubled by an inner conflict. After a moment she turned to him and clasped her own small hands over his larger ones, urging them down. She smiled at him. One of her heart stopping bittersweet smiles. Jean froze and then, comically, blushed.

Reiner glanced back down at the map, giving them space. Jean had always struck him as too gentle. He’d hidden it behind arrogance and selfishness… at least initially. But Reiner suspected the real reason was he had trouble stomaching what was expected of him as a soldier. And Pieck… Pieck was too good for war. Not that she wasn’t a strong, perceptive soldier and a formidable titan; but she was too kind sometimes. Too loving. It had made sense when Reiner learned that she had joined the Warrior program to save her father’s life. Pieck was also the youngest of them, almost the same age as Jean. It seemed fitting that they find some solace in each other, whatever it lead.

Reiner looked at Mikasa, who still stared at the table, mind a million miles away. She’d be the one affected most by this revelation. He could imagine the same regret and guilt Jean felt, betrayal. And…

Slowly, with great hesitation, she looked up and looked at him. Her dark eyes widened when she noticed him watching her, unshed tears glistening. Both she and Pieck shared an ever-present air of sadness; with Pieck it was the wistful notes of a tragic love song. With Mikasa, when her eyes met his Reiner felt her pain scrape through him, leaving him raw and bleeding.

He wanted to walk over to her and… do something… something… He started towards her before stopping himself and dropping his fists to the table. Her eyes flicked towards the motion then up to his face again and this time there was something else there, something hungry.
Reiner froze. Shit. His fingers jerked to the grip of his pistol strapped to this thigh, he forced his hand away. Using a gun on a ship risked a ricochet, hurting a bystander, damage to the hull or the engine. His second thought was to run. All of his nightmares flooded back; her savaging him with razor swords, butchering him like an animal. No. That was a memory. His gut seized and he had to breath deep to keep his mind in motion.

She isn’t armed, he forced himself to acknowledge. With her unarmed he had the advantage of size and strength. If she came at him, he could… he could possibly defend himself…
And then she did something Reiner could not have predicted even with all of his careful observations.

Still watching him her lips parted, she bit her lower lip, and turned away sharply, a faint blush on her cheeks.

Reiner knew what it was. He knew. Any other girl in a more amenable situation and he would have simply walked over and chatted her up. But he also knew it was impossible. Mikasa was a weapon and felt nothing for anyone but her master. He cleared his throat and turned his attention back to the map, suddenly finding the southern coastline of Marley deeply intriguing.

“Do you think it’s possible they evacuated the planes at Fort Salta?” Pieck asked, leaning forward, hope lighting her eyes.

“They likely would have been telegraphed the situation the moment our forces returned from Paradis.” Reiner rubbed his chin. “But, our chain of command is in shambles. Hm. I don’t know if they’d be smart enough to act on that.”

“We should figure out how to contact them.” Hange said; Levi was asleep now, his head in her lap. The strain of moving and talking tiring him out easily.

“If we can. Right now, there’s no connection between us and Fort Salta. They might have to find us. If they’re still in play. So we go to Odiha, get the plane airborne, then we intercept Eren at Fort Salta.”

“I don’t suppose we’re ready to talk about our plan once we get to him?” Annie asked. “Are we just going to talk to him? What makes—“

“Annie.” Reiner gave her a warning look. He understood her urgency. He also understood the powder keg they were all sitting on. “We talk to him. For now that’s the plan.” He glanced at Hange. “Is there anything more you need from me… Commander?”

“No, that’s good, War Chief.” Hange smiled as she tossed his rank right back at him, a wry challenge. “You’re so formal.”

“Yes...ma’a…I mean, yes, Hange.”

“I think it’s time for everyone to get some rest. It’s been quite an enlightening day. And exhausting. Come on you.” Hange shook Levi awake gently and eased him up to his feet. “Lets get you to bed.” Gently and without words Hange supported him as he stepped through the door in the bulkhead and into the hallway behind.

Reiner felt someone next to him, he turned to see Onyakopon looking at him with earnest intensity. Onyakopon caught Reiner’s hand in both of his. “I want to thank you, War Chief.” The man whispered, he leaned closer to keep what he said between the two of them. “Maybe its selfish but I know you were never a part of Marley’s wars of aggression outside of Paradis. And you fought there to prevent this outcome. To protect the world. My homeland.” He gripped Reiner’s hand harder. “No matter Marley’s lies, you fought for the right reasons. I can see that here, now.”

Reiner took a breath to deny Onyakopon’s gratitude then stopped. Denying, pushing it away, would just be selfish. “Thank you.” He said instead. “Glad to serve.”

Onyakopon nodded, then stepped towards the exit.

Watching him go, for the first time Reiner felt the absence of Marley’s chain of command with razor sharp clarity. There was no one to salute, no one to defer to, no ones orders to fulfill. No one to ignore his strategic advice. No one left in charge but him. Marley’s final War Chief: a bastard half-breed imposter and failure, who got his titan because of a lie. A War Chief who didn’t care that a citizen of a client state had just said treason against the Party.

Reiner snorted softly, which got him a look from Jean. Well. What better War Chief for a Marley that had been smashed flat by the product of its own malice? Reiner grinned and now Jean was staring at him with open concern. “I can think treason.” Reiner explained to him. “I can think treason now.”

“Wow.” Jean stared at him. “Please stop smiling like that.”

####

Mikasa watched Hange leave. Then Onyakopon stopped to speak to Reiner and she heard the gratitude in the man’s voice, even if she couldn’t make out the meaning of the words. He was thanking Reiner for his service. Mikasa’s breath caught. It was almost beyond belief, the man who had killed Marco, orphaned her a second time and was responsible for her home town being overrun with mindless titans. But then… she watched Onyakopon, her own blind loyalty had led her to assist Eren in his genocidal plan that would lead to the destruction of Onyakopon’s homeland.

She squeezed her eyes closed, folding her hands over her stomach. There was no denying it now. Eren knew he had other options and he chose to rain hell on his enemies in the most extreme way possible. And she… aided Eren in committing an atrocity. It made her sick, scared and sick. If she’d only…

She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up. Armin’s blue eyes gazed down at her an expression of concern on his face. “We didn’t know.”

“We didn’t want to know.” Mikasa countered.

Armin sighed. “I’m more guilty of that than you. I suspected. But I blinded myself to… It doesn’t matter.” He shook his head. “Mikasa, there’s no point blaming yourself. You just did what you always do. You protected Eren. It’s his responsibility what he did with that.”

Armin hesitated, looking at her with pained sympathy. “I know that doesn’t help.”

Annie had drifted over to Armin’s side, slipping her hand into his. Armin gazed at Annie as he continued “We’ve all done things we regret. But, if we accept that, we can forgive too. Maybe.”

Mikasa nodded.

“Get some sleep.” Armin patted her shoulder then dropped his hand and turned to leave with Annie.

Jean and Pieck remained. She watched Pieck’s thin, elegant hand run slow circles over Jeans back, her other hand tucked delicately in her lap. Pieck was feminine and beautiful in a way Mikasa could never hope to match. She balled her fists, feeling anger rise inside her. Sensing she was being looked at Pieck glanced up, caught Mikasa’s gaze and smiled. Her sad eyes made Mikasa feel so ashamed she dropped her gaze, blushing.

Mikasa knew the feeling from watching Historia fawn over Eren. She had always thought she was better at this than Eren, more able to recognize affection.
She’d known Jean liked her. That’s why she’d…

Mikasa closed her eyes, stopping the thought. People thought she was emotionless, but the truth was her emotions were so immense she could never figure out how to express them. Or even how to break them down small enough to really understand them.

Eren had asked her what he meant to her. She had answered that he was family. The moment the answer left her lips she had regretted it, but she thought… she’d have time to chip away at what she felt and make sense of it.

And then Eren went far away. And when she saw him again, he’d already murdered children and families on his way to whatever hell he was seeking.
It haunted her. What if she’d said something different? The thought that she had lost Eren because she had no ability… to speak her mind, to see herself as a woman who could… do what Pieck was doing. To touch gently, too soothe. To be something other than Eren’s terrifying bodyguard. To have what Eren had needed in that moment.

On the long trip by cart to the coast, she’d asked Jean to walk with her and as the others marched on ahead she’d silently worked up the courage.

She wanted to explain what had happened with Eren, to Jean, instead she’d blurted out. “Do you want me?”

And Jean had stared at her in shock, his mouth working soundlessly. When he finally could speak he’d told her “yes” in a strangled voice.

She’d stepped towards him and he stepped back holding his hands up between them.

“No.” He raked his brown hair from his face, looking panicked. “Why do this now Mikasa? When everything is so fucking complicated? Why not when we were cadets?”
Mikasa had stopped in her tracks, pain blooming in her like an underwater eruption, silent and too deep to see. “I don’t—“

“Look no, no. Don’t get hurt.” He’d held his hands towards her then dropped them. “I can’t.”

“Why?” The sound that came out of her startled her, it was high and desperate.

He pressed his hand to his face. “The only reason why you’re saying this is because Eren… Eren isn’t here and… Eren is… a giant monster… that’s going to kill everything outside of the island.” Jean’s face tightened in pain, his eyes longing. “I’ve wanted you since I first saw you. But not like this. It’s just too… too much. I don’t want to hurt you. Please don’t be hurt but I can’t even think about it right now.”

Jean’s words echoed in her head as Mikasa watched Pieck and Jean drift into the hall as per Hange’s suggestion of sleep. Pieck was being kind, Mikasa knew rationally. She’d seen no indication of interest between them. And she had no right to judge either of them if they were interested. But she also felt like Eren had marked her as his even as he tore her heart out. His actions would remain a wall between her and everyone around her. Even if Armin told her it wasn’t her fault, she knew they all judged her because she would not even entertain the possibility that he might have to die to end the destruction. She was responsible for him and what he was doing because she couldn’t end him. And she knew it. Her loyalty came first. She knew that even if they didn’t say it, they didn’t push it, they hated her for it. Even Jean. Maybe even Armin. They were all running away from her. All of them.

Mikasa clenched her hand into a fist. She felt an itch. Her soldier’s instincts put her on guard instantly, knowing she was being watched and she glanced up. Her mind and body froze.
Reiner was staring at her.

Connie and Reiner sat at that end of the table, a bottle of golden-copper booze from the ship’s stores beside Reiner. It wasn’t wine, it was hard liquor. A Marleyan whiskey. Reiner watched her over the lip of his glass, his golden eyes sharp and unrelenting. Like a bird of prey’s eyes.

She shivered. The sound of the armoured titan’s footsteps echoed in her memory, the sight of him 50 feet tall, steam billowing from his jaw, eyes glowing like fire, the sheer size and weight of him, somehow even more threatening than the Collosal.

Most people thought Mikasa was fearless. But she did fear. She feared _him_. She feared how indestructible he was, the armoured titan was impervious to her blades, it was only Hange’s invention of the dangerous and unweildy explosive thunder spear that had given Mikasa any tactical advantage over Reiner in battle. And then the man in the titan… Reiner was nigh indestructible. And smart. An opponent that could absorb her violence and then strike with cunning? Mikasa shivered. It left her feeling exposed. The shiver became a wave of heat that prickled over her skin and her pelvis felt heavy and achy. It wasn’t just fear she felt.Somehow the distance she felt between herself and everyone else faded when she looked at him.

Without taking his gaze off her, Reiner poured himself and Connie another drink. His was about four times as much as Connie’s.

“Hey.” Connie whined. “Thas not fair. You gave yourself more”

“I need more.” Reiner’s eyebrow arched as he smirked over the glass.

Mikasa blushed.

“I’m cutting you off. This isn’t beer. I don’t want you puking all over the mess.”

“Ah… I don’t wanna think anymore.” Connie lay his arm and shoulder on the table and leaned his head against them, swirling the whiskey in the glass. “Give me something that’ll stop me thinking.”

Reiner’s eyes flicked away from her to Connie and she crumpled a bit, relieved. He looked like he was considering Connie’s request. “Go ask the Hizuru engineers. If you’re nice they might set you up.”

Connie lurched up. “Really?”

“Yeah, check the boiler-room.” Reiner jerked his thumb towards the engines. “One of them has to be on watch.”

Connie stumbled toward the door, reorientated himself carefully when he got to the bulkhead and then managed to shove himself through a space three times wider than he was. Mikasa snorted.

“You just had two shots Connie.” Reiner called after him.

“What are you sending him to get?” Mikasa asked, concern for Connie overwhelming her nerves.

“They might have opium. Or morphine.” Reiner responded. “It’s up to him if he wants it.”

“Isn’t that addictive?” Mikasa asked.

Reiner shrugged. “Uh. Yeah. Does it really matter?”

“Yes.” Mikasa said, her brows drawing in anger.

Reiner stood up, draining his glass, setting it in the mess sink, and picking up the bottle. “You’re talking like he has a future Mikasa.” He moved towards the exit.

“What do you mean?” She stood up to follow him, grabbing his arm.

He looked down at her hand and then up at her. She flinched, pulling her hand back. “Connie is going to die. Jean is going to die. And you won’t kill Eren. So most likely we’re all going to die.”

She felt anger crash through her, reflexively she snapped her fist into his jaw.

Reiner staggered back, sloshing some booze on the floor from the bottle. She saw him crouch, ready to fight, his eyes sizing her up. Then he stood upright, straightened his jacket and wiped the blood from his mouth.

She felt horror at what she’d done. “Reiner—“

“It’s just the truth Mikasa.” He glared at her, rubbing his sore jaw. “I don’t judge you for it. Being loyal to a monster? How could I?” He turned away.

She watched him walk down the hall towards the berths. Smoke from his healing mouth trailed behind him. “If it’s any consolation, I’m square with dying.”

After a moment, without understanding why, she followed him. Did she want to apologize? She didn’t know, she just couldn’t stay in the empty room with her own thoughts echoing in her skull.

####

Reiner spat the taste of blood out of his mouth and tongued his loose teeth. They’d already started to firm up in his jaw as his titan healing did its work. When the pain echoed to nothing, he took another swig. It would take half the bottle to start to dull his thinking; maybe three quarters, the whole thing, before his thoughts would be quiet enough for him to sleep.

He never woke up drunk of course, always sober. And the drunk didn’t last long enough either, sometimes he’d wake up sober from a nightmare in the middle of the night. A nightmare that almost always featured the woman who was currently trailing him to his berth for some reason known only to her.

It took every ounce of willpower to keep himself from turning to face off against her. Goddamn, Mikasa had no clue how scary she was.

Reiner stopped at his berth, opening the door. He heard Mikasa stop a few paces behind him. He turned to look at her. “What are you doing? You’re following me to my cabin.”
She stared at him with eyes that held an ocean of feeling but no apparent comprehension.

“Mikasa. You’re following a man… to his bedroom.” Reiner spelled it out. Islanders were different than mainlanders. Any woman from the mainland would know the implications intimately because Marley was—had been, he corrected—strongly natalist with very conservative values. Islanders, being trapped in a cage, had constant population pressure, they had looser morals, tended to hedonism and let their women enter the armed forces. Reiner took another swig. Yes he was definitely drunk enough to be reciting Marleyan propaganda to himself.

A blush bloomed on Mikasa’s features as she finally registered the implications of what he’d said and she looked like she was about to piss herself in sudden fear. Reiner almost laughed at her. Almost. He wasn’t an asshole. “Go.” He turned and gestured down the hall with the bottle.

When he looked back, she was crying. He stared at her. “This is dirty pool.”

She wiped her tears with the heels of her hand, her sobs both uncontrolled and completely silent.

“Alright.” He grabbed her by the neck, pulling her inside. “Get in here before someone sees and thinks I’ve done something horrible to you.” He eyed her resentfully. “Like punching you.” Closing his cabin door as quietly as he could behind her, he stepped further inside. They’d given him an officer’s cabin. It was the peak of ship-board luxury, even had a desk and a chair beside a bed a foot wider than a window sill. Still stank of oil, coal and tar tho. He unstrapped his pistol, hesitating before he laid it on the desk. Normally he’d store it somewhere near him on the bed, but he wanted it closer for now. Just in case. He turned back to her as he shrugged out of his jacket.

She had shriveled into herself even more, leaning back against his door, head down, her hand clutching at her throat. She looked like shit. Tired. Pale. Sad.

He pulled a glass out of the small cabinet over the desk and poured her a couple fingers worth out of pity.

He caught her wrist and pulled her to sit on his bunk, pushing the drink in her hand. He took the seat from his small desk and sat down backwards beside her. “Just so you know I reserve the right to ravish you at any point while you’re in here.”

Instead of laughing at his crude joke, Mikasa blushed harder and gulped the booze.

“Hey, hey…” He caught her hand before she drained it. “Slow down.”

She looked at him and then let her hand with the glass drop to her thigh.

Reiner leaned over the chair’s backrest and scrutinized the grey metal floor for rust as he rubbed the short hair at the back of his neck. “Mikasa…”
“Would you… ravish me?” She set the glass on the desk.

He blinked at her. Took a swig of whiskey. “What?” They stared at each other in one of the most palpably awkward moments of Reiner’s life. “What did you say?”

“Show me.” She began to unbutton her blouse. He watched her, stunned, until it fell open, exposing her bra. She started to unbutton it as well.

“Wait stop. It was a joke!” He jumped up, tripping on the chair. By the time he regained his balance the sides of her bra gaped open and she sat exposed before him, looking up with a bashful, yearning need. Her breasts bounced with her sharp, shallow breaths, pale, sweetly round, the nipples tight from the sudden cold air.

Reiner stared. The speed of his desire took his breath away. Yet still at the back of his mind, doubt scratched: she’s distracting me, she’s trying to kill me. “Show you what?” Reiner asked, then shook his head sharply. “No.” He sat beside her on the bed and started to pull her blouse closed. “This too much.”

“Jean said the same thing…” Mikasa let out a sound of strangled frustration. “What am I doing wrong?”

Reiner stared at her as he picked up the edge of her shirt to button it back up. “Jean. You did this with Jean?”

“I asked him if he wanted me.”

“Mikasa.” Reiner finished rebuttoning her shirt and sat back. He took another good long swig out of the bottle. He didn’t want to deal with Mikasa’s brand new form of crazy sober. “This isn’t something you can just charge into. That works when you need to make split decisions in battle. But not so good for this. You can’t push people too fast.”

Mikasa absorbed what he said in silence, shedding more silent tears.

He cupped her cheek in his hand, his blunt fingers buried in her thick black hair, brushing her tears away with his thumb. “What is this really about?”

She leaned into his touch, trembling and again he saw the flash of hunger in her eyes. With her in this state, it didn’t terrify him; it excited him. Her lips looked moist; they were plump and red from crying. Even though every alarm bell in his head rang as he leaned in, kissing her, he was too drunk to catch hold of his actions.

At first she didn’t respond and he was left nipping and licking her lips with no reciprocation, then she started to imitate and it sent a thrill through him. He slipped his tongue over her lips and into her mouth and she mimicked him. He started to push her down into the bed as the kiss became more aggressive and intimate. This was feeling less and less like a distraction or a seduction to get him off guard; more and more like the real thing. Mikasa did want to learn, and she was charging into it, shedding uncertainty as she went.

Just as he was about to make good on his joke, Reiner pulled back, panting. Mikasa watched him with lidded eyes, her pupils dilated. “What is this really about?” He asked again.
Instead of answering, she moved in for another kiss.

He put his hand over her mouth. “No. I want an answer first.” He picked himself off the bed and righted the chair, pushing it back, further from temptation. He sat down, folding his arms over his chest.

Mikasa stared at him with the same raw hunger that had unnerved him at first. Well. It still did. His fingers itched for the pistol behind him. He resisted.

“He…” Mikasa began, then cringed, pressing her fingers against her lips.

“Go on.” Reiner smiled. “Think of it as a military debriefing. Let’s get the facts. Who’s he? What did he do?”

“Eren.” Mikasa pulled her knees up to her chest and brought the glass to her lips for a sip. “He asked me what I meant to him.”

“What did you say?” Reiner took a slow drink from the bottle.

“I told him he was family.”

He choked, spitting a haze of whiskey all over the floor but managing not to snort it through his nose. It still burned his sinuses. He coughed, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand while Mikasa glared at him, affronted. “Really?” Reiner said. Eren must have grown up while Reiner wasn’t around, grown up and clued in. And then got shot down. Poor man, Reiner thought. He didn’t say it, though.

“Yes.” Mikasa replied curtly.

“Mikasa I saw how jealous you got when another girl so much as looked in Eren’s direction.”

She didn’t answer, just took another sip.

Reiner plowed on. “Were you scared you couldn’t be what he was asking of you? Or you didn’t know how to?” He stopped, considering. “So you’re trying to fix your mistake with Eren. First with Jean and now with me.”

Her eyes widened, looking at him like she’d never seen him before. She quickly drained her glass and stood, slamming it down on his desk.

“Oh. Now you’re leaving. Now that all the cards are on the table.” Reiner goaded her, grinning. For some reason her presence made more of his old self come through. The mean, cunning, crass boy that he’d been.

She glared at him and turned toward the door, reaching for the handle. He stood and slid his hands over her waist till he’d caught her and pulled her close. He was startled at how small she was, he had to lean forward to whisper in her ear. “Stop.” He understood now. The man she loved had loved her back… and she had been unable to fight through her own timidity to claim him. And then he went further away from her than she could ever travel, tearing her heart in half, and leaving her thinking she only had herself to blame. Reiner kissed her temple, rocking her in his arms. “If it makes you feel better… scream against me.”

