Notes: It's update time. Enjoy? (The chapter title sucks, but I can't think of anything better and especially more fitting for the life of me.)
Also, the wonderful JBadgr drew fanart inspired by this story which makes me super happy. I'm using it as a cover now (with her permission of course) and she posted it on Tumblr. The link to it is in my profile and you totally should check it out, covers on this site are really small.
Chapter 20: Unexpected
Eren cursed into the flesh of his titan form that was surrounding him. He looked down onto the stumps of his extended body that were emitting steam while regenerating into complete arms. He trained his eyes back on Annie who evaded another attack from Reiner. He cursed again. Annie was in danger and there was nothing he could do about it at the moment.
Why did Reiner have to appear here and now anyway? Why couldn't he have stayed inside the walls or gone somewhere else? Eren didn't even care what would've become of him as long as the other shifter didn't get in his way. It angered the boy who was currently stuck in the disabled titan body. He couldn't do much but watch and think while he waited for his arms and hands to regrow.
Eren was at a point where he cared little for what Reiner had done and how many deaths he had caused. He cared little that Reiner had played the big brother for everyone in their training squad when, in fact, he was their enemy. So what if he was part of the events that led to the battle of Trost and the failure of the 57th mission beyond the walls. That was the past and Eren had other things to worry about now. But the titan shifter had shown up here and attacked Annie. He was keeping them from moving on to the basement, and that Eren took personal right now.
When he first had spotted the Armoured Titan he had thought about reasoning with him. He wasn't completely naïve. He had been able to tell that Reiner knew Annie had betrayed them and their cause. The other shifter's hostility had made only too clear that he was angry with Annie for selling him and Berthold out. But Eren had thought that Reiner wasn't beyond reason yet.
Unfortunately, he was unable to speak in his titan form. And then Reiner had attacked. Releasing his transformation and trying to talk to the person inside the Armoured Titan had no longer been an option for Eren. He had no idea how to make the other shifter listen without getting squashed in the middle of the fight.
So he had intervened.
He had tried to get Reiner off Annie which had turned out to be a bad idea. As a titan shifter who couldn't harden his skin, Eren suffered damage a lot quicker. The result was the loss of both his arms and him sitting slumped down against a building where he was mulling in his thoughts.
Eren was sure he wouldn't attack Reiner so carelessly again. He had to consider the other shifter's hardened skin after all. But then, what could he do? (Apart from contemplating what had happened and dwelling on his anger.)
He looked down at his arms again which were almost completely regenerated by now. That only left his hands having to regrow which shouldn't take much longer than a couple of minutes. Yet, what would he do with them then? What could he do?
He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to beat up Reiner for showing up in Shiganshina and getting in the way. He wanted to move on with Annie and finally get to the basement of his old house. And most of all, he didn't want to lump around on the ground like this any longer.
Pressing his forearms against the wall behind him, Eren got to his feet again. The bones of his hands were complete and the flesh had already grown over a third of them. It shouldn't take much longer.
The ground vibrated when Reiner laid Annie on her back. Eren watched with dismay as the shifter heaved his armoured body onto his opponent and straddled her. She blocked his hands that dove for her shoulders to press her down with one arm. A thick layer of crystal formed on her skin. It spread over his hands, up his arms and entrapped him there. Surprised, Eren gasped in his meat shell. He'd never seen Annie utilise her crystallising powers like this before.
With her free hand she pushed back Reiner's knee. He struggled to rip away his hands and break them free, but the crystal remained persistent. She pulled out her legs from under him and managed to find her footing. Eren knew that sequence of movements. He remembered when she had used it against him in the forest of giant trees. And like he predicted, she pushed her foot against Reiner's hardened abdomen. When the crystal disappeared and Reiner's arms were released, she kicked him away. He flew through the air and crashed backwards into a building diagonally opposite of Eren.
"Isn't that Eren?"
Eren knew the voice that called his name, but had never expected to see the person it belonged to here. Bewildered, he turned around to the building behind him. Just then Berthold landed on its dilapidated roof. Eren had assumed Reiner was on its own, because he hadn't been able to make out his accomplice anywhere. But here Berthold was, equipped with the 3DMG and looking stressed beyond compare.
He wasn't alone however and that was the main cause of Eren's surprise. From Berthold's back climbed Ymir and it was her voice Eren had recognised just now. If he had been able to speak he'd express his wonder at her completely unexpected appearance.
Eren didn't know Ymir too well, but he'd had no trouble with her during their training years. And the fact that she was one of his comrades from the 104th training squad to join the Scouting Legion was definitely worth some credit to him. Still he couldn't comprehend what she of all people could be doing here with two shifters.
