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gnawing off (the remains)

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5.

Graduating within the top ten of the group wasn't-

It wasn't easy.

As malleable - as naive as some of them were, their physical prowess beat his by quite a margin and it took time before he could play catch up with the rest of them.

Krista Lenz almost made the cut - and she did make a valiant effort, but - with the way things were and with Armin firmly in the top ten spot, it wasn't quite enough.

(After all, the girl's gentleness - if you could call it that - was the reason Armin was here now, instead of her.)

(A characteristic perhaps, that would prove to be a lot dangerous for a person in their line of work to be, but her tenacity outweighed that particular attribute well-enough that it was almost negligible.)

(Not anyone who aimed for the Wall Rose was a pushover.)

(But-)

(Krista didn't bleed enough for it.)

(Not as much as Armin did, at least.)

...

..

.

To be honest, Armin didn't need the spot.

He didn't need, or even want, that damn Military Police guarantee.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, he find the position repulsive - disgusting in a way that it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that even the thought made his whole being squirm in revulsion.

It would take a lot out of him to muster an ounce of desire to protect the king's interests and herd all those herbivores inside that damned wall. Eren, for all his endearing bluster, had one point right when he would go into his fights with Jean.

People inside the innermost wall just weren't worth it.

(If his grandfather didn't die, maybe Armin wouldn't have been so opposed to the idea of being in that regiment.)

(After all, the Military Police were the closest to the organization Armin as Kyoya was in before when he was in Namimori and Vongola. Perhaps, since Armin would have wanted the best for the people he called his, Armin would have put off wandering outside to assuage his grandfather's worries. Getting that part of the military in line as he climbed up through the ranks through his intellect and not through sheer force like he once did as Kyoya, was an interesting endeavor enough to hold his interest for several years if he put his mind to it.)

(However, his grandfather did die and if Armin had anything to say about it, he wanted the king's regime to burn.)

(The Military Police ruining itself on its own was nothing but a boon to his own self-interests.)

But-

Armin was selfish and he was shameless enough to admit he had an inferiority complex bigger than this whole walled territory.

So even if the top belonged to Mikasa, even if Armin knew he was taking a spot from one these kids-

He was petty and it got tiring sometimes when they look down at him just because he couldn't quite keep up during the first half of the training.

Armin didn't regret it much.

(Or at least that's what he tried to tell himself.)

The top belonged to Mikasa, of course, with the following spots dedicated to the ones that pinged his instincts the most.

Reiner Braun.

Bertholdt Hoover.

And...Annie Leonheart.

(Those three were dangerous.)

Armin played nice with the three of them - trying to even be half as genuine as Marco Bott was, careful and cautious as he tried to stop Mikasa and Eren from getting too attached.

(They looked like traitors - spies like the ones he allowed in the Foundation before, furtive as they hold back from sharing anything of value even when they call the people in their cohort as comrades they trust.)

As much as he wanted to bring the people ruling inside the walls down, he wouldn't conspire with unstable variables he couldn't control.

Armin didn't know what made them tick and if there was anything he could take pride in, it was his ability to read people. The fact that he couldn't - that they were skillfully sharing just enough not to incur any suspicion but not much for people to get a clue about their true motivations was enough to make him sit up and take notice. 

Admittedly, despite his best efforts, years of spending time with them made him a bit soft.

It was hard to hate someone when they helped you from getting your neck broken after overestimating yourself one too many times while using the omni-directional mobility gear.

Letting them go in order to watch and wait was the most help they would get from him at the moment.

(Armin hoped he wouldn't regret doing so.)