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Wolves of the North

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Armin cursed himself, standing over Eren’s bloody body. He had let them get separated, had not stopped Mikasa’s bravado before she got down off her horse. Now they were a clearing apart, their best fighters immobilized with Eren a bloody hash and Mikasa unconscious. Ten wolves still stood before them, five facing Armin and five surrounding Annie, hunched over Mikasa in her wolf form. Christa was long since gone, though he had heard her screaming through the trees.

The wolves were carefully surrounding him, slow and methodical. He could see the hunger in their eyes. He swallowed and lifted his sword in a guard.

A long howl came up from nearby, and he flinched and turned. The wolf-man in front of him lunged at the opportunity, and Armin, fear gripping him, could not bring his sword around fast enough. The wolf-man was crashed into by a wolf-woman, brown in fur, and she ripped out his throat with a swipe of her claws. The other wolves were fallen upon in the same manner, and they were laid out dead within five minutes.

The wolf-woman went to Armin and offered her hand. He looked askance at her, and so she changed into a smiling woman with her brown hair pulled high on the back of her head.

“I’m Sasha Braus,” she said, “captain of Castle Utgard’s guards.”

“Utgard?” he echoed dimly. “Then you’re with Annie?”

“Yes.” They both looked in Annie’s direction. Still wolfen, still bristling, she bared her fangs at two large wolf-men coming closer.

The yellow furred wolf-man lifted his hands. “Annie, it’s Reiner. You’re fine.”

Annie’s words were sharp, and she cast them to everyone still living. Don’t touch her. Especially you, Reiner.

“Me?” he asked. “Why me?”

“Don’t you think it’s obvious?” asked a voice from the trees. They all turned to see a tall, dark-skinned woman come out of the shadows, a bloody and unconscious Christa in her arms.

“How’s it obvious, Ymir?” Reiner asked.

“She’s scared you’ll go out of your way to kill this human after we just saved them.” She turned a grin toward Annie. “That human you’re guarding is Mikasa Ackerman, isn’t it.”

Tension filled the clearing as the wolves turned as one to Annie and the woman beneath her. She dropped her head and started to snarl, ears pulling back.

Ymir laughed. “I’ll be nice, just for that. No wolf but me or Annie is allowed to touch the witch. Understood?”

The wolves snapped her a salute, save Reiner. He stared at Mikasa’s sword, still resting in her limp hand. He only relented with the largest wolf of them, black with white fringes, laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Y-Ymir!” Armin said. “Milady, we have to wake Mikasa!”

Ymir looked at him with a raised brow.

“Your highness, please! Mikasa is the only one skilled enough in healing magic for—” His voice failed, and he stepped aside to gesture at Eren. Ymir came closer to examine him. His left leg had been torn off below the knee, and he was covered in bites and claw marks. She looked at him a moment before turning to Armin.

“You know he’s dead,” she remarked.

“He’s still breathing! Please, we have to try!”

“Her magic won’t bring back his leg. He’s a soldier, right? What good is a soldier with one leg?”

“Milady, I’m begging you! He’s my brother! Mikasa’s brother! Don’t let him die like this!”

Ymir sighed noisily. “What’s in it for me?”

Without hesitating, Armin said, “I’ll give you every piece of information I have about the southern army’s strategies and the defenses we have on the front line.”

Oh?” Ymir said with a smirk. “And who are you?”

He saluted her as a soldier of the southern army, right fist over his heart. “Milady, I am Armin Arlert, a captain of King Reiss’ strategic corp! I was privy to most of the strategies of the southern army, and I will tell you everything I know in exchange for our lives!”

Her smirk broadened, and she beckoned to Sasha. She gave Christa to Sasha before brushing past Armin and crouching down to Eren. She knocked her knuckles on his forehead. “Still in there?”

He looked at her, face drawn with pain, and nodded.

“You wanna live?” she asked.

He nodded again and grunted, “Wanna…live.”

“I’ve got only one way of saving you and repairing your leg. You know what it is. Do you still wanna live?”

He narrowed his eyes, looked down, looked up. At length, he whispered, “Yes.”

“You can’t go and get pissed at me later. I can’t change you back.”

He swallowed and nodded.

She held out her hand. “Shake on it.”

He clasped her hand and shook.

“Okay. Now open your mouth.” As he did, she turned into a wolf-woman and ripped out one of her own fangs. After this, she plucked out one of his incisors. Before he could clamp his mouth shut, she shoved her fang where his tooth had been, slashing her thumb on it so her blood dribbled down his throat. He swallowed, and she changed back into a human to speak to him in a language only she understood.

Eren seized violently once before going completely limp. His wounds stopped bleeding and began to steam. Ymir stood up and crossed the clearing to Annie. She waved her away and crouched down to lay her hand on Mikasa’s head. Before she spoke, she moved Mikasa’s sword out of reach. This done, she said a single word, and Mikasa’s eyes opened slowly.

“Clean up the girl,” Ymir said, jabbing her thumb over her shoulder. “I took care of the boy.”

Eyes bleary, Mikasa sat up and looked past her. When she recognized Christa in Sasha’s arms, tiny and damaged, she struggled to her feet and hurried over. She took brief notice of the way Sasha stiffened on her approach, but focused on Christa. She looked at Sasha suddenly, not commenting on how she jumped.

