The strong and crisp scent of hay flooded his nostrils, reminding him of his days observing cattle in their domain. His body loosened further, toes sprawling apart slightly as the titan gave way to a small stretch. The creature's chin dipped into his collarbone as his arms extended before him, spine curving slightly inwards as every ounce of tension escaped his frame. Rogue's ear and nose twitched before onyx lids lifted slowly to reveal his drowsy emeralds. Routinely, the beast yawned, tongue curling as he rose to sit upon his elbow. For a moment, Rogue found himself staring out into the spacious barn, noting the silence. The titan then turned his attention to his side to check on the status of his little ones only to discover their absence. Instinctively, Rogue sat up further, and ran his fingers gently through the fluffy sea of hay as he rumbled in worry. Unsuccessful, the titan sat up fully and scanned the barn, noticing how it was void of any soul except for his – the reason for silence.
"AAARRNNIN? NNIIKKAASSSA?" Rogue called, no witness to answer. "AAARRRNIIN! NNNIIIKK –
However, he his halted his pleas.
Rogue dipped his head, peering down at his hands draped in his lap. The previous day's events and teachings began to replay in his head, allowing him to recall the storm of emotions and constant limits and truths. Rogue then lifted his head and sniffed, detecting the scent of fresh bread and other human foods coming from the castle that served as the flying humans' hive, indicating that his little ones were likely indulging on a meal that they had called 'breakfast.' The titan remained seated, staring off at the cracked door that revealed the early morning light of twilight. Rogue sighed, steam flowing from his maw as he returned his attention to the strips of hay. As much he wanted things to be as they were, he couldn't have his wish. He couldn't keep his little ones from doing what they wanted, that would be cruel. Even some of the animal babies in his forest left the nest every once in a while. Of course, he could still have some alone time and fun with his two adopted babies, but he didn't want to get them in any trouble with the pack's laws. At first, he had been alarmed that his little ones had run off again without him and had not bothered to come sit with him for their meal, but then he realized that both Armin and Mikasa were merely just being considerate to his own natural schedule with the sun. Ever since they had reunited with one another, he had been naturally watchful and concerned nearly every second. He did not want to lose them again, but he couldn't deny them any freedom. He could still be protective, nurturing, funny, and even playful just as long if he wasn't overly possessive to the point where he would snarl if anyone he hated got close to his babies. If that were the case, then he would be just as bad as –
Rogue stopped, brows sinking as he thought further. Levi. Was the story that Petra had told him true? Could she possibly be right? If the tale was, it explained much of the Corporal's behavior – perhaps including the man's dry personality. It was alarming to think that Levi was like him as far as a state of mind and their background. The only thing that was different was his personality, breed, and the vast difference in height. To think that Levi was protective of him was dumbfounding. The titan tilted his head and gripped his thigh in one hand, considering. Perhaps it would be wise to question the man to know if Petra's story was indeed the truth. The man was emotionally scarred just as he was. Maybe, just maybe, he could attempt to patch things up with Levi and get something in return – perhaps more time of merriment with his little ones and newfound family. Still, he could not help but to actually feel sorry for Levi. He would be doing him a kindness if he gave the man a chance as Petra had said. As much as he was anxious to do so, he would take the step.
The titan then yawned a second time, bending over on his knees and stretching his arms across the interior of his nest. He dipped his head between his shoulders, exposing his naked nape as he arched his back to pop every joint and muscle on his posterior. Rogue then returned to his seated position to continue his watchful observation. The titan glanced back to the door, ears pricking forward in wonder. All of the flying humans, except for a select few of the unfamiliar variety, were away in the castle – leaving him to his own devices. He blinked, although he was unsure about what the schedule for the Scouts was, he knew that he wasn't given a single order as of yet. Rogue sniffed again, still registering that the pack was inside. As he sat, a familiar feeling of boredom washed over him – itching for something to do. Rogue's greens then landed upon the opposite corner of his nest – a vacant spot. The titan then carefully maneuvered himself across the barn to crouch before the little corner. Naturally, Rogue quickly dug a basin in the hay until he reached the dirt floor in the barn. Now that he was in a new home, he felt the need to explore on his own and begin a collection. In the Scout's territory, there was bound to be lots of things worth a closer look and to stow away for safekeeping. Rogue nodded, yes if he found anything to treasure he would put them here and bury them as his own secret stash.
Slowly, the titan then began to maneuver his way outside the barn, careful not to bump his shoulders against the wooden opening. The cool morning air brushed his face and hot flesh, feeling great as he exited completely and stood outside his nest. Rogue then began to make his way into the nearby courtyard; eyes scanning his previous resting place for anything he deemed of value. The titan's feet then met the bricks of the messy so-called garden. Rogue bent over, fingers running through the tall grass and weeds. He sniffed, searching the air once again for signs or life before returning to his rooting. The titan's nails then began to brush the surface of the earth; to his surprise the sharp edges caught hold of something blunt. Rogue hummed in amusement and wonder as he pulled the object free. Instantly, the titan's green eyes widened in amazement like a child given a gift. In his presence looked to be a tiny, even smaller than the size his little ones once were, human made of stone. Rogue blinked in absolute disbelief, he had never seen anything like it. What was this little rock human doing in the dirt? Was it alive? Curious, the titan delicately picked it up to place it in his palm. No. It wasn't alive and never was – just dead stone with the figure's face just as frozen as most titans' faces. Rogue then raised the stone child to his maw and let his tongue carefully clean the small specimen. Once the earth was rid from the miniscule form, the titan examined the object again. It was indeed, a stone child – a plaster child that was naked with a smiling face, holding a thing called a basket, and had the weird fleshy bit that Armin had between his legs. Rogue produced a small trill as he stood with the stone child in hand and made his way for his nest. Humans were such strange, adroit, and wonderful creatures – making things that were always questioning and interesting. The titan then discreetly entered the barn and lowered the figure with utmost care into the hole. Rogue beamed, if things like this could be found in the grass of the flying human territory then there was bound to be other amazing things waiting for him to find them!
Rogue then exited the barn once again and ventured back into the courtyard. He skipped digging among the weeds, wanting to cover as much area as he could before someone came to give him an order. He then lowered himself to initiate an inspection once again, looking at a wooden object that humans made to sit themselves in. The titan gradually picked up the long wooden human seat, wondering why the smaller species had to do such a thing whereas he just plopped himself anywhere on the earth as he pleased. Rogue rotated and turned the object in his hands, looking in awe at the old and dried wood. A general rule that he had set himself was that he would only take objects that weren't being used, otherwise if the object was being used by the humans he would ignore it completely. Rogue tilted his head, humans used the sitting objects quite often, but the wooden seat appeared to have been vacant for a while. Not willing to miss future observations for his new collection, the titan safely closed his palm and continued to search.
Soon, Rogue found himself among the edges of the forest at the rear of the castle, exploring what appeared to be where the flying humans kept their wheeled rectangles called wagons and other odds and ends. The area was lonely, melancholy almost with weeds and vines weaving through the structure of another barn – a smaller one than his own and patched in metal. Rogue crouched down to level himself with his target once again before bending over to peer into the structure with an eye nearly as big as the opening. To Rogue, the inside was a treasure trove and not where things were stored for quick use. To his surprise, the structure looked to be where the flying humans stored their favorite possessions. The titan hesitated before turning his attention to the grounds outside the small barn. If the barn was where the humans had their collection, then he wasn't to touch it – outside though was fair game as far as he was concerned. At the side of the structure was what looked to be the remains of a wagon – twisted, blown apart, and inner workings cracked and strewn. Rogue kneeled to the maim object and plucked a large wooden wheel from the wreckage. Intrigued, he temporarily placed his other object to the ground before lifting his now free hand to his new find. The titan's ears characteristically twitched in amusement as he turned the wheel in his palms. He found it incredible that humans could actually bend a substance like wood, without breaking it, into a circular shape for use. Rogue's nail ran along the spokes, listening to the hollow sound it made with further interest. How in the world did humans manage to squeeze the tiny sticks into the circle? Thinking further, Rogue then placed the wheel to the earth and pushed, eyes watching like a hawk as it rolled freely a few feet before toppling over. It didn't roll as well as his ball, but it was still incredible that it could. Pleased with his find, Rogue retrieved both the wheel and bench before turning to investigate the premise further.
As a precaution, before he stood, Rogue sniffed to ensure that he was truly alone. Sensing that the coast was clear, the titan stood and began to make his way back to his nest to deposit his new findings – but not without spying another object that had peeked his interest. Near a shadowed door of the castle's rear, setting upon more bricked earth, was three items he recognized as barrels. Again, the titan lowered himself to proceed to examine. The barrels were quite small compared to the ones that the Scouts had shot back on their hunt. Rogue tilted his head, nose suddenly sniffing like a hound – picking up a less than pleasant odor coming from the source of his current amusement. With nothing but curiosity guiding him, the titan warily pushed the barrels over onto the stone piazza, their lids separating and contents spilling out in his view. Rogue grunted in surprise. The contents of the barrels wasn't rotting animals or the smell of sick like he had previously thought, but was rather old or half eaten human food. Puzzled, Rogue maneuvered a finger through the barrel's contents, searching for anything that didn't quite belong, but finding nothing of worth. Rogue rumbled a wordless query. Why did the flying humans throw out food? Why was some of it uneaten? Even though he himself didn't eat, his kind ate every bit of their meal. When they had resided with him in his cove, his little ones even ate everything they were given. Granted, there wasn't much more than a few scraps in the barrels, but perhaps this was a tradition of sorts for the flying humans. Either way, although he only took things that no one seemed to use, the smelly ruminants were not worth his time so he stood and continued on his way.
After a few more stops to retrieve a selected couple of items such as bottles, more cables, and a few other things that he couldn't find a name to, Rogue secretly entered his nest again. The titan looked over his shoulder once to ensure his current status before crawling his way over to his newly initiated stash. Rumbling and gurgling in pleasure, Rogue then carefully placed his new belongings in the shallow hole, careful not to damage the stone child or anything else he deemed fragile. The titan smiled. Although his new collection wasn't as big as his old one, it definitely had some things his other did not. Instinctively, the titan brushed a wad of hay over the items to hide them from any set of eyes for safekeeping. Rogue then sat back to admire his work, the collection was covered in a messy way but good enough, yet it looked so – small. The titan then sniffed, the scent of bread was still ongoing and the humans remained inside their shelter. There was definitely time for him to explore further. Perhaps he could find a few things to share with his little ones or give to them as gifts.
With the decision in mind, Rogue exited his nest for the third time and into the crisp early air. The atmosphere was still peaceful with the songs of awakening birds and the sun was beginning to climb higher towards its perch. Rogue then began to search near the castle walls, leery to stray far from the Scout's headquarters for he didn't want to throw the pack into panic like the previous day. Wanting to search from the ground up, the titan bent over and began to carefully move along on his hands and feet, awkward to some but normal for Rogue. The titan peered and sniffed along the stone edge of the castle where it met the earth, but quickly finding nothing of interest. With his natural sense of inquisitiveness guiding him, Rogue quickly found himself looking into the windows of the headquarters. Viewing from room to room, he quickly discovered that they were vacant and void of life. Unlike the Corporal's room, the quarters visible were almost naked as he was and plain as an empty field. Their lack of occupants reminded him that the flying humans and his little ones were still feasting. Quickly getting bored by the lack of exquisite decoration, Rogue moved from window to window. Just as he was about to give in to his desire to look for things else ware, the titan stumbled upon a large window to a room on the first level of the massive structure. With his green eye nearly pressed to the glass as he studied the space's contents, Rogue released a trill in excitement at the sight.
In the room, huddled upon wooden shelves like birds in their nests, were hundreds of books – the most that the titan had ever seen. Rogue grinned blissfully, chirping in enthusiasm as he scanned the room. There were books of all sizes, colors, and every front of the texts had a different picture! The titan's ears perked up, twitching as the cogs in his brain began to turn. He hadn't come across such objects in the flying human territory as of yet and none of the bounded texts had been offered to him. It didn't seem like his little ones had books either, perhaps it would make the perfect thank you gift for his babies! Rogue affirmed his plan to himself with a greatly satisfied rumble from his core. The books were not being used as far as he could tell, so he had the right to retrieve them.
Of course, he was only following his logic.
Rogue then repositioned himself to lie on his abdomen to look straight on into the room. The titan lifted a finger to the closed translucent barriers, having seen how a human opened such a window in the previous day, and began to feel for the thing that provoked the barriers to give way to access. However, the titan had misjudged his strength and easily snapped the glass and frame, showering the room in shards. Rogue froze in light of his mistake, heart thumbing abnormally for a moment as he listened for an intruder that had been alerted by his work. When the silence only continued, Rogue emitted a soft squeal and reached into the room. The titan's needy hand abruptly knocked away and over shelves, spilling books onto the floor and causing a ruckus – the creature taking no notice as he enthusiastically pulled several old books from the room and sat them in the grass. Rogue continued his unknowing act of mischief as he constructed an indoor disaster. The titan purred a bit as he pulled his hand free from the small opening to examine the room further, his enlarged pupil catching something that had never graced his vision before. On a far table was a book that looked nothing like the others that he had ever touched, read, or seen. It was a thick book with an aged cover, but it was graced in gold! Intricate metallic lines weaved on the front and the profile of the stacked pages was soaked in the beautiful element. Rogue could not believe the sheer beauty of the reflected light off the book, making it look like it had been bathed in the sun's light itself. He had to have it!
The titan quickly plunged his hand into the room again, fingers targeting his prize upon the table – but he could barely reach if not at all. Rogue grumbled in aggravation and pushed his arm in as far as it would go, nails only brushing the table. He sorted, his instinct of wanting overpowering as he adjusted himself further. Now lying on his side, Rogue began to attempt struggling swipes to get the object of desire closer. The titan produced a high pitched and long growl of irritation as he continued to reach pleadingly, looking like a dog or cat trying to retrieve something from beneath a piece of furniture. Rogue droned louder as he attempted to stick his free hand into the window, but quickly finding that the tactic was useless. The creature growled, amazingly vocal as he pressed on with his small mission of retrieving the perfect gift for his babies.
"What are you doing, brat?"
At the voice, Rogue froze; spine shivering as he slowly turned his gaze from his task and onto Levi who stood with his arms overlapping one another and just a few feet from him. Traditionally, he retained his signature constipated look with gaze deadpanning at the titan. Rogue swallowed, silently cursing himself for already screwing up his own patching plans. Slowly, the titan pulled his arm from the book filled room, cringing slightly as a few shelves toppled over in the tedious process. Rogue's ears lowered in shame as he sat upright, fingers reaching nervously to lace between his toes – waiting for Levi to begin his scolding and an opportunity to speak.
The man sighed, breath extended. "I told you yesterday to not take things if they didn't have your name on them or if they were in the castle, Rogue." Levi began, but with an apparent difference in his tone. It wasn't pumping with venom or resembling the hiss of a snake, but rather a calm one that sounded almost flat and bored. Rogue blinked in disbelief, his voice – it almost had a flavor that he could register as placid. If he had messed up the room of books the day before, he was sure that he would have been showered upon with Levi's unbridled rage. Why – was the man suddenly so calm? "You're like this mythical creature I saw in a book once – a dragon. They hoard jewels and gold, but you Rogue only hoard junk. Humph, I found your little stash in your nest, Rogue."
The titan's eyes widened. Levi had found his things? Even after he had buried them? Surely the Corporal wouldn't take his newfound treasures from him!
"You did a piss poor job in burying our things as well, the flagpole was sticking right out." Levi paused, face still fixed as he shifted his heels. "I assume that's why the bench outside is gone, why you were tearing through the library, and why the week's trash is scattered everywhere out back. Care to explain?"
Rogue naturally hesitated at Levi's query, unsure of how to explain himself. "UUSSS IIINNNDINGG SSTUFF." The titan mumbled, words nearly running together like oil and tar. "AAANNTTED OOOOKK GGIIIFFF AAAIIBBIIEEESS." Rogue explained sheepishly, thinking about the mess he had made when searching through the human scraps. "SSSOOOORRREEE OOUUT TRRAAASSSS. EEEEII KEEEEN." Rogue apologized, volunteering with big and innocuous eyes and hoping that the Corporal was willing to forgive his ignorance. For several tense seconds of the encounter, the two continued to stare. Eventually, Levi sighed.
"Just save your disgustingly cute and innocent expression for Hange, I'm sure she would go absolutely crazy for -
However, to Rogue's surprise, Levi halted his words. The titan's tapered ears pricked forward, one higher than the other in question. Why was Levi stopping himself? Was there something holding him back? The corporal then shifted again, exhaling a long breath before purposely clearing his throat.
"Anyways, if it's not yours, leave it. By lunch, I'll be expecting the things you stole, like the bench, wheel, and flagpole back where you found them and for the trash to be back in its barrels. Got it?"
Rogue nodded. "EEESSS… OORRRTTTRRAAALL EEEEVVIII."
A thin brow rose upon the short man's façade. "Levi. It's just Levi for you."
The titanic beast remained still, in a thin haze as he observed the Corporal turn and adjust the gear hanging from his waist. Levi – was actually somewhat kind to him? Why? Why was the short leader not yelling insults and orders at him? Rogue sat up straight as thoughts continued to run through him. There had to be a reason why Levi's demeanor had changed. Was it because of his previous mischief? Or maybe the man sensed something in his own change of attitude. Either way, the titan wanted to know and he wanted to ask the Corporal a few questions. With the man in a fairly good mood, the time would be perfect. Rogue's gaze then refocused as Levi launched himself to the nearby rooftop of the third floor. With the window of opportunity open, the titan quickly stood and gently pulled Levi's cloak before he could fly to the next rooftop. Rogue watched as the small human stopped in his retreat and slowly turned to stare up at him with a questioning but nearly emotionless face. Again, the Corporal raised a brow.
"Why the sudden change in your behavior, Rogue? Yesterday you were more than willing and eager to annoy or spit on me, today – you're different. Why? What do you even want?"
The titan let a puff of steam seep from the corners of his mouth while his green orbs peered down at his feet – trying to figure out how to word his question in human tongue. "EEEEIII… AANNT AAALLK. AALLLKKK AAAAALOOONNN." Rogue answered as best as he could.
Levi folded his arms once again. "You – want to explain a few things to me? A private conversation?" The man asked, watching as the titan dipped his head rapidly. "Alright then, go ahead."
Rogue hung his head slightly, fretfully running his nails among the castle's rough roof. The titan's ears sunk once again, knowing that the subject of Levi's past was one he had to disclose of carefully. "EEEETTTTRRAA… OOLLLDDD NNEE."
The Corporal shifted his weight yet another time, face still difficult to read but he was clearly listening. "Petra. She told you something? What did she tell you?"
The titan dithered before deciding that it was likely best to just spit it out. "EEETTRRAA OOLLLDD NNNEEE OOUUUTTT YOUUUU." Rogue informed, watching the creases in the man's brow dissipate.
"What did she say to you about me?" Levi questioned, voice barely above the wing beat of a bird.
For a moment, the titan continued to hesitate on his answer as he picked at the shingles – having an odd feeling that Levi already knew what he was going to say. "OOUUTT AAAHHHT APPPEEENND TOOO YUUU."
Once more, an awkward feeling settled into the pit of Rogue's stomach as he watched the glorified man take a rough seat on the castle's granular and dated top. It was a long obstinate moment of listening to chirping birds before Levi spoke.
"I see. I guess that explains your attitude then. There's no need to feel fucking sorry for me though."
Rogue tilted his head, having expected more from the reserved man. "OOOUUUURRREEE UUUSST – EEEE AAHHLIIIKKE." The titan put forth, trying to see what the Corporal would say.
At the beast's words, Levi threw his head up quickly, nearly making Rogue take a step back in fear that he had said something wrong. To his relief, the short human instantly calmed.
"It's alarmingly so isn't it?" Levi replied; eyes now hooked onto the toes of his worn boots. "It's funny, after what happened to Isabel and Furlan beyond the wall – I despised the titans far more, but now here I am having a conversation with one. It's so ironic. We both got shit on when things were at their best. Life has a fucking funny way of working." The corporal continued, obviously disturbed by his own speech.
Rogue dipped his head in slight cowardice, wondering what to do and how to answer. Saying 'sorry' didn't really make any sort of cut. As he pondered at a breakneck speed, his little ones' speech they had given him before their departure came to mind. True, it didn't necessarily work for him, but perhaps the tactic worked on Levi. "EEVVII?" Rogue began as he raised a hand to his own breast – palm feeling the smooth and thundering heartbeat beneath it. The titan waited until Levi directed his gaze to him before beginning with is explanation. "IIIITTTTLLLLEEE OOONNNEESS TOOLLD… TOOO EEEEPPP EEEIIIRRR LOOOOVVVVEEE EEEAARRR." Rogue gestured to his heart. "RRRR… RRREEENNNBBERR EEEEAAAARRRR." The titan lectured, trying to justify what Armin and Mikasa had told him to the best of his ability. To his amazement, Levi seemed to understand him completely as he opened a small pocket on the breast of his jacket.
