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A Matter of Stature

By Mikari

Humor / Romance

Chapter 1

A rich sheltered girl from Sina is finally cured of the illness that had weakened her for years, only to be told she's engaged to a man she's never met. To make matters worse, the cure to her decease came with side-effects. (LevixReader, ErenxMikasa)

A Matter of Stature

Chapter 1: Suspicion

'Maybe this Levi guy I'm engaged to isn't so bad,' you thought as the carriage got ever closer to your destination. The scenery of Sina's luxury evolved into the middle class of Rose. You were supposed to meet him in Rose territory, an area that you had never visited before, as you had been born and raised in Sina. Your life had taken one surprising turn after another lately.

You miraculously conquered an illness that had plagued you since birth and finally had the opportunity to live a normal life, but then you were told you had been engaged to marry a man called Levi. The whole matter left your head spinning, but while you struggled to make sense of it, you tried to remain optimistic.

Your father loved you, he wouldn't approve of this mysterious Levi if he wasn't a good man. Then again, you had heard talk among the mansion staff that your father had only met Levi briefly and never really spoke to him. Furthermore, you heard from Mary Anne, one of the younger maids, that Levi was being pushed into the marriage against his will. You tried not to think too much about it. Maybe the rumors were lies.

The carriage stopped and you saw two males approaching it, a blond man and a black haired boy. You wondered if the blond was the mysterious Levi, they were both wearing Survey Corps uniforms. They stopped in front of the carriage and the blond opened the door. You took a deep breath and tried to at least be friendly. "Good afternoon..."

"Good afternoon, miss (name)," the tall blond man extended his hand in greeting, "I'm Erwin Smith, commander of the Survey Corps."

"Pleased to meet you," you replied unsure. You were expecting Levi to be there the second you got out of the carriage, but there was no one else around aside from Erwin and the cranky looking boy. You were told the union was to be kept low key, and you didn't protest to that, since you didn't entirely agree to the union in the first place. Never mind that Melinda, the family's stylist, was making you a dress just in case an actual ceremony took place in the future.

Erwin paused for a moment as if waiting for something to happen. The whole time the cranky boy kept glaring at you. You surmised that he was simply rude. "It's a pleasure to meet you too," Erwin finally voiced. "Shall we finish the paperwork?"

You wanted to say no, but felt you had little choice in the matter. "Of course..." You followed Erwin into the building in front of which the carriage had stopped. It was a tall government building where many types of documents, marriage certificates included, were filed. Normally, the paperwork was either done as soon as an engagement occurred, or right after the ceremony. Sometimes the paperwork took time because the families couldn't decide how much of their fortunes to share and how much they wanted to assure they kept for themselves in case of a divorce. This particular marriage was quite simple, you would share nothing, nothing material at least. The arrangement didn't surprise you. Your father would be called a fool and his business would be affected if the precaution wasn't taken.

The large building held several doors, spaces filled with desks, accountants and secretaries doing various calculations and sorting paperwork. A few people came in and out, to request documents, to sell properties, to argue taxes. There were no couples though, not happy or otherwise. You wished you could have just signed the documents at home and sent them in, but you also knew that it wouldn't make a difference. It didn't matter if you were walking through a building that smelled of dust and ink or sitting in a nice cafe across from Levi, whoever he may be, it would still be terribly awkward.

You finally reached your destination where twin attorneys you were sure you've seen before were waiting. You didn't remember their names, though you did recall hearing a rumor that they sometimes switched places in court when they thought the case needed a change of strategy. The two men were identical, dirty blond hair and pale brown eyes, their expressions focused as if waiting for an opportunity to attack. Their grey suits and black ties were identical as well. You weren't really listening to what they were saying. Instead, you were looking every which way, confirming over and over that only you, the lawyers, Erwin and the cranky boy were in the room.

You heard one of the twins address a Mr. Ackerman. The cranky boy exchanged looks with Erwin in some silent communication, then signed the document. You were then called to do the same, but you were too busy staring in open mouthed shock at the boy, only then noticing that he wasn't a boy, but a man that was rather short. You still thought he looked kind of boyish, but no mere boy could have lived long enough to accumulate the amount of displeasure in this man's eyes.

The other twin echoed his brother's words with a slightly more impatient tone and you finally snapped awake. You picked up the pen and held it unsure. You looked at the signature on the paper, written in very neat penmanship, Levi Ackerman. Until that moment, you haven't even known his lastname. You just stared at the name, trying to decipher what kind of person was its owner.

The lawyers grew impatient and began to offer Erwin some small talk, something about how people were saying that the Survey Corps were a waste of taxes, and that if he ever noticed anything wrong with the  supplies that were delivered to the base he should sue the merchants. You knew that what they were suggesting, perhaps hoping for in the name of having an interesting case to represent, was sabotage. Erwin denied such a thing, though that didn't deter the twins from continuing to advertise their services.

"Are you going to sign it?" Levi finally asked, annoyed. You gripped the pen in anger. You wanted to give him a piece of your mind, tell him that he shouldn't be so rude to a lady, or to anyone for that matter. Your anger turned to frustration, which quickly became fear. What kind of life would you live with this man, who seemed to carry such a sour existence? You had a strange sensation on your hand as you squeezed the pen in worry and an odd mist began to appear around it. Though Levi had kept his distance so far, he stepped forward in the first show of interest he had ever displayed towards your person.

Your mind registered the possibility that maybe Levi wasn't a terribly miserable person, maybe he was just angry about the marriage. If he was forced into it as well, he had the right to be. You didn't have anyone you were dating, but what if he did? The mist that had began to float around your hand dissipated and you sighed. He had already signed, he was resigned to his fate and you didn't think you had a choice but to be the same way. You signed your name, though you had to admit it wasn't as neatly penned as his.

You glanced at Levi. He wasn't giving you deadly glares of disdain anymore, instead he was looking at you as if you were some kind of criminal, a dangerous creature that had to be kept under close watch in case it needed to be terminated. You looked away, but you could still feel his critical eyes on you, suspicion, disbelief and a sense of curiosity eradiated from him.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 2: Awakening

"It's done," Levi finally spoke after you signed the marriage document. He made it sound like he had just finished performing a foul deed that left him feeling more defiance than remorse.

The twin lawyers took the paperwork to take care of properly processing it and archiving it. They gave one final sales pitch to Erwin, then sent you all on your way with a casual, "good day," spoken in perfect unison.

The walk out of the government building that smelled of dust and ink was even more uncomfortable than the walk in, though you haven't thought that was possible. "Well," Erwin smiled after a heavy sigh, that he probably didn't intend to allow to be so obvious. "Now that the paperwork is done, I guess I'll leave you two to get to know each other." He was there as a witness, you realized. You couldn't get yourself to muster an answer for him, even if it was terribly impolite to remain so silent.

Erwin left and soon after, Levi began to walk in a different direction. You followed him, assuming he wanted you to do so. Besides, the carriage had left while you were inside, you didn't know anyone in Rose and you had never left your family's estate, you didn't know what else to do but to follow Levi. People walked to and from every direction in the street. Murmurs and shouts mixed together in a noisy atmosphere with too many conversations going on at the same time. You felt uneasy and wanted to run away, but your legs felt odd, heavy. Maybe you were having a relapse into your illness.

Levi walked swiftly, albeit you had the feeling that he was keeping an eye on you in a discreet, yet alert way. You hurried to keep pace with him and tried to say something, the way he simply refused to speak to you was creeping you out. "So... Levi... Um..." You tried to think of a casual question to ask. "How old are you?"

"Older than you," came his simple answer. He didn't elaborate or ask for your own age in return, which for whatever reason he already seemed to be aware of.

"You look young," you bit your lip, did he know you had assumed he was only a boy when you first saw him? "I mean... in a good way..." you stumbled over your words and he offered none. You felt so uncomfortable, so exposed and vulnerable. You didn't want to live your life married to a cranky man who ignored you and you didn't think you wanted any attention from him either. You wished that the mysterious Levi had turned out to be someone else, the man that Melinda had made you imagine when she was reassuring you back home. You stopped walking, your legs hurt.

Levi stopped as well and stared at you. "What are you doing?" The way he demanded it was as if he thought you were going to attack him. He looked around, examining his surroundings, taking note of all the people around. His hands rested on his swords.

"It hurts..." You whispered. This time you were not distracted enough to miss the mist. It gathered around your legs and a few passers were giving you odd looks. "What is this?" You blinked in confusion, wondering if your vision was going blurry. Yet the mist was only there, on your legs, the rest of the world looked clear.

"Not here!" Suddenly, Levi took your hand and started running. You didn't know where he was going, but he was doing a fine job of dragging you along.

"Slow down!" You complained, but he did the opposite. You tried to pull your hand away from his grip, but found it to be impossible. He dashed into an alley leading to some dark stairs. "Stop!"

You were ignored, Levi hurried down the stairs with you in tow, until you finally couldn't take it anymore. The future scared you, the present scared you, Levi scared you. You momentarily lost the feeling on your legs and fell. You felt heavy, you tripped and knocked Levi to the ground as he reached the bottom of the steps. You landed on top of him, but in a swift movement one of his swords was hovering above your neck, ready to decapitate you.

You froze, was he really thinking about killing you? The feeling on your legs returned, but they felt trapped in... something, you didn't know what. "Why?" It was the only word you could breathe out in your confusion.

"You... have no idea," Levi concluded. He put his sword down. "Look at your legs."

You did so, expecting to find them tangled up on something. Yet the thing that you saw was shocking, to say the least. You saw the muscle tissue of two partially formed much larger legs. You were about to scream, but Levi covered your mouth.

"You didn't know about this?" He didn't release you, so you could only shake your head in fright. The mist was starting to appear around you again, this time covering your whole body. "Calm down," Levi ordered, but of course, that made you panic even more and the thickness of the strange mist intensified.

Levi moved to get up, finally letting you go, but you automatically clung to him as if driven by survival instinct alone. "Make it stop!"

"Just calm down," Levi's voice was far less harsh now. "You'll be fine, you can control this." You didn't know what this was and told him as much. "(Name)," it was the first time he had ever called you by your name. "You'll be alright, just stay calm."

You took a deep breath and tried to calm down. The mist around you began to fade away and your heart and breathing rhythm slowed a little, though you were still on edge. "I'm stuck," you tried to stand up, but your legs were trapped inside that other monstrous pair of partially formed skinless legs that you'd rather not look at.

"You should be able to pull your legs free," Levi sounded fairly certain of it, as if he had seen something like this before. He managed to escape from under you and took your hands to help you stand. "Pull your legs out."

You tugged at your legs, but you were so freaked out because of the monster legs that came out of nowhere that you couldn't get yourself to pull hard enough. "I can't get free."

Levi looked around to make sure no one had noticed what was going on. You were in a dark tunnel in a secluded alley, so no one had seen anything, or else there would have already been screams. "I'll pull you out," you nodded as Levi got ready to do just that, "hold on." He began to pull you up by the waist, while you placed your arms around his shoulders. He put one foot against the edge of the left leg, which was less fully formed than the right. He pushed it away with his boot while pulling you in the opposite direction and your left leg was freed. The large malformed leg disappeared into thin air in a cloud of mist after it lost contact with your body.

Levi then repeated the process with the right leg, but you tensed up and the leg reacted, twitching. You gasped and held on to him more tightly on instinct. "Stay still," he ordered with slight impatience, though you could tell he was trying not to sound too harsh.

You tried to calm down and Levi tried again. The unprotected muscle of the large leg was hot and smoked when Levi placed his boot against it, you hoped it was thick. Strangely, you didn't get burned and your clothes were relatively unharmed, though wrinkled and a bit dirty. The  red muscle tissue must only be hot on the outside by the looks of it. This was strange, but if the left monster leg disappeared leaving your own leg unharmed, then it was reasonable to think that the same logic bending rules would apply to the right leg. You calmed down a little at the thought and the monster leg relaxed.

Levi gave you a firm tug and managed to pull you free, though he pulled too hard, as you weren't as badly stuck anymore after you made yourself calm down. The momentum carried him backwards and to the floor, with you landing on top of him again. You had pulled your right leg up in an attempt to help in the effort to free you and it ended up crashing against Levi's stomach unexpectedly and knocking the wind out of him. Not that you were doing any better, your breathing was still fast paced from the shocking experience. The right leg disappeared in a cloud of warm mist.

Then they arrived, two males, one female, all in uniform. The trio appeared at the top of the stairs, the young man with green eyes began to call out a friendly greeting, but froze at the sight before him. The blond's jaw dropped in shock and he was unable to speak and there was a slight twitch in the dark haired girl's eye.

Captain Levi and and as of yet unidentified woman were on the floor of a dark tunnel in an alley, flushed from the warmth of the mist that had just finished disappearing right before they came, and somewhat breathless for various reasons. The scout female with the red scarf wrapped an arm around each of her friends' shoulders, placing her hands over their eyes. She turned them around and marched them up the stairs without stopping to look back or comment.

Levi made a very brief comment though: "shit..."

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 3: Business

You looked at Levi... he seemed displeased. You didn't wait for him to tell you to get off before you started trying to do so.  You weren't exactly steady though, so in the end he had to help you. The two of you stood in a dark tunnel in an alley after having been caught in a situation that could be misinterpreted. You blushed, if anyone from Sina saw the scene and misinterpreted it, the gossip would never end.

You could imagine the snobs discussing how improper and terrible you were, making out with some scout in a dark tunnel... Except he wasn't some scout, officially he was your husband, but still, the whole dark alley thing would still bring some criticism. You hoped those three could keep their mouths shut. They didn't know you, but they clearly knew Levi. You wondered if they were informed about your marriage.

Levi eyed you carefully, which made you feel self conscious, "what?"

"It all makes sense now," Levi stated in annoyance. "This is the reason why your father arranged this marriage." You wanted to ask him just what your father had done to push him into it, as he was clearly not happy about it, but before that, you took a moment to recall how this whole thing started, when the name of Levi first came up in your life.

(Flashback)

The desk in the corner, the elegant polished wood table, the book shelves in the background, elegantly carved chairs with comfortable cushions, the light of the afternoon streaming through the glass windows, it was the same scene as always. The conversation was the same as always too, you never would have guessed it would take a very surprising turn.

"It actually looks like they're making progress!" You stood in front of the door to your father's study and listened quietly. He was having a meeting with several colleagues that you weren't particularly fond of. Your father didn't like these men either, but they were influential business figures that he had to deal with. The one who just spoke was a plump man with a big grey handlebar mustache and a favorable disposition for gossip of any kind.

The door to the study was only open an inch, just enough for you to peek in. The men were busy with their wine and conversation, so it was easy for you to go unnoticed. "Do you think they'll take back Wall Maria?" A tall skinny man with an obvious comb-over and a monocle over his right eye inquired. They were all wearing suits and had open ledgers on the table, though none were actually looking at them.

"It's possible," the youngest of the four men, counting your father, replied in a snobbish manner. He slightly threw his head back as he spoke, his long nose in the air. "What does it matter though?" He squinted his blue eyes and ran a hand through his pale blond hair in indifference.

"It could matter," your father piped in. His hair and eyes were the same color as yours, save for the gray hairs that had gradually started to appear. None the less, he had aged gracefully. He hardly ever participated in these discussions and it surprised you that he piped in. Normally, his associates would come over to drink and gossip, while your father sat quietly until they were satisfied and announced what a fine host he had been.

"Oh?" Mister long nose stretched out the syllable in a distasteful manner. "How so?" He challenged dismissively.

Your father began speaking politely. "Perhaps I'm being too far sighted here, but if they do take back Wall Maria, the next step would be to explore outside. With that titan shifter, Eren Yeager, on their side, the scouts will gain popularity, especially when they start coming back with supplies from the outside."

A chorus of murmurs erupted and the three other men sounded like a whole room full of people talking at the same time... Or like a coop full of chickens. Finally, the murmurs quieted as big mustache excitedly declared, "suppose they find a mine full of jewels!"

The murmurs began again louder than before. "Well," monocle man started to speak, but long nose was still busily chewing your father's ear off, not realizing he was being ignored. Monocle patted his comb-over in indignation, as if to assure it was in place when he forced the attention in the room to himself. The hair that he did have was dyed black, as it once was, but you were sure that was no longer his natural color. He cleared his throat loudly until nose shut up, giving him a pointed look with his narrow blue eyes. "Well," monocle blinked his beady small brown eyes and began again. "If that does happen, then we must be prepared. Nose rolled his eyes as if to indicate that monocle was stating the obvious.

Mustache nodded, bushy gray eyebrows knitted together over big round green eyes. "We should establish a connection with the scouts just in case," he suggested. "Unfortunately, my two sons and eldest daughter are already married and my two younger daughters are engaged." Mustache had five children, a son, a daughter, another son, then two more daughters. You had met them briefly and were not fond of them. You perceived they had not liked you much either.

You were disgusted at how the men spoke of their sons and daughters as mere tools of business. You were glad your father wasn't like that. Then again, who would want to marry a woman who spent most of her time resting in bed due to poor health? It was the same genetic disease that took your mother's life when you were still a toddler.

"My daughter is not of marrying age," nose reminded. "And my son is even younger." Nose had two children, a seven year old daughter and an infant son. You had never met them.

"Well," monocle gasped. "I certainly cannot engage my only daughter to one of them." He made a disgusted expression. "She is my only child and I would not want a monster for an heir." This girl actually wasn't so bad. She wasn't really your friend, but she wasn't as snobbish as mustache's kids.

"Have her marry my nephew!" Mustache suggested.

Monocle seemed to consider this, "perhaps..." He already had a business partnership with mustache. The new family connection may strengthen it, but it wouldn't bring anything new to the table.

"You'll have a healthy heir that way," mustache laughed. "Most importantly, you'll have a human heir," he laughed again and the other men joined in, though your father's laughter was clearly fake. "Anyway," mustache continued, "I heard the shifter boy has someone keeping an eye on him. That cadet that's rising through the ranks, Mikasa, I think was her name."

"What about your daughter," nose interjected, addressing your father. "She's old enough to marry, isn't she? You do still have a daughter, don't you?" You gritted your teeth and resisted the urge to remind that jerk with your fist that you were indeed still alive.

"My daughter?" Your father made a show of considering it. "Well, I don't know about getting her involved with Yeager... Maybe if it was someone else, for instance, Captain Levi, he has quite a reputation and is in charge of Yeager."

You rolled your eyes and waited for the punch line. Your father would then recall some detail that made it impossible for you to marry this Levi person and the matter would be dropped, then the conversation would be steered away from the topic of your marriage.

