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.

An ambiance I made for Metz, you can listen to it for an immersive experience:
https://warfare.ambient-mixer.com/1944-metz


Chapter 41

Burgundy in the Storm

 

Levi felt cold as he walked through the streets of Metz, and not just because of the rain. He wanted to look back at the hotel, just one last view of the place that had been his home for a mere five days, yet held some of the warmest moments he had experienced in years.

The back of his neck burned, like someone was staring at him. Had Eren already realized he sneaked out? Was he watching him now?

It had taken Levi a while to get out, first opening the stuck attic window, which probably had not been opened in decades, then climbing onto the roof of the hotel—that was not too hard with his skills learned as a spy. Thankful no one below bothered to glance up as he flipped over the eaves and landed on the roof, sliding slightly on the wet shingles. Then he had to cross a few other roofs of the side-by-side buildings before he found a safe way down.

Doing this in broad daylight, and worse with the roofs slick from the rain, was the worst way to escape from the hotel, but he had to admit, he had panicked. He just knew he had to get out of there. If he did not leave right at that moment, he might be convinced by nightfall to never leave Eren's side. He managed to get down, and only a few children and one elderly man smoking outside a hat shop saw him climb down a tree. They shrugged and ignored the oddity. None of their business, no point in making it their business.

Once down, he made it back to the main road, seeing the outside of the hotel for the first time since he arrived in Metz. He asked some stranger for directions to a street and was pointed in a general direction. Then he left, not looking back. Despite the tingle on the back of his neck, he merely flipped his collar up and continued on.

Don't look back! Never look back!

He kept his hat low, hoping no one would recognize him dressed like this. He heard a blend of French and German all around him, carriages and automobiles, shopkeepers trying to make a living and soldiers preparing to kill.

France should not be this way!

He turned down an alley, and finally he stopped. He held onto the wall as he leaned slightly over, his chest aching, his stomach sick. At least here, no one was around to see the anguish on his face.

He just walked out.

Eren would probably cry. Levi hated the idea of breaking the poor man's heart, but the dread of him getting killed outweighed any guilt about leaving without a word. He was good at survival when he was alone. He had never needed to rely on others, not until the war began, and then he was always trying to protect people. He could not protect all of them on his own and fight Nazis, yet every time he finally agreed to rely on other people for help, he got caught.

Staying with Eren, relying on him this much, growing so attached to him, was becoming too dangerous. He knew he needed to leave, and it was going to be hard. It was best to just slip away.

Still, it stung his heart.

As he closed his eyes, he saw again the ghostly image of Eren, his throat slit, blood pouring down his toned chest as those huge, teal eyes gazed sadly at him.

"Non!" He slammed his fist into the brick wall of the alley to shove those phantom images aside. He needed to focus, to stay alive.

First, he needed to find out the address he had memorized and see if it really was the French Resistance, or if it was a Nazi trap. This was yet another reason to leave without telling Eren. If Eren knew he was going to check out the place, he might follow him, and if things really did go bad, the heroic idiot would leap in and probably get himself killed.

Levi listened for whoever spoke French and asked them for directions. They caught his Paris accent, and most were hesitant to help. He was obviously not local, and who would come to Metz at a time like this? Bad news! They wanted nothing to do with it.

Luckily, he found a street with many dirty children, likely war orphans. Levi knew from experience, they were easy to bribe. He carried a bag with his supplies, including his Tanakh and the little pouch of money the priest in Fischbach gave him. He found the skinniest child he could, offered a reward if he would lead him to the address, and saw the boy's eyes light up at the shiny coin.

He had been there once. Children did not care about reasons why adults did things, not when getting your next meal was more important.

The boy led him across town to a wine shop. Appropriate, given the pass phrase. He gave the kid one coin as promised, and another to keep his mouth shut. Then he stepped inside the shop and dusted the rain off his cap and coat.

Dark wood and old paintings greeted him. The room had an ancient feel, a deepness that came with surviving over the centuries. He could imagine that this wine shop once catered to knights and squires.

A well-fed man with a flush to his nose, like he had been drinking his own wares a little too much, came forward while wiping his hands on a stained apron. "May I help you, sir?"

"I need a bottle of burgundy."

"Are you looking for a certain vintage? Don't tell the Germans, but I have bottles going back well over a hundred years," he said with a wink.

"Something appropriate for the weather."

"Well, sir, wine is good rain or shine."

"True, but that storm yesterday was quite something, right? I find a bottle of burgundy pairs best with a storm."

At that pass phrase, the man's jovial smile froze and his eyes turned darkly serious. "You're quite right, sir. It does indeed. Let me fetch something for you. I know just the thing."

He left, and Levi's hand brushed against the hilt of his knife, just making sure it was still there by his side in case this was a trap. He also glanced around, but there were no other patrons. That could be to his advantage: fewer innocents getting caught up if this turned ugly, and less chance of a Gestapo in plainclothes waiting to nab anyone who said that pass phrase.

The shopkeeper returned with someone imposingly tall, bobbed blond hair, with a thin beard trimmed right along the jawline. Dark gray eyes gazed Levi up and down, evaluating him.

The newcomer greeted him in Alsatian. "Bùschùr, miner klai Frend." Hello, my little friend. "Do you enjoy drinking in the rain?"

Levi's eyes narrowed, thrown off right away by the strong Alsatian accent. If he had not recalled his mother speaking Alsatian when he was a small child in Strasbourg, before their move to Paris, he might have thought this was a German trying to bluff their way through French.

He worked through the accent and wondered, was there a secondary pass phrase, or was this just a simple greeting? He had no idea, but he knew caution was best in situations like this. A person can imply their intentions with the right words.

"The rain has drenched France's soil for too long," he said quietly.

Pale lips tightened. "It has indeed. Let us speak over a glass of wine, miner klai Frend."

The newcomer waved for Levi to follow, and all three walked to the back of the store, to a thick door with a heavy lock. Before he reached it, the shopkeeper shoved Levi's shoulder.

"Your knife stays here."

"Not happening," Levi snapped, glaring defiantly at him.

The bearded blond paused and turned back around. "Please do not cause us trouble."

"Then don't try to disarm me. I'm not here for a fight, but I refuse to be helpless."

The person's gray eyes trailed up and down Levi again. "What's your name?"

