Eight Years Later
Training Grounds of the 104th Trainee Division
"You, what's that expression for?!"
Adam stood upright, stiff, and squinted as he was yelled at. That bastard drill instructor had had his whole division standing in the same position for almost four hours. His arms, despite the fact they were well trained, ached for holding the salute for so long. His legs cramped, and he felt his face crumple into a dark scowl.
"What expression, sir?" He quipped back, respectfully, but with a hint of sarcasm.
"Don't play coy with me, boy!" The Drill Sergeant yelled in his face. He wanted to punch the idiot straight in the guts when he felt globules of spit land across his face. Instead, his grimace grew darker.
"I'm sorry, sir!" He responded through his teeth, crushing his anger as best he could.
"Sorry, huh?" The Drill Sergeant persisted. "Sorry that you've finally got a taste of what being a soldier is actually like, huh, big-shot?"
Adam responded to the insult. He felt himself twitch, and the fist raised to his chest in the salute tighten. He forced himself to keep it there.
"Commander Erwin can't babysit you here, shithead!'
Fuck. Adam thought to himself. Now they all know.
With that thought, he suddenly became aware of all the other Trainees around him tightening. He heard Jean scoff at him from behind. He visibly saw Eren twitch two Trainees down from him.
"He knows Erwin?!" Came a furious whisper from his rear. He felt the anger boiling inside him. This Drill Sergeant had had it out for him since day one. Perhaps he didn't like Erwin.
That being said, I don't like Erwin overly, either. He thought to himself. Guy doesn't turn up for six years and I still get shit when people say his perfect name.
"No, sir. You're right, sir!" He made himself look the Sergeant in the eyes as he said it. The confrontation seemed to dismay the screaming officer, a little.
"Damn right!" He listened to the brute yell, albeit less loudly and obnoxiously than last time. "Now, the rest of you! Don't think that Princess over here gets any extra rights because he knows the Commander of the Recon Corps! In fact, I bet he's from the Capital! I bet he's weaker than all of us!"
Adam felt his anger nearly boil over. He was about to sock the Sergeant right in his smug face.
He remembered Levi saying that that was always his problem, when he had been training with him.
"You're too impulsive." He recalled the Corporal saying, in his typical satirical drone. "The enemy feel nothing. To kill them, you need to feel nothing. Any emotion you have in combat is a disadvantage."
Regardless of what Levi had said, and regardless of the fact the chronic clean-freak had been the closest thing to a brother he'd ever had, the desire to smack his sergeant was overwhelming.
That's the point of the drilling. He heard Erwin's authoritative voice ringing in his head. They break you down, to build you up again.
Instead of physical violence - which he'd discerned was a stupid idea - he thought he might try and pacify the sergeant through words.
"Sir, I respectfully-"
"He's not weaker, sir!"
Adam watched as the big man's thick skull darted upwards and his gaze fell on someone in the ranks behind him.
"What the fuck?!" Came the Sergeant's response, and Adam again stifled his anger as best he could as he was covered in spittle.
"He's not weaker, Sir!"
Adam recognised the voice. To speak out like this, in front of the Sergeant? What was she thinking?
He watched the Sergeant's thick face descend into a menacing grimace. He felt no fear himself - Levi had taught him how easy it was to dispose of men - but he noticed the rest of the 104th get even tenser than they had been before.
They can't keep that tension up, especially not with the Sun today. He thought idle-mindedly to himself. One of them is bound to pass out.
He moved his eyes to the Drill Sergeant and watched the big man strut pretentiously down the front line of trainees.
"Got something to say, Potato Girl?!"
Fuck. Sasha, I'm sorry about that.
"Sir, yes Sir!" He heard Sasha yell in response. He heard her voice quivering. He silently scolded himself for setting her up like this. People had a wonderful habit of complicating their lives for him, whether intentionally or not, and he hated it. He hated himself for it.
"What is so important that you need to stipulate it disrespectfully?!"
He heard a scoff from behind him.
"More like unintelligently." He heard Jean utter to Marco.
Shooting the tall guy a poisonous glare, he responded.
"Watch your fucking mouth."
Instead of replying, he noticed Jean simply flinch, and then scowling, saw him return to the stock-still salute. He turned back around to face the front, and chimed back in to Sasha being shouted down.
"Sir! His fitness test scores, sir!"
"What about them?!"
"Sir! They were exceptional!"
He noticed a pause from the sergeant, and saw the massive, dark silhouette in his peripheral vision draw away from Sasha slightly.
"Exceptional, you say?" He noticed the Sergeant's voice was dripping with venom.
'Sir, yes Sir!" He heard Sasha respond. "His physical aptitude tests placed in the top 200 of all time, Sir!"
Why is she defending me?
"He was second-equal in our division, Sir! Tied with Reiner Braun, both of whom were only slightly edged out by Mikasa Ackerman, in first place, Sir!"
"The point of this rant, Potato Girl?"
"Sir! I believe it's unfair to call him weak, sir!"
Another scoff from behind, he heard. It was Annie this time, he realised.
What's her problem?
He remembered how abrasive she'd been towards everyone in the Trainee division since they'd arrived at the training camp. He thought she subtly reminded him of Levi. Calm. Collected, reserved. But cold. Cold and uncaring. He vowed that he would never become someone like that; the ability to retain human feelings whilst on the job was one of the reasons he did admire Erwin, he recalled. Nevertheless, he didn't turn to face her, and took the grunt.
She obviously thinks that I am. He thought. She's probably just upset that I beat her.
He briefly snapped out of his thoughts, and noticed that the Drill Sergeant was still ripping into Sasha. Something about a stolen potato. Perhaps that's where the brute had gotten the nickname from, he mulled. Still, he thought that he'd much rather be called Potato Girl than Princess.
Fuck that guy.
He allowed himself to break discipline for a moment, and turned his head to look down the front rank that stood either side of him. The sergeant was pre-occupied to his left, so he was sure he could get away with it for a brief moment.
