Categories > Anime/Manga > Attack on Titan > A Matter of Stature

Part 7

by Milia 0 reviews

A girl from Sina is engaged to a man she's never met. She must find out why and solve the hidden secrets of her family. (LevixReader, ErenxMikasa)

Category: Attack on Titan - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama,Humor,Romance - Published: 2015-05-03 - Updated: 2015-05-03 - 9790 words - Complete

A Matter of Stature

Chapter 31: Risk

The day came for the scouts to go on a mission outside of wall Rose. A few people had gathered around to watch them leave, you included of course. You were still in training, so you couldn't go with them, but you could at least see them off. Among a blur of good wishes and hopes for a safe return, the gates opened and the scouts went out.

Just as the last horse crossed the threshold and the guards prepared to close the gates, Fluffy ran off from your side. She had always been obedient and never needed a leash, so you were taken by surprise and were unable to grab her in time. "Fluffy, get back here!"

It was too late, someone stopped you and the gates closed. "I'm sorry (Name), I can't let you go out there." You recognized the man who had stopped you as Dot Pixis.

"She's going to die out there," you realized. You had been convincing yourself that all your friends would return safely, that they were strong and they could handle the titan battles, then your stupid dog had to go and run off. "I don't understand, she never runs off like this when I walk her."

"It's a sad turn of events," Dot tried to be understanding. "Dogs are rare in Rose and a pink one would surely seem odd. I'm sure that if any of the escorts meant to assist the scouts as they get into formation see her and there are no larger threats around, they'll pick her up. I'll make sure she's returned to you if that's the case."

"Ok... Thanks... I should go back home now," you ran away. Stupid Fluffy, one of the few reminders of your old home you had and she had to get all suicidal.

You returned to the scouts base, you considered going to see your father while the scouts were away, but you didn't want him to see you so distraught, he already worried about you enough as it was. The building looked depressingly empty with everyone gone. You supposed you could occupy yourself with some training, but you just didn't feel like it.

Time dragged on as you lamented the morning's happenings and walked around the base aimlessly. You were startled when you heard the front door opening and went to see who it was. The scouts had returned earlier than you had expected. Hange was muttering something about partial hibernation and the signs of an early spring, though something about her was off. She wasn't excited or energetic, just numb.

The other scouts weren't any different. Erwin received a few displeased looks, though whatever the scouts wanted to say to him had apparently already been said. Sasha was frowning as she dragged her feet absentmindedly, you'd think potatoes had gone extinct. Jean and Connie exchanged a few curses and words of frustration, agreeing on how much the general situation sucked. The mission had not gone well.

They were only supposed to investigate, it wasn't supposed to be complicated. Armin had a very solemn expression, Mikasa looked conflicted and Eren was very upset. "We should have stayed, we should have searched!" Eren gritted his teeth in anger.

"Eren, that's enough, I will not warn you again," Erwin voiced with finality. You had never seen him take on such a tone with anyone.

You kept looking at all their faces, wondering who would fail to be there. You noticed Mary Anne was missing and approached Mikasa with the question. "Mikasa, where's Mary?"

Mikasa frowned in anger, "dead," she replied simply.

You gasped, unable to let that information sink in. "The idiot broke formation and let the ambush right into the middle of the group," Jean accused.

"Ambush?!" Could titans even make ambushes?

"It wasn't an ambush," Hange pointed out. "A bunch of titans had huddled together during the winter cold and were partially dormant. She got too close and disturbed them, so they reacted."

"Then she led them to us!" Jean insisted.

"I don't think that was on purpose," Krista quietly pointed out, though no one seemed to acknowledge it, or rather, they all knew it and it wasn't enough.

"Stop it!" You shouted and the whole group fell silent, staring at you, some with perplexity and others with anger. "Mary was my friend, I should have talked to her, I should have made sure she wasn't overconfident. I failed her, but I will at least do this for her. Blaming someone who's dead won't change anything, so just stop, stop saying bad things about her!" Everyone was still staring at you, and the looks of anger spread among the crowd. "It's true," you defended, "nothing good can come of holding a grudge against the dead." You felt uncomfortable with everyone staring, as if not even your friends could understand your logic.

"Levi, you understand what I'm saying, don't you?" You looked left and right, figuring that he was somewhere in the crowd. He wasn't exactly the tallest guy around, so you figured that you simply couldn't see him, but he was there. The looks of anger turned to pity and the realization spread among the scouts that the thought of him not being there had not occurred to you at all. You had a very bad feeling about this, "where's Levi?" Heads were lowered and no one dared to reply. "Where is he?" You demanded.

"I'm sorry, (Name)," Eren finally voiced, his anger, frustration and sadness was evident. "I'm so sorry."

"No way... He has to be here..." You stared at the scouts in disbelief.

A seemingly eternal moment passed until Erwin once again confirmed it with serious solemnity, "he did not come back with us."

"We didn't see him die," Eren pointed out. "His ODM gear was damaged in battle when he was trying to cover our retreat. I shouldn't have listened to him, I should have stayed. I couldn't see exactly what happened, but one of the hooks got stuck or something, he was swung into the air and the rope snapped. We don't know where he landed."

"Then he's out there?" You asked hopefully.

"And we should be looking for him!" Eren insisted. Several other voices joined his plea, expressing their desire to retrieve their missing comrade.

"That is enough," Erwin scolded. "I will not allow you to go to your graves. There is a large number of titans rampaging a few miles from the wall, we won't get far until they disperse. Levi would agree if he was here."

