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Broken Down World

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In an instant, Eren felt numerous changes overcome his body, the first and most distinct being a surge of strength unlike anything that he'd ever experienced before. He could suddenly see everything with a much sharper clarity, as if someone had illuminated the entire room for him. In the next second, he felt a dull pressure in his lower back, and four emerald green tentacle-shaped limbs appeared in his line of vision, curling around his body after emerging from his back. Almost as if the limbs had a mind of their own, the tentacles set higher lashed out at the wall directly above where Mikasa was pinned, expanding as if made of elastic to sink deeply into the wall. Without thinking, controlling it as readily as he would his own hand, Eren retracted the excess length back into his body, launching himself toward Jean before he or Rico could react.

Eren's body made contact with Jean's with such force that he staggered back just as the charged blast from the cannon fired. His aim was thrown off, however, and as the blades of the quinque were ripped from Mikasa's shoulder, the gun instead went off toward a corner of the room, almost disintegrating the chair it hit. For a moment, Eren looked back at Mikasa. She had slumped to the floor, leaning against the wall, but seemed unharmed except for the small wounds where the quinque had pinned her.

Rather quickly, Mikasa seemed to snap out of her terrified trance and become aware again as she looked up at him, red-and-black eyes widened in what could only be described as shock. "Eren..." she murmured. "You're..."

"You're a ghoul."

Eren quickly snapped his head back around to face Jean, who was staring daggers at him. Still, despite the anger that was definitely present, there was something else very clear in his expression: Shock. Disbelief. Betrayal. In fact, the look Jean was now giving Eren wasn't unlike the look Eren had given Mikasa the first time she'd used her kagune in front of him. When their eyes met, Eren could see Jean set his jaw, the shock in his expression being replaced very quickly by rage.

"What the fuck?" Jean muttered, voice so low that Eren could barely make out the bewildered statement, eyes shifting between the newly formed kagune and the new color of his eye. "What the actual fuck are you?!" That time, the question was asked with far more than mere anger; if the glare on Jean's face wasn't enough to make it excruciatingly clear that he was now accusing Eren of deceiving him for all the years they had known each other, the cold tone of his voice spoke volumes.

As the burst of rage he felt that summoned the kagune subsided as quickly as it had come, Eren felt the limbs fade away. That small burst had almost completely drained him, and as the shock began to wear off, Eren had no idea how to sustain it. "I'm human," Eren replied instantly, with such conviction in his tone that Jean actually arched any eyebrow at him.

"Human." Jean let out a shaky, bitter, bark of a laugh. "Yeah, right. You're one of them. One of those monsters."

Eren shook his head, trying to keep his voice even. "I'm not a ghoul. I've never been a ghoul."

"You might be right. You might not be a ghoul - after all, only one of your eyes changed. I think monstrosity is a much better way to describe what you are." His hands seemed to tense on his weapon. "I don't know what the fuck you are, but you're sure as hell not a human. You're no more human than that murderer behind you is."

Eren raised his hands up, taking a step closer toward his friend. "Jean-"

"Don't come near me!" he shouted, poising the bloodied blade that had held Mikasa to the wall behind them a few minutes ago at his former partner. "You just stay where you are, you fucking freak. I won't hesitate to kill you."

Armin watched the scene play out from near Annie's couch, where the white-haired Investigator, Rico, had them both held up by a quinque of her own. She was only paying them a small bit of attention, however, as she kept her eyes on Jean, Eren and Mikasa. Clearly, she didn't see the human and the injured ghoul who could barely breathe as much of a threat at all. Annie had finally slumped onto the ground by the arm of her couch, back pressed against the side of the furniture. Armin's eyes shifted between the cushion-sized space between where Annie was weakly gasping and the duffel bag that Mikasa had dumped on the sofa, presumably full of human flesh. An idea was quickly forming in his head, and he was trying to bite back bile at the thought of what he would have to do next in order to pull it off.

