"Ugh," Eren complained, cringing around himself in disgust, "I'll never understand how the hell people stand living here." Mikasa could literally taste the condescending attitudes of the citizens gathered on either side of the street as they passed. Really, that was something one simply had to get used to, and after four years in the Survey Corps, Mikasa had learned to ignore the public opinion of the role in the military that she and Eren played. She didn't let it bother her. Eren, on the other hand, wasn't capable of such reasoning. He knew that the Survey Corps were by far the most honorable and well-bonded group of people in the army and he viewed other branches, the Military Police especially, as cowards.
"We risk our lives out there while these assholes sit around all day doing nothing, and then they have the nerve to mock us?" he continued. "It's such-"
"Eren," Mikasa cut him off, giving him a warning look, "you know how they are. Don't pay them any mind." Eren glared ahead, not responding to her. Mikasa knew how much Eren hated going anywhere near Wall Sina, mainly because the people living there were insufferable and viewed the Survey Corps as little more than their tax money going toward feeding Titans. They were close-minded, arrogant, rude, and each harbored a superiority complex toward every other human being on the planet. How they managed to function in a stable society without trying to kill each other was a mystery to her.
It was rare indeed that members of the Survey Corps went this far into the interior, but today was a special occasion. Without any warning and little explanation, the Commander of the Survey Corps, Erwin Smith, had decided to step down. He had held a meeting with the high-ranking Captains, and his choice for successor had been a shock for most people, but none so much as the boy who was to fulfill that role. As they made their way down the empty road, Armin took a deep breath. Eren noticed and moved closer to him.
"Armin, you're all nerves." The blonde gave his friend a weak smile, unable to deny what he'd just said. He was right. Armin was nervous, more nervous than he had been in a really long time. These past few weeks had been eye-opening for him. He had been informed that he was to take over as the Commander of the Survey Corps, and while that was an honor he'd never expected, he was extremely worried about it. How was he going to live to Erwin Smith, the man that had created the long-distance scouting formation, which cut the losses in the Survey Corps by thirty percent? Not only that, but Smith was a strong, proud man with a commanding presence, someone who received the loyalty and respect of his followers unconditionally. How was Armin going to compare to that? He was meek and shy, known only for his intelligence and nothing else.
"Armin," Eren said again "don't worry about it. Just-" His words were cut off by a gruff, impatient voice. The man now standing in front of them was tall and middle-aged, slightly balding, and wore the emblem of the Military Police on both his shoulders.
"Arlert?" There was a trace of a smirk on his face when he looked at them, typical of the Military Police when associating with anyone from a different army, especially the Survey Corps. Mikasa could feel Eren's temper flair, and she placed a hand on his shoulder. Armin stepped forward, opening his mouth to speak, but he was cut off. "I am to escort you, and only you," he shot a condescending glare at Eren and Mikasa, "to your meeting with the other Commanders." Eren looked like he was going to argue the point, but Mikasa grabbed his arm.
"We'll speak to you later, Armin," she said, walking away and dragging Eren after her.
Armin found himself seated in a room with the Commanders of the other two branches of the military, Dot Pixis of the Garrison, and Nile Bok of the Military Police. The last time Armin had seen either of them had been at least a few years ago, and while Pixis seemed to be his easygoing self, Nile was far from pleased to be here. He could see it in his face.
"Have you given any thought to the Survey Corps leadership?" he asked uncaringly, not even looking up from he paper he was reading off. "That is what we've came here to discuss today."
"I have," Armin responded immediately. He'd given much thought to this over the past couple weeks, and was confident that he'd made the right choices. First was his second-in-command, his right-hand man or woman. This person had to be, first and foremost, a superb fighter. Armin knew that was where his weakness was, and he had to choose someone capable of protecting both his life and their own. Additionally, they had to be sharp of mind, able to make fast-paced decisions, loyal yet unafraid to challenge what they saw as faults in plans, and someone who wouldn't let emotions impair them or cloud their judgment.
Ultimately, it had came to two obvious candidates, the two most skilled soldiers the Survey Corps had ever seen: Mikasa Ackerman, one of Armin's best friends, someone he had known and trusted since they were both children, or Levi, the current Captain of the Special Ops Squad and the single most accomplished fighter in the history of mankind.
"I've chosen Lance Corporal Levi as my second-in-command," Armin answered. Pixis didn't react to his words; he merely smiled, as was normal. Nile's face darkened slightly; Armin knew that he and Levi tended to be at odds with each other quite often, but, as blunt as Levi was, Armin also knew there was no one else more suited for the job. Mikasa came close, however, as much as Armin trusted her with his life and as much as she was more than capable of holding such a position, Mikasa wasn't always one to keep her wits about her when emotions came into play. It was rare, but it happened. Levi, on the other hand, was both a better fighter than Mikasa and always quelled his personal feelings, no matter how strong they became.