"He should be here," Eren growled. "I'm going-"

"Eren Yaeger," Erwin harshly reprimanded. "You are not to do anything unless you are ordered to do so. I warned you to control yourself-"

"Enough!" You interrupted before he could continue. "Stop yelling at him, you can't expect us to not be upset. I know we have to carry on, I know that's what Levi wants, but that doesn't mean we should abandon hope. We should-"

"(Name)," Erwin warned, "you should know your place, you are only a guest here." He knew you had come to have a influence on the scouts and right now that could be dangerous. "This conversation is over, everyone is to go to their room and rest, that's an order."

You were angry, so angry and frustrated you couldn't control yourself, but you had to. You wanted to hit someone, Erwin, the titans, anyone, so instead you punched the wall. A chorus of gasps erupted from the crowd and you realized you'd left a mark on the wall that an ordinary person shouldn't be able to leave. Without offering any explanation you pushed past everyone and headed outside, you had to get away, you needed to clear your head. Levi had to be out there, he had to be alive, you had to get him back.

You nearly ran into a surprise visitor, your past physician Dr. Fredrick Facio was just arriving. The doctor was back at Rose after completing his rounds at Sina and had dropped by to volunteer his medical abilities to the scouts as he sometimes did from time to time. "(Name)?" He exclaimed in joyous surprise, though he soon saw the tears in your eyes and frowned in concern. "What's wrong?"

"Doctor..." You blinked in surprise, not expecting to run into him of all people. "Fred," you corrected yourself, as he wasn't your doctor anymore. "I'm sorry, I just got some bad news, Mary Anne is dead, and Levi is missing, and Fluffy's probably dead too and..." You took a deep breath, trying not to ramble incoherently. "Levi has to be alive, but he's outside of the wall and the gates are closed."

Before Fred could even reply, another surprise guest arrived. "(Name), I regret to inform you, no one spotted... What had you called her? Oh yes, Fluffy." Dot Pixis had come all the way here to tell you he couldn't find your dog, apparently he was unaware that it wasn't the only loss you had suffer. He had initially assumed that was the cause of your distress when he saw you.

Then an idea occurred to you. "Commander Pixis, is it okay if I go to the top of the wall, I want to look out from there."

"That's alright, but I doubt you'll find Fluffy," Dot admitted.

"I'm actually looking for Levi," you revealed, much to his surprise.

Erwin had finally managed to sent the upset cadets to their rooms and had joined you and Dot outside. Dot glanced at Erwin, the silent communication between them requesting and subsequently agreeing to give an explanation. Seeing your impatience written all over your face, Dot took a seal from his pocket, like those used on official documents and correspondence. "Here, go to the station at the wall and show them this. Tell them I said it was ok for you to go to my office on the top of the wall. You'll have a good view from there."

You received the seal, "thank you, commander Pixis! I'm sorry Fred, but I need to go now, I'll talk to you later." Without another moment to lose, you ran to the stables to get Knight and headed for the wall.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 32: I'll Grant Your Wish (I Wish You Could Grant Mine)

A watch tower served as Dot Pixis' office which you were granted access to after presenting the seal. You placed the seal on the desk and looked out the window, using the telescope that was already set up next to it. There was also another telescope on the ceiling, but it only offered a slightly better view and a lot less privacy. You groaned in frustration, you weren't even sure where to look. You could only see so much before everything was lost to abandoned houses and ruins, you might spot a titan further ahead if there was any to be spotted, but a human might be too hard to distinguish from that distance. If Levi was out there, you wouldn't be able to spot him from here. Dot knew that for sure, but he humored you anyway.

You sighed and stepped away from the telescope, Levi might never come back. They had not seen him die, but how could he make it back alone, on foot? If only you could bring him back yourself. Eren wanted to, but Erwin insisted it was too risky and if there really had been a large group of titans, then they might have been too much even for Eren. Besides, Eren might end up sentenced to death if the word reached Sina that he had disobeyed direct orders, things would already be difficult for him with Levi gone and he had to be in his best behavior. Eren wouldn't be too hard to convince though, but thinking about it made you feel like that would be using him, putting him at risk in ways that Levi himself would disapprove of.

If only you were a titan shifter, then you could go out there, sneak out, transform, keep it a secret. You observed the walls of the office. Certificates of various kinds lined the walls along with a few decorations, among which was a dagger. It wasn't a real weapon, it's ornamental handle was probably uncomfortable to grip, but it still looked sharp. You removed it from the wall and looked at it for a moment. Blood was the key for Eren's transformation, but it had never been your trigger. Though it was useless, you still tested the dagger's sharpness on your arm. The cut hurt and blood poured out from it, but the pain was soon gone, as your skin healed as if the cut had never been there. You tried again, hoping the result was different with no regard to how dangerous it would be if you did transform in your current location, you knew it wouldn't happen anyway.

The door opened and Mikasa rushed towards you in alarm, "no!" It a split second she had disarmed you, moving so quickly that you didn't even see her take the dagger away, but it was now in her hand instead of yours. She dropped it to the floor and insisted with worry, "don't do it, don't kill yourself."

Your eyes widened in realization. The scene really did look suspiciously like an attempted suicide, though that had never been your intention. "I wasn't..." you couldn't explain your logic without revealing secrets that would lead to suspicions and more secrets. You felt bad about hiding this from your friends, but you didn't want to drag them into your problems, so they were better off not knowing. "I wasn't thinking, I'm sorry."

