Chapter 1: Prologue - Run
Run. That three letter had always been their salvation and their downfall. It's what branded their family as outcasts, imprisoned them in fear, and currently it was what saved them from imminent death at the large, searing hands of the titans.
Her father had been right. Security was a wishful thought, a hope filled delusion constructed by the prison the people within these walls called "home". It had been a fool's hope to think that their life of moving would stop. Even with her muscles springing her forward like a thoroughbred greyhound, she knew a life of motion would only put them at arms length away from safety.
But even then, with her heart pumping adrenaline, fueling every fiber of her being, back turned against the vacant eyes of humanity's bane that was called the titans, Yuna Rhee couldn't help but think a positive thought. Her father would have done the same.
The peace they had in Shiganshina had been bittersweet in its brevity, but it had been beautiful until its last breath.
She raced past the frantic folk- neighbors, shopkeepers, families. People she knew, and she did so without sparing a glance at the dead and wounded. No matter how haunting the screams and pleas for help would be. She would face the crippling trauma later, when the situation wasn't so dire and her family didn't need her. Compartmentalizing the gore drenched chaos of it all, she leapt over a ruined wall and tore through the remnants of a door onto the back street.
Even when in ruins, she knew these streets.
Even with the blood smeared walls and the entrails of a poor man hanging from a broken wooden mast.
Even when she was soaring up in the air, pulled along by her newly equipped gear for an aerial view of the hell she thought of as a home.
Guilt threatened to draw the bile up her throat. She hadn't wanted to do it. Never planned for it. But it had been the only way, the only variable that would increase her chances of surviving and protecting what was important to her. Would father have been proud at her quick thinking? Would mother have been mortified or anguished at the dishonor of it? She forced herself to put those poisonous thoughts elsewhere in her mind-to revisit them later or never revisit them at all.
Forced herself to forget the agonized expression of the soldier with blue eyes. The woman who's ODMG gear she all but ripped from her dying body. One person's stroke of luck became another's death sentence in this world. Her luck was that she found a Garrison soldier of similar height and build to her, and the soldier's misfortune was her near fatal wound.
Stomach punctured by a large shard of broken glass, bleeding out the worst of ways. No amount of medical attention, even with Dr.Yeager breathing down her neck as a guide, would have saved the woman. Either her life was going to fade slowly in torment, or she was going to be devoured in the bone pulverizing maws of a titan.
It was a sound justification to what she did, but that did not comfort her. It did not lessen the burden of watching those pain filled eyes turn vacant when her blade pierced the nape of her neck, right at the base of her skull, severing the spinal cord and the stem of the brain. A single stab, done correctly, would shut down all body function by disconnecting the brain from the rest of the body. There were no words exchanged, not even a name, a goodbye, or a last request. Only a gaze, a terrified, knowing gaze.
The worst part was the simplicity of it, of how easy it was to get away with it with the titans invading the city erasing all evidence of her murder. The only tedious part in it all was stripping the woman of her gear and strapping it to her own person. That had been tricky, even with her father's relentless drilling and days after days of practice. Seasons of not doing so had made her clumsy with the straps and the buckles. But the screams helped hasten the procedure, as though the dying crowd outside the abadoned building sucked away her anxiety.
It wasn't long before she was in the air, swinging towards the chaos rather than away like the other soldiers. Her movements weren't as graceful as they used to be, the childish fun being stripped away from the direness of the situation. Her boots weren't as sturdy as the soldier's but they sufficed to keep her soles from bruising at the impact when she landed on a roof. Still, the misstep stole her footing and sent her tumbling down the roof and into the alley with a grunt. A wagon of apples softened the impact before she landed in a crouch onto the dirt paved ground. Her hips and back would pay the consequences later, but at least she knew which alley she was in.
Turning left at the stack of crates, right at the patch of dandelions beneath a window, and out into the open and up the stairs where the closest thing to a home would be.
Or what remained of it.
Numbness washed over her, gluing her feet to the cracked cobblestone street. Her tight control over the feelings against the carnage cracked at the sight of a familiar face crushed under the ruins of a familiar house. Carla Yeager, the woman who, not two hours ago, smiled at her helping hand while washing the sheets, was now pinned under debris was surrounded by three children.
One of them being her greatest priority.
"KAI!" She didn't care that her voice would alert the monsters like wolves to a bleating lamb. Her sole focus was on her one, true blooded family.
Dark waves of hair curtained the boyish, tanned face, but under the sweat clumped locks, the terror stained relief in those russet eyes mirrored her own.
"Nui!" He stumbled forward, away from the wreckage and into her arms. She didn't have time to hold him tightly or scold him for standing when he knew better than to stay put like a wide eyed deer. Kai grabbed her shoulders with strength that belied his 10 year old body.
"Nui, Mrs.Yeager, she-"
"YUNA!" The said woman cried her name like a terrible plea. "Please! Get the children out of here!"
"NO, WE'RE NOT GOING TO LEAVE YOU!" Eren, Carla's one true son, tugged at the wooden mast with bloodied hands. Mikasa copied him in tear dripping silence.
Yuna didn't need to assess the situation twice to know it was a hopeless task. The weight of the wreckage would have given Carla severe leg fractures and perhaps even a broken pelvis. Even if they were able to free her-a task that was impossible in the short time they had-their survivability would be a hair's width away from nonexistent with the burden of carrying a crippled woman along with three children. Even with her newly acquired gear.
So without inflection, Yuna forced herself to speak.
"We need to go."
She would not turn away from the look of betrayal in those emerald eyes. That look was the least of what she deserved after what she did. Even Mikasa turned to her with wide eyes, while Kai seemed to adopt a hollow calm at her words.
Eren was shrill. "WE CAN'T JUST FUCKING LE-"
"We have to. Or you will die with your mother."
The two children were not accustomed to seeing her grim and calculating. How could she say such a thing so calmly? How could Kai be so accepting of it?
When the familiar face of Hannes, a Garrison soldier well acquainted with them, appeared. There was little time for him to question why and how Grisha's apprentice acquired military issued ODMG. He could only cower before the towering face of a smiling, blonde titan.
It was naive to expect an alcohol loving soldier like Hannes to be able to take down a titan. So when he caved and yanked Eren and Mikasa into his arms, Yuna did not hesitate to yell the three letter word their family had once lived by.
He didn't need specifics to understand he was supposed to follow the soldier and his two friends. But when Yuna didn't do the same, he turned.
"UH-SUH" She barked, causing him to shut his open mouth.
It was the unspoken rule. When a command was issued in their mother's native tongue, it must be obeyed. It's the rule that kept them living this long.
And Kai wasn't an idiot like Yeager. So with a worried heart, he sprung forward and ran after Hannes with well practiced legs, climbing over a small wall with a one armed leap.
His sister would follow after him soon enough. She just needed to say goodbye.
The tears never came. They rarely ever did when loss had been such a common pattern in her life since her birth. But when those eyes, colored a brown honeyed and lighter than her own, gazed up at her. Yuna struggled to find her voice.
"Carla…I'm…" She swallowed the tightness away but the tremor remained. "Sorry… I'm so sorry." She and Kai owed so much to the woman. Without her, they would have struggled on the streets, thieving, starving, and bitter at a world that seemed to wish only ill upon the likes of them. Even when she already had an extra mouth to feed, she simply took one look at the young, jaded girl with her scrawny little brother clinging to her like a feral kit, and smiled sweetly with the offer of freshly baked bread and hot stew.
That same smile, pained but sweet, was plastered on her face as she gazed up at eldest of her adopted brood.
Yuna was sorry. Sorry that she couldn't repay the woman's kindness enough. Sorry she wasn't closer to the house when the chaos began. Sorry for all the secrets she kept while sheltered under her roof and fed her food.
"Please... Please, Yuna look after them." Carla rasped. It was such a horribly agonized sound. Likely the woman had broken a few ribs. Yuna briefly contemplated doing to Carla what she did to the female soldier to end the woman's misery. It was a nauseating thought.
So she did her best to comfort the woman.
"… I'll try. She whispered, grasping the handles of her gear in a bruising grip. It was a pathetic way to promise a dying mother. But it was a true promise, a realistic one because Yuna could only try. In a world like this there was no guarantee.
Yet it seemed to be enough to comfort Carla.
"Thank you, Yuna."
No Carla, thank you. For taking us in when no one else would. For giving us a roof over our heads when we were lost. For being kind to us when you knew nothing of what or who we were.
Thank you for everything.
There had been no time, no grace to speak those words, no matter how much regret it would give her. Life as hellish as this one was destined to have regrets staining its path. The only thing she could do was keep moving forward.
Hannes was not a monster. A coward, he may be, but he had his humanity. So when it was clear that running from titans with three children in his care put the odds against him, Hannes only adjusted his hold on Eren and Mikasa and ran harder. The other child, Kai, seemed to keep up with him effortlessly, always at the edge of his periphery. Granted, he was slowed by the weight of two children, one of whom was struggling like a rabid dog, but for a ten year old, the olive skinned youth kept up with him almost effortlessly as if he was accustomed to running from terror all his life. Leaping over a flight of stairs, sliding his bottom over a fallen cart, side stepping a falling lamp post, the boy ran with the grace of a hardy alley cat.
But as impressive as it was, their pace could not outrun the leaping strides of a bow legged, five meter titan and a seven meter quadruped titan rushing their way.
Even the vile tempered brat, Eren seemed to understand the peril they were in as he ceased his struggle.
"Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit, fucking SHIT!" Kai's frightened mantra took the words out of his mouth.
Years from now, He would never forget this day. Every minute, every hour of this time, since the moment he chose to abandon Carla to a terrible death. It would forever haunt his mind and drown his pride and self worth in a spiralling pit of guilt. No amount of liquor would ever relieve him of it,
but one sliver of light in this dark, unforgettable moment would ease it.
Hannes, like all soldiers, knew how to slay a titan in theory. But like the majority , he never had to do it or even see it in action. So when he heard the familiar whir of wires and the hiss of gas, and saw the sillhouette of 16 year old Yuna Rhee block the light of the sun from his eyes, blades held high and gleaming, he nearly sent all of them to an early death by faltering in his run to stare at the image.
To witnesses it must have been a heroic sight to see, but Yuna will only ever remember that moment with fear of the what if. What if she hadn't made it in time? What if she had missed the nape? What if she had let her doubts get the best of her and hesitated?
Her mother once said fear has always been considered by many as a weakness. It's what made people selfish, made them cowardly and invalid.
But to the wise, it's one of the greatest weapons.
A wise person's fear will be a wise person's salvation, their greatest source. A source of strength, of hope, and most importantly courage.
She was only one person. One fearful, sixteen year old girl who had a little brother she loved dearly. And fate deemed that it was enough to give her the window of opportunity.
A single grappling hook lodged itself into the back of the 5m class titan, reeling its hideous maws away from its would be victims and its neck to Yuna's ready blades. Speed compensated for her lack of strength, but even then the thickness of the titan's skin strained her wrists as her blades sank into its nape. Like cutting hardened wax, it was a struggle. But her blades were sharp enough to do the job, and failure was not an option. Not when Kai's life was on the line.
She could feel the carved flesh give way, splitting itself from the rest of the body as it collapsed. Her first titan kill. It would've been a moment of pride for many in her position, but Yuna felt no joy. Not even a bit of satisfaction. Not when they were still in the fire.
She could only swing herself skyward. There was another that needed to be dealt with- the quadruped. The 7m was a sickly looking thing. Disproportionate with its bulbous body and spidery limbs. It's neck was thinner than the bow legged 5m; an easier cut but at a tricky angle. She only had the luxury of one shot, and there was no time to delay. Within a few strides, it could reach with its gangly arm and snag one of the children. Diving like a falcon zeroing in on its prey, she let gravity assist her into a somersault as her hook met the nape of the titan's neck. The added momentum and the adrenaline boosted strength rewarded her with a gruesomely deep cut into the nape, but the angle barred her blades from making a withdrawal. Despite the flaw, her strike did its duty of slowing the titan to a halt. It convulsed, twitching as though it were uncertain. It's heated flesh attempted to regenerate, sealing the blades within the flesh.
It was hot. Almost unbearably so. Eye watering and in danger of the titan's grasp, Yuna had no other option but to discard the blade. Hooking herself to a nearby building, she pulled herself away and towards the running Hannes and Kai.
"Nui!" Kai almost laughed in relief when she landed beside them and immediately went into a pacing run against Hannes.
Yuna said nothing, but she grabbed his wrist and gave it a tight squeeze, pulling him along to pick up their pace. She would look the children over later, when they were out of the titan infested grounds of Shiganshina.
When she had the courage to look at the tear smothered face of a green eyed boy who lost his mother.
Chapter 2: The First
First impressions are the most lasting.
-On a military base three leagues in the outskirts from Trost-
"So do we have an agreement, Miss Rhee?"
She heard him, but she could not look at him. Those icy eyes made her feel so raw, as though looking into them would would expose every nitty gritty secret she had carefully under wraps. Eyes so sharp and intelligent, she should have realized it when she met his gaze, that she would be cornered like this. Those eyes were just like her mothers.
And the scrutinizing gaze of his companion... those were on a level of their own. Eyes of cold, sharpened steel, they reminded her of the blades she used to slay the titans that horrid day in Shiganshina. Looking at them made her feel like a taxadermied butterfly pinned and trapped in a glass case.
So she opted to stare at the laqcuered furniture of the table before her. Drink in the lines and circles in the carved wood, Yuna did her best to salvage her thoughts and emotions into a calm, tactile state.
She fingered her pendant, tucked and hidden away under her shirt, resting on her sternum. The weight and feel of the round jade gave her some comfort.
"… They'll be provided for then? All four of them?"
"You'll be recieving the wages of a private within our ranks during your training period." Commander Erwin Smith added without hesitation, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table, hands clasped, eyes pensive. "For three years until your graduation and until your first earnings as a private in my branch. It's by no means a generous amount, but it should be enough to provide four working children some comfort while the military provides you with lodging and food along with a small stipend for yourself. So long as you put in the effort to actually graduating."
Despite her best attempts at remaining calm, Yuna Rhee wanted to vomit. Or find some tree to crawl and hide in until she could accept the situation before her. She had to give the military credit- or at least the blond man in before her. They had her cornered and caught in a snare. All in the span of two days. How humiliating to be caught so soon, after everything she's experienced to insure that it wouldn't happen.
The past two days have not been kind to her. It was as if the world was trying to bury her in its deep and decrepit hole of misfortune. She had the bruises, fatigue, and soreness to prove it.
-Two Days Prior-
Hardships were nothing new to Yuna and Kai. Even before the fall of Wall Maria and their current life of orphaned poverty, the Rhee siblings grew accustomed to a life of getting by. But this time it was particularly challenging to adapt to their current standard of living. Being a part of the refugee influx made the waning opportunities to acquire some form of income already nonexistent. So when the government required the refugees to labor over farms, the task came at a blessing and a curse. The work was limiting in terms of the resources it provided despite the grueling hours they would toil away at the soil. It was the bare minimum. A few scraps of food to keep an average person alive, access to water, and a place to sleep in a small old shed near a barn.
The shed, though patched up and poorly insulated, was the least of her problems. Their shelter's poor conditions were easily rectified with a few spare bales of hay, wood, mud, and woven grass.
It was the rations. They weren't enough for four growing children forced to work in a field. She tried her best with foraging the untapped resources the farmers tended to ignore. Snaring rabbits that nibbled away at the farmer's vegetables, gathering the cattail tubers growing by the river, drying herbs around their shed, so on and so forth. Like others, she worked in the fields but doing this in her spare time... It was exhausting.
The children did their best to assist her, despite her initial reluctance. Armin and Mikasa were quick to learn of which wild plants were usable, while Eren, despite his graceless way of doing things- much to Kai's frustration, tried his hardest to be useful with manual tasks whenever he could. Gathering firewood, gutting whatever wild game they managed to snag, so on and so forth.
It was still difficult to acclimate to their way of living. Laboring in the fields, eating little, and with the trauma of the attack causing restless nights, Yuna was not surprised when sickness became an issue.
Armin was not as physically adept as the rest of them, though Yuna had little doubt he was likely the smartest of his age with the way his eyes were always so wide and aware. So when Eren ran to her in the fields one early morning, shouting that Armin collapsed with fever, Yuna dropped her sickle and ran.
It didn't take a licensed doctor to understand what was wrong with the boy. Blond hair matted with sweat against a flushed face, cheeks and forehead heated in flushed red patches against the sickly pallor of skin, inner throat swollen and speckled with red spots. The boy was suffering from a case of strep throat. Likely caused by the workload and stress weakening his immune system. The boy recently lost his grandfather, and it had been a wretched affair for everyone. His grandfather was a good man. A man worth more than a hundred in her eyes, but the government only saw him as a waste of space. So he had been sentenced to death under the pretense of reclaiming Wall Maria. Yuna had promised to look after Armin in his stead, to give him some ease over his agony as he walked away. Now, his precious grandchild was sick.
"He should have been showing signs before his collapse. Why didn't any of you say anything?" Why hadn't she seen the signs? Armin had been silent for the past few days, sluggish and slower. Granted she had been busy and exhausted herself, working in the harder fields away from the children, but Yuna couldn't help the frustration seep into her voice as she eyed the youths critically.
Eren looked chagrined while Kai frowned, unable to meet her eyes. Mikasa stood by Armin and began placing a wet washcloth over his head.
"We didn't think it was serious." Kai argued in a small voice. "Everyone was tired. You especially, nui. We didn't want to bother you-"
"And now he's bedridden." Yuna silenced him sharply, pinching the bridge of her nose. Kai flinched. His sister must be genuinely aggravated to be this openly cross with them.
Eren, however, was not receiving the scolding without a fight. The boy was still unaccustomed to being under her authority and responsibility, and it was likely parts of him were still bitter about her leaving his mother to be eaten by a titan.
"It's not our fault Armin got sick!"
"Eren!" Mikasa glanced sharply at her foster brother while Kai looked ready to throttle him (again) for challenging his sister. The boy had no respect for his elders. To Kai, who was raised to honor the hierarchy of age in the family, Eren was a borderline savage.
But Yuna would not have them bicker amongst themselves. Not this time.
"So you won't feel guilty if he dies of this, Eren?" Her words no longer held bite, yet Eren couldn't help but freeze at the calculative manner she spoke of Armin's possible death.
"Look around us and our living situation Eren. We barely have enough to eat and get by on a regular basis, let alone when one of us needs medical attention. I know medicine, but I'm not a magician." Yuna's eyes seemed blackened from their warm brown hue under the shadow of her downward gaze. "We are all responsible for looking out for each other right now, because there is no one else who will. The farmers won't care if one child is sick. They won't even give a second glance at the body when they dump it. Most of them will simply see it as culling the weak from the strong."
As quick as the anger came, it sobered into a quiet sense of understanding. Her brother schooled a face of apathy, knowing as well as Yuna of what she spoke of, while Mikasa and Eren adopted somber looks.
"Yuna, I'm sorry." Eren muttered.
"We're sorry." Mikasa corrected.
Yuna waved off their sorry, still tense and grim. She snagged her tattered shawl from a carved branch pinned to the wall as a makeship coat rack. Relacing her patched poots, she wrapped the shawl into a cowl hiding her head and features.
"I'm heading off to town. Mikasa, brew some tea with the dried yarrow and have Armin drink it. All of you, be careful when you come to contact with Armin. Use the rubbing alcohol to clean your hands. Make sure none of you touch your face."
Upon gesturing to Kai, her brother obediently handed his elder sister her makeshift satchel."For how long will you be gone?" He asked worriedly.
The journey to Trost would be a long one, especially on foot. If she was lucky, she would hitch a ride on a carriage towards town. But the trip there would take a solid day.
"I'll be back by sundown tomorrow at the latest. If I'm not, you know what to do."
Trost wasn't the same after the fall of Wall Maria. Even after the influx of refugees died with the government's poorly hidden culling, the fear of being the next district after Shiganshina to fall to the titans had the place on edge. She ignored the snide glances and disapproving glares made her way with her frayed, over sized grey button up and patched brown trousers. The old shawl covering her visage hardly helped make a decent impression either, but it was the better alternative than having people stare at her features. It became known early on in her childhood that she and her family were different from those within the walls. Her mother said it was a major reason for their isolated and nomadic lifestyle. Everything from their olive complexion inherited from their father to their felid eyes and facial structure they shared with their mother made them a target for human traffickers.
But people were not welcoming of her woebegone appearance. The remaining refugees fortunate enough to stay in Trost burdened the district's resources. It would be a challenge to get the necessary supplies she needed regardless of whether or not she could afford them. Some shopkeepers would blatantly refuse to offer her service while others would try to cheat her. Fortunately, she made herself known and trusted to a few people in this part of town.
Trost was safer than the Underground in the inner walls, but it had its sinister neighborhoods. Passing by a leering group of thugs loitering by the crates of a passing alley, Yuna kept her body ready and tensed like a coiled spring. The weight of her father's karambit, hidden under her oversized shirt and tucked away in the sheath on her belt, gave her a sense of security. She learned early on, some people only submitted to violence. The thugs in these parts knew it too, and they knew better than to try the hooded girl with the hidden blade.
But to be sure, she took a long, winding route to lose any possible stalkers until she ended up at the backdoor of the establishment she was looking for: the Jameson pub. To an average young woman, a bar wouldn't be the first place they would go to when their friend fell sick. But Yuna entered the backdoor, seeking a specific man: the bartender, Joe Jameson. A gruff and honest man who enjoyed a good listener and the stray cats around his tavern.
