"Suspicious," Rias Gremory muttered to herself as she peeked from behind a tree.

"I think it's cute," Akeno disagreed, also peeking.

"Suspicious," Rias corrected her queen with a pout, pulling away from the trunk of her hiding place. "My rival is so close to some random boy. It is suspicious."

"Of course, my liege," Akeno sighed exaggeratedly, but there was a fond look in her eyes as she teased her friend. "As you say, he is most suspicious."

"Don't patronize me," Rias huffed, crossing her arms. "What did you find out?"

"That Sona did her due diligence," Akeno answered, pulling a folder from nowhere. "I did not even need to contact the Gremory servants. I just asked Tsubaki for a copy of what the Sitri had found."

"Akeno!" Rias whispered/shouted. "This is a secret mission! You weren't supposed to tell anyone. We're finally in Japan, and you're Japanese. You don't leave loose ends when your lord gives you a task. It is the basics of being a ninja."

"Good thing I'm not a ninja then," Akeno snarked. Rias pouted, crossing her arms. Sometimes, her queen enjoyed ruining her fun way too much. "So you don't want to know what I found out?"

"Fine," Rias sighed. "Who is this Eren Yaeger?"

"A child soldier."

The playful banter left the pair as Rias blinked wide-eyed at her friend as if wondering if she was joking.

Akeno wasn't, mouth set into a thin line as she opened the folder and read through it again.

"The earliest records the Sitri agents found were from an orphanage in Mandoto, Madagascar. Apparently, he was left on the steps of the local church in a basket, his name written on the basket. It is not a local name, European obviously, so there was some confusion early on. The nearest guess is that some foreigners left him in as far away place as they could find."

"That's terrible," Rias frowned at the thought. The devil race's birthrate was so abysmal that the idea of abandoning children was almost anathema to them. Even if devils didn't make the best parents. "You said he was left at a church? Any connection we should be worried about?"

"None," Akeno reported, flipping through files to double-check. "It looks like it was just the most reliable place to leave him. Old human tradition and law. As far as the Sitri could tell, he's never set foot on church soil since, except in infrequent and specific circumstances."

"So he grew up in Madagascar in an orphanage," Rias asked, peeking around the tree trunk to watch the young man they were talking about try and repeat a word Sona sounded out to him.

His attempts were so bad that Language didn't even count it as an actual word. Only her knowledge of Japanese outside their racial ability allowed Rias to try and guess what he was trying to say.

It was either 'a lot' or 'Mister Octopus.'

Rias was betting on the former.

"Till he was six," Akeno confirmed. "He attended a few years of elementary there, but then a local warlord came recruiting for fighting on mainland Africa, taking advantage of the political instability of the time. Orphanages were prime targets for child soldiers. Expendable troops. Those that couldn't, or wouldn't, fight were put to work."

Rias grimaced, not liking where this was going. It was unbecoming of a devil, but she always had a soft spot for lost and hurt children. She might not have been able to completely heal her dear Peerage after their... troubled youth, but Rias liked to think she had given them the best she could.

A home.

A family.

But those she had managed to help, thanks to her family and brother, were pitiful in number compared to those children hurt in this cruel world.

"The record is spotty from there," Akeno continued, voice laced with sympathy. "The warlord who took him was dead within the year. As far as we can tell, records are spotty, so there was a lot of hearsay. He spent the next few years fighting for various factions off and on all over Africa. Not for a cause or one specific leader but as a gun for hire. A good one, too. He became something of a local legend. There are still rumours about a 'child of evil' even today."

"That doesn't sound encouraging," Rias muttered, wondering what sort of trouble Sona had gotten herself into with this student of hers.

"It was more about fear than actual evil, near as the Sitri could tell. They weren't able to find any notorious deeds committed off the battlefield. No looting, theft, or violence against civilians outside combat. On the battlefield, it was a different story. Anytime he was part of an army for any length of time, the opposing faction was quickly routed. He had a reputation for being merciless. It left an impression on any survivors or locals."

"Magic? Sacred Gear?" Rias couldn't help but ask, hope surging through her.