"I considered it too," Mikasa admitted much to your surprise. "It was when I thought Eren was dead, but he was alive and even before I knew that, part of me was still trying to survive, even against my own choice to die. Eren's memory wouldn't let me die." You stared in surprise, you never knew something like that had happened to Mikasa, perhaps not even Eren knew. "Don't give up, you must never consider it, never give up!" She insisted.

You nodded, touched by her sincerity and the personal experience she shared. "I'm sorry, I won't give up, I promise." You assured. You looked at the dagger on the floor. "Please don't tell anyone." Mikasa picked up the dagger and began to clean the evidence off it. "They'll just worry." You glanced at the empty holder embedded on the wall as Mikasa put the dagger back on it. "Please..."

"I won't," Mikasa assured, "and..."

"I won't tell anyone either," you understood her silent request. You were concerned about her cleaning the blood off your arm. She would see that the cut was gone, but you didn't have the heart to push her away when she had been so concerned and shared something personal that probably no one else knew about. "It's ok, you don't need to do this, your handkerchief is getting dirty."

"Better make sure your cut is clean." It was too late, Mikasa wiped the blood off your arm and didn't see the cut that should still be there.

"I'm sorry," you whispered. "I'm very sorry, but I can't explain this now. I will be able to one day." One day this nightmare had to be over and there would be no more secrets.

Still, Mikasa couldn't help it but to ask, "are you...?"

"Not like Eren, I can't do what he does, I just heal, if it's not fatal anyway... I'm really sorry, I've said too much, please don't tell. It'll only get everyone into trouble," you pleaded.

Mikasa nodded in understanding. "I'll keep it a secret," she promised. As if suddenly remembering something, she glanced at the door and went to pick up what she dropped when she rushed towards you. "It's cold, so I brought you this. I took it from your room in a hurry. Sorry, I should have brought something else, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but..."

You took the scouts jacket, the wings emblem displayed on it, it was Levi's. "no, this is fine, thank you." You put it on, you hadn't really been paying attention to it, but you were very cold and the extra layer of fabric brought some much needed warmth. "Did you sneak out?"

"No, I went to Erwin and asked him to let me come talk to you. Eren and Armin wanted to come too, but there was no way Eren would be allowed to go out. He asked me to come in his place, he's convince he could have done something differently. Levi trusted him when the rest of the squad wouldn't, then they eventually learned to trust him too, but they might have killed him if Levi hadn't trusted him first. He feels like he couldn't return the favor of saving his life too," Mikasa explained.

"Then I should go talk to him," you decided. You knew Levi wouldn't want Eren to keep blaming himself and make a scene that would get him into trouble.

xoxox xox xoxox

You returned to the base with Mikasa and did your best to reassure Eren. He was in his room with Armin when the two of you arrived. You reminded him Levi wouldn't want him to blame himself or cause any trouble. "You have a mission, remember? You're going to defeat all the titans and bring freedom to humanity. You'll get back at them all, but not if you lose yourself now. Just remember how calm Levi is even in tough situations. You didn't see him die, maybe he really is out there, and even if he's not," you knew you couldn't sugar coat it too much, or it would be worse in the long run. "You can at least, grant his wish, it's the same as yours, freedom." You wiped the tears from your face, you didn't want to cry, you were supposed to be reassuring.

"Thank you," Eren finally spoke after a long moment of silence.

Eren had taken your word as Levi's you realized, after all, you were supposed to know him very well, you were supposed to be the one who loved him the most and was suffering the most right now. If you could be reasonable at a time like this, anyone could. Then you realized you had to be, because if you fell apart, others would too, morale could be a fragile thing at times, but it was the key to endless strength. Morale shouldn't be based on a lie, but it didn't really matter anymore if Levi was your husband or not, you were almost certainly his widow by now, but you still had friends to fight for, people that he cared for too. Even if he wasn't always clear about it, you knew all the scouts were precious to Levi and you couldn't disregard what you believed would be his wishes.

There was a knock on the door. The group looked up curiously and Eren finally voiced a quiet, "come in." None of you expected to see Erwin there. You guessed that he was there to reprimand Eren for his earlier behavior, but Eren spoke first. "Commander, I'm sorry for the way I acted before. We scouts should be united, we need to see the bigger picture and stay calm. Acting rashly is not a risk we can afford to take, Levi told me that, I should have listened better. I apologize for implying you didn't care, I know Levi would have made the same call to retreat if he was there, it was the only reasonable thing to do, given the situation." You understood Eren a little better now, he was so full of life and determination, even if his family was gone, he fought so that their tragedy wouldn't be repeated and to protect the friends that still lived.

Erwin seemed surprised that Eren's fury had been subdued. "We're all upset about this," the commander admitted, "but what you just said is true and you must remember it in the future." Eren nodded and surprisingly, Erwin didn't dictate any punishments, instead he requested, "(Name) can I talk to you in my office?"

"Ok..." You followed him out, leaving Eren with Mikasa and Armin. You decided not to bring up the earlier argument, the tension was high and the wounds fresh, though that last part was still true.

xoxox xox xoxox

At Erwin's office, you sat across the desk from him, the door closed to prevent interruptions. Erwin let out a tired breath, as if the day had drained ten years of life right out of him. "I don't know if you're aware of it, but somehow you've come have to an influence over a good number of the scouts. They were curious about you when they heard the news you were Levi's wife and that made them watch you, they still do."

