A/N: Hi everyone! So sorry for the delay in posting this chapter; all last week was college orientation so I hardly had time to settle down. The first part of this chapter was really hard to write for some reason, but the next 4k words flowed out easily enough yesterday and today, so I was relieved, haha :D

Another thing I wanted to address, (big blurb of rambling here,) there was a review posted on chapter 5 questioning the relationship between Levi and Eren so I thought about it for a LONG time and wanted to attempt to clear it up a bit, because I'm sure there are more of you out there thinking the same thing.

First of all, for Chapters 1-5, Levi does NOT love Eren in any way, even like is questionable. Remember; Levi just being an overprotective older-brother figure for Mikasa, and that's the sole motivation for his interaction with Eren. He sees Eren as unworthy, but he knows that Mikasa is stubborn, and thus tries to change Eren into someone who he believes will be good for her.

It's not until Chapter 6, with the time skip, that we see a relationship progressing. At that point, Eren has progressed beyond being obidient to everything that Levi says, because he is angry with his situation and wants to get a reaction out of the other. However, it doesn't go as planned because Levi ends up reacting positively to this new side of Eren, and that's when Levi starts to get confused regarding how he feels towards the other. Eren is confused as well, not sure if what he feels is still respect (and fear) of the other, or something romantic (heh.) We have a pause now on the development because, obviously, Levi is temporarily out of the picture, but there will be more to come later that will hopefully wrap things up a bit nicer!

So yeah, that's my blurb on the subject. Please try to understand that this is my first time trying to portray a relationship from beginning to end, seeing as up to this point, I've solely been writing one-shots and drabbles. I'm trying very hard to keep things in character and I realize things aren't always, well, great, so if you have questions or opinions please let me know! I guess I'm sensitive, but I try my best to take critique and work with it because in the end, I just want to improve.

Also, I hope you won't be upset with the ending that I have in mind for this because, I'm indecisive enough as it is, but I think I'm happy with what I have planned so far. I'm writing this for you guys but I'm also writing this for myself, so I hope you'll support me whichever way I decide to take it! Remember, if you don't like, you can always opt to not read :P

So, thank you! And I hope you enjoy this chapter! (:


VIII

"It's not your fault."

"It's not your fault."

Those were the very words that she had said to Mikasa: once upon their first meeting, and again in their last minutes together.

Mikasa had always known that, as a princess, she was powerful; she was raised as a noble should be raised, and that was with the notion that she was higher than everyone, that she would never be the one to bow down but always the one bowed too. Anything she wanted, she could have; no one argued with her; and she could play with anyone she wanted though they weren't so much friends as they were acquaintances who felt obliged to serve her wants. But in the end, she was still just a girl, dressed in clothes too fancy for her mind, and it wasn't until the day she uttered "I want to have a maid who can make pretty shoes" and the next day when a new woman was actually brought before her that Mikasa realized just how much authority she held.

Her eyes had widened as wide as a ten-year-old's eyes could, when she first saw the woman, disheveled and forced onto her knees. Mikasa opened her mouth, wanting to say something - wanting to comment, wanting to apologize, wanting to explain - but she could not find the words. The woman understood though, and without so much as a sound from the princess, took it upon herself to break the silence.

"It's not your fault."

The woman was, as she introduced herself, Carla Yager, from the small southern district of Shiganshima. She had a head full of thick, brown hair and defined set of eyebrows above her dark eyes, all of which Mikasa found very pretty and oftentimes would catch herself staring at the other. Carla would catch it too, and teasingly call her out on it. Mikasa would blush and look away, though she would never be too embarrassed to tell the lady why she was staring. Carla would then raise a hand to her cheek and smile, genuinely, as she thanked the princess for the compliment, but assure her that she was very, very pretty herself and would grow into a beautiful woman.

And that was one of the things that set Carla apart from the other servants Mikasa had. Not her ability to compliment the girl - Mikasa got enough of those empty statements on a daily basis - but her genuineness when saying it, and furthermore, her willingness to accept Mikasa's compliments. Too many times, the other person would shake their heads and deny whatever Mikasa complimented them on, out of courtesy, no doubt, but it would make Mikasa feel like no one actually took her seriously despite the outward appearance of respecting the words she said. But then there was Carla, would accepted her opinions with a smile and no questions, and Mikasa finally felt, for once, that there was someone she could reach out to, someone who could see her as a person and not a symbol.