"And what of the Special Ops Squad?" Nile finally asked, clearly preferring Levi to stay a Captain. "I find it very hard to believe there is another soldier in your ranks that is worthy of leading such seasoned fighters in his shadow." Armin suppressed his desire to shoot a glare in his direction.
"Actually, Commander," he said, not even looking at Nile, "there is someone perfectly suited to take Levi's place as Captain of the Special Ops Squad." Unlike Armin, the Commander of the Military Police didn't even attempt to hide his irritated facial expression. "Mikasa Ackerman," he continued, "will be his replacement." His answer placed a scowl on Nile's face.
"Do you have something to say to our young new friend, Nile?" Pixis suddenly spoke up, looking at him with a slight smile on his face. "I'm sure that Arlert would love to hear your concerns about the running of the Survey Corps. You might even learn something from each other."
"My concern, Pixis," he spat, "is that Erwin left an inexperienced child in charge of the most dangerous and useless branch in the entire damn military." He now turned his fiery anger to Armin. "I remember Jaeger's military trial. Mikasa Ackerman is a close friend of yours, is she not?" Armin glared at him silently. "If you're going to start your time as commander by placing people with a useless lack of experience in positions that are better held by more seasoned soldiers, simply because they are friends, then this waste of tax money is even worse off than I thought." Despite his attempts to hold it back, a slight chuckle passed Armin's lips.
"With all due respect, Commander, just how many veterans do you think there are in the Survey Corps? We never have more than three-hundred soldiers at any given time, and the only people left that have more than four years of experience are Levi, Hanji Zoe, and the Special Ops Squad." That almost pained Armin to say. Yes, it was true. Since he had enlisted four years ago, they'd lost almost every Squad Leader and Captain that made up the original chain of command. They had, of course, been replaced, but that was the reality of the Survey Corps. People died, and they died frequently. Only the strongest survived.
"Mikasa Ackerman," he continued, "graduated from the 104th Trainee Corps at the top of her class four years ago and has long since proven herself capable of being a leader. She's the best soldier we have, next to Levi. I chose her for this position because she's the most able to carry it out."
"Four years?" Nile retorted. "That's nothing!"
"Actually, you're wrong." Armin's blue eyes were uncharacteristically angry. "This isn't the Military Police. Soldiers in the Survey Corps don't to live to be old and happy. Those of us that have endured our first year, even, are exceptionally talented. You don't seem to understand that just having survived four years is a feat that ninety percent of Survey Corps recruits will never be able to claim, and that makes Mikasa and her entire trainee squad, myself included, among the most experienced veterans in this army." He paused to take a breath. "And since you seem so concerned by my choices not being experienced enough, you'll be happy to hear my other Captains. That is, if I'm permitted to speak at this meeting that was intended for me to lay out my new leadership structure." Nile's eyes narrowed in dumbfounded anger, but he backed off, for the time being.
"So, Mikasa Ackerman will take Levi's place, and who she chooses for her squad will be entirely her decision, though I don't expect for her to change much."
With the exception of adding one more person, Armin thought to himself in amusement. That was the real reason that Armin hadn't even considered any of the current members of Squad Levi, Petra and Auruo Bossard, Erd Gin and Gunther Schultz, for roles as Captains. The Special Ops were so successful partly due to their undying loyalty, devotion, and close bonds between one another. They had this uncanny ability to think as one mind, even without visible or verbal cues, and they'd serve most efficiently if kept together as a team, as they were now. Mikasa would understand that.
"In addition to Mikasa, I have chosen three other Captains that will serve under me directly. Hanji Zoe will keep her current position as Captain and head researcher. She will be joined by two other graduates of the 104th, Jean Kirstein and Reiner Braun. They have both earned the trust of their fellows, and are more than capable fighters." Armin stopped. Yes, he had agonized long and hard over this, and he felt his decisions were more than justified. Somehow, every single member of the 104th that had originally joined the Survey Corps had survived, despite the crushing odds against them. Annie, Eren, Mikasa, Jean, Reiner, Betholdt, Connie, Sasha, Christa, Ymir... They had all made it. It was some kind of miracle. But it almost meant that Armin had several viable options for potential Captains, though he felt that, deep down, Mikasa, Reiner and Jean were the only ones that would make good leaders.
Eren was his best friend, but he was far too reckless and emotional to have that kind of responsibility, Annie and Ymir couldn't even begin to understand the concept of "teamwork", Betholdt and Christa were too timid, Connie lacked the logical strength, and Sasha was just too carefree and out-there. Armin noticed that the other two Commanders had continued watching him expectantly.
