Dangerous Territory

BY : Rhov
Category: +. to F > Attack on Titan /Shingeki No Kyojin
Dragon prints: 2485
Disclaimer: I do not own “Shingeki no Kyojin” and do not make money from this fanfic.

Chapter 21

Dots and Dashes

 

The next day, Levi rejoined his fellow Jews, being forced out of the prison before sunrise, hit to walk faster if the person in front of him was too slow, beaten for not working harder, slaving away in the rain on a nearly-empty stomach, given only a bowl of watery soup late at night, and then shoved back down into the dungeon for a few hours of sleep.

Levi bravely put up with the cruel bullying. He heard plenty of sneers and got kicked more than once. As much as he knew he could have killed these soldiers, for the sake of his companions, he just clenched his jaw and dealt with it. If Krista was right, he would be out of this any day now, and these Germans would hopefully all die at the hands of the incoming Allies.

Only, he hoped some of them survived.

Armin rescued him from bullies once, smiling kindly to him and asking in broken French if he was okay. Another time, a group of soldiers started to gang around Levi, pushing him to and fro. Just as Levi was truly losing his patience and ready to lash out, Jean stomped up, shouted at the soldiers to get back to their posts, and quietly told Levi “Fais gaffe, idiot.” Watch out, idiot.

During this time, Levi did not see Eren. He hoped the young lieutenant was smart enough to kiss that bug-eyed captain’s ass, anything to not be on his bad side when it was reported that Eren lost all sixteen Jews.

Upon returning to his cell after that first rough day back, drenched to the bone and exhausted, Levi collapsed onto his cot, only to hurt his head as it landed on something hard. He reached under his pillow, where he found another gardenia flower (slightly crushed now) and a carrot. All the other Jews were astonished by the miraculous appearance of more food. Levi smiled to himself, knowing this was once again Eren doing whatever he could to help them out. They had to eat long after lights-out so no one heard the sounds of them biting into crisp vegetables, but it was some solid food to fill their stomachs.

That night, Levi went to sleep with the gardenia still under his pillow, filling his nose with a pleasant scent and calming his dreams into fantasies of gardens.

As he worked, Levi listened to the chatter around the village, trying to hear any news of the war. Brussels, Kortenberg, and Leuven were freed by the British. Chalon-sur-Saône was liberated by the French. Canada freed the ports of Dieppe and Saint-Valery-en-Caux. The Polish liberated Ypres. Finland severed their relations with Germany and agreed to a ceasefire with the Soviet Union. As the Allies began to sweep over France, leaders of the Vichy Régime fled to Germany.

The Axis was rapidly losing ground to the Allies. While the news was good for him as a Frenchman, he knew it was putting the Germans into a panic. As a Jew, that meant his survival was getting more and more precarious with every passing day.

* * *

It was late when Eren came back into the house he had commandeered for the closest members of his platoon. He tossed off his peaked cap, shook out his rain-drenched coat, and gave a long, exhausted sigh. Officer meetings with Kitz Woermann were becoming unbearable.

“I seriously need beer!”

Most of his men were already asleep for the night, and he wished he could join them. First, alcohol. Beer, wine, something, anything.

He saw Armin with a map spread out on the kitchen table. He had his field radio next to him with his headphones on, and set up near the table was a huge new antenna, something he had been building during his free time. Eren had seen Armin working on it for weeks, slowly trading with the locals for bits of wire and metal parts.

“Anything interesting?”

Armin did not even look up from his map, his face pinched with concentration. With those headphones on, Eren wondered if he could even hear him. As Eren walked by, Armin put a hand on his ear, pressed the headphones closer to make out whatever he was hearing, adjusted a knob on the radio, closed his eyes to hear better, and then made a mark on his map with a few notes scribbled down.

Eren ignored him, searched around the kitchen, and found a bottle of wine. Always wine here! He could not wait to have a huge stein of Lagerbier, Dunkles, Pils, Weißbier, at this point he would take any sort of beer! He poured the wine into a metal cup and took a sip, only to flinch. Too sweet!

He wondered if Levi would like this sort of wine. Maybe he could sneak a bottle and share it with him.

Their plan to release the Jews on Saturday was ready. Armin said he met with Krista and two other French women named Sasha and Ymir, and he gave them his ideas. Although Krista had to work as a translator between German and French, they made what would be a foolproof plan. Eren might still be forced to take responsibility, but as an officer, he was determined to accept that burden.

He had been busy, but he wanted to see Levi again, to say goodbye to him … privately! They would not have the opportunity on Saturday, and he wanted to kiss Levi one last time.

His kisses were sweeter than any French wine.

“Eren?”

Armin’s voice was quiet and a little shaky. Eren saw how he looked at the map, like staring at a picture of a ghost.

He pushed aside private fantasies and walked over. “What’s wrong?”

“Have you seen the latest maps of the front?”

“Yes, just now in the officer’s meeting. Hauptmann Woermann was raving because Leutnant Schultz’s platoon was on patrol, and a few of his men thought they saw dust clouds to the east that could have been an army, but no one went to check on it. Woermann declared the entire platoon should be shot. It took both me and Oberleutnant Dietrich to calm him down.”

“To the east?” Armin said, growing more nervous. “Earlier today, I went to headquarters and copied the lines on the main map, where the Western Front is now. Leutnant Schultz was there, and he let me see the latest intel from Berlin.”

Eren muttered into his cup of wine, “Probably trying to figure out what his men saw.”

Armin pointed to one set of lines drawn on his map. “We’re here,” he said, his finger resting on a spot in northern France near the Belgian border, a village so small, it was not even marked with a name. “According to the map at headquarters, the Allies are at least seventy kilometers south.” He pointed to a line he had drawn earlier with the date on the side. “However, this afternoon I pulled out the field radio to test out my new antenna.”

“What even is that?” asked Eren, looking at the pole with parallel metal bars. Armin constantly surprised him with his hidden genius.

