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Wolves of the North

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Christa woke slowly, mind blank and uncertain. An arm was around her; her hair was being ruffled by someone’s breathing. She opened her eyes, blinking out the haze in them. Annie lay before her, on her stomach with Mikasa’s arm on her back. She could see Armin’s hand on Mikasa’s side, and Eren’s on her head. Looking up showed Reiner’s side, Bertholdt’s hand hanging there.

The arm around her pulled her back, and she knew it was Ymir. She made no move but to take Ymir’s hand, unwilling to wake anyone. Still and silent, she relaxed and focused on not thinking in the hope of falling back asleep. Ymir shifted behind her and gradually rolled almost entirely on top of her. Christa thought she would have to hold back giggles, but she grew tense and anxious from the weight atop her. Because she could not squirm out from beneath Ymir, her heart began to pound.

All at once, the wolves snapped awake, smelling the stress on her. Ymir scrambled to get off her as Annie sat up and pulled her upright.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

“Y-yes,” Christa said. “I’m sorry, I woke up from a nightmare. I didn’t mean to wake everyone.”

Reiner smiled at her and rubbed her head gently. “It’s okay. We needed to get up sometime.” He kissed Bertholdt before rising to his feet. “Come on. We’ve got a town to look after.”

Annie turned to Mikasa, brows rising because she had managed to stay asleep through the ruckus. She then turned to Armin, sitting up and groggily rubbing his eyes. “Is this normal or do I need to be worried?”

He hummed a question and looked to where Annie pointed. “Oh.” He yawned and stretched. “No, she’s okay.”

“She fights hardest in battles, so she sleeps hardest afterward,” said Eren. “Here, hang on.” He took Mikasa’s shoulder and shook slowly. “Mikasa, come on. Breakfast time.”

She grumbled and pushed his hand away.

“You know that Armin’s gonna tickle you if you don’t wake up,” Eren said.

“Lemme sleep,” Mikasa groaned, pulling the blanket over her head.

Armin sighed, but smiled. “Mikasa, you don’t want me to tickle you in front of Annie and her pack, do you?”

After a lengthy fifteen seconds, Mikasa pulled the blanket down. She looked around in a daze and blinked three times. Voice scratchy, she said, “Oh. I’ll…I guess I need to get up.” She pushed herself upright, but could not get farther than that. Her head and shoulders tipped forward as she started to fall back asleep.

Eren rolled his eyes, stood, and picked Mikasa up under her arms. He held her on her feet until she opened her eyes and stood on her own.

Annie, struggling to not laugh aloud, asked, “I don’t need to carry you, do I?”

Mikasa rubbed her face and eyes. “No, sorry. I’ll be fine.”

“To be fair,” Reiner said, “she did a hell of a lot last night.”

“You’ll perk up after some breakfast and me turning you,” Ymir said. “Food first.” She helped Christa to her feet and led the way to the dining hall. There were wolves there already, quiet and exhausted. Petra, sitting with a small family, spotted them and went to Ymir.

“I’ve asked the servants to prepare as much food as they can,” she said. “There should be enough for about a month for everyone based on our stores, but we’ll need to go to other towns to get more stock.”

“That’s fine,” Ymir replied. She looked around, eventually spotting Hanji moving between the clusters of wolves with a pencil and a notebook. “What’re they up to?”

“Tally-taking,” Petra said. “They’re trying to get a baseline of what was lost and what has to be repaired or replaced.”

“Good,” Reiner said. “Make sure they remember to take a break and eat. We don’t need them passing out on us because they forgot to eat again.”

Petra smiled wearily. “I will, don’t worry.” She blinked when Ymir patted her gently on the shoulder, and again when Ymir walked to a group of two women and three pups. They looked up at her as she crouched down before them.

“Hey,” Ymir said. “Anything you need right now?”

“We’re all right, your highness,” one woman said. Quietly, stroking two of the pups, she said, “They miss their parents.”

Ymir exhaled slowly through her nose. “Are you and your mate taking them in?”

“Yes, your highness. They’re my nephews.”

“Good.” She scratched behind the pups’ ears. “You’ll be okay.”

The other pup stood up and came closer. I promise I’ll be nice! They’ll be my little brothers instead of my cousins!

Ymir chuckled and rubbed the pup’s head. “Good girl.” To the two women, she said, “Let me and my pack know if you ever need anything at all. We’ll get you sorted.”

The other woman reached out to clasp Ymir’s hand. “Thank you, your highness.”

“We should have food ready soon, and we’ll get to rebuilding after that.” She made to stand up, but hesitated on seeing how the two smaller pups continued to stare at the floor, looking as though they’d been kicked. She thought for a moment before sitting down entirely and clearing her throat.

“Did you two have favorite toys?” she asked.

The pups looked at her. One snuffled, and his voice said, My papa made me a squishy wolf doll.

“What color was it?”

Gray and white. Like the wolf got snowed on.

“What about you, kiddo?”

The other pup was quiet with shyness. My…my mama gave me a bear doll from the west. It was brown and it had a red bow on its neck.

Ymir nodded slowly, thinking carefully. She said, “Okay, you two close your eyes for a minute.” Once they did, Ymir spoke spells quietly. In her hands appeared two dolls, one a wolf and the other a bear. “You can look now.”

The pups opened their eyes, jaws dropping soon after. They changed to their human forms to take and cuddle the toys.

“I know it’s not the same as what your parents gave you,” Ymir said, “but be brave for them, okay? Lady Mond will give them good hunting, and she’ll give you that, too.” She jumped when the boys stood up and hugged her, but patted them on the back after a moment. When they let her go, she stood and looked around. The other wolves looked at her with raised brows. She scratched the back of her neck, but was unable to hide her embarrassment.

“Let Hanji know what you need right away,” she said, jabbing her thumb at them. “I’ll look at it after we all eat.” She meant to sit at one of the tables, but Reiner caught her around the shoulders and ground his knuckles on the top of her head.

“We don’t usually see you acting nice to pups,” he said with a grin. “Is Christa that much of a good influence on you?”

Ymir pried his arm away and frowned. “I’m not that heartless.”

He chuckled. “I know, I know.” He sniffed, turning as servants began to bring food into the hall. Very soon after that, the rest of the civilians came to the hall to eat. It was a quiet affair; even the smaller pups noticed the atmosphere and did not fuss over their food. Petra took Hanji’s notebook and forced them to sit down and eat. No one ate quickly, and so it was nearly an hour later that everyone finished.

Ymir stretched where she sat before looking at Mikasa and Christa. “Can I turn you two out here? I want people to know about it.”

“I don’t see why not,” Christa said.

“I’m fine with it,” Mikasa added. She noticed Armin fidgeting. “What’s wrong?”

“Well,” Armin said, but he did not continue. Eren nudged him with his elbow. Swallowing, he looked at Ymir. “I…I would like to be turned as well.”

Mikasa stared. “Why?”

“It would be one thing to lose you and Eren in battle,” Armin said. “If you’re both wolves, I’d lose you because I grew old and died long before you.”

Eren set a hand on Armin’s shoulder. To Ymir, he said, “I don’t want to watch him die, and definitely not like that. Please turn him, too.”

Ymir looked up in thought. She hummed. “That sounds like a fair trade for all your info about the south and last night. Sure.” She rubbed at her mouth and stood up. “All right, sit on the floor over there.”

They did as she said, doing their best to ignore the wolves looking at them curiously. Ymir paced for a moment, continuing to rub at her mouth. After some consideration, she stopped in front of Armin and knelt down.

