“I refuse to die like this!”
Eren screams those words just before his transformation.
The moment before he looses himself to rage he hears other voices respond to his cry.
“Wait Eren is -?”
“You have got to be kidding me! Is this what it felt like when I-?”
He knows he recognises them, but names and faces start to fade from his thoughts. There’s only a blinding powerful rage. Every single titan he can get his hands on is going to pay.
Annie sensed the moment Eren was awake and immediately sought a quiet spot in the nearest storeroom. She thought visiting another member of your cluster was like a more advanced version of daydreaming. It was best done when you didn’t need to concentrate on something else, and managing to visit subtly without speaking aloud or moving your actual body – well it best done without an audience. Especially not an audience of stressed soldiers post titan encounter.
The other members of her cluster, Ymir, Bertholdt and Reiner physically joined her in the storeroom. Mentally they all joined their newest cluster member.
The sight that greets Annie senses isn’t promising.
“Cadets Eren Yeager! Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlet! The three of you have jointly committed an act of high treason. Whether or not a swift execution is the result depends on you.”
Eren is sprawled out on the grass barely awake, Armin crouching over him. Mikasa has her swords drawn to dissuade anyone from approaching. The guards have them backed up against wall Rose; Annie counts 30 although there are probably more behind them. Captain Woerman stands upon the raised stone steps and is clearly seconds away from panicking and yelling fire. Up on the wall behind Eren and the others is a loaded cannon aimed at their position.
Shit, Annie thinks just as Ymir hisses the same word next to her.
Eren hasn’t taken proper notice of them yet. It’s obvious to her (and to all the cluster) he’s still pretty out of it, and what attention he has to spare is on the Captain. They can all feel the post transformation exhaustion through their connection.
“Had to be fucking Eren Yeager,” Reiner grumbles, raising his hand to rub at his forehead. None of them need to say how very bad this situation is. Honestly, Annie thought that Ymir joining their cluster had been a complicated mess. At that point their infiltration mission had only just started.
This is years into the mission. This is a game changing situation and they have so little information.
“That cannon at this range is going do him some serious damage,” Bertholdt observes.
“How did he even -?”
Annie shushes them all, “We need to pay attention and get them out alive.”
She knows they’re all capable of banding together and solving the new and dangerous. They’re warriors who have been training for these kinds of situations their whole lives. She wishes that just for once though the odds weren’t stacked so high against them.
“What exactly are you? Human or Titan?” Captain Woerman asks.
Tell them you’re human Eren, Annie thinks. Even though she can see now they won’t believe it.
“I’m sorry Sir! I don’t understand the question.”
Reiner groans at his response and Ymir lets out a “fuck sake.”
Annie notices Eren hear that but he doesn’t turn around. Doesn’t acknowledge them, which, given the circumstances, is wise.
“I don’t see a way out of this that doesn’t result in a titan transformation,” Reiner whispers to his cluster. They all nod in agreement on that.
The Captain is still yelling and speculating about Eren being some kind of tactical diversion working alongside the armoured titan. Annie knows that looking back she’ll probably find parts of his monologue hilarious. Right now, though, the titan shifting cluster need to make sure their newest member doesn’t die.
“Might not be a bad idea in that sort of chaos we could probably grab him –“
“He’s going to shoot. He’s too afraid not to,” Annie interrupts, “Our best bet is going to be a body swap.”
Ymir seems to have picked up the thread of Annie’s thinking.
“Let me do it, even in Eren’s form I can scale up that wall.”
Ymir is their best climber; so Annie agrees to the plan along with the rest of the cluster.
“Ok! Somebody talk to me now. What the hell is all this?” Eren’s distress distracts them again. He’s clearly asking Armin and Mikasa though, still somehow missing the presence of his cluster behind him. Annie knows he must feel them. Feel their distant heart beats like an echo to his, he must hear their voices, but like his time as a titan it’s clearly all confusing and like grasping sand.
Despite their plan Ymir makes no move to start the switch. It’s infuriating but Annie can’t make herself move either. She’s frozen, afraid that if she startles Eren that’ll be it. They really will fire. Come on Annie, she thinks, you know inaction is death.
“One more time are you a human being or a titan?”
There was no right answer. Everyone knew that. They were going to fire regardless and the Captain’s expression says it all. Annie doesn’t listen to his next words, doesn’t think, she finally unfreezes her limbs and acts.
