Eren clutched the papers tightly in his hand, his eyes roving over his father’s neat handwriting, the witness signatures, the dates. . .
He trembled with rage, the rage that was undoubtedly the reason why his father filled the documents in the first place.
How ironic, Armin would say, about this last fight Eren got into, what was probably when he pushed his father over the edge. The point of no return, Mikasa would quip humorlessly.
Eren still saw Thomas’ face swimming in his vision, his voice pounding in his ears.
“Historia’s not here; guess her parents finally found out she’s a fag and had her Unwound.”
But his look of shock at Eren’s fist in his jaw was nothing compared to the dread, the fear, that Thomas was right and Historia was off to be Unwound, and maybe just because she had a girlfriend. And that itself hit a little too close to home.
Mikasa held him back, but only just, and the scuffle lasted long enough to attract the attention of a teacher; it didn’t help that Thomas’ nose was bleeding profusely.
And now Eren was faced with the Unwind documents bearing his father’s signature, and the utter unfairness of everything. He gripped the top of the pages, tempted to tear them apart, but the Juvie cops that would be coming for him in just a few days would have their own copies. It was a contract, sure, but everything about Unwinding was thorough; what good would shredding a few sheets of paper do?
He did it anyway, watching the pits of white flutter to the ground like snow, heart pushing adrenaline through his body, breathing heavily. If only his mother was still alive; she might’ve been able to stop him. . .
His father opened the door to the study, his bespectacled eyes widening at the sight of the torn-up documents. “Eren?” he said, voice calm. “What are you doing in here?”
“You’re having me Unwound?” Eren demanded, throwing all caution to the wind. Not that he was one for caution anyway.
His father’s jaw slackened, astonished. “How did you find out?” he wondered.
His tone was still so level, so even, despite Eren’s anger, and that in itself irked him even more. He wanted his father to yell back, to list all the things he’d done ‘wrong’ in his teenage years, to confront him with the reasons he was being Unwound.
But that was the thing about Unwinding: parents didn’t need a reason, least of all a good one.
In two weeks, the Juvie cops would be coming for Eren, and in two weeks, he needed to be gone.
He only told Armin, who looked at him with wide eyes, and Mikasa, whose face revealed nothing.
“I’m kicking AWOL,” he announced to them easily, glaring challengingly between the two of them, expecting one of them to protest.
Neither did, and he was so relieved that he almost burst into tears, even as they took turns embracing him, Armin in his loose but no less affectionate arms and Mikasa in a breathtakingly tight, ‘love hurts’ hug.
“You be careful,” she muttered into his ear before letting go.
“Yeah,” he agreed, although he doubted he’d be able to keep such a promise.
“Go before the Juvie cops come for you,” Armin advised, his blue eyes swimming with tears.
“Y-yeah,” Eren said, a little shakily as they once more wrapped him in their arms, this time together. He felt Mikasa kiss his forehead and Armin rub his back while he returned their affection, and he thought, Tonight. It had to be tonight, and dread curled in his gut when he considered that he would never see his best friends again.
What were the odds that he’d escape the cops’ notice until he turned eighteen, when he could no longer be Unwound? There were only rumors of Unwinds going AWOL, and no survival stories to speak of at all.
Eren was still determined to make it.
At home, he upended his backpack, dumping textbooks, notebooks, and pencils onto his bed. He replaced them with an extra pair of jeans, two pairs of boxers, two t-shirts, his hoodie, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. He figured that hygiene was still important even if he was on the run.
As a final touch, Eren grabbed his now-irrelevant algebra notebook and tore out a sheet of paper. He gripped a pen in hand and addressed an angry letter to his father.
Armin would berate him for making it obvious that he was kicking AWOL, but Eren didn’t care; his father would be finding out soon anyway.
Slipping out of his single-story house was easy; making his way out of Shiganshina was not.
With barely a plan in mind, Eren walked out of his neighborhood, backpack over his shoulder, hoping that he looked like a normal kid coming home late from school. He checked his watch every so often, conscious of the eight o’clock enforced curfew, until he arrived at the main highway that passed on the outskirts of the city.
On a whim, he turned south, away from Shiganshina, away from everything he’d ever known. He ignored the chill of fear, the dread, that he could still be caught.
His freedom was in contention much too soon.
Eren spotted the Juvie cop before the Juvie cop spotted Eren. He was just leaning against the hood of his stupid marked car, hands in his pockets, cigarette between his lips.
Eren drifted away from the highway, into the shadows of the bordering trees. He continued to follow his path though, eyes peeled towards the Juvie cop just ahead of him. And as he drew level with the cop, his attention was so focused on the highway to his left that he didn’t notice the discarded plastic bottle under his foot until he stepped on it.