He hesitated. "Is this place secure?"

"No."

"Then I should refrain from answering."

The bearded cheeks rose in an amused smile. "Let our klai Frend through."

"Watch who you're calling small, dog-beard."

The blond's eyes narrowed. "Kannst dü Ëlsässisch redde?" Do you speak Alsatian?

"No, but my mother did. Call me klai again, and I can't promise my knife will stay in its sheath."

"Promise it will and I'll stop."

"Deal."

The blond waved the shopkeeper back, and the large man stepped aside. Levi continued past the backroom door. A ramp led down into a vast underground wine cellar, dark, cold, with the deeply rich smell of old oak barrels. They continued to the very back, where an ancient stone wall rose up. There they stopped, and the tall, bearded person faced Levi.

"Do you have the paper you were given?"

"I tore it up."

"Then repeat what you told him."

Levi was glad he had a good memory. "Une bouteille de bourgogne se marie le mieux avec une tempête."

With a nod of satisfaction, the person pushed on one of the stones. It gave way, and a portion of the wall swiveled open.

"Impressive," Levi muttered as they entered the secret passage. "Not unique, though."

"It's held out for centuries," the blond said, making sure the wall returned to its spot. "After you, miner Frend."

They continued down a winding staircase, plunging deeper into the underground.

"How do you know Carly? That was her unique pass phrase."

"She's a friend of a friend, you could say."

"She warned me, a German may come. You don't sound German."

"That would be my friend. He met your brothel madame and promised to help her. I'm here to make sure it's safe to trust you."

"You're taking a risk."

Levi scoffed wryly. "I take a risk every time I shit."

They came to a long tunnel stretching out, almost like it was built to be a sewer but never finished. Electric wiring ran in corded drapes to give power to naked light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, giving the tunnel just enough light to see by. The ground was soft, sandy, and slightly damp. They plodded onward, mostly walking on planks of wood and scraps of sheet metal that kept their feet from sinking into the sand.

"Metz has many underground tunnels like this," the bearded person explained. "Most were made just before the war began, meant to be bomb shelters. The Germans tried to dig more tunnels, but they gave up after one hit a gas line and caused an explosion. This one isn't on any map. It's ancient, 1600s at least, possibly older."

"It's shit," Levi grumbled. "Is this quicksand?"

"In a few places. Watch your step. It is why construction never continued, and now we have an abandoned tunnel all to ourselves. It works, and we use what works."

"Who's we?"

"Have you not guessed? You came here for our help, nai?"

Obviously this person must be the name that had been on that scrap of paper. "Yelena, I presume. Then you are the Resistance?" He glanced around, and in the poorly lit darkness he saw men walking around, many carrying rifles, and soft murmurs of French conversations. "To be honest, I walked in that wine shop expecting Gestapo to come pouring out."

Yelena chuckled and brought him to a shelter, not much more than corrugated metal panels hastily welded together into a shack. Inside was a desk, a radio, a bed, and maps tacked to walls, as well as a few photographs hung up.

"Welcome to my home."

"It's filthy," Levi muttered.

Yelena took a seat by the desk and waved Levi to a small chair. He pulled out a handkerchief first and dusted off the seat before sitting down.

"Sorry for earlier. The Alsatian tends to throw off the Germans and the Milice. Most of the people who come seeking us are locals and don't blink an eye at a little Alsatian here and there, but when some southern fascist traitor hears it, their confused faces are priceless! And then we shoot them," Yelena said with a casual shrug and gleeful smirk. "Yet you didn't look all that confused. Plus you apparently knew what I was saying. You don't sound local."

"I was born in Strasbourg, don't remember much of it, but my mother never could get bùschùr into bonjour."

The blond chuckled softly. "Small world. I worked in Strasbourg up until the war started. My boss spoke Alsatian, so of course I had to learn both it and German just to get around the city."

"What if I had not known what you were saying?"

"You wouldn't have your knife on you, that's for sure. You'd also have a gun to your head until we can make sure you're not a Milice spy. Now, would you like some of that burgundy? The nice thing about making our headquarters in the basement of a wine shop is we have plenty to drink, and the owner doesn't mind so long as we stay out of the good stuff."

"I'll pass."

"Do you think it's poisoned?"

"I have no reason to think otherwise."

"Fair enough," Yelena said, uncorking a bottle and pouring out a cup. "So, may I now have your name?"

"Rivaille Martin"

"And you've come on the order of your German friend?"

"Not his orders. More like, I took the paper he got from a prostitute, tore it up to make sure he wouldn't come here like a gullible idiot, and came myself. Plus I need to get out of Metz."

"We don't provide rides. You can walk out yourself."

"I need papers."

"Is there trouble?" When Levi did not answer and merely glared, Yelena nodded in understanding. "That's a tricky request. Forgery can be dangerous … and expensive."

Levi rolled his eyes. "Of course you'd want money."

"We won't ask you to pay, but we will expect you to work. Even little things can help the cause." Yelena put the cork back in the bottle and took a sip of the wine. "Do you have any skills?"

"I'm a broom maker. I could sweep the sand out of your home."

Yelena shook her head and muttered with disappointment, "That's not much of a skill."

"I speak English."

"That would be helpful when the Americans arrive, but not with Germans in town. Surely there's something else."

Levi frowned and looked around the room. All these months, he had hidden his military connections from the French Resistance, and he saw in the last village just why. When the Resistance learned who he was, they wanted to recruit him. Now, to get the forged documents he needed to get out of the city, he ironically was going to be recruited against his will.

"How long would I be asked to volunteer?"

"That depends on how much you can relieve the workload from the rest of my men. For something like this, I have to expend manpower and resources. People have to risk their lives, forgers have to be bought or intimidated, and I don't have many volunteers as it is. Our focus is liberating Metz, not providing help to every person who stumbles our way. I agreed to help Carly as an old favor; I did not agree to help some random broom maker as well. Now, if you can provide some real assistance to my men, to the point where I can spare one or two to go hustle a forger, then I can get you papers in about a week. If all you can do is sweep the floors, I don't mean to sound heartless, but it's not worth risking the lives of the entire group. You'll be allowed to stay hidden down here and wait until Metz is liberated, and you can sweep our floors for some food. Maybe the shopkeeper will hire you to clean his cellar—Heaven knows he needs it! I'm really sorry, but I can't risk men and waste resources just to be a charity service. I'm trying to keep my men alive and help to free France."