"Well then," Ymir spoke, patting Berthold on his shoulder which made the nervous boy wince. She ignored it and stepped closer towards Eren.
"Aren't you going to break them up?" she asked, drawing out her syllables in her usual manner which made her sound indifferent. With a nod, she indicated Annie who blocked Reiner's fist with her arm. "Or are you just going to let them tear each other apart."
Eren glared at her. Had he been able to speak in his titan form he'd let her know that he had tried and failed. He'd also let her know why he sure as hell wasn't going to just jump between the two shifters attacking each other like that ever again. But had he been able to speak it might've never come this far.
Instead he raised his arms to show her his steaming hands. His fingers were still regenerating and should at least give her an idea of why he currently was on the sidelines. He ignored Berthold who looked back and forth between Ymir and him with an uncomfortable expression.
"Oh," the woman dragged out the vowel in understanding which gave her voice almost a trace of sympathy. "I see. These two are tough, huh?"
Eren didn't even consider her question worth an affirmative nod. Of course Reiner and Annie were tough, what had she thought? Both shifters were trained fighters and could harden their skin. That was a lot to deal with when one's flesh was as unprotected as that of Eren unfortunately was.
He let his arms sink and returned his attention to the current fight. It seemed Annie didn't use her extended crystallisation a second time. Or maybe she couldn't, because it took too much strain on her. Reiner stood behind her and held her in a headlock. Things looked dire and Eren's heart cramped in his chest. On some kind of instinct he let out a loud roar.
He didn't expect it to have any effect. The more it surprised him that both Reiner and Annie stopped went instantly limb in the middle of their struggle and looked over to him. However, it lasted only a minute and Eren didn't even get the time to consciously register this odd behavior. Annie took advantage of Reiner's lowered guard and used her hands to force herself out of his grip.
"Okay then," Ymir stated behind Eren. "I'll help you out this time."
He turned back around to her. The look with which Berthold regarded her seemed to mirror Eren's own bewilderment at her words. (But maybe minus the tension that was all over the tall shifters face.) Ymir remained unimpressed. She just bent down, reached into her boot, and pulled out a knife. Confused, Eren wondered what she intended to achieve with such a small blade against two titans. Behind her Berthold took a step back in caution.
"Don't worry," she told the tall boy who looked panicked. She pointed at him with the cutting edge (which wasn't a reassuring gesture at all). "If I wanted to cut you up, I would've done it by now. But that's not my intention – though I really didn't like getting kidnapped by you guys."
That explained why Ymir was here, Eren thought to himself. It didn't however answer the question what she was planning to do with that knife in her hand. Eren had the impression that she was someone to be on his guard against and eyed her with distrust. (Maybe in this case Berthold's nervousness and caution around her weren't excessive at all.)
Unconcerned by the attitude the two shifters showed towards her, Ymir stepped back to the middle of the roof. "I expect you to back me up as soon as your hands are done regenerating," she called over to Eren. "I wouldn't consider it fun to get squashed while trying to break those two apart." Then she ran over the loosened tiles and jumped off the roof.
Eren was still puzzled over what Ymir could possibly do when he saw her fall in one moment and the familiar flash of light in the next. A familiar electric feeling in the air accompanied it. He knew both from the times he had witnessed someone shift or transformed into a titan himself. Then he made out the shape of a titan, dark hair in messy strands and about half the size of his own form, charging towards Annie and Reiner.
So Ymir was a titan shifter.
As soon as the realisation hit Eren, Ymir's titan form was on top of Annie. She clawed her sharp nails into the Female Titan's flesh. To Eren's surprise, the Armoured Titan had completely frozen upon taking notice of the titan interrupting their fight. He stared motionless at Annie who gripped her new attacker by the wrists.
Her attempts to shake Ymir off looked futile however. Despite the difference in size the smaller titan shifter had gained the advantage for now. Her claws were deep in her opponent's flesh. They had passed way beyond the surface which could be protected by a crystal layer if need be.
Eren checked his hands and noted with content that they had completely regenerated. He took the moment of Reiner's distraction as his chance and launched at him. He ran to gain momentum and pushed the other shifter until he was backed up against a building. He locked him in place there with an arm pressing against his less shielded throat.
Eren was willing to use everything he had against Reiner, but first he searched for his opponent's eyes. The look of the shifter was void of fighting spirit. He didn't even show any attempt of resistance. Eren took that as a good sign and backed off a little.
