Chapter 1: Cannon Ball
“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.”
Chapter 2: Ask the right question
Finally finished hammering this chapter into shape! :D Everyone gets the chance to breathe, reflect and ask some questions.
Please leave your thoughts or a kudos! Stay safe X
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.
Chapter 3: Retaking Trost
The cluster join the mission to retake Trost and have slightly different priorities.
Have another chapter everyone hope you're staying safe :)
Mild warnings due to violence, swearing and some dubious light kisses (I basically question consent regards clusters, the kisses are on the check and neck but the situation is unusual).
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Reiner and Eren switch just as Eren’s bodyguards (captors) call for the mission to begin. Whatever his own personal frustrations about the subject, Reiner has to bury them deep. He stretches and flexes inside Eren’s body, getting used to his smaller size. Reiner can’t help but stare at the thinness of Eren’s wrists.
Part of the reason Reiner had volunteered for the swap was under the assumption that his body would be less jarring for Eren. He’d forgotten how strange he’d find it though, inhabiting a new body for an extended period of time.
Reiner lets the sensations wash over him whilst his mind focuses on his next move. So plan A “convince Eren to escape” was out the window, that left plan B – kidnapping Eren during the switch and doing their best to make sure he didn’t notice. Clear goal; improvise as they went, pretty much every mission of his life so far.
All right Reiner, he thinks, let’s improvise. He reasons that going along with mission to block up the Trost’s gate would get him an escort to the wall and, once the mission is accomplished, his ODM gear would do for getting him over the wall.
Resolved, he joins the elite team of soldiers (somehow including Mikasa) as they begin their journey across the wall. As they progress Reiner realises he has no idea (aside from Mikasa) what his companies names are.
A guilty pang shoots through his chest before he brushes it off. It doesn’t matter, he thinks. Getting Eren safely away is all that matters and that’s only going to get easier the more ground they cover.
They make quick progress along the wall and Reiner knows he’s grinning, caught up in the thrill of the moment. A plan in motion, moments away from contact and he feels ready for it. Ready for the fight. He’s always felt this was something him and Eren shared.
There’s the constant reassuring presence in the back of his mind where the others are. He doesn’t pull or press on it. Focuses instead on his breathing, on the sunlight beaming down on them, on clenching his hands and feeling the sensation. He’s barely started; the last thing he wants to do is switch back.
In the interests of focusing on this goal he notices Mikasa casting glances at him.
“Stop looking at me like that. Focus on what we’re doing.”
Mikasa gives a small frown and Reiner regrets his comments. He thought that was pretty in character for Eren. Titans, titans and more titans’ right? He faces forward again but Mikasa continues, “Eren, listen to me. Whatever happens, I want you to know I’m going to stay by your side until the end. I promised.”
Her tone is earnest and her eyes are so intent. Reiner’s throat closes up, in the face of her devotion. She’s not – this is – a series of emotions twist around inside of him and he blurts out, “This isn’t the end. So, I wouldn’t even worry about it. We’re going to be just fine, trust me.”
He aims for a reassuring grin but it’s hard to know if that has in any way convinced Mikasa. The open emotion on her face has hidden itself away. Her gaze has narrowed slightly. I don’t know how to pretend to be Eren, Reiner frantically realises. Is there some other comment she’s expecting? Some other promise he always makes before going into battle?
They move in silence for the remaining time whilst these questions tick over his brain. It doesn’t help his concentration. He shakes off the double image of another part of the wall where Eren is with his body.
The Captain of their group halts the expedition and they have a few precious frozen seconds before engagement. Reiner brushes away the jitters; Mikasa can suspect Eren of all manner of strange behaviour. It doesn’t matter and it doesn’t change anything. After all, she can’t stop him escaping.
Feeling buoyant at this realisation and a little sorry that Mikasa’s devotion is going to come to an end, he decides on a parting gift. Turning in a pivot he seizes her wrist, leaning over the swords she’s already drawn and plants a light kiss to the side of her cheek.
“Stay alive Mikasa.”
The signal is given and the mission is a go. Reiner transforms into a titan.
Eren trips almost immediately after switching into Reiner’s taller body.
“Don’t fight the instincts, his body knows what he’s doing. You have to trust that,” Bertholdt hisses, catching Eren before his falls. Embarrassed, Eren brushes him off.
“Alright, alright I got it.” He could do that. They were moments away from another titan engagement. Eren reasoned he kind of had no choice.
