The trees around the campsite gave off a creepy feeling. The shadows surrounding us didn't offer much comfort at 12 am, especially after a bunch of scary stories courtesy of Armin. We sat huddled around a campfire, sticks with marshmallows impaled at the ends in hand. Bars of chocolate and packs of honey graham cracker were strewn around the site courtesy of Sasha and Connie. With our butts firmly planted on collapsible lawn chairs, courtesy of Eren and Mikasa, we laugh, we tell stories, we eat s'mores, and we slowly get sleepier and sleepier. We have three tents in total, so with no discussion it is decided that Mikasa and Sasha would share one while us guys had a little trouble.

"Dibs on Armin!" Both Eren and I yell as we struggle to decide even though one of the possibilities has already been profusely denied; Eren and I sharing. Everyone knows Armin isn't a peaceful sleeper due to his tendency to talk in his sleep but a comatose chatterbox is better than Connie, who basically tap dances in his sleep and ends up giving his tent mate bruises all over their bodies. The debate is soon settled with a game of rock-paper-scissors. I win with paper. The four of us part ways with goodnight wishes.

"Goodnight, Eren and Connie."

"'Night, Armin, Jean."

"Hope you get mauled by a bear, Jaeger."

"Hope you get rabies from a raccoon and die, Horseface."

I get into the tent, making the two-second decision to not bother changing into my pajamas because I know that my insomnia will keep me up for a while. I can at least pretend to sleep for the time being until Armin falls asleep next to me. Half an hour later, I hear him mumble unintelligible words and decide to take a small hike before my boredom can take over.

I stand up carefully, grab Armin's jacket which was left forgotten on the floor, and exit the tent. Zipping up the flap behind me, I shrug on the jacket grateful that Armin loves to wear oversized coats. I shove my hands in my pockets and start walking through the woods.

It's commonly called the Forest of Giant Trees, but Eren's boyfriend has a more interesting name for the forest. It's mid-autumn so there's a slight crispness to the chilly air. The leaves that have already fallen from the trees crunch under my feet. The sounds of crickets and cicadas chirping set me at ease as moonlight and fireflies light my way further and further away from the campsite.

After a while, I choose to head back to the tent but when I turn around, I realize I have no idea where to go. I hadn't exactly been walking in a straight line, instead following fireflies around through twists and curves. I was lost. Figuring that my best bet would be just to pick a direction and hope for the best, I begin my trek.

It doesn't take long for me to realize I'm heading in the wrong direction. Sitting down against the trunk of a tree, I think over my options. I could wait it out until daylight and have everyone come looking for me. No, I doubt they'll find me. I could keep walking in one direction but I don't want to risk going even deeper into the woods. Well, I'm out of options.

Something catches my attention in the corner of my eye. I squint through the darkness and spot a light behind the trees. Today must be my lucky day. The light seems to be getting closer. It's probably a park ranger with a lantern or something.

"Hey! Can you help me? I kinda got lost." I yell out to them and start towards them.

I get close enough to see the dark silhouette of a guy around my age though a bit taller than me by a few centimeters, but that also means that I can see that he doesn't have a lantern, or a flashlight, or a candle.

He has a small ball of fire rising out of his palm.

My steps falter. It's not real. It's probably just someone trying to play a prank or something. They must have noticed the shocked expression on my face because they start to speak.

"Please don't be freaked out. I want to help. Honest." He speaks with a soft, calming voice that sounds like he's said these words on multiple occasions. They give me a bit of comfort.

"H-how are you doing that?" I asked, referring to the fire bending before noticing his clothes. They aren't a park ranger's uniform but normal clothes. He's wearing tight red skinny jeans, a close-fitting yellow long sleeve shirt, and no shoes. The lack of shoes puzzles me. I ignore that fact for now.

I see him smile with a hesitant look in his eye. "I'm not exactly human. I'm different. I protect this forest as a spirit. I'm a phoenix." He purposefully splits up his sentences to try to let me process his words.

It takes a bit for the information to sink in. He was a spirit? Like a dead guy who restlessly roams the earth and floats through walls or a happy forest fairy that takes care of injured baby bunnies? This made no sense. Those things don't exist. Though, the flaming mass in his hand begged to differ so I guess I kinda had to believe it.

"So…what? You're like a human torch turned bird?" I oh so smartly asked.

He laughs and states, "First I've heard that one. Yeah I guess I am. This is just my human form. I thought it would be best to help you like this instead of a huge flaming bird talking to you in the middle of the night."

I nod in feign understanding. I'll just accept this as a dream and keep moving. Continuing my analysis of him, I study his face. His hair is as black as coal and neatly parted, trailing down his face in the form of sideburns. Large, dark puppy eyes held flecks of red and gold near his iris if you looked closely. The freckles that covered his nose and cheeks looked like scattered ashes on his pale skin. I almost wanted to reach up and see if I can brush them off his face. He's extremely attractive. His voice snaps me out of my thoughts.

"What's your name?"

After a second of gathering my thoughts I answer, "Jean. Jean Kirschtein."

"I'm Marco Bodt. Where's your campsite?"

"How do you know I'm looking for my campsite?"

"You told me you were lost. Remember?"

Duh. Ugh. I feel like an idiot now. I tell him the coordinates (which Armin pretty much forced us to remember if we got lost) and he wordlessly starts towards a seemingly random direction. He looks determined so I trust him.

I ask him while trailing behind, "How do you know where we're going?"

He turns around and walks backwards to talk to me while switching the fire from one hand to the other. Smirking, he answers with a wink. "Animal instincts."

With a swiftness that has me stumbling back, his whole body is engulfed in flames. I watch the dancing light in panic, unsure if it was intentional. The fire starts to shift until it takes the shape of a huge flaming bird the size of a Rottweiler with a wingspan that would earn the envy of every raptor in existence. It was a beautiful sight. I couldn't take my eyes off of it.

In the blink of an eye, the majestic phoenix is gone, replaced by an almost equally beautiful guy. Marco is giggling quietly; it's probably because of the awe-stricken expression on my face. I regain my bearings and mask my shock with teasing.

"Showing off?"

He grins. "Maybe a little."

We continue walking, this time side-by-side wordlessly. It almost feels like too soon when we come to the edge of the campsite. I stare at the semicircle of temporary shelter wishing I could've stayed lost for a bit longer. I enjoyed Marco's company and sincerely hoped this isn't a dream like how I had previously thought. As if he read my thoughts, he told me, "You can see me again, y'know."


He pondered this for a moment before pulling something off from around his neck with one hand and placing it around my neck.

"Anytime you're out here in the forest, I'll know where you are as long as you're wearing that." Marco explains.

I look down at the necklace. It was made from coarse leather with a small charm. It was a vial no bigger than my pointer finger with a strange sandy substance inside.

They were ashes.

I fought the urge to be too disappointed about leaving. I knew I would spend many more nights in the woods which perked my mood up. Before going back to my tent, I turned to Marco and hugged him, my arms around the back of his neck. I burrow my face in his warm chest and mumble a soft thank you. That's the last thing I remember before passing out.

The next morning, I wake up next to Armin in the tent clutching the small glass charm like a lifeline.