As harsh as it could be, Shiganshina could be merciful and gentle in its own subtle ways, with it's winds brushing on cheeks like bittersweet pecking kisses, and its constant sunbeams warming the skin of it's people in greeting each morning. It was charming in what little it was.
Eren hates it.
He hates how two faced everything is, the village city, the walls, the land they were all told to live in forever. He hates how content he feels waking up in the morning, hates that he feels comfortable living in such a cramped world. He hates that he doesn’t hate it enough.
Not everything in Shiganshina makes him feel like imploding on sight. He isn’t completely an ungrateful spoiled little brat. Even if he wanted to hate every aspect of the city, he loves his family that cares for him, that loves him. He loves his best friend, and he loves his sister. Armin makes it a little more bearable to live, with his books about the ocean--about outside the Walls. Mikasa makes it a little more comfortable, familiar, with her sturdy reliance, her ability to always ground him. They calm his anger and soothe his restlessness.
Eren doesn’t really want to know how he’d act without them.
The sun is low as the trio sit together beside the canal, casting Shiganshina’s stone in soft yellows. Armin got beat up again by another annoying group of boys. Mikasa, per usual, scared them off. Eren knows that but childishly doesn’t want to admit that she’s better at that than him.
“Why can’t everyone just let us at very least dream about the outside world? It doesn’t make sense. Everyone frowns down at the even the option of it.” Eren scowls, throwing a rock halfheartedly into the water in front of him. It ripples in tiny waves around the vision of his face. Brown hair, green eyes. They’re bright in the sun’s fading light.
“It’s because we’ve lived quietly in the Walls for a hundred years. It's taboo to have any curiosity or interest beyond the Walls, and according to the king, or, the royal government’s policy,” Armin replied, gaze unfocused in the distance, “it’s to maintain the peace within them. So that they won’t get in.”
“The king and the government, all of them are cowards. They’re our lives, so we should be able to do whatever we want with them!” he hissed.
“No way in hell.”
The boy glances over to Mikasa, who had been quiet until now. He knows how she gets about his well being. She picked up a lot of his mother’s traits, including being overly concerned with protecting him. What, from living? It isn't that he doesn't like that she cares for him, it's just…slightly unbearable sometimes. He isn't stupid, Eren knows what he wants in life, and that was a hell of a lot more than some people could say. Being trapped in a cage of walls like animals...How could anyone stand to live like that for the rest of their lives? Its pathetic.
”Absolutely not.” She repeats.
Frustration wells up inside him and he begins arguing with her about how she had ratted him out to his mother earlier today. It dies as quickly as it came on. There would be more time to argue about it another time. There isn't a point to right now.
The clouds are serene, pillow-y and soft overhead, laughter of children and familial bonding surrounded them. A woman plays with her young child. A man is reading quietly on a bridge, a stray cat walking idly behind him-likely searching for prey. Even in poverty, even in captivity these people still smile as if they’re living. Eren watches the golden-lit river flow. He convinces himself he hates it all. He does.
“...People really think they have a secure future here.” Eren dimly listens as Armin begins speaking again. “They think that because the walls haven’t been breached in a hundred years, that it's guaranteed they won’t break through ever again. The possibility that they won’t...That doesn’t exist.”
Armin's voice cuts away with the ending of his sentence.
It was a deafening strike, that got Eren’s attention. It was like an electric earthquake, shaking everyone and everything, shocking them along with it.
”Woah-!” Eren gasps as the ground tremble said, stumbling off the ledge he had just been sitting on. “What was that?”
“Was it an earthquake?”
Mikasa and Armin get up too, looking ruffled and nervous, and they all move together to try and figure out what was going on along with several frightened civilians. There are people fretting to and fro like scared livestock, as if they were pigs wondering which one of them would be exterminated next. There are people questioning everything-as if they hadn’t known they were all prey.
Everything quiets, the sudden silence washing like a wave over the people. Eren's eyes search the top of the wall, looking for any indication of something out of place. Suddenly the Walls feel cramped again, the crowd of people surrounding him feel like they're compressing into him, he feels like he can’t breathe—
A giant hand clasps the top, shining crimson red in the fading sunlight. A head twice the size raises up, peering at Shiganshina over the stone. He feels nothing except a sick, twisted fascination. It shifts, eyes seemingly searching for something.
