His feet clicked on the floor of the shelf, thudding with each hasty step. He could hear a few voices shouting for him to run back, but hell, this was HIS borrowing, and he wasn’t about to let some town guards take it. Sure, he would get scolded when he eventually came back to the training camp, but that was a problem for later.
They were gaining on him. Honestly, he was surprised that the bunch of drunks were willing to venture this far out into the kitchen. Still, Eren had the upper hand.
He skidded to a stop at the end of the long shelf, just a few tall bottles of spices and cooking oil between him and the guards. And he jumped. His hands held fast to the triggers on his gear as he sailed over to the other wall, hooked into a cabinet door.
“Jeager! You better get back here or your S.O. is gonna make you sleep with the rats!” One of them shouted, but Eren ignored him and changed course, landing on the counter all the way across the room. “Goddammit…”
Eren shot them a smug look, which he doubted they could see from so far away, but this was one small victory. As he crossed over to the edge of the sink, he saw they didn’t have any way to chase after him. He had a few moments to himself before the more skilled Borrowers arrived.
He opened the huge folded-up scrap of paper.
Maybe to others, it wasn’t worth risking their ranks for a picture and some words. But to Eren, this was freedom. Laid out in front of him was a massive drawing, of clear sweeping strokes of blue water, planks of woods floating out over it towards immense boats. Though he couldn’t read much, the caption told him this was a “dock” somewhere out near the coast. It was some place like the edge of the land, that dropped out into an expanse of water so vast, even Humans hadn’t sailed through it all.
He’d never see something like that. No one in their little town would, being stuck under floorboards and dirt, walled in with towering bricks. Pictures like this were confiscated, to keep people from wanting to venture out.
He tilted his head up when he saw the officers waving wildly at him, jumping, shouting about something…
Echoing, tremoring footsteps.
Eren scurried to fold up the paper again, but it slipped away from him and fell, slowly, off the edge of the counter. A shadow started to block his view. If I don’t hide somewhere….shit… He scrambled back to try and reach the wall, but he was already too close to the sink. The boy felt his heart skip a couple beats as the cool marble floor suddenly fell away from him. Wind rushed past his hair and ruffled his uniform.
His back thudded against something very, very solid.
“AAAgh—!” Though it was just a moment, Eren immediately clasped a hand over his mouth. He bit against his thumb and held in the scream that was welling in his chest. Dammit….what did I land on? Wherever it was, it was dark and he couldn’t see the Human. Which meant it couldn’t see him.
There was some muffled movement outside of wherever he was. He could just see out of the top of this thing, but after a couple moments he made out what the soft voice was saying.
“…page from my Geography textbook? Hmm, no, it’s from Political Science, that’s right. I wonder who tore it out?” Eren held his breath as the footsteps started to fade, but it was obvious the human was still in the room. “That’s alright, I can tape it back in later.”
Oddly enough, Eren thought whoever it was had a pretty nice voice. It wasn’t as deafening as most humans, shouting at volumes that shouldn’t even be possible. Not that Eren had encountered many humans, but…Still.
Shit he’s coming back over here….Go away already. As nice as the voice sounded, there was no way those huge creatures were capable of being kind. Eren had only heard stories about them capturing borrowers, locking them up in jars or killing them like rodents. If this one catches me, I’ll….I’ll cut its eyes out.
He didn’t have anything except his gear, but he could... His—
Eren quickly examined his equipment. The triggers were fine, but…he had landed too hard on the rest of it. There was a dent in the gas canister. Even if Eren kept hidden and this thing left, he’d have no way out of here. Trapped until he was starved or killed.
“What the…?!” He squeaked, as suddenly his hiding spot tilted and a surge of momentum made his head spin. There wasn’t even a second before he could get his bearings that a torrent of liquid filled the space.
It tasted kind of good, if he wasn’t drowning in it. Quickly, Eren unclasped the gear and yanked off the belts, letting them clink against the bottom of the container as he floated to the top. A few sputtering gasps retched through his lungs as he flailed to keep above the thick, orange fluid. Juice, he recalled.
At this point, he could choose to keep hidden and drown, or shout as loud he could. Despite his raspy voice, he yelled some unintelligible cry for help; his mostly garbled screams kept getting pushed down by sweet, horrible juice. “Kh—HELP!”
