Karano chapter 13 . Apr 29 - Glad to hear from you again! Sorry, but I love happy endings. Spoilers: No one in my fic has died. I actually stray away from character death. Erwin had to resign his commission as captain due to injury (lost his arm). Annie is a broken mess! And she's long forgotten how to be cold around Armin, even this Armin. Part of her still hopes this is all some plan of his... Hence the innocence and essentially thinking she'll just wake up from all this, then resigning in utter defeat. And thank you for noticing the role reversal! It was intentional. In this, you could almost picture Annie as Armin and Armin as the female titan. I will continue it, and yes, I went with what is pretty much the consensus on the Older!Armin, according to the majority of the pics I've seen. I don't have much of my own imagination, I'm afraid...

Mountain Hare chapter 13 . Apr 28 - Glad to hear from you, Falch10n! Yes, Annie opens up to no one for whatever reasons, shame, guilt, shyness, anxiety, anything, but around this Armin, those reasons stopped applying some time during training. He is her only friend (we never see her hanging around anyone else) so she feels (felt?) comfortable around him and has been quite open with him in the past about her feelings. And you are correct, the fact that she is physically and mentally exhausted has caused her to significantly lower her defenses. This Armin still retains his intelligence and ability to plan and strategize, but he has been hardened, yes, or at least he appears that way to the reader at this time. And yes, the life of a Soldier in constant war will tend to harden a person. I think we've seen sighs of that in Armin in the latest Manga. The part about the others being able to watch from the outside is significant. That is all I will say right now. Back to Annie: In my mind, I had what Isayama has said about her, that she really is just a normal girl in some extraordinary circumstances, and her cold persona is how she deals with it. Around Armin, that shell sort of breaks away and she's back to being a 'normal' girl.

xxCapitolACExx chapter 13 . Apr 26 - Just because you took the time to review, yes.

Seseorang chapter 13 . Apr 26 - I like to think that Annie kept her feelings from everyone but Armin. Even the most cold and dispassionate people can find one or two people to really open up around, and for her, that was Armin. I did not mean to imply that he blinded her on purpose. He tried to prevent it, but failed. Of course, Dark!Armin would never admit that it was accidental or apologize.

Zetto74 chapter 13 . Apr 25 - Thank you! I will do one maybe two more of the Aruani interrogation story.

Spector Grand chapter 13 . Apr 25 - Very cool! Feels are always what I try for. For this one, put yourself in Sasha's shoes.

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PROMPT: 9/11 HS AU

TITLE: Bad Company

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Lots of Levi/Hanji/Petra and Sasha. Also, this is THE EXPOSITION.

...

Levi squinted against the intense sunlight of the early morning as he, Hanji, and Petra strolled out to the morning JROTC formation. He would have preferred holding formation indoors, but this part of the recruits' training belonged to Shadis and Pixis. Levi and his cadre of full-time teachers who doubled as part time Soldiers were there to assist and advise only. As he walked along the field, he had visions of spending a solid hour picking grass clippings from his boots and applying a fresh coat of polish.

"Big class this year, huh, LT?!"

The tallish sergeant first-class capped her question off with a slap on her lieutenant's back, knocking him forward half a step. He regained his balance almost immediately, walking with his subordinate across the front of the formation, casually inspecting the ranks.

"Really, Sergeant Zoe?," he growled, "Control yourself. And a bigger class does not mean a better one. In fact, it's worse. It just means more awful brats they need to wash out before they're left with the marginal ones."

"Come on, Levi, don't be so negative all the time," said Petra, trying to pin back a few errant locks of strawberry hair. "It's no surprise, given what just happened."

"Sergeant Ral, sometimes your military bearing is as bad as Zoe's," he huffed, "'Sir' or Lieutenant Ackerman will do just fine... Actually, you know what? Whenever we're in uniform, just call me 'Sir.'"

"But, Sir, whenever you're in uniform?"

"Yes, and no 'buts,'" he said, "And you shouldn't be fixing your hair in front of the formation. It looks bad."

"These kids have no idea what they're in for, LT," a gruff voice interrupted from behind, "This is gonna be a hell of a lot worse than the last time we played in the sandbox."

Levi kept quiet as he spared a glace to the man behind him. It had been Sergeant Major Shadis speaking, someone whose career path had been almost the opposite of his own. Where Levi had been a non-commissioned officer, and a damn fine one if he said so himself, who later became a commissioned officer, Shadis had done the opposite. He had started as a commissioned officer with his own command and later became an NCO, something that wasn't often attempted. He had been the captain of Levi and Hanji's old unit back in '91 when the war kicked off and stayed at it until a particularly bad incident broke the man. He hadn't lasted long in command after that, and that was fine with Levi. There was no shame or disgrace in accepting one's limits.

