Armin found it more difficult than he anticipated to smuggle Eren’s file out of work. It seemed like the entire way out of the facility and back to his house was dotted by talkative researchers and curious onlookers. Everyone at work wanted to know how his dealings with their resident ‘mentally deficient’ Titan was going, and everyone on the street ogled at him, since he figured the best way to get the file out successfully was to hide it under his labcoat. At least now he understood the draw of briefcases.
He managed to get the file home safely, hopefully not being suspected, even if he might have accidentally made a show of hiding it once or twice. When he sat down at his desk and opened it, reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, he belatedly realized that he probably could have walked out of the facility, file in hand and obvious, and no one would have cared. As far as anyone knew, the Titan known as TF-1505 was a lost cause. They probably would have laughed at Armin and that would have been the end of it.
“Oh well,” he sighed.
The file was about as lackluster as he had predicted. It was full of some off-handed comments, some sarcastic, some laced with a tone of frustration, and some outright demeaning. Most of the researchers hadn’t taken well to Eren, or maybe it was a vice versa kind of case. Now being aware of how intelligent Eren really was, it wasn’t a stretch to think that the Titan might have just not cared to react to someone screaming at him.
There were only two notes in the entire file that caught Armin’s interest. The first was from Eren’s capture, about the soldier that Eren had saved. He hadn’t noticed it the first time, but the soldier was named. A trainee at the time of the capture, Mikasa Ackerman. According to the document, she hadn’t been asked many questions following the incident, but from what was gathered, she didn’t seem particularly shocked by it. Armin jotted down a note to look into Mikasa’s files further, or maybe contact her to ask her about Eren.
The second note was written about a week into Eren’s captivity. It was written in messy handwriting, scrawled by someone who seemed awfully excited.
‘TF-1505 shows amazing resilience in his current condition. The tranquilizers wore off quickly after he was captured, and already, he’s shown a honed reaction to pain not often shared by others of his kind. Whether or not this is a case of his size is unknown, but will require further inquiry. TF-1505 also shows some reaction to command, though whether or not he understands it or is just stubborn remains to be seen.
Armin snorted at the ‘stubborn’ comment, since with Eren’s personality coming to light little by little, it didn’t seem so odd.
Alongside his note about Mikasa, he wrote down the researcher’s name, as they seemed to have more of a clue about Eren than their successors did. He hadn’t heard of anyone by that name in the short time he’d been working there, but scientists and researchers were shuffled between facilities constantly. Inquiring wasn’t going to hurt anything, though. He’d just have to run it by either the floor manager or the director himself to get an answer.
The rest of Eren’s file was plain, filled with one-sentence observations, typically detailing no change in the Titan’s behavior. Nearly every page was filled with notes about pacing, grunting, slight head movements, and little else. Some researchers had tried to elicit a reaction via verbal suggestion, which was a pleasant way of saying abuse. Armin was no stranger to it, but remembered how little of an effect it had on the Titans back in the old facilities.
Those memories changed the tone of the observations a little. Ten out of fifteen researchers had tried that approach, one even going as far as to attempt ‘physical persuasion’. All trials ended up the same way; inconclusive. Deflating a little in his chair, Armin realized that Eren had probably given up at some point. Months of these ‘experiments’, insulting, screaming, deriding, and at some point, torturing, may very well have caused Eren to choose to ignore them. It might have been an act of self-preservation, or maybe one of defeat. Either way, it made Armin sick to his stomach to think about.
He began to wonder why Eren reacted so positively to him. He could have easily turned away from Armin, opting to ignore him instead of the fantastic reactions he ended up giving him. There was no way that a researcher hadn’t tried the calm, collected approach. There had to have been one out of the fifteen that had been kind, or at least decent to him. Even if there wasn’t, it still led back to the original thought: why him?
Eventually, he had to close the file, too frustrated with repeated accounts of inhumane research. Of course, there was probably a bias there now. Armin couldn’t say for sure that he wouldn’t do the same thing in someone else’s place, faced with a Titan that refused to do anything. Still, he couldn’t imagine treating Eren that poorly, even if all of his peers’ educational paths had been rooted in similar treatment.
With an irritated sigh, he took his glasses off, pinching the bridge of his nose where the pads of the glasses had left dents. There really wasn’t a way to make it up months of mistreatment to Eren. In the end, Armin was there for research, not to coddle a fifteen-meter creature or apologize to him. There were still experiments to be done, although he swore to himself that they would be as minimally invasive as he could manage.
There was one thing he could do in that moment. It was hardly rebellious, but Armin took his pen and crossed out ‘TF-1505’ on the folder’s leaf. Then, in careful handwriting, he wrote Eren’s name. It was simple, and maybe a bit petulant, but for some reason, it calmed him.