“Shit,” he hissed, alerted at the harsh crumbling sound.
“Hey, who’s there?” the Juvie cop shouted from the highway.
Eren froze, his breathing shallow as the cop shined a flashlight at the trees. What now what now what now.
He crept backwards, stepping carefully around fallen leaves (fuck why’s it October) and twigs, away from the highway, conscious of the beam of the Juvie’s flashlight inching closer.
It swung over him, and then Eren was blind.
“Freeze!” the cop commanded.
Instead, Eren took off, diagonally back towards the highway and away from the Juvie, hoping hoping hoping that he could lose him in the confusion of post-rush hour traffic.
The Juvie cop was chasing Eren down the highway when he spotted the black BMW parked on the shoulder, a man standing just outside the driver’s side talking angrily into a phone.
Please don’t be car troubles, Eren thought as he sprinted in that direction. He panted heavily, backpack bouncing against his spine as he ran. He was slowing down, energy draining, and the car was still several yards ahead.
“Gotcha,” said a triumphant voice behind him, and Eren was jerked backwards when the cop grabbed his bag.
“Shit,” he gasped as the Juvie tugged him closer. Eren thrashed around, pulling his arms out of the straps on his backpack, but the Juvie already had a firm grip on his left arm.
“Thought you could get away, huh?” he demanded, leering at Eren.
He was bigger than him, too big for any teenager but Mikasa to knock down, but Eren still swung his right fist at his jaw.
The cop dropped the bag and let go of Eren in shock, rubbing at the red mark on his face. “You fucking piece of shit,” he grumbled.
Eren started to back away from him, bracing himself to make a run for it, until he saw the Juvie cop’s hand go for his gun holster.
Eren leapt forward and tackled the cop to the ground right as he pulled the tranq gun from his belt. They grappled for it for a minute, the cop struggling to maintain his flimsy grip while Eren attempted to wrestle it away.
Eren was faster.
He grabbed the gun and quickly moved out of the Juvie cop’s reach, standing up and pointing the gun at him. He was glad that his grip was firm, that his hands didn’t tremble.
The cop laughed. “I bet you don’t know where the safety is.”
Eren glared at him and fingered along the gun until he found a switch, clicking it out of place.
All humor left the cop’s face. “You wouldn’t fucking dare,” he growled, his eyes rich with venom.
Eren felt his lips twist into a snarl. “Watch me,” he said, and pulled the trigger.
The recoil barely shocked him as the gun fired, the dart plunging into the cop’s belly. He continued to glare up at Eren, but he picked up his bag, sprinting away before his assailant was fully unconscious.
He was glad to see that the frustrated BMW driver was still there.
Eren appeared in front of him. “Hey, can I borrow your car?” he demanded.
The driver spluttered, breaking off midway through whatever sentence he was uttering, and gaped at him, hazel eyes wide with disbelief.
Eren didn’t panic and raised the tranq gun and shot him in the chest. Before he even slumped to the ground, he dropped the gun and said, “’Kay, thanks.” He lurched through the door without so much as another word. He slammed the door shut, knowing he had moments, and tossed his bag into the passenger seat.
“What the fuck,” a shocked voice grumbled.
Eren ignored it and, heart pounding as he turned the key in the ignition, exhaled in relief as the engine rumbled into life. He shifted gears into drive and floored it onto the highway.
“Okay, what the fuck,” the voice repeated.
Eren turned his head to see a teenage boy, with untidy dirty blonde hair, a sharp, pointy nose, and piercing hazel eyes, glaring at him. He grinned when he noticed he was dressed in white.
“Well, it looks like I rescued a tithe,” he remarked.
“No, it looks like you fucking carjacked my dad’s car,” the tithe retorted, scowling.
“Details,” Eren said, rolling his eyes. He could already feel the adrenaline draining from his system as he passed a slow minivan.
“You have extra clothes in here?” the tithe then asked.
“Huh?” He glanced over at his unexpected passenger to see him holding up his backpack. “What, why?”
“Because, believe it or not, I’m going to make the best of this and not get Unwound,” the tithe replied matter-of-factly. “And it would be nice if I didn’t look like a fucking tithe.”
“R-right,” Eren said, nodding.
“And, uh, it looks like we’re about the same size,” he added, tone lame.
“Sure, I have extra clothes in there,” Eren told him. “Knock yourself out.”
“Like you knocked out my dad and that Juvie cop?”
Eren chuckled. “No, not like that.”
They fell silent, Eren focused on night-driving and the tithe struggling to undress and dress without taking off his seatbelt. Eren couldn’t help his eyes wandering over to him in curiosity, biting his lip when he saw a lean torso and pink nipples. He shook his head firmly and fixed his gaze on the road ahead.