“No whining about your tooth,” she told him. He nodded and opened his mouth dutifully. She changed to her wolf-woman form, plucked out one of his incisors, and replaced it with one of her fangs. After slashing her thumb on the fang, she tilted his head back to let the blood fall down his throat. As he swallowed, she changed back to her human form and murmured the spell in his ear.

His eyes widened, body seizing. Faint wisps of steam escaped his clothes and from the tops of his ears as they grew pointed. He blinked rapidly and breathed deeply. With great curiosity did he sniff his hands and arms. Faintly, he said, “Oh my God, that’s what I really smell like?” He looked up, eyes widening at the details he could now see. He grinned massively. “This is amazing!”

“Armin!” said Eren. “Armin, do this!” He changed to his wolf form, prancing at Armin’s side. Armin watched for a moment before closing his eyes tightly. He vanished in a cloud of steam, and when it cleared he sat as a slim tawny wolf, darker at the face and paws. Eren leapt upon him with glee as the other wolves gaped.

“All right, you next,” Ymir said, moving in front of Mikasa. Mikasa nodded and opened her mouth. Though she flinched when her incisor was torn out, she swallowed Ymir’s blood and listened closely to the spell. When her body seized violently, she let out a choked sound, bent double, and shook as her body steamed. Annie went to her immediately, setting her hands on her shoulders.

“No, I’m okay,” Mikasa said, putting her hands over Annie’s. She straightened up, soon feeling at her pointed ears. She breathed in, sniffed, and then looked at Annie.

Annie stared, brows rising. “Your eyes.”

“What is it? I’m okay—I can see better than ever.”

“Your eyes turned gray.”

“Wolves can’t have black eyes,” Ymir said. “Think about how creepy that’d look.”

Annie could think of no reply to this, and instead turned back to Mikasa. Mikasa, in turn, nodded and closed her eyes. Steam poured off of her, leaving behind a large wolf whose thick fur was solid black but for the patch of red on the ruff of her chest. Annie stared openly again, though no one could tell what expression was on her face. Mikasa blinked twice, leaned closer, and rubbed her nose against Annie’s.

This left Annie smiling and blushing badly, and she reached up to scratch behind Mikasa’s tall ears. Mikasa closed her eyes and lay down with her head in Annie’s lap. Christa giggled at this, turning when Ymir touched her chin.

“Ready?” Ymir asked.

Christa nodded and opened her mouth. Through force of will, she only let out a small whimper when Ymir pulled out her incisor, and she swallowed the blood Ymir gave her. As she did, she finally heard the spell Ymir cast. The blood and fang served as tribute to Lady Mond, and her blessing was passed down to change her body and soul. Another brief whisper promised strength and speed to her, but her attention shifted.

Her body seized. She put her hands over her chest because it felt as though her heart had stopped. Steam came off of her back as the scars along it healed, and her ears tingled as they grew pointed. When it all stopped, she looked up. Everything was clearer and more vibrant. Ymir’s eyes nearly stopped her breath for how golden they looked. She swallowed, closed her eyes, and thought very carefully about being a wolf.

The change happened instantly, leaving her sitting with a tail she tentatively wagged along the floor. She looked around, ears turning to catch sound. All sound stopped; she realized everyone was staring at her. Her ears and nose drooped.

What? What’s wrong with me?

“Nothing,” Petra said, growing cheerful. “Lady above, not a thing.”

But—why is everyone looking at me like that?

Ymir gently took one of her paws and lifted it to make her look down. Christa did so, going still at the sight of her soft white fur.

“Absolutely fascinating,” Hanji said, hurrying over. Careful not to pinch or prod, they looked at Christa from every angle. “It’s extremely rare to see wolves with solid white pelts, and even more so this far from the northern mountains. Ymir, you didn’t do this on purpose, did you?”

“I can’t,” Ymir said. “Lady Mond chooses their coloring.”

Christa put her paw on Ymir’s knee. But why is everyone looking at me like this?

Ymir smiled and scratched under Christa’s chin. “White wolves a sign of good fortune from Lady Mond.”

Oh. She stood up and fought against her wobbly legs. Erm…am I fluffy? I feel like I am.

“You are remarkably fluffy,” said Bertholdt.

Reiner grinned and knelt down to rub Christa’s sides. “Like a proper wolf.” He stroked her head. “You’re gorgeous.”

“You’re gonna make Bert jealous, y’know,” Ymir said. She changed to her wolf form, stepping to Christa’s side. Her shoulders were higher than Christa’s, her head some inches more so. After a moment of consideration, she nodded and licked behind Christa’s ear.

“You make a great couple,” Reiner said, still grinning.

Christa took a deep breath and concentrated on walking forward. Her paws felt ungainly and dragged on the floor if she did not take care. She looked around and felt some comfort on seeing that Armin and Mikasa weren’t having much more luck. Eren was giving Armin silent guidance, and Annie had changed to her wolf form to do the same with Mikasa.

Ymir nudged Christa with her shoulder. Head up and be proud. You’re absolutely beautiful. Not that you weren’t already.

Christa felt her nose grow hot, but lifted her head nonetheless. Slowly, the three of them learned how to walk without shuffling or tripping. As their gaits grew smoother, the pups gained courage and trotted over to them. Armin lowered his head to sniff the pups as they sniffed him. Mikasa sat down and swept her tail along the floor for them to pounce on. Christa settled on her stomach so they could climb on her.

“Your highness?” a man said. “You can turn humans into wolves?”

Ymir changed to her human form and sat next to Christa to scratch behind her ears. “Yep. There’s some shamans around the north who know the spell, too. They make good wolves, don’t they?”

“Excellent wolves,” a woman said. She could not suppress a giggle when a pup caught Mikasa’s tail in its fangs and tugged on it. Mikasa smiled and turned to lick the pup’s head a moment. Three pups took the opportunity of her being lower to the ground to tackle her.

Only Annie heard Mikasa laughing as the pups snuffled at her ears, and her tail wagged to hear it. Unable to sound stern, she sent her voice to the pups as she went to them. All right, that’s enough.

“We’ve got work to do, little ones,” Petra said. She chuckled when the pups went off with their tails low. “You can play later, I promise.”

Ymir gave Christa one last scratch before getting to her feet. She gestured to Hanji, taking their notebook when they passed it over. Bertholdt went to read over her shoulder. They read through everything, and when they had reached the last written page, they looked at each other and nodded.

“The first thing we’ll do is clear away the damage so you all can reclaim anything that wasn’t too badly burned,” Bertholdt said. “The garrison wolves should have moved a lot of the large rubble by now. Let’s head outside and see where they are in cleaning up.” He and the pack led the way, all but the pups changing to their human forms.

Though the sun had risen, murky clouds covered the sky and cast a pallid light on the town. The sight of ash hanging in the still air and the coal black stains in the streets was enough to bring many wolves to tears. The pups whimpered, even when they were picked up and held close. A woman in the streets spotted Reiner and came at a job. She saluted him.

“Commander Braun,” she said. “We did as you and Captain Braus ordered. The bodies of our enemies have been disposed off, and the townsfolk have been brought out for their families.” She gestured to another street closer to the castle. “We lay them down that road.”

“Good work.” He turned to address the wolves. “Those who want to tend to their families may do so for as long as they wish. We will honor any request you have for them.”

A few of the adults went pale while others grew stiff. Those who held pups whispered in their ears before slowly heading toward the street. Christa shifted, but Ymir touched her shoulder.

“Not unless they ask,” Ymir murmured. “Wolves need to be alone with their dead.” Once Christa nodded, she patted her shoulder and crouched down. “Now that you’re able to, let’s get you ready to help.” She changed to her wolf-woman form and cut the excess cloth on Christa’s trousers. She stood and did the same to her sleeves.

