A/N: I should probably mention that these early chapters are going to be rather tame, all things considered, but that will not be the case through the entirety of this fic. As it goes on, there will be depictions of physical and emotional abuse, as well as the impact that plays on the people involved. I'm going to keep it as "tame" as I can without feeling like I'm lessening the effects of it, but if you're easily triggered by physical abuse, this probably isn't a good fanfiction for you. It's a slavery AU, and that fact isn't going to be glossed over. That being said, there will be no depictions of sexual abuse. I might hint at it at one point with one character (and she isn't any of the 104th), but it will not be portrayed in any way.
Also – there isn't really a set "time" for this fanfiction to take place. It doesn't take place in the canon universe, but I don't really have a set era either. It takes place in an old-fashioned society with limited technology.
"Mikasa, get back from there." Kimi made her voice stern enough to catch Mikasa's attention, but she couldn't help but smile as the girl stepped from the opening of the wagon they were sitting in. Mikasa frowned, but listened to her mother, moving her hand so the the heavy canvas covering the opening in the back fell back into place, surrounding the two in relative darkness only broken by the small amount of light that filtered down through the cloth covering the carriage. "I know you're excited," she said as Mikasa crawled into her lap, "but you don't want to fall out. That would just spell trouble for both of us."
Kimi Ackerman wanted to feel relief that they were finally changing homes after living in darkness with her daughter for six long years – she really did. Mikasa seemed eager enough to finally see more of the world, but that was because Mikasa had no concept of just how cruel her would could really be. Kimi had seen that firsthand. She had seen just about the worst that mankind had to offer, and had been victimized by it all for her pretty face. They could be going into a life far from those types of horrors – every bone in her body was praying to whatever powers that be, that her suspicions were nothing more than mere suspicions – but she knew it was a very real possibility, and that made her more than a little nauseous. The last thing she wanted was her daughter to see and endure the same things she had.
"Do you now how much longer it'll be until we get there?" Her mother just shook her head.
"I'm not sure. Just sit tight. We'll get there eventually." As if sensing something was off about her mother, Mikasa stood up so that she was looking her in the eyes, her dark eyebrows furrowed. "Yes?" she asked with a chuckle.
"Are you okay?" she asked. "You seem sad. Aren't you happy that we're moving?" Kimi gave her daughter a small smile, gently stroking one of her cheeks with the back of her fingers.
"I'm excited," she told the child. "I was just thinking about something."
"About what?" She shook her head.
"It doesn't matter. It's nothing you need to worry about. Just remember what I told you, and listen to Mr. Leonhardt." Mikasa just nodded before standing up and moving toward the back of the wagon again to peer at the surrounding scenery from behind the canvas.
"Let's just go find something to do outside, Annie," Eren sighed for what felt like the hundredth time in the span of ten minutes. "I'm tired of just sitting here." At first, the blonde girl glared forward, refusing to answer him. As annoyed as Eren was, Annie was just aggravated. Her father pulled this kind of stuff all the time. It wasn't bad enough that he was "too busy" with running his stupid shop that he couldn't find the time to help her celebrate her seventh birthday – he had to be late. He had to demand that she waited until he got home before she went to Eren's house so they could celebrate it at his house. It wasn't Annie's first choice, but Armin's grandpa wasn't quite at an ideal age to host a birthday part, and the Jaegers were kind people who had gladly opened their door to her.
"I'll be back soon, Annie," he had said. "A half hour, tops." That had been well over an hour ago. Annie wasn't really sure what she had expected – she had rarely seen her father even before her mom had taken ill and died. She wasn't sure why she had been hoping her father was going to step up after that. It seemed like a stupid fantasy, but one that she had unfortunately held on to.
"Annie," a different voice cut her thoughts off, one far less annoying and grating than Eren's was quickly becoming. Armin gave her a smile "Let's go play hide-and-seek or something, get your mind off of it. I'm sure your dad just got busy. He'll be here eventually. We can go play until then." He placed a hand on her shoulder and she felt her heartbeat speed like it always did when she was around him. Finally, Annie relented.
"Fine," she sighed, standing up and sending the wooden chain underneath her screeching as it slid backward across the hardwood floor of the kitchen. The two boys followed her into her front yard.