" I carry their memories as well." Levi alliterated, still impassive as he retrieved two very small wing patches from the pocket. Rogue instantly felt a sense of dread drop into his stomach like a ton of rocks. The patches were nearly soaked in old blood, frayed at the edges, but the alarming thing to the titan was that he could still smell the sent of death after so long upon them. Rogue bowed his head, trying to hold is breath, now almost wishing that he had never mentioned his little ones' teachings. Levi then quickly stowed the winged patches away and stood.
"Well, that's enough of that." He declared calmly, looking off into the distance, the light showing the slight bags beneath the man's eyes. "Anyway, I need to also disclose to you that after your – episodes yesterday, Erwin felt sorry for your… felt sorry for you." Levi instantly corrected himself. "He thinks that you need some time to adjust here, so he was incredibly generous and gave everyone a three hour break aside from the time devoted to lunch and dinner. You might want to thank him later when you have the chance."
Instantly, Rogue smiled elatedly, purring vastly to himself. He would get to see his little ones during the day after all! The corporal let out another almost bored sigh and began to adjust the workings of his gear.
"However, most importantly, I've decided that you and I will have some private sessions to train. I'm going to teach the cogs and gears of the formation as well as give you a bit of aid in your sloppy areas." Levi continued, barely glancing at Rogue from the corner of his eye. "Also, Erwin wants your aid later this afternoon for an exercise with all of the Scouts, and before you ask – your little ones are included."
The titan perked up even further at the news. He would also get to actually train with Armin and Mikasa for once! Rogue's throat vibrated with a sound of excitement, ears wiggling. The day was on the road to greatness for sure!
"Just behave yourself until I come for you. Oh, and don't you fucking tell everyone the story that Petra shared with you. Got it?"
Rogue nodded vigorously, green irises watching as the Corporal swiftly scaled from one rooftop to the other. Alone, the titan couldn't help but let a small smile pull at the corners of his face. For once, he had a bit of optimism about what was in store for him.
Armin apprehensively stirred his lukewarm oats, eyes away from the half eaten bowl and gazing out across the room. The banquet hall was just as it was every morning, easygoing and a feast for the senses. Soldiers around them engaged in both fully integrated conversations as well as small talk about recent events or something that had happened. The massive room smelled of freshly brewed tea and baked bread with a hint of ham as a small token. The teenagers of the 104th sat together at their self-designated table, one that was both in the far corner and side of the hall. Like most, the party was wrapped in a colloquy – their main subject being Rogue as it was with several other tables nearby. Armin continued to stir his meal, for the most part, Mikasa was doing all of the answering whereas he was caught deep in his thoughts. He was worried. The titan's attitude toward the Corporal and Jean was something that he had the misfortune to witness. Rogue had made it very clear in the previous day that he was not overly fond of the two. In the Scouts, Rogue would have to follow orders even if he liked to or not. Inattentiveness could cost soldiers their lives. The other thing that had him on edge was Hange's previous findings and results of the tests she had done on Rogue. The mere thought of answers, made the blonde almost too jumpy to sit idle by. Good, bad, or just plain weird – Armin wanted to know those results.
"Yeah! He really did call Jean Horseface yesterday!" Connie laughed with the other teens at the table following suit – all except for the long-faced victim of Rogue's words who simply sat with his hand on his cheek and gaze to the table.
"He did it with Hange as well." Mikasa added in, making Armin swear that her eyes were lighting up in pride. "She was showing him flashcards and he compared Jean to a horse."
The teens at the table began to snicker, making Jean's face only tint redder.
"Do we really have to keep dwelling on that?" The older teen interrupted. "I'd like to point out that he used a verbal version of 'mother fucker' as well as 'ass' there, too. Does he have any manners at all?"
For a moment, Armin detected a twinge of disgust running across his friend's vision. He held his breath, hoping that an argument wouldn't start.
"He's pretty well behaved – but only if he likes you." Mikasa calmly argued. "Otherwise he, as you may have seen and witnessed, will taunt and express his dislike – and I don't mean the harmless act of taking your belongings and hiding them."
Jean grumbled and pushed his plate aside, losing his appetite.
Connie cleared his throat. "Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but did any of you have to fight to keep from laughing when Rogue kept on pissing Levi off?" The teen hushed beneath his breath, nervously glancing around for the Corporal to only find the man absent. "I nearly lost it when he belched in Levi's face!"
"Me too!" Sasha agreed as she struggled to get every last morsel of oats from her nearly empty bowl. "I actually heard that Rogue got so mad that he broke the Corporal's gear."
Connie's eyes widened and pupils shank further. "Really?"
The brunet nodded. "Yeah I overheard Eld talking with Gunter about it!"
"That's pretty, intense." Krista began, expression worried and in awe. The small blonde then turned to Mikasa. "Did he ever do stuff like that around you and Armin?"
Mikasa hesitated, taking a bite off her plate, her body language reflecting the look of mental exhaustion and irritation. "Rogue does have a short temper sometimes, but we've never seen him do anything as drastic as what he's done to Levi and Jean. All he's even done when's he's displeased is lots of grumbling and gestures his displeasure. He did find our supply of knives once and tried to hide them by burying them and putting them in the pond. Other than that, I can't really think of any time he's ever done anything drastic."
"Well that's a shocker." Jean grumbled as he toyed with his food. "I'll also add that it took me nearly an hour to get his saliva off of me."
Armin gulped harshly at the impending and imminent argument brewing between Mikasa and the arrogant male, but before crude words could be exchanged, his eyes caught an enthused Hange approaching their table. She was as she usually was with an extra spring in her step, except for her eyes had slight bags beneath them and her hair was more frizzled than usual. Had Hange – stayed up all night?
"Good morning my little Titan Children!" She cheered as she leaned excitedly into the table. "You two sleep well?"
Putting his nerves aside, Armin exchanged a smile. "Yeah, it's a little different sleeping with Rogue again – but it's a nice change."
"Ah! I see! While I was working I actually laid with Rogue for about and hour before getting back to my studies. Ha! I must say; he'll be rather popular in the winter!" Hange exclaimed before snapping her fingers in realization. "Oh yes, I need to borrow you and Mikasa, Armin. The Commander, Corporal, and I want to discuss some things with you! Follow me please!" The scientist requested as she quickly turned and began to march her way from the banquet hall.
Both of the titan's longtime companions stood without another word. As they began to follow the enthusiastic woman up the floors of the castle, Armin could feel a few beads of sweat form on his neck, a product of worry. The time for the scientist's results had come and he truly wasn't sure why he was nervous. There was nothing wrong with Rogue at all so why was he? Perhaps it was not nerves like he thought, but rather anticipation – the idea of finally learning answers. Yet, were they going to be good ones?
The two teens were then quietly led through a large set of double doors neighboring the Commander's quarters. It was the conference room of the Scout's headquarters, a place that neither Armin or Mikasa had ever stepped foot in. It was a long and wide room, spotless due to Levi's handy work with a lengthy cedar table stretching nearly the entire space. A chandelier hung over them, candles not lit due to the natural sunlight from the large window looking out at the training fields. Armin could not help but to feel slightly confused, why were they meeting here? Usually when the commander or anyone of authority wanted to speak with them, they would traditionally be summoned to their office. As far as he was concerned, the conference room was only used when other military officials came to review business and tactics. He gulped, despite Hange's obvious attitude, could she have found something serious with their titanic friend?
Seeing both Commander Erwin and Corporal Levi sitting across from one another, the two recruits saluted and took their seats next to one another at the polished table's edge. Armin and Mikasa waited in silence as Hange gathered a pile of notes and plopped herself next to an annoyed looking Levi who scooted as far as he could away from the woman in his chair as she began to 'organize' her belongings. The blonde teen then let out a sigh, giving into both impatience and worry. There had to be a reason for meeting in the very room they were sitting.
"Um – Commander Erwin?" Armin began, trying to hide the perplexity in his voice. "If I may, why are we here? I'm sure this is about Rogue, but –
"Sorry for the confusion." The older man interrupted kindly. "If you're wondering why we're not in my office, it's because Squad Leader Hange has a lot to cover and it just seemed more practical to discuss maters here. More seating." He explained with a small smile as he reached for a steamy pot of tea between them. "Drink?"
Having not even touched their own beverages at breakfast, the two nodded and accepted their cups gratefully. Parched, Armin quickly took a sip with his manners in check – quick to find that the tea was definitely of the greater quality that was enjoyed by the higher ranking officials. He was slow to swallow, trying to enjoy the succulent taste of added ingredients while he could. Erwin then cleared his throat.
"Levi has already been debriefed by Hange about her discoveries. I'm here to learn the same as you and go over some things after she's finished." The man informed as Hange completed organizing her papers. The scientist then hastily reached for her own cup of hot tea, swallowing a large cup in a rush, the steamy brown liquid dripping from the corners of her mouth onto the clean table before Hange placed the porcelain aside. She then took a moment to recover from swallowing the piping liquid before turning to face the teens.
"Let's begin shall we?" Hange smiled broadly. "I was up all night going over the results of our tests and research. I'm going to start with the easiest answer to our easiest question." She continued, but pausing suddenly with her brows creasing slightly and lips traveling into a slight and barely detectable frown. "Then I'll move on to the more – complicated things."
Armin and Mikasa found themselves blinking in concern. Why did Hange's demeanor suddenly shift? Had she found something troubling?
The woman then continued, turning to prop her feet upon the chair next to her, ignoring a stern direction from Levi. "First off, we had the question if Rogue was just a mutation from the common gene pool of titans or a new species. After doing some comparisons in his DNA to that of Sonny and Bean, I found that he is indeed a new species of titan!"
"So, he's not a fluke?" Mikasa asked. Hange nodded.
"He's not! Rogue is different in every way! Special nonetheless! Going by his features, our titan was practically made to hunt! His build is made for strength, speed, and stamina! He can probably run approximately sixty miles per hour for up to four hours at a time! That's insanely impressive! The fastest abnormal and mindless titans have been clocked at half that speed! His amazing nose of his can smell blood or a familiar scent for miles! Rogue's ears move independently to pick up every available sound in his surroundings and his jaws have several tons of crushing power! His clawed nails are meant to slice and gain traction when running and his eyes are those present with tapetum lucidum which is a perfect adaptation to see in the dark! Rogue's third eyelid allows him to safely blink in heated combat and the rings around his eyes are a feature that both reduces glare from the sun and perhaps is an intimidation tactic." Hange paused, nearly out of breath as she drank more tea. "There is also a strange trait in Rogue's blood that is actually flammable. And of course, there is his caring demeanor and intelligence. He is such a wonderful specimen! I'm probably going on too much with this part of our discussion since, like I stated, it was kind of an obvious answer."
Armin nodded in acknowledgment, noticing that Hange's neck muscles tensed with her face and lip, fingers gripping her notes a little tighter. Even though the signs were slight, it was obvious to Armin that Hange was, for the first time ever, uncomfortable about sharing news about her subjects.
"That was expected, but as you said Hange, he's perfect for a predator."
The woman nodded in agreement, but suddenly dipping her head to stare long and hard at her notes. Within seconds, Hange's excited body language dissipated, replacing with one that was actually normal as she rested her elbows on the table before relaxing her chin onto her clenched fists – looking as if she was in a very serious prayer. Armin felt his trachea tense and tighten with her words. Mikasa too, seemed alerted as well – hands itching to harvest her own fingernails.
"So what else did you find?" Mikasa queried, her tone close to shaky. "Is there something wrong?"
Hearing her desperation in her sentence, Hange perked up and gave a small smile. "Oh no my dearies! It's nothing bad or harmless at all. It just broadens the mysteries." She paused, calmly taking another sip of tea. "Let me ask you two this before I go on, the Jaegers – how long did they know Rogue before their death?"
Armin dithered as he thought and calculated. Why was Hange asking him this particular question? "Well Dr. Jaeger and Mrs. Carla raised Rogue as their son for fourteen years before they were killed. Miss Hange, why do you ask this?"
The Squad leader bit her lip. "Well, what I'm about to tell you and Mikasa may be a bit of a shock to the two of you. When I found out yesterday evening I nearly fell out of my chair and when I told Levi even he seemed surprised." Hange alliterated as her eyes bore into the two teens, looking almost owlish. For the first time, the blonde teen had never seen the upbeat and loony superior so dead serious.
"What… what did you find out?" Mikasa asked, her eyes wide in unease just as his own were.
Hange let out a long sigh. "It's a big one, it's lead me down many new paths of theories and possibilities. By looking at Rogue's blood, I found out just how old Rogue is."
Armin sat up straighter at her words. Hange was able to decode that mystery? "How old is he? He – has to be about The Jaegers age right?"
"No Armin. In truth, Rogue is actually over a hundred years old."
The blonde teen felt his heart jump, the cup of tea nearly slipping from his grasp. His blue eyes glanced at Mikasa to see her in a similar state of shock. Had they heard her right? "So..so… he's… no way."
Erwin rubbed his chin. "So he's ancient?"
"Hange that has to be a mistake. I mean; that's so hard to believe." Mikasa denied, watching Levi nonchalantly shake his head.
"It's true. Like Erwin and you two brats I couldn't believe it either since Rogue acts much like a five or six year old." The corporal added. "Hange, explain." The man ordered as he insouciantly lifted his cup of tea in his unique way to his slim lips.
She sighed, taking a taste from her cup before looking down at her notes. "At first, when I told Levi, I was making an assumption. Then when I compared Rogue's blood to several of the other past specimen's I kept, it was tricky to decipher but quickly clear that Rogue predated all of my other test subjects."
"So you're saying that Rogue is one of the first titans?" Mikasa asked, her voice sounding small and constrained.
Hange nodded. "Yes. Rogue's breed is one of the first that had dawned in the Age of Titans. Looking back at Rogue's genetics for a moment, his species isn't from our region, but rather from another place in the world entirely. As to where, I have no clue. But it's clear that his breed is nonviolent towards humans and have no interest in our consumption."
"So – how did he get behind Wall Maria?" Armin questioned mind buzzing with racing thoughts.
The woman's small audience observed patiently as she removed her glasses, wiping them before replacing the lenses over her eyes. "That in itself draws up many other theories. Rogue could have been walled in without human knowledge or was separated from his kind and ended up in Maria. I can also put the theory into play that Rogue is the last of his kind."
"What makes you think he's the last of his kind?" He asked, skeptical.
"Ah, well it's been a hundred years of titans scratching at our walls, breaking into them, and coming from miles to feast at the buffet. Rogue's species is one that hunts our enemy, and judging by the fact that his tongue can taste titan blood and not human blood, tells me that perhaps Rogue's breed consumed them as well besides sport. With all the titans gathering around the walls, it would be likely that predatory titans would stalk them and chase them down. In the past century, there have been no reports of any pointy-eared titans similar to our specimen. So, for now at least, I'm saying that Rogue is all that's left."
Armin simply could not believe the new information about his giant companion. Rogue was just over a century old, was perhaps the only known titan of his kind, and his breed were hunters. It was distressing, but to Armin and Mikasa the most frightening thing about the news was the relation to Rogue's age and his lack of memories. How could the titan have lost decades of his life?
"Armin, you did say that Rogue has no knowledge of the outside world right?" Hange continued, voice still vastly quiet.
"Yeah." He replied in a daze. "My god, how on earth did Rogue – how did he lose so much?"
"Hange," Erwin began as he put his tea to the side. "Did you find anything to suggest how Rogue could have lost his memories?"
"He was probably doing something idiotic and knocked his head clean off his shoulders." Levi hinted crudely from the lip of his cup, getting a glare from Mikasa.
The scientist only folded her arms and let her gaze drift to her reflection upon the polished table. "No, unfortunately. With his regenerative abilities, there is no way to extract any sort of clues as to what could have happened. Levi could very well be right about Rogue losing his head. But then again we don't know what happens to a titan's brain tissue when it grows back."
An awkward silence then fell over the five, each dwindling into their own thoughts. Armin interlaced his fingers. He felt almost sick to his stomach knowing that his best friend had been through some sort incident that rendered him lost and clueless. He felt so sorry for Rogue. Did the titan just wander around confused and perhaps scared after he lost his memories before finding the Jaegers? Did he really do something to his head? Armin sank further in his chair, pushing his tea away from him and his feet feeling a faint vibration through the floor. The blonde continued to think, suddenly grasping the knowledge of Grisha's final words – the unsettling feeling growing larger. "Hey Mikasa?"
The dark haired female looked to him at the sound of his voice. "Yes?"
Armin bit his lip. "Do you remember when Dr. Jaeger said that Rogue was the key before he was killed?"
Mikasa sat up, likely recognizing that her friend was onto something. "Yes I do. He said that Rogue was the key to everything."
"Do you think – that given Rogue's age, he could actually have the memories of his past life and the knowledge of the titans somewhere deep in his mind? I mean, it's just a possible theory, he could have not been decapitated and just hit his head or something."
Mikasa's eyes widened. "That's a good point. Maybe given Rogue's intelligence, Grisha suspected that the knowledge could possibly be there. He and Carla didn't know his age so perhaps that was Grisha's assumption."
"This is interesting indeed." Erwin pondered aloud. Hange then sighed, long and strained enough to where every soul's attention was thrown to her.
"Even if that's true, it's highly likely that Rogue will never regain his memories. Ever. The facts may be there, but there is no way to reach them."
Again, a ghostly silence fell over the room. The teens could feel a wave of uncertainty washing over them. The likelihood of finding out just what happened to Rogue and the titans was completely diminished. Unless a miracle was to happen, they would never know. A series of vibrations rattled the room, table creaking and chandelier trembling. A large shadow was cast across the five, making the group turn to the window to see Rogue curiously looking in with his emerald greens wide and innocent. The titan grunted, hot breath fogging up the glass and ears wiggling in greeting. Armin stifled a laugh as Rogue purposely licked the glass, teasing the room's occupants but likely eager for them to join him.
"Well, that window has to be cleaned now." Levi grumbled as he stood from his seat, turning to the two teens. "Before you train today, I'm giving you another assignment in light of what I caught Rogue doing this morning."
Pushing his concerns aside, Armin looked to Rogue in suspicion. What had the titan done now? "What happened?"
"I caught him stealing Scout property, even going far enough to break into the library and wreck the place trying to get books and burying everything in the barn."
"Oh, he's collecting things." Mikasa spoke up. "It's something that Rogue likes to do." She explained as she glanced at the titan outside the window who was grunting in invitation. "He keeps a stash of things he finds interesting and hides them away. Of course, since he was in the library, he was probably intending on giving Armin and I the books as presents." Mikasa concluded with Hange giggling.
"Looks like he's also a hoarder!"
Levi sighed. "Anyway, I don't need Rogue destroying things to add to his stash. I want the two of you to take this." The corporal spoke as he slid a velvet bag over to the two teenagers.
Puzzled, Armin opened the bag to reveal a considerable amount of gold coins, more than he had ever seen in his lifetime.
"Now, I want you to also take Petra and Hange to the markets of Katness and get some things that Rogue can call his so he can stay out of trouble and so the MP's stay off my ass. I don't care what you get him, just get him something."
Armin blinked at Levi's request. The way the man said his instructions was far more mild than his usual ones to most of the recruits. It sounded almost –
"Also, you must wear plain clothes." Erwin added. "Hange, you and Petra as well. The reason is that the news published the fact that Rogue cared for the two of you in titan territory. It will be released this afternoon."
"Wait, what?" The blonde teen said in disbelief. "The government, the Military Police –
"Don't worry. The story was crafted a little bit. We kept the two of you anonymous and said that we found you with Rogue. We also stated that you two survived by stealing maneuver gear and supplies from our depots with the titan. And since you were his adopted children and had knowledge of how to use the gear, we took you in as Scouts. We are the only ones who know the real truth." Erwin quickly reassured. "The plain clothes are so no one questions you the names of, your names in other words, the titan's children."
"Alright then." Armin replied as he looked to the window again to see that Rogue was still peering at them in longing and wiggling his ears. The titan let out a high-pitched sound resembling a squealing grunt – wanting them to join him. "When do we leave?"
"Now. Just meet up with training later – which will be something different. Give whatever the hell you buy to Rogue right before the end of the day when everything is finished." Levi explained, looking once at Rogue before turning to the teens again. "And call Kirstein to my quarters. That titan slobber has to be cleaned from the glass." The man concluded with a close look of disgust as Rogue proceeded to lap the translucent barrier again.
The two teens nodded and gave their salutes before turning to make their way down the corridor, ignoring Hange's cheers that they were 'going shopping for their new child.' Armin's mind was still swarming with thoughts of the incriminating evidence. Could he possibly be right? Still, he had a feeling. Something somewhere – wasn't adding up.
"No, you cannot come with us Rogue."
The titan tilted his head in question, dropping onto his rump with a heavy pout. He grunted, unable to understand the reason behind his little one's words. They had come out of the castle with Hange and Petra and held baskets while clothed in standard garments – not in their usual fancy getups. He had seen them carry similar baskets in the past when his humans and little ones went on eating outings with him knows as 'picnics.' Were his babies and newfound friends going on one such picnic without him?
Mikasa sighed. "No Rogue, not this time. You can't come with us."
The creature grumbled slightly in aggravation. Why was he not allowed? "AAANNNTT GGO IICCCNNIICC." He demanded, watching as Armin's brows rose at his words.
"Oh, we're not going on a picnic Rogue!" He chuckled sheepishly as he rubbed the back of his head. "We're going to Katness district to get a few things for you. Katness is the city you walked through a few days ago, remember?"