It started tilting. Whoever this was, he hadn’t heard.
Eren got a brief look at the human. Clean blonde hair, a fair face, soft and harmless looking, if he were Eren’s size. The picture with the ocean had come from his book, it seemed. Maybe they would’ve gotten along in other cirumstances. His eyes were the most stunning blue that Eren could’ve ever hoped for.
But it was pretty apparent by this point that he’d fallen into a coffee mug, and there was only way for that to go.
Eren frantically tried to keep at the back of the mug, with the current tugging on his legs and streaming past into half-open lips. Hot breath exhaled in slow, timed stops. There was the distinct, distant roar of fluid being swished and swallowed. His startled cry was yanked out of his mouth, body swept down and through the human's gentle-looking mouth.
This isn’t good. This isn’t right. I should get his attention.
Yeah, that human seemed like he could listen. He probably didn’t want to hurt Eren, right?
It was pretty difficult to see, but from what light snuck in from the human’s lips, it was a tight space. Mostly filled with juice of course, but the opening of the….the throat, as Eren could tell, was way too cramped. Bits of light shone off the saliva and teeth and lit up arches of the rose-red sides. There’s no way he’d fit in there without being noticed.
The breath was shoved out of him as the fucking heartless, monstrous human swallowed without a single thought to it.
Painful, cramped, in an even smaller space than the mug had been. Sense came to him all too fast. Indescribable heat, squishing awful sounds, a plush comfort that was lost on him with how tightly it hugged all sides of his body. “H…DON’T…" His limbs struggled against the unnatural lurches that squeezed him. "Don't…u-unde...r..estimate me….y-you……h.” Slick flesh convulsed around him again.
The sound was filling his mind. His voice was pushed away by the terrible organic noises. Was he…?
Eren couldn’t tell, and he didn’t want to know.
Armin felt his stomach turn and his throat sieze up. There was a weird click as his neck struggled to adjust to the small lump of something lodged in there. And he swore he could hear whatever it was, strangled and squeaking.
All at once, Armin dropped the mug, ignoring the shattered sound as he lurched over the sink with a hand covering his mouth. A few weak noises slipped out of him, then coughing. And finally, shivering terrified breaths.
He pulled the thing from his mouth. What WAS this? What is it? It’s not a bug, or an animal, it’s so…I…didn’t even know it was there. What if I hurt it?
Swallowing the soreness down, Armin didn’t even give himself a moment to recover. He set the little creature down on a towel and quickly checked if it was breathing. He couldn’t tell….No. No it was taking in air, harshly, rasping and turning over.
It looked almost human.
“N-No, wait, hang on, I-I’ll be right back.” Armin said in a soft, hushed voice. He did return, with a med box, and went to cleaning up all the gross saliva with a cloth and cotton balls. Armin could hardly believe that this was what he….he had almost swallowed. It was halfway down his neck, probably. If he hadn’t have heard it, felt it moving, he could’ve….
Not the time for that thinking.
Armin set to carefully wrapping a bandage around the poor thing’s broken leg, and around his waist as well. Luckily nothing else looked damaged, save for maybe a couple ribs that could heal over time, but he didn’t want to make those too tight seeing how the little person(?) was still catching his breath.
Almost an hour later, full of Armin patiently waiting and worrying, talking soft apologies, the creature finally sat up with a very annoyed groan and a couple very indecent phrases.
Armin made sure to sit at the table, far enough away that he wouldn’t be towering over him. He’d finished taping the missing page back into his book, as well. He’d even managed to get a name out of the little guy when he’d finished tending his wounds. Maybe he’d forgive Armin. Maybe.
“HhhAAAH FUCK! My, my leg is…shit.” Eren’s hands were fiddling with the bandage, but stopped as soon as he saw Armin watching him. There was a very small moment where it looked like they’d both held their breath. Armin finally spoke first.
“I r-really am, sorry, so sorry, uh for,” the words caught in his mouth for a second, but he continued with a more steady voice, “For hurting you. I didn’t mean to.”
“I didn’t know you were….well, if I’d have known, I wouldn’t have done what I did. I tried my best to set your leg, but it still might need a while….to…..”
Eren tried to crawl back against the wall, shouting painfully when his leg wouldn’t let him move.