Shinganshina wasn't an especially huge city, but it was dense and heavily populated. There were several businesses that provided the residents with the necessities – a marketplace where the farmers that lived on the outskirts of the city raised animals and produce for selling, a tailor, a cobbler, a jeweler, Grisha Jaeger was the resident doctor, and her own father the blacksmith. The area of the town where merchants liked to sell their wares was always crowded, and Annie and Armin lived just outside of that. Eren and his family lived a bit further away from all that, near the outskirts.
Annie elected to be the first seeker, and she found Armin within minutes. He had the detrimental habit of laughing whenever someone came near his hiding spot, so he was usually pretty awful at this game. Annie just rolled her eyes as she walked past a tree.
"Armin, I know you're behind that. I can hear you."
"Again, huh?" Armin asked, grinning his boyish grin as he stepped out into sight.
"You suck at this game, Armin," Annie told him, trying to ignore the slight blush on his cheeks as he continued to smile at her.
"I never denied that."
"Then why do you insist we play this?" Annie felt herself smiling at him, in spite of her mild annoyance.
"Because I don't like seeing you sad." She could feel her cheeks burning slightly, so she turned her face from Armin.
"Let's go find Eren." Annie had no sooner stepped out onto her front lawn that she saw her father's carriage come to a stop a few feet from their rather large home. She quickly moved to his side as he stepped down out of the covered wagon. The large man gave her a smile, bending down to pick the seven-year-old up.
"I have a bit of a surprise for you, Annie," her told his daughter as they moved to the back of the wagon. Her blue eyes trained forward expectantly, trying to shove her previous irritation to the back of her mind as Alaric pulled back the canvas of the wagon to reveal two dark-haired strangers that Annie had never seen before. The older of the two took that as a cue to stand up, holding her daughter in a way identical to how Annie was being held, as she stepped out to stand in front of them silently.
"Is this what you wanted to make me wait for?" she deadpanned. Her father ignored her.
"This is Kimi," Alaric continued, as Annie stared at the woman with limited curiosity, more focused on the child in her arms. She was as pale as her mother, with long black hair, and she was looking at Annie in turn with a very similar expression. "She's a slave." Annie didn't really react to that news, as she had no idea what a slave even was, but her father continued, "I bought her and her daughter today, and she's going to help around the house. You can ignore her for the most part." Now her father turned to look at the "slave" dead in the eyes. "You are not to give my daughter orders or to speak to her any differently than you would me." Kimi just nodded.
"Of course, Sir." The man then placed Annie back on the ground, glaring at the Asian woman until she echoed his motions with her own child. Kimi could feel Mikasa tense up in her arms as she began to pry her arms from their grip around her neck. "It's alright, Mikasa," she murmured to the nervous girl. "I'm right here." She understood Mikasa's change in demeanor – prior to this, she had never known anyone but her mother. Everyone else she'd ever interacted with had been either cruel or outright harmed her. Finally, Mikasa seemed to calm slightly, and she sat her down in front of Annie.
"There's your birthday gift," he told Annie. "Happy birthday." Annie looked at Mikasa for a few moments longer, before her confused eyes shifted to her father. Alaric noticed that clearly something wasn't setting in her mind, so he tried a different approach. "You wanted a pet, right?"
"I wanted a rabbit," she replied, her tone betraying her inability to process what was going on. This girl was definitely not a rabbit. She wasn't even a pet. Annie didn't even really understand how a person could even be a gift.
"She's better than a rabbit," the man tried to coax his daughter into a slightly more agreeable frame of mind. "You can teach her tricks. Train her to be more interesting and obedient than a mindless rabbit." He paused to look at his daughter, who still appeared to be highly unconvinced. He fought the urge to groan. "Or, Annie, if you prefer, tell her to be a fucking rabbit."
"But Mr. Leonhardt," Mikasa's voice was soft as she spoke up for the first time, looking timidly up at the man from beside her mother, "I don't wanna be a rabbit." Alaric immediately glared down at the child and she took a step back, so that her back was pressed against Kimi.
"I didn't ask you what you wanted," he spat. "You are going to do what you're told. If my daughter tells you to hop, you fucking hop." Mikasa made a slight whimpering noise and leaned against her mother's leg, but said nothing else. Alaric tore his irritated blue eyes from the girl and instead focused on Kimi. "You, come with me." Mikasa just tightened her vicegrip hold on the woman's skirt and she leaned down next to her.