Another session of murmurs overtook the room until nose interrupted. "Will he do it?" He made it sound as if marrying you was a most undesirable thing. You certainly didn't want to marry a stranger, but you didn't like being insulted either.

"I'm sure we can arrange something," monocle replied before your father could and mustache agreed with a hearty laugh.

You walked away from the door at that point. You were tired of the stupidity and wished your father would just throw them out. But if he did, he wouldn't be able to afford your expensive medical care. You sighed and returned to your room, you were feeling tired.

Going up the stairs left you out of breath and you were ready to collapse by the time you reached your bed. You fell into the soft mattress and buried your face in the pillow. It took only a second for sleep to overtake you.

xoxox xox xoxox

You woke up in the evening and groggily heard voices just out your door. By the time you woke up enough to understand them, the conversation had stopped and your father knocked on the door. He called your name, announcing, "the doctor is here to see you."

You yawned and sat up on your bed, "come in."

Your father opened the door, followed by a strange man. That wasn't your usual doctor. Without a word the doctor set down his briefcase on the nightstand and pulled out a needle already prepared with a strange liquid inside. You immediately grew uneasy, you hated needles.

Sensing your tension, your father smiled in reassurance. "Don't worry, princess, it will only hurt for a moment and then it'll never hurt again. This will cure you."

You didn't believe it would cure you, though perhaps it would help. You hated feeling weak and felt as if you were sleeping your life away. Sometimes you were so drowsy you felt as if you were floating in a half conscious state, only vaguely aware of the reality around you.

You forced yourself to pull up your sleeve and extend your arm. You closed your eyes and gripped your father's hand with your other hand. The needle stung, a lot, but you managed to bare it in silence. You were once again exhausted though, even if you just woke up from a nap. You allowed yourself to fall back into the pillows and watched the scene unfold through half lidded eyes.

"Not a word," the strange man reminded in a dark tone.

"Never," your father assured as if it was an oath. Then you fell asleep.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 4: Elixir

(Flashback: Continued)

You slept through the evening, the night and, unknown to you, for several days. You woke up one morning feeling disoriented. You examined the fancy clock on your wall and noted that it read 8:45. It was light out, the sun washed in through the windows of your large room, so that was 8:45 am. You got up, feeling strangely hungry. You never had much of an appetite before. You washed and dressed, then went down stairs.

The walk to the kitchen was very easy. Normally, just going down the stairs would leave you out of breath. You couldn't remember the last time you felt this strong and healthy. You peeked into the kitchen where you found your father talking to the chef. He ate at the smaller table in the kitchen, rather than the large dining room, so he could talk to the staff. "Good morning," you greeted, surprised at your own voice. It rung out clear and strong, it wasn't the sickly whisper you usually produced.

Your father smiled from ear to ear, while the head chef stared in surprise at how lively you were. "Good morning, princess," he looked towards the chef for a moment and requested, "make her a steak, she needs protein now that she's awake." Then he turned his attention back to you, motioning for you to join him at the kitchen table. "How do you feel?"

"Good," you replied, "better than ever, actually." Whatever that medicine was, it was working.

"Excellent," your father cheered, though behind his relief there was something that bothered him. He tried to maintain his smile as he continued. "Since you're feeling better, maybe you can go out."

You blinked and stared, "can I?" You were certainly not opposed to the idea, but you usually ended up so weak and tired the effort to leave the house was hardly worth it. Your father was very protective of you, but he seemed to be very confident about the success of your latest medical treatment. Maybe the change in you really was that obvious.

"Of course dear," your father smiled. "You're a young woman. You should be able to go out, see the city, go on dates..."

You didn't think any men would ask you out, given your physical condition, and even if one did, with how protective your father could be, you didn't expect him to encourage it. You laughed, thinking he was only joking.

"Speaking of dates... There is a young man I want to introduce to you..." Your father approached the topic gently. He paused, watching your perplexed expression. "How are you making the steak, Artie?" He addressed the chef instead.

"Well done, just like the doctor said," the chef replied. You assumed he referred to your usual doctor. The new doctor didn't say much.

"Artie is the only chef I've ever met who can make a well done steak without burning it," your father smiled.

"His food is always very good," though you hardly ate much of it.

"If it's so good, little lady, why don't you eat it all this time?" Artie asked, his brown hair peeking out from under his chef hat, muscular arms crossed over his broad chest in mock indignation.

"Oh, you know..." You laughed, then your stomach growled. It took you by surprise and you shifted in embarrassment.

"Music to my ears!" Artie laughed. "How about I get you started with some bread and orange juice while the steak cooks?"

You nodded eagerly, "yes please!"

Anthony, Artie's young son, ran into the kitchen proudly. "I did it, papa, I set out Fluffy's food and water and she ate!"

"Well done, Tony" Artie smiled. "But aren't you forgetting something?" He motioned towards the table.

"Good morning Lord (lastname) and Lady (name)," Tony greeted, as his father nodded in approval. The four year old boy had the same blond hair as his mother, Melinda, the constantly inspired family seamstress. His eyes were the same bright green as his father.

"Good morning Tony," your father greeted, seemingly grateful for the break in the conversation. He had to tell you something, but it wasn't easy for him to say it. He didn't want to force anything on you, but this was the only way he could assure your safety.

"Hey kiddo," you ruffled the little boy's hair.

" I'm still taking good care of Fluffy for you," Tony proudly informed you.

"Thank you," you smiled, taking a bread biscuit from the table and eating it, "these are so good. Hey Tony, did you try these? Would you like some?"

"No thanks, I was the taste tester," Tony announced, glad that he got to do something around the house, it made him feel grown up. "I ate a bunch, so I'm still full. I think I'll go play fetch with Fluffy so she doesn't get bored. Can you come play with us?"

"I think I can go watch after I eat," you replied. You were usually not even strong enough to throw a stick farther than a child and you certainly didn't have the endurance to run around chasing after an energetic dog. But you were feeling so well today, maybe you could push yourself a little.

"Okay, we'll be waiting for you," Tony went back outside.

Artie served the steak, it looked delicious. "Thank you," you voiced as you picked up your eating utensils. You tried to eat slowly, like a lady, but it was so delicious you were having a hard time pacing yourself. On the bright side, you didn't feel sick at all.

"Princess... About that man I wanted to introduce..." Your father tried again. "If you feel that you're taking a liking to him, I will not be opposed to it." You blinked and considered saying something, but your mouth was full and it would be bad manners to speak like that. You observed that your father was nervous. He only got like this when you were feeling stubborn about your ineffective medical treatments in the past and refused to take your medicine.

"Maybe we should let Melinda talk to her, you know, woman to woman," Artie quietly suggested. So the chef and his wife were in on this too. That only made you more suspicious. Could your father really be planning your marriage? He wouldn't do that to you... Unless he thought he was doing the right thing.

You were quite sickly, though today you felt miraculously healthy. Maybe he just wanted to make sure you had someone to take care of you, since you were usually asleep most of the time which would render you incapable of learning, let alone running, the family business. Maybe he had found a kind man that you could grow to love. You'd take things slowly and give him a chance. Having finished your meal, you stood up. "I heard that," you announced, even if you knew that Artie had purposely spoken just loud enough for you to hear. "Okay, I'll go talk to Melinda."

xoxox xox xoxox

You headed across the mansion, finding that the walk was very easy. You made your way into the fashion room, the place where Melinda spent most of her time. The place was filled with fabrics and sewing supplies in every imaginable color. Mannequins posed with dresses and suits in various stages of completion. You found the seamstress humming to herself as she worked on a dress, a white dress. You tried not to think about it too much as you made your presence known, "morning, Melinda."

"Oh, hey sleeping beauty, what brings you here? Want to see the progress on your dress? Are you excited?" Melinda bombarded you with cheerful questions about cake flavors, flowers and honey moon spots that you definitely were not ready to answer. Well, at least she was effective in making the situation sink in, the marriage was happening. She stopped, taking in your shocked expression. "Oh, I'm sorry dear, was I supposed to be the one to gently break in the news? No one told me that and I thought you already knew."

You shook your head and Melinda got up from in front of the sewing machine, then sat down at a small sofa, tossing aside the shreds of fabric that were spread about its surface for color comparison. She patted the empty space next to her where you sat down. "Listen, sweetie, sometimes you have to take your chances and trust the people around you." Melinda spoke in a motherly tone. Since you didn't remember your biological mother, she was the closest you had, despite being too young to be your mother. She switched from mom to give you careful advice to big sister to give you mischievous advice as needed. Not that you ever had the energy to get into mischief before, but you were still amused listening to her.

"I don't fully understand what's going on," Melinda admitted. "but I know your father is not like the other merchants. He's only making it look like this is a business deal so that the others won't think it's odd, but no doubt about it, his heart is in the right place," she reassured with a smile. "Maybe he's trying to give you some freedom by getting you an exotic husband from outside of Sina. Just try to picture him, he's a scout, a brave warrior nothing short of legendary with the strength and courage to fight for humanity. I bet he's sweet and super hot," she teased.

You couldn't help it but to laugh, "okay, okay, I'll give this mystery man a chance. Maybe you're right, maybe I will like him. Maybe all I have to do is meet him and I'll know that there's nothing to worry about..."

(End of Flashback)

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 5: Conflict of Interest

Your life had been turned upside-down and you didn't know what to think of it. You stood in a dark tunnel in a an alley with a man you've only just met and married less than an hour ago. You were confused after something that was not short of being called super natural had occurred, monstrous limbs materializing out of thin air was just not normal. Yet out of all the things Levi could have said, "it all makes sense now," was not what you expected.

"I don't understand," you stated the obvious, your mind in a whirlwind of confusion.

"Your father was present at Eren Yeager's trial. When you began to show signs of being a titan yourself, he must have known your life was in danger. Because the court allowed Eren to live under my supervision, he decided to put you in the same place. This is what he was talking about when he said all marriages have secrets and those who tell them are to blame. He wasn't just talking about keeping the fact that it's arranged a secret, he expects me to keep your abilities a secret or I'll somehow be blamed for it, as if I made you this way. Then Eren will be dragged into it because he's my responsibility and taking back Maria will be a whole different picture." During his whole explanation, Levi carefully watched you for reactions. "You really had no clue..." he concluded.

"He was protecting me..." It was odd to feel relieved with all the things you just learned, more than half of which you weren't sure you fully understood. Yet you were smiling, "I knew it, I knew my father would never do anything that could hurt me. He didn't want to push me into marriage, he had no choice, he did this to protect me."

"Killing you to prevent you from going on an insane rampage that would kill who knows how many innocents would get me sentenced to, death probably, and Eren will get dragged into it. Even if I don't kill you, if another titan fight happens in the city, the Survey Corps will not come out of it unscratched. That selfish bastard created a difficult situation," Levi glared in anger.

You felt your own temper flare. "Don't you dare insult my father!" You shouted, not caring about who might hear. "He's doing what a good father should do, making sure his daughter is safe!"

"The rest of the world be damned," Levi retorted.

"That's not true!" You yelled, "my father does a lot of good, he helps a lot of people. He's not like the other greedy merchants! What makes you think I'll go on a rampage and kill anyone? I would never hurt an innocent person! Besides, don't you have a way to put this Eren I keep hearing about back in human form? Why can't you -hmp!"

You were silenced by Levi's hand over your mouth, you didn't even know how he moved to your side so quickly. "This is all to remain in absolute secrecy."

You pushed his hand away, resisting the temptation to bite it in anger. "I'm not stupid," you growled. "I know it'll be troublesome if anyone knows."

"Then that settles it," the additional voice made you jump and turned to look at the other side of the tunnel. Commander Erwin Smith emerged from the darkness, Levi appeared to have been already aware of his presence. "Several high ranking officials have been pushing for the dissolution of the Survey Corps and the execution of Eren Yaeger, using his fight with the female titan to illustrate their points, but only in a way that's convenient to them. Your father has the resources to turn the tide either way. You seem to be peculiarly unaware of your own situation."

"I don't think it's strange," you admitted, challenging Erwin's suspicious look with your certainty. "My father was trying to protect me. I have no doubts in my heart that he was hoping I would never need to hear any of this, but he took precautions anyway. He's always taken care of me..."

"You mean shelter you," Levi interjected, though he seemed to have calmed down or was trying to appear as indifferent as possible. His scowl was ever present though, you wondered if his face was physically capable of forming other expressions.

Before you could throw out a retort, Erwin interrupted, with a firm and final tone. "For the sake of the continued existence of the Survey Corps and your safety," he gave you a serious look. "All of this is to remain in absolute secrecy." A heavy silent pause floated in the air, during which neither you nor Levi presented any protests. "About the marriage," Erwin continued with the same serious tone that left no room for argument. "It would complicate things if the union's purpose was brought into question. For the sake of simplicity, can you both pretend to be willingly married?"

"I already said I would do what's needed for the scouts," Levi reaffirmed. He certainly wasn't happy about it, but he had gain an atmosphere of composure, not quite resignation, just calm composure and his constant frown.

You noted that Erwin said willingly, not happily or lovingly, just willingly. In other words, you didn't need to like Levi and he didn't need to like you, you just needed to tolerate each other. "I can deal with it too," you agreed. You were sure those two would later find a way to privately discuss all the happenings, and plot something or other, but you didn't care.

At least now you understood, in part, why you were in this difficult situation and what you needed to do. If you learned to control your abilities, if you made it possible so that you were no longer a danger to yourself or others, then this whole charade would be over. You could get a divorce and get on with your life. You just had to learn to control... a titan... The weight of the situation finally hit you beyond the heat of the moment. "I'm a monster..." You whispered before you could give it any real thought, the quiet statement had just slipped out without your brain's permission.

"Only if that's what you choose to be..." Levi began to walk up the stairs of the tunnel. You wanted to retort with a biting remark, but the lack of malice in his statement caught you off guard.

To your further surprise, Erwin nodded in accord, "part of the agreement is that you're not pressured to join the Survey Corps. Even if you join willingly, it might not be interpreted as such at the moment, so that's not an option right now. But when the tensions calm down, you could be a great asset to the Survey Corps and to humanity." You weren't sure what to say to that, so you ended up not saying anything. Even so, it was like Erwin was reading something on your face that screamed amidst your silence, something that spoke volumes that only he could hear... Or maybe, just maybe, even if you yourself didn't know what was there to be seen, perhaps Levi could hear beyond the silence too.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 6: Welcome Home

Erwin, Levi and you went on your way with no other titan incidents. Levi stayed nearby to keep an eye on you. It was making you uneasy, but not frightened. You were in a relatively safe position and he was your unwilling bodyguard. Erwin went on ahead, with Levi purposely slowing his pace, not for your benefit, but to allow Erwin to disappear ahead. You and Levi got to a small castle, which he approached. You have never walked so much in your life, but it was nice that you were physically able to do so now, so you didn't complain. You looked at the little castle, it was not what you would call a large mansion, but it was okay.

"Is this your house?" You had assumed that it was and didn't think you needed any confirmation, but you wanted to end the uncomfortable silence. If you were going to tolerate each other and make a somewhat believable act of a willing marriage, then you would have to get used to at least being able to have a casual conversation every now and then.

"No, we passed my house on the way here," Levi replied. None of the small, or at least small by your standards, residences in Rose had caught your attention. Though this wasn't the poorest sector, the middle class aesthetic was still a sharp contrast to the luxury of Sina. "This is the Survey Corps' base. I spend most of my time here and this is where you will live as well."

"Ok..." You didn't know what else to say. You weren't sure if this new development was good or bad.

The two of you went inside. You followed Levi as he navigated the structure and passed a loud room. You stopped and curiously looked in. There were a lot of tables there, occupied by many people eating dinner, wearing identical uniforms. You recognized Erwin and the three scouts from earlier. The girl spotted you and the two boys followed her gaze to the door.

You stood there, trapped in place by their curious eyes until Levi pulled you away. "With your abilities out of control, you could be a danger to them." You opened your mouth to protest but Levi spoke first, "even if you don't want to hurt them," he cut you off. "Your abilities are different from Eren's. He needs to bleed to transform, as did the female titan. You were not wounded when your legs transformed earlier, or when your hand almost transformed when you were signing the document."

You thought about when you were about to sign the document. You didn't notice anything out of the ordinary, but you weren't paying attention. Still, you didn't want to make him trust you less. You didn't care about his personal opinion, but you were not a dangerous monster and you didn't want to be treated as one, so you didn't comment on the fact that you were too distracted to notice your hand. Thinking back on it, it did kind of hurt, though you had assumed you were simply squeezing the pen too tight. A look of realization crossed your features. "It's not completely random," you concluded, "I can't explain what triggers it, but I can tell when it's happening, it hurts."

Pain seemed to be a reasonable element in the mix. "If you were to transform, you can alert me?"

"Yes," you replied without thinking.

"If you notice it," Levi added. You expected him to be angrier for some reason, but rather than becoming more hostile, the difficult situation seemed to give him something to think about and make him more focused. Maybe it was like Erwin said, maybe you could be useful to humanity and he wanted to encourage that.

"Yeah, but with all the mist everyone will notice." You paused and went over your words. Observing Levi's face you saw no surprise or realization, he must have already considered that angle. "This is the Survey Corps base... they live here too," you realized. It was surprising that so many people could live in a relatively small building, small for a residence anyway. "Are we going to keep this a secret?"

"It will cause unrest if they know and it will be inevitable that the information will reach the public. I'll just have to make sure no accidents happen, I don't want them to get dragged into trouble with the higher ranks at Sina. It might come out eventually, but the situation might be less tense then. For the time being, we'll have to keep this a secret, that's our best strategy at the moment." You mused over Levi's words, at the moment, meaning not necessarily forever. He was right, it was likely to become known eventually.

You weren't sure you ever wanted this to be known. You supposed you could show some interest in the scouts, maybe that would motivate him to be a better mentor in helping you control your titan problem, but that would be using him and he had enough of that as it was. It felt wrong to use him further, to lie to him more than absolutely necessary for self preservation. "You know... My plan, I mean, what will most likely end up happening..." Levi looked at you silently, waiting for you to continue. "I'll learn to control this, suppress it completely, then I'll go home to Sina and... and no one will ever know. We can have a divorce and you'll be rid of me."

"Understandable," he replied. "The scouts are none of your business, I was expecting that you would prefer to return home as soon as it's safe."

"So you don't feel ripped off if I don't stay and help?" You asked, a bit surprised.

"I didn't expect it," Levi's voice held only logical neutrality, but you felt almost offended. It was as if he was saying that he couldn't expect anything from you, because you were that incapable, or unwilling to cooperate. "Your will is not strong enough to be a soldier, you go with the flow too easily and let everyone else arrange your life with no complaints as long as it leads to a comfortable existence."