She turned around slowly, her gaze inscrutable but not angry.

“You didn’t do anything wrong.” Reiner said, cupping her face in his hands, crouching to eye level. “But the last time we were this close you were trying to cut my head off. And you did just attack me. Forgive my confusion.”

“I’m sorry.” She blushed, then turned her head, catching his wrist in her hand. She kissed his palm and then she bit his thumb, hard. He winced as a mischievous look passed over her features, followed by the same intense hunger. So close to the murderous rage he’d seen in her eyes when she’d severed his arm and mangled the other when he revealed himself a traitor. “You think I was here to kill you?”

He shook his head. His body reacting to her proximity and that look… It burned through him. He leaned forward to kiss her, refusing to be cowed. Just like then. He’d charged her and her flying off Wall Maria. Fight back. Keep moving.

She met his kiss eagerly and if she had been learning before, she was aiming for mastery now, grabbing his neck, pulling him against her, her tongue pushing his lips open before he moved to do it to her.

They moved clumsily to his bunk without breaking the kiss. She pushed him down till he was kneeling on the bunk and stepped back. “Take your shirt off.” She ordered.

Reiner grinned. Mikasa had always been bossy. Although she’d never directed it at him before. “Technically I outrank you, Private First Class.” He retorted but complied, unbuttoning his grey-green army shirt and shrugging out of it. He had just enough time to drape it over his chair before she’d grabbed the hem of his singlet and would have torn it off. He caught her hands, straining against her strength to stop her. “It’s my only one.” He kissed her lightly on the lips and moved back. She came after him and he put up a hand. “Uhh. Wait. Right there. You want this you wait.” He had to establish some control over her or she might just kill(well, incapacitate) him in her passion. Or damage something he needed. He caught the hem of his singlet and began to slowly bring it up over his stomach. Her eyes watched the progress like a guard dog watching a piece of meat held just out of reach; her entire body vibrating with chained lust.

The sordid part of Reiner reveled in this. Having power over her; over something she needed… and could only get from him. The same part that, as a kid, had compiled secret lists of all the treasonous behaviour—or suspected treasonous behaviour—of the people around him, the people he didn’t like. He was seducing the woman that had rejected Eren. Rejected him out of fear and confusion yes, but Eren still hadn’t managed to have her. Reiner was breaching Eren’s wall, his fortress. About to make his loyal weapon into a woman.

It was revenge of a sort. Not that he wanted revenge. He watched her lick her lips as he finally pulled the singlet over his head and off. She still waited for him, still obedient despite herself. Maybe cowed by her own ignorance. He could humiliate her now. His night-terror made flesh. Tell her no. Kick her out.

The moment stretched, Mikasa’s expression turned more beseeching. Reiner dropped his singlet on the floor and laughed softly, “Good girl. Come.”

It was like a gun going off, she rushed him, grabbing around his waist, kissing and biting his neck, pushing him roughly up against the cold steel wall. Reiner shivered at the sudden temperature shift. He let her do whatever she wanted and she started to trail her bites and kisses down his chest, glancing up here and there to gage his reaction. Reiner grinned at that and ruffled her hair; he was already hard and would have easily taken her the moment his ass hit the bed, but she was so enthusiastic he was happy to go where she led. Then she started nipping and licking his nipples. He moaned, his amused cunning shattered, now he was no longer capable of being smart. She moved lower, down his chest, past his navel, licking and nipping the soft trail of hair disappearing into his waistband. She looked up at him, her eyes hazed with lust and innocence.

“Don’t bite, don’t use your teeth, don’t suck hard.” He said breathlessly as he unbuttoned his pants and dropped them to his knees. Now she could see what she’d done to him through the thin fabric of his underpants.

Her fingers brushed the skin of his lower belly as she considered.

Reiner figured she might stop here, he’d had virgins before and this was usually the point they got cold feet… at least for a bit.

She glanced up at him and he quirked an eyebrow at her. She breathed out through her nose, her eyes darkening with anger. Without looking away she pulled his underwear down and resumed kissing his lower belly, her fingers trailing down his inner thighs.

He thought about stopping her or telling her she didn’t have to, but she might just get angrier. Mikasa’s pride was engaged at this point, he could tell, and failure was not an option.
Hesitantly she touched the base of his cock, already fully engorged, then her fingers tripped lightly up to the tip. He felt his belly clench, his breathing quickened, his knees got weak and he grabbed her shoulders for balance.
Experimentally she closed her fingers around his shaft and started to slowly stroke it. His dug into her shoulders as he groaned and felt himself get stupider with each stroke.

As an expert swordsman, Mikasa’s grip was firm but nimble and she seemed to have gotten a handle on judging his responses. She’d always been good at reading his intentions when they’d sparred. She found the rhythm, the firmness of grip and the subtle motion of fingers that threatened to undo him with an almost unnatural swiftness.

Just as she was about to win, he caught her fingers in his own. “Stop.” He used every bit of willpower to lift her hand up. It was too impersonal for him; he was a romantic at heart. “Is that all you want? Just to give me a hand job?” He kissed her fingers without breaking their shared gaze and she gasped, blushing.

She might have technique but he had strategy. He pulled her up so she was kneeling like him. “Take off your shirt.” He demanded, echoing her earlier order.

Mikasa unbuttoned her shirt, seemingly a little flustered that the rules of engagement had shifted. She hesitated shrugging out of her shirt, her confusion making her suddenly more timid and modest. Reiner pulled it off and slid her bra straps over her shoulder, very slowly. Taking the time to get himself under control while appreciating the view. He slipped his hand up her chest and neck till he was cradling her head in his palm and when he kissed her again, he forced her backwards, off balance, so she had to clutch at him to stay upright, frozen in the middle of a takedown.

He kissed her deeply while she clung to him—by design. And he held her in that precarious position while he trailed kisses down her throat, over her collar bone, down the swell of her breast and took the button of her nipple between his lips, tonguing and nibbling.

She gasped and squirmed against him, but he had her in a position that countered much of her considerable strength, he had her at his mercy. He pressed his unoccupied hand to her breast, rubbing the nipple with his thumb and squeezing the heft of it gently. As he did so she started making little gasping moans and squeaks. He had to swallow laughter that the stoic Mikasa could make such sounds—if she heard it, it could break their truce and he was aware how fragile she was now, how easily she could be crushed by humiliation.

He released her breast and slid his hand over her taut belly—more soft and rounded now than he remembered, but still tone—down under the waistband of her shin length skirt, under the panties and over the soft nest of curls till his fingers slid into warm, wet heat and she frankly squealed as his index finger found her little knot of nerves. He teased it with his finger tip as she started to buck her hips against his hand, openly moaning now.

After he’d satisfied himself that she was eager for more, he slid his hand deeper, reaching her opening and tested it with a finger while his thumb remained pressed against her clit. There was no doubt Mikasa was a virgin, but Reiner could already tell her active lifestyle—horse-riding, aerial maneuvering, attempting to murder him—had broken down much of her physical virginity. If he took her now, it would hurt a bit, it might even bleed. But not much. And with her as hot and overwhelmingly eager as she was, it wouldn’t slow her down much.
He slipped another finger into her, rubbing up towards her stomach from the inside while she moaned, and squealed and squeaked. So many amusing, silly, sexy sounds; he smiled against her breast.

And then she said his name. “Reiner.”

It dropped through him like a depth charge. He looked up.

She stroked the side of his face with the one hand not keeping herself up by clutching him. “Reiner. I want you.”

He let her slide down to the bed. Once she was no longer clinging to him she started to pull off her skirt and panties till she was naked. Underneath him. Naked.

He looked down at her, her breasts flushed, nipples tight, taunt belly, rounded hips, and her sex wet and ready. She looked up at him, her face flushed, mouth parted, eyes full of hunger for him.

Reiner knew she blamed herself for Eren doing… Blamed herself for Eren breaking bad. She blamed herself because she hadn’t told him she liked him, or loved him or that she wanted him. Reiner had thought at first it wouldn’t have made a difference, but seeing Mikasa like this—yielding, passionate, wanton—he suspected it would have been the only thing that could have changed Eren’s mind.

He kicked his pants all the way off and knelt down between her legs, propping himself up with an arm by her head. He didn’t tell her it would hurt, why bother when she’d probably regard a warning as mockery. Instead he slipped his hand out of her. He caught his penis, guiding it to her threshold. “Don’t flinch, soldier.” He said as he slid full length inside her with a slow thrust of his hips.

She made no sound of discomfort but the sounds of pleasure stopped, he let her adjust to his size for a moment, let her realize the pain would be temporary. And then he began to move.

The stillness persisted for a few thrusts; then she started to move with him, rocking her hips up to receive. A delicious heat built between them, sending waves of pleasure into his core. The moaning and squeaking came back. He moved his hand against her lower belly, letting his thumb touch her knot and stroke it in time with his thrusts. She whimpered at that and seemed to melt against him.

“Reiner.” The way she looked at him… He sped up his thrusts and the movement of his thumb, feeling himself so close, everything narrowed to the feel of her around him, wet, warm, the touch of her hand on his neck, her breath… her desire for him.

She screamed against him, clinging to him, when the inevitable crashed through her and he had enough presence of mind to stop before he went after her. She kept moving tho, looking at him with pleasure drunk eyes, urging him to join her like some kind of succubus.

“Stop. Your instincts are telling you lies.” He said, catching her hips. He was so close to the edge, one, two more thrusts and he’d pop.

“Why?” She asked, squirming against him, against the bed. Pouting. Mikasa pouting?

With an act of will he withdrew from her, still hard, balls still tight. He kept his hand on her hips so she didn’t follow him. When he regained some more of his senses he explained. “I don’t want to create a fatherless kid.”

She looked taken aback, her brow furrowed. She looked at his groin and pulled herself to her knees and urged him up. “No biting, no teeth, don’t suck hard.” She repeated then bowed to kiss his stomach. She looked up at him, eyebrow quirked. “It’ll be a stalemate.”

He chuckled, running his fingers through her soft black hair as she took his tip between her lips experimentally, then a little more. She was still a novice, so she couldn’t take him deep but she made up for it by rubbing his shaft and balls and Reiner lasted about a minute before his hand was fisted in her hair and he was groaning on the brink. “Mikasa!” He hissed as he emptied himself into her mouth.

She swallowed with an air of smug triumph as he collapsed on the bed beside her, smiling inanely at her.

“Salty.” She said. And then she laid down beside him, tangling her fingers in his short blond hair. “You’ve done this before?”

“Sex? Yes.” Reiner replied, stroking her shoulder and side to her hip.

“How many people?”

“Five. Six now.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Was Pieck one of them?”

“A couple years ago. But we’re just friends now.” Reiner said, bemused at her sudden jealousy. He tapped the tip of her nose and changed the subject. “You were pretty good for a Private.”

Mikasa preened a little at that.

He wanted to tell her that if he was Eren, he’d have given up genocide for her. But he didn’t think he could say it in a way that she wouldn’t take wrong. “You should go back to your cabin.” He said instead.

“Can I sleep here?” She asked. “I don’t like the motion of the boat when I’m sleeping.”

He couldn’t say no. Which was a bad sign if he thought about it. He nodded and let her settle herself against his chest while he stroked her shoulder. It was awhile before she fell asleep.
Reiner propped himself up a bit to look at her. She looked so young and soft in her sleep—her arm curled under her head, all the harshness gone; he’d gotten the impression she’d fought because Eren fought, became a soldier because Eren became a soldier and he wondered what she would have become if she’d never met Eren.

Well. Then he’d never have met her. He brushed the hair from her face. “You almost made me want to live.” He whispered to her. Of course if she did, it wouldn’t matter, because she wasn’t going to let go of Eren. So he would just die with one more added regret. Reiner lay back and hooked his arm around her waist, enjoying the sweet smell of her hair and skin mingled in with the musk of her arousal for as long as he had with her.

Just before sleep took him, he wondered if he should get up and get drunk again to stop the nightmares… but with her warm in his arms and comfortable he decided not to, drifting off into a deep, undisturbed sleep that lasted till dawn.

Chapter Text

Reiner woke as dawn washed the sky past his Cabin window shades of pink and gold. He was a little surprised to see Mikasa still lay against his chest. He stayed still as possible so he could watch her, features softened by sleep. She was beautiful; she always had been, but with his fear of her gone and her vulnerable to him, he felt her beauty as a physical thing. The feeling of weight easing off his chest and shoulders; his heart feeling light for the first time.

He waited for her to wake until he had no time left to wait, he had to get up to get ready to attend to his duties. He shook her shoulders and she roused just enough for him to get out from under her. “Eren…” she muttered in her sleep.

He frowned at that, feeling a pinch in his throat. But he shook it off, pulled his boxers and undershirt on and picked up his towel.

The officer’s head was a few doors down from his cabin. It had a single toilet and shower stall, shared with the rest of the cabins but Reiner could lock the door behind him and he did. He’d often spent solid months in the field and never took an opportunity for a shit, shave and a shower for granted. Particularly in such blissful privacy. It wasn’t that he disliked his fellow Warriors and warrior candidates, but sometimes… he just needed to be left alone.

Porco often wouldn’t give him that simple—

Reiner stopped. Porco was dead. Magrath was dead. Zeke was likely dead but… he didn’t know how he felt about that giant ape anymore. His throat began to ache, a dry, hot ache that made him cough desperately until he had to hold onto the shower safety rail to keep himself upright. Was that grief or was the coal smoke finally getting to him? He didn’t know anymore. He pulled his singlet and boxers off, folding them and setting them aside on the bench in front of the shower.

He turned the shower tap on and it sprayed with a satisfying amount of water pressure. He turned it tentatively toward hot and was pleasantly surprised that hot water actually came out. He stepped under the shower and let the water pelt him like a hard rain, easing the pain in his throat. He picked up the soap from a metal caddy set in the wall, it looked like a new bar. The Hizuru prized cleanliness, which was something he had always liked about working with them.

He soaped up his chest and arms, then moved down to his stomach. A smear of blood at the base of his cock jolted his memories of the night before. His hands stopped and he felt a sudden smarting guilt. Shit. He’d been drunk. He’d apologize to her once he went back to his cabin for taking advantage of her.

He imagined her as she had been last night, taking everything he’d given her and then asking for more… He began to soap himself up to wash the blood off. He wished he’d woken her and invited her to come with him. He would have pushed her against the wall, taken her standing up… his hand started to move with his thoughts and he leaned against the wall of the shower, biting back his own moans.

“Reiner!” Connie slammed his fist repeatedly against the door. “You’re using all the fucking hot water! What are you doing in there, jerking off?”

“Wait your damn turn, Connie!” Reiner shouted back. He bit his lip as he imagined every unsexy thing he could to calm himself. He finished washing, turned the water off, towered himself off quickly and dressed.

Connie waited impatiently outside the door, leaned up against the wall like he could barely stand. Reiner eyed him, wondering if he was coming down from something. Feeling a slight pang of guilt that he’d opened that door for him to walk through.

“I have a hangover.” Connie offered.

“What’d the engineers give you?”

“More booze.” Connie pushed passed him, bowed over and groaning like he was about to be sick.

“Ugh.” Reiner let the door slam behind him. Walking back to his cabin, he continued to towel his hair. Connie hadn’t given him enough time to even begin to dry it.

When he got back, his cabin was empty. Mikasa was gone.

He looked at his empty bunk and sighed, the ache in his throat was back. That was that. Maybe she didn’t even want an apology.

Reiner sat on his bunk, pulling on the tan pants, shirt and jacket of his field uniform listlessly.

When he was done, he walked down the hallway from the officer’s bunks to the mess. He found the Armin and Onyakopon already pouring over a map of the Fort Salta region. “Reiner you were one of the closest. How tall do you estimate Eren… I mean the Attack titan was?” Onyakopon asked as Reiner ducked through the entrance.
“I’d say about 4 times the height of a Colossal.”

“240 meters.” Onyakopon tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Can you give me any more information about the structure of it?”

“Didn’t Armin?” Reiner nodded at the blond boy sitting quietly at the table.
“Yes, but I’d like to get your description separately.”

“It was like a gigantic rib cage… a centipede. The spine had a row of spikes coming off of it, like…” Reiner brought his hands together at the base of his palm and angled his fingers back. “Like this. I couldn’t see clearly but I think there might have also been another part. A skeleton hanging off the front like the top half of a man.”

“That’s helpful.” Onyakopon looked at his map. “Armin said he saw a head suspended in the front, several times larger than a colossal.”

“The question is how do we land on it.” Armin glanced between Reiner and Onyakopon. “You two have the most aerial experience of all of us.”

“That is a question.” Reiner pressed his fist to his mouth. “What if we fly over the target front to back, between the spines? Either we’d have to use the 3DMG to latch onto the spines as they pass or we could parachute onto the spine base itself.”

Onyakopon groaned. “This is so risky.”

“What about aiming for the nape?” Armin asked.

Onyakopon shook his head. “That’s even more risky, it would be easy to overshoot or undershoot. Not to mention that flight path brings us directly in front of the Attack Titan.”
“I have to agree with Onyakopon. I’ve secured an airbase under fire. Even at night, but to do it on a moving target a few meters apart... the better bet is to get us down on the back and have us work our way forward from there.”

“Tell me about as much as you can about our two options, then. Pros and Cons.” Armin replied.

Reiner spent the next few hours going over every detail of each possible scenario along with an inventory of all relevant equipment with Armin and Onyakopon. After awhile Armin decided they’d beaten all possibilities into the ground and told them they could take a break.

Reiner had walked in silence with Onyakopon up from the belly of the ship toward the deck. The dark-skinned man unlatched and pushed the door open to the deck with a groan of metal. Reiner blinked in the sudden light. The brisk wind was welcome after the stifling dark of the boat. Reiner breathed deep and let his gaze wander over the wide expanse of blue sky and dark water. Whisps of clouds chased each other across the horizon. The world was beautiful, peaceful. Surreal.

“It feels like suicide.” Onyakopon said.

“Yep.” Reiner replied.

“Heh. You don’t sound disappointed.”

“Um.” Reiner said noncommittally. “I’ve made my peace with any outcome.” He heard laughter from the bow and turned to look. Falco, Gabi, Jean and some of the Hizuru engineers were running after a ball. As he watched Gabi broke away from the group and ran to a figure leaning against the gunwale.

It was Mikasa. Gabi grinned at her as she pulled on her hand, urging her to join in.
Reiner hadn’t seen his cousin smiling since they left Paradis’ port.

“It’s good to see them having fun.” Onyakopon said. “Hello, Pieck!” He waved past Reiner at the quiet brunette drifting closer to them both. Pieck waved back. “I’m going to go get some rest. Maybe try to be as philosophical as you.” He smiled wanly at Reiner and saluted as he returned under deck.

“Philosophical?” Pieck settled in beside Reiner, picking up his arm to drape it over her shoulders.

“Hmph. Pieck.” Reiner chided.

“It’s cold.” She said with a winsome smile.

“I told him I had made my peace with death.”

“‘Made my peace.’ You mean, actively seek out.”

Reiner sighed. He patted Pieck’s shoulder.

“Gabi really likes Mikasa.” Pieck nodded at the two of them, Gabi was excitedly explaining the rules of the game to Mikasa, who had bent over to hear her against the wind. “Gabi says Mikasa saved her life.”

He glanced down, surprised.

“There was a girl. Sasha’s sister. She tried to kill Gabi out of revenge. Because Gabi killed Sasha.”

Pieck snaked her hand around Reiner’s waist, leaning her head against his side. “Sasha was one of your friends, right?”

Reiner closed his eyes, he nodded, unable to speak through the pain in his throat. He was starting to suspect grief rather than coal smoke.

“War twists us all into ugly shapes.” Pieck said softly.

Gabi and Mikasa were playing now the game now, Gabi darting through the larger adults like a squirrel through trees while Mikasa seemed to try and find an angle to pass the ball to her at. Finally the pass came and Gabi controlled it with expert movements, turning it around and kicking the ball into the makeshift goal—past one of the Hizuru engineers who made an awkward try to stop it. They all erupted into cheers. Both sides. Mikasa high fived Gabi as they returned to their positions, a smile on her face that made Reiner’s face heat and his heart quicken.

Reiner didn’t realize he was gaping til he heard Pieck laugh.

Jean started dribbling the ball next toward the makeshift goal next, using his agile reflexes to dodge Mikasa and the engineers. He kicked it towards the goal and Gabi made an attempt at a save, but missed and tripped, sliding into the gunwale with a screech.

Jean did a fist pump. Mikasa glared at him and ran to Gabi’s side but Gabi bounced back up before she could get to her, laughing joyously.

“She’s happy.” Reiner said. “That’s good to see. So’s he.” Reiner nodded at Jean who was trying to evade Mikasa’s attempts to push him over in revenge for Gabi. Jean glanced back toward Pieck, meeting her eye and breaking out into a cocky grin.
“Hmm…” Pieck tapped her lips, smiling.

“I see.” Reiner tilted his head back, looking down his nose at his friend. “Fraternizing with the enemy Lieutenant Pieck?”

“You’re one to talk, sir.” Pieck grinned up at him and shoved him.

