His ears naturally flickered at the sound of laughter, his heart fluttering a bit in excitement – a gurgle of amusement reverberating through his chest. The sun bore down into the clearing where he sat on the banks of the very large lake in the flying human territory. It was a nice day, perfect. The temperature wasn't too humid and there was a slight breeze – a flawless summer afternoon. Green grass tickled against his flesh and the surface of the lake glittered like millions of stars, light stirred by the splashing of rowdy teenagers. Rogue, his little ones, and the rest of the young humans were enjoying what Erwin had administered as scheduled 'breaks,' free time without orders of any kind during the middle of each day. With this break being a special five-hour one, the group was engaging in play known as swimming. His little ones and the other young humans were doing various activities in the water where as the titan was seated on the bank monitoring and offering himself as a diving board on the occasion.
"Alright, it's my turn. See if you guys can guess who this is." Connie beamed, continuing the game of impressions that the group had been engaging in for the past ten minutes – impersonating each other and several of the pack leaders. The boy then adapted the ever-familiar constipated look of the short leader. "You little shits better get back to cleaning these filthy floors." Connie began with a cold tone and present scowl. "If you miss a spot it's latrine duty for the fucking week." The boy finished with the others laughing, including himself who was emitting several huffs of amusement.
"That's obviously Corporal Levi!" Sasha giggled. "Gezz, how come we are all impersonating him?"
Connie snickered. "Because he's a grumpy little man who constantly makes poop jokes – and he's not here."
A wave of giggling swept through the group.
"How about this one!" Krista began as she tied her golden locks back and crafted her fingers so that they framed her eyes. "Levi! You have to see my new research results on the titans! Ah! It's just incredible! I have answered the great mystery of why titans eat us for dinner! HA!" The small girl laughed.
"That's definitely Hange."
Rogue smirked, yes that was certainly the messy haired woman.
"Oh I got one!" Sasha cut in, taking strands of her brown locks and holding them to her brows while adapting a serious expression. "My eyebrows are so big that they could be wings." She spoke in a deep tone. "They are the wings of freedom!"
At her conclusion, laughter ensued. The titan couldn't help but huff loudly.
"That is obviously Erwin." Armin beamed, Mikasa following his action.
"Any joke starting with eyebrows is obviously about Erwin." Jean exclaimed as he lazily threaded water. "I mean the man's eyebrows are so thick that if he shaved half of them off he would still have the biggest eyebrows in the Scouts."
"That is true!" Connie agreed with a strong level of laughter – the others following suit with Jean simply soaking the attention in.
The long faced teen's eyes briefly flashed to Rogue, a cunning smirk then plastered onto his face as he braced himself against the lake's bottom. "I got one." Jean began, gaining the others' attention with the titan watching in suspicion. The teen then took a deep breath and puffed out his chest like a proud robin. Jean then opened his mouth and let out the loudest roar that he could possibly make – one that wasn't at all threatening but rather pathetic as his throat crackled and the pitiable sound ended in an unavoidable squeak. As Jean coughed, the others chortled at his failure.
"That's Rogue, but his roar beats yours by a long shot." Mikasa deadpanned, obviously disliking the fact that the older boy had even attempted to impersonate him.
"I agree. He's got you beat!" Sasha laughed. "His cry is so powerful that it could probably shake the foundation of the castle." She sneered. "Yours wouldn't even scare a mouse."
The titan welcomed a pleased look to his face, content that he was on the better end of the comparison. Rogue then beamed widely as an idea of revenge came to him. Ready to play their game, the creature then grunted excitedly to gain the small flying humans' attention. Instantly, Mikasa's mouth formed into a warm smile with most of the teens mirroring her action.
"Do you want to join us?" His little one asked, receiving his eager nod.
"Are you going to impersonate someone!" Sasha questioned excitedly. He dipped his head.
"EEESSS! AAATTCCHH!" Rogue replied just before he took a deep breath. The titan then relaxed his frame and prepared to flex his vocals – his human companions watching silent in anticipation. Finally, Rogue opened his maw and released a deep and cavernous sound that reflected the neigh of a very large horse – the sound strikingly spot on to the hoofed creatures. The loud whinny then morphed into the guttural rumble of a stallion. Rogue then finished his act with a horse like snort, sending the teens reeling in laughter. The titan held his head up proudly as Jean grimaced, awaiting praise for his success.
"Holy shit! That was awesome!" Connie whooped as he turned to Jean. "His impersonation of you beat yours of him by a long shot!"
"It's no contest. Rogue won."
Armin chuckled. "The best part was that it sounded identical to a horse."
"Yeah – a Clydesdale." Mikasa smirked artfully, sending the others into an even more intense fit of merriment.
Rogue huffed at the wittiness of the comment just before he leaned backwards in his seated stance. Two months had gone by since his arrival in the flying human territory. So much had certainly happened. His relationships with the flying humans had deepened. Over time, he had grown even closer to Hange and Petra to where he was comfortable enough to express himself however he wanted which included gifting them with loving licks – something that the messy haired woman went absolutely nuts about whenever she received them. With Hange's 'experiments' as she called them, Rogue was actually beginning to enjoy them thoroughly – the activities making him find out more and more about the odd woman as well as opening new doors about himself. He had fallen for Petra even deeper. During group sessions with his small pack, he would mostly stick with her and was open about her sharing her stories about her and her own family with him – the titan occasionally giving a story in return.
Rogue blinked lazily as he watched the group of teenagers splash and frolic in the pond. He had grown quite fond of most his little ones' acquaintances. They were truly amusing to say the least. Often, Rogue would find himself joining his little ones and the other smaller humans during their outdoor lunch, listening to exchanges of human tongue and laughing at any joke told. Connie and Sasha were perhaps the most immature and he could relate to their constant search for amusement. The food loving brunet had invited him to hunt in the woods for the flightless birds called turkeys, leaving the deer alone due to his demands. He was good at catching them, but sometimes went after creatures like hogs as an added morsel for the pack. Sasha too, was a good hunter. The way she used her shooting sticks – a bow with arrows as she had told him, was incredible. The titan had only ever seen hunters in Maria use guns to take down prey and not the fragile wooden weapon. Together, they were a great hunting pair, and with his exquisite skill set, they never failed to bring in dinner to the tables. Connie himself wasn't the sharpest human, but never failed to amuse him. One time, the boy had caught him scribbling in the dry dirt and offered to teach him how to draw a strange shape that consisted of an elongated circle nestled between two smaller ones – a bizarre shape Connie had said was called a 'dick'. Of course, it was only after he had a session with Hange and his little ones, one where they were having him perform the act of drawing, in which he drew several of the odd shapes before he had been told to not to since 'dicks were not a polite thing to draw.' With no explanation as to what the shape was, Rogue stopped scribing it in his sessions – but he did for Connie as a bit of an inside joke, the boy usually drawing one back and exchanging a laugh. Rogue also loved Krista's kindhearted personality. Sometimes, the young female would join him and his little ones during his teachings – leisurely starting conversation or sometimes braiding his locks – weaving flowers into the strands that the titan kindly left in for the duration of the day. Rogue's relationship with Jean hadn't grown or ventured further from when they had first met. If anything, their only contact was the exchanges of harmless pranks or constant mouthing off. With completely different personalities, the two constantly clashed. Although the teen sometimes brought up valid points, Rogue was still not fond of him.
The titan purred a bit as he offered his leg to Connie, the teen scaling to his thigh before running forward in a dead sprint.
"Cannonball!" The nearly bald human exclaimed as he launched from the beast's knee – curling in on himself just before he hit the water.
Rogue let out another cheerful huff in amusement before letting himself relax once again. Yes, his relationships with various members of the pack had certainly improved. The biggest progress was with Levi. Granted, he was still slightly reserved around the man, trying to get used to his crude personality – the man was constantly using foul language and dry humor about human waste. However, he was gradually adjusting. In fact, at times, he almost found Levi to be funny in a bizarre sense. The way the Corporal snarky commented at misbehaving humans and at something he was not fond with was just amusing. Rogue had never been with someone or seen a human act quite like Levi. Even at his own comments that made the titan huff, Levi always kept a straight and impassive face. At times, Rogue had tried his best to make the stout man crack a smile or laugh. Of course, no matter what he did, Levi just remained impassive. The titan snorted at the thought, one day he would make the man crack a smile. One day he would.
The creature let out a gust of steam and lowered himself fully to rest upon his back, green pools staring up at the passing clouds above. His private sessions were greatly paying off with the Corporal as well. In his busy schedule, Rogue would train in the woods and in a secluded clearing at least twice a week. Truthfully, he actually looked forward to them. Levi knew more than what the fighting book had to offer by far. During their time, the titan would mirror the man's demonstrations of complex moves and practice them against the trees for hours. Rogue found that his kicks were certainly enriched, but he still found himself having issues with kicking things over the height of thirteen-meters. He was still unsteady on his legs, the only difference was that he didn't fall completely to the unforgiving ground anymore. Rogue feared greatly that he was becoming a disappointment to Levi on that aspect – aggravation always underlining the man's tolerance. The beast had asked the Corporal once if he was truly an encumbrance, but Levi had simply said that he needed to work harder. Overall, he could consider Levi as a friend. He was definitely better than Jean.
Rogue let out a waiting yawn and gave a slight stretch, raising a hand to scratch his chest with his eyes trying to depict images formed by the clouds – an activity that he and his little ones used to do many years ago. Another thing that the titan had been dwelling on in the passed time was his horrid nightmare. Thankfully, he hadn't endured any more since, but that didn't stop the flying humans from leaving the steel net rolled up in his nest in case of an emergency. After the incident, his babies and a few of the others including Hange, Petra, and even Levi during his sessions would ask what he had dreamt. As usual, he refused to tell them for two reasons. One, they had enough to worry about – and he certainly didn't want to stress his little ones to where they were restless. Two, was that Rogue was truly confused by it. So even if he chose to share the nightmare – he couldn't tell them much or anything useful. The horrible vision was actually quite a simple one. It consisted of him running through a never-ending foggy landscape – one where he would often pass by the same tree over and over. He was fleeing from some unknown attacker that if he attempted to look at its face, he would only see a looming shadow. The only vivid detail about the monster was that he could constantly hear it.
Oh, how he could hear it.
The cry the monster made was strange and unworldly, even more so than his. To Rogue, his own roar signaled his power and his warning that he was coming. The roar in the nightmare that belonged to the monster just sounded like the call of death. The dream was constant torture, running with no escape through a repeating world with no such thing as time. Rogue let out another great sigh. It was just a stupid nightmare, so why was he so worried about it? It meant absolutely nothing. It wasn't real. He was with his babies and newfound family so really there was no reason to dwell on it further. So why bother?
With his name being called, the titan quickly sat up to see that his little ones and the small humans looking at him expectedly. He tilted his head in question, grunting his query. What did they want?
Connie beamed. "Come on in! The water is awesome!"
"Yeah Rogue, why don't you come join us!" Armin smiled. "You've been working hard so how about you come and relax?"
The titan tilted his neck in the opposite direction. "SSSSSSHHHIIIIINNNIINNGG?"
Mikasa nodded. "Yes Rogue. Would you like to swim with us? Armin and I know you love water and the lake is deep enough."
Rogue grinned, jaw somewhat crooked. Finally! He could join the group in the water in an activity that wasn't his bath time – a more leisurely experience that he indulged in once every two weeks. Knowing just how he wanted to show his agreement, Rogue gradually stood upright, and without an indication, began to walk in the opposite direction of the pond. The titan nonchalantly kept his arms neatly behind his back as he blissfully listened to his allies' confusion.
"Er – Mikasa… Armin, what's he doing?"
"Where the hell is that big moron going?"
"Um, not sure exactly."
"Connie," Mikasa muttered. "You're a bad influence."
"Huh? What do you mean?"
Before his little one could give away his intentions, Rogue spun on his heel to face the group of teens once again. With his skin peeled back in a broad grin, the titan opened his mouth and let out a loud but playful roar as he charged forward. With his plan now clear to the other humans in the lake they struggled to swim for the shore.
"Fuck I shouldn't have!"
"You think, Connie?"
"This is worse than you teaching him how to draw –
Rogue then launched himself into the lake, tucking his legs beneath him. "AAANNNOONNNAAALLL!"
Within seconds, his massive bulk hit the water – the terrifying sound of swarming liquid sweeping beneath the massive behemoth echoed across the glade. Water then rushed in nearly seven-meter waves from Rogue's impact, ridding the tarn of gallons and throwing the new recruits onto the lake shore. The titan then shook his head to rid the unneeded liquid before acknowledging that he was sitting in the center of the lake with the water just leveling off at the bottom of his rib cage. Hearing several sounds of exhaustion and despair, Rogue turned – only to huff at the group of Scouts who struggled to stand. His little ones and the others finally turned to face him, mostly wearing looks of shock upon their faces before they gradually began laughing – except for Jean who was only giving the titan a less than amused glare.
"You know, it might be best if we left the jumping, diving, and the cannonballs into the lake to the people that are a meter or less tall. You Rogue, have fifteen of them." Jean grunted as he brushed off some faint mud on his knees.
At his words, the titan only let out a loud squeal in pleasure as he quickly shoved the horse faced teen back into the lake. Rogue watched intently as Jean resurfaced with his mug coated in rage – only more fuel to the fire that provoked Rogue to send a wall of water over the arrogant teen.
"Hey! What the – fuck you!"
The titan merely shoved the teen's aggravation aside and sent another wall of water over him. Rogue bleated merrily as he suddenly threw a wave of water onto the rest of the teens and his little ones, heart warming as he watched them race back into the water and begin to return his unpleasant offerings. The titan huffed, laughter rippling the surface of the lake as the small humans splashed the largest amounts of water they could upon him – barely wetting beneath his chest. Wanting them to have a little bit of an advantage, Rogue lay back into the lake with only the tops of his shoulders and neck exposed. Immediately, like swarms of ants, his little ones and the other teens teamed up and began to relentlessly pelt him with the translucent liquid. The titan bellowed louder, purposely fighting back weakly as the water soaked everyone even further.
He loved it. He loved every bit of it.
Instantly, Rogue froze, wincing at the familiar sour tone that he had heard countless times. Gradually, the titan lifted his head with the teenagers mirroring his action to see Corporal Levi standing near the lakeshore. Rogue swallowed fretfully at the man's appearance. From head to toe, Levi was drenched – clothes stuck to his skin and hair flush to his brow. The man's face was fixed into a look that the titan couldn't determine if it was borderline rage or sheer disgust. His mouth was pulled into a deep frown and thin eyebrows knitted together, the muscle just above his lip twitching. Rogue's ears drooped as he hung his head sheepishly. The corporal must have been standing nearby when he had jumped into the lake. The titan nervously pushed a strand of hair from his face, debating on what to do and say.
"Crap!" Connie hastily whispered. "We're going to get cleaning duty for the month now!"
"Shut up, Connie!"
Rogue gulped, he didn't want his babies or the other small Scouts getting the punishment because of him. "OOORRRRRYYY EEVVVIII." The titan apologized. "EEIII UUUMMMPP EENNN AATTEERR." He tried to explain, sitting up and characteristically weaving his fingers between his toes sheepishly. For a long pensive moment, Levi remained still until he finally let out an aggravated breath after what felt like eons.
"Yeah, I unfortunately saw that and was unfortunately here. Now, all of you get your asses out of the water and get ready for our capture training exercise. Don't be late or I will give you all roof and window cleaning duty." The Corporal concluded gruffly as he turned on his heel and began to make his way back to the tree line without another word.
Relieved that the small Scouts had avoided such penalty for his actions, Rogue sighed and got to his feet with the others soon following him. Back on dry land, the titan quickly shook his head to wring the excess water out, giving the teens another unwanted shower that the small humans let slide – most of them at least.
"Next time you could warn us if you're going to wring your hair out like a dog." Jean spoke sarcastically as he began to dry his frame with a coarse cloth.
With his hair now fluffed upon his scalp, Rogue hummed in pleasure – utterly pleased with himself. Without warning, the titan then carefully lifted his foot and lightly shoved the arrogant boy back into the water as a reply – provoking more laughter.
Damn, he loved living among the humans. But there was still work to be done in the near future to ensure that they were safe. Much work.
His lungs shuttered, heaving with every rapid beat of his wild heart. He thundered forward, mind searching for another tactic to escape. Rogue's tapered ears ringed with the whirling sounds of invisible wings. They were everywhere! The titan peeked over his shoulder to see the pack closing in, purely focused. Instinctively, he abruptly veered, leaping over a small gorge before making contact to the mossy bed of the forest floor. Rogue then felt the familiar sensation of panic spread throughout his body. He was running out of options, but he wanted to win!
Over time, with the repeating capture exercises, the Scouts had gotten better. Much better. Even though the titan was growing accustomed to the surrounding vegetation, he was quickly discovering that he didn't have the upper hand like he thought he would with the passing of the months. Instead, the pack had formulated new techniques and had begun to read his movements. There had been several times in the past few weeks where Rogue had nearly lost the game of evasion. Very close. There were times where he had been nearly completely bound or had fallen into a venerable position – only to slip away at the last second by the skin of his teeth.
Rogue looked over his shoulder to monitor the pack's progress, seeing that several soldiers were breaking off from the main part of the pack and disappearing into the woods. His eyes narrowed in great suspicion. What were they planning now? Suddenly, two soldiers came from nowhere, sailing on either side of his head.
"Get ready to execute the constricting maneuver!"
The titan narrowed his eyes in determination, reaching up quickly to snag the two sets of wires – only to miss as the men suddenly lowered. But he was quick. Nimble, Rogue charged forward and leaped, powerful muscles propelling him several meters off the forest floor. With a quick swipe, the titan's reaching fingers caught the wires without fail. The creature then met the earth again, impact making the ground ripple beneath his feet. Quickly, Rogue launched the two soldiers into the trees and charged forward without delay. Remembering the spoken words, the titan knew they were planning something. He just had to figure what.
