Eren’s back hitting the floor is what lets him know that Annie is gone. Glancing over he sees Ymir has also disappeared. He feels another twinge of anxiety, now he’s going to have to explain everything, when he doesn’t even understand what everything is.
Where they even real? He wonders, where they actually his fellow cadets? His friends? It’s hard to remain certain now that those questions have filtered through his mind. Warily he stands as requested.
Commander Pixis will hear the three of them out.
The trip to the top of the wall to get some privacy gives Eren enough time to dismiss some of his uncertainties. They must have been real. This connection must be a result of his titan shifting abilities. That hard fact doesn’t chase away all his doubts but it helps.
Annie, Ymir, Bertholdt and Reiner are all titan shifters. Just like him. They’re also more knowledgeable and more skilful than him. How long have they been hiding this ability? Are there more of them?
His thoughts start to race through different possibilities. He feels like he would know if there were more titans (intelligent titans) specifically connected to him like the others. However, what about beyond the walls? What about those connected if not to him but to each other? How did his dad even give him this ability? So many questions and the latter is one that Commander Pixis is definitely going to ask.
With that thought a thorn of dread twists in his stomach. How does he explain his seeing Annie, Ymir, Reiner and Bertholdt?
He’s angry with them for hiding this ability but – but what happens if he does name them? He thinks of the fear of the soldiers, of the canon fire he’s just blocked. What if he is wrong or mistaken somehow?
He doesn’t want to accuse without knowing for certain. Doesn’t want to accuse without asking them first. Having settled on this resolves he decides that until he gets to interrogate them on his own, they’re just visions – which to be fair, perhaps they really are.
Once atop Wall Rose, Commander Dot Pixis, the man in charge of the southern territories and a known eccentric, doesn’t waste any time.
Haltingly, Eren does. He talks of a locked memory and a key and how he first transformed through instinct. He mentions that he sees visions of other people (he omits who they look like) and that according to his father all the answers lie in a cellar buried underneath the rubble of his old home.
Eren knows he’s blurred a line here. Mixing the words visions in with memories and instinct. He doesn’t know what the others are or what they’re doing, and it’s a lie of omission. One he’s not certain he’ll get away with.
Pixis asks him outright, “These visions that instruct you, can you ignore them?”
“Yes Sir,” he asserts. He goes on to explain that he can converse with them. They offer assistance in the transformation. They appear more in brief fragments especially when he’s shifting.
Pixis then directs him to talk more of his father and those memories. Eren does as asked.
Once he’s finished Pixis says, “That’s that. So, visiting this cellar should clear everything up.” Eren can’t see his face as he says this, Pixis having turned away to gaze out across the city of Trost.
“Yes Sir. Well at least I think so.”
Surely, Eren thinks, his father would have answers for the extra heartbeats he feels next to his. The others, the visions, they haven’t answered anything and they’ve not appeared at all. He’s alone on top of the wall.
“For the moment there’s no way to validate any of your claims. So, I’ll just catalogue them in my head.”
With these words Commander Pixis turns to face the three of them. Mikasa and Armin had been silent throughout his story. Eren is certain that Armin is adding all the extra details to his mental notes as well.
Pixis stares straight into them.
“I can usually tell the difference between the unctuous and the sincere, which is why I personally guarantee your safety.”
It’s another wonderful moment of intense relief. Of course, it doesn’t change all the other problems that Eren is still faced with. Commander Pixis turns his attention then to Armin and his spur of the moment plan he’d suggested to reclaim the city of Trost from the titans.
It’s simple in essence. Have Eren assume titan form and block the broken gate up with a boulder. Eren tells Pixis the truth when asked if he can lift the boulder, which is that he’s not fully certain of his abilities or his own control over them.
So Pixis asks a different question, “Are you willing to try?”
The answer to that of course is yes.