“I need you to pick the bark out of these wounds before I heal them,” Mikasa said. When Sasha looked at her nervously, she gently added, “Please.” She pulled off her cloak at Sasha’s nod, laying it on the ground for Christa to be set on. Changing into a wolf-woman, Sasha knelt down and carefully took the bark out of Christa’s back. Mikasa closed the wounds once they were clean, and she reset Christa’s broken nose. Barely a moment after she drew her hands away, Ymir, having turned back into a wolf-woman, picked Christa up off the ground and arranged her in her arms.

“This is the little shit that I’ve been waiting for weeks on,” she said to Mikasa’s baffled look. “She’s with me until we’re in the castle. And you are with Annie. Reiner!”

He came close, narrowing his eyes at Mikasa. “Yes?”

“You carry the boy. And stay away from Annie and her human.” He nodded, going to Eren and carefully picking him up. Armin yelped when Sasha pulled him onto her back. Annie looked at Mikasa, who walked across the clearing to retrieve her sword. Once it was back in its sheathe, she went to Annie, letting her turn into her wolf-woman form before climbing onto her back. They set off at a run for the castle, silent and morose.

————

Nearly a full day later, Christa paid attention to no one as she stormed out of the throne room. Ymir, stunned still a moment at having the letter thrown in her face, sneered and started after her. Annie slipped in front of her and blocked her path. Ymir grabbed her by her upper arms, pulling her up and off her feet to bring their faces level.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Ymir asked.

“Trying to keep you from scaring her anymore,” Annie replied.

“Why?”

“She doesn’t deserve it.”

“She does for disrespecting me.”

“She’s been betrayed by her father, and she’s been scared of you all this time. She doesn’t deserve it.”

After a long pause and a queer expression, Ymir put Annie down. “What’s your suggestion, smartass?”

“Let me talk to her. I’ll convince her to not shut the door in your face when you go to talk to her.”

Ymir considered her for a moment. She chuckled. “I didn’t realize you’d picked up two pets.”

“Ymir, please just let me talk to her.”

“All right, all right. Go convince her I’m not the devil.”

Annie nodded, turning sharply about and striding out of the throne room. She did not turn at the sound of boot heels catching up to her, knowing full well who it was. She tracked Christa’s scent all the way back to the room she had come from, and she nodded at Mikasa, who knocked on the closed door.

“Christa?” Mikasa called. “It’s me.”

It took some time, but the door opened. Christa stood just beyond, face dry but eyes puffy and red. She looked from Mikasa to Annie before turning her gaze to the floor. She sniffed once, quietly, and Mikasa stepped inside to wrap her arms around her. Annie followed, closing the door behind her. Christa clung to Mikasa, trembling but not crying. Mikasa patted her head gently.

“Ymir wants to talk to you,” Annie said.

“About the letter?” Christa mumbled.

“Right. Give her a chance.”

“To do what?”

Annie hesitated. “I don’t know.”

“What do you think she wants to talk about?”

“She’ll want an explanation about why you threw it in her face like that, probably.” When Christa did not respond, she put a hand low on Christa’s back. “I don’t know exactly what she wants to talk about. All I know is that she wants to talk to you, and it’s better if you give her a chance to explain what she wants. I told her not to scare you.”

“Do you think she will anyway?”

“Maybe. Look, Mikasa and I will wait outside the door while you two talk, okay? Please just listen to her.”

Christa sniffed again, but swallowed and let go of Mikasa. She nodded and tightened her hands to fists. Annie nodded in return, and she and Mikasa went to the door. When they opened it, they found Ymir standing in the hall with her arms crossed. Ymir looked past them and raised a brow when she caught Christa’s eye. She looked briefly uncomfortable, and then asked, “Can I come in?”

Annie, wide-eyed with shock, turned quickly to Christa and nodded.

“Y-yes,” Christa said, “of course.”

Ymir stepped past Annie and Mikasa as they exited the room, and closed the door firmly. She walked by Christa and sat down on the bed She pointed next to herself. “Sit.”

Christa hesitated.

“Fuck, I’m not gonna bite you. Just sit.”

She did so, keeping an arm’s length of distance between them.

“What’s with throwing the letter in my face like that, little Historia?”

“Christa.”

“What?”

“Historia is the name my father gave me. I don’t want to use it.”

“You don’t want to stick it to him by reminding him he’s got a bastard?”

“What good would it have done? He probably would’ve banished me, or worse.”

Ymir looked at her face, pale but for the two spots of red high on her cheeks, and hummed. “All right. Christa then. Why’d you throw the letter in my face?”

“Because…because I was angry.”

“And you decided to let it out on me. Do you have a death wish?”

“No, I—I don’t. I want to live, but…you’re going to eat me anyway, so it doesn’t matter.”

What?”

“You called me a sacrifice. And you’re angry with me, so—”

“If you acted like this with Annie the whole way, I don’t know why she likes you enough to argue with me about you.”

“N-no, no, I didn’t! But…you’re the wolf queen.”

Ymir rolled her eyes and itched the back of her neck through the hair hanging over it. “I don’t eat everyone.”

She was silent for a time, looking at Ymir from the corner of her eye. When Ymir looked at her, she set her gaze to the floor. Softly, she said, “I’m sorry I got angry at you, your highness.”