“A Yagi-Uda antenna. The Japanese invented it. I saw a Funkenwagen in Paris that had this sort of antenna, and I talked to the Nachrichtentruppe controlling it. Basically, it directs the radio waves to one direction, rather than spreading out like a rock tossed into a pond, so you can reach a farther distance.”

“You saw it once, and you built it from scratch?”

“That’s not the point!” Armin said in frustration. “I decided to test out the range by pointing the antenna to Sedan. That’s fifty kilometers away and should be right at the end of my range for a small antenna like this.”

“You call that small?” Eren said. The total size of the antenna was bigger than their kitchen table, although it was mostly just thin poles.

“I figured, if we have to leave and head to Metz, we’d take the road through Sedan.”

“Right,” Eren said, sipping more wine. He recalled driving through the city of Sedan back in May, on his way to this village.

Armin looked up into Eren’s face. “I heard only English, no German at all. I thought maybe the signal was skipping, overshooting the city. Then I heard one American say the word Sedan. I couldn’t make out precisely what he said, but like he was already in the city of Sedan. I thought that couldn’t be right, so I pointed the antenna north, toward Givet, just twenty kilometers away. Same, only English radio chatter. No matter where I point it, it’s the same.”

“Maybe your antenna is broken.”

“You don’t get it!” he cried out. “If I made this antenna perfectly, the best my range would be is fifty kilometers. The closest Americans are supposed to be seventy kilometers to the south, yet I’m hearing English all around us. Then I finally caught something, very faint and in only Morse code, but it was German. Verdun is under Allied control. There’s fighting in Libramont. The Americans are almost in Luxembourg.” Armin was shaking now as his finger pointed to a line on the map. “This, to the best of my ability, is the real Western Front.”

Eren gazed at the map. He trusted Armin’s sharp mind, his communications expertise, and his ability to ascertain the layout of an area based on just lines on a map. If he was right…

…they were completely surrounded by enemy troops, bypassed by some stroke of luck by the bulk of the American Army, and now deep within enemy territory.

“Armin, that’s impossible.”

“I know. Why were we not informed of the enemy’s movements? How did they not already overwhelm us? Not today, or yesterday, but days ago!”

“You need to double check this.”

“I don’t have the authority to use the phone at headquarters, and if we transmit anything over radio waves, the Allies could pick it up and tell that we’re German. Schultz insisted his information came from Berlin, but I don’t see how that is possible. How could they be that wrong about the enemy’s position?” He paused, and his pale eyes slowly widened. “He was getting it over the telephone. That connects to a switchboard. Someone is intercepting our phone calls, rerouting it. But why do that to a small company? Why go through the trouble of feeding us fake reports if not to attack us by surprise? Why move troops dozens of kilometers around us, and not straight at us?”

Eren glared at the map. None of this made sense, but there was a bigger problem. “Let’s say this is true. How do we get out?”

“I would need accurate reports. Precisely where are the enemy forces? Are there any gaps? There has to be, considering our entire village was bypassed without a sign of an army.”

“No, there was a sign,” Eren muttered, thinking about the officer’s meeting. “Schultz’s platoon, the dust clouds to the east. That was probably the American army going right past us, and neither side bothered to inspect.” Eren finished off his wine. “Come with me, and bring your radio, antenna, and map. The captain needs to be informed of this at once.”

“This late? He may be asleep.”

“And we may be surrounded by Americans before morning. Hurry. If anyone can plan an escape route, it’s you.”

* * *

It did not take much to convince Kitz that Armin was right. The mysterious troop movement that morning had him suspicious of their intel already. He ordered for all officers to come to headquarters immediately. Leutnant Gunther Schultz had obviously already been asleep, his hair messy, blinking his eyes and slapping his face to wake up. Oberleutnant Ian Dietrich looked just as strict as always, his chiseled cheekbones appearing like they had never learned how to laugh.

Armin showed them his homemade antenna, briefly explained how it worked, and let them hear that there was only English chatter around them. With a range of fifty kilometers, the fact that they heard only English was proof enough that the intelligence supposedly coming from Berlin was wrong.

Ian Dietrich tried the phone again, putting in a call to Berlin and requesting an update of the nearest Allied troop position. When a reply came back in flawless German that American troops were still seventy kilometers to the south, Armin silently shook his head.

His radio could not reach that far. Definitely, the telephone switchboard had been tampered with. Someone, some enemy, was feeding them false reports.

The next question was, how could they get real information? The village was so small, the only civilian telephone had been in the castle, and they were already using the phone line it had been hooked up to. The only other communication devices they had were the platoon radios. Armin’s homemade antenna gave it five times the normal range, and he could only barely receive faint German Morse code. If they were to transmit a radio signal, the Germans would likely not even hear them, and they would be broadcasting their dilemma to everyone in the region. The Americans would realize they overlooked an entire company of Germans, and they would come back to capture them.

Radio communication was out.

Driving to Metz was loud and their vehicles were all obviously German-built. Eren suggested riding on horseback—he had done a lot of riding in his youth—but that would take hours, even at a gallop, and a horse would tire out before it reached Metz.

Then Armin recalled seeing a telegraph machine in the post office. It had been the village’s main way to communicate to the outside world. The postmaster was an elderly man the villagers called “Dot” after the dot-and-dash of Morse code. The German officers all agreed, while not ideal, at least a telegram could reach Metz securely. There was one problem.

Dot spoke only French.

“Jäger,” Kitz barked. “Get that filthy Jewish translator here. We only kept him alive for his mouth, so let’s put him to work.”

“Right away, captain!” said Eren.

He rushed through the dark to a storage room in the castle where the keys were locked away for the night. Rather than take the whole heavy keyring, Eren pulled off just Levi’s key and headed to the dungeon. He had to light a lamp to go down the pitch-black staircase, and he could hear snoring inside the cavernous dungeon.