The first step in entering any vicinity was to take in the surroundings while you're still unnoticed. Observe the people, make a head count of how many were there and how many were a likely threat, and mark the possible escape routes. It might seem a bit paranoid, but it's what kept her alive for this long.
The place was noisy tonight. The servers looked hassled, especially Hannah, the barmaid and Joe's eldest daughter. Left and right, there were people, mainly men, who demanded attention. Mostly Garrison soldiers and merchants, but there were three Military Police members, judging from their attire and firearms casually strewn on their private table. There also others, those who did not don the unicorn emblem of the MP or the rose of the Garrison but the wings of freedom: the Survey Corps.
That was new. Perhaps they were returning from an expedition, judging by the tired looks they bore while sipping their drinks. They were more subdued, considerate than the MPs as customers, and clearly more sober if not somber. Melancholy seemed to be the trademark of the Survey Corps, considering how often they stare death in the face. After her titan encounter in Shiganshina, she didn't blame them. There were better ways to die than being chewed and swallowed by giants.
As interesting as her observation was, she came for a reason. She spotted Joe, a stocky, bearded man with salt and pepper hair serving a glass of brandy to a regular near the counter. But before she could gain his attention, Hannah spotted her.
"Ah, Yuna!" The freckled brunette looked relieved to see her.
Departing the table filled with MPs she served, the barmaid ignored the discomforting leers that followed her posterior. Those leers eventually found the hooded newcomer Hannah greeted and never left when the newcomer unwrapped her shawl to reveal an attractive face.
"Miss Hannah." Yuna gave the girl a polite wave. "I'm sorry to intrude on such a busy night."
"No not at all! If anything, I'm relieved you're here." The brunnette's shoulders sank in nervous exhaustion. "It's been chaotic these past few days. Father was hoping you'd stop by to help out again like last time."
That aforementioned time had been a complete accident. Yuna had come into the bar looking for side jobs only to find that Hannah was being harassed by a particularly persistent drunk. The intoxicated man hadn't been too pleased at being snubbed by the pretty girl and pulled out his knife in a foolish display of anger. But before he could make threats or declarations and before Joe could pull out his shotgun, the drunk had been pinned to the table, knife disarmed, arm threatening to break in three places as Yuna had him in a painful hold.
"Has there been problems?" Making bigger scenes and setting up some violent reputation wasn't on Yuna's to do list, but it was hard to say no to helping out a kind girl and her father who provided her some funding.
"Nothing big, but right now, you notice it's a bit tense?" Hannah tilted her head to the quieter side of the bar, where the Survey Corps resided. "The MPs are a little too drunk to consider what they say, and it's not making the Scouts happy."
"Predictable." The Military Police was full of itself despite its incompetence and corruption. Yuna sighed, "I'd be happy to help on any other day, but I'm not sure about today. I need a favor from Joe."
Perhaps it was a good thing Hannah approached her first. The girl was far sweeter than her father, easier to convince and less stingy.
"One of the kids is sick. I need some hard liquor to make a tincture for his fever and perhaps some honey." As she suspected, Hannah immediately looked sympathetic.
"It might be better to give him something stronger if he's ill enough for you to be here. We have some medicine. Something that might reduce his fever."
"Could I take a look? I'd really appreciate it." Yuna grasped the barmaid's hand with a beseeching look, well practiced from her younger days in the markets. Girls as sweet as Hannah fell easy prey to sympathy, especially when cases involved poor children.
"I'll help out tonight in return if that's ok. Serving, cleaning, everything." It would be wrong to completely reap the benefits without sowing in some service. Even if she was exhausted.
"Sure, let me ask father." Perfect. Joe hardly denied his daughter's earnest requests. And if he needed the help in the bar, there was no one better than a woman who knew how to defend herself.
Sure enough, Joe merely tossed Yuna a spare server apron. Tucking her satchel and shawl under the counter, Yuna retied her hair into a firm bun and pinned it in place with her mother's hairpin before beginning her work.
It started off smoothly. The customers welcomed the uniquely pretty face of the new server. Her smiles were kind and her movements to and fro from each table were quick and graceful. While Hannah was cute and dainty in her mannerism, the new girl, Yuna, was something else. Her unladylike attire did little to besmirch her beauty, and her well-mannered way of keeping her distance did little to dissuade her allure.
So it was inevitable that the good mood would be soured when one drunkard tried to get her attention.
"Heeey pretty lady…Luna right?" Yuna stepped back in time to dodge the swipe made to nab her by the waste. Smile fading into a look of mild disinterest, she regarded the drunk leering at her from his seat.
An MP, how unfortunate. They were tricky to deal with, being soldiers 'of the law', they had the ability to stand above it.
Beady eyed and rather plump around the face for a soldier, the drunkard gave her a crooked grin he supposed was charming, a grin that widened at her silence.
"Shame a girl like you isn't wearing a dress like Hannah o'er there. Howbout I getchou one? Something nice that gives your nice bosoms some showin they deserve?"
His fellow soldiers let out a cacophony of guffaws, drawing attention to their friend and the exotic server. The Survey Corps soldiers did not look amused while the Garrison simply eyed the scene with interest. One in particular seemed to perk up at the sight of the bunned up black hair and fair, olive skin.
"All I want in return iza smooch from your pouty lips. Whatya say?" He puckered his lips.
Russet eyes blinked. Unfazed, she turned away from him, intent on walking back to the counter.
But those beady eyes lecherously drew themselves to her rear.
"Or maybe a dress with a short skirt? To give that nice ass some lovin." Without further ado, his grubby hand swung forward and gave Yuna's rear a slap.
There was a split moment of silence that followed after the single clap of hand on asscheek. Then the sound of a chair screeching back turned heads to the Survey Corps.
"Oi." He was a tall man, with sandy hair styled in an undercut and lines marring his face into a sour look. "You shitheads are a fucking disgrace."
"Pfft. Rich coming from a branch that's just titan food and a waste of funds." Another MP snorted into his glass.
Eyes narrowed into slits and fists clenched, he looked ready to lunge forward.
"Fuck you say?"
"Oluo." His comrade, a stern, tall blonde stood to intervene. He reached out and placed a placating hand onto the soldier, Oluo.
"Say that again! I dare you pigs!" Oluo's growing rage would not be swayed, and to add to the danger, the Military Police seemed too drunk to see the warning signs. Or perhaps they felt confident with their status and firearms.
The beady eyed pervert chuckled. "Didn't know the suicide squad was hard of hearin. My friend said you're a good for nothing-"
The bar went quiet once more, all except the sound of sputtering from the drunk MP who's large face was now drenched in his own alcohol. Eyes went to the empty cup held in the exotic server's hand. Whether it was the alcohol or the rage that was the cause, the man now staggered to his feet, face red and veined. He chuckled in his disbelief, towering a good head over the audacious woman.
"What the fuck, you little cun-" She never let him finish his insult.
A single palm strike to the throat. Done so quickly and with clean precision, if one looked away they would have missed it and simply turn their heads to see a Military Police officer red faced and choking.
Wiping her hand on the apron to rid it of alcohol, Yuna regarded the man with a lax air of amusement.
"Oh no. He's choking on his drink." She drawled so casually, it seemed almost comical to hear with the hacking and wheezing coughs.
But the choking drunkard's companions were not amused. One stood. Drunk but steady, he lunged to make a firm grab at her. She swayed, dodging the swipe while moving forward. Kneeing the man's side, right where his alcohol abused liver resided, she grabbed the back of his jacket as soon as he keeled over in gut wrenching pain. With a hard yank, she pulled jacket over his head with his arms still looped in, and simutaneously sent a particularly nasty kick to the groin of the third man who stood to aid the second. Swinging a harsh backhand straight onto his ear, she then shoved him back to his seat in a disoriented stupor before looping the jacket over his head, twisting him into a tangled, messy embrace with his companion. The momentum had them toppling the chair and onto the floor in a humiliating heap.
As if to add the final touches to her work, Yuna grabbed their brandy bottle and emptied its contents onto the heap of bruised and beaten men. It was quite a sight to see. If there weren't so many witnessing the fiasco with the same mouth gaping expression, one would've thought they were drunk and delusional.
But the bartender hardly seemed surprised. In fact, he merely appeared annoyed.
"Dammit, Yuna! That's a waste of brandy."
Calm as ever, Yuna merely turned to the first soldier who fell victim to her clever hands. Reaching into his pocket with a quick jab, she plucked his money pouch and tossed it the bartender. "Just put it on his tab or something."
Flushed but no longer choking, the beady eyed man wheezed.
"Are…you…crazy?" Saliva dripped from his lips. "You have…any idea…who you…messed with?"
"Three drunk men who have little respect for their fellow soldiers." Yuna remarked calmly.
"I'll…have you…fucking jailed for this..."
She blinked, unfazed by the hissing threat.
"Jailed? Don't be so sure… I'm just a pretty girl with nice assets." She mocked, a chillingly polite smile curving her cupid bow lips. "Who will they believe? The drunk, barely conscious soldiers who reek of alcohol in their every pore?"
"Everyone here! We have witnesses you dumb bitch!" He coughed, staggering again on his feet.
"Yeah, witnessing you harass a poor, sweet girl. Face it, Malcolm, you got what you deserved." That voice.
Eyes wide with recognition, Yuna turned and sure enough, met the hazel eyes of a blonde man with a thinly mustached face. He was staggering towards them, rum bottle in hand.
"Hannes?" The last time they saw each other was during the fall of Wall Maria. To think Hannes was now stationed in Trost and still a drunk.
"Hey, Yuna!" Hannes gave her hair a good ruffle, much to her displeasure. "Men or titans, you're still kicking ass hm?" He chuckled. The smell of rum wafted from his breath.
"Hannes." She tensed at his mentioning of titans. The thoughtless fool needed to be careful with his words. The tavern was packed with soldiers.
"Y'know this bitch, Hannes?" The drunkard, Malcolm, rubbed his sore neck before pointing his thick finger at them both.
"Watch it Malcolm," The unit captain frowned, "Any more from your sorry ass, and I'll drop kick you and your men out here. Sure your squad leader will be pleased to know about your shitty conduct tonight."
At the mention of his superior, the drunkard snapped his jaws shut and blanched. However, enough was said to catch interest among the sober listeners.
In the dark corner of the tavern, pale grey eyes the color of polished steel zeroed in on the young woman who was the cause of commotion.
Oluo's narrowed gaze darted between Hannes and the server. "What do you mean, titans?" A barmaid killing titans? What kind of twisted joke was the Garrison officer saying?
"Nothing sir," The said server wore an exasperated look, but her posture screamed of tension.
Clueless and tipsy, Hannes only looked proud. "This pretty girly was with me in Shiganshina! True survivor. Didn't run away like a coward…like me…" His voice crumpled at the end. Just how drunk was he to have such drastic mood swings? To Yuna's growing dread, Hannes took another gulp from his bottle of rum.
"Hannes, you're drunk. Sir, he's drunk so just-"
"Got herself all geared up somehow and WHAM! Two titans! I'll never forget that moment she saved me and the brats…speaking of the kids, how're they doing?" The Garrison officer took another swig of his bottle. "Does Eren still hate me? They all must hate me, but y'know…they have every right to hate me… I should have been the one to take down those titans-"
That shut him up. Yuna looked ready to hit his throat. But the damage was already done.
"Oi, what's the guy saying? Killing two titans?" The rage cooled into suspicion, a feeling that was being spread amongst the Survey Corps.
Just her luck. A bitterly morbid part of Yuna wished that Hannes had been eaten in Shiganshina.
"He's a drunk, sir." She smiled, but even a kind smile couldn't deter the growing curiosity evident among the soldiers. "Please, don't mind him."
If push comes to shove, there were three ways she could escape. She routed it in her head as she grabbed a dish towel from her back pocket and began wiping the mess of spilled liquor. Hannes, now understanding the seriousness of his idiocy, quietly tended to the two unconscious MPs.
The window would be the quickest, most drastic option. If they leapt at her, she would be forced to break the glass before making a mad dash through the alleyway towards the bridge. The front door was the most upfront route, but with the risk of getting caught the quickest if she didn't weave through the crowd quickly enough. Her last option would be the backdoor. It would take her in the back alleys where she could lose them through the tight turns and twists…or simply get cornered the quickest.
It had been daunting how, even without knowing the identity of the voice back then, Yuna found herself stilled and silenced like the rest of the tavern. Rough yet refined with a cold edge, his voice alone demanded those around to listen and listen well.
Oluo turned to the dark corner, where his superior officer and role model sat, standing ramrod straight with obedience and submission.
"Leave the woman alone. Unless you want to end up like the pigs on the floor."
"That's an order. We'll deal with it later when this tavern is less of a fuckery."
She should've been relieved at the attentioning diffusing away from her. But then russet eyes met hard steel and saw, beside the grey eyed man was a familiar blond with piercing blue eyes. Yuna knew then...
This was going to be a shitty week.
She woke up before dawn.
Joe had promised her a ride on his way to the farmlands to deliver his cousin a few goods. But he and Hannah would take off at sunrise in broad daylight. Far too risky for her, now that she was sure there were military officials who wanted her for questioning. The Survey Corps left that bar eyeing the exotic server, and she didn't need to read minds to know that the blue eyed one was planning something. That's how it always was with Erwin Smith. She wondered if he remembered her from years ago, before he was a commander and just a soldier who came across a thieving girl.
After the tavern closed for that evening, Joe and Hannah said nothing about the obvious predicament Yuna was in. Hannah simply gave her the necessary medicine along with a few extra things to make a care package. The gesture had been so sweet to the exhausted girl, Yuna could have kissed her. But as generous as they were, Yuna couldn't rely on them. This predicament was hers and hers alone.
So in the darkness before sunrise, Yuna donned her shawl and secured her satchel tightly to her person. The sky was barely light enough for her to see her way through the dark of Trost's alleys. Bribing the gatekeepers near the edge of Trost would be easy. It was getting there that would be challenging if her suspicions were correct.
Her heart hammered in her chest as she opened the backdoor. Hinges buttered to keep them from creaking, she slowly made her way out into the open and moved forth into the waning dark.
The streets were quiet. Not exactly something to be suspicious of, considering the time. But there was something about this particular silence that had Yuna on edge. So she walked with a hand tucked at her back, grasped firmly on the handle of her hidden blade.
Erwin's precaution proved to be worth the hassle of waking up in this ungodly hour before dawn. The girl was attempting her escape through the backdoor, eyes sharp underneath her hood. Her movement was soundless, impressively stealthy for some barmaid. If her little scene in the tavern wasn't enough to make her suspicious, then her attempt at escape at this hour sealed the deal for Levi.
Still, it was odd for Erwin to take personal interest enough to involve them in something that should be dealt with by the Military Police. Whatever information the Survey Corps Commander managed to wean from the Garrison officer after leaving the tavern must have been worth enough to try this cat and mouse game.
"We'll draw her out if she goes another route, but Levi, you must be the one to apprehend her."
"Che, why the hell does it have to be me?"
"Because it's dangerous if it's anyone else."
"Like I'm any safer for the bitch?"
"Not for her, but for others." There was no jest in Erwin's gaze, there hardly ever was.
"You saw how she fought. How quickly she responded. Our soldiers are skilled at dealing with titans, not trained fighters." There was something else. Erwin was a hard to read man but Levi knew him enough to know when he was hiding something. Still, regardless of his secrets, Levi trusted him.
So he stood in the dark, waiting in the bell tower for a more aerial view of the situation. At any moment, the girl was bound to turn to the alley two blocks from his building. There, Eld would be the first to apprehend her with Oluo assisting. Together they would corral her towards a dead end and wait for his arrival if talking her into surrendering wasn't viable. Just in case, Nanaba would be positioned on the roof above the dead end to intervene.
It was overkill, in his opinion, to wear their ODMG. But Erwin insisted while Mike, the towering shit, simply said she smelled like him.
What nonsense. That girl was too well mannered in her fake smiles and false propriety to be anything like him.
What a shitty way to start a morning. Wasting their valuable time on some shady barmaid-
Levi was torn from his bitter thoughts by the sudden cries below.
"Holy shit, she's fast! Quick, grab her!" Squinting into the dark, he followed the commotion by ear from his vantage point.
"No wait, Oluo, Commander's orders were to-"
"FUCKING SHI- OW!" There was a crash, the sound of barrels breaking, following by another yelp from the moron who wanted to imitate him.
"El' that bithh hath a knife! She cuh mah fucking harneth! Mah tongue-shithh."
Harness? Did the idiot bite his tongue again?
"Gunther she's headed your way!" Eld still seemed to be chasing her. They were nearing Nanaba's point now.
"I see her-" Gunther's voice was cut off by a thud, followed by the telltale sound of metal wires and gas hissing.
In the dim light, grey eyes spotted a grappling hook lodge itself to a nearby balcony where Gunther was silenced.
There were a rare few memorable moments in the Survey Corps, where the memory did not involve a traumatic encounter with a titan. Moments that, when mentioned, would stir up laughter and light-hearted jabs at certain people involved in the moment.
Months after this hour, they will laugh at this early morning 'incident', where Yuna would meet lifelong friends for the first time; they will reminisce the iconic scene when Yuna somehow hitched a ride on Gunther's ODMG with Gunther unconscious from an bony elbow to the face.
When the first rays of morning light peeked from Wall Rose and struck the rooftops of Trost, when the sun struck the baffling sight of a young woman who hopped onto the red tiled roof, leaving Gunther dangling unconsciously nearby, years from now Levi's comrades would teasingly joke behind his back that he fell for her then. With her fair, olive skin glistening gold under the light, body crouched like a readied wildcat, hand gripped tightly on her foreign, curved dagger, glaring with bottomless, dark eyes.
"Captain she's on the roof!"
Levi wanted to roll his eyes. Well no shit. He was on the roof. He had the fucking eyes to see her little stunt with Gunther's ODMG. It was a clever way to avoid the soldiers bellow, but ultimately the move was futile. Their gear made them mobile regardless of height vantage.
"Shit when did she cut my harness?"
"She got mine too!"
...Unless their ODMG harnesses were damaged. So her moves with her dagger had been intentional.
"Clever little bitch." He muttered, standing up.
Silvered eyes watched as the tanned youth went into an impressive sprint, followed by a powerful leap to land on the roof of the next building.
"Fast and jumpy too..."
Especially for some crazy barmaid.
He barked at the woman on the roof next to him. "Nanaba, drive her to the western edge!"
"But what if she falls off the building?" Nanaba knew Erwin's orders. If they drove her to slip off the building, the girl would plummet to her death.
"Just do it and leave the rest to me." He didn't bother for a confirmation and leapt off the ledge.
She was running. Always running, despite trying her best to stand her ground.
Ignoring her tired limbs, Yuna pushed herself into another powerful leap and landed onto another roof with a quick roll to soften the blow to her body. She skidded to a stop before her foot reached the edge, cringing at the mess of up-heaved ceramic roof-tiles. Heart pounding against her sternum, she took even, calming breathes in her nose and out her mouth to conserve her waning stamina. The next jump, if she timed it right, would have her diving through the window of the building across. The broken glass would be a potential pain, not to mention the property damage, but at this rate it was the quickest option. She could lose them inside the building. Considering how they approached her unarmed, it was unlikely they'd use lethal force.
But the question was why they would go through this much trouble. They were Survey Corps soldiers. Not MPs or people affiliated with the underground crime ring. She was just some no name girl without a home or a name significant within these walls. A girl who had four children to look after, one of whom was ill and needed the medicine in her pack.
She readjusted her satchel. Her precious cargo within was wrapped in a cushioned bundle of cloth and paper to prevent it from breaking on the rough ride.
The whirring hiss warned her of another apprehender. Yuna wanted to snarl in frustration. Just how many were there?
She spun, dagger in hand as a short haired woman landed on the roof.
ODMG armed and ready with a single long blade to block to her knife, Nanaba was prepared for a clash of blades.
She wasn't prepared for the roof tile throne her way. The projectile shattered against her sword, blinding her for a split moment with dust and debris. That was all the time needed for Yuna to strike. Like a viper, she shot forward, fangs bared with her claw-like blade. Nanaba barely had time to block the swipe at her ODMG's chest strap before a wind knocking fist to her solar plexus sent her coughing and staggering back, a footstep away from the ledge. The soldier gasped in surprise when her last step slipped off the roof.
How ironic for her to be concerned about their target's risk of falling, only to end up falling herself. The angle would make it difficult for her to recover her balance on her gear without risking a few bruises and perhaps stitches if she landed head first into the wall.
And if Yuna hadn't grabbed her wrist.
Everything happened so quickly. Yuna's chest hit the roof ledge with a hard thud as her body carried both her weight and Nanaba's.
But before Nanaba could call out a thanks or an apology, she was released. Her reflexes saved her from a falling death as her ODMG fired hooks that swung her to safety bellow. She looked up, half expecting the girl to push herself up and disappear on the roof but to her surprise and dread, the slanted tile gave way under Yuna's body.
With a gasp, Yuna slid head first off the roof. By some luck, she managed to flip her fall to face skyward.
However at this rate, four stories above ground level, she was likely going to die or be permanently maimed even if she landed in a roll.