He'd made a point of trying to learn all their names as soon as he could. He wasn't sure why. He liked names. He guessed that was because he never had a real one of his own. Levi had told him the entire story. He'd heard it a thousand times from Hanji, as well. Erwin found him, and his knife, and they named him after what was engraved on the side. That perturbed him, he realised; Erwin would be as fickle as to name him in a language that isn't even spoken any more, on some artifact he'd found from god-knows-where?
That knife. He recalled the Commander saying to him. That knife, I found with you, Adam. It even has your name on the side, see? That language is old. It's special.
He felt himself waver slightly when he remembered how close to Erwin he used to be.
Like you, Adam. Don't lose it. And please; when you're with your new family? Be safe. Levi and I will be in touch.
He also remembered that that was almost exactly six years ago.
In touch. He spoke in his mind. Sure, Erwin. Thanks for that.
He shoved the thoughts of the Recon Corps out of his head for the moment, and turning his gaze to the right, looked down the ranks.
Mikasa Ackerman. Armin Arlert. Eren Jaegar. Connie Springer.
He turned, and looked to his left.
Christa Renz. Reiner Braun. Sasha Blouse. Bertholdt Hoover.
He thought all their names sounded wonderful. He enjoyed saying them all, in his head.
And, me. He thought dully to himself. Adam. Just Adam.
"What the fuck did you just say to me?!"
He immediately broke out of his daydream. The Sergeant's voice had raised louder than he'd ever heard it before. Had Sasha seriously pissed the brute off this much? This time, he had to forcibly swallow to maintain his cool. He felt his face going numb. It happened when he started to boil over. He noticed Eren tensing more, as well.
This Sergeant is going to regret his dramatics if he goes much further.
"Sir! I just said that I think you're wrong, sir!"
"Wrong?!" He heard the Sergeant scream, right in the girl's face. He noticed that Sasha was on the brink of tears. "You dare question a senior officer?!"
"Sir, yes Sir!"
"You bitch!" He heard the Sergeant roar.
It all happened at once. In his peripheral, he saw the Drill Sergeant raise a muscular arm, to strike Sasha, he assumed. In an instant, before he could stop himself, his entire body shifted. He left Mikasa's side with a small rush of wind, and heard her vocalise as he darted from the line. He couldn't tell how much time it took him before he spear-tackled the Sergeant and ploughed the bastard head-first into the floor. It wasn't much. There was a sickening crunching sound, and he rolled the Sergeant over, so that he made eye contact. He felt himself grab the big man by the scruff of his jacket, with both hands, and yank his head forward, towards his own. He felt his arms tensing, the muscles in them working overdrive. He couldn't help but love the feeling. He saw fear in the man's eyes, pure and unfiltered. He certainly hadn't expected that, Adam realised.
Shit, I can't let myself do this. I could've killed him with that move, and then where would I be? Levi was right about me; I am too impulsive.
He felt his body function out of sync with his mind. Within moments, he was ready to strike the Sergeant's thick face.
He stopped dead, with his fist raised, and immediately darted his vision around to face behind him. He saw that everyone had broken rank, and were staring at him in shock. Annie, even. All except Eren and Mikasa.
I knew someone would pass out.
He threw the Sergeant to the floor, and quickly dismounted, standing bolt upright and sprinting over to where Armin had fallen in the dirt.
"He's been out here too long!" He heard himself say as he quickly made up the ground towards the small, blonde-haired boy. "He has sun-stroke, he needs water, and-"
"Get away from him, you crazy bastard!"
He stopped dead in his tracks, his pathway blocked by an enraged Eren.
"Eren, please!" He said loudly, almost desperately.
Why do I want to kill someone one second and help someone the next? Am I completely controlled by my emotions?
"I said get away!"
He realised that raising his voice any more would only worsen the situation. Eren was similar to him - once angered, there was no stopping him.
Think like Erwin! He said to himself. Use logic, not force!
"Eren, please. I'm sorry." He said, completely lowering his tone, and returning his stance to a non-combat state. "Everyone's tired, and I… I'm strong. I can lift him, take him back to the barracks for you."
He felt vilified in the pause that followed.
He heard a muffled, and quiet voice emerge from the dust behind Eren.
"It's… it's okay, Eren. Calm down."
"Armin, you shouldn't try to stand!" He heard Mikasa say.
"I'm fine!" Came Armin's response. He watched the smaller boy struggle to his feet. "Well, I'm not fine, but… I can stand up."
He stayed stock still as he saw Eren double around to aggressively question Armin.
"What's the deal, Armin? You like this crazy guy?"
"He's not crazy!"
Adam was taken aback. He'd thought he'd developed nothing but notoriety in the time he'd spent with the 104th, mainly due to the fact most thought he was Erwin's son of some illegitimate means. Yet here, today, two people have made the effort to defend him.
"What do you mean, Armin? Didn't you see him throw the Sergeant on the floor?"
"He's not crazy!" Adam was surprised when Armin's voice raised to match Eren's. He hadn't thought the little guy had it in him. "He's like you, Eren. Impulsive. He acts on emotion." Adam remained speechless as Armin's dirt-covered face moved to his and looked him in the eye from a distance.
"I spoke to him, on our way here." He heard Armin say, and he recalled the conversation they'd had on the cart, on the first day they'd arrived at the training camp.
"Your hair is an unusual colour." He remembered Armin saying to him. "Are you from around here?"
Adam recalled how the question about his origins had caught him openly off-guard.
"I, uh-" He remembered stuttering. "I'm from Trost District!"
"Trost, huh?" He remembered Armin replying, with notes of melancholy in his voice. "We're from Shiganshina. Eren, Mikasa and I."
"Shiganshina?" Adam recalled that he had been hunting, in the woods of the Maria region, on the day that Shiganshina was attacked by the Titans. It seemed so long ago, now.
"I'm so sorry."
"Don't be." He remembered the genuine warmth behind the young boy's smile. "We're stronger now, because of it."
"Strength…" He recalled chuckling. "Horrors like that aren't what should make you strong."
