Author's Note: Hi, everyone! So here is the first chapter of a story I'm working on. I was playing AoT and I absolutely loved the characters, and I really wanted to really get more into them. I will admit, I'm not very good at time management so it's probably going to go real slow, but I hope you enjoy what I do put out there. Also, I love getting feedback on my work, so feel free to leave a review and let me know what you think! Enjoy!


"Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice.
It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.
"

- William Jennings Bryan -


[January, 2005 | Hammond, LA]

In the small and stuffy room furnished with nothing more than a table and two cheap folding chairs, Elliot Salem waited seated on one side of the table, impatiently tapping his fingers. This morning he had shaved and thrown on a fresh pair of jeans and a clean t-shirt in an attempt to compensate for his otherwise unkempt appearance—his outgrown dark hair long overdue for a cut, the grease stains on his hands from working at the garage, and the untimely formed bruise on his temple from a few days ago, just beginning to fade.

In a restless fit, Elliot stood up and walked up to the window to peek through the closed blinds, not because he was anxious about the meeting or the usual interrogation. He simply wasn't one to sit still in a confined space. In fact, he wanted to get the meeting over with as quickly as possible and go back home—what sufficed as one, anyway. He leaned against the edge of the table and drummed his fingers on his lap.

At last the door opened and Elliot's probation officer walked in, followed by a considerably attractive blonde woman dressed in formal business attire. Elliot turned around to face them.

"Sorry 'bout the wait," the middle-aged man drawled, not sounding the least bit apologetic despite his words. He turned to the woman. "I'll go get you those files. Good luck," he added skeptically as he left. The woman turned to Elliot and reached out her hand.

"Hello, Mr. Salem. Joanne Lowry."

He reached out to shake her hand, but confusingly replied, "Uh, I don't think I asked for a lawyer…"

"I'm not a lawyer." She sat down on one of the chairs and gestured for Elliot to do the same. "I'm a recruiter."

"You came here to recruit me? For what?" Elliot started to understand the officer's skepticism.

"I am here on behalf of the SSC, the Security and Strategy Corporation, which is a private military company, quickly becoming one of the largest in the world. We have the best of the best military contractors, but, as one company among the industry, we still have to increase the supply to meet the demand. That's where I come in. Recruiters, like me, are looking for the most qualified men in the country—the strongest and the smartest, the most disciplined, the most intelligent…. Well, you get the idea."

"And you thought I was your best bet?" The sarcastic tone was now undeniable.

"No, actually, I didn't." She was quick to correct his response. "But a Colonel in command of your unit from the army did."

The probation officer walked back in with a manila folder in his hands and placed it on the desk next to the recruiter's briefcase. He stood standing, crossing his arms.

"Look, I don't know what you have about me in there," Elliot pointed at the briefcase, "but I was kicked out of the army. Bad conduct discharge. In fact, Colonel Hill was the one who kicked my ass out."

"First of all, I already know everything there is to know about you from the moment you were born—every record of you on file and more—so there isn't a single piece of my mind that doesn't tell me this is a waste of time, trust me. I don't think you fully realize the time and effort it takes to do my job for a single person, let alone for one in probation under the state. So if I'm here, you better believe it's for a damn good reason." She paused to let that all sink in. Elliot waited, unperturbed. "Second of all, it wasn't Colonel Hill I was talking about. It was a Colonel Gonzales. The name ring a bell?"

Colonel Leroy Gonzales. He was one of the few men that Elliot respected while serving in the army. An intimidating looking man who often kept to himself, he was often given a wide berth from many who thought best to avoid his cryptic demeanor. Gonzales wasn't directly in command of Elliot's unit, but he kept his eye on several other men who were outside of his regiment, one of them apparently having been Elliot Salem.

"What did he say about me?" Elliot asked curiously.

"I never spoke to him myself," the recruiter replied while looking through the retrieved file. "But he must have put in a pretty good word about you with one of the superiors of SSC for them to overlook your military discharge. 'Bad conduct discharge due to domestic violence,'" she quoted from the report. She looked up, eyeing Elliot's bruise suggestively.

Elliot leaned back in his chair and smirked. "A little late to be assuming the worst now, isn't it?"

"Mr. Salem, the fact that you were lucky enough to have put a good impression of yourself on someone in a high place doesn't mean your bad habits are overlooked at SSC. This is serious business."

"Totally. So how's about we don't jump to conclusions then?"

"Alright, then," she said, folding her hands together in front of her. "Please do explain."

"Let's not waste time here," the probation officer suddenly interrupted.

Joanne Lowry turned to look at him with a raised eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

"Look, lady, I've been in charge of his probation since his two-year sentence, and with six more months left, I'd want nothin' more than to just hand him over to you. But both you and I can be more productive right now than askin' him to give you an excuse for what I can already guess is from another one of his bar fights."

Three bar fights in the course of two months, and the man would not let Elliot forget it. Two and a half, really. The last one barely took a heated argument and a shove to the chest before a cop who happened to be at the scene off-duty decided to intervene.

She turned to look back at Elliot with a bored look, eyebrow still arched. "That true?"

He shrugged. "The first part. Probably the second part, too." He grinned at the officer. "But no fight."

"Well if that ain't a load of bull," the officer retorted. "How else can you get a bruise like that on your face, eh?"

"Officer," Joanne cut him off. "No need for an investigation right now."

"It's my job to—"

"I understand, but let me do mine. As a matter of fact, perhaps this would go quicker if we were left alone."

Elliot couldn't hide his grin as the officer gave him a final glare and a grunt before exiting the room without another word.

The irritated recruiter rubbed her temples with her eyes closed. "Where was I?" she muttered. After a heavy sigh, she opened her eyes and looked at Elliot intently. "All right, Mr. Salem. I came here to give you an opportunity to set your life straight. Now that I've done my job, it's your decision to go through with this or not; I get paid either way. I won't lie—it's not going to be easy. You'll have to go through months, maybe even years of intense training, and even the slightest of any slip-ups in your behavior will send you straight back down here. Your short time at the army is a tea party compared to what you'll be signing up for."

Elliot exhaled out of his cheeks. "Aren't headhunters supposed to try and win people over? That whole 'It's not gonna be easy' thing isn't real convincing."

"You go through with this and get to where we want you to be, you could be earning up to 200k, easy. How's that for convincing?"

$200 grand. Elliot did the math in his head. That was more than seven times his current income. All of a sudden the things he daydreamed about became something reachable, a possibility rather than empty wishes. No more crappy apartment, no more stressing over money, no more getting by with the same dull routine every day, waiting for nothing. Sure, life as a merc had its risks, but to Elliot, that just seemed to be the biggest thrill of the job.