Confusion, it was certainly no stranger to him. As far as he had known, he always experienced it in his life. He could remember the feeling of being lost before he had met his little ones and his humans. The titan spent his days simply wandering and partaking in observation – amazed at what the world presented him, before retreating into his hideaway to wonder how the world worked. Just when he was beginning to understand the simple inner workings of the area outside his cove, he met his Carla and Grisha that made him embrace the confusion again. At first, his perplexity was the kind that he could call nervous, always wondering how the two were not afraid of him even after they shared what he was. As time wore on, his confusion had grown to be the good kind that he endured during his sessions of learning and partaking in speech. As time passed to where he was presently, he found that he was better rounded, but there was still a bit of confusion that crept up on him and seemingly controlled him. Shock was another thing that had always been present in his life. Perhaps it was a bit more common than confusion. Much like misconceptions. His shock would come in different forms being those of fear and sometimes-pleasant news.
However, what he was enduring now was a different form of confusion and shock. The two emotions had been merged into one that he couldn't name or properly define. Beneath the thin layer of the mixture, was nothing but boiling rage that reflected that of a savage darkness that swept through every inch of his body. The fury itself felt familiar, almost welcoming – but the flame igniting it was nothing but a spark of grief. Woven within the very emotions was an overwhelming sadness and the idea that he had failed. Petra was gone forever, hopefully to the heavens that his humans had described long ago. She would never be with him, they would never talk, and she would never comfort. Petra was lost. He was extremely unstable with his fuse lit - the titan a loaded cannon ready to fire. He had felt the same only once before.
Rogue glared at the monstrosity before him, emerald greens ignited in a menacing glow. Steam steadily rose from his pores and his mouth, spilling from his wrinkled nose with each heaving breath. His brows were knitted together, wild hair messily hanging from his scalp – rising slightly like the ruffled fur on the back of a crazed dog. His appearance was rabid, ears pinned, spine arched, saliva trickled from his chin, and pupils thin as paper. As much as his mouth structure could allow, the titan's maw was sculpted into a brutal snarl – looking as if he was ready to lurch forward and tear his prey apart limb by limb and piece by piece. However, although instinct was screaming at him to rush ahead and kill, his mind was somehow still attached to his confusion and full of questions that he desired to have an answer for. This Female Titan – why was it here? What was its reason for slaughter if its true interest related to him? Most importantly though, why did it claim to know him? He had never come across this titan! Never! He needed an explanation, and since this titan possessed the ability to speak, it had the power to give to him what he wanted. As much as he fancied to plant his knuckles into her cut face and crush her skull – he had to temporarily bottle his lust for blood and ask. If he couldn't get any sort of straight answer – he would then force it from her throat! Once he got that answer, he would demand the others! Because this monster had killed his friends, including his precious Petra, he would rip her apart regardless!
A snarl left his lipless maw as he straightened his spine and swallowed deeply, feeling his brow twitch as he focused on his desire and keeping his ferocity at bay – muscles convulsing as he struggled. The Female Titan still continued to remain where she was, eye socket still heavily steaming and stance tight but not in a position to defend with her calm but cunning expression mocking him.
It only added fuel to the fire.
"OOOO AARRRRR YYUUUU!" Rogue yelled; voice corroded with both rage and sheer pain, query echoing among the trees. "OOO AARRR YYUUU!"
To his surprise, The Female Titan changed her expression into one he hadn't been expecting. Her brows arched and her jaw hung open slightly for several seconds in what he knew as shock. Of course, the look didn't last long as her face fabricated into an aloof look yet again. Casually, though she was still holding her eye, The Female lifted her free arm and placed her hand into her folded elbow. "YOU… SPEAK… NOW?" The titan answered, her words correct but not said without difficulty – a slight pause nestled between each raspy word that sounded forced. "THAT IS… SURPRISE. YOU… WAS… ALWAYS – STUPID."
Rogue clacked his teeth in aggravation, body shaking with rage. Furious that she had not answered him, he pointed a finger to accuse. "OOO AAARRRR YYUUUU!" He roared, on the edge of his personal barrier.
The Female Titan only tilted her head. "CAN TALK… A LITTLE. BUT… NOT…WELL." She smiled. "YOU… SOUND LIKE… SMALL HUMAN. STUPID… HUMAN."
Ravenous greens narrowed into slits in light of the titan's verbal abuse, he did not wish to be reminded of his speech impediment nor was he fond of the titan making fun of human young. She was stalling, attempting to dodge the answers. "OOO ARRR YUUUUUUU!" He demanded, clawed toes digging into the soft and blood stained earth – ready to go in for the kill. "ANNNNSSSEEERRR!"
The skinless titan's blonde head lowered, single blue eye staring intensely at him. "DO … YOU," The Female Titan continued, mouth forming into a wicked grin. "NOT… REMEMBER?"
Primal instinct suddenly manifested within Rogue. There was no time for him to waste, he had to trap her. She was wounded – still in the process of regenerating. Now was the perfect time to pin her into an inescapable corner. His patience was no more; he would make her give him what he wanted. Rogue opened his mouth to give off the feeling that he was going to ask his question yet again, but instead a savage roar erupted from his throat as he propelled himself forward – the earth rattling beneath his weight. The female's eyes blew wide as he raised his fist – aiming right for her head. Before he had the pleasure of seeing blood and sinew decorate his flesh in red, the skinless titan skillfully shifted her head to the right and in the opposing direction of the impact. Like before, he missed only to catch strands of her hair. He growled in sheer displeasure at the result, it was the first time a titan had ever dodged one of his attacks – and still remained in his wake. Rogue continued to push his body assertively, making The Female Titan unwillingly backpedal in retreat. Once more, he threw another devastating punch only for his fist to miss her pale flesh by mere inches.
He was furious! She had avoided him for the third time! How dare she! How dare she commit the crime that she had! How dare she break his heart! With a piercing howl, Rogue continued to embrace his appetite to separate her head, repeatedly; he threw more hits that would have been instantly fatal or heavily impairing to the common titan. Each time he was only able to met air or sunlight locks. Several trees passed by, limbs shaking in light of the duel. Rogue roared again in irritation. How was The Female Titan able to successfully move away from impact? Humans had never trained her! Unless of course – Hange had been correct about combat skills being woven into DNA. Even before he was under the mentor of Corporal Levi or had looked upon the pages of the fighting book, he had always felt comfortable throwing his fists in devastating punches. This titan, the way it was moving and the actions that she had performed earlier – was it true that she had the natural gift of fighting as well? He performed another missing blow. Yes, The Female Titan was a fighter; she was reading his moves and reading them well. Her skill certainly showed when she was ensnaring cables. Rogue's eyes narrowed even further. He would have to do something unexpected that would catch her off guard before her eye and arms finished healing. With The Female still looking into his angry orbs, he succumbed to chance. Rogue threw yet another punch, one that he purposely performed off target to distract. As the skinless titan shifted to the right, Rogue aimed at her ankle – catching her legs and causing the fourteen-meter to topple. The ground rumbled as she fell like great timber, the sight pleasing to him. However, to his dismay, The Female Titan gave no look of shock or surprise let alone any sound of pain as she rolled. Rogue watched as she forced herself upright and began to run deeper into the forest. A bloodcurdling bellow of rage sounded from his aching chest as he began to pursue, body light as he could make it. He was not going to let her get away so easily.
With each step, he veered further and further from his family. He had to take care of the threat before it could come to them again. With The Female after him, he knew it was not too wise to return to the humans. He had witnessed how she had hunted earlier, killing anything and anyone he held dear in order to get her prize. To forbid such a tragedy, he had to remove her from the equation. As he ran with The Female Titan in close proximity, the hunter began to evaluate his prey. She was different, yes. She would be the hardest opponent yet for him – no other titan had lasted this long in the game of cat and mouse. Rogue tried to recall every move that she had made, but sadness took his reins once again as he suddenly visualized Petra and how she had been crushed by the skinless titan's foot. Even though the glimpse into horror was short, the wound was still open and fresh – the infection spreading quickly across his better judgment. Instead of a perfect execution, Rogue fell into an overwhelming primal desire once again.
He was going to get what he wanted and then beat her to a pulp, turning her into a pile of bloody flesh just as she did Petra.
His heart pounded as his muscles bulged, chest heaving as he ran faster. Dried tears stung his cheeks as he roared viciously – the female titan just meters from him. The two titans then burst into a wooded clearing where the sun did not shine, opening a window for the hunter. Close enough, Rogue threw himself airborne with a powerful kick. His skinless prey had no chance to monitor over her shoulder as his weight slammed into her frame, sending the two rolling over in a locked and snarling mess. As the two slowed their momentum, Rogue angled his weight with his back to the canopy and grasped The Female Titan's broken shoulders in a stronghold. With a powerful shove, Rogue forced the titan to the ground – making sure that she faced him. The hunter then mounted himself over his catch, clouded with the overwhelming need to torture and maim, Rogue roared and plunged his teeth into The Female's left shoulder. The screech she produced was music to him, urging him to bite down harder. Teeth then punctured through the layers of skin down to the muscle, blood quickly leaking onto his tongue – the taste of revenge amazing. Suddenly, Rogue began to regain part of his awareness and recall his job. Abruptly, he released his grip to view the large teeth marks decorating the titan's flesh and muscle. His angry greens narrowed. He had been foolish to do such a move from the start – she had to answer his question first. Only then could he proceed in tearing her to pieces.
Rogue then met his gaze to The Female Titan who was still, eye looking up to him – face forming into a look of mild surprise. He didn't like the look – he wanted to see and listen to her screams again. "OOOOHHH AAARRRR YYUUUUU!" He bellowed, raising a poised fist as he waited. To his unfortunate luck, the Female only remained neutral, face relaxing in the slightest to not overly expose her nerves – made apparent by her shuttering breath. However, she made no move to answer. Witnessing her resistance, he gave into another heated surge through his network of veins. With incredible force, Rogue plunged his fist dangerously close to her head. The great impact instantly broke his arm into two pieces, elbow going through his leathery hide. Due to the adrenaline, pain was nonexistent for Rogue; he simply pulled his ruined arm back, skin hanging off in shreds while his dangerous glint was still aimed at his adversary. With saliva dripping from his maw, he decided to take a slightly different approach. "EEHHYYY YYUUU KKIIL DDEEEMMM! EEHHHYYY!" He yelled, face just a few meters from hers.
This time, The Female's expression changes into a completely neutral one with no hint of surprise let alone remorse. "THEY… WERE… IN…THE WAY." She spoke without care.
Her response only made him angrier and persuaded him to launch his other fist into the soft earth next to her cheek. A sickening sound of cracking bone sounded throughout the clearing as his knuckles shattered – the skinless creature only flinching in the slightest. Rogue roared again as he sat up, still staring and growling heavily at The Female Titan beneath him. With both of his arms broken, he couldn't interrogate like he wanted, and it would be stupid to go in for a good bite for if her arms healed she could so easily reach for his nape. So he sat, letting anger and every unhappy emotion course through him.
'I…SHOULD HAVE… ATTACK HER… EARLY!' Rogue pondered darkly, heartstrings being pulled again. 'PETRA… I... MY SMALL PACK… I SHOULD HAVE LET… THEY NEED TO GO TO… OTHER PACK!' The titan continued to think in a fury, muscles twitching and eyes blinking back water. 'NO. I SHOULD HAVE ATTACK… WITH LEVI! WE COULD… HAVE GOT HER! I… SHOULD HAVE… THIS… IS… MY FAULT.' Rogue continued to think further, another tear sliding down his neck. 'I DID… NOT… PROTECT THEM! THEY… ARE SMALL! THEY…' His mind continued to word, going back on himself and only causing him to become chaotically confused, body shivering all over. 'STILL… THIS… BITCH… KILL THEM! THIS IS… STILL YOUR FUCKING… FAULT!'
Agitated more than he could fathom, Rogue bent over and roared loudly in her pale face. The angry cry was deafening with a good amount of saliva sprinkling her skin. The Female cringed strongly at the sound, turning her head in cowardice as he roared again, teeth inches from her. He then sat up, eyes glowing a solid green in the dimly lit clearing. As he continued to look at her, he was only growing more and more on the verge of insanity. 'I WILL… BEAT HER TO PULP! I… WILL… RIP HER… TO SHREDS!' Rogue thought furiously, conscious more sinister than it had ever sounded. 'I WILL… KILL HER! KILL HER! I WILL… GET ANSWER! THEN… KILL… NO! I… WILL… EAT HER! I'LL… EAT HER! HER… MEAT… BONES… I'LL EAT… ALL OF IT! DO… NOT CARE… IF I… SICK AFTER! DO NOT… CARE… IF I… FAT AFTER! I'LL… DEVOUR HER… I WILL… LEAVE NOTHING!'
"OOOOHHH ARRRR YUUUU!" Rogue bellowed, words carrying into the depths of the forest.
The Female Titan slowly turned to face his wake yet gain, eye unfavorably narrow. She exhaled heavily, clearly showing her own frustration. "I AM… A WARRIOR."
Before Rogue could even contemplate what she had meant, the titan's other eye shot open. Just as his breath began to catch in his chest, The Female wrapped her hand around his arm in a near bone breaking hold. Beginning to realize his error, Rogue reflexively reached around to her nape – but the move was a wrong one as the skinless titan quickly pulled her legs from beneath him and rotated – her feet planting themselves strongly into his stomach and sending him flying across the clearing. A sharp shriek came from his throat just seconds before his back slammed into the hard and unforgivable bark of a towering timber. However, he wasn't down for the count, the fact that the female titan had sipped from his clutches only made him all the more angrier.
Quick on his feet with anger fuming, the hunter surged forward just before his opponent could turn around. As her chin crested over her shoulder, Rogue's fist aimed at her cheek. To his dismay, she avoided his move at the last millisecond crouching to roll among the earth. However, he was there before she could fully stand. With a loud snarl, Rogue swung, but The Female leaped to dodge – his fist plowing through a cluster of low trees. Angry at his failure to meet his mark, the titan charged yet again. This time, his prey positioned herself into a fighting stance, giving him the invite to challenge. Rogue continued his assault with a left hook, followed by a right – still missing. He would have cursed himself for his repeated errors, but anger held the reins and any sense of tactic was shoved to the side. Normally, he would have fought smart, now he was just relying on sheer aggression.
With another roar, Rogue and his adversary continued to launch their own moves at each other. At another one of his attempts to jab, The Female Titan aimed low, her sharp knuckles crashing against his ribs, cracking and fracturing several of them. Her other fist then came for his chin – hitting its mark and knocking his jaw loose from its socket, his long tongue rolling out. Adrenaline coursed through his body, making the larger titan barely feel the agony that came with the blows. The behemoth bellowed with ferocity laden in his threat. How dare she! Angry that the damage was done, Rogue swung a fist at the skinless titan's face. Although she had seen, she wasn't quick enough in her avoidance. He instantly broke her nose and nearly ripped it clean off her face. With no celebration of his success, he returned a low blow, impacting the titan's abdomen and sending her flying high into the air. The Female Titan then landed at the base of a tree, body trembling with the discomfort of the collision upon the wood and earth. Mind nearly covered over, Rogue seized the opportunity and ran full tilt toward his target, satanically grinning on the inside as he thought of the image of The Female's splattered brains and crimson shooting up the trunk and painting the area. Rogue then raised his leg to make the crushing blow, but yet again his prey bolted. This time, he felt the severe pain of breaking bones and tendons as his knee slammed into the hard surface of the standing pine. The shattering of his kneecap was enough to snap him out of his primal state. Instinctively, he grabbed his steaming injury and held it in his firm grip. His green eyes then flashed from his current predicament in an attempt to locate The Female Titan, only to see her bounding into the forest.
'YOU… ARE NOT… GETTING… AWAY!' Rogue thought angrily as he attempted to move forward in pursuit – only to let out a loud yelp as he tried to put weight on his injured appendage. On reflex, he held it again as he stared heatedly into the foliage. Damn it. He would have to heal before he could carry on. Finally, he swore at himself at his lackluster performance. He had allowed himself to get too lost. With this titan, he couldn't just blindly attack. He had to be aware and smart with every move. Tears glided down his jaw once anew. He would have to temporarily put his emotions away. As Levi had said, he couldn't let his emotions control him in battle – but with his heart aching tremendously, Rogue wasn't sure if he could keep that agreement. In order to protect the others, he had to rely on his judgment call.
'I AM… GOING TO… HUNT YOU… DOWN. THEN… I AM … TO… DEVOUR YOU. I… PROMISE... THAT.'
Laden beneath his stoic face was a sense of unmistakable worry. Ever since they had heard the familiar booming roar that was laced in fury, the Scouts had been thrown into a state of high alert. They had abandoned their idea of the teams converging to regroup and rethink, instead deciding that they were to search for his squad. In light of Rogue's vengeful howl, they knew they had to take everything into account and expect the worst.
Galloping on horseback in a large group of veterans, Levi kept to himself – not even caring that he was riding next to Hange. His mind was lost in thought as they moved through the forest. The Female Titan had more than likely found his squad and they had done battle – Rogue's roar did support that. Then again, he had heard the titan roar repeatedly for a while, a sound that was filled with unbridled rage. He swallowed, for Rogue to be that angry – something terrible had to have occurred. The Corporal Continued to think. In the past several minutes however, it had been eerily silent. Levi had three theories as to why. First, The Female Titan had somehow seduced Rogue with some sort of fucking feminine scent and the two titans were currently partaking in a series of sexual needs. Second, was that the two were truly fighting with no interest in mating what so ever. The Female Titan could have easily slipped past Rogue and he was currently hunting her. Or lastly, Rogue had been killed. God how he hoped the last one wasn't true – let alone the first one.
"We should be getting close!" Hange addressed the Commander. "Rogue's roar came from somewhere around here!"
The Corporal continued to listen to the two's exchange, Hange still firmly believing that the mating was the reason for what was transpiring – Erwin and the others even considering the same bullshit too. Although he himself thought the idea was ludicrous, he couldn't rule out the possibility that it was true with all the facts presented. More trees passed, any animal that usually thrived was all but absent, warned away by clashing giants. Suddenly, Levi's sharp gaze caught sight of something red and a dark hump. At the view of crimson, he yanked the reins of his steed without a word, the horse rearing and the Corporal catching the others attention – making them slow as well. With his face frozen, he gradually dismounted from his saddle. Erwin, Hange, and several of the other veterans remained quiet as Levi knelt down and bushed away several blood splattered twigs.
His heart skipped a beat and his breath caught in his chest, several gasps coming from behind him.
There, lying in a crumpled mess was a headless soldier, but it certainly wasn't a new recruit – the body too tall. Delicately, he leaned forward and lifted up the crimson soaked collar of the soldier's tan jacket – a place where every soldier wrote their names so to not mix up their uniform with another during laundry sessions. Levi then looked at the blood soaked tag, trying to ignore the intense amount of gore and blood getting on his hand. Scrutinizing, he then made the discovery that he had been dreading.