He stepped inside the room and saw that all the Jews were asleep. He tried to walk softly, not wanting to bother them, and crept over to Levi’s cell. He was sound asleep. Eren paused, smiling at Levi’s peacefully resting face. He so often had that scowl that pinched his brows, but now he looked relaxed, peaceful, defenseless. Then Eren saw the gardenia he had left behind. It was right next to Levi’s pillow, his nose almost touching the silky white petals. Eren was glad to see that the flower gave Levi some comfort.

Eren reached his hand in and caressed Levi’s hair. It was oily—he had not bathed since Saturday and it was almost Friday—but it was still smooth, not a single gray hair, despite how old he claimed to be. Eren yearned to just sit there and watch Levi sleeping, like he had watched him sleep during his struggle with pneumonia.

Levi suddenly bolted awake. He reached under his pillow, pulled out a partially eaten carrot, and wielded it like a knife. He blinked hard, trying to wake himself.

“Sorry,” Eren whispered. He looked at what was in Levi’s hand. “Is that … a carrot?”

Takhshet,” Levi sighed, his instincts to attack calming down.

“You’re needed to translate for us.”

He sneered. “Merde! Translating, at this hour? I have to wake up before dawn, you know.”

“It’s an emergency.” Not waiting to argue, Eren unlocked the door and pulled it back. “Please hurry.”

Levi shoved the carrot back under the pillow and followed. The prisoner in the cell next to him, a studious-looking man with a trimmed beard, woke up and fumbled for his glasses so he could see what was happening.

“Levi?”

Tout va bien, Abel. Rendors-toi.” Everything’s fine, Abel. Go back to sleep.

Not wanting to wake up his companions, Levi followed Eren silently. They headed to where the Germans had set up a small headquarters, with the captain’s office, a giant map, and a phone line that only officers were allowed to use. The room was bustling, lights all turned on against the midnight darkness. The voices Levi heard were tense, edged with desperation and anger. Eren had also been a bit curt to him, his stride a little faster than normal. Levi wanted to ask what was going on, but the German captain was busy shouting at Eren. Suddenly, they all turned and filed out of the room, marching through the dark, damp streets with just oil lamps and flashlights to light their way through the rain.

Eren kept his voice low for Levi. “We need you to speak to a man in town with a telegraph. We want to send a message to Metz.”

“Telegraph? You have a phone.”

Eren’s face was grim. “The switchboard has been compromised. We can’t get a secure message out. We have only field radios, and at our best they only reach Sedan.”

“That’s all you’d need, right?” Levi paused. “Was Sedan liberated?”

“Overrun!” he insisted. Saying liberated made it sound like Germans had enslaved France, although perhaps that was partly true. “We hear only English chatter in the surrounding region, but our telephone calls to Berlin all insist the Americans are seventy kilometers to the south. ” He glanced down at Levi. “That’s why we need something the enemy hopefully did not consider, and some civilian’s old telegraph is our best option. We need to know if he has a line to Metz.”

Levi nodded, getting an understanding of the situation. They reached the post office, with the living quarters of the postmaster perched on the second floor. Kitz stomped up to the door and pounded hard. A light upstairs turned on, they heard footsteps coming down a staircase, and a bald man with a gray mustache dressed in a striped nightgown answered the door. Eren guided Levi forward and told him in English what the captain was yelling in German.

Levi told the old man, “Ces sales boches veulent savoir si tu peux envoyer un télégramme à Metz.” These filthy Krauts want to know if you can send a telegram to Metz.

Oui, évidemment! Mon télégraphe peut envoyer des messages d’Amsterdam à Marseille. J’avais l’habitude de pouvoir dire «et de Francfort à Calais», mais ces lignes ont été détruites par des bombes il y a quatre ans.” Yes, of course. My telegraph can send messages from Amsterdam to Marseille. I used to be able to say ‘and from Frankfurt to Calais’, but those lines got severed by bombs four years ago.

Levi turned to Eren and told him in English, “Yeah, he can reach Metz.”

In turn, Eren told Kitz, who instantly barged inside, shoving Dot aside while demanding that he get to work. Levi helped Dot to set up the telegraph equipment. Eren watched Levi as he seemed to know precisely what he was doing.

“You can use a telegraph?” he asked.

Levi’s sleep-deprived eyes turned over to him. “It was part of my job.”

Ah, that made sense. Levi mostly worked solo jobs as an assassin, so he had to know how to set up his own communications.

Kitz was yelling more things, and Eren told Levi, “He says, he doesn’t trust a Frenchman to send the message, plus it should be in German. He wants Armin to send it. He’s my platoon’s communications man. He knows Morse code.”

Levi turned to Dot. “Ces sales boches ne te font pas confiance. L’enfant-soldat là-bas veut utiliser ton télégraphe.” These filthy Krauts don’t trust you. The tiny soldier over there wants to use your telegraph.

Dot shrugged. “Allez-y, mais ne le cassez pas.” Go ahead, just don’t break it.

Levi turned back to Eren. “Yeah, go ahead. Break it and he will shoot you in the face.”

Eren chuckled softly. “I know he didn’t say that.”

As Armin sat at the telegraph station and began to tap out a message, Dot waved to Levi.

Viens! J’ai du vin.” Come! I have wine.

Levi turned to Eren. “May I wait in the kitchen?”

“I don’t want you out of my sight.”

“I’m wet, I’m cold, and he’s offering me wine.”

“Oh!” He looked at the friendly smile on the old man. Just an hour ago, he had thought how much he would like to share a bottle of wine with Levi. Even if he was not the one able to offer it, he at least wanted Levi to enjoy a drink. “I guess that’s fine,” he muttered, a little sad it could not be him offering. “Just don’t leave the house.”

“I won’t.”

He followed Dot up the stairs to the living area of the post office. There was a small kitchen. Dot tossed Levi a dish towel to wipe the rain off. Then he pulled out a bottle and two wineglasses. He poured out equal portions of deep red wine and set the bottle on the table.

“Feel free to help yourself. À votre santé!” he said in cheers, clicking his wineglass to Levi’s.