"I know," you replied quietly, "morale. That's why you let me run off, it was better that I calmed down somewhere else than start an uproar here. I won't lie to them though, what I told Eren was true, the conclusions he reached were right, I really do believe in freedom and I want the scouts to go on." You bit your lip, trying not to cry again. "If it'll help protect them, I'd take all their pain and keep it to myself, I won't do anything to endanger any of them."

Erwin seemed a bit relieved, though still exhausted, stressed and saddened by the day's events. Yet the carried he heavy knowledge that he had to be strong so that all those who stood with him could be strong too. "I'm glad you understand..."

You sighed, "I think I'll go see my father, I'll calm down a little more if I do," you decided. "I'll be back tomorrow." You stood, walking a few steps towards the office door. You felt that what needed to be said was said and that there was enough of an understanding to leave the conversation at that.

As you reached for the door, you heard Erwin say a few more words. "Levi told me you could be trusted. I wasn't sure at first, but I trust him."

Your hand hovered over the door handle, motionless. You were glad to hear that Levi trusted you and at the same time, the thought of never seeing him again hurt more. You realized that Erwin was sincere, he wasn't just humoring you so you would behave, like when he patted your head like a child when you first came. He was actually counting on you, because Levi believed it was possible. You nodded in quiet understanding, "I'll be back before dark," you decided, and left the office.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 33: Reunion

You didn't leave the scouts' base right away after talking to Erwin. You stopped by to visit several people, just to see how they were doing, to reassure them, to tell them words Levi might have thought should be said, words you believed. A hug, a pat on the back, a look of comfort, you couldn't fight by their side yet, but you had to offer them something.

You would be strong for the sake of your friends, for the scouts, for freedom, for Levi, though it hurt to think he was gone. You left the scouts' base on Knight, but didn't go to your father right away. Instead you went back to the wall, back to the top, back to staring out into the distance.

You watched the sun begin to set in the horizon as a voice echoed in your mind calling your name. 'Now I'm hearing him...' you thought, fearing that your sanity was leaving you.

Then you heard your name again in Levi's voice, it was far, but it was clear, too vivid to be your imagination. "Stop spacing out and look down here!"

You looked down, though the sun was shining it's last rays of light, there was just enough light left so you could see him. "Levi?!" You stared in disbelief, there he was, looking beat up, but alive. Much to your surprise he held Fluffy in his arms.

As soon as your body got over enough of the shock to move, you notified Pixis, who was back at his office by now, filling up some paperwork before he could call it a day. He seemed disbelieving at first, wondering if your sorrow was causing your imagination to run wild, but he accompanied you outside anyway and looked, his mouth hanging open in awe. A few minutes later, Levi was on the top of the wall, via ODM gear provided by Dot, as Levi's equipment had stopped working.

You glomped Levi the second he made it up the wall, causing Fluffy to squirm out of his arms in an effort not to get squished between you. The words got caught in your throat and you just held on to him like your life depended on it. He hugged you back, if it was for show or not, you didn't have the energy to question it. You eventually reasoned that he probably needed to breathe, so you loosened your grip. "I'm so glad you're back," you finally said.

A blur of questions followed, as the curious Dot inquired about the rest of the story beyond the point that Erwin had witnessed. Levi had been thrown through the air, though he managed to hook onto a tree on the way down and swing to a mostly safe landing, he was scratched, bruised, sore, tired, thirsty and hungry, but it was nothing grave. His biggest problem then was how to rejoin the retreat without running into more titans than he could fight alone with only half his ODM gear, as one side's rope had snapped when he was thrown. His remaining gear only had a little fuel left, so he would have to use it wisely.

Much to his surprise, Levi found Fluffy, who was miraculously safe, or rather, Fluffy found him, she ran right up to him, wagging her tail, as if there was no danger at all. Then she sniffed the air, barked and dashed off in the opposite direction. Levi figured there had to be a good reason she was alive and soon realized that his theory was right, Fluffy could smell titans. "After I knew that, it made coming back a lot easier. It took a while since I had to take a few detours and make it back on foot, but I didn't run into any titans."

"That's amazing, I didn't even know dogs could smell titans. I did hear about an attempt to train them for that years ago, but I thought all the projects had ended in failure until they just gave up. This is quite the discovery," Dot exclaimed.

After talking to Dot, you returned home with Levi and Fluffy. On the way Levi asked if you knew anything about her, which you didn't. "I wasn't in the scouts when the projects Pixis mentioned took place, but I have heard about them. They were pretty detailed in their attempts to train dogs to detect titans, but apparently their scent is too similar to humans, so they ended up confused and couldn't tell the difference between the scouts and the titans. They tried this with several different breeds and had the same basic results. I find it hard to believe this is a coincidence, your dog could smell the titans from a good distance and became more aggressive the larger they were. The way she barked in the direction of the titan before running away was like a signal, I don't think this is something she does on instinct alone."

"I'll ask father about it tomorrow," you offered, curious and confused by the event, and above all thankful for Levi's return regardless of how it happened.

When you arrived at the base with Levi, the whole place came alive with joy and everyone wanted to hear what happened. Seeing Levi come back, seemingly from the dead gave the scouts new hope. Levi gave them a quick summary of the events and redirected their curiosity towards Fluffy, so he could escape to get cleaned up. Fluffy was tired and not willing to play with anyone, so she mostly ignored the silly humans and focused on resting. She didn't bark at Eren anymore. It was as if the scents of the outside world had cleared her confusion and she realized he wasn't who she was supposed to find.

That night, after the scouts finally settled down, you assumed Levi would go to sleep without another word, tired from the day's events. Though he closed his eyes, he was still awake. "(Name)," he tiredly half opened his eyes.