“I like you calling me sir.” Reiner puffed out his chest. “Maybe you should do it more often.”

“As if!” She pushed away from him.

Reiner caught her before she could walk off. “Be careful. You and me are probably a just a stop on their way to each other.”

Pieck looked at him, then back at Mikasa and Jean, “Maybe, maybe not. Just because he likes her, doesn’t mean she likes him. I think you’re trying to... make peace with any outcome.”

Reiner rubbed the back of his head. “I don’t think she’s interested in me.”

“I don’t know Reiner… Mikasa been giving me death glares ever since I stood next to you. You haven’t noticed?” Pieck poked him in the chest. “But that’s not what I meant. Reiner. You’re the last family Gabi has. I know you can’t promise to not die, I know none of us can. But maybe you shouldn’t seek it out… for her sake at least.”

Reiner stared at her, dumbfounded by her directness. Then he looked at Gabi, currently being hoisted by both Jean and Mikasa, while Falco was being held aloft by two of the Hizuru engineers… a new and unfathomable level to this game they’d invented. “I… I have been thinking about that.”

“Good.” Pieck nodded at him, walking back towards the game. “I’m going to go reign them in before someone ends up overboard.”

Reiner smiled after her. “Thanks Pieck.” He felt a sudden twinge, and glanced up. As Pieck said, Mikasa was glaring daggers at her. Then her eyes flicked up to him. If she looked hungry yesterday, she looked ravenous today. Even closer to her murderous expression. Reiner’s breath caught and he shivered. Alright then. The game was still on.

Chapter Text

“You want my permission to court her?” Lady Kiyomi pressed her hand to her chest, a smile on her lips. She turned to press her a hand on Mikasa’s knee, leaning close. “What an unexpected surprise!”

Reiner stood at parade rest in the threshold of Lady Kiyomi’s deck house. Behind the Lady was a large window with a view over the waves, still a quiet sea and clear skies. She herself sat on one of the two ornate, cushioned chairs by her mahogany writing desk. Mikasa sat in the other, not looking at Reiner with a force he could feel.

“This is ridiculous.” She said after a moment. “We’ve already fu—“

“Fought. Together.” Reiner interrupted.

Mikasa finally glanced at him, looking peeved. He smiled back at her and tipped his head towards Kiyomi.

Lady Kiyomi either didn’t pick up on their exchange or was purposefully ignoring it. “What splendid manners!” She clapped her hands together. “You truly are a Gentleman.” She leaned closer to Mikasa, “And you could do worse than a Marleyan War Chief. Think of the potential political and economic contacts that would open up for the Azumabito.” She dabbed her kerchief to her lip, wiping away a bit of saliva.

“That are currently being crushed.” Mikasa threw her hands up in frustration.

“Well, you never know.” Kiyomi countered. “You have to have an eye on the future at all times, Mikasa. I think it’s a fantastic idea. In fact I’ll give you access to the Captain’s Cabin for the evening. I suppose a chaperone would be traditional—“

“Absolutely not.” Mikasa stood. “I will not have a prison guard shadowing—”

“Of course these are modern times we live in.” Kiyomi interjected smoothly, turning to Reiner. “I’ll have to trust your honour as a gentleman.”

“On my honour as a Warrior of Marley, I will not take advantage of Lady Mikasa.” He stood to attention and saluted. In the corner of his eye he saw Mikasa gape at him and then grimace, her brow drawn in anger. He smirked.

“How gallant!” Kiyomi pressed her folded hands to her lips, then shooed them out the door. “Go, you two, I’ll make the preparations. I’ll be ready in three hours. Mikasa, if you would indulge an old woman, I’d like you to be back here… alone… two hours before that.”

Mikasa looked bemused as she walked towards the door. Reiner supposed social niceties grated on her; she’d rather just follow her body and her instincts. He opened the door to usher her through.

As Mikasa’d stepped into the corridor, stalking away, Reiner felt a hand pulling him, holding him back. He turned. Lady Kiyomi looked up at him, her dark eyes had lost all merriment and delight. They were grim, yet somehow sadly hopeful. “Give her whatever she wants. Make her happy. Make her forget. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. Thank you. You’re a good man.”

Reiner smiled ruefully. Thinking of Onyakopon clasping his hand the day before. He placed his own hand over Kiyomi’s on his arm. “No. Thank you, Lady Kiyomi.”

“Go.” She urged, releasing him.

He bowed his head to her and walked through the deck room door.

“Why did you do this?” Mikasa asked once he’d caught up with her and they were walking side by side in the metal corridor.

Reiner was silent for a long moment, then he stopped, pressing her to stop with him. “Years ago I was courting one of the daughters of the Tyber family. They approached me actually, through Zeke. The Tybers… were running out of… royal options after a generation, so they’d started to look to common Eldians with commendations. It became a tradition for ranking officers in the Warrior Corps by the time I got in. Marry a Tyber from a minor lineage. Spawn a few kids. Die in war or by the curse.” He laughed ruefully. “I had just been appointed vice War Chief for my service in the Mid East war. She was nice enough and quite pretty. Good in bed.”

Mikasa’s eyes flashed angrily at that; he ruffled her hair, chuckling. “You better get hold of your jealousy Mikasa, you’re going to make me think I have a chance. Anyway, we dated for a couple months during one of my reprieves. I took her to the cinema, plays, the fair. It was fun. But honestly she never understood me, she never felt real to me. I couldn’t tell her anything. I can’t even believe how innocent I was then. Even with everything I knew and I had experienced. I still believed in the things around me. I didn’t even think… I suppose she’s dead now.” Reiner’s throat closed off. He coughed to re-open it but couldn’t speak for a bit. He closed the space between them, draping his arms over her shoulders, leaning forward till she was holding up some of his weight. She shifted to take it. “I realized you haven’t ever even had that, have you? A gentleman caller. A date.”

Mikasa looked at him in confusion.

“Let Lady Kiyomi be… do this for you. She cares for you. It’s why she was still in port at Paradis, despite the danger. She was waiting to do whatever she could to keep you safe.”

“Okay.” Mikasa said, then she grabbed his neck, jerking him towards her and pinning him with another hungry, murderous look. “But I don’t care about honour or tradition. I will have you if I want you.”

He caught her hands, chuckling. “And you want me.”

She gave him another hard, desperate kiss as if she was trying to weld herself to him. He caught her hips, grinding himself into her. She tilted her pelvis upward, as if making herself ready to receive right there…

Reiner pulled away, settling the side of his head against hers, breathing hard to get himself under control. “Not yet.”

In response Mikasa offered a threatening growl.

“Hey.” He tapped her nose. “I have a say too. Let’s do this right. At least once.” He kissed her forehead. “I got to go check the gear. We’re doing parachute training tomorrow. I’ll meet you at the Captain’s Cabin in three hours.”

Mikasa pouted, not willing to let go of his shoulders. “I’ll come.”

“I don’t need the distraction, Mikasa.” He shook his head. “We’re two days out from battle. No… extracurriculars.”

###

“Your War Chief is certainly strapping.” Kiyomi chuckled as she pulled the soft brush through Mikasa’s hair. “And handsome. And accomplished. Trust an Azumabito to catch the eye of the most eligible bachelor abroad.”

Mikasa roused from her half sleep. The motion of Kiyomi’s hands through her hair had started to lull her into a pleasant drowsiness. She glanced at the older woman in the mirror, wondering what exactly she had walked into. She wasn’t sure she wanted this much… fawning attention over herself and Reiner. She wasn’t as fatalistic as him but she still couldn’t think about a future for them. Did she even want one… with him?

The older woman had started fussing over her the moment she’d walked back through the thresh-hold of the deckhouse. She’d started by insisting Mikasa shower and apply a basket full of lotions and creams. Mikasa had exited the hot steam wrapped in a towel and feeling as slippery as a salamander. She had to admit, now that she was dry, her skin was slick and smooth as silk. As she’d run her fingers over her thigh she wondered if Reiner would appreciate it. The thought made her flush and she folded her hands in her lap quickly.

“There.” Kiyomi framed Mikasa’s face with her hands. Mikasa’s hair lay in soft waves around her face, still a little messy but glossy and clean. “Such a fetching style.” Kiyomi stepped back from her vanity, opening up her wardrobe and pulling out a round box. “I brought gifts. I never had time to give them to you, considering the circumstances we find ourselves. Here.” She handed over the box. “I know you would likely balk at our clan’s traditional wear but… I brought you something fashionable for a young lady of your age. And more suitable for your position in society.”

Mikasa looked from it to her. “A gift?” She had received a few as a child, but as soon as she’d been orphaned for the second time and then entered the military to avoid starving, such luxuries had become alien to her. With a smile she lifted the box’s top off, inside was cream silk, folded carefully to avoid creases. Mikasa looked at it, then at Kiyomi, stunned and uncertain.

“Go ahead.”

She reached in then stopped, inspecting her fingers to make absolutely sure they weren’t dirty. The silk slid through her fingers, sending a thrill through her. She lifted it. The silk was translucent against the light from the window. The style was simple, a low neckline, dropped waist, high hemline; intended to cling to a body in motion, but Mikasa knew it was expensive. She’d seen outfits like it being worn by laughing young socialites at expensive restaurants on the continent of Marley.

“This is a bit… risqué for a young lady of virtue. But I know you value your freedom of movement so I thought it suited you. I’m glad now that I chose it, I think the War Chief will appreciate it more than our traditional dress.” Kiyomi leaned on the arm rest of Mikasa’s chair whispering conspiratorially. “It’ll give the young gentleman ideas.”

Mikasa blushed. She couldn’t tell if Kiyomi was warning her or teasing her.

Kiyomi urged her up, taking the dress from her hands. She held out another package. “Your delicates.”

Mikasa pulled open the tissue paper, nestled inside was a strapless bra and matching panties in soft white.

“Do you want me to leave while you change?” Kiyomi asked.

“No it’s okay.” Mikasa was well used to doing almost everything in front of her fellow soldiers; modesty was a luxury the Scouts could rarely afford. She pulled off the towel and draped it over the back of her chair. She started with the bra, unclasping the front and pulling it around her chest. It fit her ribcage but…

Kiyomi chuckled. “It looks like you’ve filled out a bit since your last fitting. Is it uncomfortable?”

Mikasa shook her head.

“It will have to do.”

She nodded and stepped into her panties, sliding them up. They too were a touch tight.

Kiyomi held out the dress and Mikasa picked up the hem, shrugging into it. It slipped over her skin like a caress and she shivered, wondering what it would be like to have Reiner slip it back off. She blushed harder and distracted herself by picking at the hem.

It fell a little past mid thigh and she did a turn, watching it move with her, clinging to her hips and breasts in the mirror. She looked just like one of those laughing girls lit up by chandeliers and stage lights she’d walked past in the dark; just the same, except for the muscle of her shoulders and arms, and the scars marring her skin. She touched them, feeling suddenly self conscious.

Kiyomi caught her hand, lifting it. “You are a true princess of the Azumabito.” She caught the side of Mikasa’s face. “A wildflower battered by the elements but still vibrant and alive. True beauty. I don’t think the young War Chief would want any other kind.”

Mikasa stared at the older woman, feeling a hopeless pain. “Does any of this matter anymore? It feels like a farce.”

“We can choose to maintain our traditions, our sense of ourselves, our dignity to the end Mikasa.” Kiyomi said. “Our last moments define us. Seize them. Make them everything you can. Let no one take that away from you.”

###

Mikasa stood by the small brazier in the sitting room of the Captains’ Cabin. It was the most beautiful space in the entire ship, sumptuous dark woods polished to a satin shine, plush upholstery in earth tones, brass and silver fittings. She felt like an alien standing there in such rich surroundings. She shivered, hugging herself, feeling self-conscious. She had never been in anything so feminine and Kiyomi had even applied makeup, something Mikasa had never worn. Mikasa stroked the thin silk of the dress on her side; Kiyomi had said that a woman should make an effort to make herself pleasing to her man. Mikasa didn’t know if Reiner was hers or even if she wanted him to be. But the thought of him appreciating how she looked… she felt warmth bloom through her, spilling through her core till she felt it overflow.

And what if he didn’t…? She glanced at the ship’s clock. It was almost to the hour. Just as the hour struck, the door unlatched and creaked open.

She glanced towards it, but dropped her gaze before she looked at him, lifting her hand to hide her face, feeling utterly exposed and unsure.

“I’m sorry I’m late.” She heard him slipping off his great coat. “Hange and I had a hell of a time figuring out how to integrate a chute rig into the 3DGM—“ His voice stopped short; his movements stopped with it.

She looked up finally. He was gaping at her. She watched awe flit across his features, then it was replaced by a base hunger that took her breath away. She turned more fully towards him, dropping her hand from her face. “You’re not late. It’s the hour.” She pointed at the clock. And then cursed herself for saying something inane and not at all seductive.

It took a moment for him to register she’d spoken. He blinked. “On time is late.” He took a few tentative steps towards her, still looking stunned. “You… look incredible.” He caught her hand, staring her up and down in a way that made the warmth bubbling inside her boil. “You did this for me?”

“Lady Kiyomi did it.” Mikasa said.

“Yeah, but you didn’t have to consent to it.” Reiner snorted. “I doubt Lady Kiyomi could manhandle you into it.” His hands stroked down her chest to her waist, pulling her close. Through the thin fabric of her dress she could already tell she was having an effect on him. It triggered another wave of desire and she grabbed his neck, pulling him down for a kiss.

She might as well have been pulling on granite. Her eyes snapped open in frustration.

“Dinner.” He said, teasingly, his hands now making space between them. “I’m starving. Lead the way.” He caught one of her hands, lifting it up to usher her ahead of him towards the table dominating the Captain’s sitting room.

She pouted briefly, then realized he’d done it to get a view of her ass in the dress. With a smirk to herself she shimmied her hips and felt his hand tighten over hers, his breath quicken. He pulled her back, catching her hips, and for a moment she thought it was over, she had him. He would take her right there, custom, honour, tradition and dinner be damned. Her smirk became a grin of triumph.

Instead he took a series of slow, deliberate breaths, stepped back and walked around her to the other side of the table.

Frustrated and furious, she stamped her foot. Was there no end to the man’s discipline?

He smirked back at her and pulled out a chair. “My lady.” His look said it all. I win. You will date me.

She sighed and stepped towards the chair, frumping into it in a very unladylike way.

“Sorry. I look atrocious.” He said as he took his own seat, finger combing his messy hair and looking at her ruefully. “I only have my field uniform. And I couldn’t clean up completely before coming.”

She glanced him over. Although his hands and face were clean he still had gun oil and grease from the 3DMG on his arms, a bit more smeared on his neck. His shirt was torn and stained yellow in places from washed out blood. To her he didn’t look unkept so much as purposeful but… “Take the uniform off, then.”

“All in good time.” He replied. He glanced over the row of silver chaffing dishes on the table. “Did you cook supper?”

“I made one. There.” She pointed to a circular pot perched at the end of the row. “It’s a Paradis stew. I figured we’d need something that’d actually feed us.” She said. All of Lady Kiyomi’s dishes had been so… delicate? Insubstantial. Kiyomi had talked about a lady maintaining her figure when she’d seen what Mikasa was cooking and Mikasa had countered with “how about a solider maintaining fitness for battle?”

“What’s the custom in Hizuru?” Reiner asked. “Do you say a prayer, do I serve or do you?”

“They aren’t my customs.” Mikasa replied. “Grab what you can, I guess.”

“Mess with the Scouts it is.” He laughed and pulled the first chaffing dish lid off.

Mikasa rolled her eyes. Some sort of stewed seaweed and spice.

“This smells great.” Reiner said, picking up the silver ladle and pouring some onto his dish. He gestured for her to hand him her plate and she did. He went along the line, putting a bit of each dish on their plates and finished off with a scoop of her stew. Then he set their plates down and sat to eat.

Mikasa looked from hers to his. “What are you doing?”

“Hmm?” He stopped, a forkful of food paused in mid air..

“You’ve given yourself less than you gave me. It’s ridiculous. Is this how you eat now?”

Reiner looked down at his food, brow drawn.

“No wonder you’re so skinny.” Mikasa got up and picked up his plate. She went back to each chaffing dish, ladling a bit more out, till she got to her own and tripled his portion of her stew. She set it down in front of him. “That’s what you should be eating. You won’t be able to eat well day of battle. Or if you do, it’ll just come back up again. So you need to eat as much as you can leading up to it.”

He gestured for her to hand him her dish. “Do you need more?”

Mikasa eyed it. “The portion’s fine.” She looked back at him. “You could gage what I needed. But not yourself. What’s up with that?”

Reiner looked down, poking at his dinner with his fork. “I guess I haven’t really enjoyed food for awhile. Feels like I don’t deserve it.”

“Eat.” Mikasa said, taking a bite from her own plate and pinning him with an uncompromising glare. “I liked you bigger.”

Reiner blushed at that. And for a moment he looked very young.

Mikasa watched him portion out and eat a bite of each of Kiyomi’s dishes. “It’s nice.” He said. “Very cultured.”

She gestured to her stew with her spoon.

Reiner picked up his own spoon and tipped it toward her. Then he took a spoonful and swallowed. He stopped suddenly in the middle of chewing.

“What? Is it bad?”

He shook his head, groaned in pleasure and swallowed. “No, it’s really good!” He started to tuck in.

Mikasa smiled to herself, leaning her chin on her hands, as he kept shovelling it in. She’d had many years learning to camp cook for a man who never stayed in one place long enough to eat properly. She learned the spices to use for digestion and appetite and how to make the most of poor ingredients so it kept Eren chowing down for as long as she could get him to sit still. Even with days old produce, the ships’ canteen had been the best stocked kitchen she’d ever worked in. She’d even managed to find a store of precious cinnamon.

Reiner stopped only when he’d scraped the last of the stew from his plate. With a certain satisfaction Mikasa noticed that he hadn’t finished Kiyomi’s dishes. She knew what a soldier wanted in a meal. She’d known what Reiner wanted. It filled her with a warm pride.

“That’s something to fight on.” He said, ladling more out for himself. “Fight for, even.” He grinned at her.

Mikasa beamed under that. Eren had never given her cooking praise. Usually he just resented her for “mothering him.” Mikasa realized suddenly that maybe she had been, but it was because she hadn’t realized she’d wanted _this_. Wanted to see her man enjoying her cooking, enjoying her taking care of him. It was womanly. Certainly not motherly, not with the thoughts Reiner’s moans of appreciation were inspiring, or the sight of his shoulders under his shirt, the pull of the fabric, exposing the contour of his biceps or chest.

“Are you going to eat?” Reiner licked some sauce from his thumb. “Or just watch me?”

Mikasa’s skin burned red hot. She picked at her food. Now she was having trouble getting her appetite going in the face of her sudden desire.

Reiner wiped his mouth with his napkin and stood, walking around the table to her. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders, his fingers brushing the sides of her breasts ever so lightly. “I should have waited for you to start eating, that was rude.” He kissed the side of her neck, one hand drifting down to play with the hem of her skirt. “The sooner you finish dinner the sooner we can move on to something else.”

“Why do you apologize so much?” She caught his hand, sliding it further up her thigh before he pulled it away.

“What was that about needing to eat before battle?” Reiner whispered into her ear.

Mikasa huffed and picked up a spoon. Once she'd taken a bite, her appetite returned. She was hungry. She polished it off as fast as she could. When she was done she tried to be delicate about dabbing her mouth but she knew she’d made a mess of it in her haste, leaving most of her lipstick on her napkin.

“Good girl.” Reiner said as she stood and turned to him. He slid his hand up her neck, till he cradled her head in his palm and kissed her. It unmade her, when he broke back to take a breath and stepped back to make space, she felt weak and desperate. “Please, enough. I want you.”

“I believe you.” Reiner said and then stepped over to the phonograph on one of the shelves by the window. “But we should let the food settle a bit.”

“I don’t need you to believe me, I need you to fuck me.” Mikasa resorted to balling her fists at her sides and vibrating her exasperation at him. “Why are you so infuriating?”

“Hm. Infuriating.” Reiner shrugged, his back to her as he looked through the records by the phonograph. He picked one out and started turning the crank. “Pieck called me a bit of a sadist actually.”

“What does that mean?” Mikasa whined. And then winced at the sound of her own voice. She stalked over to him. “Is it because of what Kiyomi said? I never cared about that.” For her, lust just seemed to slot neatly among all the other intimate things soldiers did together.

He turned around just as she reached him. The phonograph behind him started up, scratchy at first but after a few skips the music slipped in, filling up the room with the same sounds Mikasa remembered walking past a music hall and stopping to look through a window into a world that could never be hers. Trumpets, piano, a beat that made her feet itch to move.

He bowed to her, “May I have this dance, my lady?”

Mikasa sighed and let him take her hand in his. He lifted it and slipped his other arm around her waist, pulling her tight against him. “Follow me.”

She yielded to his lead, allowing him to move her into a waltz. She’d danced a bit during military socials: but she just remembered it being awkward and tedious. Being this close to him, feeling the heat of his skin, stroking her fingers over the muscle of his back… it was a different experience entirely. She noticed he was moving slowly, even for the song, making sure she could match his steps.

“This could be the last time anyone dances to this music.” He smiled down at her. “You never got to have any of this. I want to give you the best parts of Marley.”

She went silent. He shifted his other hand to her waist as well and she laid her head against his chest. “Are you angry with me?”