"No," Akeno shook her head, staring at the folder's pages in fascination. "Just skill, cunning and bravery that borders on suicidal tendencies. If even a tenth of the stories about him are true, not counting impossible rumours, then he was good. Scary good. Some of these tactics... Anyway, he built a reputation. One that attracted the attention of some high-level people. Warlords and criminals, certainly, but also a few military dictators or generals of countries. It's actually where the records become more reliable. Recruiters were sent, and most were turned away."

"Most, but not all."

"Eventually, he accepted an offer from a mercenary agency based out of western Asia, close to the Middle East. Smaller than other mercenary outfits, but with a decent reputation internationally."

"Anybody I would have heard about?"

"No," Akeno answered, looking over a list of names. "Barely a few dozen members, all human, and none magical. They accepted all sorts of ethnicities, from Chinese to European or American, but they were new and small. The Sitri agents think he joined to climb the ranks quickly rather than stay low-level in larger and more established organizations."

"Did he?" Rias asked eagerly, caught up in the story.

It was like something out of a manga or anime.

Eren Yaeger's Bizarre Adventure? No, wrong genre.

Yaeger Chronicles? That had a nice ring to it.

"He was recruited at the age of twelve," Akeno smiled at her king, well-knowing the redhead's habits. "By thirteen, he was leading them. By the time he retired six months ago, he had led over two hundred missions and never failed once. His nickname, Child of Evil, is still well known in certain circles. It was how the Sitri found out about his origin, by backtracking it."

Rias clenched her fist in excitement.

Devils were trained in combat from an early age. The actual battle aspect of child soldiers was nothing new to her. It had been the mental aspect she had been most concerned about. While she had initially been worried when learning he was a child soldier, hearing about how he had overcome adversity and risen to the top was thrilling.

This was just like an anime.

The tragic backstory, the mysterious circumstances, arriving at a school and running into a devil heiress. Rias swore she would rub Sona's face in it if he had a childhood friend he had loved but left behind.

Anime was totally real.

Man, coming to Japan was the best thing to ever happen to her.

"Why'd he retire?" Rias asked, praying to the Satans that it was to 'live a normal life.' Or better yet, to 'fulfill a promise to get married.' Or as an 'undercover mission.'

"He's dying," Akeno grimaced, taking the wind out of Rias' sails.

"Oh."

"According to medical reports, his body has slowly been shutting down for years. Some genetic disease the doctors who tested him, some of the best money can buy, haven't been able to identify. It was first caught and noted three years ago, leading to a slight weakening of the muscles, but he could still operate without issues until last year. Once it got bad enough to limit his movement, he was forced to retire from fieldwork. He stuck around for a bit but eventually left his group. At some point between then and arriving in Kuoh, he lost his eyesight as well. The doctors estimated he only has a few years left."

"Oh," Rias said again, feeling down. "Why is he in Kuoh then? Why not go back to Africa? Or retire to some beach house to be tended to by servants? He must have made some good money."

"He did return to Madagascar and a few other places. He had purchased plane tickets for New York, London, and quite several other large cities. Maybe touring the world before... Anyway, he landed in Kuoh, checked into his hotel, and wandered around briefly. Being blind and without magic, he accidentally bypassed our wards, found a bench in the sun and then met Sona."

"He's been here for weeks, though? When is he planning on leaving?"

"He originally only bought three nights in his hotel and then had a flight booked for Rio De Janeiro. Instead of making that flight, he extended his stay at the hotel for a week and, in that time, bought a house only a few blocks away. A lot of bribery was involved. Then, he donated most of his money to charities. Orphanages, international relief efforts, that kind of thing. His banking records show he left himself enough money to live out another two years comfortably, three if he's thrifty."

"He doesn't expect to live past that time," Rias sighed, melancholy heavy in her voice.

She, who would measure her lifespan in thousands of years unless killed, could not relate to someone with only a few years left. But she could sympathize and regret the loss of life gone too soon.

"He claims to Sona that he is expecting to meet someone here but does not identify who or when they will meet, only that it will be within two years," Akeno said as she closed the folder.

Both young women, only sixteen, had come to the same conclusion the Sitri agents had.

The 'meeting' was with death.