At hearing the other man's assessment, the lieutenant swallowed the urge to disagree with the senior non-com. Although technically a subordinate, there was no way Levi could disrespect Shadis by calling into question his opinion.

"Sandbox, hah! Haven't you heard, we're going to the mountain's, CO?"

His right-hand woman, typically, had no problem with it whatsoever.

He and Hanji had been together since he had arrived to the one-oh-first some ten years ago. She had been pretty fresh herself then, having arrived less than a year prior to that, but she had taken up the cause of showing the new Private First Class Ackerman around Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Levi had always been a loner, owing to his long history on the streets of Detroit, but for some reason, ever since they met he found he couldn't get rid of the damnable woman.

He supposed that he came to appreciate her for more than a few reasons, especially a consistency and a familiarity that he had never known before. She was even the reason he had pursued a teaching career when his time in active service had come to an end, rather than picking up where his life had left off before the Army. She was not only his best and only friend, not counting relationships, but in a way, he supposed she was the closest thing he'd ever had to family. Not close family, of course, more like a younger cousin that was sometimes released from the institution for holidays and special occasions.

"And how could that be worse?" the bespectacled Soldier continued, "They've got nothing but mountains and goats and... and... mountain goats out there."

The lieutenant rolled his eyes and kept walking, eyeing the faces and each recruit as he passed, making sure their camouflage uniforms were pressed and their patrol caps aligned. He had long ago stopped with the bother of correcting or disciplining Hanji. She would always do whatever she wanted anyway, and had earned some discretionary treatment besides. If that meant having to put up with her loudly questioning the JROTC cadre command-team, then so be it.

"I'm not your CO anymore, Sergeant," Shadis grumbled, "Get that through that greasy head of yours before I make you push. And learn some damn history."

"Huh?"

"He means that the area we're going to has a lot more than just goats," Petra said, placing a hand on the taller woman's shoulder, "The last people that went there suffered over fifteen thousand dead and accomplished nothing in ten years."

"Who were they?" the other woman asked.

Levi finally decided to participate, knowing Hanji would understand exactly where he was going with this. "The Soviets. And you can believe they left plenty of their equipment behind."

"I see."

She understood. The two of them, along with Shadis, Smilth, and a few other survivors, had seen just what that equipment could do ten years ago in the Gulf. Contrary to popular belief, Soviet gear wasn't crap.

"There's more to it than that," said the Sergeant Major, "After what happened here and in New York, this country's out for blood. And it's gonna find it. No matter what. You see how many kids are here now... None of them are old enough to smoke, most of them aren't old enough to drive, and there coming here with every intention of dying for their cause. Don't think for a second that this will end any time soon, or with just one country."

"Sergeant Major, you sound like you're predicting World War Three," said Petra, "You make it sound so bleak... and frightening. I almost want to curl up into a ball in bed and hide under the covers."

Had it been anyone else, even Hanji, Levi might have had a few thoughts to share about a Soldier's duty and turning a blind eye to fear. Hearing those words in anyone else meant a significant enough breach in their commitment to courage. With Petra, however, he knew better. She sounded like what he thought an average female civilian in her early twenties should sound like, all bleeding-heart and social justice, more at home on a college campus or perhaps volunteering in a soup-kitchen or a hospital. That could also be completely accurate. As National Guardsmen, they were entitled to a civilian life. But in theater, wearing her full battle-rattle, the girl was a hardened killer through and through. Levi had learned that in Bosnia some years ago.

"We'll deal with that later," he mumbled.

The girl's light touch as she ran a finger along the back of his upper arm told him that she'd heard his insinuation. If the recruits saw it, it was his own damn fault. He knew better than to have said anything. To an outsider it might have appeared that she had tried to coax a few more words of comfort from him, however, to anyone that knew Ral, that required a level of cynicism that even the jaded lieutenant hadn't quite reached yet. As far he had been able to determine, and he knew her quite well, Petra Ral was as pure as freshly fallen snow and utterly incapable of such deviousness.

Moments before their inspection was to come to an end, Levi stopped in his tracks. He shared a look with the Sergeant Major, wondering if they were on the same page, if the older man had spotted what had grabbed the lieutenant's attention. Levi was not disappointed.

"What in the actual FUCK, recruit?!"

In three monstrous strides, Shadis stood before a girl, his face inches from hers. She was one of the prettier cheerleaders from Levi's third-period geometry class. If he recalled correctly, her marks were average at best, and while she always seemed more down to earth than some of his other students, she spent much of her time joking around with the class clown and stuffing her face with food.

Braus was her name, and she was at it again. The lieutenant couldn't bring himself to feel bad in the slightest.