Rogue then rounded another bend, mind still searching for a sure plan of evasion. He couldn't exactly climb up into one of the trees; there was no time to do so. The gorge. If he could make it back and use it as place to lie in wait – then he could both surprise his pursuers and think of another way to ensure his victory. With the new plan in mind, the titan prepared to release a cloud of steam to cover his tracks. However, before he could act, a Scout – no doubt Eld, zoomed past to take the lead, moving so close that a few strands of Rogue's hair ruffled. The man's cable rubbing against his ear suddenly propelled the titan to act on pure reflex, without thinking, Rogue reached up and caught hold of the traveling wire. But instead of tossing Eld aside or up into the canopy, the titan yanked on the cable – pulling the bewildered man back to him. He then reached up and caught the man in his opposite hand safely. Bewildered by his own reflex of action, Rogue stopped in his tracks and opened his palm to reveal Eld looking just as spellbound. Rogue tilted his head in wonder; he hadn't had such a reaction before.
"Well, Rogue." The blonde soldier chuckled. "That's certainly new from you. I do have to say though, it was better than landing up in the branches!"
The titan blinked before cracking a smile, thankful for the praise. Yes, he could use this new technique as well – it would work perfectly with his plan! Especially since the trees were not quite as high in this section of the forest! He could restrain them without hurting them! Hearing the approaching pack, Rogue gently placed Eld with his ruined cables back to the forest floor before bounding through the brush again. As he ran, his mind began to churn. Mike and Hange's teams were right behind him with Levi and Erwin's somewhere off in the forest. Over time, the teams changed members and the two leaders had decided to join in the game. Currently, his babies were split between Erwin and Levi – Mikasa being with Levi and Armin being with Erwin. Rogue blinked, he hadn't seen the two Scout leaders' small packs since they began the false hunt. Odd. Despite that, he couldn't worry about them at the moment. He had to take care of the two trailing packs first. He thought harder, glancing down at his palm. Perhaps he could execute something similar without the use of the gorge. Maybe he could turn the tables in the game to where he was the hunter and they were the prey. Of course, execution would only work on the first advance – so the gorge was still a necessity. Yes, his reformulated plan was bound to work.
Beaming to himself, Rogue slowed his pace drastically – practically at a jog. This was going to be good. The titan's ears flickered at the sound of translucent wing beats, making him prepare to make his move. They were directly behind him and very close. He could sense their excitement.
"Look! Rogue has slowed down!"
"He must be tired. Perhaps Eld's squad wore him out!"
"Quick! Let's use this as an opportunity! Hurry and trap him before he regains his energy!"
Rogue snorted. How incredibly foolish they were. They had no idea.
"Alright! Begin the constricting manu –
However, Mike's words were lost as the creature suddenly spun on his heel and turned to charge straight for the advancing packs who were thrust into a frozen state with their cables still outstretched in the various surfaces before them.
"WHAT THE HELL!"
"FUCK HE SET US UP!"
"I CAN'T BELIEVE WE FELL FOR THIS AGAIN!"
Rogue roared in triumph as he lashed out and encased four sets of wires in his hands, pulling their occupants back into his waiting hands before swinging them just a few feet to the ground. The titan then charged through, passing all the confused faces as he began to initiate the next step in his plan.
"What the hell did he just –
"Rogue has never done that before!"
"Shit! Hurry! We must keep on him! Beware! He's trying something new again!"
"Looks like he's found another way to restrain us in these low trees!"
The titan then heaved a cloud of steam as he sped forth; soon leaving the two spooked packs in the dust. Although his newly adapted technique was just as reliable as swinging his comrades, he could get a better aim after he caught his victims before depositing them. Sure, it had limits and an extra step, but it was fun. Perhaps it could prove useful in some other way in the future. Still, he almost felt like the technique had another step still to it, then again it was very functional without it – whatever it was.
For several minutes, Rogue bounded through the wood, his nerves calming in the slightest. No one was in sight. Not a single soul was around. It was just he and the leafy greens. He could almost call it peaceful. Then, without warning, the remaining men and women of Mike and Hange's teams suddenly appeared before him, rocketing forward sporadically so suddenly that Rogue couldn't even swipe to grasp their lifelines. Puzzled and riddled in surprise, the titan paused and turned to watch Mike, Hange, and several other of his human companions sail in the opposite direction, not even looking over their shoulders. Rogue's fingers scratched his scalp, the beast completely perplexed. Why had they done such a thing? Could it have been likely that they had not seen him? Impossible. He was right in front of them! Then why did they pass him? Could it have been conceivable that he could have injured one of the soldiers that he rolled onto the ground just minutes before? He didn't hurt any of him did he? It was just two meters. No. That couldn't have happened. Maybe there had been a signal or something that he failed to see and Mike and Hange's packs were to unite with the two main leaders and his little ones. Yes that had to be it. He would get them before they could reach the others!
Without further hesitation, Rogue trailed after them, lightening his body in the slightest so he could gain lost ground. His brain swam in confusion and his heart began to thump harder at the thought of the current unknown. Something could have happened up ahead. It certainly explained the speed the group was going and their sheer concern with what was before them. Then, a damning thought crossed his mind. What if it was true and someone was hurt up ahead? Not necessarily the soldiers that he had brought back to earth, but someone else. A shiver sailed up his sturdy spine. What if it was someone very dear to him! What if something had happened to either one of his babies! No! No! No! With his heart drumming at the possibility, Rogue let out a pained shriek. He had to get there! If someone he knew well was hurt of if it was his little ones, he had to help them!
The titan continued to trail after the two small packs, welcomingly letting them lead. Rogue whined between his chattering teeth. If the human injured as one of his little ones – he could never forgive himself for not being there. He hung onto hope that they were all right. They were strong after all. Then again, like all humans, they were fragile. Just like Dr. Jaeger and his sweet Carla.
Too caught up in his own worries, Rogue failed to register that the two soldiers that had broken off from Eld's pack before had positioned themselves just behind the oblivious creature. Finally, after hearing the extra sets of wings, the titan looked over his shoulder to see Molbit and Nanaba just ten meters behind him. Rogue grunted in confusion. Were they headed to the incident too? Their facades were blank as sheets of paper. Then again, perhaps no human or his little ones had gotten wounded after all. He had seen the faces of humans in the mists of panic and fear. If one of their own was hurt – they were screaming or shedding eye water. Was it – did the flying humans come up with some strange plan? It didn't seem quite so. Why would a group be behind him and in front of him? It couldn't be any attempt to capture – they were not making any move to wrap him in wires. He swallowed back a vile wad of saliva. What were they doing?
Suddenly, the familiar feeling of wires sliding against his leathery flesh made itself known to the titan – but he couldn't react quick enough. Six soldiers circled his body in a complete blur – three around the front and three around his back. Before he could even react, his muscular and firm arms were roughly and awkwardly pinned to his sides. Then, before he could even yank or scream, a thick wire impacted against his ankle – so crudely and impulsive than his legs flew out from beneath his bulk. The titan screamed as he slammed into the earth, ground quaking and foliage flying as he rolled several times uncontrollably. The creature then came to a halt in the clearing, dizziness crippling his body. Rogue groaned in agony and blinked desperately as he tried to make out which way was up. Just as he located the sky and earth, a thickly woven webbing descended over his body – a net. Knowing very well what it symbolized, Rogue then began to pull at his restraints, but it was fruitless. The cables were those that he couldn't just snap and break. Mortification hit the titan full force, luring a hollow cry from his lungs. He was caught. The game was over.
He had lost.
Rogue's ears fell with his head, gaunt cheek resting upon the grass as he stared at the landing humans in sorrow, feeling so stupid. He knew very well that he had finally fallen for their trap. The titan whined, his face tinting red in embarrassment as he watched the flying humans celebrate.
"We finally won! Yes!" Connie announced as he jumped up and down excitedly with several of the other Scouts falling on their backs in relief. Erwin then cleared his throat.
"Congratulations everyone. We have finally developed a strategy to subdue. We are also more efficient as to how often we evade Rogue's signature act of snagging wires. Good work."
Feeling even more stupidity flood into him, Rogue whined faintly like a downed animal, getting a good majority of attention. Seeing his stress, Hange and his little ones came to his aid, the scientist immediately peeling back the old net and cutting the wires in half. With a soft touch on his nose, Rogue turned his head to stare at his two little humans who faces were in easy smiles.
"It's okay Rogue." Mikasa assured softly. "Hange is going to have you free in seconds."
"EEEIII NNNOOO IIKKEEE OOOSSEE." Rogue informed, green eyes smoldering. "EEEEIII AAUUNNTT VVIIINNN!" The titan's voice crackled, revealing how much he was upset. He hated failure. Ever since that dreadful day five years ago, he really despised himself when he didn't do something successfully.
His little one smiled tenderly and continued to rub the bridge of his hooked nose. "Hey, don't hate yourself. Look at it this way Rogue, you're a great teacher and you taught your students well." Mikasa beamed tenderly.
Feeling that he was now free from his binds, the titan sat up – shoulders hunched in the slightest as he stared at his two longtime companions in question. In this false hunt, he was the teacher? He never thought of it that way. "EEEIII TTEEEECCHHH?"
Armin nodded. "Yes Rogue. Because of you we are all more prepared. Your loss shows that we have gotten stronger."
The titan's ears pricked forward in realization. He had succumbed to slight immaturity, finding himself selfish. Yes, he may have lost but it was a symbol of a breakthrough. Rogue wiggled his elfish ears and purred in delight, eyes scrunching up in pleasure. The fact that the flying humans had won meant that they would have a better chance at surviving the harsh and cruel world. They were grateful for his help and he was happy that he could be of aid.
"Feeling better?" Mikasa asked. He nodded profusely.
"ESSS! EEIII AAPPPEEE EEEEIII EEELLPP!" Rogue explained, swiftly nuzzling into his little ones' tiny bodies.
"You did great! Of course, I did have a feeling that our little trap would lure you into our clutches!" Hange bounced with the titan tilting his head in difficulty.
Curious as to how the flying humans executed their trap so well, Rogue grunted in question.
"We used your mushy instincts against you." Levi began as he made his way over to the group. "We knew how close you were to some of our soldiers and recruits and if we retreated and faked an emergency – we knew you would follow." The corporal explained in his usual bored tone. "As to how we restrained you, we found that several skilled soldiers ambushing you from both sides would send you into confusion. After you were pinned all we needed to do was simply trip you. Of course, some of those soldiers you disabled were pawns so you would let your guard down and have no idea what we were doing until it was too late."
Rogue nodded in understanding. He had expected much. They had gotten him good.
Hearing the seriousness in the man's voice, the titan turned to the Corporal to see the man climb back upon his horse, cold eyes looking at him sternly. "EEESSSS EEVVII?"
"This may not make any sense to you now, but if we ever find ourselves in a desperate situation – you will have to keep those… mother hen instincts at bay."
Rogue blinked but before he could comprehend what the man was implying, Levi turned to the group as a whole.
"Now, Hange you have Petra assist you in your intelligence training with Rogue for the remainder of the day. I need Ackerman and Arlert to report for strength training this afternoon. They could use the extra practice since they have been helping you in your sessions a lot lately. Now, report to your positions."
"Yes, Sir!" The three Scouts replied, fixing themselves into a salute with the titan following their actions at a slower pace – still thinking about Levi's warning. What did he mean?
"Alright Rogue, can you name this?" Hange smiled as she held up one of the new flash cards before him.
Recognizing the younger version of the animal, the titan beamed as widely as he possibly could. "UUUPPPYYY."
"Excellent! Now how about this animal? What are the younger versions of a horse called?" The messy-haired woman continued as she moved to the next card. The titan huffed in amusement.
"AAAIIIEEEBBEE GGSSEEAANN." Rogue answered jokingly, holding his head up high and watching in likeness as Petra and Hange broke out in fits of giggles.
"You're still associating Jean with horses!" Petra smiled.
Hange nodded in agreement. "Since he first mentioned it, everyone still calls the poor boy Horseface." She cackled. "Humor aside, what are young horses called, Rogue? Remember there is two names."
The titan laced his fingers between his toes in concentration, teeth clenching together as he thought. "EERRRR… OOAALLL?" Rogue asked, a single brow raised in worry that he was wrong. To his relief, Hange dipped her head in approval.
"Yes! A foal! Now what's the other one?"
"Yes Rogue! You're doing very well! Let's do a few more before we move on to the alphabet and your more advanced studies!"
The titan nodded and shifted to get more comfortable as they continued. The three dwelled comfortably in the barn, the afternoon sun spilling trough the hairline cracks in the wood. As usual, he was having his annual session with Hange – the only difference being the lack of his little ones, but Petra's presence was an acceptable replacement. He understood perfectly the reason for his longtime companions' absence. Like his need to better in the human language, his little ones had crucial things to work on too. Lately, he had been working extra hard on his ability to communicate and understand human tongue. Currently, Hange and Petra were 'broadening his knowledge of things called 'nouns' – something that they were exploiting more and more of as of late. Rogue knew the reason for doing so was because of an incident that occurred almost a month before. It was a very embarrassing one to the titan, mostly due to his ignorance of the world as well as Hange misinterpreting and mistranslating a simple statement he had made and throwing everyone into a state of alarm. Some time ago, he had found that a cat had gotten into his nest and given birth on the 'roof' of the small spare room the Hange had sometimes stayed in when she was working. Naturally, he was curious and felt the need to watch over the mother and the six newborn kittens for the titan knew that there were plenty of predators in the small world they lived in that would fancy a cat for dinner – especially the helpless little balls of fur. On the day he found them, Rogue was sneaking away between sessions to check upon the new family and ensure that they were safe. At midday, Hange had stumbled upon the titan as he was retrieving several clean sheets from the hanging laundry at the old mill – set on giving them to the nursing feline to provide warmth. To Rogue, any offspring from any creature was a baby. No matter how big it was to the parents – it was still a baby. Of course, the titan was unaware of the different words in human tongue to describe offspring. So, when the unkempt scientist had asked him what he was doing, his simple response of ' I HAAAVVE NNNEEWW AAIIBBIIEESS' had set off a chain of events that soon ignited his realization at his ignorance. At the time, he had no idea as to why Hange was screaming in celebration just before she ran off to join the others. Soon after was when he was cast into complete confusion as the flying humans kept staring at him oddly and approaching him much differently than before. Hange and his little ones were asking him bizarre questions like: how many, how long had he known, and if he felt anything. Innocently, without knowing the context behind their questions, he answered openly and listened as they began telling him what could happen and occur – things that made absolutely no sense to the titan at the time and how they related to kittens. It wasn't until later that evening when Hange and his little ones began to probe his stomach with the scientist boasting about finally getting to know titans reproduce, that Rogue had ultimately realized his huge mistake. Immediately, he corrected them by showing the kittens and their mother, cursing himself for not realizing his error earlier. He knew what fertile deer looked like before their young were birthed, but that was all the unnatural creature incapable of procreating knew about reproduction. Everything else was completely news to him. After the misunderstanding Hange had apologized to the titan and every worried soul more times than he could count. He forgave the woman effortlessly for jumping to conclusions, it was easy to make quick assumptions about the many mysteries of his kind that he didn't know and humans were eager to solve.
As he expected, in light of he and Hange's mistake, Levi had ordered that he be taught what different offspring were called as well as other nouns. He had learned that baby cats were kittens and his little ones were actually called teens or teenagers. But to the titan, Armin and Mikasa were always his babies. No matter how old they were. In truth, his two companions as well as the rest of the pack were completely content on the one exception.
As for the kittens and their mother, once the tiny bundles of fur were weaned, Levi and a few others had moved them into the human city where they had found a new home. Granted, he wasn't happy at the decision at the time- he had spent a good part of his time guarding the tiny creatures and caring for them. For nearly two days, he was incredibly grumpy about their removal until Armin had ensured him that it was for the best and they were in fact safer somewhere other than headquarters. But he understood. With the chaos and the fact that all of them were far too busy, him included, it just wasn't the place for them. Despite the discomfiture of the whole ordeal, Rogue was somewhat glad that it had occurred. It gave him the opportunity to learn more complex words. In all, he loved to learn – especially about the humans and their world.
Rogue blinked as he adjusted himself once again while he looked at the present card, tilting his head as he thought. "DDUUUKKIIIEE?" He answered hopefully, but to his disappointment, Hange shook her head.
"Not quite. Little ducks are called ducklings, Rogue. Armin and Mikasa told me that you had made friends with a few a long time ago. They said that they followed you around constantly!"
He nodded enthusiastically as the woman switched to another card. This time, instead of an animal, the card displayed the four different symbols that each breed of uniformed men wore on their backs. The titan purred; he had been familiar with them for years.
"Alright Rogue, name all of these from right to left!"
The creature beamed as he held up a clawed finger at the first insignia, obviously the one proudly displayed by the flying human pack. "SSSSSSCCOOUUTTS!"
"Great! Next one!"
Rogue gestured to the set of roses, obviously pointing to the flower backs. "GGGAARRRRRRRSSSOONNN."
"Wonderful! The next one is a tricky one! What is it?"
Tricky indeed. Rogue had only seen the symbol of the blade backs during the invasion of the human city. He had only been briefed a few times about what their title was, but still, like all new subjects – it was slow to absorb at its debut. Rogue grumbled low in his chest as he let his shoulders slump forward as he thought – gripping his toes and teeth grinding together. The titan's ears pinned back as he concentrated, letting out nonthreatening growls as he searched for the answer.
"EEEERRRRRR…..ERRR….AAAIIIDDDEE AAACCCKKS?" He eventually responded, knowing that he was likely incorrect. Petra gave a soft but understanding smile.