“You better be. I haven’t even done anything to you.”

“What do you plan on doing to me if you’re not going to eat me?”

Ymir sighed heavily and fell onto her back. “I was going to be pissed off.”

Christa turned to look at her. “About what?”

“The asshole I’m at war with thinking he could ever pick my mate for me. It’s not how it is with humans. We don’t do this arranged political bullshit that you humans do, because we’d sooner eat a wolf that tries to sell their child than let it happen. I’m surprised you still even call him ‘father’ after what he’s tried to do to you.”

Christa said nothing, taking great interest in her fingers.

“So I’m less angry because I feel sorry for you. You got fucked over by life. I’m not about to mate with you and then go fuck someone on the side.”

“But you’re still angry?”

“It’s not like I wanted to get human servants shoved into my lap. I figured I would keep whoever he sent with you just for fun, but he sent the witch into my castle. You think I can trust her?”

“But she’d never—”

“Say that with a straight face and believe yourself, and then I’ll think about believing you.”

Christa mumbled, “I know she wouldn’t.”

“I am the grand prize of the southern army. She’s the wolf-slayer witch.”

“She gets along with Annie.”

“That doesn’t make a difference to me. Your bastard of a father sent a weapon to me and said it was a gift. Don’t act like I should believe she won’t kill me. She probably has orders.”

“No, I swear! My father never said anything to her about you! Please, she’s done nothing wrong!”

Ymir snorted. “It’s not like you can go back, anyway, so I’m stuck with you even more.”

“So why not just send us away and let us die?”

Ymir grinned, slow and wide and showing her fangs. She sat up again, leaning in very close to Christa. “Because I do have a use for you.”

Christa shrank back. “What?”

“You want to live, right?”

“Of course I do.”

“So do I. Annie says that you were called a goddess in the south. I want you to be my goddess of the north and make people want to kill me less.”

Christa stared at her. “Your people want to kill you?”

“Did Annie ever say I was popular?”

“She—you’ll punish her.”

“Did she call me a gross jerk?”

“No, it wasn’t harsh.”

“It’s fine if it’s the truth. No one in the north really likes me.”

“Not even your pack?”

“They’re different. The people I rule don’t like me. I want you to make me seem more lovable.” She took Christa’s chin in hand. “If a sweet little thing like you is my mate, then I look much better.”

“Then I would be your mate?”

“In name only. It’s not like I’m going to mate with you when you don’t want it.”

A knot of tension uncoiled in Christa’s stomach. She relaxed visibly. “Oh. Th-thank you.”

Ymir smirked and knocked Christa on the forehead. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll ask for it one day.”

Christa blanched, but held her tongue.

“What do you say?” Ymir asked.

“What happens to us if I say no?”

With a shrug, Ymir said, “I don’t know. I don’t really feel like eating a girl with eyes like yours.”

“What?” said Christa. “What difference do my eyes make?”

“They’re blue like river ice. I like them.”

Despite herself, Christa blushed. “Oh. Erm. Thank you, your highness.”

“You can call me by my name, you know.”

“I’m—well, I’m scared of offending you again.”

“Just don’t throw shit in my face anymore.”

“No, I won’t, I promise.” She though. “What will you do for me and my friends if I say yes?”

“Put you under my pack’s protection. The others are my servants now.”

“But what about Mikasa?”

Ymir raised a brow. “What about the witch?”

“That’s just it! Wolves want to kill her! Can’t you make sure they’re all protected?”

Ymir rolled her eyes. “They took care of themselves just fine on the way here, didn’t they?”

“Until we were ambushed by almost twenty wolves! Ymir, please, I can’t stand to see them get hurt because of me!”

For a few moments, Ymir regarded her silently. Christa did not flinch or turn away from her, meeting her gaze head-on. Ymir eventually smiled, and she reached out and ran her fingers through Christa’s hair. She said, “All right. As long as you say yes, I’ll put them under my pack’s protection, too.”

“Thank you.” When Ymir tilted her head slightly, she said, “Oh, erm, right. I’ll do what you want.”

“And I’ll make sure no one touches a hair on your pretty head.”

Christa could not stop herself from asking, “You think I’m pretty?”

“Have you gone even one day in your life believing you’re not?”

“It’s just that you were so angry over my father’s letter. I thought that you were offended that he sent me to be your wife. Do, erm, do you—are you not bothered by that?”

“I know you southerners think it’s some big sin, but you’re all a bunch of idiots. If your old man thought it would insult me—and I’m sure that’s what he hoped—then he’s out of luck.” She pushed Christa down on the bed, putting her hands either side of Christa’s shoulders and grinning. “You’re a pretty little woman, and I like pretty little women.” She laughed at the way Christa blushed crimson from chest to ears. “Oh, I see! You want women, and since you’re from the south you always hid it! You sad little thing!”

“Stop laughing at me!” Christa said. “It’s not funny!”

“It really is!” She rubbed Christa hard on the head. “You’re adorable.” She sat up properly and offered her hand to Christa. “So we have a deal?”

Christa sat up and tentatively gave Ymir her hand. “Deal. Remember what you said about my friends.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She rose from the bed, stretching with her arms over her head. She turned in time to see Christa looking, wide-eyed, at her toned back, revealed by the way her shirt had ridden up. Grinning again, she asked, “Like what you see?”