As soon as he approached, Armin was immediately stopped. “Don’t come any closer, you, you titan. I don’t know what you’ve got planned for me, but I’ll give you hell to pay if you try anything else!”
A tense moment of silence.
Swallowing nervously, Armin backed off.
He placed a hand on the repaired page with the ocean on it. "I..."
Confusion was locked between the both of them. With a long, ending sigh, Armin looked down.
“…I found the book that goes with the picture you had.”
He held it up, showing it was placed neatly back in, alongside another page full of different kinds of fish and sea life.
Eren visibly calmed down, looking from the book, to Armin’s strikingly blue gaze…
“Can I see the rest of it?”
Rich afternoon light dappled the bed cover, interrupted just by the plant perched by the windowsill. It was getting lazy, warm, soft. Dust fell over the room like snow, and Eren brushed some away from his hair. This room wasn’t used much, he remembered. Guest room, filled with boxes of old blankets and books and worn old-smelling shelves. This place would be good for borrowing, he thought.
Armin turned the page in the book, and Eren had only been half-attent to the words droning on about which country exported what. He was more interested in the pictures. Plants that old humans used for herbs; some he recognized, most he didn’t. Animals like huge, braying beasts they would mount to travel and pull their carts and race each other with. Seas they traded through that stretched so far it needed two pages to show it, and with waters as blue as the sky. His favorite were the stories that weren’t true. Of massive sea creatures with human faces that would be bested by people in large, ornate ships. Cannonfire and treacherous wakes and all sorts of excitement. There was one about a man who traveled the world in barely a season. The entire world. That was more than Eren could bear to imagine.
A new page came into view, with more text than Eren thought necessary, but there was a nice picture of some birds so he didn’t mind.
“…and around this time is when our country started to adapt to a new sort of politics. I think this era is more interesting because we…”
Eren looked up as he noticed Armin had quit talking. “Sorry, I missed that last part.”
“…All of it.”
Armin’s hand swept over Eren and turned the page to one with more pictures. And really, the borrower tried not to flinch, but he did. Hands were giant crushing things that could kill him in their grip and he still felt so exposed. It was instinctive. He’d been around Armin so long and even though he was in the boy’s lap and reclining against his waist, he still hadn’t gotten over the titans’ heights. He never could. He wanted to be comfortable around Armin; but he never could.
Eren hissed as his leg settled down from being startled, and he noticed the human was moving slower now too. The boy’s head turned down at him with worry. With that soft-carved face and those clear eyes, bangs draping down. “Ha, this damn leg can’t heal fast enough, can it?” Alright, that at least got a smile out of Armin. “Anyways uh, hey, what kind of ships are those?”
Eren lost track of what day it was. It had been a long time. His leg was setting and could bear some weight. Armin helped him change bandages and carried him where he needed. Right now, he apparently needed to be at the bedtable, resting against a flower vase, and staring at his broken maneuver gear. Armin was in the other room, doing dishes. And as Eren found out, more than one human lived here. In fact, there were three occupied rooms, and one guest room which Eren had the privilege of wasting away in for a couple hours while they ate, and talked, and did “homework”, and then Armin always seemed to be in charge of house chores after all that.
Someone was walking down the hall, heavy-stepped, and closing the door with so much noise it set Eren’s teeth on edge. Another was chatting with Armin in the kitchen; he could tell Armin’s sweeter tone apart, but whoever Mystery Roomate #2 was sounded kind as well. The third person was there some nights for a while, but never really stayed over, or at least Eren had the fortune of keeping the guest room to himself.
God, had he been there so long that he already picked up on their habits? That he already could tell who was talking and what they did just from listening? How many days had it been? Eren stood shaky and tested his leg, only to plop down on the wooden table. He kicked his gear to the side and winced at the slide-scrape whine as it skidded almost off the edge of the table.
Things had started out nice...
Eren gazed at the new pictures Armin offered to share. Armin, as he learned, was the titan's name, and unlike what Eren had been told, this one had patched up his leg and apologized profusely for injuring him. He hadn't made Eren stay, only suggested he not try to move from the counter for a while. It had been an hour or so since the shared near-death experience, and the two of them were going over different kinds of fish and strange sea-mammals. It was the most peaceful thing Eren had shared with anyone.
