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“Very little is known about the Titan's reasoning process, if they are in fact operating on more than base instinct...”

Christa's pen scratched against her parchment as she wrote, a soothing counterpoint to the images the teacher was showing them. On the wall in front of them an image of a Titan feasting hung, something that had probably once been human but was now nothing more than an indefinable red mass hanging from its mouth.

At first she'd been disturbed by the images; it was a horror almost every rookie had shared. Several trainees had dropped out of the academy after sitting through a presentation on Titan eating habits for the first time. (Ymir had told her that was the point. Christa felt it inappropriate to accuse her teachers of purposefully attempting to chase off recruits, but that didn't mean she thought Ymir was wrong.) After a while, though, it had become an almost calming event. Christa couldn't keep up with Ymir or Annie or Mikasa in any sort of physical contest, but here in the classroom she was at her best.

Was it wrong, Christa wondered, to enjoy this class? It wasn't as though she'd killed those people, and it certainly wouldn't help anyone if she refused to pay attention. Nevertheless, she couldn't help but feel guilty— here she was, thinking about her grades while images of corpses and gore and massacred children hung in front of her.

Christa frowned slightly at the thought, and risked a glance around the room in the hopes it would distract her. Eren looked as angry as he always did during these sections; he always came out of this class full of vicious energy, and everyone (except Jean, who always seemed to be looking for a fight, and Mikasa, who was completely immune to his moods) knew to stay out of his way immediately after. Armin was scribbling away— Christa hadn't seen their grades yet, but she suspected he was going to do even better than her in this class. Sascha was chewing on something— maybe dried meat? The teachers had eventually given up on curbing the girl's legendary hoarding habits after an incident where she somehow managed to hide a whole apple, three raw potatoes, and nearly an entire loaf of bread on her person while wearing nothing but a nightgown and socks. (Christa was a little jealous, really— as angry as it made their teachers, her skills would probably be a lot more useful in a crisis than Christa's talent for rote memorization.) Ymir...

Christa stopped. During classes like these, Ymir would normally be chewing on the nib of her pen and stealing glances out the window when their teacher's back was turned. Right now, though, Ymir looked awful. Her skin had gone even paler than normal, her freckles like dots of ink splashed across her cheeks. Her teeth were clenched, her hands were trembling, and for a moment Christa could swear she'd seen tears welling up in the corners of her eyes. It was the same simple class that they'd all attending every week for nearly a year now, and yet Ymir was acting like she'd seen a ghost.

“Y-” Christa tried to bite the word off, but it was already too late. She flushed bright red as the teacher turned towards her.

“Is something wrong?” Her voice was deceptively calm, but Christa knew better than to trust that.

“I just—” she stopped for a moment, tripping over her own words. She couldn't say she was worried about Ymir. Reacting poorly to the pictures they showed was grounds for a serious point deduction, and Ymir stood a good chance of making it into the top ten. There was no way she could take that away from her.

She had to say something, though, so she bit her lip again and stammered out, “I'm, uh, very sorry. I'm just feeling ill and I was hoping I could go out to grab a breath of fresh air.”

Her teacher stared at her. Christa knew what she must be thinking and so she carefully held her breath, letting her cheeks and forehead flush red, and let her arms shake so quietly that anyone would believe it was involuntary. Her teacher had eyes like a hawk, but Christa was the undisputed expert in pretending to be healthy when she felt sick, and that skill went both ways. If it meant she'd lose points, well... so be it. She wasn't low enough that the loss would get her disqualified from the program. (Well, probably not, anyway.) And if it did, then it would be her own stupid fault for not knowing when to keep her mouth shut.

Behind her, she could feel Ymir's angry stare boring a hole into her back. She ignored it.

“See? I tol' you-” there was a pause while Sascha swallowed, “I told you shouldn't have eaten that.”

“Huh?” Christa didn't know if it was she or her teacher who reacted first- perhaps they spoke in unison.

Sascha rolled her eyes. “I told Christa that the chicken they gave her for lunch smelled off, but she ate it anyway. I'm just surprised she hasn't started vomiting everywhere already.”

Her teacher stared Christa down for another long moment, but there was no venom behind it this time. Sascha had once stolen a piece of meat right out a stray dog's mouth— if she said something had gone bad, then it had gone bad.

Finally, her teacher nodded, nothing more than a small jerk of her head. “Fine, then, Mrs. Renz. Please be dismissed. I hope your food poisoning passes quickly.”

Christa could have kissed Sascha.

She let herself stumble against a desk as she started to walk out, barely catching herself before she hit the ground. Immediately the scratch of chairs against wood sounded behind her, as at least half her classmates tried to help her up.

Apparently she'd feigned sick a little too well.

“Ah,” she said weakly, “Um...” She looked around the room. “Ymir, could you help me?”

Ymir wasn't falling for it, she could tell. She had a feeling most of her friends weren't. But they weren't the sort to rat her out, so it would probably be all right.

Ymir grabbed one of Christa's arms and slung it over her shoulder. Christa could feel the tension she was trying to hide in the flex of her muscles. “You okay?”

Christa nodded.

--- 

Thankfully, Ymir managed to wait until they were safe from prying ears before she started yelling. She carefully helped Christa out the door, across the yard, and into a little alcove they often used when they didn't want to be overheard. Only then did she pull away— and maybe Christa actually was sick, because the loss of warmth and support was an immediate ache— and let her concerned expression transform into a snarl.

