Prologue: June 19, 2008


"Keith Shadis Self Defense Academy," Eren read the outdoor business sign with the same blandness as its font. "Sounds like shit."

He stood in front of the double door entrance with his friend, Armin, and his foster sister, Mikasa. He leaned his bike against the half wall that separated the building from the parking lot. Armin had called him and Mikasa over to check out something "breath-taking" that they "totally had to see." The building looked like all the others in downtown Trost: unoriginal and heavily blinded.

Mikasa hadn't said anything. She was locking her bike in the bike rack. "Eren, lock yours up too. I'm not doing it for you."

"But what are we doing here?" Eren walked his bike to the rack and locked it next to Armin's.

"This school is said to be the best in the district," Armin breathed in an excited rush. "Its best students are training inside right now and you need to see them. They're amazing."

"I don't really care about martial arts," Eren said, but he let Armin pull him by the wrist to the door. Mikasa followed behind them, her footsteps quiet as always.

"It's not like the other schools. They don't have belt levels or specific curriculum. It's really cool." Armin let go of Eren to pull open the door.

A blast of cold air smacked Eren in the face. He squinted his eyes against the air flow, expecting to see whatever it was that Armin called "breath-taking". He had given Armin the benefit of the doubt. What he saw didn't live up to it.

Straight ahead from the entrance was a matted floor that took up the entire room. There was a closed door on the left labeled "OFFICE" in sharp red letters. Along the wall on the right were wooden benches with bulky equipment bags and shoes shoved underneath. The wall across from the benches was covered with a mirror. At the top, in the center of the mirror, was a laminated poster with the words of a student pledge typed out in capital letters. The wall across the entrance had shelves filled with equipment such as cushioned pads and weaponry. To the right of the shelves was a door-less arch that reached to the benched wall.

Eren could hear shouts and slaps and smacks through the arch. "Is this it?" he asked.

Someone jabbed him in the side with an elbow. He glared at Mikasa. "What the heck!"

She bobbed her slightly to the left. On Eren's other side wasn't Armin, rather a tall, bald man with intense eyes. The dark circles around his eyes were what got to Eren.

"Who are you?" If his looks were frightening, then the man's voice was downright terrifying.

"Are you the headmaster?" Armin asked with only a touch of fear in his voice.

"Keith Shardis." The man nodded. He rolled his steely gaze at Eren, making the boy feel like he was rapidly shrinking into the ground.

"We're here to see the Wings of Freedom," Armin said.

"The pride of joy of this establishment." Keith nodded, eyes glinting with pride for his students – or hatred for Eren. It was hard to tell. His voice wasn't the type Eren could distinguish emotions from. The man probably sounded the same when he was criticizing his students. "They just began warming up. Sit on the benches, and do not interfere with their training."

"Yes sir." Armin bowed his head.

"Hmmmph." Keith went to his office, and then said, "Girl, what is your name?"

"Mikasa, sir."

"Nice elbow strike."

#

"Maybe you should join," Armin said in low volume. "I've never seen him compliment a non-student before."

"Because not many non-students attack people," Eren said, turning with a heated look at Mikasa.

"I'm sorry, Eren. Did I hurt you?"

Eren sniffed and snapped his head forward.

There were a few other people watching. Eren counted three adults, two children, and two teenagers. All but the kids sat spaced from each other; only the kids appeared to be on close terms. Eren and his companions squeezed together between a teenager and a kid.

Eren didn't see anything special about the warm up. Tall punching bags were set up in a circle. The students, dressed in sweats instead of uniforms, shuffled from one bag to another in two lines. One line circled the outside of the ring, the other circled the inside. The slaps Eren had heard in the lobby were the sounds of fists, elbows, and legs striking the bags. The deep smacks were the sounds of the bag's water filled bases tipping up and landing from the force of the strikes. The shouts were the sounds the students made right before they struck.

"They're strong," Mikasa said. "And look at their footwork."

"You can use footwork to fake out opponents and to create a path for a technique layup," Armin said. It sounded like he was reading out of a book in his head.

"Did you research this?" Eren leaned forward to look directly into Armin's face.

"Absolutely."

Eren wondered if Armin was considering signing up for a class. He couldn't imagine Armin with his fists up, legs lashing at an opponent's stomach. However, he could clearly see Armin getting beaten up and apologizing to the opponent for being a worthless target.

The students rolled the bags to the wall. There were about twenty of them, most of whom were teenagers. Armin explained that the Wings of Freedom was a selective class of the best students in the school. They competed against the best of other schools in tournaments that went from the district level to the national level.

Students partnered off to spar. "No pads?" Eren observed out loud. "Won't they hurt each other?"

"At this level you're expected to have a lot of control. But if you do get injured, it's probably your fault," Armin said. He sounded guilty, as if he had anything to do with the harshness of the reality.

