Chapter 31: The Torturous Curse of Youth
Disclaimer: I do not own Shingeki no Kyojin
Previously: Erwin decides to have rings like Annie's made for Eren and Ymir. The group is excited to end it on a funny episode.
Mist rolled through the silent city.
"That day, the young man remembered something," Candy began ominously.
Confusion swept through the room and they tensed automatically at those familiar, sinister words.
"I thought this was a funny episode," Petra said.
"Maybe we were wrong," Ymir said.
Beads of sweat covered Jean's face, eyebrows knitted in an intense expression. Stairs creaked under a pair of feet, the legs seemingly belonging to a woman in a pink skirt.
"The fear of being dominated by them…"
Jean was sketching something intently.
Jean cried out suddenly, grabbing his hair, causing some of them to jump, startled.
"What the hell, man," Connie grumbled.
"What's wrong?" Armin asked worriedly.
A droplet of sweat landed on the drawing. It was a girl's face with dark hair and eyes. Jean's bedroom appeared. Pairs of shoes, books, and scrunched up pieces of paper were strewed across the floor.
"…and the shame of being a prisoner in a cage."
"Why, Candy? I thought I was your favorite!"
"You know it's not that embarrassing—" Christa began.
"Shh!" Sasha grinned, whispering. "It's funny cause he's embarrassed about it!"
"You know, she looked kinda like you," Eren said to Mikasa.
Feeling slightly awkward, Mikasa hid half her face behind her scarf.
"No wonder he developed a crush when he first saw you, you're his type," Hange teased.
"Please stop," Jean begged. He almost said I've already given up on that but that might cause them to start teasing him again.
The woman kept climbing up the stairs.
With a glint in his eyes, Jean's head flew toward his bedroom door as his mother barged in. Hastily he yanked up the blanket to hide himself and his drawing.
"If it was me I'd think you had your hands down your pants," Hange said, making them laugh.
"How many times do I have to tell?" Mrs. Kirstein yelled. "It's lunchtime!"
"Knock before you come in, hag!" Jean screamed in angrily. "Why did you bring that thing up here?"
In her hands was a pan with an omelet. "You wouldn't come down, no matter how many times I called you, so I had to come all the way up here!"
"Just get the hell out!" He jumped up and rushed her out of his room. "You rotten old hag!" He slammed the door shut.
"What's with that attitude?" His mother's voice was heard from the other side.
"Teenagers," Levi crossed his arms. "No manners."
"Jean, how rude, you shouldn't talk to your mother like that," Mikasa chided.
All their mothers seemed to be better than hers. If Christa could have switched with any of them she would have. It made her feel a little guilty. A nice person wouldn't think something like that about their own mother.
"Really Horse-Face, you should have more decency."
"Yeah! You were such a dick!" Connie added.
"Oh shut up," he grumbled. "Not like you haven't ever acted like asses to your parents."
Jean looked at the wrinkled drawing in his shaking hands, now ruined. "Damn it all!" He ripped it up and threw it in the air, stomping over to the window and slamming his hands on the ledge. I will have it for sure! A safe and exhilarating life within the inner Walls as a member of the Military Police! His dramatic scowled deepened. I will definitely get it!
With a brown sack over one shoulder, he walked away, leaving his mother and father behind by the house. "With that determination in his heart, the young man left home and survived the strict training."
Jean's mother wiped her eye.
"It's like Eren's story," Hange said in amusement. "Just as dramatic but less serious."
Erwin nodded, "It's almost satirical."
Quick flashes appeared: the trainees standing at attention, Jean's fight with Eren that first evening, and Mikasa walking by and joining Eren. "All manner of humiliation only made him stronger."
Eren, feeling like being a douche, laughed loudly while everyone else giggled. Or at least had the decency to attempt to smother their snickers.
Jean sank into the sofa, arms crossed over his chest, wishing badly for a pillow to suffocate himself with and spare himself more humiliation.
A hilly green field appeared with trees to one side, the trainees were walking carrying large packs while the instructors rode on horses. "After two years, the young man returned." Wearing a serious expression, Jean looked ahead. The trainees were traveling toward a gate. "To the cage he had supposedly escaped from."
A drawing of a large boar with a small man holding a spear and a shield appeared on the screen.
"I heard it's shown up again."
Civilians were gathered around, looking at the drawing nervously.
"Someone should go and get rid of it already."
"We can't even work in peace with that thing around."
"This is awesome!" Behind the crowd, Connie walked with his friends, all wearing a green pack over their shoulders. "I've never been in a Walled city before!"
"There are all sorts of tasty things here!" Sasha said happily.
Armin and Marco were glancing around, taking in the sights, flanking Jean, who looked rather disinterested. "You guys!" He got their attention. "If you can join the city Garrison, you can stay here as long as you like. And I'll come to check up on you when I join the Military Police," he laughed loudly and they all made a face.
"That was so lame of you," Sasha said.
"So much for that plan, huh," Ymir looked at him.
"I can't imagine any of us elsewhere," Christa said.
"Hey Jean, where do you live?" Armin asked.
"Does it matter?"
"You're going to visit your home, right?" Marco began, earning an irritated look from his friend. "Thomas said he was going home."
"I'm sure your mom would be happy!" Armin said.
"Shut up already! It's none of your business!" Jean yelled. They quieted at that.
That was definitely uncalled for. Jean thought. "I didn't think I was that immature."
"Oh, you were that bratty," Eren reassured.
"Listen up, you swine!" Keith addressed the trainees in a flashback. "During tomorrow's training for the upcoming attack on Trost, Commander Pixis, who is in charge of the southern region, will be present.
The scene switched over to the present with trainees perched up on roofs. "Show him how much closer you vermin are to becoming soldiers after these two years!"
Wooden Titans dummies with fleshy-looking napes were placed in the streets. Annie, Jean, and Armin were standing on a roof, blades out.
The bell rang and the trainees charged, letting out battle cries. In the streets, the civilians ran. "Please follow directions and evacuate safety!" A Garrison soldier directed.