"Who is it?"
He sighed, pulling off the patch before standing upright and remaining still. Outside, there was a hint of despair on his face, but it was mostly still. "It's Gunter." Levi finally replied, searching briefly for the man's head with a quick glance, only to find that Gunter's head was nowhere to be found.
"Levi," Hange began as he climbed back on his horse, instantly rubbing his tainted hand on a handkerchief. "I'm so –
However he didn't let her finish as he started his horse foreword without another word. If Gunter was dead, then the brawl must have been bad and the probability of his squad's complete survival was incredibly slim. Although the man was never emotional, the very thought of a friend's death was mind numbing and made his heart beat irregularly. His horse then burst into a clearing, but before he could turn to survey the surrounding landscape, he found his body being thrown into the air as the hoof of his horse caught an object. The earth met him unforgivably, his petite frame rolling and pants gaining grass stains. Levi blinked dizzily after coming to a stop, holding his aching head. Blinking again, he observed his horse struggle to get its footing, its leg clearly broken. Curious as to what in the hell had caused him to fall, he turned in search of the source – only to find another body.
Or rather all that was left of one.
The corporal's eyes widened in alarm, jaw slacking in the slightest as he viewed the partial corpse. It was just a pelvis and a pair of legs – torso, head, and arms completely gone, the body clearly having been bitten in half. Levi swallowed as the others came into the clearing and began to dismount. Traumatized, he looked at the name inscribed on the shoe.
Levi barely felt Mike hauling him up to his feet. He stood, still dizzy as he glared down at the partial corpse, face frozen and full of regret. First Gunter and now Eld. Where were Oluo, Petra, and Rogue?
"Oh my god –
Hearing the soft words of shock, Levi turned to bare witness the rest of the clearing – seeing something that would always haunt him. The glade was painted in death, red was everywhere. Several low trees were uprooted and bushes were flat, but his silver eyes were only hooked on the smeared crimson. The bark of several pines was soaked in blood – showing that a body had been forcefully thrown against it. The evidence of the event was lying nearly ten meters from him – the broken and dismembered body of Oluo with dead eyes staring at the bloody blades of grass. Levi swallowed back a wad of vomit, desperately trying to keep the bile from rising back up his throat. Where was –
Hearing the sincere and hitched voice of Hange, the Corporal turned to meet her gaze. He opened his mouth to question, but he found that his thin lips wouldn't work. Even as she took his hand and began to guide him across the clearing, he didn't chide or complain – just remained unspoken and in shock. The two then came to stand with Erwin at the base of a large oak and at its base was none other than what remained.
His entire body felt at if it was shutting down as he continued to stare. The redhead's small frame was leaning awkwardly against the tree, spine arched painfully with blood brushed across her soft and pale cheek. The lower half of her body had been crushed. His caged feelings were starting to pull strongly at him again. He had never told any of the Scouts, but he was thankful to have had Petra on his squad. She was a talented and kindhearted soldier. He had also been aware that she had quite the crush on him – an idea that he didn't quite get because he had always considered himself unattractive and was a rather rude individual. Finally, he could stand no longer to look at her body, so he turned, incredibly sick to his stomach as he finally threw up what little was in his belly.
"Levi! Are you al –
"I'm fine." He swallowed, wiping away bile from his lips as he turned to the two before motioning to Petra's body and retrieving the blood stained Wings of Freedom patches and teaspoon from her uniform. The man then tucked her belongings away to join Gunter's and took a deep breath to compose himself. They were in a desperate time. He would have to mourn his loss later.
"Erwin, Sir – please have my squad's remains gathered and put with the others so they can receive a proper burial." He swallowed, trying to rid the taste of vomit from his mouth. "Then put down my horse – its legs are broken." Levi sighed with the taller male nodding with understanding.
"Will do, Corporal. I'm very sorry for your –
However, the man was cut off as Mike hurriedly approached, face reflecting his utter seriousness. "Commander, we found some evidence as to where Rogue may be."
At the news, the four converged at the opposite side of the clearing where Molbit, Nanaba, and several others stood. Before them, was a tangle of wrecked trees and an unmistakable clawed footprint presented itself in the dirt – another distinctively different one just a foot away from it.
"We found Rogue's footprint." Molbit began as he pointed to the imprint and then the other one. "This one is The Female Titan's."
"So – he's alive?" Erwin quizzed, Mike giving a confident nod.
"Yes, if he had been killed his scent would have vanished with his body. As far as I can tell, he and The Female are headed into the deepest part of the forest."
Hange nodded, Levi noticing how ascetic she was – which was a first. "If my theory is true, then judging by the debris and the carnage left behind – the titan mating process must be a violent one like several other species that I know of. Going by what I see, I don't think this will fare well for Rogue in the end. It's likely that the mating is already underway."
"If the mating process isn't true and this is just a territorial dispute like we had originally predicted," Erwin pressed on. "I don't think Rogue will be able to stand The Female Titan's hardening ability."
A wave of silence swept through the group, commanding Levi to gulp fretfully. Erwin's words were horrifyingly true. The skinless titan's ability was like nothing he had ever seen. Rogue was in serious trouble. Then again, recalling the story of the Jaeger's fates, it was highly likely that Rogue was encased in a full on rage. The gentle titan was incredibly close to Petra – even considered her as a motherly figure along with Hange. He loved her dearly. After viewing her death, Levi couldn't fathom as to how angry and feral Rogue probably was at the moment. He could imagine the vast amount of pain that had come to the beast's delicate heart. The amount was most likely more than he could count.
A low growl reverberated through his chest as his feet pounded the earth – the forest around him nothing but a blur. Green eyes cut through the dimming light as the sun was beginning its destination back behind the wall. The predator's nostrils flared, inhaling the scent of his prey that was growing closer. Soon he would have her in his grasp and his tongue would taste her blood. With his lightened body, he moved surprisingly swiftly for a fifteen-meter behemoth, the trees not complaining with their trembling leaves and brittle bark as much.
Since his body had healed and he began his pursuit again, he had succumbed to his emotions on and off again. The idea that his friends had been slaughtered before him strongly lingered within his mind. If anything, he was nearly cresting over the borderline of insanity. The strong purpose that he had branded in his mind was what was currently driving him to do nothing but hunt. She would pay for what she had done to him!
Rogue ran faster, his ears hearing the sound of water and his own rapidly beating heart. During his minutes that the titan had spent healing, he briefly reflected on The Female Titan's words and actions. She seemed to know him, but how? He had never seen her wicked face before! Was she just bluffing to confuse him? She certainly was cruel enough to do so. How dare she call herself a warrior as well! As far as he knew, warriors, according to the books that his little ones had read him, were heroic beings that fought and protected humanity. This titan was no warrior. Not even close. She was a monster. She was a murderer. Scum of the earth. Why had she also called him by the strange word that she had used when she first opened her mouth? What the hell was it? Could it have been in some sort of strange tongue that she had made up? Perhaps it translated into an unkind word that Levi had spoken before? Maybe it was a human word since the skinless titan spoke human tongue just fine and it was a phrase that was far too advanced for him. He wasn't sure. However, he was even more confused as to why she wanted his territory of all things – what would she even gain? All of the thoughts had made his head ache uncomfortably along with the sickening idea that he had failed to protect the ones that he had held dear.
Overall, it just made him unstable.
The titan then burst into a slight gap in the trees where a wide river cut through the dense forest. As he planted one foot into the cooling and easy flowing water, he stopped. Rogue's eyes widened in alarm at the realization. With his nerves soaring, he sniffed, finding that The Female Titan's scent had faded. Instantly, he snarled in absolute frustration, cursing he creature that had been clever enough to dull her sent by using he water. No! He couldn't lose her! Quickly, he scrutinized the area only to notice something that he had overlooked due to his burning anger. Rogue simply took a few steps in advance to cross the river and bend down just before the bank. A cavernous growl vibrated deep in his rib cage. The patchy bank before him was wet, the result of liquid cascading over the frame of a large figure. Suspicious, Rogue then made his way out of the river to look at the surrounding vegetation. Above were several snapped limbs and twigs that was the result of a large titan passing through the area. His feral greens then flashed to the forest floor to find a clear imprint of a titan's foot. With his focus fully on tracking his prey, Rogue hunched over for a closer examination. Delicately, he ran his index finger along the heel of the print before studying its anatomy. Compared to his own, this footprint was much more slender than a normal titan's. A ghoulish smirk crossed his face, a dangerous and ravenous glint sparking in his eyes. Rogue then hungrily sniffed the compressed dirt, pupils blowing wide before he stood to sniff a few overhanging limbs. Yes. It was her. His brow furrowed and he peered darkly at the path before him. The Female Titan was heading west still. Although he didn't stay in this forest as often as his own, he was familiar with it since he had always passed through on his way to the wall. He could cut her off just ahead, surprise her and gain the upper hand.
The hunter then bolted forward without another second to waste. Trees passed by him quicker than before. His heartbeat accelerated. The scent of any human life was fading as he traveled even deeper into the wood. Deep past his anger, he knew that he was growing further away from his family. Truly, he hated to do so. However, this was a move that he had to make, for the safety of everyone and especially his little ones. As far as he was concerned, ridding his enemy from the world was the best option. It was a necessity.
Rogue snarled, eyes and breath ravenous as he rounded the corner. Her scent was strong, telling him that she was closer than ever. A manic smile pulled at his gaunt cheeks. Oh, how he looked forward to breaking his prey's bones and blanketing himself in her blood. It would be oh so satisfying. He couldn't wait! Rounding another bend, Rogue navigated his bulk up a steady knoll. Green eyes blew wider as he spied the recognizable golden hair of his skinless prey. She was moving quickly, head focused forward. With his feet abusing the ground beneath him, it was clear that The Female Titan was unaware of his exact approach – the creature only looking over her shoulder behind her. Rogue beamed further. It was obvious that his target lacked his incredibly acute hearing. Hunting didn't seem to be her purpose.
But it was definitely his.
With a booming and furious roar, Rogue launched himself into the air, frame rocketing from the overhanging cliff. The Female Titan turned in surprise, but her reaction was far too delayed. The hunter's body collided with hers – sending the two large titans over a sheer drop off. The two forms tumbled relentlessly, dislodging boulders and cutting through trees as they fell further. His vision was scrambled, the rocks constantly bruising with the dark blemishes healing over and over. Instinctively, Rogue forced his flailing arms over his face and nape in protection. The titan gritted his teeth as the sharp edge of a rock sliced his hip. Steam mixed with the heavy cover of dust as the two giants continued to fall. Wood splintered, snagging his skin – nerves constantly realigning as he healed. The sound of destruction echoed throughout as the titans finally slammed into the bottom. With his anger fully fuming, Rogue lifted himself to his feet, completely ignoring his healing lacerations as his feral greens searched for his prey. The Female Titan was pushing herself up, pulling a small birch from her side before standing wholly. Rogue growled deeply in his throat, allowing his translucent membranes to glide smoothly over his eyes. He couldn't afford to blink in this fight.
Rogue's irises burned a menacing green beneath the darkening canopy. The earth trembled as he surged forward. His prey barely had the chance to blink as he swung. This time, he was granted the satisfaction of meeting his mark, his fist making contact with her pale cheek. The blow sent The Female Titan to the ground yet again. He then approached for a second attack, but his prey was somehow able to get back to her feet. The Female screeched with heated resentment, quickly aiming a blurry jab. However, he was ready – forcing up his forearm to block her onslaught. Before his opponent could counter, Rogue encased her arm in his free palm, gripping tightly and breaking the small strips of nearly porcelain skin before twisting. The sickening sound of breaking bone and a dislocating shoulder sounded throughout the wood. The titan roared in crazed pleasure as The Female cried in anguish. The predator snarled; he was far from finished.
But he was going to work quickly.
He then kicked himself into overdrive, his anger fuming but still stable enough for him to have control. Efficiently, Rogue planted a well-placed kick into the skinless titan's side, sending his prey several feet into the ominous obstacle beneath the leafy roof. Another message of rage flew from his vocals as he stalked his foe menacingly, circling her like a starving vulture with eyes hooked onto its presented meal. As he expected, The Female Titan got to her feet, making the grave mistake of even doing so as he rushed in again. He aimed a catastrophic uppercut into the skinless abomination's chin, breaking the tip of it off and busting her rose lip. In return, he was gifted with The Female's sharp knuckles to his mouth. Although he unwillingly sacrificed a few teeth – the pain didn't faze him. With adrenaline soaring through his veins, he aimed an open palm into her jawline, knocking her somewhat senseless as he brought his elbow down into the venerable dip between her neck and shoulder. Rogue then kicked the back of her shin, foot gracefully curving to meet its mark. She stumbled, but caught herself. She swing, but again he was quick to foil her plan as he simply redirected her blow with a fluid motion before swinging his open hand with the soul goal of bringing forth precious crimson. Rogue's sharp nails cut deep into the female titan's face, tissues separated, ligaments severed, and an eyelid tore in half in the path of the hunter's deadly claws. She screamed, the sound pure motivation upon his tapered ears.
Rogue inhaled, the smell of her sweet blood intoxicating, before letting out another brutal bellow. His carnivorous instincts and rage blended into a dangerous mix, his sanity slowly slipping from him as he went in once again. Rogue forced his body weight forward, tackling his prey to the ground and sinking his teeth into The Female's undamaged arm. With a single jerk, his powerful jaws tore the limb free, blood painting his face in a red baptism. The taste itself was so very sweet; revenge had never been better. The Female Titan kicked her legs in defense, pressing her feet up into his belly. With a powerful thrust, she was able to knock Rogue from his prey. He shook his head, displeased, but as he saw her get up and come for him the titan prepared himself. The Female Titan then aimed her kick, a perfectly placed high one that he envied her for. However, he knew what to do, Rogue skillfully reached and took hold of her foot. Her look of surprise pleased him very much so he wrapped his other hand around her ankle as well. With a great heave, Rogue hoisted The Female Titan into the air, slinging her in a perfect arch before letting her weight slam into the earth, a crater forming from the impact. However, he wasn't through with his act of brutality. With a savage roar, Rogue propelled the skinless titan into the air in the same fashion. His muscles bulged beneath his tan flesh, skin coated in sheen from the dampening of steam. Ligaments tore in his arms, but he paid no mind to discomfort as his prey's body impacted the earth. The Female Titan let out an angry but crippled hiss; a threat to stop that went unheard upon his ears. Again, Rogue pulled her from the forest floor and into the air yet again, listening in satisfaction as her bones cracked.
Over and over, he slung her beaten frame. With another pull, Rogue screamed. He wasn't sure if it was in agony or sadness. Truthfully, he didn't know anymore. As his muscles began to pull and strain, the flashes of happier times flowed through his head – propelling his rage even further. A salty tear glided down his blood-splattered face, green eyes blinking for the first time in minutes to dispose of the eye water.
'I... WILL… KILL… YOU… MONSTER!'
While the words burned through his head, Rogue roared and diverged from his pattern, slinging The Female Titan across the tight clearing and into the trunk of a great pine. His arms, muscles pulled beyond use, fell to his sides with his chest heaving forcefully. Sinister emeralds watched as the skinless titan struggled to move. Her entire frame was heavily damaged. Both of her arms were missing and several ribs were broken, one even puncturing through. Steam enveloped her body, blue eyes still locked upon him, ignited in a sense of fury that hadn't faded. He snarled, watching as steam billowed from her body. Rogue knew all too well what she was doing. She was healing herself to go in again. Unfortunately, so was he. His arms stung and hurt terribly, feeling like the limbs of a rag doll. Rogue gritted his teeth as he felt the tendons slowly reform. Damn. How was it that his opponent could accelerate her healing? Her bones were already starting to grow back. No matter. He didn't have much to fix. His legs still worked.
Howling tremendously, Rogue rocketed forward and punted The Female Titan as if she were a ball. A loud moan escaped from her throat as she met the face of the earth for yet another time. He paused, gasping for a breath while his eyes remained locked onto his target. The fight was taking a toll on him. He hadn't exerted himself so much before aside from lifting the boulder. Fatigue was pulling at his strings like a marionette, but he wasn't quitting. Sure, he would be feeling the strain for several days, but it would be worth it. Feeling that his right arm was fully functional once again, Rogue roared in triumph and wrapped his hand around The Female Titan's throat. With strength still left to spare, he lifted her from the dirt and roughly pressed her against the bark of a towering tree. With anger fuming, he bellowed with his teeth just inches from her nose, saliva spraying her face. With his eyes glowing and ears pinned against his skull, Rogue scrutinized his prey's façade. Her expression was vexed but obviously reflected her pain, blue irises staring deeply into his as if she were searching through his soul. The thing he loved the most was the fear present in her body. The hunter relished in it.
The forest grew terrifyingly quiet, as he kept his glare upon her. Still, he wanted to know why. This titan had a purpose that she wasn't revealing to him. Rogue tightened his hold, taking pleasure as she gasped at the feeling of his sharp nails puncturing into her first layer of muscle. He could kill her so easily now, but he still wanted answers. Her attack meant something.
"YUUUUU NNNOOOTTT AARRIIOORR!" He yelled, making her wince. "AAHHTTT… YURRR… NNAANNNEE!" Rogue shouted, voice echoing off every available surface. "YUU… YUUU… NNNOONNSSTTTERRR!"
However, his victim only remained still, silent with her blue eyes sparkling in dislike and brows narrowed – mouth not opening to reply. Angry, Rogue roared and shoved The Female higher, eyes illuminating with resentment. He tightened his grip, watching the skinless abomination gasp at the contracting of her esophagus.
Rogue growled, mouth watering as he struggled not to plunge his teeth into her throat. He would have his meal later. He wanted a few answers before the slaying. If she wasn't going to tell him her name, then so be it. 'Bitch' was suitable enough. He then moved on to his next query. "EEERRRREEE YUUUU CCCOONNEE RROOOOMMM!"
This time the Female hissed in response, but kept quiet otherwise. Furious that she was not complying, Rogue roared in her face yet again, unaware many of the titan's injuries had mostly reconciled. "EEEERRRRR YOOUUU CCOONNEE RROM!"
Rogue asked, tone booming but more sinister and dark as if his question was meant to tear apart any sort of personality his prey had. He then waited for a reaction, the move a grave and devastating error.
Before he could make his demand yet again, a hard and incredibly potent force hit between his legs. Pain shot from his groin all through to his spine. Rogue could barely comprehend what had happened as his legs flew out from beneath him – suddenly feeling like they were as brittle and weak as a newborn fawn. Another blow impacted his chest, sending him into an old log. His head hit hard, bouncing off the wood. Rogue ears rung and black dots spread across his vision, the beast blinking to clear them and the tear that leaked from his eyes. Instinct screamed at him to retaliate, but he could barely move. Rogue whined desperately, gripping his throbbing pelvis in a stronghold. His mind swarmed in panic as he realized that the vital bone was more than likely broken if not all the way through. He had never had an injury like it before, but he knew that the healing process was greatly delayed in the region due to his observations of titans hurt by his hand. Rogue wined again, he could barely move his legs without great pain coursing all throughout his body. Unable to stand, he was in serious trouble. Forcefully, Rogue looked up at his opponent who stood several meters from his resting spot. His teeth grinded against one another in irritation. The hit she had made was so powerful – the hardest he had ever felt in his lifetime. She hadn't done it before, so how could she have –
Rogue's heart skipped a beat as he spied the reason for his suffering.