Levi took a sip and let the sweetness wash over his tongue. These Germans would never fully appreciate the complexity of a good French wine.

“I’ve seen them drag you around town, translating for them. Many residents here really wish we could do something to help you Jews. I want you to know that.”

“I’m alive. That’s what counts,” Levi muttered. “If it were up to me, I’d slit all of their throats and get out of here.” He paused, thinking about Eren. “Well, most of them.”

Dot smiled knowingly. “That lieutenant sure seems fond of you. He almost looked jealous that I was offering you wine. Looked sad too, like he wished he had thought of it first.”

Putain,” Levi muttered into his wineglass. Seriously, if even this old man could tell that much about Eren, it was a miracle all the Germans had not figured it out.

“Yes indeed, I hear he’s quite fond of you. Isn’t that right, Krista?”

Levi had been about to take another sip of wine when he said that name. He turned around, and in the kitchen doorway he saw golden hair and bright blue eyes.

“What are you doing here?” he whispered in surprise.

Dot chuckled as he finished off his wineglass. “Oh, she’s been living with me this summer, helping a poor old man run errands around town. This house is a refuge, you know.”

A refuge. A safehouse!

“Were you the one tampering with the Germans’ switchboard?”

Krista stepped forward, wrapped in a house robe. “Tampering? What’s this about? Is that why there are Germans here this late at night?”

Levi told her, “What little I gathered, someone hijacked their telephone switchboard and has been feeding them false reports.”

“False reports?” Krista said sharply.

Dot looked over at her. “Sasha was going off the German reports. If they’re wrong…”

Krista asked Levi, “What exactly was incorrect?”

“Troop movements. It sounds like the Americans are closer to this village than the Germans thought. Much closer.”

Dot whispered to Krista, “Go downstairs, listen in if you can, but be careful. They’re rather high-strung tonight.”

She tiptoed down the stairs to peep into the main postal room, playing the interested but bashful young maiden peeking in on German soldiers with a confused innocence as to why they were in her house.

Dot hummed as he refilled the two glass, even though Levi was not even halfway down. “She’s really enamored with you.”

Levi glared over at Dot. “Pardon?”

“I blame Sasha,” he said, smiling distantly into his wineglass. “Her father worked with you back in the day. Not me, a bit past my time, but Monsieur Braus filled up his little girl’s head with a glamorous fantasy of what our job was like. Sasha in turn told those stories to little Krista. I think they both see you as a war hero.”

Levi rolled his eyes. “I’m nothing of the sort.”

“We always think the worst of ourselves, given what we must do.”

“We?” Levi asked, but Dot merely had an enigmatic smile. Levi held back a tiny laugh. “You sneaky old bastard. How in the world did you slip past the Germans this whole time?”

“Whatever do you mean? The Germans are the ones who came and interrupted my retirement. I’m just a simple postmaster. The mail must be delivered, after all.”

“And you happen to have the only telegraph in town, perfect for feeding information to others.”

“If I’m paid to send a message, I’m obligated to send it.”

“Surely the Germans check what telegrams are coming into the village.”

“Of course. You’ve probably been forced to translate a few of them. Sunny day in Verdun. The grapes are growing plump. My dog has fleas.

Levi raised his glass to his lips and muttered, “All in code.”

“A simple one. This would never fly past the Gestapo, but luckily the men in this German company are not that cunning.”

Another young woman with kempt brown hair came into the kitchen with a sleepy, upset scowl. “Dot, what’s going on? Why are there soldiers in the house? And are you drinking again?” she asked, sounding more upset about the wine than the Germans. “Who’s this?” she asked, as if just now noticing Levi.

The old man smiled at her. “Anka, my love, you should join us.”

“I’m not your love, I’m married to your nephew, and a man your age should not drink so much. I’d rather not spend my days changing your diapers.”

Dot ignored her scolding. “Levi, meet Anka Rheinberger.”

Levi muttered, “That’s a German name if ever I heard one.”

She sniffed haughtily. “My husband is from Liechtenstein, actually.”

Dot shrugged. “What can I say, my sister married a Liechtensteiner. Little Anka here runs the house more than I do these days.”

“Because you’re an old drunk,” she snapped. Anka tipped her head in greeting to Levi. “Are you the captain the girls talk about?”

Levi dropped his voice. “Don’t ever refer to me as that.”

Dot chuckled. “Bring Gustav in here. We’ll make it a party.”

“Sir, really, you shouldn’t drink—”

“Anka,” he cut in, and Dot kept his friendly smile while his eyes shined with cold calculation. “Bring Gustav in here. We’ll have a party with our guest.”

She stiffened like a general had just given her a direct order. “Yes, sir.” She hurried back toward the bedrooms.

Dot chuckled to himself after she was gone and indulged in more wine, as if to spite her nagging. “I’m getting jealous. All these women are so enamored by you. Sasha and Krista in particular are determined to save you.”

Levi scoffed. “They sure are taking their sweet time about it.”

“You know how it is. Some missions require a lot of planning, setting things up because so much can go wrong. The Germans have been known to massacre whole villages for far less than what we plan to do. Like Oradour-sur-Glane.”

“Where’s that?”

“Little commune far to the south, near Limoges. I doubt if anyone outside of Haute-Vienne had ever heard of it before. The whole village was wiped out earlier this summer just because it was rumored that a kidnapped Waffen-SS officer was seen there. If these Germans knew we were working with a Heer officer to help sixteen Jews escape?” He took a sip of his wine. “Yes sir, that’s definitely something we want to plan with utmost care. It’s why I haven’t even told anyone outside of this village about the plan. Probably should’ve, in hindsight. If I had, maybe someone would have told me that the Germans were getting hoodwinked.” He looked over to Levi. “You know, you didn’t make it any easier on those girls. Krista told us your ultimatum. Everyone makes it out alive, or you will refuse to return to the Bureau. Personally, I’m surprised a retired spy would even think about going back. I agreed to house these girls and send telegrams for them because I happened to already be here. I enjoy my retirement, and I plan to keep enjoying it.”