He held up his hands to indicate that he didn't want to fight either. However he kept his eyes trained at the Armoured Titan to ensure it wasn't just a faint of his opponent to gain the upper hand in their confrontation. Reiner remained motionless and unchanged. He no longer seemed to be an immediate danger.
The complete change in the older boy surprised Eren and he wondered what had caused it. He followed the other shifter's gaze and caught sight of Annie. It seemed she had freed herself from Ymir's tight grip and wasn't holding back her strength. The smaller titan was completely on the defence. She lay on the ground and held her arms up to shield her face from Annie's fists.
Eren left Reiner to himself. Ymir had indicated that she wasn't keen on getting squashed in this fight. And she had helped him after all, so now he had to return the favour and prevent her from being beaten to a pulp.
He came up behind Annie who swung her fist back to deal yet another blow. He caught hold of her wrist to keep her from punching Ymir and to gain her attention. She turned her head towards him and the look she shot him was sharp and furious. Only when she recognised him, her eyes softened a little.
When she relaxed her arm, he let go of it. She stepped back from Ymir, but when she looked down at the smaller shifter her features were hard and cold. Eren couldn't make sense of it. He doubted Annie's hostility was simply due to Ymir attacking her just now. Something venomous lay in her gaze like one only reserves for their biggest enemies. So there seemed to be more to Annie's aggression, but he had no idea what it was.
To be on the safe side he manoeuvred her further away from Ymir who was slowly picking herself up again. He also made sure to keep Annie and himself at an equal distance to Reiner. The latter was still leaning motionless against the wall where Eren had left him. The Armoured Titan's eyes remained fixed on Ymir's shape.
Something was going on here that Eren had no part in. Annie and Reiner wouldn't react so vehemently if they just thought Ymir for a mindless titan which they had to dispose of. Chances were they hadn't seen the woman transform and didn't know who it was. Thus they couldn't be hostile towards Ymir as a person, since they didn't even recognise her. So what was it that caused them to look at her with those eyes? Eren himself had reserved such a look for the titan which had eaten his mother.
No matter what it was though, there was no point in racking his brain about it right now. Instead he should get them all to release control of their titan bodies. Eren looked around between the other three shifters in the alley. He wondered how he could communicate with them without using words. He didn't want to climb out of his nape first. He didn't trust the situation enough to give up on the ability to intervene should another fight occur. And once he broke the connection to his titan he would be unable to shift for a while. He didn't have the same stamina yet the others seemed to possess.
Ymir had gotten to her feet by now. Billows of steam were emitting from the wounds Annie had caused. The flesh on the side of her mouth was missing and Eren noticed her sharp pointy teeth. At least she didn't try to launch a counter-attack on Annie. Instead her titan form went limp and collapsed. The amount of steam rising from her body increased vehemently.
Eren felt his body relax as first Reiner and shortly after Annie followed Ymir's example. He was the last to release control of his titan form. He wanted to be certain that the situation no longer needed handling in his transformation.
Exhausted from the fighting and the tension, Eren broke free from the muscle and the nerve cluster connecting him to his titan. As he peeled himself out if its nape and looked around, he found Ymir already climbing to the ground. Diagonally opposite of him he could make out Berthold on the back of the motionless Armoured Titan. The tall boy must've rushed to Reiner's side and was now helping him out of his titan's nape and onto his feet. To Eren's left Annie paused on her collapsed titan form, looking just as strained as Eren felt.
"Damn, you people are giving me some trouble," Ymir remarked. She was walking towards the other shifters from Eren's right.
"You shut up!" Reiner barked. He had reached the paving with Berthold at his side and looked like he was fuming. His hand pointing at Ymir, he made a few steps towards her. Berthold was staying right behind him.
The woman stopped and crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Calm down. What's your problem?"
Eren watched the scene from the back of his crouched down titan through the rising steam. He still wasn't so adapted to shifting yet and needed longer than the others to recover from it. Inside of him frustration rose. Did these distractions and conflicts never stop? He was so close to the basement and still things kept getting in the way.
"You were the titan that attacked us on our way here five years ago," Annie noted, her voice as indifferent as it was typical for her.
She had climbed down from her dissolving titan form as well, but kept her distance to the others. It seemed to Eren however that she was siding with Reiner and Berthold against Ymir. At least now he understood why both Reiner's and Annie's reaction to Ymir's titan form had been so strange. Yet it didn't quite make sense to him why they were so hostile. He would've asked, if he hadn't felt too weak to raise his voice already.
"Oh," Ymir replied, her tone flat. "Did I really?"