But he was always reminded of how big Armin was when his hand would reach over and turn the page. Not to mention the boy was leaning over him, and the only material between Eren's body and the boy's crossed arms was this book.
Soreness was starting to settle back in to Eren's body; whatever stuff Armin had smeared on his leg to numb it, it was wearing off. "I have to get back home." Eren stated when Armin finished reading one of the 'Cool Facts About Early Aquariums'. But they both knew the borrower wouldn't make it back with his leg so fucked up he couldn't even stand on it. It looked like the blonde-haired boy was about to say something when a door swung open.
Too fast, too harsh, Armin cradled Eren in his hand and closed the book and Eren was in the air moving behind the towering boy, what the hell was he thinking?! Eren struggled and strained his arms against the root-stubborn fingers, but the hand only curled tighter. This was it? Trust the boy only to have him crunch you in his grip? Eren didn't want to think that.
"Hey Arlert, did you wanna get dinner with us? Reiner's uh, friend, is buying." The new voice was soft-spoken and cheery, but who knows what intents this devil might have. Eren kept his hurt leg out, and it seemed Armin was mindful enough not to squeeze his fingers around it, or the borrower was just lucky. Well, after the recent events, he wasn't taking any more chances with these titans, even if one had played nice with him.
"Ohh, sure, where did you have in m-" A sharp squeak slipped out of him instead of a proper word.
Eren...bit him? Maybe it was fair payback, but now wasn't the time. Or had he hurt the boy’s leg by grabbing him so fast, and Eren needed help?
"Sorry I mean, I've been feeling kind of sick today, but you go on ahead." He was already ushering his friend out the door with one hand, Eren could tell that much from how his scenery moved to a short hallway. "Text me where to meet you later!" The other boy got out some mumbled "okay" and was hurried away, with Armin shutting the door behind him.
Eren was whisked into view, vision blurry until Armin's face went back into focus. He half-consciously heard Armin asking if he was alright, but all the excitement was making the borrower feel....really light headed....
Yep. Passed out, helpless right in the hands of a titan. Eren recalled that last bit dreadfully. If Armin wasn't such a nice guy, that could've been the end of him. But Armin had taken him to the guest room, set him up and changed his wounds, let him rest, fed him, gave him water...everything that humans never did to a borrower.
The following days got so much better from then on.
He had Armin to talk to. They spent a few carefree mornings in here while Armin wove such fine stories and Eren watched his face for those hints of excitement when the pace would pick up on some fantasy that every kid seemed to have heard except borrowers. There was even stories about tiny flying beings that visited good kids and helped them when they needed it. Or giants in other countries that formed the mountains and created hurricanes. “It’s just a fairy tale, but…” Armin would start, and Eren hardly even cared that it was fiction.
Armin always brought in warm drinks and the most delicious things he’d ever tasted. He tried meats from animals he’d never seen, had pastries in flavors of berries and fruits that didn’t grow anywhere near the “campus” that the borrowers apparently lived under.
That was another thing; their whole town – with its brick barriers, tunnels and slums, homes of clay and aluminum cans and tree roots – their whole town which was so vast and of the finest borrower outposts, only covered the base of half a campus building and a courtyard.
“...I’m…” Eren let his gaze trail over the room. The shelves creaking dismal on the other side. The bed with its dunes of fabric. The window, dark except for some light very very distant from him.
He would've perished so easily, in so many ways. He was reckless. Weak, without Armin. How had borrowers gone on so long in such a big, deadly world of giants?
“I’m so small.”
No confirmed death, missing on-call.
Well, Jaeger technically hadn’t been on duty when he decided to run off like a dream-crazed freak, but that was the only way to phrase it if they wanted a search team out.
“For fuck’s sake will someone get me some working gear?” Belts and buckles clinked as he strained to take the broken parts off, snapping another piece of metal in a fit. Worthless little brat just had to take the limelight, huh? Just had to get captured, or lost, or whatever the hell happened to him. Krista returned like a saint and handed him some better stuff to work with. "He’s gonna wish a titan had caught him by the time my hands are strangling h–“
Their captain stepped in front as Jean hurried to hoist up his belts and fasten them. As one, the search party gave a heartfelt salute. They were the top trainees, and some higher commander had thought the job would be the best experience for them before graduation. Thanks, Jeager.