Upon The Female Titan's leg was a rock like surface that he had never seen before on a titan. It was a pearly blue, translucent like ice, and reflecting every ray of the pale afternoon light. Rogue's brows rose in disbelief. The blue surface looked just like the crystals that he and his little ones would find inside the geos that they used to collect. Was it really crystal? How was that even possible? It certainly explained the increase in his opponent's strength. The titan swallowed as the skinless female's fist encased itself in the hard surface before she slowly made her way to him. He was doomed – broken and helpless. He couldn't generate crystal like that! And with his pelvis broken and mending slowly, he was unable to do a thing!
The thought of his own death sent a spark of anger through him. He wasn't ready to leave this world! He promised his little ones that he would always be there for them and protect them! Damn it! He hadn't finished fulfilling his oath! He wasn't ready to give up his life! He had to kill her. Everyone would die if he failed! He had to try! He had to get up!
Gritting his teeth, Rogue forcefully began to right himself, pain causing him to yelp and fall to his face. No! He wouldn't give into death! For a second time, he brought his arms beneath him and began to will his beaten body to obey. Pain surged into his pelvis as he forced his right leg to support him. He breathed harshly as he ushered himself through the agony, finally placing his left foot onto the earth. Rogue cried loudly as he stood upright, shakily holding his fists up in defense – a sad excuse for his signature pose. Feeling the hot liquid run down the back of his neck and the pain greaten in his head, Rogue determined that his skull had been split as well. The titan was extremely vertiginous. The world around him tilted and doubled. He stumbled, legs struggling to hold his weight up. The pain in his body was great, his concussion not helping. Still he stood, somehow upright and growling ruthlessly with determination to keep fighting.
With The Female Titan closing in, Rogue took a step forward to throw a punch – but one step was enough to ignite the discomfort and sent him falling forward. To his surprise, his face didn't hit the ground, but he was rather hoisted by his hair to look up at his foe's burning blue orbs. Without even having the chance to roar a warning, The Female Titan's fist met his mouth. Skin split, muscles tore, and bone was disconnected as his bottom jaw was severed and he was sent to lie upon his side. The taste of is own precious juices graced his tongue, the feeling truly unwelcoming. Seeing that The Female Titan was coming, Rogue gurgled and forced himself to stand yet again – tongue embarrassingly hanging out of his mouth. Immediately, he held up his fists in protection yet again as his jaw raced to heal. If his pelvis didn't mend soon – he was good as dead.
The skinless titan sped toward him, arms encasing in the hard surface yet again. With his vision fairly decent, Rogue swung – only for The Female Titan to counter and send his right arm across the mass of trees. Before he could make a further decision, the titan kicked with a low sweep – her hardened shin severing his leg and sending him on a short trek back to the forest floor.
Without his leg, his death sentence was practically executed.
The Female Titan grasped his locks with her greedy fingers and then slammed his head against a wide tree trunk, crushing his right side of his skull – and repeating the same thing several times before ceasing. Rogue whined and fell on his back. The Female stood over him, simply looking down at his mangled form with an expression he was unable to read. With bloodshot, and swollen eyes, Rogue looked up into the canopy overhead, dull greens staring into the soft orange heavens. He had lost. His battle was over.
His life was over.
A low moan of defeat sounded through a healed jaw, smoldering greens blinking slowly as he thought about everything he had went through. He had lived a good life despite the tragedy. He had been loved dearly, treated as a family member – as a beloved brother and friend as well. He had failed to kill their enemy, but they were far away so perhaps they were out of harm's way. At least his little ones wouldn't see his death – at least their last visions of him wouldn't be his slaughter but rather his heartfelt nuzzle and kiss goodbye.
'I'M… SO SORRY.'
Rogue shuttered, waiting. However, he then noticed the delay. Confused, he looked up at The Female Titan who was glancing from him to a direction far off before returning her gaze to his maim frame as if she was trying to make a decision. His heart lifted higher, if she was trying to decide something – then perhaps her hesitation could work to his advantage! However, that shred of hope was lost as she suddenly knelt down and rotated him onto his belly. Rogue then felt her hand brush his hair from his nape.
He was done for. He would never be able to love his little ones or anyone else ever again.
Silently accepting his fate, Rogue braced himself and listened, his ears picking up a low whisper from The Female's lips.
"IT… WORTH MORE. HE… NOT NEEDED."
Perplexed, Rogue glanced at the titan in wonderment at her meaning only to see her slowly open and unhinge her jaw – flesh tearing as The Female Titan fully expanded her mouth into a horrifying display. Her head then lowered to his posterior, hot breath spilling onto his neck. Rogue held his breath, hoping that it would be quick as her teeth touched his skin.
'I LOVE… YOU ARMIN AND MIKASA. PLEASE… BE SAFE. I'M… GOING… TO MEET MY… HUMANS NOW.'
However, the fatal bite never came. Without warning, The Female Titan's weight lifted off of his and she cried an angry shriek. His eardrums vibrated as a great calamity echoed around him. Alarmed, Rogue used his good arm to shove himself upright, the pain still crippling his weak body in a stronghold. The titan flopped against a tree, chest heaving, breath rigged as he slowly forced his beaten head to turn. Instantly, Rogue's eyes widened at the sight playing out before him.
Doing battle against The Female Titan was Levi himself, alone without the pack. Wanting to aid and warn the man of what she could do – Rogue tried to will himself to move and give a verbal signal, but alas – his body was still frail with the great amount of pain forbidding his wishes along with his lack of required limbs. His warning was ceased as well, Rogue only managing to cough up a bit of blood. He whimpered; his organs had likely been damaged on the inside when the titan had slammed her foot into his chest. To a human, if they were in the same condition, they would have been dead minutes ago. Sure, he would heal, but he was severely weak – the result being that the regeneration process was extremely slowed. He was a sitting duck as they say. All he could do was watch and hope along with fighting unconsciousness.
Rogue watched in desperation as Levi moved in a nauseating blur. The titan listened as the normally reserved man yelled furiously, face drawn up into a snarl. Artfully, Levi dove, tucking himself into a tight ball as he spun – turning into a human buzz saw as he curved and navigated along the skinless titan's outstretched arm with chunks of meat falling to the bloody grass below. The Female snarled, her fingers swiping only to catch air. Again, the short male dived into the chaos, spinning relentlessly as he swirled all down her frame and carved deep lacerations into her body – steaming crimson now coating pale skin.
Blackness briefly flashed before Rogue's eyes, the titan blinking rapidly to keep awake. Levi swooped again, burying his blades into the skinless vermin's eyes. The Female screamed, quickly covering her nape with her good hand and reinforcing her weak spot with the crystal generating over it. His heartbeat quickened. Yes! With her blinded, Levi could take her out! Not only that but she had slowed since their duel! He could take her!
Like an acrobat, Levi spun around and made a deep cut into the titan's shoulder with the obvious plan to slice her arm away that held her nape. Over and over, the man continued, nothing but an onyx blur against the deep green of the wood. The scent of blood was heavy in the air, reminding him of his still lingering desire to consume his prey in revenge. If Levi was successful – injured or not, he would still fill his belly with her bounty.
Suddenly, The Female Titan opened her newly restored eyes and swung at Levi – her action catching him off guard. The man dodged, but his leg caught her outstretched finger – shin obviously breaking. Rogue gasped as the Corporal few uncontrollable before righting himself at the last second before hitting a tree – shooting his cables up into the canopy before collapsing upon a high branch and hurriedly attempting to stabilize his injury.
The Female Titan then huffed cruelly and turned to face him yet again.
Rogue's blood ran cold. His hope was diminished. Seeing her take a step closer, he let out a pitiful growl as he shifted, still far from healed and unconsciousness creeping over him. His heavy head twitched, nearly falling with the black dots littered his vision again. Forcing himself, Rogue swallowed and faced his impending fate. He was truly going to die now.
"GET AWAY FROM HIM!"
At the voice, Rogue's eyes flew fully open, his heart hammering against his rib cage. No way. No. Could it really be…
Rogue urged his head up to see a sight that made his heart nearly leap from his body in sheer terror. A soldier had flown in and severed The Female Titan's nose from her face – the soldier none other than Mikasa.
His little one.
His precious baby.
No! No! NO! She couldn't fight that monster! It was too dangerous! The skinless titan had wounded both he and Levi, strongest pack members! The Female would surely kill her!
"NNnnnnIIKKaaaSSAA!" He reached toward her as if he could pluck her from peril from where he lay. "NNOO!" He coughed as he struggled to sit up fully, only falling back to the tree. He had to save her! She wouldn't survive! "NNNIIIKKAAA!"
His little one swooped in from above, digging her blades into the creature's shoulder to finish Levi's work – narrowly missing a swing at her. He cried loudly, begging for her to just abandon the fight and run, but Mikasa wouldn't have it. Her small frame circled the beast, steel cutting through tissue, muscle, and veins. Emitting her own brand of battle cry, Mikasa spiraled downward – swords aimed for the crystal-covered nape that she couldn't crack.
"Ackerman!" Levi called from somewhere overhead. "Don't go for the nape! She can harden!"
Rogue watched as his little one absorbed the warning and veered, the female titan narrowly missing her – the close call making Rogue cry louder. It was too risky! Mikasa then quickly set herself on a new route, going low. Skillfully, she managed to wrap a set of cables around the heel, set on toppling the creature. With the cables cutting into exposed muscle, The Female Titan screeched and fell to her knees. However, any sort of celebration was short lived as the beast's burning blues captured the girl's movement. With a lightening fast swipe, The Female Titan took Mikasa's cables in hand.
For a moment, the world froze before slowly reanimating as the skinless titan slowly stood upright with a stunned Mikasa dangling within her grasp. The sight was enough to send Rogue and his emotions into overload. He squirmed against his organic support, howling in desperation with his leg and steaming stump digging into the moist earth. No! NO! Mikasa! No! No! He couldn't lose her too! He couldn't let his sister die in the hands of his foe! He loved her! He loved her!
As if to mock him, The Female Titan lifted Mikasa higher into the air, looking at his baby in mild interest. Everything then began to flash before him again, memories of that first night when he kept her warm to when she would gently stroke his nose when he was stressed. He couldn't let the memories end! They had more to make together! They had to see the ocean! She had to live!
The Female Titan… he had to get up and kill her! How DARE she hold his little one! His baby! His! His emerald pools then watched as the enemy lifted Mikasa even higher – mouth slowly opening to consume. Although battered, beaten, and barely healed, Rogue forced himself to lift his head.
'I'LL KILL HER! DEVOUR HER!'
His little one squirmed as she was hoisted higher still.
'KILL HER!' The sinister words swarmed in his skull. 'KILL!'
The Female Titan then tilted back her head and prepared to drop his little one down her throat.
Before he could attempt any invite, something deep within him surfaced. His dulled irises ignited with a flash of green before shielding themselves behind the thin flesh covering of his eyelid. Rogue then opened his mouth and released a screech unlike any other that had come from his lipless maw. The powerful wail carried for miles, its tone unique. It was fairly high in pitch, excruciating to small sets of ears and sounded almost primitive. Wind rippled leaves as the shriek prolonged; finally fading with Rogue's weighty head falling feebly back to the trunk of the tree. Black dots crossed his vision again, forcing him to shake his head before focusing on his prey and his little one, seeing something that he didn't expect.
The Female Titan was frozen in her stance, looking at him with blue eyes ignited in horror. Her breath quickened in what appeared to be panic as she fretfully looked all around the small glade. Suddenly a deep rumbling vibrated all around them, causing The Female to look at him before letting her focus on her surroundings yet again with a gasp of surprise. Unexpectedly, the skinless titan dropped Mikasa, whom managed to steer herself straight to where he lay, before taking off into the trees. Rogue struggled to watch her, vision now blurred into a mixture of shadows and color. Why – was she running?
Breathing in, he discovered why. Titans – coming from every direction at top speed. The number was substantial, and with him still impaired, feeble, and almost unconscious – he couldn't protect Mikasa and Levi. They weren't going to make it.
"The hell! Ackerman! Get to high ground! There's a damn stampede of titans heading right for us!"
Feeling a small weight landing on his shoulder, the titan looked over to see his little one hysterically attempting to urge him up, pushing against his gaunt cheek and too worried to take his injuries into account.
"Rogue! Please! You need to get up! Stay awake Rogue!"
He whined, slowly slipping into blackness as a horde of mindless titans burst into the clearing. Seeing that Mikasa was too stubborn to leave, he lifted his good arm to cover her – providing whatever protection he could.
The ground thundered as the titans came forth. However, they didn't make a beeline for his little one behind his hand but rather changed course – going in the direction of The Female Titan, running right past all of them without taking notice.
"What?" He faintly heard Mikasa whisper. "Why are they –
Rogue watched in confusion as the horde gradually disappeared into the thicket, followed by a fearful and pained scream that was unmistakably from The Female Titan. Seconds ticked by, the forest full of sounds related to stress, anger, and colossal steps before falling silent. The forest grew still, the only evidence of the brawl lingering behind.
"What just happened?"
An intense wave of faintness and dizziness swept over him, every muscle becoming slack and body limp. Unable to hold himself no longer, Rogue slid down the rough bark and collapsed onto the earth, dark locks cradled over his face in a dark veil. Blackness crept over his vision as a fluster of human activity surrounded him.
"He's healing too slow!"
"His hips are out of line – his pelvis is definitely broken."
"Quickly, send three squads to retrieve the titan transport wagon and lift system from number ten."
"We have to get him back."
The titan relaxed, letting unconsciousness claim him into its black void.
A soft red light illuminated through his shadowed eyelids, bringing the womb like feeling back. The sounds of a coming storm sounded all around them. The sensation of a gentle floating and the resonances of creaking wood and deep sighs in disappointment became apparent as his body began to slowly reawaken. The beast stirred, becoming aware of his complete, achy, but exhausted body beneath a morphing cloth surface. Rogue groaned in discomfort as he stretched his neck in the slightest. He then settled, too fatigued to sit up.
"Armin, he's waking up."
The titan rumbled softly, green eyes slowly unveiling to see a mess of his chocolate locks draped over his brow. Rogue blinked again, fighting the dry feeling as two pairs of small hands pushed the strands of hair from his view. His little ones were seated neatly before him donning severe looks of concern and loving relief. The titan then noticed that he wasn't floating to any heavenly destination but was rather lying upon the large wagon that the flying human pack used to transport titan captures beneath the security of a cloth tarp. Around the wagon rode the rest of the pack, all wearing looks of depression and simply staring downward with the occasional glance to check for the enemy. The silence between all of them struck a nerve within him. It was uncomfortable.
Feeling Mikasa's familiar touch upon his brow, Rogue returned his gaze to his two little ones. "Nnnniikkasaa?" He spoke, voice hoarse. "AARRnnniin?"
The two teens smiled tenderly, but clearly hiding an emotion of sadness. "Don't worry Rogue," Mikasa continued as she lovingly rubbed his toasty flesh. "Armin and I are here now. We're safe."
"Is he awake? How's he doing?"
His little ones acknowledged Hange's voice as she rode up next to the wagon and hoisted herself up to sit with the two fresh recruits. As his babies had done, the scientist stroked the bridge of his nose in affection. However her soft smile didn't last long with a worried frown soon replacing it. "Hmmm, he still looks pretty disheveled. But he's improved over the last day in a half. The exertion of everything took a serious toll on his regenerative abilities. I guess when titans are low on energy they take longer to heal. I'll be doing a full examination when we get back to headquarters this evening. Although his limbs have regrown and his pelvis is healed – I will still have to assess his condition." Hange paused before placing her eyes onto his. "It's nice to see those pretty green eyes of yours again, Rogue!" She beamed. "How are you feeling?"
The titan sighed, blinking slowly. "SEEEPPYY."
The three smiled. "I bet you are!" Hange continued. "I think you'll be your old self by tomorrow!"
Rogue gave a slight nod, settling again and welcoming the gentle touches. Naturally, the titan purred, not as deep or loud, but still giving in to showing appreciation.
"So how's the Corporal?" Armin spoke up with the messy haired scientist getting comfortable.
"Well, the medics said that his right leg is fractured. Thankfully, it's not a serious break and it should heal completely within six weeks or so. He'll be on crutches for some time so I'm expecting him to be grumpier than usual."
Rogue's eyes opened wider in the slightest, in the forest – the brawl…
"Rogue?" Mikasa started softly. "What – happened back in the forest? With The Female Titan?"
At his little one's anxious words, everything that had happened dropped upon him like a giant boulder. Fighting the skinless female titan, getting beaten senseless by her crystal defense, chasing after her, trying to ask her why, the initial meeting – then the slaughter. Petra. His poor, poor Petra. He couldn't get to her in time to save her. Tears suddenly began to surface from their ducts, streaming down his face and bringing looks of alarm to his three companions' faces. Like his Carla and Grisha, Petra was gone forever. Sure, it wasn't his fault by trying to follow the order to run or make a judgment call, but it was his fault for not getting to her quick enough – or turning around soon after their split.
The titan then let his emotions take the reins, shutting his watery eyes tightly and pressing his face into his little ones' bodies. Rogue didn't care how pathetic he appeared as he whined loudly, gathering an awkward audience. His body trembled, shivering with each hard sob as Armin and Mikasa attempted to mend the situation.
"Oh no, Rogue. Please –
"I think it's best if we don't ask him yet." Armin cut in, the front of his shirt now damp. "At the moment, he's too traumatized. Whatever happened between him and The Female Titan must have been bad. I mean… he just lost Petra."
Hearing the teen's last word, Rogue sobbed, lifting his hand and gently curling his fingers around the two's backs and pressing them closer. He had screwed up.
"Armin." Mikasa sighed in annoyance. "Don't say her name."
The blonde stiffened at his error. "Sorry about that. As much as we want to know, now isn't the time. He's not ready."
"IITTT NNYY AALLT!" The titan winced.
Hange shook her head, patting the tip of his snout. "No Rogue, I'm sure that it's not."
Mikasa sighed painstakingly. "Rogue – please. Don't blame yourself for whatever happened."
The titan looked down at the wood grain of the wagon. He knew very well that his little ones and Hange were lost for words. How could they have decided that it wasn't his fault when they didn't even hear or see what had occurred? He knew they were only trying to make him feel better.
"Look Rogue, we're sorry that it happened." Armin spoke kindly. "But you really need to rest right now and give your vocals time to heal. We're getting ready to enter the gates of Katness so we'll be home soon. The mission had to wait."