“Because you fought alongside Eren?” Reiner closed his eyes. “Do you know what this song is?”

Mikasa shook her head.

“It’s based on the Warrior’s regimental march. It was composed by an Eldian band from the Libertto ghetto. It’s sort of brassy and quick for a waltz. But it reminds me of the day I left on the Paradis mission. I used to hate it.”

“Why… play it?”

He picked up her hand, kissing her fingers. “Because I never stopped loving you. Any of you. I couldn’t tell anyone that for the longest time. Now I can. So the song has a different meaning, now. It’s the song that started my journey to you.” Reiner leaned close. “I don’t want to waste any time on being angry.” He kissed her lips, then caught her throat in his hand and deepened the kiss.

She opened her lips to receive and threw her arms around his shoulders. Her body shook with the tension she felt. “Please don’t stop this time.” She bit her lip to stop speaking, about to ready to sacrifice her dignity by begging. Mikasa realized that Reiner undid her, just like Eren, he left her off balance and out of control. But unlike Eren instead of running away while she was falling, Reiner turned back and caught her.

He ran his hands down her back, down the slick silk till he touched skin, then up and under her dress. He caught hold of her ass, lifting her up smoothly (which was, Mikasa had to admit, impressive as she was not light.) She clutched him tighter as he carried her to the windowsill. It was wide enough for her to balance there and as he groped between them to release himself, she looked back through the window. If anyone on the deck happened to look up—

She hadn’t time to finish the thought before she felt him pull her panties to one side and press against her sex. She’d been ready for him since the moment he walked through the door and she’d seen the look on his face; no, since well before that… the moment she’d watched him standing before her, jean, Connie and Armin and telling them that they didn’t have to fight their fellow soldiers if they didn’t want to. He would do it. The moment she realized he would still go through hell for their sake, for her sake. But not without giving her the choice to go with him.

Eren never had.

He thrust into her and her thoughts shattered. The slow buildup of the evening—Kiyomi helping her prepare for him, the longing looks, the meal, the dance, all of it leading to an inevitable surrender—he’d pealed away every layer of her defences without her even noticing.

All she could do was hold onto him as he overwhelmed her, his own desperation driving him harder and harder.

The contrast between his heat and hers welding them together and the cold of the window, chilled by an ocean wind, made her skin hurt wherever it touched glass, but the pain only seemed to compliment the pleasure blooming inside her.

Reiner caught her dress neckline and bra, pulling them down her chest to release her breasts. She felt shameless, her breasts exposed, rutting in full view of the deck. She locked her legs around his hips, tipping up her pelvis and pushing back on him so she could angle herself, unveil herself even more to him.

He responded by lifting her dress so her ass was naked as well. The thought of being completely vulnerable to any stray glance excited her terribly. She squirmed against him, feeling herself start to peak from the overwhelming sensation; he closed the space between them and she welcomed the heat of his chest against hers, the heat of his breath on her neck. He caught one breast in his hand, pinching the nipple hard enough for it to be painful, she yelped at that and he went back to kissing her to muffle her mild protest, continuing to kneed her breast a little too hard while his other hand caught the small of her back, forcing himself even deeper in with each thrust. The warm bloom inside her became a sweltering ache; she drank it in until it poured over and she cried against him. Pain, pleasure, sadness, anger, frustration… it spilled out of her and left her limp and panting. Without thinking she grabbed the back of his neck and pressed her lips to his ear. “I love you.” She mouthed without sound.

He jerked, groaning, and his hands scrambling between them, pulling himself out. She felt his absence like grief and something warm splatter against her belly and thigh.

He huffed and shivered, “You are going to undo me.”

She hummed at him and leaned back against the glass, smiling up at him. “I want to undo you.”

“You want to get knocked up.” Reiner said, stepping back. “With a Marleyan’s brat?”

She stood up, catching him by his waist. “I just want all of you.”

“Hmm…” he tucked himself back in and got a kerchief from his pocket, moving to clean his seed from her stomach. “Not wise.”

She caught his hand before she could, taking the kerchief and pulled him closer to her. “I lo—”

“Don’t.” He blushed and couldn’t catch her eye, he pulled away and sat down on the edge of the table, head bowed.

“You love me.” She insisted, walking over to catch his chin and lifting it so he had to look at her. She’d managed to pick up the pieces of her own feelings and put them together in a shape that made sense. That was what she had been drawn to. His love for them. “You love us. You wouldn’t take away our choices; you wouldn’t put us in a cage, but you would endure any horror for us.”

He said nothing. His hazel-gold eyes looked so defeated. Mikasa kissed him.

He hesitated, then kissed her back. It wasn’t desperate, but quiet and resigned. Like him. Mikasa broke off the kiss and lay her head against his chest, listening to the slow thud of his heart.

Eren had always run away from her, always moving further and further away, and now he was so far away she could barely feel him anymore. And Reiner was right in front of her. Solid, dependable, steadfast, responsible. Always working within the flow to make things a little better.

Reiner was right there, with her. And with Marley gone, he was free to be theirs. Their Reiner. She hugged him hard as she realized… she didn’t hate Marley and she couldn’t mourn Marley, because everything left worth keeping of Marley was here.

“Are you going to clean up?” Reiner asked lamely when the silence stretched too long. He nodded at his kerchief gripped in her hand.

Mikasa smiled up at him. She trailed her fingers in his cum and brought her fingers to her lips, licking them clean. “Let the world see the mess you made of me.”

His breath heaved out of him and for a split second his entire eyes flashed gold. Mikasa found herself swung up and over his shoulder. She laughed as he carried her from the sitting room to the Captain’s bed, throwing her down.

This time he caught her dress and pulled the entire thing off, still giving off that aura of force and determination. Mikasa shivered, remembering the booming footsteps of the Armoured titan shuddering through her.

She undid her bra as he pulled his shirt and singlet off over his head without unbuttoning. She pulled off her panties as he took care of his pants. They were absolutely ruined, sopping with both their fluids, the sight thrilled her as she balled them up and threw them aside.

When he caught her again, his entire body was giving off heat like a furnace, hot enough to make every point of contact between them painful. He pressed his lips to hers and the kiss was her only relief from the heat. She whimpered against him as he, once again took her, and she felt like she was burning from the inside out.

The unmistakable physical evidence of his nature—the heat of his skin, even somehow the smell of him changed, now somewhere between a man and a slaughter house—drew out the savage instinct at the core of her. This was her enemy. This was what she was created to kill. The need to rip him to pieces coiled inside her and for the first time she could feel the drive like its own mind within her; a dark, pythonic creature, driven by bloodlust. It had been there urging her toward Eren; now it drove her toward Reiner. But by the time the instinct bubbled up through layers of her human self, sentiment, affection, memory, the dance they’d shared, the way she thrilled under his fingertips… it transmuted into a desire for possession so intense, she endured the pain of his touch to hold him, contain him, own him.

In the whirlwind of shards of her thoughts and feelings, she dimly knew she was screaming against him, as he pounded into her with the same terrifying inevitability she remembered from battle. Burning away every regret, every hesitation, every failure she’d ever had fighting him. Forging her anew, striking a brand on her core.

In the hazy aftermath, when his skin felt fevered rather than on fire, her thoughts returned to her as she lay against him. He kissed the strands of hair caked onto her forehead by sweat and made his stupid apologies—she was going to have to start slapping that habit out of him—and she was quite certain she screamed “you’re mine” at every peak and wept “I love you” at every trough. And she had no memory at all if he managed to control himself enough to pull out. She hummed against his chest.

“What?” He said.

She folded her arms on his chest, propping her head up on her wrists and grinned at him. “You just gave me the best of Marley.”

Chapter Text

Reiner woke past dawn. Even the light streaming in through the deck room window hadn’t roused him. Mikasa had kept him up a good portion of the night, waking him several times by climbing on top of him and riding him with a furious need that didn’t seem to have an end.

He pulled himself over onto his elbow, feeling through the bedclothes for Mikasa. They were empty and cold.

He groaned. Gone again. He rolled over to sit at the edge of the bed, propping his head between his hands, his elbows on his knees, staring at the floor, then noticed sounds from the sitting room.

Without getting dressed he jumped up and half ran out.

Mikasa, dressed in his singlet that fell maybe a handspan below her posterior, was rummaging through the records by the phonograph.

Reiner let out a breath he was holding. “Morning.” He said.

She turned back and smiled at him. “There was a song I liked. I heard it when we were in Marley. I can’t find it.”

“The Captain’s selection was pretty dated. What was it?” He walked over to look with her.

“I don’t know the name, but I think… hmm…”

He glanced over at the sound of appreciation. She was licking her lips as she stared his naked body up and down. He shivered, the looks she gave him still made him feel an echo of fear. But now it was mixed with a larger part desire. “It’s morning.” He said by way of explanation. “There’s no need—“

She already was pushing him back till his bare arse hit the windowsill, a repeat of the previous night with the roles reversed. She pushed him up against the window and the shock of the cold glass against his back made him wince. She climbed up onto the windowsill till she was kneeling on the hard wood, her hands beside his head on the glass. “Mikasa… wait…”

She stopped, breathing hard, her already dark eyes dilating till all he could see was black pupils.

“It’ll hurt your knees.” He glanced behind him at the currently empty bow. “People are more likely to be out now.”

“I’ll be quick.” Was her only response, she lifted herself up, sliding her hips down his stomach, angling her pelvis to catch him and shimmying her hips to slip him in without needing her hands—a maneuver she’d been practicing all night.

Quick was probably his only salvation so he put up no more protest as she rocked herself against him, stroking up his sides and back as she went. Mikasa’s powerful frame made her well suited to working the position, Reiner didn’t need to help her out as she managed to swallow him over and over with rocking thrusts of her hips. She had him at the brink within minutes. And when she teasingly lifted his singlet up, exposing her breasts, tightened nipples and flushed with desire…

He was pretty sure he’d screwed up already; pulling out in the middle of cumming a at least once instead of before. But there was a difference between running a risk and embracing it. “Mikasa, I’m going to—“

“It’s okay.” She kissed him, slipping her hand behind his neck, pulling him deeper into the kiss.

He caught her hips, almost about to push her out of the way. She stopped her movements. “No, please.” Her voice was so small and pleading. He hesitated, remembering Okyakopon’s gratitude, Lady Kiyomi’s thanks. If he refused…

He slipped his hands under her ass and lifted her, she clutched at him as he reversed their position in one quick move.

A few seconds more and he was back at the brink, kissing her as she rose to meet his thrusts, her hips giving a clever little flick at the end of each wave. Mikasa knew how to move her body… the same body that was attuned to the rhythm of battle… could be used to create such pleasure…

His thoughts and will shattered—flashes of Mikasa, flushed, open, hungry mingled with fragments from his nightmares of her murderous fury—he poured himself into her, “I love you.” He gasped, his body still twitching forward as it emptied.

She kept her rocking movement till she followed, grabbing his shoulders and the back of his neck in a tight hug. “I love you too.”

They stilled, still clasped together, panting in the weight of what had been said. Reiner had completely forgotten where they were, when voices filtered up from the deck.

“Shit!” He picked her off the windowsill and knelt as rapidly as he could, leaving her shoulders half on her floor, his loose singlet over her face and head, her ass up in the air. “Shit, sorry!” He tried to re-arrange her into a more dignified position, and barked his head on the underside of the windowsill in the process.

She laughed as she pulled his singlet off her face and lifted herself upright. He flushed at her laughter and rubbed his smarting head, swearing profusely.

“Are you bleeding?” She asked as she moved to her knees.

He stopped swearing and looked at her shyly, his face warming. He jerked his hand down from his head. “It’s okay.”

She caught his hand in her own, rubbing the palm with her thumb. Finding the spots in his hand that were still soft, not calloused. He felt himself blush harder. But he couldn’t drop her gaze, he just kept staring into her dark eyes.

There was something delicate between them; something he was terrified of breaking. He’d heard her declare her love for him the night before when they were caught up in that… he wasn’t sure what it was but he’d been giving off heat like he was stuck in a partial transformation. He’d dismissed her declaration as a result of whatever sort of scary, slightly unhinged passion had possessed her in response to whatever scary half transformation had possessed him. But now… she’d seemed pretty clear headed when she’d answered him.

She pulled her knees up and he mirrored her, and they sat like that, him naked and her in his singlet, her rubbing her toes against his instep, holding hands and just looking at each other in silence.

“You have beautiful eyes.” She said after a time. “They were the first thing I noticed about you. I’d never seen gold eyes before.” She smiled, cradling her head in her unoccupied hand. “They were mysterious. And you were different than the other cadets. Intense. Focused. I liked that about you. You weren’t an idiot.”

“I should put that on my gravestone. ‘Reiner Braun. Not an idiot.’”

She laughed. Reiner decided he wanted to make her laugh more. All the time, forever.

“You’re getting cum on the Captain’s floor.” Reiner pointed out.

“It comes out again?” Mikasa scooted backward on her butt in surprise and looked down at the trail she left with a grimace.

“Unfortunately, yes.” He grinned. His grin dropped as the implications of what he’d done resurfaced. “Mikasa, when did you… have your cycle… last?” He asked awkwardly.

“In Shinganshina.” She said promptly. “I had to ask the guard for supplies. It was humiliating.”

“You’re pretty active, you probably aren’t having it regularly…”

“It wasn’t when I was younger, but it has been for years. It changed when they fed us more often and we weren’t fighting all the time.”

“Crap.” Reiner closed his eyes. Shinganshina. One and a half weeks ago. Absolutely perfect timing. And why not? How could he expect anything but bad luck. “Mikasa. When this is all over, talk to Pieck. She will be able to help you.”

“Help me what?”

“Give you something. To prevent… you know. Actually I’ll talk to her now.” Goddammit, she’d never let him live it down. Justifiably so. He’d done something stupid, again.

“Is it really that likely?” Mikasa asked.

Reiner knew from the results of some of Zeke’s more bizarre experiments that Titan powers kept a Titan shifter at peak physical condition. And that included peak fertility.

Reiner had always wondered what the hell had possessed Zeke to investigate any of this. And Zeke had never seemed to be aware (or care) how intrusive his questions could be. When Reiner had come back from Paradis the man had asked in the debriefing room, in front of Pieck and Porco, if he had started masturbating yet. And, if so, could he run some tests.

Of course now Reiner knew why.

“Zeke told me once that the odds double with a shifter involved.” And then the man had given him a long lecture about sex that still made Reiner cringe to remember. Not that it wasn’t deserved. “But realistically still less than a toss-up. Give it a couple months tho…”

“So more likely we die tomorrow.” Mikasa said, matter of factly.

Reiner didn’t reply. Parachuting through bone spires onto a mountain sized spine monster as it spun up turbulence and thermals? Then fighting to get to its nape? Onyakopon had said it. “Suicide.” Any mistake and they’d be dead in an instant. With all his experience as a paratrooper, Reiner figured it was long odds even for him. And realistically he had the best chance of survival of all of them. That was the worst of it. Going into battle knowing he was the most likely to survive. If they succeeded at all he’d probably be burying Mikasa. Or Jean, or Pieck… or every single one of them.

“Are you even sure…?” Mikasa pulled her knees to her chest. She tipped her head forward till her forehead lay against her knees. “I’ve had to do all of these cruel things I never wanted to do. But if I don’t do it my friends die. And… my body is good at it. That thing inside me is good at it. We get thrown into it and I’m always the first to be able to do something. Eren said… I’m an Ackerman, that’s what I’m made for. Killing. He said I don’t love, I just… imprint on a host.”

Reiner realized she was crying and moved forward, to wrap her in his arms, leaning the side of his head against hers. “Sounds like bullshit.”

“He’s right. I can feel it. Last night…”

“No he isn’t.” Reiner held her tighter. “He’s an idiot. Don’t listen to idiots.”

“I don’t think it’s possible that a monster like me can make a life. How can that be fair? After how many people I’ve killed?”

“I’m not sure fairness factors in. I know I can. And by that metric I deserve it less.” He kissed her temple, stroking her hair with the back of his fingers.

“So my body would make something beautiful instead of cruel? It’d make family.” Mikasa caught his hand, kissing his palm. “What about you? What would you want?”

Reiner went silent, rubbing her cheek with his thumb, watching her dark eyes watching him. He was aware that she was dealing with her own self-doubt and self-hatred and that indulging his own at that moment would be a selfish choice. After returning from Paradis, he never thought he’d leave a mark on the world, never wanted to again really. He’d serve Marley without fault, maybe get his name up in the Warrior’s hall as one in a long line of vaguely distinguished but forgettable vice War Chiefs. Then die. But to have a part of him, untouched by any of his mistakes, free of his history…? Someone for Gabi to call family? He couldn’t form an answer to her question. “I’ll talk to Pieck.”

There was a knock at the door. Both Reiner and Mikasa started. “Hi, it’s Hange.” Hange called through the door. "Did you forget we’re doing parachute training today? Right now.”

####

“Connie left! No, no! Your other left! You’re going to crash into Jean!” Reiner yelled.

“Gentle! Correct gently—fuck!” Reiner ran to the winch tethering Connie’s chute rig to the Hizuru steamer and kicked it into gear, it pulled the tether taut, levelling out Connie’s list towards Jean. “Get your hands off the toggles. We’ll land you.” He switched it into a slower gear and let it pull Connie back to the deck. He rubbed his eyes.

“That could have gone better.” Hange said, standing beside him and watching Connie’s progress towards the deck. Onyakopon and Reiner had already worked with her and Armin in the morning, training them with the combo 3DGM and parachute rig to use brake lines to maneuver and land on the aft deck. Both of them had been quick studies, maneuvering the chutes with ease. Now they were training Jean and Connie. Jean was steady and competent, as Reiner had expected; but Connie… he overcompensated, mixed up left and right and had no natural affinity for the movement of the ram-air in the wind.

“Jean, use half break and land when Connie’s clear.” Reiner watched Onyakopon and a Hizuru engineer grab Connie once he was within arm’s range range, hauling him to the deck. “When it comes to it I might have to do a tandem jump with Connie.”

“Tandem jump onto a moving target.” Pieck whistled. “Dan-ger-ous.”

“You’re exactly right Pieck.” Reiner said. “Speaking of which…” He held out his palm to her.

She felt in a front pocket of her suit jacket and brought out a small green vial, handing it to him discretely. “Two drops a day starting now. Twice in one day for three days if you did something stupid.”

“Got it.”

Pieck watched Jean gliding over the gunwale in to land on the cross they’d painted on the deck. Her eyes were hooded, dark with memories.

“I’m sorry.” Reiner said.

She shook her head. “Stop apologizing for things that aren’t your fault. They… hurt you too. Hell even Zeke was upset by it. Which is astounding in hindsight.”

“I didn’t want to remind you.” Reiner replied, he slipped the vial into his pocket. Motion in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He turned.

A gust of wind had caught Jean’s half opened parachute. He shouted and struggled as it dragged him across the deck, towards the gunwale.

Onyakopon ran towards him; Reiner held out a hand to stop him. “Jean. Hit the bang box! Like we practiced.”

Jean opened the guard on the release and toggled the lever; the harness split open and he tumbled the few feet to the deck and fell to his knees, breathing hard. Onyakopon caught the straps of his chute as it spilled.
Reiner knelt beside Jean who looked pale. “Is this going to work?”

“You did good. Just remember, it’s not over till the chute is off. Come on, get up. Walk a bit.” Reiner helped him to his feet. “Hey look at that!”

Jean glanced at him, confused.

Reiner waved his hand over his head. “Last time I saw you, you were just up to my chin. You’re taller than me now.”

Jean snorted. “You just noticed?”

Reiner grinned and didn’t answer. He hadn't just noticed, but he'd just decided to mention it.

Pieck floated over, catching Jean’s arm. Jean looked down at her as she smiled softly up at him and his skin lost its pallor. “Hi.” She said, stoking the side of his chest. “You okay?”

Jean’s lips parted, his breathing quickening. A little too late he realized she’d asked him a question and answered. “Yeah, I’m good. Thanks to Reiner.”

“I just reminded you.” Reiner clapped him on the shoulder. “You’ll do fine. Remember the release.” He cleared his throat. The tension between Jean and Pieck and the backwash from their attraction was starting to have an affect him. Jean definitely had a type. “Well I better get going…”

“Yeah, she’s waiting.” Pieck waved towards the stern. Reiner glanced up. Mikasa stood with Onyakopon, who was looking back at him expectantly. The last Scout to go up in the air.

“Um.” Reiner hesitated. He leaned closer to Pieck. “The Captain’s Cabin is empty. You could go… take a nap.”

She giggled. “A nap?”

“Or have lunch. Or pray. Or do something stupid. Up to you.”

He smiled and waved, walking away from them both while Jean watched him in confusion. "Do something stupid...?"

Reiner struggled to banish the image of Jean and Pieck… together… they both were attractive, and they managed to retain a gentleness to them that made Reiner want to hold them and shield them from the endless, wretched horror that he hadn’t been able to stop the world becoming. He rubbed his temples and shook his head as he stepped closer to Mikasa. She glanced at him, another darkly hungry look, and that did it, the image was gone. Of course it was replaced by her writhing against him, which did not help.

He stopped by Onyakopon. “Can you ask the engineers to slow the boat to fifteen knots? An hour after I take off with her.”

Onyakopon looked at him quizzically. “Sure.”