The titan perked up. The human city? They were going there? Rogue smiled. The place was full of interesting things to look at! Not to mention it was bursting with incredible scents and things he could do. "EETTTTEER! EEEII CCOONNNE IITTHH!"
"No Rogue." Armin spoke up before he could get back to his feet. "You can't come with us to Katness. No offense, but you're not really allowed to. You're a bit too big and you could accidentally do something to hurt someone. The streets are too narrow where we're going anyway."
The titan tilted his head, unable to understand the harm in him going. From what he saw, the streets were damn sure big enough for him to walk safely. Rogue snorted, asking again if he could join them, prepared pull an ace in the hole – one that his little one's occupants, especially Hange, would give into.
Armin sighed in exasperation. "Rogue, it's not safe for you. We'll be back right as – oh no. No Rogue. No."
But the titan didn't listen, instead playing his best innocent card that he had seen countless dogs do to coax their owners to give in. Seeing how much it worked, he adapted the look himself to use when he felt that it was needed. Rogue let his ears drop even further to compliment his heavy dilated eyes and arched brows. The titan slumped over in the slightest, staring at the group with the saddest look he could expertly craft. As he figured, his expression had infected the messy haired Hange who was now squealing like a swine again.
"Aw! I didn't know he could do that! Looks like Rogue is a specialist at puppy dog eyes!" Hange laughed. "But it's not going to work this time I'm afraid, Rogue! You have to stay here! Besides, this is a surprise!"
The titan instantly abandoned his pleading look and took on one of confusion once again. So, this was a surprise? Still, he wanted to join them. He honestly failed to see how his tiny companions leaving in front of him was a surprise. Rogue opened his mouth to object once again, but was cut off when his opposing greens caught sight of the Corporal rounding his knee – wearing his usual garments and bored expression.
"Time for training Rogue." The man said simply, adjusting his white cloth.
The titan remained still, hanging his head. The beast forgot about his promise that he had made himself just a short time earlier. He had to not be so overbearing and let his little ones do what they needed to do and try to follow Levi's orders no matter how dull or pointless he thought they were. Good things would come, maybe.
The others watched in awe as the titan dipped his massive head in agreement. "OOOHHKKAAYY." Rogue complied as he turned to his two little ones once again, pointing to Levi. "EEIII AAVVVEE GGOO." He informed as he quickly nuzzled himself into his two tiny companions in farewell before lifting himself upright. The titan gave a slight wave to the four before turning to await further instruction from the short human that looked up at him with a slight hint of surprise. Levi then motioned to follow toward the green clearing nestled against the castle. As Rogue began to tail the Corporal, he took the opportunity to look back to see that his little ones were shadowing the two older humans, mirroring his actions.
Rogue kept to himself as he sat in the lush field, nails picking at his toes. The landscape was empty, quiet except for the melodies of birds. The other members of the flying human pack were deep in the surrounding forest and his little ones and close friends were in the city. He had done what Levi had instructed him, sit and wait for his return from the castle's innards. True, the titan wasn't fond of the situation, but he had to at least give things a chance. Sometimes waiting was a good thing. Waiting for his humans, he found his little ones. He waited after the second breach and he was reunited with his small and broken family. Then again, sometimes waiting wasn't pleasant – like the time he had waited for his little ones to return from where his humans had lives – only to receive memories that would forever haunt him and the loss of his sweet Carla and Dr. Grisha. Rogue sighed, shoulders hunching as he plucked a few imperfect daisies from the grass. Hopefully his plan of patience this time would be beneficial.
Hearing the unmistakable sound of crunching grass, Rogue looked up to see Levi approach his form carrying a big piece of rolled up parchment and one of the fluffy bricks. For a moment, the titan felt a little excited at the sight of the pillow – seeing that it was a different color, hue the juice of plums. Perhaps the innards of the object of amusement were different as well. However, before he could even gesture his wanting of observation, Levi placed the pillow upon the earth and seated himself upon it. Rogue tilted his head in confusion as the short human folded his legs similar to the style of his own and laid the piece of parchment between them. The Corporal's hands then unveiled the papers contents, making the titan's brows sink in dislike. It was the same thing that Levi had forcefully tried to teach him the day before. Rogue felt himself frown. Why did he have to learn this thing again?
"Alright, I don't know how much you were able to absorb yesterday when you were slacking off, so I better go over the basics with you once more. What you see before you is the Long Rage Scouting formation. It's the arrangement we go in when we perform our missions outside the wall. Got it?"
Rogue let a soft growl slip from his maw, clarifying his irritation. "NEEII EEEIII EEEAARRRNNN THISSSS?" The titan queried, waiting for the explanation. Why stick to this when they could just follow his lead? That was what the furry animal's leaders did with their pack.
Levi blinked, keeping still and impassive. "Rogue, the reason why the particular formation was created was because it was the best and safest way for the Scouts to use when moving through Wall Maria and what used to be outside the walls. If we just charged forward, we'd lose more men. Now, do you remember where you were told to be?"
Rogue's frown deepened, what Levi spoke of was one fact that he remembered perfectly. The titan pointed to the center of the drawing, unable to understand why he had been placed there of all things. He was the strongest soul here. As far as the titan was concerned, he was the most reliable bodyguard.
"Good, you're in the center rank."
"NNEEII EEIII EEERRREE?" Rogue illustrated as he tapped his position before pointing at the outside edge of the shape. "NNNEEEII EEEIII NNOOTT EERREE?"
Levi sighed heavily, straining from slight aggravation at the creature's ignorance. "That is because we're expendable soldiers were as you are not."
Rogue grunted in confusion fingers reaching up to scratch his head, unable to understand the meaning behind the corporal's words. "AAAHHTT TTTAAT NNNEEAANN?"
For a moment, Levi hesitated, the titan watching as the man's pale flesh flexed with the fretful bob of his throat. "That's because we are willing to lay everything out on the line for you. This is the hard truth. We can be replaced. You are the only titan that we know of that's against his own kind and smart enough to understand us and whatever the hell is going on around you. The Scout's can't replace you, Rogue. You are humanity's hope and we are willing to die on the front-lines for you. Your job is to only intervene when we are overwhelmed or if there is any substantial threat that we are unable to handle. Do you understand?"
Rogue was speechless, feeling conflicted about the way things were established. These humans, they wanted to die protecting something that was much stronger than they were? It still didn't make much sense. The titan hung his head, mind struggling to comprehend the concept itself. Yes, there was only one of him that he knew of – he was the only titan that didn't see humans as a food source but rather as interesting creatures and friends. That was a good reason to do things as described. In addition, from what he saw, a good majority of the Scouts were very skilled, but still losses as expected – mostly being taken out by surprise. Still, he did have faith in them, and now that he was part of their pack – they were likely to get even more skilled. Rogue finally nodded in return, accepting that was just the way things were. Then a thought crossed the beast's mind, where were his little ones to be located? Had the big leader chosen yet?
"Now," Levi continued as he gestured to the outermost shape again. "The outer ring is very vital. Without them we would have no warning about an attack. They are called Spotters. The Spotters look for titans near the formation. When we are in a mode to pursuit, they warn the rest of the formation with smoke rounds to signal the type of titan and they are usually the first to engage. When we are just traveling to a certain destination or camp, they warn us and Erwin judges the direction we should go in to avoid the enemy for the time being. Got it, Rogue?"
The titan clenched his jaw a bit at the recent teachings. The outer shape wasn't the safest at all with his kin waiting to come across them or ambush his new pack. It ESPECIALLY wasn't the best place for his little ones either considering the risks. He couldn't lose them again. "EEERRREEE AAAAIIIBBIIESSS?" Rogue maturely demanded, gesturing to the formation's illustration. In light of trying to keep well behaved, he remained stable despite his nervousness.
Levi sighed, brow creasing a bit as he adjusted his cloth again. "Commander Erwin has placed them here." The man spoke as he gestured to the second shape between the center and the first. They don't see as much action, but they continue to relay the smoke rounds to the center rank. They only enter combat if they have too."
Rogue crouched lower to meet Levi's face, pointing back at the center. "AAAANNTT IIITTTLLLEE ONNNS EERRE! AAAIIBBIIEESSS SSAAFEEE IIITTTHH NNNEE." He disagreed, trying to be firm but still restrained. The Corporal only placed his hands to his knees.
"I understand you're not fond of the idea, but it is what it is. We need their talents if the time arises. Petra did inform you of how skilled they are, especially Mikasa. Just to get things into further perspective, during the battle of Trost, Mikasa killed a total of seven titans – including an abnormal. That's just as much as some of the veterans here. Armin devised a plan to execute a group of four and five-meter titans that had gotten into Trost's military supply at their headquarters. As a compliment – they are good soldiers that I may someday add to our squad when they have proven themselves over our missions."
Rogue remained stunned. Levi – had actually complemented his little ones and would want them to soon be on their team? Really? The titan's ear flickered, head tilting at the short human that looked at him expectedly with cold silver eyes. If the strongest human here had admitted such a thing – then they would be fine in such a position. According to Levi, it had low activity. If they ever needed to take one of his kind out – he had confidence in them. If they were outnumbered or in peril, he would damn sure be there to help. Rogue felt his chest grow warm in delight, softly smiling to himself. His little ones had grown strong.
"I take it that you are fine with this by the look on your foul mug." Corporal Levi began once again as he then pointed to the center of the formation. "If you may remember, the center rank is not only the safest rank but the standby and directional rank. Commander Erwin's squads as well as my squads are here with the supply wagons. Like I said, Erwin is the one who reads the smoke signals and gives the signal that tells the other ranks what to do. Also, since the two of you seem close, Petra will be riding on your shoulder to relay my orders to you as well as keeping you in check. Clear?"
Rogue rubbed his chin, confused by some of the more complicate material before nodding. "EEERRREEE HHHAANNGE AATT?" The titan innocently asked, concerned for one of the people that he had bonded closely with.
"She's with Erwin's group."
He nodded, glad that she wasn't in the front of the pack as well.
"Good. During your sessions with me, we'll go over the formation first thing because it is incredibly crucial that you memorize it before our 57th expedition – which involves us traveling to Shiganshina to begin work on sealing the holes in the wall. You're going to play a big part in this since you're the only one with the means and strength to do so. That mission will take place in two months – and you must know the material as well as prove just how much of a valuable asset you are to us, to the MPs, and Zackley. The Military Police will try everything to eliminate you so I suggest you put great effort into our sessions. I hate to be the fucking barer of bad news, but it is a life or death situation depending on your performance."
The titan swallowed, nodding quickly in understanding. He would have to follow orders no matter what. He couldn't let his unwillingness kill him! Rogue's green eyes then watched as Levi stood and pushed the pillow aside, making the creature wonder if the man was preparing to give it to him as a reward. However, Levi only directed the titan to get to his feet.
"Now, for the rest of our private session, I want to show you something that you need to learn. When I observed you in the forest, it was clear that you're more comfortable fighting with your upper body. Your kicks are a bit mediocre – which doesn't mean the best, and they could use some work. Erwin strongly advised me to train you over this as well. It's useful in case you ever find your arms amputated you could say. Now, let's begin."
"So what do you think Armin? Mikasa? He was really interested in mine yesterday."
Armin peered into Petra's basket, spying a large spoon nestled in the wicker enclosure. He instantly found himself chuckling, having been told of Rogue's previous overwhelming interest in a tiny tea spoon of all things. "I think he'll like it."
"Good." She smiled tenderly. "I thought that since he was interested in the small spoon that he would probably flip over a big soup or punch bowl spoon."
Mikasa followed the redhead's smile, adjusting the scarf a bit from her neck. "I don't think he's ever seen one that big before. Rogue has only ever looked upon Carla's silverware that we would sometimes bring to the cove when we had picnics. Of course, there is the blessing that he's easy to please."
The group of three chuckled a bit knowing that the fact was incredibly true. Armin then took the opportunity to stretch and absorb the activity around him. The sun was high in the sky that was free of obstructions, allowing every ray of light to brighten the shopping district of Katness in a bright shade. Due to the decency of the day, most of the people had emerged from their dwellings and into the hustle. To say that the market was a colorful place was an understatement. Goods of all kinds, shapes, and sizes sat under a rainbow of awnings that lined nearly seven streets. The trio sat upon the sides of a large fountain in the heart of the district. They had been in Katness for all but one hour and they had already lost Hange somewhere in the chaos. The moment they had entered through the gate, the woman was overwhelmed with excitement, claiming that she was shopping for her 'new baby' she had run off with a portion of the funds that they had been given. Now, the trio was patiently waiting for Hange's return where she had stated that they meet.
"What on earth is Hange doing?" Mikasa sighed as she gave in to drinking water from her canteen. Petra tittered.
"Now, that she has Rogue to give all her attention to, she's probably going nuts. Let's just hope she doesn't spend her whole half of the money straight away – and doesn't beg for more." The seasoned Scout snickered. "Rogue is going to be so spoiled."
Armin found himself laughing a bit, knowing very well that the fact was going to turn true. Suddenly a clamor of hollow sounds met his ears along with a familiar laugh. The three then met eyes with Hange that was running towards them in excitement – carrying a set of wind chimes that was over half the length of her body. Needless to say, the scientist's enthusiasm was capturing the stares of onlookers for a brief moment before returning to their shopping with added whispers of crudeness. But of course, Hange took no notice and only remained just as upbeat as usual. She then stopped before them, breathing harshly before capturing her breath with illuminated eyes.
"Look what I got!" Hange spoke excitedly as she sat down her basket and waved the chime back and forth, the wind powered instrument clanging loudly and unnaturally. "He's going to love it!"
The redhead sat up from her seat, tilting her head in astonishment. "A wind chime?"
"Yup! On the day we brought him through Katness, they intrigued him! I didn't have enough money to get him both his ball and the chimes so today I spent my time trying to locate the stand that sold these." Hange gestured to her purchase. "Rogue is a big boy so I bought the largest one they carried! I figured we could hang them in the barn or right outside – probably in so they don't get on Levi's nerves." Hange exclaimed as she attempted to pack the chime in her basket – unsuccessful with most of the end sticking out awkwardly.
"Is that all?" Armin asked, fearing that Hange had gone over her limit, but he did have to admit, the idea of the chimes was a perfect one.
"Nope! Sure, there was a bunch of things I had my eye on, but I decided that it was best to wait and consult the two of you about what our 'birthday boy's' perspectives are!"
The blonde's brows rose in suspicion at Hange's absurd statement "Wait – birthday boy? Hange that's –
"Oh I know!" She squealed. "I know he really doesn't have one to our knowledge, but since we're getting him all this stuff it seems like it!"
Petra tittered shyly. "I think it's more classified as 'welcome gifts' to be correct."
Hange continued her chuckling before taking a deep breath and turning to the two teens expectedly, eyes wide and waiting in both intrigue and excitement. "So! Armin, Mikasa, what did you two get?"
"Nothing really." Armin admitted. "We were waiting to see what was in the section that sells toys and such. If anything, that's what Rogue is mostly interested in. Besides pillows, that's our best bet." He explained, signaling Petra to get to her feet.
"That sounds good. The area that sells toys, reading material, and other entertainment is this way." She pointed into a narrow area off to their left that was heavily congested with children and families. As the group walked side by side in the direction of purchasable merriment, Hange turned to the teenagers once more, a wide smile pulling at her cheeks.
"Tell me, why does Rogue prefer things like toys to ordinary objects! Why does he like our pillows and mattresses so much!" Hange began, obviously preparing to take mental notes.
Armin bit the inside of his check, trying to figure how to put forth the titan's odd characteristic. "Well it's something Mikasa and I don't fully understand to tell you the truth. However, if I had to make an assumption, I'd say that it has to do with a toy's whimsy and Rogue's personality in general. Back when we were first getting to know him, Mikasa and I brought a bunch of our own toys just to see how Rogue would react – which was priceless. Compared to giving him simple things like blankets and pans, Rogue was much more entertained by toys. Before we got him a ball, we brought him this wooden dog on wheels that you pull by string – Rogue literally played with that for hours until he broke it. He also enjoys books, but like objects he likes things that are fanciful. Rogue loves looking at children's books but even more so someone reading him one." Armin paused, swallowing to salivate his throat. "As for the pillows, it may be something instinct driven and part of that same reason."
"Armin and I first saw his odd fascination when we were living with him. A pillow was in the mass of objects he always brought back. The two of us were exhausted from planting and harvest so we took a nap. We woke up when we heard a series of scuffling and several odd vocals. At the time, a sound that was loud enough to put us on full alert. We watched from the tree to find Rogue in the middle of the cove that was littered in white feathers. He was squealing, trilling, and chirping as he rolled in the hundreds of feathers and threw them up in the air." Mikasa paused, dipping her head with her chin resting into her scarf and displaying an easy smile. "At the time, that moment was one of the rare few that we saw Rogue completely free of all his inner troubles. True, he tried to be happy when he was with us, and yes, sometimes he definitely was, but we could always tell what happened to the Jaegers and our current position always haunted him deep down. For the first few days after the breach, Rogue was at his worst. He was completely emotionless except for moments when we caught him weeping or having an anger filled fit which involved him screeching and rampaging just outside the cove – before vanishing into the forest to most likely kill titans." The dark-haired teen described with a frown. "Of course, now that he is here and has all of us – he's much happier." Mikasa concluded.
"That's so sad." Petra replied solemnly, but then perking up. "At least Rogue is much more comfortable now and that's incredibly funny about his fascination with toys." The veteran continued as the small party entered the busy alley. "So what kinds of things do you suggest we give him as far as toys go?"
Armin rubbed his chin, knowing just how easily the titan would be to buy for. "Well, Rogue is someone that's, like we said, rather easy to entertain. You could crinkle a piece of parchment and throw it before him and he has loads of fun with it. Books are a definite. Children's books are a must – except The Ugly Duckling. He doesn't like that one very much. Balls are always good –
Hange snickered, nearly snorting. "You might want to watch your words!" The scientist laughed, receiving an eye roll from Mikasa and Petra with Armin feeling a slight sense of ignorance. He only shook his head at the humor before continuing.
"Anyways, simple is better as far as toys go. Also, they have to be fairly large for obvious reasons."
"Sounds good. We'll shop together this time so Hange and I can learn from the two of you. So lead the way!" Petra grinned as she gestured to the busy landscape.
With her conclusion, the group ceased their talk about the titan and began to scan their surroundings. The area was just as packed as it seemed before entering, there were the casual shoppers, those looking for something to resell, the well behaved children with equally behaved parents, and the occasional brat that wanted everything in sight. The alley was crammed with the most colorful of objects and booths, and if Rogue was able to come with them it was likely that the titan would have wanted everything – even parts of the booths themselves. Of course, the thing that Armin found to be the most interesting wasn't even their surroundings but rather the lack of people looking upon them. True, ever since they had entered the shopping district, not a soul batted an eye like they normally would to a soldier in the Scouts. Usually, when the Survey Corps went through a city or any district, due to their previous reputation, there was talk of their repeated failures or the consumption of tax money and how it was wasted. Of course, the allegations had skyrocketed with the Scout's failures to capture Rogue, but now things were changing since their success. He could only imagine the uproar once the news of the truth was announced, a time that was close.
"We have everything! Toys made in Wall Rose and even imports from Wall Sina! Come get them!"
Armin followed the voice to its source with the others in the group doing the same to see an obese man with a neatly trimmed beard but looked to be a jolly merchant – a rarity among the many. Most merchants that Armin knew of from the markets in Shiganshina were greedy and rude. However, usually toy merchants faired better – most of them having kids of their own. The jovial man's stand was a large one compared to the many, colorful and littered with countless toys in an array of colors. Some of which he had never seen before and looked of great quality – crafted by skilled hands.
"That booth looks promising." Petra smiled to the two teens. "What do you think?"
"It has some really exotic stuff! I've seen a couple of those things owned by children in Sina when I went along with Erwin and Levi a few times." Hange smiled widely. "Do you think he'd be interested?" The antsy woman queried, referring to the titan by something other than his name for their sake.
Mikasa nodded. " It's a good place to start. The more unique the better."
The party of undercover soldiers then brushed their way through the crowd to the booth's counter, neighboring eager children looking at the delightful goods and capturing the merchant's attention.
"Hello!" The man beamed as he twisted the hair on his mustache, the act obviously a strange habit of his. "Can I interest you in anything?"
Armin looked at the counter that was decorated in things from wooden dolls to wind up objects. He did not know where to start.
"Well," The scientist suddenly began. "It's my son's birthday and he's a special boy who is a bit rambunctious and sometimes likes to play rough. It doesn't take much to amuse him. What do you recommend?"
Armin found himself in awe once again by Hange's answer, but over the short time that he had known her – nothing was that shocking anymore. But of course, his eyes didn't fail to notice that both Mikasa and Petra were stifling laughs. Thankfully, the merchant didn't catch on and took her words as the truth.
"Rowdy eh? My kids were the same. How old is he?"
"Five." Hange smiled.
Wow, way off. Armin thought with a slight shake of his head at the humor involved. The man nodded.
"Ah! Same age, as my sister's youngest! Alright, follow me!" He motioned for Hange to trail him – the excited woman going just a few short feet away and leaving the three to gander at the items. Petra then gave in and let a giggle slip from her security.