It was obvious, even after a few days, that everything Carla did was done with genuine regard for Mikasa. Unlike the other servants who helped Mikasa get dressed or dumped her in a bath as a part of a predetermined routine, Carla would be there, waking her up in the morning with a gentle rub on the shoulder and a hand through the hair, and sit by her side at night until she fell asleep to the warm timbre of her voice as she recounted some favorite bedtime stories. There was, Mikasa realized, a motherly undertone to everything she did, something that her own mother - the queen - had never been able to achieve.

Which then led to questions about Carla's family. Did she have one? Yes, she did - she was happily married for eleven years to a doctor, and had an angel of a boy who was ten years old. "Just like you, Mikasa!" Hearing this, Mikasa tensed. The weight of her wish for a new maid came crashing down on her again, and she told Carla as sincerely as she could, that it would be okay for her to leave and return to her home. She bit her lip as she said it though, because there was no doubt that by this time, Mikasa had fallen in love with Carla's presence. But it wasn't fair, Mikasa reminded herself, because Carla was not meant to be here with her. She was stolen, stolen from others who loved her just as much, if not more.

But Carla instead asked: "What do you wish?" Everything is a system of give and take, she said. Are you willing to give up someone else's happiness for your own sake? Or would you sacrifice what you want for the sake of others? "It's your choice. Your happiness is worth just as much as that of anyone else."

Mikasa told Carla to stay, and never brought up the topic again. That is, until many weeks later, when Mikasa was digging through Carla's bag of sewing materials.

"What's this?" She fished out an unfinished shoe from the bag; it was many sizes bigger than her feet and made in a material cruder than what was provided at the castle.

"Ah, that." Carla's expression turned soft at the question. "It's a shoe for my son."

Mikasa said nothing, so Carla continued.

"It's for when he's older. I already finished one of the shoes, but I was still working on this one when I was brought here…"

"...Why don't you finish it?"

"Why? Because I'm making shoes for you right now."

Mikasa looked away. "...You can finish this one first."

Carla blinked, momentarily surprised by Mikasa's answer, but quickly transitioned to a smile as she reached a hand to the girl's head. "Thank you, love, but there's no rush. I'll finish it soon."

But she never did. That month, there was a raid on the castle, and library was set ablaze. Carla, whose room was in close proximity, heard the noise and rushed to the site, screaming at the intruders and screaming for help. But help did not arrive quickly enough, and as she turned her back on the library to run back into the hall, a sharp knife caught her in the back.

By the time Mikasa woke up from the ruckus and arrived on scene, the fire had been put out and the wounded retrieved. A silent gasp escaped the girl's lips as she spotted a familiar face among the casualties, and she shoved her way through the crowd to her maid's side.

Numbly, Mikasa fumbled to hold Carla's hand in her own. Tears blurred her vision as she realized the state that the other was in, and she opened her mouth, but no words could come out.

It didn't matter though, because once again, Carla understood.

"It's not your fault."

And then she closed her eyes.

~ o ~

Mikasa woke to clear blue skies, and a sun just above the horizon. A lovely day, and the perfect weather for travelling.

She lay in bed a few moments more - she had dreamt of her past, and was waiting for the aftershock to ease - until a few quiet knocks came on her door.

"Come in."

It was Annie, as always. "Good morning, your Highness."

Mikasa sat up in response, and stood up from her bed as Annie approached the closet to retrieve the day's outfit for her master. She fished out a coarse, brown dress from the back, and Mikasa smiled - Annie was dependable, and never needed to be reminded twice.

With her maid's help, Mikasa slipped out of her nightgown and into the commoner's dress, in preparation for the day's trip ahead. Though in the city she felt no need to disguise herself, travelling outside was different, and concealing her identity no doubt led to a more authentic experience.

She arrived downstairs in the dining hall at 8:02, only to find that Eren was already there. "Good morning, Eren."

Eren stood up and swept his arm across his chest before dipping into a bow. "Good morning, Mikasa." Mikasa noticed the perfect posture and angle of his salute, but chose not to comment on it. Breakfast was served, and after the meal, Mikasa led Eren outside, where the carriage and Armin were waiting.

