I'm shit at archery.
And in my village, that shit is golden. If you can't shoot, you run after game like a lunatic with a weapon. If you can't run fast, you set traps. If you're an idiot and you can't even do that, you're stuck in the village, in the epitome of mundanity.
Guess who can't do any of these things.
Well, it certainly isn't the guy next to me.
Whenever I nock an arrow, it swings to the side. When I try to be stealthy, my feet somehow manage to find every single loud twig on the forest floor. I can't set up a decent trap for my life. The intricacies of hunting seem to elude me.
Our village is tiny compared to others I've heard about. I wouldn't know, because I've never left here. We've got about four hundred villagers and we're surrounded by forests and mountains, all rich with wildlife. The nearest other civilization is a day's ride from here to the east, and traders stop by every few months. We get trinkets, and they get meat and furs. Hunting is the biggest thing we've got going.
You want to know who's great at hunting? Well, everyone knows. Good hunters are practically royalty in my village. Reiner's awesome at the lunatic-with-a-club nonsense; he's usually the one that runs down the game and slays it after it's been shot and hobbled.
Bertholdt's an archer. He's pretty good, too, and you wouldn't expect it from such a shy guy.
Erwin used to be our best hunter, but then he lost his arm to a bear, so he obviously can't draw a string back anymore. He just leads a bunch of expeditions now. Levi is the short guy that never leaves Erwin's side; apparently he's one of the best we've ever had, not that anyone would know. He doesn't really talk to anyone.
Mikasa's amazing. Let me tell you. She's just good at everything. Tracking, trapping, skinning, shooting, running, walking, talking, breathing. . . .
Her brother's a little shit, though. I would not mind if loud, antagonizing, idiotic Eren Jaeger got lost on some quest or something. He's not even good. He's just good at walking real quiet, but once he has prey in his sights he goes ballistic and charges it screaming. He hasn't caught a single thing besides a cold.
Well, I haven't either. But Eren shouldn't have been breathing so close to me. It was his fault.
But the most admired hunter by far is Ymir. Ymir is tall, thin, and tan, with smatterings of freckles across her nose and cheeks. She has squinty eyes that are full of nothing but gleeful disdain. She brings back more game than anyone else, and she only goes hunting once a week. That's how good she is.
You've probably noticed that I'm talking an awful lot about hunting. Well, hunting is kind of what our village revolves around. Our forests are too plentiful for it not to. We're too far away from other villages to trade more often, and with winter on the way everyone's making the necessary preparations to survive. We're trying to do better than last year; we lost over sixty people to the chill.
What's my contribution, you ask? Well, friend, let me tell you that my amazing and worthwhile contribution to the noble cause of feeding and supplying our hearty village is to be absolutely fucking useless and help Reiner bake.
Reiner's got this thing where he has to be doing something at all times: socializing, exercising, working, anything. He just can't sit idle. So he's our resident baker when he's not hunting. He's a good guy, and he knows I hate feeling useless, so he taught me how to bake the bread as he stands outside reeling in customers. Or talks to Bertholdt. Bertholdt should work here, not me; the guy never leaves.
I only burned, like, three loaves beyond recognition, and those were first attempts. I got better.
I barely get paid, but I'm fine with that. My older brother Thomas is a decent trapper, so he provides for us enough. My mother and father don't really pressure me to go out and do things. They don't really pay attention to that.
I like my job, sure; I love Reiner (look, I'm not afraid to admit it, because everyone does; it's hard not to) and the task is easy enough (everyone's happy when you make food for them). The only downside is that Eren fucking Jaeger is the same age as me, just as useless, and works for Ymir.
Reiner's cool and all, but Ymir. She works with wicker six days a week, making everything from baskets to stools to chairs, and Eren helps her out and delivers things. I turned head-to-toe jealous when I heard about that. I can't imagine being around Ymir all the time. She's loud, raucous, and makes fun of everybody, but I harbor this weird notion that being around her will make me a better hunter.
The only thing that's heartened me since then is that I hear Ymir's gotten a bunch of new complaints from people. Apparently her works now sometimes fall apart, when before Eren started working with her her products were flawless. I think that's actually the reason I started baking better, you know. I don't know what the hell it is about Eren fucking Jaeger, but he makes me want to best him constantly.