You could sense a bit more negativity in the elaboration he offered to your curious stare. Your expression turned to anger, but you forced it back into some semblance of neutrality. You wouldn't blow up at him, you wouldn't give him the satisfaction of annoying you. "If it leads to a comfortable existence, why would I resist the flow of life when things are going as well as they can be? If you're talking about the titan thing, I'm determined not to let that ruin my life. I just recovered from my illness and I'm ready to live like a normal person."

"If that's your only goal, to be an ordinary person, it should be easy." As you talked, Levi had led you to a room in the upper floor.

He stopped in front of a door and you considered your words. "I don't think there's anything wrong with being normal."

"There isn't," Levi agreed, though he didn't think it deserved too much merit either, from what you could observe. He opened the door and showed you the room. "I had originally planned to have you stay here. I can come and go easily from the window and everyone would assume that I'm staying here as well, to keep up appearances." Some of your luggage had been delivered to the room and the suitcases were neatly piled in a corner. "The rest of your excessive luggage is in storage," Levi commented. "These should be enough for you to get by."

You wanted to ask how he would know, though it occurred to you that they must have gone through your luggage. It was both embarrassing and infuriating, even if it was born of distrust rather than pure nosiness. The room was very small, it would take some getting used to. It was very clean and you didn't want to sound like a spoiled brat so you decided to compliment the room on that. "It's very clean," it was an honest compliment at least, since the room was neither luxurious nor in any way impressive. "You must be a very neat person."

"I am, thanks." You weren't expecting him to so readily accept the compliment that you thought was pretty weak, let alone to appreciate it. A knock on the door prevented any further discussion from taking place, as Levi replied, "come in."

Erwin entered the room, "have you two had the chance to talk?"

"Not much," Levi admitted, you had talked, but it wasn't too informative and you were sure he would want to ask you a lot of questions. You made a mental note not to get your father into trouble, he had an oath to keep as far as you knew. "We'll need to come up with new sleeping arrangements."

You didn't think there was anything wrong with the current sleeping arrangements. You would get your own room, which was actually Levi's room, and he would sneak off, letting everyone think that he was sharing the room with you. "I have no complaints with staying here," you pointed out.

"She's a lady of Sina, what can we do?" Erwin inquired.

Levi nodded, "I know, it's annoying, but there isn't much else we can do."

"It's ok, really," you insisted, thinking that they were trying to make you comfortable, though their concerns were much more basic.

Levi gave you a rather detailed look. You felt as if he was looking right through you. "I would prefer to chain her in the cellar, at least at night, but-"

Your hand flew against his cheek and he caught it before it reached its target. "Pervert!" You growled.

"What?" Levi questioned, as if the accusation had come out of nowhere.

Erwin laughed, "I think he meant it for safety reasons, so that you wouldn't do anything."

"Me? Why would I want to?!" You threw your hands in the air in exasperation.

Levi, who didn't understand why he was being accused of being a pervert of all things, tried to explain that just because you didn't want to consciously hurt anyone, didn't mean that your titan abilities would obey. "Even if it is not your will, your instinct might cause you to do something you might regret." You attempted to slap him again with the same result as before. How could his reflexes be so fast? Erwin only laughed at the exchange. "I don't see how this is amusing," Levi commented, your hand still in his.

The scouts commander patted you on the shoulder as Levi finally released your hand. "Rest assured, he really has no idea what you're talking about. He's actually talking about your titan abilities. What if you have a nightmare and it triggers them?"

"Oh..." You blushed bright red. "Well... The pain would wake me up, the whole titan thing really hurts. I'll tell you if anything is happening." You moved to the window to look out for the sake of not looking at their faces.

"Wait..." Levi suddenly came to a realization. "That's what you thought? For a lady of Sina you're a bit vulgar."

You pouted and turned to glare at him, "for a scout you sure are slow," it was a weak retort, but it was all you could come up with.

"Anyway, I can't leave you alone in this state, I'll have to stay here." Before you could protest, he added with a certain hint of indignation, "I won't lay a finger on you," as if you were some filthy thing.

You threw your head back and turned back to the window, "likewise." You sniffled quietly. You didn't want to cry, not with anyone present at least. "Can you leave me alone now?"

"No," Levi reminded, "I understand that you don't want to hurt anyone," at least he wasn't bringing that into doubt. "But I can't leave you alone to deal with your titan power."

You hardly felt powerful. "Problem," you corrected.

"It doesn't have to be... But Eren, Mikasa and Armin will have a problem to deal with after dinner," Levi headed for the door. "Would you mind keeping an eye... keeping our guest company while I talk to them?"

"I don't mind, Erwin agreed. Levi left the room.

You kept your eyes out the window, letting the tears flow down your face. "I hate him," you growled.

"Wait, I thought we concluded that he's not a pervert," Erwin pointed out.

"I know that!" You yelled in embarrassment. "I'm just a burden who could possibly be a resource, not even a person. Why can't I be treated as a person?"

"This is a lot to take in, Levi is trying to plan everything out. He's trying to keep the scouts safe from any accidents. He knows that if he messes up, your father will use his influence to end the Survey Corps and Eren. He has come to care for the scouts, even with all the setbacks we often face. I don't know when I might die, none of us do, but taking the fight to the titans is what's important to us. To fight back and defend humanity," Erwin explained. "We're not going to make any progress hiding behind these walls, our resources are barely enough to maintain the population and the terrain will only become more exhausted and live stock rarer than it already is."

You sniffled, blushing a little, attributing it to the crying. "I guess resources might become scarce in the future."

"They already are," Erwin voiced. "You might not notice it in Sina, but here it's evident."

"That bad?" You questioned with genuine curiosity.

"It does get bad for some people," Erwin nodded. "This will be a learning experience for you in more ways than one." He patted you on the head to reassure you. You dried your eyes and smiled, just to be polite in thanks for the consolation.

Though the contents of the conversation were grim when you really thought about it, Erwin's voice was patient, understanding and gentle. Furthermore, he showed some concern for you. It didn't feel wrong or invasive when he patted you on the head. "Thank you for cheering me up, Mr. Smith."

He smiled, "call me Erwin." He paused in thought, then asked, "shall we go see what Levi is up to?"

You would rather stay there and talk to Erwin, he was nice. At the same time you were also curious about what Levi was doing. "Can we?"

"I'm sure he's instructing the cadets right now," Erwin guessed. You recalled that Eren was the one who could turn into a titan. "Maybe it would be good if you saw him on the job, then you'd see he's not as bad as you might think. He does care for the scouts, though that must all be put aside for the sake of the greater good." You didn't fully understand what he meant, but since he had suggested it, you felt that you had little choice but to go see Levi. It was ok though, since you were kind of curious.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 7: A Loving Husband

Erwin led you down stairs, casually explaining his purpose along the way. "It's inevitable that you'll have some interaction with the scouts," he explained. "It's also inevitable that the marriage will be known, especially after what Eren, Mikasa and Armin thought they witnessed."

"Speaking of that," you curiously began. "When did you get to the tunnel?"

"I saw Levi run into it with you and went around the other side," Erwin explained. "I saw the partial transformation, but Levi seemed to have things under control, so I didn't interfere." Plus if things did get out of control, a surprise attack would be useful. He didn't say it, but you could easily guess the thought must have crossed his mind. You didn't point it out though.

"So... Um... Eren, Mikasa and Armin..." You repeated their names, committing them to memory. "What do you think they'll do?"

"They didn't see any of the titan manifestations," Erwin further confirmed though that was already known to you. "I believe they assumed you and Levi were..." He paused, as if not wanting to trigger any negative reactions from you.

"Making out," you sighed. The sigh was clearly of exasperation, not desire.

"Exactly," Erwin agreed. "I understand it must be uncomfortable, but don't forget, you are to be introduced as Levi's wife. The cadets will assume that things happen behind closed doors." You blushed, great, just great, how were you supposed to look at them in the face now? "I guess the blushing bride angle isn't bad for now, but you need to become a better actress, for your protection and theirs. You did say you didn't want to hurt anyone."

"I don't," you insisted. "I'll try not to be too awkward, but I'm not kissing him!"

"That's fine, public displays of affection like that would be a bit out of character for Levi," Erwin assured. You appreciated that he was trying to make you feel better.

You didn't know if he was trying to manipulate you to his advantage, but then what could he do? You would divorce Levi as soon as you were in control and leave. "I'm leaving, you know, after I'm in control, divorcing and going back to Sina."

"That's too bad," Erwin commented, though he showed no anger. "I suppose it can't be helped, just stay open to the possibility of changing your mind, even if it seems unlikely."

"Ok," you nodded, glad that he was understanding.

You and Erwin arrived at the mess hall, most of the scouts were gone, their empty plates and used eating utensils still occupying the tables. A few scouts that had taken a little longer to finish eating exited the mess hall, giving Eren, Mikasa and Armin sad looks of compassion.

Levi was there, giving the trio a disapproving look. "Do you know why I assigned you three to clean the whole mess hall and wash all the dishes for the next week? Eren?"

"No, sir," Eren quietly answered. You looked at him curiously, brown hair, green eyes, totally normal looking, but he could transform into a titan. Then again there was nothing unusual about your appearance either.

Mikasa remained quiet, though the look on her face made it evident that she thought the punishment was unfair. She was aware of your presence, she had looked towards the entrance when you arrived with Erwin, while the two boys kept their gazes on their feet. The other boy, Armin, had kept his eyes on the floor the whole time, face slightly flushed as if it was too soon for him to look at Levi in the face after what he thought they had stumbled on.

"Are you sure you don't know?" Levi inquired again. "Armin?"

"Sorry sir," Armin choked out.

"Look at me when I speak to you, cadet," you thought Levi was being unnecessarily harsh, though you didn't know what the three had done. Maybe they were trouble makers, though they didn't look like they were.

"Yes, sir!" Armin looked at Levi, his face red.

"Now answer the question," Levi stated sternly.

"Yes, sir, I'm sorry, sir," Armin gulped and pushed his words out. "We're being punished because we... We saw... We saw you making out!"

Your face turned tomato red and Erwin shook his head, Levi did not look amused. "Wrong answer!" The captain shouted, which caused Armin to apologize again.

"Try to practice not blushing so much, or at least twitching less." Erwin whispered to you. You finally understood why he was making you witness this. He knew the subject of the make out would come up and it was a good chance for you to practice not being so awkward. If Levi was your husband, it made sense that you had kissed him before. You could be a blushing bride as Erwin had said, but it would look suspicious if you were entirely uncomfortable.

"I'll try," you took a deep breath and tried to calm down.

"Do you know the answer to my question, Mikasa?" Levi finally asked.

Mikasa considered it for a moment, before smartly replying, "We deviated from the route we were instructed to take and did not purchase the necessary supplies. It was my fault, I take full responsibility, sir."

"Don't you always?" Levi commented. "Your answer was correct, but it's funny that whenever Eren or Armin's chores are not up to my standards it's always your fault somehow? Well then, if it's your fault, you should wash the dishes alone," he concluded.

You looked at the mess hall, those were a lot of dirty dishes. Mikasa didn't protest, she was displeased, but managed to answer with an unwavering "yes, sir."

"No!" Eren interrupted. "It was my fault, I saw you running through the streets with a woman. I was the first one to get curious. I was the one who assumed you wouldn't mind if we stopped by to talk to you," he quickly explained. "It was my fault, sir, I'll wash the dishes."

"I share the blame," Armin added. "We only wanted to see if there was anything we could help with. We're sorry we interrupted your date, please forgive us, sir. I'll wash the dishes."

"Fine," Levi agreed, "all three of you will wash the dishes... Or you would wash them if we had sponges," Levi scolded. "Keeping the dishes and eating utensils clean is of the outmost importance, as is cleanness in general. Thankfully, I managed to find some sponges in storage that had not been used for anything. You will use those and as you clean the dishes, think about how awful it would be if you didn't have proper sponges to work with. Now go."

Erwin approached Levi while Eren, Mikasa and Armin got busy piling dirty dishes into their arms to take to the kitchen. "That was harsh," you complained. "Those three can't clean this place up by themselves. It would take fifty maids. The three of them will be up all night."

"Normally, everyone takes their dishes to the kitchen and two or three people wash them. They are different every day of the week so everyone gets experience in all the different areas of cleaning," Levi explained. He didn't question Erwin's decision to bring you over. "They don't need the whole evening, let along the night to finish this chore. One more thing... Those new bath sponges that were packed for you, I confiscated them."

Your jaw dropped, the nerve of him! "How am I supposed to wash?"

"Water, soap, and your hands," Levi stated the obvious, making you feel like an idiot. "Do I need to show you how to," he paused and cleared his throat, then made a correction. "Explain, do I need to explain how to do that?"

Your face turned red when you realized what his initial phrasing had sounded like, perhaps more so because he was aware of it and corrected himself. You bit your lip and looked to Erwin, hoping he would say something and push the conversation towards less awkward territory, but he was already walking out of the mess hall. "Sure, I'd love to hear it," you decided sarcasm was sassier than silence.

"Well, you should start by making sure the water is a proper temperature. Hot water works best, but of course, not hot enough to damage your skin," Levi recited as you stared at him. Did he just totally one up your sarcasm by answering to it as if it wasn't sarcasm? "When you remove your clothing you should place it on the hamper, never leave it on the floor. Since you'll be using your hands to wash the rest of your body, you should start by making sure they're clean." You were starting to realize that he wasn't being sarcastic, he was actually lecturing you on how to bathe. Was he some kind of neat freak? "Start by wetting the soap and rubbing it on your hands. The consistency of the foam should be-"

"Wait," you interrupted.

"Do you have any questions?" Levi inquired with a straight face.

"Did you realize that I was being sarcastic?" You couldn't help it but to ask.

"Of course I realized it, but I decided to instruct you anyway. You'll be sleeping on my bed." He made a pause and added in a quiet tone to make sure no one else heard, "which I will not be sleeping on myself."

You blushed, was he going to keep bringing that up? "You didn't need to specify that. Anyway," you eagerly changed the subject. "I still think you were too harsh on those three."

"Do you want to help them?" That was sarcasm, that was very clearly sarcasm, but also a challenge. It wasn't one of those stupid challenges where people said something along the lines of 'prove it' and the other person stupidly did what they wanted for the sake of receiving credit that wasn't worth it.

This was different, it was your chance to show him you were more than just the spoiled, sheltered girl he thought you were. He expected you to say no, but instead you said "yes," and you gave him a challenging smile. "And since you're such a wonderful husband, you're going to help out too."

Part of you was sure you had won and the other part was weary of how easily Levi agreed to it. "Very well, I suppose cleaning together is a good bonding activity, and we should keep up the act." The funny part was that he didn't sound sarcastic at all.

Was cleaning a bonding activity? You didn't know, the maids did all the cleaning, you've never cleaned anything before. You were both confused and curious as you walked alongside Levi towards the kitchen. Eren, Mikasa and Armin had finished transporting the dishes there and were busily washing them.

The first thing Levi did when he entered the kitchen was pick up the three discarded jackets from the counter. "You need to be neater than this, have you learned nothing?" He folded them and placed them aside, then went to inspect some of the clean dishes, which made the cadets tense up. "Why is no one drying the dishes?"

The three cadets were in front of a very large sink, their sleeves rolled up to their elbows, hands covered in soap, holding your sponges. "We thought that we should wash them first and let them dry while we washed the rest. Then if they were still wet when we finished, we could finish drying them," Eren tried to explain.

"Unacceptable!" Levi scolded. "That is a lazy shortcut. You need to dry the dishes immediately or they won't shine. Lucky for you, my wife has decided she wants to help and I'll be helping as well."

Armin dropped a glass and it shattered on the floor. "I'm sorry sir!" He quickly went to pick it up, with Mikasa and Eren automatically going on their knees as well to help him.

"Eren, don't pick it up, it's dangerous for you to get any cuts," Levi protested. He was referring to Eren's titan abilities, you realized.

"Oh right, I'm very sorry sir, I'll be more careful," Eren instead went back to washing the dishes.

"Sheesh, do you have to be so stern?" You joined the other two in picking up the glass shards before Levi could stop you. It was an automatic action with no real thought other than good intentions. You didn't realize that you could be at risk of transforming as well. "Ouch!"

Levi rushed to your side, the worry evidenced by his speed. You instinctually put your finger in your mouth, though Levi pulled it out and examined your hand. He gave you a serious look, "are you alright?"

You blushed because he was staring right at you with his piercing eyes and he was still holding your hand. "Yes, I'm fine." Then your brain finally decided to remind you that you were a titan shifter too, not just Eren. "I'm okay, really."

"Maybe you shouldn't do this," Levi suggested, though it felt, albeit not really sounded, more so like an order.

"I'm fine," you reaffirmed with a somewhat believable smile. You didn't want to be treated like a caged animal.

"We'll go over there and dry the dishes." Realizing that you weren't going to change your mind, Levi agreed. The complete absence of the titan mist that preceded your past partial transformation reassured his choice, though he still positioned himself between you and the three dish washers, who were giving him curious looks. As a way of explanation, he offered, "I was going to introduce her to everyone tomorrow, but since you already met her, this is (Name), she is my wife and will be living here from now on."

"Nice to meet you," you smiled a bit nervously, though you didn't think it was too suspicious. You were moving to a new place and were meeting your husband's coworkers and friends for the first time. It was ok and even natural to be a little nervous.

"Nice to meet you too, I'm Eren," you had a feeling that he would have shaken your hand if Levi wasn't so firmly planted between you and if his hands weren't covered in soap. "These are my friends, Mikasa and Armin."

Mikasa gave a simple, "hello," that hinted at some level of curiosity, while Armin gave you a shy, "hi, it's nice... meeting you..." He smiled a little shyly, but he seemed to be getting over whatever shock the fact that you were Levi's wife had put him into.

You started to dry a dish, only to have Levi correct you and instruct you on how to properly do it, though he did so as nicely as possible, for appearances' sake, taking your hand and moving it along the dish to demonstrate, though that only made you blush more. you wished you didn't get embarrassed so easily, but you couldn't help it. Because of your past illness, you'd never even done as much as hold hands with a man before.

You could tell that Eren, Mikasa and Armin were curious about you, but they didn't want to appear nosy in front of Levi. Maybe you could talk to them later, Erwin did mention that you would be interacting with the scouts. you'd have to talk to Levi about it to get your stories straights. If this was a willing marriage, then there had to be an equally willing courtship before it, and it would be odd if your stories didn't match. That conversation might turn out to be uncomfortable, but you knew it had to happen and surely Levi must have thought about it too, so he would likely bring it up soon if you didn't.