"Not exactly, Rogue." The young woman spoke sweetly. "That's the symbol of the trainees. Trainees are those recruits that train for years to be in one of three branches of the military."
Rogue characteristically tilted his head. "AAAIINNNNEEEESSS?"
"Yes. Your little ones were once trainees."
The titan dipped his head in understanding as Hange pointed to the last symbol.
"This will be the last one before we move on. So what's the emblem with the unicorn on it?"
With a sense of mischievousness pushing forward again, Rogue snorted playfully. "AAAASSSSSSOOOLEESSSS." The titan huffed, wiggling his ears at his own joke. As he expected, Hange snorted and came down with laughter. However, Petra only showed a fretful smile.
"Rogue," The redhead began, tone sweet as honeysuckle. "That – may be a good way to define them, but you can't use that word tomorrow or any other nasty word. The people coming to look at you will not take that well. You know the guy we told you about? The man named Nile? He really would not like that." Petra explained, making the titan's smile dissipate in the slightest. "All of us know you're joking Rogue, but everyone else does not. Keep it clean okay?" She smiled, suddenly raising her brow in suspicion. "Who taught you that word?"
The titan shifted sheepishly, positioning himself to sit upon his hip. Rogue's emerald greens then stared down at the strips of hay as if he was trying to find a needle. "EEEVVVII." He admitted, words slipping through his almost closed jaw.
The veteran still possessed her smile despite the news. "I figured as much." She chuckled. "I suppose you picked up other worlds as well from our foul mouthed Corporal?"
Rogue dithered. "SSSHHIITT. DAAANNN IITT." The titan informed. When it came to simple things like 'who done it' or 'where is it' the beast knew it was best to be truthful. To his amazement, Petra gave in to a bit of humor.
"Well! You certainly listen well! But promise me Rogue that you won't use foul words around anyone but the Scouts."
Rogue nodded quickly. "EEEESSS! OOONNNIISSSS!"
"Pinkie Promise?" Petra began as she offered her smallest end finger to the titan who registered the act of trust in an instant. Rogue then lifted his own outstretched pinkie finger, glad that he knew the parts of his hand for he had been briefed on what each of his fingers and toes were called – parts he never knew had titles. To seal the deal, the creature then touched the tip of his finger to Petra's, both of their hands slightly tilted as their own version of the familiar promise. Rogue beamed again as he then returned to his previous assignment, pointing to the last symbol with a gigantic digit. "EENNNPPPPS."
"Correct!You did really well my sweet titan!" Hange congratulated with her wide eyes shining like a cat after a bird as she scrambled to get her next set of cards. "Now it's time for the alphabet and reading!" The scientist squealed in delight.
The titan nodded in preparation, preparing himself for the harder part of his lesson. In the past few weeks, the team of his little ones, the scientist, and his small pack member had been teaching him the human art of reading. It involved the traditional flashcards as well as new techniques such as matching a set of words to sets of pictures. They had also made the titan practice reciting the alphabet letter by letter, but he was still having trouble advancing in the study. As the titan had come to understand, reading and the ABC's was no walk in the forest for him. Learning the two was challenging and often provoked him to get aggravated at points. At times, Rogue cursed himself and his mental incapacity, but he did his best to be optimistic. He really wanted to learn what every human he had ever known could do. He waned to say that he could if he was ever asked. Maybe one day he could be the one reading the stories to his little ones like they had done for him ever since they had met.
"Okay Rogue. Today I'm going to challenge you! I'm going to show you the cards without the pictures. The ones with the words only! But first! Let's see how well you recite the alphabet! Begin when you're ready!"
The titan accepted the challenge openly, brow furrowing as he attempted to line up the letters that he had learnt so far. To the day, his tutors had only taught him seven letters – five he could remember with certainty. Like most beginning to learn the alphabet, as they had said, they learn in parts before moving on to other letters. Rogue then swallowed to salivate his throat. He knew letters individually. It was putting them into the correct order that was still a challenge. "AAAEE." Rogue grunted as he squinted in concentration, trying to figure how to pronounce the next letter – one that had always been difficult with his mouth structure. "EE…BBBEE." He continued, deciding that the attempt was close enough. "SSSSEEEEE." Rogue focused, trying to remember which of the letters he knew came next. "UUHHH…EEEFFF?"
Hange laughed. "Not quite! You missed two letters!"
The titan's eyes widened at his blunder before trying to search his mind again – the afternoon sun beginning to fade away. "DDDEEEE? EEEEEE?" Rogue asked, hoping that he wasn't wrong. To his relief, the messy-haired woman squealed in congratulation.
"Yes! That's right! D and E come after C! Whoo! With more time you'll be able to read written orders!" The woman articulated whimsically. "Now say the last two letters you know!"
"Brilliant Rogue! Now let's add three more letters to your arsenal!" Hange continued as she held up a card that bore a letter that was two sticks with one going through them. "This is the letter 'H' Rogue. Can you say it?"
The titan tilted his head in intrigue. "AAEECCCHH?"
Petra nodded. "Yes. The words 'happy' and 'hello' start with H."
"AAEECCH." Rogue repeated to himself as Hange moved on to the next card – one with a letter that looked like a simple line.
"This is the letter 'I' Rogue. This should be an easy one for you to remember. You refer yourself as 'I' when you talk to others."
Rogue dipped his head, thrilled that the new letter was already familiar to him. "EEEIIII!"
"Good. Now the next letter is 'J' Rogue. The words 'joke' and 'jolly' start with the letter. It comes after I. Can you repeat it for me please?"
"Super!" Petra praised. "Now as usual, recite the alphabet with the new letters!"
The titan acknowledged her demand with a grunt, brow wrinkling in concentration yet again. "AAAEEEE, EBBBEE, SSEEEE, DEEE, EEEEE… EEFFF, GEEEE." He paused, aligning the new letters into the sequence. "EEIII… NOO! AAAEEECCHH! EEEII! JJAAaayyee." Rogue recited, voice cracking at the end in protest. He had been talking quite a bit in the last two hours.
The two humans gave their gestures of congratulation, clapping their hands together before Hange readied another small set of cards. "You're doing magnificent! Now, since it sounds as if your voice is straining, we'll limit the reading material. Mikasa and Armin should be back anytime anyway." She explained as she held up the first card, a simple word used to describe the creatures known as felines.
Rogue stared long and hard at the collection of letters. "CCAatt." The beast finally answered with the two expressing their praise. Hange then held up another picture-less card, the titan recognizing the word with certainty. "BBIIIIGgg!" He answered, his green pools catching his little ones entering his nest. The two had obviously changed out of their uniforms into their leisurely clothes and had a fresh scent of soap. They were obviously worn out from their training tasks, muscles tensing and exhaustion radiating from their bodies. However, though they were obviously tired, they smiled in greeting, the titan beaming widely in return. Rogue couldn't help but to let out a rumbling trill and several grunts in greeting, the creature lowering a bit to gift his two little ones with a welcoming nuzzle.
"Hey Rogue." Armin spoke warmly, exhaustion still tainting his voice. "What have you been doing?"
"HHAANNGGEE ANNNDD PPPEEETRRAA TTEECHH NNEEE ALLBBET Annd EEEaaadd!" He informed, his strained vocal cords causing him to cough uncomfortably, provoking Mikasa to frown – a tentative sigh leaving her as she eyed the two veterans.
"Yeah Rogue, I can tell you've been learning." His little one spoke dryly as she rubbed his nose, pressing her forehead into his toasty skin before turning her gaze to the Section Commander and the Veteran. "Did you guys overdo it?"
As quickly as the words left his little one's mouth, Hange denied with a strong shake of her head. "Oh no! He only just started to get hoarse. Hmm… as much as I would like to continue, I think it would be best if we called it quits." She laughed. "We can't have the main attraction loose his voice before tomorrow! Oh no we can't!" Hange exclaimed as she stood and began to pick up her materials. "As far as a progress report, Rogue has been steadily improving. He's able to say ten out of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, he's getting his nouns down pretty well, and Rogue is able to read two more words!"
The titan smiled at the news, proud of his achievement, the creature then held his head up high – smiling down at his little ones as he awaited their applause.
"That's great Rogue." Mikasa began as she patted his wrist. "I'm sure the Jaegers would have been proud of you."
The titan nodded softly, taking in her sympathetic words with grace. At first, including the Jaegers in a speech similar this one upset Rogue to a level for it brought back horrible memories. Now, he had learned that this kind of complement was among one of the best he could receive. Rogue then let out a cavernous yawn, the boards in the barn vibrating. The titan then carefully removed himself from his seat and began to fluff the organic cushioning of hay with a great mixture of feathers from the many pillows that he had ripped open in amusement over time. Feeling that it was appropriate to his liking, Rogue then carefully lowered himself onto his back, rumbling in content. The titan then performed his final nightly routine, inviting his little ones to rest with an open palm. Once Armin and Mikasa climbed into his hand, Rogue then placed the two teens with great care upon his chest, purring a bit as he watched his tired little ones get into position before cradling a hand over them in protection. Petra then gave in to a stretch, a small squeak catching in her throat.
"Well, I guess it's a sign for me to get in bed since you three are already prepped for slumber." The redhead smiled as she grabbed her cloak from the back of her chair. "Good night you guys and good luck tomorrow Rogue. Remember our promise okay?"
Seeing her sweet hold of her lips, the titan nodded and grunted, holding up a pinkie to show that he wasn't to forget. At his return, the titan's self-proclaimed offspring eyed him teasingly.
"What did you pinkie promise Petra, Rogue?" Mikasa smiled softly, a finger tracing one of the many veins beneath his skin.
"NOOoo CCUuuss." He implied as he let his head sink further back into the mixture of mint but old pillows and hay. Armin chortled after a long display of his exhaustion.
"Yeah, you sure can't do that."
"Ah yes! As much as I would love to see Nile get cussed out by a titan, we can't have Rogue being naughty!" Hange laughed as she struggled to keep hold of all her teaching and note taking materials. "You have to be a good boy and show them how great you are!" The woman informed as she began to make her way into the spare bedroom. "I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to be up for a bit transferring notes into your journal." Hange spoke as she disappeared into her room, not bothering to hear their opinion – even though they didn't mind.
For a long moment it was silent between the titan and his residing little ones. Finally, Armin spoke up.
"Don't be nervous about tomorrow, Rogue. Just do your best. Don't let them distract you. If you mess up a move or something, don't give up."
Rogue nodded at their words, taking them in with utter seriousness.
"Oh I almost forgot!" Hange chuckled as she emerged from the room and made her way to her desk. "Would you like this on?" She asked as she gestured to the music box sitting in the only non-cluttered area of her workspace.
Immediately, Rogue dipped his head in hungry approval – ears flickering in anticipation of the coming tune. The music box that Mikasa had given him was one of his most favorite gifts that he had received. It was sweet therapy to aid with his looming nightmares that would attack him relentlessly. Over time, the titan had found that the tune of the instrument had always lulled him into a peaceful state of mind. It was silly to think that something meant to lull babies to sleep would greatly benefit a fifteen-meter titan. Despite the odds, it did. Because of the level of intensity in his nightmares, Rogue didn't like to fall asleep without it.
The minutes ticked by and darkness settled into the interior of his nest with the melody of the music box flowing through the air, a soft light still radiating from the spare bedroom where Hange was hard at work. Rogue inhaled and exhaled steadily, watching with dim and half lidded eyes as his little ones rose and fell on his expanding and deflating chest. They were asleep, worn ragged from their day's activities. Gently, the careful creature brushed his large thumb upon their scalps as a last bid of tenderness before he relaxed into the plush of his bedding. Rogue shielded his eyes, waiting for sleep to claim him as his mind went for one last walk into his thoughts. One in particular kept him at bay, Levi's strange words he had spoken in light of his departure. Since then, the titan had trouble understanding their underlining meaning, but an odd feeling was pulling at him. The man's words didn't sound good.
The air was thick, foggy, descending over the landscape in a dense blanket – leaving it in an eerie atmosphere. There was a silence that he couldn't quite explain – just quiet except for his unsteady breath, beating heart, and bizarre sound of gently lapping water. There were no birds, animals, or any other living soul. With an uncanny feeling clinging to Rogue, the titan gradually opened his eyes.
Confusion then swept over him.
The area was plain, seemingly bathed in a light shade of grey. There was a vast lack of grass beneath his seated figure, replaced by an odd substance. The titan blinked in curiosity. Was it – small microscopic rocks? The titan instinctively looked over his shoulder for any ignorant prey or an unknown attacker coming from behind, but saw nothing but the ominous mist. Suddenly, he felt wetness at his feet. With the lack of pain that usually came with the gushing of blood, Rogue shot his gaze back to his feet. Puzzlement clamped onto his brain yet again. It wasn't blood receding and sweeping over his appendages, but rather pale blue water. The titan tilted his head, leaning over in the slightest to examine it further. Its movements were mesmerizing and never before had he ever seen water colored such a hue. Rogue cautiously dipped his hand in the foaming waves, trying to get a better look at this mysterious blue liquid. To his disappointment, the liquid in his palm had faded to match its translucent other. He then let the liquid fall unceremoniously to the strange earth below. A light breeze drifted through his locks, lifting the cloud cover in the slightest. Emerald greens grew wider in even more befuddlement- perhaps worry. The water seemed to go on and on. Was it bordered by land further out or was it possible that it never ended?
Where the hell was he?
Thinking back to the hours he spent nestled in his tree with his little one sharing the old book about the world beyond with him – was it possible that this vast blue water was indeed the ocean? Could it really be? No it couldn't have been. He resided behind the walls. Always had. This had to have been a large lake on the other side of Maria that he had never beheld. It had to be. There was no… there was no way it could be the ocean right?
Rogue sniffed, the salty air stinging the lining inside his nostrils before settling into a calming aroma. However there was something else that made his body instantly tense, a smell that made a sickening rage knot in his gullet. It was familiar, provoking, but exotic.
It was titan and it was close.
Now out of his trance like state, Rogue turned his head sharply to see another large titan seated next to him. Propelled by his promise, Rogue immediately willed himself to stand – but his legs wouldn't work. Alas, the creature could only move his head, neck and upper body with the exception of his toes. His legs felt like rocks – ones that were so heavy that they couldn't be moved. He could feel panic sweeping over him at the fact that he was defenseless. Now fearing that he could possibly lose his life, Rogue turned to face the titan again in preparation to fight with everything he had.
But then he noticed something. Something peculiar that confused him more than even the bizarre landscape.
The titan was still comfortably seated next to him, legs neatly crossed and hands folded gracefully in its lap. However, it wasn't the creature's abnormally calm state that puzzled him. The beast next to him looked so similar . Like Rogue and most titans, it had leathery and deeply tan skin. It looked to be analogous in size as well, perhaps a fellow fifteen or maybe even slightly larger – its build at least certainly was. Much like his own physique, the neighboring titan was muscular but definitely more bulky, having a slight gut that folded over part of its lower pelvis. Of course, the thing that Rogue found to be the most astonishing was what the titan's head and face looked like. Its hair was dark, shaggy, and went past its broad shoulders. Yet, that was not what was so stunning. Its ears – were pointed. Just like his and flickered and moved just like his as well. Rogue's own elfish extremities left their threatening position against his skull and faced forward in interest. The titan's nose was also hooked and its eyes were also outlined in a black shade. Rogue's greens then traveled to the beast's mouth, but was unable to tell if it had lips or not for it had a well developed beard dangling past its chin. Rogue grew still, barely breathing as he continued to speculate.
This creature… was it possible that it – was it like him? Rogue fidgeted, unsure of what to do. He had never seen another titan so similar to his appearance. He almost wanted to grab the thing's ears and lift the hair on its face to see if they were truly of the same roots. Another part of him wanted to show his companions, but he was clearly alone. He wasn't entirely sure what to do. After all, alike or not – the titan could very well be a strange one and suddenly attack him.
Before he could ponder further, the mysterious titan turned his head in the slightest, placing its gaze onto Rogue in an expression that seemed almost similar to the Corporal's, stern but with something underlining beneath it. One thing about the beast, he could see the clear intelligence in its eyes, bright and upfront. Alive like his own. The titan then turned its gaze back onto the horizon, letting a nonthreatening grumble slip from between its teeth in greeting. Rogue craned his neck even further in suspicion. The titan before him was indeed intelligent. Perhaps – perhaps it could talk like him. Maybe he could ask it questions. He could inquiry where they were at, if the water was the ocean, what was he, and if he knew anything about their kind even. Deciding that the titan was not a danger, Rogue opened his mouth and prepared to ask his queries.
But no sound came out.
Rogue narrowed his eyes in frustration, struggling to get a sound – any sound past his lipless maw but there was none. Where was his voice!
Still attempting to find any sound or word, Rogue watched as the titan turned its head again, its mouth slowly opening and its eyes fixed onto his.
His eyes blew open wider. How? It could talk too! But how did it know his name!
Gathering himself, he tried to speak again but to no avail. Why wasn't he able to get a word out!
Repeatedly he tried, only managing steam from his jaws. Why couldn't he speak! Who was this titan! Was he really like him! Where the hell was he! Why was this happening! What was going on!
His eyes flew open to see the wooden beams and structure of the barn's roof. The titan blinked in confusion. He was in his the lack of lightweights upon his chest, Rogue immediately raised his head to see that his little ones had left him - probably indulging from an early breakfast.
"Rogue. Come on. Get up. We can't be late."
Levi was standing near his shoulder, arms folded over in impatience. "Come on, your sweet dreams are over. Zackley and Nile should be here within a half hour. Erwin went to fetch them in town. He's briefing them. We are to meet them at the entrance."
Rogue still found himself blinking his eyes, trying to get a grip on reality. Yes, it was just a dream. He wasn't in a desolate landscape. He wasn't near a great body of water. And the mysterious titan in his night vision was fake. An imaginary illusion. The titan's voice was simply Levi telling him to wake up. Rogue sighed, breathing a breath of steam. It was just another silly dream that he could push from his mind.