Levi stared into the red color of the wine and whispered, “I wish I could have enjoyed it.”

“How long were you out?”

Levi took a sip and stared at the rain dripping down the kitchen window. “I left the Bureau in 1937. Three years later, I was running for my life. I didn’t even think that returning to the Bureau was possible. I heard it was dissolved.”

“It basically has been. Everything’s run from England now. You worked with the British, right? Sasha said her father had stories about that too, something about Poland and the SIS.”

“Ah, Poland,” Levi muttered. “Shitty mission. The only thing good about it was the city of Warsaw.”

“They say it’s the Paris of the East.”

“Paris is a steaming pile of shit. Warsaw is a cut and polished gem.”

“Is that so? Then it really is a shame what’s happening there.”

Levi looked over in concern. “What’s going on?”

“There’s been an uprising for the past month. Whole districts of the city are being flattened.”

“I don’t want to know more,” Levi growled. “Every time I hear news about the war, it’s some small piece of European history being crushed by these fascist bastards.”

“And that’s why there are anti-fascists like us, not just here in France, but all across Europe.” Just then, Anka returned with a tall young man. “Ah! Gustav, my boy, come in, come in.”

Levi sipped his wine as the three talked, half of it obviously in code: tomatoes and butterflies could not be that interesting. After a few minutes, Krista came back upstairs and joined in on the discussion.

Levi sat back with his wine, watching the four, and said to himself, “These Krauts have no clue whose house they walked into tonight.”

“Who, me?” Dot said with a good-natured chuckled. “I’m just some worn-out old veteran of the Great War with a knack for communications.”

“Right,” Levi muttered wryly.

It was almost three hours and a couple more bottles of wine opened on the table before Eren came up the stairs. As he walked into the kitchen, he rubbed his eyes like he had just woken up from a nap.

“There you are.”

Dot looked happily flushed as he hailed him over. “Bonsoir lieutenant. Voulez-vous du vin?

Levi translated, “The old drunk wants to know if you want some wine.”

Eren smiled pleasantly at him. “Non, merci.” Then he looked worried at the opened bottles. “How much have you had to drink?”

“Me, three glasses. Him,” Levi said, thumbing over to Dot, “practically a bottle to himself. Gotta respect an old man who can drink like that.”

“Well, we’re done here. We finally got a message back from Metz: ‘Problem eliminated, try phone now.’ We’re heading back to headquarters. Please thank the postmaster for us.”

“Why thank him?” Levi grumbled. “Do you think he had a choice in letting you in here? You woke up his whole family in the middle of the night and barged in. Your captain would have shot him if he tried to refuse, right?” He shook his head. “Fuck it all, at least I got some wine out of this.” He emptied his wineglass and set it on the table. Then he stood and bowed to the family. “Merci pour le vin. Je te verrai peut-être plus tard.” Thanks for the wine. Perhaps I’ll see you later.

Dot raised his glass in salute as Levi headed to the staircase. “Bonsoir…” He paused and muttered into his glass with a hidden smile, “… La Lame Juive.

Levi froze at that name, the nickname he had been given by the SIS and Deuxième Bureau: The Jewish Blade. A little stiffer, he continued down the stairs.

Eren looked over to Dot, ready to thank him with what little French he knew, only to see Anka, Gustav, and Krista standing around behind him.

“Krista!” he cried out. “Wohnen Sie hier? Ist das Ihre Familie?” Do you live here? Is this your family?

She gave him a playful smile. “Mon cher lieutenant, je ne parle pas allemand.” My dear lieutenant, I can’t speak German.

Eren held back a chuckle. “Ach so. Na dann … merci et … um … bonsoir.” I see. Well then, thanks and good night. With a tip of his peaked cap, he turned and followed Levi down the stairs, where the other Germans were already leaving.

Krista took a few bold steps forward. “Ah! Lieutenant!”

Eren paused and turned around, but Krista waited until all the Germans were out of the post office before whispering.

Sind wir in Sicherheit? Sind die Juden in Gefahr?” Are we safe? Are the Jews at risk?

Eren sighed and shook his head. “Ich weiß es noch nicht.” I don’t know yet.

From the front door, Ian Dietrich shouted out to him, “Jäger, wir gehen.” Let’s go.

He dropped his voice quieter to Krista. “Ich muss gehen. Ihr alle, seid vorsichtig.” I must go. All of you, be careful.

Eren hesitated, struggling with internal conflicts. He knew, somewhere deep in his heart, who these people were. His company had come here to flush out and capture anyone involved in the French Resistance. They had been told that the town was teeming with Resistance fighters, yet after the fighting ended, the only person they caught was Annie Leonhart. The Germans had assumed the rest of the Resistance ran away.

They hadn’t! They had still been here the whole time.

The proper thing to do was to arrest them, interrogate them, and find out just how many more in town were opposed to the German occupiers. For all they knew, these people had helped in sabotaging their communications, except Krista looked genuinely confused and worried by all this.

They did not have time to interrogate anyone, though. The Germans needed to leave as soon as possible, and they may have to fight their way out of enemy territory. There were no nearby trains to ship these people to an internment camp, and there was no way Captain Woermann would risk the lives of soldiers by bringing partisans along with them to Metz just so they could be properly imprisoned. Like with Annie, they would simply be shot.

The proper thing was to fully carry out their mission of purging every last member of the French Resistance from the village. Yet as Eren looked into Krista’s huge, blue eyes, he knew he could not kill her.

Vielleicht ... holen Sie sich Ihre Freunde.” Maybe, get your friends.

Yes, they were likely all with the French Resistance, but what did that matter anymore? If they could help get the Jews out of the village, if they could save Levi’s life, that was all that mattered.

Eren turned sharply. His orders had been to kill people like this. He knew he was going against direct orders.

Not like he ever completely followed what Nazis wanted of him.

They made their way back, and the rain was starting to lessen. Levi followed close beside Eren. “What was all that about?”