"Friends." He felt a little better remembering how he'd extended his hand to Armin. "Friends make you stronger."
The younger boy had taken the handshake. "I agree. I'm Armin. Armin Arlert. That's Eren Jaeger, and Mikasa Ackerman."
He remembered looking about the back of the cart, and at the two Armin had pointed out to him. Everyone had been asleep, except Armin, and himself.
"And you? What's your name?"
"Adam." He'd responded. "Just Adam."
"So what?" He was snapped back into the present by Eren's loud objections.
"So, someone who has his head on that properly isn't crazy!"
He was still standing there, hands loosely at his sides, his mouth slightly agape. How long had it been, now? He'd lost track of the time in his daydream. Had Armin told them about the conversation to pacify Eren?
"The point is, back off!"
He heard Eren sigh, and met his eyes. They were green, he noticed. Like his.
"Fine." He heard Eren say, and watched as he drew backwards.
He twitched as he heard footfalls from behind. They were fast, heavy, and rapidly approaching him.
"You little shit!" He heard yelled, from his rear. The Sergeant.
He waited for the massive man to get close enough, and as the brute swung, Adam ducked under his punch, and grabbed hold of his gigantic right arm. Pushing upwards on the elbow, he made himself tweak the arm upwards to the point where it was on the brink of breaking. He took some grim satisfaction in the fact that this caused the Sergeant to completely abandon any offensive desires and start shrieking like a young girl.
"No, don't break my arm, please! I'm sorry, I-"
"What is the meaning of this?!" He heard a huge voice boom from a few meters to his left, on a small ridge, above where their Trainee unit had been stationed.
Shit, it's Commander Jurgen. Way to go, Princess. You've outdone yourself this time.
He looked to his right, into the sun, and up to the ledge. He saw the outline of the well-built and rugged Commander Jurgen standing at the brim. Upon sight, he immediately felt the tension in his arms disperse. The pathetic Sergeant collapsed to the floor, then hurriedly raised himself, as Adam let his arms fall to his side.
"Commander!" Adam heard the idiotic brute yell in angry embarrassment. "This Trainee attacked me! Attacked a Commanding Officer! He should be-"
"Silence, Sergeant Arnold, or you'll be in a worse situation than you are already."
Adam took some joy in the pathetic wheeze that the Sergeant released at the premise of serious trouble from his higher-ups.
"Bu- but, Sir, I-"
"Your mistreating of recruits has been noted before. Striking - or attempting to strike them - is highly inappropriate. I believe Trainee Adam was justified in his assault. I witnessed the entire thing."
Adam felt a grin cut across his face, only for it to immediately collapse again.
"However." He heard the Commander begin. "Impulsive and reckless decisions lead to deaths, and disregarding or contradicting a Commanding Officer - no matter how idiotic or uncharismatic - also leads to deaths. Thus, it is also inappropriate. You are here to train, Adam, yes?"
Adam delayed a moment, and reacted quickly when he realised he'd hesitated in front of the Commander of the Training Corps.
"Sir, yes Sir!" As he spoke, he rapidly shifted his stance into the Soldier's Salute.
"As I thought." He heard Jurgen continue. "In addition, Trainee Blouse's insubordination cannot go unpunished, either."
Adam heard Sasha wince from somewhere to his rear, but made himself stay stock still, looking right at the Commander.
"Trainee Adam, Sergeant Arnold, I'll see you both in my office to discuss this further. Trainee Adam first, if you please. Trainee Blouse."
Adam watched as the massive man on the hill turned away from him, to face Sasha.
"Sir, yes Sir!"
"You are well acquainted with running, yes?"
"Sir, yes Sir. The Sergeant made me run for eight hours, the other day!"
Adam watched the big Commander smirk underneath a massive, red moustache.
"Good. Another eight hours should suffice."
Sasha hated every second of that, Adam thought to himself.
"Sir, yes Sir!"
"Lastly," the Commander continued, "make sure that Trainee Arlert is healthy. I'll discuss with Arnold about these 'conditioning' exercises he has you all doing." Adam watched the big Commander round on Arnold. "In great depth." He noticed the words were significantly more menacing than the entire rest of the Commander's address.
Adam clutched his fist to his chest tighter as he heard the other recruits conduct the salute behind him.
"Sir, yes Sir!" They said in unison.
He dusted himself off with his hands, after Jurgen had turned and left. He heard Sasha sigh, and turned to look at her. Their eyes met for a brief moment - emerald green meeting hazel - and he watched her smile weakly at him. He tried to smile back. He wasn't sure what expression he made in the end, but she seemed to like it. That was a bonus, he supposed. He watched her walk off behind the other recruits, back to the barracks. He felt bad that he'd bought her another run with his outburst. He might join her later, if she was still running by the time he'd finished being grilled alive by the Commander.
He deliberately made himself move out of the enraged and embarrassed Sergeant Arnold's way. He felt he didn't need to exacerbate the situation any further. He watched in distaste as the large man vociferously lumbered past him, grumbling.
What an embarrassment.
He hoped that the soldiers in the Recon Corps - or any of the divisions, for that matter - would be more intelligent than Arnold. Adam still hadn't fully decided which division he would enlist in, upon graduation. If he even made it to graduation, that is.
Jurgen's probably going to throw me out for this. He thought. The man doesn't care about me. He's just dealing with me because Erwin asked him to.
He turned back to where the recruits had been standing at the sound of the voice.
"M-Mikasa." He responded, caught off guard by the silentness she somehow maintained, despite being so close to where he was standing. He remembered her mainly from the initial fitness tests - she was the only one his eyes were drawn to, apart from Annie. Both of them were as good as he was. As strong as he was. He realised that Mikasa was a whole other level, though. He was driven to action by emotions - by determination, and anger. He watched her for a short while, and in that time, realised that she slipped into a state of the sublime when she switched into her 'combat mode', as the recruits commonly named it. It allowed her to accomplish incredible things, by being still in her mind. He admired it. He hadn't seen it since he'd last seen Levi in combat.