Mrs. Kirstein stopped and looked up.
"Make sure you only bring what is absolutely essential!"
Someone grabbed Jean's mother's hand and they ran with the other escaping civilians.
On the roof, Jean was running in the lead with Armin and Annie following. "Jean, is it okay to move this far ahead?" Armin asked. "Our orders were to hang back and deal with the Titans that break through—"
"We can't afford to be so laid back! Soldiers are meant to cut down Titans!"
The trio jumped off the roof.
"I can bullshit!" Eren declared.
"Aren't you more concerned with getting a high score?" Annie asked.
"I knew it!"
A Garrison soldier, Anka, was observing through a telescope and said, "Commander, Team 21 has abandoned their post." There was a snoring sound. "Commander?" She looked up to see Pixis snoring, standing straight, arms crossed over his chest, cheeks pink.
"That's a skill I need to master," Connie said.
Anka stood and spoke loudly in his ear, "Commander!"
Pixis woke up and looked around groggily, "Is it chow time?"
Sasha laughed, "That's what I would say!"
"You just ate a little while ago," Anka said. Before Pixis could open his flask, she snatched it out of his hands and went over to her teammate. "He's far too relaxed."
"He hasn't had time to loosen up lately," Gustav replied.
Pixis pulled out a second flask.
Sly old fox. Erwin thought.
"That's Commander Pixis, always anticipating and prepared," Armin said.
"Just leave him be."
The commander took a sip. "I wonder what we're having for dinner."
Jean narrowed his eyes, sighting a dummy Titan. "Found one! I've got this!" Immediately a hook shot out behind him and Mikasa flew by, taking out the nape. The severed 'flesh' flew off and Jean watched her pose in the air in awe. Awesome, as always. He grinned. You really are the only one who can surpass me.
"Her and five others," Eren said pointedly.
"You're all Titan-Shifters, you guys don't count!"
"You guys, this way!" Jean ordered. He, Armin, and Annie approached three other Titans. "This time for sure!"
"Thanks a bunch, Jean!" Connie flew above them, smirking. "Gotcha!" He took out one of the dummies.
"Damn you!" Jean went around the 'dead' Titan and screamed, "Quit screwing around!"
Swords flashed and there were two more strikes.
Reiner landed on a stone roof. "Sorry, Jean."
"Whoo-hoo! Yay!" Sasha cheered, standing on the dummy Titan she had taken out.
"You've improved," Connie said as Jean landed on the ground.
"I've always been this good!'"
"You're still no match for me, though!"
Jean glared furiously.
"That's cheating, you thieving scum!"
"Huh?" Connie, sitting back against a stone wall, about to eat a small loaf of bread, looked up. Sasha sat beside him with Reiner to the side and Armin and Annie nearby.
Jean stood before Connie and Sasha, "I found those targets first!"
"Cheating? I didn't expect you to sound so petty, Jean," Sasha taunted. "There are no rules when it comes to hunting." She took a bite of her potato.
"Keep your hunting logic to yourself, Potato Girl!"
"Potato? I thought everyone had forgotten around that!"
"Connie, you used to be on my side!"
The others joined in.
"It'll be engraved on your epitaph."
"Yeah! Here lies Sasha Blouse: Potato Girl to the end."
"Hey, instead of flowers, should we bring potatoes to your grave?"
They cracked up.
Sasha sulked and Jean took pleasure from it. Happy that he wasn't the only one suffering.
"That's cruel," Sasha shot to her feet.
Connie jumped up next to her. "She's right! Apologize to her!"
"We were assigned to that area, not you," Reiner said.
"That's right!" Connie said. "You're acting strange today. All this shouting and everything. Are you that anxious to see your mommy?" He mocked in a babyish voice.
"Oh, is that it?" Sasha asked.
"Hello no!" Jean brought up his fist, ready to knock them both out.
The two broke out into silly fighting poses, Sasha with her arms in a U-shape and left knee up, and Connie with a knee bent and the other leg out, arms in an awkward mantis-like position.
"What kind of stupid fighting positions are those?" Levi said.
"We made them up," Connie answered proudly.
"Stop that, you two!" Reiner walked over. "You too, Jean. Or you won't make it into the Military Police."
Jean straightened up. "Let's settle this at training tomorrow! We'll see who takes out the most targets!"
"That sounds like fun!"
The trainees nearby, sounding surprised, quickly moved apart and saluted. Pixis walked through them, arms behind his back.
After freezing for a second, Jean saluted hastily and Connie and Sasha followed.
"Commander Pixis," Jean said.
"Allow me to put that on hold. Your tireless spirit is wonderful indeed, but settling scores during training is outrageous." He took multiple swigs from his flask.
"I can't believe he chided us while drinking on the job himself."
"And right in front of us too."
"Do your fighting in the kitchen."
"Sir?" Jean said, the others leaning in with slightly dumbfounded looks.
"You will compete to see who is the better chef!" Pixis declared.
"Where does cooking come into all of this?" Hange wondered.
"He's obviously been day-drinking," Levi said.
Jean gaped, mouth open, while Sasha had stars in her eyes, "Cooking?"
"Yes, cooking." Pixis held out his arms and said grandly, "We will have a cooking competition!"
The trainees began muttering in confusion.
"Did he say cooking?"
"I bet he was just looking for an excuse not to eat military rations," Ymir said.
"We should have confiscated all of his alcohol," Gustav said and Anka nodded.
"He's probably got another bottle squirreled away somewhere," Christa said.
"My apologies, Commander Pixis," Jean began. "We are soldiers, not chefs—"
Sasha shoved a golden potato right in front of his face. "Jean, what do you know about cooking?"
"That's right!" Connie egged him on behind her, "I bet your mom cooked all of your meals!"
"I will teach you what cooking is really like, Little Jean!" Sasha declared and took a dramatic bite of her potato.
Jean stared at her, tensed. Sasha glared, chewing, bits of potato around her mouth.
Trembling fingers curled into fists. "Bring it on!" Jean threw out his arm to the side. "Whether it's cooking or cleaning, it doesn't matter."