Slowly, he approached the couch. Apparently, Rico noticed the small movement in her peripheral vision because her entire head snapped back to glare at Armin through her cold silver eyes. She didn't object to him slowly lowering himself on the seat, not breaking eye contact with her the entire time, hands in the air to show her that he wasn't trying to pull anything.

"You'd best not move from that spot," she ordered, her tone highly dangerous.

Armin nodded. "Of course." Eventually, after several more long seconds of her eyes cutting into him like daggers, Rico refocused her attention to the bigger threat, leaving him unwatched on the couch. Armin leaned toward the arm, night next to Annie's head.

"They're not watching us," he whispered to her, voice barely audible, and Annie shot him a glare from out of the corner of her eye. "I'm going to pass you something to eat when I can."

Finally, Annie turned her head ever so slightly. "Why?"

"Because you can take them by surprise."

"I'm not going to," she deadpanned. Armin rolled his eyes before giving the stubborn ghoul a somewhat exasperated glare. "This is your mess, not mine." Her tone was cold.

"It became your mess the second they barged into your house!" he hissed back. "If they kill or arrest Eren and Mikasa, you'll be next," pressed, quieter than before. "You'd be saving your own hide just as much as theirs." He hesitated. "Unless you like the idea of either dying or spending the rest of your life half-starved in solitary confinement, I suggest you do something."

Armin got no response besides a small grunt that sounded somewhat affirmative, so he took that as a begrudging agreement.

Slowly, hyper-aware of where Rico's eyes were placed, he reached out toward the bag sitting mere inches from him. Armin tried not to wince at the very small sound of the zipper being undone, but it seemed to have gone unnoticed by the Investigator. Armin failed to repressed an outward shudder when he dipped his hand into the bag and it came into contact with something wet and slimy, something that was an hour ago part of a living human being. Quickly, he leaned away from the bag, throwing his arm over the side of the couch to both hide the blood and pass the food to Annie.

She very quickly took the ball of flesh from his hand, and within seconds, her labored breathing stopped. She didn't make any movement to stand, however. Annie slowly shifted her body so she had a better view of the scene and seemed to be hesitant to make any sort of movement with Rico so close by. Still, Armin noticed her kagune envelop her arm as she remained ducked behind the couch, so she was clearly planning something. It was probably just best to leave her to her own devices, and pray to god that she would actually help his friends before saving herself.

"So, that's it, is it?" Eren finally asked Jean, finally letting anger seep into his tone. "How long have I known you, Jean? You're really going to toss all that to the side, to actually threaten me, because of something you barely understand?"

"You had a kagune growing out of your back," he deadpanned. "You're a ghoul. You lied to me. All that time, and you've been some kind of monster that put on this big act about how much he hated ghouls." Eren was about to cut him off, but Jean continued to talk. "Oh, sure, Eren, I bought that sob story that you sold everyone. The poor little son of a Ghoul Investigator that lost his mommy to a ghoul attack, so he grew his big-boy pants and wanted to aveng-"

"YOU SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!" Eren stepped forward again, his hands balled into fists. "You don't know shit," he seethed, shaking with rage. "You have no idea what you're even talking about, like usual. I wasn't like this up until two damn days ago, but you don't care about that do you, Jean? You like to run your own mouth without even considering it from another point of view but yours."

Jean snorted. "That's real rich, especially coming from someone who cut ghouls down without so much as a second thought, up until your fucking girlfriend turned out to be one." His cold eyes rested on Mikasa, who was still standing behind Eren. "I know you had something to do with this," he growled. "Everything was fine until you caused everyone around you a hundred fucking problems."

"Shu-" Eren started to say, but Mikasa suddenly reached out, placing her hand on his shoulder. Her gaze finally shifted from their weary place on his weapon, to Jean's face, expression changing from distressed to annoyed. Her eyes narrowed as she stepped out from behind Eren.

"I'm not going to waste my breath trying to convince you of anything," she murmured. "I know what I did and didn't do. I-"

"Your entire existence is a curse!" Jean lashed back out at her. "Just look around you, Mikasa. If it wasn't for you, dozens of families wouldn't have been ripped into pieces."