"I'm not going anywhere. I'll be at the house, alright? Try to get to know her." She gently ruffled her daughter's ebony hair. "I'll see you later, dear. You'll be fine." Mikasa's dark eyes followed the two adults as they continued up the driveway leading to the house, feeling a strong sense of unease as she was left alone with the blonde girl that clearly didn't want her around. An uncomfortable silence followed their departure as Mikasa stared at the ground in front of her and Annie tried to find the right works to speak to her, as Mikasa was evidently not going to break the ice.
"Hey Annie!" A cheerful voice called out, as a blond boy took a position standing next to her. He looked at Mikasa, blue eyes shining and his face beaming in a very excited, childish way that was foreign to the young slave. "Annie, who is this?" he asked.
"Her name is Mikasa," she introduced them as the blond extended his hand in her direction. "Dad said she's going to be living with us."
"My name is Armin," he told her. "It's nice to meet you, Mikasa." Mikasa, not accustomed to all this attention, could feel her discomfort worsen and she hid her red face behind a curtain of her long black hair. Armin took the hint and lowered his hand, but his smile didn't falter.
"Oi!" A rather annoyed voice accompanied the group, a sharp contrast to Armin's exuberant joy. "I don't know why I even bother playing this with you two, because you always end up doing this!" A rather indignant brunet stepped up beside the two blondes, glaring at them both from behind a pair of turquoise eyes. His voice took on a slightly mocking tone. 'Oh don't worry about Eren, he'll show up eventually, let's just stop looking for him to go off and do something else, I'm sure he'll realize what happened!' I'm getting really fed up with it, Annie." Annie just shrugged.
"I found more interesting things to do than crawl around on the ground looking for you."
"Funny how you always have the time to find Armin," he grumbled.
"Armin is more interesting than you are." Armin loudly cleared his throat to silence the bickering, before looking at Mikasa again, who was only barely peeking at Eren from behind her hair. Eren's eyes followed Armin, noticing the trepid girl for the first time.
"Do you want to play with us, Mikasa?" Armin asked her. "We're playing hide-and-seek before we go to Eren's house." Mikasa nodded, not wanting to refuse him despite having no real desire to play. It was decided that Armin would be the seeker, and Mikasa soon found a hedge to duck into.
Maybe it was just her, but Mikasa's just wasn't seeing the appeal of this game. She didn't find kneeling under a bush up to her knees in bugs to be a very good representation of "fun", but the other three seemed to get some sort of enjoyment out of it. She watched Armin from the bush, as he was poking around in the back of the carriage they had arrived to the house in. In a lot of ways, this was really surreal to the girl. Mikasa had spent all of her life, six years, living in a cell with her mother. She had never interacted with anyone else, especially not other kids her age. Eren and Armin seemed friendly enough, and even Annie didn't seem mean. She seemed like she didn't want much to do with her, but not mean. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad. Maybe-
Mikasa's thoughts cut off abruptly as she collided with something. Her eyes closed instinctively, flinching before she opened her eyes again and saw what exactly her face had bumped into. She was looking directly into a pair emerald green-blue eyes, their lips embarrassingly close to making contact with each other. Mikasa could feel her face explode into a hot red, and she tore back away from the brunet as quickly as she could.
"I'm s-so sor-" she began to splutter out, but stopped mid-sentence when she got a good look at the boy, her lips curling up in a smile. As red as she was, it was nothing compared to the deep shade of crimson that he had taken on, as he was staring at the ground, desperately avoiding eye contact with her, trying to hide his face under his messy mop of brown hair. Mikasa wasn't sure why she found that so funny – but she did, and a small fit of giggles gave her away. Hearing her laughter, the brunet looked up at her, turning an even deeper shade of red.
"What's so funny?" he muttered, crossing his arms and trying to looked annoyed, but Mikasa could see he was even more embarrassed than she was.
"You!" she giggled.
"I'm glad you find it so humorous," the boy grumbled, "because you were as red as me a second ago."
"I'm sorry," Mikasa eventually repeated, "but you looked ridiculous trying to hide behind your hair. It's way too short for that." Mikasa was finally composing herself enough to speak after a few more laughs. Turquoise eyes rolled in exaggerated annoyance, but he returned her smile, extending a hand to her.
" Well, I'm glad I made a good first impression. You're Mikasa, right? That's what I thought I heard Armin say." Mikasa nodded. "I'm Eren." This time, the shy girl took Eren's hand in greeting.