“It’s nothing. She was worried, that’s all.”

They continued toward headquarters. Captain Woermann shouted back at Eren, who saluted and changed direction. Levi followed as he headed toward the dungeon. Eren paused once he was inside the castle foyer and shook the rain off his coat. He also handed Levi a handkerchief to dry off a little. Then they continued on to the wing with the older parts of the castle, and reached the stone staircase down to the dungeon.

“I take it you’re done with me,” he said as they went down the stairs.

“We only needed you to translate to the postmaster.”

“So what happens now?”

“I don’t know,” Eren admitted in a whisper. “We need to figure out what’s going on, why we were being fed false information, what the real information is, and plan what to do from there. Worst case: we’re already surrounded and have no choice but to surrender. Best case: the Allies have no idea we’re here and we can sneak out. More than likely, we’ll have to fight between here and Metz.”

They reached the bottom of the staircase, and Levi paused as the truth dawned on him with a wave of sadness. “You’re leaving in the morning either way.”

Eren’s voice was quiet and cold. “Probably.”

Levi heard something, like a sneer or a sob or both, emotions trying to be suppressed and failing. Suddenly, Eren grabbed Levi’s arm and dragged him down the hall to the armory. Levi tripped after him. He wanted to yell at Eren to be more careful, but the lamplight showed the raging desperation in the soldier’s tense face.

Eren burst into the dark armory, yanked Levi inside, and slammed the door shut behind him. Then, without any warning, he pushed Levi up against the wall and attacked his mouth with frenzied passion. Levi barely had time to register what was going on before lips sealed shut any attempts at protest. Not that he wanted to tell the young lieutenant to stop!

“I don’t want to lose you.”

Eren kissed him again, roughly as emotions poured out. As shocked as Levi was by the kisses, what really stunned him was the sight of tears tumbling down Eren’s cheeks. The arms that wrapped around Levi shook with grief.

“I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to lose you!

He kept repeating that as his throat choked up with sobs and the pain made his kisses savage and frantic. Levi slowly lifted his hand, hesitated, but kept lifting it to Eren’s head. He stroked the back of his neck and the hairs that stuck out from the bottom of the cap, wanting to comfort the young man as the unbearable grief of separation poured out through those kisses.

Takhshet,” he sighed.

Eren kept giving him kisses, like he had to do it over and over to make up for all the time they would be separated in the future. It took a couple of minutes before he calmed down and pulled back, his chest heaving, his nose red, gazing at Levi with bloodshot eyes and blotchy cheeks. Levi frowned in sympathy as he saw the face wracked with intense misery. He reached up and gently wiped away the wet streaks that glistened on Eren’s cheeks.

“I’m not worthy of your tears.”

Eren snuffled and caressed his fingers through Levi’s hair. He had always loved the softness of his hair. “You’re worth everything to me. A few tears are nothing.”

He pulled Levi in, hugging him and resting his cheek on top of his head. Calmer now, he stroked his hand slowly down Levi’s back, wanting to remember the shape of him, the warmth, everything!

“Sorry,” he whispered, his emotions drained out. “I didn’t ask for your permission before kissing you.”

“Idiot. If I had hated it, I would have kicked your arse.”

“Then, did you like it?” Eren asked with a little hopefulness.

Levi pouted and grumbled, “I didn’t mind, that’s all.”

Hearing that made Eren smile. “I’ll make it back down here before we go, I promise.”

“I might be gone before then.”

“Oh,” he whispered. “I guess that’s true.” Eren realized, Krista and the other members of the Resistance might come to free the Jews before morning. Then this really was goodbye.

Levi pulled back out of the smothering embrace and gazed up at Eren. He still felt conflicted, but he seemed to be making up his mind about something.

“I want to give you a farewell gift.”

“A gift?” Eren asked in surprise. He knew the Jews had next to nothing of value. “No, you don’t have to.”

“For all you’ve done for me, it’s the least I can do.”

“No, Levi, really—”

“Shut up, takhshet.” He grabbed Eren’s chin. “And hold still.”

“What—”

Levi stretched his face up and gave Eren a soft, lingering kiss. Eren was stunned at first. This was only the second time that Levi willingly kissed him back. Whereas last time, Levi had coldly been instructing Eren on how to kiss correctly, this kiss was different. There was emotion in it, if only the anguish of a last goodbye. It also lingered long enough for Eren to relax into it and close his eyes, imprinting in his mind this warm sensation of actually being kissed by Levi.

Then, much to his surprise, he felt Levi’s tongue on his lips. Eren pulled back in shock, only to see those narrow eyes glinting mischievously.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never kissed like that before.”

Eren felt bashful and nervous as he shook his head.

“You really are a child. Do you even know what that is called?”

Zungenkuss. Tongue kiss.”

“What a sloppy word for it.” He leaned in close to Eren. “Do you want to know the English word?”

Eren felt his heart racing. “Yes,” he breathed.

“It’s called … French kissing.”

“French?” he asked in shock.

“Maybe the English learned it from the French.” He traced a finger over Eren’s lips. “Or maybe we French kiss the best.”

“I believe it,” Eren moaned, really wanting to be kissed more, and like that.

Levi smiled at that enthralled face. “Quel enfant!” What a baby! “For everything you’ve done for me up to this point, the least I can do is show you a real kiss.”

Eren gasped as Levi grabbed both of his cheeks, surged forward, and thrust his tongue between his lips. Eren surrendered to the invasion. It was nothing like the chaste kisses he had experienced up until then. Those childish imitations of adults, merely pressing lips together, were nothing compared to a lustful kiss given by a man who had experienced life’s carnal passions.

Eren realized, this also meant Levi reciprocated his feelings, at least a little. He did not see it as disgusting, sinful, or evil.

Eren grabbed him back, trying it in return, his tongue pressing in until he could taste the sweetness of the wine. He embraced Levi, his whole body wanting to be closer, to feel all the warmth in his skin. The soft, electric sparks of their tongues meeting filled his chest with fire.