"Would have been more entertaining if it was a cleaning competition," Levi said.
Absolutely no one agreed.
"Where's the fun in that?"
"You're the only one who would have like that, Corporal."
But Hange was the only one to say it loud enough for him to hear, "Levi, that's so lame."
"If I win," Jean pointed at her, "you stay out of my way from now on! Potato Girl!"
"It's settled. The showdown will take place tonight," Pixis said. "Each of you will prepare a course for dinner. Bring your best dishes to the table!"
All the trainees cheered.
"A cooking showdown between Sasha and Jean!"
"We can't miss this!"
"I won't be able to sleep tonight!"
"More like, we won't let you sleep!"
Meanwhile, Eren stood away from the crowd, holding a small basket, Mikasa next to him with a small wooden crate in her hands. "What's that about?" Eren looked confused.
"No idea," Mikasa said.
"It's almost like Jean is the main character in this episode," Petra said.
"Huh," Jean sat up. "I do like that idea."
"Don't get a big head, it's only one episode," Eren told him.
"At least I won't go running around like some impotent loser always in need of saving."
"What did you say?" Eren demanded, eyes blazing angrily.
"You heard me, dumbass."
"C'mon, you two, it's the last episode," Armin said. They still looked ready to throw down. "You don't want to annoy Corporal Levi, do you?" He whispered. That silenced them.
An open green field with trees appeared. Threes horses with riders were racing across the grass. They each had a rifle strapped to their back.
"Alright! I can see it!" Jean said.
"Why are we going hunting?"
"We have no choice, Annie," Armin said. "We were ordered to work as a team."
"I used to play in that forest often." Jean eyed the thick forest before them. "It's famous for being the habitat of a giant boar. If we managed to get that meat, we'll win for sure."
"What about honing our cooking skills?" Armin asked.
"Like we have time for that!'
"Oh my, what a coincidence!" Sasha's voice was heard.
"You guys—" Jean glanced to his left and saw Sasha, Connie, and Reiner riding parallel to them. "Why?"
"Sasha says she got wind of some good meat," Reiner answered.
"I won't let you have all the good meat yourself!" Sasha snapped the reins and her horse moved faster.
"Dammit!" Jean cursed when they took the lead.
"Let's go, Jean!" Armin said determinedly. "This place is like your backyard, right? We have the terrain advantage!"
"Wait! Any bets on who's going to win?" Connie called out.
The teens all looked over to the veterans.
Erwin decided to humor them. "I think I'll place my bets on Ms. Blouse."
"Give me a second, hm," Hange said. "My money's on Jean!"
"Don't care," Levi declared, looking bored.
"I'll go with Jean," Petra smiled.
Jean, Armin, and Annie walked through the forest in a line. Armin looked around, unsure. "Jean. Are we lost—"
"Damn, should have gone with Sasha. She's the hunter and knows how to cook," Hange muttered.
"But I'm sure we already came this way—"
"No, we haven't!" Jean pointed ahead, "Look at that damaged tree." The tree had a large U-shape scar with a smaller tree fallen in front of it. He put one foot on the fallen tree and touched the scarred thicker one. "Sure, we saw one that looked similar earlier, but I'm sure we're getting close!"
Armin looked hilariously unconvinced while Annie tucked her hair behind her ear in the background.
The image brought smiles to their faces.
"Armin, you sure lost faith quick."
"We were circling the same spot for half an hour, Christa."
"I thought you used to play in that forest so much you knew it like the back of your hand?"
"Shut up, Eren. Those were Armin's words, not mine!"
"Hey," Reiner's voice was heard as tree branches appeared on the screen. "There's no way we'll be able to find anything if we just keep strolling around."
Sasha was in the lead and the three walked at a slow, steady pace.
"We're trying to track game in a place without snow. We'd need five or six days at least—"
"There it is, Connie!"
Many of them leaned in curiously.
A pile of shit filled the TV screen.
Sasha and Connie laughed at the way their faces fell or twisted up.
The two were crouched beside it and Sasha poked it with a stick.
"That's big," Connie said.
"Yes, it's massive. And it's fresh too."
Momentarily forgetting about the situation with him, they laughed at the look on Reiner's face.
"Its nest must be close," Sasha said.
"There are times when luck may be on our side," Reiner said. "But things won't always go so smoothly—"
"There it is!" The two were standing on a large rock, looking at what was on the other side.
Again they chuckled at Reiner's expression.
The boar was snoring loudly, sleeping soundly.
"That is one big pig!" Connie whispered, lying between Reiner and Sasha, rifle in hand.
"Yeah, it is," Sasha had a quiver on her back. "It would probably make it into the colossal class."
"Alright," Reiner said with conviction after gaping at the boar in stunned disbelief. In the next scene, he was walking away. "Let's go home. Challenging that is impossible."
"Well he's quite the actor," Levi said. "Like he couldn't crush it under its foot with ease."
Watching this it's impossible to tell he's a traitor. Petra thought. The recruits seemed to be having a hard time with it as well. Had the three really not felt even an ounce of camaraderie with their fellow trainees? Somehow she found it difficult to believe. Especially after watching their interactions. Maybe it was just because it was Reiner. He was so amiable. And she'd yet to actually see him turn on them. Not to mention he hadn't been the one to kill her and her teammates, making it easier for her to regard him less harshly.
Sasha ran up in front of Reiner, and slapped him. Then she punched him with her elbow. She hit me with her elbow? Reiner thought.
"Wow," Eren said. "Didn't expect that..."
"Certainly was an interesting technique," Erwin raised an eyebrow.
Hange held up an elbow and tried to emulate how one would punch someone with it.
"Get that out of my face," Levi slapped it away.
"How can you say something like that?" Tears filled the corners of Sasha's eyes. "That makes me sad! Can you hold your head up and before your ancestors with that kind of attitude?" She covered her face with her hands. "Can you connect the world?"
"I'm not really sure what's going here."
"What's with that inspirational music?"
"I'm sorry, Sasha," Reiner stood. "I don't understand what you just said, but I was wrong."