"You still have no evidence that I had anything to do with that."

Jean snorted in scornful laughter, but otherwise ignored she said anything. "If it wasn't for you, Eren wouldn't have had to decide between a career he's worked his entire life toward, and a deceitful monster that tricked him into believing she loved him. Armin wouldn't have been torn from his career because he tried to defend you. You might have fooled them, but you don't fool me. I can see right past your pretty little facade." He sneered at the glare Mikasa was giving him. "Even now, I bet you want nothing more than to kill me, don't you?"

Mikasa's voice was calm, despite the glower on her face. "If I wanted to kill you, I would have done it that night I disarmed you as easily as I would have an infant."

The blades of Jean's quinque brandished toward Mikasa. Her glare faltered slightly, but she still stood her ground that time, now that her initial shock had worn off. "Try to kill me now," Jean challenged.

"I have no desire to hurt you." Her voice was soft.

"Because you know you'll lose this time," he almost laughed.

Mikasa shook her head. "I haven't forgotten that we were friends once, or that you once had feelings for me far stronger than that of just friends."

"The second you revealed your true colors, that relationship died," he growled back. "You're nothing more than a beast who deceives everyone around you, and I'm not going to fall for it. It's bad enough you've done god knows what to Eren. You're not dragging me down with you as well."

"You really are an idiot." Jean's eyes shifted to Eren. "Listen, Jean," Eren pressed, his voice as calm as he could keep it. "I still don't know how I feel about ghouls. But with someone like Mikasa, I can accept it." For a moment, he stole a glance at her, and was somewhat surprised to see that her eyes were glistening, as if she was fighting back tears again. "I can understand that she's still the person I always knew she was, because nothing has really changed. The only thing that really changed was how I saw her." He swallowed a lump forming in this throat. "That was my fault, not hers. She wasn't a monster before I knew she was a ghoul, and she sure as hell isn't one now. Look at yourself right now, Jean, and tell me that you're not the one acting like a stupid beast and a monster."

When Rico finally got tired of listening to the banter between the ghoul, the half-breed and the Dove, and finally turned her attention completely from her and the sack of meat on the couch beside her, Annie struck. She had noticed within seconds of them barging into her house that the white-haired investigator was in fact not a real Dove, but was instead a ghoul. It had thrown her off a bit, but not enough that she was above attacking her; if the stupid bitch wanted to play Genocide Police with the short-tempered human holding the other two up, Annie would treat her no differently than she would any other Investigator.

Annie knew that she'd never have enough time to ensure that the ghoul was dead before moving on to the human, so she had preemptively decided to knock her out rather than attacking for damage. As she was clearly relying on herself, and not the ghoul that had frozen like a terrified child - her name escaped Annie; it was something Japanese, she vaguely recalled - she'd have to take out both the ghoul Dove and the human before either of them caught wind of her movements. That quinque the male was holding looked nasty, and Annie didn't really want to butt heads with it.

The only thing that really helped her was the fact that her living room was tiny, so it was easy to ambush the ghoul with minimal effort; her attention was focused entirely on the other three, so Annie had already brought the flat end of her kagune down upon her temple before she even knew was was going on.

By the time she finally turned to the human, however, her momentum was cut off, as he had seen her take out his partner and with a curse, he pointed the canon of the quinque directly at her. Annie braced herself for the blast by holding the blade of her kagune in front of her face and crystallizing her entire upper body. The kagune absorbed the majority of the hit, though she was still pushed back a few feet from force alone. Still, her kagune and armor survived the powerful attack without so much as a scratch and Annie softened the film on her body once more.

When the light finally lifted and the human saw that his attack hadn't even phased her, his face shifted from confident to the shock that always followed a person or a ghoul seeing how her armor worked. Before he could fully recover from the realization that his weapon had been literally useless, Annie struck again, lashing out straight at his temple with her massive sword to knock him out cold in a matter of seconds. Quickly, she looked back at the other Dove, and seeing that she was still out, Annie poised her blade over his chest, preparing to ram it through him.