The rest of the night was spent coming up with experiments and theories. Each theory was written with such lengthy wording that they became less of an idea and more of an essay. Caught up in his work, fueled by a sudden burst of creative energy, he forgot to look at the clock. By the end of it, he fell asleep on his desk, left arm acting as a pillow, right hand still clutching his pen.
Naturally, he was groggy in the morning. The walk to work suddenly seemed like a slow trudge through mud. He clutched the file to his chest, along with the stack of papers he had created throughout the night. Honestly, he didn’t care if anyone pointed it out. Luckily, no one did, but he figured part of it stemmed from the harsh, dark-eyed glares he sent when someone came too close. It was unlike him, since every morning otherwise, he’d been cheery and amicable. This morning, the only creature he felt was worth talking to was Eren, and partially because the Titan couldn’t really reply. It made for excellent company.
The night before, he had planned to speak to the director after Eren’s session was finished. Now it didn’t seem as likely, since Armin felt like he’d be a little too snappish at the director, and that wouldn’t earn him any points. Disgruntled, he slid his card to open the door, then muttered something unpleasant when the light blinked red and he realized he’d done it upside-down.
“I’m never doing an all-nighter again,” he murmured, righting the card and sighing when he heard the locks click into place.
Armin held the firm belief that this was the first day in recorded history where a Titan looked more pleasant than a human. Eren was already at the glass, eyes wide, his awkward smile in place, reminiscent of a dog waiting for its master. Armin managed a weary smile in return as he set the file on one of the chairs facing the container. “Morning, Eren,” he said with a half-hearted wave.
Eren let out a strange sound, not completely unlike a purr. It made Armin glance up at him, surprised. Then, he laughed, realizing that Eren was still getting used to hearing his actual name. His reaction was fantastically positive, and Armin felt proud that he had gone through with the test in the first place.
As he glanced over Eren, happily appraising the Titan’s pleased expression, a brief thought crossed his mind, carried over from brainstorming the night before. Eren had a lot of potential, both to himself and to the scientific community. Armin could easily do responsive tests, a few psychological ones, but that really was the extent of what he could do, and at that thought, it felt as if he would be selling Eren’s potential short. If all was as it seemed, Eren could possibly be willing to let Armin get close enough to inspect him, giving a closer look at the parts of a Titan that could only be examined on quickly-decomposing corpses, or heavily-bound, struggling Titans.
He could get accurate temperature readings, examine his eyes, his mouth, give a detailed report of Titan kinesiology, even give a decent constructive response about the physics fueling a Titan. It was fantastical, he could admit that. But what more, it was possible. As long as Eren was as willing as Armin suspected, it could be done. Of course, not barring the grant that would have to be obtained.
Even when Armin was a low-tier student, scrubbing mold-thick floors or vomiting over the smell of Titan remains, he knew how important research grants were. The government was typically very generous to the scientific community, as defense against humankind’s natural enemy was deeply rooted in years of intense research. However, even with how much different facilities could provide to their scientists, once in awhile, a project was so enormous that it needed an approved grant.
Armin’s shoulders sagged at the thought. It was notoriously hard to get a good grant, and it meant more than ever that he’d have to go to Trost’s director and ask for one. Inevitably, he’d be subjected to interview after interview, and then Eren would have to be observed to determine if he was a suitable subject. Knowing Eren’s reputation among the facility, it suddenly didn’t seem so likely.
Except if Armin could prove it.
What ever fatigue he had felt earlier seemed to be slowly fading away as he thought it over, staring up at the massive Titan before him. Eren eyed him, still looking pleased with himself, but now with an added expression of curiosity. It made Armin grin, knowing that Eren could tell that the gears were turning in his head.
Armin put his hands on the bars, leaning against them the way he had done before in order to speak to Eren. “Eren, would you mind if another scientist came to observe you for a day or two?” he asked, and it wasn’t surprising when Eren’s pseudo-smile faded, his eyes narrowing. It affirmed what Armin had speculated from the file. His memories of the scientists were hardly positive.
“I’d be here, too,” he amended, watching as Eren leaned forward, as if telling him to go on. “It’s just to help me... and well, you. I just need you to show someone other than me how smart you are. If you do that, I can help you.”
What Eren needed help with, Armin wasn’t sure. There was just something about the Titan that made him feel as though Eren was asking for it. The confusion over his name, the excitement when he heard it, the fact he had one in the first place. A creature like that couldn’t always be trapped in a container, mistreated to the point of possibly losing those unique aspects that made him Eren at all.
Even though Armin didn’t know what it was, or if saying something about it would make Eren agree to it, Eren still lowered his head in a slow nod. There was something unspoken there, which made Armin desperately wish Eren could speak. What ever he was trying to say, or was trying to communicate, made Armin sure that there was something Eren wanted. Through testing, and showing someone else that Eren was worth the expense, it was entirely possible that they’d learn what he wanted.