"I wanted to say thanks." He listened to her begin, looking into her eyes. She was different, he noticed, but oddly beautiful. Her face was unlike anyone else he'd seen before. He disregarded faces normally - he didn't believe them as important as a person's resolve - but he couldn't help but notice how Mikasa stood out from the crowd. Her name was peculiar, as well. He'd heard Jean and Braun calling her an "Oriental", but that meant nothing to him.
"What for?" He responded.
"For caring about Armin." He heard her reply. He tried his best to hold their eye contact, but he could feel himself wavering. "He's had a rough time, so far. You're about the only person here who's spoken to him."
"It's fine." Adam listened to himself reply. "I like him." He paused for a brief moment. "He isn't strong, and he knows that - but he could be. I think the fact he knows it causes him to think about it too much - and that's what's holding him back."
"You're so peculiar." He was taken aback a little by her sudden and blunt observation.
"One moment, you're pummeling our superior into the dirt. The next, you're saying something beautiful, and poignant. I'm not sure. I guess you're like Eren."
"Emotional?" Adam felt himself interject. He'd been called 'emotional' almost as many times since coming here as he had been called 'Princess'.
"Deep." Came Mikasa's response, correcting him, and he again felt himself waver. She was clever, as well. Cleverer than him, he realised. "Complex. A many sided coin."
"What do you mean, Mikasa?"
"I mean that I think there's more to you than you let up. Everyone's saying you're some Commander's pet from the Capital. Sure, they can teach you combat skills there, but the impulse, the reflexes that you've shown?"
She's got me. She knows. She knows I'm from outside the Walls, and I haven't even told her. These people are the real deal.
"I'm not as good as I'm being made out to be, I promise." He interspersed, trying to redirect the conversation. Mikasa wasn't relenting, he noticed. This was a peculiar conversation, for him. Her curiosity was almost invasive.
"And there's the Commander's modesty." She began. "You were definitely raised by Erwin, that much I'm sure of. Your origins, though… I think there's a lot more to that."
Adam decided to try and conflict her point directly.
"What makes you assume that?" He responded, notching the annoyance up slightly in his voice. He looked her over, his eyes jumping around her face, trying to pick up the slightest reaction. His search was fruitless, and he realised she hadn't even reacted to the change in tone.
"Because there's a lot more to mine, as well." He listened to her say, simply. "And I know what people like that look like." He watched her turn, and begin to walk away, towards the rest of the receding Trainees.
"You have old eyes, Adam." He heard her say, as her voice gradually faded and her body grew further away from him.
Erwin said that to me, once.
He turned, and made himself look at the sky. Squinting, he saw the sun was much lower than it had been the last time he'd looked. Mid afternoon, he guessed. He could still feel the heat of the sun, but it had waned slightly, and was more pleasant on his skin. He made himself start trudging up the gravel slope, to Jurgen's office, several hundred meters up the largest hill. He felt his feet sink in the loose stones. He struggled to lift his heavy boots, and he felt his ankles and calves screaming at the exercise. He had been standing for most of the day, which he realised certainly wouldn't have helped. Regardless, he did what he always did. He made himself carry on.
He looked around as he climbed the slope, taking in his surroundings. He couldn't see Arnold anywhere - luckily. He assumed the brute of a Sergeant was most likely nursing his wounds or sobbing in his cabin.
I was quite reserved, he thought to himself. I had the element of surprise. If I wanted to, I could easily have killed him.
He banished the thoughts of death from his mind. Cancelled all killing, forgot about murder. He couldn't allow himself to be compromised by his emotions, again. Especially not when he was in a meeting with Jurgen. If there was any excuse to act like Levi, he realised that dealing with discipline from the Commander was most likely a good one.
How long does this goddamn slope go for?
He could feel himself walking, and moving, but the cabin was growing towards him at a frustratingly slow pace. He noticed feeling starting to return to him, and the tension in his torso muscles begin to dissipate. He felt a little colder, too. His fight or flight was wearing off, he realised. He'd always hated the transition from adrenaline rush to Lance Corporal Levi-level, depressed sobriety.
He noticed he had broken a sweat. Quite noticeably, in fact. The massively boring realities of doing the laundry and perhaps getting a decent night's sleep began to filter into his mind, drowning out thoughts of fighting and war. He hadn't slept properly in years, he remembered. He'd been surviving on power naps, four hours at most. He had no idea how his body was coping, himself, but it seemed to thriving, to be getting all it needed and no more. He'd lie there sometimes, at night, and simply stare at the engravings on the side of his knife. They were his name - but he'd always wondered what they'd actually meant, when people had spoken the language that they were written in.
Finally, he'd come to reach the cabin. He turned briefly, and looked down the slope, across the yard, and all the divisions of Trainees. In the distance, he could see carriages, carrying away the most recent dropouts. Back to their homes, he assumed. The weak, and the insubordinate.
Better get used to the idea of long-haul carriage rides. He thought to himself. Jurgen's about to tell you you've got a one-way ticket out of here.
He allowed himself a moment to breathe. Inhaling, he took in the smell of the afternoon air. The gravel stank, like mud and stone, but through that musk, he could discern the fresh air. He loved that smell more than anything. He let it calm him a little, before allowing himself to turn, and step onto the Commander's front porch. He thought the cabin was a tad twee for his liking - trying to make military buildings seem like homes felt odd to him. Regardless, he motioned towards the door. He raised his right hand to knock, but was cut off. i
"Come in, Adam." He heard Jurgen's voice through the door.
He laid his fist flat, and put his palm on the door. Pushing it slightly, he heard it click off of the latch, and slide open with a creak. He moved through the doorway, into the small cabin. He noticed the strong smell of alcohol, mixed with the deep aroma of hardwood walls. It was far too strong a smell for his liking, but he decided it was very apt for Jurgen, as a person.
The man was huge, he noticed. Bigger than Arnold. Adam saw he stood only slightly taller than he himself did, but must've weighed nearly twice as much.
These men will never be able to move should the Titans end up getting this far. He thought to himself. You could put all the gas cylinders in the Capital on this man's Movement Gear and he wouldn't get ten feet off the ground.
