No one told them that the sun could run a rich batch of sunlight as far as the land that they walked, that it was just as humongous as the ocean, which had also been a sight to behold. It glistened like a jewel, an unimagined expanse of blue as beautiful as the sky above, with its ripples and waves dancing upon its surface. But it was also sour; a feat that took their expectations in zigzags since something like that was so unexpected that it should have been expected.
Each breath that was taken—of the salt-stained fresh air that blew their senses into oblivion—felt to be a hallelujah in the sense. It felt like being resurrected; life had never felt so unrestricting, so alive, almost as if the door had finally been opened after a lifetime of being locked inside.
But life went in cycles, and so, happiness and sunshine must dwell behind gray-stained clouds every so often — a back-and-forth allotted time of in and out. No one told them this, and no one could admit that it was expectedly unexpected.
The first time mankind was attacked, the people played as the livestock, hunted down on their own lands and trapped to death and extinction.
The second time, the people were still forced as the livestock, willingly accepting the safety of their pen rather than take a chance with the predators. However, the pen was locked from the outside, and like any predator, it took just a small bit of tinkering and prodding to get it opened for a feast.
The third time that mankind had been attacked, no one knew what to make of it. The situation was so unexpected that it should have been expected, since it was just part of the cycles of life and retribution. No one wanted to admit who played the livestock and who played the predator this time around — the truth hurt too much that tongues bled before it could be admitted.
For the second time, mankind felt betrayal at its finest — and horror at its worst.
This time, mankind seemed to be its own enemy.
For a moment, he shut his eyes closed, and forced himself to drown it all out, to forget the world existed. He pressed his back closer against the wall as his chest heaved up and down in slow, deep breaths. The horrid stench of rotten flesh and scorched wood filled his nostrils and snapped him out of his reverie, the pungent scent forcing him to gag and form tears in his eyes. If he stayed out in the open any longer, not only would be chewing the awful smell, but he might not make it back alive, and the last thing he wanted was to be die on the torn-up streets, his flesh ripening to rotten.
Speaking of which—and he did baby-vomit just a bit at this—as he shifted his right foot, he could hear the sickening slush underneath him, the scent of rank blood filling up his nostrils. His face turned colors—green or pale white, he wouldn't know—but his senses screamed nothing but for him to leave the area.
Near his left foot, the bulky knapsack stood ready for him. He reached down for its strap, his knuckles clenched white for a moment, before it was hoisted onto his shoulders. The weight of it caught him off balance. However, if he were any lesser of a man with pride, he would admit that the weight of it wasn't the real reason why his legs were flimsy and shaking.
He inched himself towards the corner of the wall, his ears listening carefully for any abnormal sound, his eye observing the area for a clear sign to make a move. Once the coast was clear—at least, as clear as it was, despite the broken gravel, scorched remains of burnt buildings, and such—he rushed out into the streets, blind to everything but forward. He felt his heart about to burst out of his chest, which by this time, felt like it was filled with something airy and light. When it escalated further, it felt like a wave of shivers tickled his body.
Damn it all — he didn't care if he came back crying, he just wanted to get back alive.
The airy feeling fluttered out of his chest just as fast as it had came, quick and unsuspecting. Nonetheless, it converted into a delighted and godsend feeling once the old Headquarters pulled into view, the one epitome of heaven in such a wrecked place. He had been running nonstop since then, his legs and feet pushed forward with adrenaline and fear.
He couldn't see anything, he couldn't hear anything.
However, it proved short-lived when terrifying groans snapped him awake as if he had been in a trance, forcing him to take in the grueling environment and situation again. The rustling sounds of feet grazing the ground, the dry, swishing echo of flesh being dragged haunted him again. He could feel his skin run cold, his heart drop in his chest.
Shit, shit, shit!
Just a couple of feet far from the HQ's double-door entrance, he forced himself inside with a jump, throwing his weight through the doors with no consideration for injuries. He landed with a 'thud,' the floor cold to his skin, his cheeks pressed flat to the ground while his lips kissed the gravel. Once he began to push himself up, it took a few seconds for him to revisit the ground, this time being held down by another batch of weight in addition to the knapsack.
He cursed to himself once he felt someone grab his arms and pull it behind his back, effectively locking and binding him. The other straddled him down, the weight shifted so that he could not budge in the slightest. The next moment, just as he craned his neck to look over his shoulder, his blood ran cold and he tensed once something cold pressed against his skin.
"Wait! Wait!" He cried out, forcefully shifting his body so that he could lie on his back. It worked half-way, a quarter of his body turned sideways, but it was not clearly enough to escape, since the other's weight once again held him down and his arms and hands were immediately seized to be tied. "Don't shoot, Mikasa! It's me, Jean!"
Past the gun, the look in the dark-haired girl's eyes appeared like steel, unmoved and undeterred by the plea held in his voice. She continued to ignore his cries, choosing to press the cold surface of the gun in between his eyes, right in the middle. Jean could feel the sweat in his brow, the panic in his chest, and by impulse, his eyes darted to the barrels of weapons hidden in the corner, each one filled with guns and all sorts of fire-weapons.