Levi knew there was some brutal honesty in those words. This was the cold calculations of a person who had been in a dangerous position of leadership for long enough to get over the egotistical idealism of thinking they can save everyone—something Eren still struggled with—and realize that some good deeds were not worth the risk.

Reluctantly, he admitted, "I have some military experience."

Yelena scoffed and took another sip of wine. "Everyone and their grandmother has military experience these days."

"I mean with the actual army."

"Half my men were in the army."

"Would it help if I said I worked in the Deuxième Bureau?"

Yelena nearly spit out the wine. "Are you serious?"

"Captain Levi Ackerman, code name La Lame Juive. I primarily worked alongside the British SIS. Infiltration and assassination."

"Shit! Why didn't you say so earlier?"

"Do you think I'd still be alive if I told people I was a spy? I'm taking a risk, but I see leadership qualities in you."

"That's a high compliment, if you really are who you say you are."

"Plus I know that if you betray me, I could kill every single one of your men."

Yelena had to chuckle at that. "You must be good to be so confident."

"No, your men look like a bunch of shitty drunks."

"They basically are, but it's what I have to work with. Captain Levi Ackerman, huh? You really are paranoid, giving me a fake name."

"Do you blame me?"

"Not one bit, with a name like that. A Jew?"

"How astute of you!" he said in mockery. "Yes, I was born to a Jewish mother. It's why I want to get the hell out of Metz."

Yelena finished off the cup of wine. "So, what is someone like you doing in a place like Metz? Hopefully some infiltration and assassination."

"I was conscripted by the Nazis. They didn't know who I was; they just wanted me to translate."

"Do you speak German?"

He shook his head. "Just French, English, Yiddish, and a little bit of Polish. One of their officers spoke English as well, and we worked as a translation team. We became friends over the summer, and he's been hiding me."

"The same cute Wehrmacht officer Carly mentioned, I presume." Yelena took the bottle of burgundy and poured out some more. "So, this German friend of yours, is he a spy?"

"No. Just a good man," Levi muttered, not wanting to drag Eren into this. "He saved my life. I owe him, so I decided to check out this place on his behalf. If it was the Resistance, he can get both me and Carly's prostitute out. If it was a trap by the Gestapo, I'd get to slit a few Kraut throats."

Yelena chuckled while corking the bottle back. "I like your way of thinking."

"And I hate your beard," Levi snapped right back. "Do you think you're fooling anyone with that? It looks like you shaved a dog and glued it to your chin."

Yelena reached up and touched the beard. "I think it suits me nicely."

"Granted, your voice is low enough to fool anyone into thinking you're just young, and you're uncommonly tall for a woman, and I will refrain from saying anything about your chest. Still, your beard looks fake as hell, and once you notice it, you see the feminine features of your face."

"I'll take that as a compliment, considering no one has ever called me feminine." As Yelena began to bring the cup up to her lips, Levi snatched it away, stubbornly drinking some. Yelena chuckled in amusement. "You were waiting for me to drink a full cup."

"I wanted to be sure you were actually drinking it, not just faking sips to get my guard down. After that, I didn't want any of that shitty dog hair in the drink. It's sick, drinking after someone and getting their germs, but at least I know there is no poison in the cup." He sipped some wine while Yelena pulled out a second cup. "Why would you disguise yourself as a man?"

"Do you have any idea how hard it is to go around this city as a woman? Too many soldiers pester you, flip your skirt, grab your ass, tell you to smile … or worse. As a manly woman, they'd probably jail me, if not shoot me. As a man with a beard, and especially a blond, they ignore me. It makes being a person like me rather convenient."

"Like you?"

Yelena waved down her flat, curveless body. "A woman who doesn't fit into her gender."

"I knew someone who scoffed at gender, said it wasn't scientific."

Yelena laughed. "That sounds like an old friend of mine." Yelena walked over to a picture hanging on the wall and pulled it down, cradling it with fondness in her eyes. "We were all outliers, everyone in the group, either not fitting in with a gender, or not understanding why women and men were expected to act certain ways. Wearing the clothes we wanted, drinking what we wanted, fucking who we wanted. Girls or boys, didn't matter to us who you preferred. They were my family." She placed the picture on the table. "I fight for them, wherever they are now."

Levi glanced at the picture, but suddenly he jolted. He slammed his cup down and grabbed the picture frame.

It was a photograph of five youths posing under a sprawling tree with their bicycles, like they had ridden out there for a day of escaping from tedious reality. He saw a tall blond wearing men's clothing with bobbed hair, definitely Yelena, although she was only a teenager at the time. Next was a voluptuous teen wearing a scandalously short flapper dress, smoking a cigarette and looking like she was about to orgasm while getting herself off with the seat of her bicycle. The other two ladies in the picture were kissing each other while flipping a two-finger salute to the camera.

In the middle of them, like a proud parent, was a slightly older person, early twenties, with thick-rimmed glasses, wearing trousers held up with suspenders, and long hair pulled back in a messy ponytail.

"Shit! You knew Hange?" Levi shouted, recognizing the scientist right away.

Yelena yanked the picture frame back. "How the devil do you know Hange?"

"When I lived in Paris, Hange was well-known on the streets. A quack scientist, kicked out of some elite research lab for unconventional experiments. Hange built a personal lab in the middle of some seedy part of town, but we respected that weirdo and protected the place from the police who thought Hange was baking up drugs and wanted to shut the whole thing down. Hange hired us street rats to get corpses for study, and even paid volunteers to have experiments run on them. If the experiment went bad, Hange always made sure to care for the person for the rest of their life, often letting them live right there in the house where they helped out, making food, doing laundry, cleaning, things Hange didn't bother about. It meant shelter, food, a job, more than what most of us had, to the point where Paris' most poor clamored to be the next test subject, and many hoped their own experiment was a failure so they'd get set up in a cozy life. At some point, Hange met my uncle, and through him I got to know that crazy nut job. I did a few jobs, mostly stealing chemicals for some new experiment."

Yelena hummed and refilled their cups of wine. "Sounds like the same person."

"What year was that taken in? I know for sure, Hange was in Paris by 1925."