"Sit down, please." He heard the large man say. Adam noticed his tone was gruff, and harsh - that of an experienced soldier - but oddly courteous. He always thought that Jurgen had had it out for him, like the other officers had.
Without a word, he moved deftly to the chair closest to him, separated from Jurgen's own chair by a pristine wooden desk. He made a point to sit down carefully, as the carved-wood chair looked set to snap under the weight of a twig, let alone a human.
He looked up, and was suddenly facing a huge presence. Adam recalculated his appraisal of the chairs as he watched Jurgen throw his huge figure down into his chair's twin on the other side of the desk without so much as a single groan. He met the thick man's eyes - two beads of brown, surrounded by a mass of weathered flesh and thick, auburn hair.
He thought he'd begin the conversation.
"Bring me here to tell me off, sir?" He asked, deciding to take the offensive.
Jurgen picked up on his sarcasm. "No, you cheeky shit, I haven't." Adam listened to the man scoff - he could hardly call it a laugh - and watched the massive belly jiggle in front of him.
How on earth do people let themselves get into a state like that?
Adam watched in disbelief as the massive man drew a hip-flask from his jacket, remove the cap, and take a deep swig. He followed the Commander with his eyes as he extended the arm holding the flask out.
"You want some?" He shook his head at the Commander's offer, and the massive man drew the flask-carrying arm back. "More for me, then."
"Sir, respectfully," Adam began, "Why am I here, if not for discipline?"
"You youths." He cringed. He thought the Commander was about to embark on another 'ignorant new generation' lecture. Adam thought he liked the man overall, but couldn't help but find him unbearingly crass every so often.
"You run and you jump and you want everything as quickly as possible." He listened to the Commander continue. "All right, fine. I'll tell you why you're here."
Adam spoke up.
"You're not bringing me here to tell me you're kicking me out, are you?"
He found he'd unintentionally leant forward when he'd asked that. He stayed still, waiting for the response.
The Commander scoffed again, and this time laughed. It was the biggest, most booming sound Adam had heard since they'd tested the new cannons on-site the other week.
"Throw you out? My second-best tied recruit? Not likely. Please tell me that Erwin at least taught you about tactical value."
"He did, Sir, yes."
"Good." Adam saw the huge man briefly raise his head, away from his flask, to look him straight the eye. "You realise that I will have to inform Erwin of this incident, though, yes?"
Adam felt embarrassment course through him.
"I'd assumed so, yes, Sir."
"You'll most likely get a consequence." Came the gruff reply. "But not as severe as being kicked out."
"But, Sir." Adam pressed. "I attacked a Senior Officer." He felt himself cast his gaze away from the Commander, down towards the floor. "That's grounds for court-martial."
He heard a dull creak as the Commander shifted the weight of his body forward and leant in to Adam, across the desk.
"Adam, the only thing that's Senior about Arnold is his career. In short, it will most likely be dead soon. If you catch my drift."
"He's been abusing recruits for a decent length of time. When I first found out, I was enraged - obviously. But, with the legal system from the Capital-"
Adam watched the massive man take another swig of his concoction.
"-we needed hard evidence of his assaults, to which there has been none. Until I watched him club Trainee Blouse over the head, today."
Adam tightened up, sure that the Commander was mistaken.
"Sir," he began, "Arnold never-"
"Arnold never once apologised after he clubbed Trainee Blouse over the head, which
led to a swift and irrevocable decision from me to remove him from his position, effective immediately."
Adam saw the massive man wink at him.
"Sir." He replied, sullenly. "Yes, Sir."
"Good." He listened to Jurgen continue. "I don't like you, Adam. I'm not going to sugar-coat that. Your skills are severely limited by your lack of control over your emotions. Your ambition prevents you from climbing to even greater tactical heights than Trainee Ackerman. You selfishly, yet unknowingly waste your own potential, and in connection, both mine and Commander Erwin's time. And, I strongly dislike that."
"Sir." He responded with, simply. He knew that Jurgen was right.
"But, I respect you greatly. For your actions today, in the defence of one comrade, and the concern of another. I also respect Erwin, more than most men. That's why I feel it's fit to tell you this."
Adam looked the huge man in the eyes, again.
"Tell me what, Sir?"
He kept his cool as the big man leant towards him again. Adam nearly visibly flinched when the thick smell of alcoholic breath hit him.
Whatever liquor is in that flask is most likely almost as hard as the Walls.
"Tell you that because of that little stunt today, and you messing with the status quo around here, you're losing a lot of friends. You and the 104th included. Best squad we've had in generations, yet the sticklers around here can't handle being outplayed by teenagers."
Adam focussed much more when he noticed the Commander's tone turn grave.
"Adam. Erwin and I are the only people left in the Army looking out for you. Do you understand me?"
Adam knew perfectly well.
"Sir. Yes, Sir."
He hadn't realised the gravity of the situation. Were the soldiers in the Training Corps so upset with their progress that they feared being outclassed by those their younger?
"That'll be all." He watched the big man recede, and lean back into his chair. Deftly, he made himself stand, and felt his calves begin to ache again, as they took the weight. He'd always been different from others, though. He'd always liked the pain. He thought it was validation that his exercise was doing something.
He quickly strutted back across the cosy room, and placed his left hand on a slightly-rusted, faded-gold door handle.
"Adam?" He stopped as soon as he heard the voice.
"Sir?" He said to the Commander, without moving his body.
"Be careful who you trust."
He paused briefly before replying.
"Sir." He said finally, and swung the door open in a swift movement, feeling his legs picking up pace beneath him. He felt a presence to his left, on the porch, but paid it no due and simply strode past, accommodating for the change of surface when he hit the gravel, to maintain his pace. It was Arnold, he had no doubt, and he had no desire to engage with that man again.
"Just keep walking, dropout!" He heard yelled at him, from behind. "You'll be on a cart by morning, just you wait and see!"
Adam couldn't help but revel in the ignorant irony of that statement.