She reaches out and seizes Eren and their minds switch. Eren is suddenly in a storehouse, safe next to his friends.
Eren’s body bigger and taller than hers. She adjusts though and quickly draws Armin and Mikasa into her arms.
They fire the cannon.
Stop the cannon ball, save these two and climb the wall. Intention, focus and pain are the vital parts of titan transformation.
Annie goes to twist her ring; a ring with a tiny blade that provides the pain via a sharp cut, a ring that Eren isn’t wearing. Cursing, Annie shifts focus.
She reaches up her hand up and sinks her teeth deep into Eren’s thumb. “Stop the cannon ball,” she thinks.
She summons enough of a titan body to stretch out her hand and just catch the ball. Saving Armin and Mikasa. Annie gasps with the effort of the transformation. Eren’s so tired. She can’t – the connection breaks and their minds switch again.
His hair is blonde. It’s blonde and in his face and he’s standing in a circle with Ymir, Reiner and Bertholdt.
His friends are all staring down at him. Really down at him. They were never this tall.
“Why does my body feel so - ” Eren gasps aloud, his chest feels wrong, everything is out of alignment. His heart is racing and panic is pounding through him.
“Ok Eren, you need to breathe,” Reiner tells him.
“How are you here? How we are am I? Mikasa? Armin? Where are they -?”
“Annie –? – What are all of you doing back here?” Jean’s voice comes from behind them, and Eren turns wondering if he’s actually going mad.
He doesn’t get to ask any further questions though because suddenly he’s not there anymore. Staring up at Jean, stretching out hands that aren’t his. Instead he’s trapped in something massive, his face pressing into bone and his arms and legs encased in muscles. He’s gasping and sweat is dripping off his forehead.
This has happened before. It takes a minute for Eren to realise he’s in a titan’s body, at the nap of the neck. Just like before. He can’t help the soft cries of distress he lets out as he tries to free himself. Tearing and pulling at the titan’s muscles does yield some minor results. It’s so dark. Eren feels a scream bubble up into his throat.
There’s a sudden burst of light and fresh air gently brushes his face.
“Hey, hey stop struggling I got this.”
It’s Bertholdt, he’s there, carefully and methodically pulling apart the flesh and muscle to release Eren from his prison. The outside world is dark with smoke but he can make out the shape of the wall. He’s back where he was earlier. After whatever hallucination had occurred previously. Although he’s not sure he really trusts any of his senses right now.
“What the hell is happening?!”
“Deep breathes Eren, your titan body is falling apart. You’re almost out.”
“Why should I trust you? What even was – how did I -?”
“I know you have a lot of questions but we’re here to help.”
“Like I trust you!”
“You should. I can’t lie to you Eren; look you’d be able to tell. This is bad and – look – ah – I don’t want to help you.”
He’s lying, those last words are a clear lie but it’s different to how he’d tell before. This lingers unsettlingly like a bad taste on his tongue.
“You can shift into a titan form like – like me?” Eren asks.
“No,” Bertholdt says, but he smiles as he says it and Eren feels that sensation again, like a ripple, a bad taste or perhaps a shudder. He feels Bertholdt in his mind. Feels his concern for his wellbeing pulsing next to him.
It’s reassuring enough for Eren to let him take charge and get them out of the evaporating titan form. Landing on the ground with a jolt, the key Eren always wears around his neck comes loose from his shirt. A key he keeps forgetting about. Curiously he holds it up and the last memories of his father flash through his mind.
His father is responsible. His father did this to him just after the fall of his hometown, Shingasusaha, to the titans. Then his father disappeared.
“That – that was your dad right?”
In surprise Eren stares at him, “You – you saw that memory?”
“You shared it with me. It’s something we can - It took me ages to learn. Ymir was really good at it too. Although like you I don’t think she meant to initially.”
If Eren still had the energy he knows he might be shocked by this latest revelation. This strange intense connection he now shares with other cadets he knows. Other cadets who can become titans just like him.
It’s too much information all at once. Eren doesn’t know how to begin processing it. Before he can form any further questions though, Bertholdt is gone and replaced by Ymir and Annie.
Unlike the static anxiety of Bertholdt their worry is more focused. It’s a calmer thing to observe and it’s surprisingly soothing to Eren. Staring at them he notes the locks of blond hair falling over Annie’s right eye.
