Warning: This story contains spoilers, strong language and some gore scenes, but I am not sure they require "mature" filter, so... consider yourselves warned.
and maybe the last one
Bertholdt Hoover was transported to the Utopia District and put into the deepest, darkest cell, blindfolded and chained. That was quite the success for humanity who seemed to lose almost all the battles against titans. So, in a way, that was a symbol of hope, a demonstration that we weren’t as weak as we previously thought. It meant that even the smallest of us could change the course of our collective fate if we try hard enough, and risk it. It was supposed to be the sweet taste of victory, but not for me… well, not entirely.
For better or for worse, that wasn’t the only thing that happened. Briefly two weeks later, the West Unit of the Scouting Legion managed to capture the Armored Titan. Lotte Metzger, my former classmate and a fellow cadet, was part of the plan to subdue this enemy… and suddenly, both of the most wanted fugitives ended in our custody. What a mad luck we had, really. The Titan Trio in dungeons, and defeated? It seemed almost too easy.
My captain, Gustav Lindemann, was invited along with other leaders to a sudden meeting. Something important was happening. It must’ve been an urgent matter, and it must’ve regarded the Ape Titan. After all, the fugitives revealed they were threatened by that monster, and that they were forced to act the way they did because their families were held captive.
I was left out because I got a task of my own, for which I volunteered. That task was watching over the Colossal Titan.
While I understood Bertholdt’s motives, all his reasons and his feelings, I knew that it couldn’t diminish his guilt. He was responsible for many deaths, and he’ll eventually have to pay for all the damage he’d caused. He’d already started paying for it. I knew it, because I witnessed it myself.
I was assigned to keep an eye on him, which wasn’t unusual procedure if we take into account that I assisted in his capturing. Commander probably felt that he could trust me, which was a great privilege, and I wasn’t going to betray that trust. So, I arrived in Utopia District urgently, only to find out he has already suffered a lot in the hands of other soldiers. He was questioned. Many times, by many different people. The North Unit members kept him in torture section for days, along with the remaining Military Police members who didn’t give up on their right to humiliate him. I was there to witness his pain, and no matter how strongly I wanted him to be punished for unintentionally killing my family, I felt miserable after seeing what he endured in the process. And it was just the beginning.
All those soldiers were very violent towards him. His first keepers would take away his food and spill his water. They kept beating him up, hitting him hard, until his body bled, and his skin turned purple or black. They would’ve killed him if they only could, but his abilities to heal were more than great. Still, they’ve tried. They would beat him until he became unrecognizable. Deformed. Ruined. His face… his body… his everything.
They’d broken his ribs, his limbs, his teeth. They’d cut his flesh off, cut into his intestines, and let him bleed until his regeneration started to naturally recover him. They even went that far to cut off his arms, and legs, several times. He was constantly bruised up and covered in blood. It was done in secrecy, in the midst of a night, and no one wanted to report it to our Major and the leader of the North Unit, lady Aurora Amsel. When she finally found out about his mistreatment, she was outraged. She punished some of those offenders for disobeying her direct orders, and she’d immediately informed Commander Smith about Bertholdt’s torments. The supreme commander didn’t want to allow it further, no matter how guilty Bert was… he’d decided to let the jury to define his penalty, and he assigned me to guard him, knowing I would control my emotions.
When I first met Bertholdt after his downfall, I was shocked. I’ve opened his cell only to find him in the corner - he was shaking, expecting more pain. He left out a small cry, anxiously twitching as I was approaching and as my footsteps rung througout the stone cell floor. I fought the darkness of that room to fully recognize his shape. When I did, I felt completely horrified. It was like a scene from a nightmare.
His robes were torn, and he had cuts and markings all over his almost bare torso. Tall as he was, he curled into a fetal position which showed me he was enduring a great amount of pain. He was breathing unequally, in a sharp way, like his lungs hurt anytime he inhaled for air. His face was swollen. He wasn’t able to see, his eyes were gouged. Those emerald, sad eyes weren’t there, only two deep, pitch black holes. I wanted to scream. Those who did this to him didn’t even bother to cover that horror. There was no blindfold. His arms were missing, as well as half of his teeth did. I shuddered when I saw him in that state. I fought the urge to vomit. He was lying on a small, wooden bed, like a giant, broken doll, chained via heavy shackles around his legs and his waist. I was shocked and outraged by the amount of retaliation of human kind. Indeed, he was a slaughterer, and murderer, that was all true… but he was enduring this kind of pain almost every day, and it didn’t seem right, not even for him. He’s suffered already, too much, and I felt horrified by how big monsters humans could be, when enraged. Were we truly that better than titans were? Were we the lesser monsters? When I saw that, I didn’t think so.