"That's it," he said. "That's how I will be organizing the Survey Corps now." Pixis was silent, but Nile, unsurprisingly, spoke up.
"So, here are my concerns with this..." He looked down at the paper in front of him, and Armin felt a very strong urge to slam his face against the wooden table he was seated at.
This is going to take longer than I thought.
"What the hell is taking so long?" Mikasa looked up from the frayed edges of the red scarf she was running through her fingers, mainly in boredom. It had been about three hours since Eren, tired of glaring into the smug faces of the Wall Sina citizens, had retired to the bunkhouse set aside for occasions like this, when neighboring armies visited the capital city. Of course, she had followed him, but it hadn't improved Eren's mood in the slightest. At the moment, they were in the dining hall with a few friends, and he was still sulking.
"I dunno," Connie responded in disinterest, focusing on the card game he was currently engaging Sasha in. "I guess there's probably a lot of stuff to talk about. Ya know, if both Pixis and Nile are there. It must be important."
"It's important, all right," Jean muttered, standing off to the side of the table and leaning against the wall. "They're probably rearranging the entire chain of command in the Survey Corps as we speak." He looked to Eren. "I'm surprised Armin didn't mention it to you." Eren, clearly taking offense in Jean's words somehow, flashed his eyes dangerously and opened his mouth to argue, but Mikasa cut him off.
"Telling anyone at this point would be a mistake. Armin does not want to cause strife where it's unnecessary."
"I still don't get why Armin of all people was picked to replace Erwin." Connie leaned back in his chair, tilting it on two legs. "Makes no sense to me. I mean, the kid can barely hold a blade without cringing."
"And how many Titans have you killed, Connie?" Eren butted in. That got a slight chuckle out of Jean.
"More than you. As far as I know, in four years, you've killed a whopping one Titan without transforming." Eren's glare hardened. "I mean," he continued, "if we're judging worth here in Titan kills, Mikasa has us all beaten. You're nothing special, Eren."
"Hey, horse-face," Eren snapped, standing up and moving closer to Jean, "I've saved all your asses more times than I can count." Jean smirked.
"Oh, yeah, when you can actually control yourself. You know, when you're not attacking your friends and scarring them for life!"
"Here we go again," Connie muttered under his breath. Mikasa felt both Eren's and Jean's sights shift to her face, just under her left eye, where she still wore a permanent reminder of the first time Eren had willingly transformed into a full Titan form, and had immediately tried to attack her. She had escaped relatively unharmed, minus the deep red scar where a piece of debris from a building had sliced her.
"That wasn't Eren's fault," she responded, subconsciously rubbing her index finger over the unsightly cut.
"Mikasa-" Jean started to say, but she shot him a vicious glare, silencing him in seconds. This all had been four years ago, and Mikasa was mildly irritated that Jean still felt the need to constantly bring it up.
"I told you, it wasn't Eren's fault. I shouldn't have been standing so close to him when he changed. It was my mistake, and I paid for it. It was the result of my own actions, not Eren's." Eren rolled his eyes, a mixture of annoyance and guilt in his turquoise orbs. "Eren, just stop this," she scolded him, grabbing his arm and forcing him to sit back down beside her. "You two aren't children anymore. Stop behaving like it."
"Hey, Mikasa," said Sasha, speaking up for the first time, "how many Titans have you killed?"
"No idea," she responded. Truth be told, she really didn't know or particularly care, but she was positive that it was far higher than anyone else in the room with her. For a moment, her eyes shifted to table on the other side of the room, where a group of five people were seated and, admittedly, being rather loud. It was the Special Ops Squad. Well, almost everyone.
"Still," Connie piped up, "I don't think that Armin's ever even killed one. How can someone that's never killed a Titan lead an army that does nothing but fight them?"
"Armin is intelligent," a rarely heard female voice commented from the end of the table. Annie didn't even look up from whatever was on the tray in front of her. "That's why he was chosen. It should be obvious even to an idiot like you." Connie shot her a nasty glare.
"Hey, bitch, what's that supposed to-" He was cut off by a squeal of delight from Sasha, as she threw down whatever cards she was holding in triumph.
"You lose again!" Her eyes sparkled. "What's that, Connie, like twelve times in a row? I bet I could make it thirteen!" Clearly flustered, Connie tore his shocked expression from Annie.
"I was distracted!" he defended. "You're on." As Sasha began dealing out the cards again, Eren stood up, intending to leave. Mikasa followed behind him, and right as he was about to open the door, someone else entered.
"Armin?" Eren asked in surprise as his blonde friend walked past him. "What took so long?
"Welcome to politics," Armin muttered, joining his friends at the table.