Levi let him indulge. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the knowledge that they were about to be separated, or maybe—just maybe—he was beginning to fall for this man. Whatever the reason, he wanted to kiss him, not just be kissed by him.

Levi suddenly grabbed Eren, spun him around, and slammed him up against the door so hard he knocked his army cap off. Then he surged in, kissing him with intense passion. He combed his fingers through Eren’s hair, pulling it with desperation until he heard a growl edged with pain.

This, at least, was definitely the wine. His head was light with a liquid fire burning in his veins. He grabbed the Heer uniform, like he wanted to rip it off of Eren’s body, but instead his hands rubbed up and down his chest, pushing him firmer against the door as his tongue completely dominated the soldier.

Eren let out a soft, quavering moan as his mouth was invaded in a blitzkrieg of passion. He wrapped his arms around Levi, grabbed his ass, and yanked his hips in closer with a fervent thrust.

A bulge pressed up against Levi, and the foreign sensation shocked him out of the wine-tinged kiss. His hands shot out, pushing himself away. Poor Eren was a disheveled mess, slumped against the door, his hair sticking out, his lips swollen red and wet, his cheeks flushed bright, his uniform rumpled, with a pronounced tenting in his gray trousers.

“You’re getting a little excited down there.”

Eren laughed awkwardly. “I blame the French and your kisses.”

“Don’t blame German aggression on the French.”

“You were being the aggressive one this time,” Eren countered. He chuckled, feeling giddy just knowing Levi had kissed him like that. “You give one hell of a gift.”

“Yeah, well, Jews don’t like to be in debt.”

Eren hummed and closed his eyes as his body still thrummed. “I think you repaid with interest.”

Levi smiled quietly to himself. “I guess you could say that.”

It took a moment for Eren to realize what he meant just then. He had meant interest as in repaying a loan. Levi had twisted that word into its other meaning.

He had kissed like that because he had an interest in Eren!

He felt his cheeks warming up all over again, this time with bashfulness. Maybe Levi was right; he was acting like such a little boy, smitten and demure. Eren could hardly help himself, though. After all, this was his first time being in love.

They both took a moment to calm down their breathing and their hormones. Eren shifted his trousers and straightened his uniform. He picked up his cap, dusted it off, smoothed back his tangled hair, and tugged the cap back on.

Levi blinked out the haze of the wine. It had been so long since he had anything alcoholic, he probably should not have let Dot keep refilling his glass. It was a miracle he had not gotten outright drunk.

Still, not all of that could be blamed on wine.

“Hey, Eren.”

He finished straightening his cap and hummed in question.

Levi weighed his words carefully before whispering, “Find me in New York.”

Eren was momentarily confused, but then he gasped. Although brusque and quiet, that was a declaration. If they both made it out of here, they would hook up again, and this time…

… this time, Levi was willing to return his affection.

“I will,” Eren swore loyally.

As much as he wanted to kiss Levi again, he also wanted that final kiss to linger on his lips. That had been Levi’s kiss, a kiss of pure passion and not the sadness of separation. He wanted that to be what he remembered.

No other words felt right. They knew what had to happen next. Levi opened the armory door and stepped down the dark hallway, feeling the coolness of the subterranean air on his flushed cheeks. Eren took the lamp and followed him into the dungeon, keeping quiet while the others slept. He waited until Levi stepped into his cell, then shut the door as quietly as possible and locked it. As his hand began to pull away with the key, fingers clasped over him.

Levi’s eyes burned brightly in the wavering lamplight, and Eren hoped he never forgot that look of silent longing.

Then Levi’s fingers loosened, and he pulled back. He had to let Eren go. He had a war to fight, and in the end, they stood on opposite sides of the battlefield. Still, this moment would remain, where French and German, Jew and Aryan, none of that mattered.

Eren looked like he wanted to say goodbye, but he could not bring himself to speak the words. Instead, he turned sharply and marched out, leaving Levi to gaze into the darkness and offer a prayer that Eren would be safe.

Eren went up the stairs and shook his head. Why could he not say goodbye? Why could he not at least tell Levi “I love you”? In the end, no words felt right, so he fled. He regretted it, but he also felt that last promise to one another was the best way to end things.

He could continue to fight with all the ferocity he would need to make it through the war, if he knew Levi was waiting for him to return.

He went through the dark corridors to the storage room where they kept the prison keyring locked away. He had just opened up the room when Armin came running through the castle hallway.

“Eren, hurry! We got through to Berlin, for real this time. The captain wants you in the room now.”

Eren did not even bother shutting the door. He began to hurry behind Armin, knowing time was of the essence. He realized the key was still in his hand. He did not want to chance losing it, so he pulled out his silver necklace, strung the key through it, and tucked it away inside his uniform. He rushed after Armin, asking about what happened while he was gone.

As the lamp moved away and darkness swallowed up the castle corridor, a tiny shadow slipped around a corner. Krista had followed Eren in order to discover which room had the keys to the dungeon. It was pure luck that he got called away before locking the door again. Creeping softly, she slipped through the opened door, grabbed the keyring, wrapped it in a handkerchief to silence the clunky keys, and tucked them into a small purse. Then she slipped out again and quietly shut the door so no one would realize Eren had left it open.

Anka had come with her and was still hiding around a corner. Krista sneaked over to join her.

“That was quite some luck,” said Anka.

“I planned to ask him to give me the keys. He probably would have. This is even better. Then he won’t get in trouble.” She patted the purse. “We have what we came to get. Now we need to make a plan.”

“Dot left to get Sasha; Gustav is chasing down Ymir.”

“Chasing?”

“You know she can’t easily come inside the village. The Germans would kill a Romani woman like her.”

“Yes, sadly,” she sighed. “Then let’s get back to Dot’s place and prepare the safehouse. We’re going to have a lot of guests coming over for breakfast.”

