a/n: longer a/n at the end, you should read it

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It is six years before the fragments of the broken universe shift around her again.

Her eyes shoot open and she can vaguely recognize the feel of wind, whipping her hair wildly around her face and rendering her unable to comprehend what is happening – all she can see is a blur of grey-black and the earth colours of the city, the murky blue of a stormy sky above her, and she is tumbling, spinning, heaving through the air, chest palpitating in the shock of its restart, no grasp on reality – is this what death feels like?

Her body collides into something hard and pain blooms in her side before her mind tells her, too late, that she is fallingfallingfalling; the mere idea of her loss of control sends her into a panic, but her helplessness at such a state makes her body move by its own accord, arms reaching hands grasping at nothing but empty air, legs kicking unable to steer into any clear direction –

She lands onto something metallic; she knows because of the loud twanging sound it leaves reverbating in her ears. It goes on and on and on, louder and louder and she looks at her surroundings, wild-eyed and awed, so disbelieving because she's been here before, she's done this before, she had given up and Eren's dead and her eyes go wide because he is, he still is, and she is alive but he isn't, still isn't, and that fall hadn't been death because she knows what death is, had been through it, not once but twice and this isn't the first time – dread floods her and seeps into her veins, and it is cold cold cold, and she doesn't want it to but the memory of that night resurfaces, a quiet thrumming in her head screaming for attention because she had known always known it in herself – – – she had been a child but that first time was a rude awakening and not the bad dream she had insisted it was.

The phantom ache is back, a throbbing in her side so familiar she hadn't felt in years, had forgotten in favour of other strains and distresses of her body. But it is there and she is alive, alive and how when her nine-year old body had been a sheath to a blade seven times?

The sound of footsteps grows louder in her ears, and she almost forgets, had almost forgotten, that she had been destined to die here, once.

It had been unpleasant, a pain and a disconnect and then nothing – not agonizing like she thought death at the hands of a titan would be, but an inconvenience. One she refused to live through again.

She had pitied herself. She had chased death down in an attempt to get closer to it, hurtling a hundred miles an hour into eternal sleep. In the end, she didn't get it. She didn't deserve to have it. She had been a coward, but death was not the only option.

Her thoughts return to a boy with green eyes and muscled arms but nimble fingers; remembers the way his name had first felt in her mouth, and the grin he had given her upon hearing her mumble his name. She had promised to fight and she will, because who is left to remember him but her? A blond boy crosses her mind as well; there was an unspoken promise between the three of them, of keeping each other alive. She knows for certain he had tried for Eren – Eren did for him. And now she, in turn, was to do it for Armin, as he would for her.

She grasps the knife in her hand. It is small and useless, but it is all she has left. If there is the tiniest chance of her survival she will risk it, and if she dies in the process, supposing she actually does this time – she will have died trying, reaching for life, another chance she is too selfish to be asking for –

And then there is another pair of footsteps from behind her, and she barely has any time to turn around when the titan comes forward and delivers the blow that should have been hers. The suddenness shocks her into gratefulness – she is alive, and it is an escape. Armin comes for her with a look in his eyes, because he remembers too; they regroup and use the rogue titan to their advantage, and when the call of safety arrives they tell her to follow but her feet are rooted to the ground – she is fascinated because she recognizes something in it, an impossibility, but it was this creature that had saved her life as well, whether it had been aware or not. And it isn't strange to her that she feels pity, human compassion, stirring in her chest for the inhuman when it is devoured.

Everyone looks on in shock when a body rises out of the remains, swaying and unsteady, but there is not a moment's hesitation before she starts running toward him, because she knows and had known, and there are no circumstances because she is nothing but pure gratefulness; her body collides with his and it is his warmth that sends her reeling, the steady thumpthumpthump of his heartbeat that makes hers beat so hard and fast she thinks it could jump out of her chest. She cries and cries and cries but he is here and in her arms and alive, and if he had seen her in such a state he would have reprimanded her – what did you think you were doing? You have to take better care of yourself, don't worry about me –

She refuses to let them take him. She is swathed in armour - a will strong enough to hold off an army. Her eyes tell a story of a tragic fall and a resurrection, the blood in her veins a mirror of eyes so vibrant they could taint the sea green. They call him a monster; call her and Armin traitors, as if they hadn't risked their lives for their same cause only minutes ago. But she stands her ground, because maybe, in that other life, she hadn't been able to do this – she had let them both down, let fate warp itself around two helpless boys targeted by men run by pure instinct.

She, the strong, stands over them and between harm's way; he, with a determination so strong it transforms him, holds off imminent death; and he, with a brilliant mind that ticks like clockwork, convinces others of their inculpability and military value.

They all survive long enough to choose the Scouting Legion.

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She is coiled acid, an anger so detrimental it encompasses her; she moves so fast she couldn't stop herself if she wanted to, and she doesn't realize she is hurtling towards death by the hands of the female titan until she's evaded it.