Rogue blinked, tear streaks stiff upon his face as he continued to shutter in their company. They had to abandon their mission? How bad had he done his job? How many of his family had been killed by The Female Titan?
Suddenly, the large wagon stopped along with the pack. Forcing himself to break out of his loathing for the moment, Rogue turned his head to view the great wall looming over them once again – a reminder of his failed task. He watched as a cart lowered from the top of the wall to where the lead of the pack stood. The familiar bald human, Pixis, then stepped from the wooden box in clear alarm. Rogue observed as both Erwin and Levi exchanged a few words with the older individual before Erwin began to show the man in their direction with the Corporal following on horseback. As they came closer, their hushed conversation began to become clearer.
"So you say he's pretty shaken up still?" Pixis asked, Erwin dipped his head.
"Yes. Just moments ago he broke down. We don't know exactly what happened except that Levi's squad was decimated along with many others by the adversary."
"I see." Pixis exhaled deeply. "I am truly sorry for your loss. So – your theory as to why this happened is because this female wanted to breed?" He asked, the titan not understanding.
"We think. It's the only logical explanation we have, Commander. There was substantial evidence leading up to the point, but as far as seeing any intimacy or anything of the nature, we didn't catch it happening. Rogue and The Female Titan were far separated from us."
The older individual nodded, taking a sip from his flask. "I only wish that your circumstances would have been better. Hell, if The Female Titan was as friendly as she was intelligent, you could have had some great little additions to your regiment if you know what I mean, Erwin." Pixis prolonged with the younger blonde letting out a small huff at the elderly officer's attempt to lighten the mood – Levi only rolling his eyes. The trio then approached the wagon – looking at him in worry like the others had done. "Well, in spite of all this, I'm very glad to see humanity's hope still kicking." Pixis addressed him before returning to the two leading Scouts. "Right, you'll have to enter Katness as I say. I don't believe the public will take your early return so well." The man paused, looking up and down the titan's frame. "Is he able to walk?"
Hange shook her head. "Although he's fully healed up, the strain on him was great. So no. I don't believe he'll be able to walk through town at this present time."
"Can he sit up at all?"
She dithered, rubbing her chin. "Probably at short intervals."
"Why do you ask this?" Levi grunted, hand instinctively holding his temporarily stabilized leg.
"Good question, Corporal. No one likes to see a hero at his or her weakest. Thus we can't stir up the idea that Rogue is a loss. We just need him to appear that he's healthy. If the public asks what transpired, in this case, it's best to make something up. The idea of a friendly and intelligent titan is hard enough for some people to grasp – adding another of the opposite sex that nearly took down humanity's greatest hope is taking that idea to another whole new level. Besides Commander, we don't know the entire story anyways. Of course, as you may have figured out, Zackley will be aware of the faux story once he looks at the report and sees your return date. Besides, I feel that it is something that we shouldn't keep secret from them anyways. In the long run, it might serve you well." Pixis paused, glancing at the landscape and wall before returning to Erwin. "So, what is the current status of The Female Titan?"
"We're pretty sure if not positive, that The Female Titan is deceased."
Pixis nodded, taking their words into account. "Ah. Right then, we need you ready for entry now."
Hange dipped her unkempt head in response and placed her hand to his jaw in an encouraging gesture. "Rogue? Can you sit up for us? You don't have to for long, just to get through Katness. Can you do it please?"
Rogue lay in silence for a moment, listening to thunder from a nearing storm. Finally, he shifted upon the wagon, body feeling incredibly heavy as he pushed himself up. The titan faltered in the slightest, body tipping noticeably before righting itself. Rogue groaned softly as he steadied, sitting with his legs crossed to retain a good balance. Completing the small routine, Rogue then pulled the cloth tarp up and over his head as comfort from both the coming shower and as a bit of self preservation. The titan then gently scooped up his three good companions and placed them into his lap beneath his bodily shelter, keeping the small droplets of rain from hitting them. Still, his head felt heavy and his limbs even more so. Secretly, he pressed a palm to the wagon to brace himself.
"Is that acceptable?" Levi asked, voice mellow as he looked upon the clouding horizon in distaste.
"Yes, just make sure he keeps himself upright. I also advise that he keep silent as well. Now, let's get this over with. By looking at him, you don't have long – especially since a good rain is coming in. I wish you the best, Commander. The Garrison will back you us as usual." Pixis concluded as he and Erwin began to make their way back to the front of the pack. For a moment, Rogue watched as the older man began to board the lifting crate and signaled the other flower backs on top of the wall before Levi cleared his throat.
"Rogue – if anyone says something mean or does something vulgar to you, ignore them at all costs. Just keep to yourself."
The titan hesitated before nodding in understanding. Hopefully Levi would be wrong. Right now, he wasn't in the mood to hear insults with his feelings as fragile as they were.
"So, how's the leg Levi? Are you still stopping?"
The man groaned in fatigue. "It hurts like a bitch. I'm still going to see a professional medic here and get a proper cast." The man sighed. "I want to get in and out of here as quickly as possible. I'm in no mood." He concluded with the titan watching as Levi's hand snaked up to his breast pocket and gripped the canvas tightly. Rogue's heart plummeted even further as he realized what the Corporal was grasping.
Rogue blinked rapidly, trying to keep the level of eye water low and undetectable. His chest tightened as the thoughts began to hang over him like a heavy cloud. The titan trembled slightly, not in weakness but rather in solemnity. As a loud horn echoed among the regiment and the sound of a tired old gate opening up met his ears, Rogue hung his head lower, letting the tarp cover more of his face – casting it in a deep shadow with only his greens peeking from the darkness. He didn't want the public to look upon him, especially those two small humans that had seen him before and were enthused by his glory. He was a failure. The humans had looked up to him as their savior. With the loss of his team due to his negligence, Rogue felt that he wasn't even close to that title. He was a fool, idiot, and the word 'dumbass' that the Corporal had often used to describe those that were utter morons. In his eyes, the humans did not deserve any more disappointment.
The titan had no idea as to how confused he was.
The sky began to gift the earth with light water as the flying human pack and the wagon entered Katness. Rogue's heart began to ache painfully in his chest at the sight. The aura was one that he would have avoided at all costs, the air heavy with question, misconception, anger, and sadness. Like the day that they embarked on their mission, humans were lined up the brick streets with all eyes on the brigade. However, this time none wore a single smile. Every face was either fixed in a look of mild surprise, wearing a grimace, or frowning in upset. Rogue cringed; ears sinking lower with his eyes staring down at his three family members. His fingers curled around his little ones tighter, silently telling them that he didn't want to be there and that he wanted to go home. Quickly.
"They're back already?" A man spoke from the crowd. "Something bad must have happened."
"Guess so. They don't look to be as spirited as they were when they left."
Rogue kept quiet, keeping his dizziness at bay by trying to focus on Mikasa's gentle massage to his ankle. However, as they rode further into the district, some of the comments forced through his invisible shield that he had surrounded himself in.
"I knew this expedition was going to be a failure. The titan's worthless." Another man said, making a lump grow in Rogue's throat.
"It was just another ploy to get our tax money." An elderly man speculated.
"The stupid thing probably didn't follow orders. The MP's should have put that thing down months ago."
The titan's breath hitched, going rigged at the spiteful comments. Sure, most of them were ludicrous statements, but there were a few that Rogue felt were on point. However, tired and by rule, unable to run ahead, the titan was forced to sit and continue to endure. He could feel his tear ducts filling and jaw clenching tighter as the remarks grew even more cruel.
"That thing is a piece of shit like all the others."
"They should just get rid of that fucking monster. Complete waste of time."
"The creature is so ugly and stupid. If the Scouts were courteous enough, they should just slice its nape to save them the trouble."
At the statement, Rogue stiffened – letting out a quiet whine as he tapped his little ones' shoulders. He wanted to go home. NOW.
Mikasa growled, giving a deadly glare at the group of men who had spoken such words. "Don't listen to them, Rogue. They are nothing but squealing swine."
The titan shifted, nearly losing his balance on the wagon. The sprinkling rain grew slightly heavier, but it didn't ward away the spectators like he had hoped. Several minutes crawled by and the titan continued to unwillingly listen to comments. Most were in a stunned silence or were disappointed, but there was still a good amount of people who expressed their apprehension.
"Something bad must have happened on the expedition. Poor thing, he looks so worn out."
"I wonder why The Rogue Titan isn't walking."
"Is he hurt?"
"I wonder what happened."
"Why is The Rogue wrapped up?"
"Aw, it looks like he's upset."
"He's an amazing creature. Some of the stuff that people are saying is disgusting."
Rogue swallowed through another wave of weakness, he would have gestured a sign of thanks for the support, but he didn't feel like it. He just wanted to go to the flying human territory and climb into his nest.
"Monster. They should have killed it when they had the chance."
"Our tax money just went to waste."
"Is there something wrong with him?"
"Corporal Levi! Corporal, Sir!" A masculine voice sounded.
Rogue watched as an older and taller looking human with short brown hair came to Levi's steed. Unlike most people, his face was full of optimism. However, beneath the thin layer of buoyancy laid a great amount of worry. To the titan's surprise, the Corporal unexpectedly halted in his path – the wagon and the rest of the soldiers stopping with them. The short and injured man waited, dour expression clearly plastered onto his face.
"What is it?" Levi asked, tone nearly bored but definitely affected by the pain in his leg. Rogue blinked. From Hange, he knew that Levi usually never acknowledged anyone when they shouted his name.
"My apologies for bothering you, Sir. I'm Mr. Ral. My daughter, Petra, is on your squad."
At the introduction, the Corporal's face fell and Rogue was thrown into a serious sate of alarm. This man – was his Petra's father! The titan hung his head, pupils shrunk down to pinpricks. Her father – how could he tell him that he was the reason for her demise? He could barely face him!
"My daughter tells me all about being in your squad every time she comes to visit. To tell you the truth, Sir – she speaks very highly of you."
Rogue watched as Levi's Adam's apple bobbed, a bead of sweat forming on his brow. "She – did?"
The man nodded, missing the past tense. "Yes. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that my daughter has a romantic interest in you." Mr. Ral chuckled. "Who knows? Perhaps I will be talking to you about marriage soon!"
Rogue watched as Levi's face paled even further, looking ill at the man's words. The titan wasn't very knowledgeable about how mating for humans worked, but marriage had something to do with it. His heart thundered, another wave of fatigue hitting him. Petra could have mated with Levi, she could have lived a happy life – but because of his mistake that wasn't going to happen.
"Corporal Levi, may I ask you where Petra is? I saw you and the titan so I figured your squad was nearby."
The shorter male swallowed, the bottom of his lip twitching in the slightest as he gradually reached into the inside of his jacket. Rogue held his breath, nails digging into the wagon as Levi pulled out a bloodstained Scouting insignia and the tiny spoon that Petra had once shown him – the miniscule utensil now bent and twisted. All was quiet as the Corporal placed the two objects into the father's open hand.
"Mr. Ral – I'm sorry. But she didn't make it. She and nearly all of the elite squad were decimated." Levi spoke, voice more sincere than Rogue had ever heard it. The titan felt sick, stomach knotting as his fearful eyes watched Petra's father. He couldn't rip his eyes away no matter how much he wanted to.
The man's face sank; grin fading completely into a look of severe disbelief. He was silent. Suddenly, his body trembled, eyes looking down into his aged palm at the remnants of the kind soldier, friend, and daughter. Tears streamed down his face, teeth chattering as the rain began to fall harder – a roll of thunder echoing off in the distance. "She's – dead." The man muttered to himself, repeating the phrase with his words running together. "P…Petra. No. No!" Mr. Ral sobbed, suddenly falling to his knees. "My daughter… my beautiful daughter…"
Levi hung his head, noticeably gripping his horse's reins even harder. "I'm sorry. She was a great soldier."
Rogue cringed, shutting his eyes tightly to keep the tears at bay, but he quickly failed as the salty streams began to glide down his face yet again. His back arched as he curled his head even further inward – trying his utmost best not to scream in agony. He wanted to go home! He didn't want to see this! He wanted his Petra back!
Unexpectedly, Mr. Ral shakily got to his feet, but instead of continuing with Levi – the older man turned to the titan, a hand held out in a pleading gesture – Petra's belongings held tightly to his heart. "You," the distraught father spoke to the titan, gathering numerous sets of eyes upon them. "You are Rogue Jaeger aren't you?"
He immediately raised his head with a sharp gasp, the tarp slipping off his dry head and falling loosely around his shoulders. Despite that the man had called the titan by his real name, Rogue wasn't shocked by the amount of knowledge the man had but rather the fact that the man was directly addressing him – the one responsible.
"Rogue," Mr. Ral continued with his voice as shaky as a newborn fawn. "Petra – she would always tell me stories about you and how kind you were." He uttered, the entire crowd deeply intrigued with the current scene. "She told me of the times that she trained with you, helped you through a nightmare, and when she was teaching you." The man swallowed with another choking sob. "Petra – she told me about when the two of you made conversation. Rogue… I know you can speak. Petra said that you could. Please – if you were there, was it painless? Was it quick?"
Rogue froze completely, spine stiffening. All eyes were now upon him, waiting to see if the man's allegations were true. The titan let his eyes travel downward, spying Levi's stern and cold gaze before looking onto Hange and his little one's faces. The scientist looked completely spellbound along with Armin. Mikasa however looked almost terrified, shaking her head in a bid for him not to reply. Rogue lowered his head further, more and more fat tears leaking from dim pools of green. The titan whined, trembling in extreme dejection. He wanted to say something, even though it was against orders, he wanted to give the father the answers he wanted, but he didn't want to lie. He wasn't sure how much pain a human experienced when they passed on, but it had to be excruciating right? Saying the truth would be too much for the both of them. He deserved to be screamed at and punished for his deed, but he couldn't do it. It was his fault though, and he still wanted to convey his apologies and sorrows. Riddled with both confusion and sadness, Rogue acted on comforting instinct. Carefully, while still balancing himself, the titan gradually lifted his hand and extended his index finger to the disturbed man – intent on rubbing him with his knuckle to express his apology. If he were allowed to speak, he would have taken his apology further by speaking the truth.
However, before Rogue could even act out his gesture, a hard and wet slap hit his cheek. The titan paused, pulling his hand back and lifting it to his face. The impact was harder than a raindrop, so what could it have been? Perplexed, Rogue lifted his hand to his cheek, feeling a mushy wetness that definitely wasn't rainwater. The titan then held his fingers before his emerald greens, his heart instantly dropping to his belly and his face heating up in embarrassment. From his teachings and observation of birds, the object that had come in contact with his skin was an egg – one that had been thrown at him.
"How dare you!"
Hearing the threat, Rogue looked from the mixture of egg yolk and shell to see a tense standoff. His companions were on their feet now, Armin looked astounded, Hange's face appeared to be drawn into a snarl, Levi's scowl was deeper than ever, and his little one Mikasa stood with a dangerous glint in her grey eyes with blades drawn. The four of them were all facing a man that looked to be in his early thirties. The man's face was twisted into a look of sheer dislike, overall looking like a very unkind individual.
"How could you have thrown that!" Mikasa chided, fingers wrapped tightly around the hilts of her blades. "He hasn't done a thing!"
The man huffed. "Are you Scouts blind or just stupid! That thing is probably the reason why you have returned from the expedition! You guys are a bunch of liars! That titan obviously cost you a third of your regiment! He's a failure, a monster that needs to be slaughtered like all the others!"
"Sir, you need to get back!" A Garrison soldier ordered as he placed himself between the man and the Scouts, but the fool still continued, pushing the officer out of the way.
"This is bullshit! All of it! That titan is worthless! Hell, I bet he's the one responsible for the death of your daughter, Sir!" The man directed at Mr. Ral who looked completely mortified. Rogue grew woozy, fighting the urge to faint. He felt sick at the reminder of what he had done. If there were something in his stomach, he would have surely thrown up.
"Sir, you need to get back and be quiet." Mikasa hissed. "He's done nothing of the sort." She spoke darkly, shoulders shaking in rage.
"Shut up you stupid bitch."
At the man's words, Rogue felt a spark of pure rage swell in his chest. No one was to insult his little ones! No one! The titan quickly cupped Mikasa into his hand and pressed her close to his chest in protection. Rogue then shot the man a dangerous glare, feral hues seeded with hatred. Steam jetted from his nose, ears pinned back against his damp locks. However, before a growl could slip his throat, Levi navigated his horse between the two opposing forces. The corporal stared down at the man, face away from Rogue so the titan and his companions couldn't see, but Rogue could clearly smell the anger radiating off the five foot three Corporal.
"Take my advice," Levi began, tone bitterly cold and stern. "Shut the fuck up and go home. Trust me, it's better than me having you arrested for assaulting a soldier that's fighting for your miserable life. And yes, I mean the titan and not myself. Hell, if the Commander gave me the order and if it was allowed, I would park my foot right up your sorry ass. Now get back." Levi concluded, leaning over in his saddle with his line of sight locked onto his target.
The egg throwing man looked as if he had seen a ghost, face paled and his frame petrified. To the titan's relief, the individual stepped back into the crowd without another word. Levi then sat up and turned to the onlookers, nose wrinkling in distaste and brows drawn together in absolute irritation. "To clear things up among you, I need to bare this news. True, we were unable to reach Wall Maria to make the needed repairs. This is due to the fact that we were ambushed by one of the biggest titan hoards the Scouts encountered to date. Most of our supplies were destroyed and there were many lives lost. However, our entire regiment, myself included, would have been completely wiped out if it had not been for The Rogue Titan. He fought as valiantly as our men and women did. He was able to kill nearly forty titans and ward off dozens more in the last forty-eight hours. That number is substantial. On average, it takes a veteran Scout to kill that much in a single year – sometimes they don't even make that number. So please, sit back and think before you speak. The Rogue's help has made our regiment a true threat to the titans. You all should be incredibly grateful. If he hadn't come during the attack in Trost or didn't exist entirely, all of you would be dead, starving, or living in squalor without sunlight in The Underground of Sina. So you best be thankful." Corporal Levi concluded as he quickly turned his horse and began to follow the other half of the regiment who had paused to wait up ahead. Without another word, the wagon then moved forward once again – leaving the crowd and a distraught Mr. Ral behind.
For what seemed like ages, the four sat in silence as they continued to make their way through the district. Feeling another swell of fatigue, Rogue slumped over, nearly collapsing and giving into sleep. His eyes hurt, felling agitated and swollen by the salty tears – the sensation only making him more tired.
"Rogue?" Mikasa whispered from her position in his palm, hand rubbing the warm flesh of his chest. "Are you okay? How are you holding up?"
The titan dipped his head, letting his hair fall over her – blinking slowly with half lidded eyes to express his exhaustion. Rogue groaned softly, lifting his thumb and brushing it over Mikasa's scalp to question the same. She nodded.
"I'm fine. Words can't hurt me remember?" The dark haired teen smiled tenderly and patted his finger. "Thanks for protecting me though."