Christa blushed even darker than before. “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again, I—”

“Wow, someone needs to teach you to calm the fuck down. There’s nothing wrong with looking.” She turned and started for the door. “It’s late, so go to sleep. We’ll talk more in the morning.”

“Ymir?” Christa said quickly.

Hand on the doorknob, Ymir turned back. “Yeah?”

“Thank you for not eating us.”

“Sure. Now go to sleep. Guards will be outside all your doors.” She left without another word. With little else to do, Christa got under the covers. Thinking again, she got out of bed and found her pack. Her knife was inside, and she put it under her pillow.

————

It felt like she had barely fallen asleep when she was woken by a long, loud howl outside her door. She bolted upright at the first crash against the door, and she was out of bed with her knife in her hands on the second. The fourth crash knocked the heavy door off its hinges, and two wolf-men came in, trailed by a wolf-woman.

Christa stood shaking, retreating as the trio advanced. She waited for them to recognize her as human, to realize she could not possibly be their target. When they continued to advance, she grit her teeth against fear and took a step forward. One of the wolf-men laughed at her. She ignored him and took another step.

Faster than any of them could react, Ymir sprinted in through the broken door, slid between the wolves, and turned into a wolf-woman to slash out the throats of the wolf-men with her claws. The wolf-woman hesitated as her compatriots crumpled to the floor.

“What, I’m not good enough anymore?” Ymir asked. “Who said you could go after my mate?”

“Your mate?” the wolf-woman said. “You took a human as your mate?”

“Since when have I given a shit what wolves like you think?” Ymir shot back. “You’re dead.” Before she could take a step forward, Christa caught her by the elbow.

“Wait,” Christa said.

“What? Why?”

“Show her mercy.”

“Fuck that! She wants to kill you!”

Christa would’ve protested, but stopped short at the wolf-woman’s snarl. She and Ymir turned together as the wolf-woman started toward them. Just as suddenly as Ymir had appeared, a wolf-man, brown of fur with white fringes, came through the doorway and through himself on the wolf-woman. She twisted beneath him, kicking at his stomach and thighs and gouging his flesh. Seemingly unfazed by this, he grabbed her muzzle and wrenched hard enough to snap bone. As she howled with pain, he slipped his fangs in beneath her jaw and ripped out her throat.

“I was wondering when you’d show up,” Ymir said.

The wolf-man turned, looking first at Christa. When he saw Ymir’s bloody claws, he began to growl low in his throat. She narrowed her eyes in return, but stepped away from Christa.

“What are you doing?” Christa asked, heart jumping into her throat.

“He’ll attack if I don’t back off of you.”

“But—” She gasped as the wolf-man came toward her, backing away until she was against the wall. He followed, and he reached out of ruer.

Eren!” came Mikasa’s voice from the hall. The wolf-man flinched and turned. Mikasa, bleeding badly from a cut high on her right cheek and wielding her bloody sword, dashed past Ymir and put herself between Christa and the wolf-man.

“Eren, stop!” she said. “This is Christa! You know you don’t want to hurt her!”

“You idiot, put down your sword!” Ymir said.

Mikasa looked at her, half raising her sword instead. The wolf-man moved, and Mikasa did not lift the sword to strike. He grabbed her by the throat with one hand, lifting her off her feet and slamming her against the wall. Half-conscious, Mikasa dropped her sword. He did not release her, instead tightening his grip.

“Eren?” Christa said. She grabbed his free arm, tugging hard. “Eren, let go! Please let go of her!” She took a breath, panic setting in, and jumped when claws on yellow-furred hands plunged into Eren’s eyes. He screamed and let go of Mikasa, and Christa dragged her away when she was limp on the floor. Eren swiped blindly at the air as Annie paced around him, waiting while his eyes healed. When he could see again, she had stopped, and now stood between him, Mikasa, and Christa.

She lifted her fists; he charged at her. Though he was larger than her, she did not move an inch backward. She struck him with fist and foot and claw, making him yelp like a startled pup. The wounds she made on him steamed as they healed. More than once, she broke his ribs by bringing her knees into his sides. He could not touch her in the slightest, and his rage began to subside. Behind them, Mikasa stirred in Christa’s lap. She sat up and looked at Annie’s back.

“Annie?” she said, dim with stupor and confusion.

Annie turned sharply, and Eren tried to run past her when he saw Mikasa. Before he could get far, Annie twisted, grabbed him by the looser skin on his back, and bodily hurled him across the room. He hit a wall headfirst and crumpled. In his unconscious state, he returned to his human form, steaming pouring from his body. Annie changed as well, going to Mikasa. Hair down, clad in sleeping clothes, out of breath, she knelt down and took Mikasa by the shoulders.

“I told you not to go after him,” she said. “Not when you had your sword.”

Mikasa said nothing, looking at the floor.

Ymir, changing to her human form, came to them and bent down to offer Christa her hand. “Told you I wouldn’t let you get hurt.”

As Christa reached for her, a response on her lips, Mikasa moved. She shot to her feet, pulling back her fist for a punch that was aimed squarely at Ymir’s head. Ymir scowled at her and drew back her own fist, but Annie tackled Mikasa from behind and bore her, face first, onto the floor. Mikasa struggled against her, fury in her eyes, but Annie held her down.