According to the higher-ups, they'd be more effective than using the 3D maneuver gear. He's held a gun before, but it was just so different, so unusual in his hands. It's like his hands were only made to hold onto the gear only, not this small instrument that shot bullets — that were just as destructive as cannons even from a far distance. They wouldn't have been as effective in taking down titans, but with their current enemy, it could take them down with one trigger.
They were hand-held, easy to carry around and easy to maneuver — a weapon of mass destruction.
And the higher-ups ordered them to use it when necessary.
"Don't trust what he says, Mikasa!" From behind her, Jean could see Sasha sauntering towards them, a piece of bread between her lips, as she mumbled. "He could be a spy or something."
"Sasha!" Jean scowled, as he tried to pull back from the gun's point. "Mikasa, she's eating the food rations!"
For a moment, Jean craned his neck to look around the ground floor room of the HQ. Several troops huddled near the front entrance, rifles readied in their hands, as they played the look-outs and guards. Others were restacking piles of sandbags to support and bar further entry inside, his collision having scattered everything. The few who did not guard the entrance surrounded him, following Mikasa's lead and pointing their firearms in his direction, their eyes wide and crazed. Even in the dim light of the room, Jean could see their sunken cheeks and pale skin, their shaking and nervous hands clutching at their weapons wildly. Just about a month ago, everyone had been strong with energy and health, eager to get back to their home behind the walls now that the war with mankind's number one enemy had been vanquished.
Everyone so shaken and so afraid, it imitated the same situation as when the titans had terrorized humanity. However, this time, the way the rifles were held, the look in their eyes as if he had just been put in the same category as the titans, as if he were the monster—
He heard the gun click.
He forgot the gun even existed, and that Mikasa, a friend no less, had been holding it against him.
Who were the prey and the predators again?
"Mikasa, it's me, Jean." He grounded out, attempting to shift his body around to lie on his back. It succeeded this time, his back pressed against the ground, but Mikasa still held him in place. Jean eyed her hand on the gun, his teeth gritting together. "Please, don't shoot."
Out of the corner of his eye, Jean spotted a familiar figure shadowed in the corner, and after slight pondering, his eyes widened. "Hey, Connie, help me out!" He called out to the male, who had stepped out in the open once Jean had uttered his name. "Tell them it's really me!"
"Sorry, but no can do." Connie crossed his arms, his eyes filled with spite and speculation — a look Jean rarely witnessed from the male, something that spelled 'distrust' and 'caution.'
He couldn't believe this was happening.
"It's really me, damnit!"
"You do look like Jean, and you do yell like Jean." Sasha pondered, after finishing her bread piece. "You even smell like Jean."
She began to pace around, ignoring Jean's cry of "What does smell have to do with anything?!" as she tried to figure out a way to tell whether it was really Jean or not.
"I know! Why don't we interrogate him?" Connie piped in, as he walked closer, looking the least bit concerned that a fellow comrade could kill Jean at any moment. "We'll ask a question that only the real Jean could answer."
"Right," Sasha nodded beside him, nibbling on another piece of bread, to which Jean's cry of "She stole another one!" was ignored.
"Well, 'Jean,' if you really are Jean," Connie circled around him with his arms crossed behind his back. He stooped down slightly to look down at him.
"Did Eren place higher or lower than you for the Top 10 of the 104th Corps?"
Though reluctant to answer, Jean scowled. "…Higher."
For a moment, Sasha and Connie shared a look before turning back to him and answering with a resounding, "Nope! You're not Jean!"
Before Jean could protest, Connie pointed an accusing finger at him before exclaiming, "The real Jean would be like 'What does it matter!' or 'Who cares about that!'"
From behind him, Sasha quickly agreed. "That's right! Jean wouldn't admit that he ranked lower than Eren Jaegar of all people! Therefore," Sasha then stuffed the bread into her mouth, as she then gave a thumbs-up towards Mikasa with a muffled voice, "Shoot him, Mikasa!"
Jean's eyes widened as he saw Mikasa move the gun back against his skull, pressing even harder this time.
Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit—
"Wait, Mikasa! Don't!"
His heart beating harshly against his chest, Jean watched as Armin scrambled down the stairs with a frantic look about him, running towards Mikasa and yelling for her to stop before she could fully click the gun. For some reason, Jean felt the need to resist face-palming himself.
Why did he get caught up in these kinds of things?
"Hey, Armin, don't cut us off!" Connie stepped over to the panting blonde. "We were just about to get rid of a rat."
Armin looked bewildered.
"You guys are crazy!"
Jean couldn't help but feel that he has never heard anyone who could be more of the voice of reason than Armin. He really needed to thank the guy.
Grabbing his hair, Armin shook his head and flailed his arms for a moment before he turned towards Mikasa. "Mikasa, put down the gun and get off Jean!"
Despite what Armin said, Mikasa still flashed a glance at Jean and then one towards Armin, to which the blonde nodded his head so much, it looked like it would fall off. "It's really, Jean!" Armin said with an exasperated sigh. "Trust me."
With a nod, Mikasa got off his body, and Jean could only relish in finally escaping death done in by a comrade. He took a breath, grateful that Armin even told the troops who also had their rifles to him to ease off.