"We don't get it either."
Connie looked over at them.
"It's fine, long as you get."
"Didn't he just say he doesn't?"
"Let's go! Dedicate your heart to getting that meat!"
Reiner saluted her. "Right!"
Sasha wavered for a second, wondering if he really was the Armored Titan. Mentally she shook her head at the wishful thinking. A part of her hoped season two wouldn't have more of these episodes from their trainees days. She was confused and twisted up inside about the situation enough as it was. Seeing all the good times they'd had was only making it more difficult.
"You guys!" Connie called out.
Now awake, the large boar stood on the rock, glaring down at them, a scar over its left eye.
"Oh, he looks mean," Petra said.
Hange laughed, "He looks like Levi."
"Let's do it, Sasha!" Reiner said.
"Yeah!" Sasha pulled out an arrow and placed it in the bow.
"You take the lead!"
"You got it!" She charged at the boar with Connie beside her, holding out his swords, while Reiner was much further behind them.
"He sure kept his distance," Sasha said.
"Wait a minute!" Hange gasped.
Levi moved his head away, startled by her yelling. "What?"
"Something just occurred to me!"
Erwin knew that Aha expression on her face well. "What is it?"
"I had this idea about testing for a Shifter by inflicting a wound to see it would heal."
Ymir and Eren immediately stared at their hands, wondering.
"But the Female Titan made her eye heal faster by prioritizing it." Petra wasn't ever likely to forget that anytime soon.
"That's exactly what I thought," Hange nodded. "But now I just realized something else. Remember when Eren had his limbs eaten?"
"Hard to forget," Mikasa said.
"His regeneration kicked in while he was unconscious."
"So, what? Knock them out first then see if they heal?" Armin said.
"Actually no, I hadn't thought of that. I thought maybe since the healing factor is automatic and unconscious, he'd have to consciously resist any injury repairing itself."
"If that's true, he couldn't hide a serious wound for long because it might require too much mental effort," Christa concluded.
"That's why Reiner's keeping his distance?" Jean said "Because he's worried about seriously hurting himself and getting exposed?"
"It makes sense," Eren nodded. "If Hange's theory is right."
"But it doesn't really matter now, does it?" Connie asked. "We already know who all the Shifters are."
"There are two more, their names are at the tip of my tongue," Ymir said. All eyes focused on her. "Don't stare!" She snapped. "That makes it harder!"
Everyone quickly turned their attention back to the TV and Erwin hit play.
On a grassy cliff, Jean heard the sound of the boar roaring. He saw and heard the explosions of dust rising in the forest. Jean screamed as the realization hit him.
Inside the forest, the boar ran as Sasha held tightly to the wire embedded in its body, Connie and Reiner flying behind her. "Meat! Meat!"
It's like Hange with Titans. Levi shivered.
"It's the boar!" Jean said, flying toward their target. "And the others!"
"It's fast!" Armin said. "We'll never catch up to them!"
Digging her fingers in its fur, Sasha pulled herself up on its back. "Stew! Steak! Sausage!"
That brought a smile to their faces.
Armin held out a cluster of red potatoes in his hand, flying before the boar. "Over here, Sasha! I have potatoes!"
No one could hold their laughter at that.
"You tried to lure her with potatoes?!"
"Armin, I never knew you were so funny!"
"I can't breathe!"
"Smoked! Minced! Cutlets!" Sasha chanted as she continued to climb the beast.
"No good! We can't overcome the power of meat!"
Armin's complete seriousness kept them laughing to a point that Erwin had to pause the episode to let them catch their breaths.
"That felt so good."
"I feel so much better now."
"Armin, you comedic genius, you!"
"I really needed that."
Jean's eyes widened as Sasha stood, an arrow aimed at the boar. "There are so many ways to cook it! The most delicious thing in the world!" She leapt up and did a flip in the air. "It's gotta be…" The boar continued to run. "MEAT!" The arrow flew and met its target, hitting the animal right between the eyes.
The boar went down, sliding to a stop, laying on its side.
"Really, guys, I change my mind, can I bet on Sasha instead of Jean?"
"Too late, no take-backsies!"
A large gathering of civilians lined the street as they paraded through on a large cart. "Behold!" Connie held up an arm. "Colossal boar passing through!"
Sasha smiled, sitting on the boar, its fur in her hands like the reins of a horse, singing as she swayed, "Meat! Meat!"
"Out of the way!" Connie said.
The civilians watched them leave. Behind them, Jean stood with Armin and Annie. "You bastards!" He screamed, voice echoing.
A bell rang in the distance.
It was evening and Eren was struggling to unload a crate from a cart. Mikasa walked over carrying three with ease and put them as he stared open-mouthedly.
"Whoa," Hange's eyes widened. "She's really strong." Her eyes flickered over to Levi. Runs in the family.
Mikasa attempted to take the crate Eren was having trouble with but he pushed her. "Hey, stop that!"
"But—" She tired again.
Again he pushed her away. "But nothing! Just stop it!"
"Eren, you're too weak. Just admit it and let her help!"
"Everyone knows she's stronger."
"Hey, I do my fair share!"
Petra stared at the girl, puzzled. "She shouldn't be able to lift three if he's having trouble with one."
Levi shifted at her words.
"Isn't that right, Captain? They're the same size and he's trained too. Simple biology dictates he should be stronger than her."
If it was Armin Petra might have understood. He just wasn't built for physical strength. But that wasn't the case with Eren. Then again, Captain Levi's very short and skinny for a man and he's by far the strongest person I know. She looked over at the teens, apparently used to seeing such a display and teasing Eren about it.
Levi wondered if their abnormal strength was something he could use as evidence to prove to her their potential blood relation. While he doubted she'd think he was lying about having experienced the same moment they all saw she had before killing the man strangling Eren, it was still undeniable proof.
"So, are you going to tell her?" Hange snapped him out of his thoughts. "About your theory about the two of being cousins or something."
"Maybe. I wanna wait for season two. There might be more clues."
Eren and Mikasa turned to see Jean's mother.