"G'morning, Mikasa! And Eren, it's great to finally meet you!"

The golden-haired boy reached out a hand and Eren shook it. "It's a pleasure to meet you too, Armin. I'll be in your care."

Armin smiled bashfully and raised his palms in front of him. "No need for such formality! I'm just a simple cartographer, and an amateur at best. Let's get along!"

Eren, though never intimidated by Armin, now felt completely at ease and flashed back a bright smile. "Yes, of course!"

There was one more person who joined them, and that was Annie who would be driving the carriage. Eren turned to Armin and asked, "No guards?"

"We're in disguise," Armin replied. "Its easier to travel this way, and besides, we have Mikasa."

Eren wasn't completely satisfied by the explanation, but at the same time, he had seen Mikasa's skill the night before and in no way doubted the princess's power. If she thought it to be okay, then he was fine with it as well.

The four finally departed when the sun angled at 9:00, and in another half hour, they were out the southern gates and into the fields. Eren and Mikasa sat on one side of the closed carriage, facing back, while Armin sat across from them.

"So Eren, I hear you come from the Shiganshina district. Where do you live?" Armin turned a curious gaze to the brunette.

"Well, with my family we lived on the south side, pretty close to the border. The orphanage that I was moved to is just slightly north of that, next to the river."

"Orphanage… I'm sorry to hear. I lost my parents too, but I still have my grandpa. He lives with me in the castle."

Eren waved it off. "It's alright. It's been a while, though I can't say I don't miss them. I met amazing people at the orphanage. There's Hannes, who took me in, and Jean, who's my friend and just around our age. I hope you will be able to meet them."

"That certainly would be nice. It's a relief to hear you were doing well then." Armin turned to the side, pointing his blue eyes out the carriage's window. "Eren… have you ever seen the ocean?"

"Hm?" Eren's eyebrows raised slightly at the question. "Ocean? Um… what is that? Sorry, I've never heard of it." He felt ignorant for having to ask such a question, but Armin didn't look like he would bite.

The blonde raised a reassuring hand. "Don't worry, not many people have around here. We're such a landlocked kingdom that people hardly think of it as being landlocked. But see, supposedly there are huge bodies of water out there… try to think of the river, but as wide as it is long, but maybe even bigger still. That's an ocean. My grandpa told me about it when I was little and all this time I've been wanting to see it for my own eyes. I thought that you, who lived on the outskirts, might have journeyed a bit further out but I guess not."

Eren shook his head. "I've only traveled further south once with my father, to gather herbs - he was a doctor. But we only got as far as the border patrol let us go."

"Same… the border patrol is very strict about not letting anyone through."

Mikasa spoke up at this point. "The patrol has been in place for generations, for the safety of our citizens. But if you truly want to journey out there, Armin… I am sure that I can give orders to let you through."

Armin looked over with wide eyes. "Mikasa? You'd do that?"

"Yes, I can try. They tell us - as my father told me, and his father told him - that there are man-eating monsters beyond the borders, and that is why we are not allowed past them, but to tell the truth… I suspect it is all just a hoax; a trick to keep the citizens within and the kingdom intact. But while this is a lie, I cannot say that I oppose the goal of it. It has kept the kingdom under control for generations, so I hope you will understand."

"Of course, Mikasa. You are right. It is a silly dream of mine after all, and not worth risking the stability of a kingdom over."

Mikasa smiled faintly at Armin. "Yes. But still, I shall see what I can do."

Armin beamed at the princess in thanks, and turned back to watching the outside. "It is a little crazy, when you think about it, how people can be so content with a simple life. Living just to live, and nothing more. But as soon as you catch word of something new, or see a new opportunity, suddenly what you have just isn't enough anymore…"

Armin's voice trailed off, and Eren began to think about the words that were said. They were true, too true; he could hardly think back to what life was like, just a few months ago, when everything revolved around the orphanage and - just as Armin said - staying alive. Of course, there was more to enjoy in life than just that; he and Jean would entertain the little kids, or play cards with each other, but even so, the main focus was to make sure that every day, they had enough resources to put a hot meal on the table, and a warm bed to sleep in at night.

