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Wolves of the North

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For whatever reason, be it Sasha and Christa’s urgings or Mikasa’s warning glares, Connie stopped trying to poke Annie’s belly the moment he saw that she was showing. More than that, he grew courteous over the weeks of her second month, never teasing her or Mikasa. Christa noticed the same happening to a greater degree in the pack, and she was not immune to it.

No one spoke of it, much less agreed on anything specific. It was understood that Annie’s health and safety were the most important things to them in all of Utgard, if not the whole of the north. They did not crowd her or try to follow her around, as Annie caught Reiner doing so one day and frowned darkly. He apologized and let her be, but quietly brought Mikasa an extra bear skin for their quarters.

Christa sought out Petra, asking for help in tracking down fabric, needles, thread, and other materials for designing and making quilts. After hiding them in her and Ymir’s quarters, she went to Mina privately to ask about how large newborn pups were.

“I thought about what you told us,” she said. “I know how to make quilts—I’d love to make a pair for the pups.”

Mina chuckled. “Well, I think they’ll be a little smaller when they’re born because of Annie, but pups always get bigger pretty quickly. Your best bet is to make two quilts that are each about one third of the blanket you and Ymir have on your bed. It’ll give them something soft to lay on top of, too.”

She smiled and nodded eagerly, saying, “Thank you.” Before she left to work, though, she asked, “Is it going to be much longer?”

“No, not at all,” Mina said. “In a week, she’ll change to her wolf form and stay that way until the pups are born. That should be about another month.”

“And she’s doing okay?”

“She’s doing perfectly. Annie’s always been obnoxiously healthy.”

Christa giggled. “I hope it passes down.”

“Between her and Mikasa? They’ll be just as healthy. Now go on—they’ll be here before you know it, and you don’t want to be late with your quilts.”

Christa nodded again, hugged Mina in thanks, and hurried off. When she arrived back at her quarters, though, she jumped at the sight of Annie standing by the door. She was wearing loose, light trousers and another hooded shirt. Her hands were tucked inside the shirt’s front pocket to rest on her large stomach. She looked up on smelling Christa.

“Erm,” said Christa. “Did—were you looking for Ymir?”

“No, I made Ymir and the others train with Mikasa,” said Annie. “She was getting nervous again.”

“Oh. But why are you here?”

She smiled. “Because I wanted to visit you. And because Petra told me you’re going to make quilts and I wanted to see.”

Christa blushed. “There’s no keeping secrets from you, is there.”

“Not a chance. And your room is always warmest, so it’ll be nice if I get tired.”

“All right, all right,” Christa said, smiling and shaking her head. “Come in. I’ll get a fire going.” She opened the door to let Annie inside. As she went to the fireplace, Annie headed straight for the bed and all the materials Christa had left there. She climbed up onto the bed to examine the fabrics, rubbing them with her thumb to check their softness.

“I thought shades of green would be good for early spring pups,” Christa said once the fire was lit. She joined Annie on the bed, pointing to the different bolts of the various shades. “So things like new grass or new leaves. But I don’t know how that would work with black or yellow coats.”

“My pup blanket was red,” Annie replied. “It’s okay if the quilt doesn’t match.” More quietly, she said, “I’m happy that you’re making them quilts at all.” At Christa’s anxious look, she said, “No, it’s not something bad. It’s—come on, you’re part of the pack. Do you think any of them know how to make quilts? It’s nice that you know and you’re doing this. You’re sweet.”

“I don’t see how any of us could be anything but sweet to you,” Christa said, smiling again. “But I think Mikasa is always going to be sweetest.” She giggled at the pleased smile and light blush that came to Annie. “Why don’t you get comfortable? I need to figure out the patterns.”

Annie nodded before reaching for the two pillows at the head of the bed, arranging them to have one beneath her head and the other behind her back to support her lying on her side. She watched Christa think and sketch and hold fabrics against each other to see how their colors meshed. She did not hide her smile, even when Christa looked at her.

“You’re really serious about making these,” Annie remarked.

“Of course I am!” Christa said. “They’re for your pups! They’re going to be the most important quilts I ever make!”

Her smile grew wry. “Until you make quilts for the pups you and Ymir have.”

Christa’s blush returned full force. “Erm. Well. Y-yes, that’d be important.” She fumbled with her pencil a moment before sighing and going still. “Is it strange to be nervous about that?”

“It’d be weirder to not be nervous. I was scared Mikasa wouldn’t want pups at all. Don’t rush because we’re having pups.” She chuckled. “I think Ymir will need a lot of time to settle into having pups. You’re fine.

She nodded, scratching the back of her neck from anxiety. When Annie snorted with laughter, she realized what she was doing and put her hand in her lap. “And you haven’t picked up any bad habits from Mikasa?”

“Just rubbing the collar of my shirt when I think,” Annie admitted. “I can’t get in the habit of wearing a scarf.” She smiled fondly. “She’ll have to get used to the pups tugging on it.” She went still but for a twitch in her ears, looking down at her stomach.

“Are you all right?” Christa asked.

“I’m fine. They seem to know when I’m talking about them playing with Mikasa.”

“Are—are they moving?”

“Come here.” She took Christa’s hand when she was close enough, laying it lightly on her stomach. Christa’s shoulders rose when something moved against her hand, gentle and faint. Her eyes widened.

“Oh,” she whispered. “Lady above. Annie, that’s amazing.”

She chuckled. “That makes you, Mikasa, Armin, and Bertholdt to think that. It scared Ymir and Reiner, and Eren refuses to get near me when they move. I think he’s worried they’ll bite.”

“He’s worried about—wait, what? He has to know that’s not possible. They won’t even have fangs when they’re born, right?”

“No, but it’s fine,” Annie said. “He’ll be too scared to scare them.”

“You’re allowed to bite anyone who scares your pups,” Christa said. “Me and Ymir included.”

Annie laughed. “I wasn’t aware I needed your permission. It’d be Mikasa more often, anyway.”

“You are trying to keep her from getting really vicious, right?”

“I am, I am. She’s trying her hardest, which is why she’s training so much. Thank our lady that Reiner and Ymir are eager to help.” She stretched slightly to get more comfortable. Sounding drowsy, she said, “I wish I knew what they smelled like.”

Christa smiled and moved her hand to rub behind Annie’s ear. “You’ll find out soon. And then you’ll be begging one of us to take them so you can sleep for more than an hour.”

She smirked, even as she closed her eyes. “You wish.”

“A little. I’d like to cuddle them.” She scratched behind Annie’s ear next, saying, “Take a nap. I think I’ve got it figured out.”