“What the hell?”

“I-” Christa bit the sentence off, unsure what she wanted to say.

For all she tried to hide it under a mask of anger and apathy, Ymir spent more than her share of time and effort trying to protect her. But any time Christa tried to return the sentiment, whether it was with a favor or even just a few words of kindness, Ymir would act like Christa had just threatened to murder her in her sleep instead of offering basic human sympathy.

Ymir was her best friend, and she'd do anything to help her. But she couldn't— she couldn't do this anymore.

“You know what? Fine,” Christa said, a little louder than was probably necessary.

Ymir stopped, mouth hanging open. Normally Christa would have giggled at the sight (and maybe cheered a little at being able to surpriseYmir) but right now she was far too frustrated for that.

“I get it,” she continued. “You want me to apologize? Fine. I'm sorry. You want me to admit that what I just did was really, really stupid? Fine. It was. But if you want me to promise that I'm going to stop being worried for you when you look like you're about to pass out or throw up or both right in the middle of lecture, then the answer is no!” She was nearly shouting by now, and she could feel herself starting to tear up; she couldn't stand confrontation. It was always so much easier to let Ymir do the arguing for both of them. “I care about you, Ymir, and I know you want to make everyone think you don't need anything from anyone-”

“I don't!” Ymir snapped. Normally Ymir got loud when she was angry. Now, though, she was so quiet Christa had to lean in just to hear her properly. And still she was spitting her words out like she wanted nothing more than to impale Christa with them. “I can handle this on my own, I've been handling this on my own, I'm not the sort of wimp who passes out every time she sees a picture of a Titan. It's just—” She took a deep, shuddering breath, and to Christa's surprise and alarm she could see a strange wateriness to her eyes.

“It's just been a really bad day, okay?” She tried to make the words defiant, but the quaver in her voice gave her away.

This, Christa realized, wasn't Ymir, the ferocious soldier-in-training who she admired so much. This was Ymir, her best friend, who right now was trying very hard not to cry.

Christa leaned forward and, when Ymir didn't immediately push her away, wrapped her hand around Ymir's. They stood there for a moment like that, Ymir staring up at the sky while Christa looked down at the circles she was rubbing on Ymir's palm. (She had a soldier's hands, rough and calloused. Christa had to admit she rather liked them.)

“It's okay, you know,” Christa said finally. She kept her head down, instinctively knowing she'd lose this moment if they made eye contact now. “I know you don't need help—no one here doubts that. You're the strongest person I know. But I want to help sometimes.”

“You want to help everyone,” Ymir replied. Her voice sounded oddly choked. “You're such an idiot that way, you know? You spend all your energy on everyone else and never worry about what that will leave for you.”

“If I'm an idiot, then you're a hypocrite.” Christa let her eyes wander across the patterns of chips in the stone as she spoke. “You tell me all these things about looking out for myself when I try to do the littlest thing for you, but you're always helping me out behind my back and then assuming I won't notice! I'm not doing this because I think you're helpless. I'm doing this because I care about you.”

Ymir was silent for a long while. “I don't... I'm not...” Another pause. “Of everyone here, I'm not the one who deserves your help most. Shouldn't you be rescuing kittens or something instead?”

Christa could read the meaning in that easily: I don't deserve your help was what Ymir was really saying. She wanted to argue that, more than anything, but she knew Ymir well enough to know that she'd have some counterargument or deflection or even just a distracting insult already prepared. Instead, she said, “It's not about who deserves what.” If it was, Christa knew she would be dead a long time ago. “I'm helping you because I like you. It's as simple as that.”

Ymir pulled her hand away. Christa almost tried to grab to back, but all she did was rub the backs of her hands fiercely against her face for a few seconds. When she pulled them away, she was smiling like she normally did and her eyes had the fierce glow Christa was used to seeing in them. (And if her they were awfully red and puffy, Christa certainly wasn't going to be the one to bring that up.) Christa grinned back, feeling almost ready to burst with the relief of it all.

Dammit, you idiot,” was the first thing out of her mouth, but her tone didn't match the words at all. “Fine. If you want to be an idiot and get yourself kicked out, be my guest.” It might have been more intimidating, Christa thought, if she hadn't looked so happy.

“Thanks for your permission!” She used her highest, perkiest voice, the one she normally saved for buttering up teachers. Ymir rolled her eyes.

Ymir knew many of Christa's deepest secrets, but Christa didn't really understand anything about Ymir: why she had been so upset in class, why she seemed to have so little sense of self-worth (especially when even she could see how amazing Ymir was), or even what it was she had said that finally cheered her up. But the more time she spent with Ymir the more chances she had to unravel the mysteries.

And even if she never understood everything— even if she never understood anything— she could honestly say it would be worth it just for the time they'd spend together along the way.

“But,” Ymir added, smirking, “Whatever Sascha decides to take as payment tonight comes off your plate.”

The smile abruptly fell off Christa's face. She'd completely forgot about owing Sascha. “You did this on purpose, didn't you? Agreed to let me help you just so you could keep a full plate tonight?”

Ymir laughed. “Come on,” she said, heading back towards the directions of the class buildings. “We'd better get back before we miss the start of our next class, unless you want another lecture.”

“I can tell when you're trying to change the subject, you know!”

Well, scratch that. There was at least one thing she'd have to learn if she was going to keep being Ymir's best friend: how to keep her dinner rations safe.