"You aren't even my real family, so shut the hell up!"
Eren regretted the words as soon as he said them. He looked around the room, at the faces of his adoptive family. All three were silent and frozen in shock. His dads were both clearly upset, angry even, but the look of utter gut-wrenching betrayal on his sister Mikasa's face was the worst by a mile.
"I'm gonna take a walk," Eren said quickly, and turned so his family couldn't see him cry. Before they could protest, he threw open the front door and slammed it behind him. He could hear the sound of Mikasa shouting his name, but he blocked it out.
The autumn night air was crisp and cool. Eren regretted not bringing a jacket - or his phone, for that matter - but he didn't want to go back into the house and deal with his family. He didn't know where he was going, exactly, just letting his legs take him where they willed. Anywhere was good, so long as it wasn't there.
Eren eventually came to a stop outside of the old farmhouse where his best friend Armin lived. It was just out of town, on a big plot of farmland. He hadn't realised he'd walked this far.
Eren considered going inside. Armin's stepmother was used to him coming over all the time, and would probably let him stay over for the night. He walked up to the front door and knocked. There was a light on inside, which relieved Eren.
The door opened, and Eren was greeted by Armin's twin sister Historia.
"Hey, Eren, long time no see!" She said with her usual cheerful disposition. "We're just finishing up dinner, want to come in?"
Eren nodded. Historia caught on to his upset state. "You go up to Armin's room, I'll tell him you're here." She paused. "And the old lady, too. Guess I should tell her... If you're here... Cause it's her house and all... Just come in."
Eren walked in, past the kitchen and straight upstairs to Armin's room. He opened the door and sat down on the bed. He looked out the window at the farmland. In the distance, a dog barked. Outside was still, aside from a faint breeze gently blowing the corn. The light from an aeroplane blinked across the clear sky.
He turned around to the door, to see Armin come into the room in a hurry.
"Eren, what's wrong?" He asked, worried. Eren pulled his legs onto the bed. Armin walked over and sat in front of him.
"I got into another argument with my family..." Eren said under his breath.
Armin cringed. "How bad was it?"
Eren looked away, embarrassed.
"Answer me," Armin pushed.
"I basically told them that since we weren't blood related they didn't matter."
Eren shut his eyes and braced himself for Armin's inevitable rant about how what he did was wrong and that family was more than just blood relatives, but it never came. Instead, he felt two arms wrap around his waist. He opened his eyes, and saw that Armin was hugging him. He hugged back.
"How did they take it?" Armin asked, mumbling into his shoulder.
"I don't know." Eren leaned out of the hug. "I left before I could see their reaction."
"Do they know you're here?"
"They'll guess eventually. There's nowhere else I'd go."
That was true. Eren spent a lot of time at Armin's house. So much, in fact, that Mrs Reiss joked about having more of other people's kids living at her house than her own.
Armin sighed. "You need a filter," he said.
Uh oh. Eren knew he wouldn't be able to escape the lecture.
"If you keep saying stupid shit like this, then you're going to lose them. You have to learn to think about what you say before you say it, Eren, or else..." Armin paused. "Else you'll end up like my birth mum."
Eren furrowed his brows. He had never met Armin's biological mother, but he had heard enough from Historia. "I won't-"
"Just stop, okay?" Armin ran his hands through his hair, bunching it into a short ponytail, then letting it fall. "Sorry. You don't want to end up as the one relative who gets smack-talked at every gathering, do you?"
"I guess not," Eren mumbled.
"Good." Armin looked as if he was going to say something else, but froze, remembering something. "I need to show you something," he said quietly, making his way to the door.
"What?" Eren asked, standing up. Armin turned around.
"It's... I need to show it to you for you to understand." He nodded in the direction of downstairs. "Follow me."
Eren followed Armin downstairs. Dinner had finished by now, and the family was either in their rooms or gathered in the lounge. Armin grabbed a torch from the nightstand.
"You going home, Eren?" Mrs Reiss called from the lounge room.
"We're going out to the barn!" Armin called back. He handed Eren a jacket, and shrugged one on himself. Mrs Reiss seemed content with the answer.
"Do you want me to call your parents?" Historia asked as she walked down the hall. She stopped and stared at Armin. "Is that my jacket?"
"Your jacket is way nicer than mine," he replied. Historia looked annoyed, but ignored the jacket.
"He always does this," she told Eren. Armin stuck his tongue out at her.
"Don't call them just yet," Eren said. "Maybe later."
Historia nodded in understanding. "If you need to stay the night, you know where the spare blankets are." She left the hall, back to the lounge room where the rest of the family was.
Armin, with his twin's jacket now fully on, opened the door and stepped out into the night.
Stopping on the front porch to close the door behind him, Armin clicked his torch on. The beam lit the boys' way as they walked to the barn across the Reiss property. In the dark, the trip felt longer. The gravel that crunched beneath their shoes sounded louder. It gave Eren a sense of unease, which was not aided by Armin being mysterious about what he wanted to show him.
After what felt like an eternity, they came to the barn. Armin pushed the door open and flicked the torch around. The beam fell over everything in the space, casting eerie shadows on the walls. Eren shuddered. Armin walked further into the barn and pulled aside a curtain.
"It's a drone?" Eren asked, puzzled. "That you took apart?"
Armin shook his head. "I thought it was a drone as well," he said. He picked the object up and brought it to the worktable in the middle of the barn's entry room. "It crashed over by the pine trees near the property fence a few days ago. At first I thought it was a drone, but when I took it apart-" Armin spread the remains of the 'drone' over the table "-I saw this."
"Was something supposed to happen?"
Armin bit his lip. "Well, it was glowing."
"I'm sorry, it was doing what now?" Eren asked.
"Glowing. And besides, I've taken drones apart before, and this is built way differently from anything I've ever seen before."
"Glowing..." Eren considered. "What do you think, radiation?"
"I don't know," Armin said. "but whatever it was, it's weird."
A sudden sharp pain in the front of his head caused Eren to wince. Armin noticed immediately and rushed to his side.
"What's wrong?" He asked, his voice laced with worry. Eren waved him away.
"It's fine, just a headache," Eren said.
"Are you sure?" Armin frowned. "Look, we have some stuff up in the house that can help-"
"I'm fine!" Eren snapped. "Sorry. I think I just need some space."
Eren stepped out of the barn, taking in deep breaths. His head hurt. He'd been having the headaches for a while now, but this was the worst of them by far. He wanted to cry, wanted to shout, wanted to throw up - it was pain that Eren hadn't felt since his mother died.
He walked away from the barn, into the corn field. Perhaps he might find some peace out here.
But the drone, or whatever it was. There was something about it that Eren had recognised. He wasn't sure why it was so familiar, but a part of him was telling him that it wasn't good news.
The same part of him that was telling him to run when the floodlight beamed down at him.
Eren tried to run. He wanted to run. But he was frozen in spot. Try as he might, he couldn't move. He thought perhaps he was frozen in fear, but wouldn't he still be able to blink?
Eren couldn't move his head, but he did hear the barn door get thrown open and Armin screaming after him. That was the last thing Eren heard before his surroundings became a blinding, sterile white.