"'25? That was the year Hange finished studying at the University of Paris … and got expelled from the laboratory three months later. This photo was taken around that time, on one of Hange's visits back home. We grew up in the same town, just south of here. My parents were concerned when it became clear that I was not developing like a normal girl—fifteen, never started my menstrual cycle, not even a slight hint of a chest, taller than most of the boys in my class. My parents had taken me to every doctor in the area, including Dr. Zoë. When Hange came back from university, I was brought in for an exam. My parents hoped new advances in medicine could explain what was going on with me. Hange told my parents, there was nothing wrong, I simply wasn't fully a girl, and that was okay, because—I will forever remember these words—gender isn't based on science; it's based on religion, oppression, and misogyny."

"That's definitely Hange," Levi muttered. "So, did they do anything for you?"

"Ha! No, Hange just gave me confidence and explained why my body was not like other girls."

"What exactly—"

"Do not ask me about my genitals."

"No, no…"

"Fuck," she sighed. "This is why I don't tell people."

"Look, I don't want you to strip naked and show me what you got down there. I just want to know, if I have to kick you in the balls, is it going to do anything?"

Yelena laughed at his cantankerous bluntness. "Unfortunately for you, they're not down there, and if you try, I hope your foot gets stuck up my cunt and snaps your ankle."

She pulled out some cigarettes, offered one to Levi, but he waved it away. She lit up and sighed with a light curl of smoke drifting up into the air.

"My whole childhood, I appeared like a perfect little girl. Hange realized that I have no womb. I can fuck, but I won't ever have children, which is fine by me. My parents started to talk about surgeries to fix me, and when Hange said there was nothing to fix, I was perfect as I am, it made me so happy. It also made me realize, I didn't want to be their little girl anymore. I'm still a woman, but I wanted to be … more! More than some dismal life staying at home, marrying for wealth, and bearing children to pass on some husband's family legacy. I began to dress like a man. My parents got … so angry," she said, her voice fading away. "Hange's family took me in for my own protection. I spent the next three years working at the Zoë manor, and it was the first time in my life I ever felt truly welcome."

She pulled out the framed picture again and gazed upon it fondly.

"This photo was taken during my third year there, and you can see, the Zoë family were fine if I wanted to wear men's clothing. Every time Hange visited, we would spend every moment together. I thought of Hange as my adopted mother-father," she said with a soft laugh. "You can see Carly there in the picture too." She pointed to the girl in a flapper dress, looking like she was about to get herself off with the bicycle seat. "She and I went to the same school. We were delinquents. She had sex with every boy in class," Yelena said with a laugh, "whereas I wanted nothing to do with boys, besides being treated as their equal. Hange would tease that maybe God took all of my femininity and put it into Carly. I'm not fully a woman, I'm not interested in men … and that's dangerous in this world."

Levi's eyes dropped, thinking about how dangerous it was for him and Eren. "Still, isn't it odd that you wear a beard but go by Yelena?"

“I go by many names. Between me and Carly, it’s my childhood name. My men know me as François, the Resistance calls me Mi-homme. If the Nazis come looking for someone named Yelena, they won’t expect a bearded Alsatian man, and if they come looking for François…” Yelena chuckled smugly. “Meine Muttersprache ist Französisch, aber ich spreche fließend Deutsch und Elsässisch. Niemand würde denken, mein Name ist François.” My mother tongue is French, but I speak fluent German and Alsatian. Nobody would think my name is François.

Levi’s eyes widened in shock at the perfect German.

Yelena smirked at his silent but stunned face. “I told you, when I worked in Strasbourg, I learned German. It comes in handy. Mi-homme, François, Johan, Yelena. I learn to blend in. I happen to like my birth name, and it’s a handy one to use in situations like this, when the wrong person may come looking for some woman named Yelena.”

“So what name should I call you? Yelena or François.”

Yelena exhaled her cigarette in a stream of smoke. “Around my men and out there,” she said, nodding up to the city above their heads, “it is best to call me François. If you’re talking about me to other members of the Resistance, then use Mi-homme. If it’s just the two of us, if you don’t mind … I still think of myself as a woman, even if my body only half agrees. I’d like to be called by my name again.”

Levi gave an accepting nod. "Yelena it is!"

"Thank you for being accepting."

"Fuck, no one accepted me for four years. When someone finally did…" He thought about Eren, and his bright smile pained his heart. "…it was nice."

Yelena saw the wistfulness in his face and took a slow drag on her cigarette. "So," she said, trying to divert the conversation, "do you know what happened to Hange?"

Levi shook his head. "The last time I saw that mad scientist was probably just before this picture was taken. I needed some wounds patched up, and Hange was the only person with medical experience whom I could trust. I joined the military shortly after and didn't return to the old neighborhood for twelve years. In 1940, the first place my wife and I headed to after fleeing our village was Paris, hoping we could hide at Hange's place until we could get out of France. That was the only safe place I could think of. We arrived, those old science-experiment-rejects were still living there, but they said when the Nazis arrived, Hange packed up every single notebook and journal, destroyed any useful equipment, left them with enough money to keep them going for a few months, and fled the country."

"Hange's parents were Jewish," Yelena muttered. "They were sent to the camps with all the other Jews."

Levi looked up in surprise, but then fell in anguish at what that must mean for their fate. "I didn't know that."

"That, plus not having a gender … that's dangerous when it comes to Nazis."

"Nazis hate anything that doesn't shit gold swastikas." Levi sipped his wine. Anything aberrant was dangerous when it came to Nazis.

"So that's my history," Yelena declared. "Grew up rejected by my parents, worked for Hange's family while I finished up school, moved to Strasbourg for work, went by the name François while I was there and lived as a man, moved back here when the Germans invaded, only to find that my father welcomed them eagerly. I joined the French Resistance, worked with them for a few years, got arrested, broke out of the prison camp, and now I'm here again. I have a cousin in Metz who is a spy for the British, and we help each other out. What of your history, Mister Captain of the Deuxième Bureau?"

"Like I said, born in Strasbourg, grew up on the streets of Paris, joined the military to get out of there, did some assassination work down in Africa, and some asshole recommended me for the Deuxième Bureau. I speak English, so they sent me to work with the SIS. I left after killing some British bastard, moved to the countryside, tried to put it all behind me, then the war hit. It's been nothing but blood and death since then."