Tending to the Corporal's commands, Rogue then sat up – taking a moment to stretch his taut muscles with Levi almost tapping his foot impatiently.
"Damn you're taking your time." He grumbled, Rogue narrowing his eyes but understanding that he had to get his still tired self moving – even if the sun was barely peeking into the barn. "Anyways, I'm going to review the ground rules. I'm sure you know just what the tests are since we've drilled them into your head." Levi pressed on almost urgently as Rogue got to his knees. "No funny shit. At all. Be mature. You can't joke around and say horses are Jean or draw dicks in the damn dirt like Springer showed you. You can be friendly to leave a damn good first impression – especially to Zackley. Obey everything we say. Most importantly, don't show any aggression towards that fucking bastard Nile. Remember, he will try to find anything to pick you apart so he can convince Zackley that you're a waste of time. Even so, he may still bitch at you. I don't care if you give Zackley a welcome gift, just impress the guy but don't go overboard. Suck up to the man, but don't make it obvious that we told you to do so. Do you understand?"
The titan nodded again in serious regard. This wouldn't be hard would it?
He was just doing what he was doing before – with two extra bystanders. He could do this, show that he was the perfect super-size soldier and prove his worth. He had to do it. There was no room for failure. He couldn't lose everyone again, they couldn't lose him either. Rogue then exhaled a deep and steamy breath before following Levi from the barn. He could not fuck this up. He just couldn't.
Rogue remained quiet but nervous as he stared out at the dirt road leading to the entrance of the flying human territory. He was sitting neatly with Levi neighboring him, arms folded over and wearing a scowl as usual while his little ones stood next to him – both rubbing his knee in reassurance. As much as he wanted to deny, he was still greatly nervous. Sure, there were things he had significantly improved at, like his teaching sessions and other parts of training, but he was still struggling with a certain combat move that he had learned under Levi's hand. He was likely to mess it up and perhaps be ridiculed for failing. This also included his memorization of certain words from Hange. He prayed that he wouldn't forget them. Rogue's gaze then glanced down at his little ones, eyes watching with an underlining layer of stress as the two teens continued to comfort. They returned easy smiles – ones that were obviously weak and shaky. The titan gave his own feeble one in return. Failing these trials was not an option. Humanity needed him, the Scouts needed him, and so did his babies. Hell, if he destroyed his chances at life he would grab his loved ones and escape into Wall Maria – perhaps even go beyond the wall.
"You know Rogue, we can tell you're tense." Armin articulated as he patted the creature's leathery flesh. "Just take a deep breath and relax. You are well off, so this won't be hard! Put it this way, if you can lift a rock weighing thousands of pounds with everyone watching, you can do this simple series of tasks."
Rogue's eyes widened in intrigue, he had never thought of it that way. Yes, if he could lift that big boulder then he could do this! This would be a stroll in the woods compared to that daunting and exhausting duty! With his smile transforming into a confident one, Rogue purred and nodded in thanks – happy for the small pep talk.
Suddenly, the sound of wooden wheels rolling over clumped and dry dirt presented itself to his eardrums. The titan then turned away from his little ones to see a fancy wagon pulled by two well-groomed horses. The creature had never seen such a wagon like this before. It was covered much like many owned by the flying human pack, but they were graced in cloth rather than shiny red and yellow wood – making the wheeled contraption look like a small human dwelling on wheels. It was definitely something more for leisure rather than carrying weapons. Perhaps Hange could teach him later as to what the strange cart was.
"Alright brat, get to your feet. Only crouch back down when I tell you." Levi muttered bitterly, the titan knowing very well that the man was grumpy and on edge with the arrival of the important visitors. That was another thing they had in common. "Remember, salute the two men when they exit. Just remain quiet until the trials."
Upright now, Rogue nodded quickly in comprehension as he watched from his towering bulk as the wagon stopped at the small wire gate. Rogue waited impatiently as he observed the wheeled human house open his small doors. Then, the familiar figure of his commander stepped from the rolling residence, displaying a welcoming gesture and almost a cunning smile as he waved an arm to his figure – signaling him to salute. With his chest puffed as a show of loyalty, Rogue remained still as he swallowed his last bit of nerves. Of course, he couldn't help but to look down to meet eyes with the new arrivals upon the pack's territory. The titan remained vigilant as two figures followed Erwin into the beaming sunlight. From his towering height, Rogue could see that one of the men was of a more bulky build and the other was skinny. One was also obviously older than the other, possessing a neatly groomed white beard while the man next to him had hair dark as the night that grew in a single thick strip down his head. Rogue glanced at Levi, waiting for the indication to lower. He had to observe them closer.
"So Commander, this is the legendary Rogue Titan." The older man initiated in a crackled but authoritative voice.
"Yes, this is Rogue Jaeger."
To his surprise, the white haired man only saluted to those below him in return before folding his own arms behind him. The other man however, remained still, arms still crossed. Levi then turned to him and waved a casual hand for him to descend. Gradually, Rogue lowered himself to perch upon his folded knees, leaning forward in the slightest with locks of hair falling nearly around his face as he scrutinized the two before him. The older man with hair like snow was a human similar to Pixis – except for the fact that his garbs were much more decorated with cloth, ribbons, and shiny buttons that he wanted to touch and examine. The man's face though was much different than Rogue had ever seen. It was cad in creases and wrinkles, but the titan was well aware what old humans looked like. It was rather the level of seriousness that riddled the man's mold. His eyes looked wise, reflecting experience, but there was also a twinge of lunacy buried deep in the man's unbroken stare. It reminded him of his own blonde leader. The skinny man was the complete opposite. His body language radiated with pure disgust, but the scent of the man's newly forming sweat told him even more. There was fear present. The male's face was pulled into a nervous scowl, teeth biting his lower lip fretfully. His eyes, almost narrowed, still held the panicked gaze of jumpy prey. A foot was further than the other, elevated slightly in preparation to take a step back. Rogue blinked. This man – had he ever seen a titan before?
"They were right, this titan is far different from those few that I've seen in the past and those I've read about." The white haired man continued as his eyes traveled up and down at his frame before resting on his face. "I can tell that he err – Rogue is incredibly strong and smart. I can see an amount of intelligence in those eyes."
The titan raised a brow in confusion. He almost felt like this man was addressing him as some sort of animal, but perhaps he was overthinking things. The man did say that he hadn't seen a titan quite like him. It was probably the norm to be addressed as such by someone who hadn't seen a creature as unique as himself before – especially a beast who's kin were dumb as a sack of rocks.
"Why is this thing not tied up?"
Rogue froze at the remark, studded by the sudden use of cruel words – even his little ones looked on completely transgressed. Taken aback, the titan looked to the other man in silent shock, eyes vaguely wide from the harsh comment. Instantly, he could see that the man's face fell into an even deeper grimace than before. This man, how could he say such a thing even after he pledged his loyalty?
"Erwin," The arrogant man demanded. "Why is this monster sitting here without so much as a pair of giant shackles on it?"
The titan's eyes flickered with a dangerous glint at the man. Monster. It. These were two of the words that Rogue hated the most for humans to refer to him as. To Rogue, monsters were only common titans, murderous humans, and the two strange skinless titans that he had seen. Monster was a hurtful term to Rogue. Monsters were those that preyed on innocent to live or for fun. He was no monster. Although he looked the part, he was no bloodthirsty animal.
But he did know that he now hated the man. He had to be the one called –
"Well Nile, Rogue may be big and hulking, but he's very loyal and incredibly friendly. He's harmless."
The man only sneered in response, not replying with even a single word. Rogue quickly adverted his eyes away with resentment. So this was the 'Nile Dock' that he had been previously warned about. He could see why. The man was practically a scale less serpent. He was even ruder than Levi had been. He did NOT like Nile.
"Rogue," Erwin pressed on despite the interruption. "This man here is Premier Zackley, leader of the entire military." The blonde gestured to the decorated man. "The other is Commander Nile Dock from the Military Police."
The titan dipped his head in acknowledgement and gave a rumbling trill in greeting to the white haired individual. This man was the leader of all the packs! No wonder he was so ornate! Giving in to his active curiosity, Rogue lowered even further to view the great leader at eye level. Green pools caught the man twinge slightly, suggesting him to initiate a lopsided smile and a slight flutter of his ears as a bid for the man to relax. Everyone had told him that Zackley was the man he was to suck up to, so he would treat him as he did his own pack leaders. Sensing that conditions were all right to proceed, Rogue progressed to intrude any barrier by gently sniffing the man to see what else he could silently tell him. The titan felt that this was a necessary thing to do when a visitor of any kind came into his family's residence. Humans were creatures held secrets much like himself. In addition to reading a person's characteristics, an incredibly close examination was another way to thoroughly understand a human.
"Commander, what is he doing?" Zackley asked as Rogue continued, breaths ruffling the man's hair.
"It's nothing to worry about. It's just a way that Rogue evaluates a new visitor on our property. Section Commander Zoe says the behavior is an instinctual thing. He's quite attached to us now and this is a way that he determines if you're a threat or not. Rogue did the same to Pixis when he arrived." Erwin explained as the titan advanced to probe the ribbons and metals upon the man's jacket, rumbling in awe as he scrutinized each and every one. Pixis didn't even have most of these! "Of course, he is a curious sort, he may just be wanting to look at your metals and sashes."
"I see. Does he do this to everyone that comes here?"
Without so much as a second of hesitation, Erwin continued. "We do not have many visitors at all. So not often. If it's anyone, it's just military personnel delivering messages. Rogue is accustomed to them now. Sometimes he even brings Corporal Levi and I the mail – which is usually followed by him wanting us to scratch his ears in return."
"So is he going to sniff me like a giant dog?" Nile spoke in an almost bored tone. Just as Rogue glanced at the man, Levi cleared his throat.
"He can read some people quite easily. I'm pretty sure he's already made up his mind about you."
Rogue smirked in amusement as the MP's face fell in disgust. He liked it when Levi spat a smartass comeback to defend him. The titan himself was horrible at smart comebacks. His way of settling things with someone he wasn't fond of was spitting on them, destroying something of theirs, or simply blessing them with a roar in their face.
A sneer spread across Zackley's facade as Rogue concluded his examination, returning to his previous stance with a rumbling purr and ears wiggling in liking. "I guess he approves of me then. So – his behavior is pretty good?"
"Ah, well that's a nice factor." Zackley replied as he then met the gaze of his little ones. "I'm gong to also assume that you two are the 'Titan Children' that the information speaks of in the papers and files?"
Armin nodded. "Yes, we've been with Rogue for years. He was raising us in Maria until the Scouts came. I'm Armin Arlert and that's Mikasa Ackerman."
Zackley nodded. "Well, I must say that the two of you accomplished a rare and impossible feat. Surviving in titan infested Wall Maria for five years is quite something, but being cared for by a titan is something truly astounding."
"I guess they are not titan pups or something, Erwin." Nile began venomously. "They are pretty coherent for feral children. I'm surprised they even speak words after their ordeal."
The insult was just enough for Rogue to let go of a small hold on his emotions. Reflexively, the titan glanced to the skinny man and unknowingly let a low growl slip from his throat, eyes narrowed into slits. How dare this man insult his little ones! He had no right to criticize them just because of their relation to him! Just because he wasn't human didn't mean that his tender babies deserved such words. For several tense seconds, it was silent - the Commander, Corporal, and his little ones giving him quite an eyeful while fear flickered before the two visitor's faces. At the crowd's reaction, it was only then Rogue realized that he had slipped up. The titan immediately let his muscles go lax and his facial features smooth, blinking in disbelief at his mistake. Several more seconds crawled by as Rogue fumbled with what to do until he finally snorted and turned to Armin and Mikasa to give a soft whine to question if they were affected by the offensive remark. They only replied with a gentle pat to his knee, smiling softly but eyes lit with concern.
"Wild animal." Nile muttered beneath his breath. "Should be put in a cage like every other foul -
"As an added fact," Mikasa began with a dangerous glint in her eyes. "Rogue is a great listener and can understand almost every word you say. So I'd be cautious of your –
His little one was then halted by Levi's cold stare, growing silent in light of the impending argument. It truly amazed him how quick Mikasa was to defend his existence. Zackley then turned to Erwin, seriousness painted on his face.
"Looks like he's hot blooded, Commander, Corporal. Is he temperamental often?" The Premier looked on sternly at the two men of authority, obviously testing them.
"Typically, he's a goddamn ray of sunshine." Levi replied with his face looking as bored as usual. "It's hard to catch him in a foul mood."
"Yes, Rogue is a kindly and trustworthy Scout. He gets along with everyone here except for Cadet Kirstein – who is a bit arrogant to begin with. Their relation is still mutual; they mostly just exchange their dislike for one another in 'friendly' spats. Kirstein is usually the one who starts it." Erwin supported, looking at Zackley with a convincing gaze.
The man nodded. "I see then." Zackley paused, running his fingers through his beard. "How about we begin with the trials shall we? You said you wanted to start with the intelligence tests?"
Erwin dipped his head. "Yes. The questions to the extent of Rogue's intelligence are some that I'm sure have been swarming around your, the MP's, and the public's heads for a while. I figured it would be nice to answer your main queries about Rogue first before we move on the more physical parts of his exams. Plus it would be best if Rogue absorbed some more sunlight for the more extensive tasks as well."
"That's fine, Commander. I trust that Zoe will be involved in the first trial?"
"Yes. Hange will give you a brief introduction about her recent findings." Erwin continued as he led the two men back to the fancy wagon. "I'm sure you'll be impressed with our new recruit. We certainly are."
"I look forward to it. Now, you also wanted to debrief me and Nile of something else?" Zackley asked as the three climbed inside the wood covering.
"I'll inform you both on the way to the courtyard." The blonde leader concluded as he sealed the trio of men inside. Without a second to spare, the ornate rolling residence motioned past them on the dirt road.
Knowing he was needed quickly, Rogue lowered his palm for the remaining humans to hitch a ride, but was greeted by only a puzzling scene before him. Instead of his little ones or Levi climbing into his hand, they simply exchanged troubling glances. The Corporal looked livid.
"I gave you a simple order, Rogue. I told you if Nile runs his fucking mouth and says something smartass that you do not give in to emotion or instinct. You were to stay quiet. Why didn't you?"
The man's dark tone excavated his once buried nerves. "OORRRYY EEVVII. EEEII NEESSS UUUTT. EERR… EETTT UUSSTT AAAMMMEE OOUUTT." Rogue apologized, swallowing nervously as he awaited for further scolding. This time though, Levi only sighed, giving Mikasa a chance to speak.
"Rogue you have to be careful. These people are analyzing every little thing you do. If you do something else that could be called aggressive – they could decide that you have to be killed."
The titan whined softly in light of his error. He simply nodded in reply, ears drooping and brows sinking in shame.
"Just be more careful. These two have an even higher rank than Erwin and I. With them, there is no excuse for anything. Remember that Rogue." Levi pressed on, slightly more compassionate. "Also, as much as you want to, don't turn into a puppy that just found out they had a working nose. I don't care how much you want to look at Zackley's belongings and shit, that action was risky to someone who wasn't familiar with your aspects."
Armin quickly displayed his agreement. "Yeah Rogue, Zackley isn't like all of us. You have to be very careful around him. Especially in Nile's view. You can be friendly, but show respect okay?"
The titan gave a quick but very clear nod.
"Don't forget what I told you earlier as well, Rogue." Levi finished as he then climbed into the creature's palm with his little ones soon joining him. The behemoth then stood and placed his precious cargo onto his shoulder before starting in the direction of the courtyard. He remained deep in his own thoughts as he took one lumbering step after another. Rogue remembered Levi's morning suggestion well. He had to suck up and put forth his best. The bearded man was definitely difficult to decode when it came to his intentions. There were meanings that he himself couldn't quite pick up from Zackley's statements. Rogue couldn't tell what they were, so friendliness and showing his worth was crucial. He would present the man with his knowledge and talents soon with the addition of a gift – Pixis seemed to be grateful for the rock he had given him. Perhaps Zackley would like the same thing or something similar.
Then there was Nile. He despised Nile. The man treated him just like any other mindless titan. Like a monster. The cruel words that shot from between the man's lips were absolutely vile and deeply hurt him. The arrogant man even crossed the line and brought his babies in as unwilling participants! If he was able to, he would spit on the man and then will himself to do the humanly act of drinking liquid just so he could have the stomach contents to vomit on the man afterwards. Rogue was clever though, already thinking of a plan to get him back without messing up his chances or survival – a plan that he was unsure if he would even have the guts to carry out.
One thing he was for certain though, he was going to give every trial his all. He couldn't afford to lose anyone else and he also had to make good on his oath.
Armin sat on the steps that connected the castle to the worn and tatty bricks from the courtyard. He was quiet, regulating his breath to his hide any unsteadiness. Mikasa was next to him, emotionless as the night of her parents' murders – gaze almost dead and mouth tight. He knew she was bottling up her feelings. As well as for Rogue, Mikasa was more than likely fighting Nile's crude words. He had to admit, even the man's unnecessary statement left a bitter taste in his mouth. Next to him was the Premier and joined at the man's hip was Nile seated the opposite. Erwin and Levi were the only other onlookers present – sealing themselves behind the small party to likely eavesdrop. The blonde teen looked out into the cleared courtyard, observing as Hange and Molbit scrambled to gather flashcards and other tutoring materials all the while Rogue sat calmly in the center of the piazza with his attention following the movement of a humming bird before looking innocently at Hange as if he was going to ask her about what they were doing.
