Almost ten years had passed since what it seemed was the final battle with Titans, and five years since any kind of Titan sighting. The Humanity presumably safe, many heroes and veterans had retired, either changing their profession, or visiting schools to inform young generations about the gruesome struggles the mankind had to suffer.
Most people still stayed within the Walls, afraid to move even though the migrations were now possible and safe.
Ever since hearing stories about Titans when he was a child, now fifteen-year-old Eren Jaeger was incredibly intrigued. Most of the older civilians didn't like to talk about the "dark times", so the only way to learn as much as he wanted to was at school and from veterans.
The latest guest lecturer had been the famous commander of the Scouting Legion, Erwin Smith. He'd explained the fundamentals, the use of 3D maneuver gear and military tactics. He'd also talked with great respect and shine of pride in his eyes, about 'Humanity's strongest' soldier who'd killed, without assistance, twelve 15-meter Titans in a single battle and who was now retired and wishing to stay out of politics and any kind of public exposure. For all of his achievements, the man could have easily demanded his own castle, and he would have gotten it, but he was humble enough to just fall back into the shadow.
'That's a true hero,' Eren mused, wishing that he had been born earlier and participated in the battles. With that thought he had already decided to enlist after graduating, just to become a small piece of the Military, even though the Scouting Legion – one that he admired the most – had been disbanded several years ago.
Going home from school one Tuesday, Eren decided to take the longer route through the streets with new buildings, mostly inhabited by war veterans, hoping he'd catch a few words or a story from the people there.
Some ex-soldiers were chatty, some weren't and Eren had already learned not to mention stories he'd heard from ex-Military police to other veterans because they were mostly accused of "never even seeing a real Titan" and "spending most their time safely within the Walls, thinking they're very useful".
It was kind of sad really, that there was so much intolerance within the Military.
Just as he thanked an older man with no legs for his story, Eren heard a familiar voice. He frowned, already knowing from the overly polite tone that his best friend Armin was bullied again. That kid was great with words most of the time, but everyone knew that there was no reasoning with bullies.
Eren jogged around the corner of the dead-end street and saw two morons, pushing Armin around, while the poor little guy tried to retrieve his backpack from a third, also moron.
"Hey," he bellowed, hurrying to help his friend.
"Eren!" Armin was ridiculously happy to see him.
One of the guys recognized him and paused, looking around. Eren already knew he was searching for Mikasa, because she's the one who'd usually beat the crap out of anyone hurting her friends, and she usually hung with him and Armin...
Eren was brave, yes, and ready to protect his friends too, but he knew that even if he fought, he'd lose against the three of them. So he decided to try playing the Mikasa-card first. "You guys really want to wait for her?"
"Let's go," the leader muttered, "but first," he grinned as he snatched Armin's backpack from one of his friends. "Have fun retrieving this."
And before Eren could get to him, the guy yanked open the bag and threw random things out of it into the yard of one of the houses. The last was the book Armin adored, that his grandfather gave him. It was thrown right into the front window of the house, creating a loud crash.
Both Eren and Armin cringed with horror, while the bullies laughed like hyenas and ran away.
"Oh crap... Crap, crap, crap," Eren babbled, staring at the house and the yard. "If someone's home, we're screwed... If they aren't, we can't get your book back..."
"But we didn't do anything," Armin countered. "I'm sure they'll understand."
"Really, Armin," Eren rolled his eyes. "Like, what if some PTSD dude lives here? He'll cut us in half!"
"Please... It's my grandfather's book... I don't really care about other stuff. Just that book," Armin sighed and made such a sad expression that Eren couldn't look at him anymore.
"Fine," he said softly. "You stay here, ready to call for help if I get killed, ya hear me?"
Armin giggled, nodding. "Thank you for doing this."
"Yeah, yeah, thank me later..." Eren murmured, already climbing over the fence.
It was silent enough, so he figured nobody was home. He peeked through the broken window, but the inside of the room was too dark to see anything. Turning around to look at Armin, Eren shrugged apologetically as if to say 'sorry about your book'. He wasn't going to break into someone's home.
Instead, Eren crouched down and started picking Armin's other stuff that was lying on the ground. They'll obviously have to get back some other time to retrieve the book. And maybe Eren could ask his mom to bake some cookies for him to bring, as an apology.
Still in a crouch, Eren moved across the yard, going towards a corner where Armin's math notebook had landed. He picked it up from between two clay pots that contained cacti. Of course he'd pricked himself.
"Ouch," Eren whined, sucking on his fingertip. As he turned from the corner to search for more pencils in the grass, he saw a dark brown boot. Eyebrow twitching nervously, he slowly let his gaze slide up. The boot went all the way up to its owner's knee and Eren froze when he saw white pants.
'M-m-m-military uniform,' Eren thought as he was scared speechless. 'A PTSD guy is about to cleave my head off for breaking his window!' Eren's eyes darted up, to at least see the face of his murderer-to-be.
He was met with such a dark scowl that all the cookies in the world probably wouldn't help him. The half-lidded grey eyes were sharp on him, making him feel pinned down to the ground... Like a mouse that was about to be attacked by a hawk.
Eren opened his mouth to say something – anything – but his voice refused to cooperate. He wheezed instead.
"You're trespassing," the man so helpfully informed.
Eren lifted Armin's bag as if to explain why.
"Can you even speak? Stand up."
Quickly, Eren scrambled up, standing stiffly, almost saluting at the way he was commanded. He didn't even realize he was squeezing his eyes shut. When he opened them, he was momentarily confused because he actually had to look... slightly down.
Eren wasn't very tall, himself, so... This guy was tiny by some standards, but his menacing aura was looming over Eren as if he were a Titan.
"I'm sorry about your window, sir," Eren blurted out.
"Did you break it?"
"Don't apologize for something you didn't do," the man seemed irritated. "Is this your book," he leafed through it.
"It's my friend's..."
"It's extremely rare. There are maybe three or four copies that weren't burned by the Wall cult. Tell your friend not to carry around something so valuable."
Eren was granted with a look that was something between angry, frustrated and incredulous.
"Don't they teach you anything in school?"
Eren blinked. "Uh...?"
"The whole idea about the world behind the Walls was a taboo. Talking about it was frowned upon. Having a book about it? ... Ignorant brat."
'Of course I know about that, where the hell did my brain go?' Eren's mind screamed at him. "Oh, I know that! I'm sorry, sir..."
"You should be. And stop it already with 'sir'!"
"Yes sir! I mean, mister! Uh... you?" Eren wanted to hit his head against a wall. Repeatedly.
"Just Levi," the man scowled at him and didn't seem interested in knowing his name.
"L-Levi. So, um..."
Levi shoved the book in question into Eren's hands.
"You're very welcome," Levi said, walking to his gate and opening it for Eren. "Now get the hell off my property."
Eren hurried out and as he turned to thank Levi again, the man had already slammed the gate shut and was walking back into his house. Eren watched him go, trying to gather his wits from the whole encounter.
Armin peeked from around the corner. "Did you get it?"
Eren stared at him. "Some help you were! I almost died in there!" He walked over to his friend and gave him the backpack and the book. "The guy, Levi, said that you shouldn't carry that book around. It's too rare and valuable."
"I know," Armin sighed, hugging the book to his chest. "I just can't help myself."
Eren knew that sad look. All that Armin had from his grandfather was that book and an old, tattered hat. And ever since Armin had lost his grandfather, his and Eren's friendship deepened even more and he became a regular guest to Eren's home.
"Come on," Eren said, putting an arm around the blond boy's shoulders. "Mom's waiting with dinner."