Ymir said, “Everyone pair up and go with teams from the garrison to the worst of it.” They did as she said, and a group of five wolves went to her and Christa.

“We’ve done what we could to clear away the unusable materials, your highness,” a man said. “Broken glass, ash, damaged timbers, that sort of thing.”

“Where’d you put it?” Ymir asked.

“The southern edge of town, your highness.”

“Good. I’ll head there. You bring me more broken shit.” She changed to her human form and cracked her knuckles. “The ash might be harder, but I’m gonna go fix things.” The wolves watched her go with some befuddlement, eventually turned to Christa.

“She means it,” Christa replied. “Show me where there’s more damage.” She changed to her wolf-woman form to follow them. The air was thick with char and clotted blood. A few streets over, Christa could smell something else rising. The salty tang of tears was recognizable, but she could not place the raw dryness that followed it.

“Milady,” a wolf-man said, noticing her confusion, “what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know what I smell,” Christa said.

He sniffed and quietly said, “Bitter grief, ma’am. You’ll be smelling it for a while, I’d wager. Here—can you help us lift this beam? We can take it to her highness.”

“Oh. Y-yes, all right.” She went to the beam and dug her claws into the scorched wood. Swallowing, she lifted it without knowing if she could. It came off the ground with almost no effort on her part. She froze a moment, but heaved the beam up onto her shoulder. Another wolf-woman came up behind her to lift the rest of the beam. They set off toward the southern edge of town with the other wolves carrying more things to be repaired.

————

Annie did her best to focus on the task at hand. She could not keep from glancing at Mikasa as they worked. Though Mikasa made no comment, Annie knew she had caught her more than once. The work kept them occupied, and Mikasa took on tasks that looked as though they would require two wolves.

Hours passed; the remains of homes were uncovered. A soft howl rose from the castle when the sun had gone past the center of the sky. Mikasa paused in her wolf-woman form.

“Was that Petra calling everyone to eat?” she asked.

“It was,” Annie replied. The garrison wolves saluted them before heading back toward the castle. Annie changed back to her human form, rubbing the back of her neck. The sight of Mikasa staying in her wolf-woman form and breaking burned timbers from houses made her frown. “Mikasa, you can stop.”

Mikasa froze. She stepped away from the house and changed to her human form. Sighing, she rubbed her forehead. “I’m sorry. I feel like—”

“You don’t need to rest?”

“Yeah.”

“Thought you would. Come on, you need food.” She took Mikasa’s hand and led her down the street. “Most wolves your age feel that way for a while, like Lady Mond has blessed you with all the strength in the world.”

“Did you feel like that?”

She smiled. “Of course I did. I went off to live in the mountains on my own, didn’t I?” She chuckled. “I think you and I would’ve done well on the mountains. I can’t wait to take you hunting.”

“Annie,” Mikasa said, tugging on her hand. When Annie stopped and turned toward her, she licked the thumb of her free hand and rubbed at a black smudge on Annie’s cheek. “I think it’s from something you were carrying.”

She stood still and made no complaints. From so close, it was easier to look at Mikasa’s eyes. Once again, Mikasa caught her, but this time she smiled.

“Are they that different?” she asked.

“You’ll see when you look in a mirror later.”

She chuckled and wiped her thumb on her hip. This done, she cupped Annie’s face in her hands. “What do I look like as a wolf?”

“Like you should’ve been a wolf from the start.” She tapped high on Mikasa’s chest. “The red was a little surprising.”

“Red?”

Annie lay her hand flat on her chest. “Here. It’s the same color as your scarf.”

“Huh.” She hesitated briefly before leaning close to set her nose in Annie’s hair. She breathed in deeply over and over. Her hands trembled.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I just like how you smell. It’s like snow and mountain wind.” She lifted her head enough to look around. With no one in sight, she tipped Annie’s head back to kiss her. Annie rose up on her toes to kiss back, stroking behind Mikasa’s ears when she rocked down. The dazed look on Mikasa’s face when they parted made Annie laugh.

“Now what?” she asked.

“No, it’s nothing.” She licked her lips with curiosity. “I didn’t think it’d be that different.” Sighing, she rubbed the back of her neck. “Sorry. I’m trying to stay focused on what we’re doing.”

“I know,” Annie murmured. She caught Mikasa’s shirt and pulled her down for another kiss. After parting, she rubbed their noses together. “I am, too.”

Mikasa smiled. “Are you sure we can’t sneak back to one of our rooms and stay there?”

“I’m sure no one but us would be happy with that.” She took Mikasa’s hand again. “Come on. If we don’t get back we won’t get much food. We can talk about moving you into my room later.”

Mikasa followed her, but asked, “What would we hunt?”

“There should still be a few deer on the other side of the mountain. We’ll go once things are more together here.” She looked up at the touch of Mikasa’s lips to her ear, but was left staring when Mikasa jerked away from her. Turning forward revealed Reiner walking toward them with small wrapped bundles in his arms.

“You two took a while to get here,” he remarked. He looked at Mikasa’s mild panic and dark blush with an expression she could not read.

“Reiner, stop making her nervous,” Annie said, taking two of the bundles. She unwrapped one and passed its contents to Mikasa.

Mikasa looked at what Annie gave her, finding it to be a sandwich thick with meat that set her mouth to watering. She looked at Reiner, still tense.

“You’re fine,” Reiner said. “I’m making sure you don’t work yourself unconscious, so eat.” He waited until she had put the sandwich in her mouth before poking her hard on the forehead. “I expect you to keep working and not take any unauthorized breaks. Am I understood?”

She snapped a salute with the sandwich still in her mouth.

Reiner stared, and then snorted with laughter. He rubbed her head. “Sit and eat. It looks like we’re making good progress.” He scratched behind Annie’s ear before heading off, unwrapping his own sandwich.

Annie tugged on Mikasa’s shirt, the two of them sitting against the wall of an intact house. The air was still and nearly silent. Eating slowly, Annie stared up into the sky. After finishing off her sandwich, Mikasa followed her gaze. She sniffed, but sighed.

“Do you think it’ll rain soon?” she asked.

“Hopefully not before we get roofs over their heads. Tarps at least. But we’ll need the rain to get really rid of the ash in the air.”

Mikasa hummed quietly. “It can’t be healthy for the pups to breathe it.”

She took her time chewing the last bite of her sandwich, looking at Mikasa from the corner of her eye. She swallowed and brushed the crumbs from her hands. Casually, she asked, “What do you think of the pups?”

“I think they’re cute,” Mikasa replied. She looked at Annie, confused. “Why?”

Annie shrugged. “They seem to like you, and you played with them really easily. I was wondering if you had any experience with human kids.”

“Well…not particularly. I was still a kid when Zhinganshina was destroyed, and we basically joined the army after that.” She tried to gauge the expression on Annie’s face, but could not recognize more than faint curiosity. “Um…why do you ask?”

Again, Annie shrugged. “We don’t ever know what humans will do when they meet pups. I’m just happy that you think they’re cute.”

Horror made Mikasa’s throat grow tight. “Wait, did you think I’d—”

“No,” Annie said quickly. “I knew when we met that you’d never kill pups. I knew Eren wouldn’t.”

Mikasa looked at her feet. Quietly, she admitted, “The wolves spared us because we were children.”

“Then they were good wolves.” She took Mikasa’s hand, lacing their fingers together. “I’m glad they were.” She leaned against Mikasa. “I’m glad you were here last night.”

Mikasa smiled. “I am, too.” She nuzzled her cheek against Annie’s hair. “I hope we can go hunting soon.”