Without warning, your stomach growled. "You never got around to eating dinner," Levi recalled.

"Neither did you," you observed.

"I got caught up in the cleaning," Levi admitted, actually sounding like he was enjoying it. He really must be a neat freak. "You should go eat, it's not good for you to be hungry." To anyone else, this and the scene when you cut your finger might appear to be Levi being a caring husband, but you knew he was concerned about anything that might turn you into a monster. The thought did scare you, which was why you decided not to think about it. You would let Levi concern himself with the titan and follow his lead in regards to that issue.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 8: Interrogation Conversation

After dinner, you finished helping with the dishes and returned to Levi's room, exhausted. Dinner wasn't so bad, the food wasn't as pretty and decorated or as tasty as Artie's, but it was ok. You could hope that tomorrow's menu was better, but for now, you were just hoping that Levi's bed was soft. He went into his room along with you, making it clear that he wasn't about to let you go straight to sleep. "We need to agree on our story."

"Now?" You dropped across the bed, your legs dangling over the edge. "I'm so tired." You moved to lie down properly and let out a little squeak of surprise when Levi grabbed your ankles.

He pushed your legs back down and scolded, "shoes off."

"Alright, alright!" You removed your shoes and lay down, ankles crossed, hands behind your head. If they wanted you to act comfortable around Levi, then you might as well start practicing. "I'm listening."

Levi sat on a chair, expression serious. "Tell me about your past."

"My past? Ok..." You thought about what you could say, there wasn't much to tell really. "I was sick until recently. I didn't do much except sleep most of the time. At Sina I lived with my father and the staff. My mother passed away when I was a toddler and I don't remember much about her. My father has always been very kind to me. My closest friends other than my father are Melinda, the seamstress, Artie, the chef, their son Tony, one of our younger maids, Mary Anne and Dr. Facio... Oh and I have a pink poodle named Fluffy, but she likes Tony best. I tried to play with her before leaving for Rose and she just barked at me." That had made you a little sad. Though Fluffy had never been too close to you because you didn't have the energy to play with her much, she had never been hostile towards anyone before. "What about you?"

Levi's explanation was more so about the Survey Corps than himself. He told you about the scouts, Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Erwin, Hange, who was crazy, or so he said, Sasha, Connie, Jean, Krista and the others. You tried your best to pay attention, but you knew you'd forget more than half the things he said by tomorrow, if not sooner. You would remember Eren, Mikasa and Armin, since you had met them, and of course, Erwin, but the others were still a mystery to you. Levi only gave you basic information and physical descriptions along with a few minor details such as quiet, loud, clumsy with a mop and so on. You didn't really feel particularly informed, but you did feel a little overwhelmed.

You realized that, thinking back on it, you never really knew the whole mansion staff. You could recognize the familiar faces and know that you had seen them before, but other than the chef, the seamstress and the maid assigned to clean after you, you had little occasion to cross paths with anyone else. On a good day, if you did feel well enough to walk around, you ended up going to Melinda and not really talking to anyone new.

You had a feeling that Levi knew more about the scouts that he wasn't telling. It was ok though, you'd just get to know them at your own pace and then... Then you'd get a divorce and leave... But nothing was to stop you from maintaining correspondence with the scouts if you made friends. You tried to be optimistic and were so lost in your own thoughts that you missed Levi's question.

"Are you even listening to me?" Levi woke you from your thoughts.

"Um... What was it?" You gave him an innocent look, there was really no use in pretending you knew what the question had been.

"I asked you to explain what the illness you mentioned was. If it had such a big influence in your life as you make it sound, I should have heard about it before," Levi reasoned.

"I don't know what it was," you admitted. "It killed my mother, it's some genetic failure I guess. Don't worry, it's not contagious and I'm cured anyway."

"You recovered when your titan abilities manifested?" Levi inquired. You shrugged and didn't voice a reply. "What caused you to change?" You didn't reply. Levi tried to maintain a patient attitude, reminding himself that this wasn't a military interrogation, but a conversation. "From what I understand, you must have become this way to save your life."

"Yes," you nodded, maybe more so to reassure yourself than anything else. "It was all done with good intentions."

"And good intentions aside, simply asking for help from the scouts was out of the question," Levi mused aloud, as if to observe your reaction.

"Well... I guess the communication between Sina and the Survey Corps isn't always the best," you reasoned. "Besides, why would you help? Wouldn't it just be troublesome for you to help me learn to repress this problem and get little in return? I mean, you could be paid, but my father doesn't know you, how can he trust you? He felt that he had no choice but to get something to hold over your head. He won't end the scouts though. I know he won't, he's not a bad person. This doesn't have to be complicated."

"Why involve the scouts at all?" Levi wondered. "Why not just hide you in your mansion and use bribery on the court if your condition ever became public? I'm not a titan shifter expert, I was simply put in charge of Eren because I can kill him if he gets out of control. Controlling his abilities is something that he's learning on his own, you might have been better off in the familiar comfort of your home."

You took in Levi's words. Why were you sent away? Was your father worried that he wouldn't be able to keep you under control? Why didn't he accompany you to Rose? Was he actually afraid of you? How could he be? You would never hurt him or anyone dear to you. "I don't know," the situation was difficult and hurtful. You felt your eyes water again.

"If that not knowing bothers you, then ask about it. Ask for an explanation, even if you don't share it with me, ask for your own sake," Levi suggested.

You nodded, "ok..." albeit you guessed he wanted to get that information out of you. You also wondered if the explanations would be denied to stop him or Erwin from making you talk. They couldn't harm you, or openly pressure you, but they could gently get you caught up in conversation. There was more than one way to interrogate someone, and you had a feeling that they knew plenty. Even so, everything was so overwhelming you were just about ready to snap. You looked at Levi, then turned your head to stare at the ceiling, his eyes were so piercing you didn't know if you wanted to look more, or look away, so you settled for the latter.

"So..." Levi continued as if this was just a casual conversation between friends. "How did we meet?"

You thought the question was odd. You met when you went to sign the marriage document. But then you realized he was referring to your fake story. "At Sina, I suppose... What might have made you go there?"

"I could be picking up supplies for the Survey Corps, or going over a supply contract," Levi suggested. "Usually, Erwin takes care of that, since he's the commander, but I could have filled in. You could have been present because your father's business alliance sometimes supplies the scouts."

"Right," you nodded, the story sounded believable so far. "Maybe you had to stay in Sina to see to other business and since you had some free time between meetings we talked and looked around." You just hoped they didn't ask for too many details about Sina, you didn't go out much due to your past state of fragility, so you weren't exactly an expert on your home town.

"Then we saw each other whenever I could take a break from the scouts..." Levi mused. "Which wasn't often," he recalled.

"We wrote to each other and made every moment count," you added. This was sounding like a cute little love story, even if it was a lie. It was kind of fun to invent things like this. "What kind of dates did we go on?"

Levi paused for a moment... "Shopping for cleaning supplies together?"

You laughed, then realized it was an actual suggestion. "That's not very romantic," you admitted. "How about shopping for jewels, jewels are romantic."

"How about just looking around the city? On the subject of jewels, here," Levi pulled a little box out of his pocket and tossed it to you. You failed to catch it and it landed on your stomach. It was a minor annoyance, but the box was small, so it didn't hurt. "That's supposed to be your ring. Don't ask me how I managed to get my hands on a diamond that big."

"It's beautiful," you put the ring on an admired it. You knew this was purchased by your father, for the sake of your fake marriage, but it was still pretty. "Taking a walk around the city and just relaxing sounds like a good date," you agreed, still mesmerized by the large diamond.

"Don't you have a whole collection of other jewels?" Levi asked with some level of annoyance that he seemed to be trying to hold back.

"I guess so, I've never had much occasion to wear them though," you mused.

"They didn't really pack much for you in the way of jewelry," Levi observed.

"Oh..." You shrugged. "I don't mind. I guess it's better if I don't stand out too much. So..." you continued, "what other dates did we go on?"

Levi shrugged, "where would you have wanted to go?"

"A ball? Balls are always so pretty and exciting in stories!" You smiled dreamily.

"Ever been to one?" Levi inquired.

"No," you admitted.

"Lucky you," he replied.

"How come? Have you been to a ball?" You shifted your position on the bed to rest at your side and look at him.

"Unfortunately yes. Some merchant was trying to get a good reputation by participating on a charity event for people who were still struggling after the loss of Maria. The Survey Corps needed representatives to be there, so Erwin, Hange and I got dragged into it," the memory was clearly not a good one for Levi.

Even if it was evident in his voice that he had not enjoyed the ordeal, you eagerly asked, "was it fun? Was it pretty? Did you have a date? Did you dance? Did you eat cake?"

"No, I don't care, no, against my will and a little," Levi replied.

You went over the order of your questions and his replies in your head. Fun, no, pretty, don't care, dancing, unwillingly, cake, a little. "Tell me about the dance," you smiled widely. The unwilling dances were always the most interesting in stories, because the unwillingness was always a pretence.

Levi frowned, "I don't see how that's relevant."

"Aw, cmon!" You whined.

"Just some stupid merchants trying to show how kind they are by dancing with the scouts," Levi elaborated.

"I've never danced," you pouted. "I want to try it, at least once in my life." You paused, realizing how silly you sounded. You had more energy now and were awake enough to be sufficiently coordinated, at least in theory. "I guess I can now that I'm healthy. It's funny, thinking of these simple things that I couldn't do before, but now they could become reality." Dancing with your prince charming, going on real dates, your first kiss... "So... um... When was our first kiss?" Levi shrugged, letting you decide for yourself. You thought about it, trying to come up with something exciting. "In the middle of a battle field with titans all around!"

"Did you get that from a novel? It's too unrealistic," Levi pointed out.

"I know, I know," you laughed. "I was just kidding. How about on the rooftop of my home under the stars?"

"Sounds reasonable. Is there anything else you think they'll ask?" Levi inquired. He wasn't really expecting the story to need too many details other than how you met and a few dates.

"How did you ask me to marry you?" You hoped his reply was at least a little creative.

He shrugged. "Will you marry me? Like that."

You rolled your eyes, "we went for a walk in the underground city and you asked me there, okay?"

Levi gave you a curious look, but quickly regained a neutral expression. "No one goes there."

"I want to go," you eagerly shared your enthusiasm. "I know most if not all of the urban legends about the underground city are fake, but it'll still be interesting to see the real life place where all those legends were inspired. What do you think it's like down there?"

"I wouldn't know," for some reason, you got the feeling that he was lying, even if it was such an odd detail to lie about.

"I guess that's it then... Unless you can think of something else?" You yawned, hoping that it really was over. You were very tired from the busy day, but at least you managed to have a civilized conversation with Levi and that somehow felt like a victory.

"Not really..." A knock on the door interrupted Levi from speaking further. He was surprised by it, but quickly went to see who it was. His guess was that it would be Erwin, but instead he found a woman with glasses and a large box in her arms.

"Could you take this? It's heavy!" Without waiting for a reply, she shoved the box into Levi's arms. "Well, it's early, so I hope I'm not interrupting anything. That box was left in the basement, good thing I noticed it." You had finished sitting up when she spotted you and rushed over. "Nice to meet you (Name), I'm Hange," she took both your hands in greeting. "Has your husband told you about me? I research titans."

"And the grapevine," Levi added.

"You were going to introduce her tomorrow anyway," Hange reminded, showing that she was indeed well informed. It's not like Levi had told Eren, Mikasa and Armin that this was supposed to be a secret, and who knew how many people had heard about it before you were even introduced to them. Seeing Levi making out, as they had assumed they did, was irresistible news that begged to be shared. "Are you interested in titan research?" Hange's eyes shone as she asked.

You never really gave it much thought beyond the heroic tales of fiction, but you did have a titan problem of your own. It was supposed to remain a secret, but even ordinary people sometimes got curious about the titans. Yet Levi was shaking his head. Would it really be that suspicious if you showed a moderate amount of interest? "Um... well..."

Hange suddenly looked in Levi's direction. "I saw you," she pouted. "I get it, you think I'm going to chew her ear off with my research. I did stay up all night talking to Eren that one time. I think he very much enjoyed our chat and it was very interesting." She took a few steps towards the door. "I get it, I can take a hint, you want your bride all to yourself. Don't worry (Name) when Levi burns enough energy to bear the thought of sharing your time, we can have a nice long chat about titans. Good thing I brought your books, that should give you some inspiration to tire him out faster," she giggled.

"Get out," Levi growled. Giggling nonstop, Hange retreated out of the room and Levi locked the door behind her. "I should have burned your stupid books. I don't want the scouts getting a hold of them, especially the new recruits."

You curiously examined the box Hange had delivered, confused by the words. "What are these books anyway? And what did she mean by tiring you out?" You picked up one of the books at random and instantly dropped it in realization, as if it was made of fire. "Don't answer," you blushed bright red. "These are not my books," you defended. "These are Melinda's, she used to read them to me because I was bedridden and would probably never have the energy to go on a date, let alone get a husband. I didn't pack them, they're not mine. It's not like I asked her to read them. She's like a big sister to me, she was just trying to... I don't know, make it so I wouldn't entirely miss out on this aspect of life? Please don't tell my father, I don't want to get her into trouble. There's no way he knows she packed these for me." Your face kept turning a deeper shade of red as you recalled listening to Melinda read the explicit romantic novels. Often, Mary Anne would join in to lend an ear. While Melinda tried to paint a pretty picture in your life despite your past limitations, Mary Anne was more frank. "Just so you know, my favorite parts were the action scenes with sword fights and stuff like that."

"What you read in your spare time is none of my business," Levi informed. He indifferently approached the window and used his ODM gear to climb out.

Great, just great, Levi thought you were a pervert. You knew Melinda was trying to cheer you up with this little joke delivery, if it even was a joke on her part. You certainly hoped it was, because there was no reason for you to ever kiss this man, let alone do more. This was only a pretend marriage, even if that fact was to remain a secret.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 9: Fear

The next day, Levi returned to his room through the window and woke you up. You were startled by his presence bent over the bed hovering over you as he shook your shoulder and commented, "you sleep like a rock."

Your face was bright red from the uncalled dreams that had invaded your subconscious. You hoped that he would just assume that it was perfectly normal for a girl to blush upon waking up for no reason what so ever. It was a long shot to hope for such luck, but it was better than taking your chances with a comment of your own, thus you remained silent.

Satisfied with your mostly awake state, Levi headed for the door. "Let's go have breakfast with everyone. I need to introduce you to them officially. Don't take too long to get ready."

"Good morning to you too," you pouted as he exited the room and closed the door behind him.

You hurried to get ready, digging through your bags to find something to wear. You missed having Melinda pick out your clothing and leave them in the bathroom for you to change into at whatever time you got up. At least you recalled to toss your clothes into the hamper when you changed, like Levi said, instead of leaving them wherever for Mary Anne to pick up.

After you felt more or less ready for the day, though still a bit drowsy, you exited the room and found Levi waiting at the door. "What took so long?"

"I had to find my clothes," you truthfully replied. "I didn't finish checking all the suitcases last night."

"You don't have servants here," Levi reminded. "You have to learn to pick up after yourself."

"I did," you defended. "I'm just not a morning person."

The two of you headed to the mess hall quietly. Levi was such an enigma. Part of the time you couldn't stand him, part of the time you were curious about him, part of the time you thought you could be friends and most of the time there was a barrier between you. You decided there and then, that even if it was for nothing, even if you were to go your separate ways in the end, you would solve the enigma that was Levi, if only for curiosity's sake.

You and Levi arrived at the mess hall. The place was filled with all the scouts, noisily chatting as they ate breakfast. Yet the whole room fell silent as Levi entered with you at his side. As you walked beside him, a few soft murmurs emerged from the quietude, but they dissolved just as quickly as they came. It was just enough for you to catch small bits and pieces, such as the observation that Levi was slightly late to breakfast this morning. You gathered that he was particularly punctual and people had their theories to explain his lateness, though they dared not discuss them in his presence even as a whisper. You had never felt so many pairs of eyes on you and it was making you very uncomfortable.

Levi suddenly stopped between two tables in the middle of the room and simply said. "Everyone, this is my wife, (Name), she will be living here from now on." Then he continued walking while everyone continued staring at your blushing face. Levi sat down and you sat down next to him, not knowing what else to do.

Hange put plates of food in front of you and Levi, using the delivery of food as an excuse to sit across from the two of you. "So (Name), do you think that you'll have time to chat about titan research this evening?" She immediately inquired.

"Um... I don't know?" You offered shy and quiet.

"I guess I shouldn't expect you to be available in the evenings for a while," Hange mused aloud. You thought you heard a whistle from one of the neighboring tables, but you couldn't pin point the culprit. "Hey Levi, weren't you going to take a few cadets and clean the yard? Those leaves are really coming down and I know how much you hate them piling up. Can I borrow (Name) while you do that?"

"No, she'll be raking leaves with us," Levi replied.

"Wow, I guess it wasn't an exaggeration," Hange laughed. "I heard you're such a caring husband, fussing about every little detail to please your lovely bride," she teased.

"It's none of your business," Levi replied coolly.

You looked around while the conversation went on, noticing that the majority of the scouts, save for Erwin and a handful of others, who were still calmly sitting in the same spot, had moved closer to your position and were surrounding you and Levi.

"Is there a reason for this mutiny?" Levi inquired. You unconsciously scooted  closer to him as the scouts formed a tighter circle around the two of you.

"I hardly call this mutiny, we're showing our support," Hange smiled mischievously. "We need to see it to really believe it, we're still in shock. We didn't even know you had a girlfriend."

You began to recite the false story you and Levi agreed on last night in your head, in preparation to answer any number of curious questions. Yet instead of requesting information, led by Hange, the scouts began to chant, "kiss! Kiss! Kiss!"

Your face was so hot you were starting to fear it would go up in flames. At least there was no titan mist anywhere. You were frozen in place, completely stiff and embarrassed, wishing that the floor would swallow you up. Then you felt Levi's lips on your cheek, brief and just barely perceptible.

"Satisfied?" Levi glared.

"No!" Hange complained, "we want a real kiss!" The scouts continued to chant, "kiss! Kiss! Kiss!"

Fed up with the display, Levi stood up and loudly declared, "we will clean every fallen leaf, in all of Rose!"

There was a collective gasp among the scouts and a terrible silence invaded the mess hall. Then something peculiar happened. It started with Armin, it continued with Eren, Mikasa looked at her friends, shrugged and joined in, then the rest of the scouts, Hange included, started doing it too. They were all looking at you, lips puckered, eyes wide, they were like sad kittens begging for mercy. You shifted uncomfortably, put on the spot. "Um... Levi... Aren't you being a little hard on them?"