You let out a little "eep" as you were caught staring at him. Well, what were you supposed to look at if he was facing in your direction? "Yes?"

"Don't stare," he voiced quietly.

You pouted and turned over with your back to him, "fine."

"(Name)," Levi repeated.

"What? I'm not staring," you insisted, flustered.

"Turn around," he requested.

"Now what? Make up your mind," you turned over to face him.

The second your eyes met his, he spoke two most perplexing words, "thank you." You stared. "You're staring again."

"With good reason," you defended.

"Oh?" Was that a slight hint of amusement?

You blushed, realizing what that sounded like. "I mean, my reason is because I'm confused!" Although, he was also pleasant to look at in general. "What are you thanking me for?"

"For remembering my wishes," Levi replied, which didn't really serve as much of an explanation.

"What do you mean?" You prompted.

"I went to talk to Eren and he told me what you said," Levi revealed. You knew he had gone to talk to him and figured Eren might have mentioned your visit. The suicide misunderstanding didn't come up, so Mikasa was keeping her silence, not that you had any doubts about it. "You didn't give him any false hope, but calmed him down and I heard you did the same for the others."

"That was hard," you admitted. "But I had to do something for them, without lying, I thought you might have wanted that. Sorry, I really did think you weren't coming back. They didn't actually see you die so there was a little hope, but I was getting ready to let it go, I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry, you did do what I wanted you to do. You were being reasonable, as you should be, this isn't exactly the safest job after all. I'm not saying you should be entirely unfeeling, but you can't fall apart when something goes wrong, no matter how much you may regret it..." Levi fell silent and you wondered what he was remembering, who he was thinking of.

You felt like outright asking him would be prying, even if you were dying to know. "I'll listen," you offered, "when and if..." you added and he gave a barely perceptible nod.

"Are you sure you want to be a scout?" He finally asked after a moment of heavy silence.

"Yes," you replied with absolute determination. "I'll train hard, I won't be a burden, I won't put anyone in danger and I'll bring them all back alive... or at least as many as I can," you added a little more realistically.

"You won't do anything rash and you'll keep up with your training so you don't fall out of practice," Levi added.

"Yes," you agreed. The conversation was somewhat morbid and you were reminded of the fact that tomorrow you wouldn't have Mary Anne teasing you about when your pretend husband was going to become your real husband, or showing concern in her own way. All you could do now was hold on to the friends who still lived and try to keep them alive, not just breathing, but alive.

"Get some rest then, I'll train you harder from now on," Levi closed his eyes, this time actually going to sleep.

You somehow felt like he was concerned for you, determined to make sure you had the best chance possible out in the battle field. There was also something else, as if the last remnants of the thick barrier that was around him when you first met him were finally falling away completely, or maybe that was just your wishful thinking. You drifted off to sleep, your mind filled with an overload of racing emotions, sadness, frustration, relief, confusion... and a growing affection that you couldn't, or wouldn't, put a name to just yet.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 34: Revelations

"She's so cute!" You squealed as you petted Levi's new horse at the scouts' stables, his previous one had not made it through the mission.

"She's fast, that's what matters," Levi reminded.

You nodded absentmindedly and petted the adorable mare. "She's like a cat," you giggled. The horse was white, with brown and black spots. "You're so cute, Cali."

"Cali?" Levi questioned, you wondered if he had even bothered to give his horse a name before.

"As in calico," you explained.

Levi shrugged, "fine, Cali, it is."

Knight curiously approached the newcomer and nuzzled her, she responded in the same manner. "Aw, they like each other."

Levi glared at Knight, "stay away from my horse," he intoned slowly and threateningly.

Knight let out the closest thing a horse could produce similar to a squeak and hid behind you. "Protective, much?" You teased, then reassured your pet. "It's ok Knight, I'm sure Levi will let you play with Cali later." Levi let out a threatening huff and put Cali in the tables, you put Knight in the space next to her and hurried after Levi. "What's on the plan for today? More training?"

"Business meeting, then training," Levi replied, reading back into the base. "Your father should be here soon to sign the contract."

"The soap," you nodded, hoping that everything progressed smoothly.

"I told him to keep the contract short and simple," Levi commented.

You shook your head, you had eavesdropped through enough business meetings, both real and off topic, to know one thing. "Contracts are never simple."

"This one will be," Levi decided.

"We'll see..." you voiced in a tone that foretold an 'I told you so' awaited in Levi's future.'

xoxox xox xoxox

Your father arrived with the Itadaki brothers and Levi spent a long time examining the contract in his office. You and Erwin were present at the office, stretching your patience as Levi read and reread the document. The contract was indeed short and simple, which elicited an 'I told you so' look from Levi. You had replied with a discrete shake of the head as if reminding him that the final 'I told you so' would be the victor.

"I'm not going to sabotage the deal," your father mentioned dismissively.

"I'm not worried about that," Levi replied, his eyes glued to the contract. "Even if you make this as profitable as you can for the scouts, even if you have no malicious intent and continue moving this business as we agreed, you might steal it from me, just to prove you can."

"Fair point," your father laughed. "However, all I ask for is a modest 20% ownership of our little cleaning product corporation. With 80% under your name, the business will be under your command and you can veto anything I say."