I was you, Eren releases. I was in your body and that means – he glances at the half formed decaying titan still emitting smoke into the atmosphere. Another piece clicks into place.
“I have a lot of questions,” he starts.
“Save it for when they’re not going to fire canons at you. I’m going to get you out of here don’t worry,” Ymir says, stepping forward to put her hand upon his shoulder.
Eren had never thought overly much of Ymir. They’d gotten along but not really been friends exactly. He doesn’t really know her like he does – or thought he did - Reiner, Bertholdt and Annie.
“Let me. I’ll get us up that wall and out of here in no time at all.”
Eren leaps back out her grasp, “No I can’t just –“
It’s Armin’s voice. Eren berates himself, how could he have forgotten Armin and Mikasa? Where were they when Annie transformed? He races around the disintegrating ribs and there they are. Both safe although clearly shaken.
Armin asks how Eren he transformed into a titan. At least Eren can answer truthfully he has no idea. Relieved they’re ok, Eren then asks them the next vital thing, “Am I alone?”
They stare at him in complete confusion.
“They can’t see us,” Annie explains, “Only you can, you’re linked to us now.”
Seizing the key, Eren stares down at it in his hand.
“Eren, you’re worrying me. How did you -?” Armin attempts to ask before Eren cuts him off.
“I don’t know but my father - wherever he’s been for the last five years…it’s his fault. He’s responsible; I’m starting to remember. He gave me the key to his cellar, back home in Shingasusaha and that’s -“
There’s a crashing sound and the titan form jolts alarmingly above their heads. It’s skeletal shoulders shifting forwards.
“It’s collapsing – come on get out from under there,” Ymir yells.
“Eren you need to focus,” Mikasa tells him, “we need to deal with this situation right here and now.”
They move out from the wreckage of his old crumbling titan form. The smoke providing ample cover for the moment, although it’s quickly vanishing too. Eren realises it’s only him, Armin, Mikasa and Ymir huddling together. Annie has disappeared again.
He’s thought too long and needs to make a decision. There are still angry soldiers to deal with. He recalls that Ymir had offered him the opportunity of escape and answers.
“Listen,” he tells all three of them, “I’m getting out of here. I have questions and I’m going to get answers.”
The last part he says specifically to Ymir, who nods at him.
“Where are you going to go? And how?”
Eren feels calm at Armin’s questions. There’s a clear goal in his mind and a sense of purpose. It’s easier now to choose his actions.
“I’m getting over that wall and heading straight to Shingasusaha, but to do it I’ll have to become a titan again.”
“You can do that? Transform at will?”
“Not exactly, I’m – I’m connected to something now. I have memories of my dad and instincts and –“ Inspired for a moment, Eren reaches out and seizes Ymir’s forearm.
“Can you see her?” He asks them calmly.
“Annie already said idiot.” Ymir feels perfectly solid to him. He holds her forearm in his hand and is leaning close enough that he can feel the warmth of her body. He can feel her breath on his face.
Armin and Mikasa exchange a confused look.
“I’m not here. I’m – it’s like we’re sharing bodies and minds now. They can’t see me you idiot! We’re wasting time – holy shit.”
“Eren, your nose,” Mikasa’s words come out as a gasps. Eren reaches up and brushes away the blood dripping from his nose.
“You’re pale, your breathing is erratic – you’re not well,” Armin gasps outs.
“It doesn’t matter. That’s the least of our problems right now,” Eren states but now Armin has pointed it out he realises he’s shaking.
The frown Ymir is giving him also isn’t hopeful. Eren can guess that his body is probably pretty drained from becoming a titan. Can I even manage another one? He wonders. He doesn’t have any other choice but to do it again though.
Eren takes a steadying deep breath. He’s still holding onto Ymir’s arm, who, despite her urgency from earlier is clearly hesitating to start another transformation. Mikasa and Armin are watching him intently.
Eren hates this; Armin is always better at thinking up ideas for getting them out of difficulties. That’s what Armin does. Wait a second, Eren thinks.
“I have two ideas.”
Annie has never had any strong feelings about Jean until this moment. Right now, indifference has morphed into dislike.
Reiner stepped up to distract Jean the moment he approached, allowing for at least one continuous visitation. Someone needed to check up on Eren and Bertholdt had gotten there first.