I hear Reiner's booming laugh outside, accompanied by the quiet undercurrent of Bertholdt's chuckling. I roll my eyes. Reiner tends to forget about business when Bertholdt is around. I stick my head out from the back room. Sure enough, Reiner is there, leaning forward with his arms on the counter, talking animatedly to Bertholdt.
Something else catches my attention, and my eyes widen before narrowing. Eren fucking Jaeger is traipsing by, and I grumble unintelligibly to myself. What a little brat. He even walks like a hothead.
To my dismay, Eren strolls right up to the counter, and Reiner starts chatting with him immediately. Traitor! But no, I calm myself. Today is a huge day.
I don't go outside. Like hell I'd willingly associate with that moron. I'm not intimidated or anything, no way. It's just that there are a lot of loaves to be scored. I have a quota to fill. Besides, getting in a fight with Jaeger is bad for my blood pressure. I'm just looking out for my health, see.
I hear Eren's voice stop, and peek out again. He's gone, and I relax. A good day for me is one where I don't have to see his dumb, scrunched little face.
Then I hear Reiner's voice from behind me. "Hey, kid, why are you cooping yourself up? Get out here and socialize."
"Do I have to?" I mutter. I've got to keep up an act. "I've got stuff to do."
Reiner looks around at the admittedly large number of loaves I've baked out of what seems like boredom today (but it's actually not. I've got a plan). "We're going to have to toss some of these. Come on, get out here. Be social with me and Bertl."
Yes! I crow internally. I fake-attempt to resist him with loud protests and more than a few whacks, but he hauls me out to the front and plunks me down beside him. Bertholdt waves shyly; I ignore him. When Reiner wants you to socialize, you do it. He doesn't seem to grasp the concept of the too-awesome-to-meddle-with-mortals. And that's exactly something I've been counting on.
Reiner and Bertholdt resume speaking and I just sit there like a sack of flour. I grunt, "Yeah," appropriately when Reiner pauses and just drift off, picking lumps of dough off my hands. My mind wanders, because today is great. Today is a big day.
I'm sick of bread. I can barely stomach the stuff anymore. No one pays attention to you when you're a baker. No one cares that you're putting food in their belly. No, to get recognition, there has to be blood involved. You need skill. Muscle. Endurance. You need fresh meat.
Reiner's great, but running down deer doesn't seem all that great. Archery is dignified, lethal, and almost a guarantee of a hit. That's the big thing. That's what I want to be. I want to be the next big name on the lips of my peers. I want to be the one parents discuss over dinner when they bring up what their children could be like one day. I want to be above worthless Eren fucking Jaeger once and for all.
Fuck that guy.
Ymir weaves baskets like a normal woman six days a week, but on the seventh she goes out alone and brings home enough dead animals to feed a man for a month.
Today happens to be one of those days.
Today I'm going to seize initiative. I'm going to take that first step forward. When Ymir goes out alone to hunt, I'm going to follow her.
Before you call me a creep, listen. I'm going to learn a thing or two. Maybe I'm just not hiding well enough. Maybe I'm stepping wrong. Watching a master (mistress?) at work will transform me. I know it will. It's got to.
And I know exactly when to begin my expedition, because Ymir always stops by to grab some snacks for her solo hunt. Reiner usually makes sure to bake her favorite: chocolate-studded rolls made with sweetened bread. Cocoa is a luxury out here, but Ymir gets what Ymir wants. And why the fuck would Ymir want that, honestly. Sweetened bread is fucking disgusting.
I happen to glance up and see her approaching. My heart picks up an excited pace, because my plan is beginning. She's not too tall, but her presence matters; people subconsciously make way for her, scurrying out of the way, smiling nervously at her squinty glare and purposefully swinging fists and the five huge scars that stretch across her skin from shoulder to hip.
Ymir doesn't care enough to hide them. Long and bumpy and ropy, those white scars have been on her for as long as I can remember. She often wears clothing that reveals her midriff and upper chest, so no one really forgets about them.
She got them from the naga.