Annie hummed quietly before settling with her knees drawn up slightly and one hand on her stomach. Christa smiled at her, moving back slowly to keep from jostling her. She continued on in designing the quilts, sketching until she was satisfied with the twin quilts. She moved off the bed to arrange everything on the table at the end of the bed. Measuring by eye as she was used to, she began to cut the fabric into strips, squares, and triangles.

The pieces were arranged specifically on the bed, and she tilted her head this way and that to consider them. A few choice rearrangements helped the appearance of a field stretching from dark green up into lighter shades. Satisfied with this, she stretched out a length of fabric on the floor, so deeply green it looked black, and put the pieces in place on top of it.

The same process was followed for the matching quilt, its coloring gently inverted to go from light green up to dark. She looked at them side by side to make sure they complemented each other. After a long time, she nodded at the quilts and went to take a box full of safety pins from the table. She jumped when someone knocked gently on the door.

“Hang on,” she called back, hurrying over. She opened the door to Mikasa, who was sweaty and looked exhausted.

“Hi,” Mikasa said. “Is Annie taking a nap in here?”

“Oh, yes,” Christa said, starting to step aside.

Mikasa smiled and shook her head. “I just was curious when I didn’t find her in our bed.”

“She came to watch me work on quilts for the pups.”

She stopped short in turning away. “You are?”

“Would you like to see? I’m about to start pinning.”

“If that’s okay with you.”

“As long as you don’t flip anything over.”

Mikasa put a hand over her heart. “I promise.” She followed Christa to the space on the floor she was using, smiling tenderly at Annie asleep on the bed. Her smile grew wider at the sight of the quilts. “These are lovely!”

“Thank you,” Christa replied with a grin. “I’m glad Petra helped me find materials. I think it’ll be soft on their paws.”

She knelt down and carefully ran her fingers over a part of each quilt. “I do too.” She chuckled and smiled at her. “We’re really lucky to have you as part of the pack.”

She blushed. “Thank you. I think we have a lucky pack.” She smiled and poked Mikasa’s side. “But I think Ginko and Matvey are going to be the luckiest of all of us because they have you and Annie for mothers.”

Though Mikasa blushed brightly, she smiled just as brightly. She quietly said, “I can’t wait to meet them.”

“They’re going to be so cute,” Christa added.

Mikasa pushed her shoulder. “Don’t make me even more impatient.”

“Sorry,” Christa said in a giggle. She moved closer slightly to put an arm around Mikasa and leaned against her. “You two will be great.”

“I’m just glad that Mina’s here to help.”

She squeezed her. “You’ll still be great.”

Mikasa smiled and scratched Christa’s back. “Thanks.” She turned when she heard movement on the bed, smiling even more warmly because she saw that Annie was awake.

“Did you need a place to nap that’s extra warm?” she asked.

“Since you were too nervous to take a nap with me,” Annie replied, smiling.

“Can I make up for it by taking a bath with you?”

“That would be acceptable.”

Christa did not bother to hide her giggles. “Oh, get going already. I should have the quilts done in a week or so.”

Mikasa nuzzled against her hair for a moment. “Thank you, Christa.” She stood and went to Annie, helping her get up because her stomach was heavy and awkward.

Christa waved at them as they left, setting into her work with even more enthusiasm. Her focus was so intense that she did not notice when Ymir crept into the room. Though Ymir did not try to hide her presence, Christa did not notice her. Amused, Ymir settled next to her and started to hand her pins when she reached for them.

It was only when her fingers bumped Ymir’s that she looked up. Ymir lifted a hand in greeting, grinning toothily.

“You are focused,” she said. “Cutie.” She looked at the quilts and said, “These’re really cute, too. Every pup should have quilts like these.”

She smiled. “Flatterer.”

Chuckling, she slid a hand up the back of Christa’s shirt. “For a good reason.”

She gently swatted Ymir’s wrist. “Not anywhere near these.”

Ymir pouted. “What about not near them?”

“Well…of course, but—” Her words dropped off with a gasp when Ymir leaned in and nipped the side of her neck.

“Then how about the bath?”

She sputtered with giggles. “Part of me thinks that you’re asking so often because you want to tease Annie and Mikasa for not getting to have sex right now.”

Ymir grinned again. “Maybe you’re a little right.”

Her giggles became outright laughter, and she held onto Ymir when she was lifted off the floor and carried off to the bathroom.

————

Exactly as Mina had said, Annie changed to her wolf form the next week and showed no intention to change back. She took to roaming the streets slowly, thoroughly checking the area nearest the castle. Every few days, she decreased the area that she checked until she was mostly inside, and she rested in her quarters more often. When Mikasa went to Mina to ask what was happening, Mina was not hesitant to answer.

“She’s nesting, really,” Mina said. “It’s making sure nothing’s getting too close to the place she’s going to have the pups.”

“That makes sense,” Mikasa said. “Will she rest more if I do it for her?”

She smiled with sympathy. “Mother wolves never let anyone do that for them, no matter how much they trust their mates or their packs.”

“That makes sense, too.” She thought, tapping her thumb on her hip, and then took a deep breath. “Is she going to let you stay near her?”

“Starting tomorrow, yes.”

“Okay.” She took another deep breath. “Then…howl for me when she wants me.” When Mina looked at her, baffled, she said, “I don’t want to make her nervous at all because she smells that I’m nervous. I’ll be fine, especially if you tell me what to do.”

She smiled even more gently than before and reached out to take Mikasa’s hands. “It’s all going to be fine. I don’t let anything happen to mothers or pups.” She chuckled. “You’re both having first-time-mom jitters, that’s all.”

“Annie’s nervous?”

“Oh, lady above, yes. She doesn’t need to be this thorough for this long. You’d be doing me a favor if you convinced her to stay closer to your room.”

She managed to smile. “I’ll see if I can.” She squeezed Mina’s hands. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Mina said cheerfully.

Mikasa accomplished it with a mixture of gentle begging and promises to check on areas further from the castle. She made her rounds in the last week of the year’s second month. She could smell the early end of winter on the wind, blowing warmer from the west. Faint traces of pollen were already on the wind; birds were coming back to the trees on the mountain.

She tended to have tagalongs on those days. Though the conversations she had with Christa and Armin were welcome distractions, she was aware that Reiner and Ymir walked with her in the hope that they could tackle her when Mina howled for her. Ten days on from starting her walks, Reiner and Ymir had followed her out to the southern edge of town, and they continually grinned at her.

“What makes you think I can’t get away from you two?” Mikasa asked.

“We just think it’ll be funny to make you frantic,” Ymir replied.

Mikasa looked at her blankly. “You realize that doing that would make me want to make sure that you get to hold them last, right?”