"You're too soft," Levi calmly replied.

"But there are a lot of fallen leaves in Rose, I mean, it is the fall season, so..." You tried to argue in their behalf.

"Someone has to clean them," Levi stated.

"Not all in the same day," you tried to reason with him.

"Just kiss him," Hange whispered.

You gulped, unsure of what to do. Your fear of embarrassment evolved into something more. Just as you had when you signed the document and when you were walking with Levi, you feared for your life, not for death, but for discomfort. You feared the hardship that would surround your life if you couldn't learn to deal with this crazy situation. Would you always be embarrassed, awkward and wishing so strongly to run away? You wanted to run away so badly... Then you felt it, a pain on your legs, like the pain on your hand when you wanted to shatter the pen and not sign the marriage document and like the pain on your legs the last time you felt the urge to run away.

It was a response to fear, you realized, a sort of fight or flight instinct, the first time you had wanted to fight the path that had been set before you and the second time you wanted to run away, now again you wished to run. You looked at Levi, getting just close enough to whisper in his ear, "it hurts..." he would know what you meant.

He wrapped his arms around you, not for your protection as it appeared to the observers, but to protect everyone else in the room by restraining you. He peeked under the table and saw the mist, but everyone else was focused on your blushing face. You buried your face on his shoulder and tried to calm down. "I can stop it," you whispered to him.

"Stop staring," Levi scolded menacingly, "you're making her uncomfortable."

Most of the crowd dispersed with just Hange, you and Levi remaining at that table. You took deep even breaths and peeked over Levi's shoulder. Most people had gone back to eating their breakfast, though they still gave you sideway glances and quietly commented in surprise about how sweet Levi was, being all protective of you. "I think I'm ok," you weren't entirely calm, but calm enough so that the titan mist was gone.

Levi glared at Hange, who was sitting across from the two of you, her chin resting on her folded hands. She jumped back and scurried off to a different table without another word. Once she was gone, Levi whispered, "did you learn something?"

You nodded, "it's fear," you whispered back. "The mist only happens if I'm scared and want to defend myself or run away."

"Sounds like things you wouldn't be exposed to if you had stayed at Sina," Levi quietly whispered. The scouts probably thought you were telling each other sweet nothings or something.

"Then why... Why was I sent here?" The question weighed heavily on your shoulders. You needed to speak to your father somehow. You needed to know what was really going on. You ate some more breakfast, though the stress had mostly made you lose your appetite and it wasn't as good as Artie's food anyway. "I'm done..." you finally announced.

Levi got up, leaving the dirty dishes on the table for Eren, Mikasa and Armin to take care of later. He placed his arm around your waist as you walked out of the mess hall. You didn't think he was reassuring you as much as restraining you just in case you turned into a crazy half titan killing machine. You didn't want to think about that now, the only thing that occupied your mind was knowing why your father had truly send you away if he could have kept you safe at Sina. You leaned into Levi and closed your eyes, allowing him to lead you away into a safer location, or the illusion of it.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 10: Friends

Since you weren't supposed to leave Rose, you had to communicate with your father by letter. You knew the letter would be intercepted, but yours didn't have anything that Levi didn't already know and your father must have figured out that they would be keeping an eye on your mail. Even if that made him unable to answer, he would at least know about your confusion and maybe send you a sign. You weren't harsh in your letter, just confused. After it was sent, there was little more to do but to wait for the reply to arrive.

Erwin wouldn't let Levi overtake all of Rose with a cleaning spree, citing something about jurisdiction, so the scouts just focused on keeping the base spotless. You helped out with some chores, but the scouts had become rather fond of you and didn't want you working too hard. They thought the scene where you hid your face and hugged Levi was just too cute. The first month passed by uneventfully. You didn't have any other titan episodes and you were cordially getting along with Levi now that you were teased significantly less, thanks to his deadly glares.

xoxox xox xoxox

It was mid morning and you had gone back to your room after breakfast to write some more letters to send out to Sina. You wanted to catch up with your few friends from back home. Then you heard Levi called from the hallway, "(Name)?"

"Come in!" You responded, at least he had never walked in on you while you were changing. He left at night by the window and didn't return until the morning to wake you up.

"You've been here for a while without incident," Levi stated. "So I think it's time you take on more responsibilities, such as doing your own laundry."

"Huh?" You blinked, you haven't thought of that before. "Now that you mention it, who has been doing my laundry?"

"I have, and this is the last time I will," Levi walked passed you and into the bathroom while you just stood there open mouth and red faced.

Embarrassing laundry issues aside, you decided that this was as good a time as any to ask the nagging question that had been floating in the back of your mind. "Levi... Did you have a girlfriend before we got married?" You wondered if you were keeping him from someone he cared about, someone that he couldn't wait to get back to as soon as the divorce was done.

Levi emerged from the bathroom with the hamper and a murderous aura.

"Levi?" you didn't think your question would bother him that much.

"Don't talk to me," he growled in response and gave you a glare that made your blood run cold.

You took his reaction to mean you hit the nail on the head. You felt really bad for him. It wasn't fair that he was married to a stranger, having to leave the woman he loved. You wondered who she was and if she was a scout. You had proven that you had enough control to move around the base on your own, but you were still not supposed to leave the base without Levi as your escort and it was preferable if you didn't leave at all. It was ok though, you could find the information you needed right there at the base.

xoxox xox xoxox

You found Krista on kitchen duty and went to talk to her while she watched over the contents of a boiling pot. "Hi Krista."

"(Name), hello, how are you doing?" She smiled kindly and placed the lid on the pot then glanced at the oven.

"Are you all by yourself in kitchen duty?" You asked curiously. Cooking dinner for all the scouts was hardly a one person job.

"Oh no, Jean was here, but he burned his hand and had to go see Hange for some medical help. I told him that I would finish the cooking. He said he would be back, but maybe Hange occupied him in something else. She was looking for an assistant earlier, but thought Levi would be upset if she asked you," Krista explained.

"Well, why don't I help you around here then?" You offered.

Krista's eyes widened, "oh, no, I couldn't ask you to do that."

"Why not? Did Levi tell you not to let me?" You asked, annoyed.

"He said we could ask you for help in cleaning if we were delayed in our chores and had a reasonable excuse, like sickness or injury, but that we shouldn't overwork you," Krista admitted. "I think it's sweet of him to be so concerned about making you feel comfortable," she smiled.

You smiled back, just to be nice, but you didn't think her theory was correct. Levi was still a little weary of your level of control and didn't want you to throw a hissy fit. There was no way to know if only a fight or flight response to fear was the trigger or if any sufficiently strong emotion could make you go titan. "I'm offering, so it should be ok. I'm not too experienced though, so just tell me what to do, I want to help."

"Well, if you really want to," Krista considered it, "I have a lot of potatoes to peel and I don't think I can finish them all on time. Just please be very careful not to cut yourself."

"I'll be careful," you assured and joined Krista in peeling potatoes. You were clumsy at it at first, but Krista managed to teach you how to peel them without being too wasteful. When you were both focused on the potatoes and a moment of silence settled in, you decided to ask. "Say, Krista," you began casually. "Do you happen to know if Levi dated someone before me, just out of curiosity."

"I don't think so," Krista's answer sounded honest, but maybe she just didn't know. Levi's reaction to your question would make no sense if there wasn't another woman involved. After the potatoes were done, Krista thanked you for the help and you went off to try to get information out of someone else.

xoxox xox xoxox

You peeked into the area designated as Hange's lab and found Jean sorting through jars of dust, titan dust, according to Hange's rapid rambling. "Hi, Hange, Jean," you greeted.

"Hey, (Name), did Levi lift the ban on you hanging out with me?" Hange asked hopefully.

You crossed your arms stubbornly, "I don't care, I can hang out with you if I want."

Hange seemed happy about that and immediately invited you to join her and Jean. Jean gave you a look of pity, which filled you with foreboding. "Today's experiment is titan dust tea, is it poisonous?" While Hange went over the details of the study, Jean pleaded with his eyes.

"Um... Maybe it's best to be careful with this kind of thing, what if it makes you, or Jean," you added, noting that Hange probably had no intentions of drinking it herself, "sick?"

"You truly are a kind soul, but we must put our lives on the line for humanity, that is simply a risk we need to take!" Hange courageously declared, except Jean didn't seem to be particularly inspired. "I'm not done making the tea yet, so keep cleaning those jars in the meantime, Jean, I don't want Levi getting on my case about the titan dust jars collecting regular dust."

You joined Jean in cleaning the dust, unsure on how to help him escape his grim fate. "So... Have you two known Levi for long?" You began your quest for information in a casual tone.

"Hange has known him for longer than me," Jean replied, resigning himself to cleaning the jars while eyeing the door. Whenever he twitched slightly as if to make a break for it, Hange would give him a suspicious look and he would again focus on cleaning the jars.

"Just out of curiosity, did Levi date anyone before me?" You made sure to act indifferent, paying more attention to the jars than their reaction, since you didn't want to look too interested. The last thing you needed was for this to sound like an issue, travel through the grapevine and reach Levi. He was already upset enough as it was.

Your casual tone failed though, because Hange stopped her measuring and mixing and instead was staring right at you. "Are you jealous?"

"Of course not!" You immediately defended.

"Good, because you shouldn't be," Hange returned to her work. "Levi is very focused on the Survey Corps. Although, a while back there was that rumor that Petra had a thing for him, they never dated."

You wondered if Hange's information was accurate. Maybe Levi did date Petra but kept it a secret. He was kind of quiet about himself. "So, they're still friends now?"

"She died on one of our attempts to retake wall Maria," Hange revealed.

You gasped, that was not what you were expecting. "I'm sorry..." You continued quietly cleaning the jars.

The silence was uncomfortable, for you at least, though it seemed pretty normal to the other two, albeit still gloomy. They were used to dealing with this kind of loss, but they nevertheless felt it. Finally, Hange announced, "the tea is ready!"

Jean tensed up and glanced at the door while Hange approached with a predatory look. "Hange..." You searched your brain for an idea to save Jean without displeasing Hange. "Have you considered the effects of titan tea on plants?"

Hange gasped, her eyes alight with interest. "No, I haven't, but that's such a great idea! Titans are more so animals than plants, so I never thought about plants. (Name), you're a genius! I must research this possibility!" Hange ran off with the cup of tea in hand to perform a series of experiments that would be later nicknamed attack on garden.

Jean let out a breath of relief. "Thanks (Name)! I'd hug you, but Levi would kill me." He laughed, happy to have escaped his grim fate.

"You're welcome," you laughed as well, trying not to dwell too much on how the scouts viewed your relationship with Levi.

xoxox xox xoxox

Next you decided to talk to Erwin. He was high ranked and probably knew Levi for some time. Because of their position at work, they likely had the occasion to talk often, so maybe he knew something. You knocked on the door to his office until he replied, "come in." You entered and he seemed a bit surprised to see you, but not too much. "Have a seat, (Name), how may I help you?"

You sat down quietly, trying to organize your thoughts. You decided against mentioning Petra, if she had passed away on the battle field you didn't want to bring up that sad memory again. Besides, if she wasn't around anymore, then she couldn't be Levi's mystery woman. "I wanted to talk about Levi."

"Alright," Erwin nodded and looked at you expectantly. There was a big pile of paperwork on his desk, but he ignored it in favor of focusing his attention on you, despite clearly being busy.

"Did he have a girlfriend?" You cut right to the chase, realizing there was really no point in going around in circles.

Erwin laughed as if to dissolve the tension he sensed in you with his relaxed attitude. "Oh no, don't worry about that. You're not keeping him from anyone, though it's considerate of you to mention it."

"Really? But then why did he get mad when I asked?" You pouted in confusion. "Was I just being too nosy? I thought we were on somewhat friendly terms after this past week."

"I can't say why that question would bother him, but I know he's been busy with the Survey Corps, at least for the past few years," Erwin mused. "I can talk to him if you want," he offered.

You were tempted to say yes, Erwin was very nice, he always greeted you with a smile and asked if you needed anything. At first you thought you were caught in the middle of a good cop, bad cop game, but then Levi wasn't exactly playing the bad cop, and why would the man who wasn't your husband be the one to get the good cop role anyway? Part of you was still on guard, wondering what kind of information they were trying to get from you. You were curious to get a reply from your father concerning the reasons why you were engaged to Levi and not kept under protection at Sina, but you were also kind of glad that you didn't know, in case it was something that could bring consequences should it be revealed, though you couldn't imagine how. In the end you decided to decline the offer, "no, it's ok, but thank you for the offer. If I'm going to at least be friends with Levi I should be able to talk to him on my own."

xoxox xox xoxox

That evening, you decided to do just that. Levi was distant during dinner, though he still made an effort to appear normal. The scouts had formed their own version in their heads of what was normal for Levi in husband mode and if he gave you less attention they would stare at him expectantly. Of course they didn't know that less attention was a good thing when the attention was born of distrust.

When you and Levi went back to his room you expected him to go straight to the window, but before you could think of stopping him, he spoke. "I heard you were acting jealous and asking questions about my past relationships."

That was the topic you were planning to discuss, but hearing Levi bring it up so directly caught you off guard. Nonetheless, you decided to push forward with the conversation. "I wanted to know if there was truly someone I was keeping you away from. It's terribly unfair for you to be married to me if you have someone you love. I didn't have a boyfriend, so I didn't think about it too much, but then it occurred to me that maybe you were dating before our marriage was arranged. I'm sorry it took me this long to bring it up, I should have considered your side of the story sooner, I didn't have much of a life before I recovered from my illness, but you did. You got angry at me earlier for mentioning it, but if I'm going to apologize for causing you trouble, I might as well know what I've done." You took in a deep breath after the little speech.

"I wasn't dating anyone," Levi replied, "a lot of people in the Survey Corps prefer not to, since it's not the safest job."

"That's true, but you shouldn't let it hold you back. The possibility of a loss is difficult, but it's better than giving up entirely." You got caught up in expressing your opinion and it took a second for his reply to sink in. "Wait, you didn't have a girlfriend? Then why did you get angry at me when I asked?"

"I wasn't angry about that," Levi clarified. "Did you spill some juice in here?"

"Yes," you confessed. "But I cleaned it up!" How in the world did he notice? As far as you could tell, the nightstand was spotless.

"What did you use to clean it up?" Levi asked.

"A handkerchief from..." You blushed, "your drawer." The handkerchief was not the cause of your embarrassment, but rather the fact that Levi had not moved any of his clothes out of the room and you had accidentally come across a drawer full of underwear. It was a  childish thing to be embarrassed by, but you had no control over the color of your face. "I'm sorry, I couldn't find any in my luggage and I wanted to stop the mess from spreading. I thought that since you're such a clean person, you must have a handkerchief somewhere. I put it in the hamper after I used it."

"It wasn't a handkerchief," Levi interrupted your apology rambles.

You stared at him, waiting for him to elaborate, but he didn't. Instead he allowed the realization to sink in until it became evident on your face. "Oh... It was a tie, sorry about that." Now you felt embarrassed about not being able to tell the difference, but to be fair, the tie did kind of look like a handkerchief.

"Never mind, I cleaned it up and your laundry," he pointed to the clean laundry basket in a corner of the room, which he must have placed there at some point during the day. "From now on, I'm only washing my own clothes."

With that statement made, Levi approached the window, but just as he was going out, you called to him. "Levi, wait!" He paused, looking at you. You doubted yourself for a moment, but you didn't want to keep him waiting, so you steeled your resolved and continued. "Can we be friends?"

He considered your request, you decided that was a good thing, he must have been thinking of an honest answer. If he just wanted to lower your guard to get information out of you, which you didn't have anyway, he would have said yes right away. "It might be possible," Levi finally replied. "I'll give you cleaning lessons." Then he left, using his ODM gear to climb out the window to find a vacant room to sleep in.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 11: Naivete

Things got busy for the scouts, as a new wave of recruits was to come. It had been about a year since Eren, Mikasa, Armin and several others joined, and they were no longer really the new ones. Levi's promised cleaning lessons would still happen, you were sure of it, but for the time being, he was busy helping Erwin prepare everything to try to get some people to join. The truth was not to be sugar coated though, the Survey Corps were dangerous and they wouldn't try to hide that.

As expected, there weren't many recruits, but at least Erwin and Levi didn't return by themselves. Most of the potential cadets stayed away from the scouts after being scared off by the battle with the female titan. If regular titans were scary, an enemy titan with human intellect was just too much. Erwin returned to the base in the company of only one new recruit, it was not the best year for the scouts, but not the worse.

"(Name)!" The new girl called out to you the second she saw you. You recognized her right away.

"Mary Anne!" You hugged your friend, happy to see her. You took in the appearance of her uniform, "you're a scout?"

"Yup," Mary nodded. "I insisted that I wanted to be a scout and they let me join the training last minute. I managed to pass and here I am. I guess they figured there wouldn't be any scouts this year after the news of the casualties from the female titan mission got around. But that won't happen to me, I have spirit!"

"Maybe a little too much spirit," Levi commented quietly.

"Cadet Mary Anne," Erwin spoke and Mary Anne immediately saluted.

"Sir!" She stood straight, her fist over her heart, a smile wide on her face, full of life and hope.

"You can take it easy for today and get to know your fellow soldiers, tomorrow you'll participate in the cadets' training and duties," Erwin explained, "you're dismissed."

"Yes, sir!" As soon as she was off duty, Mary Anne turned her attention back to you. "Tell me everything!" She squealed excitedly. The two of you ran off to Levi's room to talk.

xoxox xox xoxox

At Levi's, and technically your, room you would have the chance to catch up with Mary Anne without prying eyes and ears. But before you could get to that, you cautioned, "no shoes on the bed, Levi's a neat freak."

Mary giggled and removed her boots before jumping on the bed. The two of you sat there barefoot as if it was a slumber party, though it was too early to call it that. "So... How was it?"

"Being here isn't so bad," you shrugged. "I'm very confused though. Why did father send me here instead of keeping me at Sina?"

Before replying, Mary Anne insisted, "we can talk about that, but first, please tell me everything, I'm dying to know!"

You could work with that. Though you were dying to know how things were at home yourself, you supposed you could humor Mary's curiosity first. "Everyone is very nice. Hange is a little crazy, but still nice. Eren is a titan shifter, but sometimes it's easy to forget he is. He's entirely normal and easy to get along with. Armin is adorable, he's totally the little brother type you just want to hug and protect. Mikasa is very perceptive, sometimes I think she knows what's going on better than anyone. In fact, sometimes I wonder if she suspects about the arrangement, but everyone else is convinced the marriage is willing. I should tell you our story, it makes sense that you would already know about it and it would be odd if anyone mentions it and you don't know. The story that we decided to tell them about when we were dating is-"

"Don't torture me!" Mary fell back on the bed in a display of over dramatics. "Please, just tell me, is it like in the novels? I need to know! I've been too busy picking up after you to get any, have some mercy and tell me!"