He watched from the side as Connie and Sasha shuffled away from him with Armin in tow, vaguely hearing Armin scolding them for acting that way. Even if they did lead him to near-death, Jean was sure that he probably would've done the same. There was definitely no use in getting mad at them at this point.
"How do you know it's really really Jean?!"
Armin blanched. "There's no way it could not be Jean! First, there's no other person in the world so far that looks like him!" Armin pointed a finger at Jean with a tired look. "Second, we sent Jean out to find more food, and it's probably in his knapsack! It's just…" He let out an exasperated sigh once again. "It's Jean. Just trust me."
"Fine." The two muttered, their cheeks puffed out into pouts.
Jean watched as Armin walked towards, holding a hand out and helping him up. "Thanks," he muttered, slipping the knapsack off his shoulders and throwing it onto the ground. It slid to a stop near Sasha's feet, and as Sasha's face scrunched together for a bit, her expression became delighted once she smelled the scent of food.
However, just as Sasha was about to snatch the knapsack off the ground, Mikass immediately took it from her grasp, defending it in her arms as she then held the gun in Sasha's direction, though not as threateningly.
"This is part of the food rations." Mikasa stated, as Sasha pouted with a miffed expression. "Stop eating our food supply."
Jean rolled his shoulders, blocking out Sasha's cries and arguments against Mikasa from the side. Armin sighed for the umpteenth time again, flashing Jean a sheepish grin as he rubbed the back of his neck.
"Sorry," Armin started, as he looked towards Mikasa and Sasha. "It doesn't really show, but everyone's been kind of edgy since we just basically sent you out there." He gulped to himself. "The food supply's actually not that low, but we wanted to send someone out to see the condition of the area. We've been nervous as to what's still out there, whether there are survivors or not. We should've sent someone along with you, but everyone felt it was better if it was one for all." Armin bit his lip, his eyes downcast. "Sorry we had to send you out there."
"It's fine." Jean looked away as well with a frown on his lips, as he mumbled under his breath. "I volunteered anyway. It was either me or Eren, but just like before," Jean then moved to sit down on a chair huddled by the wall. "That guy's our special weapon yet again." He grunted. "We need him, so it's gotta be someone with a lesser stake out here."
"You shouldn't think like that." Armin said, as he rejoined Jean's side. "Things have been bleak, but it still shouldn't be a matter of survival of the fittest, of who has a lesser chance of surviving." He shook his head. "So far, the only that's been keeping everyone alive and sane is hope."
"Yeah, but for how long?" Jean clicked his teeth, as his eyes glazed over the entire room, watching many of them fidget ever so slightly, even if it didn't look like it. Even though Sasha was pouting over the food or even if Connie was sniggering to himself at Sasha's plight, he could tell that they were just about edge as anyone else. "And are you really sure we'll keep sane?"
"The others are scoping out the area from above." Armin pointed towards the staircase, where it led to rooms high up into the headquarters. "Once they give us the signal that it's fine to move out, we can get out of these headquarters and into another place. I think a new change in scenery would probably give some of us here a bit of a calmer mind."
It was probably true. As Jean looked around, everyone's eyes seemed to be bugging out of their eye sockets, a sure and evident sign that some couldn't even sleep at night. As much as the headquarters seemed safe, if everyone didn't move out at once, it wouldn't surprise him if people started getting crazy from the intensity of the situation. It was paranoia at its highest.
"Hey, is that jerk Jean back yet!"
Turning their attention to the staircase, Jean and Armin watched as Eren raced down the staircase, followed by Hanji and Lance Corporal Rivaille, who had also chosen to run down that stairs just like Eren.
Once he reached the ground floor, Eren raised an eyebrow as he coolly strolled over to Jean and Armin, looking as unconcerned as he possibly could.
"Oh, so you're still alive." Eren uttered, sounding as nonchalant as he could.
Even in these times, the challenge was not ignored as Jean smirked. "Yeah, it wasn't bad out there, but it was still scary as shit. Bet you're happy you didn't go out there, huh?"
"What?!" Eren screeched, gritting his teeth as he stepped towards Jean, who had stood up to do the same. "I could survive out there easily! I bet you were about to wet your pants out there, weren't you!"
"Would you two shut up?"
Stepping off the staircase, Rivaille sent the two a look that immediately quieted them down. Meanwhile, Hanji skipped forward to the two, her assistant frantically tailing after her.
"Hello, hello! Glad to see you're alive!" Hanji greeted, her gaze pointed at Jean. "Well, what's the condition out there?"
Jean clicked his teeth at Eren before tearing his attention towards Hanji, his arms crossed over his chest. "The area's a wreck out there, all fired down and buildings broken to gravel. For the stable homes, I don't think there's anyone there." He crinkled his nose in disgust. "The place smells like burnt and rotting flesh with blood everywhere, it's hot in all every direction, and," At this point, he physically shivered, as if it had been held back all this time. "You can hear them, almost as if they're around you, but I didn't see one the whole time." Jean shook his head with closed eyes. "No survivors either."
"Ah," Hanji tapped at her chin. "So it either means that the citizenss have either evacuated or have been decimated." It was said so lightly, it was a statement of bewilderment amongst them. "But you said you heard them, but didn't see any of them. Was it possible that they were following you or you were just imagining it?"