But everything changed the day that he was taken away. He began to long for these unnecessary things: impressing his imposed superior, replacing his crude manners with more refined ones, seeking to win in a game of who-will-break-first, but most of all, wanting to make acquaintance with the princess. As he had told Levi upon their first meeting, he had never even given a thought to meeting members of the royal family, and yet, he found himself sinking into a trap - a trap of want for things that were superfluous at best. And why? All because the seed had been planted into his head, and he could never again be satisfied with how he had lived before this.

Eren wondered then; if given the choice, would he want to go back to how things were before? Maybe he would… things were simple, and he was happy. But with one sideways glance at the princess next to him - and he could see very clearly the smile that was hidden under her neutral expression - Eren knew that it wasn't right of him to think that way. He was very lucky to have met Mikasa, not just for her status, but for her person, her character. By giving up his simple life, he had found himself immersed in something more complicated but just as beautiful; and by leaving those closest to him, he had met and touched the lives of people who he didn't even know existed.

In the corner of his vision, Eren saw Mikasa turn towards him, with a strange sort of expression on her face. He faced her as well, and asked, when she continued to stare at him, "What?"

"You're smiling," Mikasa pointed out. "What's up?"

Eren, who hadn't been aware of his own expression, now broke into a grin. "Oh, it's nothing! Just happened to think of something my mother used to say…"

"Oh? And what's that?"

"Well, my parents were always the adverbial sort - she liked to tell me, 'Everything is a system of give and take,' and you know, I think I finally understood it."

~ o ~

Three hours into the trip, the group stopped in a small village to purchase some lunch, and beyond that, it was only another hour before familiar terrain began to appear on the horizon.

"Hmmm… oh! That's it! You can see the orphanage from here!" Eren exclaimed gleefully with his head out the window and a hand over his eyes to shield it from the afternoon sun. Mikasa and Armin looked out the window as well, but of course, they had no way to tell which one was the house that Eren spoke of in the distance.

They were closing in by the minute, and Eren was practically jumping with anticipation at the idea of finally returning home. It was highly unprofessional, he knew - (one of the basic rules of etiquette, he had learned, was to first sit still,) - but the atmosphere had since become very casual and Eren was never one to be able to contain his excitement. The castle was but a far off place now, and even Mikasa had shed her identity of a princess in favor of that of a commoner.

"We are going to go by the orphanage, right?" Eren asked this with a bounce in his voice, and Mikasa couldn't help but associate the boy with an eager puppy-dog. She had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.

"Well, we had planned to stay in a nearby inn, but if they wouldn't mind, I would love to pay a visit."

"Of course not! Hannes and Jean would be delighted to meet you guys. Alright then," - Eren spoke out of the window again, directing his voice towards Annie - "Keep going until you see that big wooden sign over there, then turn left. It's the last house on the right."

In a few more minutes, the carriage pulled up in front of the house, and Eren all but exploded from his seat and rushed to the front door. Eyes wide and lips in a wide smile, he raised a hand to knock on the door but was cut short by the sound of footsteps coming from around the back. Eren took a few steps backwards to see around the corner, and was met with a sight shot another wave of happiness through his chest.

"Jean!" Eren launched himself at his friend, almost toppling both of them over, but thank goodness that Jean was taller and kept them upright. "I'm back!"

"Oh my fucking god, Eren, is that you?" Jean, who hardly had time to look at the visitor before being attacked by a hug, pulled the other person off of him, and stared with a look of disbelief. "Shit, it really is you."

"Of course it is! God, I'm so happy to see you again!" Eren couldn't stop smiling.

Jean cleared this throat, attempting to gather his thoughts. "Yeah, yeah… you too… wow, uh… Man, where have you been? I mean, I know where you've been - we got the letters - but it still makes absolutely no sense to me, and then the letters stopped for like, a fucking month! What happened?"

Eren frowned teasingly. "You're one to talk! You guys never sent a single letter back!" He avoided that last question on purpose, not exactly wanting to think about that period of time.

"Alright, alright. Tell me later, and tell me everything."

Eren rolled his eyes. "Sure."

"But okay - then, uh," Jean peered over Eren's head, eying the carriage and the blonde girl that sat out in front. "Why are you back? Did you come in that thing?"