"Sometimes Hange kills me. Our friend thinks he's your daddy and Hange, without consent, makes him her son."
The two teens chortled at her comment. "Let's just hope that Hange doesn't go overboard with things." Armin alliterated as he observed the woman pointing to several of the toys and speaking too fast for the merchant to comprehend.
"Yeah, let's hope." Mikasa agreed with a small sigh as she began to look at the merchant's goods.
The blonde nodded and began his search for anything that Rogue would be attracted to. There was so much on the surface that he didn't know where to begin. It was a difficult decision to say the least, knowing very well that the titan was interested in anything made by human hands in general.
"Oh I used to have one of these as a kid!"
Armin turned to see Petra holding a toy mouse, one that would wind up and roll across a floor in several different directions. He had to admit; he found them quite fun as a child – pranking his grandfather with one on occasion. The toy was a small one of course and there was no way that Rogue would be able to turn the key to wind it up, but the novelty was worth presentation to the beast.
"Have you ever shown him one of these?" The redhead asked, displaying the mouse to Armin – one that was actually the size of a rat more so. "Does this look promising?"
"I had one as a kid too, but I lost it long before I met him. I'm certain he would get a kick out of it."
"Is that a yes?"
Armin dipped his head in reply, noticing a toy that he had missed earlier. Below him were several shelves filled with other options – one in which was a stuffed fawn. With his interest piqued, Armin pulled the cotton filled toy from the nearly hidden compartment. As he held the fawn, it was obvious that it had been crafted by an adroit toymaker, most likely from the riches of Sina. Instead of burlap or cloth like most stuffed toys were made of, the tiny deer was made from real fur - most likely from a cow that had been butchered for meat. The fawn's spotted markings were painted on and its hooves were created from carved wood. The deer's eyes were two black buttons complimented by a small painted nose. The toy was well sewn and stuffed overall. Armin beamed. There weren't too many deer around the Scout's headquarters and the toy would be a lovely reminder of Rogue's animal companions back home – some that he and Mikasa had enjoyed as well. Like the titan, the deer that lived in the cove had gotten used to the two's presence over time. So much so that they could even pet them or let them eat out of their hands. He truly appreciated the serene animals, watching them birth new life every spring even in the bleakest of days. The teen understood why Rogue favored their company.
"Hey Mikasa?" Armin asked as he held the fawn for her to see. "I think this is a good one."
The dark-haired girl looked up from her examination of something before her, seemingly snapping from some sort of dazed trance. She then smiled softly. "It's perfect Armin. Finding deer around the castle is like trying to find the last bit of scum that Levi says that we missed in the room. It's like the cove so of course he's going to like it."
"Wait, since it's stuffed, wouldn't he just rip it open like he does to the pillows?" Petra questioned with a puzzled gaze.
"He won't. It just applies to pillows and mattresses. He found a stuffed bear once in one of his raids and didn't consider it as something to dissect but rather to treasure. So the deer is a good choice considering how much he loved his own herd of them that resided in the cove." Armin explained carefully as he looked back to Mikasa; seeing that she had returned to her own cone of silence as she continued to stare at what was a small but beautiful wooden box. "Did – you find something?" He spoke up, grabbing her attention again – noticing another small smile upon her face, one that radiated with tender warmth.
There was a slight moment before his friend waved him over to her side. "I found what I want to get him Armin." Mikasa spoke softly as he and Petra placed themselves next to her.
Armin blinked in slight confusion, the small chest looked like a jewelry box with brass accenting the ends and wood stained to follow a swirling and ornate pattern of decoration. "What is it?" He inquired, trying to hide his bewilderment. Why did Mikasa want to get Rogue a small wooden box?
"Have you ever seen one of these Armin?" The teen replied, ignoring his question. Still confused, he simply shook his head. "Well," Mikasa continued as she opened the box – revealing a velvet-lined interior and a small marble ballerina that slowly spun to a light melodic tune that would put a baby to sleep. It was then that Armin realized that the minuscule chest was actually a music box – something that he had only ever heard of. Only the well privileged owned one.
"A music box?" Petra cut in, breaking the small amount of silence. Mikasa nodded, dark hair falling gracefully around her shoulders.
"My mother once got me one of these when she was in Sina on one occasion. She spent almost all her money on it and gave it to me as a birthday gift when I was five. I loved it, but when I was six some people broke into our house while we were in Shiganshina and it was one of the things stolen. I never saw it again. This one reminds me of it." She paused once more, closing the lid. "Let's get it for him. He's never heard music before and I think he'll be astounded by it."
"But Mikasa," Armin bit his lip. "If yours was taken, why don't you just get it for yourself?"
To his surprise, she quickly shook her head. "No. I have no use for it. He'll enjoy it more."
Armin remained still at her denial before registering her point and giving in. "You're right. I bet he'll love music. New sounds always intrigue him."
"You look like you've found something of interest!"
The group returned from their sensitive conversation to see that the merchant and Hange had returned, both smiling widely. The older man then leaned towards the group, elbows resting on the rough wood of the counter. "You three shopping for the birthday boy as well?"
Armin nearly laughed at the man's error, but quickly gathered himself. "Yes, how much are these?" The blonde teen asked as he gestured to their selection. The merchant nodded.
"The mouse and the deer I can give you for two silver pieces and the music box is a bit more expensive in comparison. It's an antique from Sina that is as old as the city itself. To get back what I paid for it, I'll need four gold pieces. And I'm assuming it's for you dear?" The man turned to Mikasa, who silently confirmed his question with a nod.
"Good." Petra announced. "We'll take them." She began as she pulled the velvet bag from her basket. As she began to open the sack, she paused – expression changing to a look of pure confusion before she seemed to remember her current task. With a smile, she pulled exactly what the man asked for from the small bag and gifted it to the man who greatly thanked them with a toothy grin and even wished the 'birthday boy' a great day before moving on to another customer.
"So! What did you guys get?" Hange initiated as they began to walk away in search of another potential buy.
"I got him a stuffed deer that resembles those back in the cove, Petra bought a wind up mouse, and since he's never heard music Mikasa picked up a music box." Armin answered while Hange excitedly pulled her purchase from her lopsided basket. The two teens felt themselves giving into a laugh as the woman revealed a wooden dog similar to the one that they had told her about just minutes before. If Hange was one thing, a surprising thing despite her outlandish nature, she was a good listener and skilled at observation. As Mikasa began to congratulate the Squad Leader for her find, he noticed Petra had been silent. Concerned, Armin looked over to see the redhead staring long and hard at the small bag with furrowed brows – face painted in stupefaction. What was she looking at? "Petra?" He queried, guiding the others to direct their attention to the seasoned Scout, faces lighting up in worry at her own bafflement.
"This money isn't from the Scout's funding." Petra spoke in surprise.
"Huh?" Hange gaped. "If it's not ours, then whose is it?"
"It's – Levi's. Look." The redhead announced softly as she turned the bag for the others to see the interior lining. The trio's brows rose as a white label inside stitched with the Corporal's name presented itself. Shock then descended upon the teens, confusion settling in soon after.
"So, this money is from Levi's pocket?" Hange obviously asked. "Why wouldn't he just give us military funds to get things for our friend? It doesn't make sense."
Armin dithered, recalling the previous day's chaos and then the morning's oddity. "I don't know what happened, but did you guys notice how easily Rogue listened to Levi this morning?"
Mikasa quickly gestured her agreement. "Yeah. If that had happened yesterday, he would have flown off the handle and had an episode. I wonder why he listened." She trailed off.
Petra looked down at the bag once more. "I wonder if what I said could have changed something in him." She muttered as she delicately placed her fingers against her chin. Armin swallowed.
"What did you tell him?" He inquired with the young woman snapping out of her self-containment and turning to face the group.
"I can't really say much here, but I told him a little about the Corporal's past and how much they were alike. I understand if it was what made his viewpoint of Levi change, but I wonder made the man give in."
"Levi's past?" How do you –
"I'll tell you about it later." Petra kindly interrupted. "On the way back to the castle. It's a bit too sensitive to say here." She concluded as she pointed to a booth full of books. "How about we look here?"
Slightly disappointed that she wouldn't get the answer that they wished for, Armin gave in and expressed his interest in the new booth. Of course, his mind was beginning to roam other places. What had happened to Levi to make Rogue so keen to try and patch things up? And, was it possible that his talk with Erwin about the titan's judgment of Levi had been relayed? The boy continued to ponder about possibilities, barely noticing that he and his allies were already at the next merchant's stand and gazing at titles and covers. Easily, the four were attracted to several works. There was an old copy of Goldilocks and The Three Bears, Jack and Jill, and Little Red Riding Hood – books that were both simple to understand and had color filled illustrations that Rogue was sure to admire.
"Has he heard any of these before?" Hange asked as she sifted through a few books. "Wait, I never asked, but can he read?"
"He can't read yet. Sure, he can speak but his vocabulary is a bit limited. We taught him words so he could understand what we were saying quickly. Mikasa and I haven't really gone over the alphabet with him yet – we, including the Jaegers, were more focused on teaching him more about everyday things and what to do and not to do rather than how to read. I suppose we could start teaching him soon though." The boy explained. "And yes, we haven't read these to him before." Armin concluded as he spied a book that looked to have been hidden from the rest of the titles. Curious, he pulled his object of desire from the mass of books to see that it was a hardback containing nothing but fairy tales and folklore. The book was ornate enough, chocolate leather with engraved patterns filled with gold leaf and pages lined in the mineral to match. Aside from his lost book about the world outside, this book was the most beautiful he had seen. With the others watching, Armin peeled open the cover to witness the elegant illustrations to match, nestled within the text forming hundreds of stories. Some complex and some simple nursery rhymes.
"Let's get that one." Mikasa smiled. "It's eye catching plus there is enough stories to last him quite a while."
The three quickly agreed and paid the merchant who almost looked reluctant to sell the ornate title. The group of guised Scouts then began to make their way into a small square that was full of playing children and resting adults indulging on food from a small bakery. As hungry as they were, the four gave in to their pleading stomachs and purchased bread. However, before they could find a place that was quiet enough to relax, a loud call rang across the clearing – making most of its occupants drop what they were doing.
"Read it now! The truth about The Rogue Titan and how it raised two kids in Wall Maria!"
At the words, many of the square's inhabitants instantly rose from their seats and reported to the newly opened newspaper cart. The four hovered nearby for a moment, nervously chewing their bread as they listed to the barrage of shock and awe. From all around the open area, people rushed to buy a copy, merchants even abandoning their stands to get a piece of the historic information. Despite the fact that the article was slightly scripted, Armin could feel his palms sweat. For those who held their newly published papers, their eyes hungrily scanned the print.
"So…The Rogue Titan raised two children in Wall Maria?"
"How is that possible? It's… It's amazing!"
"A titan of all things nurtured two orphan children?"
They remained quiet near the edge of the square, simply listening to the bombardment of words from the general public.
"How did it happen!"
"Apparently, when the Survey Corps cornered the beast, they found it caring for a teenage boy and girl in a secret cove in Wall Maria and that was why it was evading them!"
"Wait a minute! The titan was secretly living in Maria before the wall was breached without anyone knowing it existed?"
"More than a decade ago, a couple who couldn't have children found The Rogue and discovered that he was friendly. They even took the privilege to adopt the titan as their own son and 'raised' him in secret!"
"The two children were rescued by The Rogue Titan when they were eight from sex traffickers trying to kidnap them. After they spent the night with the titan, the beast took them to the couple who adopted the girl who's parents were killed by the traffickers before hand." Another man read loudly.
"How the hell?"
"The children played with the titan for years until the breach. Knowing that they were there, the titan broke through the Garrison's blockade to rescue them. However The Rogue was only able to save the two kids. The boy's grandfather was killed and unfortunately the couple was eaten by a ten-meter just before The Rogue could retrieve them."
"I bet this is why The Rogue Titan kills his own kind!" Another woman speculated.
"After the breach the titan took the two children to the safety of the cove and adopted them, treating them as if they were his own offspring."
"No fucking way."
"They survived by The Rogue guarding them and retrieving food and materials from the Scout's depots."
"Were the kids feral?"
"When they found the titan and kids, the children were adapt at using the gear so they were sworn into the Scouts just as quickly as the titan was."
"That's just so bizarre!"
"It's a miracle!"
"Does it say what the teens' names are?"
"What are their names?"
"Damn! The Scouts kept them anonymous! Maybe future papers with tell us."
"I would love to know their names!"
"That's an incredible story!"
"Is this really true?"
"This is unbelievable! It has to be some sort of lie!"
"It all just seems like a wise tail."
"It's magical! Humanity finally has a savior!"
Hearing enough of the conjecture, theories, and few crude comments, the group then turned to exit the square in silence. Although they blended into the crowd, they still felt exposed knowing that they knew the real ending of the story and the true facts. However, before they rounded the corner to exit the square, a small girl in a long pink dress charged right into Hange's shins – smiling and giving a tug on her blouse with the scientist's eyes wide in surprise.
"I know you! You're the nice Scout lady! Your name's Hannn…Hann… Hange!"
Armin, Mikasa, Petra, and Hange could feel themselves petrify at the girl's innocent observation and announcement. The blonde swallowed fretfully as he began to instinctively examine the small child that could have not been older than four. Armin felt his face drop as he spied a peculiar object in her hand – a doll that he remembered Petra speaking of almost a week earlier. A waiting smile wanted to pull at his lips, but he kept it hidden. The doll was Rogue, a handmade one crafted from burlap, horsehair, paint, and buttons. He knew seldom if nothing about her, but it was obvious that the child was fond of their titan companion.
"Hi Ellie." Hange grinned nervously with Armin catching a bead of sweat form on her brow.
"So is it true? The Rogue took care of two kids like me?"
"Um, let's go around the corner!" Hange quickly spit from her mouth as she guided the child around to a relatively quiet little alley that overlooked the square. They were still in plain view, but the area was definitely more private. Armin swallowed, would Hange really reveal a secret to a little girl who could potentially tell others? The blonde and dark-haired teens held their breaths as they braced for what was to come into play.
"So! Is it true! Is it really true!" Ellie demanded with child like excitement.
Hange dithered, but then put on a practiced smile that soon spread to the others with both Armin and Mikasa dawning the expression in caution. "Yes my dear! It's a hundred percent true! The Rogue Titan and the two kids are Scouts now."
Ellie's toothy smile grew wide enough to reveal a missing incisor. The young girl's arms embraced the Rogue doll even closer. "Cool!" She replied, greatly exaggerating her syllables. "My mommy and daddy told me that they read it in the paper this morning."
Hange smiled. "Did they now?"
"Yeah! So… the kids, were they my age Miss Hange?" Ellie spoke with eyes lit in expectancy – only making the two teens even more nervous.
"Oh no, they're much older than you!"
"Really? What are their names?"
Armin and Mikasa froze further, hoping that the child's parents hadn't put the innocent girl up to asking for their gain.
"Oh we're not supposed to tell anybody." Petra quickly chimed in. "It's a secret!"
For a moment, the young girl looked incredibly disappointed, but as quickly as she did, a smile returned to her face. "Does The Rogue Titan have a name you call him?"
"Well, his name is not much different that what everybody calls him. It's Rogue. But you have to promise not to tell anyone!" Petra kindly informed, the child's eyes growing larger in awe.
Armin instinctively bit his lip, surprised that Petra had slipped up, but then the teen realized that it was perfectly fine with no risk involved whatsoever with telling the child the titan's name. After all, it was the same as his alias that most would just pass the fact by.
"So his name is Rogue?" Ellie clarified with the scientist nodding. "Miss Hange? Do you think that I could… see Rogue sometime?"
At her query the scientist let out a content sigh, reaching up and patting the child's head. "Well Ellie, first you must promise me that you didn't see us and you can't tell anybody about us! You're good at keeping secret aren't you?"
The girl nodded quickly, hugging her doll closer.
"Good! If you promise that you can keep that secret then maybe someday you can see Rogue up close!"
"YAY!" Ellie squealed softly, spinning around once on her tiptoes before facing the square. "Thank you Miss Hange! I won't tell anybody I promise! Bye-bye!" Ellie waved as she happily skipped off, clutching her doll of Rogue in hand as she ran to play with several more children.
"You don't think she'll spill the beans will she?" Mikasa asked softly, obviously not wanting to attract attention while Hange lifted herself from her crouching position.
"No. When you promise a child something great if they give you something in return – they'll listen." The scientist chuckled with Mikasa dipping her head in understanding.
"What should we do now? How much money do we have left?"
Petra took a bite of her bread with the others following soon after in realization that they had forgotten about their morsels. "Well, we have just enough to get a carriage ride towards the castle. We should probably head there now since it's just after noon and The Corporal is expecting us for a training session."
"Good idea." Armin agreed as they began to discreetly make their way from the square. Deep in his mind, Armin began to wonder. Hours earlier, he had heard Corporal Levi announce the days schedule, outlining a new, unique, and grueling way to train. He swallowed. The way Levi spoke sounded like it was an exercise to test their limits. And with the fact that nearly everyone was ordered to attend, Armin was sure he knew what the session was. If it was true, then why were they being ordered to engage?
Minutes later, the small group approached the section of Katness that was home to the transportation services. It was where the long ferryboats were located to carry both goods and passengers to and from the walls. Despite the area being more 'industry' focuses, it was just as clean and warm looking as the rest of Katness unlike the one that had been in Shiganshina that wasn't exactly 'public orientated.' To the left of the ferries were several businesses, including those dedicated to carriage rides through the city and into the country. Normally, the Scouts always rode into any town on their own horses, but since this was a more secretive mission, the four went by foot until they found the carriage stop located just five miles up the road from the Scout's headquarters. The carriage transport business were a handy and popular one to those that didn't have any means to travel to the surrounding areas. For the soldiers, especially now, it was great to keep a low profile.
The two teens and veteran Scouts then approached a lone carriage waiting just outside a small and narrow building that served as the business's office – one only need if a customer was to buy passes in advance and to post the schedule of the carriage's arrive and departure times for the city. The single wagon was not a covered one and wasn't fortified with advanced equipment like those owned by the Scouts in order to cross rough and ragged terrain. It was as plain as a grassy field and drawn by a common Dunn mare. A skinny man with worn clothes, scruffy brows and whiskers, and an old hat sat in the carriage lazily – eyes hooked on the day's newspaper. Armin found himself nervously pulling at the collar of his shirt. The idea that he and Mikasa were the now infamous 'Titan Children' made him feel like a convict trying to hide in plain sight.
"Excuse us sir?" Mikasa began calmly, gaining the man's attention with Armin noticing the faint smell of alcohol on the man's garments.
"Yes Miss?" He replied, reluctantly setting aside his paper.
"We need to get a ride to the vineyard west of here."
The man slowly raised a brow. "The one in the countryside about five miles from here?"
"Yes, could you please take us there?" Mikasa continued as Petra pulled the velvet bag of coins from the depths of her basket.
However, the carriage man remained unspoken, only staring at the small party in disbelief and abjuration. The man's eyes remained hard and unblinking, giving the four a heavy stare. "I'm sorry but I cannot do that." He denied, going back to his paper. Armin watched as Mikasa as well as the other's faces twisted up in surprise. The dark-haired teen's brows sank in suspicion.
"Why not? We have money for all of us." Mikasa demanded, voice laced with confusion. The man breathed an aggravated sigh.
"Because that area is now titan territory."
Armin watched spellbound by both the man's answer and Mikasa's face hat instantly darkened with anger. This was not going to end well. Mikasa and Rogue's bond was incredibly strong. The girl was always on the extreme defensive if anyone talked about the titan in a negative way. He swallowed, fearing that Mikasa wouldn't go too far.
"What?" The teen retorted, grey eyes looking almost onyx.
"The Scouts have The Rogue Titan in custody there, and I don't trust the thing. A titan is a titan and I think that since it's intelligent, it just took care of those kids and saved Trost so it could get inside and then make us its lunch."
Mikasa's face then tinted red, cheeks a violent blush. Armin held his breath. The carriage man was pissing off the wrong person.
The teen exhaled harshly. "Never mind then." Mikasa gritted her teeth, taking a few steps away in what Armin assumed his friend did to cool off.
"Excuse me? Why not?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Because unlike you, I believe in hope." Mikasa concluded, and without another word, she raised her hand and slapped the mare's rear – hard. To their shock, the horse reared, rocking the wagon and nearly throwing the man from his seat. With a loud cry, the equine charged forward with the carriage driver desperately gripping the reins and hollering to the mare in a frantic plea to stop.
The four remained still, eyes hooked to Mikasa who said nothing as she motioned to take a seat on a nearby bench. The teen was obviously distraught; suddenly looking like she was when she was a child and had just lost her parents. Mikasa's face was stiff, the corners of her lips sunk and eyes completely dim. Seeing her discomfort, Petra quickly took her seat next to her and placed a hand to her knee in concern. Knowing his friend's pain, Armin quickly placed himself next to her – almost feeling the frustration seeping from her seemingly unbreakable wall of emotion.
"I'm sorry." She abruptly interrupted. "I just – couldn't ride with him." The teen explained with an exasperated breath, hands balling up into fists. "It's unfortunate. Even after all the good Rogue's done, some still treat him like a monster. It's sickening. He's saved lives and still there are those that treat him like any other titan. I – hate it. Why can't people have an open mind?"