She closed her eyes and waited for the hard dirt pavement and the sensation of bones breaking at impact. But to her surprise, it never came and in its place was the sensation of a pair of solid, strong arms catching and pressing her against a hard chest.
"Don't fuck up my harness like you did the others, unless you want to fall and crack your head on the pavement."
Russet eyes snapped open wide, doe-like with utter shock. They looked upward.
A cravat, a chiseled jaw, a pair of lips curved into a scowl, an aristocratic nose, and a pair of glacial grey eyes, crowned with sharp, stern slanting brows and a neat curtain of raven hair.
The man who caught her was undeniably beautiful, a thought she later blamed on her adrenaline fueled haze. But at that moment if she wasn't already pink faced and sweating from her excursion, Yuna would have flushed.
With a click of his gear's trigger, Levi made his descent. He kept his hold on her waist tight, to the point where he felt her huff in discomfort. Considering the trouble she gave to the others, he was determined to have her chained and locked inside a jail cell before they started their interrogation or whatever it was Erwin had in mind.
But as hellbent as he was, so was she.
He should have expected her to pull off cheap shots. It was always the nice looking ones that would pull the dirty moves. Her eyes, as innocently shocked as they were, screamed of schemes.
He already anticipated her escape attempt.
But he wasn't prepared for the downright ridiculous way in which she commenced it.
She squirmed like a fish. Then her head snapped forward and his neck flared with sharp, stabbing pain, like a row of shrapnel digging into his skin. It was then followed by a cool, moist sensation. Levi could only hiss, mortified and shocked when he realized what exactly occurred.
The crazy bitch bit him.
Not hard enough to break skin but enough to bruise it.
She bit him. Like some rabid dog.
The lunacy of it caused him to loosen his grip. It was all the woman needed to wriggle her way loose and land, feet first, on the ground like some feral cat, and her legs were ready to spring her into a mad sprint.
Levi didn't think twice. With his gear to guide him, he dove in a gas fueled tackle just as she turned. To his savage satisfaction, there was a split second of terror in those felid eyes at the sight of his fury.
He descended upon her like a wraith coming to reap her soul, arming a single blade to his handle in the process.
The bitch bit him. Surely Erwin wouldn't mind if he brought her to him in pieces. The bitch fucking bit him. God knows where her filthy mouth has been, and she bit Humanity's Strongest with it like some aberrant titan.
The blonde can give him shit for this later.
He was only going to put his blade on her neck, and poke it hard enough to break the skin with a shallow cut. Enough to scare her into staying still. Maybe even a kick or two just for satisfaction.
But she wasn't without her own metal edge or experience.
He expected more resistance when he collided before landing on top of her, but this woman was full of surprises. If it were a different case, perhaps a training simulation, Levi would've been genuinely impressed.
She went down as planned, but the wily bitch used his dive's momentum to heave them both into a tumble, flipping him beneath her as her claw-like dagger met his blade. But Levi would not be bested. He bucked her off easily, giving him enough space between them to raise a leg for a savage kick to her chest. It would've been enough to knock the wind out of her and render her unconscious or at least dazed if she hadn't caught his foot halfway to soften the blow. She fell backwards with a hard grunt but sprung back forward with an upward kick of her legs.
They stood simutaneously and straightened themselves. Just as the rest of the capture squad came down.
To the spectating members of the Survey Corps, it was some sort of epic showdown. Something that they could not intervene. The dawn had come, illuminating the street where he and the woman stood. There appeared to be a silent exchange between them, an agreement made through seething glares. They gasped when Humanity's Strongest sheathed his blade and with a few deft clicks and shifts of his gear, unbuckled the ODGM from his uniform's harness. Meanwhile, their target shed her shawl, her satchel, and her talon shaped blade into a pile on the side.
"Petra is not going to believe me." Oluo muttered under his breath. Nanaba only stared while Eld was focused on shaking Gunther awake so he would not miss the impending fight.
"You sure it's a good idea to do this?" Hange eyed their commander who gazed at the scene from their rooftop view with an indecipherable look.
"Aren't you fascinated by this?" The man was actually smirking.
Hange blinked, chuckling. "She's no titan, but I haven't seen anyone give Levi this much trouble. At least anyone still alive now that is. And the girl is exhausted."
Out of breath, sweating bullets, heaving like their thoroughbred horses after a long expedition, it didn't seem fair to pit her against Levi when the man hardly seemed half as exhausted. He was just pissed. All in all, it wasn't looking good for their target.
"She looks like she's about to collapse." Hange muttered.
Erwin did not look away from the duel."Yet she's still standing and fighting."
Even without his gear, their captain was almost inhumanly fast. He closed in the space and sent a swift aimed for the side of her knee, only to be blocked as she lifted her leg, colliding his shin with hers before she grabbed the ankle and yanked him forward. She was going for his diaphragm and neck. Levi parried with quick consecutive blocks before sending a knee to her gut. She let out a pained grunt, weakening her stance. That was all he needed to step forward and grab her into a harsh throw.
But she was stubborn, and the possible humiliation of being tossed by a short man, no matter how terrifying, was enough to spring her leg into action for a last minute lock with his limb. If she was going to fall, he was coming with her. The weight and momentum pulled them both to the dirt pavement. For a split second, Levi found himself dumbfounded as he landed on his back and stared up into a defiantly smug face. A gleam in her gaze was all the warning he had before she lifted her fist.
His shock quickly morphed into aggravation. The bitch was good, but he was better.
Perhaps she too was forced to fight soon after being born into this accursed world, perhaps she too also had a crime streak and red staining her slate, but he had greater experience on his side. He was conditioned like reinforced steel to become humanity's greatest soldier. Street smarts only got someone so far.
It was clear, when he caught her fist, that the girl was not used to her quickness being apprehended. With a hard yank, Levi pulled her lower and hooked his spare arm around her neck. The shift in her center of balance was enough for him to reverse their positions with a heave of his hips.
He could give less fucks about how it looked. With this slippery snake of a woman, he was beginning to realize that precaution was necessary. So he pinned her wrists, pressed his hip against her waist, and locked her legs with his own, turning his own body into a wrought iron prison that shackled her from escape.
If she was flustered before, she was beet red now. Of all the humiliating ways to get caught… Yuna tried to wriggle and squirm, but she felt the hard body pinning her stiffen. Those eyes darkened with an ominous promise and Levi leaned down menacingly.
"Don't try it."
Easy for him to say. He was the one on top, and considering his stoic, unabashed countenance, he was hardly bothered by their compromising position. A true insult to her pride. Here she was, exhausted, dirty, and sore; while he, at most, looked annoyed and mildly disheveled with only the bruising, wet imprint of her teeth peeking from his collar.
It was petty and spiteful thing to consider trying, but Yuna couldn't resist. She jerked her head forward and promptly bashed her forehead against his.
To his credit, his grip and position never waned. Levi only closed his eyes and sighed with a painfully angry expression.
This was turning out to be one hell of a day in Trost. And it wasn't even noon yet.
Erwin Smith either had a twisted sense of humor, or he simply didn't care. The tension was so palpable in their makeshift office near the outskirts of Trost, it made Yuna's already throbbing head hurt. She fought the urge to touch the painfully bruised bump on her forehead. Across her chair, a certain captain's grey eyes were so vehemently cold, they would give her frostbite if they could. The noticeable welt peeking from his inky black undercut only served to emphasize the storm in his gaze.
The situation was outrageous, it was almost comical. If Erwin were anyone other than Commander Erwin Smith, he would have been snickering.
To the choices he offered at hand, Yuna was torn. Erwin Smith was cunning but not conniving. At least not in this situation. He laid out her situation bare to her and gave her a single route of escape that would benefit them both, or benefit her and the good of humanity if he wanted to twist it in dramatics like most officials did.
But Yuna was her mother's daughter, a mother who wore her cleverness like a noble crown.
"And what if I graduate in the top ten?"
Behind the clasped hands, Erwin's lips quirked into that bemused smirk, it was almost nostalgic for Yuna. She wondered again if Erwin remembered her.
"Top ten?" He humored her, like her father would when she or Kai had some impish idea. But Yuna was no longer a child. She was a woman driving a bargain.
"Top ten." She mustered the courage to meet his eyes and caught herself from swallowing at the darkening glare from a certain Captain.
"If you are ranked in the top ten, as impressive as that is, what would you want?"
"A 50% raise in the wage during the training period." She schooled her face to hide her nervousness when the set of steely hooded eyes darkened.
"You're bargaining as if this is some fucking game." The Captain's words were laced with unfiltered ire. "50%? We have good men risking their lives, getting the same shitty pay to provide for their families."
"And you're demanding me to abandon mine to provide your army some edge over the titans." She retorted. It didn't lessen the guilt of his statement, but it was her priority. Who knew what three years without her would do to the children.
"You're awfully full of yourself for a bratty little bitch who hasn't even joined. As if you'd be more than titan shit as a rookie out there." It was fire and ice between the potential recruit and the Captain. If Erwin weren't as stoic as he is, he would have blanched at the amount of hostility emanating from both sides.
Perhaps it hadn't been the best idea to prolong their scuffle the way he did, but Erwin would secretly confess later that he couldn't help it. Seeing Levi Ackerman, a man who fell titans with ease, struggle against some orphan. It was impressive if not downright funny. There weren't many people who could go head to head with Humanity's Strongest the way Yuna Rhee did with her knife and wit. There weren't many individuals who were able to butt heads (literally and figuratively) with Levi, let alone meet his razor sharp responses with levelheaded countenance. Though in the long run, if she were a soldier, the potential insubordination and defiance would be problematic.
"Your commanding officer wouldn't be going through this trouble if all I'd be was fodder." Yuna argued. "I've studied medicine under Grisha Yeager, the doctor who saved hundreds of lives from the plague years back. I'm not just some lucky girl who has a penchant for the ODMG and escaping life threatening dilemmas."
There was a fine line etched between arrogance and confidence, and for this Yuna Rhee in her steadfast visage, it was the latter. It's what caught the his eye. Since her stunt back in the market, since her youth that fated day when she crossed paths with him and his horse after a bloody expedition, he saw the telltale signs of a person with a cunning sense of awareness and survival. It made for an invaluable trait for a soldier in the Survey Corps, especially when balanced against her resourcefulness and altruism.
He recalled the bartender's words when he questioned him about the mystery surrounding Yuna Rhee.
The bar was growing empty and their target had departed up the stairs with the bartender's daughter. The man, Joe Jameson, looked a bit nervous but willing to talk.
"Yuna? The orphaned lass? Yeah, she came in with the other refugees of Shiganshina. Real shame, what happened to her and the kids." The bartender set aside his polished glass before serving him and Levi some liquor. Humanity's Strongest had a look of perpetual indifference as he sipped his glass, but his ears were keen on listening while he did the talking.
"Kids?" She seemed too young to be a mother, but it was a possibility. Early marriages happened to attractive young women of low income.
"Yeah, her brother and his friends. They're good kids. Rowdy sometimes because the green eyed one is foul tempered and starts fights, but she looks after them well enough in harsh times." Arms folded, the bartender huffed, becoming more comfortable. "Of all the refugees loitering around this place, she's probably one of the more useful ones. Not a waste of space. Knows how to work her way around town-but in an honest way" he quickly corrected at the suspicion in their gaze, chuckling. "Yuna ain't the type of lass to resort to degrading means, no matter how poor or destitute her situation may be. Little lady has a sense of dignity on her. I'd pity any man who tries to strip that dignity away from her."
"Does it ever stop them from trying?" Human trafficking was an unfortunately common crime in some parts. Especially for exotic females. It didn't take a second glance at Yuna to see she came from the fabled oriental ancestry.
Smirking, the bartender leaned forward like a gleeful gossip. "Yuna is a pretty lass, there ain't no doubt about that. She'll grow up to be one hell of a looker. Already turning heads with her odd looks. Sleazy assholes see her as a flower begging to be picked, but don't be fooled. That girl ain't as delicate as she may seem."
"She's hardly delicate." Levi scoffed, lips near the rim of his glass.
"Aint that right, sir." The bartender straightened. "You see them cats? The strays out in the streets? They're decent to have around. They aren't noisy and clumsy like dogs. Sometimes, they look harmless and cute. I have a few strays I feed to keep the mice away from my goods. They're adorable. One of the has kittens."
Levi held in an impatient tsk at Erwin's warning glance. Where was this bartender getting at?
"Cute and useful as they are, they're hunters. Apex predators, if you look past their size. Some of them kill just because they can, and they know their way around things. You know the expression about playing cat and mouse." He then gazed at them with a sense of foreboding straining his smirk.
"Yuna's not a flower. The lass like one of them strays and quite the feral one when she has to be. You saw what she did to that disgrace of an MP. How she got away with it. So be careful sirs… I don't know what you want with the lass. If she's in trouble or just fascinating to you.
She'll give you one hell of a tricky fight if you rub her the wrong way, and the terrifying part about it is that you won't even know it until it's too late."
Yuna sighed, bringing Erwin back to reality. With her shoulders eased of tension, it was hard to tell if the woman was accepting defeat. She seemed to have a stubborn streak.
"I know I am not in a position to do this. I'm not an idiot nor am I child. So it's not a negotiation but a request." Felid eyes narrowed, she seemed to stare off into the distance. "Among my brother's friends, there is a girl like me. A unique but impoverished girl. Those types are more likely to fall into illegal networks than those that are financially secure. By some sheer luck, I'm not some whore at a brothel and I refuse to let Mikasa do so. The extra money will help keep them safe until they're old enough to fend for themselves. By then I'll be in your ranks, and I promise you, I'll do my best to earn my place as a soldier of worth."
It was a poor attempt at milking the benefits of Erwin's offer, but it was worth trying. There were so many factors, so many variables that would have led her to the point of entering the military and into the Scouting Legion. Variables that she hoped were hidden from those blue eyes, at least for a time. She had the feeling Erwin Smith missed nothing. Eventually he would know the nitty gritty reasons, but it would hopefully be in her time.
It was inevitable from the moment she came to the Yeagers that she would be forced to join the Corps for security. But even if it was her fate to don the Wings of freedom, it would not lessen the pain of separating from her brother. She could only hope Kai would understand. That the money sent his way would dissuade him of seeing this as abandonment, of her running away to seek her own freedom from the thorned chains that made up life within the walls.
"Top five." Her thoughts were distracted by the firm voice. "Be ranked within the top five of your fellow trainees by the first year, and I will personally see to the increase." The Commander straightened his posture, exposing his smirk before he schooled a professional expression he saved for diplomacy.
"Do we have a deal, Miss Rhee?"
The darkening orange light of the sunset casted a haunting shadow on her hunched figure, elongating her shadow, pushing her to hurry her pace. Kai was likely worrying and waiting for her, while Armin's fever could have become worse in her absence. Even if she wanted nothing more than to sleep on her cot for days or even lie in the fields for a moment of reprieve, there were things she needed to do... And news she needed to break to the kids. How Kai would handle it was uncertain.
"Nui!" Speaking of her brother, he was waiting by the roadside for her. The boy took one look at her and his joy quickly faded. "You look terrible." As though she went through another one of their father's questionable training regiments.
"It's been a long day..." She sighed. "How's Armin?"
"He's conscious." Kai took her satchel from her. "Did you get the medicine?"
"It's in the bag. Bottle with the red ribbon on it."
"Did you kill someone for it?" That blunt question earned him a critical eye. Kai only shrugged. "You look like you got in a bar fight."
He wasn't entirely wrong, so Yuna indulged him with a wry look. "Something like that."
Armin grimaced, swallowing the bitter spoonful only to gag at the bitter taste.
"Swallow it." Yuna demanded, gentle but firm. "Consider it penance for not telling me sooner."
With some effort, he swallowed the bitter medicine before croaking. "I'm sorry-"
"Don't talk. At least not for a week."
Obediently, Armin went quiet but his blue eyes were apologetic. He watched as the oldest of their makeshift family of orphans turned her attention to the thick stew brewed from their rations and the wild greens found around the farmlands. She curled a stray black lock behind her ear and stirred the contents. It smelled mouth-watering. How Kai's sister managed to pull off decent meals with the few things they had was surreal. They were fortunate to have her around after everything that happened. She hadn't needed to take responsibility the way she did, even if Kai was their friend, but she did so anyway. Especially after his own grandfather was drafted to his death from that poorly issued royal decree, Yuna swooped in like a hawk ready to mother an abandoned chick. It didn't seem like something she would do back then in Shiganshina.
When he first saw her, it was clear she would not spare him a second glance when her brother was present. She was distant and wary, as was Kai. They were in their own little, tightly knit circle. But then she began working under Dr. Yeager, assisting him with his work. The man must have taught her some compassion, because it wasn't long after that she began to ease in to the reliable Yuna they knew. Her circle expanded to have Eren, Mikasa, and him in it.
It was something Armin never took for granted. So he would always watch her and put an effort to see past her calm smiles and levelheaded maturity. There was always something enigmatic about Yuna. She was always thinking, but today it was more than usual.
So even if she ordered him to save his voice, Armin had to ask when she placed the hot bowl in his hand.
"Is there something wrong?" He croaked.
Yuna blinked. Russet eyes bore into him, searching, questioning, and finally conceding.
"You're a smart kid, Armin." She turned back to the stew. "Smarter than a lot of people out there. My brother, Eren, and Mikasa are very fortunate to have you as a friend."
"…I'm your friend too..." Armin muttered. Flustered, he avoided her gaze and took a sip of the stew. It was savory and hearty with a herbal aftertaste.
He felt a hand rest on his head and looked up from his meal. Her gaze was gentle. Those brown pools enveloped him in warmth. Armin felt his heart flutter nervously but for the wrong reason. Yuna had always been beautiful to him and to many, but there was something painfully somber about her beauty this time. It made his heart twist painfully with nostalgia and dread.
She looked just as his grandfather did, before he said his final goodbye.
Something must have happened in Trost. Something that would cause her to leave them. Armin's mind, though feverish, began to pick up its intellectual pace. Yuna returned to them bruised and exhausted as though she aged ten years in the span of 48 hours. She came looking resigned.
"Armin…You'll look out for them won't you? for Kai?" The boy was figuring it out. Yuna wasn't surprised. Years later, it was likely Armin's brilliance would surpass the entirety of this forsaken population trapped in these walls.
The boy went quiet. The worried curiosity in his visage lessening. Yuna continued.
"My brother and I have always been together. Kai is strong and capable. He might seem like he doesn't need you the way Mikasa or Eren might, but he does…he will. He's not accustomed to being on his own. He gets lonely easily."
He wanted to ask her, what about her? Yuna has always stood ahead of them, on her own. Even when Kai was at her side, determined to become her equal, to become someone she can lean on, the older girl never seemed to lean on anyone. If anything, she seemed more lonely than Kai.
Armin wished he wasn't sick so he could speak his mind. He wished he was brave enough, old enough, tall enough to tell her that someday he'll look out for her. Someday, he'll be the one to walk before her and pave a safe path for her to move forward-towards the lands beyond the wall and towards the saltwater she dreamed of dipping her feet in. It may seem impossible now, with him being so weak and young, but Armin Arlert was determined to take a page out of Eren's books and go against the odds.
He'll bide his time for now, keep his silent promise to Yuna, watch her departing back three days later as she goes forward to register for the military.
I was so torn on how I would write this out and pace it. Might as well let it loose and see how it flows.
Yuna and Levi are really off to a romantic start lol. Stay tuned to see how exactly Yuna and Erwin met.
Chapter 3: Beginnings start with Ends
An end to one thing is always a beginning to another.
I've been practicing with digital drawings nowadays, so I might draw out my OCs and post them to give everyone a visual.
The weather was nice. Not too hot, but pleasantly sunny with an occasional gust of wind indicating rain sometime into the week. When the weather was like this, his sister was usually napping out in some field. Kai sighed, hopping over the wood fence with a single handed leap. He always felt conflicted when she napped out in the open. It was a good indicator of whether or not Yuna felt comfortable and secure with their environment. Simultaneously, it was also dangerous because no place was every truly safe in the long run.
He found her as he predicted, curled on the grass beneath the willow tree by the lake. Onyx hair spilled into tendrils from the hood of her red sweater, hiding most of her face. But he could see a hint of her face, and the mole she had on the lower corner of her closed eye. Just like mother. It was the picture perfect image of tranquility, a surreal thing after all that they've suffered together. So he couldn't blame her for being so out in the open like this.
Their life here had been good after the Yeagers took them in. They had a nice room they shared in the attic, with warm bedding and proper clothes as well as meals. They even had work and chores. To the average person, that particular aspect of their life might seem insignificant in its mundane nature, but normalcy was something Yuna and Kai had only dreamed of in their youth.
He remembered their first real walk into town, in broad daylight, faces exposed for people to see. At first, people gave them curious glances, but after several occasions of being accompanied by one of the Yeagers or Mikasa, they were soon a part of the 'locals'. When Grisha and Carla put their talents to use, they then became productive members of society.
Which was why he was there, interrupting Yuna's nap. There were deliveries they needed to do.
A breeze rustled the leaves, shifting the speckles of bright sunlight creeping through the foliage and onto her face. Light gently kissing her eyelids, and they snapped open.
"Hm?" Groggy, Yuna unfurled herself from her grassy nest, raking her hair and hood away from her eyes.
"Dr. Yeager needs you to deliver Berka's medicine to her." He held out the package, bundled in newspaper and wrapped in string.