"I'm surprised you've lasted this long."

"I know how to survive."

"Well, if you're going to blend in here, work on your stance and accent. You stand like a soldier, and you sound fresh off Champs Elysées. Maybe learn some Alsatian, throw in a hopla here or there so you at least sound like you're from this region."

"I don't want to blend in. I want to get out of here, dammit. I need papers. I can't exactly go to the city gates and introduce myself as Levi."

"As I said, that takes time. The girl too, I assume?"

"Girl?"

"Carly's girl."

"Oh right, the whore."

"Carly told me a little. She wants your German friend to take that girl in more. It keeps her out of the hands of others."

Levi felt jealous rage surge into his fists. "Take her in? Do you mean hire her for a night?"

"That girl is local, some innocent little farmer's daughter. Carly wants to keep her safe, but she can't make it too obvious. If your lieutenant friend can hire her, then the girl stays safe. Or they can have fun together, whatever."

Levi's teeth clenched at the idea.

"Carly says she trusts that officer to be a gentleman, and you say he's just a good man. So let him know he should hire the girl more often."

Levi knew they had a point, especially if they could not keep her out of the hands of the Germans. Eren was not interested in women, so he had nothing to worry about, but it still made Levi uneasy.

"How long is this going to take?" he seethed.

"Why are you angry?"

He snapped, "Answer the damn question!"

"A week. Maybe ten days."

Ten days, with Eren having that prostitute coming to his room every night. He felt like vomiting just thinking about what could happen.

Yelena's eyes narrowed. "Do you not trust your German friend?"

"I do," he grumbled. "I know for a fact, he wouldn't touch her. He'll also do anything to keep her protected. That's how he is." A reluctant smile came to his face, and his heart ached again at the realization that he had walked out on Eren. "He's an idealistic fool who doesn't belong in that uniform."

"He's still a Nazi."

"No," Levi whispered. "He's just a German."

Yelena eyed him carefully before observing, "You two are good friends. That's surprising. Is he hiding you? Is it safe there?"

"Not really safe, no," he had to admit.

"You're free to stay here, especially if you'll agree to do a few jobs for us."

Levi warily sipped his wine. "What sort of jobs?"

"Nothing that would get you killed. If you die, your German officer friend could make things bad for Carly, and that's the last thing I want."

"Realize, there is a whole company of Germans who will recognize my face. I can't be walking out in public."

"That complicates things," Yelena admitted. Her eyes again trailed up and down Levi, and an amused smile came to her lips. "What you need, miner Frend, is a disguise."

# # #

Levi swore, if he did not need Yelena to escape Metz, he would kill her.

The tall woman walked beside him, dressed in men's clothing with the beard back on, holding a wide umbrella over both of them to keep off the rain. Levi grudgingly held onto her arm and tried to stay out of the drizzle as he walked in low heels, his neck itching from the long hair of a blond wig, and hating how cold his legs were wearing a dress in wet autumn weather.

Seriously, he would kill her!

"Try not to look constipated," she whispered as they walked down the street like a couple.

"Easy for you to say, bitch. You're not the one in heels!"

"Are we almost there?"

"Wait!" Levi came to a sharp stop as he looked ahead. They were approaching the military barracks, but Levi saw Captain Kitz Woermann standing by the entrance, talking to guard. "Fuck!"

"Someone you know?"

"The bastard who murdered most of my companions."

"Let's move on. I doubt we could get into the barracks anyway. We tried the Esplanade already. Does this man like trains? Perhaps we can try the train station; it's popular with soldiers."

"I have no idea what he likes. Books, maps, and radios."

"Well, there's the Nachrichtenschule."

"Is that some Alsatian word?"

"No, German. A Nazi school for communications and radio. I doubt we could get in."

Levi crossed his arms and grumbled, "For all we know, he could be out whoring."

"Then we'll pay Carly a visit after this."

"I'm joking. The kid seems like a virgin."

Yelena glanced down. "Seriously? A virgin German soldier?"

"He strikes me as the intellectual type, the sort who would wank off if a woman read him the periodic table."

"Intellectual, huh?" Yelena mused, rubbing her beard. "I know just the place. If he's not there, we'll try the radio school, and if we can't get inside, we'll see if Carly is able to help you with your little mission. Hopla! Let's go."

Levi sighed and shook his head. "I swear, your Alsatian accent makes me barely able to understand you."

"Same to you, schdubs."

"Do not call me that, bitch."

After a walk across the city, they came to a church.

"Le Musée de Metz," Yelena whispered to Levi. "I went here as a child on a school trip. If he's not here in the museum, he could be in the abbey or the convent nearby."

They strolled through what was left of ancient artifact exhibits, much of it moved to safer locations as the city prepared for a battle. They also saw that the church was turned into a depot for the German firefighters. Levi thought it was a shame that the museum was mostly gone. He would have loved to spend a whole day there, soaking in the French history before leaving his homeland.

They moved on to the convent. There, with the sound of the choir rehearsing next door floating through the air, they saw Armin sitting at a desk with maps and books piled around him. Armin was unaware of them, completely engrossed in a book. Eren had said the man had a plan for him, yet Levi left before finding out more. He was curious what Armin had worked out, and also…

He gripped an envelope in his hand as he felt his fingers already starting to shake.

"Do you see him?" whispered Yelena.

"Yes," Levi whispered back. He hoped Armin would not give him away as soon as he saw through the disguise. "Stay here. No need to get you involved."

"What a gentleman," Yelena said in amusement, and she drifted off to pretend to look at some statues of saints.

Levi stepped forward, still wobbling in his heels, his ankles straining, his calve muscles burning. Seriously, how strong were women's legs, to be able to walk gracefully in heels? He came right up to the desk, and Armin finally looked up as a shadow fell over him.

"Darf ich Ihnen helfen?"

"Armin," Levi said, his voice a mere breath.

Armin at first looked stunned by such a deep voice for a tiny blond woman. Then he saw the shape of face, and his blue eyes widened in mute astonishment.

Levi put a finger to his lips. "Taisez-vous." Be quiet.

"Hä?"

"Silence!"

Armin slammed his mouth shut before his jaw dropped.