"It's nice to meet you, Eren." Eren was about to release her hand, but that was when he noticed something rather unusual on her outstretched limb: a number, red and etched deep into her skin. He looked at it curiously, Mikasa noticed his staring, but made no attempt to tear her arm back.
"That's just my ID number," Mikasa said, her eyes also resting on the mark. Eren looked up at her, confused.
"For what?" She shrugged.
"I don't know. My mom has one, too, but she never told me what it was for." Eren's brows furrowed slightly as he inspected it further, but he eventually smiled at her.
"It looks cool." Mikasa returned his grin.
"Thanks. It hurts a bit still, but Mom said that will pass and that all slaves have to get one." Eren frowned; that word was unfamiliar to him.
"What's a slave?" Mikasa shrugged again.
"I'm not sure. I know I am one. So is Mom. I don't know what it means. She told me that she'll tell me when I'm older." Suddenly, the bush split right between them, and Armin's blond head popped in, perpetrating the limited space between them. Mikasa let out a startled yelp and jumped back several feet, whereas Eren fell off his knees and onto his side, scowling at his friend.
"Armin, don't do that!" he snapped, sitting up and crossing his arms. Armin just grinned at the brunet, though his grin was more than just amused – it was annoyingly self-satisfied, as if he knew something that Eren didn't. It had taken Armin two seconds to see what was going on – the close proximity Eren and Mikasa were to each other, the flush that was slowly fading from Eren's cheeks. Clearly, the two had been having a moment, and Armin had interrupted it.
"Did I scare you?"
"No," Eren muttered, defensive, "but give me some warning next time." The blond just rolled his eyes.
"Next time we're playing hide and seek, try to not flirt behind a bush while you're supposed to be quiet and hiding."
"I wasn't flirting with her!" Eren practically shouted, his face returning to it's previous shade of crimson. "We were just talking." Now it was Mikasa's turn to blush harder than Eren, though instead of arguing, she was pointedly staring at the ground, twirling the ends of her hair around her index finger.
"Then why are you so red?" Armin replied, smug. Rather than try to argue with him, Eren just glowered at the boy.
"Shut up, Armin," he snapped, "you've been crushing on Annie since you could both walk, okay? Don't talk to me about flirting." Very quickly, the shit-eating grin fell from Armin's face like a brick of lead.
"Don't sat that out loud!" he hissed. "She might hear you!" Eren smirked.
"So you admit that you like her?"
"NO!" Armin shouted, a bit too defensive to support his claim properly. "It's not like that, Eren. We're just friends." Eren just rolled his eyes as he stood up. He held his hand out to Mikasa and the two emerged from the bush, stretching out their legs.
"Did you find Annie yet?" Armin shook his head.
"Nah. You two were being very loud, so it was easy to find you." Armin looked back to Mikasa. "Do you now what to do next?"
"I have to help you find her now, right? Armin nodded and they all spread out in different directions.
Mikasa hadn't gone far before she could hear a twig snap. It was a subtle sound, but it led her eyes to train on a tree on the edge of the rather large property. She followed the base of the tree upward, until she saw Annie sitting on a branch a good several feet up. Upon seeing Mikasa, Annie stood up on the limb she was perched on, carefully balancing on it before jumping down. The dark-haired girl felt her body jolt in panic, but Annie landed on her feet a few inches from Mikasa.
"Not bad," she said upon touching the ground. "Eren and Armin are both awful at this game. Eren can't find someone to save his life and usually gets whiny about it, and Armin can't stop laughing once he does find a spot so he gets found quickly."
"How did you get up there?" Mikasa finally asked her, only half-listening to Annie. She was more forced on that tree; the lowest branch was at least three feet higher than they were tall.
"I climbed." Mikasa finally met the girl's ice-colored eyes, seeing that she was being completely serious.
"Oh." Mikasa was a tad bit thrown off but the girl's drastic change in attitude toward her. Some of the things her mother had told her were quickly coming to the front of her mind – that Mr. Leonhardt was now to her something called a "master", and Mikasa knew that she was supposed to obey her master. He had told her to to stay with and listen to Annie, and if there was one thing that her short life had taught her, it was that masters weren't kind people. They could be mean and they could hurt you, but Annie wasn't acting like that at all. It was more than encouraging to the young slave.
"By the way," Annie told her with a slight grin, "you don't have to hop like a rabbit."