You're about to have a fun five minutes, Sir.
His mind drifted as he strode the path back to the barracks. The descent back down the hill took a fraction of the time it took him to ascend, he noted. He took some time to himself, to gaze around again. It was early evening, now. The sun had dropped faster than he thought it had, and he admired the beauty of the orange evening light cascading across grassy fields and tired trainees, finishing up their activities for the day. The 104th had been dismissed for the rest of the day, he assumed; he immediately knew that Braun would be less than impressed at that. The rest shouldn't be too much of an issue, though - Jean would make some snarky comment, Eren would react to it, but everyone else would just get on with their evening. They'd hopefully pay little or no attention to him, just like they'd been doing since he got here. He realised that he'd come to like that - he enjoyed being in the presence of others, without them getting mixed up in his unusual life.
He'd become unaware of how quickly he had been walking - he had already moved past the marching plain, and come back into the view of the barracks. He could make out the odd silhouetted figure going about evening activities on the outside. He didn't want to talk to them, though. Quickly, he removed his jacket, tying the sleeves around his waist and letting the cooling air at his torso. He scoured the fields nearby the barracks, trying to see if Sasha was still running. It didn't take an overly large amount of time to find her - she'd gotten to the point of lumbering around, again. He felt openly bad for her. She hated the running, but she did it anyway. He admired her determination.
It won't be hard to keep pace with her, he thought. Maybe I have time for a quick detour.
He kicked up his speed, and started running at a swift pace. He loved the feeling of running. He felt free.
He darted forward a hundred meters or so, catching Sasha a way, but then darted left, towards the cabins. He maintained his speed, setting his body into a rhythm he'd rehearsed a thousand times before. He didn't require concentration, or a process, to run. He just ran.
He scoured the front of the cabin with his eyes as he approached it, until he found what he was looking for. He darted forward, past a slowly moving Annie, who seemed to care little and less that he'd returned. He was impressed with himself, and his fitness - he hadn't even began panting, yet. His calves screamed at him, but he made them work harder. Skirting the edge of the cabin, he ran past a barrel with an open lid, and deftly plucked two green, ripe apples from the pile. He picked up his pace again, revelling in the crunches of his footfalls on the dirt and grass. He turned his head slightly as he moved past Annie, again, and they made eye contact for a brief moment.
He noticed he'd allowed his pace to slow, a little.
Seriously? Pick it up.
He demanded more and more from his legs, and his speed increased again. With an apple in each hand, he rapidly made up the ground between himself and the exhausted Sasha.
"Heads up!" He hollered forward at her, as he came close. He saw her turn to him, and smile widely.
He reached her side, and lowered his pace to match hers. It was almost a crawl compared to his previous pace, but he was okay with that.
"Adam!" He heard her say. She sounded pleasantly surprised, he thought. "What are you doing here?"
"Saying thanks to you." He heard himself respond, as he looked into the running girl's eyes. "What you did today - you didn't need to. I appreciate it."
"It's fine." He heard her manage, between heavy breaths. "He was way out of line, with that. I don't know why you're getting such a hard time. It's unfair."
"So," he heard Sasha continue, "are you getting kicked out?"
"Nope." He responded, shortly.
"I'm glad." He heard her reply. "What about Sergeant Arnold?"
He said nothing, and only looked at her, and smiled slyly.
"What?!" She said with disbelief, giggling. He liked it when she laughed. "No way! He got-"
"Kicked out, yeah." He responded. "So, thanks. Catch!"
He gently tossed the apple in his left hand over to her. He followed it with his eyes as
it ascended in a graceful arc, and as Sasha deftly plucked it out of the air. He followed her lead, and bit into his after she bit into hers.
"This is incredible, oh my god." He heard her say, her voice slightly muffled by the food. He felt her move over to him, and sling an arm over his shoulder.
"Thank you, Adam."
She squeezed him, and he felt an unfamiliar rush when her hips accidentally connected with the side of his waist. It was different to adrenaline.
He didn't respond - he couldn't think how to.
"Hey," he heard her begin again, pausing every now and again to inhale strongly. "how the hell are you so fit? I'm exhausted, and you haven't even started panting yet."
"I don't know." He replied, basically. "I guess I've just always run. I love running. I feel free."
"Huh." He heard Sasha quip. "And you get a physique like that just from running, right?"
He kept forgetting about that. In his haste to catch up, he'd removed his jacket. He knew he wasn't a big person - not as large as some of the other recruits, and definitely not comparable to Jurgen - but he glanced down, and realised just how defined he was through the thin white shirt that the recruits were required to wear.
"Seriously," He listened to Sasha continue, "even Reiner Braun is jealous."
"Should I be alarmed about that?" He asked, somewhat curious. He realised he'd never conversed properly with the large Braun.
"I don't think so, no. Reiner keeps to himself, a lot."
He became aware of the sun beginning to slip below the horizon. He saw the shadows growing longer, and the orange light beginning to fade.
It's getting late. He realised, glancing around his surroundings. He let his gaze fall behind him, back the cabins. He made himself squint, trying to discern the identity of the single silhouette still standing outside. Upon closer inspection, he realised that it had short-cropped, blonde hair. He allowed himself to look back at Annie, for a moment. For as long as he did, he felt that she held her gaze back at him.
Weird. He thought, and made himself turn back around, to face forward again.
"You've got more friends here than you think, you know." He listened to Sasha say, as he brought his head back around. "Jean is sarcastic, and Eren is angry, but they both respect you."
"I guess that's better than them having it out for me."
"And, after today?" He listened to her continue, meeting her gaze again. He noticed they'd drifted quite far from the cabins, now. "You've even earnt the respect of her."
Looking ahead a way, he could see where Sasha's tracks in the dirt stopped, and double around.
"Her? Who?" He asked, unsure what or who Sasha was referencing. He never was one for inferences. He preferred when people were open, and didn't try to cleverly conceal their meanings.