The titan continued to remain patient, like a kid told to wait on a coming gift. The blonde teen couldn't help but let a small smile come to his face when Rogue got momentarily sidetracked by plucking a loose brick from the walk with a single finger before turning to Hange who was fiddling with her notes. The titan emitted a soft grunt, pointing inconspicuously to the dislodged brick. Hange grinned in response and nodded her head as some sort of permission. Rogue then let out an enthusiastic rumble and with incredible care, picked up the brick and plopped it down at the Premier's feet. The titan then looked to the man expectedly with his head tilted and ears facing forward, awaiting a response with hopeful looking eyes. He nearly laughed at the titan's gesture. Despite his appearance, Rogue was damn good at acting innocuous. He could tell the titan was a bit indifferent about Zackley as the man seemed to be with the creature himself. They had expected this from Rogue. Of course, they were not trying to convince the titan to like the man, but the man to like the titan. If he could compare the situation to a metaphor, he would say it was like telling a kid to be nice and friendly to a less than favorable aunt or uncle at a family reunion just to make a good impression. Encouraging Rogue to give 'welcome gifts' like he had done to Pixis would hopefully sway Zackley to see that Rogue was not even close to being an abomination despite his species.
The honored man blinked in confusion at the brick near his feet. Zackley then bent over and retrieved the object in a careful hand, examining it from corner to corner. "Commander, what does this mean?" The Premier questioned as he held it for Erwin to view, Rogue still looking on buoyantly.
"It's a thing that Rogue does. He gives what we have come to call 'welcome gifts' to anyone that visits headquarters."
"Yes. They can be anything from rocks to bottles and even sticks. Obviously bricks as well."
Zackley nodded, turning back to the titan who was still looking like a pup waiting for a treat. The man then turned to the two teens. "I see, did you teach him to do such a thing?"
"No actually." Armin replied, fingers running through his sun colored locks. "Honestly, it's a bit of a funny story, Sir. We got Rogue a few gifts to help him adjust to his new surroundings. He sort of heard an explanation as to why and we guess he felt the need to do the same to everyone." He informed. Why had the Premier asked him that?
"Very interesting Cadet Arlert." Zackley responded before returning his attention to the awaiting titan only to give a nonverbal gesture of appreciation that Rogue took just as well as the actual word of thanks – trilling loudly and wiggling his elfish ears just as Hange finished organizing. "Section Commander. Are we ready to begin with the first series of tests?"
Hange quickly gathered her journal, one that she was using to document Rogue's information and progress, and quickly took her position facing the small crowd with the titan watching intently and listening for any order. "Alright then!" Hange nearly squealed. "It's an honor to have you here Premier Zackley! Before we show you Rogue's intelligence, allow me to share with you my discoveries! Now, I'm not talking about the information you've seen in the papers. The following information is the results of my extensive studies of Rogue. I'll elaborate first on just how Rogue is different from the other titans. Now," Hange continued enthusiastically. "Our main query about Rogue when he first arrived was if his unique genetic makeup was the result of a mutation or if it was because he was a completely different species. After many tests, including cross DNA examination, we discovered that Rogue was a completely new breed of titan. And the fact about his breed that sets him apart from the common species of titan – is that Rogue was practically made for hunting our enemy! He is an apex predator! Rogue is stronger, faster, and smarter than any other titan we know of out there! Our subject's features support this. Rogue's body is powerful and packs loads of stamina so he can track and travel for great distances to get to his target. His main features can be seen on his face. Rogue can smell a titan's scent for miles with incredibly keen scent receptors. His ears are one of his most notable features as you can see," Hange pointed out with the titan wiggling and shifting his elfish extremities as demonstration. "Rogue's hearing is far better than that of a standard titan, making it one of his most reliable tools in hunting or locating people. He is able to pick up the sounds of whispers, breathing, and even heartbeats from a good distance. Rogue's ears also pivot and move independently to acknowledge positions of prey. As an aspect that isn't related to hunting, Rogue uses his pointed ears as a form of expression. Forward means that he's interested or alert and listening, when they are pinned against his skull that indicates disgust or aggression, drooped means that he's upset or worried, and when they wiggle – that's Rogue's way of telling you that he's happy or excited. Moving on to our subject's mouth, it's bizarre and frightening to some but it's perfect for ripping out chunks of meat! The serrated formation of his teeth makes up for his lack of canines – which are common with most carnivores with the purpose of keeping prey in their grip. Rogue's teeth arrangement are set so that a titan can't tear away or escape once they are in his vice grip. His tongue, like everything else about our resident titan, is also different. The fact that he can taste titan meat was also a find that contributed to Rogue's status in the food chain, a factor that gave us a picture of his diet. However, like all titans, Rogue doesn't necessarily need to eat to survive. Our titan also has the strongest jaw strength that I've ever measured. Rogue is able to bite through some of the strongest of steel and chop a four-meter wide tree in half with ease. " Hange paused, trying to catch her breath through her enthusiastic reading. "The final feature is Rogue's gorgeous eyes! They are truly those that belong to a predator! The dark rings around them help with glare from the sun in addition to being unique markings. Of course, the two major things are the fact that Rogue has tapetum lucidum, which is the equivalent to night vision – a key feature for a titan who can stay awake in the long hours of the night. The other aspect is Rogue incredibly useful third eyelid or nictating membranes." The scientist brought forth with the titan displaying the oddity on cue, the creature's blinking wiping a revolted look upon Nile's face. "The addition of the third eyelid allows Rogue to safely blink in battle without losing track of his foes."
"Intriguing, Section Commander." Zackley joined in. "Now, what else did you find in the DNA examination? I'm sure that was quite telling. Was there anything else that you'd like to inform me of before we move on?"
Armin bit his lip. Zackley was astounding at being able to read the plays of the situation. Instinctively, Armin's hand discreetly snaked for any dampness beneath his arms, finding none of great quantities but still a slight amount. Why was he so nervous? It wasn't like they were lying to the Premier! They were spilling almost every bean they had! Zackley was smart though. It was his job to dissect such things. With Rogue, he wanted no stone unturned.
The teens could only imagine the commotion once Rogue began talking – a fact that only the titan's small circle of people knew and was never disclosed anywhere public.
"Well Premier Zackley," Hange continued as she turned the page of her notes. "The most telling things about Rogue came from the observation of his blood. We were able to gather some facts that gave us some insight about Rogue and his breed. I'll start with the most unforeseen! Now, you may think that our new titan species is a fresh one, but that's false! Components in Rogue's blood indicated that he himself was slightly over a hundred years old! This mean's that Rogue's kind was among the first titans to walk the earth!"
The man rubbed his chin. "So he's a century old?"
"Hmm, now Section Commander, if Rogue's species is an apex predator, then why are there no others around?"
Hange bit her lip, barely noticeable as she sucked the inside of her cheek. "It's a foggy aspect that we are still working to discover. However, we do believe that Rogue may be the last of his species that we know of since he's the first humankind has seen in over a century. Of course, we also found that our subject was from a far region outside the walls. As to what happened, it's unclear how the others like him disappeared or if Rogue was somehow separated from them. Like the mystery to the titan's themselves, we just don't know."
"I see. Please continue Miss Zoe."
Hange nodded. "Thank you! Now let's proceed to the intelligence tests and formation review!" The woman continued as she sat her journal aside and retrieved the first set of flashcards with Molbit sitting up a chair facing the waiting titan. "Our series of tests consist of various cards that display shapes, pictures, and other images that Rogue will indicate what they are." Hange explained with a big smile spread across her face as Zackley and Nile sat up her statement – faces more concerned and serious than ever. Before they could question meaning, Hange continued. "Now! Before you ask as to how Rogue will be able to manage to accomplish communication, let us first share his incredible gift!" The overjoyed scientist turned to the titan. "I don't know if you got to really introduce yourself before, so why don't you do that now Rogue! Don't be shy!"
Armin watched nervously as Zackley and Nile became even more perplexed as Rogue turned to the two men, jaw formed into an obdurate grin. It was hard to tell how the Military heads would take Rogue's one of a kind talent. The spectating Scouts held their breaths as Rogue salivated his throat and opened his mouth.
"EEELLLLOOOO! NNNYYY NNNAANNEE RRRROOOGGUUEE! EEEIII AANNN SSCCOOUUTT!" The titan concluded, purring cavernously and eyes wide in expectancy he awaited a reaction.
Silence. That was all that sounded from the courtyard aside from the titan's sounds of intrigue, gasps obviously caught in the two men's throats. For the first time that Armin had ever read or heard of, both of the higher ups stood up in absolute shock with faces fixed into befuddled expressions – brows wrinkling like dried grapes. Rogue continued to sit idly, staring owlishly as he seemingly awaited a form of praise.
"It… it can… speak?" Nile muttered beneath his breath, shock crippling his tone almost like a brittle leaf in the wind. "What the hell –
Zackley recaptured part of his composure, muscles relaxing from their frigid state. "He can talk? A titan capable of speech… he doesn't even possess lips. How?" He alliterated, his tough outer core turning brittle. "Ackerman, Arlert – did you two teach him to speak?"
Mikasa shook her head. "It wasn't us. We did teach him additional words, but we were not the ones who originally taught Rogue. It was Carla Jaeger. She was the one who showed Rogue how to talk. She formulated a way that he could do so without lips. At first it was very simple words, but in the past years, Rogue has gotten better and better."
"This is bullshit! All of it!"
The sharp statement rang out across the courtyard, drawing the two teens, the titan, and the others to look upon the obvious source. Nile was standing in an aggressive stance, arm outstretched in an obvious bid to accuse Rogue who looked at the egotistical male in so much astonishment and confusion that his face looked petrified. Armin instantly felt sweat roll and his breath hitch as if it was entangled in his ribs. This was not good! Nile was rebelling, something that could possibly trigger Rogue's emotions and make the titan break his sustaining mold.
"That monster is lying!" Nile sneered, poison dripping from his tone. "If he's smart enough to even speak – then he's hiding something! Who's to say that his amnesia is all fake! This could very well be a ploy to lure all of humanity to their graves! This titan could possibly be putting on one big show! He maybe part of a higher power! A titan spy sent to learn everything about us so our enemy can strike at our most venerable! This thing probably does know the whole history of the titans and his amnesia is just an excuse to lead us off the scent! This monster is baiting us!" The man claimed, making Armin's heart hammer in his chest.
Fearful, the teen turned to Rogue to see that the creature was not seething in rage like he had assumed, but was rather looking as if he was on the verge of tears – like a kicked puppy. Armin's fingers dug into his scalp as he watched the titan's body shiver in the slightest – just like he had when they had asked him the questions long ago. Rogue's ears sank further, a small whine coming from the back of his throat as he glanced to the two teens in a bid to help. 'Please Rogue!' Armin pondered in a panic. 'Please don't flip out!'
"NNOOO! EEEIII GGOOOODD!" The titan unexpectedly replied, shaking visibly. "EEEIII NNOOT AAADD! EEEIII NNNOOO EEEII!" Rogue rebelled pitifully, taking up for himself – obviously struggling how to react to such words. The creature's action provoked Armin to look at his superiors, noting how both Erwin and Levi looked on with stiff gazes. The Corporal's icy eyes drew narrow and his scowl deepened even further, head shaking in the slightest. He was thinking the same thing. Like Armin and Mikasa, Levi was well aware that Rogue could grow very temperamental when something upset him one way or the other. The creature could easily go from being upset to throwing a sort of gibberish fit to even a full on nasty argument that could result in Rogue throwing things or spitting. Armin swallowed, waiting for the worst, still clinging to the hope that the titan would just return to working with Hange.
Armin reached to wipe the sweat from his brow, noticing how Zackley was still as stone with his eyes fully locked onto the titan's behavior. The teen trembled beneath his wares, was it possible that the man could have believed Nile's words? No! He couldn't have! Could he? Nausea sat into the teen's belly. Even though everything they had with the titan was genuine, an outsider could easy understand and take Nile's absurd statement into account.
"That monster probably took care of those kids just as an added measure so we could believe him! He doesn't really care for them! He's just using them!"
Rogue's face twitched, the beast clearly trying to hold back. It was obvious to the teen. The emerald eyes of the titan were ignited with a dangerous glint – obviously anger and definitely pain. Nile had done the one thing that riled Rogue the most – use them in cruel context. Surprisingly though, Rogue wasn't growling, not even making a single sound in resentment. He was silent, just still with limbs stiff as tree trunks, but his shoulders were hunched and back was arched in defense – hair of his scalp beginning to stand on end. The titan was livid. Armin continued to observe as the creature shifted his weight, antsy as he continued to debate. Rogue's eyes adverted to them again, clearly begging for someone else to do something because he could not – or he was going to lose it.
However, none of the Scouts stood up in defense, not quick enough as Zackley surprisingly turned to the haughty MP. "Commander Nile. If you please, we need to proceed with the trial." The Premier interrupted, brows narrow, showing his lack of tolerance for Nile's actions. The two teens blinked, had Zackley sided with them? Or did he just want to steer the situation in another direction? Of course, he couldn't help but watch in amusement as Nile's face twisted into a grimace. The taller man took his seat without other word in defiance. Zackley nodded, turning back to Hange. "Miss Zoe, please continue. I apologize for the interruption." The Premier concluded as he returned to his seat upon the steps. Armin and Mikasa observed as the titan's body slacked up from its frozen condition. Rogue's face relaxed in the feeblest – for a moment the blonde teen thought he saw utter gratitude in the titan's face as green pools looked at the older man one last time before glancing at Nile, snorting in disgust before directing his attention to the awaiting Hange. Armin was definitely for certain, if the situation was much different, Rogue would have vented his anger upon Nile in some unpleasant way.
"Okay! Beginning with flashcards, each image will be separate from their own category. They will be mixed together, but shown to you before we quiz him.
Let's start shall we!" Hange exclaimed as she tossed the heavy journal to the makeshift work area. Gathering her items, the scientist then took her place and held the first card to the small group of spectators – one that displayed the shape of a circle, before turning to Rogue. "Alright Big Guy! What's this!"
"UUURRRCCLLEE." The titan answered easily, green eyes peeking from dark skin to monitor Nile who was still sitting with a heavy look of distrust on his face.
"Good! Now what is this Rogue?" Hange asked after showing the audience a picture of a tree.
Hearing her request, Rogue returned from his stare to examine the contents of the card. "REEEE."
The scientist nodded, raising another card to share before turning it to the titan.
"Great! This one?"
Hange smiled. "That's right Rogue! Quickly, before we move on, can you count to ten?"
The titan nodded. "OOONNNN. TTOOO. TRREEE. OOORRR. IIIVVEE. SSSIIXX. EEVVEEN. AATTEE. NNIINNEE. TTEENN." Rogue exclaimed, glancing back to the crude MP again.
"Alright Rogue, what's this?" Hange proceeded without pause, holding up a card with a titan displayed on it.
The beast turned back to the scientist. "TTTEEIIITTAANNN."
"Good! Now what color is this?"
Armin spectated as Rogue answered correctly once again, but then glancing at Nile's deep frown once more. Beneath the beast's hair, the boy could see that the titan's brows were drawn together in sheer worry, pupils adverting to the bricks beneath his feet. An untrained eye could not have caught it, but the blonde could see a slight quake run across Rogue's frame. He continued to watch as the titan barely glanced up at the next card and answered softly. Armin swallowed a wad of anxiety. Was it possible that Rogue was just now feeling the weight of Nile's damning questions on his origins and the titans? It was a likely possibility. Rogue had been too busy taking Nile's rude statements and phrases and rebelling his own words. This was the last thing Armin wished to happen. Rogue could not have an emotional episode!
"How about this next one then? Hange smiled softly, apparently noticing a difference as well. "What are baby cats called?"
Again, Rogue looked up from the pores in the bricks to gaze upon the card's image, eyes obviously reflecting stress and anxiety. "IIITTTEEENN." The creature spoke grittily, hunching over several more feet. Slightly, the beast shivered again – just enough to make the titan's state noticeable. Below Rogue, the creature's sudden change in demeanor did not go undetected by Hange. If the titan was able, it was highly likely that he would quickly depart to be alone to release some steam.
"Rogue," The scientist smiled tenderly. "Would you mind telling me what this is?"
After several vital seconds of the beast staring down at the nails of his feet, Rogue discreetly looked at the flashcard. "DDOOOGG." He answered stiffly as he returned his line of sight to the stray blades of green sprouting through the gaps of the piazza.
"He looks like he's nervous." Zackley whispered, so softly that Armin was barely able to catch it.
The blonde teen's throat tightened at the low avowal. Rogue's current condition was not a good one – clearly affecting his performance. This could not go on for if it did, it was possible that Zackley and Nile could get the wrong impression – deeming the creature to be skittish and unreliable or too sensitive to be considered as an asset to humanity. Around the blonde, the others seemed to know the very same. Mikasa was fretfully pulling her scarf before her mouth, Levi was pinching the bridge of his nose, and Erwin was merely looking on in dead seriousness. Nile of course, looked completely unmoved – still staring at the titan in utter hatred. Armin swallowed. He had to do something to get Rogue to settle and loosen. But how could he do that with everyone watching?
Unexpectedly, Hange handed the cards to Molbit and turned to the captive audience, the titan only spending a brief moment to look in wonder before returning to his activity of staring at the skin of his toes. "Armin? Do you mind joining me in this next part? For the remainder of the identification cards?"
Though he was puzzled, he immediately complied. "Of course, Section Commander." Armin answered as he quickly made his way over to where Hange and the titan resided. She had to be planning something; it was too early for his assistance yet. Armin then met before the titan fanatic, watching as she nodded in satisfaction.
"When you get onto Rogue's left shoulder, try to calm him, Armin." Hange whispered softly to him before turning back to the small crowd to address. "To show Rogue's tolerance levels, Arlert will serve as an 'added weight' if you will as I finish the series of identification cards! Rogue?" Hange turned to the titan again who had lifted his head at the words than Armin was partaking in the exam. "Could you please place Armin on your left shoulder for me?"