This made them falter and look at each other. To Reiner, Ymir muttered, “Fuck that, I wanna hold ‘em.”

He nodded. “Annie might get mad if we really keep her.” He rubbed the back of his head. “Dammit, you get kinda cute when you panic about Annie. I wanted to see it.”

“You think I’m cute when I panic?”

“A little,” he said, “and so does everyone else.”

“Yep,” Ymir added. “It’s a little weird, since you can look so damn scary.”

She pouted and kicked a clod of dirt toward them. “I won’t scare my pups.”

“We know,” Reiner said. He rubbed her back. “She’s got all the bearskins, right?”

“And a few deer pelts,” Mikasa said. “And Christa’s quilts.” She smiled. “They’ll be all set. I’m just going to get Annie more meat and pastries for me and Mina.” She meant to go back into town and toward shops, but Reiner stopped her once more by hugging her tight. She started to pat him on the back, but in the moment before her hand touched him, they all head Mina howling for Mikasa from the castle.

Reiner’s arms were instantly empty, steam billowing into his face because Mikasa had changed to her wolf form. She sprinted away, little more than a black blur. No one got in her way, and she barely realized that Connie had pulled Sasha out of the way at the top of the stairs when he saw her coming. Had she been paying attention, she would have noticed that she reached their quarters in less than a minute. She stood panting for a moment before changing to her human form and knocking.

Mina looked utterly amused when she opened the door for her. “That was even faster than I thought you could get here. Come on.”

Mikasa smiled at her and stepped inside. Annie looked at her from the nest she’d made of the furs and pelts over the weeks, wagging her tail briefly. Mikasa went to sit with her, rubbing her ears.

“Doing all right?” she asked.

I think. It hurts more than I thought.

“You’re doing fantastically,” Mina said, sitting at Annie’s back legs. She reached between them to stroke at her stomach. “All right, let’s see.”

Annie twitched after a few strokes, curling down to push Mina’s hand away with her nose. Briefly, she licked at herself before chuffing, standing, and pacing in a tight circle. She lay back down and pushed her head against Mikasa’s hand.

Her voice was moody in their heads. It’s not the most painful thing I’ve ever felt, but it’s the most uncomfortable.

Mikasa leaned over slightly to scratch her back in long passes of her nails. “Does that help at all?”

Her ears drooped as she relaxed. A little bit. Thank you.

Mina smiled and stroked at Annie’s belly steadily. “Your contractions are much harder than an hour ago, so it shouldn’t be much longer for the first one.”

Annie chuffed again, but couldn’t quite disguise her whine. Ow.

Mina laughed and patted Annie’s flank. “I’d call you a big pup yourself, but I’ve helped wolves who cried way more than you.”

Silent, smiling, Mikasa kept scratching Annie’s back, stopping only when Annie stood up every few minutes and paced around. It was after the fifth time she had done this nearly thirty minutes later that she stopped short in putting her head back in Mikasa’s lap. She lifted her head as Mikasa caught the scent of blood, wet fur, and something else.

Mina moved away as Annie curled around to get to the pup that had come from herself. With the utmost care, she tore open the sac surrounding the pup with her fangs. She chewed to close the pup’s umbilical cord, and when it had stopped bleeding, Mina smoothly scooped the mess away and into a nearby towel.

“Um,” Mikasa whispered. The pup was completely still, neither breathing nor moving, and it left her trembling.

“Hang on,” Mina said gently. “If Annie can’t get him to breathe, I will.”

Annie caught the pup’s scruff and pulled him up to bathe him with hard, fast passes of her tongue. She took care with his face and nose first, moving to his back and belly. Within seconds, he coughed once, twice, and then began to squirm and whimper.

There you are, Annie’s voice whispered. She nuzzled the pup tenderly before continuing to bathe him. My little Matvey.

Mikasa sank down onto her stomach, unable to hide her excitement. She smiled, mouth open and eyes wide. Gently, she set one finger atop his tiny paw. He snuffled at her finger and she thought she could die on the spot.

“Hi Matvey,” she whispered. “Hi sweetheart. You cute pup.” She took in the sight of his coat, solid black but for the white on the tips of his ears and tail and the crescent curve of gold around his left ear. “Just look at you.”

Can you finish cleaning him? Harder licks are best.

She looked up, nodding when she saw the newly arrived pup needing attention. She changed to her wolf form and pulled Matvey closer, cleaning him thoroughly while Annie brought the other pup into breathing and moving.

“Oh, Annie, look at her pretty coat,” Mina said fondly. “Gold just like yours.” She leaned closer to take the torn sac, looking at the pup. “Wow, twins for hunter’s crests—look at that.”

Annie and Mikasa paused. The pup’s coat was solid gold, but mirrored her brother with white on the tips of her ears and tail and a crescent curve of black around her right ear. Annie nuzzled the pup, licking more gently for a moment.

When they heard her voice, it was just as loving as when she greeted Matvey. Hello, Ginko. Sweet little Ginko.

Mina smiled, wiping off her hands. After a while, she said, “Okay, they should be good on cleaning for now. Mikasa, turn Matvey Annie’s way. I want to make sure they know who to get milk from and that they can drink. And no putting him right at her teat.”

Reluctantly, Mikasa picked Matvey up by the scruff and turned him to face Annie. She set him near Ginko, sitting back nervously. Squeaking and whining, the pups relied on their noses and wiggled closer. They bumped into Annie’s belly and pawed at it. Ginko was successful first, finding a nipple and starting to suckle. Matvey used her as guidance and latched on as well, and they settled quietly.

“Ooh, that’s lucky for you two,” Mina said, grinning. “Sometimes pups can’t find their mom. You’ve got good healthy pups, just based on how hungry they are.” She giggled. “Look at their ears twitching.” For a few minutes, she simply watched and gauged how the pups were doing. She eventually nodded and scratched Annie’s back. “Nice and easy, right?”

Yeah. She turned slightly to lick Mina’s hand. Thank you so much.

Mina smiled all the more. “For you? No problem.” She took to her feet, bundling up the dirtied towels. “All right. I’m going to go now so it’s just you with them. Mikasa, if you need help, howl for me. I’ll be here in no time.”

Mikasa looked at her, all grins and a wagging tail. I will, I promise.

She laughed. “There’s the look of a good mom. We’re all here if you need us.” She waved, murmuring, “See you in a few days for a check-up, little ones.” She slipped out of the room, not at all startled by the pack sitting very quietly in the hall in their wolf forms. They looked at her expectantly, and when she smiled at them, all their tails began to wag.