Blearily blinking eyes gazed at the package, and a slow hand grasped the bundle by the string. "Mkay..."
"We better hurry. Mrs.Yeager is getting supper ready."
"Ara ara." She waved away his concern and pushed herself to her feet, stretching each limb in the process when she stilled.
She cast her little brother an inquisitive glance. He only smirked. "I'm just delivering Mrs.Yeager's letter to the post office. It's by Berka's."
That spark in his eye. Yuna chuckled, knowing the look all too well. "Wanna make it a race? I'll give you a twenty second head start."
"Psh, I only need ten." Kai snorted, grinning. "Finish at the stone steps?"
"Mhmm. Try not to knock over anything this time."
"It was one time!"
Yuna laughed at his indignant pout.
"I think Brent is still cross about his cabbage cart."
He snickered. "Honestly, I'd knock them over again just to hear him scream about them."
But he darted forward before her lecture could begin, eager and ready to finally beat his sister in a race.
"Ten seconds! You better not skip!"
Yuna only rolled her eyes. As if she needed to cheat to beat the boy. His routes were always so predictable.
Yuna bundled up her hair and pinned it in its usual bun.
She rolled up her trouser's sleeves.
Tightened the laces on her shoes
And sprang forward.
It became the norm of this particular neighborhood in Shiganshina to see two peculiar youths running and jumping about in town like mischievous strays. At first, they were regarded with frowns. Nothing good ever came from quick footed, thieving brats. But Grisha's good word about their stamina and speed being put to good use making deliveries for the doctor quickly appeased them.
At times, the sight of them running around town was astonishing. With the way Kai would slide and duck under a moving wagon, or when Yuna would perform a grace filled flip over a flight of stairs before landing back into her sprint, the two foreign looking children were at the peak of their youth. All of Yeager's adopted youth seemed that way, considering how Mikasa easily performed inhuman displays of strength. It must have something to do with their blood. The three children clearly came from a similar ancestry with their facial structure and eye shape. Wild blood runs through their veins.
It had been their parent's teachings. The human body was built with potential. Not like other animals. Birds were built to fly, fish were built to swim, deer were built to run, so on and so forth. Humanity was designed to adapt either themselves or the environment around them.
Flexibility, balance, stamina, and speed. Honing those four physical attributes opened doors. Mother once made it a game, something she learned long ago with a caravan of entertainers that put on daring feats and stunts for crowds. Walking on ropes, balancing on their hands, scaling trees and rocks, knocking over little towers with projectiles, the fun of the game never made it tiring. Then father took those games and refined them. And soon the games that were meant for fun and exercise became games of life or death.
Land on the haystack or break your bones. Leap over the gorge or fall and die on the rocky riverbed. Scale the tree or the wild dogs will eat you. Cut that man's throat or he will cut yours.
Carla once laughed and ruffled their heads when Kai told her it was lessons taught in games that made them so agile. The kind woman then pinched Eren's cheeks, encouraging him to emulate their resourcefulness and use his talents to do good for people. (Kai had to wonder, what sort of talents Eren even had. Yelling?)
But when Carla turned her back to them, the Rhee siblings shared knowing looks, dark and nostalgic. If only Carla knew. Their talents probably take more lives than save them.
-Year 845: The Fall of Shiganshina: Day 2-
Kai never liked Eren. The boy was disrespectful to the people who cared about him. Sure, he was honest and passionate about his ideals, but Kai learned that those qualities were easily weaknesses on the wrong person. Volatile like the gas used to fuel the ODMGs he read about in his mother's texts. He couldn't fathom how people like Mikasa, a girl who's blood sang with potential like his and his sisters, and Armin-a boy with a mind that belies his weak appearance, could ever be devoted friends to someone as hotheaded, brash, and moronically stubborn as Eren Yeager.
He did not like the idiot. And as of now, Kai could confidently say he even hated him.
"YOU LEFT HER BEHIND!"
Yuna said nothing to Eren. There was nothing that could be said to an angry, traumatized boy. But she didn't need to, because Kai spoke for her.
"She saved your life, Yeager, you ungrateful shithead!"
Burned ochre clashed with forest green, both livid and venomous as the two boys readied themselves to brawl for the sake of their family. Or what was left of it.
"She could have saved her!"
"So could have Hannes, but he didn't! AND HE'S A FUCKING SOLDIER!" Honestly, if he had been Hannes he would have flung the idiot to the welcome hand of a titan.
"We all saw her take down those titans! Why didn't she do that before? If it was you stuck in that rubble, she would have done it!"
"WELL IT WASN'T!" Kai would have rolled his eyes if his body wasn't wired ready to fend off one of Eren's violent charges. The boy was clumsy and an imbecile of a fighter compared to him and Mikasa, but an angry, stupid bull still had horns.
"It was your mother. Not me. Not my sister. Not Mikasa. Your mother. Tragic but that's life, we can't pick and choose who gets the shitty end of the stick." He all but spat.
It was cold and cruel, and he could see his sister gazing at him, ready to give him a sharp reproach.
Eren was thunderous. "DON'T GIVE ME YOUR SORRY EXCUSES. YOU AND YOUR DAMN SISTER ARE COWARDS. WE SHOULD HAVE NEVER TAKEN YOU IN."
"EREN!" It was Mikasa who struck first, much to the boys' surprise. She backhanded the green eyed boy with a well aimed swing, causing both Rhee siblings to wince. Even at a young age, Mikasa was terrifyingly strong.
Too dazed to look betrayed, Eren could only stare at the girl. Her countenance was stoic, but her eyes were steeled with anger.
"You're angry. You're sad. I am too. We all are because we cared about her too. But don't hurt us because you're hurt. It's not their fault."
Hannes left them to find their own way to the ferry, not without sending her a searching, uncertain gaze, Yuna found herself exhausted. The adrenaline was fading, unable to stifle the growing ache in her wrists. Likely she was suffering minor sprains from the way she held the blades. Father taught her how to move, but the blades. That had been new. With a yank, she tugged out her karambit and began to cut the ODMG harness from her body.
"What are you doing?" Eren eyed her suspiciously.
"She's not a soldier moron." Kai ignored the biting glare and continued, "The MPs see her with it, and we'll be in deeper shit."
"Where did you get it?"
It was hard to tell in the shade, but color seemed to drain from Yuna's face, turning the olive to a sickly yellow.
"You don't want to know."
She pulled apart the ODMG and buried it in the woods. There was something about her expression that kept them from asking her too much. But after her mysterious deed was done, Mikasa had to ask.
"What do we do now?" Her voice did not waver, but the girl's clenched fists were trembling. Kai, even in his terse state, could sympathize. Having your home torn away from you was a disorienting feeling, like having a rug yanked from your feet or ice on a riverbed collapse and pull you into icy waters. He and Yuna were still standing, balanced and steady, only because they've learned to live life ready to move.
Move forward and don't look back. Those two should have never looked back. Kai didn't. But he had heard the gruesome crunch of jaws closing in on flesh and bone. Poor Carla. He would mourn for her and let the nightmare sink in when they were safe. Or as safe as they could be. Things were never truly safe.
"Keep moving and head to the ferry." At least Yuna always knew what to do. Her mind was five steps ahead. "They'll prioritize the young and the women. We'll move inside Wall Rose and to one of the refugee camps they'll likely prepare near Trost. Stay close to me."
They always survived by staying close. Even before they were taken in by the Yeagers, when they were hungry and homeless, when Kai watched his father's back grow smaller and smaller as he all but abandoned them to seek 'justice' for their mother, Kai had taken to the uncertainty with a brave face because as long as he was with his nui, he knew they would make it.
-Year 846: After Wall Maria Reclamation Operation-
She was leaving him. That was all Kai understood when Yuna told him of her decision to enlist. He was deaf to the part about financial provisions when she was gone, about how he would no longer have to live a life toiling away in the fields and landfills hungry, or that he won't be alone because Armin, Mikasa, and Yeager would be with him.
It had to be a sick joke. He wanted to laugh when she mentioned Yeager in the list of 'friends' that would look out for him, but his nui hardly seemed to jest as she gazed at him with their mother's eyes.
So he begged. He wasn't proud of it. He knew it would hurt her, but Kai would rather be undignified and selfish than face the reality that they would be apart. They couldn't. The Rhee siblings had to stick together.
"Nui, please you can't be serious." He stood, watching her pack her meager belongings. She did not look at him, having experienced this argument since the day she revealed the terrible news.
"Why does it have to be now? And why the Survey Corps?"
"You know why, Kai. The risks of me going into the Garrison or the interior guards near the capitol are too great." Their parents made it their mission to keep them hidden from the inner cities. Why they did so was still unclear, but being a part of the Garrison and worse, the MP would only serve to ruin their parent's efforts.
"Then just don't join at all." He pressed. Yuna sighed, turning to him. Now with her attention, Kai shifted his tongue to their language. "We can just hide again. We've always done that."
"It's not that simple, Kai. We can't run, not this time."
"Because we can't!" Her words came more curtly than she wanted them to. "Do you know why we lived in the outer walls? Because it's far away from the heart of this place. We were hunted Kai, before you were born. Abboji and Omoni tried to keep the specifics a secret from us, but even you knew that we were moving around for a reason. The heart of this land has it out for us, and in the outer walls, we are just food for titans. The Survey Corps is our last option, our last chance. We aren't from these lands, Kai. We might be born here but we are different."
She kneeled before him, and Kai felt unsettled as she looked.
"You know this. There are people in these walls that know it. We're marked like a special breed. They won't hesitate to cage us or kill us."
"And joining the Survey Corps is the only solution?" He couldn't understand. Didn't want to even though it would be easy if he just looked at things from her lens. They were being separated. That's the important, dreaded truth he understood.
"It'll buy us time. Give us enough freedom we need to prepare our next course of action and give us enough security." Yuna reasoned. "It might even help me find some answers. There's someone in the Scouting Legion who might be able to help me find abboji."
That caught Kai's attention. "Father? You don't think he's dead?"
Talk of their father seldom happened ever since that day. Yuna never liked speaking about him for too long. The hurt still rang deep.
Yuna nodded, though she kept quiet. She was still uncertain, and her hope were based on a hunch about a certain grey eyed captain.
"Why can't we just join together? I'll be old enough in a few years."
"Kai, please don't be like this." Her throat grew tight at his watering gaze.
It was pathetic of him. He was glad they were alone, that Mikasa had enough sense to drag Armin and Eren out so the Rhee siblings could have their moment, so Kai could finally cry as his body and soul demanded him to.
"Nui, it will be five years. Five years before I can enlist and join you." He trembled, "Two years, you'll be out there. The survival rate-"
"What if you die-"
"I won't." He was pulled into a back breaking embrace. Their mother's pendant nestled between her beating chest and his cheek. "You're forgetting who we are, little brother," She whispered fiercely, "Those years we've spent breaking our bones and bruising ourselves... that night of spilling blood, it wasn't for nothing. Father and mother were many things. Warriors, scholars, adventurers, even rulers... We aren't cattle raised to slaughter like most here."
They were wolves in sheep's clothing, biding their time, gaining their strength to take the freedom they hungered for since they first saw the sun descend and the wall cast its dark shadow on them before they could see the splendors of a sunset hued horizon.
But at that moment, they were just family. Kai rubbed his eyes.
"You'll write to me?"
"Write and visit the moment I can." She squeezed his shoulders. "Kai, I'm not abandoning you." Not as father did. It didn't need saying, though the thought was there.
If anything, she would be waiting for him until he could also gain his own set of wings and fly beside her.
They were growing. That much was evident to Yuna when she stood before them, packed and ready to depart for enlistment. Five years... She had little doubt that they would surpass her average height. Especially if Kai was anything like father.
"Armin will be in charge of the money I send you. Mikasa, please make sure the boys don't kill each other. Kai…Eren..." The said boys blinked under her scrutiny.
"Be good you two. Kai, don't be a little asshole and piss Eren off uneccesarily." Kai opened his mouth to protest, only to get a flick on the forehead. Before Eren could snicker, he was also given a harsh flick.
"Oi-" He froze when he was tugged into an one armed embrace. A gentle hand cradled his head against Yuna's sternum.
"Eren… For what it's worth, I respected and honored your father, and I loved Carla like a beloved aunt... I'm sorry. I couldn't save her that day, cousin."
It was hard to tell with someone as emotional as Eren, if she could truly ever be forgiven. The boy held onto grudges like a vengeful demon when he was angry enough, and that day he had been so furious.
But as hotheaded and brash as Eren was, the boy was sincere. Honesty was a precious thing in a world full of lies. So when he looked up at her with those large, emerald eyes and pink tinted ears, she knew. And Yuna smiled.
The pink reached his cheeks at the smile. There was something about the way the sun shined on her skin and hair that made her and her smile glow from this angle.
Kai was lucky he had someone like Yuna with him. Perhaps it's what embittered Eren in the first place ever since that day in Shiganshina. The jealousy and rage that his own family did not survive except for him and Mikasa and perhaps his father... when he saw Yuna and Kai together, so harmonized and calm in their familial bond even in the midst of the panic, it only made the reality sting all the more. With regret, Eren knew that his treatment of Yuna until now had been unfair. Always the first to question her, to snap at her in indignant rebellion and disregard her when she only had their best of interest in mind. Yet Yuna never stopped showing him kindness and give him that understanding smile he once thought was so infuriating.
Only now, with her leaving, did he realize this. It made Eren feel ashamed of himself. Father would be disappointed and mother would scold him if she were here on the proper way to treat a lady.
"…wait for us." Yuna raised a brow at his jumbled muttering, parting him from her embrace.
The pink was turning a bright shade of red. It was almost cute, how it brought out the green of his glare as he leapt back.
"Next time…I'll be the one protecting you someday! I swear!" Even when embarrassed, Eren Yeager had a temper. He pointed at her almost angrily.
"So just wait for us! I won't let you go ahead and leave us behind while you go forward. We're going to catch up to you, and one day you'll be the one to watch my back!"
Russet eyes blinked, regarding the flustered, hotheaded son of Grisha and Carla Yeager before her. Then she laughed, a small, giggling laugh as she covered her grin, eyes creased in good humor. Eren sputtered, unsure of how to feel. Neither did the others, though Kai looked more sardonic than anything. It was rare to see Yuna look so openly and thoroughly amused.
"O-oi… stop laughing, I'm serious-"
"I'll be waiting." She interrupted him, mouth curved and dimpled into an impishly wide grin. She looked so much younger then, more like her age. "I'm looking forward to that day, Eren.
In the mean time, look after yourselves."
It's to be expected. Coming in late to the training program, the cadets around me in the 101th division are a little confused. Guess it's not common case. I passed the entrance exam Shadis pulled together for me the best that I could. I'm guessing my marks were high, considering how he reacted. Then again, it was rather simple. Balancing on a simple harness platform is a cake walk after everything.
There are some things I came across that I wasn't familiar with, mostly terminologies and nitty gritty details and formalities about the military and the system. It's made for some interesting late night readings. Shadis gave me access to their archives to keep up with lessons. Since lodging for females is full (there never was a lot to begin with. Female cadets aren't common here), I've pretty much made the place my sleep area. So long as I keep the place free of dust and organized, Shadis doesn't seem to mind.
Speaking of Shadis, he seems to be a troubled man. He always has this look in his eyes that he's seen the worst in life and regrets coming out of it. I got a lot of crap from him at first. Had to pull extra weight to earn my place there, since he doesn't want me to think that I'm a 'special snowflake'. I think my cooking helped get him off my back.
It's shocking to me, that these people don't know how to cook a decent meal with the ingredients they provide the military. They're getting pork! And all they do is stick it into water with all the vegetables and boil it. It's wasteful how much they peel off the vegetables before they use them.
If the titans don't kill us all, their cooking skills or lack thereof will.
Anyways, I hope you're doing well. Are you and Eren getting along? Is Mikasa okay as the only girl now? What of Armin?
I miss you. Give them my regards.
Always, Yuna Rhee
Are the cadets giving you a hard time? If they are, kick their ass. Father used to say people are like dogs, sometimes you just have to teach them who the alpha is.
This Shadis sounds like a jackass. I hope he gets replaced before we enter training.
It's good that you're in the library. I'm imagining the training is boring so having something to read will be good for you.
The imbecile is asking about the cadets. What are they like? Any of them decent enough to be your friend? What about the training with the gear?
Armin wants to know if he can personally write to you. He used the money to buy us some more letter paper and ink for it.
Mikasa threw us into the manure pile yesterday. Mainly because the imbecile started a fight with me, accusing me of throwing shit at him. Like I'd get my hands that dirty for his sake. I told him I didn't need to because he's already full of it.
Needless to say, Mikasa got annoyed. We still stink, so we were forced to sleep outside for a few days, but who's fault is that?!
Armin has been trying to replicate your cooking. It's not the same, but not as bad as Mikasa or Eren.
Write to me again soon, I'm not used to you not being here.
P.S. The guy who delivered the money, some tall soldier with a silly cravat and a weird haircut, asked about you. I kindly told him to piss off. He had a weird lisp. Who is he? Some suitor? If so, I forbid you from ever thinking about him. If father were here, he would have cut his weird, lispy tongue off.
Dear little brother,
I think that's Oluo. I can't remember. You don't have to worry though. I don't think he has affections for me, because I am the cause of his lisp at the moment…and the damage to his gear.
The cadets are a bit frustrating. Some of them belittle me because they believe I don't deserve to be there. Some of them are simply nosy. There is this one girl, her name is Isis or something, who continues to try and argue with me. She seems to have some inferiority issues, though I'm not sure why. She's quite popular among the cadets, with her looks. Fire colored hair, vivid green eyes, a doll-like face. She's very pretty and probably comes from a well off family. She reminds me of a robin.
You probably deserved that from Mikasa. Give her my thanks. I told you and Eren to get along.
Always, Yuna Rhee
Please make sure Kai isn't the one to receive the package from the soldiers that come by with money. There's nothing like a rude brat that would ruin anyone's day when they knock on the door.
How are you? I hope the money is going to good use. Buy some books for yourself when you can. The military insists on being academically sharp. Make Eren understand his arithmetic. Motivate him with this information if he's stubborn about it.
I miss playing Baduk with you. Don't tell Kai this, but you are a far better opponent than he ever was after you learned the game. Practice with Kai. He could use a few pointers from you."
Always, Yuna Rhee
That ginger bird is a petty attention seeker. Maybe she's just jealous she's not the star of her corps anymore. By the way, we're sharing letter space now to save paper.
Thank you for the gifts. The shoes are comfortable. Eren's old ones were full of holes. But please, we can use the money you send us for our things. You should use whatever you have to spend it on yourself. I hope you received the handkerchief well. Mother taught me how to sew.
Kai has been sparring with me. I hope one day, I'll be as good as you.
I've been trying to convince Eren to write to you. I think he wants to, but he's terrible at writing. He says hello and the shoes are nice but buy yourself a new shirt. Maybe a dress.
Sincerely, Mikasa Ackermann
Thank you for the handkerchief. The lotus you embroidered is beautiful. It makes me happy that you remembered my family's sigil when I showed you my tattoos as you showed me yours.
Speaking of tattoos. It was awkward during the communal showers. I forgot how alien my family's tattoo customs are. At least yours is easily concealed with a wrist bandage. Mine is a bit too large to conceal when showering. I was forced to make myself clear that I do not appreciate being touched. The people here learned quickly not to try my patience, no matter how much they press about the markings on my body.
It's good that Kai is practicing with you. I think you're quite a challenge for him.
Always, Yuna Rhee
I'm sorry I haven't been writing as much. Things have been tense here. There's been an incident involving me, two male cadets, and another female cadet by the name of Alice. A harassment case. It escalated more than I hoped it would. Don't worry. Things are in my favor. Shadis has sided with me and Alice. The two cadets have been expelled.
Always, Yuna Rhee
We received extra money. Is something wrong with you? Is everything well? Please write back as soon as you receive this letter.
From, Armin Arlert
Dear Armin and everyone,
No need to panic. It simply means that I'm ranked among the top five in my training corps. Hope you put the extra money to good use.
Always, Yuna Rhee
That's good to hear! Sorry about that. Armin began imagining the worst scenario: that you died and we were receiving compensation for your death.
Top ten huh? That ginger harlot must really be angry.
Turns out her name is Iris, not Isis. Iris Potter. She comes from a well off family.
She still doesn't like me very much. But I actually find her refreshing. I've been told she considers me a rival of some sort. Never had a rival before... I'm not sure how to go about it.
I've made a friend or the closest thing to one I think. A young man named Arne Osmont. He's strong and very capable with the ODMG, but he's a bit slow on the academic field…and a horrid cook.
Always, Yuna Rhee
Just friends right?
He can't be as bad as Mikasa.
Yes, I'm very certain we are just friends considering Osmont is hopelessly in love with Potter.
Eren, you have no right to criticize anyone's cooking when you can't even boil a potato without setting things on fire.
Always, Yuna Rhee
By the time you read this letter, we'll be entering the 104th Training Corps. Once everyone became of age, it was the first thing on Eren's mind. Kai as well. He is determined to follow you. I'm not sure how long it will be until we see you again. Maybe when we join you. Until then, please stay alive. I will look after them the best I can. Armin will help me. So don't be too worried for us. Just wait, like you said you would. We'll join you soon sister.