Eren watched one a girl swing a hell of a hook at her opponent's ear. Her opponent ducked just enough to clear it.

"Jeez. They'll kill each other," Eren said.

"Oi!" Someone shouted. "No head attacks unless you've got mouth guards."

"Yes ma'am!" the class barked.

Eren flitted his attention between each duo as they grabbed his attention. He watched two boys go at it with the ferocity of a true battle. Something smacked the ground, and his attention jumped to two girls who had taken the fight to the ground.

A boy swung multiple punches at his opponent's torso, getting closer and closer, and then clinched onto his opponent's chest.

Another boy swept his opponent off their feet.

A girl threw a punch at her opponent's chest. Her opponent parried it, spun around to her back, kicked the back of a knee in, and wrapped her arms around her opponent's neck. She did something that made her opponent tap out.

He watched different body parts, seeing how they moved in relation to other parts. Some students were on the tips of their toes. They rolled back onto their heels when they spun around attacks, sometimes rolling of their opponent's bodies with liquid grace.

A short boy, possibly the shortest, was kept at a distance by his opponent's long legs. He was waiting for an opening. Eren leaned forward. He could see the boy's narrow eyes calculating, his hands loosely protecting his face. He stepped in, his opponent's leg already chambered for a kick.

Eren squeezed his fists. What the hell was the boy doing?

The opponent swept his leg for the boy's unprotected torso.

It happened in a blur.

The boy dropped into the splits and immediately somersaulted, planting his feet into his opponent's crotch.

"Levi!" The opponent went down on his side.

Several duos stopped fighting to check on the boy. Eventually everyone stopped fighting. Someone announced a water break. Students went to their bags squished under the benches. The bags were so big and bulky that they went all the way to the benches lined on the other floor.

Eren peaked between the gaps of students walking in front of him.

Mikasa leaned in to whisper in Eren's ear, "I knew you'd like it."

"It's interesting, all right? That kid got nailed in the crotch."

"It happens all the time," a student said as he squatted in front of Eren. Eren parted his legs so that the student could pull out his water bottle. He chugged down loud swallows and made a long content sigh. He looked over his shoulder at the fallen kid. "The guy who kicked him is tiny for his age. He thinks it gives him the right to deal cheap blows when he's up against tall people."

Eren watched the boy shrug as someone coolly reprimanded him.

"How old is he?"

"Fifteen."

"Damn! He is short!"

The short boy snapped his head in Eren's direction. His eyes burned with a black flame that Eren could feel across the entire floor.

Armin looked oblivious. He was staring at the crumpled boy on the ground with more concern than anyone in the room. Not even the people on the bench looked worried. The kids were giggling and the teenagers were texting. The adults looked sympathetic.

The boy in front of them put his water away. "How old are you kids?"

"Ten," Mikasa said, "but Eren acts like he's eight."

"Hey!"

"Two years difference isn't that much," the boy said with smiling eyes.

"The mentality has a big difference," Armin said. He opened his mouth, probably to start a lecture on child psychology or whatever it was called.

Eren cleared his throat and Armin shut his mouth.

"Are you guys interested in signing up with the school? We have classes for kids your age."

"We're just here to see you guys," Armin said. "We heard so much about your team that we had to come see you train."

Eren blushed. Armin made it sound like they were obsessive fans or something. He didn't want to discredit Armin, but he didn't want to sound like a weirdo in front of a talented fighter.

"That's great! You should watch our tournaments. We could really use the support." The boy stood, and Eren felt dwarfed in the boy's shadow.

The sparring resumed after a minute. The short boy's opponent sat off to the side with a stress ball in each hand.

Eren almost didn't notice the man who stepped onto the floor. Armin whispered in his ear, "That's the lead instructor of the team." Eren passed it on to Mikasa who nodded.

The short boy was the first to notice the man. "Captain Erwin on floor. Attention!" His voice was too big for his tiny body.

The class faced the man, their bodies erect and hands in stiff salutes instead of the bows Eren expected. The salutes were strange too. Their put their right hands in an upside fist against their chest and their left fist on their back.

Erwin mirrored the salute. "Get your gear on."

"Yes sir!"

The students pulled their bags onto the floor and dumped out protective gear.

Finally. Eren smirked. Now they could go at their opponents with full force.

"Eren, we have to go," Mikasa said. She held her phone out to show Eren the time. "Our curfew's almost up."

And when everything was starting to get good. Eren huffed.

#

"…you wouldn't believe how awesome they were, throwing punches and doing somersaults!" Eren shoved a spoonful of chowder into his mouth and swallowed it whole. He choked on the potatoes and clam. Mikasa whacked his back. "They didn't even wear uniforms! They wore sweats like they were jogging or somethi-" Eren coughed.