As the four of them started to walk to Eren's house, Eren and Armin took turns pointing out various landmarks in Shinganshina to Mikasa, like the huge winding river that snaked its way through the center of the city, and provided both a means of transportation to boats and a relatively clean source of fresh water for the residents without a well. There was a church, shop, houses an absolutely thriving marketplace, and more people than Mikasa ever imagined seeing in her life. It was a surreal experience to the girl that had never seen a thing like it.
Finally, they made to the Jaeger household. Eren was the first to walk in, followed by Armin, than Annie, and Mikasa was the last to shuffle over the threshold to the unfamiliar home. The first thing she was treated to was a moderately sized kitchen, with a wooden table and chairs. There were smells permeating through the house that made Mikasa's stomach immediately snarl in desire. She had no sooner gotten a look around the room that she was suddenly face-to-face with a woman she'd never seen before. She looked very similar to Eren – the same face, the only different being her warm brown eyes. Even her hair was the same color, only longer and in a ponytail that fell down one of her shoulders.
"And who do we have here?" she asked, giving Mikasa a smile that reminded her a lot of how her own mother looked at her. "I've never seen you before, dear. What's your name?" All the apprehension Mikasa normally felt when faced with a stranger was nonexistent, as she felt abnormally comfortable around this woman.
"Mikasa," she replied, and the woman just beamed at her.
"That's a beautiful name, Mikasa. My name is Carla." Carla stood up. "I'm the mother of that pain in the butt over there," she said, gesturing to Eren, who quickly grew indignant.
"Thanks, Mom," he growled. That got a laugh out of her.
"I'm glad you're finally making more friends, Eren. It's about time."
"Can we just eat?" Eren huffed grabbing Mikasa by the arm and stalking off to the table where Armin and Annie were already sitting. Mikasa just giggled as Eren pulled her down into to chair beside him. "Please don't encourage her, Mikasa," he groaned. That time, Annie snorted in laughter.
"Don't let him fool you. Eren is actually the biggest Mama's Boy on the planet." Eren opened his mouth to protest, but Armin cut him off.
"Don't deny it. We all know that it's true."
"Your Mom seems really sweet," Mikasa told Eren, who rolled his eyes.
"My Mom is a pain in the ass-" Suddenly Eren let out a pained moan, as his mother reached down and pulled one of his ears.
"Watch your mouth," she scolded. Eren was mostly silent for the rest of the meal, as Armin and Annie mostly spoke to each other. Mikasa was quickly seeing the dynamic those two had – the way they would almost always be stealing glances at each other, the way Annie's eyes would light up when Armin would compliment her, the almost constant blush present on Armin's face – she knew exactly what Eren had meant when he had accused Armin of having a crush on Annie. After they were all done eating, Armin and Annie had decided that they wanted to go outside while Carla was getting the cake ready. Mikasa followed them, but Eren hung back to talk to Carla for a moment.
"Hey, Mom?" Eren asked as she was cleaning up the table that the children had left dirtied.
"Hm?" she hummed in response, still working as Eren watched her.
"Mom, what is a slave?" There was a slight shift in Carla's body language, as she finally turned to look at Eren, her brown eyes slightly troubled.
"Where did you hear that word?"
"That's what Mikasa called herself," Eren explained, taking note of how disturbed his mother seemed to be upon hearing that news. "She said that both her and her mom are slaves. They have numbers on their wrists, too. Mikasa wasn't sure what it meant. I was wondering if you did."
"That little girl is a slave?" she asked softly, staring at the doorway where Mikasa had just left.
"That's what she said." Now Eren was really curious about what exactly that word meant, because he could see it was clearly bothering his mother. "Is it bad?" he probed. Carla sighed, finally looking down at her son. Like hell she was going to try and explain to her six-year-old son that his new friend had less rights than a horse. That was a conversation that could wait many more years.
"It's nothing you need to worry about," she told him. Eren opened his mouth to protest, but she shooed him way. "When Mikasa is old enough to understand what a slave is, you'll be old enough too. Now go play with your friends."
"Mom-" he started to whine, but Carla fixed him in a glare that told him this was no longer open to debate.
"Go outside, Eren Jaeger." Scowling, Eren slunk out the doorway after his friends, and Carla exchanged a look with her husband from where he was sitting at the table, reading her mind: Mikasa was about to become a rather large presence in Eren's life if she was here to stay, and as sweet as it was, it brought along a feeling of strong apprehension for what the future would hold for the two of them.