“I hope we can be alone soon,” Annie whispered. She smiled at the way Mikasa’s hand twitched and rose onto her knees. Without bothering to look around them, she kissed Mikasa until she relaxed.

“You’re not helping,” Mikasa said.

“Sure I am. I don’t know of a better way to make you work hard than telling you you’ll get something for it.” She stood up and pulled Mikasa to her feet. “Come on. Our street is almost done.”

Mikasa nodded and followed, but pulled Annie into an undamaged alleyway before long. She pushed Annie against a wall and whispered, “Here’s my incentive for you.” Moving one leg between Annie’s, she kissed her soundly and rocked against her. Annie inhaled quickly, and again when Mikasa’s hand slid up her shirt to scratch down the length of her back. The next scratch, delivered behind Annie’s ear, made her tremble and moan against Mikasa’s lips.

Annie pulled away, red to her ears, to say, “All right, that’s not fair and you know it.”

“I know,” Mikasa admitted, “but I’ve wanted to do that for weeks.” She grinned and dodged when Annie tried to punch her shoulder, bounding away in her wolf form. Annie gave chase as a wolf, heart pounding for being able to do so.

————

Christa looked at Hanji with a baffled expression when they passed four wrapped sandwiches to her. “Hanji, I’m hungry, but I can’t eat all this.”

“I know,” they replied. They patted Christa’s shoulder to make her move to one side, continuing to pass out food. “Three are for Ymir. She’ll be hungry with all the magic she’s doing.”

“Oh.” She smiled and turned, saying, “Thank you, Hanji.” She started off toward the southern edge of town, careful not to drop anything. Though she had seen Ymir handling the broken things she and the other wolves had brought, Christa hadn’t paused to look at what had been done. On arriving, her jaw dropped. Undamaged beams of word were stacked crookedly; unbroken sheets of glass were set carefully on pieces of fabric that had not existed before. Ymir sat without moving, so exhausted that she barely looked up on smelling Christa.

“Oh, Ymir,” Christa said, walking to her quickly and sitting down. “Here, eat something before you pass out.” She unwrapped the largest sandwich and handed it over.

“Thanks,” said Ymir, and she bit into the food. Each swallowed bite helped to straighten her spine. The second sandwich was eaten much faster, and her eyes were bright and clear by the end of the third.

“You looked like you would fall asleep if I pushed you over,” Christa said.

“I still might,” Ymir replied. “Better eat that before I steal it.”

Christa stuck her tongue out briefly before biting into her sandwich. She whimpered when the meat touched her tongue, clapping her hand down over her mouth. Her cheeks burned because Ymir looked at her with a raised brow. Hastily, she chewed and swallowed to speak.

“It—it tastes so good,” Christa said. “What am I eating?”

Ymir leaned down to sniff at the sandwich. “Seared venison with salt and pepper.”

“That’s…it?”

“Yep.” She chuckled and ran her fingers through Christa’s hair. “You taste it more because you’re smelling it more. Seriously, eat up.” She moved while Christa ate, lying down with her head in Christa’s lap. “You’re so fucking comfy.”

Christa giggled and scratched behind Ymir’s ear. She finished her sandwich and felt much more aware than before. They were silent for a time, Christa watching the sky. Her eyes dropped when Ymir touched her chin, brows rising at the discomfort on Ymir’s face. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry I freaked you out this morning.”

“Oh. Erm. I’m—”

“No, c’mon, you smelled like you were gonna lose it. You don’t have to lie about it.”

“I was going to say I’m not angry at you. You didn’t do it on purpose.” She smiled weakly. “At least now I’ll be able to push you off me if you roll over in your sleep.” She breathed in and went stiff at the scent that came to her, thick and acidic. She looked at Ymir, saw the shame on her face, and understood the scent all at once.

“Please don’t feel bad,” she said, running her hand over Ymir’s head. “I don’t blame you for what happened.”

“It’s my fault anyway,” Ymir muttered. “If I hadn’t left him alive when we took the throne, he wouldn’t have tried to get revenge.”

Christa stared at her. “What’re you talking about?”

Ymir sighed, reaching up to tap Christa’s forehead. “I ate his brain and took everything he knew. His father was Andrin Zilya, the wolf king I killed to take the throne. I left Nikolai alive because he was still practically a pup.”

Christa thought, eyes losing focus as she remembered. “That’s why he said he was taking back what was his.”

“Yeah.” She sighed, but blinked when Christa set her fingers lightly over her lips.

“Do you think another wolf would’ve done this?” Christa asked. “Take the throne after destroying the town and killing everyone?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“You’re fixing things. That’s all you can do at this point.” Because Ymir still looked and smell ashamed, she leaned down to kiss her. When she sat up, she scratched behind Ymir’s ears. “Don’t feel guilty, okay? We’ll all get better.”

She sighed all the same, going silent as staring up at the sky. Christa lay back as well, petting Ymir’s head. The lack of strong light made the gray clouds appear to be unmoving. The tiny flecks of ash she could see high above were just as still. Even when she strained her ears, she could not hear any wind.

“What can we do about all the ash?” she asked.

“Pray for rain. Just not before we put something up over all the foundations. We’re gonna try and do that by the end of the day.” She stopped, groaned, and put her hands over her face. “Fuck. I still need to make tarps for that.”

“Are you getting tired?”

“Yeah. I’ll be fine.” She sat up and stretched. “How was your group doing on getting the big stuff to me?”

“I think we had gotten most everything.” She sat up and tugged on Ymir’s shirt. “Can I help?”

“I don’t see why not. It’d be better if you did littler stuff and get the hang of it.” She thought, spoke quietly, and turned around with a piece of heavy tarp in her hand. “Okay, the spell to make this large is ‘reish korubihn.’ Picture it really huge and it should get as big as you’re capable of getting it to.”

“What if I overdo it?”

She shrugged. “Then we have more than enough. Go on, try it.”

Christa exhaled, thought, and folded the piece in half facing away from her and Ymir. Speaking the spell caused the tarp to grow by yards in height and width, sprawling far and away from them. She waited for a while before stopping the spell’s power.

“Is, erm, that enough?” she asked.

“Wait, what the fuck, you could make more than that?”

“I’m pretty sure.”

Ymir looked at her with skepticism before taking the tarp and tugging at it. It did not tear, and she sat silent and baffled. She glanced at Christa from the corner of her eye. “And you never did any magic in the south?”

“Well…no, but this is a simple spell, isn’t it? I know I wouldn’t be able to make toys for the pups like you did.”

Fuck,” Ymir muttered. “You’re helping me fix little things. I know pups are gonna find more toys of theirs.”

“What’s the spell?”

“‘Zujen krotse.’”

“And that’ll work for multiple things?”

“Yep. General fix-up spell.”

She nodded, repeating the words in her head to memorize them. Hearing the soft sound of small feet coming up behind them made her turn. Three children, two hiding behind the taller third, came closer with nervous steps. Christa turned completely and smiled at them.

“Have you all had something to eat?” she asked.

The girl in the lead nodded, holding something close to her chest. The other children, one girl and one boy, were doing the same.

“Find something in your houses?” Ymir asked.

“Yes, your highness,” the girl said, soft and uncertain. She looked at Ymir, looked down, and looked up again. “Can you fix it?”

“Sure,” Ymir said. She beckoned all of them closer. “All right, what do you have?”

The boy swallowed and held out a scorched storybook. After Christa had taken the book, he said, “My dad reads it to me. He said you could make it better.”