“Shh, shh,” she whispered when Eren started to prance about. “Be quiet around here for a while. Annie and the pups need rest.”

He struggled even when sending her his voice. Are they cute? At least tell us if they’re cute!

"They’re adorable,” she replied.

He bounced on his paws, looking as though he would burst. Armin caught him by the tail to keep him from charging at the door.

No, come on. If you want to be excited, we’re going outside.

Eren’s ears drooped, but he nodded and followed behind Reiner and Bertholdt with Armin at his side. Christa went to the door, but stopped a pace away. Tail wagging, she sent her voice very quietly through the door.

Congratulations.

Annie’s weary voice replied, Thank you.

This done, Christa headed off to join Ymir and the others, not entirely sure how they all would be patient for ten days.

————

Mina had never laughed harder after midwifing before. She warned the pack the first day that she would not answer any questions about the pups, as they were not hers. Much to their frustration, she would not even describe their coats.

“Midwives have no right to tell other wolves about new pups,” she told them. “Only Annie and Mikasa should get to see how excited you get when they tell you details. All I’ll tell you is if they’re healthy when I check on them for their hearing later today.”

Reiner pouted and put his chin on the table. “But it’s been a whole week! I wanna see them!”

She reached over to flick his nose. “Absolutely not. Until they open their eyes, only Mikasa and Annie will be with them. I’m only going in for the smallest amount of time I need to be in there, and if you try to sneak into their room, I will fight you myself.

He looked startled. “Uh.”

“Let’s just be patient,” Bertholdt said, rubbing his back.

“How big will they be when we can see them?” Armin asked.

“Big enough to be running around on their own, but you still have to be careful,” Mina explained. “Pups don’t heal the same way adults do until they’re twenty days old, so bumps and bruises aren’t fun for them. Be sweet to them.”

Eren grinned where he sat, squirming with impatient glee. “Little wiggly pups.”

Ymir grinned as well, but it dropped when she looked at the door of the dining hall and caught sight of Mikasa walking by in a daze. She called, “Hey!” When there was no response or sign that Mikasa was coming back, she abandoned her foot and jogged after her. Mina and Christa followed, and only Mina did not look surprised when Mikasa did not react to them speaking to her. Mikasa went all the way into the kitchen and put together a thick stew mainly filled with rabbit before she noticed Mina standing next to her.

“Oh,” she said faintly, peering at her with eyes that had taken little rest. “Hi.” She noticed Ymir and Christa as well and repeated, “Hi.”

“Holy shit, have you slept at all?” Ymir asked.

“Mm hmm,” Mikasa replied, seasoning and stirring the stew. “A little bit every few hours.”

“They’re not being fussy or crying a lot, are they?” Mina asked.

“No, they’re doing great,” Mikasa said. “Annie’s not worried about how they’re eating, and they’re not having trouble going to the bathroom if we get them started. But they’re sure loud when they wake up.”

“That’s good, too,” Mina said. “Their lungs are developing well and there’s nothing impeding their breathing.”

Mikasa smiled. “That’s a backhanded relief.” She tasted the stew, considering the flavor before adding more pepper and stirring it in slowly. “Annie’s hoping if she eats something hearty it’ll help them feel full a little longer.”

“It should,” Mina said. “You’re being a very attentive mate and parent.”

Her smile grew warmer. “I can’t be anything less for them. Ginko and Matvey started sucking on my fingers four days ago when they weren’t hungry. They know I’m their mom, too.”

Ymir grinned and rubbed Mikasa’s head. “You’re gonna make us all sick with how cute you’re being.”

She returned Ymir’s grin. “And you haven’t even seen them yet.”

“Don’t gloat,” Ymir said, punching her shoulder.

“I can gloat all I want,” Mikasa said cheerfully. “My mate just gave birth to two beautiful pups and they’re all doing great.”

Ymir laughed. “Fine, gloat. Just come tell us when their eyes work well. I want to give them those spells against illness, okay?”

“I will. Thank you.” She blinked when Christa went off suddenly, but smiled when she returned with a carrying tray, two covered bowls, and two spoons. “Thank you, too.” As she ladled the stew into the bowls, she casually said, “They really like their quilts.”

Christa blushed. “I’m glad.”

Mikasa poured the last of the stew into the bowls and covered them, picking up the tray to carry them along. She paused, looking at Mina. “Annie said to bring you back to check their ears. They look at us when we talk to them.”

Mina smiled, clapping her hands together. “Oh, great! Right on schedule! Come on, let’s take a look!” She ushered Mikasa along, shooing the others away when they tried to pester Mikasa. She opened the door slowly when they arrived, letting Mikasa go inside first.

“I’m back,” Mikasa said gently.

Annie lifted her head and waved lazily. Ginko and Matvey, having been curled up against her stomach with their quilts, perked up at the sound of Mikasa’s voice. They began to squeak and wiggle out from under the quilt. She went to them, setting the tray down and sinking to her stomach.

“Hi there, lil’ babies,” Mikasa said. She chuckled when the pups squirmed to either side of her head and flopped against her cheeks.

“Oh, look at you precious dears,” Mina said. “Already crawling a whole foot to your mom.”

Annie pushed herself upright, stretching her back. “I have to carry them back here when they try to go really far.”

“That’s good,” Mina said. “Annoying for you, but good. Always better for a pup to be adventurous.” After Annie had taken a bowl, she sat next to her to look at the pups.

Cleaned off and dried, their fur had gone fluffy, and their ears were gently folded. They batted at Mikasa’s fingers when she rubbed their bellies, but there was no sign that it was from pain. In the same moment, they noticed Mina’s scent. Wiggling to turn around, they sniffed and chirped the tiniest barks.

“It’s okay,” Mikasa said, voice calm as she stroked the pups’ heads. “That’s Mina, our friend.”

Mina leaned down to set the backs of her hands on the floor while she offered her fingertips for smelling. They went to her tentatively, Matvey stretching out his head while Ginko went closer.

“All right, I’m going to see how sensitive their ears are,” Mina said. “Just clicks of my tongue going from loud to quiet. Don’t bite me if they spook.”

Mikasa frowned, but nodded.

“Matvey, Ginko,” Mina said sweetly. When their heads lifted, she clicked her tongue loudly. Both pups jumped, and after a moment Ginko let out an offended squeaking bark.

“Very good,” Mina said. She clicked her tongue again, but more quietly. They jumped, less sharply this time. Matvey rumbled in confusion, head tilting.

“Still very good,” said Mina. “Good listening.” She clicked again, the sound level with a speaking voice. Ginko batted at Mina’s hand while Matvey rumbled again.