Sincerely, Mikasa Ackermann
It was a short letter, concise and straightforward, how Mikasa has always been. But it was worth it's weight in bittersweet gold. Silken black locks spilled forward, curtaining the right of her body as she clutched a leg to her body. The moon was full tonight, blanketing the field in silver bright enough for her to read the clean cut script of ink that made Mikasa's handwriting. There was small solace in the moonlit night, a soothing balm to a greater ache in her chest.
By the time they enter this field, she'll be graduating with the rest of her peers and sent off to her chosen branch of military.
It was reality, and reality was cruel. She wanted nothing more than to see them off and watch Kai salute next to Eren. Likely her brother would wear a disgruntled face. He was never good at submitting to authority outside of the family. She could imagine Eren would salute proudly, expectant and excited to be the titan-killing soldier he dreamed of being. Mikasa would be solemn and calm as always while Armin would likely be trembling because the boy understood the lethality of their choice.
But by dawn, she would rise with the other cadets and wait while the commanders of each respective branch would open their doors to fresh recruits. As a part of the top ten, she would be given the special luxury of entering the Military Police if she willed it.
But a deal with Erwin Smith was a deal, and the very thought of donning the unicorn emblem of the Police was nauseating.
Keith Shadis was an objective instructor. His task was to evaluate the potential in each and every cadet that came into his responsibility, push them to the limits to open a path to their potential, and then push them even further to surpass it. But there were those that needed no pushing, a rare few who stood out from others, bred to be predators in a world that only dichotomized them as one or as prey.
There were those that blatantly stood out from others as different, those like Iris Potter, who made it known that she excelled in each field as an above average soldier, a try-hard who earned her place among the top ten. Then there were the subtle ones, those like Arne Osmont and Benjamin Grant. Quiet, steadfast soldiers who compensated for their mediocre written results with outstanding physical aptitude and teamwork. Each cadet, in the pressure cooker environment he designed, made their character known to him like an open book. It was how the three year period was designed. It was meant to break them open and expose them for who they were, be it a coward who will sooner shit their pants than think about going against a titan or a suicidal outcast who desperately sought escape from whatever shit-hole they came crawling out of.
The three years spent under his training was meant to break these cadets so they could be remade, reshaped, and refined into soldiers. Those that were unable to break or become too broken would be cast-aways. Regardless of how long it took or how strong each cadet was, within three years, they always broke one way or another.
But then there were those like Yuna Rhee. Those who were unbreakable, because they were already broken long before they stepped into this grueling field. Initially, the girl had stood out like a sore thumb because of her appearance, how she looked and the timing of her entrance. A special case, insistently put because of a certain Survey Corps commander. Shadis had not known why, but he figured it was best to listen to Erwin Smith. He would not make the same mistake twice of disregarding that blonde soldier's input.
She didn't seem like much when he first saw her, in her oversized shirt, average height, and tense posture. She was secretive and distant when left alone, like a curious cat adjusting to a new territory, hiding behind her polite, disarming smiles and her domestic skills.
When under his pressuring gaze, she didn't sweat like others and seemed to be practiced at schooling herself into a calm, tranquil state. But those eyes were alert, constantly, when they weren't closed in one of her flippant little cat naps she took whenever she had time to herself. When she breezed through the texts in their woebegone archives, observed her peers during mealtimes, or sparred whichever poor cadet was assigned to her for self defense, she had a sober air of understanding and cunning sharper than a newly forged ODMG blade.
Shadis already knew she was preordained to join the Survey Corps, and he felt some sense of assurance at that knowledge. She would be good in their ranks. If there was anyone who could handle her, it was Erwin and his brilliant but insane team of leaders. The girl was a solid medic, quick on her feet, and as levelheaded as most would come. But she was unpredictable. A viper hiding in the brush. Her incident with the two former cadets in her corps proved it. Her peers behavior around her only reconfirmed it. They were careful, skittish like deer after that terrible case of karma she inflicted on the two men who were foolish enough to try and take advantage of her and her fellow female cadet.
The girl wasn't afraid of getting blood on her hands to defend what she valued, and he was certain she valued her own life.
He had gooseflesh rising at the thought of her ever joining the Military Police. The girl would likely not break under the toxic corruption of the interior branch of military. She would conquer it under cloak and dagger. There was little doubt that Yuna Rhee could withstand the complex and poisonous cesspool that made up government in the inner walls.
Whether she would withstand the terror of facing titans was uncertain. Many people who showed aptitude in the training grounds had contradictory results when put against the actual horror. But Shadis would bet his payroll and status as a soldier that she would.
He's seen people like her in his time of serving as a soldier and commander, people that thought differently, did things differently, and ultimately changed things with their difference. Erwin Smith had been one of them.
In a world where it was eat or be eaten, by people or by titans, Yuna Rhee was determined to be a predator that stood above others.
Shadis could only hope that she would stand for others in due time.
"...With all that's been said and done, now all of you know. There is no condemnation in walking a different path. So if you want to walk away, do it now."
A merciless reality that must be said, heard, and most importantly accepted. Low survival rates, harsh environments, and worst of all, facing humanity's enemy head on; Erwin had to give them the raw facts. It was their right to know what they'd be walking into if they stayed in the plaza for Survey Corps recruitment.
Mike sniffed. It was likely most trainees here who were intent on joining the Garrison or the MP if they could would never see the face of a titan. He wondered how many of the 101th division, fresh out of the training corps would stay. With Wall Maria's breach, one would expect humanity to take a stronger stand against the titans and more would join their branch. But alas, that was not the case.
So he watched with his calm bearing, unperturbed at the mass exodus of graduating trainees from the plaza after Erwin's pragmatically grim speech ended.
When it became clear that there were those who stayed, solid pillars against the tide of people, Mike let his interest move his forward gaze to scan the crowd. He couldn't blame some of their soldiers from subtly doing so as well.
It was the norm of the Survey Corp to have only a handful of new soldiers when recruiting season came. So when the veteran soldiers were joined by fresh, incoming members, they would make it their duty to acknowledge them as comrades. Granted, they may not see more than half of these newbies after their first expedition-as most don't survive first encounters with a titan, one could only hope. This branch was built on that simple hope.
In other words you had to be bat-shit crazy and suicidal, blackmailed, or someone with genuine and selfless aims for the good of humanity to enter the Scouting Legion.
The sea of faces dwindled to a sparse few, but the few who stayed were the ones that mattered. He sniffed. They smelled like a colorful bunch this time around, especially the handful who hadn't moved a single muscle since the start of Erwin's speech. A pretty ginger, a tall, strong looking blonde, a solemn lad in glasses, an oriental, and what appeared to be a stocky pair of identical twins. What an interesting bunch....
Hard blue eyes stared into each and every face. Some of them looked nervous. Some of them were proud. Some were determined. And there was one who was calm, pensive at most. He didn't have to look twice to know who that was but he did. She hadn't looked as though she changed in the seasons she went into her military training, but Erwin knew better than to judge a book by its cover. Likely she grew and in subtle ways she did change. Ultimately the subtle things mattered the most.
As if she knew his scrutiny, Yuna Rhee met his gaze. Nostalgia struck Erwin, followed by a small, bitter pang of guilt. His speech had little to do with her, since she had no say in the matter of which military branch she would go to. Some would debate it was unethical and cruel. But ethics did not help humanity survive this long, nor would it move them forward. Knowledge and strength would. Usually soldiers had one or the other, but there were those that had both who, when properly honed, would be worth more than a hundred. Levi was one of them.
And so was Yuna Rhee. The others may not know it as he did, but they never saw her as he did years ago.
"What's your name?"
She shrugged those bony shoulders. Her young little body belied her savagery with her blade earlier. "It's nothing of import to you, sir."
"I'll decide that for myself, thanks. What do they call you?"
"Dirt, if you're from around here. Orphan, if you're technical. Young lady, if you're a gentleman I guess."
He smiled. And many thought it was because of those who stayed in the plaza. But Yuna knew better. She knew that he remembered.
"Yuna…My name is Yuna Rhee. " Her voice was so soft, if his senses weren't keen he would have missed it.
Yuna… It was an eccentric but oddly beautiful, pure sounding name. And when the young lady-Yuna-looked up at him with almond shaped eyes now warmed to a rich, earthen burgundy, accented by cute little mole under the left corner, he couldn't have thought of a name that would suit someone better.
"You're brave. I look forward to working with each and every one of you."
If the sacrifice that he and his comrades had to make allowed people like her, with wonder pooled into those bottomless eyes, to someday look beyond the walls without crippling fear;
then it was more than worth it. But he had a feeling that if others couldn't, the girl would make her own way to that freedom. Her sweet youth did not make him forget about the havoc she caused.
"Welcome to the Survey Corps."
A budding rose with thorns, his comrades joked.
Hardly. She was hardier than a rose, free spirited like a dandelion eager to bloom so they could be carried by the wind far and wide.
He chuckled, startling his fellow soldiers. Erwin, the intensely stoic blonde, rarely ever chuckled so when he did, some often took it as an omen. But Erwin ignored them in favor of saluting to the young lady who fell from the sky.
"Captain Erwin Smith. Pleasure to meet you, Yuna Rhee."
Kai's POV is coming soon. More will be revealed on the Rhee siblings and their origins.
Chapter 4: Anamnesis: Erwin Smith
Anamnesis chapters are essentially flashback side-stories.
This is about the first time Erwin Smith met Yuna Rhee.
"To live life is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering."
The first time Yuna Rhee met Commander Erwin Smith was years ago.
Before the fall of the outer wall, before Erwin Smith was given the burden of command. It was when he was just a soldier who sought hope where there seemed to be none, and she was just some orphaned girl who nearly abandoned her honor in order to survive in a world that belittled her.
Stealing was almost too easy in this district-especially if you were a young, vulnerable looking girl. Perverts came in all forms, lusting for a chance to approach her when they see her exotic face. Old and entitled men of decent wealth, drunks, even some shameless soldiers. It didn't matter that she was barely into her teens. Not when she was some orphaned street rat or at most, a piece of meat in their eyes.
But this little orphan had a generous number of tricks up her sleeve and a cleverness that could both bewitch and befuddle. It was a simple matter of letting down their guard-a laughably basic task when all they did was underestimate her. Whether it was an innocent bat of her slanted eyes at their greasy smile and hungering gaze, or a curious pout when they started asking her questions in hopes of hooking her in like a fish on a rod, it only took a few seconds of invading their personal space, cutting their coin heavy pouch, and then quickly snaking her way out like any wary child who was warned by their parents against talking to strangers.
Those were the only kind of folk she thieved from. They deserved it, but her selectivity with crime made it a seldom and desperate affair. It was a challenge to make a decent living for herself and her little brother. When theft couldn't be done, Yuna and Kai resorted to foraging or simply going hungry for a few days by rationing and eating only until they were half full.
Theft had to be committed infrequently, though it made the most money, to avoid being noticed by the authorities. It also made some dangerous situations, on the rare occasions her scheme was discovered before she could flee.
She shouldn't have taken the risk, even if she knew the layout of each building and street in this part of town. It had originally been a gamble worth taking. They were on their last coin, and their food reserves were starting to run low. These thugs were likely living well off from stolen money, stashed away in their hideout which was why she followed their beckoning into the backdoor of a shabby alley. However, she didn't enter armed only with her wit. Her father's dagger was carefully secured under her pant's waist, ready to sever tendons and ligaments, perhaps even a finger or an eye, if things became too ugly.
But it never escalated to that point. Because as soon as Yuna saw the telltale bulge of a gun on a third man in the corner, she took action. Fists, clubs, and knives were one thing, but ranged weapons were another case. She was quick but dodging-bullets-quick? Not worth risking. Arrogance was a noose over ones neck waiting to strangle them.
Her feet sprang into a mad dash through the corridor, slipping away from the hand that had been resting her shoulder before it could wrap grubby arms around her. The man must have thought himself clever, to keep her in front of him as he led her to a 'tea party', securing her back just in case she turned tail and started running. But he didn't take into account that at the end of the corridor right ahead of them, there was a window.
"Oi! She's running!"
The buildings here were often cheap and old. Months ago, nobles investing into Shiganshina began construction projects to remodel the area into usable space to help stem the emigrating population from the overcrowded district. It made the place her perfect playground; plenty of openings, glass-less windows, ropes, and planks framing the buildings.
She dove forward, palms on window frame, head tucked, and body bent to vault herself out and over the window in a graceful flip before landing on the balls of her feet. The back alley only had one path that led to the main road where she could crowd weave her way out of sight from the thugs.
She wasn't surprised when they came into view, blocking her path. It was likely they'd make it out of the building in time to apprehend her. Turning left, she kept her ears sharp for their footsteps, pacing her run until she skidded to a halt at the dead end before her.
"Guess we got ourselves a little escape artist, ha! You're out of luck princess, we've got you cornered!" The man's yell was not far away. In a few moments, he'll turn the corner to the walled in alley as well. She could hear the glee in his voice and huffed.
They always underestimated her. But, honestly, what kind of escape artist would she be if she couldn't scale an old wall?
The first leap was always a challenge. But once she sprung herself from the corner and onto the adjacent wall's window sill, it was simply a matter of shifting back and forth between the window sills until she made it to the roof. On the other side, if her mental map wasn't wrong, there would be canopies for the weekly produce market and some construction on the textiles shop next to it. She just had to scale this wall quickly. If the men were desperate or stupid or both, it was likely they would start shooting with that gun of theirs regardless of the noise it would make.
"Where'd that little bitch go?"
"What the fuck?"
She would've laughed if she weren't so out of breathe. Days of getting by with minimal food took a toll on her stamina. At this rate, she was running on fumes and excitement.
The thrill of petty theft was undeniable. It kept her on edge and well tuned to her surroundings. Yet as sweet as it was, their life was bitterly tedious. Kai didn't deserve to live like this, and what would mother say? She could imagine her scowl and cutting lecture about the dishonor of their current lifestyle. Yuna quelled her troubled heart. Slowly but surely, honor was starting to become a luxury she couldn't afford. Not without trading her dignity.
She had to dwell with these thoughts later, when she wasn't chased by gangsters. With one final heave, she hoisted herself up the roof and gave a single backwards glance at her failed kidnappers before she vanished from view.
The canopies this time around were steep, but they did their duty of cushioning her fall from the three story building. She bounced off the canopy and landed into a roll, softening the impact of the fall before she stood straight.
...And right before a tall, chestnut stallion.
A small squeak escaped her lips as her head came dangerously close to colliding with the horse's snout. The horse, for its part, snorted in surprise but kept itself from being too startled-it's faced worse things to be terrified of than some scrawny pre-teen. To her relief, it's rider pulled the reigns to a stop.
There were those that wouldn't give people like her that small mercy. She lost count of how many times she was yelled, spat at, or nearly trampled by horsemen.
The voice was deep, structured and firm as though it could never be swayed.
"Best to look both ways before you cross…or land."
Yuna looked up from the horse's snout as a clear, cerulean gaze leaned in from the right of the horse. He was a tall, chiseled blonde who looked as though he and his green cloak had seen better days.
The trademark look of a soldier of the Survey Corps, and a tired looking one at that judging by the shadows bruising his eyes. The scouting branch must have returned today from one of their expeditions.
"I've seen some odd things in my life, but this is the first time I've seen a girl jump and land just fine from a three story building…at least not a civilian and certainly without support." Those blue eyes were as inquisitive as they were sharp, a quality emphasized by thick, dark brows.
Curious and keen, they were, but hardly suspicious or scornful as the majority when they saw the shabby state of her clothes. Hooded brown tunic torn in the hems and seams, rolled up, over-sized trousers, patchy shoes, and a makeshift bag made from a potato sack; Yuna felt a small festering sense of shame under the exposing gaze. Who was she to think he looked woebegone when she looked so derelict.
It was best to keep quiet and act like a scared or awed poor lass in front of him. Someone of his status would be used to such behavior from someone like her.
But there was something about those eyes, the way they scrutinized. He seemed almost…clinical when scanning her small being, and she waited with a baited breath, ready to run again or stand her ground for a slew of insults for her clothes, skin, or eyes.
"What is your name young lady?"
Names are precious things. Treasures that people often give away too quickly. Her mother taught her that.
So she matched his unreadable gaze with her own. "My name is nothing of import to someone like you, sir."
Erwin Smith couldn't help but smirk at her well mannered words. If he weren't exhausted, he would have chuckled. The day was certainly becoming a bit lighter. Perhaps the cosmos were being kinder to him after the miserable state of affairs that resulted in his recent expedition. One moment he was mulling over the inefficiency of Commander Keith's command and the dead that resulted in it, next thing he saw was a girl falling from the sky, landing on a canopy, and leaping into a fluid roll right in front of him as though it were a common act in her day to day life.
"I'll decide that for myself, thanks. What do they call you?"
"Dirt, if you're from around here. Orphan, if you're technical. Young lady, if you're a gentleman I guess." She was casual, nonchalant, as her gaze darkened, daring the man to pity her.
Now to that, he chuckled. She did not know how refreshing it was to return from an expedition to this. The titan infested lands sucked the joy and life from you mentally if not literally. To return with so many dead, only to encounter someone so... alive.
It was rejuvenating yet bittersweet.
To think that the brighter people are called worse things in this world.
"What if I tell you my name?"
"Then I know the name of a soldier." she shrugged, uninterested and ready to walk. But as she turned away, she heard a familiar yowl across the street.
It was fascinating, how she shifted from a facetiously enigmatic persona to something wilder and fiercer. Her stance changed. Her body bristled ready, eyes alert and blackened with a hardened sense of foreboding. That feral readiness was something he saw in animals who were were ready to fight tooth and claw rather than flee.
"Kai" she whispered, glaring at the growing commotion.
Erwin turned, following her gaze to the sight of a young boy caught in the grasp of a particularly harsh looking man in the shadows of a narrow alley. There was little doubt he was her sibling, despite his tanner skin and wavier black hair. He had the same unique features she did.
"That's right, squeal you little rat." The man snarled, holding him in a head lock. "Squeal and call your big sissy!"
"Boss, we lost her." Another came into view. Whispers began to spread through the market, and the boss looked up from the struggling child.
"Nothing to see here people! Just catching a little thief and his pickpocket sister to take them to the military police!"
The crowd looked wary but they turned away, accepting the crude excuse. The passivity was disgusting. This was why people needed to look beyond the wall. The cage they lived in dulled their sense of humanity.
"Looks like your brother is in tr-" Blue eyes blinked at the empty spot where the girl had once stood. Erwin then searched the crowd before him, more thoughtful than concerned.
He spotted her, shifting through the crowd flow like a phantom, a haunting grace in her steps as she danced from shadow to shadow, person to person. If his eyes weren't practiced to seek minute differences, the hypnotism of her vanishing maneuvers would have fooled him as well.
It was clear that violence was going to occur any moment now. That much was obvious when he caught the silver gleam of metal peeking from her oversized sleeve.
A righteous soldier would have intervened. What kind of nice person would let children resort to such violence against unjust odds? The girl only reached up to the man's lower chest!
But Erwin would hardly call himself righteous much less nice.
A few minutes ago, the girl had just been an orphan. A sharp young lady with a sharp tongue. Now Erwin watched, with morbid fascination, as the savage nature of self preservation made itself known.
She deliberately aimed for the man's neck, jumping atop a crate for leverage before leap kicking the henchman straight onto his windpipe. The force of the blow had him falling. With little pause, she sent a firm stomp to his diaphragm just as her curved blade plunged twice into the forearm and upper arm of the other man holding her brother hostage.
A civilian would have found it primitive, but encountering giant humanoids with the same base anatomy and musculature as humans taught him a few things about cutting tissue vital for mobility. The man released his hold on the boy, seemingly out of shock, but Erwin knew better. The stab wounds were deliberate and precise, immobilizing the arm's function to bend and grasp perhaps irreversibly if the man didn't get it treated properly.
The boy wasn't without his own moves either. Jaws locked on wrist, Erwin almost winced as the boy chomped the man's other hand like a vice, likely breaking the joint while his sister silenced the hoarse scream with the man's own handkerchief, shoving it hard into his mouth to muffle his agony from gaining more attention.
It was like watching a pack of wolves descend on a stray dog- a skittish, scrawny pack of wolves that knew their teeth and claws would not do much against more strays that would head their way with bared fangs for their wounded alpha.
The girl grabbed her brother's wrist- not before cuffing his head with a few harshly whispered words- and dragged him out of the alley and into the open, leaving the men to nurse their wounds. More gangsters seemed to flow out of the alley, a good handful now armed with ropes, clubs, and knives, coming to the aid of their pack.
"Catch those thieves!"
The girl wore a brave face despite the escalating dilemma on her hands. It was impressive if not sobering. Not once had she cried for help from the crowd as she dragged her sibling into a run. Despite the exhaustion evident in her hunger pang frame, the fear her brother was exuding, the condemning glares she earned from those who saw her fight; she did not accept defeat.
The look wrought in her eyes was evident. So long as she and her brother drew breath, the girl would defy death in the face-be it as an orphan, a street rat, a criminal, a survivor..
...or maybe someday as a soldier.
Many will wonder if Erwin could have predicted the value that fierce girl and her brother would have in their war against the odds. No one would be surprised if he did. The man thought so far into the future, some would proclaim he was precognitive and begin legends pertaining to his greatness. As for Erwin, he would never give a finite answer, never a stark yes or no. He would simply confess that when he saw the orphans, in their lowlife way of living and desperate manner of fighting, he thought it was a waste. A waste because no one else on that street could see what he saw and imagine what he thought.