Reiner nodded his thanks and stepped up to Mikasa on the stern.

“What was that about?” She asked, pointing towards Jean and Pieck, who were talking as they walked away along the deck.

He started to slip into his half of the tandem harness, tightening the leg straps, then the chest straps. “Helping them out.”

“They like each other.” Mikasa said. Reiner couldn’t tell if it was a question.

“Yes. And I’m glad for them.” Reiner said firmly.

Mikasa didn’t respond.

Reiner stepped up to her; he had to half squat and tilt his pelvis forward to lock the attachments at her hips. The position and the motion was so suggestive, he couldn’t help his instant reaction.

Mikasa glanced back, a smile on her lips. “This is going to be fun.”

“Eyes forward soldier.” Reiner decided his best bet was to ignore everything his body did.

###

As soon as they lifted into the air and the lesson began, Mikasa had put everything but learning this new skill out of her mind. As they moved up in the sky till the boat became a toy below them, Reiner had methodically shown her the effect of each of the straps and toggles, focused on conveying the skills she’d need to survive the jump the next day.

She didn’t do anything to distract him, his stern demeanour suggested he’d have no patience with it right now and as a soldier she responded to his command presence with instinctive compliance.
Thoughts still flitted in her head though; the heat of him against her back, the soft rumble of his voice as he instructed her and corrected her.

When the sun had slunk past it’s zenith in the sky, he seemed satisfied with her progress. She glanced down at the boat, now a tiny pebble in a sea of shifting blue. It filled her with fear and excitement to be so high up and she almost wished it didn’t have to end.

He shifted behind her and she waited for him to call out to the team on the deck to start winching them back in.

Instead he untethered them, tossing the rope in such a way that it would fall away from the deck.

Shouts filtered up from the team below them. For a moment she felt sheer terror.

“Mikasa.” Reiner interrupted her worried thoughts. He moved his head close to hers so she could hear what he had to say clearly. “We’re going to land back ourselves on the boat without assistance. This is dangerous so we have to be focused.”

Mikasa was so shocked she needed an answer. “Why?”

“Jean shows them how to overcome their weakness. Armin gives them hope… but you are their courage Mikasa. You have to be daring because you have to lead the way into battle. They’ll follow what you do and you will keep them alive. So. Memorize everything I do.” Reiner said. “Target’s 500 meters below us. Moving at about 15 knots. What do we do?”

Mikasa didn’t have to think. Her body delivered the answer and she spoke it. “Full run.”

Reiner lifted his hands off the toggles. Mikasa felt the increase in acceleration and it thrilled her. “Good job. I’ll make the calls from here. Head on a swivel.”

Mikasa nodded and carefully noted every minute movement of the wind, the parachute and Reiner as he adjusted for speed, turbulence, height. She recognized each adjustment by name and mimicked them in her mind, feeling the tension of the break line and toggles as he pulled them. She trusted his skill but it was still… exhilarating to give herself so fully to the wind and the height and his judgement.

In a moment of relative quiet, she closed her eyes, the wind rushing through her hair, his heat on her back… the weight of the destruction she’d helped unleash fell away, replaced by the vast expanse of the world all around her. And she could go anywhere in it, every bit of it was hers to see. She felt thrillingly free.

She chanced a look back at him. The light from the sun angled, hitting his eyes and turning them a liquid silver-gold. His hair looked like a halo of feathered gold, even his features seemed to sharpen in he wind. He glanced at her briefly and she shivered under his intense focus.

This. This was the true Reiner Braun.

They descended fast, fast enough for Mikasa to feel another surge of fear and excitement. The boat expanded from a leaf to a toy… She kept her eyes on the painted target.

“Knees up.” Reiner said and she pulled her knees in to her chest. Just as it seemed like they’d hit the deck too fast, Reiner pulled the break lines with a steady, gentle pressure and for a moment all momentum stopped; it felt like a single instant of floating.

“Feet down.”

She dropped her feet and realized he was already standing. “That’s it?” It’d been no more jarring than taking one more step on a garden path. She stared at him as he unlatched himself from her harness, the detached parachute already spilling on the deck behind them both. She’d watched the others land all day in various awkward and jarring ways. Of course the landings hadn’t been so uncomfortable looking when they were with Reiner in the tandem harness; but she hadn’t realized, until she experienced it, just how damn smooth he was compared to everyone else.

“That was a dynamic flare. If we survive I’ll show you how to do it. Stick with the half break for tomorrow tho. Onyakopon will drop you at the right point for it.”

The exhilaration of what they'd just done made her heart pound; she kept staring at him, watching his broad hands sort out the harness with expert movements, her lips parted and breath heaving.

Without looking up, Reiner pulled off his harness and hung it on some jerry rigged hooks nailed into a makeshift crate rack. He was blushing under her intense scrutiny. "Tone it down a bit. Everyone's watching."

###

When they landed the deck crew clapped. Reiner nodded at Onyakopon, Hange and the Hizuru engineers, appreciating the fact that none of them were vexed at his stunt. He guessed they understood why he’d done it. Tomorrow would be… the worst jump of his entire career and after him Mikasa was the most likely to survive it. Mikasa was the one the younger scouts looked to to lead them into battle, even more than Hange. They watched her, copied her movements. And if he could get her to understand how to handle herself in the air, she would convey that knowledge to them through their instinctive mimicking of her.

Onyakopon grinned at him when Reiner handed him the tandem harness. “You’ve been doing the training all morning. I’ll take Connie up again, maybe learning it from someone else might help things click.” Onyakopon carefully straightened out the tandem harness straps. “Go take a break. Let off some steam.” He smiled. “Then go to the supplies room and get her suited up in her gear so she can go solo.”

Reiner snorted. “Are we that obvious?”

Onyakopon laughed. “Hange told me she was getting you and Mikasa from the Captain’s Cabin.” He leaned in. “I’m pretty sure everyones figured it out now.”

Reiner thought about Jean, feeling guilty. “Thanks Onyakopon.”

When he looked up Mikasa was staring at him with frank lust. She wasn’t even bothering to hide it.

Onyakopon’s laugh deepened. “You are a braver man than me, Braun. Go, the lady hungers.”

Reiner chuckled and trotted off towards Mikasa. As soon as she was satisfied he was coming she turned around and started walking towards the bow.

“Onyakopon’s taking Connie up in the tandem harness again. We have a bit of time before you have to go up solo. Why don’t we check the fit of your harness and get some lunch?” Reiner pointed to the supplies room door. A few more strides and they were at the threshold. He opened the door for them both, moving inside.

The Supplies room smelled of vegetables and oiled leather, which was a frank improvement over everywhere else on the ship. Reiner sniffed his approval and moved over to the rack of harnesses hung on the far wall, lifting Mikasa’s 3DGM gear that he’d modified with Hange.”This is—“

She jumped up to grab his shoulders, pulling him into a kiss. He hesitated only a second before returning her kiss. He’d battled his desire the entire time he’d been up in the air, to keep it professional, to convey what she needed to know to survive. But the feeling of her against him, her gasps, the feeling of keeping them both aloft and safe through his skill, the thrill he felt shivering through her…

Mikasa dropped her breeches low, tilting her ass back and up to give him access as she braced against the wall. He guided himself in, starting fast and deep. Within seconds she was biting her knuckles to stifle her moans as she rocked back into his thrusts.

He’d almost cum just from her unintentionally wriggling against him in their tandem harness. The excitement of that moment, free flying with her on the wind, sharing with her the best part of his military service… wishing he could take her just like that, stayed with him to this moment… and he was done in almost no time, spilling into her… the risk of what he was doing compounded, a dark cloud of shame lurking in the back of his mind.

When he was done, she turned around and pulled her breeches back up, turning around to lay back on a canvas bag full of linens, watching him languidly and rubbing herself through the open front of her pants.
He panted, pulling himself back to some kind of order. “Anyone can come through at any second.”

“Let them.”

Reiner sighed. “Do you want help?”

She shook her head, still watching him with half lidded eyes. “Just stay there.”

Reiner complied, blushing and feeling exposed even fully clothed while Mikasa stared at him as if trying to burn every line of him into her memory and stroked herself into a silent climax marked only by the parting of her full lips, her soft gasps and the brush of her hips over the canvas.

He was hard again, of course. He glanced back at the door. If they took any longer, not only would everyone know they were fucking, they would know they were fucking _right now_ in the supplies room.

“Come on, let’s get you suited up.” He said, picking up her 3DGM gear again. He held out a hand to help her up. She didn’t take it immediately. Instead she watched him thoughtfully with her dark, inscrutable eyes. “I was thinking how free you were up there. That’s the real you, isn’t it? Strange how your Titan is so heavy and you… your real desire is to fly.”

He didn’t say anything. He’d had a lot of desires of his own that just never went anywhere because he had been Marley’s weapon. That was probably one of the most minor.

Mikasa smiled at him. “I wonder what it would be like to have sex suspended up there.”

“Difficult, dangerous and uncomfortable.” Reiner replied. He put the 3DMG gear down, kneeling between her legs on the canvas sack. He grabbed her breeches and yanked them down, then caught her legs and lifted them so she was exposed to him. This time he unbuckled his pants and dropped them off his hips. Her legs were propped on his shoulders as he took her—again—on the canvas sack.

The first time had taken the edge off so he was able to go slower, slipping his fingers over the slick knot between her legs and snake a hand up her shirt to tease a breast. She just lay back and let him do whatever he wanted, her eyes closed and lips parted, mewing with quiet satisfaction.

He kissed her as he came—again—and flopped down beside her, hiding his face in his hands. “This is getting seedy.”

She rolled over, nestling against his side and making no effort to dress herself.

Reiner guessed the others were probably avoiding the supply room at this point. “Well I guess seedier doesn’t matter. Here.” He fished in his great coat pocket, pulling out the vial Pieck had given him. “Take two drops. Since we’ve been stupid, take them twice a day for three days.”

“What does this do?”

“It’ll stop you getting pregnant.” Reiner said plainly.

“You should keep it.” She pushed it back at him. “I’m going up again and it might break.”

He repocketed it with a sigh and sat up to buckle up his pants. “It’s there when you’re ready.” He turned around to give her a hand up from the canvas sack.

She allowed him to pull her to her feet and finally started to sort her clothes back into order.

Something seemed to sour in the air with the mention of the vial. Mikasa submitted quietly to him draping the rig over her shoulders, and she began buckling the 3DMG straps. No more attempts at kissing or seduction or touching. She looked hurt. Not angry, just… hurt.

Reiner felt bad. Awful. But he was just looking out for her interests.

When she was suited up, they walked side by side in silence out of the Supply room and back to the stern.

###

Reiner watched Mikasa move gracefully through her drills hundreds of meters up, going through each of the maneuvers he’d taught her. He felt someone settle in beside him at the gunwale and turned to look. It was Jean.

“Hi,” There was an air of smugness about him. Just a slight air and Reiner smiled to himself. He guessed Jean and Pieck had gone for a “nap.”

Jean looked up with him at Mikasa and they both stood in silence. Finally Jean broke it. “Did you like Mikasa before… this happened?”

Reiner laughed. “I liked them all. Annie, Krista, Sasha. Even Ymir. Anyone of them expressed interest and I would have been tapping that like no tomorrow. So yeah. I liked Mikasa before.”

Jean sighed. “That seems cheap.”

“At the end of the day you don’t know what any of them want. And putting a bunch of expectations into what you’re doing right off the bat… seems like it would kill anything that could happen.”

“What happened with Pieck?” Jean eyed him suspiciously. “Did you do something to her?”

“Me?” Reiner felt a sudden pang of guilt. “Yeah I guess. Well, it wasn’t what I did but what Marley did to her because of it. They did it to both of us. She can tell you when she wants to.”

Jean went silent, staring at the ocean waves below the hull. Reiner sensed he was getting closer to what he actually wanted to say.

“I screwed up with Mikasa.”

Reiner didn’t reply, leaving space for Jean to elaborate and giving him no indication he knew anything at all.

“She came to me after Eren… did _that._ And she wanted me to… I don’t know. Be with her? And I choked.”

“I don’t think that’s really screwing up.” Reiner said quietly.

Jean closed his eyes. “Now she’s with you.”

“And you’re with Pieck.”

He coughed and blushed beat red.

Reiner turned around, leaning on his elbows on the gunwale. “Think about what you’re doing. You are…” He judged Jean’s embarrassed sputter. Yep. They’d had sex. “Having sex with another woman and you’re still pining after Mikasa. Could you give Pieck a little more respect?”

Jean deflated a bit. “Feels like I’m giving up.”

“Enjoy the time you have with Pieck. You like her, she likes you.” Reiner looked up at Mikasa. He closed his eyes; he frankly envied Jean and that surprised him. He was talking to Mikasa’s future; and Jean had no clue. “Trust me Jean. You do not want to be the first guy Mikasa turns to after the love of her life becomes a mountain sized skeleton monster laying waste to the world. Strategically you’re better off being second.” Reiner chuckled and looked out over the endless ocean waves. “Even if I survive tomorrow. I’m going to be dead in two years. So’s Pieck. If it happens that you two end up together after that, I… I think that would be good. You’re a good man. She’s a good woman.”

Jean started to cry. Reiner resisted for a few seconds… _I’m the one who’s going to lose, Jean…_ before pulling the taller man into a hug.

“I don’t want you to die.” Jean caught the collar of Reiner’s great coat, burying his head in Reiner’s chest. “I don’t want her to die.”

“I know.” He patted his back. “I never stopped thinking of you as friends.”

“I’m sorry for Bertholdt.” Jean’s sobs turned ugly. “He… begged us to save him. I still… hear it sometimes. It hate myself for it.”

Reiner closed his eyes—trying to push back the nightmare in his own memory—rubbing Jean’s back. “Yeah. It’s pretty bad. To remember things like that.” Reiner cleared his throat. “He was a military asset, Jean. Just like me. You were part of the opposing side. I can’t expect you to act differently.” Reiner snorted ruefully. “You did good taking him down. Bertholdt was a better Warrior than me. Zeke’s plan was flawed; I was too green to know how to correct him, even tho I could see it. You exploited the flaws, you used our blindspots against us. Your win was impressive. I’m sure you had something directly to do with that.”

“Yeah, I lead the scouts during part. Saved the team’s ass. That’s the first time… we ever turned the tables.” Jean wiped his eyes with the heels of his hands.

“And Armin’s still alive… and Armin’s with Annie.” Reiner nodded. “Us warriors are all just placeholders.”

“How can you... be kind. To me.”

“I’ve felt like I’ve been manipulated by hate and anger my whole life. I’m just… tired of it. Don’t get me wrong. I miss Bertholdt. I miss Porco.” Reiner choked a bit on Porco’s name. “I’ll never regret not protecting them.”

Jean went silent. He pulled away after a bit. “Yeah.”

A shout rang up through the crowd at the stern. Reiner was moving before he realized something had splashed down into the water. “Mikasa!” He looked up.

She was still in the air. It was the tether that had splashed down.

Reiner stopped at the stern's gunwale looking up with the rest of the deck crew. Everyone’s breath caught as Mikasa flew free and then Reiner watched as she began her approach. Her angle and speed were good. As he watched she adjusted, just as he had, riding the wind, but not exactly as he had because the air had shifted and she changed with it.

Watching her glide through the air, Reiner’s heart leapt into his throat. She was beautiful, moving like a blade through the wind. And when she landed, he watched in amazement as she executed a perfect stall at the exact height dictated by the air density and touched down like a leaf on water.

She unlatched her parachute and it spilled on the deck behind her.

The crowd watching her was silent. Reiner glanced at the awestruck faces around him. And then they moved—Connie, Jean, Armin--they moved to surround Mikasa, cheering her. They beamed hope. Reiner’d known that the training sessions had been a bit dismal, it wasn’t that anyone was bad, it was that they needed to be much better than good to pull it off. But with Mikasa setting a benchmark… It suddenly seemed possible for all of them to pull it off.

Onyakopon grabbed Reiner’s head, hugging him. “Whatever you’re doing with her… Can you do it to the rest of them?”

“No.” Reiner said, muffled by Onyakopon’s chest and arms. He returned the hug and strategically pulled Onyakopon down and off in the process.

Jean was hugging Mikasa along with Armin and Connie; he was the last to break off from her, holding her hand and blushing. “That was amazing.”

Reiner frowned, stepping forward… Mikasa turned to him, seeing him move toward her and her shy grin changed… the smile she gave him was one of pure delight and amazement. “I did the dynamic flare.”
It was absolutely stupid but Reiner couldn’t help himself. He caught her around the waist and kissed her in front of everyone. And it was a kiss with no alibi; open mouthed and deep, his hand behind her head, the other at the small of her back. She held onto his shoulders and he could feel her heart fluttering from the excitement. “You did good.” He said when they finally took a breath.

She held his face. “Good teacher.”

Just past her shoulder he caught Jean's eye. For the first time Reiner did not feel guilty, he felt triumphant.

_You might be her future, but not yet._

Chapter Text

“They’ve gotten better.” Onyakopon stood by Reiner at the gunwale, watching Connie and Jean landing their jumps as the afternoon sun lengthened shadows on the deck. The green mountains of Odiha were visible the distance and the port slowly came into focus below them. Connie’d had the biggest improvement and was now significantly more confident piloting the chute.

“Yeah.” Reiner folded his arms over his chest, nodding.

“Good enough?” Onyakopon asked.

Reiner didn’t answer the question. “I’m going to take them on liberty.”

“Liberty? Where?”

“Odiha. It’s still a port town. It has to have some entertainment.” Reiner knew from his experience mentoring younger Warriors that intensive training rapidly stopped yielding returns and his best bet for significant improvement in a short time was to distract them and let whatever they’d learned process in the back of their mind. “We should also secure the area around the hanger.”

Onyakopon shaded his eyes against the sun, looking at the shore. “Looks deserted. No ships.”

“I wonder if there’s anyone left.” Pieck settled in beside Reiner. “I found something of yours. It got packed with the supply drop.”

He turned as she lifted a duffle bag and pushed it into his chest. He caught it. On the drab olive canvas was his name, R. Braun and former rank, vice Captain. He swung the bag onto his shoulder. “Thanks Pieck. We’re going to disembark when we get to port. We’ll need rifles and transport. See if you can round that up.”

He pushed off the gunwale, heading towards the supplies room. Behind him he heard Onyakopon grunt surprise at his abrupt departure and step after him, and Pieck saying “don’t.”

He made a beeline towards the supplies room, not looking back.

When he was inside he leaned back against the closed door, tipping his head back till it hit hard metal and taking deep breaths. His entire body was shaking.

When he’d caught hold of himself enough to move, he sat down on the canvas sack he and Mikasa had “christened” just hours before and hugged his duffel bag to his chest, burying his face into it. It smelled of Libertto, the terracotta brick, the smell of unleavened bread, garlic and sage, and it smelled of the Warrior’s barracks, sort of a gross mix of sweat, damp socks, Zeke’s sandalwood cologne that saturated everything it touched and Porco’s ever present anger-BO.

Reiner laughed. Porco had never been aware of anything larger than his own ego. He even turned his death into a flex. But Porco’s simplicity had been comforting and familiar. A reminder of a smaller world that he once fit into, even tho he didn’t fit at all.

And when the smell faded, it would be like Porco never existed. Zeke never existed. The barracks, Libertto, his family, eleven years of service… never existed at all.

His laughter turned into coughing and then sobbing. The pain tore through his throat till he could barely swallow or breath, he could only heave into his pack till he felt like he was going to throw up, his tears and snot and spit soaking into the grey-olive canvas.

When he’d passed the trailing edge of his grief, he sat silently in the dark. He’d asked Eren to make him disappear. Instead Eren had made everything else disappear; everything Reiner had ever fought for.
A soldier with no home, no nation, no duty left… but one. Magrath’s final order. “Work with your enemy to save what remains of the world.”

The door opened. Reiner blinked in the sudden light, too tired to get up or hide. Mikasa closed the door behind her, not looking at him. “Hi.” She said softly.

Reiner wiped his eyes and cleared his throat. He hadn’t wanted any of them to see this. He knew they were barely holding it together as it was and none of them needed or deserved to have to endure his grief on top of that.

“Hey.” He said and got up, moving to leave. “I better go help Pieck round up the supplies—“

“Wait.” Mikasa caught his arm, then did and said nothing further.

Reiner waited until he started to get slightly vexed by her silence. “Mikasa.”

Instead of saying anything, she pressed him back towards the canvas sack, turning the lights on as they went. “I want to know.”

Reiner hesitated as she sat down. “Are you punishing yourself?”

“Let me know.” Mikasa pulled him down and he sat. “Show me.”

Reiner sighed. “You don’t need to be burdened with any of this.”

“Because you want to be whatever I need.” Mikasa looked at him, same inscrutable dark look. “I need to know.”

Reiner shook his head. “Pieck brought me my personal belongings. I’m shocked she found them. This is all I have of my life in Marley.” He unzipped the duffle and started rifling though the items. “I got a spare uniform. That’ll come in handy since no one is near my size. And my dress uniform. I guess I still had some pride when we left Marley.” The polished brass buttons glinted against his white tunic as he pulled it out, revealing two dog-eared books under. “A book on modern artillery. A science fiction anthology.” He showed her two round white and red tins of the military issue candy ubiquitous to Marley’s troops. “A couple tins of caffeinated chocolate. Three packs of smokes.”