Out of the corner of her eye, Annie noticed a motion, and turned on a time, her blade poised toward the neck of what she was assuming was the other Investigator. She stopped herself dead in her tracks when she realized that the figure who had approached was not the ghoul, who was still unconscious on the other side of the room, but rather the brown-haired half-breed. With her blade pressed up against his throat, he intelligently opted not to say anything, but the look he was giving her looked somewhat surprised at her lashing out at him.

"Don't kill him," he finally growled at her, after the shock wore off.

Annie lowered her weapon, because the last thing she wanted to deal with was the bitchy female ghoul mistaking her motion as aggression towards him and attacking her again. "What?" she finally deadpanned, as she was quite sure that she didn't hear him clearly. There was no way in hell this hybrid had just told her to spare the life of a Dove who had been trying to kill him thirty seconds ago.

"Don't kill him," he repeated without skipping a beat. "He's disarmed and unconscious. You don't need to kill him. He's not a threat to you or any of us."

"He's a Dove," she replied, her tone dead. "One that has seen all of our faces. You don't consider that a threat?"

"He's a friend," the brunet seethed back.

For a few seconds, not even Annie was able to control the look the crossed her face; if it reflected the thoughts that were racing through her head right at that moment, it was an even mix of both disgust and unfathomable annoyance. It was short-lived, as she quickly composed herself and turned her back on the two, her kagune finally vanishing. One glance at the expression on the half-breed's face told Annie that arguing wasn't worth it; he had his jaw set and was glaring at her, daring to say anything to contest his conviction. She didn't have the time or the patience to go at it with someone as suicidal as he and his friends clearly were.

"Fine." She stepped out of the living room and into an adjacent hallway, without giving the group of freaks without so much as a second glance.

Armin looked like he was going to say something to her, but Eren cut him off. "Give it a rest, Armin. We've already pissed her off enough." For a second, Eren thought that Armin was actually going to listen to him, but then he saw the look on his old friend's face and he audibly groaned. "Whatever you're thinking, knock if off now. We're not dragging that ghoul into this."

"She could be a powerful ally for us," he mused to himself more so than Eren. "I mean, you've seen her kagune."

"I've also seen her shitty attitude," Eren replied, shooting a glare toward the spot where she had seen just standing. "She's the kind of ghoul I killed every single day, Armin. She cares nothing about others and sees people as nothing more than livestock."

Armin arched an eyebrow at him "And how the hell would you know how she cares about others?" he questioned. "You've known her for four hours. Twice in that time, she's been fighting, one time, might I add, which was directed at you. We don't know a damn thing about her."

"Which is exactly why I don't trust her!" Eren snapped.

"And why is that, Eren?" Armin asked, voice as calm as ever. "Is it because she's a ghoul?"

Eren didn't immediately answer; the unexpected question did make him hesitate for a moment, as he knew deep down that Armin had hit the nail right on the head. He was right. Eren didn't trust her because she was a ghoul, and he wasn't going to deny it. So far, the only ghoul he'd encountered since he'd left Shinganshina had immediately tried to kill them all, so Armin's theory of #NotAllGhouls wasn't really keeping up well.

"Yeah, it is," he finally growled. "She's a damn ghoul, and I have no reason to trust one of her kind."

"You mean like Mikasa?" His tone was flat.

"Don't start with that again!" Eren bristled. "You're not going to shove Mikasa back in my face every ti-"

"Then I'll you use you as an example instead," Armin snapped back, cutting him off. "You're a ghoul. You're one of her kin."

Eren's tone became low. "I'm not a ghoul."

Armin just crossed his arms over his chest, looking Eren up and down in an overly exaggerated way. "Okay, Eren." Ignoring the venomous look Eren was now giving him, Armin continued, "Either way, you can't deny that she'd be helpful."

"If she can stop trying to kill us for five minutes, sure," Eren muttered. "I wouldn't count on that, though."