He descended from his horse, ignoring his aching soles as he walked purposefully in long, fast strides and intercepted the girl and the boy who were intent on passing another person they thought was indifferent to their plight.
He grabbed her wrist, hard and quick, to loosen her hold on her dagger. It was a curious blade, double-edged and curved like talon with a ring on the opposite end of the molded handle. There was little time to take a closer look. He quickly pocketed the dagger in his horse's saddlebag while keeping his other hand firmly grasped on the girl's collar. She writhed, struggling until Erwin felt a string in his grasp snap and loosen.
Without looking down to examine what broke, he waited for the men to gather close. They watched, narrow eyed and wary at the presence of a military official. How suspicious, after their whole declaration of taking the children into the authorities.
He stepped forward. Hand still grasped on the girl's collar, he pulled her and her brother behind him, straightening himself to his full height to tower over the men.
There was a brief lapse of silence. Then one of them found their voice and spoke, terse but polite.
"Thank goodness you caught the thieves sir! We'll take her out of your hands-"
"Her? Not the boy?" That confirmed it. So they were traffickers. They must have hoped to sell her to the sex trade.
"B-both of course!" He was a long faced man, sallow with stained teeth. "Why of course both! They're both good for nothing thieves!"
He could hear the boy mutter. "At least we have good hygeine."
His brow twitched, the only giveaway of his amusement as he frowned at the men.
"I'll take these children to the MPs."
"Don't trouble yourself sir, we were just about to-"
"It's my duty as a soldier. Thank you for your concern, gentlemen."
He watched in wry amusement as the polite manner dissipated quickly.
"The scouts don't need to nose around in town affairs." The man stepped forward, adjusted his coat just enough to expose the handle of his pistol.
"You don't seem like an unreasonable fellow."
"No, but I do hold rank... as well as a pair of blades sharp enough to cut through titans." His statement was straightforward to the point of casual indifference.
"Captain Erwin!" As though it was cued, another cloaked soldier rode into view, their steed ready to come between the men standing before the captain and the two children nearly hidden behind his cloak.
"Are you alright sir?" The bandanna clad man cast a dark glare at the gangsters as he asked. More soldiers were coming, and the sound of their steeds' clopping hooves seemed to get the point across to the thugs.
The sallow man blanched, and his confidence waned into resignation.
"I-I guess it's best that the brats go with you, sir."
"You guessed wisely." Erwin gave him a curt nod. "Now please raise your hands." There was a click and a blur of movement.
In one fell swipe, he had his blade dangerously close to the man's jugular. The calm in his blue eyes were hardened and laced with ice. Despite wielding a firearm, the man cowered.
"Moses, keep these men detained for possession of a firearm. I trust you to convince someone in the MP to start a search warrant on their background."
"Yes sir." Soldiers gathered around the men as he sheathed his blade. Turning his attention to the girl, he cast her wary face a warning look to be still and released her collar.
She shifted back, as expected, ready to bolt like a frightened hare. Even when surrounded by his men and burdened with her brother, the girl was defiant. If only more people here fought for their freedom the way she did.
Erwin regarded her with a small, pleasant smile that was nearing smug. "I'm sure you want your stuff back. Especially this..."
He lifted his hand, the one that had grabbed her collar earlier. From his fist dangled a circular stone pendant, slightly opaque and vividly green, tethered to a fine braid of red strings looped around the small hole carved at its core. The string had snapped when he tugged her collar, and Erwin almost felt apologetic for it when he saw the flicker of sadness in her eyes.
The pendant wasn't the only thing. He had her knife as well. Both objects could have been sold for a decent price, especially the curious green mineral, but if they were on her person for this long they must have had sentimental value.
It was a small victory having her stay put with his incentive. He turned, confident that they would not run, as he grabbed his saddle bag from his steed.
"Dita, please take my horse to the stables." The bandana clad man obeyed, eying the children curiously as he did so.
"What about you sir?"
Erwin was careful and placed the pendant into his uniform jacket's breast pocket. A hard place for a small child to pickpocket.
"I'll be taking a small detour and escorting these two home."
"This isn't the way."
He didn't bother giving the girl a reassuring smile. The girl was critical, distrustful of civil gestures, especially smiles, considering the disdain she wore when he tried it. He couldn't fault her for it. The girl was probably given dozens of false smiles to get her to lower her guard.
"Like I said, I'll be taking a small detour."
They were walking through the market, towards the fruits. The girl kept her little brother close, arm protectively resting around his shoulder as she followed him with tentative, quiet steps. Erwin slowed his pace, matching her small strides with his slow, long ones. From the corner of his eye, he saw her gaze longingly at the fruit crates.
Peaches were in season this time around, so he indulged.
Muttering a polite exchange to the farmer, he purchased two and tossed them into the girl's unsuspecting arms. Her reflexes were quick despite her surprise.
He said nothing and continued walking without a backwards glance. She and her brother followed, less nervously.
The girl was attentive to her brother. She wiped her brother's peach down with the clean hem of her tattered shirt before she placed it in the eager boy's hand. Her shoulders were less tense now, a bit more at ease the moment the boy took a bite into the fruit.
What was he doing, walking around town with these two as though he were their uncle? Because he pitied them? No. Pity was the wrong way to feel for these two. If anything, he felt admiration. The world was cruel and without mercy to those that couldn't fight. No matter how civilized they were, it was the nature of all living things to struggle for their existence one way or another.
There was something cathartic about this moment. Walking around Shigashina with two orphans in tow after their failed expedition was soothing to his soul.
They came to a halt in front of the bakery. While he entered, she stood at the front door, eyes downcast in a rare sight of shame.
"We're too dirty to go in." She explained, holding her brother close.
Blue eyes began to thaw. Understanding gentled his countenance. He said nothing and entered the bakery. Without much thought, he began to pick a number of baked goods from scones to simple, hearty loaves filled with nuts and raisins. From the window of the store, he watched as the girl took a bite out of her peach. Her dark lashes fluttered shut, touching her high cheekbones in inky crescent moons as she savored the sweet flesh of the fruit. Swallowing, she then placed it in her brother's hand-the boy had already wolfed down his fruit.
The boy shook his head, pushing the fruit back into her palms. It only seemed to irk her, and she flicked his forehead, causing him to open his mouth to protest. Erwin almost chuckled when she silenced him by shoving the fruit into his open mouth. Reluctantly, the boy obediently began to eat the second peach.
It was heartwarming to watch. She was a selfless survivalist, what a rare but precious combination.
Once the bread was bagged and ready, he reached into his pocket. His fingertips searched for the right amount of coin for the purchase when they brushed against a hard, chained lump of metal. There was a pause. Then the baker's patient smile hurried his search. Placing the money into the man's flour covered hand, he murmured a small, absentminded thanks before reaching into his pocket once more.
A locket, linked with a thin, gold chain. It was inscribed with a bird that had its wings spread wide and ready to fly. Hardly the most elaborate piece of jewelry but worth a hefty sum for the precious metals used in its subtle design.
Simple, long lasting, and beautiful, the trinket had once been intended for a dark haired, hazel eyed beauty who stole his heart once upon a time: Marie Dawson, the girl from the pub... now Marie Dok.
If he had changed his intent joining the Survey Corps back then and walked down an easier path within the walls, he would have married her not Nile Dok. Numbness washed over him, and Erwin welcomed the emptiness. It was a better feeling than the pain of longing.
Strange, how he felt no regret despite the longing...or perhaps regret simply became a constant in his life, becoming something he was accustomed to so he longer felt its discomfort. If given the choice again, he would have chosen the Survey Corps without hesitation, no matter how mesmerizing her gold and green speckled gaze had been.
The girl looked less like a cautious stray and more like a young girl when he came out of the bakery. Her strides more confident and now at pace with him while her brother tagged along. It was quiet, but the silence was comforting. It's tranquility was borderline nostalgic. His father used to take him on quiet strolls. He said it helped him think 'outside the box'.
They stopped at a bridge. This time she was ready to accept the scone tossed into her hand and smiled at him. It was a small, perplexed smile as though she were trying to figure out an enjoyable riddle.
The scones were sweet. They would have gone well with a nice cup of black tea.
"What's it like?" He paused mid-bite and glanced at the girl. They sat on the grass by the riverbed, just beside the bridge.
"Beyond the wall.…What is it like?"
He thought for a moment before answering. "Vast and full of titans." It was an honest answer, if not a sardonic one.
Her brother gave a soft snort while she sent him a wry look.
"…Have you ever seen the sea?"
"The sea? No.. I've never gone that far." How curious. Not many people knew about the sea. The law against the outside world made people blissfully ignorant of possible geography outside the tall, white borders.
The girl seemed a bit disappointed. She rose to a stand and paced about the grass.
"Are the stars different?"
That earned him a sigh as she squatted down at a patch of flowers.
"The flowers?" She asked, plucking a bundle of small, blue forget-me-nots.
"I'm afraid not."
"Hmmm… What about the sunset?"
Ah, now there was something different.
"Yes… The clouds turn pink and the light around the sun turns red before fading to purple. The sun itself becomes dimmer and a bit orange, like a candle flame." He remembered his first sunset beyond the wall, how breathtaking it had been. So beautiful that even after a day of hard riding and watching men fall to titans, Erwin almost smiled when he saw the sun dip over the horizon.
She and her brother were intrigued by this. The boy tried to picture his words with a thoughtful expression while his sister simply looked into the river with longing. She whispered like a child daring to dream.
"I want to see it. I want to see the sun set on the ocean."
"…Maybe someday you will."
Who knew what would happen years from now. Erwin was a realist, but he also hoped for a better future like most of his comrades. And if any child could do it, years from now, it would be her. The orphan who fell from the sky and rose against those who stood above her.
It must have been an odd sight to any passerby. A grown, blond soldier eating bread with two homeless children. So when a bespectacled man came across the bridge and stared long and hard at them, Erwin chose to ignore him until he shouted.
"You two!" The man ran around the bridge and down to them. He hardly appeared suspicious, with his brief case and well tailored coat. "I've been looking for you two everywhere!"
To their growing surprise, he had been followed by a pair of Survey Corps soldiers.
"Captain Erwin! We were looking for you."
Erwin raised a brow, standing to his feet. He waved off their salute. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing sir! This man here overheard us talking about you and your…little companions." The man twisted his mouth, as if the phrase sounded wrong to his ears. "He's been looking for them sir."
The girl's eyes were wide.
The said man grasped her shoulders as she stood to greet him. "Carla and I thought you were dead! I've heard nothing from your father for months so I went to check your house, and it was abandoned. What happened? Where is your father?"
At the mention of her father, the girl looked away. Her brother began crushing the scone in his hand.
There was a long lapse of silence, until the man became impatient.
He turned to the boy.
"Kai? Where's your fath-"
"He left." She answered, cold and seemingly indifferent. But he saw the shadow haunting her eyes.
"Left?" Dr. Yeager's face shifted. Confusion soon filled with understanding then with pity. The soldiers shifted uncomfortably and muttered among themselves of cruel misfortune until Erwin gave them a silencing eye.
"Two summers ago." It was chilling, how hollow and defeated she sounded when she had been bright and curious moments before.
"Two summers ago? You two have been on your own all this time?" Dr. Yeager sighed. "Why didn't you come to us?"
They said nothing, and Erwin then chose this moment to intervene.
"Sir, do you intend to look after these children?" He stood to his full height, and the man seemed startled by his presence, his focus so narrowed on the two children before him. It was a good sign of compassion in Erwin's books.
"I-uh…" He cleared his throat. "Yes.. I'm sorry, yes. I'm just surprised they're actually here. My apologies, I'm Grisha Yeager. A doctor in this district. I knew these children and their parents."
The girl did not seem too comfortable to divulge the facts, so Erwin did it for her. He watched as Grisha Yeager drank his words, green eyes burning dark at his mention of the human traffickers and widening at the stunt and petty theft.
The doctor sighed. "Your parents taught you well, though I'm not sure how I feel about it."
He then crouched low before the girl and her brother who now clung to her arm once more.
"Carla and I will take both of you in. Clearly it's not safe for you two to be like this anymore if people are hunting you in broad daylight."
"But Mikasa and Eren-"
"Will be happy to have two more people to play with." The doctor stood, facing him and his soldiers. "Thank you for going out of your way. Truly..."
"Not at all." Really it wasn't. It was likely the brightest thing that happened to him this entire month.
Erwin turned his attention to the two who kept him company.
"Well…Kai and... young lady." His lips quirked in amusement. "I guess this is goodbye."
"Goodbye sir." Kai spoke from his sister's sleeve. Meanwhile, the girl simply looked at him, pensive and searching. It made him wonder what went on in her mind.
"I believe this is yours." With a careful hand, he passed the curved knife into her palm. As soon as it was within her grasp, the girl gave it an expert twirl before sheathing it behind her. It made his soldiers wary and the doctor sigh once more, but Erwin only smirked. It wasn't right to take a warrior's weapon away from them.
"And here…This as well..."
Gold glistened under the afternoon light. The opaque green pendant dangled between his fingers.
...now looped and linked in the open center by a gold chain.
It was memorable, seeing the pendant's reflection in her eyes as they widened. She was still, frozen in shock. Erwin took the moment to his advantage and with gentle hands, looped the gold chain over her dainty head. Inky hair brushed against his rough knuckles, soft as satin. When his hands let the chain slip from his grasp, the pendant rested low on her chest. It was large on her now but in time, she would grow into the necklace.
He intended to ruffle her hair; a last form of affection to give her hope that not all hands were cruel as those who scorned her and her brother. But his hand was caught in hers. They were small, dainty little hands, yet he could feel the hard callouses decorating her palms and fingers as they met his own. Their hands were the hands of survivors.
Discreetly, she placed something into his palm before pressing it gently closed.
"Yuna…My name is Yuna Rhee. " Her voice was so soft, if his senses weren't keen he would have missed it.
Yuna… It was an eccentric but oddly beautiful sounding name. And when the young lady-Yuna-looked up at him with almond shaped eyes now warmed to a rich, earthen burgundy, he couldn't have thought of a name that suited someone better.
If the sacrifice that he and his comrades had to make meant people like her, with wonder pooled into those bottomless eyes, could look beyond the walls without crippling fear then it was more than worth it.
He opened his palm. There in the center of his calloused hand lied a tiny bundle of blue flowers.
He smiled, startling his fellow soldiers. Erwin, the intensely stoic blonde, rarely ever smiled but when he did, some often took it as an omen. But Erwin ignored them in favor of saluting to the young lady who fell from the sky. His closed fist was gentle, securing the blue flowers in its hold.
"Captain Erwin Smith. Pleasure to meet you, Yuna Rhee."
It was comforting to have a new pack. The military was harsh, but they provided enough for their soldiers to maintain a decent self upkeep. But there hadn't been much for her to put in the pack. Her civilian clothes and personal belongings were at a bare minimum, while the more precious objects remained on her person.
The jade pendant rested against her chest like a comforting anchor, weighed with several lifetimes worth of history both personal and impersonal. It was warm-always warm. Ever since the moment her mother removed it from herself and crowned it over her own head in an intimate coronation between mother and daughter.
Wear with your head held high, she said. Wear it to remind you.
It served its purpose and much more. She was always reminded of that soldier, every time she fingered the gold chain tethering the pendant to her person. Even when, after his show of kindness, their contact had become ephemeral, dwindling to the point where she assumed the gesture had little significance to him who faced heavier things in life or death beyond the wall. But the memory would always matter to her. Someone's small boon could be another's great blessing.
He served as a reminder back then, of what she and her brother had in spite of what they lost, that there was more to live for than their narrow world of surviving.
"Hey Rhee," She snapped out of her stupor. Iris had an eager smile, filled with anticipation and impatience.
"Get on already, unless you wanna walk." The sprightly redhead stretched out her hand.
Yuna raised a brow, but her hand drifted from her collar and grasped the outstretched hand. She was hoisted onto the wagon where a handful of the 101th Corps sat.
"Wonder what the rooms will be like. Probably cramped if it's anything like our dorms." Iris wondered aloud as she sat beside a tall, handsome blond. Yuna only shrugged and sat herself next to her friend (rival? She honestly didn't know anymore, but she gave up trying to come up with a definite conclusion. Such was the struggle with Iris Potter). The said girl gave her a playful nudge, earning a raised brow.
"You and I are bunking together right? Do you think they'll give you more kitchen duty like Shadis did? I wonder if he'll be more pissy with the next trainees now that he won't get decent food..."
"Iris, aren't you more worried about going out on your first expedition?" A bespectacled boy, Benjamin Grant, shuddered at his own words.
"Don't get your knickers in a twist, Ben." Green eyes rolled with exasperation. "We just graduated! You gotta cherish the little things in life, otherwise you're gonna get eaten with regrets."
"Iris!" The blond beside her, Arne, groaned.
Benjamin muttered, yanking off his glasses to give them another anxious polish. Moblit, a smart but rather antsy graduate blanched at the thought.
Yuna chuckled to herself and adjusted to the momentum as the horses began yanking the wagon into a steady speed. She stared out into the distance. The wagon ride was scenic, cutting through the hills and around the forest. It passed a lake, and russet eyes fell upon a small meadow, where familiar bundles of small, blue hued flowers bloomed in patches among the other flora.
"Potter is right." She ignored the eyes on her as she followed the sight of the forget-me-nots until they vanished over the hill.
"Woah, Yuna" Ezra, a stocky, hazel eyed brunette nudged Eli, his identical twin.
"did we just hear you-"
"-agree with Iris the priss?" Eli finished.
"Oi." Iris seethed.
Moblit chuckled, "Guess it really is a new season for us."
Kudos, comments, anything to keep me motivated. I'm determined to complete this story.
Facts on the OCs: There were a few hints indicated in foreign words passed between the siblings, but essentially, a part of their ethnic background is Korean. It's from their mother's side. Some of the words they use:
Nui-Old, traditional honorific for elder sister
Since the era of AoT is a bit unclear though it seems a bit more retro (it's an entirely different world), the Korean used by Kai and Yuna is mixed between traditional terms and informal structures.
As for their father's side, I've based the ethnicity and culture partially on Polynesian roots. There is more to their family's background that will be revealed as the story progresses.
I got inspiration for the character designs partially from encountering a Korean-Islander mixed person a while back. Incredibly beautiful, and a terrifying volleyball player (A monster. She didn't look it but played like it.). Reminded me of Avatar, Legend of Korra. If Korra and Asami had children.
So far, I'm not content with my writing for this story, but then again... I'm never content. I've put a stop to writing and posting for a solid two years because I never felt happy with what I wrote. Now, after a good verbal pummeling by a dear friend, I'm learning to just... give less fucks about it being 'enough'?
Writing this FF has been good at making me think. It's a fun and intriguing challenge to write out Isayama's characters, especially those that are as complex as Levi and Erwin.
Definitely not great at it but trying and hoping to see progress as I go. I stay more in tuned with the manga than with the anime, but I gotta say, rewatching the anime for this story is kinda really epic. A little faster paced, but damn that animation...
In the mean time, I need to replace my drawing pad stylus... Sigh. Maybe I should just invest in a wacom tablet or an ipad. Samsung why...
Chapter 5: The Struggle of His
Kai enters the 104th Training Corps with the others.
"Hurt people cannot love well. That doesn't mean they are loveless. It just means they haven't been loved well."
-a friend who comforted my woes.
Red. The color was everywhere. Puddled on the floor, dripping from the table, splashed on all four walls. Dark and viscous, the color permeated an acrid smelling warmth, and the house was its special canvas.
The world around him dulled into a monochrome haze, all except the crimson.
Why was that? Why was red the only distinct color he could see? It was the only thing he could smell, and the only thing he could feel. It was all over his hands, slippery and moist. It felt so wrong. It shouldn't feel that way. This place shouldn't feel that way. This was his home.
Or it had been...until that night.
When the darkness bled crimson, and the warmth of the hearth was replaced with the heat of gore. When the distinct scent of his mother-a mix of aged herbs and clean linen was tainted with the acrid stench that came with the color red.…That home became hell.
Someone tore him away from that home turned hell, before the demon could reach out and drag him down with his mother.
It was his sister. His nui.
The smell of copper faded into the scent of mist and pine.
They were in the woods. Red seemed to follow them. It was all over Nui… It crowned her, covered her like a veil, marked her for a path of victory.
She was hunched, bowed over as though an invisible weight pressed against her shoulders. Red streamed from her hands to her fingers like tears from mournful eyes, collecting on the very tip of their father's knife before dripping onto the grassy patch where she stood. The red was black in the darkness, illuminated in a scarce, silver glow by the watchful moon.
How heavy must the color red be, for his sister-whose blood ran true with the strength of their ancestors- to press her with such a burden in both body and soul?
She shouldn't carry it alone. He shared the same blood as her. The same strength coursed through his veins. If anyone could alleviate her burden, it should be him. But she would not let him near. She couldn't let him near, because they were not alone.
"There is the real prize!"
Joy should be infectious, but there was something twisted and perverse about the sound of this joy. That laughter chilled him to the core.
"Just when I though 'what a fucking shame for it to end', I see now that the game has only started!~"
Darkness bled from the pale, moonlit mist. He could see the silhouette now.
It was here.
The demon with the black hat.