Reiner’s body is strange, or being in Reiner’s body is strange. Now he’s really looking down at Annie, and whilst moving into position he misjudges how broad his shoulders are and knocks into Bertholdt at least twice.
How am I supposed to fight like this? Eren wonders a panic starting up inside him. He takes several calming deep breaths, trying to keep his attention in the moment and ignoring the pull of the minds and his actual body.
Ymir slaps him soundly on the back before being moved further along the line. “Here and now,” she chirrups. He resists an urge to punch her, although he has to admit the sting from where her hand made contact helps a little with the focusing.
He operates his ODM gear safely down into Trost and after that it gets easier. It takes a while, but like breathing, Eren realises that as long as he doesn’t linger too long in thought on any action then he can do it.
Bertholdt and Annie stay close, both physically and via visiting. Ymir has been assigned elsewhere and lost early in the fray. He can feels she’s safe though, or he can feel her racing heartbeat at least. He turns his attention away from the connection again.
“Here and now,” he mutters to himself. Their part of the mission is basically distracting the titans, as far away from (Reiner) Eren as possible. The Titans are just as horrifying up close as last time. Their strange uncanny human faces, their lurking puppet movements, just as disgusting. Such creatures really shouldn’t be active during the daytime.
Eren’s body (or he supposes Reiner’s body) hums with satisfaction after managing to cut one down. He’s pleased he doesn’t at any point freeze with fear, that his training and anger keep him (and Reiner) safe. It could be hours or minutes before he finds himself with a breather, alone on a rooftop with no titans close by. Bertholdt scrambles up next to him and, both panting, they pause for a minute, enjoying being alive.
Eren turns to his companion intending to ask about Reiner’s status when he feels a sense of alarm race through Bertholdt. He’s starting intently behind and just to the left of Eren. Frowning Eren follows his line of sight and – there’s nothing to see. They’re the only two atop the building.
“Bertholdt?” The man in question jumps a bit and turns back to Eren while feigning a smile, but Eren can practically feel his apprehension. Actually, wait, he can feel it, of course he can, just like the feelings of alarm. Eren pushes through the fog of someone else’s (is ever going to get used to this?) feelings and asks, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” A lie, Eren tastes it like before on his tongue and Bertholdt’s face drops into an incredibly guilty look. Furious Eren charges forward into Bertholdt’s personal space. They can’t go around keeping secrets – especially not whatever this is.
Except – except he has been trusting Reiner’s body’s instincts.
This close Eren can feel Bertholdt’s breath on his face and smell his sweat; he has to look up into his wide eyes. There’s a sharp delicious twist in Eren (Reiner’s) stomach that derails his thoughts. His mouth feels dry and his face warm. He can’t think and therefore only acts, letting Reiner’s body respond to the familiar situation.
He brings his arms up to hold Bertholdt, mindful of his swords, and presses his mouth just below Bertholdt jaw. The rough stubble tingles against his lips and – oh god, Eren feels like he’s on fire what is happening?
He freezes awkwardly as Bertholdt goes stiff and unresponsive in his arms.
“Ugh guys? Sorry to interrupt but we’ve got a 9 metre closing in.”
Eren leaps back from Bertholdt to see Marco standing close by, clearly slightly winded but smiling at them rather softly.
“THIS IS NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE,” Eren immediately blurts out in embarrassment. Bertholdt doesn’t say anything and rather determinedly avoids eye contact with either of them. Eren wants to kick him. This is so embarrassing.
“Don’t worry, your secret’s is safe with me,” Marco continues soothingly, “I’m certain these things are an open secret kind of situation anyway.”
“We’re not – we’re – there are titans. The titans are the only things that any of us should be caring about it. After that, when humanity is properly free is the time to think about other ordinary things.”
“Now you sound like Eren.”
Eren has no idea how to answer that. Bertholdt, with his face burning red, starts to laugh, “I think Eren has had an influence on all of us.”
“He’s something of a vanguard type person isn’t he? Do you think he just got so angry he became a titan?”
This exchange is cut short when an impatient Annie takes down the approaching titan.
Eren gratefully returns to focusing on staying alive.
Reiner groans. Buried deep inside the titan form he hears Ymir’s voice. She’s standing on his shoulder, the one not hefting the boulder obviously, talking straight into his ear. Annie had been doing a perfectly fine job of checking in. Ymir should be focusing on keeping herself alive.