Eren Yaeger was no spy from an enemy faction who came to Kuoh for a malicious plot against the two devil heiresses.

Eren Yaeger had been looking for a place to die.

He had found one in Kuoh.

If nothing happened.

"Sona's scouting him for her peerage," Rias told her friend, peeking once more at her rival and the dying young man.

"Most likely," Akeno agreed, also looking at the pair again. "I think she did an initial cursory background check, found out the basics and contacted her family for more in-depth information once she had the idea. He's the type of recruit she likes. More skill than power. Plenty of experience. Someone she can get to know before making the offer."

"But," Rias almost said before holding her tongue.

Akeno would know the problem as well as she did, probably even better than Rias.

Being resurrected as a devil provided some healing, but it was not a cure-all. Wounds would heal, especially if they were recent, but a person's physical condition would remain the same. No sudden muscle gain or genetic alterations besides the transformation into a devil. It was how Adjuka Beelzebub managed to retain the genetic advantages of the other races when they were transformed into devils.

If Eren Yaeger became a devil, he would be weak.

With considerable effort, his muscles could be trained up to par again. Still, his eyes would forever be weaker than others, and the underlying genetic disease that had caused his current condition would permanently hobble his growth potential, already limited due to a lack of magic or Sacred Gear.

Devils always struggled with healing methods, their magic wholly unsuited to the task. Their race's only method, besides medicine similar to humans, was sharing demonic energy through skin-to-skin contact to accelerate their regeneration. Even Phenex Tears only healed wounds, not diseases. Otherwise, sleeping sickness would not still plague their race.

"I hope she decides to make the offer," Akeno admitted to her king as they watched Eren try and fail to conjugate a verb for the third time. "And he accepts. Like I said. It's cute."

How much was pity, and how much was her best friend seeing some of herself in the young man? The heiress didn't know.

Rias' heart went out to the man, it truly did, but each high-class devil only had so many Evil Pieces, and trading was rare outside of families.

Sona would be permanently giving up a valuable piece for a member without magic, sacred gear, or a unique heritage. It would put her at a permanent disadvantage compared to all her peers.

And Sona, with her radical dream, needed all the advantages she could get.

A stinging pain let Rias know she was clenching her fists too tightly as she watched Sona compliment Eren on getting an answer right.

The worst part, Rias realized as turbulent emotions coiled in her gut, was that if this had been only five years ago, Rias would have reincarnated Eren Yaeger without a second thought.

Just as she had Yuuto or Gasper.

She hadn't known anything about their abilities or sacred gears at the time. All she knew was that children had died in front of her, and she could help. It was only the luck the Gremory were famous for that meant she hadn't wasted some of her Evil Pieces on weak humans.

But now...

Now, Rias Gremory's kindness was being sacrificed for her freedom.


Eren Yaeger was waiting to die, and Rias couldn't help him.

So why was she here?

"Souna?" He asked, looking in her direction but slightly off to the side. "I thought we were done for the day. Didn't you have a meeting?"

"I am not Souna," Rias said, taking a deep breath and using Sona's alias. It was too late to back out now. "My name is Rias Gremory, a friend of Souna's."

Eren's hand tightened around his cane, and he pushed himself up straighter on the bench, his face turning slightly towards her direction but still slightly off.

"What do you want, friend of Souna?" His tone wasn't rude, but definitely wary.

Given his history, Rias imagined he did not have good memories of being surprised.

"I just wanted to meet you," Rias said in a soothing tone, well used to dealing with hurt children. That he was older didn't matter. "Souna's spoken about you a lot."

She hadn't, but he didn't need to know that.

If it weren't for the fact that the bench he always sat on was close to Rias' club room, the Gremory Heiress might have never known about the young man her rival met every second day for tutoring.

As she talked, Rias took a step forward, then stopped. Then another step, then she stopped again. Each step was made deliberately loud enough for him to hear but slow enough not to spook him.

"No, she hasn't," Eren called out her lie directly. "Souna doesn't gossip."

For someone who had only known the Sitri heiress for a few weeks, he certainly had a good grasp on her character.

No wonder Sona liked him so much. He was sharp.