Dark eyes snapped open and focused on the pale hand reaching for him. The sight triggered memories: devouring hands, searing heat, a blinding strike of lightning, blood and screams, all jumbled in a mind crushing clutter of flashes.
Like a torch igniting a cannon fuse, his tanned hand lashed forth. Rough, calloused fingers found taut flesh and sank nails into the firm skin as a snake's fangs would do to the ankle of a passing mammal. He heard a choking grunt, followed by an eruption of commotion.
There was a hard tap, followed by an iron hard grip on his wrist. Kai's grip reflexively tightened as he blinked his eyes to clear the groggy haze.
"What the heck? Rhee, you gotta let go man!" Who was talking? They were so loud and too obnoxiously energetic for the morning. It was disorienting.
"K-Kai!" Now that was a familiar voice. Armin sounded concerned-at least more so than usual so Kai relented and loosened his grip.
There was a cough, followed by a few gulping breathes. A stocky blonde eyed him warily as a tall, spindly man massaged his neck with a fearful look.
"Ah..." Realization woke him. "Shit, sorry Hoover." It was a halfhearted apology. Bertolt should have known better than to get into his personal space, but Kai wasn't a complete asshole. He looked shaken enough to give him a bit of guilt, so an apology was owed nonetheless.
"I-it's ok. We should have listened to Armin." Bertolt gave him a timid smile. "You looked like you were having a bad dream."
"More like a night terror from the looks of it." Reiner Braun, the stocky blonde, still eyed him with caution. Kai met his gaze with indifference as he pushed himself to sit on his bunk.
"Holy shit, dude!" Again, that obnoxious voice. It was the Springer boy, Connor or Connie. "What the hell is wrong with you?" He felt a gust of wind and a looming shadow on his person. Aggravation began to turn back its ugly head and target the country bumpkin from Ragako village. If the idiot touched his person, he would strangle him without apology.
At least Eren the imbecile was smarter than this rocks-for-brains trainee. The said imbecile pulled Springer away with an assertive tug.
"Oi, Connie back off for a minute. Give Kai some air…all of you." For their sake.
Eren didn't spend years with the olive skinned teen without growing to understand some warning signs. Rigid shoulders, tendons protruding from stiff hands, the twitch in his forefingers and thumbs; if Connie pushed Kai's tender boundaries at that moment, he would be sent to the infirmary. Only Yuna would be able to approach Kai in this state, but the elder sister was not here, hadn't been for three years.
Having slept under the same roof with the younger Rhee sibling, Eren knew better than most of Kai's prickly nature when waking up on the wrong side of the bed after a particularly restless night. It was usually less volatile and physical than this, but the boy seemed more on edge in their new sleeping quarters despite it being an upgrade from their place on the farm.
"Well..." Bertolt squirmed, uncomfortable of the tension. "C'mon guys. Let's get breakfast before Instructor Shadis yells at us."
The small crowd dissipated. Male trainees of the 104th Corps began to whisper among themselves as they put on their uniforms. Eren glanced at Armin as he pulled on his jacket. The blond met his gaze with a worried one of his own, and they waited in silence as the barracks slowly emptied, leaving their section of the bunk vacant aside from them and Kai.
"You alright?" Eren asked.
He expected a brusque reply, but this one was filled with more venom than usual.
Kai yanked off his nightshirt, briefly exposing the inky patterns drawn into the skin of his right pectoral all the way to his right forearm. But as quickly as the tattoos were exposed, they were covered as Kai hastily pulled down his navy, long-sleeve. Eren couldn't help but stare curiously while Armin had the decency to look away. Kai had always been rather private about his tattoos as well as everything else. There were things, even now, they were discovering about Kai, but he never made it easy for them. How Kai would deal with the communal showers…Eren could only wonder.
"Hey Kai…" The boy froze in the midst of pulling his pale, bone-like pendant from the inside of his shirt.
Armin continued. "You know… It helps to know the people here."
The blonde ignored the perplexed green stare, his intuitive blue eyes locking onto Kai's stoic gaze. There was a silent exchange between the two orphans; understanding on the blond's end and something deeper, more jaded on the surly, dark eyed latter. The tension loosened from Kai as he fingered the bone pendant resting on his upper sternum.
Yanking his jacket from the hook on his bedpost, he walked passed them both with a sigh.
"Come on, Mikasa will be waiting."
Eren scowled but followed. It was frustrating to watch from a third person position. Granted, Armin has always had a cathartic way of understanding each of his friends better than most. It was prevalent with Kai-who, without Yuna, clamped himself up like a metal armored chest, chained and secured under lock and key. But it hardly seemed fair. After all that promise to Yuna about sticking with them and being a team, the jackass only distanced himself since entering the training ground, treating them like extra baggage he was obliged to look after.
Armin's shoulders sank, noticing the growing irritation spiking Eren's moodiness and lack of patience. Honestly, Eren wasn't in any place to judge Kai. While Kai's current, withdrawn state and finicky tendencies with people put him at odds end with a few, Eren's zealous beliefs made him the target of both good and bad attention. At least Mikasa had enough decency to greet their fellow trainees albeit indifferently. It was barely into the first week of training, and they were off to a rough start already since last supper.
Eren did not seem to mind the crowd, but it was clear Kai was feeling stifled. Armin couldn't blame their curiosity. Most of them have not encountered a titan, so to meet those who survived Shiganshina's titan invasion after a direct encounter as their's, questions were inevitable.
Dark eyes darted to Eren at the sound of his nausea after someone inquired about titans. They blinked, watchful and keen of the sudden pause in the boy as unpleasant memories threatened his appetite. It was the only subtle indicator that despite Kai's distant mood, he still had concern for his childhood friends at the very least.
But the watchful indifference quickly darkened into Kai's trademark annoyance with Eren Yeager as the impassioned young man began his usual hateful speech about titans and his aims to become a titan-slaying soldier. Armin sighed inwardly. Out of the four of them, Kai was often the one to take a jab at Eren's ideals with his realism.
'A reckless sense of ego supported only by brute anger but no substantially rational thought' he once said after an argument with Eren became particularly vicious. Mikasa had tossed them into a manure pile (again) for it.
This time, another trainee seemed to take his place as the devil's advocate to Eren's heated speech; but Armin didn't know if it was a better alternative. A clear animosity was boiling between Eren and the trainee, Jean Kirstein. He watched with Kai and Mikasa as tension thickened. Mikasa's eyes were clearly focused on Eren, while Kai observed the long faced young man, stewing his critical judgement.
Kai joined his small sigh with an exasperated huff when Eren smacked the man's outstretched hand in a half-hearted truce. As the boy walked off, Mikasa stood to follow, leaving him and Kai to deal with the other trainees whose curiosity wasn't satiated.
"Say, were there more people in Shiganshina who look like you."
"You and Mikasa look a bit similar…are you two cousins?"
Armin cringed as Kai's curt, monosyllabic responses only drew more people around them.
"Are you and Armin also here to become titan slayers like Yeager?"
"Oh… Hey Armin, does your friend know how to say anything else?"
Before the said boy could answer, Kai placed his spoon down.
"Yes. Excuse me." If his words weren't cold enough, his glare was as it caused several to step back and give them the space Kai had been hungering for.
Armin winced as Kai stood and stacked Eren's forgotten tray onto his. Silence followed his wake as he set the trays into the washing bin and made a beeline for the door in long, quiet steps. He was not but five steps away from escaping the mess hall when two female trainees came up his path. He stopped and stared at them, causing them to fluster pink.
"H-hi, I'm Ruth and this is Hannah-"
"You're in my way."
The pink in their cheeks turned beet red. Ruth stammered while Hannah bit her lip.
Without another word, Kai stepped around them and left the mess hall, leaving Armin to the whispering crowd. He went up to the mystified two girls who now had a tall, angry looking male with them.
"What an asshole."
Hannah patted his arm, "Don't be so upset Franz." The man hardly looked mollified, so Armin gave him an apologetic smile.
"Sorry about that, guys. Kai doesn't mean anything by it. He's just…shy...?" Franz did not look convinced at his halfhearted attempt.
Ruth waved off his apology, cheeks still pink. "We don't mind… It makes him really handsome... especially up close." She stared vacantly to the door where the said man departed, dreamy eyed and dazed.
"Yeah…He's really cool." Hannah joined her friend in her whimsical little stupor.
Armin could only blink. He sent a nervous glance to Franz who only shared his confusion. Girls were so confusing…
Oddly enough, they weren't the only ones to fall victim to the exotic allure that made Kai and his aloof behavior. Unknown or perhaps just ignored by Kai, he garnered a bit of attention among the other trainees… particularly the females.
"He's so cool..."
"I heard he has these ink marks on his body!"
"I saw a peek of it when they were working out."
"I hope the days get hotter. Maybe if the other guys take off their shirt, he will too!"
"Mysterious and that tan…He's like a dark prince."
"I wonder if I can get him to talk to me."
"Don't expect so much. The only girl he ever talks to is Mikasa."
"Mikasa has everything…Talent, beauty, and the men..."
If the two aforementioned 'celebrity' trainees heard the whispering gossip encompassing them as they sat together along with Armin and Eren, they cared little for it. Their table of Shiganshina survivors screamed of exclusivity during breakfast, thankfully discouraging any from coming towards them to gain attention or flirt.
"What are they talking about?" Eren grumbled, embarrassed for the stoic orientals and irritated at the flippancy of the gossip. There were other things to focus on, especially now that they were about to do the trial test for the ODMG later in noon.
Mikasa blinked while Kai shrugged and mumbled, "Hell if I know."
He sipped his water and eyed his meal with a lackluster air. Releasing another sigh, he raked a tired hand through his hair, combing through the snarls caused by his rough sleep before gathering what he could into a low ponytail. It was growing past his shoulders now, surpassing Mikasa's in length.
Speaking of the girl, when did she cut her hair and with what? Perhaps he could borrow whatever she used. He would have to do the same and trim it when he had the time-how inconvenient. Cutting his own hair proved to be a challenge. The last self-trim resulted in uneven lengths in the front that often escaped his hair tie. It was during these moments, he missed Yuna more. She had been the one to cut his hair, and she always did a satisfying job.
The OMDG aptitude test seemed straightforward to him. Despite him lacking his sister's finer grace and experience, it took a few seconds to figure for Kai's body to exert the proper control. A matter of centering one's balance on key foci throughout the body: the core, the rear, and the calves. Kai gave an experimental flex and felt the center shift, swaying him side to side.
Interesting… and a bit nostalgic. It almost felt like the trapeze he and Yuna played with in their younger years. Their father and mother created a number of gimmicks and courses within the forest beside their home to help hone their athleticism.
Mikasa, as he suspected, mastered it quickly, and to his surprise the potato girl did as well. Though few seemed to have their knack for the wire, a good number began to learn at their own pace and find some sort of balance. Even the spindly one who gave him a rude awakening earlier, despite his long-limbed and overall timid character.
So Kai was surprised…baffled when he saw a certain, green eyed imbecile flail about and promptly resemble a dying, upturned trout.
It wasn't some complex chemistry lesson or a cooking class. It was a physical aptitude test. While Yeager wasn't as brawny as the Braun fellow, he was bodily quick and bull-headedly stubborn. This was the last sort of exam he expected Eren to hit a roadblock on. The irony was far too ridiculous to be believable if he wasn't looking at it.
He wasn't the only one in disbelief. The sun was starting to set and the yard was empty all except for them four on Eren's insistence.
Kai crossed his arms and sighed. Armin stood near the lever of the aptitude device, prepared to elevate him while Mikasa stood before Eren, giving him her overview on the how-to for the umpteenth time.
"Like Mikasa said. Don't think too hard. That shouldn't be too difficult for you." He drawled, earning a glare from the boy.
"Kai, that's not helping." Mikasa chided. "We need to keep Eren calm so don't rile him up."
He rolled his eyes but waited silently.
"Take it slowly." Armin encouraged, and at Eren's nod, began to elevate him.
Kai observed keenly. Arms were spread- that was good. Legs were shoulder width apart and stretched but not locked-good. His abdominal muscles were flexing, focusing the weight into the center, concentrating it to his rear while his upper body leaned forward-excellent. That would keep him balanced and not prone to flipping upside down… which was about to happen...?
His body reacted before he could set a proper plan to catch the swaying fool. Foot stretched, the front corner of Kai's boot caught Eren's head in time to prevent it from colliding with the ground. The impact still hurt, but it was better than the alternative of cracking his head on the relentless dirt floor and suffering a concussion.
There was a pregnant pause and a mix of emotions. Armin and Mikasa, though surprised, were relieved, while he shared Eren's confusion.
Yeager's technique wasn't perfect but it should have been enough in his critical eye. What was the imbecile doing wrong?
"… I don't get it. Your head is as empty as a cloud, so why the hell are you flipping? Is it filled with rocks?"
The confusion carried into dinner for Eren. The imbecile looked so stupefied, it was downright unbearable.
"I'm getting water." He rose from his seat, rolling his eyes at the tragic air shadowing the tital-slayer wannabe. "Refill?"
"Thanks" Armin handed him his tankard as did Mikasa, but the imbecile-whose cup was empty-didn't spare him a glance in his destitute state.
"Oh for fuck's sake." He muttered, snatching the imbecile's cup from the table. Maybe he should've let his head hit the ground.
As water filled the cups, he mulled over his thoughts. If Eren couldn't succeed, what would happen? The boy would be forced to leave the training site and return to the landfills and farms. How would he sustain a decent life? Yuna's funding stopped when they entered training, the military stipends being enough for them. What would Eren do in the meantime?
More importantly…why was he so concerned?
The imbecile's situation hardly effected him on a rational level, but it bothered him to think that he would be excluded. Out of all of them, even Yuna, Eren held the most conviction for the Survey Corps.
"Guess Yeager is all bark but no bite." His tanned ear twitched.
"I know, what bullshit. It's kind of satisfying though." A group of trainees whispered among themselves, smug and snickering.
"Trash like him that do nothing but talk should just hop on the first wagon ride back to the fields." The imbecile had to be listening. These people weren't making their disdainful gossip discreet. But to his growing irritation, Eren seemed to be in a perpetual state of dazed misery.
Unbelievable. When Kai wants him to be his riled up, temperamental self and defend his honor, the imbecile was a vegetable.
"What does Mikasa see in him? If only he had half the skill his friends have."
"Yeah, ha. At least Rhee, that baked asshole, has the skill to justify his attitude."
"This baked asshole also has a set of ears." Like flies caught in a web, they fluttered and froze at the sentence.
There was something about the olive skinned teen from this angle, the way those abysmal eyes leered at them under the elegant waves of his dark fringe, that shackled their soul in ice. He regarded them a way a falcon would to a sparrow in its talons before plucking and disemboweling it.
"H-hey Rhee, we were just-"
"Pathetic." He finished for them, daring them to contradict him, prove him wrong with their words or better yet, with their fists. If only they were bold enough to give him a reason to relieve his stress with his bare hands.
But to his secret disappointment, they remained silent, more scared than upset.
What a shame. And these people wished to be soldiers? What good would a soldier who cowered before man do against a titan? At least Yeager always put up a fight.
He walked past them, head held high and void of expression like an aristocrat passing some commoners not worth his time and effort. There was a collective sigh and soft feminine murmurs that followed him.
"Be gentle Kai. You don't want to chisel too much of it away." He obeyed and eased the pressure. It was nerve wracking. He had to make an effort to keep his fingers still despite his excitement. Abboji was finally letting him carve with his kit. It was a monumental day.
Tongue sticking out in concentration, he made one final prick into the inner corner of the pale material.
"Good, just like. Now hand it over so I can smooth out the rough parts."
Obediently, he did. The carved piece of bone looked so small in Abboji's large hand despite it being nearly as big as his own palm. He watched him smooth out the carvings in and around the pendant, shaping the outer edge into a perfect circle before perfecting the spiral incisions that met in the center.
"Can you tell me about the fish the bone is from?"
"Not fish…A whale. It's a water dwelling mammal with fins." Abboji corrected, focused on refining the craft-work before him. There was a wistful look on his face as he brushed the powdered shavings off the circular trinket.
"They were black and white whales called orcas. They swam in groups and mastered the art of hunting. They were wolves of the sea. My people revered them as noble warriors, some even swam and sailed with them.
They never harmed a man, woman, or child that came to their waters, but they felled greater whales, whales that were as long as half the height of the wall." His father paused in his work and pointed to his bare shoulder, where the ink imbued skin revealed a depiction of the creature he described.
"Someday, you and your sister will bear this creature on your skin just as I do. But for now, this" He lifted the bone carving, "will have to do."
Kai waited, counting the time with the beat of his heart. After reaching the seven hundredth and thirty sixth beat, his father placed the pendant in his open palms. Perfectly circular, the pale ornament reminded him of Nui's pendant bequeathed to her by mother. It had its own engravings different from nui's; curved grooves piercing through opposite ends, meeting at the center in a swirl. A thick braided black cord looped through a carved hole near the top in a tightly woven noose.
"It looks different from yours." His father's resembled a thick serpent curving its tail into a hook.
"Each maori has a different meaning." Abboji squatted, lowering his towering height to meet eye to eye. His eyes were as dark as coals, darker than mother's warm brown.
"These spiral here…They are called koru…" He pointed to the curved groove on the right. "This koru represents your mother's bloodline, and the other koru here..." he pointed to the curve on the left. "This one is mine. See how the both koru come together in the center? That represents you."
When Abboji donned the pendant on him, he felt the foreign weight and blinked. The pale bauble was heavier than it looked. In time, he hoped he would adjust to the weight.
"You still haven't told me…What does your Maori mean?"
Somehow his father's eyes darkened further.
"…It means I walk with life..."
"You walk with life?"
"... as the shadows of death follow my wake."
There were things he didn't understand about their life. Like broken fragments missing from the stained glass window that made their family.
Still... Even when broken, the remnants of colored glass were beautiful. At least he thought so.
But this… what his father was doing, he couldn't understand, and it was a wretched, hideous thing.
"Wait… Appa please-" Nui took the words out of his mouth. He didn't mind. Kai felt as though his lips were sewn shut.
"I need to go. You and your brother must understand." Calloused hands reached for the the dark maroon cloak on the shelf.
"But we don't. We can't… You can't leave!" Nui's voice broke at the end. Oh no. No, Nui, don't break. Father will not stand for weakness anymore.
But who was he to think such things, when he could not hold back tears and speak his mind like his sister did?
"Be silent, Yuna." Father always said the world was cruel, but at that moment, his indifference sounded so much crueler than the world.
"Is it because you hate me? Because I couldn't protect her?" Kai felt a surge of panic. His small hands loosened their white knuckled grip on his necklace and clung to his sister's arm like a lifeline. The mere mention of their mother in their father's presence became a taboo in the years. Like a cold gust of wind extinguishing a candle in the night, whenever mother was mentioned, their father changed. He grew darker and colder... he became different.
"Yuna. You of all people should understand. Do not be weak."
"Weak?.. You can't even STAND TO LOOK AT ME ANYMORE!"
Yuna's despair was a horrible, excruciating thing to hear. It was choking her, crushing her lungs. He could hear it, feel it, and by heavens could he see it. It spread to him like a sickness. Invisible claws grasped his throat and lungs. It was crawling to his heart as Yuna tried to reason with their father.
How could he be so unresponsive to her agony?
"Kai is too young. He needs you!"
Yes, he needed him. He wasn't ready. But the man only turned away, and Kai felt the last remnants of his beautiful, stained glass window shatter.
"He has you."
"I NEED YOU! Please, Appa don't go! Don't leave!" But it wasn't enough. They weren't enough. Nothing could make him stay. Nothing could convince him to turn around and look at them at least one. more. time.
On a moonless, midsummer night of June 21rst...
On Nui's birthday...
Kai watched as the broad, cloaked back of their father vanished into the darkness of the night. The next few nights would be a blur, a clutter of questions and theoretical answers repeating in his head in a taunting, mental mantra of 'why' and 'because'.
Why did he leave?
Because he needed to avenge her.
Why couldn't father wait?
Because there was nothing to wait for.
Why didn't father stay?
Because there was nothing good enough to convince him to. Nothing that seemed to matter enough.
Why couldn't he say something?
Because he had been weak. Inadequate. Not enough of a man to stand up and help his sister make father stay.
Kai sprung out of bed and gasped for air like a drowning man. Sweat glued his night shirt to his person and matted his clumps of hair to his head and brow. His heart thrashed against his sternum, as though it wanted nothing more than to grab the bone pendant lying against it and crush it into pieces. Just as his father crushed his heart.
But perhaps it was the curse of sons to cling on to the remnants of their father in the residue left of whatever love or loyalty remained, no matter how wretched the hurt may be.
So he stood, ignoring the eyes on him, and headed straight for the door. He needed to get away from this place. Away from these strangers who tossed the words 'comrade' and 'friend' around and devoured them like cheap, over-ripened fruits ready to rot.
It seemed most of them learned their lesson that morning after his little throat grabbing scene with Hoover…All except one.
Dark eyes fell on a shaved head.
"Oi, Kai right?"
He blinked. Slowly, to gain comprehension, and in equal pace, his eyes sank down to meet wide and assertive grey.
"You seem hellbent on keeping up this 'cool guy' image, but let's be real here."
It was the stone headed Springer kid. Fuck no. He wasn't dealing with this idiot now. There wasn't enough patience in him for this.