"It seems too easy," Levi stared at the contract some more, but couldn't find anything suspicious on the piece of paper. "Fine, I'll sign it." Finally, at long last the signature was recorded into the paper and the deal was finalized. The Itadaki brothers, who were feeling quite impatient by now, left to finish processing the signed document and the meeting was concluded with another half discussion, half argument between your father and Levi about stains and stain removal.

xoxox xox xoxox

A few days later, you were back at Levi's office when it was made known that Levi was no longer the main owner of his enterprise, a fact which your father shared with an amused grin. "What? How?" Levi questioned.

"You're married to my daughter under a standard agreement of shared earnings, so you actually only own 40%, while she owns the other 40%. I transferred my 20% directly to (Name) with a contract stating that it is her private property marriage aside. In conclusion, (Name) is the owner of this business venture," your father informed with amusement.

Levi was not amused, "I knew it, I knew you would do something like this for no real reason. But you didn't actually take the business for yourself, (Name) owns it."

"I'm afraid that's a small victory you will not be claiming today," your father informed, the spark of amusement in his eyes was unmistakable. "Because (Name) was ill in the past and thus unable to regularly represent herself in business meetings, I have control over any and all assets she owns, regardless of the conditions of ownership. That is complete legal control, which means that I could transfer her assets to myself if I wanted and gain ownership of that 60%, give you a vote of no confidence and boot you from the board, declare that all profits are to be reinvested and assign myself a juicy salary as the company manager, thus using that loophole to keep all the profits to myself."

"That's-" before Levi could put a name to it, as sneaky, underhanded, dishonest, unfair and deceitful didn't seem strong enough, he was interrupted.

"Legal," your father stated with finality.

"And that," you announced in your best 'I told you so' voice, "is why contracts are never simple. You have to cover all the loops and holes and lay the groundwork for vague clauses that you'll use to cover any new issues that may come up later. The contract must be interpreted consistently without contradictions, but it must be interpreted only by you, not the other person signing it."

"That's-" Levi began again, but was once again interrupted.

"Why I'm letting (Name) keep the company. Since she is of sound health now, I'm releasing her assets to her control and training her to be able to take care of the business, she's also the owner of the copyright for the formula now, which you should have specified as individual property, as it was otherwise assumed it was corporate property. Do you see now why I had to do this? The only way to keep this investment safe was to steal it from you and put it in the hands of someone who can protect it. I've already taken care of the new paperwork and covered up the holes. (Name), you just need to sign these documents to finalize everything and become the CEO."

You nodded, as several documents were placed on the desk for you to sign while Levi watched in stunned silence. That didn't last too long, as he soon frowned and asked, "what about my signature?"

"Not worth anything," your father smiled.

"Aw, c'mon Levi, don't look so sour, it's not like I'm going to fire you... for now," you teased. Levi continued to look adorably grumpy, was he even aware of how cute he was? How could he not be? You giggled and booped him, then giggled some more.

"Why did you do that?" Levi asked in surprise.

"Because I can," you smiled, entertained by his reaction.

"So it's a bad habit that runs in your family, being annoying just because you can be." Levi glared at the paperwork as if wanting to set it on fire with his eyes.

Your father removed the papers from the desk before they could combust. "I'll take these papers to be processed. It was nice visiting," he smiled in amusement and got up to leave.

Recalling something, Levi snapped to attention and stopped your father from leaving. "Aren't you forgetting something?"

"Happy anniversary," your father declared. "It's been seven months since you got married, you're getting along far better than I expected, I didn't think your marriage would last this long. Now that I think about it, I might have set up a divorce procedure that should have already taken place. I doubt the Itadaki brothers would have forgotten, I did pay them in advance for the services, but you're still married, so I guess you decided not to get a divorce. Out of curiosity, why was that?"

"Morale," you blurted out before Levi could say anything, though in his current mood your guess was that his answer would be something along the lines of 'none of your damn business.' "Because the scouts see us as an OTP and all."

"Well, isn't that sweet?" Your father nodded with a look that spoke far more than his simple vague reply ever could, albeit you couldn't, or wouldn't, decipher what the hidden communication was.

"Enough," Levi interrupted with impatience. "Reveal the identity of (Name)'s uncle as promised," he demanded.

The name your father spoke was unrecognizable to you, though you did recognize your mother's maiden name as his surname, but you already knew that, since they were siblings. "That man doesn't exist in the official records, or in any way anymore. He left his old identity fade into nothingness and, because he can't mimic other people to perfection, he instead created an entirely new identity for himself instead of trying to steal one," your father explained. "You may know him as Dr. Fredrick Facio."

The office was drowned in silence and Levi looked legitimately surprised. "What about the man who gave me the cure?" Before your father could reply, you answered your own question. "Wait a minute, that was him too, wasn't it?"

"Yes, the same man with a different face," your father confirmed.

"He didn't want his identity as Fred to become linked to this, so he used another face that day," you realized.

"Facio," Levi voiced dangerously. "Are you saying it was Facio all along? When he came here to treat the scouts after missions, he was just fishing for information for his research, wasn't he?"

"I'm afraid so, though he still helped the scouts by treating the injured, he didn't do it for their sake," your father confirmed. "If you decide to make any moves, you must be careful, I don't know the extent of his abilities," he warned in all seriousness. "I would prefer to leave things as they are, but I know that's not happening."

You weren't sure what to say. Fred had committed many crimes for the sake of his research, but he wasn't evil. He didn't have the right to decide who was sacrificed, but he was trying to save you and he had helped your friends in the past. What was more important? Loyalty or justice? How could you walk the fine line between such contradicting terms, one denoting a preference, while the other demanded the lack of it. You realized that you couldn't walk between them, you had to pick one or the other in a case by case basis.