"I haven't forgotten that titan," Reiner boomed with anger. "You're the one that ate Berick!"
At the mention of that name things snapped into place for Eren. Annie had told him of Berick who had been part of the mission to find the coordinate inside the walls. She had suggested that it had been particularly hard on Reiner whom Berick had protected from the attacking titan. But that Ymir was supposed to be that titan didn't make sense to him. She was a shifter. Shifters didn't eat people.
"Ah," Ymir drew out the syllable as it seemed to dawn on her. "Right, I remember something like that now that you mention it."
It shocked Eren how the revelation didn't seem to faze her at all. She made it sound like eating people wasn't a big deal to her when he thought that the memory should make her at least feel distraught. A thought flashed through his mind that some shifters maybe ate people as well. But he chased it away as quickly as it had come.
Either way, Eren had heard enough of this. His limbs felt less heavy by now as well, so he began with his descent from the remnants of his titan form. Meanwhile Reiner grew angrier over Ymir's indifference.
"You shit!" he barked at her just as Eren reached the ground. When the brown-haired shifter came around the limp head of his lifeless titan, he saw Berthold holding on to Reiner's shoulders. The tall boy struggled hard to keep his friend from throwing his broad body onto Ymir.
"Alright, let it go now," Eren prompted with raised voice before anything more could be said to add to the tension.
"Stay out of this, Eren," Reiner instructed him with a sharp tone. "This is none of your business!"
"You know what?" Eren hissed at him. His patience wasn't big enough to put up with this after all. "I don't give a shit!" With this he had gained everyone's attention. He could feel their eyes on him. Maybe his outburst, which seemed to come so sudden, shocked them. They hadn't been able to notice his annoyance growing ever since Reiner had appeared in the alleys of Shiganshina.
"I'm here to find out what my father hid away in the basement of my old house. I was forced to waste enough time already and I seriously don't have any patience left now," he continued. He was a little calmer, but there was still a cutting edge to his voice. "So whoever wants to join me can come along, but if you want to fight or do something else to delay me you can get out of my sight!"
Silence pressed down on the group of shifters. Eren stepped further away from his dissolving titan form. The singeing heat it emitted was becoming uncomfortable for him.
"Sounds good enough to me," Ymir remarked then. "Count me in."
Eren nodded at that. Then he shifted his attention to Reiner and Berthold. The two shifters looked at him with grim expressions. They didn't seem to be down with what he had suggested. Somehow it didn't surprise him much though – and that wasn't only, because it now meant they'd have to put up with Ymir.
After he had given them some time to think his offer through, they still showed no sign of accepting it. So Eren shifted his attention from them and turned over to Annie. She was still keeping her distance. Her eyes were still fixating Ymir with hostility.
"Are you coming, Annie?" he asked her. He was only worried for a split second that she and Ymir could get into another fight or that she would refuse to come along if the dark-skinned woman was joining them.
Annie drew her eyes away from the other female shifter and met Eren's gaze. Then he was sure there was no need to doubt her. Annie would come with him anyway, even if she wasn't fond of Ymir's company. Eren himself wasn't too sure about taking the woman along either, but as long as she didn't get in his way he wasn't going to complain.
Annie nodded at him in confirmation and started walking towards him. Eren turned away to head down the alley to his right, in the vague direction of his childhood home.
"Annie," Berthold spoke up before they could get very far. "Are you really going with him?"
Eren paused and turned to look back at Annie. She had broken her stride and was facing Berthold and Reiner. Eren watched both parties with attentive eyes. He could feel the tension in the silence which was unfolding between them.
"I am," Annie then stated without further ado. It was her final word it seemed: a simple statement that left no doubt about her intentions and needed no further explanation.
She turned her back on her former comrades and made her way over to where Eren was waiting for her. When she reached his side he averted his gaze from Reiner and Berthold again to look at her. He offered her his right hand and she glanced at it for a short moment before entwining their fingers.
When Annie looked up at him her blue orbs were searching his face. Eren gave her a reassuring nod and she faintly mirrored the movement. The question in her eyes had disappeared. Together they looked at the alley stretching out before them and started to head in the vague direction of his old home.
Ymir joined them and the three walked past the spot where only askew stones where indication of the fighting that had taken place there. No one of them looked them. They left Reiner and Berthold to themselves, standing between the remaining limbs and billows of steam of their abandoned titan bodies.
Notes: Raise your hand if you're disappointed by how I concluded the fight between Annie and Reiner. But I warned you that this story wasn't going to be big on the fighting scenes.