"Yes! Uh, so actually…" Eren meant to explain the situation, but changed tracks halfway through as he noticed that the two others inside thhe carriage were getting off. "Let me introduce you! Here's Armin, a castle cartographer" - Armin responded with a shy wave - "and then here's… Jean? Yo Jean are you still with me?"

Jean had since stopped paying attention, jaw open and very obviously ogling at the dark-haired beauty who had just stepped down from the carriage. Eren, realizing what Jean was doing, had to try very hard not to laugh, and instead waved an arm in front of his friend. "Hello? Earth to Jean?"

Jean snapped his gaze away, looking instead to the brunette now, but Eren could tell from the look on his face that he still wasn't completely there. "Okay, as I was saying, that's M-"

"I'm Mikasa," The girl cut in, "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance." She dipped into a curtsy.

"Oh my god…" Jean immediately sank to his knees, bowing his nose all the way to the ground. "Good afternoon, your Highness!"

"No, please, please! Stand up. Please just… let's just pretend I'm a commoner for today, alright?" She pulled the man up and smiled, making Jean look at her once more, standing stance that looked painfully straight and rigid.

"I'm Jean!" He declared. "I'm Eren's friend! I cook! I like horses! My mother is of French descent by my father is German! I have dated a girl once when I was 15 but now I'm-"

He was interrupted by a hand over his mouth from Eren, who decided to stop him before he embarrassed himself further. Jean turned red upon realizing how stupid he sounded, but then Mikasa started to giggle, and Armin joined in, and soon Jean and Eren were laughing as well and everything slipped into a comfortable lightheartedness.

"Okay, okay!" Jean said, as the laughter finally died down. "I can help put the horses around back, with Miss…?"

"Annie," The blond girl, who hadn't said a word up to this point, supplied curtly.

"Nice to meet you, Annie. Just follow me then…"

"Actually," Armin spoke up, "Just leave the carriage. You see, we're actually here to survey the terrain for map making purposes. We're only planning on staying one night, so Annie and I will take the horses and get started on that. We'll be back by sundown."

"I see," Eren replied. "Take care then!"

Armin and Annie took off after that, leaving Jean and Eren to show Mikasa around the house. Truth to be told, there wasn't much to show, especially in comparison to the castle or manor that was easily a hundred of more times this size, but Eren was in no way ashamed of this house either.

"So here's the house that Jean, Hannes, and I live in. Here's the dining room, and the fireplace, then back there is the kitchen. That little hallway leads to Hannes' room; Jean's room is off to the left, and my room is up in the attic. The actual orphanage is a separate building around back, and that's where all the kids sleep. It's not much but, you know, it's enough."

"No, I think it's lovely," Mikasa replied, without any sliver of sarcasm or hesitation. Jean beamed, and Eren smiled as well. "Hannes… is that the name? Is he around?"

Eren looked to Jean for an answer. "He's out right now, but will probably be back for dinner." Jean then turned to Mikasa. "For tonight, you and Annie can take my room, and Armin can squeeze with Eren and I in the attic, does that sound alright?"

"Oh, no, we couldn't possibly impose - we planned to stay in an inn for the night…"

"And where would that inn be? We haven't had many travellers in these regions for a while. The one that was just down the street closed down, and the closest one after that is a good hour away. I'd say you all should just stay here; it's not a bother to us, really."

"Oh..." Mikasa replied, embarrassed that she had failed to plan out the trip correctly. "If that's the case then, thank you dearly for the offer."

In another while, Jean and Eren began to prepare dinner, leaving Mikasa free to wander the house. She took this chance to steal her way up to Eren's room; it wasn't right of her, she knew, but she had to… there were things that she needed to see.

It was a small room with a tented ceiling, illuminated by slanted rays of light from a window on the side. She could stand straight only in the middle of the room, and beyond that, she needed to crouch or crawl. A cot lay in the corner, with a sack of belongings on top of it - Eren had already come up here to drop off his stuff - and a wooden desk stood in front of the window.

Wordlessly, Mikasa approached the desk, eyes having caught onto what she came to find. A picture frame, dusty, but unbroken, of three people - a man, woman, and child - laughing, smiling… A family. The familiar arch of the woman's brows and the warmness of the brown eyes that were so distinctly Carla's sent a wave of emotions through the raven-haired princess that in an instant, her eyes had welled up with tears. It felt just like the time when Mikasa first learned of Carla's family, felt as if she was rediscovering the fact with full force. She set down the picture frame with a quivering hand as to not let the tears flow down.