Mikasa blinked at that. “You smoke?”

“Yes. Just not near as much as Zeke and I haven’t had time. Plus they’re good for barter. A fifth of whiskey. My wallet. They still owe me this month’s pay.” He folded the duffle closed. “There you are. All the wonderful things that are gone from the world. I should probably quit smoking anyway. But the caffeinated chocolate was really good. I’ll miss that.”

She caught the edge of the duffle and pulled it open again, reaching in and pointing silently at a square tin. It was for a holiday cake that his family had bought years ago from the market in Libertto.

Reiner breathed in and out hard. Reiner caught her hand and closed his eyes. “No.” This was well beyond sex or dating or even saying ‘I love you’—because you can say that to a friend or a fellow soldier. What she was doing was like finding a stray in the street and taking it home and giving it a name. And he didn’t know if he wanted to be named. He could say it was because he didn’t want her feeling guilty or put her in more pain, but mostly it was because it would hurt even more when she eventually walked away from him. Which she would. Because nothing that they were doing made sense. “I can’t show you that.”

She didn’t say anything. Instead she reached into the pocket of his great coat and pulled out the vial that Pieck had given him, slipping it into the breast pocket of her own shirt.

Reiner recognized the gesture. This was as far as either of them would go with each other.

Another empty, cold silence descended between them. Reiner cleared his throat and got up. “You did good today.”

“Yeah. The others are doing better too.”

They didn’t kiss or touch when they parted.

And Reiner was sure it was for the best.

###

Reiner drove through Odiha’s port district to its Main Street. Connie sat beside him riding shot gun, rifle at the ready, watching the windows and roofs of the streets as they passed. Mikasa sat in the back, also observing for potential hostiles in the empty city. Behind them in a second car, Pieck drove with Jean riding shotgun, Armin and Annie in the back.

They’d finished a sweep of the buildings close to the Hanger for safety’s sake. There had been no one. As far as Reiner could tell the town was completely deserted. Even of vagrants. The Hizuru engineers were be busy readying the flying boat and the Rumbling wasn’t due for another twelve hours.

Reiner looked at Mikasa in the rear-view mirror. She had a neutral look on her face, but she was looking around, fascinated by the car ride. Something he didn’t know if she’d ever experienced before. Gabi and Falco sat with her; Gabi excitedly pointing out the various landmarks they passed, with particular emphasis on the Armoury and Naval shipyard. She rattled off statistics about artillery and fighting strength and military history. Which was, Reiner realized, a little disturbing to watch a 12 year old girl do.

The Hizuru engineers had offered to lend them two of the vehicles parked in the garage adjacent to the hanger. The entire complex, hanger, garage and boat landing was owned by Mikasa’s clan, the Azumbito. Lady Kiyomi had even offered Reiner use of a townhouse by the docks, owned by the minor Azumbito lord that had run the hanger. He hadn’t had the heart to tell her that he figured whatever Mikasa and him had was at an effective end. He couldn’t give her more of himself without hurting her; and he couldn’t let her give any more of herself to him. Not without creating another thing to regret.

Pieck waved at him frantically in the car behind and swerved to a sudden stop at the curb. He hit the breaks and pulled over.

Connie rubbed his head, having barked it on the stock of his rifle and glared at him. “Reiner, you dumb fuck!”

He ignored Connie, reversing and backing up till he was parked in front of Pieck’s car. “What’s wrong?”

She was already out on the sidewalk pointing at a dress shop. “We never got these fashions in Libertto! Oh they’re so cute.”

Reiner rolled his eyes and pulled his rifle out of the back seat of his car, walking over to Jean, who had his slung over his shoulder. Jean watched Pieck with a small smile. “Priorities I guess.” He said as Reiner stopped beside him.

Annie exited the car. She didn’t pick up a rifle. Neither her nor Pieck had. Reiner knew that he was exercising an abundance of caution keeping his on him at all times. Jean seemed to share his instinct. And Connie copied whatever they did.

“Doesn’t seem like your thing.” Reiner said as Annie passed him.

She blushed. “My friend Hitch used to take me shopping in the Capitol. I… miss it.” She joined Pieck at the dress shop as Pieck excitedly regaled her of various gossipy details about socialites and actresses. Reiner grinned; Pieck applied her observational skills to everything, even gossip. Eventually Mikasa joined them for want of anything else to do, shy and quiet, not looking at him again.

Reiner felt something solid hit his side and he looked down to see Gabi with her hands around his waist. “There’s a candy and toy store!” She said excitedly, pointing three doors down.

Reiner leaned down so he was more at eye level with her. “Don’t go further than that, okay? Not till we sweep the area. Falco, can you stay with her?”

Falco nodded.

“Here.” Reiner pulled some cash out of his wallet and gave it to Falco.

“Is there a point to this?” Falco asked, receiving it and pocketing it.

Reiner shrugged. “I don’t know.” He patted Falco’s head.

“We scouting up ahead?” Jean asked.

Reiner scanned up the road. “Yeah. Connie, come with us. Armin, protect the girls.”

Armin glanced up from his quiet contemplation. “Aren’t they more likely to protect me?”

“Keep a lookout, they’re distracted.” Reiner replied. He moved to trot past Jean up the cobbled street. “I’ll take point. They’ll recognize my uniform as friendly.” Reiner set a fast pace up the hill. The mountains loomed over the city to the west, mist threading through the pine on their flanks. After a few steps Reiner started to call out. “Citizens of Odiha. This is Captain Braun of the Marley Warrior Division. Do not shoot.”

They walked to the end of the block, Reiner calling out periodically as they did so. When they got there they scanned the crossing street for signs of life. There was none. Just empty cobblestone and bits of garbage spun up by the wind. Not even vagrants or criminals remained. The power was still on; Reiner figured the station was automated so it would go till it broke or was destroyed.

“This is eerie.” Jean said. He moved in a reflexive crouch, scanning the rooftops, gun sweeping to Reiner’s left while Connie took the right. “Feels dangerous.”

“No one’s here.” Connie said finally, slinging his rifle over his shoulder.

Reiner crouched to pick up a pamphlet on the ground.

Jean stepped over, shouldering his rifle. “What’s it say.”

“General evacuation order. Dated two days ago. I guess no one wanted to test their luck.” Reiner balled up the pamphlet and threw it in a trash can at the street corner. “Yeah, there’s no one here.” He followed Jean and Connie’s decision, putting his rifle over his shoulder and pulling a pack of smokes out of his great coat pocket. With practiced movements he unwrapped the cellophane and popped open the top, tapping a cigarette into his hand. He offered one to Jean, who took it, and Connie, who didn’t.

He pulled out his lighter, lit his cig then Jean’s. And stood, taking a deep drag, feeling the stinging of the nicotine at the back of his throat, in his lungs and… moments later the anxiety he’d forgotten he was feeling numbed.

Jean puffed awkwardly on his cigarette and coughed. Reiner grinned at him around his. “First time?”

Jean blushed. “I just don’t get to smoke often.”

“So this is Odiha?” Connie looked around, up the steep streets that faded into the mist coming off the mountain.

“Yep. I’ve never been here before.” Reiner said. He turned to watch the mist rolling off the bay, sunset gilded the waves shades of gold and peach. The evening fall air was crisp, it smelled of pine and briny ocean, with faint hints here and there of caramelized sugar, hot bread and chowder. “Reminds me of the docks of Libertto.”

“I’m going to go up a bit further, see what’s here.” Connie said and started heading up the hill.

“Be careful.” Reiner called after him. “Watch the doors and windows and roofs.”

Jean and Reiner shared a companionable silence. Reiner lighting his second smoke and Jean awkwardly puffing and coughing through his first.

“What happened between you and Mikasa?” Jean asked after a bit.

“Nothing.” Reiner answered. “Just went as far as it could.”

“That’s not right.” Jean shook his head. “Now she’s looking at you like she looked at Eren all the time. Like you’re running away from her.”

Reiner said nothing. He ground out his second smoke under his heel and started up a third. He never usually smoked this much, but there was no point holding back now.

“I messed up.” Jean shrugged. “You say I didn’t, but I did. And I thought about what you said. You’re right, it’s because I’d built it up too much in my head and when I had the chance I choked. I have to live with that. I guess it could be worse.” Jean smiled to himself. “Pieck is… very kind. And smart. And beautiful. And funny.”

“And sexy.” Reiner teased.

Jean glared at him. “She’s refined. Sensual. It feels effortless with her. And I don’t have to deal with the spectre of Eren. I never measured up to him.”

“Jean…” Reiner started.

“No, hear me out. I wanted to tell Mikasa that he didn’t deserve her. Eren was always running away to fight. That was his obsession. She’d always be second. And I was always second to him.”
Reiner thought of Eren asking Mikasa what he meant to her and said nothing. It wasn’t his story to tell.

“With you, though… I know you’re not running away from her because you have something more important. So why?”

Reiner took a drag on his smoke, taking his time to answer. “If she comes any closer, I can’t hide certain things.” Reiner grimaced. “I don’t have the right to mourn. And I don’t want her to be burdened with… it. She already feels guilty enough.”

Jean looked thoughtful a moment, then he shook his head. “No. You can’t do what you’re doing.”

Reiner shook his head, “What?”

“This could be the last day we have so there’s no point trying to change how the cards were dealt now. I’m not going to watch her watch another man run away from her again. So you have to get over it. Because if you break her heart I will have to not forgive you… even harder.”

Reiner frowned at him. “Jean…”

“You’re able to make her happy. Even if it’s just for a day. If you can’t do it for yourself. Do it for me.”

Reiner stared at him. Jean stared back, brown eyes sad. Hopeful. Resolute.

Reiner chuckled. “You really have changed. Here.” He got out another cigarette and handed it to Jean. Grabbing Jean’s half jacket to pull him close and light it off his own. “Inhale slowly, it’s not a race.” Reiner turned to lean against the brick face of the building behind them. “I’ll think about it.”

“Is there anything you wanted for yourself?” Jean asked after a time. “Or were you always just focused on being a soldier?”

Reiner laughed outright at that. “I never wanted to fight at all.”

Jean gaped at him. “But you’re really good. You were our hardest opponent.”

“I wasn’t always. I guess there’s no reason not to tell you. I’m half full Marleyan. I became a soldier because I thought I’d be able to reunite my father and mother by becoming a Warrior and an honorary Marleyan. I found out that was never going to happen. So I just focused on becoming the best Warrior I could. And then the best soldier.”

“So you did it for family.” Jean mused, then focused on puffing on his cigarette. “Just like Mikasa.”

Reiner’s throat closed off at Jean’s words. It took time before he could work the pain out of his throat to respond. “If I could do it over again, that’s what I’d do. I wouldn’t become a Warrior. I’d just grow up and make my own damn family. And then none of this wretched shit would have happened.”

“No, it would. Someone else would have been sent to knock down the walls.” Jean said quietly. “Different players, but the game never changes.”

###

“This really compliments your eyes.” Pieck held up a pale blue satin dress against Mikasa’s chest. She brushed the fringe of Mikasa’s bangs from her face. “What beautiful eyes. I’ve never seen a grey so dark before. You should take it. My treat.”

“What do you think of this, Pieck?” Annie stepped out of the change room in a pink backless chemise.

Mikasa blinked. It left nothing to the imagination. “That looks more like something Hitch would choose.”

Annie blushed and picked at a non-existent piece of lint on her dress.

“It is daring.” Pieck said. “Still lovely. I’m not sold on the colour. I saw a lilac slip that I think would suit you better. I’ll go get it.” Pieck handed Mikasa the blue dress and walked towards the back of the store.
Annie stepped past Mikasa to the three way mirror, turning around so she could see the back of her dress. “Don’t hurt him.” Annie said after a moment. “Then I really will have to beat your ass.”

“As if.” Mikasa snorted. “Don’t hurt who?”

Annie gave her a look. _Don’t be stupid._ “I resented Reiner for a long time. Although, to be honest he probably saved my life. If I’d gone back that day guaranteed Marley would have executed me for choosing to save my skin rather than continue the mission. Me and Bertholdt used him. We both knew he was…. Not well. But neither of us had the guts to confront him, or confront Marley. So we just let him make the choices. We let him take the brunt of it, even tho… we knew it was tearing him apart.” Annie dropped her gaze, ashamed.

“Why aren’t you telling Reiner this?”

“Because he won’t listen. He won’t let anyone drag him out of that black hole of blame. You notice when Jean and him were fighting? I think Jean realized. Reiner won’t accept being forgiven. He can’t. Jean beat the crap out of him to save him from the hell in his own head. I mean he was also furious, of course.” Anne stared at the deck, combing a lock of her blond hair over and over. “All I can do is find a way to make it easier on him. Without pushing him too far.” Annie sighed. “I just wanted you to know.”

“Why? I don’t think… I think he’s done with…” Mikasa gestured vaguely. “This…“

“What? Reiner?” Annie laughed. “Are you kidding? Once he gets something into his head it does not come out. If he’s pushing you away it’s probably because he has some stupid self-defeating bullshit in his head on loop. Watch. He’ll fuck off for a bit, then come back with some unhinged crazy-ass idea.” Annie hesitated, her hands stilled. “You know, he’s like Eren that way. Like an Eren that is a little less scary.” She cocked her head thoughtfully, looking at Mikasa with her wide blue eyes. For the first time Mikasa realized there was a certain innocence to Annie. She could be ruthless and she was smart, but there was a part of her that remained untouched by it all… like Armin. Then again--Mikasa remembered the clean up after her attack on Squad Levi--innocent did not mean kind.

Annie continued after a moment. “Is that why?”

“Sorry?” Mikasa’s brow drew. “Why what?”

“Is that why you are drawn to Reiner? They both scare me. It’s that strength of purpose, to someone like me, it’s like an earthquake or a tidal wave. I have tried to beat it out of Reiner and… it never broke. Not once. It’s something you can’t fight, it’ll just sweep you along. I like… I mean I love Armin. He lets me be who I am. We can be lame together. But you. You’re not like me.”

Mikasa glanced at Pieck, who was nearing, folding the lilac dress over her arm and listening intently, looking like she might interject if things got out of hand. Annie didn’t seem to stop, even as she acquired an audience.

“You’re an Ackerman, right? You are born to fight forces of nature. To put a stop to them. You’re not scared. Maybe more than that… you just aren’t complete unless you’re next to that strength of purpose. Waiting.”
Mikasa turned away, sad and angry. “Yeah, I’m just a slave.”

“Really? I mean, we’re all at least partly shaped by how we’re born. So how is that different than anyone else? If anything it just gives you the strength to fight things no one else can. What’s wrong with that? ” Annie’s hand brushed her arm. Mikasa turned. “Reiner’s changed. I’ve never seen him so… subdued. His guilt is killing him. I think I was wrong when I said he would have chosen to break down the wall… Me and Marcel and Bertholdt knew Marley was full of shit. We knew we’d be killing people. Innocent people. Reiner was a believer. I think if he knew, he might not have done it. Now that all the lies are gone… I wonder what he’d be like if he found something to put that sense of purpose to.” Annie lifted her hand and flattened it out as if she was mimicking a wing in flight. “You and them… you and him are like flying. Two forces in opposition that still compliment eachother; gravity and wind. Maybe it won’t last very long, but for as long as it lasts… it’s inspiring.”

Mikasa glanced between Annie and Pieck. Pieck smiled softly. “What do you think Mikasa?”

She touched her chest over her heart. She sat down in a padded chair by a rack of skirts. “I… I don’t want him to run away from me. Eren was always running away. I guess he needed to be free more than he needed me. Except for one moment. And I screwed it up.” Mikasa looked around herself then at the dress in her hands. “All of this is going to be gone tomorrow. If I hadn’t fought against you in Shinganshi… It would still be here. The person who owns this shop would still be here, selling dresses. I don’t deserve to be here. I… how could this have been what he wanted?” Mikasa felt warmth slip down her cheeks, then Pieck knelt before her, holding her.

“Shh…” Pieck said, rubbing the nape of her neck. “It’s okay.”

“Is it?” Annie said. “Yeah, everything is shit. So what are you going to do to make it better?”

Mikasa closed her eyes. After a moment she caught Pieck’s shoulders and urged her back. “You’re right Annie.” She stood. “That’s what I need to ask.”

“Don’t be weak Mikasa, it freaks me out.” Annie stepped past her. “Hey Pieck, I’m going to get Armin’s opinion on the chemise. If he likes it I’m sticking with it. Although we can look for a lilac one.”

“Got it.” Pieck finger gunned.

“Wait.” Mikasa caught her hand; she pulled Annie closer. “And if you hurt him.” She smiled slightly. “I’ll have to kick your ass.”

Annie snorted. “As if.”

###

“Booze!” Jean grinned ear to ear. Reiner stopped with him in front of the store, ‘Felix’s Liquor dispensary’. “Do you think they’d mind if I took some? After all we’re trying to save the world here.”

Reiner heaved a sigh. He tested the door handle. Locked. He glanced at Jean, then back at it and reefed it with a grunt, breaking it open. “Maybe you’re right. Exceptional circumstances.”

“I don’t think I could do that.” Jean said.

“It was a weak lock.” Reiner glanced around. The walls were covered in bottles of every colour and boxes with silver and black lettering. It was a high class establishment, smelled of waxed wood and aniseed. He went to the counter and looked behind the register, finding a pad of paper and a pencil.

“What are you doing?”

“Writing a promissory note. Explaining this.” Reiner replied. He began. ‘Dear Sir or Madam, my name is Reiner Braun, a Captain in the Warriors’ Regiment. I apologize for the damage to your door. I and an associate took the liberty to requisition some alcohol prior to our final assault on the Attack Titan. Please make all damages and loss of property payable to--’

“Why?” Jean was already popping open a dark green bottle of liquor. “You know the colossal army will be here by tomorrow afternoon.”

“And if by some chance they aren’t? Besides even if the shop keep never knows, I will.”

Jean took a swig and grinned at him. “You can’t possibly be that straight laced.”

Reiner set the note down on the cash register. “Don’t drink too much. You won’t enjoy parachuting hung over.” He started towards the door.

“Where are you going?”

“I saw a shop I wanted to visit.” Reiner opened the door, as it closed behind him he said, “I’ll tell Connie you’re here if I see him.”

Out of habit, Reiner looked both ways before crossing the street. He was jaywalking across but there was no one to tell him not to and no cars to dodge. When he got across, he glanced through the windows of his chosen store. It was a jewelry shop. In the window mannequins modelled the latest jewelled headdresses, wristlets, earrings. Not what he was looking for.

He tried the lock. It opened. Apparently they hadn’t bothered to close it, or hadn’t time. Walking in Reiner was surprised it wasn’t looted. But then, maybe the wave of terror that preceded the Colossal army overwhelmed people’s greed.

He moved past glass cases full of diamond necklaces and tiaras and crystal figurines till he was in front of the case in the back.

He heard a step at the door and turned, rifle up and braced against his shoulder to aim.

Connie stared at him from the threshold, hands up. “Hey.”

“Sorry.” Reiner lowered his rifle.

Connie shrugged. “I heard you fought the Mid East Union. How long were you on the front lines?”

“Four years.” Reiner switched his rifle to shoulder carry. “We had to be careful, between transformations the enemy’d send troops over the front lines to capture or kill us. It’s when the fighting got its worst.”
“So constant war since you left Paradis.”

Reiner returned to searching the glass case. “Pretty much.”

Connie walked over. “I found a soda shop. Everyone else is there; they’re arguing over music.” He glanced at the case. “What are you looking for?”

“Rings.” Reiner said simply.

“For like a graduation?” Connie asked.

“Wedding rings.” Reiner found what he wanted and walked around the case to the back, he forced the lock with his utility kit knife and a wrench of his wrist. He puled out several of the small wooden cases. All the same style, two smooth gold bands, no Art Deco patterns, no plaiting. Plain, simple. He opened the cases and gaged the smaller of each pair against his own ring finger. Till he found a probable match with Mikasa. Then, as an afterthought, he picked out the largest men's ring and put it on his finger. Tight, but it wasn't too bad. He put the rings he'd selected in one of the boxes, checked the price, counted out what he had in his wallet and put it back where the rings had been. “Keep the change.” He said to no one.

“Rings for weddings?” Connie asked.

“In Marley if a man gives a woman a ring it’s as good as a binding contract for marriage.” Reiner looked at the two rings nestled in satin in the box, one significantly thicker than the other. “Having a man’s ring is sort of the rage now, but it’s not really part of the tradition.” He closed the box and pocketed it.

“What’s that for?”

Reiner dropped his shoulders. It was insane. He had no idea if she’d say yes. But Jean had reminded him… he never wanted to fight, only wanted to become a hero after… after he’d realized he’d had no hope healing his family. And like Jean said, they had one day. Do it now, or not at all. He nodded to himself and unholstered his pistol.

When he turned around he grinned at Connie, pointing the pistol under his throat, finger off the trigger. “Shotgun wedding. I’m holding myself at gunpoint.”

Connie gaped at him, eyes wide in shock. “What are you doing?” He moved to grab the pistol.

Reiner held up his hand to stop him. “It’s a joke.” Reiner holstered his pistol, feeling a little guilty at Connie’s look of horror.

Connie let out a breath. “You’re fucking nuts.”

“Laugh. It was funny.” Reiner grabbed Connie, pushing him out of the shop.