There is a shift in the air, a wave so powerful magnified by the force of Levi's body as he pushes her forcefully out of the way - when it leaves her body her limbs are left shaking. She looks at Levi, her saviour, and wonders if he feels it – the reverberant shudder in the air that follows the action, him lacking his usual speed, and his eyes are wide and looking at her and she knows he had, had felt the resistance.

It is the resounding crack that follows that brings her out of her reverie. The injury slows him down none, if anything it makes him faster; he whips around the air too quickly for her to follow, evidenced only by the damage she sees on the female titan; soon Eren is in his arms, unconscious but safe, and she lets his anger at him and at the female titan simmer, leaving instead a queasy feeling that sinks into her gut. It is the third time she had managed to escape death, and not through her own means – first, with Eren's titan form when she had not been aware it was him; second when he turns and surrounds her and Armin with the carcass of a broken body; and third, with Levi, and she knows that with the resistance that followed that this was unnatural, that death was greedy to have its fingers around her again, that she is testing its patience by narrowly missing.

They fly in silence. He never mentions it, never brings it up, and so she doesn't. Not even afterwards, when Eren is completely healed and up on his feet, and their mourning period is cut short by the need for quick action against the female titan.

He walks past her, indifference in his stature as it always is. He had never been a superstitious man, nor one to question the natural and delve into the depths of knowledge as Hanji did; he wishes nothing more than to be able to forget the force that had held him back in his attempt of saving her, to dismiss it as irrelevant and past. But she sends him nervous glances - and she is thankful, he knows – she had told him once in quiet and hushed tones, almost regrettably, but he also sees it in those dark orbs, a mystery or a secret he has somehow become a part of, a bearer of: he knows that his actions that day, no matter how instinctive, had made him weave himself into the web of her life, had done and undone some things that were meant to be left untouched. He had moved something in the inner workings of the world. But he cannot bring himself to regret it; he had done what he believed was right, and it is because of this that she is able to stand in front of him, the breath in her lungs enough proof of her still-existence.

"I was meant to die out there, heichou."

"Are you chasing death, Ackerman?"

"No." Her eyes are downcast; they refuse to meet his. He raises his eyebrow, annoyance leaking through his normal stoic demeanour.

"If this is about gratitude – "

"I was meant to die out there. I am thankful, but – " she struggles with her words, eyebrows furrowing in frustration; he has the idea that she doesn't know what she is trying to say, what she had wanted to achieve by coming here, but that her feet had led her here anyway.

"You should have let me die. Please don't worry about me; you have other people to protect and I can hold my own. I can take care of myself."

She leaves no room for argument, exiting silently, leaving nothing in her wake and he isn't so sure if she had ever been there at all. There had been no anger in her eyes, it was a sadness, almost – it confuses the hell out of him, because he had saved her life and while he expected no gratitude, she was wanting to die. A strange girl, that Ackerman was. A girl worth a hundred soldiers, who had joined the Scouting Legion with full knowledge that she would have to fight for her life, yet seeking death.

She doesn't know. She doesn't know how it works, but there is a growing dependence, almost, in the reassurance that she will only come back to life. She should know better than to depend on something so intricate and unknown, but Levi is injured and he would not be if he had left her alone. Maybe she would've come back to life if the female titan's fist had collided with her back then; maybe she wouldn't have. Maybe there wouldn't even have been a need for saving.

She is here to protect Eren, not to carelessly risk her life. She tries to remind herself of this; but if the former calls for the latter she will not hesitate.

It is a manipulation of some sort, a mangling of the otherworldly by invisible hands that string her to other fates, cutting her down each time only to bring her back, as if her existence were nothing more than an afterthought.

She cannot control it. It is unpredictable as the wind, and that is why she still has to be careful. Best not to rely on it, she thinks, not when death calls on me so often.

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a/n: this chapter feels really pretentious, and i hate it. it seemed good as an idea, but now that i've written it out, it makes me really uneasy. please tell me if you actually like where this story's at and want to read the rest still; i only have three chapters planned left, all centred around chapter 50, but i'm not too sure if this is such a good idea anymore. then again the next three chapters are mostly kinda plot (none of this otherworldly manipulation crap i wish i could've written better).

anyway, to anyone who has reviewed up to this point: thank you! I know this story is a bore because it's all characterization, but i'd like to hear what you think of the original ideas too (the what-ifs that come after death/the evasion of it) :) this chapter, especially, i'm really nervous about this.

do you ever just realize how important diction and syntax are? i joined the advanced english class this year and thought it was the most pointless thing, but it's when you actually write that you realize their effect on the whole structure. if you hadn't already noticed, i use run-on, sprawling sentences a lot for this fic – it just gives a sense of chaos any attempt at diction can't.