So he stepped to the side, intent to pass him in silence, only to be stopped by Springer's hand on his shoulder. The trainee's self preservation skills seemed to be lacking. It had to be if he couldn't take the fucking hint that others around him took.
"Clearly you're not cool. I mean, you're not well. And look, that's okay, it's a moment of weakness-"
Connie Springer never got to finish his sentence. It caught him off guard, how much strength a single handed shove from the olive skinned teen can be. He found himself harshly slammed against the beam of a bunk bed.
"Ow! What the fuck man!"
"Fuck off, Springer." If he weren't angry himself, Connie would have shuddered at the feral edge of Kai's low voice.
"I'm just trying to help, man. Get off your crazy high horse, you mental piece of shi-"
Splinters of wood littered the floor beside the short boy's feet. Mouth agape and round eyes stretched even wider, Connie Springer resembled a trout of water- a very frightened trout out of water that wanted nothing more than to dive back into its lake.
His face twitched, and in an aching lag, turned his head to stare at the dark fist lodged into the fractured plank of wood that made up a side of the top bunk.
His horror seemed to be shared with a few among the crowd of witnesses. There was a collective wince as the owner of the fist yanked his knuckled appendage from the wood, leaving behind a fist shaped indent in the fissure. Red smeared the wood and the surface of his fist, but Kai Rhee did not seem to notice. His gaze was unmoving, unblinking and wide with a spine chilling intensity as it pinned the shorter boy to his spot.
The silence was deafening and seemingly impervious to all except for one emboldened man with blazing green eyes. Eren came forth, cutting the tension with his physical presence, much to Connie's relief.
"Kai! What the fuck is up with you?!" Eren's glare narrowed on the crimson dripping from Kai's hand and frowned deeper. "Shit, you're bleeding-"
"It was either me or him." The Rhee's calm indifference silenced him. Connie blinked, thinking through the statement before he blanched further into a sickly pallor.
"Hey, Kai." Like a saint among savages, Armin came appeared. "Mikasa was looking for you earlier. She said something about a letter."
It was almost magical, how that simple statement pacified the high strung Kai. Eyes now filled with purpose, Kai departed, closing the door with a slam. Eren intended to follow, to interrogate his childhood friend, but a firm but calming hand from Armin stopped him.
"Let him go Eren, Kai just needs some air."
"Mikasa can talk to him."
She was waiting by the lamplight. Though dim and distant, Kai zeroed in on the envelope in her hand and hurried forward. Even if all he wanted was to hear and glean some wisdom and perhaps comfort directly from his Nui, her letters were the only alternative. So, he would take each as though every ink stain was worth a pound of gold.
But before he could get a hold of the precious paper, Mikasa held it away from him. His countenance darkened, and for a moment, Kai felt the feral surge from earlier writhe within him again, hoping to break loose.
But this was Mikasa. Being raised by an elder sister taught him certain manners when it came to ladies, unlike a certain imbecile they knew.
"You need to talk."
"Not you too." He growled. "Did Armin put you up to this?"
"No. I have eyes, Kai. And I know you."
"Then you know I don't like prying."
"They're just worried, you know... I am too. We all are. You haven't been doing so well-"
"I'm not weak, Mikasa, you don't need to look after me. I'm not Eren."
"No, but you're acting as juvenile as him."
There was no malice in the girl's monotonous words, but the insult did its work of silencing him. She pocketed the letter before reaching towards him. If it were Eren or heavens forbid another idiot trainee he didn't know, Kai would have pulled himself away from the physical contact, perhaps even snap considering his foul mood.
Strangely enough, his body overruled his mind and went limp as slender hands grasped his wrist. Mikasa lifted his bloodied hand to the lamplight. With careful fingers, she began to pick and pluck the splinters lodged into the flesh. He stayed still, withholding any knee jerk reaction to the stinging sensation.
There was a moment of silence as Kai regarded the calm girl. She seemed content to remain quiet, patiently tending to his wounds, waiting for him to speak. Her grip on his hand, though her ministrations were gentle, was strong. The vice like grip would not relent unless he satisfy her with an answer. It was the unspoken understanding they shared.
So Kai sighed and with a quiet voice, spoke.
"Most things aren't permanent. That's what I learned as a kid." He turned away from her. "Homes were never the same, neither were places, and even people you think you understand.
Even my parents. My father… He used to be the kind of father every son would want to honor. He told us stories, taught us about the things around us, protected us, and he the way he looked at my mother… It was like she was the only and greatest thing that mattered. It seemed perfect.
I was so proud to be his son. I wanted to be like him." Under the veil of raven hair, a storm hued glance drank the sight of his wistful expression.
"Used to?" She asked.
"Then mother died. And it was like a switch. Father changed, and he became a stranger to us. He still taught us certain things" His countenance dimmed. "And he still protected us, but it felt… cold.
Then one day he left. After all that talk and teaching about family honor and blood being important, he just left." He let out a bitter laugh. "He said it was for honor, but I couldn't see it. I still can't see it."
"…Maybe it's because there wasn't any honor in what he did." She suggested, pulling out her handkerchief.
"Mikasa, you don't need to-"
"Hold still." If he wouldn't heed her words, he would heed the grip on his wrist. The girl's hand was like a steel shackle. She began wrapping his, now splinter free, bloodied fist.
"And Yuna? Did she change?" She asked. Whether it was out of curiosity or to distract him, he didn't know; he humored her regardless.
"Didn't you when your parents died?" There was no bite in his words. His shoulders now free of tension, Kai merely watched her work with a tired gaze. "She's been the closest thing to permanent in my life… Did you know she could sing?"
Mikasa paused at that new piece of information. She had seen and heard Yuna hum, and even on an occasion, dance and pull a red-faced Kai and Eren into it, but sing?
"Yuna sings…At least she used to. A few weeks after father left, I would wake up from nightmares about his departure. Nightmares about everything that happened before Dr. Yeager found us. I would wake up afraid that if I closed my eyes, she would leave to." His gut felt cold at the thought. She gave his wrist a squeeze to soothe him from the disturbing thought.
"Yuna used to sing songs mother taught her, and she'd sing them till I grow calm. She doesn't do it anymore. I can't remember the last time she did."
Mikasa couldn't recall hearing Yuna sing. Even at night. Whenever they woke from nightmares about Shiganshina, the eldest girl usually brewed herbal tea to ease their nerves.
"You must miss her."
Kai said nothing, so she pressed on.
"I miss her too. We all do. You're not alone Kai, not anymore. Eren won't let that happen to you."
At her utterance of Eren's name, Kai rolled his eyes and pulled his bandaged hand away from her loosened grip.
"Your conversations always come back to Eren, somehow. Way to ruin our heart to heart, Mikasa."
Mikasa ignored his disgruntled remark. "Eren is hot-tempered, but it's because he cares. He cares about you a lot. He just doesn't understand. It makes him upset."
"Well if he wants to learn some comprehension skills, he needs to get his head out of his-" He should have seen the flick coming, but the girl was uncannily fast when she wanted to be. Stars marred his vision as he rubbed his throbbing forehead.
"Ow, fuck Mikasa is your finger made of metal?"
"You don't make it easy for him." She said, cutting him off abruptly. The girl then pulled the letter out of her pocket and continued. "Or for anyone. Remember the rules. Don't read the parts meant for the rest of us."
"Yeah yeah.." He tore through the envelope and pulled out the paper and the dried clover that came with it. It became the norm for Yuna to send pressed plants she picked from her environment.
I'll be in the Survey Corps by the time you read this. Probably in the middle of preparing for my first expedition. After receiving Mikasa's notice, I thought a lot about you and how you will be in the training grounds. No doubt, you'll be a good trainee, but I fear you'll be a bit lacking in the social department. The new lodging might give you a headache, or maybe even nightmares.
His sister knew him far too well.
I can nag all day and take up letter space lecturing you about the right way to go about your life as a trainee, but no. So I'll just say this.
Kai, you've always been determined to guard your heart well. But don't let that stop you from finding more people to care about, and more importantly, don't let it stop you from caring about the people close to you.
I'm talking about your imbecile, Mikasa, and Armin. When you first started to join them on their little escapades, did you know that I was jealous? I was very happy for you, but I was also jealous. I remember being your age and wanting friends of my own to share books and run around town with.
You are blessed with good friends, Kai. Don't let that blessing go to waste.
And those three are blessed to have you too. You're steadfast, loyal, and strong.
Abboji and Ommoni taught us that family comes first.
Kai, in the time that I am not with you, I want you to think of those three as your family.
As for me, I'm not exactly sure how I'll fit with these soldiers. I do have some people I can consider friends in my 101th division that joined the Survey Corps. Iris Potter is with me, as well as Arne Osmont and Benjamin Grant. I was surprised by Iris. Someone of her background should go into the Military Police, but I guess that's why she decided against it. She doesn't seem to like following the conventional path. Honestly, I'm glad though. More than they'll ever know. It's new but a comforting feeling to know that there are people with me entering a similar life.
Do not fret about me, and just work hard, stand tall, and have courage little brother.
I'll be waiting for you. All of you.
Always, Yuna Rhee
I'm predicting you'll come in... second to Mikasa. Let's face it, little brother, Mikasa is on another league. Don't feel too bad though. Us ladies are just naturally superior
He snorted at the last statement, but his amusement sobered quickly.
"Mikasa… Eren's problem. Do you think he'll overcome it?" He wasn't sure how Yuna would react if she heard of their dilemma. Would she be as puzzled about it as he was, or would she simply take it in pragmatic sobriety?
"How can you be so sure?" Mikasa wasn't an idealist. Yet, she spoke with utmost certainty, it was perplexing
"Because it's Eren, and he has us."
Armin stepped over a piece of stone. The hike with Reiner and Bertolt was good for them, despite Eren being someone who could not let go of troubles easily. At least now, in the quiet peace of the woods, Eren's temper cooled enough for his friend to listen to him.
"I don't know how Yuna did it." Eren snarled, dislodging a rock from the dirt with a hard kick. "Hard to believe that dick is even related to her."
"Who is Yuna?" Reiner and Bertolt had been keeping quiet vigil in the front, content to let Eren have his moment of ire and confide with his friend while they led them through the mountain. Until their curious ears gleaned a bit of interesting information.
"Kai's older sister. She's a part of the Survey Corps." He clarified before turning to Eren, exasperated. "And they're each other's family. Of course they're different when their with each other and when they're apart."
"Two-faced jack ass-"
"Eren, you know how Kai is. He doesn't open up to people easily." When they first met Kai, he had been evasive about personal questions and did his best to stick to his sister until Yuna all but pushed him to spend more time with them. Even then, the boy had only shared tidbits of information about his past.
"Hard to believe there's that much water that's salty."
Kai cast him a sideways glance before he drawled, leaning against the fence. "It's not if you consider the science of it. Rocks have salt. Rain water falls on rocks and carries the salt to the sea. Over time, that salt would collect, wouldn't it?"
"You sound like you know a lot about the sea."
"...My father did." There was that look again. Behind the cool indifference, there was pain buried in those russet orbs. "He said his predecessors used to travel across it."
"That sounds amazing. Maybe we could do that someday!"
"Pft, you guys can't even swim in a puddle."
But Kai's insult couldn't discourage his excitement. He learned not to take his caustic remarks to heart."Can you teach us on the lake?"
"…I guess." Kai shifted uneasily, and his skin seemed to darken with a red hue. "but I'm a terrible teacher. Don't blame me if you guys drown."
He was pulled from his thoughts when he stumbled over a root. Luckily, he gained his footing before they could assist him, saving his dignity.
"Kai never talked about it in detail, but before Shiganshina fell, he must have suffered a lot." Pensive blue gazed into the darkness. "Their father left them. He didn't die or anything. He just left them one day to fend for themselves. It wasn't like he was desperate or forced to. He just chose to leave."
His grandfather departed unwillingly, because the government did not see him as a beloved grandfather but as a waste of space. Carla Yeager was torn away from her children and eaten. Mikasa's were murdered by terrible people. There had been no free will for their guardians despite the love they bore for them.
He had pressed Kai once and regretted it when the boy's face twisted into an ugly scowl.
"No. We weren't destitute. We weren't in trouble. He wasn't needed by the people. He just left, and he never looked back."
"But how can you be so sure he didn't love you guys-"
"He left on her birthday. He could have left on any other fucking day, but he left on her birthday. So tell me, Arlert, what does that say? What does that say about what we, his flesh and blood, were worth to him?"
He frowned, saddened in his empathy, a feeling that Eren was surely but slowly starting to share.
"The amount of hurt they must have felt... I think it makes it hard for Kai to trust or rely on anyone aside from Yuna. She's always been with him."
"And we haven't?" Eren grumbled. Haven't they suffered together? After Yuna left, the amount of shit they had to put up with Kai moping around everywhere. He's been on the receiving end of Mikasa's punches more than he could count for pushing Kai's buttons.
"I think he trusts us or is trying to in his own way. But he's just afraid of being seen as a burden."
"You sound so sure, but speak for yourself, Armin. He trusts Mikasa and you." Never him. It stung more than Eren liked to admit.
Armin looked exasperated. "Eren, if Kai truly didn't care about you, he'd be indifferent to you." He pressed on. "He's indifferent to almost everyone here. Even Krista, and she's the nicest person there is! Didn't even spare her a glance when she offered him tea."
"And yet the girls flock to that pretty boy..." Reiner mumbled in envy. "I don't get it."
"Not all the girls." Bertolt consoled.
"Even Annie was checking him out."
"What?!" Now the lanky teen looked as though he needed consoling.
Why everyone was so interested in the imbecile's aptitude test, Kai wouldn't know. Didn't they have something better to do?
There was a crowd gathered around them, focused on the brunet trainee standing in the simulation machine like a performer on a stage. Mikasa stood beside Kai, determined and hopeful under the impassivity of her visage. The burly blond stood near the lever, ready to raise Eren.
At first, Kai thought it was a hyperbolic situation, but then Instructor Shadis gave the command, he found himself holding his breath.
Eren's posture and muscle tension should have put his balance where it needed to be-and it did. Albeit it was shakier than what they would have hoped for, but it worked.
Yeager was going to pass.
...Then, just like before, it was as though the cosmos wished to prove Kai wrong.
Eren began to teeter, and Kai almost shared the feeling twisting on Eren's wide eyed face.
Almost, but not quite, because his eyes fell upon Eren's left tether. It was like a mental switch clicked and kick-started the cogwheels in his mind, shedding clarity on his confusion.
Kai was taught to be observant. While he may not be as capable as Yuna was of deducing the motives, the behavior, and the mentality of people, Kai prided himself in deducing the physical: the time of the day depending on the shadows, the possibility of a stormy forecast by the speed and texture of the wind,
and the odd weight distribution in a military harness indicating a possible flaw.
It was a highly plausible hypothesis, that the fault (for once) did not lie in the imbecile. There was only one way to be sure.
Kai would never admit that his motivation behind stepping forward had been for the sake of helping Yeager pursue his dream of being a soldier. He would say that it was because he hated being blatantly wrong, hated unknown variables that led to unanswered questions.
Shadis turned to the foreign looking trainee. "What is it, boy?"
"Permission to switch belts with Yeager, sir?"
The sunken glare bore into him with newfound intensity, but Kai Rhee did not waver. No matter the whispers, the curious glances, and the confusion in the dangling imbecile's eyes, if push came to shove and he had to challenge Shadis's authority to prove his hypothesis, Kai would do it.
And the instructor seemed to realize it as well.
"Very well. Braun, lower Yeager. Yeager, switch belts with Rhee!"
When Kai came forward for the exchange, Eren whispered. "What are you doing?"
"You can thank me later, you halfwitted ape." He snatched Eren's belt and all but shoved his own into Eren's fumbling grasp, silencing the boy's impending retort. "You have a promise to keep." To Mikasa, to Armin, to his sister, and to him...
It was hard to resist relishing his victory, so Kai opted to curve his lips into a smug smirk. Arms folded, faulty belt in his grasp, he watched as Eren grinned in triumph with his head held high, balanced and upright. After a long pause, when Shadis turned to him, he wordlessly handed the belt to the former.
With one sharp look, Shadis came to the same conclusion. "Faulty fixtures.… Though this is the first time I've seen it. It'll require us to double check our equipment."
Murmurs of amazement swept through the crowd. Staying balanced, even for a bit, on faulty equipment, when balancing on normal equipment was already a challenge…that was an impressive feat.
"Hey…?" The crowd had dispersed by the Intrusctor's command, leaving Eren a private moment to celebrate with his friends.
He looked at the tanned teen, who was currently buckling his belt back into place. Kai said nothing, but he gave him a sideways glance as he adjusted the straps.
"Thanks.." He rubbed his neck. "And uh..."
"The alternative was to have you mope around like a lost dog." Kai mocked, interrupting whatever he was trying to say but to his surprise, Eren didn't take the bait.
Those green eyes were contemplative as they regarded him. For some reason, it was starting to annoy him. But when did Eren not annoy him?
Kai raised a challenging brow and crossed his arms.
Eren's ears then flushed pink. He scratched his head and looked away- only for Armin and Mikasa to give him a pointed look. Now that made Kai wonder what could possibly-
"Are we good?"
Kai blinked. For a moment he debated on turning tail and walking away before Yeager's awkwardness would spread to him like the plague.
But then a certain female's intense, grey eyes targeted him, promising him disciplinary pain if he did not participate.
He cleared his throat, "... Yeah... We're good."
Both young men sighed, feeling a burden life from their shoulders. Armin grinned, and Mikasa simply looked tranquil. They gathered together in stride and headed for the mess hall in unison.
"So how did you know?" Lax but curious, Eren glanced at him.
Russet eyes rolled, but there was a glow of mirth that reminded them of the eldest Rhee.
"Honestly? You're too stubborn to fail from something as easy as that. I expected you to drop out for more academic reasons."
"You asked, imbecile."
I'll be honest. It's been difficult. It's hard to be around this many people. Most of them come from such normal backgrounds, it's mundane and so simple-minded. There's a kid named Marco whose greatest goal in graduating is to serve the King as a Military Police officer. I choked on my water hearing this. (Actually, I choked because Mikasa kicked my shin and prevented me from telling the sugar spun idiot what I thought about his goal). I think she bruised my bone.
My corps is filled with weird people:
a blockheaded girl obsessed with food (we call her potato girl. I don't know her real name, I can't be bothered to know.)
a life sized porcelain doll who looks like she should be from the inner city. People call her a goddess. I don't trust her. Her smiles seem fake.
Some horse faced piece of shit who pisses Eren off. He's Marco, the king-loving pussy's friend.
Connor (or was it Connie, who gives a crap) Springer. He looks and acts like a dimwitted country bumpkin.
A short blonde who looks like somebody killed her cat, and she's plotting vengeance.
Tall but spineless, Bertolt Hoover.
Reiner Braun the brawny. I'm surprised the gear can even hold his weight. The man is as thick as a prized ox.
Ymir. She's like the porcelain doll's guard dog. She slacks off and lags behind the girl. I'm not sure why. She has potential.
The list can go on and on, but I have better things to write about than about random people. You probably want me to have one or two friends outside of the others. I'll try to be civil, but I won't promise anything. It took me a lot of self-control not to break the country bumpkin's stupid face.
Don't worry about me. Worry about your expedition, and don't expect me to not worry about you. The worst thing I have to deal with is strangers meddling into my business. You're going to be facing off titans.
I don't doubt you'll handle yourself well, but you know me and absolutes. So if push comes to shove, make sure you prioritize living. For instance, if it came down to saving some weird lisping, cravat wearing idiot (was his name Oboe? Oreo? Fuck if I know) from the Survey Corps or saving yourself, let the guy get eaten.
I wish you were here. Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if we had the luxury some of these people had. Sons and daughters of average people living average lives.
Then again, if we lived like them, you might have been married by now. That's disturbing to think about, so nevermind that thought.
Write back soon,
P.S. I know it's puberty and hormones, but these girls are creeping me out with their looking and sighing and giggling. I don't get it. You and Mikasa aren't like that at all. How do I get them to leave me alone???
Initially, I pictured Kai purely as Yuna's foil. But as I started to write him out, he evolved into something else. He bears some parallel with Yuna due to her being his primary role model and parental figure in life, but as I continue writing some excerpts of his perspective, I'm hoping he grows into his own person. As of now, he sort of turned out tsundere. Ah well.
Part of his character was inspired from personal experience. I've come across a lot of people living lives under broken father figures. It does things to you. His laughably ignorant response to girls attracted to him has some Uchiha Sasuke vibes, but it's actually how an acquaintance of mine responded to his popularity. Poor kid. He had that swimmer body, surfer hair, killer smile, etc. (good kid, not an asshole like Kai), and he'd be the gossip of the female population at school.
If only they knew how hopelessly socially awkward he was. Pretty sure he didn't swing that way either.
Kai's necklace looks like this:
Man, my drawing is hella rusty. References, references, references.
As for Kai's overall appearance. It took me a while to find characters that fit my mental image of him, but I guess the closest resemblance would be Noatak/younger-Amon from Legend of Korra (the Avatar franchise has fantastic Asian characters) or a much lighter skinned Arjuna from Fate Grand Order.
Hope you guys enjoyed getting to know Kai. Comments are really encouraging :) thank you guys. I'll try replying sometime soon. (I'm a bumbling, shy red panda, my good folks. I'm used to letting my story do my talking)
I'm on a roll. Hope I don't stop now or God forbid stumble over a gorge or something.