It was quiet after the reveal of her feelings. A sickening sensation settled into Armin's gut, knowing very well that Mikasa was right.
"Maybe our further reveals will help, and hopefully the 57th expedition – if Rogue passes the MP's examination and performs well on the mission, perhaps it will help with some people's judgment." Petra beamed softly, trying to sooth the massive amount of tension. The blonde sighed solemnly.
"Thing is, I don't know how much more Rogue needs to do in order to be accepted by everyone. Optimistically though, it won't be much more. He's won most of the public over, so hopefully soon everyone will trust him." Armin informed, but hiding the fact that he wasn't sure from his friend. With the titan species' reputation deeply seeded into the minds of humanity for over a hundred years, it was unlikely that Rogue could ever be truly accepted by everyone.
A pained and goaded whine roared from his throat as the blood curdling feeling of splitting bone coursed up his now broken leg. With his shin splintering into his muscle, Rogue stumbled into the large tree, leaning into the battered and cracked trunk with cavernous breaths rattling his chest. The titan grunted at his failure, trying to stand but quickly finding that he was unable to put his weight upon his own two feet.
"Your aim is a bit too low, Rogue." Levi sighed, face as impassive as ever.
Mad and upset, the titan hissed and tried once again to stand independently with no success. He had been doing the same thing for hours with little triumph. The corporal had instructed him to work on his kicks, which translated into him aiming his massive feet onto a painted target upon the many trees in the surrounding forest. At first, the task had been rather easy. The trees varied in size, representing seven to twelve meter titans. Rogue didn't have too much of a problem kicking low, although he had been slightly off target, his aim was still great – but only on that aspect. The titan quickly found that he wasn't so gifted when it came to high kicking. When Rogue lifted his leg to initiate a devastating blow at a target, he felt much like a teetering intoxicated human – at least in the balance part. With his massive form and weight, to quickly shift a limb meant to be supporting him over his head threw him slightly off – forcing his body to struggle staying upright as he thrust his shin and foot into the trunks of the trees. His lack of balance made him always miss – only happening with targets over thirteen-meters tall. During the time that had passed, Rogue's attitude had gone from good to bad and barely able to stick with his plan of great behavior. With every failure, he was nearly falling or actually falling to the ground in an irritated heap. He had watched Levi demonstrate dozens of times, but it seemed that his body wanted to do one thing and his head another. The result was the titan possessing a messy form that led to Rogue's embarrassment.
"You're not leaning back far enough to throw your leg up high enough. It's a sloppy stance that's making you so unstable that you're falling on your ass almost every attempt to attack."
Rogue sank to his knees, letting bone and muscle heal. He narrowed his eyes in a mixture of exacerbation and pain. "EEEVVVII. EEEIII IIIGGG. AARRRDD OO SAANNNDD AAAATTEERR KKIICCCC." The titan tried to explain to the man. Compared to Levi, his mass made it hard to do certain tasks that would otherwise be simple for some. "IIITT EEEESSSYYY OORRR EEEVVVII."
The man exhaled through his nose, nostrils flaring in the slightest. "When your leg heals, get up and try again, and this time – lean back and try to distribute your weight as you swing your foot."
The titan snorted in abrogation. As much as he was fighting the urge to expel his frustrations, he would have to keep sane in sake of getting whatever could be rewarded. Rogue remembered very clearly that his little ones and friends had said that they were going to get gifts for him – or at least that was how he understood it. So losing his temper with Levi was not an option. He had to listen. He had to be good.
Feeling the finishing touches mend themselves back together, Rogue carefully rose to his feet. His green eyes observed as the short leader quickly jerked his head in the direction of the great cedar that he had been using as a target before. It was a big tree, trunk wide enough to where even he couldn't wrap his arms around it. With a breath of pensive steam, Rogue got into position. His eyes scanned the tree in concentration while muscles flexed in preparation. Then, with a roar of defiance, Rogue lifted his leg and swung. Wind rippled across the low vegetation violently, nearly knocking the stone still Corporal from his stance. The titan lifted his leg higher, straining his thigh while he lowered in the slightest – reacting out of instinctive reflex. Bark and wood gave a loud protest to the impact of the blow, the sound reverberating among the empty forest and warding off birds. Rogue winced as his leg felt the abuse of the assault of pulling muscles. A loud crack from the trunk of the tree echoed among the wood along with the sickening sound of Rogue's shattering ankle. The titan released another angry mix of agony as his unbalanced body swayed. With no time to recover, Rogue's supporting leg slipped from beneath him and sent the beast crashing to the earth. His impart caused a massive vibration and the earth to till up in a crater with narrow avoidance of hitting Levi. Self-loathing and pity hit him as he lay still on his side like a helpless child. Disappointed at another failed attempt to hit the fourteen-meter mark, Rogue slowly rolled over to prop himself upon his elbows, staring hard at the disheveled ground as he waited for his limb to heal so he could stand again. The titan exhaled a heavy cloud of steam before turning his gaze to Levi who seemed almost unfazed despite he had almost been crushed.
He watched closely as the short man pulled out a silver pocket watch from the inner pocket of his jacket and took a few gratified moments to examine its face before turning to him. "Your form is still terrible, but it should improve with much work. The reason I had you do this shit was to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses to see what we can improve on."
Rogue's gaze softened at Levi's statement. He made him do all of this as both practice and as a diagnosis? Although the minuscule man was still blunt, he was better than he was before.
"Well, you did manage to put a slight crack in the tree." Levi paused, brow relaxing as he gestured to the titan's ankle. "Is it healed yet?"
The creature looked to his wound and proceeded to test its movements and pain level, rotating his ankle and flexing his toes. "IITT GGOOOD."
The Corporal nodded. "Alright. We need to head back to the clearing because it's time for the session we spoke of earlier. Listen well to Erwin's instructions, Rogue. We're trying to make the simulation as realistic as possible for the Scouts to learn, so act like you did when we were after you in Wall Maria without hurting anyone. Understand?"
Rogue blinked at Levi's explanation. Simulation? What did that mean? Why was The Corporal telling him to act like he did when the flying humans hunted him? Perhaps Erwin would have a more in depth explanation. The titan watched as Levi adjusted his neck cloth and turned to make his way toward the castle. As quickly as he could, Rogue stood and began to trail Levi without another question. The titan watched the man intently as he shadowed the man. He moved a bit awkwardly with their vast difference in gates. With every one hundred steps that Levi took, he took one and paused so the man could lead. Truthfully, he half expected for the Corporal to demand a ride on his shoulder to make good time. But if he had to guess, it was the man's pride that restricted him.
After some time of awkwardly walking, the two broke free into the clearing. Rogue tilted his head in suspicion at the sight. The entire flying human pack was waiting on the lush green with the gear fully intact minus their blades. There were the experienced humans of his small pack like Petra, Eld, Gunter, and Oluo as well as his new little humans like Connie, Krista, Sasha, and unfortunately Jean. Beside them were his little ones that he instantly greeted with a cheerful bleep, the two smiling in return. There were others as well, organized in a straight line by the big leader, Erwin. Rogue kneeled before the crowd with Levi standing at his foot, waiting for instruction to whatever the task was at hand.
"Remember." Levi whispered. "Just like you did before, make it realistic."
The titan rumbled a silent question but received no answer from Levi at least. The clearing of the Commander's throat then gathered every soul's attention.
"Good afternoon everyone. Let me explain our new training exercise that we are implementing. In light of recent discoveries and our previous attempts with the capture of Rogue, it has come to my attention that we are mostly inexperienced. Many soldiers have been lost in the field due to titans snagging wires and rendering them helpless. Before, there was no way to prevent this, but now we have a method to practice evasion. That is where Rogue comes in." Erwin gestured to the titan who was fully intrigued. "His job for this exercise is to run through the forest and snag your wires. If you are caught, Rogue when then render you immobile by either of the following methods: hanging you in a tree, biting your cables in half, or pulling them so much that they are rendered useless. He will not go easy on you, but he won't gravely injure you. Your job is to figure a way to make Rogue 'immobile' – meaning you must trip him harmlessly and incase him in a rope net. You will be split up into four teams that include a balanced mix of recruits and experienced Scouts. Corporal Levi and I will be watching the match and assessing your performances. Hange's team will consist of Petra, Armin, Mikasa, and Molbit. Mike's team will be Connie, Sasha, Jean, and Krista. Eld's team will be Gunter –
Rogue sat quietly as he continued to listen to Erwin divide the flying humans. He understood what they wanted him to do perfectly. The Scouts were to do a false hunt in order for their skills to strengthen for future titan encounters. With his help they could achieve that. The pack would be stronger. Although he wasn't exactly keen on the idea that he could accidentally hurt them, he knew he was good at being careful. Sure, the object was to trap him, but it was in a painless fashion. In a way, the activity was like one big game of tag and he was it. His evading had turned into a useful activity.
"Now," Erwin continued. "This experience will be similar if not identical to our previous encounters with Rogue. Do be very aware of him and your surroundings. You are working to claim an intelligent titan. Rogue has used excessive amounts of steam as cover in the past as well as techniques such as trickery and even camouflage. The exercise is over once all of you are immobile or Rogue is captured. However, also remember that we had previously deemed that The Rogue Titan was the unobtainable titan or the one that always got away. Let's see if we can turn the tables here." The Commander finished with a smirk.
Rogue slowly stood as Levi gave some final rules to the Scouts, patiently waiting for his cue. The short leader then turned to the titan with a stony face.
"Alright do what I said. Play hard as hell to get."
The creature nodded quickly in excitement. Finally, it was time to have his first training with his new allies and little ones! Overjoyed to some extent, Rogue threw his head back and released a triumphant roar to the heavens, catching everyone by surprise and startling some – the sound carrying for miles throughout the flying human territory. With a determined look, Rogue spun around and thundered into the woods with the humans herding themselves into their small packs close behind as the chase began. The titan bounded through the thicket, taking a deep breath and releasing a heavy fog of steam to cover his tracks so he could strategize. Quickly, he changed directions repeatedly, throwing himself in an unpredictable pattern to gain distance. Rogue then began to think of how to achieve victory in the game, quickly realizing that he was at a major disadvantage. He knew every tree in his forest as if they were his own family. His time in the flying human territory was limited, meaning that he wasn't very familiar with the surrounding woods. Every oak, pine, and cedar was a stranger – every rock and crevice as well. His little ones and the humans knew this wood like their own thumbprints. There was also the fact that he had never seen Armin, Mikasa, or any of the others work in a hunt and how good they would be at tracking him. There was also the man with whiskers, Mike, with the nose of an animal. His scent would be more distinct here, and he didn't exactly know where the river ran to help guise him. There were seldom trees that matched the height of those in his territory as well, most just rising a few meters above his head. On top of everything there was also the fact that the flying human territory was restricted by a fence he could not pass, so the perimeter was greatly restricted. Rogue narrowed his shadowed eyes, his chances at winning were slim, but he was determined to show his worth. He was competitive. He wanted to win.
Suddenly, the titan's keen hearing caught the sound of invisible wings trailing behind him like a swarm of furious hornets. Rogue turned his head in the slightest to spy two of the small flying human packs closing in behind him. The teams were not that of his little ones or the whiskered man, but rather Eld and Nanaba's groups. The titan examined them further, for the most part; the packs were mainly consisted of new recruits that had never faced his evasions. Of course, there were the few veterans, but he had already faced them before. Truthfully, the only opponents he found that could be a bit more challenging were Levi and Erwin who were sitting out, any of his own small pack, and finally his little ones. Armin was smart and could plan better than he could and Mikasa was almost as skilled and nimble as the Corporal himself. He couldn't worry about that now though. He would just tackle the hurdle when he got to it.
The good thing about this match was that he didn't have to constantly cover his nape. He had both of his hands free.
"Alright! Let's get him quickly! Do just as we described. Remember! He's fast and cunning!" Eld announced over the sound of his thundering feet.
Rogue picked up his pace, shifting his course. He knew that the flying humans were not using their honeycomb and barrel cannons this time. Their logical action was to aim low at his ankles and feet in order to trip him. However, they knew he was smart. They would distract him first.
He was correct.
As he expected two pairs of cables shot just feet away from his waist. Rogue chuffed and quickly grabbed the sets, surprising the two Scouts as he swung them around and underhandedly launched them up into the canopy – rendering them trapped in their own man made vines. Knowing just what was next, Rogue quickly jumped and snagged the wires of three Scouts that were closing in on wrapping his ankles like snakes to prey. He then gathered the trio's cables into one hand and threw the three forward around an overhanging limb – tied together like thieves and dangling over the forest floor like an animal roasting on a spit.
"Shit! He just took out nearly all of our two teams!" A new recruit exclaimed in shock as the titan still charged forward.
"Now you see why Rogue was such a pain in the ass to catch!"
The titan hummed a bit in pride as he prepared to make another move – one that would throw them off guard and one that he had never tried before. With as much of a smirk as he could manage, Rogue suddenly halted in his tracks and turned to the flying humans who were sailing so fast that there was so way they could escape. Their faces lit up in complete disbelief, too frozen from his sudden action to move.
He had them right where he wanted them.
Rogue then swiped his hand, catching every cord and successfully capturing his targets in his embrace.
"WHAT THE H –
The titan then slowed his speed and wrapped the group's cables around the limb of a sturdy tree with care, hanging them up like hunted game in a fashion similar to how he had defeated Levi some time ago. Eld, Nanaba, and the other flying humans watched in awe as he tied a messy knot, still obviously spellbound by their motionless faces.
"Did the Corporal tell you to do that Rogue?" Eld chuckled in the slightest, grunting from being kicked in the shin by a flaying soldier. "That's a new one from you."
The creature smiled down at the group as he completed his task, ears characteristically wiggling. "NNOO. EEEII DDID."
Nanaba, a woman that Rogue knew to be another kind veteran, raised her brows in question. "When did you learn to do that then?"
Rogue huffed once again. "NNOOOWW." He answered, not using the correct grammar, but clearly getting his point across by the astonished looks upon his allies' faces. The titan then proceeded to give a slight wave before bounding off into the thicket again. Two packs down. Two to go.
For a few minutes, Rogue focused on getting as far away from Eld and Nanaba's groups as possible before halting in the center of a large clearing that contained the wooden titans, the very ones that he had seen the flying humans use to practice the day before. The titan sniffed, ears searching for indications of incoming packs. Sure enough, his sense of smell detected the pack of Mike not to far off. Rogue began to brainstorm once again. He would have to be incredibly tactical against the man with the nose of a hound. The titan sniffed viciously, searching for the familiar scent of water only to find that it was much too far. By the time he would reach the river both Mike and perhaps Hange's groups would be on him. Rogue looked off into the direction of the deepest part of the vegetation. With the man knowing his scent and the fact that there were no other titans to mimic, or water to soak his flesh, he would have to try another new tactic. He dipped his head, suddenly recalling the traps that the flying humans would lead him into. Rogue's eyes widened in realization as a plan began to play out in his mind. A small smile came to his deformed maw. The man would be easy to deceive. He grunted in satisfaction at the base of his plan. It was his time to turn the tables a bit.
Rogue then took off into the dense fauna, keeping his eyes peeled for any sort of ambush. He carried himself further in search of any massive tree that would serve his need. The titan then stumbled into a nest of trees that were blanketed in weeds and moss. Saplings sprouted among the ground in the shadow of adult timbers that stood at his own height to nearly forty meters. The titan looked up at the thick leafed branches of one of the few giant trees. Seeing that it concealed enough cover, Rogue nodded to himself in satisfaction and approached a large oak nearby. Like he had purposely done in his forest, the titan began to rub against the rough bark with his cheek and shoulder. The creature rumbled low in his chest as he continued his act of marking. Rogue brushed the tree further, nearly looking like a desperate animal scratching an itch. The titan paused, listening for the sound of translucent wings before proceeding to leak a slight amount of saliva onto the bark to ensure that the tree was overpowered with his scent. Pleased with his work, Rogue moved on to another tree close by to deliver the same exact treatment. After the organic object was tainted, the titan then moved on to spread his scent around the parameter – marking bark by his smell, grooves by his nails, and spit. He then halted his treatment, testing the sent of the area to see if it met his demands. Pleased, Rogue then scaled up the forty-meter tree and into the profuse mass of leaves. The titan took a moment to settle himself in a cluster of brawny branches, using them as both a cradle and perch. He then crouched in a striking pose, back arched and shoulders hunched with gaze sharp and a seldom breath like a good hunter. Rogue remained still, ears pivoting and disregarding any amount of white noise in search of the approaching Scouts. Completely under his newly adapted form of camouflage, the titan lay in wait – hoping that his seemingly ludicrous plan would work.
Patiently, he lingered, listening intently through the songs of birds. Rogue let out a breath of steam, one that he had held in just in case- something that he hated doing because it sometimes caused his stomach to hurt. Just as he was about to deem that his plan was a loss, the whirling sounds of tiny humans flying through the air echoed across the area. The titan lowered himself in concentration, green pools cutting through the leaves to see Mike's small pack advancing just as he expected. Quickly, he began to judge and plot. He didn't want to give himself away just yet – he was going to toy with them first. The other positive aspect about the current game at hand was that he had the trust of the pack – which meant that he could play around with new ways to surprise is unsuspecting companions. Sure, he was still going to repeat what he had done back in his territory just as requested – but with some added twists. It was still practice for them – just introducing the element of surprise.
The group then came within meters of his tree, cables latching against the thick trunk before pulling away as the soldiers did. One by one, the small pack passed him without his exposure. Rogue then prepared himself as Krista brought up the rear. The titan raised his hand ready to strike. The small girl's cables then found themselves in the thick bark just below. Before Krista could sail further, Rogue grabbed her wires – yanking the girl from her flight and leaving her dangling in confusion. The titan smirked at his success, but quickly realizing that he had overlooked a big error to his plan – how to entangle his 'victims' without them alerting the others to his position in the tree. Plotting quickly, Rogue simply tied Krista to a close limb just below him – trying to influence the thought that her hooks had simply gotten stuck. He watched as the tiny teen struggled in her wires trying to get herself free.
Rogue scrutinized in almost amusement as Sasha instantly turned around to Krista's aid, the blonde's eyes wide and grateful.
"Thanks for coming Sasha! I think my hooks got stuck in a rough patch of bark." She informed as she tugged slightly in demonstration with Sasha taking the situation into serious account. The brunet then pulled on the cables.
"You're right Krista they're really wedged in there." She spoke with Rogue holding back a huff in delight.
"Are you guys stuck or something?" Connie called from the group of soldiers that had paused to rest upon the limb of a neighboring tree.
"Krista is. They're deep and I think we'll have to cut her free."
Mike sniffed, quickly surveying the area with the titan hoping that his plan wasn't to be foiled. "Do what you must quickly. His scent is strong here – he's either watching us from somewhere or he's fooled us with a false lead."
"Has Rogue ever done such a thing?"
The older man swallowed, eyes narrowing a bit. "No, but he's gone as far as disguising himself as a regular titan before." Mike explained as he pointed to the tree's bark, running his hand in the precise grooves made by the beast's nails. "Rogue's scent marked this area. A lot. He rubbed, scratched, and put wisps of his saliva on the trees. He knows I have a good sense of smell. He's certainly doing something new to throw us off. In Maria, his game was to run and evade. Here he's different. We live among him now and he's comfortable enough to try anything. We need to prepare for any move he'll make. Lower Krista down so she can head back. Jean, Connie, and Sasha you three and I will circle to see if Rogue is in the area. If not, this was just a ply to throw us off with a highly concentrated sent deposit."
The titan remained still at the man's revelation, monitoring Sasha as she lowered Krista to the mossy earth. Rogue then turned his attention to the surrounding trees, observing as the other part of the small pack circled like the carcass eating birds around the area to search for him. When the small blonde was back to the earth, Sasha soon joined the others in the task with Rogue monitoring them closely.
"No sign of him, Sir." Jean announced in an annoyed tone. "The bastard probably just ran off like he did yesterday. Who knows, he could be having a big conversation with the horses at the stables right now."
Rogue narrowed his eyes at the teen's crude comment, selecting Jean as his next target. Careful as to not snap a single twig, the titan shifted from his spot in the cradle of limbs. He would be giving himself away with the move, but he would render the small pack with a lesser number and the lack of preparation. Rogue's eyes watched the long faced boy with eyes like that of a starving mutt gazing at unreachable meat – a strong sense of want and focus. Jean rounded his tree, looking in the opposite direction of his perch. Rogue then allowed his mouth to salivate, abdomen rolling with a sickening slosh in preparation to build up the force he needed. He was going to 'kill two birds with one stone' as Armin used to say. He would get Jean back for his comment as well as make it easier to immobilize him. Jean then came within meters from his location. Seizing the chance, Rogue poked his head from the leaves and shot a long line of spit directly at his target. The teen barely had the time to even guess his current situation, as he was soaked in the translucent slime.
"DAMN IT! HE'S IN THE TR –
Jean was cut short when the titan's hand encased his cables in his spiral to the waiting earth. With a loud wail of triumph, Rogue launched the boy into the high canopy only for the teen to be snagged by the waiting branches. The titan then leaped from the leaves, exposing himself with a mighty roar, throwing the others off guard.