“Good, good.” She clicked, soft as a murmur. The pups shook their heads and yapped once.

Very good. Okay, last time.” The last click was very faint, but the pups wiggled and let out chuffs of breath.

“Perfect,” said Mina. “That’s where you want their hearing at this stage. What good pups you two are.” She smiled when Matvey mouthed at one of her fingers. “Any signs of being sensitive to light yet?”

“Not quite,” Mikasa said.

“That’s normal, though,” Annie said, swallowing another spoonful. “Mikasa, eat before yours goes cold.”

“But pups,” Mikasa said with a playful pout.

Annie smiled. “They’re getting good at sitting against you. Eat up.”

She moved slowly to keep from startling the pups, kissing their heads on the way up. She sat, legs sprawled, and started to eat. Matvey and Ginko deliberated for a moment before Ginko crawled around Mikasa’s foot to flop against her ankle as Matvey went to do the same with Annie.

“Are they developing favorites?” Mina asked.

“No, it’s been equal so far,” Annie said, stroking Matvey’s back. “If anything, they go to whoever they think has more energy at the time.”

“Aw, little sweeties,” Mina said. She watched them a moment more. “And I assume no coughing or sneezing, since Mikasa never came to get me or Ymir.”

Mikasa, mouth full of stew, shook her head and swallowed. “Not once after when they first started breathing. They’ve been really good this week.”

“Then they’re good and healthy and you two are doing great.” She stood up slowly, saying, “Same goes for the next three days. Come get me if they need help, and I’ll be back soon to check on their eyes.” She waved as she headed for the door. “See you in just three days, you two.”

The pups squeaked when the door closed, looking about. Mikasa chuckled as she set her empty bowl back on the tray and replaced its top. She picked Ginko up carefully, supporting her chest and back legs, and turned to lie down on her back with her head near Annie and Matvey. She settled Ginko on her chest, kissing her nose when she snuffled at the new scent in her mouth.

“I forgot to ask when pups start howling,” Mikasa murmured.

“Twenty days, give or take,” Annie said. She picked Matvey up to cradle him against her chest, stroking his ears. “They should start making words in their head that we can hear and understand around that time. It’ll still be another ten days after that for them to be able to change into their human forms.” She smiled when Matvey leaned up to lick her chin, rocking him slowly. “I love you too, Matvey.”

Ginko whined softly, making Annie look up. Mikasa had gone straight to sleep, looking utterly exhausted and content in the same moment. Snickering, Annie moved to lie next to her, picking Ginko up. She put both pups between them, bringing over their quilts before changing to her wolf form. They wiggled to her under their quilts, starting to feed quietly. When they were done, they burrowed under the quilts, paws tangled and noses bumping.

Annie changed back to her human form to rub their backs, humming a slow tune. Ginko hiccuped twice; Matvey licked her nose when she whimpered afterward. He hiccuped twice soon after, and she licked his nose in turn.

“You two are silly little fluffballs,” Annie said, smiling. She played with their ears. “Our little fluffballs. We love you so much.” They yapped at her, tiny tails wagging, and she breathed out laughter. “We really do.” She moved slowly, bending her legs to put her knees to Mikasa’s hip. She put an arm beneath her head as a pillow, tangling her fingers in Mikasa’s hair.

“It’ll be nice when I can trust you to not go crawling off the bed, though,” she mumbled. She put her other hand on their backs once more, humming her lullaby tune. Ginko squirmed slightly longer, but they settled for a nap soon after. Staying awake, Annie kept still. Experience had taught her that the pups grew too anxious when her scent or sound went too far from them. The first time they woke up and she was more than seven feet away, they panicked and cried for a solid hour, even with Mikasa helping to rock them. She looked up at Mikasa again, smiling at the way she had not budged an inch in her sleep.

“I can’t believe you’re finally asleep,” she whispered. “You’ve been so starry-eyed.” She stroked Mikasa’s head, too gentle to wake her. Checking the pups one more time, she relaxed and closed her eyes to sleep. True to form, the pups woke an hour later crying for milk. Mikasa, for the first time in a week, did not wake with a violent start. She flinched, opening her bleary eyes, and rolled onto her side. Practiced now, she arranged the quilts as Annie changed to her wolf form to feed them. Mikasa rubbed their backs as they ate, able to wake fully.

“Hey babies,” she crooned. “Where do you want to crawl to today? Want to see what the bed’s like?”

If you can keep them occupied on the bed while I nap there, I’ll love you even more and pay you back when they’re a little bigger.

Mikasa grinned. “I think I can.” She checked the pups’ mouths when they finished eating. She changed to her wolf form to clean Matvey’s muzzle when she saw he would not. You messy little pup.

Annie changed to her human form and kissed both pups on the nose. She picked Ginko up as Mikasa picked up Matvey, and Mikasa made sure to grab their quilts before they headed to the bed. The quilts were laid out first, the pups set atop them. They turned their heads this way and that, sniffing everywhere because they did not understand the softness under them. Matvey yapped, and again when Annie went to the other side of the bed and climbed up.

“Can you come say ‘hi’?” Annie asked, sitting cross-legged.

Ginko went crawling first, but tumbled when her legs did not move on the soft bed as she was used to on the hard floor. The whine she let out was indignant in the utmost, and Matvey went to her at once. He tumbled as well, falling into her. For a few moments, they paddled at the air. Annie shook her head when Mikasa reached for them.

“Not until they cry,” she said. “They should be okay.”

Mikasa frowned with nerves, but knelt down to watch. Ginko got her paws beneath her first, turning to lick Matvey’s ear. He used her steady shoulder to brace himself, getting upright and licking her cheek.

“Oh, you sweet things,” Annie said, smiling. “Look at you helping each other.”

They barked at the smile they could hear in her voice, tails wagging. They resumed their crawl with fervor, closing their soft mouths on the soft fabric of Annie’s trouser leg when they arrived.

“That was a new speed record for you two,” Mikasa laughed. She stood and reached out to scratch their ears, giggling when they rolled over for belly scratches. “You are fast pups. Here—come see me now. Let’s let Mommy take a nap.”

Annie smirked as the pups began to toddle back. “I’m Mommy?”

“You can pick what you want. I’ll be Mommy if you don’t like that word.” She grinned when Matvey and Ginko started to lick her cheeks.

“You can be Mommy,” Annie said as she lay down. “I’d like them to call me Mama.”

“You know that’s really cute, right?”

“It’s also really cute to imagine them calling you Mommy,” Annie replied. She scratched both pups before curling up slightly to sleep. Within seconds, she was gone. Mikasa watched her for a while, letting the pups gum at her fingers. It made her chest hurt, standing there with Annie resting so peacefully so close. Exhaustion made her small body heavy on the bed, but even asleep she had a faint smile on her face.