"Is Little Jean—"
"Oh shut up, like your moms never had any embarrassing nicknames for you!"
Envy stung Christa but she ignored the feeling. Her mother had names for her, but none stemming from endearment and maternal love.
"I mean, is Jean Kirstein around here?" His mother asked, a basket in her arm.
Inside the mess hall, Jean sat at the table, across from Annie. The battle begins tonight. I need even better ingredients in order to beat Potato Girl's meat! He brought his hand up to his head, the action causing his mug to spill. With a small huff, he straightened it.
"Is Jean Kirstein here?" A Garrison soldier asked.
Jean approached the man standing at the small platform at the end of the stairs. "Yes, sir, that's me!"
"Your mother is here to see you."
"Huh?" Jean said, surprised and embarrassed.
"Are you assholes seriously gonna giggle every time she says that?!"
"Why didn't you come home, Little Jean?" His mother walked to him, speaking worriedly. "Even Thomas, from the Wagner family, made sure to visit!" Her voice carried out across the mess hall as everyone fell silent and listened.
Jean looked mortified as trainees around them mumbled and some chuckled.
"This is giving me secondhand embarrassment."
"Just remember it's Jean and enjoy."
"Screw you, jerks."
"You're such a problem child. Did you spill soup or something on yourself? You're hopeless." Jean's mother pulled out a handkerchief and attempted to dab the wet stain near his crotch, inciting more laughter.
It was at this point the group collectively lost it.
Jean slithered down the couch again, face red. I should've known Candy would show this! He hadn't thought that scene could've ever gotten any worse. I was wrong! Now he had his superiors and elite soldiers watching him be made a fool of and act like a total jackass in return.
"Stop that!" Jean yelled. The mess hall was completely quiet.
"Just go home already!" He pushed her back, Eren standing a few feet behind her.
She turned to Eren and pulled out an apple. She began placing them on the table, "These are for everyone."
"We don't need them!" He knocked them off.
"I'd be dying of embarrassment too but you didn't need to be such a prick about it."
"Jean!" Eren said and bent to pick them up.
"Little Jean!" His mother said. "Everyone!" She looked around. "He's a little rough around the edges, but please be nice to him!"
What I wouldn't give to be in his place. Eren paused and reconsidered that thought. Maybe not exactly like that. Eren couldn't help but smile, picturing it. Instead of fussing, his mother would have chewed him out good for not visiting and probably yanked his ear like a naughty kid.
Apples in his hands, Eren stood next to Mikasa. Jean's mother reached into her basket. "That reminds me, Jean, I brought your favorite—"
"Just freaking go home!"
The door slammed shut.
Jean stood before it at the top of the stairs, breathing deeply.
"You should be nice to your mom, Little Jean," Eren said. Jean growled at him. "I mean, Jean."
"As embarrassing as it was, you made it worse by acting like such a jerk."
"Yeah, yeah, I know."
A palm opened to reveal a small golden key.
"So there's a key involved here, too?" Erwin smiled.
Armin stared at it, shocked and horrified. "Are you serious, Jean?"
There was a manic look in Jean's eyes. "I hear they've got beef in the officers' storeroom. I'll make use of that." Annie stood next to him, hands on her hips.
Armin took a few steps back, stuttering, "No way! I can't steal! I've always been clumsy!" He looked like he was having a mental break. "I've always placed last in races. Even when we played hide-and-seek I couldn't hold my laughter in!"
"Armin…" Jean said.
Mikasa gasped, "You broke him!"
"And you expect me to steal?" Armin turned and ran away. "I can't do it!"
The group started giggling.
"Hey, where are you going?"
In a panic, Armin ran up the stairs. His foot slipped and he landed on his shins. He lay on his back, screaming loudly, spittle erupting from his mouth.
They couldn't suppress their laughter at his hilarious freak-out.
"I know...we shouldn't be laughing," Petra's shoulders were shaking badly, hands covering her mouth.
"But it's so funny!" Ymir laughed.
Christa nodded, giggling, "We need more Armin and Jean comedy!"
Two heavily bandaged legs appeared. "I'm sorry, Jean." Armin lay in a bed, Jean sitting on a bench beside him while Annie leaned against the wall. "I don't think I can help you with my body in this state."
Annie pushed off the wall and walked to the center of the room. "Count me out too. I can't risk being branded as a thief."
"But I thought you wanted to join the Military Police too, Annie!"
"I'm sorry." She left.
Jean watched her leave, unable to do anything. Then his eyebrows furrowed into a look of resolution.
"You're not really going to steal, are you?" Petra asked.
I need beef. Jean walked down the hallway, a hand on the wall. I need the best beef if I'm going to beat Potato Girl. He continued to wall down the long corridor full of torches. I am a desperate man who will use any means necessary in order to win! I'm not incompetent Little Jean anymore!
He peeked around the corner. Two Garrison soldiers walked by, laughing. It seemed to make him lose his nerve.
"Kirstein!" The voice startled him. Jean stood ramrod straight as a Garrison officer came over. "I've been looking all over for you." He held up a small package in a red cloth. "Your mom asked me to give this to you." Jean accepted it. "What are you doing all the way down here?"
"Umm… The bathroom."
"What are you saying? The bathroom's that way," he jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
Birds flew in the golden-orange sky with thick, fluffy clouds drifting by. Jean crouched outside by a pillar and unfolded the note from his mom.
"Dear Little Jean," his mother's voice narrated. "Eat this and keep working hard. Don't cause too much trouble for everyone, okay? Love, Mom."
He crumbled up the paper and stuck in his jacket's inner pocket.
"Good, I thought you were about to throw it away."
"I wasn't that much of a dick, Christa."
Jean opened the package, eyes widening in surprise. The ovular box held an omelet with some vegetables packed next to it.
A flashback appeared.
A toddler Jean sat the table, knife and fork in hands, chanting happily, "Omelet! Omelet!"
"You look so adorable!"
His mother walked over, plate in hand, "Yes, it's ready. You really like omelets, huh, Little Jean?" She placed the plate before him and the toddler Jean smiled toothily.