Jean grimaced. "I don't know."
"It should be fine then." Hanji let out a yawn as she threw her arms up. "If you didn't see any, then that's probably the best chance we'll take. What do you say, Rivaille?" She turned her attention towards Rivaille, who had been leaning against the wall of the staircase the whole time. "Any suggestions for our next move?"
Rivaille just glanced at them for a moment before straightening himself off the wall. "We'll move in as soon as we're sure the coast is clear. One of you go send word up to the snipers. Tell them what's just been reported." He ordered, and immediately, one of the troops stationed near the front entrance zoomed right up the staircase.
As it was, a great number of troops were stationed on the ground floor of the headquarters, guarding the entrance. Meanwhile, a few number remained on the highest floor, acting as the watchdogs and birds for sign of the enemy. The snipers or those with the best accuracy and precision were stationed up there under the direct command of Irvin.
"Shift change!" Someone had yelled, and Eren watched as those who had previously guarded the doors switch with another. Those whose shift had finished immediately fell onto the floor exhausted.
Eren grimaced at the sight of the Scouting Legion — the troops who had led the mission against the titans not too long ago now fell like bricks, out of hope and looking utterly betrayed. He gripped at himself, his teeth biting at his lip, conflicted.
"Hanji," Eren heard Rivaille call out, and just as Hanji turned towards him, so did Eren.
Rivaille continued further, and as Eren looked in closer, not one ounce of fear seemed evident in the man's eyes.
"What's your take of this?"
"We can't be sure, really!" Hanji answered out, looking the same as Rivaille, undeterred and not put out by the impending situation. "I mean, as soon as the titans are gone, it's nice and peaceful." She then began to make exaggerated hand gestures. "And then, bam! An epidemic hits humanity!" Her expression looks slightly horrid until she taps her chin.
"It's an epidemic never before seen. So far, we know that Trost District and Shiganshina District have been hit, seeing that we came across," And at this point, though she didn't let her curious expression falter, she did seem a little shaken this time. "Them."
Hanji then flashed everyone a sad smile, one that showed that even she was affected by the situation as well.
"Humans becoming lifeless and seemingly dead." She said aloud, the truth of it causing a few to cringe. "It's like they're alive, but," She blinked. "Not really. Does that make sense?"
"Are they really humans? I mean," Armin started out, looking as saddened as the others. He looked up, his eyes somehow innocent but changed. "Is it possible for an epidemic to cause cannibalism?"
"Hah," Hanji rubbed at the back of her neck, her lips now formed into an unsure smile. "I'm not in the medical field. We shouldn't even be calling this an epidemic if we're not sure."
"Maybe it's a food-shortage and people were just starving, so you know," Sasha piped in. "Gotta eat something, even if it is another human." Then she blinked. "Do you think humans actually taste good?" She glanced at Connie, her tongue wetting her lips.
"Don't look at me like that!" Connie jumped, hiding behind Mikasa.
"I doubt that it's a food-shortage." Hanji stretched her arms out as she began to walk around. "It might just be some unnatural phenomenon that's just as much as a mystery as the titans had been. But so far, what do we know?"
Armin started first. "The moment we went into Shiganshina District, the human populace wasn't around, despite the fact that there should reconstruction going on. It was a ghost town." He gulped. "And when we did encounter people, they weren't exactly people." He then winced. "And they come out at night for some odd reason."
"Their skin was gray and their flesh was rotting." Eren glanced down at himself as a shiver tickled his spine. "Some of their limbs were falling off and breaking off their body. It's like they're some kind of walking dead." He bit his lip; the sight of falling limbs freaked him out, since he knew that those who can form into titans were fine with missing a few limbs because of regeneration.
But to see people's limbs easily break from their body, and non-titan transformers at that — it pulled his stomach into knots.
"And they acted stupid, groaning and stuff, like 'ahhhhhh.'" Sasha said, holding her arms out into demonstration as she groaned in imitation. "It's like they're brain-dead or something. They wouldn't say a word or anything. Just kept wanting to take a bite out of us."
"And they eat other people!" Connie clasped his cheeks as his eyes widened. "I feel bad for the guys that we lost, but they attacked us!" He then flailed his arms around. "And they ate those guys! Cannibalism! Maybe it really is a food-shortage or something! They wouldn't listen to us or anything!"
"But they die just the same." Mikasa said, her face expressionless. At this, everyone paled, but agreed nonetheless.
"Hit him enough and they're dead like normal humans would be." Jean muttered, feeling just as terrible as the others with this realization. "Dead or alive, we can't tell. Is this really an epidemic? A disease?" He looked up.
Hanji halted to a stop near the staircase and next to Rivaille, leaning against the wall as well. "Like I said, we don't really know." She pondered. "Trost is the same as Shiganshina, so it seems. And if you said you hadn't encountered any of those, then therefore, we have to assume that," She made a few more odd hand gestures. "Trost District's populace is wiped out, but we're not sure about the other districts or what's beyond Wall Rose."
She then spotted the pained look on Eren's face. "Oh? Why the long face, Eren?"