Your jaw dropped and your face turned red as the meaning of her words sunk in. "That's not how it is!"

"So it's not like in the novels... Well how was it? Give me some details!" Mary sat upright, her eyes and ears in attention, examining your expression and waiting to hang on to your every word.

"I don't know, we're just friends, I've never had a real boyfriend, let alone a lover," you blurted out, face hot.

"Oh," Mary Anne frowned in disappointment. "Well that's too bad. I knew this was arranged, but I thought it would be an arrangement with benefits. I mean, he is a scout, shorter than I imagined, but a scout none the less."

You knew that Mary had a thing for scouts. She loved novels that featured a dashing hero that defeated titans. She especially loved that tale about a titan that climbed over the walls, kidnapped a lady and climbed to the top of a tall tower with the female protagonist in its gigantic hand. The hero had to save her, but of course he somehow ended up with his shirt destroyed in combat, as it often happened in those situations. The author had no shortage of words to describe his well toned arms and clearly defined six pack. Mary assumed that all scouts were just as amazing and invincible. "I don't know, I haven't seen any more than you have."

"What? Not even shirtless?" Mary pouted. "We'll have to fix that. This is your life now."

"Not necessarily," you wondered how much you should say, but then again, she probably had more information than you, after all, she had been at Sina until recently, or so you thought. "I just need to learn to control my titan shifting problem so I don't accidentally go titan, then I can divorce and go home."

Mary gasped, "titan shifting, you?"

"I thought you knew..." You stared at her in confusion. "I've never gone full titan, it only happened once and it was just a partial transformation, it wasn't too big. It was close to happening two other times, but it didn't. I think I can control it, Levi seems to have eased up on keeping watch on me, he used to keep an eye on me practically all the time when I first got here. I think he's almost completely convinced I'm in control and I'm pretty sure I am, so I should get a divorce soon, maybe by next month at the latest. I'll still write to my friends here when I go home and maybe I'll be able to visit too."

Mary remained silent for a long moment, taking it all in. "Well, if you're in control then, that's good, but aren't you going to join the scouts?"

"No, I'm going home," you replied. "I don't think father wants me to join the scouts, though Erwin let me know that their doors are open. I don't know, I guess I'll think about it after I have a chance to talk to father. How is he?" You assumed Mary was sent to take care of you in response to your letter. Your past maid was your father's reply, his way of letting you know that you were loved. "Oh, by the way, since you're doing this whole pretending to be a scout thing, you don't have to pick up after me. Levi sometimes calls me a slob and thinks I need cleaning lessons, but I think I'm improving. Sorry I made you work so hard for me in the past. I didn't mean to make your job difficult."

Mary shifted uncomfortably and gave a little nervous laugh, "don't worry about it, you did spend a lot of time sleeping, so I wasn't too busy. I was only joking about not getting a boyfriend because of my job, I was just being picky, I want a handsome brave scout."

Mary frowned in contemplation. She had never shown any anger towards you in the past and your apology was sincere. "What's wrong?" You asked with concern.

Mary looked at your left hand and reached out for it, lifting it and examining the ring. "It's all scratched up," she observed.

"Oh," you took off the ring and rubbed it on your sleeve, but it had no effect, it was already clean, just scratched. "I should have taken it off before helping my friends with their chores. It's ok, I'll send it off to be polished."

"Honey, diamonds don't get scratched up like that," Mary pointed out. "It's glass," she sighed, while you stared in confusion. "Haven't you asked yourself why Melinda and I didn't pack a lot of jewelry for you?" You shook your head and Mary continued sadly. "I'm not here on a job, I'm not pretending to be a scout, I am a scout."

Your eyes widened. "But it's dangerous!"

"I know, but I'll be fine," Mary smiled. "Besides, I won't be a scout forever, just until I marry my ideal man, then I'll live in Rose and visit you often."

You sighed, Mary always had dreams of her ideal man sweeping her off her feet and treating her like a queen. You couldn't criticize her when you were being treated like royalty by your father, sheltered and cared for. But a marriage to a dashing scout wasn't an automatic happily ever after of luxury and adventure, yet you weren't sure how to make her understand that, you didn't even know when you had realized it. Something else puzzled you though. "Why did you quit your job? Was it because you wanted a scout boyfriend?"

"Actually I was fired," Mary revealed, much to your shock. "Well, fired is a bit of a strong term. Let's say I was laid off. Sweetie, your father is broke, your jewelry was sold, you can't go home."

There was Mary Anne as frank as always. You stared at her, taking it all in. "Father... No... That can't be... What will happen to him? To Artie, to Melinda, to Tony, to Fluffy, to everyone?"

"To you," Mary Anne reminded. "Well, no worries, darling, just stay married and live here. Your hubby will warm up to you. So what if the scouts aren't as glamorous as in the novels? Levi's cute, in a boyish sort of way, and I bet he's fit from all the training."

"Mary!" You were starting to panic, to fear for the future and the titan mist once again appeared around you. Mary yelped and scooted away, her hands gripping the bed sheets. You noticed and took deep calming breaths. You would figure this out, everything would be alright. Think of a plan, just think of a plan and go with it. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you." The mist disappeared.

"Wow, that was, you were going to... wow!" Mary took deep breaths of her own. If she was scared of a little mist, you couldn't imagine her fighting a titan.

"Listen, Mary, I need you to keep my father's situation a secret and tell me everything you know about it," you requested.

Mary nodded, "I don't know too many details, but there was some kind of investment that failed or something. I think Melinda and Artie knew about it, but they wouldn't tell me. Your father had to let go of the staff and sell almost everything he owned to keep up appearances. The merchants don't know about it yet, they do know about your marriage though and want to see a party. Everything has already been arranged with the last of your father's fortune. You're not supposed to know this, he wants to keep up appearances so you won't worry, but I had to tell you. I'm pretty sure he doesn't even know I became a scout. He recommended me for another maid job so I wouldn't end up on the street, but I hated working for the mustache's bratty son, he tried to flirt with me, the nerve of him, and his wife didn't do a thing. I'm going to get a good husband who would never cheat on me and would cut any man who dares to look at his precious wife in half. Did I mention that I love how scouts dual wield? Swords are sexy."

You sighed, despite being in a way under Mary Anne's care in the past, you felt like she was in your care now. Despite being a working girl, she was very naive. So were you, though in the past month you've heard so many stories with tragic endings from your scout friends that you had to grow up. Mary was the same as you, a sheltered girl. Your father took her in when she was young, thinking it would be good for you to have someone your own age around. She went from a hungry orphan in rags living at Rose's worse sector to a well fed and clothed maid with a secure job, a steady salary, a roof over her head and an employer that made sure she was healthy and received a basic education. She was frank and a little precocious, yet naive, more of a naive dreamer than even you. "Mary... even if you can handle ODM gear, being out there is not going to be easy. Please be careful."

"Sure thing!" Mary assured, though you wondered if she truly understood. "Now on to more urgent matters. Honey, you're not dressed for success, let me pick out your outfits and you'll seduce Levi in no time."

Once again your face felt like it was on fire. "I can't! Besides, I don't think he'll go for it, not that I'd try anything."

"Erwin then?" Mary suggested.

"What?" You gasped.

"A secret affair right before the party, how exciting!" Mary sighed dreamily. "If you won't snag him, I will."

"I'd rather not mix things up more than they are," you breathed. You needed time to make sense of everything, so for now you would introduce Mary Anne to your friends and continue to try to make sense of the situation in your mind at the same time.

xoxox xox xoxox

That evening, Levi came by as always, though you were not really planning to go to sleep yet, since Mary wanted to get together with everyone after dark to find a room to huddle up in and tell scary stories. You wanted to talk to Levi that evening though, so you waited for him. "Levi..."

"She's a real scout," Levi half stated and half asked. Her paperwork was done and she took the basic training. She wasn't near the top of her class, but she managed to pass.

"Yes," you replied. If he hadn't known she was your maid before, he could have easily figured it out by now, since Mary wasn't really quiet about it. None the less, she was keeping your father's economical situation a secret and you were thankful for that. Now it made a little more sense why he married you off to Levi, not for the sake of having him support you, if that was his only aim, he would have married you off to a rich merchant, but rather, he was to be your bodyguard as you had initially thought. The reason why you couldn't be kept safe by bribery if your titan condition was discovered was because he didn't have the funds for it. Yet your control was pretty good, though you weren't trying to develop your power, only suppress it. Maybe your father expected you to have more trouble and took precautions accordingly. How did he go broke anyway? Where was he? Your mind kept going back to his oath of silence and you wondered if there was a connection. Your thoughts had been busy with that the whole day, but now you needed to talk to Levi about Mary Anne. "No..."

"Yes or no? Is she a scout, or is she here to keep an eye on you, or me?" Levi didn't beat around the bush, he didn't even sound tense. His voice was completely calm and casual, as if he knew getting you to talk to him wouldn't be too difficult. You had asked to be his friend and he had agreed that it could be possible.

"She's officially a scout, she's no longer under my father's employment," Levi didn't seem to be aware of your family's economical situation and impending lack of influence. That could complicate things, so you would hold on to that piece of information for the time being. "But she's not a real scout, she's used to novels about invincible scouts and glorified battles where only the minor unimportant characters die. I'm worried that she'll get herself killed."

"There's nothing that we can do if this is the choice she made," Levi stated, he seemed used to it, but not indifferent.

"I know, I'll try to talk to her though, tell her not to get cocky," you decided. You were going to ask him to take care of her, but you realized that you couldn't do that and it wasn't even necessary.

"There's something more you wanted to say," it wasn't a question, but an observation.

You nodded, "yeah, but I realized it goes without saying." Levi gave you a curious look, so you elaborated. "I was going to ask you to keep an eye on her, but that's impossible out there, you'll have a lot more to think about to get as many of them back safely as you can. Besides, from what I've heard, you already do your best to bring them all back alive as it is. So just... keep doing what you're doing and try your best, ok?"

"Fair enough," Levi nodded, a little surprised that you understood. "Not everyone understands that though, not at first."

"It's hard letting someone go, but at least you can keep their memories," you replied. "It's odd, I got to thinking that way because of my mother, even if I have no real memories of her. My father told me about her and Melinda was her close friend, so in a sense I have a part of her with me. Even if people don't last forever, what they do somehow does..." You closed your eyes in thought, recalling the stories your father told you about your mother. You opened them, wondering if Levi was getting bored or thinking you were odd, but he seemed understanding. "I like pirates too, good pirates though."

"Pirates?" Levi inquired.

"There are stories about what goes on in the large bodies of water called oceans. The pirates are outlaws, some bad and some good. Most of them attack ships to steal from them. My favorite story was about a good pirate, a pirate who defended the other ships and recovered their goods from bandit pirates. Those stories are forbidden, oceans are not to be mentioned in casual conversation. But I believe that one day we will beat all the titans, then we won't need the walls anymore. I used to think I would go to the beach one day, I don't think so anymore, I might not live that long, but everything the Survey Corps do will make that future come closer for humanity or humanity's descendants. Sooner or later, you or your comrades will win, even if it'll be hard. I want to help, I haven't decided what to do in the future exactly, but I want to do something to help." You watched Levi, who had been quietly listening.

"When you first came here I thought you were a spoiled brat," he admitted. "Then I started to see you weren't so bad, so I decided to stop thinking of you as only a burden." You wondered if that decision came along with the one to stop doing your laundry. "Maybe you can make the best of the life you have when things don't go your way. Even when sheltered, a strong spirit might just remain strong." Without any further explanations, Levi jumped out the window. Somehow, you felt as if you were starting to understand him better.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 12: Helpless

You quietly ventured down the dark hallways, joined by more people as you passed in front of doors. Last time you did this it was... interesting, to say the least. Heading back to your room, or rather Levi's room, was the most 'interesting' part. Now there you were again, ready to pick a dark empty room, form a circle on the floor with nothing but a small flickering candle in the middle and share scary stories with the scouts. Hange loved Mary Anne's idea for entertainment, Armin and Krista not so much. You told yourself that if you got scared all you had to do was think of a certain someone's horse-like scream, which was much more funny than it was alarming.

Mary had insisted to tell the stories in a different vacant room each time. That way no one would have the familiarity of their own room to lean on and everyone would have to walk back to their respective rooms. You joined the cadets entering a randomly picked vacant room, forming the usual circle with the candle in the middle. Erwin and Levi were not present, but Hange, the 104th trainees, Mary Anne and you had attended each of the nightly reunions. The night was rather stormy, with strong winds and a good amount of rain, it was perfect for ghosts stories. Mary was all too eager to get started and began her tale as soon as everyone was seated.

"This is the story of a young scout, just like us, and it happened on a stormy night, just like this one." You weren't surprised by Mary Anne's choice of setting. That's how it always started, the victims were always peculiarly similar to the people listening to the story. One of the newer recruits claimed that noises were coming from under her bed. no one gave it any thought, old furniture sometimes made noise. One day, the girl fell ill, but the doctor didn't know what was wrong with her. She gradually worsened until one day she didn't show up at the mess hall or at training."

"That evening," Mary dramatically continued. "A boy who had a crush on her decided to see how she was doing and bring her a snack. He knocked on the door and she called for him to enter. He did so and saw her sitting on her bed, looking rejuvenated. He was glad to see her in a better state of health, but at the same time there was something that frightened him, but he couldn't tell what it could possibly be. Then she smiled and thanked him for coming to see her, she said in a sweet voice 'if you truly care for me, you'll kill the monster under my bed.' A cold chill ran down his spine, even if he told himself that she must only be kidding. Then he looked under the bed and what did he see?"

Armin was shaking, his eyes open wide. "A mo-m-monster?" He involuntarily inquired.

"Oh no," Mary went on in a dark and creepy tone. "He looked into the darkness under the bed and heard the whisper of a weak voice that was barely alive saying 'run.'  What he saw was his beloved, all weak and sickly whispering desperately, 'there's a monster on my bed."

Eren grabbed Mikasa's hand and she blushed. It was funny how he wasn't afraid of titans but spooky stories still made him jump. "Me next!" Hange volunteered, no one offered any arguments, so she continued with her story. "This story is also about scouts much like us. One night a new recruit was heading back to her room after finishing her duties. She had taken a while, as she was still getting used to her chores, cleaning up after dinner, but at least she could sneak off some snacks to take to her room. She got a little lost, since she was still new, and ran into a young man. 'Good evening,' he told her, 'I am the night guard, please allow me to walk you to your room.' She told him her room number and he walked her there. When they were at her door, he said he was hungry, so she gave him the snacks she had brought from the kitchen."

"The next few nights it happened in much the same way," Hange continued. "The girl had learned her way around, but she enjoyed the handsome guard's company, so she looked forward to seeing him every evening when he walked her to her room and every evening she brought him a snack. Eventually, the chores were reassigned and she stopped running into him. Oddly, no one seemed to know him and the other scouts claimed there was no night guard. The girl wanted to see him again, so she ventured out of her room one night and wandered the halls until she found him."

Everyone had their full attention on Hange as she finished the story. "Good evening,' he greeted her as always, though he seemed a bit tense. 'I haven't had anything to eat since I last saw you. Have you brought a snack for me today?' She was shocked that he had not been eating and didn't understand why. 'I don't have any food with me, but I will get some for you,' the girl offered. 'I'm sorry,' he replied, 'but I can't wait another minute, if you don't have any food for me I'll just have to drink your blood!'

A wave of gasps and yelps  spread through the circle of people sitting on the floor. Armin was shaking like a leaf and Eren was hugging Mikasa, whose face looked like it was on fire. You jumped in surprise as Jean hugged you at the climax of the story. Before the tension could wind down, the window was suddenly thrown open and a gust of wind flew in, bringing with it the cold heavy rain. The candle went out and everyone scrambled to their feet, running around and bumping into each other in the darkness.

"All of you, shut up!" If the voice wasn't already recognizable, the crash of lightning that lit up the room further confirmed the identity of the man who had spoken.

Finding themselves in the presence of a very pissed off Levi, which was certainly scarier than any ghost, the scouts quickly formed into some semblance of order and saluted with a shaky chorus of "sir!"

"Is this the stupid reason why you fools have been so tired during our training exercises?" Levi shouted harshly. "If you're so full of energy, then why don't we go out and practice with ODM gear right now? This weather is perfect for some good training." No one dared to breathe a word, but you could somehow feel their eyes on you through the darkness. You tried to tell yourself that it was your imagination and remained silent. "I want everyone in ODM gear out in the field in ten minutes!" Gasps of disbelief and groans of apprehension invaded the room, soon to be silence by Levi's very final sounding, "march!"

As the scouts marched out, only you and Levi remained in the room. Thunder crashed and it's suddenness made you jump. "You're not really serious about training in this weather, are you?"

"I am," Levi confirmed. "They need to be ready to spend the night outside of the wall if we go on a longer expedition one day." The mere thought of it sounded insane.

"How would you even spot titans in the middle of the night?" You tried to point out the major flaw in that logic.

"Titans are less active at night. Some of them will still be moving, but a good number will be basically dormant, so we'll have less visibility, but also less to watch out for," Levi explained.

"That makes sense, but what if they get injured during their training? They'll catch a cold at the very least, or end up with broken bones at worse," you argued in your friends' behalf.

"(Name)," you watched Levi, while another bolt of lightning crashed in the background, illuminating his annoyed expression. He let out a breath and his tone became less severe, though still serious. "They were falling asleep during their training, they could get hurt worse if I don't discourage this neglect of proper rest from continuing."

"I understand," you voiced, a little surprised that he even took the time to explain it to you. It was as if he didn't want you to see him as the bad guy. It would be tough, but you understood that Levi had to make sure the scouts were prepared.

"Do you mind?" Levi finally inquired after a moment of silence had passed.

"I understand," you repeated. Then in sunk in that he was wearing pajamas, which were a pristine baby blue color, and that he had picked up his uniform, which he had changed out of at some point before the cadets had entered the room where he slept. "Oh... right, I'll leave now." You hurried out of the room so he could change.

You waited in the hallway until Levi emerged, wearing his uniform and ODM gear. He didn't seem happy to be back in the uniform he had been wearing that day, but didn't have time to go get another one. Besides, it would get soaked anyway. He had the ODM gear since he had used that to climb out the window of his room. "No cloak?" You curiously asked.