“No. That wasn’t funny. It was dark. Don’t do that.” Connie protested. “You still do that crazy suicidal shit? Like trying to kill yourself saving me?”

Reiner stopped, staring down at Connie. “I’m going to ask Mikasa to marry me.”

Connie looked up, perplexed. “What is she pregnant?”

“That was the joke. Shotgun wedding.”

“Wha…? Can Asians get pregnant?”

Reiner's brow drew. “Yes, Connie. Where do you think people come from?”

Connie shook his head. “I didn’t mean that… I meant Ackermans.”

“That also makes no sense, Connie. Think.”

Connie hit the heel of his hand on his temple. “Ergh. You’re going to ask Mikasa to marry you.” He worked it through in his mind. “Because she’s pregnant? That was quick. How long have you been screwing? A day?”

“Because she _could be_. And I asked myself what I’d do if she was.” Reiner nodded. “I’d marry her.”

“Oh I get it now. Ha. Shotgun wedding. But you’re holding _yourself_ hostage.” Connie chuckled. “That was funny, actually.” The smile dropped, he punched Reiner’s shoulder. Hard. “Don’t do it again.”

They walked out of the shop; Reiner scanning the street for anything hostile through the shop windows. He carefully closed the door behind him. He knew it didn’t matter but he couldn’t let go of it mattering. Not yet.
Connie pointed towards the direction of the soda shop and they began the short hike up the cobblestone hill, past a post-office, a drug store, some row houses…

“You’re going to ask Mikasa to marry you.” Connie repeated after a time.

Reiner nodded. Then noticed Connie had stopped. He turned. Connie stood on the sidewalk, head bowed.

“I’m the least important person here and I know it.” Connie said. “But that bastard ape took my family away from me. And his bastard brother got Sasha killed. And for what? To commit genocide? Between the two of them they took everything from me. It just…” Connie grimaced. “It just burns me that what I want isn’t even a footnote in their story. The grand fucking story of the Yeager Brothers and how they get to make everyone’s choices for them. It burns me up that he just did this and he says he did it for us.” Connie’s fist gripped on his rifle stock. “That pisses me off, that he even thinks he did this shit for me. He didn’t ask me if I wanted it. I am just an excuse for all of his FUCKING SHIT!” Connie brought his rifle down on a stoop railing, butt first, managing to dent and splinter hard wood.

“Hey.” Reiner lifted his hand, “Don’t damage your rifle.”

Connie resettled it on his shoulder and leaned on the heels of his hands on the damaged rail, eyes closed. “If I ever get the opportunity to kill that fucking bastard, I’m taking it. I just hope he knows it was me. I want him to know I’m not his excuse.” Connie’s shoulders clenched, he had his eyes screwed tight, and tears leaked out of the corners. “I know I’m not strong enough for that. But… you are. She is. So if you manage to fuck some sense into her and get her to stop clinging to a piece of shit… you got my thanks.”

Reiner watched him, then stepped back and pulled Connie into a hug. “I never stopped thinking of you as a friend, Connie.”

He felt Connie grab around his chest, pushing into him, just like Jean had, just like Mikasa. “I miss Sasha so much.”

Reiner rubbed his back. “I do too.” He brushed tears from his eyes with his thumbs and sniffed. “You two were a lot of fun to goof off with.”

As Connie sobbed the tension in his shoulders unwound and Reiner held him till he the sobs turned into wet heaves, then quiet.

They returned to walking to the soda shop in silence. Pieck must have moved the cars because both sat parked out front. As he passed the one he’d been driving, he reached into the back for his duffle.
A quick paced ragtime tune was playing on the jukebox when they opened the door. It chimed and it was almost like being back at home. Jean and Pieck and Gabi were preforming an energetic shuffle on the tile; Pieck helping Gabi with the steps. Falco watched nervously from the counter. Armin and Annie sat in a corner, behind a table with a box of macaroons likely pilfered from the candy shop. Connie scooted over to steal one for himself. Annie’s head was rested on Armin’s chest, his arm around her shoulders. He was stroking her blond hair while they watched the others dance.

Reiner did a double take at her dress, it was hugging every curve, looking about fit to slip off like smoke; he grinned at her. “That’s quite the get up. Stand up and give me a turn so I can can get a back view.”

Armin frowned at him and he pulled Annie closer. Annie sipped her glass of liquor. “Fuck off Reiner.”

He laughed. The place smelled of ice cream and liquor and cola; and the rich, warm smell of coffee. Reiner took a deep breath, glad to have his sense of smell back after the endless coal-tar-oil-coal-smoke-tar-coal of the ship.

“Where’s Mikasa?” He asked.

“She went to the record store up the street on the corner.” Armin said. “She’s looking for a specific song apparently.”

“That’s good timing.” Reiner glanced around for the bathroom. “Excuse me.” He moved past Gabi on his way and she grabbed his hand, beaming up at him. “They taught me a dance!”

“I see that. You’ve got flair.” He fluffed her hair and then pulled her into a hug. “You keep enjoying yourself. I’m going to get changed.”

“Changed?” Gabi asked.

“Yeah. I have something important to do.”

“What?”

He pressed his finger to his lips. “I can’t tell you. It’s a secret.”

She turned solemn and didn’t pry. She’d grown up a lot since leaving Marley. Just like him. She nodded. “Good luck, Reiner.”

“It’s okay, it’s nothing bad.” He patted her head and stepped towards the bathroom. It was good to see her smile, enjoying herself. Even if he hadn’t been able to protect her future. He stopped the thought. No point.
He opened the door to the men’s room and stepped inside. It was small; he barely fit inside. It was awkward getting out of his field uniform. Even more awkward was getting into his dress uniform. It was fitted, the fabric stiff and unwieldy. After a few hot, uncomfortable minutes he finally managed to pull on his trousers and shrug into his jacket. He stepped out, deciding to finish the rest in the shop with more room.
Jean saw him first as he was pulling out his collar.

Jean whistled. “Wow. What’s the occasion?”

Connie grinned. “He’s going to—“

“Shut up Connie.” Reiner slapped the back of his head.

Connie batted at his hand. “Agh. Not fair.”

Reiner threaded his tie through his shirt collar and started to fold it into a knot, watching himself in the mirror behind the counter.

“What are you going to do?” Jean said, his face taking on a fox-like quality as he trotted over.

Pieck caught his arm. “Would you like a malt?”

“What’s that?” Jean asked.

She picked up one of the bottles of liquor he’d purloined from Felix’s dispensary. Some kind of mint chocolate. “It’s ice cream and milk and… if you like… This will taste good with it too.”

Jean looked between her and Reiner. “Keep your secret then.” He let Pieck turn him around, back to toward the counter and the promise of a new type of drink.

Reiner mouthed “Thank you,” at Pieck and she winked.

He felt an uncomfortable pang of anxiety as he finished buckling and buttoning his dress uniform and moved towards the exit.

“Figured out your next crazy-ass idea?” Annie asked over her drink.

He paused, his hand on the doorknob. “Huh…?”

“Don’t get yourself killed.” She said.

He frowned at that and left the soda shop, the door chiming closed behind him. The record store was, as Armin had said, up the street on the corner. Reiner walked towards it, his hand on the jewelry box in his pocket. Fear, anxiety and excitement churned through him. Like the moment just before he confronted his father. Or the moment he knew he’d been chosen to inherit the Armour.
When he entered the shop, he found her looking at a wax record in a cardboard sleeve.

“You found it?” He asked, moving to stand beside her.

She glanced at him, sorrow and hope in her eyes. “Yes. This was the one I was looking for.”

“Can I see?”

She handed it to him. It was a modern rendition of a folk story from Marley’s past; It showed a Marleyan soldier and an Eldian girl. He glanced over the title and lyrics. “Do you know how to read Marlayan?”
She shook her head.

“This was a folk song; looks like it was sung in old Marleyic. I wouldn’t even understand it.” Reiner hesitated. “We all speak Eldian as our first language. Our own language is a relic. Because we were conquered by Eldia.” He laughed and tapped the record. “This might be the last bit of Marleyic in the world after Eren’s done. It’s a story about forbidden love. This is actually pretty salacious. The Party was debating banning it, but then… bigger things. You’d be surprised how often this happened, considering it was illegal. My dad was full Marleyan. My mother is… was Eldian.” Reiner stopped for a moment. It was getting easier and easier to confess to something he’d hidden his whole life. And if he was honest with himself, the death of his mom was almost a formality. He’d barely seen her for nine years and when he did see her the gulf between what she insisted was true and what he had seen of the world felt insurmountable. He grimaced… he was a bad son.

Mikasa’s fingers brushed his arm and he caught his hand over hers. Reiner continued. “A Marleyan soldier fell in love with an Eldian girl who he was ordered to execute. He killed her. And then he killed himself. Likely the only reason it was allowed to be published was because in the end he did as ordered.”

“That story… It's tragic but it seems too... sympathetic.” Mikasa remarked.

“Well, when two peoples are as entangled as Marley and Eldia… It’s hard not to end up with some love in among the hate. Marley treated its Eldians better than anyone, really. Eren’s right, the world wanted us dead and Marley stood in between the world and our death. Doesn’t excuse what we did.” Reiner put the record down. “It’s funny you were drawn to that.”

“I liked the voices of the singers. You could really hear the longing.” Mikasa said. “When we… infiltrated Marley. I thought the phonograph was the most amazing thing. I went to a shop every day by Lady Kiyomi’s mansion and listened to all the songs and radio plays I could. It was a window into another world… I know Armin and Eren really wanted to see fields of flame, and plains full of snow… but I liked the stories and songs. It was a way of touching people without being seen. Like being surrounded by family.”

Reiner turned around to lean against the counter. “I wonder sometimes if we got it wrong… The Warriors were convinced if Eldians stopped being useful as weapons, Marley would fall and then the world would murder us. But maybe the world would stop fearing us instead. I dunno. Probably not. No point thinking about it now.” He glanced around the shop. “Is there anything else you wanted from here?”

Mikasa smiled sadly. “I wish I could take the shop with me. I got a few things.” She nodded at the stack of records. Reiner picked them up, tallying the prices up in his mind and pulled some bills out of his wallet. He placed them on the counter, and leaned over to pick up a paper bag.

Mikasa watched him do this in silence, not remarking on it. Maybe she understood that not doing it threatened the fragile bubble of peace he’d managed to build in his mind in Odiha. As long as the rules remained, the world wasn’t ending, not yet.

He carried her records, opening the store door to usher her out. When they were on the street, he stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. He cupped the side of her head; stroking his fingers through her hair. She watched him, perplexed.

Taking a deep breath he knelt in front of her, pulling the box out of his pocket. He opened it and presented the rings to her. For a moment he couldn’t speak. Then he just plowed ahead. “Due to the uncomfortably high probability that I got you pregnant, would you accept my offer of marriage.” Without waiting for an answer he pressed the box into her hand, then closed her fingers around it and stood, pulling her close and ducking so he could be heard while speaking low. “It’s a Marleyan tradition. You don’t have to answer now. And it’s just for the day, I don’t expect it you to honour it after tom—“

“Yes.” She caught his face between her hands, smiling and kissed him. She pulled the rings out of the box and looked at them like it was a puzzle. “How?”

He picked the smaller ring from her hand then caught her left hand and slid the ring onto her ring finger. He could feel her shiver under his touch and excitement thrilled through him. He still couldn’t believe she’d said yes.

She picked up the larger ring and looked at him.

“You’re supposed to put that on me, but it doesn’t matter… it’s something that people just started doing.“ Reiner explained.

She caught his left hand and lifted it, kissing his fingertips as she slipped the ring over the same finger he had. He blushed at that.

Mikasa wrapped her arms around his shoulders, her hand cupping the back of his head, stroking the short hair at his nape. “Does this mean you won’t run away? You’ll stay by my side? No matter what?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“And I can have you as long as I wear this?”

“Yeah… I..I’m sorry for springing this on you.” He was stammering, “It’s just there’s no time and—“

She cut him off, her dark gaze bore into him, the same dangerous hunger. “I don’t care what you call it. It just means you’re mine.”

He shivered and caught her hips, pulling her close and swaying. “Mikasa you’re a little scary.” He kissed her, teasing her lips open and running his hands down her back. “You’re so possessive.” He started to kiss her jaw and neck, and she gasped as he deliberately bit too hard. “It’s okay. I prefer to be on a leash.” He pressed his lips against her ear, feeling that strange furnace ignite inside him once more; she whimpered and squirmed against him, panting in the sudden heat. “If you think you can contain me.” He tipped her back taking her off balance, relishing how she clung to him and still met his kiss with an eager greed. Just as he started to eye the buildings around them for a hasty escape he heard a cheer rise up behind them both.

“Shit. They’re watching.” Reiner did not turn around.

“Yeah.” Mikasa grinned against his lips.

Reiner let her regain her balance and step back. He cleared his throat. “I can’t turn around just yet.”

She giggled at his predicament.

“How close are they?”

“They’re coming closer. Almost here.”

He grimaced and looked up at the sky. He managed to get himself to half mast before—

“Hey Reiner.” Jean grabbed his shoulder, pulling him around. “Thanks for making the rest of us guys look bad.”

Chapter Text

“I christen this… Jeanstown!” Jean swayed a little as he took another swig of wine. He was standing on a chair pulled into the street in front of the soda shop. “In honour of its founder, me!”

Reiner sat at a table they’d also pulled out of the shop, sipping whiskey and soda water and watching Jean make his sloppy declarations.

They’d built a campfire on the cobble road as the night grew cold, containing it with a interlocking half rings of broken brick and stone. Armin and Annie and Connie and Pieck were slow dancing to the music drifting out from the store Jukebox. Armin and Annie sometimes breaking off from the others to neck and kiss. Pieck had driven Gabi and Falco back to the boat hours before and Mikasa was somewhere in the shop trying to get the ice cream machine to work.

Only Reiner was still relatively sober. And possibly Mikasa. He’d almost finished a half a fifth of whiskey, but his Titan nature burned off the drunk almost as fast as he drank.

The rest of them were all hammered. And all by inches losing their inhibitions and getting indiscriminately handsy with each-other as they danced. There were preferences, of course. Pieck with Jean; Annie with Armin, but more and more all five of them together. Reiner’d watched it quietly; it wasn’t a particular surprise to him. He’d seen a lot of bizarre behaviour under the strain of war. Engaged in plenty himself.

Reiner reached into his duffle by his seat and pulled his open cigarette pack from his field uniform pocket. He pulled out a smoke and lit it. “Why does Odiha need a new name?”

“Because,” Jean said, and then half bowed into a listing flourish, nearly falling off the chair. “No one… can stop me.”

Reiner was on his feet in an instant, grabbing Jean by the waist. “You’re going to crack your head open, idiot!”

“Why should it be named after you?” Connie dropped himself into a chair by the table. Surprisingly he was the least drunk. Annie tumbled into his lap and giggled as she caught his shoulders to keep herself from falling on her ass. She was plastered, Reiner noted. And it really brought out her stupid, thirsty side. Reiner frowned, starting to feel concerned. Annie reached for Pieck and the two of them started to kiss.

Reiner cleared his throat and glanced away, working on getting Jean off the chair and out of harm’s way.

Jean grinned as Reiner levered him down. “As a brilliant field commander and the best looking man here. I deserve the honour. And I decided to give it to myself. As is my due.”

“Don’t be dumb.” Connie scoffed. “Reiner is, objectively, the best looking man here.”

Reiner grabbed Jean’s wine bottle and tried to pull it away, Jean resisted, refusing to let go and pulling close to slur in Reiner’s face. “No. I need this.”

“No you don’t. You’ve had enough.” He managed to wrestle it away from Jean, who grabbed onto his waist and wailed, “Noooooo…”

Reiner turned to walk towards the table, dragging Jean—who refused to let go—with him every step. He poured a glass of water, dumped some salt from a shaker in and handed it to Jean. “Drink it.”

Jean shook his head. “I refuse. You stole my wine.”

“Jean, the stupidest way for you to die tomorrow is choking to death on your own puke. Drink the water.”

“No, no…” Jean grabbed Reiner’s lapels, pulling himself up. Reiner had to brace himself against the taller man’s weight. “You stole my wine. Connie says you’re better looking than me…”

“First of all that’s just his opinion and second of all why do you care what Connie thinks?”

Connie slammed his beer bottle down on the table. “Hey!”

“Because you and Mikasa are hogging all the hotness. You gotta share.” Jean draped his arms over Reiner’s shoulders, leaning into him. “… And I want to kiss you. Because I love you.”

Reiner jerked back and stared at him. “Jean. You have definitely had too much to drink. You are going to remember this tomorrow and you are going to want to kill yourself.”

Connie looked up from sipping his beer. “If we’re doing something degenerate I want in.”

“No. We. Are. Not.” Reiner grabbed the back of Jean’s jacket and pulled, making space between them. “Drink the fucking water, Jean.”
“Aww. Not even a crumb of degeneracy?”

“Are you going to reign in your… boyfriend?” Reiner snapped at Pieck.

She stopped in the middle of taking a drink from her wine bottle. “Nope. I’m content to enjoy the show.”

Armin laughed, pulling up a chair beside Annie and Connie.

“Am I the only one here who gives a shit about…” Reiner hesitated. “Propriety.” Paying for goods when the shop keepers would never see the money. Throwing away trash in a trash can that would be flattened to nothing within a day. He suddenly felt the weight of everything he’d been avoiding thinking about—the wave of destruction racing towards them, the likelihood they would all die the next day trying to stop it, the loss of his nation, his home, his family—and them all trying to put it out of their minds while it still remained, a relentless unspoken weight making every fucked up impulse harder and harder to resist.

And the pressure cooker they were in forced a level of intimacy that was beyond unreal—they’d fought together, fought against each other, tried to kill each other, save each other… felt every possible combination of intense emotion for each other… love, hate, anger, loathing, lust, fear… and they shared the same sins. All of it had started to submerge them all in a hot, liquid state where instinct overwhelmed good sense and boundaries. What was the line between right and wrong? They could be the last people alive in less than a week. Or dead in less than a day.

“Who’s left to care?” Jean whispered, resting his head against Reiner’s chest. “Or stop us?”

Reiner caught the back of Jean’s head and hesitated, stuck in confusion. What do I do? How do I make this better?

Reiner watched Annie climb into Armin’s lap, kissing him and watched Armin’s hands trace her naked back to her ass. The display surprised him, but didn’t at the same time, because why not? Every single one of them had lost everything. The only thing they had left was each-other. It was impossible to feel the need to hide anything from people closer than lovers. He was even less surprised when Annie caught Connie’s jacket, pulled him closer and started kissing him while still grinding on Armin.

Reiner had engaged in sexual horseplay with fellow soldiers, even gone a bit further than just horseplay. But this felt… worse.

Like despair was driving it.

The Scouts hadn’t experienced war like he had. Until the rumbling.

Their raid against his home town had been wildly successful but it also had been on a soft target; he noticed they regularly failed to control contact points and left huge gaps in their security. They hadn’t been trained by the trenches into feeling their blindspots like an open wound. As a result they didn’t grasp the particular terror of fighting human soldiers, who watched and planned and found your weaknesses.

He had never breathed a word but their ignorance was why Sasha had died. Of course if she hadn’t, Gabi would have.

And shelling made a mockery of the difference between humans and shifters. He’d lived months at a time knowing that he could be torn to shreds before he even had time to react. Even before that, they hadn’t been hardened by Warrior training into being just an instrument; even regret or guilt over your actions was seditious self-indulgence. The Scouts still held onto a sentimental credo about exploration and freedom. A romantic conceit. It defined them.

“And alongside all those different people, stood us.” His words to his mother echoed in his mind. Us Warriors. Beaten into a single shape.
The Scout’s sentiment couldn’t define him anymore. But still… He could feel his desire to protect them, all of them, Annie and Pieck included, like a physical thing, a weight in his arms and shoulders and back… and in that liminal state they were all in, his desire to protect them bled very easily into just desire.

Pieck drifted closer, watching him, waiting for him to do something. Stop it or give in.

Jean started to nuzzle his neck, trying to move further up but Reiner’s grip on his jacket prevented him. Which struck Reiner as odd more than anything.
He closed his eyes, imagining Pieck underneath him, which was easy, then imagined ripping that ridiculous dress off Annie, which wasn’t hard either… and with Connie and Jean and Armin it was less sexual and more a drive for cohesion, to merge into something strong, effective, and more powerful than himself…

All he had to do was give in. Recognize the world was ending and there was nothing they really could do to stop it. That this was the very last moment of peace left to them.

It wasn’t giving in, it was giving up. It wasn’t just despair, it was hopelessness. Why feel shame or guilt the day before your funeral?
His mind clicked over. And what happens next?

“I got the ice cream machine to work…” Mikasa trailed off, caught in the middle of licking a spoon clean, glancing between them and then looking at Reiner and Jean with astonishment.

“This is a stupid joke, Jean.” Reiner pulled Jean’s arms off his shoulders, grabbed the front of his jacket and hooked his heel out from under him so he could drop him into a chair by the table. While Jean was stunned by the sudden takedown Reiner slammed the glass of water beside him. “Drink the goddamn fucking water Jean. You.” He pointed at Pieck. “It’s your job to fuck him not mine. We’re going back to the boat. Get him something that’ll help reduce the hangover.” He stepped over to the fire and pulled the beer out of Connie’s hands, “You’ve had enough. And you two.” He turned to Annie and Armin. “Get a room. Or you three get a room. Whatever.”