"I don't know. It's just," Eren sighed as he looked at his hand, the one he often bit when he needed to transform into a titan. "What is this?" He shook slightly. "People attacking and eating other people for no reason! It's just like how we were when we faced the titans."
He closed his eyes, fists clenched. "Who is humanity's enemy this time? Ourselves? Humans? Who do we trust?" Eren grit his teeth together. "Who do we protect? Fight? Kill? One of those was a little girl." He breathed. "Do we kill her too?"
The words stung because that was the truth. Who was their enemy this time? Who played the livestock and who played the predator? They were hiding out in the abandoned headquarters to avoid being attacked. If they had to kill in order to survive, then wouldn't they kill a person, who might have been just an innocent human being? How could humans do such a thing to each other?
For the second time, mankind felt betrayal at its finest — and horror at its worst.
But this time, mankind seemed to be its own enemy.
Everyone felt the intensity of Eren's words. It felt horrible to point a gun at another human just to survive.
"I feel," Eren glanced at his own hands. "I feel like I should do something about this, like I should transform and—"
"Then why don't you?" Hanji tilted her head. "Why not just turn into a titan and get us out of here?" She grinned playfully. "Or how about you put your powers to good use and fend against them by smashing them to the ground?"
"I don't want to!" Eren argued back before cringing slightly. His expression turned downcast. "I mean, I can't just kill…an innocent person."
Eren heard and when he looked up, he flinched at the sight of Rivaille's glare. But he still blinked curiously at his superior.
"If you don't want to squash them as a titan, then don't." Rivaille said, and when Eren looked in closer, he could not see a trace of fear in the other's eyes. "If you don't want to kill them as a human, then don't. It's as simple as that."
Rivaille stared down at Eren. "You don't have any other purpose anymore than to survive and live, brat. After the eradication of the titans, what you chose to do is now up to your choice." He then turned to head up the staircase. "You choose what you want to do from this point on."
"Well," Hanji looked up from the map, her fingers pointed at Trost District. She made sure everyone's attention was on her before she continued on. "After thinking it through, I believe there this phenomenon is due to some kind of contamination." She held a finger up.
"Contamination?" Eren furrowed his eyebrows. "From where?"
"I'm going to bet on either a water source or from a food source." Hanji nodded to herself.
"How about the chance of it being an airborne disease?" Armin offered.
Hanji titled her head from side-to-side. "Mm, that would see likely, but as you can see, we're not affected. Directly, that is. Can't say the same for those we lost." Hanji sighed wistfully. "Therefore, be careful with what you put in your mouths!"
At this, Sasha gasped to herself, a potato between her lips.
Hanji continued with a chirp. "If it's not something we didn't bring we us first-hand, then don't eat it! Therefore, we can't eat the food you took the risk to get, Jean." She shot Jean an apologetic look. "Terribly sorry about that."
"It's fine." Jean muttered, rubbing the back of his head. "I just snatched some bread from an abandoned bakery anyways."
"But why do we have to get out of these walls again?" Eren frowned.
"Whatever's going on around here must have come from somewhere." Hanji explained. "The highest bets are in our surroundings that most likely contaminated a resource available to most of the human populace. Otherwise, why else does it seem like a ghost town? It's the sad truth, but Trost is as good as gone." And she indicated towards the front entrance. "But we can't bet on that completely. Even if it isn't airborne, the longer we stay here, the more prone to catching whatever this is we are. It'd be best to move out soon."
"Then pack up and get ready."
Everyone's attention turned towards the staircase, where Rivaille was now stepping down. He shot each person in the room a glowered expression before clicking his teeth.
"We're out of here by nightfall." He watched as everyone conjured up a different expression — from frightened to terrified, from curiosity to disbelief. "Commander's orders."
And that was all that was said before he trailed back upstairs, leaving the room in a deafening silence.
That one order forced the surviving troops of the Scouting Legion to rush out with fear-stricken faces, their breaths caught in their throats.
"Spread out, try to stay near in groups, and meet at the gate."
The silence of the night spelt terror; to hear nothing but the chirps of cicadas and the rush of footsteps forced their fears. For some reason, unlike the titans, those things came out at night, their movements reality of a ghost town. But that wasn't the sure assumption; everyone was sure that once they moved out, they would come out as well. For some reason, the dead of night defined their territory. They seemed to prefer the night, the dark shadows as compared to the sunlight, the complete opposite of the titans.
Eren gripped at his firearm, his thumb shakily hovering over the trigger as he rushed towards the corner of an empty house. His back was against the wall, as he gulped. Just like him, several other troops had done the same and moved behind buildings, heading towards the gate at a smooth an easy pace. Mikasa had moved on ahead a couple of blocks before him, while Armin stayed in the front with those driving the rations with the leftover horses still around.
Eradicate those things, the command had gone; complete annihilation with firearms since all available blades had unfortunately dulled down and gas had run out—the gas tanks at the headquarters were nothing but empty and torn. Thus, 3d gear was an unsure option aside from the firearms.
Eren still wavered, unsure of what he should do. Why did they have to face these people—innocent ones who don't even deserve to die—and kill them down? Was this even their mission?