"Chew, Eren. You're going to choke to death," his mother said from the sink.

"You're so enthusiastic about it. Just like I predicted," Mikasa said.

"Shut up." Eren spooned down the rest of his chowder. "Gosh that was great. Thanks, Mom."

"You want to join," Mikasa said.

"No I don't." Except Eren had been considering it while he peddled home. If he got skilled enough, he could join the team and travel across the nation to battle against other schools.

"If you really want to, I'm sure your father would sign you up. You too, Mikasa. It's certainly a helpful thing to learn in a dangerous world." She finished rinsing off dishes and started drying them.

Mikasa carried her bowl and Eren's to the sink and soaped them up. "I'd join if you did," Mikasa said.

"I'm not joining."

"You might like it," his mother said.

"That's what I told him."

"I don't want to join."

"Think about it."

Mikasa looked at him. "What if Armin joined?"

"Armin would get his ass handed to him."

"Language," his mother scolded in a mild voice. She knew that Eren never cleaned his vocabulary out, but as a parent, it was her job to try. Eren felt sorry for her. How did parents feel when their ten year old kid spewed dirty language daily?

Eren's father walked into the kitchen. "Is that chowder I smell?"

"Your favorite," his mother chirped.

"Eegh," Eren said when his parents kissed.

His father helped himself to a large bowl of chowder. "Carla, stop cleaning for once and eat with us."

"With you," Eren corrected. "Me and Mikasa already ate."

"Mikasa and I," his father said, looking up from his glasses like a menacing nerd. Eren laughed.

"Grisha, Eren is thinking of signing up for martial arts classes," his mother said. She sat next to Eren, and Mikasa took the seat in front of him.

"That's wonderful. Why don't you sign them up tomorrow?"

"I don't want to," Eren said. The more he thought of it, the more he didn't want to. It had sounded fun at first, but the effort and pain that would go into it wasn't appealing. Eren also had a hard time accepting others as stronger than him. He didn't want to deal with feeling inferior to younger or shorter opponents. The short fifteen year old boy popped in his thoughts. He shuddered. "I'd rather play a team sport." That way if he lost, he could blame the whole team.

"You'll make more friends," Mikasa said. "It won't be just you, me, and Armin."

"I'll make enemies."

"And this is why you don't have friends," his father said.

"It's not healthy to spend your time with only two people," his mother added.

How did they go from talking about martial arts to Eren's shitty social life?

"I'm not listening." Eren opened the door to the garage.

"Where are you going?"

"Eren, get back here."

"I'll come back when I want to." Eren let the door slam behind him. He smashed his helmet on his head and opened the garage.

Mikasa opened the kitchen door. "What are you doing?"

"Going for a ride." He kicked back his bike's mount spike.

"I'm coming with you."

Eren pedaled into the evening.

#

Armin answered his front door, his hair pinned back with pink clips. "What are you doing here?"

"My parents pissed me off so I came here. Mikasa followed. Want to go biking somewhere?" Eren asked.

"Sure! My parents are on date night so I can sneak out." Armin grinned. This probably was the most badass thing he had done in a long time. Eren allowed him the pleasure of feeling rebellious and didn't tease him for it.

The trio mutually agreed to bike on the Maria forest trail. It connected Shiganshina to Trost and was a popular attraction on weekends when couples went for romantic strolls and families went on picnics. It was Thursday so it wasn't very busy.

Eren zigzagged between Armin and Mikasa, laughing when Mikasa scolded him for being so careless. They reached the end of the trail and headed back. Halfway back they took a break and walked their bikes into a clearing.

They often met here to talk about school and life. Armin would help Eren with his math homework and Mikasa would remind Armin to avoid discussing politics with other kids.

They all had their own rocks to sit on. In order from biggest to smallest were Eren's, Mikasa's, and Armin's.

"My parents want me to sign up for martial arts," Eren said after they sat on their respective rocks. "I said I didn't want to and they brought up my lack of friends." He slid off his rock. "Is it really that bad to have only two friends?"

"Not if they love you," Armin said. "What's better: having a lot of friends or a few best friends?"

"Having both," Mikasa said.

Armin sighed and Eren laughed. He looked at his friends and thought, who cared what his parents thought? So what if he didn't have as many friends as the other kids his age? Mikasa and Armin were great. They were amazing and that was why he never felt lonely.

Mikasa told Armin about how he shouldn't have snuck out of his house. Eren tilted his head back and stared at the evening sky. He closed his eyes.

It was nice, he thought, how the world seemed peaceful when everything was still.

He opened his eyes and looked at the swaying tips of the forest trees. They were so tall, they looked like they were touching the sky. They moved like fingers scraping against the deep blue of the early night. Scraping? Eren furrowed his eyebrows. What in the world-

The earth jerked. Eren's back slipped off the rock and he landed on his side. He could feel the earth shaking under his hands.