I couldn’t imagine that pain inflicted on me. I don’t think I’d survive that, especially not without his strength and regeneration. He was broken, which also broke my heart along the way… but he’ll heal. That’s the advantage of being a titan shifter. Small fumes were rising from his damaged skin, from his eyes and from his complete body. He smelled awful. He sounded awful. I took him gently, caressing his face when I put the ceramic cup next to his lips, which were completely dry when I gave him to drink. I was still holding his head because he was unable to drink it himself.
He’s been dehydrated for days, he didn’t eat or sleep. He was damaged and every muscle in his body must have hurt like Hell. He was in a big mess, and I didn’t know what to feel after seeing him like that. I mean… I was shaken. I was sorry. Definitely. I think I even wanted to cry, but, I just couldn’t. I’ve also wanted to think that he’d deserved everything he’d got, but honestly, I didn’t at all in the end. He killed many because he was forced to. He was blackmailed to act that way, to destroy our Walls because his family would be killed otherwise. He was just a child. And soldiers of humanity tortured him because they wanted to, not because those were their orders. It’s a complete chaos. It’s unfair, and although I knew I won’t forgive him easily, I felt deeply saddened. He used to be my friend. My comrade. I’ve even fell in love with him before I knew what he was. So… I didn’t know what to feel anymore. I was just… tired and confused about everything.
The water was clean, pretty cold and refreshing. He drunk it all in one sip. He left out one small, sharp gasp when I took the glass away, and refilled it for him to drink again. He took it, but his body twitched under my touch, like he expected to be hit or pushed again.
“Easy now. I am not here to hurt you,” I said as kindly as I could. He recognized my voice, I knew he did… and he was surprised. He probably thought he’d never see me again, as I didn’t expect to see him before his trial, or even execution. His lips formed my name, and he wanted to make a sound… but he couldn’t. And I didn’t expect him to.
“Don’t try to speak. Gather your strength, instead. Recover. I am here to watch over you,” I continued to comfort him. That was true. I was there to make sure no one else hurts him again, and to report about his behavior, and health state to the Scouting Legion.
Bertholdt regenerated fast, which was a blessing, considering how much damage he’d received. As expected, he was in a great pain. I was with him most of the time, but I needed sleep and food too. Whenever I wasn’t there, somebody would use that opportunity to molest him. I’d find him in another mess, because my comrades weren’t as empathetic as I was. The grudge humanity held against the Colossal Titan was big, deviant and poisonous. Although I could understand it too, I didn’t want him to spend his days suffering like this. I wouldn’t wish it to my biggest enemy, yet alone to the man I used to love with all of my heart.
Therefore, I’ve asked Commander Smith to provide me with duty to keep guarding him alone. Just me, and nobody else. I’ve told him I’d take any responsibility and any risk, regarding Bertholdt. I mean, I wouldn’t be an exception – Lotte Metzger was signed to guard and observe Reiner Braun’s behavior. It wouldn’t be strange, or new.
Commander could give me the same task without making a special case out of it. Besides, that seemed like the best solution for a while, until other soldiers realize he isn’t the threat to human kind anymore, and that he won’t hurt anyone else. They needed to grasp the idea Bertholdt Hoover won’t harm anyone, ever again. I will make sure of it, even if it means I kill him myself… but I don’t have to be a sadist and torture him as a berserker would just because he sinned against all of us. I don’t have to mutilate him to prove anything to anyone. Besides… his torturers aren’t doing it because it is fun. They do it because they are afraid.
I really understand their perspective too. They want him to feel the pain, to suffer and to die, because he’s ruined so many lives. They hurt him because they are afraid of him, and his transformation. They know that, should he change, they’d be wiped out in an instant. They drug him with Hanji’s medications to prevent him from shifting, but what they aren’t aware of, is that they are building up his immunity to that drug daily, by overdosing him. When he gets immune, none of our weapons will work against the Colossal Titan. That’s why I needed to prevent it from happening. He must remain chained and in a dungeon, remain under our control by any means necessary. And so… I was guarding him.
- - - - -
I was reading a book, under the light of a nearby torch. It was lit earlier today and burned quite brightly but still couldn’t replace the sunlight which I’ve missed so much. I was uncomfortable on the small, wooden chair, and I was bored to death. Bertholdt was sleeping almost the whole day, and only woke up to take a glass of water. He was barely conscious.