The crack of a gunshot snapped him out of it, and when he looked before him, slightly shock-stricken, Rivaille stood with his gun held out and pointed, smoke oozing out of its point. Eren followed the gun's direction, and when he looked past the cornerhe paled at the sight. The figure of a man was hunched over on the other side of the corner of the wall, just about a foot away from reaching Eren.
However, its body was torn-up and broken, its arm barely hanging off its shoulder while its flesh seemed to be rotting and smelled of rank and old blood. It forced Eren to cover his nose and tumble down onto his bottom as he stared at the seemingly dead human. As it groaned heavily with its arms hanging out, Eren saw it wore a torn white hat and tattered clothes with a bloodied apron.
It's the baker, Eren stared, and even though he found it to be rushing towards him, his finger on the trigger of his gun did not budge. Not one thought came to him that he should kill it — this human, the baker he normally saw when going through Trost.
Rather, a succession of shots bore several holes into the lifeless being—right into its skull—and Eren could only watch as its leftover blood splattered out of its body and its head flew off its shoulders and rolled onto the street. The body fell with a 'thud,' lifeless and torn.
Eren sat on the ground, staring at the rotten body with wide eyes, his hand holding onto the gun loosely. The silence went on for a while until Eren was grabbed and pulled up to his feet by the scruff of his shirt, soon facing a pissed-off Rivaille.
"Say Eren," Rivaille started, staring down at Eren. "What the heck do you think you're doing?"
He then tossed Eren back onto the ground. "Do you want to die now?"
"I—" Eren hesitated before barking out with a scowl. "I just didn't see him!"
"Get up." Rivaille said, as Eren picked himself. "Did you know that you've lagged far behind? Everyone's already moved up ahead without you, so I had to come and sic you." His tone seemed irritated. "Quit daydreaming, and don't fall behind."
"Right." Eren murmured.
While he trailed after Rivaille, the smell of rotten flesh became more apparent as they neared the area the others had gathered. He shuddered the moment a chorus of groans echoed through the night, mixed in with gunshots and the yells of the other troops. Eren could guess that the others most likely encountered them at this point, engaging them in battle. The roar of gunshots did nothing but ensure him that the battle was a mess, and that his friends were more than likely attacking hoards of them, probably a ton in one place than he's ever seen.
All of them were more likely former citizens from Trost.
"Corporal," Eren mumbled under his breath, following Rivaille behind a small house. "What—"
Rivaille then turned the corner and shot a number of these infected citizens, the sickening splash of blood causing Eren to flinch a bit.
"What is it?"
Once Rivaille finished, Eren continued on, eyebrows furrowed. "Is this the right thing?"
Rivaille fired once more, this time behind Eren and him. One of them had sneakily followed after them.
Rivaille reached into the knapsack on his shoulders, reaching for the outer pocket that contained bullets. "Hanji thinks that these things go after humans with a brain, since last time we saw them, they attacked the other squad at their heads." He pushed the bullets in, his tone indifferent.
"She thinks they travel in a group, because that's what we've seen so far. But she also thinks that there might even be deviant class types amongst them." Rivaille then glanced at Eren. "Just like the one that left the group and went after you—"
"Shouldn't we be helping them?" Eren blurted out.
Rivaille just threw one more glance at Eren before looking up. "They can take care of themselves."
"I mean, these innocent people, Corporal." Eren clenched his fists, tossing the gun aside. "Even though they're like that, sir, they're still innocent people who did nothing wrong. How could we kill them—"
"Eren," Rivaille spun his gun between his fingers, as he looked down the street, watching the other troops shoot down at them. "Do they look like normal human beings?"
Eren glared. "No, they don't."
"Can they understand us like normal human beings?"
"Do they kill other human beings for no right reason?" Rivaille turned his head to him.
Though reluctant, Eren answered through gritted teeth. "They do."
"Then they're monsters." Rivaille finished, and as he held up his gun once more and fired another set of shots, he continued on. "Just like those titans, they kill innocent people with no apparent reason, but to eat them. How could you still think that they're still innocent people?"
"I—" Eren started, but his words got caught in his throat.
These things did attack his comrades, and everyone is pretty shaken by them, just as much as they had been with the titans.
"They're our enemies now."
Maybe they are; Eren had to agree. He peered past the corner of the building and witnessed his fellow comrades fighting these monsters from afar, away from him and while he had been conflicted with his own feelings.
"But," And Eren wasn't sure if he said it as a whisper. "They did nothing wrong."
Eren snapped his attention back onto Rivaille, who had picked up his own gun and was now skillfully gunning down a pack of these monsters, who were hurdling towards them from down the street.
"You have too many damn emotions for your own good."
Rivaille's lips drew into a thin line, as he grabbed Eren and threw him onto the house's rooftop. Eren could only blink as he now found himself above this army of rotting bodies, who were now huddling around the house and trying to reach for them, their mouths open as they released heavy groans and moans.
"If you're done feeling bad," Eren looked towards Rivaille, who had thrown him back his gun. "Get rid of them now."
With one look at the gun in his hand, Eren bit at his lip before putting both hands on the gun and aiming it downwards, his fingers sliding down to its trigger.