Very clear with the differences between left and right, Rogue nodded and carefully lifted the teen to his shoulder. Armin quickly became comfortable, perching himself so he was near the titan's ear. Hange then began to arrange her cards again, preparing to hold one up, still talking about how his placement on the creature's shoulders was to show how well the titan could adjust as well as being able to tell the difference of left and right.
To fulfill his duty and protect his dear friend, Armin quickly turned to Rogue's ear. "Rogue?"
The titan didn't take his eyes from Hange, but his ear quickly shifted to absorb the teen's words – the beast giving a soft squeak as if to ask what he was doing.
"Listen, I know you didn't like what Nile said to you, but you just need to take that like a grain of salt. Don't let it bother you. Zackley noticed how nervous you are, but you can't submit to Nile's theories. If he sees you nervous, he's going to get the idea that you are not suitable for – er – hunting."
Rogue rumbled softly in question, ear flickering closer to the news. The titan opened his mouth to reply but quickly closed his jaws, likely figuring that Armin was conducting his task in secret.
"We are now going over a few advanced things that our subject has recently learned." Hange began as she held up a new card with the titan answering correctly before turning his ear back to Armin to listen in.
"Just ignore Nile okay? He's not worth your time. Don't act cocky and try to prove how stupid he is as much as you want to. That could just give Zackley more support to believe what Nile accused you of. Rogue, Mikasa and I, including Hange and Levi are right here with you. Just pretend like Nile isn't around. Just be yourself. Loosen up and have fun, okay? It's alright."
For a moment, the titan hesitated on showing any response to his question, only replying back to Hange to say that a small cow was a calf. Then, Rogue let out a sigh of steam just as he leaned his head, unnoticeable to the others, into the small teen – emitting a soft purr in agreement. The gentle creature then heaved a heavy breath again to reduce his nerves before perking up – skin pulling tautly at the corners of his lipless jaws to form a smile.
"Okay Rogue, move Armin to your right shoulder and then tell me what shape this is!" Hange exclaimed, noticing the titan's change.
At her friendly order, Rogue chirped and soothingly transferred Armin to his opposite shoulder before examining the card. "EEEXXXAAAAGGOONNN."
"Great Rogue my dear! Now Put Armin next to me so we can move on to the second part of this trial!"
Again, the titan nodded in comply and lowered the teenager back to the brick laden earth. Armin watched as Mikasa rose from her seat and joined Hange – beckoned by the scientist's inviting hand. Molbit then began to retrieve three small barrels before the titan watching their every move with large and blameless greens.
"This next test is another way to show Rogue's ability to quickly memorize things and the position of objects. It also displays how he interacts with objects compared to other titans – and it's also a new test that we haven't done with Rogue before. Therefore, this will also show how our titan reacts to new problem solving situations." Hange explained with the titan gradually getting more enthused. Molbit then carried out Rogue's ball, catching the beast's eyes that lit up instantly. Rogue then lifted a hand and pointed to his favorite possession in sudden excitement.
"AAALLLL!" The titan exclaimed much like a toddler – a giant toddler with a deep and rough voice. Armin nearly found himself laughing, but then remembered to keep a level head. The two teens knew, if it was anything, that Rogue was the most fond of his ball compared to anything else that he had – except for the music box and the occasional batting at the wind chimes hanging in the barn. The titan always went back for the round toy. In fact, now that Armin thought about it, Rogue seemed to always be fond of balls and round objects in general. The titan STILL brought the teens his ball on the occasion wanting to engage in a game of catch – which he had to admit was fun since there were more people to participate, and the beast was also intrigued by spherical finds around the castle like pebbles and apples. Armin always categorized it as one of Rogue's odd quirks.
"Alright Rogue!" Hange began with enthusiasm. "This is a new game we're going to play!" She continued with the titan only focused on the scientist, eyes never veering. "Here is how it works. Molbit is going to place your ball underneath one of these three barrels." Hange explained as Molbit lifted the barrel and hid the titan's ball beneath it, Rogue giving a look of complete confusion – most likely feeling betrayed that they were not playing anything similar to catch. The titan then reverted back to his natural curiosity and looked at the barrel with ears angling about in intrigue. "And then we are going to shuffle them all around to mix them up! Your job is to find the barrel hiding the ball beneath it again! You'll have to memorize the right barrel. When we are done shuffling, you pick okay? Understand?"
After several seconds of the titan blinking and looking from the barrels to the group before him, Rogue nodded vigorously in excitement - waiting for Armin and the others to begin.
"Good!" Hange beamed. "Now watch closely!" The scientist concluded as she quickly swapped barrels with the blonde before trading hers to Mikasa whom in turn traded back with Hange. Armin swapped his barrel again for the sixth time, watching as the titan followed the barrels like a cat following a moving shadow. Rogue's eyes were wide with pupils trailing movement – literally almost every movement with his tapered ears pricked fully forward and shifting to and fro. Armin bit the inside of his cheek, trying to keep the humor at bay. Rogue really wasn't watching one particular barrel, but his ears were definitely following the right one – the creature listening to the ball bounce around on the inside of the particular barrel it was under. It was like the beast was multitasking, enjoying the mesmerizing movements while still keeping the location of the ball in check. Then, Rogue began to finally follow the correct barrel with both eyes and ears. Armin wasn't for sure if this was a good thing as far as the exam went, to the trained eye – people like the Scouts could see it, but to others with the addition of Rogue's happy gurgling, it just looked like the titan was enjoying himself. However, something was pulling at Armin. He had an odd feeling that Rogue was acting.
The three then stopped shifting the barrels, the correct one landing before Armin's hands. "Alright Rogue!" Hange smiled. "Which barrel is the right one?"
Instantly, as soon as the messy scientist hit the punctuation in her sentence, Rogue produced a squeal like noise and pointed to the blonde's barrel, tapping the surface several times with his index finger as he waited almost impatiently for results. Armin smiled as he lifted away the barrel and retrieved the leather ball, Rogue beaming as wide as his mouth would allow as the toy was shown to the small audience.
"Incredible." Zackley began in a still mild mannered tone. "The first try as well." The man paused fingers combing through his beard again. "I didn't even know it was possible for a titan to make that noise. Section Commander, does that form of communication relate to pleasure?"
Hange nodded, oily locks bouncing on her head. "Oh yes! Besides talking, Rogue has a wide range of sounds he uses to communicate his mood or even ask questions! As for sounds of happiness, he can huff in laughter, chirp, and even purr like a cat, which he does on a daily basis! Rogue's vocal cords are not meant for speech, and they can strain and be painful when he does it for far too long. Thus, we also created a nonverbal system to communicate with him as well if needed. It's a serious of grunts and hand movements that work much like sign language."
Armin blinked. Why was Hange informing Zackley of one of Rogue's handicaps?
"I see. Please carry on Miss Zoe." Zackley complied before turning to Nile to whisper something with Levi and Erwin monitoring closely. Armin swallowed nervously as he observed his superiors' faces remained unchanged but with eyes that were clearly eavesdropping. Armin felt the unsettling feeling in his pit again. What was Zackley thinking? Could he be siding with Nile?
With the Premier's attention to the flat stage before him, Hange began again as Molbit and Mikasa removed the titan's ball and barrels – Rogue watching his ball disappear into Hange's materials in concern before looking back to await instructions.
"Now, the next set of tests cover material that Rogue has just recently started learning. We have not gotten to cover everything yet, but he will do what he knows. We have also begun to teach Rogue how to read written words so he can also translate and in term follow written orders."
"So, it reads too?" Nile cut in, voice still supercilious. "What is it going to do next? Juggle?"
Armin swallowed, glancing at the titan in fear that the MP's words unearthed more of Rogue's nerves again. However, to the teen's surprise, Rogue softly snorted and kept his gaze onto Armin. Through dark brown strands, the boy could tell that there were still flecks of pain and anger in the titan's luminous green eyes, but taking to the teen's advice, Rogue was choosing to ignore the hotheaded individual.
"Yes, Rogue can read. Do keep in mind, he's still learning." Hange replied, keeping composed. Without another word, the woman took her seat again and placed her remaining flashcards onto her lap. "Before we begin Rogue, recite the ABC's that you know."
The titan's snout furrowed slightly in determination before opening his lipless maw. "AAAEE. BBBEE. SEEE. DDEEE. EEEE. EEFF. GGEEE." Rogue paused, thinking. "UUURRrr… AAACCHH. EEIII. JJAAAYY." The titan smiled, incredibly proud of himself and actually happy with his difficult accomplishment and not an act.
"Good! Now lets read a few words here!" Hange praised as she reverted to the same routine as before, showing the cards to the spectators before revealing the card to the titan.
Armin watched as Rogue leaned forward with eyes scrunched in concentration; head tilting slightly as he attempted to read a three-letter word. True, the word did have letters that the titan wasn't familiar with yet, but they had felt that with the simple syllables it was perfectly fine to start with. "CCAAATT!" Rogue finally answered, eyes looking hopeful. Hange nodded with Zackley's brows raising ever so slightly."
"So he can." The man mouthed, hand naturally reaching up to rub his chin.
"Nice! Can you read this word Rogue?" Hange continued as she held up a new card – displaying a word that the titan was very familiar with. Again, the creature gave a long stare, but raising a finger to point at the letters – trying to separate them. Finally, Rogue smiled.
"AAAAIIIBBBEEE!" The beast purred, ears wiggling at the word's meaning.
"I knew you would get that one!" The energetic enthusiast praised. "Okay here is another word, Hange pressed on as she revealed another card.
Armin swallowed nervously at the word. Surely Rogue wouldn't treat this as a joke. Surely he wouldn't say Jean!
"OOOORRRSE." Rogue answered correctly. Hange dipped her head.
"Wonderful! Now let's do one more word before we move on!" She spoke as she raised the final card, another word that the titan was very familiar with. Rogue's jaw formed an awkward smile – crooked and lopsided.
"Yes! Love! And you love the Scouts don't you, Rogue?" Hange asked with a great amount of whimsy in her voice.
The titan responded with the best 'mmmm hmm' that he could make. "EEEEIII OOOVVVEEE NNNYYY AAAMMIILLEE!" Rogue informed, gurgling in delight.
A small smile made itself present on Armin, Mikasa, and Hange's face. The boy glanced over to his superiors to see what sort of impact the words had on them – only to find a puzzling sight. The Corporal's scowl deepened in the slightest, looking agitated. The man's cold eyes were not looking at the titan but rather at Zackley who wore an expression that was impossible to read. Armin then realized the severity of Rogue's harmless words and their meaning in the particular circumstance. He swallowed, hopefully Zackley wouldn't think too heavily upon it.
'Of all words, why did Rogue have to use THAT one?'
"So Miss Zoe, how many words is Rogue able to read?" Zackley queried, obviously ignoring the previous occurrence on purpose.
"At this time, Rogue is able to read ten words. We are steadily working to raise that number."
The man nodded in understanding before waving his hand for Hange to continue on with the next and final part of the intelligence test – recognizing the positions in the formation. Truthfully, the blonde teen was nervous about this one, mostly because he himself had never seen Rogue recite it. The titan's sessions with Levi were always private – deep in the forest where there were no others to distract them. Of course, he did have faith in the strict Corporal. The two had grown tolerant of each other and Rogue listened fully to each and every order Levi gave him. But of course, it did take a while for Rogue to learn and memorize anything incredibly complex.
"Finally, we come to Rogue's knowledge of the Long Range Scouting formation. Corporal Levi? Could you help out with this?" Hange smiled from ear to ear.
The short man heaved a sigh as he stood up and slowly waltzed to the group, obviously not too thrilled about accompanying Hange herself in the exercise. As Molbit and Mikasa slowly uncoiled the diagram of the formation, Armin watched as Levi quickly turned to Hange.
"I'm doing this whole thing Shitty Glasses. I don't need you to cut in. So stand aside." The man spoke in a low tone, but only getting a smirk from Hange.
"Whatever you say, Levi!" Hange replied in a merry pitch, provoking an eye roll from Levi.
With the diagram unfolded and upright so both Rogue and the audience could see, both Armin and Hange retreated back to the waiting steps to join Erwin to observe the Corporal and the titan's performance. Looking at the two individuals, it was oddly quiet. With his face relaxed from its grimace, Levi nodded to Rogue who nodded in return – both keeping expression at a minimum. The Corporal then cleared his throat.
"Alright Rogue, let's begin." Levi said simply as he pointed to the outmost position in the ranks. "Name this."
Without hesitation, the titan's teeth parted. "OOOUUTTEERRRR RRAANNKK."
"Good. It's purpose?"
Rogue nodded. "OOKKK FOORR TTEEIITTAANNSS. ARRRNN SSCCOOUUTTS."
"Correct." Levi continued, face still not showing much emotion. "What is this?"
Armin held his jaw to keep it from dropping in surprise. So far, thanks to Levi, Rogue knew the formation by heart.
"What is it for?" Levi pressed onward – no nonsense present. Was Levi trying to show Rogue's serous side on purpose? After Rogue's comment, Armin knew it was highly likely.
"RRREEEEELAAYY SSSIIIGGNNALLSS. IIIGGHHTT TTEEIIITTAAANNSS IIFF HHHAAVVEE TTOO."
Levi nodded, pointing to the center of the diagram.
"EEERRRVVIIINN DDEEIIIRREECCT OORRRNNAATTIONN. RRRUUNN AAGGGGOONNS. EEEVVII SSQQUUAADDD SSSTTAANNDDEEII." Rogue explained perfectly, making both Zackley and Nile lean forward in interest.
"Where are you located?"
Rogue lifted a finger to point at the rear of the center rank, green eyes looking to Levi in waiting.
"Yes. And what do you do there?"
"EEEII AAIITTT OONN OORRDDEERRS. OOONNLEE AAACCTT IIF EEEIII EEEDDD TTOO."
Corporal Levi gave a nod. "Good work."
Rogue responded with a sharp bow in thanks, the tip of the titan's long tongue sticking out from his teeth- a common thing the titan did when he was pleased with himself.
"Impressive." Zackley stated. "You also said that Rogue has memorized your signal flares and what they mean correct?"
The bearded man nodded. "Ah, then there is no point in repeating them to me. I can tell from both the reports and the length of time it took for the titan's capture that what you say is true. This concludes the first trial. Shall we move on Commander?"
Erwin stood from his seat, followed by the others. "Yes. Let's move on to combat. If the two of you would, please follow us to the –
However Erwin stopped as Rogue leaned over in his position to hold out his hand towards the Premier. The titan then uncoiled his fingers and gently placed a small pebble at Zackley's feet, green eyes unblinking as he awaited a response. The gratified man then took the small stone in is palm, making Armin wonder just how the titan managed to pick up such a small thing.
"Another welcome gift?" Zackley asked, the titan purred, watching as the uptight man dipped his head in gratitude and plopped the small stone in his jacket pocket. The premier then turned back to listen to instruction.
"As I was saying, if you could please, follow us to the stables to borrow a horse. The next location for the trial is a bit off the beaten path and deep in the woods."
"Please lead the way Commander."
As the others began to follow the tall blonde man from the courtyard, Armin and Mikasa looked to the titan who had yet to stand. It was just as the teens thought. Most of Rogue's behavior was an act. The titan was looking down at his toes yet again, brow creased in suffering. Although some of the moments were genuine, Rogue was still upset.
"You did great, Rogue." Mikasa spoke softly. "But hey, don't listen to Nile. That man has absolutely no regard for anyone. He's full of shit really."
The titan lifted his gaze and tilted his head, face now natural. Rogue then grunted in compliance. "OOOOKKAAEE. EEEIII DDOOO GGOODD?"
Armin nodded. "Yes Rogue, you did good. Just don't overdo things okay?"
The titan nodded, a smile pulling at his skin. Rogue then lowered his palm in invitation, the two teens quickly climbing aboard. The creature then placed them onto his shoulder and stood to motion in the direction of the others. After taking a moment to adjust to the rapid change in height, Armin secretly glanced up to the titan. Although it didn't show upon his grizzly face, Rogue's expressive emerald pools still had traces of hurt and irritation. He swallowed; hopefully for the rest of the trials, Rogue's delicate emotions wouldn't be summoned full force. After Rogue's behavior in the first trial, Armin could tell that the Premier had reservations.
Green orbs were hooked to the skinny MP on horseback before him, pools rippling with hatred. He despised that man. How dare he accuse him of being a traitor! Rogue's eyes narrowed further in resentment as the pack moved through the trees. The titan's pupils glanced at his little ones upon his shoulder, watching them speak with Petra before turning to look upon his object of revulsion. How could someone have the guts to insult his little ones just for being joined at his hip! They were completely innocent! At the time, Rogue could practically felt their pain radiate off them when Nile made his cruel remarks.
The titan glanced to the bearded man, Zackley. If he had to choose, he would pick, what Levi and his little ones referred to as 'Premier', as the more tolerable man. The man seemed a bit tight-lipped, only observing and speaking when he felt it was appropriate or was asking questions. Overall, the titan felt indifferent about Zackley. The man was just as difficult to read as Erwin was – if not more. However, as far as Rogue could tell, the man had some amount of compassion. Zackley referred to him as 'he' instead of 'it'. The man also was amused and interested in the creature's success. Then there was also that tense moment where Nile was mouthing off – Zackley had actually stood up for him! The gesture had provoked Rogue to share a finding with the man. Still, he wasn't completely sold on the man just yet. Even though there were seldom amounts of the man warming up, Zackley still seemed to treat him like he was a lower creature. Rogue's forehead creased at the thought. Indeed, he wasn't human whatsoever, but he still preferred to be treated like one. Sure, he wasn't as smart as man and he needed simple things thoroughly explained over a course of time, but being treated as human beat being treated like an animal any day.