“Don’t make me fight you for my pack,” Annie said, desperation in her voice. Mikasa faltered at this, looking over her shoulder and finding a plea in Annie’s eyes. She stopped struggling, but the tension did not leave her body. She turned to face Ymir, who had crouched down near them.

“This is your fault,” Mikasa spat.

“I saved his life.”

“You turned him into a monster!”

Ymir flicked Mikasa hard on the forehead. “That wasn’t a monster. That was a scared little kid.”

“What?”

“You humans were the ones attacked, so he’s scared of what happened in the forest happening again. He’s scared of how strong blood smells now. And more than anything else, he’s scared of your sword. It reeks of death, and when you got close to Christa, he was scared you’d kill her.”

“He knows I’d never do that!”

“He’s like a newborn pup who doesn’t know right from wrong. You’re expecting him to be a perfect wolf like Annie when he was changed just yesterday.”

Mikasa had no words, and so she grit her teeth and closed her eyes tightly. She looked up at the strangled gasp Eren made as he regained consciousness and sat up. He looked first at his hands, and then patted himself down. When he inhaled deeply, he turned about to look at them all.

“Oh, God, Mikasa!” he said, scrambling to his feet and running over. Annie got off of her back when he dropped to his knees, moving away in time for him to pull Mikasa up and into a tight hug.

“I’m sorry!” he said, panic tightening his throat. “God, Mikasa, I’m so sorry! I was so freaked out by everything and I just wanted to make sure Christa was safe and then I smelled your sword and I lost it! I didn’t want it near her! I shouldn’t have attacked you, but I was just so scared! Please tell me I didn’t hurt you!”

For a long time, Mikasa was still and silent. Then, gently, she pushed Eren away and got to her feet. Ignoring his call of her name, she walked past Ymir to retrieve her sword. Though she bent down and picked it up, she let it fall from her fingers and sank down to the floor. Drawing her legs up, she buried her face in her knees and began to cry.

Eren slumped where he kneeled, looking ashamed. Ymir caught the twitch in Annie’s shoulders, hooking her foot under Annie’s rear to push her to stumble toward Mikasa. Though she shot Ymir a dark look, she went to Mikasa and sat down next to her, putting an arm around her shoulders. After a moment, Mikasa leaned against her.

Ymir turned suddenly, looking to the door as Armin, Reiner, and Bertholdt came in. She asked, “They targeted the boy like I thought they would?”

“They probably hoped to catch them before they delivered the letter from Reiss,” said Bertholdt. “We should make an official announcement about them tomorrow.”

Armin, looking between all of them, put a hand over his mouth and went pale.

Ymir noticed. “What’s on your mind, Arlert?”

“Can I ask you something, milady?”

“Go for it.”

“Did…have Mikasa or Eren tried to attack you?”

Ymir’s eyes narrowed. “The witch just did.”

“With her sword?”

“She tried to punch me.” She advanced on him. “What do you know, boy?”

“I’ve been trying to figure out why the king so readily gave up his daughter, bastard or not, and his greatest soldier the way he did. I think I know why, now.”

She grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, pulling so he was up on hie toes. “Talk.”

He held up his hands, voice wavering with nerves. “The king wanted an in with you. You would, in theory, be calmer with a wife like Christa. You would let your guard down if we were your servants to use, but you probably would not be kind to us because we’re skilled human soldiers. He hopes that it would eventually be to much for us to bear, and we would try to kill you. He must think Mikasa is the only one who stands a chance of killing you and your pack—he gave up her life to try and take yours.”

Ymir, Reiner, and Bertholdt turned as one to look at Mikasa. She did not look at them, but Annie got to her feet and stood before her, teeth bared. Ymir dropped Armin and went to Annie, pushing her aside to grab Mikasa’s shirt and lift her off the floor. She shoved her against the wall.

“Is that true?” she asked, words pitched low and dark. “Is that your plan?”

Annie grabbed one of Ymir’s arms and pulled it away from Mikasa, but Ymir twisted free to pin Annie to the wall by her throat. Mikasa, fear showing in her eyes, swung her leg up to kick Ymir’s elbow. Hand spasming, she let go of Annie. With a snarl, she changed into her wolf-woman form and brought her hand toward Mikasa’s throat.

Christa ran to them, grabbing hold of Ymir’s arm and pulling with all her might. When Ymir turned to look at her, fangs showing, she swallowed her fear and said, “You swore to me that my friends would be safe if I agreed to do what you want! Please let her go!” Ymir did not do so, and Christa pulled at her arm even harder and said, “Let her go!”

Ymir stared at her. Slowly she closed her mouth, and slowly she set Mikasa on her feet again. She stepped away from Mikasa, eyes still on Christa, and changed back into her human form. Without breaking her gaze, she began to speak. “Reiner, you guard Arlert. Bert, go with the boy. Annie, take care of the witch.” She turned her arm about to grasp Christa firmly by the wrist. “You come with me.”

Without listening to the small entreaty Christa made for her to wait, she dragged her out of the room and through the blood-spattered halls. Christa fell quickly into line behind her upon seeing the blood and dead wolfen bodies, fear beginning to have its way with her. She jumped at the sound of Sasha’s voice calling to them, but kept herself from hiding behind Ymir as Sasha approached and saluted.