"I'll take my leave now," your father quietly announced, deciding it was best to give Levi some time to organize his thoughts and inform Erwin of the discovery. "(Name), the weather is warmer now, spring is really showing its presence, would you walk your dear old father home?"

"Sure," you thought it might be best to give Levi some space right now anyway. He might not want anyone interrupting his discussion with Erwin about how to go about catching Dr. Facio to further their titan research and obtain any other useful information he might have. Levi didn't try to stop you or your father from leaving, he understood that there was nothing more to say, because there was nothing more that could be said that wasn't already known.

xoxox xox xoxox

Your father and you approached the bakery atelier and after greeting Artie and Melinda, you went upstairs to talk. You asked about Fluffy, but your father couldn't tell you much about her other than she had been a gift from your uncle. Than the conversation took an interesting turn when your father stated, more so than asked. "I suppose it's useless to ask you to get a divorce before things get more complicated."

"Do you really think Levi is in so much danger that you want me to stay away from him?" You asked, with no intentions of doing so, a fact which your father was clearly aware of. "You said my uncle wouldn't hurt me, if I'm with him, wouldn't that be enough to protect him?"

"If Fred decides to kill Levi, he will do it, I just didn't want it to be in front of your eyes. I know I can't stop Levi or Erwin from investigating and you won't stay out of it either, regardless of what I do. There's just no way to keep you hidden from this pain, so I'll have to trust you to be strong enough to handle it," your father concluded in resignation.

"I will be," you assured.

"My little princess is all grown up." Your father sighed, feeling melancholy. "I was the one who started all this in my desperate attempt to protect you, so even if I wasn't expecting it, I suppose I have no right to complain. If I really think about it, if the circumstances were different, I would have approved."

"What do you mean?" You asked curiously. The topic had shifted and you wondered what this was about.

"You love him," your father stated plain and simple.

Your face turned scarlet, "what? Levi? We're friends! I mean... I might kind of like him, but it's just a silly crush, I'm not in love with him," you laughed nervously.

"Don't you think I know my daughter better than that?" Your father shook his head at your flustered state. "Princess, I can tell the difference between when you blush because the thought of something is embarrassing and when you blush because the thought of something is pleasurable, but you don't want to admit it. I was young and in love once too and your tells are exactly the same as your mother's. After a while, I learned to read her like a book." Your blush deepened, was your father trying to hint that Levi knew you liked him?

You left the bakery with a new handmade shirt from Melinda, several boxes of pastries from Artie and a letter from your father that he said was filled with, "business tips, for your eyes only," but most of all, you left with a heavy load of a strangely giddy confusion. You tugged the letter in your pants pocket and went home, to the base of the Survey Corps, to the home that you were determined to keep safe, and to the man you had fallen in love with, even if you could only admit it in the privacy of your mind.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 35: Boiling Point

"What are you reading?" You looked over Levi's shoulder at the book he held.

"It's the book that people get to read when they're not behind on their training," Levi shut the thick text and pointed you towards a forested area.

You could see the structure of the scouts' base some distance away, and moved in the opposite direction towards the collection of trees. "I'm not behind," you defended. You caught a glance at the book, something about business and law. "Are you still mad at father for stealing your precious secret formula? Do you want it back? I own the copyright you know, even if you steal all my stock I'll have to transfer it to you separately if you want it back." You fired your ODM gear into a tree branch and swung playfully. "Or you could bribe the Itadaki brothers to do the job for you."

"Hold on to it," Levi decided before putting the book down on the base of a tree and hooked his ODM gear into a tree branch. "It's fake anyway."

"Ooh, so the super soap formula only exists in the mind of the creator," you watched as Levi began to move forward via ODM and followed him. "Wait, I got it, the secret ingredients are your blood and tears!" You called after him, in a futile attempt to make the conversation distract him enough to slow him down.

"Maybe I'll teach it to you some day," Levi replied, speeding up. "If you can keep up with me. You're too slow, too afraid of where the hook of your ODM will land. You need to make these calculations in a split second."

He noticed... Of course he noticed, he noticed every last detail when it came to your training and was quick to critically point it out. You felt that he wasn't mean or picky though, despite appearing to be that way at times, he was just trying to prepare you for battle. Ok, just focus on Levi and let instinct guide the ODM. He wasn't moving in a straight line, you had to get closer or you'd lose him in the thick flora. Focus on Levi, you repeated your mental mantra, just stay focus on him... No, not on his tail, just the whole of him. A branch hit you in the face, but you recovered before you hit the ground, though you had lost sight of Levi. You looked in every direction, where did he go? Then a harsh force knocked up off balance and sent you crashing into a tree trunk. "Ugh..."

"You went too low, if you were passing over titans, they would have been able to grab you." Well at least you found Levi. His ODM was hooked onto the same tree, he stood against the trunk, trapping you between his body and the tree.

"Yeah, especially if one of my so called comrades decides to kick me in the back," you pouted, turning your head to look at him over your shoulder.

"I doubt it's worse than a tree branch to the face," Levi retorted. Great, he saw it.

"That only happened once this time," you countered.

"One too many times, if you didn't heal yourself, you'd be all scratched up and healing requires energy that you shouldn't waste. You know what'll happen if you exhaust your energy too much too constantly and you'll be useless if you fall unconscious in the middle of the battle field," Levi reminded.

"My energy isn't that low, it takes a lot more than this to get me in that state." You countered, though Levi would accept no argument.