"No time," Levi replied and hurried outside. It wouldn't look good if he was late after telling everyone else they only had ten minutes.

xoxox xox xoxox

Fortunately, there were no broken bones that night. There was some slip ups and the majority of the cadets ended up bruised, but it wasn't too bad. It was ironic, but because Levi was the only one without protection from the cold rain, as everyone else put on their cloaks, he was the only one to catch a cold. As a consequence of his illness, the wedding party was postponed until he was able to speak a full sentence without sneezing.

Yet the most peculiar thing related to the events of that night was a conversation you later had with Mikasa, the only one who miraculously escaped the night's training without bruises. She admitted to you, in a lonely hallway away from prying eyes and ears, that she had felt a presence in the room when the group entered, but assumed it to be her imagination. The group was seated by the time she realized it was Levi and then she claimed to have gotten distracted, which you assumed meant this was around the time Eren took her hand and she concluded that going with the flow was more important than warning everyone of their impending doom.

"He knows that everyone keeps an eye on him to see when he goes into his room so they could sneak off to steal snacks from the kitchen, I'm pretty sure he knows all this but lets it pass," Mikasa explained. "Last night didn't make sense though, if he wanted to catch us in the act of staying up too late, why was he in his pajamas? Everyone was too frightened to question it, but I can only think it was a coincidence that we happened to go into the same room he was in. He wasn't waiting for us, he was just trying to get some sleep."

Mikasa looked at you, as if waiting for your input, though you only offered a simple, "oh." You agreed with her conclusions, but you weren't sure why they mattered. Then you recalled why it was necessary for Levi to exit his room via the window. He would be seen otherwise and the word would get around, even if he had no intentions of interfering with the so called secret nightly snacks. Then people would start to question why would a happily married couple not share a room. "Um... well..."

Mikasa's head moved to the side and it was your cue to take note of the footsteps that approached. Mary Anne appeared at the other end of the hall, walking tiredly. Her curly red hair was wilder than usual, amber eyes exhausted. "Hey," the greeting was punctuated with a yawn and you saw in her a way out.

Mary was surely more creative than you with excuses and she already knew about the arranged marriage, so you didn't need to put up a wall of pretense for her. "Hey, Mary, I was just telling Mikasa why Levi wasn't sleeping in his, my, our," you stumbled over your words, "our room last night."

Mary yawned again, you weren't sure if it was real or if she was buying some time. finally, very naturally, she replied. "(Name)'s father is very protective of her. He made Levi promise that they wouldn't consummate their marriage until it was officially announced at Sina. So basically they're waiting until after the party. Kissing and cuddling is fine, but it doesn't make it any easier to resist temptation, hence the separate rooms."

Your face was bright red at this point and you wondered if Mikasa was regretting her curiosity. "I see..." Mikasa finally voiced. "That makes sense. Well, excuse me, I need to finish my chores," with that said, she ran off.

"I bet she tells Eren, and I bet Eren tells Armin and by the time that's done, Sasha would have overheard and decide to tell Hange, then once Hange knows, everyone will know," Mary Anne theorized. She had been there for less time than you, but understood most of the scouts pretty well. She was a social creature that was either very friendly or very annoying. "I guess this means you'll have until the party to get used to the idea of sharing a room with your hubby," she grinned.

"Did you just set me up on purpose?" You pouted.

"Honey," she patted you on the head like a child, like Erwin. "Someone has to take care of you when your father can't."

"I don't need a man to take care of me," you argued.

"No, I don't need a man to take care of me," Mary Anne retorted, "I simply want one, but I don't need one. I can get a job and feed myself just fine. I'm not saying this because you're a girl, even if you were a man, the fact would still stand that you wouldn't last a day without people to watch over you. Sweetie, I'm not trying to be mean, I'm just trying to ensure your survival. I don't understand the specifics, but your father can't take care of you anymore and someone has to." There was Mary Anne with her brutal honesty again. She cared for you like a sister, you didn't doubt that, but she also saw you as helpless. So did Erwin, you realized, always so polite and gentle, as if fearing for the repercussions of offending such a fragile creature.

Did Levi see you like that too? Is that why he didn't reprimand you for being a part of the late night ghost stories group, or did he simply let it pass because you weren't a scout? Just when you felt that the two of you had become friends, you were starting to have your doubts. The thought bothered you more than you expected it to and you became determined to never again be seen as helpless, not by anyone, and especially not by Levi.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 13: In Sickness and in Health

"So that's what happened," you finished telling Levi about the conversation you had with Mikasa and Mary Anne.

"Guess we'll have to share a room after the party," Levi mumbled drowsily. He was in his room, which meant you would be the one looking for a vacant room to sleep in tonight, since it wouldn't be right to tell the miserably sick Levi to move. You assumed he was simply too sick and tired to fully comprehend your words and that he might come up with a better plan when he was over his terrible cold. "You should go before you catch my cold," he warned.

"Don't worry, I'll be fine," you assured. "Hange gave me the strongest vitamins she could find to boost my immune system and make sure I didn't catch your cold. She also asked me to write a detailed report describing your misery," you laughed, assuming she was kidding, though she sounded serious.

"She wasn't kidding," Levi clarified, guessing you assumed she was. "But don't humor her."

"Oh..." You blinked. "So... um... Do you need anything? Are you hungry? Thirsty? Cold? Want an extra blanket?"

Levi shook his head miserably, he hated being sick. It was a rare occurrence, but when it did happened it killed him. It wasn't that his cold was worse than anyone else's, but rather he had a harder time dealing with the common symptoms. Coughing and sneezing was especially unpleasant for him. He paused, thinking better of his answer and eyed the nearly empty tissue box on the night stand. "Get me more tissues," he finally requested.

"I'm on it!" You ran off to get another box of tissues from the storage, though instead of just one, you piled as many as you could carry in your arms and took them to Levi's room. You made sure to mention it to Armin when you passed him in the hallway, to let whoever was in charge of supplies know that they would need extra tissues. They already purchased a lot, but Armin assured you he would come up with a convincing argument in favor of a bigger tissue budget.

You returned to Levi's room and delivered the tissue box. Levi looked quite uncomfortable, his face tense, his eyes watery. He extended his hands as if he couldn't wait another second for a tissue. As soon as a tissue box was within his reach he quickly opened it, retrieved a tissue and sneezed into it. He let out a breath of relief. "What took you so long?"

"Don't tell me you were actually holding in a sneeze this whole time because you ran out of tissues? How did you even manage that?" You began to stack the extra tissue boxes neatly before Levi complained about how unorganized they were.

"What was I supposed to do? Sneeze into the air, my hands, or the blanket? That's disgusting," he wrinkled his nose, clearly grossed out by the thought.

The expression called your attention to his nose, which looked very red. "If you're not more gentle with your nose, it's going to fall off," you teased.

"I wouldn't have to clean it so much if it stayed clean," Levi retorted. He laid down, with the blanket up to his neck. "Take out the trash, slob."

"Hey!" You complained, "I'm not the one who left the trashcan in such an overflowing state. You're the slob... But I suppose I shouldn't be so hard on you given your condition. Your poor body's crawling with disgusting germs right now."

Levi cringed at your words, "don't remind me," he grumbled and you gave him a victorious grin.

You proceeded to take out the trash before he complained about it, and put a new bag on the little trashcan. Levi meanwhile stared at the ceiling miserably for a few more minutes before he finally fell asleep.

It was several hours before he woke up. You were sitting at his bedside reading a book to entertain yourself. It wasn't one of the explicit romance novels Melinda and Mary Anne packed though, you weren't even sure what had happened to them. This was a book about adventures at the sea and pirates. It was a forbidden book, since it took place outside of the walls, and it was considered to be a dangerous temptation to go outside and consequently get killed.

You put the book down and looked at Levi as he woke up with an annoyed groan and pawed at the cool cloth on his forehead in confusion. "You had a fever," you explained. "Oh and by the way, your pillow needs to be washed because you were drooling like crazy."

"What?" Levi bolted upright, the cloth that was on his forehead falling on his lap. His expression was absolutely horrified, it was hilarious. "You're lying," he realized with a glare. "Stupid brat," he checked his pillow apprehensively.

"Okay, okay, relax, I was lying, the ever immaculate Levi doesn't drool in his sleep," you laughed.

"I hope you don't either," he grumbled. Once he was satisfied with his pillow's inspection, he laid down again and tossed the cloth at you. "Make it colder, my head hurts." He closed his eyes tightly and remained still.

"I'll go get you an ice bag," you decided. After retrieving the item, you returned to Levi's room with it and place it on his head. his eyes remained closed and he didn't say anything, though the cold seemed to afford him some relief. "It's time for your cold medicine, but you should eat something first. The scouts made some chicken soup for you, do you want me to bring it over?"

"No," Levi groaned, he didn't like eating on his bed but he didn't really want to get up either. He knew he needed some food in his system to get better though. "I'll go to the mess hall," he resolved.

"Are you sure? It's loud and crowded," you pointed out.

Levi gave it a second thought but concluded, "there's no choice."

"I can bring the food here and be extra careful not to spill it," you offered.

Levi considered it, he really didn't want to get up and go to the noisy, crowded mess hall. "Alright," he finally agreed. "Just be careful."

You nodded and went to get his food. you returned with a tray, nearly stumbling at the door, but you managed to regain your balance without spilling anything. "Here you go," the tray was like a miniature table that you placed on his lap as he sat up on the bed, the ice bag precariously balanced on his head.

"That wasn't funny," he scolded with a frown.

"That wasn't a joke," you admitted, relieved that your stumbled didn't result in a fall. "It's going to fall off," you held the ice over his head.

"You don't  have to hold it," Levi voiced, though you could tell he needed the relief of the cold feeling on his aching head.

"You can't eat with one hand like that," you replied. He didn't trust himself to be as steady as he should be and held a tissue underneath his spoon to catch any drops that might fall before he could lift it to his mouth, which meant that both his hands would be occupied with the spoon and tissue. "Want me to feed you?" You joked.

Levi rolled his eyes, "as much as I want a chicken soup bath." You laughed, and after a pause he inquired, "did you eat?"

"Yeah, Sasha came to get me to make sure I ate," you replied. "Hange offered to sit with you while I was gone so you wouldn't be alone. She seemed disappointed though, something about not being able to make any interesting observations while you were sleeping."

"That idiot can go catch a cold and study her own misery," Levi huffed, though you knew that the scouts were a tightly knit group and they cared for each other's well being. Levi picked up the glass of orange juice then felt a sneeze coming up and quickly put it down, but the sneeze went away as sneezes rarely do and he let out a breath of relief, finally able to drink his juice in peace.

"You're a master at suppressing sneezes," you observed. "And coughs too, I assume. At least you won't strain your throat too much from coughing."

Levi ate quietly for a few minutes, until he finally inquired, "why are you so set on taking care of me?" It was as if the question had been on the back of his mind the whole time.

"Because we're friends and friends take care of each other," you replied simply. After some extra thought you added, "I spent a long time bedridden myself, someone always had to take care of me, but I couldn't take care of anyone. For once, I want to be the one offering help instead of getting it."

You waited for Levi to say something, though you weren't sure what you expected him to say. He finished eating and finally replied. "If you want so badly to be helpful, then you can wash the dishes."

You picked up the empty tray, "a thank you would have been nice, Mr. Sick and Germy."

Levi glared at the reminder of his current ill state, "get lost, brat," he took his cold medicine and laid down, adjusting the ice bag on his head while you stuck your tongue out at him. You thought that as you exited the room he muttered a quiet "thanks," but you didn't know if it was real or just your imagination.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 14: Secrets

After Levi recovered from his cold, the time finally came for the wedding party to take place. It wasn't a wedding per se, since technically that was thought to have already passed at Rose, though it only consisted of signing the documents. None the less, food, music and fancy clothes were expected. You were transported to Sina in a chariot, it was your first time back home since your life had been turned upside-down by your cure, side-effects and engagement. You haven't had any mishaps as a titan though, so you were feeling confident that nothing would go wrong, at least in that respect.

Melinda had presented you with your dress, it was a very pretty wedding dress though it felt odd to wear it since you didn't exactly feel like a bride. You had been asking about your father and trying to get information from Melinda, since Mary Anne claimed that she and Artie had their fair share of knowledge about what was going on, but Melinda kept telling you not to worry. "Listen (Name), no matter what happens, know this, you are a very strong person and you will be okay. Levi is there to make your life easier, but even if he's not there for you completely, you'll be okay."

You didn't know how to take her words. At least she wasn't assuming you were helpless, but the question still floated in the back of your mind as to why Levi was even necessary. You had grown fond of him, but that wasn't the point. "Why him? Why anyone? If you think I'm strong, why not assume that I would be able to support myself on my own? My titan abilities are under control, I'm not dangerous."

Melinda showed no surprise at your words, she already knew about the titan aspect. It was odd sitting at your old room like this, in an entirely new situation. This was the mansion you grew up in, though it was devoid of its expensive artworks that used to line the walls and most of the furniture was gone. Only Melinda and Artie remained of the old staff. Tony was there too of course, and Fluffy still remained, though she just barked at you when she saw you. "This isn't about supporting yourself or about your titan abilities. Your ability to transform will disappear completely in time and only regeneration will remain, that is the cure to your illness, it has been tested."

You stared at her in surprise. "Tested? Tested how?"

"It doesn't matter," Melinda shook her head as if she held a dark secret, a burden that she refused to share. "Your father will explain more, now let me finish getting your hair and makeup ready."

You let Melinda finish the preparations without protest. You knew you wouldn't get any more information out of her. Once the preparations were done, she left the room, then your father came. You had a million things you wanted to ask, but all you could really do was hug him.

"My little princess," he spoke gently, soothing away your worries. "I'm so sorry you had to go through this, my daughter."

"Please tell me... Tell me everything!" You insisted.

"Yes, it has all failed and I have no choice," your father finally began the long awaited explanation. "I was hoping that by some miracle I was able to negotiate, but I could not. Years ago, before you were born, your uncle started conducting some research in hopes of saving your mother. He got mixed up with some suspicious individuals and stumbled upon a formula that could turn humans into titans. The mere thought of it was alarming, so he didn't think to offer the serum as it was to his sister, he wanted to save her, not turn her into a monster. I was filled with hopes of saving my wife and funded his research without question. Time had passed and you had been born, your condition was even more severe than your mother's, we would lose both of you if something wasn't done."

You listened, unable to breathe a word as your father narrated the tragedy. "Unfortunately, the formula was a failure and your mother could not be saved, the serum only killed her faster. Her brother and I were devastated and for a time we agreed that we would only use known medical treatments on you. None the less, he continued his research and developed a new formula after realizing what went wrong and researching it over and over to make sure he made no mistake. Years had passed by then and you had become a young lady. I had thought that he was only researching normal medicine, nothing titan related, but his research was far more expensive and far more dark than I could ever imagine."

The tension could be clearly felt as your father continued. "Even if your uncle would hurt innocent people, I know that he would never hurt you, and as unfair as it sounds, because of the hope he gave me to keep you alive, I cannot hate him for what he did. Still, that wrong could not be left as it was, and so I stepped forward to take the blame that I do believe is in part mine. The people whom he negotiated with to obtain your cure might go after you, that is why I placed humanity's strongest soldier by your side." This didn't exactly match up with Melinda's version, yet you didn't think either of them was lying, but rather interpreting the risks of the situation in different ways and coming up with different predictions for the future.

"Who are they? Those people who know how to turn humans into titans?" You asked urgently.

"I don't know," your father admitted. "Your uncle negotiated with them more often than me, and I don't think even he understands who they really are."

"Who is he? My uncle, I didn't even know I had an uncle," your confusion increased with each piece of information. New answers only led to new questions.

Your father shook his head, "you're a kind girl, but I'm afraid that when it comes to you, I'm a selfish man. My sweet daughter, I love you so much, more than the world itself. I'm sorry I couldn't devote myself only to you, but I cannot abandon innocence entirely." It was as if he was speaking in riddles and he wasn't entirely willing to give you all the pieces to the puzzle. He was protecting you, but from what? How were you safer not knowing rather than knowing?

A possibility occurred to you. Your father's words rang out in your mind. He said you were kind and he was selfish when it came to you. Maybe he thought that if you understood the situation you would try to do something about it and get hurt in the process. He was trying to stop you from putting yourself at risk. If you were simply told not to do something, you might still do it, so refusing to tell you were the danger was became the best way to keep you away from it. This signified that it wasn't something you could simply stumble upon, if you were to get to the bottom of this, you would have to know exactly what you were looking for. Then you thought about the other part of his statement, that he couldn't abandon innocence. Someone innocent must have gotten hurt in the quest for your cure, that fit with the description of your uncle's actions.

Your father wanted to bare the blame in your place, to take the guilt you could feel onto himself. As for your uncle, he wouldn't tell you who the mysterious man was. That man would hurt innocents but not you, yet you didn't want that, but if you knew who he was, rather than being quietly saved by the sacrifice of others, you would try to stop him and doom yourself in the process. Knowledge was sacrifice and ignorance was the perceived right to stand idly by with no blood on your hands and no stains on your conscience. It wasn't so simple though, what he said about not letting go of innocence, he wanted to make everything right, he wanted to fix the injustice, but he would do it in way that your suffering wasn't a requirement.

"Father, please, I can help," you insisted. He smiled, "very well, my child." You recognized this tone of voice, he was humoring you, calming you, but not doing what you wanted. "When the time comes, I might need some assistance from Levi, make friends with him, then maybe he won't be opposed to helping out."

You sighed, he was only thinking of Levi as your bodyguard. Was he to become a sacrifice as well? You suddenly found yourself worried for Levi's life. You were frustrated, but you couldn't hate your father. You were like him, clinging to your loved ones more strongly than to humanity itself. Just as he couldn't hate your uncle for protecting you regardless of the cost, you couldn't hate him for giving up everything for your sake. He wasn't a coward though, he wasn't just risking other people, his own life was on the line and that only increased your worries. Mist gathered around you, but your father didn't recoil. He just hugged you and tried to soothe your anxiety. He never saw you as a monster, he never feared you, he only feared for you, and you couldn't hate him for that. Nevertheless, you wouldn't let him bear your burdens alone, the titan mist subsided without incident. When whatever hidden threat was out there came, you would make sure Levi wouldn't get hurt for your sake and somehow, you would find a way to protect your father too.