He nodded, lowering his little one to be with his other baby. The titan then rested his brow into his hand, reflecting on what had just transpired. Words could not express how bad, guilty, and humiliated he felt.
"Look Ellie, we can see him from here!"
Recognizing the familiar whisper, Rogue turned his head to see the two small children, Ellie and her brother, perched upon two large wooden crates to see over the crowd. Amazingly, the two still wore looks of wonder and anticipation.
"Humanity's strongest, that Levi guy just said that The Rogue killed like a bunch of titans during the mission!" The girl's brother boasted. "Like more than most Scouts do in a year's time!"
"Wow…" Ellie trailed off, hugging her doll of him even closer. "He's amazing."
"Yeah! Tough as nails!"
Ellie continued to look on, eyes scanning him over. "He looks so sad though. Maybe – he lost a friend or something?"
Rogue quickly directed his gaze to his feet, cringing. He couldn't stand to hear more, so he pulled the tarp back over his head and over his ears in hopes of blocking out the little but impactful conversation. Of course, the thin layer of cloth did no such thing.
"You're right Ellie, he looks unhappy maybe something did happen."
"Yeah, I hope he feels better soon."
A tear slowly fell down Rogue's face as the wagon left them behind. Painfully, he sat through the district, teeth clenched until they exited into the countryside. He contemplated screaming, but instead he barely bottled everything up for the time being. He just wanted to go home.
Click – click – click.
Levi huffed in irritation as the sound echoed across the courtyard, the product of his crutches making themselves known as he walked. Damn how it annoyed him and made him feel absolutely stupid. The whole afternoon was nothing but torture to say the least. Finding a doctor of the edge of Katness was demanding, especially when he had to listen to constant blabbering of the man as he wrapped his fractured leg – the doctor never shutting up about 'Humanity's Strongest being in his care' or 'What's it like working with The Rogue Titan?' Levi groaned at the thought of this, he would have rather sat through his visit with the doctor asking the same old idiotic questions of 'How have you been? How's the family?' or the all too common 'The weather is nice isn't it?' Of course, the hell had started even before that. He knew that Rogue was currently torn apart due to the incident with The Female Titan. Petra was one of the people closest to Rogue and her death was substantial. The titan did not cope well with loss at all. Meeting Petra's father in Katness only made the current situation worse. On top of all that, some fucker had thrown an egg at the traumatized beast. No one deserved that, Rogue included.
At the particular hour, the courtyard was empty. The only company was the chirping crickets. The barn ahead was open, door cracked with soft yellow light shining from the inside. Levi hobbled faster, trying to avoid the incoming sprinkles. Grunting in discomfort, he placed a hand onto the barn's door and with great effort, pushed the barrier away just so to get past. Inside the barn was warm as usual. A gentle snoring reverberated throughout the large space. Rogue lay in his designated side of the room, body loose and completely sound. The titan's face was different from his usual look when he slept, the skin between his brows bunched together in the slightest – hinting at a troubled sleep or a lingering pain. The beast looked completely worn out. Surprisingly, Rogue's 'babies' were nowhere to be seen. The barn's only occupant was of course, an overly excited Hange. The enthusiastic woman was gathering things and sorting instruments in a work space that she had set up before the slumbering titan. For several seconds, Hange continued to look through a metal chest before Levi cleared his throat. At his intrusion, the scientist looked up immediately, dorky grin spread across her face as usual.
"Evening Levi!" Hange began as she pulled out what the Corporal had known as a stethoscope. "Feel any better?" She spoke cheerfully, completely ignoring his look of discomfort.
"Well, my leg is fractured in two places and I'm stuck using crutches for the next six weeks. Tell me how you think I feel?" He deadpanned with Hange only tittering softly.
"If I had to put it into your words, I'd say you feel pretty shitty."
Levi merely rolled his eyes at Hange's whit, the woman using his strange sense of toilet humor against him. The man's steel eyes traveled to the lounging Rogue again, watching as his ear flickered like a sleeping sow. "So where is Arlert and Ackerman? It's rare to not see them next to Rogue at this hour."
"Ah, well as soon as we got here, Rogue went straight to sleep so those two took the time to go eat dinner and get cleaned up." Hange informed. "They might be back in about thirty minutes or so."
Levi nodded and motioned over to seat himself upon a barrel of hay, signing in relief to be off his feet. He then observed Rogue again, listening to his cavernous snoring and watching a muscle in the titan's hip twitch. His mind briefly flashed back to the recent occurrences, giving in to a bit of concern. "So, how's he doing?" The Corporal inquired quietly as if not to wake the beast.
Hange exhaled meticulously, laying a hand onto Rogue's bent knee. "He should make a full recovery by morning with all of his energy included." Hange paused, biting her lip. "Of course, I don't know how bad emotionally he will be when he wakes up. Truthfully, I'm picturing something a lot worse that the cat ordeal, possibly to the level of when he lost the Jaegers."
Levi bent over and placed his chin into his palm, absorbing the woman's words. "How bad was he when I left?"
Hange dithered, turning to look upon Rogue's distressed face. "Not good. I could tell he was getting worse just after the incident with Petra's father. There were points on the way back that he almost lost it. He – kept muttering that it was his fault and he was making himself so uncomfortable that we had to stop several times. Levi – he's claiming that he did something but I think the trauma of all this just has him confused. I feel so sorry for him."
The man sighed, running a hand through his raven hair. "You're right. His emotions are just mixing things up." Levi paused, instinctively gripping his leg. "I still can't believe some idiot threw an egg at him."
She suddenly smiled. "I was amazed when you stepped in and defended him. That speech had me chilling. And the guy looked like he was about to piss his pants!"
"I think if I didn't step in Rogue would have let his overprotective instincts take the reins. He could have done something that attracted all the sorry MP's to us like flies on shit. Sure, he wouldn't have killed the guy, but he probably would have tried to roar at the top of his lungs to scare the moron off."
Hange shrugged her shoulders. "Either that or spit on him."
"I can't decide what's worse, him blowing your eardrums out with a roar or his saliva drenching you to the skin."
The scientist chuckled as she placed the stethoscope onto her neck. "Well either way, I'm sure he's grateful for your help!" Hange concluded as she motioned for the resting creature.
Levi then watched as the woman then proceeded in what he guessed as the examination, but soon becoming suspicious as Hange stood before Rogue's torso. Still beaming from ear to ear, the scientist placed both hands onto the titan's lower abdomen – pushing slightly and barely making an indent due to the creature's muscle mass beneath. Hange then preceded to press the scope to Rogue's belly and listened in intrigue with her lips curling in what he could call a strange form of pleasure. Levi sighed harshly. Was Hange really doing what he thought she was doing?
"Hange – what the hell are you doing now?" He grunted as he gradually got to his feet and placed the crutches where he needed them. "Hange you –
She immediately shushed him, holding up a finger for him to wait. Although he was impatient, Levi postponed for the Squad Leader to complete her observation. Hange then pulled the scope away, nodding to herself and writing down something scientific into her journal. She then returned to the titan's lower abdomen and began to run her hands across the taught flesh. "I'm glad you asked Levi! I'm actually looking for any significant evidence that some sort of mating activity took place!"
At her statement, Levi's palm met his face. "Hange – no."
However, the woman only continued merrily. "Yes Levi! As of now, the mating possibility is still a strong candidate for the truth. Since titan reproduction is a subject with no material, I'm starting my experiments with the known ways that animals reproduce as well as a human's. Right now I'm testing the characteristics that strongly support our current findings about the titan population itself. I'm starting with the weird ones first – the plant theory, the seahorse theory, and the reptile theory."
Knowing that their conversation was taking a dark turn, Levi groaned his disagreement. "Hange –
"My plant and seahorse theories kind of merge. What makes me lean towards these theories is the fact that the male population of titans is so great compared to the female. This brings up the idea that perhaps the male titans are the ones who carry the offspring. Fertilization is obviously needed in the equation thus both sexes are needed for reproduction to work. Now, at this point everything is hypothetical since the idea if titans reproduce or not is still up in the air."
"Damn it, Hange –
"Flowers and plants absorb sunlight for energy as titans do. For example, a flower has both male and female parts. One idea is that a male titan has both male and female parts and somehow fertilizes eggs. Since the female titan is necessary, perhaps she is the one that still creates the unfertilized eggs and then transfers them over to the male during the mating. Of course, there is the other way of reproduction that maybe the female titan transfers her womb with unfertilized eggs to the male and then he fertilizes them and goes through the gestation process – both ideas kind of like a male seahorse." Hange continued, speaking a mile a minute as she prolonged with her strange observation. "We can assume that titans also 'give birth' to multiple offspring at once due to their sheer size in numbers. And I imagine that the gestation process, or pregnancy if you will, doesn't last long either. Perhaps the intelligent titans actually raise the young – it certainly would explain his parental instincts."
"Hange, what the fuck." Levi intruded, but the scientist still went on as if he hadn't said a single word.
"Of course," She snickered. "The reproduction process could be the standard law of nature where the female bares the young. Taking the Female Titan incident into account, I'd say that it is entirely possible that the female does travel to find her perfect suitor. Rogue was her best option if she wanted the strongest offspring. After the mating takes place, the male and female split and the female bares the babies. This leads us to my other theory!" Hange said excitedly as she pulled out a magnifying glass and began to look, much to the Corporal's horror, at Rogue's loins. "Reptiles have their genitals internally. And looking at Rogue, he shares the nictitating membranes trait as reptiles do. Maybe titans just keep the goods inside of them." Hange pressed on as she began to scrutinize the skin upon the lump between Rogue's legs. "With reptiles, there is usually some sort of small –
Unwilling for Hange to continue, Levi quickly lifted his crutch and pressed it into the top of Hange's foot – the scientist yelping and dropping her magnifying glass.
Levi's unamused scowl deepened. "Hange, I'm not going to sit here and watch you molest Rogue or some shit. Besides, I highly doubt –
"Levi!" Hange whined. "I'm experimenting! There's a difference!"
He quickly shook his head in denial. "Hange this is just one of your weird titan fantasies. Besides, even if a fucking of some bizarre sort was what was supposed to take place, I doubt that it even happened."
Hange raised a brow. "What makes you say that Levi?"
The short man sighed. "When I arrived, Rogue nearly had the life beat out of him and The Female Titan was just about to bite his nape from his body. The area itself was nearly torn to pieces in the brawl. The brat may have difficulty in spotting the difference between an apple and a tomato but he's stubborn and not the type to let something overpower him. Plus, when Rogue doesn't want to do something, he really doesn't do it. The only exception is me telling him what to do."
Hange shook her head in denial, sighing heavily. "Levi – we didn't see what happened. For all we know, female titans are indeed like black widows and eat the male after they're impregnated. Of course, what you say could very well be true. When I looked at him I didn't feel anything abnormal and the only sounds I heard were his organs at work. As far as anything to suggest hidden genitals – I'm not completely sure. You decided to slam your crutch in my foot." She smirked, but then frowned. "I guess we'll find out the truth once he awakes and we question him. It might be really rough though Levi. I don't expect it to be a pleasant morning."
The man sighed, pushing away Hange's nonsense and let his gaze rest on the titan in repose. Rogue was deep in sleep as he was and perhaps more than he had ever been. The titan's ears flicked at the gentle sound of raindrops falling onto the glass skylight above. The beast exhaled a large amount of steam that ruffled the hay, a sliver of drool running down his chin – Rogue obviously completely spent. Hange was most likely right about what was to come during the morning. The thought quickly brought a crucial detail into play, one that if it were revealed to Rogue – it would only make the beast severely angry.
He sighed, pulling out Petra's breast patch from his jacket. "No matter what, don't tell Rogue about what happened to Petra's body. Tell the others that as well. We don't need to fester the wound further." Levi muttered, remembering their departure from the forest, being trailed by two titans, and having to sacrifice some of the bodies to slow them down – Petra's being one in the bunch. If that fact were revealed to the creature, they would suffer his wrath.
"Right. We can't let him know that. Although Rogue looks far stronger than an ox or a dozen titans, deep down he's just as delicate as a child."
The Corporal sighed. He wasn't looking forward to sunup.
Darkened lids slowly opened to reveal his emerald greens. He blinked rapidly and with irritation. Everything was bright – too bright. Almost painfully bright. He closed his eyes hard and reopened them, but the lightness remained. The light finally began to dim a bit, letting Rogue irreversibly get a grasp on his surroundings.
However, the titan quickly became alarmed as he made a frightening discovery. His body – he couldn't move it at all, at least not on his own will. He could only look out at the landscape. Water rolled and lapped against his body, cooling to his hot skin. The teal water was murky and complemented by a fog. However, it was still bright and difficult to look at.
Rogue blinked again, becoming alarmed to see that he had been whisked way to find a different landscape yet before him. It lacked the comfort of tall trees and other assorted leafy greens. Its pallet was a deep brown and red – make up of rocks and cliffs that scaled as high as the pines in his forest. It was intriguing to say the least; he had never seen such a place. It looked like something out of his little one's book. Before he could attempt to make an objection, Rogue blinked again.
This time, the landscape was much more familiar. It was a lush forest like his own and just as beautiful. Rogue stood in a clearing that would take anyone's breath away. In it's center was a large river that was clear as crystal, every fish and even the riverbed visible. A large waterfall fed it, making everything serine. In the distance he could see a range of mountains that pierced the heavens themselves. His head turned a bit, allowing him to alter his viewpoint. His heartbeat quickened as he spotted the other elf eared titan from before. Knowing what he wanted to do, Rogue attempted to open his mouth to ask a slew of questions, but he was unable. The only thing his body did was blink.
Opening his eyes once again, he had to blink to adjust. Once the brightness dulled, Rogue focused, his line of sight at his feet. Instantly, his heart jumped. The earth where he stood was stained red, moist with blood – human blood. Internally, his mind was swarming in panic. Scattered in the puddles of crimson were bare and snapped bones that were woven together by guts and other smashed organs. He blinked, but this time went nowhere. Finally, his head lifted to see the horror beyond. The air was hot, smelling strongly with the stench of death, innards, and decay. The plain stretched for miles along with the carnage. Ruined human structures were no more – wood and rock splintered and scattered in all directions. Bodies of both man and animal were laying everywhere like discarded ragdolls. His breath grew rigged. Who could have performed such genocide? Deep inside, he was in full alarm. He wanted to run. He wanted to get far away – run to his family and little ones. Yet, there was a strong part of him that wished to hunt down and slaughter those responsible. With the vast amount of carnage, this looked to be the product of a titan horde.
He was torn, he wanted to go and save those he loved just in case they were in the path of destruction, yet he hadn't a clue as to where he was. The ruined buildings, they looked much older than those he knew well in Maria. Was he somewhere outside the walls?
Before he could decide on any telling decision, his head turned yet again to look forward. Emerald eyes grew wide as they discovered a towering form on the other side of the large glade. The skinless giant was none other than The Female Titan. Her hair blew in the gentle breeze, pale skin looking even lighter in the bright light – making her lithe figure look almost ghostly. Her hands and feet were soaked in bright red, her pale pink lips glistening with the crimson fluid. Rogue then recalled that this titan had taken a precious being from him, and seeing the mess before him – he could only assume that this monster was responsible for it as well.
With anger fuming and a primal need surging down his spine, Rogue tried to will himself to push forward and sink his teeth into her nape – but he still couldn't move. His body was frozen, only permitting him to look forward. Anxious, Rogue watched as The Female rotated slowly to look upon him, face looking nearly bored but with burning blues glued upon him.
When their eyes met, all she did was form a cunning smile.
With a quick breath and a sharp beat of his heart, Rogue's eyes flew open to view the cozy interior of the barn. It was morning, or perhaps midday. The strong scent of fresh hay circulated around the wide interior. The birds sang outside despite a coming rain, but there was a melancholy aura in the air.
"Well, it's nice to see you awake."
Rogue looked up at the source of the voice, surprised to find Jean standing next him. The young man held a pitchfork, moving hay where it was needed along with Connie who was struggling to carry in a fresh barrel. The titan raised a brow in suspicion, looking down at his palm to check for his little ones only to find that they were absent. Why was Connie and Jean in his nest and his little ones elsewhere? Rogue whined softly, calling for his two companions without a word.
"Hey, don't worry." Jean continued, oddly sounding nicer than his usual arrogance. "Armin and Mikasa are just finishing up lunch. Hange – well I think she's going over some things with the two of them. Not sure though."
"The both of us were told to come keep you company!" Connie called over from where he sat down his barrel and began to shovel hay. "You were freaking us out for a minute. You were starting twitch and whimper in your sleep. We thought your were starting to have another nightmare."
At the word, Rogue sat up and let his hand curve from his cheek into his scalp. It had been a dream – the gore, it had only been the beginning of a nightmare. The blood, bones, and –
His other hand snaked up to his head, fingers clutching a wad of locks with the titan's nails digging against his scalp as the realization settled into him. Rogue's body began to tremble and quake as everything began to replay.
The Female Titan.
"Uh, Rogue?" Connie muttered as the titan's pupils shrunk and the beast's body shook more noticeably. "Are you –
"Connie… go get Hange, Mikasa, Armin, and the others." Jean spoke, voice low and serious. "This doesn't look good."
Rogue did not take notice of the shorter teen leaving from the barn, too lost in his thoughts. The Female Titan – their brawl in the forest. He was outmatched, foolishness to blame. She had nearly killed him, crushing part of his skull, and almost tore his nape out. He shook harder, moaning as the entire event began to unfold in his head. The blood, there was crimson everywhere – smeared on nearly every surface. His eyes widened further. His small pack: Eld, Gunter, Oluo, and –
His sharp claw like nails punctured the skin of his scalp, blood decorating the tips of his fingers. Petra, his poor Petra! She was gone! The Female Titan had killed her! Smeared her against the bark of a towering tree like an insect! Her scream echoed in his head, rattling his skull. He couldn't get to her quick enough! She was dead! It… it… it was his fault. If he had denied her request, she would still be talking sweetly to him, training with him, and teaching him! He had lost her! And it was his fault!
He had caused Petra's death!
Armin blew on his spoonful of porridge in an attempt to change it to a manageable temperature before sticking it into his mouth. The blonde seized the moment to steer away from a current conversation he was having with Mikasa and Hange to examine the occupants of the mess hall. Usually, the room was full of some sort of life, but since they had returned from the expedition the day before, the mess hall was eerily quiet and depressing. Everyone spoke less and at a low volume, some even sniffled. Armin and many others fully understood why. Almost everyone in the room had at least lost a friend in the expedition. Petra too, was also another reason. Every Scout was incredibly fond of her and her caring personality. The veteran always lit up the room whenever she entered. Armin swallowed. Rogue and Petra were extremely close. In fact, the teen discovered that in the recent weeks, many people had taken to calling Petra the 'Titan Momma' or 'Momma Petra' for Rogue's relationship with the gentle woman was the very kind that some would say was a 'Mother and Son' kind of bond. Indeed Armin agreed to the fact. The titan spent most of his away time from both he and Mikasa with either Petra or Hange. Rogue had done some things with Petra that he had only ever reserved to Carla. There was no doubt about it; Rogue was going to be incredibly upset when he awakened.