This time, he had all of his limbs, and teeth, which was miraculous comparing to past week. I was taking extra hours to keep him safe, and I felt tired because of that necessary, but very demanding decision. However, he finally regenerated well and seemed decently healthy. The only thing he lacked was sleep, but he was getting enough of it lately. Of course, he had me to thank for that, because I provided him with all the necessary care. It was just a matter of time until he fully wakes up, and we face each other like humans… in a lack of a better word.
The book was dull. It barely kept my attention, because the writer constantly used some big words to look smart in the eyes of a reader, unaware he only did harm to his own work. I mean, if you write a book, you should write it in a way everyone could read it, and not for those who had an academic education to understand all the expressions you put there solely to impress those few. What a waste of paper, and print.
“Romy?” I’ve heard his voice, and my heart skipped a beat.
“I’m here,” I responded, closing the pages. I rose my head to see him standing in front of bars which divided us. Although he was chained, his shackles were long, so he could move a lot in that cell, but not too close to the exit.
“Were… were you reading? D-did I… interrupt you?” he asked awkwardly, like he’d apologize instantly for his supposed “rudeness”.
“No. It’s a boring book, I am just killing time with it. How… how are you doing? Are you thirsty?” I asked, standing up to face him properly. He seemed a bit pale, and exhausted.
“No… Romy, I…”
“Are you hungry? There’s a bit of bread and mash, and even some fruits for you if you want it.”
“I… I would like that, very much,” he said. I went to get it for him, six floors up, and then back to the underground basement where he was stationed. I brought him some water too, in a leather skinful. I said it was for me, otherwise they’d spit into his food or something. Bertholdt wasn’t everyone’s favorite prisoner.
“Eat while it’s still warm,” I said, handing him a tray with food and a glass of water through a small opening on the door, where prisoners got all their portions.
“You are kind to me, Romy… I don’t deserve it,” he mumbled. His hands were shaking while he was lifting the tray to his knees and started breaking the loaf of bread between his fingers.
We had to talk about it, eventually… about our conversation short before he fainted because of his blood loss, once we captured him. He confessed to me. Literally confessed he’d always liked me, even when he rejected me. He did it for my own sake, to avoid hurting me. I didn’t know anything about him… about what he was, or how difficult it must’ve been for him to hide his identity from everyone else. Of how hard it must’ve been to love someone like me, even when he told me that it was so easy. Why did he tell me that? Because he thought Levi will kill him? Because he believed it was his last chance? I don’t know. I was staring at him, wondering what to say.
“Annie is fine. She’s still in her crystal, and won’t wake up. But, she breathes, and sleeps peacefully. You don’t have to worry about her,” I told him, knowing he’d be interested to hear about her. She was his first love, after all… and in the same situation as him, as well.
“That’s… that’s good, I guess. What about Reiner? Is he…”
“Captured. Didn’t they tell you?” I asked, referring to soldiers.
“I wasn’t sure whether they were telling me that to provoke me, or hurt me, or something. I hoped he escaped,” Bertholdt was sincere.
“He’s in another section of this basement. His cell is similar to this one. We are keeping you two apart, to avoid any possible threat. Lotte guards him.”
Bertholdt sighted. “It must have been difficult for her. How is she doing?”
“Well, they are both looking quite well, after everything they’ve both been through,” I said. Reiner was beaten up too, but he was another type comparing to Bertholdt. He fought back. He didn’t let his guilt get in a way of his own self-respect, as Bert did. Three of his guards were hospitalized before Lotte asked for that task. Reiner was a true fighter and didn’t give a damn for his torturers’ opinions. He didn’t allow them to molest him, and he beat the crap out of those who tried. I wish Bertholdt did that too. I wish that, just once in his life, Bert stood for himself.
“I am glad to hear they are fine,” he said weakly. He bit a piece of bread, and started chewing. He was breathing heavily. The spoon between his fingers fell onto the floor, and he reached for it. The wound on his chest reopened, and the blood started flowing again, painting his rugs in crimson.
That’s when I’ve locked the cell up and went in, pulling my bag along the way. This wasn’t the first time his regeneration failed him. I mean, I knew he’d heal, but this was some kind of… delay. Possibly because of Hanji’s drug. This could be the side effect. That drug prevented him from shifting, but it also seemed to prevent him from healing properly.