She scanned the room after that - there was one more thing she wanted to see, but she could not find it, until her eyes finally settled on the bag that Eren left on top of his bed. It was wrong, Mikasa reminded herself again, but it did not stop her; she resolved to opening up the bag and was relieved to find that her target was right at the top.

It was, of course, the shoe - the other shoe, to be exact. It was reassuring to realize that Eren kept it with him at all times, to know that he did not forget his mother any more than Mikasa had. She traced her fingers over the patterns - good, they looked just like the patterns on the other one. After Carla passed away, Mikasa had frantically dug through her sewing materials, and luckily stumbled upon a sheet of paper, detailing the patterns for the shoe. For the next few months, Mikasa had taken it upon herself to complete the project despite having no sewing experience. It was hard, and she struggled, but she felt that it was her responsibility to finish what Carla had left behind. All there was to do now, was to give the shoe back to the boy.

A sudden ruckus from downstairs brought Mikasa's thoughts back to the present, as she quickly tucked the shoe back where it belong. She wondered if she should go see what had happened, and decided yes, because it would be a good time to slip back downstairs without anyone questioning her whereabouts. Upon arriving back in the dining room, Mikasa was surprised to see that the noise had been caused by two little kids storming into the room, one boy and one girl. The girl was currently crying her eyes out, yelling and pointing towards the boy.

"Franz pulled my hair! I told him to stop and he just laughed at me- Waaaaaah!"

Eren, who had put down his spatula at this point, bent down to pick up the little girl, patting her on the back all the while. "Shhh, shhh. Calm down Hannah, it's okay. Now Franz, why didn't you stop when Hannah asked you to?"

"She said I had cooties!" Franz retorted, sticking his nose in the air. "And what are those ponytails supposed to be for, anyways?"

The comment coaxes a fresh batch of tears from the girl, but Eren just chuckled and rubbed her back until the crying died out. Finally, he put Hannah back on her feet, and kneeled down. "Okay you two, please try to get along, all right? Franz, no more pulling on Hannah's hair. And Hannah, no more saying mean things. Agreed?"

The two nodded their heads obediently and ran out the door to resume their children's games. Mikasa retreated to a chair by the fireplace and tried her best not to think of just how similar Eren was to his mother.

~ o ~

Dinner passed as expected; after bringing food over to the kids, Eren and Jean set the table and welcomed Armin and Annie back from the trip. Hannes showed up at this point as well, once again tipsy but very happy to see Eren again and glad to welcome the guests. The food, though in no way comparable to the feasts at the castle, were well-made and homemade, and everyone seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.

After dinner, Mikasa and Annie left to set up some more sheets in Jean's room, while Armin settled down in Eren's room to continue his work on the maps. Hannes excused himself to go entertain the children, which left Jean and Eren in the kitchen to clean up after the meal. Eren took this chance to fill in some details for Jean, though he made a point to leave out his personal feelings on the matter, because even at this point, he wasn't sure of the things that he was feeling.

When he was finished relating his tale, a short silence ensued, until Jean broke it by saying. "Dude, Mikasa's beautiful."

Eren's breath hitched slightly in his throat. "Yeah…" He agreed.

They went back to silence, though Jean's comment left a strange feeling in Eren's mind. It wasn't that Eren hadn't noticed Mikasa's beauty until now; he noticed it very well even on their first meeting, but hearing it from Jean's mouth made it different. For Eren, as he realized, it had always been a feeling of a commoner to an idol, but from Jean... it was from a man to a woman. Eren gulped as he contemplated the idea further. What did he really feel about this?

"You're lucky," Jean sighed, breaking the quiet once again. "I don't know what type of relationship you have with her - and it seems like you don't know either - but I just know that she's damn beautiful, and you're very lucky."

Eren looked down towards the plate he was washing, and turned Jean's words through his head again.

"Yeah… I'm very lucky."


A/N: If you're missing Levi, you're not alone. I miss him too. But fear not, for he'll make a return next chapter!

I do enjoy family Mikasa x Carla though; actually, I just enjoy Carla in general because she's just kind of awesome. And really pretty. Heh.