He’s almost at the gate, or giant hole in the wall would be more accurate, and to the credit of the garrison they have been keeping the titans off his back.
“Thanks for dropping the new plan on me there,” Ymir continues. Reiner does feel a twinge of guilt over not keeping Ymir up to date. She wasn’t exactly part of their mission after all, as she regularly reminded them. There also hadn’t been a lot of time to update her in the first place.
“We didn’t have a lot of time –“
“Yeah – yeah look I’m almost with you – Annie and Bertholdt have been keeping Eren out of trouble and given your obvious kidnapping plan – I’ll disappear with Eren over the wall alright? Keep him alive, gets us both out of the way of your grand plan.”
Reiner adjusts his hold slightly and pauses for a moment to allow the soldiers to take down another titan coming towards him. It’s not a bad plan, makes things easier although it does mean that there’s no easy way for them to meet up with Zeke. He says as much before continuing to move.
“Why meet up with Zeke at all?” Reiner can’t help it; he freezes at the suggestion, a dangerous move really given their situation. He quickly starts forward again before addressing her comment.
“Very funny,” he tries, “But you can’t - ”
“I’m on our side Reiner - and you really think that Zeke won’t have Eren eaten? He’s of no use to your plan and you’re just going to hand him over to the cause?”
Reiner feels a twisting in his gut, that’s part of the point. Part of what they signed up for. Death was coming and they had a mission, a responsibility. If Zeke saw fit to – if Zeke –
“If that’s what has to be done,” is what he says but the twisting horror in his stomach settles there. Eren’s cluster, they’d feel every moment of it, every moment of his spine being cracked opened and the fluid made to run. Scarified to their cause. Reiner knows he could achieve the same aim if he just put down the boulder now and let the damn titans eat him.
And Ymir feels his anxiety and uncertainty on the subject. She presses her case ruthlessly, “Or we run. I know somewhere safe or safe enough, we could hold up for awhile. Away from Zeke, your plan, these sorry people.”
“They’re not people – they’re monsters just like –“
“Just like us actually. Quite why we’re not on their side I have no idea. Wouldn’t even be that hard, considering how eager that Commander was to utilize Eren –“
“Fuck off Ymir. Now is not the time – Shit!“
“DAMN IT! Reiner put the boulder down. You’ll have to fight him! Don’t die you idiot!”
During the course of their conversation they had finally reached the wall. Just as another titan had clambered through the opening. Boulder down, Reiner takes it down quick and hard. Eren’s titan form is vicious.
Ymir has vanished, but he knows he’ll be seeing her soon. They can deal with her notions of defecting later, first though Reiner heaves the boulder into place. Blocking up the entrance to Trost, really if they had some time then Annie’s abilities would be much better suited to this sort of work – Reiner squashes those thoughts immediately. He has a kidnapping to finish.
It’s a quick thing to escape from the confines of Eren’s titan form and use Eren’s gear to scale the wall in his human form. There are no troops above and he turns and spies a figure racing along the wall towards him. Ymir, only minutes away.
He can’t wait for this chaos to be over. Down over the wall won’t be safe but at least the intrigue will stop. Then it’ll just be a case of getting them to Zeke. He watches the flare for their victory ark up in a glorious green line whilst he waits impatiently.
Then he realises he’s not alone after all.
It’s Mikasa. His eyes track the steam coming off her swords as the titan blood evaporates into the air, swords she’s doesn’t lower.
Shit, Reiner thinks. Come on Reiner, think, what would Eren do? He says the first thing that comes to mind, “I’m going to Shingasusaha Mikasa. I have to know what my father - ”
“Give him back.” Mikasa hisses, her voice is cold and her expression is hard.
There’s a silence, a long aching one. Reiner waits another beat – hoping that he might convince her without a fight but the time is ticking down, what if others of the military join them? His musing is cut short as Annie visits next to him.
“If you’re going to go you need to go now.”
“I know that.”
“You keep doing that Eren. Talking to voices that aren’t there, whoever you are I’m not -”
“Go,” Annie hisses and she’s right. The sooner they run they better. That flare means Eren is going to want to switch, that more military are coming and Ymir’s not with them yet. He turns to flee and Mikasa comes after him. She’s fast, faster than him and he goes down and there’s a sharp pain in his forearms as he badly catches his fall. The stone is warm beneath his hands.
Annie whispers by his ear, “Let me.”
Relieved, Reiner switches with Annie.
Let the plot deviation begin.