"Look at those little chubby cheeks!"
"I could eat you up!"
"I can't understand if you're crying, Little Jean."
An older Jean, still a kid, stood in the doorway of his house, stains over his clothes.
His mother knelt, wiping his tears with a handkerchief, "Tell me what happened."
"Wow, your face is so fat!"
"Did you get stung by bees? Is why it's so swollen and you're crying?"
"You look kinda like an eggplant!"
"I hate you guys."
Jean, now a preteen, carried a tray to the bed where his mother lay, coughing. "How are you feeling? Do you think you can eat?"
She sat up and accepted the tray, "Thank you. You're such a sweet child." Jean looked down, embarrassed.
"That's so sweet," Petra grinned at this blushing face.
"You're really not so bad, huh, Horse-Face," Eren said.
"Taking care of your mother when she's sick, such a good son!" Christa cooed.
"Still secretly a mama's boy at heart, aren't you?" Sasha teased.
The flashback ended. Jean stared down at the omelet and said emotionally, "Mom."
Hange smiled, "Even now your mom is still watching over you."
"She just stopped you from stealing and gave you a chance at winning the competition," Erwin pointed out.
"Moms are the best," Jean said, smiling widely.
"Yes," Eren said, "they really are." He wasn't the only one missing his parents just then.
Armin and Mikasa were smiling sadly beside him while Ymir and Christa wondered, not for the first time, what it was like have and miss loving parents.
Meanwhile, Sasha planned a trip home to visit her father the next time she had time off. It's been a while since we went hunting together. She was excited to tell him how his lessons had helped her and her friends out in a bad situation.
We're really lucky, me and Jean, we have both our parents who love us so much. Connie thought. It really made him appreciate his own mom and dad more.
"You know," Jean said casually, "you're welcome to come with me the next time I go home and try the omelet yourself."
"Really? Can we?"
"I still gotta face my parents about joining the Survey Corps. Just so you know, that's the only reason I'm inviting you guys so you can act like a buffer, okay?"
"Sounds like fun!"
"But no calling me Horse-Face in my own house!"
Flames erupted across the screen and the competition was off with a fiery start.
Jean cooked, letting out a battle cry. Armin watched, on crutches, while Annie held plates in her hands.
"Meat!" Sasha screamed, pieces of meat flying, large knives in each hand. Connie was studying vegetables as Reiner cut the meat.
On the side, away from the dramatic cooking match, Mikasa trained.
"I have never seen anyone so dramatic over something so ridiculous," Levi muttered.
Hange was too amused by the cooking battle on TV to point out Levi's own dramatic obsession with something as mundane as cleaning.
Jean continued to scream and Mikasa did crunches.
Connie and Jean blushed at that last shot.
Sasha was sweating, "Meat!"
Sweat flew off Mikasa's body and she finished shadow boxing.
Lit torches provided them with light as the sun had set and night fell. Trainees were gathered at the same courtyard where Erwin had delivered his speech to potential recruits. Up on the stage, Jean, Armin, and Annie stood on the left with Sasha, Connie, and Reiner across the stage from them. Before each trio was a cart with a covered dish.
"Hm," Pixis looked between them. "Looks like you both brought your best skills to the table!" There was a wine glass and a bottle on the table in front of the commander.
To Pixis's left stood Keith Shadis. "The cooking competition between 104th Training Corp members, Jean Kirstein and Sasha Blouse, will now commence!"
The trainees cheered loudly.
"Pffft! Cooking competition! Shadis must be dying inside!" Ymir said.
"I'm impressed he managed to keep his face straight," Erwin nodded. He half expected his former commander to make a disgusted face at the notion of his trainees cooking it out.
"Starting things off is Sasha Blouse!"
"Yes, sir!" Sasha wheeled the cart over and placed the dish on the table. "Here you are!" Steam rose from the steak as she lifted the cover.
"Huh?" Pixis looked down at the juicy piece of meat.
"What kind of meat is it?"
"That looks delicious!"
Feeling hungry, everyone reached for the food on the table as they watched.
Jean and Armin seemed to be feeling the pressure and Jean tightened his grip on the cart.
"Let's put it to the test." Pixis cut up the meat and took a bite. His eyes flew open and his body began trembling. Anka reached out, unsure of what was going on. The ground began to shake.
"Hey, what's going on?" Hange asked.
"Commander," Gustav called out.
The shaking grew stronger and the trainees began mumbling in confusion and panic. "What's that?"
Fissures appeared around the table.
"I don't remember this happening."
"I don't either."
"What's going on?"
"I think we're seeing what went through the Commander's head, maybe," Armin said.
"You think so? Damn, Candy's great."
"It's… It's…" Pixis's eyes grew red and he shot up to the sky like a rocket. "It's delicious!"
They all stared, mouths open.
Pixis flew around and dodged two Titans. "Is this boar meat? It's boar meat, right?" He took out two Titans with his 3D gear. "Such fine texture!" A Titan attempted to grab him but he flew over it and reached its nape, killing it. "The more you chew the tastier it gets!" Pixis flew toward the moon, there was a bright light, and he landed on two houses, crushing them.
"What the fuck!" Ymir started to lose it.
Connie began laughing. "Is he a Titan now? He's huge!"
Christa snorted, giggling, "Eating a colossal boar turned him colossal-sized!"
Pixis took out a flask and drank. "The alcohol removed the smell of the wild animal, and only the delicious taste of meat remains!" He ran toward five trainees standing on the roof.
Levi's mouth was slightly open, a hilariously stunned expression on his face.
Mikasa, Jean, Armin, Christa, and Connie brought up their hands. "Leave it to us!" Connie declared, biting his hand.
Five Titans appeared on the screen.
Erwin paused, knowing what was coming.
"Look at Mikasa's Titan! Like a buffer version of Eren with Mikasa's face!"
"That's not cool!"
"Check out Connie!"
"Why am I so tiny?!"
"You're like a little frog in comparison!"
"Dude, Armin, your head is huge!"