"So Hange, during your examination last night, did you find out if Rogue – really mated?" Mikasa suddenly spoke from the lip of her glass.
The scientist, hair messy and eyes tired looking from what was most likely an all night event, spun her fork in her soup. "Well, like I told Levi last night, I probably won't know for sure until I can speak with Rogue. Of course, while he was asleep I did look for any signs that mating activity took place. However, those results too, were inconclusive. Any internal activity was just his organs and his abdomen felt perfectly normal. I even looked for a hidden male reproductive –
However, Hange was interrupted by a long hollow wail that bounced off the walls and the outside corridor. Armin dropped his spoon. He knew the cry so well.
The two teens and many others watched as Connie sped toward them, eyes wide in fear.
"Armin, Mikasa, Hange!" He breathed. "It's Rogue! I don't think he woke up well!"
The two teenagers and a team of others raced toward the open barn, narrowly avoiding Connie as he stumbled over his own two feet. The blonde swallowed in fear. The distraught titan's cries echoed across the courtyard and rattled nearby windows. It was just what he had feared, an episode similar to when Rogue had lost the Jaegers. Armin had known that on their journey back to headquarters in the previous day that his titanic friend was incredibly unstable and emotionally damaged. Now it seemed like Rogue had finally snapped.
Upon entering the barn, both Armin and Mikasa were treated to an unwanted sight. In the corner where the titan always slept, sat a moaning and groaning Rogue. The titan was hunched over with his face pressed against the barn floor with his hands gripping the hair on his head, nails digging so deeply into his scalp that slivers of blood steamed down his jawline. The titan's body shook violently as he whined and whimpered like a wounded animal. From memory, this was indeed one of Rogue's emotional breakdowns.
Around the titan stood several other spectators, including he and Mikasa's friends from the 104th, Hange, Levi, and Erwin. It was obvious that they were spellbound, looks of extreme bewilderment upon their faces. Rogue suddenly released another hollow wail, one that sounded like a sad and lost child. A repetitive clicking noise met his ears, Armin turning to see that Levi had positioned himself next to the teen – face nothing but serious.
"Arlert, Ackerman." The Corporal began in a low-key tone. "Do you have a suggestion of how we can fix this?"
He hesitated watching as Hange took a weary step toward the upset behemoth. "Sir, um – Rogue is –
"He's having a breakdown." Mikasa chimed in. "The first thing we have to do is calm him, but it's a challenge. The best way to do that is get mostly everyone out of here since he's pretty delicate in this state. A lot of people will probably stress him out more. If he gets too upset he'll start throwing things. After that, we have to approach him gently."
"Understood." Levi sighed as he hobbled over to Erwin, awkwardly moving on his new crutches to the taller male. The two teens watched as their superiors exchange a few words before Erwin cleared his throat.
"Everyone." The Commander began in calm manner. "Please leave the barn." Erwin concluded with many of the Scouts departing. The Commander then followed the recruits from the building, pausing at the Corporal's side. "If you need any assistance, we're right outside."
The short male nodded in reply before looking back to the two teens – standing back as to wait for the problem to be resolved. Rogue whined again, breath rigged and strained. The titan shivered harder as if he was a poor dog left out in the cold.
"Rogue?" Mikasa began as she approached the fifteen-meter megalith warily. "Settle down now." The teen spoke earnestly. "We're here now." She pressed on as she slowly approached the shaken titan, hands up and outstretched – using the correct approach that Armin had formulated to deal with Rogue's extreme breakdowns.
Following the teen's lead, Hange got in the same stance and slowed her approach. "Rogue my dear!" The woman began sweetly as if she were a grandmother. "It's Mama Hange! Why don't you calm down and tell us what's bothering you?"
At the scientist's final sentence, Rogue's body stiffened with the titan's shoulders shuttering. "NNNNNNN…NNNNNNN…NNYYYYY AALLTT! EETTT EETT NNNNYYY AAALLTT!" The titan muttered loudly, words jumbling and running together at points.
Making his own approach, Armin cleared his throat. "Come on Rogue! Settle down! Me, Mikasa, Hange, and Levi are here!" The blonde reassured, but his statement only fell on deaf ears.
"Rogue, it's alright." Mikasa continued as she laid a hand onto the titan's scalp, not paying attention to the slight oils in the beast's hair. "Shhhh… settle down so we can talk." Mikasa spoke tenderly as she massaged Rogue's head. Although the titan's shuttering body stilled with the touch, he continued to utter gibberish.
"AAALLTT. EETTTAAALLL NNNYYY ALLTTT…
Catching up to par with what the titan was saying, Armin opened his mouth to deny, but was quickly surprised and distracted by the Corporal making his way to the ongoing crisis, ignoring his fractured leg. "Jaeger, it's not your fault that Petra was killed –
However, at the mentioning of his companion's name, Rogue suddenly lifted his face from the floor and let out another hollow and ghostly howl before sitting upright upon his rump. The titan sobbed harder, rocking back and forth on his rear with his head buried into his hands. The sight indeed was a pitiful one; loss was certainly no easy thing to deal with for the titan.
Armin watched as Mikasa let out a long sigh and motioned to the titan's leg. As she usually did and with the kind touch of a maternal figure, the teen rubbed the titan's thigh to gain his attention. "Rogue?" Mikasa began carefully. "Calm down. We're trying to help you." She smiled softly. "Can you please tell us what happened?"
He felt slightly reassured at her tone; if anyone could coax Rogue out of an episode it was Mikasa. From the very beginning, it had always been that way. Eyes watched as the titan slowly raised his head from his hands and wrapped his arms around his broad shoulders. Armin swallowed fretfully. Rogue's face looked like one of absolute defeat. His face was damp from tears and the whites of his eyes were bloodshot and eyelids puffy. The titan's brows were drawn together in anguish as his lowered ears shook like wobbly newborn animal. Rogue's hands clenched his shoulders even harder as he looked to the barn's occupants. The titan then lowered his head in the slightest, whining through his clenched teeth.
"Come on Rogue!" Hange encouraged. "You can tell us anything."
Armin gulped yet again, looking at the titan now; he knew the beast wasn't going to be able to speak about what had occurred that day in the forest. Not very well at least. Rogue sniveled again, hands traveling to his scalp to grip his hair.
"UURRGGHH… EEIII… EETT AASSS NNYY AALLTT!" Rogue started, giving in to a reply.
Mikasa continued to tenderly rub the titan's skin, face hiding any sort of emotional pain. "I'm sure you're wrong Rogue. Please, tell us what happened."
Rogue gave in to another series of tight shivers. "EEII… EIII… AAASSS EENN OOODDSS." The creature forcefully breathed, words nearly gibberish. "TTIITTAANN… BIIITTCCHH AASS… AATTTAACCCKKK UUSSS. DEENN… NICCH! SSQQAADDD IIEEE!" Rogue roared pathetically, the titan suddenly plunging his hand into the piles of straw and throwing a wad of it across the room – hay flying everywhere like a heavy snow. The titan bellowed loudly again, the cry strained as he picked himself up and propped himself on the balls of his feet before falling to his knees and nearly doubling over.
"So, The Female Titan attacked you and my squad?" Levi questioned, putting Armin on high alert. In truth it was probably best if it was only he and Mikasa dealing with Rogue. Both Hange and Levi were not fully aware with how easily some words tripped up the titan in this tantalizing state.
Rogue withered at the man's query, moaning loudly enough to make the floor vibrate beneath his feet. The titan raised his head, hands grabbing at his long locks once again. "EETTTrRRAAaa." Rogue continued, voice as shaky as fall's last leaf. "EEIII NNOOTTT AASSTTT EEnnoUUGHH. EEIIII NNOOTTT AASSSTTTT…"
"EIII NNOOTTT!" The titan whined, words slowly becoming unclear. The creature shifted again, removing himself from his knees to sit upon the heels of his feet once more. Rogue placed his palms into the hay, fingers curling and twitching as the titan arched his back. "EETTRRAAA… EETTRRAAA… DIIIIEEEE CUUUUZZ NNEEE!" Rogue wailed, rattling the barn's rooftop. "EEII NNESS UP! EI NOTASST! ETRADEEDCUZ RRRRRRRR! STTUUTTIIDDD NNOOUTTHH! Rogue luridly cursed his mouth structure, bringing a hand to his bottom jaw and pulling much to Armin and everyone's horror.
"Rogue stop!" He called, sounding much more stern than he ever had with the titan, perhaps more stern with anyone else.
Thankfully, the titan ceased with detaching his jaw. However, before a single soul could say a word, the titan produced a desolate but aggravated howl and slipped between the small spell bounded group. Armin observed painfully as Rogue scrambled, moving awkwardly on his hands and feet beneath the roof of the barn and began to throw hunks of hay in all directions. In any normal circumstance, Rogue chucking hay would have just been seen as the beast playing, but with the titan's extreme sounds of distress it was evident that Rogue was using the straw as a supplement for something to take his anger out on other than himself. Of course, the behavior told the two teens that knew the titan the best that Rogue was incredibly unstable and was likely to throw things other than harmless hay.
"Rogue! Please calm down!" Hange called.
The party of Scouts continued to beg the beast to stabilize, but nothing of the sort happened. To their dismay, Rogue continued to move around and throw hay all over the room, shaking the walls of the barn with each weighty shift – making the wind chime that Hange had gifted him jingle uncontrollably. The noise caught Rogue's attention, but instead of the simple instrument promoting whimsy, it only mocked the beast. Snarling, Rogue reached up and gave the object a good swipe, knocking the wind chimes from their hanger to send them flying towards the wooden wall and landing in a crumpled and tangled heap.
With a throaty moan and a high-pitched drone, the titan set his eyes onto his collection in the corner and clumsily shuffled to it. Before Mikasa, He, or the others could open their mouths – Rogue dug into his not so secret pile of objects and toys and flung a handful of them all across the barn. Several of the titan's possessions now lay broken at his large feet, including many things that Rogue had snuck into his pile without asking. Armin swallowed, to see that the titan was upset enough to break his own things that he had loved and cherished pulled at the teen's heartstrings. At the moment, with Rogue nearly harming himself and throwing projectiles, he was almost unapproachable and in such cases Mikasa and Armin could do nothing until Rogue ran out of steam.
"Rogue! Please calm down!" Mikasa called desperately.
Unfortunately, the girl's plea didn't register as Rogue turned and exited out of the open door, the gasps of several Scouts being heard from within the barn's interior.
"Damn it!" Levi cursed loudly as he hobbled forward as fast as his working leg and crutches could take him. "If he accidentally harms someone, the fucking MP's will be on our asses!"
Hearing a loud commotion outside, Mikasa bolted from the messy interior of the barn with Hange trailing close behind. Mirroring their notions, Armin left Rogue's nest to witness quite a scene unfolding before the Scouts. All stood watching in worry as the titan crumpled to his knees in the center of the worn brick courtyard, the impact making the wood of the barn shutter. For a moment, it was silent, leading Armin to believe that all had passed, but the teen was wrong as Rogue threw back his head and released a long, and loud bellow from the pit of his stomach. Unlike his usual warnings projected to the earth and the heavens, this one was no warning. The sound of it was more hollow than the devil's heart and more sad than a slow playing violin. This cry was one that just begged the question of why.
"Rogue." The blonde teen muttered to himself. "Please."
The titan's tragic roar then dulled to a mere rumble in his throat as the grey sky began to shed its tears. Rogue then slowly hunched over once again, body shaking in the rain without the cold embrace. The creature then lifted his fist and brought it down upon the bricks, the sound of crackling stone echoing across the weedy courtyard. Rogue lifted his fist again and brought it down upon the same spot, over and over until steam began to elevate from bruised skin and a small crater had been formed in the wide walkway. The titan then sat still, muttering beneath his breath that the situation was somehow his fault.
Mikasa took a step forward, bravery and love pushing her. "Rogue?" She began with her tone of voice sounding soft but laced with anguish. "Please settle down. It's – raining." The dark haired teen continued, going with a different approach. "Why don't you come inside?"
With the titan's back still turned to them, Rogue slowly raised his head at Mikasa's invitation. However, the titan was still caught in his own storm of self-pity as he suddenly let out another heavy bout of sadness and picked up a nearby bench and threw it nearly fifty meters. Rogue then proceeded to pull up patches of long grass and hurl them into the nearby field – his behavior similar to what Armin read as a rampaging gorilla. The titan's spectators remained nearby and without any gear, most likely trusting that they were not targets of Rogue's guilt fueled wrath. If an actual titan had been placed right in front of the beast at the very moment, Armin didn't doubt that the fifteen-meter behemoth would slaughter it in the most torturous way possible.
"Rogue! Please stop!" Mikasa yelled again, voice pleading now and almost sounding as if tears choked it.
This time, the titan paused in his tantrum of sorts and let his body loosen. For a moment it was quiet with nothing but the gently falling rain and the sound of Rogue's exhausted breath to soothe. Then, without batting an eye to each of them, the titan slowly lowered himself to crawl on all fours back into his nest. Armin swallowed to rid the knot in his throat and force it past his stomach as Rogue sat back down in his corner. Much like a young child, the creature drew his legs up and buried his face into his knees, wrapping his arms around his body in security. He sighed, hopefully the titan had calmed.
Several minutes passed as Armin, Mikasa, Hange, and Levi stood close to the titan, monitoring his breathing patterns and his quiet noises of distress. Finally, Mikasa approached the sulking creature with a tender touch to his shin, saying no words but simply massaging the particular spot. Seeing that Rogue appeared to be rather calm, Hange cautiously edged forward, stepping on the soles of her boots.
"Rogue my dear? If you could, can you please tell us all what happened? We're just trying to help you." The scientist spoke with her tone placid as a serene lake.
The titan didn't lift his head, still keeping his face hidden behind his knees. "Nnnooo." He hushed, however, as usual, Hange let her eagerness steer her.
"Please Rogue. We're very worried about you. Please just –
"NNNOO." The titan responded a little louder than before and pulled himself in tighter.
"Rogue. We are just trying to give you some relief. Please let all of us help –
"NNOOOO! NNOOOTTT NNNNOOOHHH!" The beast yelled suddenly as he placed his fingers beneath Hange's workstation and with quick reflex, flipped the long table over to spill its contents onto the hay floor. Glass beakers shattered and boxes of supplies became lost into the straw. Hange's face was completely mortified, but oddly she wasn't staring at her own belongings. Armin's jaw dropped in the slightest as he discovered what the object was.
The music box.
Indeed the titan's favorite thing that wasn't an object meant for play was the antique music box. Ever since they had given it to him, Rogue had cherished the thing. Every night, the titan listened to the soothing wordless nursery rhymes until he fell asleep. When Rogue had revealed to them the reason for his fondness of the object, saying that it helped keep the nightmares away, Hange had offered to place the music box into her desk so Rogue could open it whenever he wanted. Like a child's plush toy, the titan hardly ever went to bed without it. Now, it lay soundless in the straw – the side of it cracked, a leg missing, a spring visibly loose, and the ballerina's arm missing.
As carefully as he could, Armin picked up the pieces along with Hange, noticing the alarmed green eyes of Rogue watching them and never veering. The titan's eyes then began to water again, the beast moaning with the sound scratching his throat. Armin felt himself sweat. The titan was bound to initiate his tantrum yet again, the trembling of his broad shoulders saying as much.
"Don't worry." Hange articulated sincerely. "I can fix it. Just give me a bit of time…
"GGG… GGG… GGEEEETTT OOOUUUTT." Rogue unexpectedly forced past his teeth. "GGGEEETT OOOUUTTT!"
Bewildered by the titan's request, the teens and veterans remained in their current spots as they watched Rogue lower himself onto his back and turn over to face the corner – curling into the tightest ball possible without snapping his spine. If it weren't for the circumstances, Armin would have said that the titan's position was somewhat cute. But of course it wasn't whatsoever. It was clear that the creature wanted some peace.
Silence covered the barn before Levi cleared his throat.
"Let's leave him be. It's obvious that he wants some time alone. We'll have to continue with our efforts later. I may not be an expert on reading him, but it's very vivid that he wants some quiet." The man concluded as he turned to hobble out of the barn. Mikasa sighed.
"He's right. In situations like this, sometimes he's better on his own."
Armin nodded in agreement. Hoping that Rogue would be better and stable enough soon. It was clear that the titan was confused and the blonde desperately wished to know what happened, not only would it put a theory to rest but it would also help the poor creature.
Thunder rolled overhead with rain pounding against the rooftop of the barn. It was quiet, eerily peaceful in his nest. The sun had not shown its face for three days and neither did he. Nearly seventy-two hours after his outburst, Rogue still refuged inside the warm interior of the barn. His nerves had been horrid during the days that had passed. Even when he was ordered to or had been asked nicely, Rogue refused to leave the nest. He would growl and project his desire for alone time each and every attempt the pack made to coax him out. The titan had only ever wished for solitude once before when he had lost his humans. There were many times that Levi and a few of his new small humans tried to enter and speak with him, but he only responded with a hiss – wordlessly telling them that he wanted to be left alone to his memories. For a time, he even wanted his little ones to leave him alone for the titan knew that they would try to comfort him and question him to make 'him feel better' but it just made him uncomfortable. Made him feel stupid. Recently however, he had grown more lenient. In the last day and a half, Rogue had allowed his babies and Hange to visit with him for brief intervals. To the titan, it was evident that they knew he was depressed for they didn't query about what had happened but rather made small talk with added humor.
Rogue lay across the length of the barn, loose and in a different spot other than his usual resting place. The titan breathed steadily, green pools looking at the large spoon that Petra had given him as a welcome gift. Rogue held it carefully between his forefinger and thumb, looking at his reflection in it. Although it was an object that was merely meant to serve human food, to Rogue it was a treasure. It was all he had left of Petra. Her death haunted him still – the idea that he wasn't fast enough or smart enough to save her lingered in the back of his mind. However, since his self assigned isolation, Rogue had begun to actually focus on the events and occurrences that transpired during his encounter with The Female Titan. At the time, he was too furious to absorb their meaning, but now some of them stood out completely. One of them though mounted above all others. Somehow, the skinless female knew him and the itching feeling that she was familiar was too strong to just set aside.
Was it really possible? Could he have known her before he had lost his memories as Hange and his little ones had said? The Female seemed to know him. So perhaps it was true. She had called him 'Coordinate' or something like that. Was that supposed to be his name or something? It didn't sound like a name. The Female Titan had called herself a Warrior so perhaps the term was like a job or something. He couldn't say. Maybe… maybe his little ones and Hange could help him.
Rogue whined softly, letting his head fall back to the hay and tucking an arm up to his chest as his eyes still looked at Petra's spoon. He had so many questions about The Female Titan such as how did she produce the hard crystal on her body, where had she come from, but most importantly why was he worth killing over? He groaned, all the questions made his head hurt.