"She just saved all our lives."

"She only did that to save her own ass."

"And how do you explain her sparing Jean?" Armin asked. "She barely even fought back when you told her not to kill him." Eren just rolled his eyes, which annoyed Armin more, mainly because he was blatantly ignoring his question. "It just boils down to the fact that you want to be racist and judgmental towards ghouls," he seethed. "You don't want to give them a chance, because you're afraid that your opinion of them will be proven wrong. You-"

"You know what?" Eren snapped back, raising his hand to silence Armin's berating. "Fine. You're right. I'm just a racist asshole and that ghoul that tried to kill us all is clearly worthy of our trust and faith. We should totally invite her to join us. If you can somehow convince that miserable bitch that it's a good idea for her to tag along with us, I won't say another word about it."

Armin didn't say anything to that, and the two fell into silence as they waited for Annie to come back into the main room. After a few seconds, Eren noticed that Mikasa didn't seem to be nearby and after briefly sweeping the room for her, he saw that she was still standing near where Jean had dropped to the ground, eyes fixed on the floor.

At first Eren thought that she was looking at Jean himself, but when he got a little closer, he realized that her eyes rested on the quinque on the floor beside him. "Mikasa?" he prompted, almost hesitating to approach her. His brows furrowed a bit when she didn't react. "Hey." He gently reached out and cupped her face in his hands, turning her gaze from the discarded weapon to his own eyes. "What happened?" he finally asked, as he was more than a little worried about her fixation with that particular quinque. She had completely shut down when it had first been brought out, and now she was staring it like a month drawn to a light, even though she had to have known how urgent it was they got moving before more Investigators came by.

When the distress on her face only seemed to worsen and tears actually began to form in her eyes, the concern on his own face deepened. Slowly, his hands fell to his side and his eyes shifted to the weapon as well, and when he finally got a good look at it, he felt a strong sense of dread come over his entire body. It looked almost hauntingly familiar to him - the blinding whites and deep red lines dividing the four blades, all centered around a canon that could have only been made from an ukaku kagune. It reminded him very strongly of Mikasa's kagune - almost uncannily so.

"It's my dad." Her voice was so soft that Eren barely heard it, and the tears that had just formed in her eyes finally began to slide down her cheek. "There's no doubt in my mind that...thing... was made from my father's kagune." Her gaze fell from Eren's. "I'm sorry. I couldn't-"

Her words were cut off as Eren suddenly wrapped his arms around her back, pulling her into a tight hug. For a second, her eyes just widened at the unexpected gesture from him, but within seconds she recovered, slowly burying her face into his chest as his hands traced small circles across her back. Her tears stopped as if on command and a small smile traced her lips.

"Don't apologize," he breathed into her ears before finally pulling back from the embrace. "You did nothing wrong." Eren's eyes hardened when he looked down at the quinque again. Of course, it was just standard procedure to make the kagunes of ghouls killed during investigations into quinques. That was nothing new, but to knowingly use such a quinque against a ghoul who was directly related to the ghoul that was first killed... That was a low that Eren would have never fathomed sinking to. Sometimes it was even hard for Investigators to put the fact that quniques were essentially weapons made from the severed limbs of creatures they killed behind them. He hadn't thought Jean to be the type of person to put someone through that, either.

Clearly, he was wrong.

With a sigh, Eren bent down and picked the quinque up by the handle, trying to ignore the fact that he was holding the closest thing they had to a corpse of someone he had known for almost his entire life. His fingers squeezed a trigger on the bottom of the handle that caused the weapon to fold up, forming the shape of a silver briefcase. Eren was certain that did very little to ease whatever emotional turmoil Mikasa was no doubt hiding from him, but at least it no longer looked like his kagune.