"Our borrowing as a team isn’t any object. We aren’t after food or supplies. Instead, we’re borrowing a shitty trainee who couldn’t follow the rules, and needs to be reprimanded. Am I clear?” A boisterous “yes, sir!” echoed in the barracks.
Day whatever, at fuck o-clock in the morning, Eren groggily sat up from the pillow. He heard the click of the door opening, and turned his bleary gaze up at Armin. Yeah, this was more like it. Armin coming in to check on him, give him some cool new food he’d cooked for breakfast (or part of it, at least). And hopefully a new book.
No book. Small napkin with a bit of pancake on it, which was placed on the table. “Hey Eren, I’m running late for class, do you need me to get new bandages for you? How’s your leg?”
“…S'fine, I guess.” Well, there goes the morning ritual. Why was that so disappointing? He’d woken up at earlier times just for a training excercise, he’d spent mornings in a rush on his own with no time to talk to any comrades. Shouldn’t he be used to that? Armin repeated himself louder as apparently Eren hadn’t heard him.
“Hey, are you sure? I’ve always got time to take care of you, you know that.”
Nodding, Eren hobbled on his leg to the bedside, just as Armin was sitting down, which apparently scared the shit out of his still-tired mind and he reeled backwards with a squeak. “O-oh sorry, um…” And to make matters worse, Armin reached his hand out to steady Eren, which only made the borrower loose his cool more and stumble away, feeling shivers scurry over his skin. No, no he had to get used to this, one way or another.
“Well, I’ll leave the spare bandages on the table for you, ok?” And he was getting up so fast that Eren barely had a chance to recover from how massive the human’s frame suddenly became. He shook his mind clear and shouted the boy’s name just as Armin was heading out the door.
The two paused like they were waiting for each other to talk. Eren wet his lips and braced himself for the absurd question he’d had for a couple days now. “Can I come with you?”
Come with me? Armin thought it over. What, carry him to class, risk him being found out, or dropped, or worse? The very logical “no” was poised in his mouth. Eren had been getting more distant than close lately, stirring in his lap, flinching every time Armin moved. But he had also been staring so longingly at the window, at the pictures of bigger worlds. Maybe they both needed that sort of excitement. It had been so long.
“I. Uh.” Compromise time, Armin’s area of expertise. “I don’t think I can take you to class. But!” He rushed that so Eren wouldn’t get downhearted immediately, smiling at the borrower. “I can come get you during break, and you can see the courtyard. We’ll have lunch. How about that?”
That sounded perfect.
Again, Eren was left to his own devices. He could easily make the small gap between the bed and the table, have a small but sweet breakfast, and fiddle with trying to tape up his broken gear. He leaned over the edge of the bedtable and opened the drawer, then shuffled down into it. There was paper, and some old magazine he'd already flipped through, and tape and pencils. Eren grabbed the broken end of one pencil he'd been using to help him walk lately, and went to work.
The busted up part of it had sustained more damage when Armin had uh, apparently dropped it during their first "encounter" and now not only was the gas canister dented open, but one of the cables was jammed too. Repairs weren't looking well for the trusty old set. It was something to pass the time for now, as he looked forward to his day out with Armin.
This is our window, they thought. Titans were out for the day, shouldn't be coming back any time soon, according to the garrison patrols. They exited the city and stepped into the window-lit kitchen via the east outlet. This was right by the sink, where Eren was last seen. Over a week ago. To know it had taken this long to get a team assembled, it certainly lowered their chances.
"City Boy, Reiss, you two are at the hall, down sections three and four." The command got Jean's attention only halfway through orders, knowing that dumb nickname by now. He and Krista gave their check and set off. Their cables cracked through the wood of the kitchen doorframe, swinging them about and out of sight from their comrades, who were set to work at the rest of the areas. Krista landed on a small sidetable in the hall, under some pictures too big to tell who they were.
They stopped and got their bearings. It was a massive drop down to a hardwood floor, and beyond the end of the canyon were two doors apart from each other. One had a keyhole that could be accesed through, the other looked like they could crawl under. "Have you ever been this far out?" Krista cut through his strategy.