Suddenly, the titan's ear flickered at the sound of the opening barn door, a loud creaking sound that always echoed throughout the big room no matter how gently one tried to peel away the entrance. As he had done for the past three days, the titan kept his ear erect and inhaled quietly to see just who had entered his domain. Thankfully, it was Hange and his little ones coming for their visit, the second of the day. Hearing them whispering to one another, Rogue kept his breath normal and pretended to not notice as he listened.
"Hopefully this will cheer him up. I feel so sorry for him." Hange informed. "I hate seeing him like this."
"True, we've never seen him this depressed since the Jaegers. Of course he was probably the same way when Mikasa and I left."
"He was a little better this morning, he let us eat breakfast with him."
"Oh yes, hopefully this time there is progress and we can bring him out of his shell."
Rogue then loosened further just before he felt tiny hands and feet scaling over one of his ankles. Emerald hues then shifted to his approaching companions, eyes half lidded as he studied them. Their approach was slow and easy, wearing only their leisurely nightwear and not their traditional uniforms. His little ones held their own covered dishes of food while Hange advanced with her hands holding something behind her back. They wore tender smiles as usual as if they were dedicated nurses. Perhaps in this scenario they were. Feeling the need to acknowledge them, Rogue produced a small and feeble trill in greeting – the first form of hello he had made in days.
A wide smile spread across the messy haired female's face at the massive titan's little rumble. "Well now! It's nice to finally get such a greeting from you Rogue!" Hange chuckled. "Armin, Mikasa, and I thought we would come and have dinner with you! Is that okay sweetheart?" The scientist beamed, showing more kindness.
Admittedly wanting their company, Rogue gave a slight nod in return and allowed Hange to sit on a bale of hay and for his babies to sit on his tucked arm. If he decided to share what happened, then the situation was ideal. Although he was leery and hated to speak of the day, he really wanted help in trying to figure out the answers. Perhaps the flying human pack had learned something about the titan that he hadn't.
"Thank you Rogue!" Hange continued as she pulled the object from behind her back and placed it onto her lap. The titan couldn't help but to lift his head in curiosity as he studied the item wrapped up in a white cloth. "We actually have a surprise for you!" Hange started as she began to unwrap the linen to reveal his music box – his very one that had completely healed up. "Armin and I spent a few days fixing it. Sometimes we were in town searching for the right parts since some things had to be completely replaced. It's now like new again!" Hange spoke excitedly as she opened the lid to expose the little dancing human and the sweet melody. "It even sounds great too!"
"What do you think, Rogue? Are you happy to have it back?" Mikasa inquired as she placed her own dinner into her lap.
Rogue's ears perked up as he stared at the mended music box in awe. When the beautiful thing had broken by his hand, he felt nothing but remorse and even more so that he had broken some of Hange's things in his tantrum. To see his treasured possession like new again brought a slight smile to his face – a small purr slipping from his throat in gratitude. Hange nearly squealed.
"A smile! It's nice to see that after so long!" The woman articulated as she placed the music box on her desk. "It's also wonderful to hear your signature purr too! Even if it was just a little one!"
Rogue nodded shyly in agreement and let his head rest back into the plush of his other folded arm, still debating if he was ready or not to speak of his encounter with The Female Titan. For a moment, the four listened to the pitter-patter of rain hitting the roof and window overhead. The titan observed quietly as the three indulged on their delectable veggie soup, waiting to see what conversation was going to surface next.
"I heard that it's supposed to be sunny outside tomorrow." Armin began as he dipped a bread roll into the soup's broth. "I looked at an almanac in town."
"That's nice to hear." Mikasa responded, voice at ease and relatively quiet. "I'm sick of all this rain."
"I think it actually flooded in some parts of Wall Rose – probably the river." Hange added as she crammed a large spoonful into her mouth.
The small blonde laughed wholeheartedly. "It would be a good day to go to the lake again. Rogue, you could come and sit in the sunlight or maybe even swim with us." Armin addressed the titan. "It's probably the last time this year we can swim before the weather starts to change."
Rogue grunted a small and irresolute reply, blinking slowly before turning his attention to the blades of hay beneath him. Maybe it was best to go with his intention of sharing his story with them while they had just begun their dinner. That way they could spend time to help him before they went in repose. Nodding inwardly to himself, Rogue emitted his usual questioning grunts, easily gaining his family's attention – faces reflecting their surprise at his involvement.
"What is it Rogue?" The dark haired teen inquired, suddenly setting down her spoon.
He lifted his head, biting his tongue slightly in substitution for a lip as his eyes glanced from the hay to his captive audience. "EIII… AANNTT – AALLLK NNOWW."
At his words they looked stunned – Hange nearly dropping her plate. "What? Do you want to talk to us about something, Rogue?"
He dipped his head, trying to summon up a bit of courage. "EESS. EEEIII AANNTT AALLK ADDOOUT TTIIITTAANN DDIITTCCHH."
The scientist's brows rose even higher than the frames of her glasses. "Titan – Bitch? You mean The Female Titan?"
Rogue nodded. "ESSS. EEIIII SSAAEE UUTT AAAPPPEEENN." He informed, preparing to dish out a heavy amount of human tongue to communicate his story.
"Oh my… Please! Do go ahead Rogue! If it's possible – please include as many details as you can! Oh! Would you like Levi to hear this?"
The titan dithered before shaking his head in denial. Although seeing the Corporal wasn't a bad thing, Levi would most likely put his 'two cents' in every sentence or so. At this point, Rogue wanted to say what he knew quickly and get it over with. Besides, Hange would always pass the news along later.
"Okay then." Hange understood. "You can start whenever you want to."
Rogue nodded. "EEEEIII SSIITT UUTT EEAASSE?" He asked with the others heeding to his desire to get into a new position. Free for any tiny frame upon him, Rogue sat up in the barn and folded his legs neatly. A nervous hand snaked up to his scalp, giving it a slight scratch out of habit before laying his arm in his lap. Hange and his little ones sat patiently with their eyes pleading for him to begin. "UHH… LOOTT AALLKK AABBOUUTT." The titan warned, hoping that his companions really had a free schedule. To his relief, they only smiled.
"It's alright, we have nothing better to do anyway. Take all the time you need."
The creature inhaled deeply to tame the butterflies in his belly before letting out a jet of steam, welcoming a gentle pat to his foot as encouragement. "EEEIII UUNNDD SSQQUUAD SSIIT INNN OORREESTT AAFFTTERR EEVVII EEAAVVEE." Rogue began, trying to keep any emotion at bay. "SSAAWW FLLAARRE UNNDD EEFT. TTIITTANN BIIITTCCHH AATTAACCKK UUSS EENNN BBAAAKK."
Armin nodded slowly as he absorbed the titan's statement. "So the Female Titan attacked you from behind?"
"EESSS." Rogue paused, gritting his teeth as his hand balled up into a fist while he prepared to deliver the hardest part of the story. "SSHHE KKIILL GGUUNNTRR IIRRSST. UUTTHHERRSS AANNTT GGOOO HHUUNTT BBIITCH." The titan hesitated, breath hitching in his chest as he struggled with saying her name. "EE…EETTRAA TEELL NNEE GGOO EELLPP EEVVII, AANNGGEE, UUNNDD IITTLLEE OONNS."
"So when Gunter was killed the Levi squad decided to go after The Female Titan and Petra told you to go and aid me, your babies, and the Corporal." The scientist assessed with the beast indicating that she was correct.
"EEII… NNOOTT AANNTT TOO GGOO TOOUUGGHH." Rogue admitted, a small tear leaking from the corner of his eye before he stubbornly wiped it away.
"You didn't want to leave her but you followed the order anyway." Mikasa translated as she sat aside her soup. "You followed the order because you didn't want to get in trouble right?"
"EESSS UUNNDD EEIII BEEELLEEAVDD EENN DDEMM." The titan sighed shakily. "EEII AASS RROONNGG TTOOUUGGHH." The beast's voice crackled, emotions constantly pulling at him – his state apparently visible to his tiny companions as Mikasa lifted herself up and rubbed his palm along with Hange.
"It's okay, Rogue. Would you like to keep going?"
Rogue shut his eyes tightly, swallowing a large wad in his throat, before reopening them. "SSQQUUAAADD IIGGHTT TTIITTAANN. DDEENN SSHHEE KIILL EELDD. EEIII… DDEENN NNAAKKEE GGUUGGNNEENNTT CCAAL."
"You decided to make a judgment call and go and help." Armin decoded. The titan nodded, ears sinking.
"EEAAHH. DDEENN OLLOO AASS DDEED. EEII… EIII… DDIIDD… NNOTT GGEETT TOOOO… EETTRAA EENN IIMMEE." Rogue whimpered, throat tightening and heart sinking to his stomach. The titan sighed, grabbing his arm tightly to snap him out of his emotional pit. "DDEENN EEII GGOOT AANNGGRRE." Rogue paused, trying to figure how to deliver the strange words he had exchanged with The Female Titan. "DDDEEENN EEEE IIGGHHTT."
"And then during your brawl, The Female Titan nearly killed you with her incredible crystalizing ability just before Levi and Mikasa stepped in." Hange articulated, the titan noticing that she was scribing her findings in the journal that she had been making about him.
"ESSSSSS…" Rogue trailed off, looking at the details of his skin for a moment before staring at his listening family below. "DDAAT… NNOOTT INNPPOORRRTTANNT DDOOUGGHH." He corrected, watching their faces light up with both extreme concern and interest.
"Are – you saying that something happened during the fight between the two of you?" Armin questioned, putting his bowl away as well.
The titan nodded, fingers coming up to scratch his chin like many of his companions did when they were deep in thought or trying to figure human things out. "EEHH… DDEERREE IISS LOOTT TOOO SSAAAEE."
"It's alright, Rogue!" Hange intercepted quickly. "We need to know this."
Rogue shifted on his rump, trying to decide what he should reveal first. "SSHHEE… EEEIII… SSHHEE TTAALKK."
At his declaration, Hange's writing stick fell from her hand and his little ones gasped at the revelation. "The Female Titan – she could speak?"
"EEAAHH. NNOTT EERRFFECCTT LLIIKKE UUUU. EETTEERRR DDAANN NEE DDOUUGGHH."
"Shit! What did she say!"
Again, Rogue dithered, trying to come up with the correct way to put things. "EEII… TTIINNKK EEEIII NNOOHHH ERR."
The barn grew silent with only the rain and uneasy heartbeats speaking.
"WHAT!" Hange gasped, his little ones now fully alarmed. "You know her!"
He shook his head. "EELL – SSHHE ASSSS," Rogue dithered; trying to remember the correct word he was looking for. "AAHH…AANNIILLIAARR?"
"You mean that she felt familiar to you, Rogue?" Mikasa quizzed. The titan nodded.
"ESSS. TTIITTAANN BIITTCCHH SEEENN TOO NOOHH NNEE."
Armin's mouth fell agape"My god, so you're saying that The Female Titan knew you?"
He grunted. "SSHHEE SSAAEE SSHEE SOOCCKKEED TTOO EEARR NEE AALLK. SAEE EEII ASSSS AALAAIISS STTUUTTIID." Rogue continued, going over his foe's words. "SHEEE… CCAALL NEEE," The titan stalled, trying to figure out how to pronounce the word that had come from the female's pale lips. "CC…CC…OOORRRDDIINNATE."
Once more there was a definite pause. Hange rubbed her chin just as he had done while his little ones looked at one another in question. Did the word really mean something in human tongue like he had thought?
"Hmmm… very interesting." The scientist pondered aloud, the ghost of a smirk pulling at her face.
"AAHHTT OORRDD NNEEAANN?" Rogue innocently inquired, watching as Hange wrote something in her journal.
"Well, the word coordinate has a few different but mostly similar meanings. The definition that is usually listed first is 'a harmonious combination' it also means 'to combine' or to 'put together' Rogue." Hange informed, suddenly unable to hide her smile - a completely devious smile that he had witnessed several times during his sessions with the messy haired flying human. "Very intriguing indeed."
The titan raised a brow in confusion. What was Hange thinking?"
"Hange, do you really think that's what the female titan meant?" Mikasa cut in with Hange nodding.
"It's a likely theory." The woman responded before looking to him in a way that Rogue could call animated and almost disturbing. "Rogue – do you know what mating is?"
The titan sat back, head tilted in disbelief. Mating, he didn't know much about it but he did know that his humans were mates. "ERRR… IITT NNNEEAANN TTOOGETTERR?"
Hange bit her lip, tossing her head to one side and staring at a fixed point before looking back to him. "Well, to be more correct scientifically, mating is a process Rogue. It's – when a male and female, a boy and girl, get together and do… a series of maneuvers against one another – in order to make babies."
Upon hearing Hange's explanation, Rogue unknowingly emitted an odd grunt and tilted his head in serious question – his facial expression a nearly priceless one. Was he hearing her right? He had seen his deer do something like what Hange had described before giving birth some time later. Did Hange really think – was that the reason why The Female Titan went after him?
"Rogue, when The Female Titan encountered you, did she try to – make you do anything? Did she get on you in a non-aggressive way or did you feel your body doing something weird like feeling funny? Did you have any strange urges?"
The titan's solid stare in disbelief begins to look nearly comical as she continued to list a series of odd moves that he had seen animals do. He never felt what she called arousal. All he felt at the time was the urge to slaughter and consume his prey. "NNOO… UUSTT NNEED TTOO KIILL ERR." He corrected. Armin sighed.
Hange, not to sound rude or anything, but I think we need to see if anything else happened before we come to that conclusion." The blonde articulated with the scientist sighing in defeat.
"Ah, you're right. Rogue, was there anything else in particular that The Female Titan did?"
He nodded, thankful that his little one had said something. "ESSS. SHEE CCAAALL HHERR AAAHH OORRIIORR. SSHHEE SSAAYY EEEII NNOTT INNTTOORTTAANNTT AANND SSHEE AANTT AA TTIINNGG FROONN NNEE."
"Hmmm… perhaps her purpose really was conception and female titans really are like black widows and mantises. In other words she could have wanted Rogue's fertilization before she intended to kill him." Hange continued to speculate, the titan noticing Mikasa's face tint slightly crimson.
"It does make some sense." The dark haired teen agreed.
Armin's brows drew together in contemplation. "Maybe, but why call herself a warrior? It doesn't make any sense. It just seems so random."
"Well she was just fighting Rouge. Maybe it was to get him to submit or something like that. Who knows?" Hange sighed, sounding vanquished yet again. "Well, is there anything else you noticed Rogue?"
The titan thought deeply, chewing on his tongue slightly with ears cocked back as he contemplated. There was one other thing he did feel was important enough to bring up, although it was probably unneeded, he did kind of want to know why he was experiencing such a thing. "ETTT ODDD. EEEIII AVVVVEE EEIIRDD DRREANS."
Rogue nodded sharply. "ESSS. DDEEII OOOODDD. DDOONNTT NNOHH HIIII AAVVVE DDENN."
"What are you dreaming about, Rogue? Can you explain?"
"DDEEII – EELLL SSOO RRREEAAL. EEIII SSEE OOCCEEANN."
Armin's golden brows rose. "The ocean?"
"ESS. EEIII SEE PLASSESS. SSEE AA TTIITTANN IIKEE NNEE. AASSSTT DDREEANN EII SEEE TTIITAANN BIITTCCHH."
"So in your dreams, you're seeing other places like the ocean? And you recently saw The Female Titan in one of them?"
"ESSS. EETTT SSCCARREE. EEII AASS INNN FFEEEILLD IITTHH ERR. AASS LOOOD UUNNDD DDEETTH – AALL ASSS RRREEED. SSHHEE… UUSSTT OOKK AATT NEEE."
Suddenly, Hange sat up, eyes wide as she stared at his little ones before slowly turning to him. "Rogue – I think those dreams and maybe the nightmares you've been having recently are actually memories. Rogue, I think you could be starting to remember things from your past!"
The titan sat back in awe. So, his weird dreams were actually things that really did happen in his past?
"Rogue, how long have you been having these dreams like these?" Armin demanded sternly but with good intention.
Mikasa nodded. "Okay, when did you have the dream about The Female Titan?"
The titan counted the days in his head before holding up the correct amount of fingers, giving his tired vocal chords a rest.
"So The Female triggered a memory soon after your meeting." Hange continued to think aloud. "That's really incredible. But I do wonder about your previous encounter. If this is really all about mating, then perhaps she tried to do the same to you decades ago, but you wanted no part of it."
Rogue tilted his head, considering the idea. The more Hange spoke of the notion, the more it sounded logical.
"Still, it could be something else." Armin explained. "It just seems like there are a few loose ties in the equation that don't make much sense."
"True Armin." The scientist sighed. "We can't rule that out either. For now though, the mating theory is the only one we have to go off on." She yawned. "There is just a lack of evidence here and I think Rogue will have to 'dream' more so we can begin to put some missing pieces into the puzzle. With that being said Rogue, you will need to report any dream you think could be a memory to me or your little ones."
He dipped his head, mind beginning to swarm with thoughts. Was this really true? Did The Female Titan really kill his squad and Petra just so she could mate with him? The titan snorted softly in disgust. If the idea was indeed true, then the act that she had committed was completely disgusting!
"Well Rogue, do remember anything else that you think we should know?"
The creature sighed. In all honestly, he didn't really remember much after seeing his Mikasa tangle with his prey. "NNOO. ET LLURreeee." Rogue choked, speech cracking harshly and causing the titan to cough deeply with the cavernous sound echoing in the barn. His voice was spent.
Hange chuckled softly, patting his knee. "Ah, yes I wouldn't expect you to remember much right before you passed out. Plus it looks like you've talked yourself hoarse this evening!" She laughed before growing sincere. "Now, since you told us this I want to make it clear to you Rogue that you should not hold yourself guilty or responsible for what happened to Petra. If anything or anyone is to blame it is The Female Titan. And if my theory is true, also the nature of things as well. Not you."
Rogue's gaze shifted to his toes. It – wasn't his fault? The titan blinked, green irises dancing back and forth as he scanned over everything that his humans had helped him with. He felt sick to his stomach knowing his prey's possible intention.
An hour after his conversation with his little ones and Hange, Rogue lay in his usual resting spot in his nest with his body curled around his babies just like always. However, although Armin and Mikasa were both submerged in repose, he was wide-awake despite the present moon – visible now since the rains had ceased for the moment. He couldn't sleep. His mind was furious like bees in a hive. If what Hange said was true, then The Female Titan's reasoning just made him all the more angry. If the scene in his dream was really a memory and recalling what she had done in the forest, it was absolutely foul in his view that what he had to offer was worth far more than human life. Even if that wasn't the case, what she had done left a permanent scar on his heart.