"What do you want to do with it?" Eren finally asked. Mikasa didn't answer, as she kept her eyes locked on the suitcase in Eren's hands. The past several minutes had been such a clusterfuck for her, that Mikasa barely could tell which way was up and which was was down. She had thought that she'd never see head or tail of either of her parents ever again, and now here she was, being given the choice as to what to do with was essentially her father's remains - the only remnant she had of either of her parents, the only thing that the CCG hadn't taken from her and destroyed. Everything else about her parents and the people they were was restricted to her memories and her heart, but this was something physical, something real.

But it was also a quinque.

It was a weapon, created specifically to murder others. It was the closest thing she had to her father, but it wasn't him and it would never be him. Quickly, three choices game to the front of her mind: they could leave it where they found it, they could take it along with them, or they could destroy it. Leaving it behind would be the easiest thing to do, but Mikasa wasn't sure she could do that. Apart from the fact that there was always the risk they might encounter Jean and the quinque again, Mikasa knew that her father would never have wanted his kagune used as nothing more than an instrument of death for hundreds of other ghouls. The other option that Mikasa knew wasn't really an option was destroying it. She couldn't. Even if it was probably the wisest thing to do, she couldn't bring herself to that point. Her father deserved better than that, to have the only physical reminder that he ever even existed to be destroyed and thrown out like garbage.

That only left one choice, and while Mikasa didn't want to drag it around with her, it was the lesser of three evils. They could make a decision on what to do with it later. For now, they could just put it in her car where it would at the very least be safe and not used for harming anyone innocent.

Finally, she sighed. "I want to keep it." Eren frowned, but didn't question her decision. She could tell by the way his brow was furrowed that he didn't approve of such a choice, but he didn't make any of his protests heard. "I'll carry it," she murmured and Eren let her take it from his hands, as she held the briefcase from the bottom and rested it against her torso.

Finally, the two of them looked over to where Armin was standing. During their conversation, Annie had come back into the living room, this time carrying a bag over her shoulders that they assumed carried some basic supplies, and Armin was saying something to her.

He looked upset when Eren's gaze finally shifted to his. "Don't you think there's safety in numbers?" Armin pressed.

"No." She turned away from him again.

"But-"

"I don't want your help," she snapped again. "I was doing just fine for myself before you came along. Unlike people, ghouls are completely capable of fending for ourselves." Her cold blue eyes cut into him like daggers when she looked back at him, almost as if accusing him of something. "Most of us don't have a choice but to do so."

"Annie-"

"Listen, Handsy," she practically snarled, "I hate you, in case that wasn't terribly evident." Her eyes shifted to the direction of his friends. "I hate all of you. As if it wasn't bad enough that you're a human, in the course of three hours, you three have impaled me, invaded my house until a Dove with a grudge and a ghoul posting as an Investigator showed up at my doorstep, forced me out of a home that I took years to build for myself alone, without the aid of anybody else. I want nothing from any of you then for you to all keel over and die."

"Two thirds of that wasn't even our fault," Eren muttered, but Annie ignored him.

"I would sooner gouge my own eyeballs out of my skull with a dull spoon then go anywhere with any of you."

"This could just be me," Armin said as she moved to walk away again, "but you don't seem to be nearly as self-sufficient as you claim." She stopped once more, to glare at him, but otherwise said nothing. "I mean, look at the facts. Mikasa here," he gestured toward her, "was imprisoned for well over a month without any food, and she was still able to beat you in a fight. I'm part of the only reason why you're even alive in the first place. You were going to be left there to die with no ability to walk, let alone stand on your own." He ignored how much harsher her glare had grown. "Even now, you were only able to overpower those two because I passed you something to eat. I think you need help more than you'd like to admit, especially now. You're a target, just like the rest of us, and if you're on your own you'll be easier to pick off than a scab. It'll be way too simple for them to kill you alone than it will be for you to be with us. It may be our fault that you're here in the first place, yes, but damn it, Annie. You can't be on your own right now. Not with the CCG on us like they are."

Finally, Annie leaned back against one of the walls, arms folded across her chest and eyes closed. She said nothing, but made no motion to leave.