"Are. You. Fucking. Serious?!" Shadis screamed, so close that the brim of his hat kept jabbing into the girl's brow. Her own hat threatened to dislodge itself under the man's head-wear assault. He pointed to whatever it was the girl had been eating. "What the fuck is that?"

Levi eyed the girl's hands carefully. Where the hell did she find that? Of all things she could have been holding, a potato would not have been in his top ten guesses. He failed to hold back his grin, the right side of lips curling up ever so slightly. At least he wasn't as bad as his idiot of a right-hand woman, who couldn't stop chuckling. This was going to be good.

"It's a... A... A potato, Sir... Would you like half?"

As the Sergeant Major stood there dumbfounded, the girl proceeded to rip the vegetable apart bare handed, offering a steaming chunk up to the man. It didn't go unnoticed that she had proffered significantly less than the promised half.

"Oh. My. God." Shadis slapped both pieces from the girl's hands. "I'm not even going to ask where the hell you got that, or why the hell you think it's okay to chow down in my formation. I will ask this, is there something wrong with you? Really, in all seriousness, before I make you wish you'd never been born, I need to know. Are you retarded?"

"No...?"

"Good enough!" he yelled, almost cracking a smile, "Now kiss the dirt!"

"Huh?"

"Push!" he screamed, his roar deafening, "Get down and start pushing!"

"Wha?"

"Do some damn push-ups until your arms fall off! You grew 'em, now use 'em!"

"Oh! Okay! Sorry..."

The girl fell to her knees and began the exercise. Levi eyed her for a few moments, expecting her to tire out any second. By her fortieth repetition, despite her heavy breathing, he felt mildly impressed. Most males, let alone females, would have collapsed by now, but not Braus. All that jumping around in a skirt and pompoms had given the girl stamina, he figured.

"Everybody else," said Shadis, "Push with her!"

A dozen groans of displeasure sounded from the formation before the Sergeant Major silenced them just as quickly. To a person, the students eventually all fell to the ground, pushing alongside the potato-muncher.

"You must think you're special," said Shadis, his voice a dark growl, "Some kind of unique snowflake, right? You think that means you can do whatever you want, right?"

"Ehhh... No, Sir," she groaned, the pain of the exercise finally damping her spirits.

"I'm not a 'Sir' you air-headed little turd! I work for a living!"

That got Hanji cackling so hard she had to grab hold of Levi's shoulder for support. The weirdo woman had a think for poop-jokes, and every time one came up, she lost it. Occasionally, the lieutenant even found himself throwing one or two her way just to see how she'd react. He did it for her benefit, of course. There was no way he found such childish topics amusing. Petra simply shook her head and sighed.

"Sorry, Sergeant Major!" sad the girl, "I'm so sorry!"

"You're damn right you are!" he screamed, bending down so each time she pushed herself off the ground, she brought her ear right to his face. "Are you getting tired yet?"

By this time her patrol cap had fallen off under a deluge of sweat and and motion, her bun falling apart into a single, high ponytail.

"N... No, Sergeant Major..."

"Then why are you slowing down? You look like damn a hot mess, Potato-Girl!"

She made a sort of a gutteral noise, a cross between a long grunt and a wail.

"I asked you a question! You say you're not tired, so why are you slowing down?"

"I... I'm..."

"Don't lie to me! Did you lie to me? Did you just lie to a non-commissioned officer?"

"I'm sorry, I, no, I don't.." she stammered.

"You know what? I think you are retarded, Potato-Girl, so I'm not gonna hold it against you-"

"Thank you, Sergeant-"

"Don't interrupt me!" he screamed, "And don't thank me, thank your recruiter. You are ate up like a football bat, you know that? But don't worry, Potato-Girl, I'm gonna fix you, but it's gonna make you strong. When I'm done with you, you're gonna be real strong, how does that sound?"

"Good...?"

"Good! How about legs next?" he asked, standing straight and pointing towards the track around the field, "Get up! Get up and run, Potato Girl!"

Out of breath from the push-ups, she nevertheless bounced to her feet and nodded, taking off at a sprint. Shadis turned back to the rest of the recruits in the formation. Some of the smarter ones already had a weary look in their eyes as they pushed themselves up and down, knowing what would come next. One small blond girl with long hair tied into a messy knot looked particularly perceptive.

"The rest of you worthless shit-stains better pick your dick-beaters up off the ground and go join your battle buddy before I duct tape your eyeballs to the backs of your heads so you can see me kicking your asses!"

Half of them groaned in unison as they got to their feet.

"Are you fucking serious?" the man screamed, "You just want to leave your battle-buddy when she's out there all by herself? When she's taking rounds down range, suffering and alone, you're all just gonna say, 'Fuck it, that's her problem'? Now, we're not gonna stop running until I get tired!"