Reiner had then had a moment of inspiration. The noise, the smoke and the sight of a half formed titan were a perfect excuse to race up over the rooftops and check it out. No one had confiscated their gear after all.
Jean, unable to help himself had followed Reiner. Leaving Annie and Ymir to go join Bertholdt and Eren.
There’s a lot of noise outside, soldiers distracted by the explosion. Wary of their position being found out Annie checks again on their physical forms.
“I’m going to physically join Reiner,” Bertholdt tells her, “see if I can convince anyone coming this way to join me.”
There’s no real benefit to it but Annie doesn’t stop him going. Perhaps a greater audience might be useful.
She keeps a look out for a bit, wary of the sound of nearby voices. Ymir is muttering next to her, but Annie can’t make out the words. She resolves to check in a moment once the two soldiers hovering in the entryway leave. A few agonising beats later they finally do, without having spotted them amongst the stores.
She waits another beat, and then once the silence reassures her, she visits Reiner and Bertholdt on the rooftop. From this vantage point she can see they’ve almost finished reloading the cannon and others are being turned around to lock onto Eren’s position.
“They’re not climbing,” Annie hisses.
Bertholdt turns to stare at her, his eyes wide and fearful, as he hisses, “What do we do?”
Jean, who she really dislikes now, tells Bertholdt there’s nothing they can do.
Annie visits Ymir and Eren as Armin says, “I will persuade them. You two just act as nonaggressive as you can ok?”
Mikasa and Eren nod as Ymir turns to face her.
“Why aren’t you moving?” Annie snaps; her composure is on a knife-edge. Eren’s still in danger, one of her cluster is still in danger. There’s been so little time for anything but him surviving this, and sitting here like ducks isn’t solving that problem.
“Armin is going to convince them to use Eren as a weapon against the titans.”
“What?” Annie asks, feeling the edge of irritation boil up inside. They need to run. They should already be running. The cannon has been reloaded! The military are afraid now but the titan’s body is almost gone and then the real fighting will start.
Ymir huffs “Stop looking at me like that. I think that if Armin can talk this situation down then Eren has a better shot at coming out of this alive.”
Annie considers just giving up her long-held secrecy in that moment. She could just shift into her titan and seize Eren’s human form. It would solve a lot of issues. And ruin their mission. She looks at Eren, surely they could persuade him to run – was he staying behind for Armin and Mikasa?
Eren’s focus is clearly on Armin as he strides forth into the sunlight. It strikes Annie then just how pale he looks, the clear tremor running through his whole body. He’s not used to this. They are titan shifters, they can take a lot of damage but Eren is reaching his limit.
She swallows, realising why Ymir hasn’t pushed him to escape. Another transformation will hurt Eren even if they do it. His body needs at least some recovery time. If Ymir takes him and tries to run and they fire at him –
Hurt (maybe kill) Eren or reveal their secret, or quite possibly both the way things are going.
Annie shifts her gaze to Armin. Armin who’s right now pleading his case in a clear voice, advocating for Eren’s strategic value and their lives by extension. Eren believes he can end this without bloodshed, and for a moment she hopes he’s right. She hopes for Eren’s faith to be rewarded.
Armin pleads their case, stands his ground and faces death. Annie can’t bear to look away; some intense swelling of emotion lodged in her chest.
And for a moment Captain Woerman hesitates.
Then the moment passes and his calm cracks giving way to hysteria.
It was a fool’s hope. Annie has always known there would never be a non-violent option. It’s never come to pass in her life that words saved her from a fight. For a moment though she had hoped and the disappointment tastes bitter.
They watch the Captain’s arm rise. They watch him prepare to give the order to fire again. Annie reaches out to seize Eren’s shoulder, her heart leaping up into her throat. He might not survive this. He’ll be badly hurt at least and they will have to break cover. They’ll have to –
The voice of Commander Pixis snaps the tension, like a puppet freed from its string Annie collapses. She braces her hands against the ground; her knees ache from the ground and Eren falls back to lean against her. She doesn’t mind the weight. His heart beat, his breath, his real physical form. She feels her eyes start to blur with tears of relief.
Ymir doesn’t even bother sitting but falls onto her back. Gasping in relief next to them. She grins shakily up at Annie.
“Let’s never do that again,” she exclaims and Annie manages a weak smile at her.
Commander Pixis surveys them from his position next to Captain Woerman, he continues, “I think we can at least do these young soldiers the favour of hearing them out.”