"Sorry," Rias apologized as she paused her steady advance. "I've seen you two talking and wanted to meet you. Souna's my childhood friend. I got curious."

It was like dealing with Akeno all over again. Wary, defensive, and ready to lash out at the first sign of danger.

But unlike Akeno, she couldn't help him.

Why was she here, alone and long after everyone had left the school?

Eren Yeager did not say anything, still facing her general direction, but his grip on his cane did slacken somewhat.

Rias took the chance to take the last step towards the bench, sitting as far from him as possible to give him room.

It was incredibly uncomfortable, and she didn't understand how he could spend days on end on the thing in his condition. After observing him for a few days through her familiar, she knew he arrived here well before sunrise and left long after sunset. Occasionally, he would wander back to his newly purchased house for food and other needs, but he spent as much time as possible on this uncomfortable wooden bench.

Maybe she was here just because of curiosity? That had to be it.

"How is learning Japanese?" Rias asked, trying to defuse the tension a little bit. "It's hard, isn't it? It took me years, but I didn't have Souna helping."

Just copious amount of Anime, Manga, Akeno and the best tutors her parents could buy.

For a second, the devil thought the young man would continue to remain silent, 'staring' at her until she left.

"It's hard," he finally agreed, body sagging against the bench as the tension and strength left him. "It's really hard. So many rules, similar-sounding words, and ways of speaking. I don't think I will ever get it right. I am wasting my time."

Rias was about to commiserate but paused. Her problems had stemmed mainly from the writing system, all three of them, and trying to parse them out without Language. A problem a blind human would not be able to sympathize with.

"Your English is really good, though," she pointed out instead. "Is it your first language? I don't recognize your accent."

"Fifth," Eren shrugged. "I just picked it up along the way."

There were hundreds of languages in Africa, Rias knew from her studies, not counting dialects. English, French, and Portuguese were more widely used due to its colonial past, but they were not completely ubiquitous.

"If you can learn five languages, then a sixth shouldn't be a problem," Rias tried to encourage him. She knew from experience that positive reinforcement was needed more than anything else.

"Twelfth," the young man corrected her. He couldn't see it, but Rias looked at him in shock. He was seventeen and already spoke eleven languages? His appointment as leader of his mercenary group made much more sense now. "But I had... advantages then that I don't here. It's a lot harder than I thought."

Right.

His blindness was recent, wasn't it?

The pit in Rias' stomach, the one that had been there since she had heard about his past from Akeno, reared its head again.

"If..." Rias started saying, her voice halting and hesitating. What was she doing? Why was she here? "Hypothetically, if there was a way to get your sight back, would you take it?"

This was stupid.

So monumentally stupid.

Yet the words left her mouth anyway.

"Why are you asking?" Eren's voice was wary once more. Rias realized her words were quite rude, if not a little mean.

"I don't mean anything by it," she waved her hands in front of her before remembering he couldn't see them and folding them in her lap. "Just a little question, is all. I'm the president of the Occult Research Club at the school and always ask questions like that. What ifs, stories, magic, stuff like that. It's fascinating, isn't it?"

It was also an excellent cover for her Peerage.

"I guess," he sounded anything but fascinated, and Rias continued to ramble.

Despite being an heiress, she was still just a sixteen-year-old girl. While she was used to dealing with hurt children, Rias actually had no experience with trying to recruit someone to her Peerage. They tended to fall into her lap by accident or her brother's machinations, thanks to the Gremory luck. Trying to make an offer she shouldn't be making while remaining discreet was something new to her.

"Sorry, is that a strange thing to ask? My family has this whole thing for making deals with the devil," Rias babbled nervously. She usually could maintain much better composure, but the subject, the guilt, and the intensity of Eren's focus were throwing her off. "Comes from our name. Gremory? Like the demon? Anyway, I just think it's an interesting idea. So would you take a deal to get your sight back? If you had the option, I mean."

Eren seemed to think on it for a long, uncomfortable moment as Rias did her best not to squirm.

"It would depend on the deal, I guess," he finally said, and the redhead breathed a sigh of relief as he turned his head away.

He hadn't been actually looking at her, he couldn't, but the weight of his focus had been enough to throw her off.