Perhaps it was the adrenaline rushing through him or maybe it was some dormant talent within him, but for whatever reason, it surprised him to find himself pretty in-tune with the gun. Brandishing two guns—another one he'd gotten from Rivaille for safety measures—in both hands, Eren didn't blink as he aimed for two of them with precise shots in specific areas, one where its leg was about to fall off and the other right in the skull, both fatal shots.
Few more consecutive shots and they dropped down, leaving more room for more of them to group around the house again, all of them focused on reaching Rivaille and himself.
"Maybe you've got a bigger brain than I thought. They've been after you the most after all." Rivaille said, as Eren noted the sarcasm, watching as the man round off a set on the ones below and effectively hitting them with precision. "You're not bad, I'll admit that."
Eren's eyebrows furrowed, shooting Rivaille a look. "Handling a gun's not that hard." Then he let loose one shot without even looking below him, the squelch of bullet mashing into flesh an indicating result. "Did you think I was a wimp, Corporal?"
His only answer was a short glance from the other, before hearing a muttered, "Not at all, brat."
"I got another!" Eren felt delighted. Using guns were on a whole different level than using 3d gear and blades. The force felt quick and destructive, and it needed a whole bunch of control, something—even Eren had to admit—he never usually had.
Rivaille barely spared him a glance.
And he certainly didn't miss that small smug expression of Rivaille's that showed as a slight twitch on the man's lips.
The night still seemed so young since the moon was still out, bright and unyielding. Eren wasn't sure how many inhabited Trost, but this invasion—so it seemed at least—continued on for what seemed like hours, though he wasn't certain. Their inhuman groans never ceased, their hunger for live human flesh never halted even though he and Rivaille had taken so many of their numbers down.
So they really don't have any emotions for others at all. Eren thought sullenly. It reminded him so much of the titans.
His fingers still pressed against the triggers, the gunshots more like music to his ears. But he was getting tired, while these things were still in a rage, and he could only wonder when morning was going to come, when all this would end. How would things turn out this time?
These were live human beings who contributed to the population of humanity. If they were forced to eradicate them just as they had done with the titans, what would that mean for humanity? Wouldn't they look like the villains for decimating the human population, their own kind?
Well, Eren frowned. It was pretty much the same thing when he was a titan fighting and killing off other titans. Wouldn't that make him the sole epitome for betrayal at its finest?
Eren blinked for a moment before turning his attention to his superior, who had leaned back against the chimney sticking out of the house's rooftop. "Huh?"
Though indifference showed itself on the male's face, Eren could spy something different in the eyes, something akin to irritation and anger, but not directed towards them, but him.
"I said for you to stop thinking." The man's tone was crisp and sharp.
However, he still questioned it.
"What do you mean, sir?" Eren tried to peer closer at the man, but found that, despite the darkness, nothing but spite showed towards him showed.
"You're over-thinking these things." Rivaille's glare pierced right at him. "Don't think 'what if' or 'is this wrong.' If there's something you want to do, then just do it. Ignore the details and save the consequences for later." He crossed his arms. "What is it that you want to do, Eren?"
"I—" Eren hesitated. What did he want to do? "…I want to protect."
"My friends," He tried. "The rest of the squad, those who are in danger—"
"And who's in danger?"
"Us." Eren scrunched his face up as he began to make gestures. "The ones not infected—"
The look that dawned onto Rivaille's face spoke much more volumes than his next words. "Then why you trying so hard to same them then? They're the ones who want to kill us." Rivaille continued on, walking towards where Eren stood perched on the rooftop. "Get it through your think head, Eren. You can't save everyone."
"It's unfortunate for them." Rivaille did spare them a glance, but shortly. "But you can't save them. No one in our squad can; we don't have the capabilities."
He choked a bit. "So, are you saying that we just forget about them, sir?"
"I'm saying save who you can to live for another tomorrow." Eren couldn't believe these words came from Rivaille. "If you want to save them, then use your own power to find someone who can. Stop trying to be the damn hero of situations you've got no power in, and save it for someone who's more suitable." The glare did not diminish, even as Rivaille halted to a stop right in front of him. "We can't save these people, but we can try and prevent it from happening to others. There's nothing more we can do, get it?"
Eren couldn't find the words, looking at the guns in his hands. Look for someone else who can fight these battles? Do what you can to prevent it? It made sense, even if just a little bit.
He looked up, staring right into Rivaille's eyes as the man continued to speak.
"Would you save me if these things were attacking me?"
The answer was immediate.
"I would," he admitted, quite embarrassed, though he didn't know why.
"I would," Eren looked at his hands, the guns fitting perfectly on them. But he didn't think about them. "I would turn into a titan, because that's the strongest way I could save you, sir." Eren blinked.
"I would smash them and kill them until they let go of you, because I care and I want you to still live—" He stopped himself for a moment before trying out his next words. "Would you save me, Corporal?"
"I would." The answer was immediate, just like his. But Eren would die if he admitted that he sense a bit of fondness in the man's tone. "I would, because I care and I want you to still live." Rivaille's lips drew into a thin line, undisturbed or unbothered by the words he admitted. "Because you're still alive."