As they all ran around the track, he followed after them, lapping the recruits over and over, hurling insults whomever he saw who wasn't trying hard enough. Like any good instructor, he would point out stupidity, laziness, and carelessness in the harshest terms possible. But for those who at least tried, no matter how pathetic or doomed to failure their attempts, he gave them a nod and a pass.

...

"Colonel Pixis, I notice that Sergeant Major is only asking some of the students why they want to be Soldiers."

He looked over at the Sergeant Major while the gruff instructor strolled up and down the rows of recruits in BDUs, still drenched with sweat from their hour-long run, picking them out one at a time an peppering them with questions.

"Correct you are, Lieutenant Rheinberger," he said, placing a hand on the young woman's shoulder, "A few of these students have seen some things, even in their short lives, that makes them far more willing to adapt to instruction than a normal teenager. It's obvious that they have something that drives them to fight. You can see it in their eyes, in their stare, in the way it says that they already know what failure can reap."

"You're drunk again, aren't you, Sir?"

"Ah, you're perceptive," he replied, "But 'again' would imply that I've sober."

"Sir..."

"Give me a break, Anka, the whole country is mobilizing for war and I'm stuck here."

She held out a hand to him, a stern look crossing her face. When he folded his arms across his chest and turned away, she dug her hand into his jacket, retrieving the man's flask and stuffing it in her back pocket. Pixis put on his best expression of shock.

"Young ladies should not be feeling up old men," he said.

"And old men shouldn't be drinking on the job!" she replied, "Sir!"

As Pixis breathed out a sigh, Anka tried to change the subject.

"So what else do you see in these recruits, Sir?"

"Look over there, at the blond one," he said, pointing to one students he knew to be Armin Arlert. Pixis had served with his grandfather in Vietnam and Grenada, although he had never seen the boy in anything but pictures until today.

"I see three blonde girls over there. Which one?" she asked.

"The one in the middle is a boy," he said with a sigh. His grandfather had been the same way; puberty had ignored the man until he turned nineteen and grew a full thirteen extra inches, seemingly overnight. "He's seen some terrible things, to be sure, he has fears and doubts, he probably thinks he'll fail at everything he does, and yet he's here, ready to give his all anyway."

"What about the girl to his right?"

Pixis brought his gaze over to a small blond girl with a large nose, scornful eyes, and a permanent frown.

"I don't know her," he said, "But Sergeant Major probably gave her a pass because she's fighting to make herself stronger for some reason. She's thinking about it now, even as we speak. She probably thinks about it all the time, the reason she has to make herself into a warrior."

"And the girl on his left? Do you believe the reason she gave to Sergeant Major when he asked?"

"No," he said, shaking his head, "No one joins the Army just to have a good career. There are plenty of ways to go about it without facing death, especially now, especially with the war. She's probably running from something. You can see the fear in her eyes. And look at the way she keeps glancing up at that really tall girl to her left. That's her protector, her knight in shining armor."

"You got all that from a look?"

"Come on," he said, "Drunk or not, you should know that I research all my potential recruits."

"Okay, but you're not suggesting that those two are...? I mean, the Army is probably the worst place they could go."

"Why? You're not supposed to ask, and they're not supposed to tell," he said with a shrug. Deciding to change the subject lest the discussion degenerate into a political debate, pointed out a pair of other recruits whose files had piqued his interest the other day. "Why don't you give it a try? What do you see in those two?"

"They look like boyfriend and girlfriend," she said, following his nod, "But honestly, I think she could do better."

"Close," he said with a smile, "They're brother and sister. I've nicknamed them the Twins."

"But... They're clearly not. I mean, look at them. Not only that, but his uniform says 'Jeager' and hers says... No freakin' way. She's not related to...?"

"Could be. They do look alike," he said, at least willing to entertain the possibility. "As for Jeager and that Ackerman, their personalities could not be more different. They are legally brother and sister, however, and everything I've seen tells me they're inseparable."

"Hmm..." Anka began tapping her chin with a finger. "The guy looks really into it, but the girl looks so bored. Disinterested, even. I'm surprised Sergeant Major hasn't called her out on it yet. Did she join just for her brother?"

"Yes," he said.

"That's a hell of a life-choice to make at this age," she said, "He must mean a lot to her. I hope she doesn't come to regret it."

"You don't know why Kieth didn't ask her about her reasons for joining, do you?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at the young lieutenant.

"Should I?"

He nodded. "Their father has been stationed somewhere overseas and their mother was a DA civilian at the Pentagon."

"Nooo..."

He nodded again. "They're all they have left in the world."

...

I do this for the reviews. Please let me know what you think.

More from one of my other stories next time. Or this one. Dunno. Tell me what to do, people!

P. S. I'm going to apologize in advance for where I'm going with the Levi/Hanji/Petra situation.