Though you felt overwhelmed and wanted to cry, you didn't. Your determination was very strong. You would have to talk to Levi later, to warn him, perhaps leave him so that he wouldn't be caught up in this. You weren't sure if being near your father would allow you to protect him somehow or only bring him more troubles. You would think of that later, for now you had to put on a mask of happiness to appease the high ranks.

You were led amidst your confusion to a carriage that took you away from your childhood home. The mansion would be sold soon, no doubt. This was probably the last time you would be there. The carriage took you to a grand hall where parties for the rich were often held. The place was larger than most mansions in the area and elegantly adorned with marble floors, jeweled chandeliers and elaborate flower arrangements. The large expanse held an open area for dancing, an elegant orchestra playing a waltz in the background and many tables filled with a variety of dishes.

Your father escorted you there, where you were supposed to meet Levi. Before he could hand you off to your husband, the two of you were surrounded by several couples. Monocle, Mustache, Nose, their children and their spouses were all there. You could hardly tell what they were saying, but it sounded like an overcrowded chicken coop. There used to be one in the yard, Fluffy never gave it a second look, she was too much of a refined pooch to go around chasing chickens.

Your father, sensing your distress, positioned himself at the center of the circle of snobs. You snuck off behind him, giving a discrete wave that he nodded to, and you went off. He wasn't happy with having to put up with those people, but he might as well try to minimize the damage of his social rank's impending downfall, they had to find out eventually, very likely soon.

You looked around with purpose. If anyone met your eyes, you looked away before they could speak and hurried to head in the opposite direction, sending out the message that you were busy. You wondered if Levi felt as out of place as you. This wasn't what you imagined a ball to be like. Though the setting was pretty, the atmosphere was filled with malicious pretence and hypocrisy.

Finally, you spotted a man who looked like Levi, then took a moment to look in the opposite direction as if you had not seen him. He looked very handsome, but you tried to tell yourself that he wasn't your real husband, just your pretend husband and that you'd have to let him go soon. You wondered if it would even be ok to just be friends, would that place him in any danger? Maybe it was best not to risk it.

After more or less managing to collect yourself, you walked across the room. Levi was aware of your presence, he probably knew you had seen him and for a moment pretended not to, but made no mention of it as he met you half across the way. You hurried to close the distance, suddenly impatient for no reason and tripped on your long white dress. The dress was supposed to be worn with tall heals that thankfully Melinda replaced with flats at the last minute, though she didn't have time to modify the dress. Fortunately, Levi caught you, which prevented an embarrassing fall. "Clumsy," he muttered grumpily, quietly enough so that only you could hear.

"Nice to see you too," you considered sticking your tongue out at him, you knew that annoyed him, but you didn't want to cause an outcry with your lack of manners. Yet before you could think of an alternative comeback, your attention was caught by another detail. "Um... Levi..." You looked up at him. "How did you get so tall?"

"Melinda," Levi spoke the one name that said it all. You figure she must have made his suit, as well as your father's and who knows how many more fancy outfits. "These shoes are killing me." You discreetly looked at his shoes. The sole had to be quite thick to make him taller, though the shoes tried their best to hide it, which meant that the space left for his feet was very thin.

"Let's go sit down," you suggested, which Levi certainly didn't protest to. Unfortunately, you were intercepted by a group of snobs that once again spoke at the same time with false compliments and airheaded comments.

From what little coherency you could gather from the exchange, they expected the two of you to dance. The way to the chairs and tables was barricaded by chatty snobs and you could feel many pairs of eyes on you. Levi was forced to lead you away, doing his best to stretch his patience as far as it would go. The music was slow, the dance was close and it made you blush, it also made you realize that you had no clue what you were doing and you became terrified that you would step on Levi's already pained feet. "What is it?" He whispered, noting your tension.

"I'm trying not to step on you," you confessed, but that wasn't the only thing on your mind. "Also, I found out more about my situation, but I can't tell you here."

"Tonight, when this torture is over, you can tell me," it was as if he wanted to make sure you didn't change your mind about speaking by waiting until the next morning.

"Ok," you agreed and let the uneasiness sit in the back of your mind while you clumsily moved from side to side, more or less trying to stay in tune with the soft music. "I don't know how to dance," you whispered.

"I noticed," Levi whispered back. "I don't think you're supposed to drag your feet like that, but keep doing it, I really don't want you to step on my feet." One thing was for sure, it was going to be a long night.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 15: How Scandalous!

After the dance was finally over, you and Levi were allowed past the snob barricade and into the area where the tables were located. You sat down at one of the smaller dining tables away from the buffet of entrees and beverages, and the battalion of waiter and waitresses ready to cater to the rich's demands. The table had been chosen precisely because it was meant to host two people, which should discourage any unwanted snobs from inviting themselves over. Levi look relieved to be sitting down, though the shoes were still uncomfortable. Melinda meant well, you knew, but sometimes she tried a little too hard.

"Good evening, Lady and Sir, it may be a little late, but please accept my congratulations on your marriage," a formally dressed waiter approached. "May I bring you anything?" The young man was a little on the plump side, though not too much, his blond hair was a pale shade of platinum, green eyes always alert and attentive.

Levi was about to dismiss him, but you spoke first "Gustav!" You recognized him as one of the servants that used to work at your mansion. "Thank you, how are you doing?"

The young man smiled, pleased that you recalled his name. Despite not having interacted with him much in the past, he liked that you didn't treat him like most other rich people from Sina. "I'm quite alright, I do miss working for lord (Lastname), but I am quite pleased serving Lady Mona Lisa, I mean, the honorable house of Gardenia."

Mona Lisa was the name of the daughter of the man you called Monocle in the privacy of your mind, others publically called him lord Gardenia. Mona had been named after a painting made at some point before the titans first appeared, it was one of the few artworks of the old world that were still around. You had seen it and knew that Mona didn't look a thing like the woman in the painting. Her black hair seemed incapable of growing past her shoulders, as if her bony frame couldn't afford to give it much in the way of nutrition, despite her notable appetite. Still, though raised to be a snob, Mona wasn't so bad.

"By the way," Gustav had continued while you were lost in your recollections. That life that could be hardly called a life seemed so far away somehow. It was as if you had lived more since you married Levi than in your whole life before that. It had to be because you were wide awake now, you reasoned. Still, part of you thought it was more than only that. "Lady Mona Lisa wanted to speak to you, I hope you will grant her a moment."

"Sure," you agreed, then looked at Levi pleadingly. "Mona was nicer to me than the other established families at Sina," you explained.

"Go say hi then, I don't mind," Levi replied. There was a certain knowing look in his eyes that you couldn't explain. "I'll talk to you after you're done speaking with Mona Lisa."

You were about to insist that he came along, as you had thought Mona wanted to see you both. Maybe it was just to be seen with the star couple of the evening, but you thought it wouldn't be too much to humor her with that much, better her than one of Mustache's numerous relatives. Yet Gustav's exclamation of "excellent!" took you by surprise. "May I escort you to Lady Mona Lisa?"

Gustav motioned in the direction you would be headed and you spotted Mona Lisa at another small table a short distance away. You didn't think you needed to be escorted there, but decided not to make a big deal out of it and stood up to follow Gustav.

You greeted Mona and sat at her table. After a few short pleasantries and congratulations, during which Mona was very nervous and uneasy, she got right to the point, while Gustav pretended to tend to other guests while continuously looking over at the table where you and Mona sat. "Miss (Name)," Mona squeaked, sounding like a mouse, in other words, like usual for her. "Oh, miss (Name)!" You could never get her to drop the miss from your name. "I must confess I did something terrible."

"You don't say, miss Mona Lisa." Your sass seemed to be lost on her, but she did look very nervous, so maybe this wasn't something as insignificant as you would normally guess.

Mona looked every which way before leaning across the small table to whisper, "I have fallen in love."

"That's not exactly a crime, Mona," you pointed out, dropping the silly constant miss, that you knew she wouldn't drop. It was odd that she had not complained about not being addressed as Miss Mona Lisa, in the past she would gasp as if offended and remind you to be mindful of formalities.

"Oh, but miss (Name), I have no betrothed," Mona confessed, so stressed by her condition that she didn't care about how you addressed her. She placed her hand over her heart, just below the oversized ruby hanging from her necklace, that thing looked heavy. As you observed the ruby, more so out of comical curiosity, wondering how she didn't fall over, rather than any real interest in the jewel's value, you noted that her hand wasn't as bony as usual, her face more shapely and less elongated. Given what a skeleton she was before, the change was favorable, though she was still lighter than most girls her height. "I am afraid that due to my normal weight, it will become very noticeable soon."

You rolled your eyes, "love doesn't make people fat," you informed. "Besides, I've seen you eat, you can take it." It came to your attention that she had not ordered any major dishes yet. You had heard stories of how much she ate during social events. "Is that why you're not eating right now?"

"Oh no, miss (Name)," Mona shook her head, the ringlets that framed her features bouncing around her face. "I'm not worried about my weight, I'm worried about my condition. I'm afraid I'll become ill, I will not be able to hide it during the ball, then father will notice and insist that I see a doctor. Then what will become of the Gardenia name? Of Gustav? Of the child?"

"Child?" You repeated and Mona gasped as if frightened by the loudness of your voice. It didn't matter though, if anyone overheard, they would assume you were talking about you and Levi, you were the newlyweds after all. The pieces came together in your mind. Her condition wasn't just love, and it would indeed be obvious on her thin body, she was pregnant. Then your brain made another connection, she had mentioned Gustav, the ever cheerful and polite Gustav was Mona Lisa's lover? You could almost hear Mary Anne in your head, gushing about the forbidden romance between a Lady of Sina and a servant.

"I apologize, miss (Name), please forgive me for telling you this. I'm sure your gentle ears do not which to hear about such improper conduct," Mona Lisa apologized, as if begging for forgiveness for a horrible crime. She didn't apologize for being in love or pregnant, she apologized for telling you.

You had heard far more... complicated, stories of affairs in fiction, but decided that telling her that wouldn't be much of a consolation. "It's ok." You tried to reason what was going on. If Mona and Gustav were ordinary people this wouldn't be a big deal, but then if they were ordinary people they might have gotten married some time ago.

"Gustav has been asking me to marry him for quite some time now," Mona confessed, confirming your theory. "I wouldn't let him mention it to anyone though, father would kill him. Please, miss (Name), I beg for your discretion."

"Of course," you assured. "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone." You weren't sure if the part about Gustav being killed was metaphorical or literal, but you didn't ask.

"Thank you, miss (Name)," Mona breathed. "I am happy you agreed to help us reach the good doctor. He assured that he would do his best to have the baby be born healthy." You blinked, what exactly did you agree to? When? "Also, please give your husband my thanks, Gustav told me that he is intimidating but well meaning, don't be angry at him though, I sincerely believe he meant it as a compliment. Oh miss (Name) I knew you would understand, after all, you married a lowly soldier with no fortune, though I heard he might begin to lead a jewel mining operation outside of the walls when Maria is recovered. Is that true? I would like a baby sized tiara to be made if the child is a girl. Her father may be a servant, but he is a kind man with a heart of gold, so I want her to know that regardless of the circumstances of her birth, she is a princess. If it is a boy then make it a princely crown. I think it'll be a girl though, because I had a dream that it was a girl and she was beautiful. Oh miss (Name) I can't wait to talk to the good doctor and hear his opinion on the matter."

Doctors were not dream interpreters, nor did you think any doctor, however knowledgeable, could possibly be able to know the baby's gender at this early stage. You didn't tell her that though, and Mona was so full of life and joy that you decided to forgive the lowly soldier comment. You guessed that she meant to make amends with her father at some point, or else she wouldn't be talking about jewels. You still asked, because you didn't understand what your role was in all this. Apparently Gustav spoke with Levi, it must have happened after the two of you arrived at Sina and were swept away to get ready for the ball. Since you had arrived separately, which you did think was a bit unusual, Levi had plenty of time to talk to Gustav. Just what did he agree to? Mona seemed unaware that Levi didn't really have a chance to explain it to you. "What's the plan?"

"After we get to Rose, I'll get in contact with my lawyers and they'll arrange everything. Father will retire, I'll get him a nice mansion to live in and Gustav and I will move to the main house," Mona explained, as if it was all already a matter of fact.

"What if your father doesn't like that idea?" You cautioned, though not in a discouraging way.

"He will simply have to except it. The problem is reaching Rose, but with help from you and your husband that should be easy. Once I'm there the legalities will be processed and the takeover will be complete. Father will go bankrupt and will have no choice but to rely on me or his business partners. I'm sure he'll choose me, so that the Gardenia name will continue. I plan to threaten to change my family name to Valcrez, after my dear Gustav, if he doesn't cooperate, but if things are settled peacefully after the takeover and father accepts Gustav, I will give him the Gardenia name. None the less, until the legalities are done, I am not the owner of the Gardenia fortune," Mona explained.

You stared, "you've got guts," you mused aloud. She had somehow taken over her father's business all so that he would accept her boyfriend, a bit extreme, but gutsy none the less.

Mona gasped and smoothed her dress. "Is it that obvious? And how rude, referring to my daughter as guts," she frowned.

"No, I meant to say that you're brave," you clarified.

"Oh... such a quaint little expression," Mona twisted her nose in disapproval, "did you learn that from your husband," she was in snob mode.

"Now listen here, Mona," you warned. "Do not insult my husband."

Mona gasped and you wondered if you really looked that scary glaring at her. "I just realized I have been calling you miss (Name) during this whole conversation. Should I address you as Lady (Lastname) or Lady Ackerman?" Now she seemed to be in airhead mode. You realized this was her defense to diffuse the tension. At least she was aware that she had done something wrong.

"Just be respectful to Levi, ok?" You finally requested.

"Very well," Mona Lisa agreed. "But please, tell me, how may I address you?"

"(Name), just (Name)," you replied with impatience.

"Very well, (Name)," Mona nodded. "I'm sure you want to return to your husband now, so let me end our conversation by once again thanking you for your assistance and really, do give your hus-" she paused, and made herself rephrase her words, "Mr. Ackerman, please give him my thanks."

That was the first time she referred to him by name rather than as 'your husband.' At least she was making an effort to be respectful, and that's what made her 'not so bad.' She could still use some improvement though.

You returned to Levi's table and smiled curiously as you took your seat. "So, what exactly are we supposed to do for them?"

"Escort them out of Sina and to Rose," Levi whispered. "Mona has some documents to sign, which are being processed at Rose for safety reasons. You might recognize her lawyers as the Itadaki brothers."

"Who?" You inquired confused.

"The twins," Levi reminded.

"Oh," the two identical lawyers that were present when you and Levi signed the marriage document. "So we're taking her to them."

"Not directly, we leave tonight after the ball, she'll be staying at Dr. Facio's place at Rose until everything is ready," Levi explained.

"Facio, as in Fredrick Facio?" You asked.

"Yes. he's my neighbor at Rose, though he's usually off in Sina making house calls and spending the night wherever his patients are. Then again, I don't spend much time at my house either. He sometimes drops by after scouting missions to treat the wounded, unless he has pressing business at Sina," Levi explained.

"Oh, I didn't know he did that, he did seemed really nice though. Very gentle and patient," you smiled at the memory of your past doctor. Though he didn't cure you, he did help as much as he could and always treated you with importance, as a person, rather than just another patient. You had explained your past illness to Levi, but you realized that, despite describing the symptoms and mentioning your doctor and how he was as a person, you never really referred to him by name. He was always 'the doctor' and you felt kind of bad for that. You made it a point to call him Fred from now on, like your father did.

Levi didn't seem surprised that you knew Fred. He probably was already aware that he had been your doctor, as that piece of information wouldn't be difficult to obtain, even if he wasn't Fred's neighbor. "It'll be useful to have a favor to call in from the tyrant," Levi commented.

"Tyrant?" You questioned. It seemed that he knew more about Sina than you did.

"Mona," Levi explained. "She's a ruthless merchant that hides behind her father's shadow. Gustav seems alright though, so maybe he'll be a positive influence. Besides, she'll find a way to take over her father's assets anyway, we might as well get in on it and gain at least some use of her connections. I hate the lot of them, but sometimes you have to deal with difficult people like that."

"Mona's not that bad. She's bratty, but also a tad airheaded, like she doesn't know she's offending people," you tried to explain. Though you got a little angry over the lowly soldier comment, you realized in hindsight that she didn't mean it as an insult to Levi, but as a compliment to your lack of vanity.

"No, she's manipulative. She'll act helplessly snobbish as if she can't help her upbringing, then say something that sounds like she's trying to fight her wrong teachings and be forgiven. She's insulting so that when she says something half decent it'll stand out and you'll believe it. She's using Gustav, but maybe he'll still be a good influence, a connection at the very least," Levi explained in warning.

"She's having his child, Levi, she loves him," you defended. Mona had to care for Gustav, even if she didn't care for anyone else who wasn't rich.

"You trust people too much," Levi criticized.

You frowned, "you just can't see any good in people from Sina. Mona needs to go a long way to be a truly good person, she's still kind of a snob, but she didn't put me down when I was sick. Everyone else made jokes about me dying at any moment. If you think she's bad, you don't know anything about the bad side of Sina. I used to live here, I know how toxic it can be. I was fortunate enough to have a father who taught me kindness, but not everyone is that lucky."

"We shouldn't talk about this here," Levi discreetly glanced around, Monocle was nearby. You weren't even sure how Levi noticed him, he was much easier to see from your position than his. "We'll have to agree to disagree for now."

"Fine," you pouted.

"Smile," you blinked at Levi's sudden order and stared as he forced a very obviously fake smile onto his face. You became once again hyper aware that you were being watched, but you couldn't help it but to laugh. Levi mouthed a silent 'what?'

After your fit of giggles was under control, you explained. "You're not good at fake smiling. I might have to tickle you one day to make you smile for real."

"Don't even consider it," Levi warned, though the tension of your earlier disagreement about Mona was mostly gone as quickly as it came. "C'mon, maybe another dance will give them enough of a show to stop staring at us for a while, the looks have increased in attention."

You got up and linked arms with him, heading off to the dance floor. The song was a slow waltz at first, then the tune unexpectedly changed. You glanced at the orchestra, a few snobs were gathered around the conductor and they wanted a show. "You were right, they were pushing us to dance. I have a bad feeling about this." The music got faster and called for more movement in the dance. "Levi, I don't know how to tango."

"Just focus on not tripping on your dress or stepping on my," he bit his lip in pain, "feet," he muttered under his breath.

"Sorry!" You whispered back. It was dizzying, it was confusing, it was stressful, this wasn't what a dance was supposed to be like according to the fairytales. Then you realized it, this wasn't a dance, it was a show you and Levi were forced to perform. Maybe one day you'd be able to dance with him for real...

To be Continued

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