“We have reason to believe they came in from the mountain tower, milady,” she said. “Our enemies reek of snow and pine, and the mountain peak is the closest source of those scents. I’d like to increase the number of guards there, but…”

“But what?”

“Our numbers are dwindling. There aren’t as many good wolves left in town for us to recruit.”

“Not to mention their questionable loyalty.” Ymir sighed, and had Christa not been looking up at her, she would have missed the way Ymir’s eyes flicked down to her.

Made bold by this, Christa said, “Captain Braus, what about other towns? Ones that are nearby? Perhaps you can find wolves there.”

Sasha looked nervously to Ymir, who turned a raised brow to Christa.

“Erm,” said Christa, thinking hard. “We could…we could all go! Didn’t the tall man—erm, Bert? Bertholdt, right? He said you should make some kind of announcement about us tomorrow. If we all go to a nearby town, you could introduce me to your people.”

Ymir looked quietly impressed. She turned to Sasha and said, “You heard her. I want us to leave at midday tomorrow for the closest town.”

Sasha saluted again before turning neatly and striding away. Ymir resumed pulling Christa along until they reached an open door. Leading Christa inside, Ymir closed and bolted the door behind them. On the far wall was a fireplace, embers still aglow in the hearth. Finally releasing Christa’s arm, Ymir went to the fireplace and tossed wood inside. She crouched down and held out her hands, saying words that Christa understood as an order for the wood to catch fire. She came closer as the wood ignited instantly, looking at Ymir as she stood up.

“I’m always surprised that magic is so simple,” she said. “Just normal words in another language.”

“You can understand magic?” Ymir asked.

“More or less. I can’t say a word of it, though.”

“Not suitable for a noble of the south, right?”

“Right.” She glanced back at the closed door. “Is it true? You know how to turn humans into wolves?”

“I did it because he asked,” Ymir replied. “He wanted to live, and that was the only way.”

After a moment, Christa said, “Thank you for his life.” She thought. “Was it your voice in the forest that night? The one that cast the spell to make the wolf stop?”

“Yep.”

“Thank you for my life as well.” Hesitating now, she said, “But you have to remember your promise about my friends.”

“Make sure the witch doesn’t try to attack me, then.”

She frowned. “Her name is Mikasa Ackerman.”

“What do I care?”

“If you treat her decently, she—she’d—she would be happy.”

“Why should I care if she’s happy?”

“It would make Annie happy. Don’t you want that?”

For a time, Ymir said nothing. When she spoke again, it was to say, “You’ll have to convince Reiner.”

“Why?”

“He’s the one who really wants her dead. It’s his soldiers who want her flesh.”

“But—Annie—”

“Will never ask Reiner to take back his order on her life. She’s too proud to beg, because that’s what it would take.”

“Don’t you all care about each other?” Christa demanded. “Don’t you care if this hurts Annie?”

Again, Ymir was silent.

Christa looked at her in growing confusion. “I thought you were a pack. Doesn’t that make you family?”

“Not really.”

“What do you mean to each other?”

“We protect each other. We make each other better.”

“Then why did you attack Annie?”

“She overstepped her bounds.”

“Because you attacked Mikasa! If you would just leave her alone, Annie wouldn’t go against you!”

“Who the fuck do you think you are to talk like that to me?” Ymir snarled. “What makes you think you can order the wolf queen around?”

Christa stood her ground, gathering all her courage to say, “I’m not ordering you to do anything but keep your promise about my friends’ safety! I thought wolves were more honorable than this!”

Ymir smiled slowly, cruelly. “You’re thinking of Annie.”

Christa frowned to match Ymir’s smile. “I see why your people hate you, then.”

Ymir stared at her, eyes wide. She reached out faster than Christa could react, catching her chin with one hand and the back of her head with the other. Leaning close, she softly said, “You have a smart little mouth on you. Say anything more to me about the witch and you’ll be outside with no guards every night until you convince me your comfort is worth my aggravation. Do you understand me?”

Christa could see the threat in Ymir’s eyes, and she knew she could not tempt fate. She said, “Yes, milady.”

“Good.” She let Christa go. “Now shut up and go to sleep.” She changed into her wolf form and padded over to lay before the fire. Silently, not looking at Ymir, Christa got into the large bed in one corner and pulled the blankets over het head. She did not cry, nor did she sleep.

————

Annie took the opportunity of everyone watching Ymir drag Christa away to grab Mikasa’s sword in one hand and Mikasa’s wrist with the other. Silently, she went the way of Ymir, dragging Mikasa out of the room and away before anyone could stop her. Mikasa did not question her, in shock from feeling Ymir’s claws so near to her throat. Wolves parted way for them the instant they smelled Mikasa’s sword; they reached Annie’s room without being hindered.

“Why didn’t you listen to me?” Annie asked, low and stern. She let go of Mikasa’s wrist to grasp her shirt and gently pull her down. “I told you what Ymir did. I told you not to go near Eren with your sword if he wasn’t human. Why didn’t you listen?”

“He’s my brother,” Mikasa whispered. “I thought he would know me.”

The fracture in Mikasa’s voice made Annie let her go. She stared at Mikasa’s eyes, still wet, now lost. She did not know what to say to her, and so remained silent. When Mikasa put her forehead to hers and started to cry again, her mind went blank. When Mikasa wrapped her arms around her, she stiffened.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“You’re the only wolf who doesn’t want me dead.”