When Eren and Mikasa finally approached the two of them, Armin's eyes rested on his two friends. "If we're going to be traveling together for a while, we should probably formally introduce ourselves. I'm Armin," he gestured to the two figures behind him, "and this is Eren and Mikasa."

"I really don't give a fuck." She didn't even look at them.

A small sigh came from Armin's lips before he noticed the quinque in Mikasa's arms. "What's that?"

"It's made from her dad's kagune," Eren answered for her, as she just started at the floor when Armin questioned it. "She wants to take it with us." He gave Armin a somewhat grim look.

"Mikasa," Armin said, also frowning at her. "I'm sure you're weighing your options over in your head, but..." He hesitated, as if choosing his words very carefully. "The safest option would be to destroy it. I'm sure it has incredible value to you. Believe me, I get it, but there are a lot of risks that will come with bringing that along with us. Remember, it's a weapon, not a photograph. You don't need a quinque to keep his memory alive, Mikasa."

"It's almost cute how you think you know more about this subject than a ghoul does," Annie spoke up from where she was leaning against a wall. Everyone's eyes shifted in her direction, but she just looked at Armin. "Are your dead relatives buried in a cemetery?"

"Actually, my parents are buried in the digestive track of a ghoul." Armin didn't skip a beat. "Same with the mother of the family who took me in after I was orphaned, but sure. We humans have no idea what's like to lose all traces of our loved ones."

For a couple seconds, not even Annie said anything, but she eventually looked at Mikasa.

"Mikasa, was it?" she asked. "Be careful what you decide to do here. If you let the human talk you into making a choice that you regret later, you'll never be able to take that back." With that, Annie went back to ignoring all of them.

"I'm not going to destroy it," Mikasa finally said, voice firm in spite of its soft volume and the tears sliding down her face.

"Do you want someone else to do it?" Armin asked.

Mikasa's eyes fell to the quinque in her hands, ignoring the rather pointed scoff that came from Annie's direction. In the back of her mind, Mikasa knew she was wrong in this situation. She should just concede for the greater good and let Eren or Armin destroy it. She was being incredibly selfish and thinking only of her own conflicted feelings, but at the same time, she couldn't let it go. She didn't have it in her to willingly let go. Not yet, at least. Maybe some day she would, but for the time being, she was far too weak-willed.

Finally, she shook her head. "No."

Armin gave her a somewhat piteous look. "Mikasa-"

"Not yet, Armin." Her voice was flat. "Maybe eventually, but..." Her voice trailed off for a second. "I never even got to say goodbye to either of them." She looked down at the briefcase again. "I'm not ready to say goodbye yet. I will someday, but not today."

Finally, Armin just nodded, unwilling to push her any farther. "Alright. Let's go drop that off at the car, then we'll work on finding that cafe."

Annie looked at them. "What?" Her voice was flat. "After all that, you want to stay in this city?"

"Unfortunately, we don't have a choice," Armin replied. "We know it's risky, but we have no other direction to head in right now."

"That cafe is the only reason we came to this infested city in the first place," Eren grumbled. "We would have gotten there earlier tonight, but someone insisted on attacking us instead of letting us pass through." Eren shot Annie a glare, which she ignored.

Annie just tucked a lock of her blonde hair behind one of her ears, looking directly at Mikasa. "Where exactly are you and your pets headed to, since you insist on staying in Trost?"

Mikasa's eyes were harsh, but she answered her nonetheless, as she was more than aware that Annie was their best ticket at getting around Trost safely for the time being. She definitely did not like Annie or her superiority complex toward Eren and Armin, nor did she really even fully trust her, but she at least could help them avoid getting attacked by angry Doves while they were wandering the streets of a city the rest of them knew nothing about.

"It's called the Violet Grove."

Annie turned away from her. "That's the only place in the city that's safe from Doves. Maybe you aren't all as hopeless as you look."