Christa opened the book with all possible care, looking through a few pages. After closing it just as carefully, she took a deep breath and spoke the spell. With a pop, the book restored itself vigorously enough that the ash of the scorched paper fluttered around it in a small cloud. Waving it away, Christa offered the book back.

“Is this how it was?” she asked.

The boy took it and opened it. Each page turned brightened the smile that came to him. He hugged Christa hard, stepping back to clutch the book to his chest. The taller girl offered up a soft doll blackened on one side, but striped in orange and black on the other.

“My grandma brought him back from the east when my mom was a pup, and then I got him when I was really little,” she said.

“Oh my,” Christa said, smiling. “You’re a very lucky girl to have a tiger. Did he have fluffy white fur on his cheeks?” When the girl nodded, she smiled, concentrated, and spoke the spell. Another pop coincided with the doll restoring itself. “There we go. Is this right?”

The girl stared, tears welling up in her eyes. She sniffed, nodded, and hugged Christa fiercely. Christa patted her back until the girl let go, and she looked to the smallest girl. The girl did not look up, and she spoke quietly.

“This isn’t mine,” she said. “My house is okay.”

“That’s fine,” Ymir said. “What is it, something for a friend?”

“Um,” the girl whispered. “It was my neighbor lady’s.” She went to Christa and handed over a burned and warped square of wood and tined metal.

“What the hell is that?” Ymir asked.

Christa peered at it from multiple angles before smiling. “Did your neighbor play a thumb piano?”

The girl grew bright and hopeful. “You know what it is?”

“I do! I played one in the south ever since I was as little as you!” She spoke the spell and they both smiled when the instrument was restored.

“Play something!” the girl said, sounding breathless.

“Let me remember a song,” Christa said. She hummed softly, nodding her head to the beat, and started to pluck at the metal tines with her thumbs. The melody she played started out lively, the tines chiming and the tiny rings buzzing from the vibrations. The pups sat down to listen, eyes focused on her. They smiled and relaxed as the melody slowed, moving closer to snuggle against each other.

By the time the melody was finished, the pups were drowsy and nearly asleep. Christa smiled at them, but had to bite her lip to stop her giggle when she turned and found Ymir curled up, fast asleep, in her wolf form. She reached out and patted the smallest girl’s knee.

“Here, sweetheart,” she said, hanging back the thumb piano. “You can ask me to teach you if you want to learn.”

“Thank you,” the girl said, and she hugged Christa when the pups stood to leave.

Christa waved as they left in much better spirits, and she rubbed Ymir’s ears when they had gone. Ymir snuffled in her sleep, paws twitching. The sight made her feel the exhaustion that had clung to her since the previous night. For a few moments, she tried to focus on the work that still needed doing. She gave up and changed to her wolf form, lying down with her nose near Ymir’s. She fell asleep within seconds, and neither of them woke until Bertholdt came with more things to be repaired.

————

The night came in quietly, the air still unmoving and heavy. The townspeople had taken the tarp Christa made, cut it apart, and hung it carefully over the open parts of their homes. Those who had little in the way of walls still posted tarp to keep the land protected from rain while they stayed in the castle. Dinner was less somber than breakfast, as pups approached Ymir and Christa with things found in their homes that could be repaired. Each pup came away happy with restored toys, books, and small trinkets held dear. Many hugged Christa in thanks, and those that realized Ymir would not snap at them hugged her as well.

When all the pups had gone, Ymir groaned and bent double, not bothering with holding herself up with her elbows on her knees. She ignored Reiner laughing at her position, instead asking, “What’s left?”

“You and Christa restored as much of the major damage as was possible,” Annie replied. “There’s damage on the houses themselves left to fix, but we can start building new homes tomorrow. We still need to have wolves go out for timber, food, and wares.”

“We can send Sasha, Mina, Marco, and Connie to the nearest towns with escorts from the garrison,” Bertholdt added. “I’ll ask Franz and Hannah how much steel we can part with to barter.”

“Okay, thank you,” Ymir said, slowly waving a hand. She lifted her head when something settled against her leg. Christa, sitting on the floor next to her, was fast asleep. Looking to Annie showed Mikasa slumped on the table, the hair near her mouth and nose fluttering with her breathing as she slept. Armin was much the same, curled up with his head on Eren’s leg while they sat on the floor. Eren shrugged slightly, but yawned all the same.

“Lady above,” Ymir said with a weary smile. “We’re all sorts of fucked, aren’t we.”

“You didn’t get any information about more attacks, did you?” Annie whispered.

Ymir shook her head. “That was his whole rebellion last night. We’ll be fine.”

The rest of the pack relaxed visibly. Reiner muttered, “Lady Mond be praised.” He chuckled faintly when Bertholdt put an arm around his shoulders and kissed his cheek.

“We’ll be just fine,” Bertholdt said. “But I think we should put each other to bed.” He took Reiner’s hand and led him away.

Eren moved carefully to free his leg before bundling Armin up into his arms and standing. He smiled at the sleepy mumbling Armin made, and went off slowly to keep him from waking.

“Mikasa,” Annie said, gently shaking Mikasa’s shoulder. This did nothing, and Annie chuckled. She changed to her wolf-woman form and scooped Mikasa up off the bench. Without waking, Mikasa buried her face in the ruff of fur on Annie’s chest. Annie held her closer for this and did not reply to Ymir’s knowing smile.

When they had gone, Ymir yawned and stroked Christa’s head. Christa did not stir, and Ymir muttered, “That took everything out of you. Guess I need to train you up a little.” She picked Christa up gently, smiling when Christa mumbled nothing and nuzzled against her. Making sure she had a good hold on her, she went to Hanji and Petra, drowsing against each other.

“If anyone really needs something, you can come get me,” she said. “Get some rest. You did good work today.” Once they had nodded, she left the dining hall and headed back to her room. Christa never woke, not even when Ymir set her on the bed. Ymir sat next to her, crossing her legs and going still. The small fire in the fireplace was enough to let her see everything.

Christa was soft in the light, breathing faintly. She had curled up upon settling on the bed, hands limp near her face. With her lips parted to breathe, Ymir could see the sharp point of her fangs. A careful brush of her hair revealed the similar point of her ear.

Ymir smiled at all of this. She rubbed behind Christa’s ear to see her smile in her sleep. The faint murmur of her name made Ymir pause. Her brows lowered and she lay down. She put a hand on Christa’s cheek and tapped her temple.

“Christa,” she said. She tapped over and over until Christa stirred. “Hey. We need to talk, okay?”

It took nearly a full minute for Christa to come out of sleep enough to speak. “Ymir? What’s wrong?”

The words stopped short in Ymir’s throat; she swallowed them back down. She thought again, sighed, and asked, “How old do you think I am?”

Christa blinked slowly. “Erm. You…you said you’re older than Annie. So…maybe seventy?”

Ymir frowned. “Older.”

“Wha…by how much? You don’t look any older than the rest of your pack.”

Her frown deepened. “Remember how old Hanji said they are?”

“Ninety…seven? Are you older than that?”

“Yeah. A little more than twice as old.”

The math made Christa fumble. “Twice? You’re—wait, what do you mean?”

Ymir sighed through her nose and took a deep breath. “I’m one hundred and ninety-six years old.”

Christa looked at her without seeing her. She blinked twice. “What?”

“Remember the spell I used last night to get all the information Nikolai had?”

She thought as hard as she could and stopped when she remembered what else Ymir had eaten. She whispered, “You can steal someone’s life when you eat their heart. That’s what the spell is for.”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Ymir said. “He was young, so that’s a lot more life for me.” She sighed again, muttering, “I figured I should tell you now.”

“Versus what?”