Levi yanked a chair over to sit, but he quickly realized he needed to sit like a lady or the dress got really uncomfortable. He frowned as he pinched his legs close together. Then he set the letter he had written onto the table. He looked at it, wondering if he had explained everything properly, and finally pushed the envelope over.

"Si vous pouviez donner cette lettre à Eren, je vous en serais reconnaissant."

Armin's face drew up in a silent apology. His French was elementary at best, and he had no idea what the French Jew just said. Levi rolled his eyes. What a time to not have Eren around to translate!

Suddenly, Yelena was right behind him. "Sie sagte: 'Ich würde es begrüßen, wenn Sie diesen Brief an Eren weiterleiten würden.'" She said, I would appreciate it if you passed this letter on to Eren.

Armin gazed up at the tall person and narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Sie sagte?" She said?

"Sei kein Dummkopf, denk nach." Don't be a fool, think.

Armin looked back over to Levi. Obviously, they had to play in public that this was a woman, including pronouns. He also looked oddly at the tall blond. Despite the beard and flat chest, Armin had a feeling this was no man.

"Entschuldigen Sie, Herr, wer sind Sie?" Excuse me, sir, who are you?

"Nur jemand, der ihr helfen will." Just someone who wants to help her.

"Ist Eren sicher?" Is Eren safe?

"Diese kleine Dame verließ ihn plötzlich. Sie möchte ihrem Freund versichern, dass es ihr gut geht." This little lady left him suddenly. She wants to reassure her boyfriend that she's okay.

Armin laughed softly, and quickly tried to cover his mouth as he glanced around the hushed convent.

"Sie sagt auch, dass Sie möglicherweise Informationen für sie haben." She also says, you may have information for her.

"Ja, aber ich fürchte, es wird nicht viel nützen." Yes, but I'm afraid it won't do much good.

Armin pulled out a folder and handed the whole thing over. Levi began to reach out for it, but Yelena grabbed it first. She opened the folder and glanced swiftly through maps and handwritten observations.

"Sie arbeiten gründlich." You work thoroughly. Yelena closed the folder and gave a stiff Hitler salute. "Heil Hitler."

Armin returned the salute with a bit of confusion—was this the French Resistance or not?

Yelena turned to Levi and said in French, "On en a fini ici." We're done here. "Hopla, schdubs." She hurried out the door, leaving both of them stunned.

As Levi stood and smoothed down his skirt, Armin's eyes tightened in concern.

"Vous … allez … vraiment bien?" Are you really okay?

Levi nodded his head, and despite himself, he felt a smile coming to his lips. "Je suis enfin libre." I am finally free.

Armin smiled, looking sad and yet proud. He suddenly stood up, and much to Levi's surprise, Armin wrapped his arms around him. Levi stood there, stiff and confused.

"Sei vorsichtig." Be careful.

Levi did not actually understand the words, but the sentiment was perfectly clear. He finally returned the hug, although awkwardly. "Prends soin de ce gamin, d'accord." Take care of that brat, you hear.

"Ja."

Armin pulled back and patted Levi on the shoulder. He could think of no other words. Levi knew he needed none. He turned and walked out of the convent. Outside, he saw Yelena pouring over the folder.

"Your little contact said this might not help, but he's a genius to even think to look into some of these things. Sewer systems, electrical grids, maps of the underground. This level of information alone earns you what you want."

"Good. Can we get the fuck out of here?"

Yelena closed the folder, hid it inside her coat to keep the rain off, and opened the umbrella. "You really do need to work on how you talk, mina klai Frendinnla. Hopla!"

Levi rolled his eyes. He just wanted to get away from there and back underground. The worst thing he could imagine was bumping into Eren while he was walking around the street dressed as a woman.

* * *

That evening, Eren lay in bed, his ashtray overflowing with crushed cigarettes, three bottles of wine empty on the nightstand. He heard a knock on the door. Every time he heard someone out in the hallway, he half hoped it was Levi coming back, to the point where he was feeling sick with anxiety. He had not eaten breakfast and skipped lunch. He stared at the ceiling as he smoked, wondering what finally pushed Levi over the edge and led to him sneaking away.

Maybe he secretly hated Eren this whole time. He was a Nazi, after all. He had shot a friend of Levi's. Surely, Levi despised him for that.

The knock came again, and this time a voice. "Eren? Are you there?"

Armin. Eren sighed, figuring he might as well let Armin know to stop researching. Levi set off on his own. He did not want their help. He pulled himself up, crushed out the cigarette, and dragged his feet to the door.

When Armin saw Eren's face, he was stunned. He was pale, dark circles under his bloodshot eyes, but then again, Armin knew Eren had strong feelings for Levi. Of course he would be devastated.

"May I come in?"

Eren opened the door more, and Armin slipped inside. His hand immediately went to his nose at the overpowering smell of cigarettes. It was dark, so he turned on the lights. Had Eren been hiding in the dark all day? He also went to the window and opened it to let in some fresh air. As he turned to face Eren, Armin pouted in sympathy.

"How are you doing?"

Eren collapsed back onto the bed and hunched over low with his head between his knees. "He's gone. He left. He … He didn't even say goodbye." His eyes began to burn again.

Armin pulled out the envelope. Eren looked at it, not really wanting to deal with some missive from the captain now, of all times. Still, he took it, opened it, and when he saw English written inside, his whole body leaped up. His heart suddenly hammered with hopefulness.

* * *

Eren,

I know I left without a word. I thought that would be easier on us both, but you're a brat, so you've probably been crying all day. I didn't want to leave like that, but—

I've been staring at this page for ten minutes, and I don't know what to write. I have no excuses. I felt I needed to leave, so I did. I thought it would be easier not to tell you, but instead it's haunting me. I thought it would be better to just disappear, rather than have to say a painful goodbye. I think I may be correct on that, but it still doesn't feel right.

You have every right to hate me for leaving without a word, but I hope you'll one day understand why I did. I guess you could say, I saw the sword hanging over my head, and I wasn't about to stay around to figure out just how sharp the blade was.

I'm safe where I'm staying. With any luck, in ten days, I'll be on a train. Find me, if you still want to. You know where I'll be. I still plan to wait for you.

P.S. - The asshole standing over my shoulder keeps telling me to add this in. I hate to, but I guess I better. Find the bitch who made me jealous. She needs your help. Go be a hero, and remember what I said a few days ago. Do what you must, and beg for my forgiveness later. Live, no matter the price. I'll see you again.