“But why are you doing this?”

“I want to be close to you. Can’t I do that?”

Annie had no answer. She was overwhelmed by Mikasa’s scent, rich and earthy mixed with exhaustion, fear, and coated in salt from the tears on her face. Her mouth was dry with uncertainty. In Mikasa’s eyes, she could see what she wanted, clear as moonlight. Annie asked, “What am I to you?”

“What?”

It hurt to do, but she put her hand on Mikasa’s chest and pushed her away. “What do you want from me? A night of comfort before you do something reckless tomorrow? I can’t even trust you to do something as completely obvious as to not attack the wolf queen. How can I trust that this will mean anything to you?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Am I just another fling for you?”

Mikasa’s jaw dropped. “You heard me talking to Christa?”

“Yes.”

“Then—you knew—”

“I did.”

“And you’ve been going out of your way to protect me because you feel the same way.”

“Yes,” Annie admitted.

She put her hands on Annie’s face; Annie felt the calluses built up on her fingers and palms. She did not hold down the urge to nuzzle against her, and Mikasa stroked at her cheeks. Smiling anxiously, Mikasa asked, “Don’t you want this?”

“I want to know what this is. Am…am I what you resign yourself to now that you’re banished here?” She winced at the way Mikasa’s face twisted, but asked, “What am I to you, if not that?”

Mikasa struggled for words, never looking away. She opened her mouth, closed it. She swallowed, and then said, “You’re Annie. You’re who I want.”

Annie said nothing. She looked at Mikasa a few moments longer before rising up on her toes and rubbing their noses together. After hesitating, she brushed her lips against Mikasa’s. Taking advantage of Mikasa’s stunned silence, she slipped free of her hands, put the sword on the floor, and changed into her wolf form. She went to her bed and hopped up onto it. She lay down and looked at Mikasa expectantly. Mikasa followed her, and Annie curled up around her when she was settled. They did not speak, and they did not sleep.

————

There was no levity in the group that departed the castle town, from Ymir, her pack, and the guards to the humans and Eren. Christa hung back from Ymir, not wanting to catch her eye. Her hope had been to walk with Annie or Mikasa, but they bore long, empty stares, and she did not see friendliness in their demeanor. Armin and Eren were still closely shadowed by Reiner and Bertholdt, and so Christa walked with her head low.

“What is the south like?”

She looked up to find Sasha matching her pace at her side, arms behind her back and a smile on her face. “I’m sorry?”

“I never had a chance to sneak into the south when I was younger,” said Sasha. “What is it like? Where do you come from?”

“I came from Trost. It’s a few days away from Sina.”

“How many nobles lived in Trost? Did you rule your city?”

“Oh, no, Trost wasn’t ruled by nobles, and certainly not my family. It was just me and my mother, really.”

Sasha aimed a quick glance at Annie. “Is it true what Miss Leonhardt said about people calling you a goddess?”

“Well…yes.”

She smiled. “You’re pretty enough for it. I’m sure the wolves we meet today will love you.”

Christa smiled back, far more nervous than anything. Sashed patted her on the back after making sure Ymir was not looking. They traveled in silence then, trudging through snow higher than Christa’s ankles. Only by the effort needed to get through the snow did Christa stay warm, and she was exhausted after the two hours it took to reach the nearest town. As Sasha had run ahead in her wolf form to announce their imminent arrival, the townspeople had gathered in the snowy streets. They all looked nervous; their anxiety carried over to Christa as Ymir beckoned her closer.

“Do you know who this is?” Ymir asked the townspeople. At their silence and worried glances, she continued. “This is the messenger the king of the south sent to me. She’s mine.” She gave Christa a small push forward. “Introduce yourself.”

Christa looked out at the wolves gathered before her, some wolfen, some human, some a mix. In each of them she saw fear of Ymir, and confusion at her own presence. With all the gentleness in her, she smiled. The confusion escalated, and so she said, “My name is Christa Renz. I’m pleased to meet you.” She managed to not gasp when Ymir wrapped her arms around her and set her chin on her head.

“She’s my mate,” Ymir said. “Anyone after her answers to me. Got it?”

“Are you a human?” called a small voice from the crowd. Christa saw a woman go wide-eyed with panic and crouch down out of sight. She pushed Ymir’s arms away carefully and followed the voice to find the woman clutching a small wolf-child. The woman looked at her in terror as she approached, but Christa smiled and knelt down near them.

“I am,” said Christa.

“You smell different,” said the child.

“It’s all right,” Christa said when the woman shushed the child desperately. She reached out a hand turned over, offering her knuckles.

The child sniffed at her a long while before turning to its mother. “Mama, she smells like sugar.”

“I do?” Christa said with a giggle. “I’m so glad!” She jumped slightly when a cold, damp, very small nose bumped against her wrist. A wolf pup stood beside her; a man nearby held a hand over his mouth.

Christa smiled at him. “Is this little one yours?”

He stammered before nodding.

She sat down completely and offered the pup her hand. It sniffed and sniffed before catching her sleeve in its tiny fangs and tugging at her. She giggled again, scratching behind the pup’s ears with her free hand. It released her sleeve and gave a tiny bark. It yelped when the wolf-child changed to its wolf form, much larger, and pushed it out of the way to sit down in front of Christa. Christa immediately picked up the whimpering pup and ferried it into her lap before turning a stern look at the child.