"You need to be more aware of your surroundings," Levi insisted, "but you can't slow down to take it all in. A titan could have snuck behind you and you wouldn't have seen it, since you were so focused on following me. You can't just be aware of one element of your surroundings. You need to keep track of the landscape, enemies and allies. Taking down titans is a team effort and... What the heck are you blushing for?"

"Nothing!" You blurted out, though he must have known it wasn't nothing. He had you pinned against a tree for crying out loud. Well, not really, his legs were on either side of you on the tree, giving you at least a few inches of space, so you weren't pressed against the trunk, but that was still close. You recalled what your father said about how obvious you were about your crush, though it was more than a mere crush at this point. You resolved not to be so obvious, but what could you do? "Levi, let's spar."

"You're decent with hand to hand combat, you need to practice more with ODM," Levi pointed out.

"So we'll fight on ODM. Maybe that'll help me get used to reacting faster," you suggested. You wouldn't go easy on him, that'll show him you weren't some love sick girl with a terribly obvious attraction for him. "Just you wait, I'll fly like a bird."

Levi gave you an odd look and for a split second seemed lost in thought before he swiftly returned to his normal self. "Fine, maybe it will cure at least some of your clumsiness," Levi moved to a different tree, jumping on a branch.

You climbed up to another branch, on the tree that you were already on and looked at him across the distance that now separated you. Then the realization hit you, if you were indeed so obvious, why hasn't he said anything about it? Maybe he didn't like you and was waiting quietly for your feelings to pass. He had been kind of harsh in his training recently, harsher than normal that is. You got the impression that he was concerned about how prepared you were to join the scouts, but maybe that was all your wishful thinking. It hurt to think that way, but you had to focus on the battle, so you poured everything into it.

You hooked your ODM onto a branch overhead, on a tree between the two you and Levi were on, and moved forward. He met you half way, two pairs of swords colliding in mid air. The blades were dull training blades, so they wouldn't cut either of you, though they still had the weight of real blades. When Levi pushed you back, you focused on strengthening your legs and pushed yourself forward, launching from a tree, you caught up to him and slashed with your swords. He blocked, slightly turned in the air and released his ODM. You were expecting him to move up to dodge, so it took you a moment to react to the fact that he was a few feet below. By the time you adjusted to go on the attack again, he fired his ODM at an odd angle and was moving up and sideways.

You gave chase, but Levi was too fast. It was only a matter of time before you lost track of him. You perched on a branch, looking in every direction and trying to listen to even the quietest sound. You heard some rustling of leaves and perceived a shadow moving, blending in with the shadows of the trees. You shot your ODM forward as Levi came down on the branch you were on a second ago. He leapt after you, you turned and once again your blades crashed against his in mid air. The action was repeated several times, before he disappeared again, no doubt preparing another surprise attack.

You were starting to feel the effect of exhaustion. You couldn't parry his blades effectively without using your ability to strengthen your arms, which consumed energy. Recalling something Hange had said about titans and sunlight, you broke off your search for Levi and headed in the direction of a spacious clearing in the forest. Curious as to what you were doing, Levi turned back and you could vaguely perceive him chasing after you, though he kept his distance so as to not make his position too obvious. He soon realized you were seeking the sunlight and sped up to intercept you.

You released the hook of your ODM gear and fell. Levi hovered overhead waiting to see where your other hook would travel to next, but it didn't. He realized too late your intention was to reach the ground and you managed to slip away. You focused on making your legs strong enough to withstand the impact. The landing hurt, but your healing kicked in, aided by the sunlight, and running was only painful for a short time. You stood in the center of the clearing, basking in the light, but it didn't take long for you to have second thoughts about your strategy.

Levi swooped down, using the metal of the blades to reflect the sunlight at your face and block your vision just long enough to catch you off guard. He crashed into you and knocked you to the grassy ground. "Looks like I win," he declared smugly, placing his blades back in their sheaths.

"It's not over!" Your own blades had slipped out of your grasp when you were knocked down, but they were attached to the ODM gear, so they were still close, not that Levi had any intention of allowing you to reach for them. You squirmed, turning over to try to get back on your feet and pick up your blades at the same time.

"You're just making it worse," Levi grabbed your wrists, holding your hands behind your back. "Just admit I won this time."

"No way!" You stubbornly declared. You tried to get loose, though it was very difficult.

Levi moved, positioning himself on top of your torso, holding your arms in place with his legs. His hands brushed your hair aside and wrapped gently around your neck. "I would've had plenty of time to snap your neck by now, you lost this round."

You focused your energy on your neck, making every fiber of it stronger. "I'd like to see you try," you challenged, though you still couldn't free your arms. All's fair in love and war, right? Besides, it was his own fault for holding you down like this, you pinched him on the thigh.

"Hey, watch the hands!" He exclaimed in surprise, which lowered his guard enough for you to free your arms. He recovered very quickly and though you managed to grasp your blades, he pinned down your wrists before you could point one at his throat and declare yourself the winner.

You weren't about to become trapped again and since fighting dirty worked last time, you threatened, "I'll spit on you!"

"You wouldn't dare!" Levi warned darkly, though he still scrambled to hold both your hands down with one of his and cover your mouth with his other hand, just in case.

You bit him, causing him to let you go entirely, then bashed your forehead against his, which dazed him and bought you enough time to slip away from under him, gather your blades and get on your feet.

"So you refuse to give up?" Levi voiced in a challenging tone. What in the world had you gotten yourself into?

To be Continued

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