* * *

He did not sign his name, but then again, a letter from someone named Levi was sure to raise questions if it was discovered. Like this, Eren could even say it was written by a lady friend, and the only thing suspicious would be that it was in English.

"You should burn the letter," Armin said softly.

Eren knew he should. That was the smart thing, to wipe clear all evidence. Still, this was now the only thing he had left of Levi.

Once again, he was being foolish, not wanting to let go.

Armin took the letter out of Eren's hands and reached to the nightstand for his pack of matches.

"Wait!" Eren yanked the letter back. "Does he say where he is? Maybe there's a code."

"Eren," Armin said softly.

"How did you get this?" Eren shouted, not sure why he suddenly felt furious.

Armin put his hand on Eren's shoulder, seeing how the heartbreak was getting to him. "He was dressed in a disguise and with someone else, someone tall with a beard, although I swear I think it was a woman."

"Yelena?"

"The person never gave a name. He—or she—spoke flawless German, yet also spoke in French. This person said that they were helping Levi." He looked at the letter, but Armin did not know enough English to make out anything. "I think you know who it must have been."

Yes. The French Resistance. He looked down at the letter again. I'm safe where I'm staying.

Levi was safe.

By next week, he would be on a train to freedom.

A smile came to Eren's lips, even as a final tear fell and landed on the letter, smearing the fountain pen ink. He suddenly tore the letter in half and handed it to Armin.

"Burn it for me."

Armin nodded, silently letting Eren know, this was the right choice. He took the letter and matches to the bathroom to burn it in the sink.

Eren walked over to the window. He gazed at every person walking by. While part of him hoped he would see the flat cap and yellow jacket again, he was also satisfied in knowing he would see Levi when they were both free.

You know where I'll be. I still plan to wait for you.

Brooklyn, New York.

He also apparently needed to find Louise, and it was the French Resistance requesting Eren's aid. Was she or Carly in trouble? He gave a heavy sigh. He hated the idea of having someone around him when he felt this awful, but maybe this was serious.

Armin came back and saw that Eren was getting dressed in his uniform. "Heading out?"

"Levi asked me to help someone. Don't worry, she's just an innocent girl who needs a protector. I won't get into trouble." He grumbled as he fastened up his tunic, "In fact, helping her will probably keep me out of trouble."

"Would you like me to come along?"

Eren paused. Truly, he was amazed that Armin stuck by his side through all this, and that he was still willing to help him out, not even knowing what this new mission was.

"It's truly not a big deal, plus I don't think you'll like where I'm heading. Well, not unless you fancy a lady for the night. I could see if Carly can hook you up."

"Hook me up? With a … a lady? Wait, do you mean a prostitute? You're going to see a prostitute? What about Levi?" he cried out, looking heartbroken.

"As I said, she's an innocent girl who needs a protector. Who better to protect a maiden than a man who isn't interested?"

Armin relaxed as he realized that was true. Eren had said he had no interest in women, so obviously he was not going to bury his grief in the bosom of some prostitute.

"I'll pass," said Armin. "Oh, I gave all of my research to Levi. Hopefully it's of some use."

"That makes me feel more relieved," Eren admitted. He picked up his phone. "Operator, put me through to Nordpol Barracks. Hello, this is Oberleutnant Eren Jäger. Is Gefreiter Floch Forster there? Oh good. Forster, it's Jäger. Bring the truck. Yes, I plan to go out for the night. Bring your money too. I won't be buying you a prostitute like Daz did. Haha, yes, we're going to Carly's brothel. See you soon." He sighed as he hung up. "It's hard to keep pretending."

Armin patted his back. "I can't begin to imagine, but you're good at it. It's kept you alive. You and Levi plan to meet in New York, right? Keep living with that as your goal."

Eren nodded with a small smile. Like Levi often said, live, no matter the price.

# # #

# #

#

Levi climbing down the hotel – I purposely never state where in Metz Eren is staying, because if I use a real-world location, I want to make sure it was really used for that purpose. (Same reason I never name the village from Act One.) Many hotels went under German names in 1944, and literally no hotel would brag about Nazis sleeping in their beds, so it's hard to research which hotels actually housed German officers. In looking around for a hotel Eren COULD have stayed in, I saw this one. It's close to the old barracks and has that old style architecture, so I'm assuming it wasn't built recently. I won't name it, especially because in trying to look for historical pictures of this building, I realized it has gone through name changes as early as six years ago. If you want to picture Levi escaping the hotel and having to go across many roofs before finding a way down, here's what you can imagine. Eren would be on the top floor, Levi in one of those attic windows high up. (Note: pictures are on AO3 and Wattpad.)

Metz tunnels - I looked it up to make sure this could exist, and it does! The Germans began construction on tunnels meant as air raid shelters. Many other tunnels exist from medieval times, usually as escape route for the rich.

flipping a two-finger salute – common in Europe, basically a fuck you.

Hange! – We finally get Hange's backstory. Human experimentation was still common in the first half of the 20th century, often with minimal care for ethics. (Personal note: my mother was a "human guinea pig" during the 1950s polio outbreak, trying to find ways to recover mobility. What those doctors did to a tiny child like her is stuff not even horror films would touch on!) At least Hange was a conscientious scientist: if the experiment was a disaster, the volunteer was cared for. I know many readers were hoping to see Hange in this story, but alas, our mad scientist got the hell out of France when the Nazis showed up and is probably cackling in some British or American laboratory now. The most we'll get is a photo and some funny stories.

Milice française (French militia) – a fascist paramilitary group set up by Vichy France (a puppet government for Germany) meant to counter the French Resistance. They used torture to extract information and slaughtered fellow French citizens disloyal to the Vichy Régime. The Resistance considered the Milice to be FAR MORE dangerous than either the Gestapo or SS, because they knew the countryside and local dialects. Thus Yelena speaks in Alsatian, a language unique to the northeastern part of France and not something a southern Milice might know.

"you sound fresh off Champs Elysées" – Champs Elysées is a major street in Paris, where Levi was raised. I have no idea how to make it clear that he speaks French in an old-school Parisian accent, which is easy to pick out compared to someone like Yelena, who speaks with a heavy Alsatian flair.