“Here. Let me help you,” I said, removing remains of something which used to be a shirt. I’ve opened my bag and found a bottle with alcohol and bandages. His skin was bloody, and warm, and I’ve suddenly realized I am going to nurse wounded, half naked Bertholdt. Well, I’ve no time to feel ashamed. That crap can wait for some other time, when the situation isn’t serious like this one.
He looked dierctly at me, something I didn’t expect… and in a moment, his gaze was sharp. Almost, like he was angry.
“You shouldn’t, Romy. You better leave me… because I don’t deserve your help. Or your kindness, for that matter. I am a monster. A murderer. These hands… they are covered in blood; the blood of the innocent people. I am a trash, and you should just leave me to rot.”
“Yeah… I should. You are all of those things. But you’ve been through a lot lately, so I won’t be the one to torture you further. You’ve had your share for now,” I’ve said, taking those bloody hands of his and looking at them. He shook his head. “I don’t deserve… to be helped… or forgiven,” he whispered, and I didn’t have a time for his self loathing.
“Take this. Bite into it,” I said, giving him a small wooden piece. It was to relieve him of a pain I would inflict on him now. “It’s going to sting. A lot,” I warned, sipping the alcohol on fabric. He just nodded, prepared. I mean, there isn’t anything painful I could do that he hasn’t already endured. I couldn’t sedate him, because he already had one drug inside his system.
I pressed the fabric onto his torso, where his wound reopened. He arched his back, forcefully, but that was just a moment. After he grew to that pain, he calmed down, and let me repeat it again. I was cleaning his blood, his wound, and all other cuts I’ve seen. After that, I wrapped the bandage around his torso, preventing myself from blushing like a jerk. This wasn’t the time, and definitely wasn’t a place for me to behave like that. He pulled the wooden piece out of his mouth, and took a deep sip of water. I’ve finished with his bandage, secured the knot, and put my tools into the bag.
“Romy… can I ask you something?” he started, not looking into my eyes. He was looking somewhere far away.
“Sure,” I’ve responded. He sighted.
“When are they… going to kill me?” To kill him? Well, I couldn’t answer that. I didn’t know what will happen.
“There will be a trial… and…”
“That’s only a farce. You know it. I will die no matter what. I was just… interested to know when. Or how. Anything to prepare myself. I… I am not a brave man, Romy… I need to prepare for something like that. To look brave in my final moments, at least…”
“Hush. Please. Let’s not talk about those things,” I said, feeling a strange pinch inside my throat. Like I will cry any second now.
“Not talking about it doesn’t mean it won’t happen, you know,” he said. He buried his face into his hands, tired.
“Ask me something else, then. Anything is better than that,” I admitted.
“I am afraid to ask you, because I fear I already know the answer.”
“Try it, anyway. I will try to be honest,” I said.
However, he didn’t ask me anything further. He just… leaned towards me, as far as his shackles allowed him. He pulled my occiput, and got me very, very close to him. He was staring at me, unsure if he should do it or not. I didn’t know what to do either… I felt a sudden panic, and my heart was beating loudly in my ears. His hands were hot. Warm, and welcoming on my face. He caressed my cheek before he pressed his lips onto mine, inhaling my breath along the way. I’ve never, ever imagined I’d be kissed this way. It was tender, and bitter, and I’ve never imagined it’d happen in an underground cell, or that he’d be shackled and charged with treason. But here we are.
“I am… I am sorry…” he whispered, when he saw I wasn’t responding.
“Romy… I am sorry. It’s only because I love you that I am being so selfish with you. I am sorry, it won’t happen again,” he said. “I just… didn’t want to die without knowing how… how it would feel…” Feel? My God. What the hell are we doing?
“You fool,” I whispered, “don’t apologize.”
That’s when he dared to kiss me again, and this time, he wasn’t the only one. I’ve kissed him back, unsure how, but I did. Before he dies, I want at least one memory of him, of his touch. I want something to remember, anything… no matter how foolish, or forbidden.
I know I am not supposed to. I know his sin is big, and that he shouldn’t be forgiven, but… I want to sin too, just this once. I love him, after all. Is it too much to ask?
His lips are tender. Soft. His touch feels nice. Just for a moment, I can imagine we are normal couple, not soldiers… and not enemies. Just me, and him.
After that kiss, we didn’t talk for a while. I guess there wasn’t much to say.
“Lie down here with me… just until I fall asleep. Will you?” he asked. I would, it’s not like there were any people coming down here except when I’ve asked them to. Therefore, I’ve lied down, took that strange, foolish man in my arms… and it was the first time in a very long time that Bertholdt Hoover slept peacefully.