“I’m Eren,” he said once the tithe was settled in his seat again.
He continued straightening the shirt he’d put on, smoothing the wrinkles out of the front with his hand. “Jean,” he said, glancing at Eren. “We need to ditch this car.”
“‘We’?” Eren shot him a dubious look; his sparse plans hadn’t included a tithe tagging along, no matter how attractive he was.
“Yeah, we,” Jean repeated pointedly. “Neither of us wants to get Unwound, and because you stole a car that I happened to be in doesn’t mean you get to fucking ditch me to go off being AWOL on your own.”
Eren gritted his teeth. “Why?” he said. “Wouldn’t it be easier if we split?”
Jean seemed to contemplate it for a minute, but then he replied, “No. If we work together, it’ll be mutually assured survival, right?”
“Come on, I’m already wearing your clothes,” Jean pointed out with a hint of humor.
Eren felt heat flaring on his face. “Fine,” he said, sighing. “What do we do after we ditch the car?”
“We lose ourselves in a crowd,” Jean replied easily. “Stay out of sight during school hours, if possible. If you’re AWOL, didn’t you have a plan of your own?”
Eren shot him a glare and retorted defensively, “Plans change when Juvie cops start chasing you down state highways.”
“So that’s a no. . .”
Eren didn’t bother to respond, focused on tailgating a truck. He shot a glance over his shoulder, and, when he saw the next few lanes were clear, swerved across them to the inside of the highway.
“Fucking shit,” Jean said, clutching his armrest as Eren floored the gas pedal. “You’re a shitty driver.”
“Hey, I only have a learner’s permit,” Eren retorted, switching lanes to pass a car going much too slow. When a car honked at him for cutting them off, he glared at the road ahead.
“If you don’t quit with the suicidal shit, we’re gonna get pulled over by the real cops.”
“Maybe I’d rather die than be Unwound,” Eren grumbled, gripping the steering wheel tightly.
“For fuck’s sake. . .” Jean muttered under his breath. “If you’re here, I don’t know which I’d rather do.”
They ditched the car around midnight, abandoning it just in front of the exit and walking into the small town there.
Eren yawned widely as he shifted his backpack, glancing at Jean, who still seemed to be wide awake. “So, rich boy,” he asked, “got any money for coffee?”
Jean shot him a glare and shook his head. “What does an Unwind need with money?”
Eren rolled his eyes but silently conceded that he had a point. Instead, he rifled through his bag and pulled out his wallet. “I have my life savings in here,” he said. By ‘life savings’, he really meant fifteen years’ accumulation of birthday and holiday money.
“Can you spare for just coffee?” Jean said skeptically.
“I don’t think we should sleep tonight,” Eren told him. “Besides, where would we sleep?”
Jean shrugged, scowling as he kicked a rock off of the sidewalk.
Eren detoured to a 7-Eleven, a suspicious-looking Jean tracing his footsteps. As he glanced at the undoubtedly old coffee in their pots, Jean commented, “There’s probably a curfew here.”
“So we’re fucking breaking a law,” he replied irritably. “If that cashier gets suspicious of two teenagers, one of whom has, like, four hundred bucks on him, being out at midnight, he’ll call the fucking police.”
Eren grabbed a cup and poured it full of the strongest roast. “Okay, so what do you suggest?” he wondered, looking sideways at Jean.
“J-just give me your wallet,” he said, holding out his hand. “I look older than you, so maybe I can pass for eighteen.”
“Yeah, thanks to your fucking horseface,” Eren grumbled, but he passed his wallet to Jean and ignored the affronted look that he threw at him. Then, struck by inspiration, he said, “Hey, wanna buy me a pack of cigarettes?”
“What the fuck? Why?” Jean demanded, perplexed.
“To trash my lungs,” Eren explained easily. “What if we get caught?” Shame at his own words pricked at his stomach; he was determined not to get caught. “Then the assholes get less viable organs.”
Jean fixed him with an incredulous gaze. “That’s really fucking stupid, you know that? What if the cashier asks for an I.D.?”
Eren rolled his eyes. “I was just joking,” he cajoled. “Damn.”
Jean grimaced, then said, “Look, between the two of us, you’re the least likely to get caught.”
“Why do you say that?” Eren wondered, raising an eyebrow.
“I’m a tithe, and my parents always keep their promises.” His tone sounded ominous, even as he added, “Besides, I can already tell you’re the kind of idiot that actually believes he won’t get caught.”
“Asshole,” Eren muttered, and then sipped at his lukewarm coffee and grimaced at the bitter taste; he set it down and set about adding several creamers and three packets of sugar. When he was finished, he tried it again, relieved that it was more tolerable, although still fairly revolting.
