I can hear the galloping of horses. It's a calming rhythmical sound, which attempts to lull me back to sleep, but I protest against it.
I slowly open my eyes, and I am suddenly aware of another rhythmic sound - the beating of the Commander's heart. This one tends to have the opposite effect on me.
I rub my eyes.
- Ah, Desi, you're awake. How did you sleep?
- It feels like I've slept for a whole year. How long was I out?
- About an hour.
- I think I will need a very long sleep in my bed once we're back to Wall Rose.
- I presume you mean my bed, Desi. Don't think you will get out of the punishment I promised you.
- That was never on my mind!
I answer way too quickly, without even thinking. Wait, why was it never on my mind??
- Are you trying to imply that you're looking forward to your punishment, my dear?
I need a new subject, ASAP!
- It's surprisingly calm out here. No titans on sight. Has it been like this ever since we left the forest?
- Mostly, yes.
I guess the Commander gives up on the topic, at least for now.
- I was afraid we might stumble upon the abnormal titans that killed many of our scouts on the way here. Luckily, they are nowhere to be seen, and we will reach Wall Rose very soon.
- That's good news. I apologize for falling asleep. I didn't realize I was that tired.
- You have nothing to apologize for, my dear. Although, to be fair, I don't really enjoy talking to myself.
- Ah, I'm very sorry about that!
The Commander chuckles a bit.
- I am only teasing you, Desi.
- Of course you are.
I say the last words in the gentlest way possible. Ahhh, I want to just stay like this forever, but sooner or later I will have to talk about the elephant in the room.
- Yes, Desi?
- What is going to happen to Reiner and Bertolt now?
- Hmm, I think you know that already. They will be considered traitors, and if we meet them again...No, whenever we meet them again, our main objective will be to capture them.
If that's impossible, we will just have to kill them.
- They are not...traitors...
My words are barely above a whisper. The Commander takes a deep breath, and makes a long pause. I am perfectly aware I made him angry.
- Look, Desi, I know how you feel in this situation. I may not understand it, but I know. Even so, sooner or later you will have to face the facts.
They may have been your friends, but they are also the ones responsible for all the horrors that befell humanity. And as such, they will be punished for their actions.
All the emotions from earlier threaten to pour out of me.
- They had no choice!
- And how exactly do YOU know that, Desi?
Well, now I've done it.
- I...don't...I just...
"What am I even saying? I'm the one who sounds like a traitor right now."
- I said something stupid, I apologize, Commander...
I can feel the racing of his heart beat. I must have made him very mad. What the hell am I even trying to achieve? I don't have the slightest clue. His silence is killing me.
- Just don't, Desi. I can't talk with you right now.
It feels like a knife went through my heart. He has never spoken so coldly to me. Fuck, I'm a complete idiot.
We reach Wall Rose in one piece, but right now I don't really care. The Commander jumps down from his horse, without even looking at me. Instead, he turns to the Survey Corps.
- Good work today! You all fought bravely, and earned some well-deserved rest. Enjoy your evening.
With that the Commander proceeds to leave and walks by me. But then he stops, and speaks up with his back turned to me.
- You, too. Rest well, you need it.
I extend my arm his way, as if this simple movement can achieve anything, but I quickly pull it back. I have no idea what to do or say in this situation.
It's almost like there's a big wall between us right now, and I don't have the strength to break it.
- Yes, Sir...
The Commander walks away.
Jean walks up to me.
- Is everything alright?
"Absolutely nothing is fine!" I think, but the words are stuck in my throat. Instead of answering him, I jump down from the horse and dash ahead, like a complete coward.
- Hey, Desi! Wait!
"I'm so sorry, Jean, I'm so sorry."
But he catches up to me quickly.
- I said wait, damn it!
He takes a hold of my arm.
- What happened with you?? Why are you running away?
- I... ruined everything...
- What the hell do you mean?
The tears are dripping down my face, and onto the ground. How many more times am I going to cry today??
- Hey, hey, get a hold of yourself. Damn it, Shortie.
Jean enfolds me in a gentle embrace.
- Whatever is troubling you, it's going to be fine, alright? Please, don't cry. I don't know what to do when I see you crying.
"And yet, you are doing a perfect job."
- Come on, wipe those tears away and let's join the others, okay? You might feel better.
I agree, although I don't really want to be around anyone right now.
"Is it possible Desi has a special connection with Reiner and Bertolt, or any other titan shifters we don't know of? What if she's one of them?
That is possible, judging by the way she defended them in front of me. Why else would they leave her alive after kidnapping her? I doubt they had a change of heart.
It would make a lot of sense for her to approach me of all people, if she has a hidden agenda.
But what about the note she left me? Why would she reveal their identities, if she is on their side? It doesn't add up."
This was just a fragment of the thoughts, going through Erwin Smith's mind. He was torn apart between his feelings and his suspicions. In short, he had no clue what to feel.
Luckily, in front of him stood a chance for distraction in the face of Levi, who appeared no less than troubled. Captain Levi was sitting alone, with his arms crossed and looked deep in thought.
The shorter man looked at him.
No other words followed his name.
- I am sorry you had to lose your squad like this. I'm the one who sent you ahead, and I feel responsible for what happened...
Levi looked up at him once more.
- What is this, Erwin? An intervention? I don't want to hear this right now, so save your breath.
- Levi...it's perfectly fine for you to mourn. It doesn't make you weak or anything...
- SHUT UP, WILL YOU?!
A thick cloud of silence followed Levi's shout. The Captain stood up from his spot.
- Tch, no one asked for your opinion. Go play with your girlfriend, or something.
And he walked away. The mission was successful, but the Commander felt completely defeated. The two people he cherishes the most are far from his reach.
He turned his back to one of them, and the other one turned his back on him. It almost felt like karma.