“Love you,” Mikasa whispered. She smiled when Matvey thumped his tail against her ear. “That’s right, I love Annie. And I love you and your sister.”

They licked her forehead, and she tickled them in thanks.

————

Three days on, Mikasa nearly fell off the bed when they all woke from a mid-morning nap and she saw that Ginko and Matvey’s eyes were open. They peered at her with light gray-blue eyes, wholly focused and alert. Ginko let out a small, curious yip.

Hey,” Mikasa said eagerly, smiling. “Hi!”

Reassured, the pups barked and took confident, albeit floppy, steps toward her. She cuddled them, rubbing her nose against theirs. Annie watched, struggling to be quiet through Mikasa’s giggles. Matvey caught her snort of laughter and turned. He hurried to her, barking with joy, and Ginko joined him in seconds. They jumped tiny amounts, landing on Annie’s stomach and chest. She laughed as they wiggled about, scratching under their chins.

“Hello, fluffballs,” she said. “Let me see your faces.”

They slid off of her obediently, looking at her as she sat up. She looked at their eyes closely, smiling at the color.

“Do pup eyes change color?” Mikasa asked.

“Not really. They might get a little darker, but these are their eyes.” She bent over to rub her nose to theirs. “Pretty little pups.”

They barked again, starting to toddle around the bed even faster than before. They climbed onto the pillows, sniffing where Mikasa and Annie had rested their heads. Matvey bounced on Mikasa’s pillow, testing it, before falling over to roll along to the mattress. Ginko crawled to the headboard, snuffling at the crease between it and the mattress before putting her paws on the headboard to stand up carefully.

“Wow, look how big they’ve gotten already,” Mikasa said. “You don’t even notice until they do something like that.” She picked Matvey up to cuddle, feeling that he stretched half down her torso, shoulders to hips, and Ginko looked to be the same.

“All right, now that they’re finally big enough for guests,” said Annie, “we should give them a bath.”

“And us,” Mikasa said. She snickered when Matvey licked her ear. “Yes, bright boy, we’re all getting a bath.” Looking to Annie, she asked, “Do you think we should go in with one of them at a time?”

“We’ll wash up first to show them it’s okay, but yeah, one at a time.” She lay down to nuzzle Ginko’s side with her nose. “Ready for a bath before you see everyone for the first time?”

The pups barked, and they paddled at the air as they were carried along to the bathroom. When they were set on the floor, they went about sniffing at everything while Mikasa slipped away to fetch towels and clothes. She sat with the pups first to let Annie soak scrub herself clean. When the pups yipped, Mikasa bent her knees and lifted them up onto them to look at the bath.

Matvey pawed at the water, ears twitching at the feeling. Ginko went to sniff it, but Mikasa kept her nose away from the water. Smiling, Annie finished cleaning off and swapped places with Mikasa. She put a towel in her bare lap for the pups to sit on, and gently pushed their noses away when they sniffed curiously at her breasts.

“Not that we weren’t clean using our tongues,” Mikasa sighed, “but I’m glad that they can see so they won’t panic when we take baths.” She groaned, rubbing her neck. “They’re still not big enough to go outside, right?”

“I don’t think so. Mina knows better.” She balanced Ginko when she stood on her back paws to look at the bath again. “D’you want to go in first?”

Ginko yapped, hopping feebly because she could not climb. Mikasa laughed, rinsing off her hair before unplugging the drain to refill it with clean, warmer water.

“Just deep enough to cover the first knuckle of your pinky,” Annie said. “Ginko, ready?” She picked Ginko up for Mikasa, and Mikasa set her down in front of her crossed legs. Ginko stared at her paws, lifting one to lick at the wetness on her paw pads.

“Okay, I’m going to turn the water on,” Mikasa said to Ginko. She plugged the drain and turned the water on slightly. She kept her hand under the water to soften the nose, rubbing Ginko’s back when the water came up to her paws. Ginko pawed at the water, and harder when she realized what a splash was. Mikasa turned the water off at the right depth, and she started to pour handfuls of water over Ginko’s back.

Ginko sat down out of shock. She looked at Mikasa with wide eyes. Smiling, Mikasa poured a handful of water over her own arm. Calmed by this, Ginko sat quietly and did not fight getting washed to her undercoat with warm water.

“Sorry,” Mikasa giggled. “You look silly soaking wet.” She unplugged the drain and stood, carrying Ginko with her. “Matvey, your turn with Mama.”

They traded places, Mikasa sitting with Ginko and a towel and Annie sitting in the tub with Matvey. He jumped when the filling water touched his paws, walking around in the water and staring at it.

“Too hot?” Annie asked. She went to adjust the temperature, but Matvey dropped down onto his belly to slap at the water with both paws. She laughed and tapped his nose. He yipped every time she poured water on him, but not out of protest. Ginko yipped back, and they had a small conversation while he was cleaned up.

“I have no idea if that’s normal for siblings,” Annie said as she stood up with Matvey, “but it is really cute.” She dried Matvey off thoroughly, letting him toddle off to snuffle at Ginko when he was dry. She and Mikasa dressed, calling for the pups to follow them from the bathroom. They scampered about, finally able to see their home.

“I’ll get Mina,” Mikasa said, tying back her hair. “We’ll probably be getting more guests soon.” She kissed Annie for a long moment before looking at the pups and saying, “Babies, be good for Mama while I’m gone for a bit.”

Annie smiled when they barked, going to follow them while they went around their quarters. She kept them well away from the fireplace and the traces of ash within it. They went to the furs and pelts on the floor, rolling around on them because they looked and smelled familiar. Annie held out her fingers for them to pounce on, catching the white tips of their tails every so often.

When the door was knocked on and she could smell Mikasa and Mina beyond it, she called, “Come in.” Matvey and Ginko hurried for the door when the latched clicked open, barking and tripping on their ungainly paws. They ran straight into Mikasa’s outstretched arms when she knelt to their height. They licked her ears gleefully, barely pausing when she picked them up and carried them back into the room.

“Hello, little ones,” Mina said as she followed in after them. “Look at how big you are!”

They finally stopped, looking up at Mina’s sound and scent. When Mikasa set them down, they looked at Mina curiously. She sat down, smiling, and patted her thighs.

“Do you want to come see me?” she asked. “Can I see your cute faces?”

They went slowly to her, sniffing her hands. They watched her hands when she lifted them, walking in a slow circle without realizing that she was guiding them through it.

“What sharp eyes on you two,” Mina said. “And a lot bigger than I thought you’d still be! You’ve got really hearty milk, Annie.”