The military call Bertholdt, Reiner and Jean down off the roof pretty quickly after Pixis’ arrival. They also have to surrender their gear and get slapped with another no disclosure order. The same one they got hit with after escaping Trost, it amounts to don’t talk about Eren to anyone else on pain of court marshal.
“What a pile of crap,” Jean hisses stomping next to them.
Bertholdt nods but that’s about all he can manages. He feels shaky and unsteady on his feet. Eren’s alive, Eren’s a cluster member and what on earth do they do now?
The original plan is clearly off the table. It has to be. Reiner and Bertholdt can’t assume their Titan forms and continue the attack now. Eren would know. Eren already knows plenty and has agreed to be used as a weapon for their enemy.
“Ever thought Jager would be a titan?”
Bertholdt can’t get any words out. They stick in his throat; he just shakes his head at the question from Jean. Reiner gives a more committed response. Commenting on the strangeness of the situation.
They jostle verbally back and forth for a moment but again Bertholdt can’t quite seem to focus. There’s a buzzing inside his mind. There’s a new titan shifter, who even now might technically still be their enemy
Bertholdt recalls Eren’s memory, the last time he saw his father alive. He doubts Eren has realised or even remembers that in order to inherit a new titan form you have to eat a titan shifter.
“Bertholdt?” Reiner asks, his hand out stretched barely grazes the side of his arm.
Bertholdt blinks and starts, “Oh, yeah. What?”
“You doing ok?” Jean asks. Reiner doesn’t ask because he doesn’t have too. Reiner can sense the edges of Bertholdt’s feelings, could probably hear the buzzing in his ear if he made the right effort to do so.
It makes everything easier between them, or at least it does for Bertholdt, to have Reiner be a cluster member. Feeling slightly desperate for contact Bertholdt reaches out and takes Reiner’s hand, fingers entwined.
After another steadying breath Bertholdt can answer Jean, “Yeah, just unexpected, you know, unexpected.”
It takes Jean a moment to respond, his eyes glued to their clasped hands. Then flushing slightly, he straightens and bolsters on, “You’re telling me. Damn it, how could he even do something like that? How could Eren – ugh, and that’s not even starting in on whether Armin has a plan or not to retake Trost.”
“Knowing Armin, I’ll bet he does,” Reiner counters.
They’re not giving much more time to converse. The arrival of Pixis and his troops means something and has given the camp a new kind of energy. They are ordered to re-join their cadet squad, clearly a plan is being put into motion and the opportunity to make a subtle visit to see Eren becomes nigh on impossible.
All the remaining fighting fit military are eventually assembled, clearly with the goal of receiving their new orders. Those orders don’t come quickly though, giving plenty of time for the tension in the air to build. The reactions to the tension vary in design and scale; there are fearful mutterings followed by angry calls to order, hissed disagreements break out but no one resorts to violence on each other. Not yet at least.
Bertholdt sneaks his hand again into Reiner’s whilst they wait, inspired by Ymir whose wrapped an arm around Christa’s shoulders. Annie stands at parade rest, her clenched hands the only outward sign that the situation is affecting her.
Bertholdt is used to the presence of his cluster, used to checking in on everyone regularly like stretching a limb after being still too long. Eren’s presence is a strange addition to the mix. He feels constantly aware of him but also out of tune, like a bright light he can’t quite look at but is impossible to ignore. Bertholdt imagines that will settle given time. Eren feels calm but there’s an edge of simmering anger, which is probably normal for Eren.
He lingers on the idea of visiting again but in the end decides against it, not wanting to divide his attention. The rest of the cluster need to know what the militaries next steps are before they can adjust their plans accordingly. Realistically they can’t leave Eren in the hands of the military.
Bertholdt longs for the simplicity of the original plan for Trost. The scouts were gone, the defences were down and all they had to do was let Zeke (the clusters true commander) round up the necessary titans for a full herd assault. Bertholdt and Reiner could break the wall as they’d done before for Maria. If that chaos didn’t finally bring the founding titan out of hiding, then the next plan involving Annie moving into the capital began.