"Her." He heard Sasha say again. He noticed she was panting heavily, now, and that her face had morphed into a pained grimace. He felt fine himself, but knew that she couldn't keep this up for much longer. "Annie Leondhart. She hasn't spoke to anyone since she got here, and she always wears a scowl, but when you tackled Arnold, her face changed in a way I hadn't seen before."
He made a mental note to remember that.
"Fine." He said, attempting to make Sasha believe he'd disregarded the subject. He raised his right arm, and gestured slightly further ahead, to where he'd noticed Sasha's tracks stopped. "Is that your turning point?"
"Y-yeah." He listened to her tell him, through her exhaustion. "To there, and back, and back, and back. For like, three hours."
"Well, it's getting late." He heard himself say idly, concerned for Sasha's tiredness, but also secretly enjoying the exercise. "We can probably head back, after this one."
He noticed her flinch in surprise at his suggestion of defiance.
"Jurgen won't know." He made himself reply, matter-of-factly. "I don't think he has the strength to haul his massive body down here, anyway."
He listened to her chuckle, again. He hadn't intended for the statement to be funny, but owned it regardlessly.
"You're a real character, Adam."
"Thanks." He said pleasantly, matching her genuine tone. He was unacquainted with people taking a social interest in him - particularly in terms of positivity - but, he decided that he liked it.
"Come on!" He said, spurring her on. "Let's sprint the last bit!"
"A-Adam!" Came the stuttering response from behind him, as he pushed his pace up and jetted away from Sasha, rapidly getting closer to the point where she'd been stopping and turning back. "W-wait!"
"Match my pace!" He yelled back at her, trying his best to egg her on. "Come on!"
He ran for a short time, by himself. The line was in sight. He felt his legs straining beneath him, but coping with the exertion.
He turned his head to the right, surprised. The voice he'd heard was so much close than he'd expected. He then realised that Sasha had caught up, and was right next to him, matching his pace and sustaining it.
"Nice!" He yelled back, a wide grin cutting across his face. He temporarily slowed his legs, and stiffening them, slid through the dirt, stopping just on the far side of the line. He noticed Sasha do the same, and come to a halt right next to him. He deftly doubled around, and made his body assume a readied pose, facing the cabin. It was so small in the distance. He noticed that the dull orange hues were starting to fade to a cool, deep blue, and that lights were visible in the cabin.
"Race you back!" He heard himself yell.
"You're on!" Came his response.
He thought he wouldn't go too hard on her, but in the moment he took to think, he saw that Sasha had already left, and was beginning to pull away. Mustering his strength, he ploughed forward, sprinting as hard as he could. He was loving this. He realised he was moving as quickly as he'd ever moved before.
He saw Sasha was maintaining an excellent pace, just up ahead of him, and that the cabin was rapidly growing larger. He tried to up his pace even more, tried to make his legs move wider and faster, and was rewarded with a brief yet intense burst of extra speed, until he'd pulled slightly ahead of her. He felt his heart thumping in his chest, and the veins in his neck and head pulsing. He felt alive.
"Hey, no fair!" He heard Sasha say from behind him, to his left, as he pulled past her. "How'd you catch up so quickly?!"
He didn't respond to her, but just kept running. He had to win!
He saw the cabin was right by them now, and slowed his pace, coming to a gentle halt just outside the door. He felt like an idiot, but couldn't wipe the massive grin off of his face. He lived for this stuff. As Sasha approached, he took another bite from the juicy, green flesh of his apple. He noticed when she got back that Sasha had already demolished hers, and disposed of the evidence.
"How do you feel?" He heard himself ask, turning to her and grinning, then tossing the apple core away.
"Exhausted." He watched her reply, smiling. He saw her forehead was dripping wet with sweat. "I'm going inside. I gotta get some rest."
He was taken aback a little at first, when she moved towards him, and hugged him. Realising what was happening, he hastily put his arms around her and hugged back, trying his best not to appear rude. He felt her warmth on his body. He didn't know what to do.
"Thanks for the apple." He heard her say, and then watched her as she broke from the hug and walked onto the porch, making her way inside the cabin.
His breathing had already returned to normal, he'd noticed. Maybe he did exercise too much, and was becoming too acclimatised to it. Needless to say, he certainly didn't feel tired. Or, satisfied, for that matter.
He stood upright, stretched, and felt his spine click into place as he extended. He made himself move onto the porch, and then into the cabin. The whole time, he kept his head down. He heard conversation - he recognised the voices talking - but decided not to participate or even acknowledge them. He strode casually down the centre of the cabin, past the bunks, past the other Trainees, and towards a small room to the right of the bathroom.
I hope that their conversations aren't concerning me, he thought, despite the fact he was paying them no heed.
As he moved forward, he felt his left arm brush up against a large figure pushing past him.
Reiner Braun, no doubt.
He felt a slight sting in his arm where Reiner had knocked into him. Still, he refused to acknowledge the large Trainee.
He motioned towards the small door to the right of the bathroom. He needed to seek solace from the bustle and heat of the inside of the bunkroom. Something about it had always set him on edge.
He place his left hand firmly on the face of the wooden door, and gently cracked it open, peering inside. He looked around the smallish, darkened room. No one else was in there, luckily. Only metal weights in a variety of different shapes, and sizes, strewn on countless metal bars. He deduced that the last user of the room was most likely the large Braun, who he remembered had a terrible habit of forgetting to put his gear away when he was finished using it.
He moved into the room, and shut the door gently, hearing the latch click firmly into the wall. He sighed quietly, and moved forwards. He removed his white shirt, which had begun to itch, and placed it on the floor, next to his Training Corps jacket. He flexed briefly, letting the cooling air at his abdomen.
Let's see what Reiner was lifting.
He moved over to the back-left corner of the room, and made himself sit on one of the benches. He saw two large, cast-iron dumbbells sat on either side of the bench, where Reiner had presumably left them. It was understandable, he decided. He knew well that once the adrenaline took over, things like cleaning lost their importance.
He swung his body around, until he was parallel with the bench, and laid down. He felt his arms fall down to the side, and without looking, his hands grip the textured metal bars. He took one in each hand, and tensed. He was suddenly aware of the sensation of his arms capably lifting the weight, but struggling under the resistance.