“I don’t know. When you finally noticed I wasn’t getting older than everyone, I guess.”

“How do you know a spell like that?”

“I learned it from the shaman who took me in and taught me pretty much all the other spells I know. She was the first wolf I ate.” At Christa’s look of horror, she hastily added, “‘Cause she asked me to! She didn’t know how old she was anymore and she wanted me to take her knowledge so she could die peacefully! I wouldn’t just kill her to steal her knowledge, fuck.”

“Does…does your pack know?”

“I don’t lie to them.”

“But won’t they die before you?”

Ymir flinched, but nodded. “Yeah. But packs don’t usually all die together. They get bigger and smaller. We find our mates and have pups and bring good wolves in. You and Mikasa are part of the pack now, and Eren and Armin are in if they want after everything they’ve done.”

Christa stopped breathing. “I-I’m part of your pack?”

“Yeah. Why’re you surprised?”

“I just—I didn’t think you’d let me be part of your family.”

“Um…why?”

Christa shook her head and rubbed at her eyes. “I don’t know. I never thought I’d be part of anyone’s family. Not like how your pack is.”

Ymir’s frown returned. “You mean where you weren’t just being used to give birth to some nobleman’s shitty kids.”

Unable to speak, Christa nodded. She sniffed and rubbed her eyes again.

“No one’s making you have pups. You don’t have to have them unless you want them.”

“But—I don’t want to make with someone just to have pups.” Quietly, she added, “I don’t want to do that with a man.”

Ymir stared a moment. “Wait, what? Why would you be fucking a guy? You don’t have to—I know spells.”

“What?”

“There’s spells for two women to have kids by themselves. I’ve done it for a couple of women in town. Fuck, I’m surprised you haven’t heard Annie talk about it with Mikasa already.”

“What?” Christa repeated, fainter than before.

Ymir snorted with laughter. “By the Lady’s eye, the south is so fuckin’ useless. Women can have kids together, okay? I can make it happen.”

Christa stared at her, eyes as wide as they could be. Her gaze lowered to Ymir’s chest, and a tiny, disbelieving smile came to her. She whispered, “Wow.” Her thoughts shifted suddenly enough to knock the smile from her face. She looked back up.

“How old were you when you met Annie?” she asked.

“One hundred sixty-eight.”

“Have you always been alone?” Hesitating, she asked, “Have you ever had a mate?”

Ymir was silent. Eventually, she admitted, “No. I stayed the fuck away from most everyone for decades. I wandered around the mountains Annie met me in for something like sixty years before we met. Honestly, I just stayed as a wolf the whole time and I didn’t change back until we tried to go after the same prey and we started talking.” She chuckled faintly. “It was a pain to remember how to walk on human legs.”

“But weren’t you lonely?”

“Sure. But I didn’t like anyone, and no one liked me. Why bother?” She tapped Christa’s nose. “You’re not much better. You lived a life where you wouldn’t have been able to fight against being married to some guy you didn’t love. But now,” she said, scratching behind Christa’s ear, “you can fight and you can be happy.”

“You can be happy, too,” Christa said. “Now, erm, now that your pack is safe.”

“Uh huh. What else were you gonna say?”

“No, just—just that you could…be happy now that I’m here, too.” She drew a faint squeaking gasp when Ymir caught her under the arms and pulled her on top of her.

“Look at you, being an arrogant little shit now that you’re a wolf,” Ymir said, snickering. “I like it!”

Christa smiled. “I do, too.” She moved to kiss Ymir, soft and tender. She expected Ymir’s hand going to her ear, but the spark it sent down her spine was more intense than she was prepared for. She moaned against Ymir’s lips and jerked upright and away when she realized what she had done. Ymir looked up at her with raised brows, and soon sat up to follow her. Christa swallowed hard, but did not look down.

Ymir reached out with both hands to tuck Christa’s hair behind her ears. She put a hand beneath Christa’s chin. “Why’re you so fuckin’ pretty?”

She blushed crimson and felt her ears twitch. “Maybe—maybe Lady Mond made me pretty enough to be sent here. So I could be happy.”

“Sounds about right,” Ymir replied. She ran her fingers lightly from Christa’s chin to her shoulder, pushing the loose collar of her shirt to the side. Before the cloth could fall over the curve of her shoulder, Ymir went red to the tips of her ears and quickly pulled the cloth back in place.

“Um,” she said, voice timid and breaking, “I don’t—I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. We should—um, we should stop. And sleep. Because I’m an ass and I don’t want to be an ass if we do this.”

“Ymir,” Christa said, setting her hands on Ymir’s cheeks. “Yes, you are an ass. But you’re not that much of an ass with me. Okay?” Once Ymir nodded, she leaned up to kiss her. “Just not tonight.”

“Right,” Ymir said quickly. “Sorry. My fault—I heard you moan and I liked it too much and I should’ve asked.” She laughed weakly, but went stiff when Christa kissed her again, harder than before.

“I’m not mad,” Christa said, low with frustration. “I think of all the people in the world, I’m the last person anyone has to worry about making angry.”

“Unless it’s your old man pissing you off.”

“Yes, but—no, my point is that it’s fine.” Quietly, she added, “I don’t know what the hell I’d be doing either.”

The anxiety and stammering left Ymir instantly. “Oh, what the fuck, are you serious? You didn’t even touch yourself in the south?”

Christa stared at her, feeling heat all the way to the back of her neck. “N—what? No, I did! I just—Ymir, they would’ve killed me if I slept with another women and the church found out! I’ve never even looked at another woman that closely!”

“Want me to take my shirt off?” Ymir asked.

Her mouth opened, but not a sound left it. She gaped, utterly lost, and managed to say, “What?”

“I can take my shirt off if you want,” Ymir said, voice casual despite the blush on her face. “If you want to look at another woman that closely.”

Christa continued to stare, but her blush remained. After a few long moments, she closed her mouth.

“Okay, is this you being quiet because you really want me to do that and you’re too shy to say it, or because you’re offended and you want me to shut up?”

“The,” Christa said, but her throat closed up. She swallowed, lifted one finger, and said, “The first one.” When Ymir took the hem of her shirt in hand, she quickly said, “But still not tonight.”

“I know, I know,” Ymir said. She smirked and pulled her shirt up and over her head, setting it aside. After fifteen seconds, she started to giggle. “Oh fuck, you smell so weird right now.”

“Wh-why? What’s wrong?”

“One, you are completely freaked out. Two, you are really turned on. Three, you’re so fuckin’ shy about seeing me outside the bath that I can’t believe you haven’t passed out from your heart going so fast. Here.” She took one of Christa’s hands and pulled it closer. Paying no attention to her choked protests, she set Christa’s palm on her chest, over her heart. “Calm down.”

Christa whimpered, but grew quiet when Ymir patted her head. She felt Ymir’s heartbeat in her palm and fingers alike. For a moment, she glanced lower than her hand, but looked back up before she could focus on anything.

“For fuck’s sake, just look,” Ymir said. She tilted Christa’s head down, saying, “No one’s gonna hate you. All Lady Mond wants is for you to be happy, and if lookin’ at my tits makes you happy, go for it.”

She could not stop herself from giggling. “Ymir, stop it!”

“Hey, everybody wants to be as lucky as you. No one else gets to see ‘em like this.”

Helpless to her giggles, Christa could only shake her head. She did not resist being picked up and brought into Ymir’s lap, and soon settled with her cheek on Ymir’s bare chest. She relaxed more and more as she took in Ymir’s scent.

“Are there flowers here in the north that don’t grow in the south?” she asked. “I don’t really recognize what I smell on you.”