Imagining if he still had his eyes and was in his physical prime, and Rias could see how he had made such a reputation despite being so young.

"What if all it would cost is service to the one that healed you?" Rias asked. "Like an employee or a servant. Something like that."

"No."

The answer was immediate and instinctual, with no hesitation at all.

"I will never sell my freedom," Eren Yeager bit out. "Not for any reason."

"Not even if the devil completely healed you?" Rias asked again. "Not just your eyes?"

"Not for anything."

"What about if the devil was a good one?" Rias continued to press. "One that treated their servants like family, not slaves. There can be good devils too, right? Or do you not like devils at all." As she said the words, Rias realized she had become too into the question and revealed too much. "Hypothetically, of course."

"Race has nothing to do with it," Eren sighed. "Anyone who tries to take my freedom is my enemy. Whether they are the same race as me or not."

"Even if they are a good devil trying to help you?"

Rias didn't know why she pressed so hard.

Why was she almost desperate for him to give her an answer she could use to justify offering him a place among her Peerage?

She still had all eight pawns. One fewer in exchange for a man with his experience wasn't a bad tradeoff, right?

Even as she tried to convince herself, Rias knew the answer.

It wasn't a bad tradeoff at all.

For anyone but her.

For anyone whose enemy wasn't a Phoenix.

Tactics could not win against immortality.

Perhaps Eren heard the almost pleading tone in her voice because his tone softened.

"My friend once explained to me... Well, he was talking to someone else, but I was there," the young man relaxed against the bench again, turning from her and tilting his head to the sky as his voice took on a tone of longing. "When someone is a good person, it just seems to mean someone who's good for you. Nobody's good to everyone. So if someone doesn't help me, they're a bad person. So, if a good devil exists and they try and take my freedom, they are automatically a bad devil. No matter what they give me or how they treat me afterwards."

"I see," Rias sighed, sagging against the bench in turn. "Your friend sounds smart."

"He was that smartest man I know." The sadness in his voice, as well as the past tense when Eren spoke about this friend, told Rias all she needed to know. "If he was the one here, he wouldn't be in this mess. He'd have some genius idea none of us could think of and save the day. A real hero, that's what he was. Not a fake hero or a devil like me."

Rias appreciated the irony of him calling himself a devil next to an actual devil but didn't say anything. He probably thought his actions as a mercenary were enough to condemn him, but Rias knew and loved people with more blood on their hands than he could ever have.

"Souna reminds me of him a lot," Eren continued. "It's almost scary. He was always trying to beat things into my head, too. I think they would have gotten along."

"I don't think I could handle two Sounas, though I know someone who would love that idea," Rias smiled at the thought of Serafall Leviathan passing out at the sight of two Sonas.

"You don't have to worry about her," Eren sighed. "I really have no plans or schemes towards anyone here. I am just here to meet someone. After that, I'll be gone for good."

Rias knew Eren Yeager was waiting to die.

Knew she shouldn't, couldn't do anything to save him.

Ultimately, Rias didn't know if she would have made the offer if Eren had said he wanted it.

She liked to think she would have.

But Rias Gremory was also not the type of girl who would leave someone to their pain alone.

Even if it only meant giving a lonely, dying boy someone to talk to while he waited for death.

"I'll always worry about Souna," Rias smiled, relaxing against the uncomfortable bench. "That's what childhood friends are for. Do you have any?" His head's tilt and his shoulders' relaxation told her the answer. "Is one of them a girl!? Did you promise to marry her!?"

Eren Yeager might be waiting for death, but Rias would be damned if she didn't make his remaining time enjoyable.

And if his stories lined up with anime, well... That was just proof that anime was real.

Suck it, Akeno!


This fic will move along at a good clip, so don't expect long, drawn-out affairs like in RR. It is a slice of life, in a way, but it is one that tries to only focus on the key moments. A lot will go unsaid, and I will continue to play with unreliable narrators, so much of it will be up to reader interpretation. I hope this method will prove interesting, but we will see.

I will see you all next week for the regular chapter release of On The Bench every Tuesday.

PS: For those following Rhapturous Rhapsody, no fear. I will still release my regular chapters every Friday.