“Thanks, I think.”

She laughed. “It was a compliment. You gave me the easiest job of my life with these two. Now we just need to make sure they don’t get anything worse than a cold or the flu.”

Annie sniffed, brow rising because she could smell people gathering in the hall. “They’ve seriously been dying to come in here, haven’t they.”

“Eren and Reiner are still fighting over who gets to hold a pup first,” Mina said.

“They’ll go last if they fight in here,” Mikasa said flatly.

Mina grinned. “What you need to do is let only two other people in at a time until the pups know the whole pack. It’ll wear them out just to meet everyone like that for only a little bit.”

Annie and Mikasa looked at each other. Annie said, “I want Ymir in here first to cast those spells.”

Mikasa smiled and replied, “And if she comes in first, she’ll bring Christa along to make sure she’s behaving the right way. I’m okay with them meeting the pups first.”

“Thank our lady we agree,” Annie said. She scratched behind Mikasa’s ear as she went by, going to the door. She opened it, but held up two fingers on her free hand when she saw hurried movement.

“Two at a time,” she said. “No more.” When she saw Eren and Reiner open their mouths, she firmly said, “Ymir and Christa first.”

Ymir and Christa stared, mouths open and brows high. Quietly, Christa asked, “Really?”

“Yep,” said Annie. “Come on. Time for them to start meeting their pack.”

They remained still for a second longer. Ymir swallowed, took Christa’s hand, and they followed Annie inside. Still, they hovered at the door after Christa closed it, holding each other’s hands tightly. Not noticing, Annie went ahead.

“Fluffballs,” she said sweetly, “we have new friends for you to meet.”

When she heard the pups bark in curiosity, Ymir stiffened.

“Nice and quiet,” Christa whispered shakily. “Come on.”

Ymir nodded, and they went away from the door. Annie sat down behind the pups, directing their attention back while she smiled. When they noticed Ymir and Christa, they went still from surprise. Christa felt her cheeks grow pink; she smiled brightly. Matvey yipped and Ginko wagged her tail.

“Oh no,” Christa whispered. “They’re so cute.”

Ymir began, “Holy fu—” She coughed to stop herself. “Um. Wow. Hey there, fluff butts.” She and Christa went to them, sitting down slowly to keep them from spooking. Matvey went straight to Christa, trying clumsily to crawl into her lap. He sniffed at her madly, rumbling in lieu of barking. Ginko went to Ymir, putting her paws on her knee and bouncing to test Ymir’s solidity.

“Oh no,” Christa giggled, picking Matvey up to set him in her lap. “You’re so incredibly cute!”

“This is Ginko, right?” Ymir asked. “Lady above, look at her coat. Just like Annie.” She nervously touched Ginko’s paws. “You cute little snot.” Clearing her throat, she asked, “D’you want me to cast those spells for their health?”

“At some point before you go,” Mikasa said. “You can play with them.”

“Uh,” said Ymir. She jumped when Ginko managed to climb onto her knee completely, hurrying to make sure she didn’t fall. “Hey, careful, would ya? You’re a baby still.”

Ginko yipped and made her way along Ymir’s leg to sniff at her chest and chin.

“She loves belly rubs,” Annie said.

Uncertain and bordering on scared, Ymir rearranged Ginko to sit in her lap. She rubbed her belly, jumping again when Ginko dropped onto her side and wagged her tail. Ymir blushed, laughed, and kept rubbing. Christa played a game with Matvey by gently catching the tips of his ears and tail and pulling her hand away when he tried to catch her. He barked, playing with eagerness and looking proud when he finally caught her thumb in his mouth.

“They’re so fast already!” Christa said. “They really will run you ragged!”

“Probably a little,” Mikasa admitted. “But for now, it’s just cute wiggling.”

“When can they eat proper food?” Ymir asked, looking at Mina.

“Once they get their baby fangs,” Mina replied. “Which should be at about thirty days old. They’ll be ready come out of this room at…maybe twenty days? They’re good and big already.”

“That’ll be exciting,” Ymir said, playing with Ginko’s paws. “There’s a lot of things for you two to go outside. And it’s spring, so it’s even better.” She smiled fondly. “You lucky little things. Everyone to love you…even me.”

No one said anything of this. Christa and Annie smiled without looking at her, and Mina and Mikasa followed their lead. Ymir murmured the spells to keep Ginko from contracting the worst illnesses for wolves, smiling wide when Ginko licked her knuckles.

“Matvey,” Ymir said. “Wanna come here?”

He barked, and again when Christa lifted him out of her lap. He went to Ymir, tail up and eyes bright. She scratched behind his ears with both hands, murmuring the spells again. When she took her hands away, he shook his head hard enough to make his ears flap. Eagerly, he climbed up onto Ymir’s leg to put his front paws on her chest.

“Oh no!” she said dramatically, tipping backward. “You’re too heavy!” She settled on her back. Though her intention was to go still, Matvey and Ginko rushed to lick her ears thoroughly. Ymir jumped, unable to keep herself from laughing.

“S-stop!” she giggled. “You brats—stop! That tickles!”

Mikasa spun neatly around, clamping her hands down over her mouth to keep her laughter contained. Annie, Christa, and Mina laughed outright, and Ymir did not look embarrassed when she managed to sit up.

“Hey, keep some of that energy for the rest of the pack,” she said, pushing on the pups’ noses. “You’ve got four more people wanting to see you.”

The statement only served to make the pups more eager. They went to Annie, whining and pleading with their eyes. Annie sighed and shook her head helplessly.

“Now that you’ve gotten them all worked up,” she said, “I guess it’s time we switch out visitors.”

“I think you should let Reiner and Eren in,” Christa said. “They look like they’re on the verge of exploding.”

Mikasa coughed, composure finally regained. “I think Armin is all right going last. Will Bertholdt be okay with it?”

“Our peacemaker?” Annie replied with a smirk. “I think so.” She crouched down to pat Matvey and Ginko on the head. “Say ‘bye to Christa and Ymir for now, and I’ll go bring more friends.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, they bounded back to Ymir and Christa, standing on their feet and barking. Laughing, they knelt down to rub their noses against the pups’ for a few seconds. As they went back to the door with Annie, they waved, and they were unhappy to go when the pups barked a goodbye.

“All right,” Annie said when she had opened the door and Ymir and Christa had stepped out. “Reiner, Eren, you can come in as long as you don’t freak out. If you scare them—”

“We can say goodbye to our hands,” Reiner and Eren chorused. Reiner said, “We promise we won’t. Please?”

“Pretty please?” Eren added.