Eren felt like he was starting to understand, even if it was a little bit. We can't save the dead or bring them back to life. He felt like his eyes were glowing. "Because we can still save them." Protect them, help them…
Rivaille clicked at his teeth as he looked down at Eren, who also continued to look back at him.
"Tch. At least you're finally getting it."
Eren rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah. Thanks, I guess. Maybe now I can actually—Corporal!" Eren shrieked, brandishing both his guns back up again, as he watched a multitude of them scamper up the rooftop.
His face paled in horror as they swarmed in by dozens, having no idea how they had climbed up onto the rooftop so quickly. Rivaille was quick as always, swiping his own gun out and joining Eren's side. However, they were slowly being driven towards the edge of the roof, and as Eren looked behind him, he found that more of them had made their way to the house from below and were surrounding it. As it is, being cornered on the rooftop, but trapped with a flood of them from below showed Eren how cruel life could be.
What should we do?! Eren thought as he blindly shot in any direction, trying to push them back. From the corner of his eye, he could see Rivaille's expression had darkened, despite how the man looked, and he could only guess that Rivaille was running out of ammunition. We should've rejoined the group earlier to refill on ammo! Eren cursed to himself, as he continued his shots.
He could feel it too; it was such a strange feeling to sense when fuel is about to run out. It was if his guns, small friends he seemed to have gotten to know, were shaking with a fever, telling him that their time was up.
Not yet! Eren shut his eyes, not caring that he really was shooting blindly.
However, the strangled sound caused his eyes to fly open, and when he looked to his side, he watched horridly as Rivaille was now kicking and punching at them with everything he's got, his empty gun included. Eren watched as they latched onto him, their rotting teeth digging onto the flesh of his superior as they groaned.
He stood wordless and shocked, his hands dropping the guns down his side. He didn't care that they fell off the roof, abandoned, because all he could do now was watch his admired superior—humanity's strongest soldier—being devoured by these monsters.
They were coming at him quick, but his hands and teeth were quicker, his mind and heart full of rage as his clamped down on his hand and tore of his own skin, feeling adrenaline, anger, and insanity boil within him.
The first time that night, a titan had been reborn.
When he woke up later, he found himself lying on the rooftop that he had been earlier, this time tangled with several detached limbs and blood, while smoke flew from his body. Looking as far as he could see, he saw that his leg was missing, but regenerating as slowly as possible. The sunlight hit his eyes hard, causing him to wince.
Looking to his right, Eren spotted Rivaille sitting beside him, still alive and just the same as he always had been, nonchalant and seemingly indifferent in expression.
"Corporal?" Eren tried to sit up. "What happened?"
Only then did Eren realize that it was so quiet, so uncharacteristically peaceful that curiosity struck him. "Where is everyone?"
"Did you know Eren," Rivaille did not turn to look at him. "That ammunition can only go so far once you have enough of it?"
Rivaille sounded odd, Eren could only think, but then it clicked in him a good two seconds later, and his eyes snapped wide open, darting from side-to-side. The rooftop was a mess of gore and bad flesh, as was also the ground. The air stunk of dead human leftovers, but that wasn't what stirred the knots in his stomach. Nevertheless, those monsters were all dead. But no one was rejoicing, no one was cheering or looking relieved. He couldn't find anyone—
"No," Eren breathed. "No! It's not true, is it, Corporal—"
Then his eyes landed onto Rivaille's left side, wide eyes trailing down from the male's shoulder to nothing.
"Corporal Rivaille," Eren could feel himself crying. "Your arm!"
Rivaille looked at him from the corner of his eye. "I'm not a titan. I don't regenerate my limbs like a damn lizard." He then lifted up his left arm, or what remained of it, pulling the sleeve of his shirt down and examining the result. "Hanji would have been damned thrilled to know that those things don't just aim for the brain."
Eren cried. He didn't see Hanji anywhere. He didn't see Armin, Sasha, Connie, or even Jean. The tears began to slide down his cheeks. Mikasa wasn't even there to run up to him and lift him up like she always did after some trouvle.
"Corporal, please," Eren cried, his voice full of the emotions that he's kept inside. "Please don't tell me that they're—"
"Say Eren," Rivaille had called out and Eren could only pick his head up weakly, eyes brimmed with tears.
Still, he answered, though with a choked voice. "Yes, Corporal?"
"How would you feel if we were the last two survivors in the world?"
Eren's breath caught in his throat, though the tears did continue to stream down his cheeks. He didn't know if they were the only two left in the world. After all, Hanji had mentioned that there could still be some hope beyond the walls or outside of them — a chance to find living and uninfected people. Were they really the last of their squad to survive? Did the others really die before him? Did he really not have the power to save them even in his titan form?
"I—" Eren shut his eyes closed as he shook; the truth too hard to admit.
"I would be very happy sir."
Though it was strained, there was some relief in it, some sadness in it, and some happiness in it that Eren didn't know what to think of himself. Here he was, being a little bit happy was still alive, while everyone else that he cared about was gone.
"How about you sir?"
Rivaille looked back at the sun before him, the sunlight so great that it caused Eren to wince again.
"I'd be happy too."
Eren couldn't help but think that it was just the most fucked up thing that a rainbow had shown itself at this time.
It was unexpectedly expected.