Alsatian language (Ëlsässisch) – Due to their close proximity (and frequent border changes) with Germany, the Alsace region developed their own language, a German dialect that branched off from Mittelhochdeutsch (Middle High German) and was heavily influenced by Old French and Yiddish. (This region sheltered Jews from French persecution in medieval times up until WWII, which is how Levi's mother came to live in the area.) Although Germanic, Alsatian is unique enough so someone from Berlin cannot understand Alsatian.

The Swiss Amish of America (located in Indiana) speak Alsatian. To an American like me, Alsatian sounds like a German speaking in French but forgetting a few words. You hear that Germanic "sch" a lot, but with those unique French nasal vowels. It's honestly cool to listen to it.

I liked the idea of having a character speak this language that is slowly dying out, with the French government deliberately weakening any native languages within France that are not "French." Because there's not much on the internet about this language, I changed Yelena to not being a native Alsatian speaker, but a person who uses it as part of her persona. The most we'll get is whatever full sentence I can find online and little things, like her names for Levi, klai Frend, which means "little friend," and schdubs means the same thing (sort of like "stubby" in English, I guess). If anyone knows more about Alsatian and wants to throw some words my way, or even work with me as a translator, it would be a huge help. The internet has so little on this language, it's a shame!

Examples:

  • Hello - bùschùr, from French bonjour, or Güete Tag, from German Guten Tag.
  • Goodbye - or'var, from French au revoir.
  • Have a nice day - A scheene Dàa which is straight up Mittelhochdeutsch and not even recognizable to modern German Schönen Tag.
  • Thank you very much - Vielmohls mersi, which is a lovely blend between German Vielen Dank and French merci and shows how Alsatian developed away from both languages.
  • Hopla - from French houp-là, this interjection holds many meanings: "come on let's go," "go do it" especially when taking risks but can also be used as a type of "uh-oh!" apology when you mess up.

Not really related, but the French word houp-là (a word you say when you pick up a child, like "ups-a-daisy") inspired both Hopla in Alsatian meaning "let's go," and Hoopla in English, meaning a bustling commotion or sensational hype. I had a friend whose family immigrated from the Alsatian region, and he would say "hup luhhhh" (he always dragged it out). I'm now guessing this kid had turned "Hopla!" into "hup luh!" A generational mutation!

That's how language evolves, how one generation changed the way they pronounce a word, they pass that on, the following generation may not know any better, slang becomes a dialect, two languages merge into a pidgin, then grow into a creole, and the result can mature away from the parent languages, with new pronunciations and meanings so unique to a region, others can no longer understand. At around that point, it becomes a proper language of its own.

I mean, English itself is a blend of Old English (Frisian and Anglo-Saxon) and Norman French, the two mixing into a creole in the 11th century, matured, lost many of its verb patterns and declension of nouns, and over centuries became the language we know now, still Germanic with heavy influences of French and some Brythonic bits still clinging on.

Ahhh, I love linguistics! *Hange face*

  • https://www.getalsaced.com/alsatian-language.html
  • https://omniglot.com/language/phrases/alsatian.php
  • https://www.freelang.net/online/alsatian.php?lg=gb
  • https://www.elsassisch.eu/culture.alsace.pagesperso-orange.archive/dictionnaire_alsacien.htm
  • https://youtu.be/yMf1aVKqsSQ

Intersex – I tried to make it clear within the language of the time, but Yelena is intersex. I really like her gender ambiguity, yet unlike Hange, it is made clear in the manga/anime that Yelena identifies as a woman.

Just to summarize for those who may be new to the concept, "Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male." (source: http://https//isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex) Intersex people can identify with a gender, or not, and sometimes their outward appearance is generally one gender, but the inner anatomy may be another gender, as is implied in Yelena being "not fully a woman." Some people do not realize they have unique anatomy until after puberty, usually if, like with Yelena, this is an outward-appearing woman who never starts a menstrual cycle, because the gonads are testicles, not ovaries, or perhaps an outward-appearing male who gets severe cramps monthly because there is a womb inside the belly. There's a spectrum of possibilities, and it would be weird as well as disrespectful to focus on the anatomy of this character, so I'll leave it as "Yelena is intersex."

I avoid using the word "intersex" because this term was not coined until 1943, by Greek doctor Alexander Polycleitos Cawadias, and it did not become the socially-preferred term until decades later. The previous term, which Yelena and Levi would have known, was hermaphrodite, which today is deemed disrespectful, reserved only for plants and animals, so I didn't want to use it. I purposely kept things unlabeled, while hopefully still being clear.

If the genitals were mixed, it used to be common practice for a doctor to pressure a family into having corrective surgery during infancy, most often to turn the child into an outward-appearing female, regardless of the internal anatomy, simply because it was an easier surgery to perform, and it was believed that if the child was raised as a girl, the child would act like a girl, and the fact that "she" did not have ovaries or a womb could be something discussed in adulthood. These operations often led to misgendering, and it takes the choice of gender away from the individual. For years, the intersex community has strongly fought against non-medical gender "corrective" operations on infants and children. Still, many families, particularly of strong religious backgrounds, will demand their child be "fixed" and then cover it up like something shameful.

Intersex often falls under the LGBT umbrella, with LGBTQI, or LGBTAIQ, or what I have come to really love: QUILTBAG, so we have "undecided" in there too, it's easier to say, more inclusive, and my dyslexic brain doesn't turn it into letter-garble soup.

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex
  • http://https//isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Polycleitos_Cawadias

Le Musée de Metz – founded in 1839 in the former Abbey des Petits Carme, it was renamed Le Musée de la Cour d'Or in 1988, so I could not call it what a Metz citizen does today (and we have one reading this story, shout out!) As Metz modernized, many medieval buildings were planned to be demolished to make way for new structures. The museum began to rescue all that heritage from demolition. They recovered facades, decorations, painted wooden ceilings, entire rooms of medieval dwellings, even entire buildings. By rescuing all of this, the museum became unique in that their collections are housed inside buildings from the actual time periods. For example, their Gallo-Roman collection is in a 2nd century thermal bath, artifacts from the Middle Ages are housed inside a 1400s granary, and they house art exhibitions in a church built in the 1700s. During World War II, the Germans used that church as a firefighter depot.

HAPPY PASSOVER!
CHAG PESACH SAMEACH!



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