She sighed, smiled, and gestured for them to follow. They went into the room slowly, mindful of every step. When they saw the pups, playing at a game of tag with each other, they drew a faint breath. Within seconds, Matvey caught their scent and turned to look. He went stiff a moment, tail puffing up, before whimpering and hurrying to hide behind Annie’s legs. Ginko did the same, huddling next to Matvey.

Annie snorted with laughter, and again when Reiner and Eren looked crestfallen.

“No, no, it’s okay!” Mina said quickly. “You two are the first male wolves they’ve met, and you look and smell really different! Come on, just move slowly and use sweet voices for a bit.”

While Reiner looked uncertain for a moment, Eren started forward with slow, even strides. Very soothingly, he crooned, “Matvey…Ginko…who’re cute little pups? Brave pups want to say hi?”

Ginko peeked out from between Annie’s ankles. She sniffed carefully, watching Eren approach. She whined again and looked at Mikasa.

“You’re all right,” Mikasa said. “This is my brother, Eren. He’s your uncle.”

Eren sat down at a slight distance, smiling with his brows high. “Wow, look at you fluffy things. D’you want hugs or tummy rubs?”

It took a bit, but Matvey and Ginko crept out together. They padded to Eren and sniffed his fingers. Ginko chuffed and looked quickly to Mikasa before moving closer to sniff Eren’s arm. She licked his elbow before climbing into his lap.

“Aw, do I remind you of Mikasa?” he asked, grinning. He scratched both pups and said, “And I bet Reiner will remind you of Annie.”

Reiner moved closer at this, smiling tentatively when Matvey noticed him. “Hey, little guy. Can I sit with you?”

Matvey stared, rumbled, and sat down smartly. He looked at the space before himself, at Reiner, and again at the space before himself. Reiner chuckled and sat before him. Matvey moved a pace closer, paused to bark, and repeated this until he could sniff Reiner’s hand without stretching. He caught Reiner’s forefinger in his mouth and held it thoughtfully. Satisfied by something unapparent to everyone else, he let go and tried to crawl into Reiner’s lap. His legs proved too large, and Reiner picked him up to sit him on his thigh.

“Now you’re tall,” Reiner said. “When you’re big enough to get shoulder rides from Bertholdt, you’re gonna be huge.”

“When do they get to go outside?” Eren asked, playing with Ginko’s ears. “Like out to the forest?”

“Not until they’re a month and a half,” Mina said. “They’re big now, but they have to be a certain age or they could get sick with something. You’ll get them running around the halls soon enough, though.”

Mikasa paled. “Can we block off some parts of the castle?”

Mina laughed. “I told the others, but once they get to twenty days, their bodies start to heal at the same ratio as adults. Bumps and cuts won’t even faze them.”

“That’s what makes me nervous,” Mikasa said.

“They’ve got a whole pack looking out for them,” Reiner said, scratching Matvey’s back. “We’d all sooner sacrifice our hands before letting them really get hurt.” He looked up at her and smiled. “I’ll do whatever it takes to keep your pups safe. You don’t have to worry.” Matvey barked softly; Reiner barked back.

Annie smiled at them. “We trust you.”

Reiner grinned, and then chuckled when Matvey yawned so widely he tipped to one side. “You two are still itty bitty, huh. Already getting worn out.” He rubbed Matvey’s head gently. “Guess we better let you meet Bertholdt and Armin before you conk out.”

“I’d say I’m gonna sneak them out of here into my room,” Eren said, “but I think I’d lose my right to be an uncle.”

“You would,” Mikasa said.

He stuck his tongue out, but drew it back and leaned down to kiss Ginko’s head. “Okay, cutie-pups, we’ll let you visit Armin and Bertholdt.”

Reiner nuzzled against Matvey’s head. “We’ll come back soon.” He and Eren picked the pups up to move them slightly, and they struggled to not feel dejected when they stood up and followed Annie to the door. They stepped outside, and Armin and Bertholdt tentatively stepped in. Both pups gaped at the sight of Bertholdt, running behind Mikasa immediately. She crouched, laughing, to rub their backs.

Bertholdt smiled, moved closer, and then slowly lay down on his front with his hands out and palms up. He said, “Am I less scary this way?”

Matvey leaned around Mikasa to peer at him. He barked once.

“Hello,” Bertholdt said pleasantly. “You’re a brave pup, I see.”

Matvey rumbled faintly, but Ginko made her way to Bertholdt. She sniffed his cheeks and brow before getting onto his arm and using it as a step up to his back. She trotted around on him, marveling at the hight and width of his back and shoulders. She sat on one of his shoulder blades and wagged her tail.

“Well, I’m not as large as Bertholdt,” Armin said as he sat down, “but I have it on good authority that I’m very good at hugging.”

Yipping once, Matvey went to him. He put his paws on Armin’s knee to stretch up into Armin’s hand for pets. After a moment of this, he climbed into Armin’s lap and sat down to receive a hug.

“Mikasa, how is he so fluffy and cute?” Armin asked, holding Matvey close. “I thought I had an idea of how cute they’d be, but—can I steal them?”

“No, because you’d lose your right to be an uncle,” she replied. “Eren wanted to do the same thing.”

He sighed, but there was no real sadness in the sound. “I’ll settle for hugs and helping to teach them to read later.”

“It’ll definitely be later,” Bertholdt said, “because I think Ginko just started using my head for a pillow.”

“She did,” Annie said. “I guess you’re that comfy.”

He smiled and kept himself from chuckling. “Looks like our visit is the shortest, Armin.”

“You can come in first next time,” Mikasa said.

“It’s all right,” Armin replied. “Today is just for hellos.” He hugged Matvey closer for a second more. “I’m glad to meet you, little guy.”

Matvey yipped and wagged his tail. He let Armin set him down on the pelts, and Annie moved in to lift Ginko off of Bertholdt. Armin stood and hugged Mikasa tightly.

“Congratulations,” he said. “They’re adorable sweethearts.”

She grinned and hugged back. “Thank you. You’ll see them again soon.”

He and Bertholdt smiled at this, and they waved to the pups before heading out with Mina. For a short time, they all stood in the hall outside the door, smiling massively with glee. Without speaking, only waving briefly at each other, they went off in their usual pairs. Ymir walked with her arm around Christa’s shoulders, and Christa toyed with her fingers.

“Interested in pups now that you’ve seen how stupidly cute they are?” Ymir asked.

Christa hid her giggles and blushing face in Ymir’s hand. Taking a deep breath, she said, “Let’s talk about it more in the fall.”

Ymir smiled, kissed Christa’s head, and murmured, “Sounds perfect.”