“Not as far as I know,” Ymir replied. “But I don’t know what names you have for flowers in the south.” She yawned, sudden and massive and dragging. “Okay, fuck this, time to sleep.” She fell onto her side, taking Christa with her. “Keep looking if you want, but I’m not taking the blame if you’re tired tomorrow.”

“You only want that blame if you’re keeping me awake on purpose, right?” Christa said with a smile. Ymir caught her under her arms and pulled her up slowly enough that she did not gasp. Her smile turned shy from the way Ymir looked at her.

“Pretty much, yeah,” Ymir said. She kissed Christa for good measure, not with haste but with heat. Christa gripped her shoulder, no longer able to close her fingers in her shirt. When she drew back, Christa kissed her chin and snuggled up beneath it.

“Thank you,” Christa whispered. “For everything.”

Ymir chuckled. “Thanks back.” She draped an arm over Christa to hold her close. “Sleep tight.”

“You too,” Christa murmured, and she closed her eyes to sleep.

————

Annie had not expected for Mikasa to wake at all that night, given how she had not shown the slightest reaction to her face being buried in fur. Annie closed and locked the door of her room behind them, setting Mikasa on the bed as gently as she could. She managed to shift to her human form and change into clothes of own, intent on fetching something clean for Mikasa, before noticing the cold reek of fear coming from Mikasa.

She returned to the bed, finding her still asleep but twitching with nightmares. Slow, careful, she sat down and brought one hand close to Mikasa’s nose. The other she used to stroke her hair, and she crooned faint sound. The twitching came to a stop.

“Mikasa,” Annie said. “Wake up. You’re fine.”

Mikasa inhaled once, twice, and then opened her eyes halfway. She lay without moving or breathing, even when Annie rubbed behind her ear.

“Did you fall back asleep?” Annie asked.

“I’m awake,” Mikasa said, nearly a whisper. She blinked and looked up. “When did I fall asleep?”

“Around the time you stopped eating, I think. You’ve been out a while.” She toyed with a lock of her hair. “What were you dreaming of?”

Mikasa sighed and looked down. “It’s just nightmares.”

“‘Just’ nightmares? You don’t just smell scared, you smell like you’re about to panic. Tell me what it was about.”

Mikasa said nothing, staring at a point somewhere through Annie’s knee. Eventually, she said, “We lost. I had to watch all of you get eaten.” She exhaled slowly. “I have that kind of nightmare a lot after battles. Don’t worry about it.”

“The reward of being a solider,” Annie murmured. She tugged on Mikasa’s sleeve. “Sit up a minute.” Once Mikasa had done so, she sat between her legs facing her. She brought one of Mikasa’a hands to her neck, arranging her fingers so she could feel her slow pulse. The tension in Mikasa’s shoulders began to fade.

“We’re all okay,” Annie said, setting her hands on Mikasa’s sides. “You’re just overtired.”

Mikasa exhaled, leaning forward to rest her forehead against Annie’s. “I know. I’m sorry.” Her hand moved to cup Annie’s cheek. “I keep forgetting to ask…when I’m not scared, what do I smell like?”

Annie thought a moment before pulling Mikasa down by her shirt. She set her nose in Mikasa’a hair and breathed in deep and slow. Thinking a few seconds longer, she said, “Like an old forest deep in the mountains. It reminds me of one that I found when I was younger.”

Chuckling, she asked, “Do you think that’s where I would’ve been born if I was born a wolf?”

“Maybe. I’m just glad you were sent here now.”

“Me too.” She reached up to undo the bun Annie’s hair in. She took her time in running her fingers through Annie’s hair, feeling its softness and length. Annie leaned into her touch, eyes closing as Mikasa set her forehead against hers again. The longer this went on, the more Mikasa realized Annie’s scent was changing. It was losing its chill and sharpness, growing warm and enticing. Her mouth went dry, even as she ran her fingers behind Annie’s ear to feel her shiver.

“Annie?” she asked, heart beating faster. “What am I smelling?”

“Arousal,” Annie replied easily. She opened her eyes slowly and looked at Mikasa’s blush and wide eyes. Smiling, she asked, “How are you having the same reaction to me being turned on as you did to me turning you on?”

“Because I’ve never really smelled it before and now I don’t know what to do,” Mikasa said, hand trembling.

“I know what to do,” Annie said. She kissed Mikasa’s cheek, moving inward until she reached her lips. Her kisses were not meant to relax, and Mikasa felt heat filling her spine. Still, she pulled away to speak.

“Is this okay? Your pack—”

“Has no power to decide who I mate with. They’ll get over it.” She smirked. “Besides, even if Reiner gets pissed off and hits you, it’ll heal. Stop worrying.” She ran her fingers along the edge of Mikasa’s collar, slipping past it to stroke the top of her chest. Her other hand went to the hem of her shirt, pushing it up. Laying her palm on the firm muscles of her stomach, she asked, “Do you want this?”

Mikasa was still for a heartbeat, but blinked when another slight change in Annie’s scent came to her. She leaned in and pulled Annie closer to tuck her face in the curve of her shoulder. She concentrated on the scent, faint but heavy.

“Annie?” she said. “Are you nervous?”

She stiffened briefly before sighing. “Not all of us have had flings. Stories from other wolves aren’t the same.”

A helpless laugh left her. “You probably heard more interesting stories than me.” She kissed Annie’s shoulder, moving up the side of her neck. When she reached her ear, she murmured, “It’ll be fine.” She pushed Annie down onto her back, settling on her knees between Annie’s legs. Annie stared up at her, cheeks growing red, before both of them laughed quietly.

“How do wolves get through having sex when you can smell each other’s arousal so much?” Mikasa asked. “I can’t concentrate.”

“How can you not concentrate?” Annie replied. She returned her hands to Mikasa’s sides, pulling her shirt up slowly. “I can.”

“Because you’re lovely,” Mikasa said. She ran her fingers over Annie’s lips, murmuring, “I don’t know if I want to keep watching you or start touching you.”

“I think you can do both.”

She smiled. “I’m glad you’re confident in me.” Sinking down on her elbows, she kissed Annie’s neck softly and kept her teeth from her skin. Annie squirmed and reached for Mikasa’s shirt, but Mikasa caught her hand and held her down by the wrist. Though she tried to tug her hand free, Mikasa’s grip was too strong.

“You were hoping to still be able to get free, weren’t you,” Mikasa said in her ear.

“I was able to pin you up until this morning.” She lifted her other hand slowly enough that Mikasa caught it with ease. When Mikasa lifted her head, Annie raised a brow slightly and smiled. “I don’t mind, honestly.”

“You can pin me later.” She kissed Annie deeply, licking and nipping her lips until she opened her mouth. The scent and taste of her sent a chill down Mikasa’s limbs. Curious, she let go of one of Annie’s wrists to scratch behind her ear, slow and hard. Annie gasped into her mouth, hips jerking against her.

“Dammit,” she hissed. “Do that again.” She whimpered when Mikasa scratched behind her ears, one after the other with both hands. Her whimpers grew frustrated when Mikasa took her hands away. The pull of her shirt over her head made her go quiet and warm.

Mikasa smoothed her hands over Annie’s stomach, taking in the way her muscles twitched. When fingers brushed against her breasts, Annie exhaled slowly to relax. The effort was wasted once Mikasa leaned down to kiss her skin. Her breath stopped at the touch of her lips to her nipple. She felt her ears burn.