The next moment, his eardrums feel like they've burst, debris smacks him in the arm, and all he can think about is whether or not he'll ever be able to tell his mother "i love you" ever again.
Sometimes people talk about how life changing situations almost feel like they go in slow motion. Trauma, love at first sight, death. Eren wishes it had gone slower. Maybe his mind could’ve caught up faster. He felt like he was stuck in a moment that replayed itself a thousand times, relentlessly without stopping.
Adrenaline races through every vein in Eren's body. There's screaming everywhere, blood spraying in the air from the unlucky families that got the brunt of the kick directed at them. Agonized shrieks of people crushed under the larger parts of the broken wall. He moves as fast as he can, but his legs are sluggish under the weight of the world, arms not moving from his side. He hears his name being called but can barely make a sound.
"M-Mom...Our house is over there!"
Mikasa's presence next to him seems to break him out of his stupor, and he inhales a gulp of air. Armin isn't with them, but that isn't the concern right now. He'd be fine. He'd be fine. He'd be fine. Maybe if he said it enough, it would be true.
Titans are starting to pour in from the massive hole, horrifying faces twisted in lip-less grins. Screeching of little girls and boys as they're picked up and chomped into bloody mush rings in his ears. The too slow bones of elders make them easy pickings, each crunch of human flesh like carrots mixed with dressing.
Fear causes his legs to unlock and finally, he and Mikasa start to run. He's never ran so fast in his life, praying with every fiber of his being that his mother is alive, that she's okay, that she'll be okay.
She was alive.
But she wasn't okay. Eren's world shattered to bits and pieces.
They're on the last boat to safety, and he feels empty as he walks over to the railing. Armin calls out his name, but he can't hear him over his own beating heart. He screams and curses the Titans, feels Armin looking at him worriedly behind his back, and promises to kill them all. Every last one. He knows it's an irrational proclamation the second it comes out of his mouth. A promise like that would bind him further than the Walls ever could.
Everything hurts but he isn't injured, outside of from when Hannes threw him on the ground. There's a haze of nothing that seeps over his mind, his pores, his skin. He feels like he isn't real, like he's floating. His body feels fake. Like a shell--a husk--made of weak flesh and stiff bone. His hands touch the railing, but he doesn't feel it at all. There's a heaviness upon his shoulders and his empty body trembles like it was under hundreds of pounds.
He looks over the edge, and contemplates jumping and killing himself. Ending it all. It's a cowardly thing to think, he knows, but deep down he thinks he could convince himself to do it. If he tried hard enough. Instead, he meets his own dull stare in the rippling reflection below, shoving those thoughts away.
Brown hair, amber eyes.
His mother was there, if he looks hard enough in the rippling reflection. In the slope of his nose, the curve of his cheekbones, the shape of his lips. His heart constricts in pain at the vision. Trapped in a moment long past yesterday, his wings are bound and branded into his lungs.
He was caged.
All he ever wanted was to be free.
As gentle as it could be, Shiganshina could be harsh. People were very poor, and some rarely ate. Sickness was common, and the nights were freezing in its tempting darkness.
Eren loved it. He always did. Even the harshest parts, he loved them too. He loved the colorful myriad sunsets, the laughter that tinkled like wind chimes in the air, the cramped alleyways with stray cats awaiting their daily affection, the linens that swayed in the warm breezes, Armin's small voice as he whispered fables and stories to he and Mikasa, the softness of his mothers lap as she absentmindedly stroked his chestnut brown hair and tucked him in bed. Simple things, like the old plant pot across the street or the way the door to Eren's bedroom creaked when it was opened too fast. How the table in the kitchen had a little marks from the time he was trying to slice fruits without a cutting board on it.
He had never appreciated what he had in front of him until it was taken away, and would never get the chance to be grateful in his life ever again. Funny how fast things come and go, how fast everything changes. Just like the gentle caressing of the winds.