All in all, it was quite an easy plan really, sow chaos to draw out and capture the founding titan, then return home heroes having dismantled the civilisation of monsters within the wall.
Reiner’s grip tightens, bringing Bertholdt out of his thoughts. Commander Pixis is ready to address the troops.
“Here we go,” Reiner whispers.
There is indeed a plan to attempt retaking Trost. The linchpin of it focuses on the use of Eren’s titan form. A titan form he barely has any control over.
“Well shit,” Ymir curses rather loudly.
Eren knows technically he’s at the centre of a whirlwind of motion but in practice he’s awkwardly standing around the top of the wall. Not quite watched but not quite a part of things yet. He can’t escape Mikasa’s eye, but she’s been drawn into a conversation with another Captain. It’s the best moment he’s going to get.
Hovering a little by the canons, which had, only about an hour ago been aimed at him, Eren takes a deep breath.
After breathing he tentatively, quietly calls, “Annie? Ymir? Reiner? Bertholdt?”
He’s planned out exactly what he’s going to say. He’s going to help get Trost back from the titans and he’s going to get some answers from the others.
This would be better if he could seek them out in person but that’s clearly not going to happen. Despite his calls though, they don’t appear like before. Frustration rising Eren places his hand over his chest and closes his eyes. If he listens he can feel it, feel heartbeats echoing his own, faintly, distantly.
He stares down over the wall, watching the soldiers gather their gear and move to their associated positions. That requires a little down time surely. Perhaps they’re to busy. Perhaps he really did imagine them after all? There’s a tight sinking sensation in his stomach as he realises he might have to do this on his own.
“So whose idea was lifting the boulder? Armin’s?”
Eren jumps but manages to contain himself enough that nobody nearby looks at him in alarm.
Ok, coast clear, he focuses on Ymir, Annie, Bertholdt and Reiner. There they all are. Standing right in front of him.
“It’s really you. All of you.”
“Your cluster? Yeah that’s –“ Reiner starts but Eren cuts across him. There’s a battle coming and they need to focus on getting through this.
“Listen I don’t have a lot of time before they call me back. I want answers. You can all shift into titan bodies like me and we’re all connected together like this because we’re titan shifters? You are all really who you appear to be? Not the product of my imagination?”
All of them laugh to some degree at that last statement – even Annie cracks a smile. Eren feels his face shift into a frown and a fury start to rise in his belly at their attitude.
Reiner notices though and quickly says, “Nothing personal Eren, but yeah we’re definitely your friends from the cadet corps. Also, yes, we’re all titan shifters and yes, you’re one of us now. It’s sort of – like being alive is now a shared experience. We share memories and experiences and are sort the same person but also separate, a titan cluster.”
That word titan does not ease the boiling in Eren’s blood but the answers are good. It helps. And now he has a word for what they are, cluster.
“Ok, I believe you.”
“We can’t lie to you Eren,” Bertholdt reminds him, “not anymore.”
“Then later I’m going to ask you all about why you hide this power for years, years from the rest of humanity. If you were scared about them knowing then – well considering how things have gone I get it but you can’t hide forever right? Not after I use this power to retake Trost. First though I have to know are you on the titans side?”
The words are you titan or are you human flash through Eren’s mind. A hard knot sinks into his stomach at the terrifying comparison. He’s thought about this though. Twisted this question over and over in his mind. They lied to everyone but they joined the military and he needs to know their motivations now. He needs to be able to trust that their goals align.
They can’t lie to me and I’m not going to let fear get the best of me, Eren thinks fiercely. For humanity I’m going to be better and they have to help me.
“Are you on the side of the titans or humanity?” He clarifies.
The smirk that Reiner gives him throws Eren for a second, “Oh humanities side. Definitely.”
Bertholdt chokes and then stutters out a quiet humanity as Annie says, “I’m not on the titans side.”