"HE WAS HIDING IN THE TREE I WAS JUST –
Sasha's words became lodged in her throat as Rogue swiftly grasped her cables as she circled unknowingly into his wake. The titan then deposited her into the green mass of his own tree and then weaved within the marked foliage.
"This is an ambush! Rogue has led us into a trap!" Mike warned to his only other partner. "The first chance we get, we must go for his legs!"
"Shit! He's gone again!" Connie exclaimed just as Rogue darted from Connie's flank and took the boy's wires in hand. The titan then swung the recruit into a nearby birch and set his eyes onto Mike who was, for the first time, looking at him and wearing a noticeable look of genuine shock upon his usually relaxed face. Suddenly, the man took action, shooting up into the air with Rogue swiping only to miss. The titan watched as Mike pushed himself faster, readying himself to strike. The whiskered leader then dived, angling himself just behind the creature's shoulder. Rogue then pivoted quickly on his heel, providing an open opportunity. With Mike caught off guard, the titan snagged the wires, pulling the man back with a strong yank and sending him tumbling into a patch of bushes. Rogue wasted no time sticking around to hear any praise or insults as he bounded into the forest again.
He lightened his tissues to the fullest as he moved further, knowing his next opponents. Rogue's ears shifted and moved, on the lookout for his little ones and the others. A feeling settled into the pit of his stomach, one that told him that his next foes were up to something. He should have seen then by now. With a sense of concern settling in, Rogue stopped in his race to sniff and evaluate the air. His nostrils flared and eyes grew wide intensely. He could not smell them. Worry ran thick in his veins. Why could he not smell them? Could they have disguised their scent like he had before? Rogue let out a grunt in disappointment. He would have to move and act blindly now.
The titan then carried on forward, trying desperately to pinpoint his opponents' location. He moved in a wary jog, trying not to overlook a single clue. Rogue then entered a clearing that reminded him much of the one he would often go to in his forest to relax. The canopy was high over his head, sunlight peering down like heavenly rays. The brittle snap of a twig sent his ears and attention forward. To his dismay, he saw nothing – only a small bushy tailed creature gathering nuts.
However, the simple distraction was enough.
A smooth 'whoosh' intruded his ears, wind lapping at his flesh on his backside as a flying human dived down his spine. Alarmed, Rogue turned his attention below, seconds too late as Petra circled around his inner thigh – cable cutting deep into his skin. The titan yelped in surprise and pain as he nearly lost his footing. He then bent over to snag the redhead's cable- only to notice that it had already retreated with Petra into the trees. Rogue stood in alarm, realizing that his allies had turned the tables. It was now they who were ambushing him. Rogue's eyes narrowed, more determined to win than ever.
The creature's ears then alerted him again as two sets of gears rapidly approached him from opposite directions. Out of the corners of his greens, he spied his little one Armin and the messy haired woman's friend Molbit, racing toward him at shoulder length. Rogue snorted in amusement as he dissected the situation. They were trying to confuse him – but more chaotically to cloud his mind. But he was resolute. He wouldn't give in to disorientation. As the two passed before his body, Rogue skillfully reached up before his face and over the back of his head and snared the two's cables. Fearing another quick attack, Rogue immediately tossed Molbit into the canopy and raised Armin's wires into his mouth, destroying the boy's lifeline with his incisors before setting his little one gently into the grass. Two down, three to go.
Hearing her animalistic squeals, Rogue turned to face Hange who was arching over his bicep. The woman then swerved quickly away towards the branch of a high tree before diving again. Rogue instantly sidestepped in instinct but mostly judgment, throwing Hange off course. The titan then bent under the woman's path, grasping her cables that were still returning to their hiding places. Rogue then rotated, swinging a laughing Hange around his bulk before throwing her into the leafy heavens.
His eager and desperate eyes darted back and forth wildly. He was now up against the two biggest threats in the game. Mikasa and Petra were no leisurely walk in the woods. Rogue heaved, lungs moving profoundly beneath his taught flesh. His nerves were testing him. A sudden sharp pain burned against his shin before wrapping around the back of his calf. The titan screeched as his left leg was pulled from beneath him, sending him teetering on his right. Unable to keep his balance, he fell forward. With his heart pumping and adrenaline coursing through him, Rogue threw out his hands, catching himself and lifting upright again. A smirk came to his face in favor of the challenge. Up to the very point, the game had been too easy for him.
Just as he was able to get his bearings, his forearm was forced roughly to his chest. A blur of orange passed beneath the opposite pit of his arm, diving down past his rump before circling again. He reached to peel the cable away from his body, but to his misfortune – Petra circled around his chest again, pinning his other arm but not quite enough. Rogue let out a growl of irritation at his failure, quickly pulling his arms free once again with a simple flex of his upper body, causing Petra's cables to snap and render her flightless. As she fell to the earth at his feet, Rogue hastily scooped up her tiny form and prudently sat her onto a nearby branch. He then focused back into the clearing in search of his familiar little one – his final opponent.
Before he could blink, a red blur passed before the titan's face. He lunged, but missed by several feet as Mikasa quickly disappeared from his view. Rogue spun around, green hues searching madly for any sign of the teen. Without a single sound or indication, Rogue suddenly found his elbows locked together behind his back, the grooved steel of the cables cutting into his joints so tightly that they were breaking his skin. His heart beat even faster, ribcage vibrating like angry earth. Rogue's eyes blinked in disbelief as he realized that tearing himself free would most likely rip off parts of his arms in the process – and there was no time for them to regrow. If he waited, he would loose. He also didn't know where Mikasa was. If he tore her cables apart, it would be impossible for him to find her in time to catch her. Seeing only one way to keep his arms before him, Rogue squatted and rotated his muscular limbs. He grunted in agony as he stepped through his arms - pulling Mikasa along with them. The titan brought his arms before his anterior, noticing how his baby was tossed in front of his face. However, before he could even make an attempt to capture, Mikasa regained her composure and dived down to his legs. Rogue's eyes widened at his imminent defeat. If she managed to trip him, he would be vanquished. He could do nothing. Nothing at all. Except… except maybe…
The titan watched as Mikasa circled his left ankle. He had one shot. One shot only. Taking a deep breath, Rogue braced himself as he rose a foot, big toe spreading from the rest of his digits. Unaware of his action, Mikasa circled his other heel. Before she could carry out her final act, Rogue lifted his foot higher and encased Mikasa's cable between his toes. His little one gasped in surprise as Rogue then kicked his leg up, snapping the teen's cables and sending her skyward.
However, he didn't hurl her high enough to the waiting canopy overhead.
Rogue watched in horror as his little one spun in a free fall to the forest floor. The titan let out an earsplitting wail as he raced towards her helpless body. With the wires now loose around his elbows, Rogue pulled them free and held his hands before him as he sprinted. Instinctively, the titan dove – his precious baby landing safely in his cupped hands seconds before the both of them hit the earth. The vibration of the impact sent leaves descending all around them and silence to fall over the clearing. Gradually, Rogue unshielded his dark lids and gazed into his palm. Mikasa was safely there, shaken, but without a scratch. His little one sat up with a groan, rubbing her head in what appeared to be discomfort. Worry emerged into his gut once again. Could the impact still have harmed her? Fearing that was the truth, Rogue grunted in concern. At his inquiry, Mikasa quickly turned to him with a look of surprise before letting a smile come to her face.
"I'm okay, Rogue. You won though." She chuckled softly.
At her response, the titan let out a pleased squeal – not because he was the victor but rather that his little one survived. Overjoyed, Rogue gifted the teen with a quick lick before pressing his face into hers, trilling loudly as he nuzzled into her tiny form.
Mikasa tittered as she stroked a gentle hand across the bridge of his nose. "Thanks for saving me." She whispered as she gave a small kiss in gratitude on the tip of his snout – provoking Rogue to purr loudly at her gesture. "You were amazing, Rogue. You certainly live up to what they say about you."
The titan lifted his head up proudly before sitting with his little one still in his palm. Rogue crossed his legs and placed Mikasa into his lap before leaning back in exhaustion – smiling in the presence of the other Scouts as they slowly emerged into the clearing. The titan's green pools then watched as Erwin and Levi approached his bulk on horseback, the two dismounting and turning to the audience afore them.
"Well, it looks like Rogue receives another victory." Erwin announced.
"In record timing as well." Levi added in his usual tone and expression still flat. "It takes a man longer to stop and take a shit in the woods than it takes an intelligent titan to immobilize almost every member of the Scouts. "
"In light of the results of this friendly match, I can say that we still have a long way to go in bettering our skills of avoiding such reactions from titans. Rogue's different approach also helped with this exercise. With his ambushing technique, it simulated an enemy's actual tactic approach rather than what we experienced with Rogue before – that being no titan runs away from us in order to evade capture or defend itself." Erwin spoke slyly as he looked to the titan who swelled further in pride.
It pleased him to know that he was helping them grow stronger.
"Now, we'll do these sessions three times a week from here on out. This way we can have a better chance at survival in the future. Now report back to headquarters to rest up." Erwin concluded as he left the clearing on horseback with the others soon trailing behind him.
With a pleased rumble, Rogue then gathered his little ones and placed them onto his shoulders before lifting Hange and Petra to join them. As he braced himself to stand, Levi unexpectedly turned to face the titan after mounting his own equine – face relaxing in the slightest.
The man continued to stare for a moment before letting out a fatigued sigh. "Good job, shitty brat." Levi addressed and then took off in the direction of the castle.
Despite the short leader's language, Rogue retained his grin to his face – taking the man's unexpected praise in stride. He had been right. Behaving was rewarding.
Armin stifled a laugh as Rogue rocked back and forth on his rear in anticipation, looking like an overgrown child on Christmas morning. The day's doings and schedule was done and he, Mikasa, Hange, and Petra had retired to Rogue's barn. After their loss in the simulation, Hange had openly shared the news with Rogue that they had surprises for him. The word itself sent the titan into a state of desperate and eager curiosity, the creature reminding them repeatedly during their trip back to the nest – grunting and nudging them for any hints or to hurry. The titan wiggled his ears, chirping in excitement as Hange finally joined the others on several scattered cubes of packaged hay. Lately, Rogue's mood was the best he had seen it in a while – fueled by their reunion and perhaps the lack of being lonely. It was comforting to Armin, and with Rogue listening to orders and behaving himself, things were vastly improving.
"Since you can't take things around the castle let alone from inside the castle Rogue, we were instructed to get you some things that you could call your own." Hange exclaimed as she opened her whicker basket. Rogue tilted his head in question as the titan fanatic fished trough the contents. "You might as well classify this as your birthday since you're being spoiled!"
The titan tilted his head in the opposite direction. "IIIRRRRRTTTDDAAY?" Rogue queried, obviously puzzled. Hange nodded.
"Yes! Birthdays are special days to celebrate the day someone is born by having a get together and giving gifts to the person who is the birthday girl or boy!"
The titan raised a brow, tilting his head further so much so that it looked as if it would cramp. "OOOORRRNN?"
"Hange you're just confusing him." Petra giggled. "This is actually more of a welcoming party, Rogue. To show our thanks that you are here with us, we're giving you gifts. Understand?"
Armin watched as a wide and awkward smile came to Rogue's face, the titan nodding profusely. The beast then rumbled in curiosity as he leaned forward and placed a finger onto Hange's basket, pulling it towards him with the scientist's frantic gestures for him to stop.
"Rogue, don't be greedy." Mikasa spoke kindly, resembling Carla a bit. "Just hold on and wait a moment. Hange wants to give those to you herself." The teen informed with Rogue giving a sheepish dip of his head and scooting the basket back into Hange's waiting hands.
"Alright then! Let's start with the big stuff!" The scientist began elatedly with the titan nodding in agreement. The blonde observed as Hange then pulled the wind chime from the depths of the wicker – the instrument producing an off key chorus of notes. Rogue's eyes grew wide in both realization and wonder as he bent over further to examine the foreign object. Amused at the creature's infatuation, Hange shook the chime again to generate more nose that provoked Rogue's ears to flicker in surprise and face fully foreword. "Remember these wind chimes you saw back in the city?" She asked with the titan too focused on the object to respond directly. Rogue raised a finger and like a playful cat, feed his digit through the metal tubes and strings. The titan set back in amazement before repeating his action. Armin snickered as the towering behemoth grunted repeatedly in excitement and continued to toy with the chimes. The blonde teen propped his chin at the scene – perhaps the noisy object was a bad idea. "Ah! I see you like them!" Hange laughed as she sat the chimes aside with the titan still trying to get a few more notes out of them by pushing them in the hay. Realizing that they didn't produce much of a melody on the floor of the barn, Rogue then turned back to the scientist and waited almost impatiently for her to reveal more. The three then watched as Hange pulled her second gift from her basket, the wooden dog on wheels that was similar to the one that he and Mikasa had given Rogue long ago when they were children.
The titan's green irises glowed even brighter at the sight. "DDDOOGGG!" The creature exclaimed as he quickly retrieved it from the equally giddy woman.
"Yup! Your little ones told me you had one of those once so I thought I'd get you another one!"
Rogue acknowledged the unkempt woman with a sharp chirrup and began to pull the child's toy across the lumped hay before his knees, the uneven surface causing the wooden animal to fall to its side several times before the titan placed the minuscule object into his grotesque palm – finger prodding the small wheels with Rogue rumbling in awe.
Hange laughed. "His likeness of toys actually made me dwell into further detail on the subject. When I was a girl, my grandmother told me about the zoo she worked at in Wall Sina – places that put exotic animals from beyond the walls on display to the public before the government shut down all of them. She told me of an animal called a gorilla that some say we humans evolved from thousands of years ago."
Armin raised his head in interest, recalling the animal that was on one of the pages in his book about the world outside the walls that he had lost long ago. The blonde looked to the seated titan who was still toying with the brightly painted toy in interest, remembering the page on the black furred creature, Armin couldn't help but see the giant and grizzly humanoid reflecting the book's description perfectly.
"My grandmother said that gorillas were intelligent – much like Rogue here. They gave the animals' objects to entertain and promote brain development and activity. She said that the gorillas were fonder of toys than anything they gave them. Rogue is no different. The reason for that is because every human object is something new to him. His eyes are able to see color and the hues on children's toys and their many different shapes and functions are a sight to behold to Rogue!" The woman laughed as the titan then carefully sat the dog back to the hay, lightly as if he remembered he had broken his last one. Rogue then pointed to Petra's basket, grunting to ask the question of 'what's in yours' with innocent eyes.
"Ah, it's my turn isn't it!" Petra beamed with the titan chuffing readily. Armin watched as Petra pulled the large cooking spoon for the titan to see. "I thought I'd get you one that was a bit more your size." The veteran smiled sweetly as Rogue quickly took the oversize spoon, one that still looked insignificant within his hands, and looked it over as if it was a fine piece of art.
"SSSSSTTTOOOONNN." Rogue alliterated. "IIIIGGG SSTOOOONN."
Armin smiled again as the titan's ears angled about and his pointed nail ran across the edge of the ladle. Petra then lifted the wind up mouse and began turn the crank, the sound grasping Rogue's attention from the spoon to the new object on display. The titan watched in incredible intrigue as the redhead placed the mouse to the floor and released the unliving specimen – the toy darting in many different directions in seconds, the buzzing sound of its tiny mechanisms causing Rogue to jump in surprise. Armin and Mikasa gave in to a laugh as the titan's eyes followed the toy – pupils blown wide. Suddenly, the titan leaned forward, attempting to snatch the mouse into his hand – missing as the toy darted into the opposite direction. Rogue let out a high pitched growl as he continued with the others now laughing at the creature's amusement. Finally the toy began to slow down until it stopped all together. Still focused on obtaining the object, Rogue brought his hand down on top of the wind up toy, hard. A soft crunch alerted those in the room what had just transpired. In alarm, the titan lifted his hand to reveal the mouse that was now in pieces. At the sight, Rogue adapted a look of regret and disappointment while emitting a low whine. The creature's greens then flashed to Petra, looking distressed.
"OOORRIEEE. EIII… EIII KILLL IITT." Rogue addressed with the woman still wearing a smile despite her gift's destruction. The statement brought the occurrence to Armin's attention – realizing that the beast had thought that the wind up was a real animal.
"Don't worry! It was a fake mouse. A toy. But at least you had some fun with it first, right?"
The titan looked to Petra in confusion, his hesitation to reply caused by his concern not to hurt the other's feelings. Eventually, Rogue nodded in understanding and thanked the young woman with a gentle lick – the first that the titan had delivered to someone that wasn't the Jaegers or the two teens. It amazed Armin how close the two had gotten in such a short period of time - likely because Petra was like Carla. For a moment, the redhead seemed petrified in shock, hand reaching up to touch the slight dampness on her brow before letting out a warm laugh.
"Well you're welcome Rogue!" Petra replied with Hange giving a slight jealous pout. "Now would you like to see what your little ones brought you?"
Instantly, Rogue freed a high chirp in content as he turned to Armin and Mikasa with an awkward smile back on his face. Knowing very well that Mikasa's present was a sentimental one and best if it was the finale in the session of what he could humorously call offerings, Armin quickly volunteered to present to the titan first.
"I got you something that may remind you of home, Rogue." He grinned as he pulled out the stuffed deer with the titan nearly bending completely over to look at the toy, dark locks falling all around the two teens. "Do you remember when we showed you Mikasa's stuffed bear when we were kids?" Armin asked with Rogue quickly nodding in response. "Since there isn't many deer around here, and we know how much you like the deer, we decided it was best to get you a little something to remember them." The boy informed with the titan delicately plucking it from his hands to begin his observations. The creature's crowd giggled in the slightest as Rogue purred and began to stroke the stuffed fawn's fur like he and Mikasa had seen the titan do to the newborns birthed every spring. Admittedly, it almost brought a bit of sadness to Armin, knowing that it was unlikely that they were to return to the cove anytime soon.
The titan then sniffed the small stuffed toy, ears flickering and brows knitting together in question. The action then provoked Hange to rub her chin in speculation.
"Do you think he still smells the scent of whatever animal they used to make that since that's real fur? Even though it was made a while ago?"
Mikasa hesitated in the slightest, still watching Rogue smell the object intensely before turning to the scientist. "He probably can no doubt. If it hasn't been washed, Rogue can smell it. Years ago, Armin had a stain on his shirt that hadn't been washed in three weeks and Rogue wouldn't leave him alone." Mikasa smiled shyly. "He kept pushing Armin over with his nose trying to smell him."
"We finally have someone with a sense of smell that rivals Mike's around here." Petra smirked with the others laughing in agreement.
"EEEEIIII… IITTT IIIKEE CCOOWW." Rogue assessed, scrutinizing the toy further before grinning crookedly. "EEEIII IIIKKKE."
Armin nodded. "You're welcome. I'm glad you like it. Of course I'm sure you're going to like Mikasa's gift even better. It's something you've never seen before."
At his statement, Rogue perked up even further. "NNNNEEEEWW?" The beast questioned as he turned to the dark-haired teen. "NNNIIKKKAASSA AAVVEE NNNEEEWW?"
The reserved young woman nodded. "It's not really something you can play with Rogue, but rather something that you can listen to." Mikasa described as she carefully pulled the wooden box from her basket with the titan staring at it deeply. "My mother gave me one of these when I was a little girl. It's called a music box, Rogue."
The creature craned his massive head. "NN…NN… NNNNUUUUSSSIIC?"
She nodded. "Yes. Music is lots of beautiful tones put together. Birds make music and we make music. This is a music box, one of the ways that we listen to music." Mikasa explained as she opened the small chest – the ballerina beginning its rotations and the tune of a lullaby echoing in the barn's interior.
All eyes were upon the titan who was instantly entranced. Rogue leaned over, chin to the floor and ears facing forward. The titan's luminous green pools shined in likeness. The creature shifted on his hindquarters to lay on his bent legs with arms folded neatly beneath his chest. Rogue's mouth hung open slightly, obviously in a state of utter awe. Then, a wide smile pulled at the skin on the corners of the titan's mouth while the beast swayed with the melody.
"You like music?" Mikasa queried, breaking the titan from his hypnosis. He quickly nodded.
The teens and veteran chuckled as Rogue began to hum the notes, completely intertwined with the lovely tune. Finally, Mikasa closed the box to cease the music with the titan giving a slight whine in protest before looking to them expectedly as if to ask why or what else did they have for him. But then the creature perked up.
"AAANNNKKKSSS." Rogue beamed as he looked to the room's occupants, making Armin's eyes widen at the titan's gesture – the beast having recognized it. Petra laughed warmly.
"If you're going to thank anyone, thank Levi. He's the one who bought all this stuff for you, Rogue."
At the mentioning of the Corporal's name and deed, Rogue's green hues grew. The creature looked at his feet for a moment, seemingly lost in thought.
"Finally, we all got you some books, Rogue." Armin continued gaining the beast's attention once again as he and the others pulled out the copies of children's books and placed them before the creature. At the presented examples of literature, the titan immediately sat up and began to thumb through them – looking at every illustrated cover closely while still humming the lullaby softly. The blonde teen couldn't help but smile. Mikasa had made a great choice. Beholding the giant now was like looking at Rogue during their first meetings. The titan then pointed at the book of fairy tales, tapping the cover eagerly with green eyes flashing to the two teens. With several grunts and gurgles, Rogue slid the fancy title to Armin – practically shoving it into the boy's feet in a desperate bid for the blonde to read it to him.