# # #

# #

#

The OfficersI stated early on, the company was made up of three platoons and "barely a hundred men." Later, Reiner and Schmidt arrived with Waffen-SS platoons, but they left for the Normandy Coast. So there are currently four officers in the company: Hauptmann Kitz Woermann, Oberleutnant Ian Dietrich, Leutnant Gunther Schultz, and Leutnant Eren Jäger. (I was aiming for the most Germanic-sounding names in the manga.)

Lagerbier, Dunkles, Pils, Weißbier – All German names for types of beer: lager, dark lager, pilsner, and wheat beer. I can be a bit of a beer snob. Give me a beer that is a meal by itself and coats my tongue in rich boozy goodness, not some weak swill that feels like a hipster pissing into my mouth!

German officer's cap – The Schirmmütze, or peaked cap, was part of the dress uniform in the Wehrmacht. It had an oval wool crown stiffened with wire, a semi-rigid band, and a stiff black visor. Enlisted men wore the cap with a black leather strap, officers wore a pair of braided silver cords, and generals had gold cords. The cords worked as a chin strap on windy days to hold your hat on. (Eren should probably keep the chin strap down when Levi kisses him!) Around the top of the cap was Waffenfarbe, or "corps colors," distinguishing corps or troop functions in the armed services. In this case, the white trim is for the infantry. Insignia consisted of the national cockade surrounded by an oakleaf wreath on the front of the band, with the Wehrmachtsadler, or Heeres eagle, above; these were an embroidered patch or stamped aluminum pin. Eren's cap has a pin. (THAT IS IMPORTANT FOR LATER!)

Oradour-sur-Glane was the site of an infamous massacre. After the Resistance kidnapped a Waffen-SS officer, a member of the Vichy Régime claimed to have seen him in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. A German battalion surrounded the village. Without saying why they were there, they forced the men into barns and gathered the women and children into the church. They shot the men in the legs, doused them with fuel, and set the barns on fire. Then they threw an incendiary into the church to start a fire and barred the doors. When the women and children tried to escape through the windows, the Germans mowed them down with machine guns and grenades. The unholy massacre inspired the church-burning scene in Mel Gibson's "The Patriot." (For the record, the British never burned any churches during the American Revolution, but the visceral imagery inspired the director.) In an act of instant karma, or perhaps godly smiting, that same German battalion was massacred days later at the Battle of Normandy.

Armin's Radio – Germany used many forms of communication during the war, including telegraph, radio, and telephones. Armin is the platoon's communications guy and has a Torn Fu d2, a field radio that could be carried as a backpack. With a normal whip antenna, it can transmit up to 10 km for Morse code but only 3 km for voice, which is fine for battle but not great when your company is stuck in the middle of nowhere without adequate communications gear and the Allies have hijacked your phone's switchboard.

Yagi-Uda Antenna – Invented in Japan in 1926, it found many uses in war for communication, radar, and was a common sight for the Nachrichtentruppe (signal corps). A Yagi-Uda is also commonly called a beam antenna, because it directs a signal into a beam rather than spread out in all directions. They are super easy to make, so Armin definitely could have made one from some spare parts. You can even make a DIY Yagi-Uda antenna out of paperclips and popsicle sticks that will boost your WiFi and Bluetooth range. My husband is a HAM radio operator, and he pointed out that my idea of Armin "pointing his radio at Sedan" only works if he makes a Yagi-Uda antenna. He also gave me the idea of using a telegraph to reach Metz, so I owe all the technical aspects of this chapter to him. I recorded my husband explaining how beam antennas work. (LINK: chirb =dot= it/5dLBmz) So you can hear his sexy deep voice … and just how annoying my cat is. (Seriously, she would not shut up because he stopped petting her while talking to me.)

Telegraphs – Although the phone had been invented, telegraphs were still used to communicate swiftly over long distances. Whereas radio was insecure and a letter would take days and cannot travel through a blockade, telegrams were instant. Think of it as "19th century texting." By the 1940s, telegraph wires connected most cities and towns, and dozens of telegraph lines had been laid across the Atlantic sea floor. Whereas many small villages might not have a single phone, they would probably have a telegraph station. Field radios also used telegraph keys to send messages farther than what voice could travel, so it was common for soldiers, then and now, to be taught Morse code. To this day, HAM radio operators can use Morse code to communicate with basically anyone in the world in a series of dots and dashes. You don't need high tech computers, internet connection, or even that much electricity, and with wireless telegraphs you can communicate with just your paperclip and popsicle sticks antenna! When my husband told me that a secure way to talk to Metz might be an old telegraph station, I knew right away who would run it: Dot Pyxis! Dots and dashes.

– ⋅⋅⋅⋅ ⋅– –⋅ –⋅– –⋅–– ––– ⋅⋅– ⋅⋅–⋅ ––– ⋅–⋅ ⋅–⋅ ⋅ ⋅– –⋅⋅ ⋅⋅ –⋅ ––⋅

Historical Side Note: One of the most creative acts of Nazi resistance to come out of a POW camp involved Morse code. Major Alexis Casdagli, a British POW, cross-stitched what seemed to be a simple design. The canvas reads: "This work was done by Major A.T. Casdagli. No. 3311. While in captivity at Dossel-Warburg Germany. December 1941." It was decorated with the British lion, the Russian hammer and sickle, the Nazi swastika, and the German Reichsadler (imperial eagle, from their coat of arms). The prison guards were so impressed by the craftsmanship, they hung it up on the wall of the camp, never realizing the defiant message against the Führer hidden in the design. The piece contains two borders around the national symbols with a seemingly random splattering of dots and dashes. This was actually Morse code. The inner border reads "God Save the King," and the outer border, repeated over and over in Morse code, is "Fuck Hitler."

Some heroes don't wear capes; they wield sewing needles!

⋅⋅–⋅ ⋅⋅– –⋅–⋅ –⋅– (FUCK) ⋅⋅⋅⋅ ⋅⋅ – ⋅–⋅⋅ ⋅ ⋅–⋅ (HITLER)



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