After all, if there was anything Eren could do, it was making the impossible possible.
“Thank you,” Armin said, sighing in relief. “I promise it won’t be anyone from before. I’ll make sure that they’ll treat you correctly. You just have to show them what you’ve shown me.”
Armin had forgotten how uncomfortable Director Levi’s office was. It was too starkly clean, devoid of most colors except the typical cream, grey, brown, and white that seemed to adorn every office Armin had seen. All the furniture was exactly placed, looking as if it hadn’t been touched since it was purchased. Even the potted plants didn’t look natural enough. It was unsettling, and it hardly helped the anxious pulsing feeling in his stomach.
That feeling, however, was rooted in how Levi stared at him over the rim of his teacup. His eyes were sharp gray, pupils narrowed to pinpricks, virtually the opposite of Eren’s widely expressive ones. It was an odd comparison, but given the situation, it was completely applicable.
“Do you know how long you’ve been employed here, Mr. Arlert?” Levi finally said, his voice calm, too level to be assuring. It made Armin feel as if he were guilty of something.
“A week and a half, sir,” he said quietly, finding the urge to stare down at his hands growing overwhelming.
There was a long, dominating silence. The urge grew, and Levi sipped his tea. “Indeed,” he said. “A week and a half precisely. Most of those I’ve hired have been here for six months at least. You’re the newest recruit, because we considered you exceptional.”
“I’m aware, sir,” Armin replied, cursing himself at how shaky his voice sounded. He really had intended for this to go better, and already it felt like it was derailing.
“And you already think it wise to come to me this early in your employment about something that you must be completely aware is a very serious request?”
He gave in and stared at his hands, folded demurely in his lap. “Yes, sir.”
Armin was ready for an angry tirade, for the flood gates to burst open and for his employment to be terminated in seconds. He didn’t expect Levi to actually lean back in his chair, taking another sip, sighing to himself before nodding in Armin’s direction. In fact, he seemed calmer somehow.
“I admire your courage on that front, Mr. Arlert, even if I think it’s a stupid idea,” Levi said. “You’re extremely fortunate that I have a tendency to entertain stupid ideas.”
If that wasn’t an outright affirmation in itself, Armin didn’t know what else could be. He returned his gaze to Levi, feeling that earlier excited energy from the prospect of the idea humming through him like a current. “I can definitely prove that it’s worth the investment, sir. All I need is another scientist, and I even have one in mind, if they’re still around.”
Levi quirked an eyebrow, imploring him to continue.
“A person named H. Zoe. They added something to Eren-- uh, TF-1505’s file that really does coincide with what I’ve already observed.”
It may very well have been the closest Levi could come to a surprised expression, as his eyes widened a fraction, his hand froze so that the rim of the teacup just barely touched his lip. Then, he cleared his throat and set the cup aside, covering his mouth with his hand. It took Armin a moment to realize that Levi was trying to conceal laughter. Of course, he didn’t make a sound, and he hardly moved, but in the seemingly miniscule range of expression he had, it seemed like any normal human would have been shrieking in laughter.
“Hanji, you mean,” he said, and Armin could hear the slight choked sound in his voice.
“If, uh, that’s their name, then yes?”
Levi cleared his throat again, this time shifting around to compose himself. “Mr. Arlert, I don’t know if you’re entirely aware of this. My position of director of this facility requires me to take on multiple responsibilities, to make sure that all of the work done here is of high quality, so that we may eventually win what ever strange war we have on the Titans.”
“I’m aware, sir,” Armin replied, although he felt like he was already missing something.
“It’s also my job to make sure that there’s no bullshit in here. And trust me, I receive plenty of that, and it’s a hassle to clean up.”
Definitely missing something, but it explained the overdone cleanliness. Armin just nodded silently.
Levi leaned forward on his desk, eyes narrowing, pupils shrinking down more if that was possible. His countenance gained a stormy look, and Armin for a moment feared for his life.
“If you want Hanji Zoe to observe TF-1505 for the sake of your research grant, you better damn well want it.”
Armin realized that the stormy expression was a warning. It was nothing directly aimed at Armin, or held against him personally. Levi wasn’t angry at him, or so much frustrated with his request anymore. There was something about Hanji Zoe that was causing him to act like a cat sprayed with water.
So, Armin took a deep breath to steady his nerves before nodding. For Eren’s sake, he figured, he’d put up with anything. “I do, sir,” he said, trying his best to add some air of finality to it.
More silence. Armin tried to ignore the too-bright spray of green of a potted plant in his periphery.
“Done,” Levi concluded.