Mikasa knelt at his side and pushed him down. "Hey! Mikasa!"

"Stay down!"

"Mikasa! Eren!" Armin fell on top of Mikasa.

"Stay down!" Mikasa growled.

The earth shook harder. He grasped Mikasa's hand. He grabbed Armin's and squeezed both of their hands, praying for the shaking to end.

Everything was roaring. It sounded like the earth was screaming.

Something cracked.

Armin pressed his body into Mikasa's. Mikasa pressed hers into Eren. They stayed like that for the rest of the shaking.

Long minutes passed, and Mikasa wouldn't let them get up. There were several more shakes, weaker than the previous ones – and then all was still.

They slowly sat up, panting as if they had physically exerted themselves. Eren was sure that their hearts were all beating rapidly. He squeezed his hand over his chest. His heart seemed like it was going to explode right out of his chest.

Armin was the first to stand. He leaned heavily on Eren's rock, blue eyes wide. "Earthquake," he said. "A big one. A really big one."

"Holy shit. The Big One everyone talked about?" Eren's head swam. He tried to stand, but Mikasa pushed him back down. "How strong do you think it was?"

"I-I don't know."

"We have to go home." Eren stood and when Mikasa reached for him and told him to stay down, he used her body as a prop.

His knees regained complete strength by the time he reached his bike. During the quake the bikes rattled hard, but none looked like they had suffered damage. He swung onto his bike and fell off.

"Eren!" Armin lifted the bike off Eren. "You can't ride like this."

"My parents-"

"Are fine. This earthquake couldn't have caused that much damage."

"You're trembling," Mikasa said. "You need to sit."

"I need to go home." Eren ripped Armin's hands from his bike. He pushed off, almost tipping over.

He didn't look back to see if Mikasa was following; he knew she was.

Everything passed in a blur. He was vaguely aware of some damaged houses and cars stranded in the middle of streets. He remembered hearing a baby crying and a mother trying to calm it. He heard paramedics. Saw a store with its windows broken and shelves toppled. Someone covered in red sat on the curb in front of it.

He closed his eyes and went through a streetlight that didn't work. It was getting dark.

Some car alarms were off. A street lamp was crooked. Someone was clamping something against their arm.

"Oh shit. Shit." Eren's stomach twisted. He swerved onto the sidewalk and Mikasa shouted his name. He went back on the street, weaving between cars stalled on the street.

He pulled onto his street. His house looked untouched. The garage door was even open. Everything was alright. His throat bubbled when he laughed and his eyes prickled. Everything was alright.

He dropped his bike on the driveway. He didn't care if his bike got dinged. He just wanted his parents.

The kitchen door wouldn't open. Something was jamming it.

"Move."

Eren backed away and Mikasa wrestled with the doorknob, shoving her body against the door. Something slammed against wood on the other side, and the door opened wide enough for them to wriggle through.

Mikasa removed the stepladder that had fallen between the refrigerator and cabinet. Beyond them was a mess. The glass cabinets had shattered and glasses had tipped out. They tiptoed around the broken glass. The table and chairs had shifted to the end of the room.

"Mom? Dad?" Eren shouted.

"I'll check the rooms. Check outside," Mikasa ordered.

Eren slid open the backyard door. "Hello?" he called.

"Eren," Mikasa said breathlessly. Her hand was stone white against the door frame. Her eyes were uncharacteristically wide with fear, her lips trembling as if she couldn't find the words to say.

"What?" Eren went to her. "What? What is it?" he shouted, tears already in his eyes.

"She – your mom." Mikasa's breath shuddered.

"WHAT?" Eren screamed, but he already knew. He could see it in Mikasa's eyes. His mother's body lifeless, her eyes half open, lips parted in her final breath, blood soaking her clothes. Dead.

In person it wasn't that bloody. Only her head was bleeding. His father's pants were soaked with that ugly deep, clotted red. Everything else was accurate.

Eren remembered his father's silence. He remembered the toppled bookshelves and the three wooden steps covered in blood. He remembered Mikasa holding his hand and squeezing tight as if she could lend him the strength to stay on his feet.

Most of all, he remembered how the world didn't seem peaceful when everything was still.


A/N: Beta'd by imperativa. This will be a slow build Ereri fic (but not without the sexual tension). The rating will go up.

I tried to make some parallels with this chapter and the SnK plot. If the characters see OOC, that's either because this is how I think some of the characters would act in a modern day society. Mikasa has good control of her emotions because her backstory is emotionally similar to the one in SnK.

The next chapter will be a five year skip and Levi will come up.

This is my first SnK fanfic. Reviews are super duper appreciated.