"This far out of the settlement. I never knew everything could be so high up." Her eyes panned over the hall. She looked across to another set of pictures, blurry from this distance, but you could just make them out. Jean noticed the other team was heading into section one already. "You think this is how they see everything? Like that--"
"No," Jean cut her off, glaring at a portrait of one of them, all freckle-faced and ridiculously huge. "They're way bigger than that. C'mon, we got a mission."
He set off without waiting up, over to section four first. His boots clacked on the floor in a harder landing than he'd thought, but he was right. They could crawl under the door and start searching for that idiot Jaeger, if he was still alive.
That wasn't something from his own damaged gear. It didn't sound like dishes, or someone unlocking the door to come home early either.
Eren stayed at the edge of the drawer, poking his head out as if expecting someone to walk in on him. The scuffing sound from the other side made his nerves jump. He glanced at the clock on the adjacent wall. Not time for Armin's class to get out just yet, right? Soon, but not yet.
"...as just trying to see. Look at everything here! Isn't it incredible? That we've been under this..."
Eren climbed up from the drawer and on to the table again, feeling his leg ache with strain, and collapsed just at the edge. He sat straight and looked down just to see someone...right at the door...or rather, under the door. Light hair. Maneuver gear. Trainee jacket.
She pulled out an angry partner too, who had apparently almost been too tall to fit under, and recognized his voice much more clearly.
"Yeah and I'd rather not stay up here for long so let's just find Jaeger's sorry butt and get out of here. Unless he's dead. You think they'd make us carry his corpse all the way ba--OW! Krista!" The satisfying slap was enough to warm Eren's spiteful heart. That, and the fact that he had a rescue team.
He stood with his weight on his better leg, cupped his hands over his mouth, and shouted.
"You won't have to worry about that, city boy!"
"Eren!" The two of them swung up to the table immediately, landing right at the edge next to him.
Krista was already hugging him, relieved, while Jean was giving him one of those looks that was like hiding his pride and happiness in a smug pout. Eren grinned with a mock-pity tone. "Aw, why the long face Jean? You miss me?"
"No! I was just hoping I'd get to have more time with Mikasa if we didn't find your dumb ass."
"Yeah right, you must've been so worried without me around, you horse-faced runt."
"...the fuck's a horse?"
Krista stepped between them and the idiot banter going on. "We have to take you back. Ah, where's your gear? And--oh gosh, what happened to your leg? I-It's all bandaged up! How--"
Now that was the sound of the front door.
A retreat whistle sounded, high like scraping metal but it was familiar to trainees: ‘Abandon the mission and report to the nearest city entrance immediately.’ Jean swore so loud that his partner had to cover his mouth. They couldn't carry Eren, not with this gear and his injury holding them down. Thudding footfalls were heading straight for the room. Jean was frantically asking if they should hide him somewhere, or at least put him on the ground, or maybe try luring the titan away.
"Look I'll still be here tonight." The two of them gave Eren a very shocked look, but he pressed on. "Go back, let them know I'm alive--Jean tell Mikasa, please, don't worry over me."
The handle to the door was turning; Krista shot her cables into the other wall and was already flying across. "Fucking hell, Jaeger!" Jean threw his knife down at Eren's feet, with that impatient scowl in his voice. "Protect yourself at least, got it?!" He then very harshly pushed Eren and the weapon down into the drawer, kicked off the table, and went sailing right over to the shelf by Krista. The two of them ducked behind the filthy old books.
Sweet Maria, that guy was so fucking tall.
The mass of blonde hair and skin and some thick clothes entered the room, blocking Jean's view. Krista was tugging at him, pointing to an outlet at the bottom of the shelf that looked unused for ages, but there was bound to be a path back underground. She set up a line for them to rappel down the few short shelves, starting her way without him since it seemed to be the only way to communicate "we need to move" to Jean. The thick thuds of the beast walking halted at the massive bed, right by where Jaeger was. They hadn’t hidden him at all. That thing knew right where to look. Jean turned and followed Krista, catching just a few stray words from the giant. And Eren's name.
That titan knew Eren's name.
I don't know how long this story will go and I am still figuring out how to write, but there will be more! Thank you to those who gave me some ideas. I bet you know who some of the humans and borrowers already are by now, but you can comment who you want to be a human and who can be a borrower if they aren't already implied!