A/N: Hi everybody! So I'm very nervous but excited to post this. It's my first fic ever for Attack on Titan, or any of my anime fandoms for that matter. Basically this is my experiment with what would happen if ONE very important event in the SNK universe hadn't happened: Eren saving Mikasa. Obviously I had to take some liberties with this alternate timeline, because in full honesty I think that if Mikasa hadn't been with them all this time they'd all probably be dead, so just bear with me please!

All credit for these wonderful characters and their fucked up world goes to Hajime Isayama of course!

"We go out on our own, it's a big bad world outside,

Carrying our dreams and all that they mean

Trying to make it all worthwhile."

~Kodaline, "Big Bad World"

Prologue: That Day Before

The little boy's breath ripped from his throat, leaving puffs of condensation in the air behind him as he raced through that fateful cold winter day. He remained unbothered by the chill, however; a long maroon scarf was wrapped a few times around his neck and his stormy blue-green eyes flashed as adrenaline coursed through him. He'd been running for some time now, driven by a single thought for fuel: find her.

The scene he'd just witnessed kept replaying itself in his mind: the blood spattered across the floor and onto the window, the man and woman lying still and lifeless, fear in their glassy eyes. That was the last emotion they'd ever known.

"Too late," his father had said as he checked both of their lifeless corpses. Though he didn't know why his father had needed to check. Their fates were obvious. His father glanced around the room of the small cabin at the top of the mountain, then back at him.

"Eren, have you seen the girl- Mikasa- anywhere nearby?"

"No," he answered in a monotone. His father nodded gravely.

"I'll get the Military Police and have them conduct an investigation. You'll wait at the bottom of the mountain. Is that clear, Eren?"

But Eren hadn't wanted to wait. He knew that getting more people to help would take too long, and they did not have time to waste. He couldn't stop thinking about the faces of the dead man and woman. Imagining what it would be like if they had been his parents; what it would be like to watch them fall to the floor. She was around his age. Horror clutched at his throat, the same horror he knew she must have felt, and he knew he couldn't let her continue on like that. He had to get to her. He couldn't let the same bastards who had done such horrible things to innocent people hurt her too.

Finally just as he thought his race through the cold would never end, the sight he'd been hoping for sprang into view: a different small cabin emerging before him from between the trees. He'd heard tell of a settlement out in this part of the forest, and he'd heard that it was a place frequented by criminals and those who had something to hide. His mother had warned him to never venture far this way, but of course now he had to. It was the only place that made sense where they could have taken her. He slowed his footsteps and tread carefully as he climbed the steps toward the front door, ducking beneath the window so as not to be seen. He hoped to get a good view of the situation before going in.

Slowly, he lifted his head slightly to the window, hoping no attention would be drawn to the movement outside. However, as the room inside finally came into full view, an icy feeling started in the pit of his stomach and started to grow, making it hard to breathe. He didn't need to worry about being seen at all.

The room was empty.

In a panic, Eren stepped back, a thousand thoughts rushing through his head. Was he wrong? Where else would they have gone? But then he heard a sound that made the chill already sinking through his chest solidify into ice: a single shout followed immediately by the sound of hooves on the ground, accompanied grinding wheels.

Desperately, he raced around to the back of the cabin, spotting the wagon the horses were just starting to pull away down a narrow forest road. One big burly man sat up front, driving the carriage, while two others sat in back. The closer Eren got, the more he could make out a mop of raven black hair in the back; a shade of black he'd only ever seen for hair on the dead woman back at the other mountain cabin. It had to be their daughter. He picked up his pace wildly, getting closer and closer as the wagon continued at its steady pace ahead.

Eren could see the little girl's face now, pale with hopeless eyes. She was the only one looking behind them as the wagon pulled away, while her captors talked to each other and the driver up front, laughing cruelly. In that moment, time seemed to stand still as Eren's eyes locked with hers. Where moments before she'd looked as though all her will to live had gone, now her eyes widened at the sight of him, as he waved frantically at her, afraid to shout and draw attention to himself. For the second time that day, he was running so much he felt like his throat was tearing itself apart with every freezing breath, but he didn't care. He was actually gaining on them, the men up front still not paying enough attention to notice him. He was so close now. He reached out a hand to the girl, but she did not reach back. She couldn't.

And then they saw him.

"Hey, what do you think you're doing?"

One of the kidnappers appeared, glaring down at Eren. Then his snarl turned into a smirk.

"Get a load of this, guys. This pipsqueak's here to save the girl!" they all burst into laughter at the sight of the scrawny eight-year-old-boy.

But Eren kept his pace with the wagon, refusing to give in. "Let her go!" he screamed.

"Awwww that's sweet, but you're gonna have to find yourself another girlfriend." The man's mocking voice devolved into a growl as he reached over the side and pulled Eren up by his collar. Eren choked, struggling uselessly against the man's hold. He reached for the knife he'd hidden in his pocket, but it fell to the forest floor with a dull thud as the wagon went over a bump. He glanced back at the girl, their eyes meeting again as she watched him in horror. Then the kidnapper began to lift Eren up, and suddenly the name his father had said earlier snapped back into Eren's mind.

"Mikasa!" he sputtered. He saw her start slightly as he said it. "Mikasa, I'm going to find you someday. I promise!"

"Sure kid," the kidnapper drawled, and with that he threw Eren from the wagon to the side of the road, where the little boy lay still. Then the man up front yelled at the horses and shook the reins, and the wagon went careening off down the path, the small girl staring after the lifeless form of the stormy-eyed boy with the maroon scarf until she couldn't see him anymore.