Ymir's always eager to rip her shirt off and tell you exactly how she got those scars, modesty be damned. I remembered the exact moment she told me. I was twelve, and she was sixteen. I asked her upfront why her chest looked like a nightmare, and she thrust out with her hands, seized my upper arms, and lifted me bodily over her head. I can still recall with perfect clarity that psychotic grin. "You want to know, little boy?" she asked, and I nodded.
So then she set me down and told me, along with a crowd of my enraptured peers. She'd been hunting up in the cliffs to the northwest of our little village with her brother when she saw it. The naga. The fearsome and freakish fusion between a man and a cobra. Ymir told us all about how she'd bravely fought the gigantic creature and barely escaped with her life and the five deep wounds from when the beast had scored her with its terrible clawed hands. Her brother had been devoured before her very eyes.
"I don't go up there anymore, kids," she said, nodding sagely, "and if I don't, no one does. You don't fuck with that naga. And if anyone does, it's going to be me."
No one hunted in the northwestern cliffs for fear of the naga. Honestly, sometimes I used to lie awake at night, imagining the slithery, slimy body of a snake rustling outside my bedroom door. I used to creep into Thomas's bed and sleep with him until he decided I was too old for it to be cute anymore and started shoving me out.
Well, I got the fuck over it, obviously. But still, no one fucks with that naga. Once something that dangerous makes its home somewhere, you deal with it and you avoid it.
Ymir strolls up to Bertholdt and slams her hip into him hard enough to make him yelp and buckle. "Whoops! Sorry, Berty! You should really learn to get out of the way."
"It's okay. I'm sorry," Bertholdt squeaks, and makes his hasty exit. Reiner looks a little put out.
"The usual, Ymir?" he asks her, reaching behind the counter to bring out the prepared bundle. I baked those chocolate monstrosities this week. I feel pretty proud for that.
"You bet'cha," Ymir says eagerly, snatching up her goodies and tossing a coin in the air for Reiner to catch. "Thanks, stud."
"Anytime, girly. Hey, tell me how the rolls are, yeah? Jean baked them this time."
Ymir raises a critical eyebrow over at me, and I do my best to look awesomely and casually indifferent. I'm not sure if it works, because Ymir scoffs and spins on her heel, walking away and waving a hand dismissively. I see she's already bedecked in hunting gear, and have to refrain from bouncing in excitement.
I clear my throat. "Hey, Reiner."
"Hmm?" he hums distractedly, looking around. He's probably looking for Bertholdt.
"Sooo," I say slowly, my heart pounding a bit. "I did a lot of work today."
"You did," he agrees, turning to look at me.
"So I can have the rest of the day off, right?" I ask in a rush, slapping on a hopefully cute smile.
Reiner scoffs at my attempt to beg. He waves a hand graciously. "Do whatever. You earned it, worker bee."
Fuck yeah! I stop myself from punching the air in success and vault off the stool. "Thanks, man!"
"Don't get into trouble with Eren again, all right? Separating you two is getting old," he calls after me as I collect my stuff and barrel out the back door.
Shit shit shit, please don't have left already, pleaaase, I beg internally, trotting in the direction Ymir had gone. I want to say I dodge all the people who want to say hello to me, but no one does. The most attention I get is from the butcher, who narrows his eyes at me and stares until I'm out of sight. Christ, you steal one sausage and suddenly you're a criminal.
There! I see the back of Ymir's ponytailed head in the crowd. I jog closer to her before matching her pace, trying not to look suspicious. I probably look like a crazy Ymir stalker. It's not the first time it's happened. Ymir's got a lot of admirers and some of them are nuts.
Eventually we reach the western edge of town, where the forest looms, dark and foreboding. I can hardly contain my excitement. I kind of wish Jaeger can see me right now! On a hunt with Ymir, the best of the best and his boss besides! Well, Ymir doesn't know I'm with her. That's okay, though. We're buddies even if she doesn't know.
She doesn't even break her stride as she slips right between the trunks of the trees and, with a rustle of the bushes, disappears into the gloom.
Making sure no one is watching, I follow her.
Oh Christ it's my first shipping fic. And my first SNK fic. Lord preserve me.