They’re telling the truth.
Ymir on the other hand looses all composure and breaks down into a proper cackle.
The other three glare at her whilst Eren stares in confusion. This continues for a moment till Annie kicks her shin.
“Ah – for the love of – alright, alright. Look Eren. I don’t have the same motivations as any of you. The only side I care about is ours.”
“Our cluster. This is it. You four idiots, although I suppose I’ll have to include Armin and Mikasa since you care about them, and my Christa. You know none of us are lying.”
“You joined the corps for them?”
“Guilty as charged. Look we’re almost out of time. You want some titan shifting help or not? Your scary girlfriend is getting twitchy over there.”
Eren doesn’t bother to correct Ymir; he’s yelled at everyone enough times about his and Mikasa’s relationship, and Mikasa is indeed casting glances his way. Clearly caught in a conversation she can’t quite escape and worry is etched into her features.
Annoyance and irritation prickle in his stomach but he forces it down. It doesn’t matter now; he’s solving his own issues without her help. He and the others – his cluster are on side. His cluster, he tastes the word back and forth over in his mind. So, they’re on side, he can trust them to help. All the other questions he’ll save for after.
Which leaves the actual retaking of Trost, luckily Reiner seems to already have a plan for helping out. The idea is pretty simple, a drawn-out body switch between the two of them.
“Like when Annie and I switched?”
“Exactly. We’re always connected but most of the time it’s faint unless we’re visiting. Which is what we’re doing right now. You can come visit us – we’ll have to teach you that later, it’s a breeze though. Bodying switching though bit harder; make sure you focus on the physical all right? Trust my body ok?”
Eren feels a flicker of unease at the words, the idea of someone else using his body. Operating it whilst he’s elsewhere and taking control. He hadn’t really contemplated that.
Ymir puts her arm upon his shoulder clearly sensing his unease, “It’s all a bit weird but you get used to it. It’s kinda nice not being alone you know. Having us around the whole time. You’ll see.”
It’s not the exact worry he has but he also sees the comfort she’s trying to provide. It’s not like Reiner can run off with his body and leave him behind. They’re all together, always.
“Also, once I block up that boulder, we could make a break for it,” Reiner continues.
Eren inhales sharply at that, staring at him, “What?”
“Yep, boulder goes down. I make a break for it in your form. One of us is ‘lost’ in the chaos to come help you out and off to Shingasusaha we go.”
“It would give us all the privacy and the chance to answer questions,” Bertholdt agrees.
“Makes sense if I’m the one who disappears with you,” Annie adds, her cool gaze meeting Eren’s.
Ymir goes incredibly stiff beside Eren as he stares. The idea is – certainly tempting. No rules, no one else but his cluster (he deliberately doesn’t look at Mikasa as he thinks this) and he could get the information he wants. He could beat a bloody path to the cellar – and then what? What would happen to Armin and Mikasa? If he goes could he ever come back?
It’s – it’s not the plan he wants. He wants to do this for humanity and he needs them onside before…
Eren’s answer is no but he feels himself frozen under the expectant gaze of his cluster.
Pixis’ words come back again to haunt him, “Can you ignore them?”
The right question – the question Pixis was really asking – can they control you?
“No,” Eren says, and then after a pause he continues firmly, “No I’m staying here. I’m not leaving Armin and Mikasa. Neither should you want to. I – we can do a lot of good now working for the military. You shouldn’t be hiding these powers. You can’t make me go.”
Eren doesn’t mean it to but he knows that the final sentence comes out as more of a question. A hint of fear at the idea that he’s completely at their mercy, and a strong surge of anger raises to counter act it.
Reiner breathes out through his nose, “Nah, we can’t.”
“Then we retake Trost. And together with the others we go get the answers from my father’s cellar.”
I’m not running off and leaving them, Eren promises to himself. I’m going to use this power to destroy all the titans in my way and reclaim the world.