"At least he doesn't look like he's dying! What was fuck's with my Titan?!"
"I don't know, Jean, seems fitting to me!"
"Christa looks the BEST!"
"So beautiful with golden hair and pure white wings! Truly betting the 104th Class's Goddess!"
"It's Pixis's dream Titan girl!"
"She can eat me anytime!"
"Oh stop! You guys are embarrassing me!"
"At least you don't look like a man."
"I wonder what my Titan-self looks like," Petra thought out loud.
Hange wailed loudly, "I wanna see my Titan form too!"
Erwin whistled loudly. "Alright, everyone, settle down now."
They took deep breaths, faces flushed from laughter and wide smiles, eager to see more.
Christa's Titan's eyes glowed brightly, beautiful shades of blue and white, sending Titan-Pixis flying back. "I have…never had…" Pixis was floating above the moon, asteroids hovering around. There was another planet past the moon and the sun shining in the distance. "…such good alcohol…before!"
White light filled the screen.
"...Damn, that's some potent shit," Levi said.
Pixis stared, eyes wide open, frozen, while everyone watched worriedly.
"He hasn't moved an inch!"
"What in the world?"
Connie spoke up, "Look at that! He's in a peace of mind state!"
"We can win this," Reiner said.
"It's your turn now, Jean," Sasha said loudly.
Jean and Armin exchanged a nod. He wheeled his dish over. Pixis watched him place it before him. "Here you are." The omelet was revealed.
Pixis looked down, "Hm?"
Sasha and Connie stared, surprised.
"What is that?"
"He's trying to win with that?"
"Oh, this is pretty cute," Pixis said.
"Please. Try it, sir," Jean said.
They watch tensely as the commander ate. Once the omelet was finished, Pixis sighed, wiping his mouth with a cloth.
"What? No crazy over-the-top reaction?" Hange was disappointed. "That's not looking good Jean."
"Your faith in me is astounding."
"The commander isn't saying anything," Connie said.
"That means we've won," Reiner said.
"Yes!" Sasha smiled confidently. "Nothing in this world is tastier than meat!"
Pixis stood. "I will now announce the result. In this cooking contest," Jean's team was looking serious while Sasha's team appeared confident, "the winner is Jean Kirstein!"
Sasha, Connie, and Reiner stared in shocked disbelief while the rest of the trainees broke out into cheers, some hugging each other.
"I bet on him!" Hange declared loudly. "I knew he'd win!"
"Sure," Jean said, "I'll just pretend you weren't doubting me ten seconds ago."
"Your mom's omelet won out in the end!" Petra said.
"Yeah, it did," he said happily.
"He won against meat with an omelet!"
"Traditional house cooking wins!"
Armin placed his hand on Jean's shoulder, who was still frozen and gave him a thumbs up. Sasha ran over to the table, slamming her hands on it. "I can't accept this! Why? Why did meat lose?"
"Tell me, young trainee. What exactly is meat?"
"Meat is meat!"
"That's right. Meat is meat." Pixis had a prominent blush on his face. "It is nothing more than that." The sun rose over the Wall. "Meat is just meat." Sunlight fell across his face. "That is why you lost."
Tear poured out of Sasha's eyes and she fell to her knees, crying, "I'm so embarrassed."
"That made sense to her?" Reiner muttered.
"Anyone else not get it either?"
Everyone aside from Sasha shook their heads.
"I'm surprised you don't, Four-Eyes. This kind of lunacy seems right up your street."
"I understand the passion but not my area of expertise."
Pixis smiled dazedly at the sunlight as Sasha talked. "I completely forgot about the potatoes and carrots I had until now, and tried to win just cooking meat." The commander left and she cried into the tablecloth.
"You forgot to add your signature potatoes?" Petra teased. "I'm shocked."
"It's a part of your identity. How could you forget?" Hange grinned.
"Now even the veterans are mocking me," Sasha whined.
"You don't need to be embarrassed." Jean held out his hand, a serene look on his face.
"What's with that stupid face?"
"You're a stupid face, stupid face."
"You're not the only one who did nothing but roast."
"I'm sorry, Jean." Sasha placed her hand in his.
"No problem," Jean clutched her hand.
Pixis walked, flanked by Anka and Gustav. "When you eat that late at night, you get sick in the morning. Compared to that, that omelet…"
They leaned forward, wondering how his reaction to Jean's omelet would compare to Sasha's boar meat.
"Leaving the taste aside, it was a great late night snack."
Confusion covered their faces.
"What's he mean?" Jean asked. "It wasn't that good?"
"Why didn't Sasha win then?" Christa asked.
"This is confusing," Connie shok.
"I bet he was just shit-faced drunk the entire time."
Mikasa nodded. "Ymir's probably right."
The sun was shining brightly. Jean stood before Sasha, with Connie and Reiner smiling behind her. Jean looked off into the sky, the same peaceful smile on his face. Maybe I'll go see how my folks are dong at home tomorrow.
Jean's mother stopped knitting and looked up, smiling.
On Jean's bunk, next to his pillow, an apple lay on the note from his mom.
"I can't wait to get out of here!"
"Me too, I need some fresh air!"
"I'm going straight to bed."
On the TV, the screen switched to black and white letters appeared as Candy spoke, "Congratulations! You've reached the end! Hoped you had fun and took lots of notes."
"That I did," Hange patted her notebook.
"The door's now open but you've got about ten more minutes so feel free to stick around a little while longer. You'll get your invitations for season two within two days. Until then, relax and think about everything that has come to light and how you wish to proceed with the knowledge you have been given. Candy, over and out!"
"I know I'm beating a dead horse," Erwin said, "but I will say it anyway: Don't tell anyone about this." Everyone nodded. "The TV is our greatest weapon," he pointed to the flatscreen device and they eyed it reverently. "We can't risk its existence getting out under any cost."
"What do you think we'll see in season two?"
"I don't know! But I'm excited!"
"No matter what happens, we'll be better prepared!"
"I hope I don't die. That'd suck!"
"If I die it better be epic."