Jean watched him with a bemused expression on his face, and when Eren offered him a sip, it turned to disgust. “The fuck do I want with your coffee?”
“Then make your own fucking coffee,” Eren retorted.
“I’m fine,” Jean said, shrugging.
“Suit yourself,” Eren said, passing Jean the cup and making his way outside the convenience store.
He loitered outside for a few minutes, wondering if his father had found the note yet, if Mikasa and Armin were aware that he’d run yet. . . But no, they wouldn’t know until they didn’t see him at school.
Thomas would probably say it served him right, the defender of fags and Unwinds, rejects of society.
Eren shook away the sudden anger when he spotted Jean emerging from the 7-Eleven. He handed him the coffee and stuffed the change from the purchase into his wallet.
He gulped down a mouthful, then turned to Jean, holding out his hand to receive his wallet.
When Jean continued to stare at something inside it, Eren waved his hand impatiently. “Hey, horseface, can I have my wallet back?”
Jean scowled at him, then flipped the wallet around so that Eren could see whatever he was looking at. “Who’s this?” he asked, tapping a photo of Eren, Armin, and Mikasa.
“That’s my friend Mikasa,” Eren replied, suddenly overcome by a surge of anger.
“Oh,” Jean said, glancing once more at the photo. As he returned the wallet to Eren, he muttered, “She’s hot.”
Eren glowered at him but didn’t comment as he stuffed his wallet into his backpack. He continued to down his coffee, as quickly as he could so that the taste wouldn’t linger on his tongue; he lamented not buying a bottle of water at the 7-Eleven as well.
He and Jean wandered into a decrepit-looking park, and Eren glanced over at him, taking in the way his eyes had started to droop. He sighed and suggested, “We should rest till morning. If someone looks out their window, we’d probably seem suspicious.”
“You finally learned to think, huh?” Jean commented, tone tired.
“Yeah, that’s what it is,” Eren grumbled, crossing the trash-strewn lawn to the jungle gym. His feet sank uncomfortably into the sand, reminding him of the beach trip with Armin and Mikasa just last summer, and plopped down onto the sand under the slide.
Jean sat beside him and leaned against the play set. Here, they were reasonably sheltered from any late-night passersby, so Eren offered him his backpack.
Jean shook his head, shoulders slumping as he pinched his eyes shut.
“So what’s it like, being a tithe?” Eren wondered. He drained the rest of his coffee and set the cup aside, making a mental note to toss it in a trash can in the morning; the park didn’t need any more litter.
“I don’t know,” Jean mumbled. “What’s it like being a regular Unwind?”
Eren blinked at him, confused. “I don’t understand. . .”
“It fucking sucks, right?” Jean said, hazel irises peeking from between pale eyelids. “I mean, other tithes are, well, they’re all brainwashed,” he continued. “They think they’re doing something great, because their parents have told them that since they were kids.”
“So why are you different?” Eren leaned towards Jean, curious.
“Wasn’t fucking supposed to be a tithe,” Jean told him. He slung an arm over his face.
“O-oh?” Eren said. He was perplexed again; he’d never met a tithe before, but the concept still disgusted him, that parents would promise that their child, from birth, would one day be Unwound. “Why didn’t you fight it? Argue?”
“Why didn’t you?” Jean retorted, lifting his arm and glaring at Eren.
“I did,” Eren said, crossing his arms. “I ran off, didn’t I?”
“Well, I couldn’t even do that. I was gonna fucking accept my fate, till you came along. Thanks for that,” he commented huffily.
Eren couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not, so he didn’t reply except to say, “You shouldn’t have to accept a fate you don’t like.”
“Yeah, but that’s easier said than done,” Jean told him. “You’re the suicidal bastard that shot a fucking Juvie cop with his own tranq gun.”
“You’re the tithe that wasn’t brainwashed,” Eren shot back, glaring at Jean.
Jean glared back, his arm hanging limply at his side, but then his gaze lost some of its heat. “How old are you?”
Eren raised an eyebrow. “Fifteen. Why? How old are you?”
“Same,” Jean said, shrugging. “And just curious. I mean, I guess we just need to survive on the run till our eighteenth birthdays, huh? Then they can’t fucking Unwind us.”
Eren counted on his fingers, stomach dropping at the realization that he had over two years. “My birthday’s not till fucking March,” he said, quietly.
“April,” Jean replied. “You’ve got it a bit better.”
Eren shrugged. “Maybe we’ll find somewhere safe soon, so we don’t have to keep running.”
Jean scoffed, “Yeah fucking right.”