He stood upright, folding his arms over his chest and glowering at all of them. “We have something to accomplish tomorrow. And it’s not just dying. We are going to do everything we can to succeed, which means we are aiming to have a world left. And that further means our actions have consequences in that world. So act respectable. At least while I’m looking at you.”

As he spoke Armin’s eyes widened and he staggered off down the street, turning into a side alley. Reiner glanced at his rifle propped on the stonework front of the shop but decided his pistol would be enough and started after him.. “Connie, keep a look out. Pieck get Jean and Annie ready to go.”
Connie saluted Reiner. Pieck nodded.

Reiner set off after Armin. “Don’t go off alone.” He said as he caught up to the mouth of the alley.

Armin was on his knees being sick behind a stack of crates.

Reiner grimaced and turned to lean back against the wall, waiting for Armin to finish, scanning the alley, the roofs above them and then watching the entrance to the alley, his hand on his pistol grip, thumb on the snap of his holster.

Armin finally staggered back out and Reiner put a hand out to stop him. “You’re drinking a lot.”

“I have a lot on my mind.” Armin said.

“Yeah. Be careful tho, we have to be sharp tomorrow and you might not heal from a drunk fast enough.”

“I’ll be sober by morning.” Armin wiped his mouth. “I just want to lose myself.”

Reiner sighed with recognition. It wasn’t about intimacy, it was about being overwhelmed by sensation to the point of not thinking anymore. He’d been there. He leaned close to Armin. “Then lose yourself. Go finish what you started with Annie. I’ll drag you out, when it’s time.”

Armin glanced up at him. “What about—“

“Forget it. That was more about me. Go remind yourself you’re just an animal. I’ll be there when you’re needed.” He put a steadying arm around Armin. “I was a lieutenant for a long time before I became Captain. And Zeke wasn’t always as composed as you might think. I know the drill.”

Armin leaned into Reiner’s chest as they walked back to the others. “Thanks.” He muttered. “I don’t know what for, but thanks.”

Reiner watched Pieck wrangle Annie into the car. Annie draped herself on Pieck—who had sobered and was trying to follow Reiner’s orders—kissing the smaller woman’s neck. The composed blond was completely gone, replaced by someone who more resembled the drunken floozies that hung around the bars by the Warrior Barracks. Reiner shook his head. “Goddamn Annie.” He glanced down at Armin. “You’re going to have fun tonight. You’ll be doing things you can’t even name.”

Armin blushed. “Huh?”

Reiner eyed Pieck. “Are you sober enough to drive?”

She giggled. “Do we have a choice?”

“I can drive you all back.”

“I think you need to get away from us.” Pieck’s face took on a mischievous quality. “Or all that respectability is going to break to pieces.” Pieck looked over at Jean, then back at Reiner. She leaned close. “I didn’t say anything about you… doing anything with Jean. Neither did he. What went through your head?”

Reiner stared at her, “It felt like I was sliding into something I would regret.”

She smiled. “Nice save, then.”

“You can do what you like.” Reiner continued. “But I can’t do it with you.”

Pieck laughed. “Look at you. A Captain till the end.” She tapped his nose. “Marcel told me before he left what he did. Frankly I think Marley lucked out he lied; he managed to trick them into making a competent decision for once. I don’t care what anyone else says, you might not be Marley’s choice but you are my War Chief.”

###

Mikasa watched the automobile recede down the street and turn the corner, disappearing behind the buildings. She glanced back at Reiner: he breathed slowly and deliberately, looking like he was counting and then, in a sudden rush, he turned toward Mikasa, scooping her up and slamming her down on the hood of the car. She yelped and he swallowed anything else she had to say with a kiss, his fingers digging into her jaw. Without a word he unbuckled his belt, pulled her dress up and caught her panties, tearing them off, all without breaking the kiss.

He pushed her thighs apart and she angled her hips to receive him and he thrust into her with a force more suited to combat.
She winced as her body was battered into adjusting… but it did, the pain receding and pleasure slowly filling her. It was the same furious desperation she’d felt Eren fight with, except directed at her, like he was battling some deep horror through her. And then the wave of heat rolling off his body hit her and it ignited her skin every where he touched.

She glanced over his shoulder at the empty store fronts, the empty townhouses, the empty street, and city… It was desolate but still exposed and she shivered against him despite the heat, clutching the nape of his neck and burying her nose in his shoulder. He smelled like the wind and beneath that, the sharp-sweet smell of a man who was consumed by lust and beneath that, the risking stink of a charnel house. His nature.

She closed her eyes, feeling the thing within her coil murderously… But this time it felt different, it felt like it was coiling around him and she coiled with it, grabbing his chest and squeezing.

His breathing became jagged and his movements more violent and erratic. He groaned heavily against her, biting her neck hard enough for her to wince, and the pain made the heat between them more intense. She gasped for air, held him harder, and couldn’t even make sense of the riot of sensations.

Reiner thrusts weakened. “Mikasa. Let up a bit. You’re going to crack my ribs.”

“Good.” She said. “This is how hard I can hold you.” She released her grip enough for his breathing to return to normal. “I want to hold you.”
He relaxed into her grip. “You’re more than I deserve.”

His movements gentled. She let him rock into her—the heat receding as he calmed down. A wave of pleasure slowly rose within her she watched the sky darken behind his head. The street lights blinked on over an empty city. Mikasa closed her eyes, tears leaking. “I don’t deserve you either.”
“Don’t say that.” He said. He stopped and kissed her.

“Your eyes look like moonlight right now.” She touched the side of his face and smiled. “You were shouting about respectability and then you do that… to me on the hood of a car in the middle of a street. What happened?”

Reiner pulled out. He fixed his pants and jacket. She pulled down her dress, waiting to see if he’d explain.

“Titans strike, you die or you get away. It’s over. But the trenches, it’s just never ending fear and misery and boredom. A lot like the last couple days. It grinds you down in a way that’s hard to explain. You think you’re coping but… then you go sideways. Start doing things you wouldn’t normally do. I think they went sideways.” Reiner shook his head. “They needed to be reminded there’s a structure that has to be upheld. We can’t just do whatever the fuck we want.”

She watched him as she listened, her heart clenching at the echo of pain in his voice.

“Because if there isn’t, then we are all just on our own. The only reason to give in like that is when you’ve convinced yourself it’s over. As long as I don’t act like that’s true… it’s not. It’s not for me and it’s not for them.” He kissed her fingers. “Also. You’re my wife. You’re my structure.”

She brightened at the word “wife.”

He grimaced. “It’s sort of embarrassing that I got caught up in that.”

“Huh?” She paused in her stroking.

“For a moment there I really wanted to… give in. I’m sorry.”

She smiled. “You’re like Eren, except not ‘kill, kill, kill’ but ‘fu—”

“Yeah, I get it.” He blushed. “If you think I’m bad, you should have met Porco. Goddamn deep sea creature he was, always trolling for anything he could find, catch or pry open. Situation gets to you after awhile and there’s aways the temptation to just lose yourself in something…” Reiner pulled himself up till he was sitting. “What about you? How are you holding up?”

Mikasa sat up with him. “I’m worried about Armin.”

“Armin, not Eren?”

She looked down at her hands. “Eren’s already…” She closed her eyes. “Something is off about Armin. I catch him sometimes… staring at nothing for minutes at a time, or talking to someone who isn’t there. Like Eren after he came back from the basement.”

Reiner nodded. “I’ve never seen Armin that drunk. Do you know why… him and Annie and Connie? I know she saved Connie once.”

Mikasa brought her knees to her chest. “Hm… Connie stole Falco and tried to feed him to his mother.”

Reiner tensed, his fists clenched.

“Obviously it didn’t happen. Because Armin tried to sacrifice himself instead and Connie stopped him.”

“Armin’s doing that a lot. Trying to sacrifice himself.”

“Yeah, like someone else I know.”

Reiner frowned. “He’s got a lot of pressure on him. Let him blow off some steam. He’ll be better tomorrow.” He jumped off the car and held his hand out to help her down.

She took it and slipped off. “Can we have some more ice cream before we leave?” She asked.

He smiled. “Sure.” He sat down at the table by the glowing coals of the campfire, stretching his long legs out in front of him.

###

Reiner waited, listening to Mikasa puttering around in the shop. She reappeared with a crystal dish full of soft white swirls and two spoons. She set it in front of him and pulled a chair close to his, sitting down at an angle and leaning on his chest. He wrapped an arm around her.

He didn’t have much of a sweet tooth so he was happy stopping after a few mouthfuls, and just watching her hum to herself in pleasure with each bite. The little smile on her lips and the blush on her cheeks warmed him from the inside.

After she was done they watched the stars beyond the haze of the lamplight, quietly comfortable in each other’s company.

Mikasa laid her spoon on her empty dish with a tink and stared at it morosely. “I probably will never eat this again.” She sniffled and tears began to trail down her face. She wiped them away roughly. “What a stupid little thing to cry about.”

Reiner rubbed her back. “It’s not stupid. We hold the best parts of ourselves in such contempt. Little things.” He chuckled. “If Marley was just ice cream and music and radio plays, it’d be paradise. It’s the big things that make it awful.” He sighed. “Made it awful.”

“Made…” Mikasa repeated. She looked at him then at his duffle bag. “Will you show me?”

“You’re still on that, huh?” Reiner closed his eyes. “Why do you want to see it?”

“Because it’s a part of you.” Mikasa brushed tears from her eyes. “We killed Bertholdt. We attacked your home town. We killed…”

“Udo and Zophia.” Reiner’s jaw clenched.

“And now Eren is—“

“What’s the point?” He stood suddenly, unsettling her. “What’s the point of any of this Mikasa? I am a Warrior. What happens to me is irrelevant. It’s irrelevant to Marley and it damn well should be irrelevant to you.” Reiner grit his teeth. “That’s what it means to be a Warrior. Even feeling guilt was seditious, it’s too close to questioning the absolute moral authority of the Party. You empty your heart and you do what you’re told. You’re an instrument of Marley’s will. That’s it.”

“So that’s what it was. When Bertholdt confronted us it was like he was a different person entirely.”

“Yeah. A Warrior of Marley. Heartless.”

She shook her head, her dark eyes wide. “He still loved you. And we took him away.”

“Mikasa.” Reiner felt himself bristle, he slammed the heels of his hands on the table right next to her, making her jump. “What is the point of this?”

She stared at his hands. “Annie is taking Armin away from me. And I don’t mean it like that… I’m glad for them. But, she’s going a place with him I can’t. She’s giving him something I can’t. You’re the closest person to me now. Maybe the closest ever. And it’s selfish but I want to know. Because you have a right to have this matter. To me.”

Reiner stared at her for a long moment. She couldn’t look at him, tears leaked silently from the corner of her eyes as she stared at the empty ice cream dish in front of her. He sighed and dropped heavily back in his chair; leaning back and hiding his head behind his hands. “Alright. Don’t freak out.”
He heard her open his duffle bag and pull out the cake tin. It made a metallic clunk as she set it against the table.

He dropped his hands, looking at it, not wanting to touch it. Eventually he overcame the inertia of his discomfort and pulled off the lid. There he stopped and topped up his glass with more whiskey, taking several steadying swallows. He pulled out another cigarette and lit it, sucking it into his lungs and holding it for a long time before daring to look into it.

On top was his Uncle’s pocket watch. Silver, engraved with elaborate knotted patterns. He picked it up. “My watch. It was a gift from my uncle when I turned 18. They passed it down father to son but they can’t have more kids, just Gabi, so he decided to give it to me. This is my family.” He pulled out a photo; his hand shook as he placed it on the table. “It was taken after I came back from the Mid-East war. The small blonde woman is my mother, Karina. The couple behind Gabi is my Aunt and Uncle. In a lot of ways I was raised by them, that’s why Gabi always felt more like a little sister to me rather than a cousin.” He smiled at the sight of Gabi. He pulled out another photo. “This is me and her before I left for Paradis. She was born when I was eight. This is us when I was ten.” He showed Mikasa the photo of him cradling Gabi as a toddler; He was sat on the floor, knees up and she was balanced in his lap while he read a story to her. He tapped the red armband on his left arm. “I was already a Warrior then.”

“Ten. They started that young?”

“I started when I was six. Get em before they can think for themselves.”

“Six.” Mikasa said. “I was still with my parents on the farm.”

“I took this myself.” Reiner pulled out the next photo. Ymir, sitting at a table in front of her final meal. It was taken just before Porco ate Ymir to reclaim the Jaws Titan power for Marley. The photo was borderline sedition but few people even knew who Ymir had been. The Warrior devision had kept the transfer of her titan back to Porco under wraps. “I told her to run but she just followed till Zeke found us.”

“What would have happened if she’d run?”

Reiner took another swallow of whiskey. “I would have been executed and my shifter powers transferred to a Warrior Candidate. She did it to save my life. That’s why…“

“You carried the letter to Historia.”

“Historia?” Reiner looked at Mikasa in bemusement. She said the name like he’d know it.

“Right. You knew her as Christa, her real name is Historia. She’s the last member of the Royal family.”

Christa. It’d been so long. “She’s still alive?” Reiner had had a crush on her once, when he’d been a different person. “And she’s a Royal?”

Mikasa nodded. “She chose to take on the burden of inheriting the Beast Titan to protect Paradis by preserving the threat of the Rumbling. Eren wanted her to live a long life. So he… did this instead.”

“She won’t live long.” He hadn’t intended the harshness in his voice but once started he couldn’t stop. “I’ve seen this before. A power vacuum like this in these circumstances… always ends up choosing the ugliest men. Flotch might be dead but there’ll be another like him. And if you’re right that Historia is the last Royal, who do you think will be the biggest threat to the next Floch? Now that she has no strategic value… because no rumbling… all she is is a loose end that needs to be cut off.” He ground his teeth. “What a fucking idiot.”

Mikasa stared at him, eyes wide, tears stopped.

He glanced away from her, suddenly uncomfortable and guilty. “I’m sorry.”

“No.” She said, chuckling. “I’ve always thought the same thing.”

Reiner grinned. “A hot-headed idiot.”

“I remember how many times you stopped him and Jean beating each other up. When you were gone, they just kept at it until Jean puked all over Eren. It was disgusting.” Mikasa laughed then she stopped looking up at him from below her lashes. “I missed you.”

“Missed… me?” Reiner repeated, stunned. He understood that she’d developed an interest in him on the Steamer to Odiha, the idea that she’d even thought of him after he… betrayed them all and left was astonishing.

Mikasa brought out the next picture. Bertholdt. She placed it on the table and there was complete silence for a long time. Reiner couldn’t look at her or it.

“Do you hate me?” She asked.

He swished the whiskey in his glass. Cleared his throat. “You don’t want me to answer that.”

She started to cry.

“That’s not fair, Mikasa. Why are you doing this?” Reiner took a drag of his smoke. Another drink. “I’m a bastard no matter what I do. There’s no winning.” He sighed and ploughed on. “For years I’d wake up in a cold sweat feeling your blade cutting through my arm, the knock of it hitting bone and not stopping.” Reiner shuddered. “In my dreams I’m not able to fight you. I’m dead by the time I hit the ground and I have to watch you cut the throat of my best friend, helpless. I don’t know if it was hate, more like dread and loathing.”

She started to cry harder. Reiner felt her tears like punches, but he kept going because whatever this was it had to be burnt out. “And maybe that will never go away. Maybe there will always be a part of me that feels that way. But it’s only a part of how I feel. Because…” Reiner hesitated. Pain spidered up his throat. He couldn’t speak for a time. “It hurts to hate you.”

She wiped her tears away with her fingers. “You should hate me. Particularly now.”

He shook his head. “And you should hate me. I started this. Don’t ask for forgiveness from me, it’s not mine to give. Forgive yourself.”

“But you can’t forgive yourself… I saw the lies, I saw the threats. You were a child trying to save the world and keep your family from being killed. And you were a teenager with a broken mind. Isn’t it the same? If I’m just responsible for saving the man I loved. Then you’re just responsible for trying to save the world.”

Reiner stared at her and she stared back, defiant but also desperately searching. If he didn’t accept her logic, then his logic fell apart and she couldn’t forgive herself. He began to speak… and it felt like choking on barbed wire. “The only… the only thing that gave my life meaning was my duty to Marley. I had nothing else. I was nothing else. I killed my friends to do my duty. I fought for 4 years on the front lines to protect Marley and Marley is gone. In half a week. Gone. I don’t have even have Marley anymore, I just have my crimes. All they are is crimes now.” He grimaced, struggling. “If I forgive myself then I don’t have the right to love any of you. And loving you is all I have left of myself that’s worth anything.” Reiner put the photos back into his bin. Then dropped his hands on his knees and closed his eyes. “It’s why I don’t want to talk about this. It’s why I just don’t want to think about… about what happened. It hurts to hate any of you.”

“You’re so warm.” Mikasa said. “If I lose you I’m scared I’ll never be warm again. I’ve never had someone give me so much of themselves. If you can’t forgive yourself, then I can’t. But maybe… we can keep going… anyway.”

“Yeah.” He felt Mikasa watching him, then felt her hand slide over his shoulders. She held him with that same intense strength as before but it was different, protective rather than violently possessive. The last time he’d been held like that was by Bertholdt. Even tho Reiner had lead, Bertholdt had been the strongest of them; he’d been Reiner’s anchor as Reiner’s mind severed itself in half.

The pain inside him slipped its moorings and rose through his chest in a rush. He grabbed Mikasa back and lost it, helpless heaving sobs. For the first time in over 4 years, Reiner cried in front of another human being.

Mikasa held him little tighter, saying nothing.

He got himself back under control and she continued to say nothing. Not words of sympathy or condolence or contrition, and he appreciated her silence. He didn’t enjoy breaking down and he was glad she wasn’t making a fuss about it. Reiner cleared his throat and drained his whiskey glass. He looked at the bottle. Empty. “That’s it.”

They broke apart and sat in the same companionable silence as before except this one felt more solid somehow. Reiner tapped ash off into the ash tray and glanced up at the indigo sky, the moon had moved visibly. “We should get back.”

“Yeah.” Mikasa stood.

“Let’s clean up.” Reiner said.

Reiner picked up his empty cigarette pack and empty fifth. He had drank enough to be a bit hazy but that would be gone within an hour and he’d smoked an entire pack, which was unusual. He shook his head. “I’m stressed.”

“Yeah.” The inflection in Mikasa’s voice suggested he was stating the obvious. “Everyone is.”

He glared at the garbage in his hands. “Do you know how much of my salary goes to this? It sucks to be a shifter. If I was just human I’d be out cold.”

She quirked an eyebrow at him. “After drinking that much? You’d be dead.”

“Booze, drugs, pain. Nothing works. The only thing you can really lose yourself in is sex.” He dumped the garbage in a metal trash can by the shop. They silently pulled the table and chairs back into the shop, blanketed the fire, turned off the jukebox. Mikasa wiped the counter as Reiner swept the floor. There was no reason to do it, except that setting things in order was soothing. And Reiner didn’t like leaving evidence that he had been somewhere. Just in case.

When they were done Mikasa slipped her hand into his. “I don’t want to go back to the boat. I want to be with just you tonight.”

He caught her hips and pulled her close. “Kiyomi gave me a key to a Townhouse owned by the Azumbito.” Reiner stroked her hair. “It’s by the hanger. We could spend the night. It’s close enough that it isn’t much of a risk.”

She pillowed her head on his shoulder. “What do you think they’re doing?”

Reiner squinted. “Dunno. If I had to guess, probably starting where they left off. They had to kill their friends. That’s… hard. Dealing with knowing you can do that. And it can make you want to get into that space where you lose yourself in something primal. If we weren’t together, I’d probably be with them. Because it looked like a lot of fun.” He snorted. “Sleazy, huh?”

“You mean I have to be jealous of all of them? That’s a lot of work.” Mikasa sighed. “You’re too honest. It’s unsettling sometimes.”
He smirked. “That’s an odd thing to say to a traitor.”

She sighed, rolling her eyes. “I shouldn’t have asked.” She moved past him toward the car and he caught her hand, pulling her back around and into a kiss. When he broke it off, he smiled against her lips. “You said you could contain me. You think I’m going to make that easy?”

She pushed him away. “You have a filthy mind, Braun.” She walked towards the automobile.

“And you like it.” He teased.

"As long as you stay mine." She glanced back with that same look of angry hunger, but there was a hint of a wicked smile on her lips. “Lets get to that townhouse.”

He blushed; the look no longer scared him but it did take his breath away. “I think you might be worse than me.” He said quietly. He picked his rifle from where he’d stowed it, jumped into the automobile, deposited the rifle on the passengers side and leaned over to open her door from the inside.

“Don’t whine.” She picked the rifle up. She didn’t look pleased to have it, but she held it like she knew how to use it, turning her attention to the scanning the street and buildings as he pulled out away from the soda shop.

Reiner laughed. “I’m not complaining.”

Chapter Text

“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.

“You okay?”

“Stomach hurts.”

“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.”

“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.”

“For what?”

“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.”

“Marley’s gone.”

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.”

“What?”

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.”

“You—“

“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.”

“For what?”

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.”

“But Pieck…”

“That’s different. It’s something girls do.”

“Really?”

“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 problem.”

“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.”

=The End=