"I remember the other two Titan-Shifters," Ymir said casually. She thought they'd talk over her up but everyone shut up at once and focused their attention on her. "I don't know what kind of mojo Candy performed but it's impressive." Suddenly a strange look crossed her face. Her eyes snapped to Eren.
He tensed. "What?"
"Give us the main points, we can go into details tomorrow," Erwin said.
"Well, one of the Titans is the Cartman, her name's Pieck. It's the non-fighting type I mentioned but she's highly intelligent. Not someone you want to underestimate."
Hange added that to her notes under a section titled Titan-Shifters. Every scrap of info was valuable. "Go on."
"The other one, he's one of the strongest Shifters. It's called the Beast Titan and..."
"C'mon, out with it," Levi said impatiently.
"His name's Zeke Yeager."
Eren's eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. "What?!"
"Are you saying they're related?" Mikasa asked.
"I'm not saying that," Ymir said. "But... Holy shit, he looks a lot like your dad." There was gonna be lots of family drama in Eren's future, she thought.
"If Eren's father is from outside the Walls, it makes sense," Erwin nodded.
"The question is where he got the Attack Titan's power—that's your Titan's name, by the way," Ymir told her fellow Shifter.
"And why he came here," Petra added.
"I don't know about him but Reiner and the others, their mission was to find something called the Coordinate, whatever that is."
While they began brainstorming, Eren was lost in his thoughts. I have a brother? Or an uncle? Why hadn't his father ever told him? He kept so many things hidden. Dumped all this Titan-Shifter shit on me without any warning. And I'll never know why. He thought bitterly. Unless... Unless the answers were in the basement. His father had promised him. Eren itched to run out, transform, and make his way home, needing those answers. I have to be patient. Candy might reveal everything in the upcoming future episodes.
"You can what?!" Jean said loudly.
Armin looked equally shocked. "Why didn't you tell us?"
"Well, actually, I already told them," Ymir jerked her thumb to the side, pointing to their superiors.
"Yes, Ymir told Petra and Eren who told us her Titan, the Jaw Titan, can destroy the Titan armor utilized by Reiner and Annie," Hange said.
"Then," Christa gasped, "that means she has the power to take down the Armored Titan!"
"That's correct," Erwin nodded. "We plan to have Ymir take him down while Eren will defeat the Female Titan and Levi and his squad will bring down the Colossal." He wouldn't yet mention about using any Titan-creating serum they may find in Eren's basement and use it to get any Titan-Shifters' power to their own side, if possible.
"So, who's the ninth Titan-Shifter?" Petra said.
Ymir shrugged, "That even I don't know anything about. I don't know it it's cause Marcel doesn't either or Candy's holding it back." Though she was sure there was quite a bit more still buried in her mind and had yet to surface. "But it's someone on the island."
"It's gotta be a member of the royal family, right?" Armin said.
"You are probably right," Erwin agreed. He had quite a few thoughts regarding that subject. "But we can't do anything about that yet. Hopefully season two will provide us with more clues. Give us a better idea on how to proceed."
"More future episodes!" Christa gushed.
"This is so great!" Connie couldn't wait. As nerve-wracking as it was—What if they had to watch more of their friends and comrades die?—he was also pumped to see more.
"It certainly feels like we're going to beat the odds, thanks to Candy and the TV," Mikasa nodded, feeling a rush of optimism.
"Don't leave me alone with them," Connie told Jean and Armin. "I don't know if I'll be able to keep them from getting suspicious."
Eren was glad he would be staying with his squad, leaving little to no interaction with Reiner and Bert. He wouldn't do anything rash but he'd rather not risk it.
Sasha nodded, "I don't trust my acting skills either."
"Is that so," Levi spoke up. "Lucky for you, I've been meaning to clean up this floor, I'm happy to hear you two volunteer." Their faces fell a little at that. "Any other volunteers?"
"Count me in," Jean said.
"Me, too," Armin nodded.
"I think I'll join to you guys," Christa said.
"So will I." Mikasa shrugged. "I can keep a decent poker face." An understatement, they all thought. "But I'd rather spend the time with you guys."
"I'll have you all assigned chores separate from them. You'll only see them before turning in for the night," Erwin said.
"What about me?" Ymir asked. "How to explain my suddenly hanging out with Squad Levi?"
"That's right! You two promised me a ride!" Hange said, thrilled.
"I'll think of something. And I'll need to know your ring sizes so you can carry a tiny, concealed weapon." Eren and Ymir nodded. "Well, I think that should be everything." Erwin stood, "I guess it's time we left." The others followed his lead.
"After watching the future episodes, we should have a better idea on how to proceed with the 57th Expedition and the following battle in Stohess," Levi said. "Depending on what happens in season two will also determine what to do with the squad," he told Petra and Eren.
"I have a feeling we're getting sidelined. But," she sighed, "we can't risk disrupting the future too much."
"What can we do to get the others temporarily out of the picture?" Eren wondered.
"I have this concoction that can give you food poisoning," Hange said.
"You mean your cooking?" Levi jibed.
"We can slip the squad some after the 57th and before the battle for Stohess."
"Okay but I'm not eating it. I'll just pretend to get sick. What about after that?" Petra asked.
"We'll deal with that when we get there," Levi said.
Erwin was about to close the door when Connie and Sasha suddenly yelled, "Stop!"
"Wait just a minute, please, Commander," Sasha said.
Then the two dashed back inside and loaded their arms up with food.
"Unbelievable," Jean rolled his eyes while the others giggled at their antics.
"Okay," Connie said as they emerged, grinning, arms full of food. "We're good."
Petra: Is returning for season 2
Curse of Ymir: Will be revealed in season 2
Lost Girls: After the season 2 main episodes
Season 3: One or two pricks aside, you guys were so wonderfully sweet and supportive I decided to give myself 6 months to rest up after I finish PoS II and consider season 3. If I don't feel up to it they'll at least react to the trailer
Power to Strive II: Back to once-a-month updates. First chapter will be up October 21. I'll let you guys know here when it's uploaded
Until Next Time!