Rogue then looked back at Nile, doing so in light of hearing another crude comment about him – saying something along side of 'that thing is still a titan, they can't take the ferocity out of it.' Heat pooled in his stomach, hatred that felt like a load of rocks in his gullet. Damn he hated that man! What the hell was his problem? He had shown his kindness and that he wasn't like his kin. Why? The titan's shadow rimmed eyes narrowed further, very much so did he wish he could inconspicuously do something! Something that the sorry excuse for a human would find disgusting! But what could he do? Should he even attempt anything at all or live by the code that his little ones once shared with him: stick and stones may break bones, but words can never hurt you.
No. That was bullshit. Because of what he was, cruel words always hurt to a degree.
Hearing the familiar voice of Petra, the titan abandoned his thoughts and turned to the redhead that sat on his shoulder with his babies – all three looking on in concern. Petra then rubbed his neck with a tender hand, a small smile present on her face.
"Are you okay? You look like you're still upset, Rogue."
With his teeth clenching together, the titan nodded. However, Petra raised a brow in playful suspicion.
"Now Rogue, there is no need to lie. The tips of your ears are red. Are Nile's words still eating at you?"
The beast dithered, ears sinking and eyes averting away in shame. Finally, he gave a very small dip of his head in response.
"I see. I would just stop thinking about it then, Rogue. You are much better than him."
Rogue turned back to the trio, face reflecting his worry. Mikasa smiled, rubbing the skin on his shoulder in reassurance as well.
"Petra is right. Your personality alone makes you superior to a man like Nile. Just toss his comments out and ignore him."
"Yeah, it's not worth thinking about and muddling over, Rogue." Armin added. "Just focus on your trials. That's the only thing that matters right now."
Willingly absorbing it all in, Rogue nodded and turned his gaze to the wooden trail outstretched before their path – the clearing in sight. They were right. He just needed to put his feelings away and focus on what lay ahead.
"HALT!" Erwin sounded from the front, every horse and soldier stopping – more were attending this trial in light of the following one. "PLEASE DISMOUNT YOUR HORSES AND THEN REPORT BACK TO THE EDGE OF THE CLEARING."
For a moment, Rogue watched as several of the pack members, mostly the teens and veterans he knew, get off their hoofed creatures and guide them to the trees. The titan simply stood in confusion as he awaited a form of direction.
"All right brat," Levi, who had been perched on his opposite shoulder, began as he tested his gear. "Let them off and go to the center of the clearing, then set me down before you. Understand?"
With a sharp nod and grunt, Rogue tended to the Corporal's order, gently placing Mikasa, Armin, and Petra down to the earth before making his way to the center of the clearing – the main training area of the two that Levi had established for their sessions. Of the collection, Rogue preferred the particular spot they were gathered, it was roomier and the trees stretched high over his head – reminding him of his forest in Maria. The titan then did as he was told and placed Levi onto the grass before him, kneeling in preparation to begin while watching the soldiers and their superiors surround the glade.
The blonde leader then joined Levi, whispering something in the main's earshot before turning to the crowd. "The second trial will display several things. This includes Rogue's abilities in combat, his capability to follow orders, and his power to intercept moving targets. Corporal Levi will be in charge of this trial." Erwin concluded as he turned to the short man. "Whenever you're ready." He addressed before departing to join Zackley and Nile. Rogue then stood to his full height, watching Levi in incredible focus.
"Alright Rogue, I want you to do every move I say." Levi initiated, silently mouthing 'let's get this shit over with' before asking if he was ready with a simple nod – receiving one from the creature in return. "Now let's start. Get into position."
Hearing the man's order, Rogue got into his signature fighting stance, right leg slightly before the other, knees bent, back hunched slightly, and fists before his face.
"Good. Right hook." Levi commanded bluntly.
Purely focused, Rogue roared and threw his fist forward in a perfectly executed punch that was blurred to the eye, whipping up a violent wind from the rapid movement that shook the limbs of the nearby trees. The titan then brought his arm back into position, looking down at Levi with ears listening for a reaction from the spectators.
"Now, left hook."
Focused again, Rogue mirrored his previous move with his opposite fist – roaring as he threw the powerful punch – meeting an imaginary mark that he was happy to visualize as Nile's face. If he were human, he would have socked the man in the jaw without a further thought.
"That's stirring as well." Zackley commented, turning to Hange who had been watching in glee. "How much force does his punch exert?"
The woman nearly squealed. "To put it simply, we've seen those powerful hits knock a fifteen meter titan's head clean off!"
The Premier simply nodded and waved for Levi to continue.
At the Corporal's word, Rogue dipped his arm and curved it upward with a loud bellow of dominance. As his fist drew skyward, another gale from the force cut across the clearing and blew several of the pack's capes and ruffled locks of hair. Rogue then retuned to his stance, awaiting another move to descend upon him.
"Let's get a little complicated." Levi continued coolly. "Left uppercut followed by a right haymaker."
The titan gave a slight nod and then threw his left fist into a hard throw, muscles bulging beneath his skin. Completing the combo of moves, Rogue then delivered a perfectly executed haymaker.
"Good. Now left punch, right uppercut, and finish with a right kick."
Again, Rogue nodded and propelled his left fist forward to his imaginary target's mug, following with an uppercut that would have sent a titan's head skyward. Bracing himself, Rogue then lifted his leg to make a kick similar to how one would kick a ball as hard and fast as one possibly could. Wind tore at the surrounding clearing, sending a violent tempest towards his audience, even knocking Krista over. With no loss of balance, Rogue then returned to his fighting stance, watching in concern to see if the small recruit was okay. Seeing her struggle slightly to get to her feet, the wind obviously knocked out of her, Rogue opened his maw before Levi could give further order.
"OORRYYY KKRRIIISSAA. UUU OOOKKKAAEE?"
The small blonde got to her feet, smiling brightly at him. "I'm okay!"
At her sweet tone, Rogue nodded and then turned back to Levi, missing Zackley rubbing his chin in thought. For a long moment the Corporal continued to stare before nodding.
The titan felt himself warming at the praise, a small smile pulling at his lipless mouth.
"Corporal Levi," Zackley began. "I've read your reports on Rogue's activity and interceptions with other titans in Wall Maria. You mentioned that you've seen him exhibit combat techniques that are far more complex than what I've seen. Are you going to show those?"
Levi folded his arms, obviously peeved at the comment. "At this time, we do not posses a living target his size for Rogue to display the moves properly. I'm sure that you understand why, in terms of safety for our men and yourself, Sir." The man spoke almost coldly, eyes giving a dead stare.
The Premier nodded. "I see. That's understandable, Corporal. To have a mindless fifteen-meter titan, unchained here, would be a risky move. Although I don't doubt that Rogue could contain it and finish it, I know the dangers to surrounding spectators. Not to mention, it would be a waste to go out and capture a fifteen-meter just to offer as bait to our friend here when those funds can be used for – something more productive."
For a moment, the short leader stood still, blinking once before nodding in appreciation to Zackley. Levi then turned to him again, finger pointing at the cluster of trees that the man had painted targets on. Understanding, Rogue then motioned to the timbers and stood in preparation. "Most of Rogue's skill and strength comes from his upper body. For the past two months, I have been working with Rogue on how to use his lower half efficiently as well. For this, Rogue will aim a kick at the various targets you see. Now if you would Rogue, start with the smallest tree. The four-meter to your left, cut through the trunk with a low sweep."
Quickly, the titan nodded in comply and got into a sturdy stance. With a deep breath, he thrust his right leg forward – a move that Levi had said was perfect for knocking someone of something off his or her feet. The impact of Rogue's foot easily snapped the small tree in half right at the painted line. With the deed done, the creature waited for further instruction – glancing at the two visitors to read their reactions. As usual, Zackley was wearing a stern face while Nile as usual looked on in dislike.
"Right. Now do the same with the six-meter tree, Rogue. Use your left leg this time."
The titan grunted in reply and steadied himself, bracing his bulk on his more dominant side before lifting his left leg as he was told. Again, flesh, bone, and muscle tore through the thin trunk with ease – right on the mark with the sound of snapping timber echoing throughout the wood. Rogue then balanced himself out again on his feet, glancing over at the next couple of trees. Their marks ranged from ten to fourteen meters, meaning that he was going to have to preform his still shaky high kicks. He was so uncomfortable in performing them that he almost just wanted to move on to the next trial just to escape the embarrassment and the imminent reaction from Zackley and Nile if he were to fail.
He did NOT want to fail. At all.
"Rogue will now proceed with a few kicks to the higher targets. This is also a new move that I'm teaching him." Levi addressed with a straight face. "Rogue, high kick the ten meter with your left leg."
For a moment, the titan found himself blinking at the Corporals words. The move was most definitely not new to him. Perhaps Levi had just said that as an excuse in case he was to screw up. Putting the thought aside, Rogue then faced the ten-meter spruce and prepared his form, silently telling himself that he could do it. He was certainty capable of such a thing. After a few more words of positive reinforcement, the titan took action. The behemoth lifted his leg and swung, leaning back as Levi had instructed as his foot aimed at the crimson tainted bark. Rogue's foot then met the trunk of the tree, breaking his skin slightly and sending a shower of loose bark into the brambles. Quickly, before he could succumb to imbalance, Rogue planted his foot back to the ground, ignoring the prickling sensation of broken skin regenerating on the top of his foot. Levi nodded in contentment.
"Good. Repeat with the twelve meter."
Rogue then prepared himself again, letting out a breath of shaky steam before repeating his previous process. With a loud crack of the impact, sheets of bark tumbled to the earth as the titan quickly pulled back his leg – a pinching pain present in his ankle, the product produced by a hairline fracture. Grinding his teeth, Rogue stood back on it, trying to resist the urge to lift his foot again for the sake of showing his worth, ignoring the fact that he could barely put his weight upon it. Hopefully, Levi would see the pain present and distract the two men to give it time to heal. If he had to use his other leg on the next tree, he would fall over before he could even carry out the move.
To his dismay, the Corporal opened his mouth to give the next order, but luck seemed to be shining on the titan for Zackley interrupted the proceedings with the sound of his clearing throat.
"Corporal Levi, if you could give me an estimate, approximately how many hours do you work with Rogue on these techniques?"
"Ten hours a week. Plus there are the sessions that he works with me and my squad."
"Ah. Carry on."
The short male then turned back to the titan, looking at his leg briefly before meeting eyes yet again. "Now use your right leg at the thirteen meter. Then do the same for the fourteen meter."
Feeling that his foot was healed, Rogue nodded, hoping that his nerves were not too apparent. He then turned toward the large pine to set himself up – keeping his breath steady. Deciding that it was best if he hurry, the titan then performed the mandatory action, his leg arching up to the painted mark – his back lowering in the slightest. His limb then made contact with the rough organic surface, rattling the entire trunk and making green and bark fall like rain. Feeling himself begin to teeter, Rogue quickly pulled his foot back to the earth – taking a moment to get to his equilibrium. Luckily, he had met his mark, but his form was still just as sloppy as it was two months ago. Rogue glanced to Levi nervously, hoping that he wasn't disappointing him. The man merely waved for him to proceed.
The titan fretfully placed himself at his final obstacle, looking up at the large tree in worry. He could do this couldn't he? He had too! He could not fail! He would not fail! Rogue then braced himself, toes digging into the soft earth. The glade was silent; all he could hear was his rapidly beating heart that seemed to ring in his ears. A final sigh seeped from his mouth, steam rising in tendrils from the small gaps between his teeth. Then he began, lifting his leg to strike at his target – envisioning it as everything he hated: the titans, the deaths of his loved ones, and Nile. As Levi had instructed, Rogue leaned back as his foot sliced through the forest musk, but the titan quickly felt that he was at fault as his ankle buckled. With the bone snapping as the ankle sickly curved outward, Rogue's foot hit a meter below the target and the rest of his body was pulled by unforgiving gravity. Unable to stop himself, the titan fell helplessly with a loud wail into the dirt. Instinctively, Rogue instantly made a grab for his wound to nurture – fingers graced with blood from where bone had broken through skin. Knowing that he couldn't just let the nearly severed appendage sit as it was, Rogue quickly dethatched the rest of his damaged foot so it could grow back properly. He growled, cursing himself at his failure. With mortification running through his veins, Rogue sheepishly turned to look upon Levi and the others. At the sight, his ears lowered in shame. Several of the unprepared soldiers had been knocked to the ground by the massive vibration as a result from his fall – many struggling to calm a number of the spooked horses. His little ones were in pure shock and Levi was picking himself up off the ground, brushing the dust from his bleach white pants while Zackley gathered himself and kept his hard gaze. Nile was seething, looking almost rabid as he marched forward with a finger dawn ready to denunciate.
"This! This is a primary example why that thing should not be permitted to be with the Scouts! That titan could have easily fallen onto us and killed many of your men! It's incapable!"
"Nile." Levi interrupted; gaze sharp like the blades he used. "Like I mentioned previously, this is a new thing for Rogue. He has not perfected his form. Some things that are easy for humans can be quite difficult for Rogue due to his mass. We are still trying to figure a way that he can safely balance himself."
"That's bullshit as well. Like how most titans are described, his body is human like – so he is capable of doing simple tasks with ease!"
"No disrespect, but have you ever had your hand stung by a bee?" The Corporal spoke metaphorically. "If you have, I'm sure you're familiar with how your hand swells up and how heavy it feels and how difficult it is for you to retrieve any object. It's pretty uncomfortable isn't it? With Rogue's size, that's a bit how he feels with doing such a task. Besides, titan anatomy, although it appears human, has limitations. I out of anybody should know this well. "
"Corporal Levi!" Nile continued, voice loud and furious. "That's an excuse! This thing is a god damn death wish!"
"Quiet!" Zackley spoke harshly, the titan unable to figure out whom the man was addressing. "I will watch the rest of this trial with no further interruption! Now Corporal, please have the titan proceed."
It was quiet in the clearing with even the birds silent. Slowly, Rogue could feel his feelings beginning to rise to the surface. In an attempt to keep them at bay, Rogue shook his head and turned to Levi in preparation for further coaching. Levi then let out an aggravated breath and turned to his bulk, nodding his head and pointed to the clearing without another word. For the umpteenth time, Rogue did as he was told as his mind rummaged around his thoughts on how to get revenge on Nile. There were so many lovely possibilities, but none that he knew would work. Not without getting himself in trouble at least.
"The final part of this trial will execute how well Rogue can handle any sort of ambush well as other things to interpret on their own. This will be done with multiple rapid firing targets. Due to the debris in this exercise, I ask of you to please find yourself in a secure spot within the trees." The man paused, watching as many of the soldiers got to safety. "Now, this will be done right in the very spot Rogue stands. He will dodge, catch, and destroy rock targets as they are hurled at him by both mortar and catapult. This test also shows our titan's hand and eye coordination as well as how he is able to quickly locate incoming targets." Levi concluded as he turned to Rogue. "Get ready."
He then got in a defensive stance, ears listening for the howling of wind and the firing of the wide mouthed cannons Hange had informed him of.
"Prepare your shots!" Erwin shouted to several waiting pack members in the trees.
Rogue let a determined smile form on his misshapen face. Although this activity could be called the most dangerous of any of his training sessions –it was actually the most fun. It was almost like a supersized game of catch – done safely for no one ever aimed at his nape. It was one of the sessions he always looked forward to and it was always a great way to keep his hunting skills sharp.
"Fire the first five!"
A loud bang of a mortar reverberated through the forest, the beast's tapered ear flicking to its source – a hollow metal ball fired from his right. One thing Rogue knew about the mortar shots was that they were tricky to judge. Sometimes they were fired full blast while others seemed almost gentle. If the weapon were fired at full blast, the balls would fly just as fast as Levi did through the trees. The first time he had attempted to intercept one of the high-speed rounds, the projectile tore several of his fingers off. Since that particular lesson, the titan knew to never attempt catching high-speed rounds – especially an object as heavy as the metal spheres. Those were to be dodged while he could catch others.
Hearing the whistling wind rush up behind him, Rogue quickly sidestepped to the left, the small ball blazing past his right shoulder and plowing into the ground. The titan purred in satisfaction, waiting on the next round.
With that, a loud creaking followed by the sound of a large object sailed through the air – distinctively a catapulted round. His tapered ears fidgeted, flickering like his deer monitoring prowling predators – locating the incoming stone that was falling from it's peak. Rogue then turned and caught the smooth object in an open palm before safely tossing it into a cluster of bushes where no soul was near. Suddenly, another shot rang through the timbers – a second mortar but his time much weaker. The titan smiled, he loved the shots in particular. Anticipating the coming ball, Rogue turned to his right and caught the round – tossing it aside before repeating the same with another catapulted round.
"Good." Levi began as he walked from his chosen cover. "Now let's continue. Eyes closed."
"What! As if this wasn't already dangerous enough!" Nile announced; intruding yet again on things he wasn't familiar with.
"I assure you, this activity is safe. We are far from headquarters. Each shot only has a range of sixty meters. You are all out of projectile range. In fact, being near Rogue is the safest place you can be." Levi paused, turning to Zackley. "On one of our capture missions to obtain Rogue, we experienced first hand as to how adept Rogue's senses were when he was momentarily blinded. This is a reproduction of that demonstration."
"Fire numbers six to ten!"