The sun had only started to rise when Annie finally stopped in front of what was clearly a cafe - the front of the store featured an outdoor seating area under an awning, though the tables and seats were unoccupied. A large flower bed encircled the entire area, all filled with vibrant purple violets that stopped right by the glass double door headed by a sign that read "Violet Grove" in over exaggerated purple cursive letters. Annie was the first to step inside, and the rest quickly followed her. The interior was just as cozy as the exterior was; filled with tables and booths that were various shades of warm reds and browns and blacks.

The back of the store featured a long brown counter with small stools spaced the entire length, stopping at a glass case that was filled with donuts, muffins, bagels and other pastries. A strong scent of coffee permeated the air of the entire building. Considering how early in the morning it was, it was almost surprisingly busy; almost half the tables were occupied by people sipping at drinks and chatting.

Annie seemed to very quickly catch the attention of one of the staff members, all of whom were dressed in black vests, skirts and dress pants. "Oi!" she called from where she was sitting on the front counter, leg hitched over the side. She gave Annie a wave as she jumped off the counter and onto her feet, approaching the considerably smaller ghoul. It wasn't until the brown-haired woman was mere feet away that Mikasa recognized her. She was that ghoul from the alley that she had met only hours before.

"So, I see you decided to join us for once, eh Annie?" she asked. "I can't believe my eyes. The ice queen has descended from on high to mingle with us commoners." Her brown eyes then fell on the other three. "And you found friends? Isn't that sweet. Did you finally swallow some of that precious pride of yours and actually try to communicate with other living creatures for once in your life?"

"You're as pleasant as ever, Ymir," Annie deadpanned. "Though I would really prefer to speak to Krista."

"Ah, I see," Ymir hummed. "Well, I am just as capable as dealing with your earthly needs as Krista is. She doesn't need to be bothered. I'm assuming you want something other than coffee, eh, Annie? Otherwise you would have never left your precious hunting grounds. Do you need...help?"

Annie was glaring at her so harshly that she would have been struck dead if looks could kill.

"Of course, we'll gladly offer your the same services we offer all ghouls." She smirked. "You just have to admit to me that the mighty Annie Leonhardt requires assistance."

"I've seen roadkill with better personality than you have," Annie growled.

Ymir stuck an index finger into her ear and twisted it. "I'm sorry, you'll have to speak up. I'm a bit deaf in one ear."

"If you must know," Annie snarled, "I was just run out of my damn home by Doves because of these imbeciles behind me, so if you can kindly fuck off, and let me talk to your girlfriend, we can both get on with our lives."

Ymir then shifted her eyes to the three figures behind Annie and it took her about three seconds to recognize Mikasa. She was silent for a moment, then suddenly started laughing, so hard and for so long that tears began to form in her eyes. Once she had the attention of every single ghoul in the room with her laughing, she turned her own gaze to the counter, where a petite blonde girl was standing by one of the coffee makers.

"Oi, Krista!"

The blonde returned Ymir's look. "Yeah?" she called back.

"Annie just got ran out of her house by that vegan ghoul!" she called back, projecting her voice across the entire crowded cafe. "You know, the same one I met last night? The one who wouldn't even hunt for herself? The Edward Cullen ghoul!"

Krista rolled her eyes, before quickly jumping over the counter to rush to her side. "Don't say that kind of stuff that loud!" she chided. "It's rude."

"It's a fucking riot, is what it is."

"There could always be humans in here too," Krista continued, but she looked much more irritated than actually angry.

"Relax. They're all ghouls."

Krista finally looked at Annie, her face softening on command. "It's so nice to see you again, Annie. Though I wish it was under better circumstances, if what Ymir said was true. Let me get you and your friends some coffee and you can tell me the whole story."

As Krista quickly ushered the four of them out of the main room and towards the kitchen, Ymir laughed again and threw one of her arms over Krista's shoulders.

"Don't feel bad, Annie. Blue-eyed blondes are my weakness, too."

"Do me a favor and throw that coffee at your girlfriend," Annie deadpanned. "Boil it for longer than normal while you're at it."

Ymir smirked. "That'll only make me hotter, sweetheart."

Krista elbowed Ymir in the ribs before opening the door and letting them all through.