"Oh, you want me to read you some fairly tales?" Armin beamed up to the beast that in reply, quickly lay back in his nest and motioned for the small group to join him.
"Alright then!" Hange expressed as she hurriedly bounded over to sit within the titan's massive palm with Petra, Armin, and Mikasa soon nestling themselves against the creature's warm flesh. Once they were comfortable, Armin then opened the golden pages and began to search the book's contents for a good story to start with – the others looking as well to make suggestions.
"EEEYYY OOOKKIINNGGG?" Rogue asked as he innocently watched the teen turn the colorful pages, making Armin direct his attention to the titan at his mistake.
"I'm looking for a good story, Rogue. This book has many different stories within it. Right now, we're trying to pick the one we think you will like best." He informed with the towering megalith taking the information in stride.
"How about Jack and the Beanstalk?" Hange put forth. "It has a giant in it." Mikasa quickly shook her head.
"Not a friendly giant though, Hange. Besides, the giant eats – well you know. I just don't think he would take it well." The exotic teen responded. Hange sighed.
"Yeah, you're probably right."
"How about Hansel and Gretel?" Petra suggested as she pointed to the initial start of the tale upon the gold leaf decorated page. Again, Mikasa shook her head in denial.
"It's pretty late so let's just pick something short."
"What about the Three Little Pigs?"
"He doesn't like wolves."
"What about –
The four stopped their suggestions to see the titan's nail pointed upon another brightly colored and metallic page in the book. Armin studied the print and picture to see that the tale was Humpty Dumpty. The teenager beamed up at the waiting titan who was staring down with green eyes lit up in happiness.
"Okay then Rogue, that's the story of Humpty Dumpty – who is an egg. It goes like this: Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall." Armin began as he turned the page with Rogue scrutinizing the illustrations closely. "Humpy Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men, couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again." Armin concluded as he looked back to the titan with expectancy, only to have his smile fade from his face.
Rogue was staring at the book oddly, eyes narrowed in the slightest with brows drawn together in a look of what Armin could call bewilderment. It was then that realization hit the teen and soon the others. The titan's reaction – could Rogue have really fallen off the wall somehow like they had previously hypothesized? If so, then the seemingly harmless bedtime story was a true one for the titan. He was Humpty Dumpty and the Scouts were the king's horses and men trying to put him back together – finding out his past and hoping for any of his previous memories to surface. Peering at the titan, he wondered if Rogue had understood the metaphor.
"Rogue?" Mikasa broke the silence softly. "Rogue are you okay?"
At her voice, the titan quickly snapped from an apparent trance and gave a broad smile before turning the book's page and expressing his want to continue. At first, Armin dithered, lost in thought before giving in and moving on to another tale.
For the next hour, the four took turns reading to Rogue who was happy and engrossed in their words until he began to grow drowsy with the aging night. Finally, after getting to the part of the story where the three bears discovered Goldilocks sleeping in their beds, Rogue performed a cavernous yawn and let his head fall back into the remaining pillows and hay. Armin and the others observed as the creature then dexterously lifted the lid of the music box that sat upon Hange's work space to allow the lullaby to escape into the room. At that, the titan then collapsed into the plush hay and began to snore softly, ears still twitching at each note. For a long moment, it was silent among the party of Scouts with only the music box and the creature's sounds of repose producing any decimals.
"Guys, do you really think Rogue could have hit his head coming into Wall Maria?" Petra began softly as she watched the titan sleep soundly.
"I – don't know." Armin muttered as he folded the book up and sat it aside. "It's just – he acted so strange when I read that to him."
"Yeah," Mikasa sighed. "He acted the same way when we read The Ugly Duckling to him. I think he recognized how the story related to him just like that one did."
Hange crossed her arms, gaze to the hay and the folds in Rogue's palm before she looked to the titan's face that was completely relaxed and gratified. "It's possible. But as of now there's still no way to know for sure. He's heard us talking about the theory of what happened to him before and he could have just registered that and connected the relation even if something like that really happened or not. Like I said, at this time, there's no way to know what really happened. Most of the time, people with chronic amnesia never regain their memories. Ever. Rogue hasn't shown any solid symptoms of recalling anything from before his time in Maria." Hange paused, swallowing a wad of saliva and pushing a few stray strands of hair from her face. "It's a possibility, yes. However, there could also be a missing piece to the puzzle somewhere. Who knows?"
Slightly irritated at the fact that Rogue's memories were out of reach, Armin exhaled heavily and looked to the slumbering titan. The beast's skin was pulled into a smile, ears fluttering in the slightest at the projecting serenade – obviously enjoying a pleasant dream. The teens frowned in the slightest; they couldn't help but worry and feel sorry for their childhood friend knowing that expressing sympathy was all that they could do. It pained them deeply. Very deeply.
"Look!" Hange suddenly whispered, breaking the awkward aura as she pointed excitedly.
Even though the damning thoughts were pulling at his mind, Armin couldn't help but smile at Rogue's kneading feet – toes curling and uncurling with the flexing of the titan's ankles while the creature rumbled loudly. The scene was a bit of relief. Rogue didn't seem to be bothered by his mental handicap at all. But of course, like with everything at play, there was no way of truly knowing.
His vast hand plunged the large stick into the ground, dirt churning beneath the force of wood barreling through earth. Rogue then eyed the large stick, a neatly cut log, and adjusted it in the slightest to ensure that it was somewhat straight. The titan then looked to Hange who was squealing like a swine as usual while he waited for any further order. Currently, he was working on one of the unusual 'tasks' that the messy-haired female was testing him on. She was having him jam logs into the earth in a pattern similar to a square – an act that he wasn't sure where it was heading.
"That's great Rogue! They are pretty straight!" Hange cheered as she told Molbit to scribe with the writing stick. "Now let's do the last one before we move on!"
The titan nodded and picked up another log and placed it with little effort into the corner of the shape. He was in a good mood. Yesterday had been a great day. He had forced himself to get along with Levi who seemed just as eager to make peace with him as well. Not to mention, it was rewarding. The short leader had paid for the gifts that his little ones and the others had given him! Even though Levi was just as temperamental as he was and constantly made jokes about defecating, he was beginning to respect the man. Armin, Mikasa, Hange, and Petra had done a good job at finding things as well. He liked the objects called chimes that Hange had given him that now hung up in his nest and the spoon and stuffed deer that Armin and Petra had given him. His favorite gift however, had come from his little one, Mikasa. The music box was a magical entity to the titan. It was beautiful and the thing that humans called 'music' was even more so. It was far better than hearing the cries of his enemies being slaughtered by his hand and the fact that it was harmonious and peaceful. Besides tearing apart titans limb from limb and being around his little ones, music was another example of good therapy. Of course, there were also downsides to the previous day. He wasn't particularly fond of breaking his legs over and over against the trees, but he supposed that would improve and reduce the chances of doing so with continuous practice. The other thing that troubled him slightly was when his little one read him the short story of 'Humpty Dumpty.' The titan wasn't sure why, but it made him feel – uncomfortable. It seemed… familiar for some reason unknown that Rogue couldn't quite put his finger on. But it didn't seem to be too important so the titan simply brushed it aside.
"Alright! Now I need you to pick up one of the long logs and set it on top of one of the sides and tie it to the ones below. Think you can do that?" Hange smiled broadly as she awaited his reaction.
Perplexed, Rogue carefully lifted the large log from the pile and stacked it on top of one of the corner sticks. The titan looked to the scientist again, brows knitting together, feeling that he wasn't doing something quite right. Hange laughed.
"No, that's not correct! Put the log on its side, Rogue!" The woman humored him. "Lay it on top of the others!"
With her explanation clearer, the titan nodded and grunted sharply before placing the log to were it rested on the tops of the others in line. Getting her approval, Rogue then proceeded to pick up one of the strips of rope and began to plot how to connect the log firmly. Unlike how he hung the soldiers in the trees, tying this particular knot was going to be different. Rogue wrapped the rope several times around the two logs before attempting to tie a knot. To his misfortune, he had done the task incorrectly and the log fell with a loud thump on the grass. The titan growled in slight disappointment and frustration before he tried again with strong determination, tongue sticking out to the side of his lipless maw in concentration. His little ones who were off to the side aiding the experiment, laughed at his expression. He of course took that lightheartedly. Finally, after several fails, Rogue rumbled in pleasure in his success before moving on to tie the next post.
"Hange, please don't tell me that you're having him do arts and crafts."
At the ever-familiar bored voice, the titan looked up from his work to see Corporal Levi placing himself next to Hange with arms folded in his signature stance. Rogue grunted a greeting that Levi only acknowledged with a short dip of his head before turning to the unkempt brunette.
"Not arts and crafts, Levi! I'm testing his intelligence by having him build a pavilion! So far, Rogue's doing really well! Once he get's used to building – he could probably make a castle in no time!" Hange exclaimed as she threw her hands in the air with boiling excitement. However, instead of sharing her enthusiasm, Levi only remained still.
"Humph. Anyway, I came here to alert you that Pixis has arrived to give us some insight on what the damn MP's are going to be looking at during their examination. He wants to see Rogue straight away. In fact, he's waiting right inside." Levi informed Hange with the woman going into slight shock before nodding profoundly.
"Ah! It's about time he came to visit!" She cheered. "Go get him!"
The titan tilted his head in question. Pixis? Who or what was Pixis? By the way the short leader had spoke the title, it sounded as if he wasn't thrilled for Pixis to be there. Yet again, that was how Levi reacted to everything. Hange was excited, yet she always was. Not knowing what to expect, he grew leery and turned to his babies for answers, moaning in apprehension.
"Don't worry." Armin began as he patted the top of Rogue's foot. "Pixis may be strange, but you've actually met him before. Just be good and welcoming okay?"
Rogue raised a brow. He had met this Pixis before?
"Well! Well! If it isn't The Rogue Titan in the flesh! And he looks even better than when I saw him a few days ago!"
The older and crackling voice alerted Rogue to a new presence in the clearing. The titan looked from his little ones to where Levi and Hange had stood earlier only to discover the added figures of Erwin and an older flower back. Rogue blinked as he absorbed the sight. He had seen the man before! It was the older gentlemen that met the flying human pack when they had arrived at the gate! The old human was just as Rogue remembered him: bald, skinny, and had a wrinkly face. His garbs were similar to those worn by all the soldiers except for several shiny metal pieces attached to his jacket that was dawned in a bright silky sash of cloth. It was intriguing. He had never seen a uniformed man like this one. Before he didn't notice the extras, but now that the man was close, he wanted to take the time to learn more.
"Pixis, I'd like to introduce you to our newest asset and member of the Survey Corps, Rogue Jaeger." Erwin presented with a gesture of his hand.
"Ah! So that's his real name eh?' Pixis chuckled as he raised a silver container of some sort to his lips before turning to the big leader again. "Are you going to introduce me Commander?" The man continued, obviously joshing.
"Certainly. Rogue? Come here for a moment. This is someone I want you to meet." Erwin beckoned with a face of controlled cunning.
Upon receiving the order from the big leader, Rogue stood from his work and lumbered over to where the other superiors stood, earth shaking beneath his feet with the minuscule hairs on the old man's upper lip vibrating in the slightest. At first, he wasn't sure about the man and was almost reluctant to meet him, but having met the individual previously he felt it was obligatory. That and he wanted to see the man's strange possessions up close. With the ground shifting, Rogue lowered himself upon the balls of his feet with palms planted to the ground and back arched and ready to examine.
"Rogue." Erwin continued. "This is Dot Pixis. He's the Commander of the Garrison Regiment – the men you see working on top of the walls that defend them in case of an attack. He's also the highest-ranking officer in the southern territory. Why don't you say hello?"
The beast's ears flickered forward at the news. Rogue then grunted in reply to the blonde leader and succumbed to his avid curiosity. Without a verbal or any kind of invite, the titan leaned over to where he was eye level with the man, green pools looking deeply into Pixis's golden ones. To his surprise, the man didn't flinch in the slightest, only grinned. Feeling that the man was content with his existence, Rogue proceeded to evaluate the man with a gentle sniff, smelling the pungent odor that he had found near the glass bottles he discovered two days earlier. That aside, he pressed on, breaths ruffling the hair upon every soul's head around him. Pixis then chuckled.
"I see he fits the description of a gentle giant. My friend, your appearance certainly does deceive the others around you. They tell me that you're a bit of a teddy bear beneath all that muscle. Hah! I bet all the single lady titans were after you!" The man chortled. "You're a handsome thing no doubt!"
The titan tilted his head at the odd form of praise, but he welcomed it with a friendly trill and lifted a finger to the old Commander's bizarre container, tilting it to him before touching the metal things on his chest. Rogue then looped his digit into the red sash before turning to his little ones and rumbling in approval. The man was strange, yes. But if the flying humans were fine with him, then so was he.
"Rogue, aren't you going to say hello?" Hange urged playfully with dancing brows.
Realizing his negligence to Erwin's previous command, Rogue nodded and salivated his throat. "EEEEELLLOOO." He beamed, watching in satisfaction as the man's narrow eyes widened further than what he thought possible. Pixis nearly dropped his silver container, blinking in disbelief. Rogue purred a bit, letting his head tilt and elfish ears flutter as he awaited a reaction.
"Well! What do you know! He can speak! Even with no lips he can project words! I never thought I'd hear anything other than growling, roaring, and grunting from a titan!" Pixis laughed, honey eyes shifting to his little ones. "And I assume that these two are the children you took in? Are they the ones who taught you how to speak?"
Rogue nodded and tenderly guided his little ones closer to his lowered knee. "ESS. EEEESS NNYY AAAIIIBBIEESS. CCUUURRRLLLA TTAAUUHHTT NNEE AAALLKK." The titan informed proudly as he elevated his chin.
"Ah! That's nice and an incredible accomplishment, my friend. I'm sure that if there were a parent of the year award, it would go to you. It was a pleasure." Pixis concluded with a salute. "Hopefully we can have a nice conversation sometime again today."
Rogue nodded in gratitude and returned the salute. Knowing that he was done there he rose back to his feet and returned to his work with his little ones at his side. As he resumed in ensuring the knots were tight, a thought crossed his mind. Why had Pixis left his perch on the wall to come to the flying human territory?
"That's quite a story!" Pixis chuckled from the lip of his flask at Erwin's lengthy explanation. "If written down, I think it could be a great novel."
Levi watched with his usual scowl plastered to his face as Pixis moved on to retrieve more whiskey from an old bottle they had to fetch from the castle's cellar. For the past thirty minutes, they had since taken refuge upon the balcony that overlooked the clearing to talk about the coming future over lunch – which consisted of dried garlic bread, thin slices of ham, and tea. Wine as well since there was an important guest. With the Commander of the Garrison in their headquarters, most brought it upon themselves to enjoy the rare treat of alcohol. Levi, however, only indulged on his usual black tea. The Corporal's steel eyes continued to observe the new recruits having their own lunch in the green field with the titan laying out next to them - flesh soaking up sun. Rogue looked completely content, absolutely relaxed with many of the teens, including the titan's 'babies,' sitting along the curve of his spine and his shoulders. Some of the young soldiers were casually napping, chatting and eating away, and even two of the females braiding a strand of the titan's thick hair – all the while the beast rested in an almost comatose like state with eyes shut tight in what he could determine as bliss. Levi lifted his cup to his lips once again, recalling the previous day that was definitely better than the first. The titan was smart. It could register emotions and feelings of others. With the creature knowing his past, Rogue's mannerisms towards him had changed drastically. Still, he could tell that the titan was still very wild at heart. The beast's willfulness and animalistic tendencies were nevertheless and always tugging at a few of the strings. Of course, there were still the titan's mental capabilities. Although Rogue was a hundred or over years old, he was still getting a grip on the harsh reality of the world around him. With the titan's knowledge about his own origins and Erwin's suggestion not to treat Rogue like a glorified pet, things were steering in the right direction.
However, worries still lingered.
"I had a feeling that it was Ackerman and Arlert who were the ones raised by the titan when I saw you bring Rogue to the gate. They're brave I'll give you that. It was a risky but smart move to have the titan bring them to the wall to be soldiers and show you Rogue in person. I understand now why you fabricated part of the story in the papers. Those two could have gotten into some serious trouble with the MP's." Pixis began again with another long sip from his flask. "So, first things first. When Zackley and Nile come for inspection they will be looking at how well Rogue follows instructions for the most part. He has to know the formation as well as every order you verbally give. Behavior is another thing. He needs to treat his commanding officers well. Overall, he must show how good he's able to listen and how loyal he is to humanity. They'll want to see how well he knows combat as well. When we spoke previously, you said that Corporal Levi and Squad Leader Hange Zoe had some concerns." Pixis informed before turning to the short man and calmly waiting an answer.
"Yes," Levi began as he sat down his tea. "One of our main concerns with him has to do with his sensitive judgment of people." The Corporal continued as he glanced into the clearing to see Kirstein saying something to the beast with Rogue wrinkling his nose in disgust. "First impressions are everything with him. If he likes you, it's all peaches and cream. If he doesn't like you however – it's unpleasant to say the least."
"Unpleasant?" Pixis asked, brow raised in the slightest.
Before Levi could answer, a loud huffing sound gathered the four's attention. In the clearing, the titan was laughing along with his back's occupants at Jean who was now unmistakably covered in Rogue's saliva. The Corporal could feel himself cringe slightly. Thankfully he managed to avoid the titan's reflex that hadn't cursed him the day before. As the man half expected, the Garrison Commander laughed.
"I see what you mean! He's a bit feisty!"
Of course, Levi found this as no laughing matter. "Very. That's what Rogue does to people he's not fond of. That is the second time in forty-eight hours that he's done that to Kirstein. My first day training him was a nightmare. It was like trying to tell a four year old that he couldn't have any cake or sweets all day. When he doesn't like you, he doesn't listen. And he'll do everything in his power to piss you the fuck off if he can't spit on you. And he's fucking creative with how he does it. Luckily, things are getting better between the two of us. What I'm concerned about is how he's going to react to Nile. I'm positive that Rogue will not like that asshole at all."
"Yeah, that's our main concern." Hange added. "I don't know how he will feel about Zackley, but I know that if he does something that deems him untrustworthy or useless," She paused breath catching in her throat. " The consequences would be severe."
The older man sighed, his alcohol breath so pungent that it carried to where Levi sat – his nose wrinkling slightly in distaste. "I see. When you get down to it he's an intelligent animal, and they will not hesitate to express themselves. It's like a dog that's loyal to its owner with a visitor over and the dog is constantly growling and barking. It's something you can't really erase since it's natural, but rather suppress. I would work on trying to keep him from reacting in such a way." Pixis elaborated as he took another swig, eyes staring at the titan who had since gotten into a sitting position and had begun to run his fingers among the edge of the rocky patio – Rogue's little ones sitting near his knees in conversation with the beast. The old soldier then sniggered in amusement. "I can tell Rogue is incredibly protective of those two. He would defend them to no end, I assume."
"Yes he would!" Hange butted in, the conversation growing more off topic by the minute. "When we were on our last capture mission where Mikasa and Armin led us to the titan's nesting area, Rogue nearly charged at us before he knew why we were there and what was going on! He was practically hunched almost all the way over them roaring at the top of his lungs for us to get away!" Hange cheered enthusiastically, getting lost in facts once again. "The first night he was here, Rogue woke all of us up because he wanted the two to sleep with him like they had in titan territory!" The scientist spoke with great animation, waving her arms in all directions. Erwin then cleared his throat to break the chain of being off task.
"I think our foremost worry is really just Rogue remembering the formation. As you know, his brain is like that of a five to seven-year-old child. Arlert shared with me that it can sometimes take a while for Rogue to learn incredibly complicated things. However, Arlert and Ackerman have also expressed to me that ever since they first met the titan and worked continuously with him, Rogue has steadily learned at a quicker pace."
"We've also given him things to start stimulating more brain activity!" Hange interrupted yet again, receiving Levi's own sharp glare. He wanted the conversation to move forward.
"Ah. I see your reason for distress. Besides keeping his attitude in check, the formation is something you're going to have to brand into his head. Of all the tests, that's the one that will be the most challenging for him and the one that matters the most." Pixis frowned. "How much does he know?"
Levi sighed through his nose. "That's our other obstacle. The first day, he was completely unwilling to learn it. Yesterday, he showed some interest. I only told him the basics but I doubt he will be able to remember all of them. The only thing he does know with absolute certainty is what our signal flares mean – having absorbed the information from watching our expeditions in Wall Maria. As far as memorizing the formation by heart and all its individual do's and don'ts, it may take him the entire two months to do so. Especially since it's something he's still uncomfortable learning."
Pixis nodded as he looked to the titan again with a practiced gaze of observation. Rogue had since stood up and had begun to walk towards the balcony with his hands behind his back casually – looking nearly human with an affable expression wiped across his malformed face. Levi had to admit; it was ludicrous and almost comical to see the big, dim, and menacing creature looking so – childlike.