As he was commanded, the titan shielded his eyes to forbid his view, ears erect and listening. Rogue dug his toes and heels against the earth feeling for vibrations. Levi had done this exercise with him before. In these, the titan was only required to dodge – all shots were mortars. A blast then vibrated his eardrums, forcing his ears to shift to the right. It was a powerful round, moving at a great rate of speed. Driven by instinct, Rogue sidestepped and allowed the ball to pass. Again, another round was launched, this time closer and to the side. With the wind sweeping against his eardrums, Rogue leaned back just before the second round passed a few feet before his face. A smirk wiped itself across his façade, determined to prove himself and show off what he was capable of. A vibration reverberated through the earth as another mortar was fired, this time aimed low. Artfully, Rogue sidestepped again, avoiding the projectile by several meters. Again, he repeated the process, leaning casually to avoid his incoming target. Rogue then settled once more, waiting for the final blast. All was quiet until a final boom echoed across every surface beneath the canopy. The titan's ears shifted, detecting the target that was heading for his rear at the middle of his back. He dithered; the round was much slower than the others. Driven by instinct, he sniffed – smelling the odd powder on the incoming object. The titan smiled wider, he could definitely –
Sensing that the time was right, Rogue spun around and swiped, ensnaring the shot in hand without so much as breaking his skin. A wave of astonishment swept through the crowd below as Rogue unshielded his eyes to look upon the circular stone before setting it softly to the forest floor and kneeling to face Levi and the others.
"Not bad, brat." The Corporal spoke, adjusting his white cloth. "It was a bit unexpected, but fair game."
Taking the man's odd kind of compliment in stride, Rogue wiggled his ears in gratitude. The titan then looked to his little ones; seeing that they wore looks of relief that were a blessing from those they had dawned earlier.
"Incredible." Zackley began, adjusting his glasses as he stared into Rogue's waiting eyes. "It's just as I suspected from humanity's strongest soldier, great results. Then again, I'm not surprised with Rogue's skill due to the stories I've heard."
"Sir, if I may, I'd like to point out just how sloppily this was done. The titan could have dropped one of the projectiles onto any unsuspecting soldier. Even so, one of the shots could have easily misfired and hit anyone."
Hearing Nile's insults again, the titan tensed up, holding his own tongue – restraining himself from roaring in the man's face. As Zackley addressed Nile, an idea popped into his head. A very good, crazy, gross, but brilliant idea. Rogue grinned internally, knowing just how to extract his revenge without catching the heat.
"Premier Zackley," Erwin queried. "Shall we begin the final trial or would you prefer a break to dine and attend to any convenience?"
Rogue watched as the bearded man toyed with his beard, furrowed brows revealing that he was deep in thought. Odd, the man seemed so strict – was there something on his mind?
"Actually Commander, lunch sounds great before we proceed. I'm sure that your other recruits would agree. Their stomachs were nearly muffling the blasts."
"Then it is decided. Lunch it is."
As the pack began to depart to the castle, Rogue followed close behind – his previous occupants guiding the spare horses. The titan found his brain wandering. Deep down, there was an instinct telling him that Zackley was onto something – and he wasn't for sure if it was good or bad.
Armin felt his stomach flutter again, begging to be filled and nourished.
Of course, the smell of freshly baked bread swirling in his nostrils didn't help much with the fact that he was starving. At the moment, he was trying his best to ignore his bodily needs, attempting to place his focus on Erwin, Levi, Zackley, and Nile who rode just ahead of him. They were not speaking much, he couldn't hear them that well for they kept their voices low – anything was mostly muffled words. Instead, Armin focused on Zackley's body language. To the blonde teen, it was obvious that the Premier was thinking about something, mind completely isolated as Erwin spoke. It was clear that Zackley wasn't truly listening, just nodding his head. Armin swallowed a wad of saliva. Ever since Rogue's first trial, the man was one of little words. The teen glanced down at his mare's coarse mane. Rogue had done well right? Sure there were a few mistakes that the titan made – the biggest being that he fell during Levi's trial. Was that enough to give Zackley a bad feeling? Or perhaps Nile had forced words into the man's mind. Whatever was keeping Zackley quiet and hard to read worried the teen greatly. At the very moment, for the first time, he could not predict any sort of positive outcome. The Premier's silence didn't look good.
A series of vibrations pulled Armin from his thoughts. As usual, Rogue merrily walked past the riding Scouts and plopped himself right next to the castle as lunch was preparing to be served. Like a child, the titan folded his legs neatly and then let out a long sigh of steam before transferring his gaze to both he and Mikasa, ears wiggling and giving an eager grunt for them to hurry and join him. Armin smiled in return as several of the soldiers began to dismount their horses and make their way to the source of food – a small buffet resting on one of the long outdoor tables. Despite the fact that the titan was so upset at Nile's insults, the beast looked – excited as ever. And it wasn't the false kind that Rogue displayed earlier. It was genuine. Then again, there was a feeling pulling at him. Rogue would also become enthused if he was planning something. Surely Rogue wasn't foolish enough to try and pull something on Nile!
"You think he will try something, Armin?"
The teen turned to Mikasa who looked on in seriousness at the titan who was watching the higher ups' conversation, still riding toward the small buffet.
Armin dithered. "I'm not sure to tell you the truth, Mikasa. But I do think that Rogue knows well enough that if he tries to do something such as spit on Nile that he's in for serious consequences."
She only responded with a weary nod. "Well – what is your opinion on Zackley? I can't really figure him out."
"Same here Mikasa. However it does seem like he's thinking. Either it's positive or negative, but I'm not sure as of yet. Of course, I think we'll find out after the last trial. All we can do is hope."
"Rogue has been doing well so far, except for a few things, but I think he's leaving a good impression on the Premier. I just hope that Nile hasn't persuaded him otherwise." Mikasa continued as the two teens made their way to the patient – or barely patient titan who was obviously begging to see them, looking like a happy dog who's master just came home. Seeing Rogue nearly bleating in joy instantly made Armin picture the beast with a wagging tail yet again, but the feeling kept pulling his strings. Hopefully the titan's state was not what Armin thought it was.
The two young Scouts then met at Rogue's knee, letting the titan pick them up and place them onto his thigh. The creature patted them gently on the head with his index finger, hair hanging over his face as he smiled down at them.
"You're doing good Rogue." Mikasa whispered. "Only one more trial okay?"
As the titan nodded in reply, Armin turned to look upon the group of higher ups – missing the flash of mischief flicker in Rogue's eyes as the two beheld the small cluster as well. Erwin, Levi, and Nile were dismounting their horses before them and handing their reins to Ness to return to the newly renovated stables. The four were still in heavy conversation.
"So will the next trial be just as dangerous as the last?" Nile spoke sarcastically, receiving a hard stare from Levi. Erwin quickly intervened.
"The next trial consists of what we have come to call recreations of Rogue's capture missions. When we were trying to capture Rogue, we realized that he could be beneficial in teaching us how to avoid being grabbed by titans. So instead of a human instructor for the next trial, it will be Rogue himself as the lecturer. The four of us will ride along his side and observe several teams of soldiers avoid and attempt to capture him. Rogue has shown us the many ways a titan can ambush an unsuspecting Scout. For that, we have formulated many different techniques in how to avoid the grabbing of our wires."
Zackley slowly climbed from his horse, brushing off nonexistent dirt or dust out of habit after handing off the chestnut steed. "That sounds interesting Commander, but the final trial will not be needed."
Armin and Mikasa froze at the man's words, blood running cold as the surrounding Scouts turned to eavesdrop in interest. No! Had Zackley listened to Nile after all?
Completely in sync, Erwin and Levi raised a brow in bewilderment.
"Sir, what do you mean?" The Corporal demanded seriously, eyebrows knitted together.
"Well, I see no point. I've made my decision already."
The teens and the titan looked on, eyes wide in concern. 'Surely he didn't fail Rogue!' Armin panicked. 'If so, Rogue is going to be handed over to the Military Police and killed!'
"You have, Sir?" Erwin asked, surprise in his voice. Zackley nodded.
"Yes, I actually decided Rogue's fate during the first trial. Erwin, Levi – your titan is the most incredible creature I've witnessed in my life. One of a kind. I approve of him going on your 57th expedition."
The two teens instantly sighed in unison. Rogue had done it!
All eyes focused on Nile who had thrown his hands into the air in anger and frustration. "Sir! That was against contract! This thing was supposed to preform all three trials!" The MP stuttered before waving a hand at Rogue who had begun to snort softly and rub his nose. "Either way, this vile thing – is not to be trusted! This is an act! Even if it wasn't, this titan is too –
Suddenly, Nile was cut short in his speech, a loud nasally sound coming from the titan. In alarm, Armin turned to see Rogue's eyes scrunch up in what looked to be pain, the creature pinching his nose. Then, before Armin could even question the titan what was wrong, Rogue sneezed. A hard jet of mucus coated the heated MP – covering him in an even more repulsive slime than the titan's saliva. The blonde's heart skipped a beat, glancing back at Rogue who was sniffing and wiping his wrinkled nose. The titan then looked up after recovery, eyes growing in disbelief. Armin gulped, his hunch was correct. Deep in the titan's emerald greens, he could tell that there was intention. Rogue had put on an act, a sly act. The two teens swallowed, holding their tongues in hope that Zackley hadn't caught on and wouldn't change his mind.
Nile simply stood as if he was trapped in ice. His face as well was fixed in a look of sickness. Slowly, the MP turned to the titan, skin tinting crimson.
"OOOORRRYY. UUUGGG IIINNN NNNOOOSSSE." Rogue falsely explained, looking as ashamed as he could.
The Commander of the MP's then snapped. Viciously wiping away mucus from his face and uniform. "Monster! Premier Zackley! I beg you! Exterminate this beast immediately! If anything, this is proof that this thing is plotting against –
"Nile." Zackley interrupted bluntly. "I believe you forgot that I requested that you have no outbursts." The Premier spoke level headedly, turning back to Erwin. "Anyways, there is something I would like to address with you and Corporal Levi in private – preferably over a drink."
Erwin nodded. "Yes, Sir. Nile, if you recall – the showers are on the first floor and down the hall to your left. There shouldn't be anyone in there as of yet."
The snot-coated man frowned darkly in response before marching in the direction of the castle's entrance with many of the soldiers snickering and some even brave enough to laugh. Armin sighed a breath in relief knowing that Zackley was on their side. The blonde then looked up to see Rogue grinning widely and almost gleefully. However, the beast wasn't looking down at his two main objects of affection but rather at Levi whom was positioned a few feet from both Erwin and Zackley that were preparing to head off into the depths of the castle. Both Mikasa and Armin's eyes widened at the sight.
Although the man was covering his mouth, they could see the arrogant smile on his face.
Instinctively, Levi glanced around Erwin's quarters as the three men entered and closed the doors behind them. The Corporal's nose scrunched in the slightest. Although the Commander's room was relatively in order, with eyes as keen as his own, Levi could still spot a very thin layer of dust over things that Erwin rarely used. It was due for a cleaning but not at the present time. The tall blonde then waved the two over to a small seating area near a personal fireplace that most rooms in the castle had to heat the large structure during winter. For a moment, Levi stared at the three chairs, trying to pick the cleanest looking one before choosing the red leather Queen Ann and parking himself – folding one leg over the other. Zackley sat in the chair facing the two neighboring the fireplace while Erwin sifted through a few bottles of wine that had been carried up from the cellar. Levi frowned. He wanted tea but there was no time to brew it. Then again, the day was nerve wracking and a small amount of wine did sound like a good bit of aid.
Waiting to be served, the Corporal turned his line of sight to the window that overlooked the recreational clearing. Some of the soldiers were still there eating and others remained to have conversation. Of course, Levi's focus was on the titan who was no longer sitting but lying comfortably on his back. Even from where he sat, the short man could see that Rogue was in utter bliss. The creature was purring as usual, green eyes lazily watching Arlert, Ackerman, Petra, Hange, and a few of the other new recruits sitting on his chest giggling and eating. If he had to compare the titan to anything, Levi would say that Rogue looked like a big dim dog getting a belly rub. Admittedly, the titan still amazed him with everything it did. The creature was much more intelligent than his looks credited him. The sneeze was something that Rogue had obviously planned – and planned thoroughly. Seeing Nile suffering from an even more disgusting punishment than he had, it brought out some of his own hidden emotions. With most of what he classified as stupid shit that occurred on a daily basis, the very instance took the cake. Sweet revenge was the perfect phrase for it.
The Corporal then noticed that Zackley was watching the scene as well, expression just as vague as his own. After all the preparations and burning nerves, it was a heavy burden that was lifted from their shoulders that Zackley had seen through Nile's bullshit and processed the reality of Rogue. Even more so was that the titan behaved as well as he did and didn't give in to his judgmental traits. Then again, it was clear that Zackley was thinking of something that had come to light during the trials. As far as the man's preferences and as to what that thought was – Levi had a pretty good idea that he knew what it was and Zackley was about to disclose it to them.
"I think this one suits the impending conversation." Erwin announced as he carried over three glasses of red wine on a silver platter and placed it onto a small table between them before taking the last seat. Just to be polite in the presence of the Premier, Levi took a glass and simply held it in hand as he waited for the conversation to begin.
"Thank you, Commander. I don't drink red wine much these days but it does taste good every once in a while." Zackley spoke as he lifted the clean glass to his lips before clearing his throat. "Like I said, your titan did well today – even though what happened to Nile was cause for suspicion." The man smirked cunningly.
"We had no idea that Rogue was –
Zackley held up a joking hand, cutting Erwin off. "Hey, I just saw him sneeze. Nile was just in the wrong place at the wrong time." Zackley chuckled lightly before continuing, allowing Levi to let out a discreet sigh in relief that the man was dismissing the incident. "Rogue is everything people say he is and everything that Pixis has told me. Hell, I would feel comfortable allowing a school of children around the beast." Zackley laughed as he took another sip of wine. "On a serious note, his intelligence and knowledge that he's learned from you says to me that he has the potential to do well on a full expedition with you." The bearded man paused, face suddenly changing into one of dead earnestness. "However, watching the titan has raised one concern that I can't ignore."
"What would that be, Sir?" Levi queried, still ignoring the glass of wine in his hand.
Zackley dithered, looking out in the clearing again to gaze upon the titan to see that he was he was even more sprawled out than ever with several of the recruits, including a caring Petra and an over enthused Hange, scratching beneath Rogue's chin with the titan happily soaking up every bit of the attention before surprising the group by unexpectedly lapping them across the face. "Docile thing isn't he? Does – he do the licking thing often?" Zackley questioned as he gestured to the scene out the window.
"Unfortunately." Levi answered. "Luckily, with as much time he has spent with me, I've managed to avoid his sloppy kisses."
The Premier chuckled, but then grew grim yet again. "That is actually my concern with Rogue. His demeanor worries me. Don't get me wrong it's wonderful, but I greatly worry how that will translate into the expedition."
Levi finally gave in to a sip of wine. He knew it.
"From what I've seen, Rogue is incredibly at home here. He's closely attached to many of you – especially to those two kids." Zackley hesitated, looking to the two of them sternly. "If I may ask, how well does he cope with loss?"
At the statement, Levi immediately thought back to what the two teens had told them the first night they were all together around the fire in Maria, recalling how badly the beast took the Jaeger's deaths that still haunted the creature to the day. Rogue didn't cope well to losing loved ones at all. Either it was full on ballistic rage; wailing in sorrow, or downright pouting the titan wasn't good with the idea of losing anything. Hell, after they had given a small family of kittens away that the beast had cared for, Rogue was more grumpy than he was with seeing that the new recruits had left a mess behind without cleaning it. And that particular incidence lasted for two whole days. To Levi, the titan took the idea of loss like a toddler.
"Well," Erwin began before Levi could reply. "Rogue takes death just like any human would."
Zackley looked deeply into his glass. "I see. However, I'm worried that he will give in to his protective instincts and feelings if he sees trouble and decides to go against your orders. During the first trial, I could tell that he was greatly bothered by Nile's remark. Which is why I'm setting this into play. I will expect a full and truthful report after the expedition. If Rogue doesn't listen, you will report the Stohess district with your titan in tow to be evaluated for a second time."
Levi took another gulp of wine, one bigger than the previous one. The stakes were even higher with the coming expedition merely two weeks away. He would have to brand a lot of their previous conversations together and the risks of disobeying him into the titan's head even more so than before. He was not going to lose someone else. It would be a constant thing, after seeing just how easily Rogue abandoned his own survival instincts in fear that one of their own had been hurt in the previous day's capture session. Then again, Rogue always followed orders and none in particular was given. Not only that but their sudden convergence and body language would probably set anyone off. Levi sulked further in his seat. Hopefully that was the case. Maria would be different – then again Rogue was full of surprises and not all were necessarily good ones.
A vibration then caught their attention. Looking to the window, Levi and the other pairs of eyes watched as Rogue chirped and sat down a stick, another small rock, and a large leaf onto the balcony. The titan purred, fogging up the glass.
"More welcome presents I assume?" Zackley asked.
"Looks it." Erwin replied as Rogue returned to lounge with the recruits, plopping down without a single worry in the world.
The man chuckled. "Like I said, I hate to have you do such a thing. But you must understand that I have to be sure. I don't expect it though. He's a great soldier. A gift to humanity. I'm sure he will do great." Zackley concluded, drinking the last of his wine. "Also, I thank him for his generosity and for subduing Nile's foolishness. Truthfully, as much as I work with him – sometimes it's nice to have a bit of peace."
Erwin chuckled. "Agreed. Thank you Zackley."
"You're welcome. The funds for your coming expedition should arrive within two days. I wish you all luck."
The gently melody of the music box swept through the darkened barn, only lit by the dim light of candles. Rogue lay facing the wall in his designated nesting area. The beast purred softly, spine curved as he was curled around his little ones in protection and love. They were both fast asleep in his palm and against his chest, he himself on the verge of repose. The titan watched their chests slowly rise and fall with softly illuminating emerald orbs. He was so happy. He had passed his trials and could now be with and assist his babies and the pack – his new family, on the coming hunt and his job to seal the broken wall. During the past two months, he had been itching to start his work again to make a safer word for those he had cared for. Rogue then snuggled closer, letting sleep slowly blanket over him with a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth and his feet kneading in the hay.
He couldn't wait to begin.