He knew that this weight was most likely well above his own capabilities, particularly for a trainee the size of Reiner Braun, but he made himself do it. He felt his arms and shoulders screaming, and his face contort. He wasn't sure if it was a grin or a grimace. He saw the two massive weights enter his vision, and stop when they met each other a meter or so above his head. Tensing, he let them back down to his sides, and did them again. And again. He did them as many times as he could, until his left arm gave out and the weight fell to the mat with a dull thump.
He raised himself, and turned to his left, facing away from the doorway. His breath was up again, and he felt his heart pounding. He felt the flesh of his arms throbbing. It was a good pain, excluding his left bicep.
Really got to balance that arm out, he thought to himself, upset that he'd reached failure.
"Braun only did fifteen of those." He heard spoken from behind him. He span his head around quickly, surprised by the sudden appearance of the voice. It was one he hadn't heard before.
Shit, how long has she been standing there for?
He noticed she'd taken her jacket off, too.
"Really?" He heard himself reply vaguely to Annie, who he noticed had at least had the decency to shut the door when she'd entered. He hadn't heard her come in, though, which surprised him greatly.
"Yeah." He listened to her response. He thought it sounded curt, and overly to the point, but… curious, at the same time. "Know how many you just did?"
"I-" He paused for a brief moment. He didn't know, he realised. "I don't know. I lost count."
"Thirty three." He was taken aback a little by the number. "No one's done that many, before."
"Right." He heard himself reply, awkwardly. Her gaze set him off-guard a little. It was cold, he noticed. Much colder than Sasha's. But oddly intriguing at the same time.
In the next moment, he realised that he had no shirt on.
"Oh, shit, I-" he began, quickly trying to raise himself from the bench, but inhaling sharply when he nearly collapsed. He noticed his left arm had given out - again - but he hadn't hit the floor.
He felt the warmth of smaller hands on his body. One on his chest, the other underneath his side. He swallowed, embarrassed. He looked at Annie, her face right by his. He was impressed the the speed at which she'd approached him, and caught him.
"I, uh-" He stuttered nervously, standing himself upright. He noticed that her hand lingered on his chest for a moment. "I… I owe you for that."
"It's fine." Came her blunt response. "Don't you think you've done enough?"
He found it a little funny that he had to look down to make eye contact with her. He knew he was shorter than Jean Kirstein, and Braun, but he was far from short. Without saying anything, he gently made his head turn to look where another large set of weights sat on another bar. He saw that Reiner had left his maximum weight there, as well, and saw a challenge in the way the bar sat on the rack that supported it.
He heard Annie sigh.
"Fine, big shot. I'll spot you."
That was all the confirmation he needed, and swiftly, he made his way over to the bench that sat underneath the rack. Quickly making himself climb on top, he assumed the position and lay underneath the massive rack. Placing his hands equidistantly on the larger textured bar, he waited for Annie.
He watched her place her hands gently around the bar as well, on the area inside of where his were.
"Take the weight." He listened to her say bluntly. He did as he was told, and strained his arms, taking the bar and its weights off the rack and supporting it with the muscles in his chest, arms and shoulders.
Goddamn, that's heavy! He thought to himself as he grunted under the strain. He realised that the chest would be where Braun's main strength was. And then; Shut up! You can do this.
He forced his arms to extend, sending the massive bar upwards almost a meter, the whole time under the vision of the ice-cold, crystal blue eyes. He was so transfixed with them that he felt himself almost drop the bar bringing it down. He recovered, though, and pressed it up again. He felt his arms screaming for release, but as he always did, he made them work harder. As he pressed the weight again, and again, he couldn't help but keep looking at her. He found his eyes drawn to her. He didn't know why, but he felt so intrigued by her.
Shit, my left arm. He thought, as he felt his left bicep twinge painfully, and himself suddenly lose hold of the weight. He took the embarrassment of failing in front of Annie, and subsequently was far more concerned about bracing for the imminent pain of the metal bar crushing his throat. He cringed as he felt it connect, and the huge wait press his throat inward. He wheezed as it forced the air from his windpipe.
But, as soon as he had felt the pain, it had released.
He gasped, and spluttered, his lungs craving the air. He took the breath quickly, and raggedly. He looked up at Annie.
He felt that he'd almost entirely stopped supporting the weight, yet the bar was still being held up, away from his throat. He saw her face, carrying a worried but determined expression, and the muscles of her arms tensing to a point where they were similarly defined to his. She was completely holding the weight up, herself, he realised.
That's when he looked down, at the feeling of pressure, and realised she had mounted the bench. He saw she was kneeling, with one leg on either side of him, resting her hips on his lower waist.
He quickly tensed his arms as hard as he could, and gripped on to the bar, forcing it upwards. Their two strengths combined sent it up much faster than he'd expected, and he felt her help him guide the bar back to stand on the rack.
When the tension dissipated, he felt his arms burning. He felt his brow and face burning too. The heat was unfamiliar. Was he sweating, too?
He couldn't move with her on top of him like that, and it seemed that she refused to move, for a moment. All he could do was meet her gaze. Ice-cold, blue eyes danced with fiery green.
"I, uh-" He began, wincing as he noticeably stuttered. "Thanks?"
"No problem." Came Annie's usual curt response, and he felt the tension both on his waist and in his mind alleviate as he watched her lift herself, and move back across the room. He stayed stock still, lying on the bench, still shirtless, somewhat in shock, as he watched her pick up his shirt, and toss it to him.
"Your arms will hurt in the morning." He heard her say, as he watched her open the door. He saw through the crack that the lights were off, now. He guessed everyone was asleep - but he'd hardly been paying attention.
"Goodnight, Annie." He managed to spurt at her before she left. The words came out clumsily, and he had to catch himself to prevent himself visibly wincing.
He watched her pause briefly, and hang at the door.
"Night." He listened to her say simply, as he watched her merge with the darkness.
What are you getting yourself into, idiot?