"I think with hard work you can ease your worries. As far as him flipping the bird and nonetheless talking though, I think it should be kept to a minimum during the examination. Altogether, I have confidence in the brute. I don't want to see him die a meaningless death."
The Corporal remained quiet, sipping on more tea and knowing exactly what the esteemed Garrison Commander meant with his last words. A shadow then cast over the conversing four, alerting that the titan had come to stand a mere three meters from the overhanging balcony. The titan's brows were arched high, green eyes bright with life. The skin around his grotesque maw was pulled into what Levi could call an anxious smile. Rogue grunted in greeting and then lifted his hand delicately over the stone railing. Carefully, the titan sat down a large rock in the wake of Pixis with a soft trill. The creature, as usual, wiggled his large tapered ears in expectancy. The short man allowed a single thin brow to rise in the slightest.
'What the hell is the big brat doing now?'
The three experienced Scouts watched as Pixis smirked beneath his mustache and lifted his legs to prop them on the rock before him, crossing them nonchalantly as if he was sitting afore an open flame. "Ah, nice. Not bad actually." He muttered to himself, cradling his hands behind his head as he leaned back in the chair he sat in. Rogue purred as usual in delight.
"EELLCCCOONNNEE GGGIIFTTT!" The titan seemed to explain, the scientist squealing softly at Rogue's mispronounced statement. The old Commander let out an echoing laugh.
"A welcome present you say? Well, it's fine one. It helps my back actually – props my feet up at the perfect level! Thank you, Rogue."
The titan gave a quick nod in acknowledgement before turning to walk back with the desire to join the young recruits. Pixis then lifted his flask again, savoring the last drops before relaxing further.
"He's a good one. He's got more humanity than some people even do. One of a kind indeed."
The interior of the barn glowed with soft warm candlelight, letting utter peace fall over its resting occupants. Night had descended upon the world again with a deep shade of black. It was calm and quiet, the titan's gentle snores filling the vast interior with an odd form of tranquility. Hange sat at her desk, facing away from the cluttered surface as she looked over her pile of notes and monitored Rogue and his two adopted children in his palm from a respectable distance. Over the past few hours, she had been putting together a journal filled with her and Molbit's observations and discoveries of the special titan, alone and keeping to herself.
Hange giggled softly as she watched the hulking creature's nose twitch like a rabbit's in his sleep before removing the loose pages in Molbit's sketchbook that the young man had recently finished and began to paste them into the journal. The sketches were quality – far better than what she and most definitely what the Corporal could do. Molbit had clearly captured the titan's majesty and likeness. He had drawn Rogue from various different angles, lines and shades emphasizing the creature's features such as his strong jawline and dark expressive eyes. There were also studies of Rogue's various expressions, some from life and others from memory. The titan's perfectly sculpted body was included as well, seemingly alive with each gesture drawing. The final sketch she pasted in the journal was one that the young man had done just a short hour earlier before retreating to his welcoming mattress. The penned drawing was of the pose Rogue was in now – deep in repose with his pronounced chin nestled gently into his precious cargo. It was insanely sweet to Hange. It entertained her to see a creature that could tear apart a vile man's soul with his feral eyes and rip a titan to pieces so at ease and so loving.
'One of a Kind' was a great phrase to describe the towering behemoth. One of a Kind indeed.
Hange then glued the last sketch into the binding and proceeded to transfer her notes to the new pages. The strong smell of rain seeped through the crevices in the barn, thunder rumbling in the distance. The darkness above lit up briefly with the flash of lightning. Hange sighed. She loved it right before it stormed, the barn feeling cozier than the cold castle. It was ironic, but everything seemed more just with the coming rain. She then moved on to the recent facts about the titan's age and others. Hange looked up to the titan again to see his nose wrinkling and brows knitted together. Rogue then let out a harsh breath of steam through his nose, fingers and toes twitching slightly before the creature's body relaxed once again. She smiled softly, the titan was obviously dreaming – something else that she would have never thought possible with the towering beasts. As always, she found it oddly cute.
Hange then returned to her work, but before she could scribe a single letter a distressed whine broke the serine silence of the barn. Startled, the scientist looked up to see something that she hadn't expected. Rogue's face reflected the look of pain, brow creased, jaw clenched, and nostrils flaring. The titan cringed in his nest of hay, head burring down into the crook of his folded arm. Rogue's nails dug into the hay, body shivering despite the warmth in the room. Hange's eyes widened, a massive feeling of fear forming in the pit of her stomach. Warily, she lifted herself from her seat and edged closer to the beast, confusion painted across her face. Before she could attempt to wake the two teens in the titan's palm, Rogue opened his mouth and let out a hollow wail.
"What the hell – what's?" Hange gasped as Armin and Mikasa quickly snapped from their slumber. Shocked to the point of being petrified, the older Scout was lost for words as the titan's little ones stumbled to her side, sleep still pulling at them. "What's going on? What's happening!" Hange finally pleaded as she found that her tongue was operational.
Panic stricken, the three watched in alarm as Rogue panted intensely, whining loudly as he scraped his face across the floor before curling tightly with hands balling up into fists. To Hange's surprise, without fear, the two new recruits quickly scaled upon the titan's neck and began to delicately massage the beast's prominent muscles. Spellbound, Hange remained unmoving as Mikasa rotated to Rogue's cheek, rubbing the bridge of the titan's hooked nose, and cooing soft librettos. However, the titan's face twisted into a grimace as he let out another hollow cry – one that sounded incredibly sorrowful and echoed across the courtyard.
Hange dithered, starting to feel more fear. Something was very wrong. "Armin, Mikasa, what's going on!"
At her desperate plea, the two looked at her – the boy's face filled with fear and the girl's with utter urgency. "He's having a nightmare. From the look and sound of him, it's a bad one." The teen paused, rubbing the titan's nose desperately. "There, there." Mikasa spoke mellifluously. "It's not real, Rogue. It's going to be okay. Everything is -
Unfortunately, before she could continue, the titan's head jerked – tossing the teens into the hay as Rogue released an ear-piercing shriek.
"What do we do! We…we need to wake him up!" Hange urged; the two teens looking spooked.
"It's not that simple." Armin informed hazily. "We need to get everyone up. We'll need –
"We're already up."
At the familiar disgruntled tone, the three looked to see Levi, Erwin, and a few other concerned veterans and new recruits standing in the doorway in their nightly threads. Like them, most showed looks of concern and exhaustion. Erwin gazed on in seriousness while Levi bared an expression that Hange couldn't quite read. The Corporal then looked to Rogue, staring hard as the creature droned miserably, head pressing into his muscular arm – seemingly desperate for an escape to whatever horror he was in.
"What the hell is wrong with him?" Levi demanded, but in less harsh of a tone than what Hange was familiar with.
Armin ran his hands through his golden hair, looking back at the titan. "Rogue is having a nightmare. But before I explain, we need to tie him down. If it gets any worse, he'll start kicking and lashing out." The boy explained with urgency as Rogue produced another shrill cry with tremors coursing through his frame. "We have to hurry! He's really bad! He could unknowingly tear this barn apart!"
Erwin quickly nodded, turning to Levi's squad who looked to be barely conscious. "Go get one of the steel nets. Bring it here and immobilize him. Hurry." He ordered with the titan whining again just as rain began to spill from the sky, provoking the group to join the scientist, the two teens, and the succorless Rogue inside the warmth of the barn. Hange watched as Mikasa and Armin attempted to perch upon the titan's head and neck once again to resume their acts of comfort. She watched as Rogue continued to whine and twitch uncomfortably while Levi folded his arms – surprisingly motioning to stand just a few feet from the titan's convulsing body.
"Start explaining. What is going on here?" He spoke, his tone surprisingly quiet and bewildering Hange. Although he was still unemotional and wearing a scowl, the man was yet again – showing concern in his own way.
Armin sighed, pausing for a moment to whisper another attempt to aid into the titan's ear. "As I was saying, Rogue has problems with nightmares." The boy began with the titan letting out another scream and curling in further on himself. Armin's eyes grew wider, the boy suddenly in a cone of confusion. "I… I thought he… wouldn't have them anymore…" The teen mumbled as Levi's squad returned and began to cover Rogue's shaking frame with the robust net, strapping the heavy steel to the floor – webbed metal covering the titan like a security blanket.
"That's the strongest net we have on hand." Erwin clarified. "Now that he's secure, please tell us what is going on."
Armin blinked, coming to light. "Well, Rogue has problems sometimes with nightmares. He started to get them just after the Jaegers were killed. At first, we didn't notice it nor would he tell us – like everything else, he kept them secret from us during that time. They got worse two months before we left for the wall – to the point where he was literally screaming while tossing and turning. Of course, Mikasa and I don't know how bad they were during our three-year absence. When we reunited, we thought they were history, but apparently that's not the case."
"We need to wake –
In horror, Hange watched as Rogue shrieked yet again, body trying to turn over beneath the tight net that struggled beneath the force. The titan's arm shook and snaked beneath the webbing, fingers clawing into the hay. Rogue whined again, feet curling in agony as the titan's little ones began to stroke Rogue's jawline and brows furiously – all the while whispering words of reassurance. Hange blinked. Why were they trying to coax the beast instead of waking him? The scientist continued to observe without a word, noticing several salty tears gracing Rogue's gaunt cheeks – something that would have been selfish to take samples of. The sight made her heart sink deeper in her chest, keeping silent as the creature's whining dimmed in the slightest.
"We need to wake him." Levi spoke sternly, but to their surprise, the two teens shook their heads.
"I know, but Rogue is different." Mikasa sighed solemnly as she continued to rub the titan's forehead. "Unlike us, he can't be woken up after he falls asleep."
"Wait, are you saying he's going to… be like this the whole night?" Jean cut in, receiving a dangerous glare from the dark-haired teen, the girl looking like a furious animal about to go in for the kill.
"Yes." Mikasa hissed. "How unfortunate it must be for you not to get any sleep for a single night! Armin and I didn't get much sleep for years! But I will tell you one thing, Jean. I'd rather help someone who's suffering through something they can't help but to endure than get a good nights sleep!" She spoke venomously with face tinting red and fists shaking in rage. Hange was stunned; she had never seen the normally and mostly reserved girl raise her voice at anyone. But if she had learned anything from the trip to the market, it was that Mikasa was quick to defend Rogue if the need presented itself.
Jean swallowed, Adam's apple bobbing fretfully. "I didn't mean for what I said to sound like that!"
"Kirstein, shut the fuck up." Levi spoke unsympathetically, eyeing the teen coldly to get a point across – that being for the teen to cease carrying out the argument further with the troubled Mikasa. "Now, Ackerman, can you elaborate further?"
The teen exhaled roughly. "It is impossible to wake Rogue up during the night. He will only wake up once the sun touches his skin. Trust me, we tried everything when Rogue was having nightmares. No matter how much water you pour on him, how loud you yell in his ears, or how hard you shove, Rogue is trapped in whatever vile vision he's experiencing." Mikasa continued calmly as the titan shivered and whined in desperation.
"How can we help?" Petra asked, stepping forward and laying a soft hand to Rogue's index finger. Armin sighed.
"There isn't much to do. It doesn't completely silence him, but rubbing his neck, jaw, and brow while saying things to soothe only calms him down just a little. We have yet to find anything that calms him down completely."
It was silent for mere seconds before Petra gave a tender smile, once that reflected almost maternal warmth. "I'll help you calm him."
Mikasa blinked. "You will? Even though –
"I don't mind." Petra interrupted as she scaled up the titan's arm to seat herself onto Rogue's powerful neck. "I don't like seeing him like this. I'll rest here all night if you need me to." She said quietly while massaging the creature's warm flesh in repetitive circles.
As Rogue let out another whine yet again, Hange escaped her veil of reservation and made her way to the titan's damp cheek. "I'm in." She smiled sympathetically. "Like you, I don't want to see our big baby uncomfortable and frightened." Hange ensured as her palms pressed onto Rogue's toasty skin, rubbing the leathery texture thoroughly.
"I want to help too!" Krista willingly volunteered as she made her way across the barn to slide next to Petra, beginning to stroke the beast's prominent jaw. Rogue cried desperately again, foot jerking in the steel webbing before his muffled plea died down into a low whimper. A lump formed in Hange's throat, more tears leaked from Rogue's tightly shut eyes, urging her to lean forward and give in to the humanly instinct to nurture.
"Hang in there big guy, everything is going to be okay." She quietly murmured, hoping that she was at least making some sort of impact.
"We will rotate if need be." Erwin began with a nod from the Corporal. "If you need to sleep, Blouse, Springer, and Kirstein will take your places. I will aid as well with them at your request. We'll be just inside if you need anything else."
Hange paused in her task to see the Commander and the others exiting into the rain, all except for Levi who retrieved her desk chair and placed it just a few feet from them. The short man then seated himself, casually resting a foot over his knee as he leaned back. Hange found her jaw wanting to sink. Why had Levi stayed behind? She shook her head; the behavior was so unlike him. The others too, seemed to take notice as well, but said nothing as they continued to massage. Hange swallowed, she had to ask.
"You're staying?" She began, Levi raising a brow before exhaling, folding his arms yet again.
"By court order he's my responsibility. My duty is to watch the big brat, Shitty Glasses." The man paused, face still as he listened to another whine from Rogue. "And if need be, I must intervene."
At his statement, a smile spread across Hange's face. "Admit it! You care for the big sweetheart! You put forth your own money so we could buy him things and you've been especially tolerant –
"Hange." Levi interrupted, eyes narrowed intensely. "Like I said. It's my duty." The man replied bluntly, jaw clenching. "Besides, I have insomnia and I only get three to four hours of sleep anyway. Rogue is my assignment. Nothing more. Nothing less."
She giggled, knowing that Levi was covering his concern. After knowing the high-strung man for years, she knew that when he was found out and confronted, he lashed out. Of course, she wasn't the only one who had noticed.
Rogue then screeched again, arm reaching further from the net before swinging beneath his bulk. The titan shivered, body trying to curl tighter with the net groaning. He then whined, long and loud as if the titan was a lost child pleading for its mother. Suddenly, the titan's frame rocked as the creature attempted to roll on his back, provoking the group to evacuate from the creature's vast form. Rogue then wailed, stopping mid shift and burying his chin into his shoulder.
"We can't let him move around much more than that. Are you sure there isn't some way to completely pacify him?" Levi demanded as Rogue whined like a deprived and injured animal.
"Like I told you. We tried everything." Mikasa sighed as she forced herself up to the titan's neck to support.
"What about cutting him?"
Mikasa bit her lip. "We tried that once out of desperation. It only made it worse."
"Then I guess we better continue our massaging then." Petra sighed as the titan whimpered weakly, shedding more tears. "Poor thing. That dream must be intense." The redhead yearned as she took her place again.
"Do you know what he dreams about?" Krista asked innocently, making the two other teens hang their heads.
"He dreams of people he knows dying in front of him – and he's always in a position where he can't save them. I guess it's like watching what happened to the Jaegers over and over."
Hange frowned, her heart sinking further as Rogue proceeded to wail in fear. She couldn't imagine how horrible it must be like to the gentle beast. Oddly, she was lucky she didn't have such horrid dreams. Even though she had seen more than her fair share of spilt blood, her nightly visions were usually her own perfect fantasies. She had seen soldiers have nightmares in their bunks – but nothing could compare to this, being trapped in a nightmare was truly terrifying. There had to be some way to –
Her gaze fell onto the music box in the corner where Rogue had stashed his collection of toys and objects. With an idea forming, the scientist raced for the box and took it delicately in hand, the others watching in intrigue as she brought it to rest on her desk. Just as the titan announced his suffering yet again, Hange opened the small music box. Instantly, the melodic tone of a lullaby, one of the three that the box played, filled the barn. On edge and grasping onto a series of hopes, Hange turned back to Rogue in desperation.
The titan whined, softly this time. His tense body loosened in the slightest as Rogue groaned before falling fairly quiet, body still shivering. They remained frozen as minutes passed, waiting. The titan droned softly with his face still crippled in distress and ears pressed to his skull. Muscles twitched in the creature's hands and feet, but for the moment, Rogue was fairly stable.
"Did… is it working?" Krista whispered.
"It could be." Armin replied as he assessed the situation. "He's never calm down this much when he's had these episodes."
"Worked or not, at least the brat's not screaming." The Corporal sighed, arms still characteristically folded. "Still, we don't know when or if he could lose it again. We stay with him."
The five blinked at the man's show of sympathy before nodding in agreement. Hange was astounded, what had happened between Rogue and Levi in the time frame of the titan's first day of training and presently? The scientist bit her lip as she began to rub Rogue's heated flesh again. She wanted to ask the man so badly, but if she did, Levi's stubbornness would more than likely foil her plan.
Several minutes passed with the titan still trembling beneath them and whining at a low volume. Sleep was creeping up on Hange after having already dominated the others, but trapping them in a light coat – awakening them with every sharp movement from Rogue. Hange shifted slightly, hand lazily rubbing the titan's brow as if she was trapped under a spell of hypnosis as she aided the beast through another small whine. The tune of the music box was lulling her into repose. She couldn't give in to sleep though! She had to take care of Rogue!
However, Hange was barely hanging on to consciousness. Her head dropped past her shoulders for a moment, jogging her to snap from awaiting sleep. Dazed, she blinked but seeing something that made her tired eyes widen instantly.
Levi was still very much awake, sitting in his chair with a hand rubbing the tip of Rogue's snout. His face was emotionless, but brow finally void of creased skin – icy eyes showing a speck of trepidation. Hange beamed deviously. In all the years she had known the rude little man, she had never seen him look so companionate. She wasn't going to let him get away from his actions in secret!
"If that isn't proof that you feel sorry for him, then I don't know what is." She whispered excitedly with the Corporal instantaneously removing his hand and turning to her, scowl plastered once again onto his face.
"Shut the fuck up." Levi retorted, voice barely audible through the playing lullaby. "I told you. I'm just doing a job. Fucking brat doesn't even shit or piss and he's high maintenance."
Hange only continued to grin like a child. "Yeah – job."
"Shitty Glasses don't press your luck. If you feel that it's absolutely necessary to mess with me then –
Levi's words caught themselves in his throat as Rogue suddenly cried out again, awakening all of the barn's occupants. The creature jerked, beginning to roll on his stomach and forcing the others to the hay covered floor yet again. The titan prolonged to wail, burying his face into the straw once more.
"Damn it." Armin cursed. "I thought we had a solution." He sighed, Rogue whimpering like a tremendously overgrown and frightened puppy.
"Wait a second." Petra pointed to Hange's desk. "The music box stopped."
Mikasa let out a disturbed sigh at the observation. "I guess it's like medicine when it quits working, the sickness acts up again." The teen alliterated as she rewound the box, summoning another melody to play. "When the music stops again, someone will have to crank it."
"We can take turns." Petra suggested.
Collectively, they sighed. It was going to be a long night.
Hours upon hours, the six worked ruthlessly to calm the distressed titan. The evening had been exhausting, proved by the dark circles decking their tired eyes. During the agonizing time, every ten minutes, one would have to crank the music box while the others tended to Rogue's stress or attempted to catch up on a wink of sleep – too exhausted to request a rotation. The titan himself was in the worst condition, having screamed himself hoarse from the continuous torture. Finally, morning had dawned and the Scouts were struggling to accumulate as much sunlight into the barn as they could. Although tired beyond her own understanding, Hange helped the others push open the barn door to make way for the morning light, the soft rays filling the vast space.
Hange then made her way to the titan who was currently encased in another burst of fear. Rogue jerked in the heavy steel net, howling in terror. The titan's little ones sat bravely upon his chest, scratching his chin with their frail fingers. The two teens kept looking back; making sure the sunlight was indeed there.
Suddenly, Rogue's eyes flew open, pupils shrunk to the size of a small ball. The titan then forced himself to sit upright with a feeble cry – ripping the steel net from around his torso and forcing his little ones to his lap. Rogue shivered, hands trembling as he remained spooked and panicked. The creature's chest heaved, eyes darting around the barn as if he was searching for an attacker.
"Rogue!" Armin called up to the behemoth. "It's alright, it was just a dream!"
The titan followed the voice's source, body relaxing as he spied the two upon his belly.
"It's okay." Mikasa added benevolently. "We're here. Everyone is safe. YOU are safe."
Rogue's body loosened up further, green eyes slowly traveling from the two he raised to the others that became his friends before focusing on his little ones afore him. The titan whined softly, wiping at his damp eyes while his ears fell low with sadness, eyes dim with pain. Hearing a few words of concern, Rogue looked to the crowd with unease before turning back to his two adopted children.
"EEEIIII HADDDDD DDRrrEEEEn. ADDDdd ddRRReeeen." The titan spoke gutturally, face red in embarrassment. Hange frowned further at Rogue's confession. The creature didn't deserve such mental abuse. She wouldn't wish such suffering on her worst enemy. "EEELLLTTT SSSOOO RREEEAAAALL…"
"What – did you dream, Rogue?" Mikasa asked quietly.
The beast hesitated, shaking noticeably. "EeEIiii DRREeeenn HHAABBOUUT… EEEiI AAASSS RRRUNNIINNG. IITT ILLL…. IIITTT CCAAAIIICCEE NNEEE."
The concerned teens rubbed the titan's twitching wrists. "What was it, Rogue?"
The titan swallowed.