“You don’t have to be so nervous,” Mikasa said gently. She ran her hands up Annie’s sides, finding the grooves of her ribs beneath muscle. A light scratch was set in those grooves before she brought her hand to her breast. She ran her fingers over her nipple, smiling as it hardened with her touch. Again, she lowered her head, but then ran her tongue over her skin. Annie let out a faint whine, trying to shift. Mikasa took her elbows in hand and held her still. Though Annie tried to pull free, Mikasa’s grip was once more too strong.

She looked at Mikasa with a faint frown. “You’re enjoying being this strong, aren’t you.”

Mikasa smiled. “If we had done this when I was still human, you would have done the exact same thing.” She did not let Annie reply to this, taking her nipple between her lips and sucking slow and hard. Annie trembled and let her head fall back. With nothing else for her hands to do, she gripped the sheets tightly.

Distracted as she was, she did not notice when Mikasa let go of one arm. She blinked as Mikasa slipped her hand beneath her, and moaned at the drag of Mikasa’s nails down her back. Mikasa bit down on her shoulder to make her grow louder; her heels slid on the bed as her legs flexed.

Small, light kisses were pressed from shoulder down across her chest and along her stomach. They stopped at the top of her trousers, moving up briefly so Mikasa could pull the knot of the drawstring loose. Mikasa paused in curling her fingers over the waist of Annie’s trousers, feeling her tense and smelling stress on her.

“Are you all right?” she asked, taking her hands away.

“Fine,” Annie said quietly. “I’m just nervous all of a sudden.”

Mikasa smiled again, running her fingers up and down Annie’s stomach. “You don’t get nervous that often. It kind of smells cute.” She moved up to kiss Annie’s cheeks, lingering a long while at her lips to let her relax. She did not resist Annie tugging her shirt off, shivering when Annie scratched up the length of her back. When she tried to move down again, Annie caught the waistband of her trousers and kept her where she was.

Tentative, slow, Annie reached a hand between them and rubbed Mikasa through her trousers. Mikasa drew a sharp breath, putting her arms down either side of Annie’s shoulders to steady herself. Her shaky exhales ruffled Annie’s hair; her eyes closed slowly. Annie breathed in as Mikasa’s scent changed, heated and heavy enough that she shivered. She braced herself to rise up and kiss Mikasa’s neck.

Curious now, she settled again to use her arm, reaching up to run her fingers over Mikasa’s chest. Soft strokes up and down over her nipples paired with harder and harder presses of her hand between Mikasa’s legs made Mikasa whimper. A hard scratch down her side made Mikasa’s arms and legs buckle. Annie chuckled and nipped Mikasa’s shoulder, now in reach.

“Please stop teasing,” Mikasa panted.

“But you smell amazing when I tease you,” Annie said. “Like sparks.”

“Annie, please,” she whispered, rocking against her hand.

Her mouth dried instantly. The sight of Mikasa’s flushed face, her closed eyes, made her tremble. She swallowed and rolled them over. Mikasa made an attempt to sit back up, but Annie bit down hard on her shoulder. She reached down, hand fumbling, to untie the drawstring of her trousers. Not bothering with her trousers further than this, she slipped her hand past the waistband.

The first touch to her wet skin made Mikasa jump, hips jerking. She whimpered, turning her face away, and bit her lip when Annie stroked up and down. Annie kissed her cheek softly, listening to her breath as it changed. From so close, she heard every hitch, every break, every way Mikasa said her name.

It was almost accidental, done by Mikasa shifting her hip and Annie curling her fingers slightly. Mikasa swore sharply, hands clenching in the sheets. Her scent changed, setting heat in Annie’s spine. She kissed Mikasa’s throat and rubbed harder and faster. Panting, Mikasa clutched Annie’s free arm. She rocked against Annie’s hand, eyes closed tight and sweat beading on her neck.

Smiling, Annie licked at the hollow of her throat and bit her shoulder. Another hard rub made Mikasa stiffen briefly before starting to shake and moan helplessly. Her breath hitched three times, higher and sharper each time, until she moaned Annie’s name and slowly went limp. Annie slowed with her, breathing deeply to take in the heavy scent clinging to her.

Looking dazed, Mikasa opened her eyes halfway and looked up at Annie. Voice quiet, she asked, “What’re you smelling?”

Annie toyed with strands of Mikasa’s hair, thinking. “Your normal smell, but with summer rain on top of it.

“Ah.” She pulled Annie down to kiss her. At first, it was light, almost lazy. Each kiss was firmer than the one before, and soon she had rolled them over. She moved one leg between Annie’s and rocked slowly against her, smiling when she moaned. Timing it carefully, she broke the kiss and scratched behind Annie’s ear. From so close, she felt Annie’s gasp on her lips.

“I see what you mean about smelling summer rain,” Mikasa said. “You smell just like that.” She kissed Annie once more before moving down. All along Annie’s body she placed kisses and bites to make her moan and squirm. Dragging, teasing, she pulled Annie’s trousers down her hips, down her legs, until she could toss them aside. Her fingers moved feather-light over Annie’s thighs and knees, always followed soon after by her lips. When she moved closer, settling on her stomach between her legs, she felt Annie tense slightly.

“Close your eyes,” Mikasa said. Only when she had done so did Mikasa kiss the inside of her thighs, moving steadily inward. The first pass of Mikasa’s tongue over her sex made Annie catch a whimper behind her teeth. Mikasa kept her from squirming overmuch, hands firm on her hips. She licked with purpose, teasing moans from Annie’s mouth. Adding two fingers, pushed slowly into her, was rewarded with a cry behind closed lips. Mikasa smiled and lifted her head.

“Let me hear you,” she said, scratching at Annie’s thigh. “Please. I’ve wanted to hear you for weeks.” She waited patiently, rocking her fingers in and out, until she saw Annie’s lips part. Nearly grinning, she pushed her fingers in as deep as she could to make Annie moan loudly. She lowered her head, licking harder and rocking her fingers deep and fast.

Annie panted, legs shaking and hands clenched in the sheets. She whimpered when Mikasa reached out with her free hand and took one of hers to lace their fingers together. There was no time to plead when Mikasa took her mouth away again as she bit hard on her thigh. Jumping at the burst of heat on her skin, Annie moaned Mikasa’s name with all the desperation she had.

As a reward, Mikasa moved again and chuckled against her. Annie swore, holding tight to Mikasa’s hand. Tentativeness gone, she moved against her tongue and trembled. Every sound that left her hung in Mikasa’s ears just long enough to memorize, and when they grew pleading, Mikasa acquiesced. She sought out what made Annie’s voice fail and licked and sucked until Annie’s breath stopped and she tightened around her fingers.

“Mikasa,” she whispered, faint and failing as she shook and trembled. She squeezed Mikasa’s hand hard before starting to breathe again. Mikasa drew back her fingers and set a kiss on her shaking thigh. Moving slowly, Mikasa settled beside Annie and nuzzled against her hair. Annie rolled onto her side, but did not curl up beneath her chin. She looked up at Mikasa, blinking slowly.

Mikasa opened her mouth, but hesitated. She blushed and closed her mouth again.

Annie chuckled softly. “Why is your stupid bravery failing so much tonight? You can say it.”

Her voice grew quiet. “Well…I haven’t ever said it before.”

“Neither have I, but I will.” She shifted slightly, setting her forehead against Mikasa’s. “I love you.”

Mikasa blinked, eyes widening, before she slowly relaxed. She tipped her head enough to rub her nose against Annie’s. “I love you, too.”

Annie smiled and kissed her lazily. “Think you’ll sleep better now?”

“I will.” She gathered Annie in her arms, pulling her close. “Sweet dreams, Annie.”

“You too, Mikasa.” She pulled the light blanket over them both, and they fell asleep soon after settling.