“There was no reason to do that,” she said. “You need to be kind to people smaller than you. Can you apologize for me?”

The child swept its tail on the ground a few seconds before leaning forward to touch its nose to the pup’s.

Christa smiled and scratched the both of them on the head. “Thank you.” She was suddenly aware of murmuring around her, and she looked to the townspeople. They were starting to smile at her, and she smiled back.

“Milady, are you from the southern capitol?” asked a wolf-man.

“Oh, no, just a city a few days away.”

“Have you ever been to the capitol?” a woman asked. “What is it like? Is it bigger than Utgard?”

“I was there very recently when the king summoned me to deliver his message to Ymir. It’s much bigger than Utgard, with walls all around it. It’s very busy, full of merchants and artists and regular people.”

“Milady, are you royalty?” another woman asked.

“The Renz house is a noble one, yes.”

“But are you more? You act like royalty.”

She thought her words over. Gingerly, she admitted, “Technically…my father—I’m King Reiss’ only child.”

Quiet washed over the crowd. The child’s mother reacted first by reaching out a hand and touching Christa’s knee. “Your own father sent you here?”

“He did.”

New murmurs rose around her. A wolf-woman came forward to crouch near Christa. “Lady Renz, would you like to see our town? It’s not Sina, but we’re proud of it.”

“Yes, I’d love to!” She accepted the wolf-woman’s help in standing, arranging the drowsy pup on her shoulder and offering her free hand to the wolf-child. She was led through the streets, being told of their trade in leathers and furs. Two wolves trotted eagerly before her, traipsing as they related how it took the both of them to take down a bear whose skin was proudly displayed outside a shop. More than once, someone offered to make a stately gift of furs to her, but Christa, feeling guilty, gently refused them.

Some distance back, Ymir had made Annie walk with her as she followed Christa and the crowd. Annie took in Ymir’s scrutinizing gaze, waiting for her to speak.

“You weren’t lying about her ability to charm people,” Ymir said.

“What would I gain by lying to you?”

“I thought she charmed you and you were trying to protect her.”

Annie hummed flatly, and dodged aside when Ymir tried to grab her. “Do you think she’ll be able to turn the opinion of the entire country?”

“I’m sure as fuck gonna try and sell her that way.”

Annie frowned. “Don’t you think you should stop treating her like some sort of pawn? You can’t tell me that you think what happened to her is acceptable.”

Ymir gave her a sidelong look. “What do you expect me to do?”

“I don’t know. You could try being kind to her, at least.”

Ymir said nothing, and they came to stop at the sound of a quiet bark. Another small wolf pup stood before them, staring up at Ymir. A woman stood at the back of the crowd, looking from the pup to Ymir and with her eyes growing wider by the moment.

Ymir crouched down to regard the pup more closely. It trotted over to her without a second thought, sniffing at her toes. She put an elbow on one knee to set her chin in her hand, dangling her other hand near the pup. It sniffed her fingers, biting gently at the air when she drew them away. Very suddenly, she poked the pup hard on the nose.

The woman gasped; the pup yelped; and Ymir snickered. She gave the pup a push, toppling it onto its side.

“Your highness,” the woman said meekly.

She looked up. “What?”

The woman shrank back. “N-nothing.”

Ymir shrugged, and then pushed the pup over again. It began to cry and whimper as it paddled at the air to get up. She hooked her fingers under its back legs, rolling it over. She thought she heard her name, but did not pay attention.

Christa gaped as Ymir ignored her and continued on in tormenting the pup. Anger boiled up through her exhaustion and fear. She set the pup she had been carrying in its father’s arms, stormed over to Ymir, and did what she had done to her dogs when they did not listen to her. She grabbed Ymir by the face and smashed her head dead center to Ymir’s nose. The crack of Ymir’s nose breaking was like that of a whip in the silence. Ymir fell to the ground, blood pouring down her face. Christa, barely aware of the blood that had splattered onto her face, quickly picked the pup up off the ground and took it to its mother.

“Please go,” Christa whispered, and while the woman hurried away, the rest of the townspeople remained to stare. Christa turned, expecting Ymir to already be on her feet. She was still sitting on the ground, the bone having reset itself a few seconds before. Her expression was a startled one, unfocused and aimed toward her feet. She blinked a few times, and then put her hand to her face. The blood that came away on her fingers gave her great pause. She looked at Annie, still standing by with her mouth open and her eyes wide.

When she looked at Christa, Christa jumped. When she got to her feet, wiping away the blood on her face, Christa began to tremble. Ymir made her way to Christa, eyes locked on hers. Her hand shot out when she was close enough, grabbing Christa by the elbow and holding her where she was. She regarded Christa with a raised brow, and then lifted her other hand. Christa stiffened, but stared when Ymir did little more than wet her fingers with her tongue to clean the blood from Christa’s face. Once the blood was gone, she let Christa go. Christa drew back, still waiting.

Ymir smiled, said nothing, and turned about. She made to leave, but looked over her shoulder at Christa. “Come on. Time to go home.”

With nothing else to do, Christa followed her, and prayed for herself as she went.