Rogue lifted his head slightly, rotating his neck to retrieve one of the old pillows that Hange had given him before nibbling at the cloth corner – tearing the object in search of something to take out his frustration on. Something about the mating idea didn't quite sit with him right. As far back as he could remember, he had never seen two titans engage in any sort of mating and his humans had always said that titans didn't reproduce. Rogue thought harder, spilling more feathers from the pillow. Then it dawned on him. All the titans he had ever seen were male. Not female. Maybe Hange was right. However, deep down something was telling him something else. He just didn't know what.
Dropping the pillow from his teeth, Rogue looked out beyond his nest's open door and at the full moon illuminating the dark sky with a calming blue – the hue not even fazing him. Damn how he wanted answers! The skinless titan had known him and therefore knew of his past. He wanted to know if mating with him was her true intent, territorial issues, or something bigger. He wanted to know everything! She had the ability to tell it all to him! Rogue wanted resolution and revenge now more than anything – it was all that his currently crippled mind craved. He wanted it. Wanted it and her meat so badly that he was willing to go forth and retrieve what he desired.
Maybe, maybe he could. He was fast, and a great hunter. Sleep wasn't pulling at him, eyes still burning brightly in the dark. Perhaps he could sneak away for a while, find her, question, and kill her when she was in a venerable state and be back by morning. No one would know he was gone, every soul was asleep and if he were late they would just figure that he wanted to go bask in the sunlight somewhere since he had been spending days inside the barn. To the titan, this sounded like a possible success.
Then again, this also sounded like a horrible idea considering the consequences. He was so conflicted. His mind was a complete storm of ideas, which left him overlooking facts. Rogue was so confused, but there was just something that just didn't set right in his stomach. He had to make a decision. The moon would only show its face for so long.
Armin's eyelids quivered, the teen shifting slightly in his light sleep. He swallowed, brows bunching together in annoyance of his dry tongue and scratchy throat. His body demanded nourishment, but he didn't feel like getting up. He sighed, deciding that he would suffer until morning. He didn't want to get up, go outside to the pump and get what he needed all for the sake of sleep – something that had been hard to achieve for him lately.
However, despite his desire for a lasting relaxation, his scratchy throat was unbearable. Exhausted, Armin rolled over and braced his hands beneath him to help him to his feet.
Something was off. His skin only met the prickly hay floor of the barn and not the warm flesh of Rogue's palm. Puzzled, he slowly opened his crusty eyes, could he have accidentally rolled off the creature's palm?
Unfortunately, his prediction was wrong as he noticed that Rogue was nowhere to be seen in the barn's dark interior. Alarmed, Armin immediately sat up in fear. As long as he had known the gentle titan, the beast had never left them once they were curled up at his side – especially at night. Never.
The teen then turned to Mikasa, seeing that she was in a much deeper sleep than he had been. In light of the emergency, Armin quickly grabbed her shoulder and shook her frame. Something was very wrong.
"Muughh… Armin what –
"Mikasa! Wake up! Rogue's gone!"
"Wait, what did you just say, Shitty Glasses?" Levi perked up from behind his spotless desk, face evolving slightly from his resting scowl with an eyebrow raised in serious question.
Hange felt herself give in to a smile. "When Rogue was opening up to me, he told me about some dreams he was having, ones that showed him places outside the walls. While talking with him I was able to make an astounding discovery! Rogue is remembering things from his past! It's incredible! Against all odds, he's gaining some of his memory back!"
The scientist watched as both the Corporal and Commander looked at one another in light of the news. For the hour that had passed, Hange had been sharing every detail that the stressed titan had told her to the two men. Although all of them had been fighting an awaiting sleep, the concern about Rogue and his current situation had to be settled. In fact, Levi had been waiting right outside her quarters with Erwin once they heard that she and the titan's adopted children were going to attempt dinner with the beast. Upon hearing that Rogue had actually shared with her what happened, Levi demanded that they all retreat and speak at once. Disclosing the crucial facts about The Female Titan alone brought forth more emotion from Levi and Erwin than she had seen in quite a while.
"That's a big development." Erwin trailed off.
Levi characteristically folded his arms, the muscles in his face softening. "Indeed it is. Rogue himself is like trying to read a map is written in invisible ink. What else did he say about these – 'dreams' of his?"
"Well, Rogue stated that in his most recent dream he saw himself with The Female Titan."
At her words, Erwin leaned forward in his seat, setting aside his tea and looking incredibly alert. "So, since these dreams are memories, he's encountered her before?"
Hange dipped her head as confirmation. "Yes, but he did say that the setting was a bloodbath."
"Not a romantic date then I suppose." Levi commented mutely, using his own form of extremely dry humor yet again.
"No." She promptly agreed. "Although it does tell me that something similar happened then as it did with the event in the forest." Hange continued, watching as Levi shifted uncomfortably in his seat. To her and many of the other Scouts that worked close to the short statured man could tell that mentioning the recent expedition around him was obviously an encumbrance upon him. Of course, in this situation, Hange could not avoid it. "What I'm saying is that nearly all of the evidence we have points to some sort of titan mating."
Levi sighed deeply and almost strained, the room suddenly silent between the three of them except for the popping of embers in the burning fireplace. "Although your theory is on the table still, there are a few details that are making me look else ware."
The scientist raised a brow, perplexed by the statement. Even after what she had presented – Levi still had doubts? "What do you mean?"
The man tensed in his chair, taking a sip of his tea out of habit before placing the cup on the saucer. "When you were talking to Rogue, how much did he remember from the last few minutes before passing out?"
"Well, not much. He said it was foggy."
"I see. In light of me going to get my damn leg wrapped, I forgot to mention something to you, but first – did Ackerman mention anything about this scream that Rogue made?"
Again, Hange's brows rose. On their way back to return the dishes, Mikasa did mention a bizarre screech that had left Rogue's mouth. "Yes, she mentioned it briefly before going to sleep. Why do you ask?"
The man leaned back in his chair, gaze directed at his cup of tea as if he was looking for any evidence that there was dirt upon it. "This is why I'm dwelling on something else. Most of it is probably a long shot, but right before the skinless bitch was about to kill Ackerman, Rogue made a screech that sounded so unlike any other roar or noise he has made. For some reason, The Female Titan was spooked by it. Also, just a few seconds later was when the stampede of titans came through to chase and eventually kill The Female Titan. Another meaning to the word coordinate is 'to order' and we've seen Rogue ward away titans by growling, roaring, and snarling at them. Now this is just a guess, but what if that weird screech called the titans to him? To attack?"
Hange took a seat in shock. "Do you mean like an alpha male thing?"
"Maybe. Maybe so. It's just strange that those titans completely ignored Ackerman and I. Then again, it's odd that all those titans were so close, especially for another horde. It makes me think that The Female Titan was luring Rogue to her so those titans could either kill the rest of us or overwhelm Rogue with a scent deposit, something to slow him down with intent to injure, or maybe some other shit like that. It is clear to me though, Rogue has some sort of ability or alpha status to give orders to other titans – not intelligent ones, but mindless and abnormals."
Hange sat back in shock, this was unreal. "This is – maybe that was what The Female Titan was after – to get rid of Rogue to gain his position. She could only herd and gather titans, not order them around!"
Levi nodded. "It does make a lot of sense. Still though, there are some things that are not matching up. Like missing pieces. One of them is if The Female could talk, then where did she learn to?"
It was quiet again, fire continued to burn. Finally, Erwin cleared his throat.
"Well Rogue is over a hundred years old and says he recalls her in a past memory so perhaps The Female Titan is ancient as well. A century ago, humans were still outside the walls so she could have picked up the language from them just as Rogue has harvested some words from hearing us."
"That's true. As of now, this is either a damn mating thing or a fight for status. However, there are still things that aren't adding up. Like why did the titanic bitch call herself –
Before Levi could finish his sentence, a cluster of chaos erupted from the hallway. The three higher ups paused in their conversation as they directed their attention outside, listening as a barrage of footsteps echoed in the hall. Hange stood from her seat, preparing to make a move at the realization that the sound was heading right for them. Before anyone could make the decision to check or scold any soldier, the door to Levi's quarters swung open so forcefully that the door bounced against the wall itself. Both Armin and Mikasa stood in the archway, chests heaving and out of breath as if the Corporal had them run endless laps. Hange felt her heart beginning to pound, witnessing the looks of terror painted across their faces.
Erwin stood from his seat, looking at the two with stern concern. "What is it?" The tall man spoke, voice showing his level of seriousness. Hange swallowed timidly; there was only one reason that she could think of for the two recruits' panicked presence at this hour.
"It's Rogue!" Armin exclaimed, still trying to catch his breath. "He's gone!"
At the news, all three of the teen's officers were now standing. "Missing?" Erwin queried. "At this hour?"
"Shit." Levi grumbled, quickly grabbing his cloak off the chair. "Fucking idiot." He spoke beneath his breath, managing to avoid a glare from Mikasa. "Why the hell is he running around?"
"We – don't know." The small blond stammered. "He must have left shortly after we fell asleep."
"Was there anything wrong with him that you could see during your visit?" Levi demanded.
Hange bit her lip as she thought, feeling a little weak in her knees. "I'm not sure. He was a bit – backward and nervous at first but he seemed to warm up to us quite a bit. Of course he was pretty emotional when he was talking about what had happened. At the end though, he did seem a little distant."
"Just what in the hell could he be doing then?"
"I'm not sure, but I do know that as of right now, the trauma of the forest incident has his emotions, mind, and common sense completely scrambled. Right now he's dealing with a lot of confusion and turmoil." The scientist put forth, knowing very well that Rogue's condition was making him incredibly sensitive.
Suddenly, Levi halted his address and turned to the others in the room, eyes cold and grim. "Ackerman, Arlert, Shitty Glasses – does Rogue actually know that The Female Titan is dead?"
She could practically feel the color draining from her face. Then again, Rogue was there when Erwin informed Pixis that the threat was eliminated –
"He was awake and alert when we told Pixis she was deceased." Mikasa answered.
Levi hesitated looking at the floor in disgust before snapping his head back to them. "Hange, does Rogue know what 'deceased' means?"
Her eyes instantly widen, jaw going slack. During their sessions, and from the Titan Children's teachings, Rogue only knew the definition of passed away as dead or death. Deceased wasn't an entry in his small by human standards dictionary.
"Oh my god." Armin uttered. "He doesn't. He's going after her. Something we said must have made Rogue want to find her and kill her as quickly as possible! He probably left thinking he had the advantage of being able to sneak upon her at night! His emotions are making him really unstable!"
"Shit! That means he's headed for the wall!" Levi hissed. "If he goes past our property and someone sees him the MP's will surely be on us like a bunch of starving wolves."
"He could be anywhere by now." Mikasa pressed on, fear mixed in her tone. "We went to sleep nearly an hour and thirty minutes ago. Knowing just how stubborn he can be, I'm sure he's moving quickly."
"That is indeed true, but we do have one factor that may aid us." Erwin suggested, collecting a few raised brows.
"What is it?"
"Hange may be aware of it, but Rogue's been in that barn for three days without leaving plus it was raining during that time as well. That means that Rogue is likely incredibly slow due to the lack of sunlight."
The scientist nodded. What the Commander had said was likely true. Rogue was probably in a state that felt similar to someone that was incredibly malnourished. Hange couldn't help but feel so sorry and remorseful knowing that the powerful titan had fallen into a deep hole.
"Wake everyone up and split into squads." Erwin continued as he grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair. "Ackerman and Arlert, take Blouse and Lenz and pair with Corporal Levi. Hange, you split everyone else evenly with at least someone who's good at tracking. Normally, I would just have Mike smell him out, but with the recent rain and more coming, I think his nose won't serve us. After you're done splitting everyone up, join me. We have to find Rogue quickly at all costs."
Small droplets of fragile rain fell through the cracks of the shallow canopy, catching upon leaves and leaving most life below untouched. The small creatures of the forest were romping about with the sky's brief relief. Bats were feeding, opossums were scurrying, and the flashing bugs signaled one another their hellos. It could almost be called peaceful if it weren't for the deep rumbling making its announcement constantly within the wood.
Insects retreated and scattered as his feet met the mossy and damp earth. The titan walked throughout the dense forest with the strong intention to carry out his plan, his mind still swarming with frustration and his mind mostly clouded. Rogue grumbled softly to himself in irritation as he lifted a foot to continue forward – cursing himself. He had neglected to absorb the sun's bounty in the past days due to heaven's tears and his own seclusion, which in turn made his body feel so much heavier than it really was. Each of his legs felt as if they were led and his arms felt as if they were going to just fall from his shoulders. His head too, appeared light – making him feel a bit faint. However, Rogue's stubbornness still propelled him foreword.
Hearing a nearing grumble of thunder, Rogue snorted in disgust – displeased that there was likely a stray raincloud coming in that would drench everything below it. His mind was telling him that he couldn't be slow, but his body and weight wouldn't allow such a thing. Rogue wanted to run badly so to get to the wall and return without notice. Not only were his legs protesting, but also if he ran it would certainly draw the attention of both his pack and the other humans. So walking it was. It wasn't as fast as sprinting but it would do as long as it propelled him further to his goal.
Of course, rain or not, he was too set on his destination to give up as the sprinkles became more frequent. Getting his body drenched and his hair soaked would be worth it as long as he felt the breaking of her bones and the taste of her blood. As soon as he scaled the wall, he would find the bitch and slaughter her, beat her within an inch of her life to see her spill the truth and suffer from the unbearable agony of having her limbs ripped off one by one and nearly all of her organs pulled violently from her body. The thought of seeing her bloody and exposed innards made him shutter in slight pleasure at the visual. Oh how he looked forward to the moment!
Rogue glanced down at his feet, thankfully still keeping his footing after a slight stumble. Below, tangled with ivy and rusted from the seasons, was the barbed wire fence that circled the Scout's territory and warded away unwanted entry. For a moment, the titan paused, sighing deeply, before taking the first step over it.
Hange swallowed, secretly holding her chest to try and keep her heart rate down as her horse raced next to the stoic Commander and a slightly buzzed Molbit. She squinted, trying to see the muddy road outstretched before the squad. The rain had returned, intensifying from its steady sprinkles to a light and airy downpour, the wetness making the terrain and environment less than favorable for locating a moody fifteen-meter titan.
With the humidity in the atmosphere fogging her goggles, Hange took her hand off her heart to reach up and quickly wipe away the wet film that had accumulated on the lenses. After several repeated tries and only getting her eyewear somewhat clear, the scientist let out a breath of aggravation and pulled the hood of her cloak over her head in hopes that it would help. Unfortunately, the technique wasn't as great of one as she had hoped but it would have to do. As bad as her eyesight was without her lenses, Hange could not afford to ride her horse in the rain and darkness with her vision as blurry as a drunken man's. With her heart continuing to pound, Hange narrowed her eyes and scrutinized the surrounding field as best as she could. Even with the glowing lanterns that some of the soldiers held, Hange couldn't make out any large shape among the grass.
She swallowed, nerves eating away at her. Rogue leaving in the middle of the night was something that she had never pictured the gentle beast doing. Sure, the titan was often very mischievous and would be finicky about doing certain things – but departing with the intent to kill an already defeated enemy was so unlike her titanic child. Hange lowered her head in shame. Armin and Mikasa were absolutely right about how Rogue grieved. It made her feel so bad for the poor creature. Never in her life had she known someone so poignant.
Hange glanced from beneath her hood to see Erwin's focused eyes looking at her for an answer. She shook her head. "Nothing, just the grass and a few trees."
The man dipped his head, not answering and making her gulp. Hopefully Rogue was just up ahead. He couldn't have gone far, not in the condition that he was in at least. For a moment, the scientist let her gaze wander around, eyes falling to the muddy earth beneath them. Her brows scrunched together, something was odd, but at the moment she couldn't put her finger on it.
At the deep command, Hange yanked her horse's reins roughly, the steed rearing and thankfully not sliding in the mud like several of the others. Following the light of the lanterns, Hange discovered that the squad was standing below the stone and wood archway over the entrance to the Scout's property. Her breath shuttered in her chest. The last time that Rogue had ran off, the titan had stopped at the very spot. This time however, Rogue was nowhere to be seen.
"He's not here." Hange muttered. "He' – he's not –
"We wait here." Erwin announced sternly. "Nanaba should be meeting us here any minute now. While we were paring groups and retrieving horses I sent Nanaba and Gelgar ahead to do recon in Katness to see if Rogue was already there. Mike's squad should be meeting us here as well."
Hange took a deep breath, trying to calm herself as she continued to stare at the muddy road. Something was incredibly odd about it. Blinking again and wiping off the fog on her lenses, Hange's mind then collected and she realized what was strange. The trail was incredibly muddy; any animal could leave a footprint. As moist as the earth was, a titan of Rogue's size would have left a giant and very deep imprint. Riding up to the entrance, Rogue's tracks were nowhere to be seen. Sure, the titan could have walked in the knee-high grass, but with the view atop her horse – the only thing that rustled the organic blades was the wind. Before Hange could announce her finding, the galloping of hooves demanded her attention ahead. As Erwin had stated, Both Nanaba and Gelgar had approached them, pulling on their reins to slow to a halt with a dour look upon their faces.
"We made it to Katness, but the district is quiet. We didn't see Rogue anywhere. On the way there and back we never passed by him." Nanaba reported. "We even checked with the wall and there's been no evidence of Rogue even scaling it."
"Yes of course," Hange began and gaining the attention of her peers. "That's because Rogue didn't come through here. It didn't dawn on me until just now but Rogue would have left a series of tracks in the mud or ruffled the grass if he had taken this route."
Hange watched as Erwin let out a goaded sigh, amazing the woman how he somehow managed to not lose his cool in the direst of situations – not even cursing. "Alright, this means –
However, Erwin cut himself off as Mike and his squad approached the Commander, like both themselves and Nanaba's team, they looked exhausted.
"We searched the west forest and training grounds – including the gorge." Mike began tiredly. "Rogue was nowhere to be found so he isn't hiding." The man then sighed, sniffling and wiping bead of rainwater from his nose. "I apologize, if it wasn't raining I would have located him long ago. Any scent has been washed away."
"It's like he's vanished into thin air." A soldier remarked with Mike nodding in agreement.
"He picked a hell of a good night to disappear that's for sure."
Hange gulped for the umpteenth time, thinking about the soldier's words. Could Rogue have actually… let his depression control him and he had killed himself? Vaporized into thin air? The very idea made Hange feel faint. Despite the theory, she knew it was an unlikely one. Rogue had been through the Jaeger's deaths – something that was at the level of a child watching his parents being murdered in the most gruesome way possible right before them. Yes, he had been through hell before, but most of all he would never permanently leave the two teens that he had so eagerly taken under his wing in the darkest of times.
"Okay, unfortunately this means that Rogue has taken a completely new route than where he usually goes. This only leaves one other direction for him to go in, of course our theory could always be wrong and Rogue could indeed be walking off steam somewhere in the northern part of our property. We'll split into four groups here. Also, we have to be aware that Rogue could have left our grounds. With that in mind, we must find him quickly before he wanders into an area he shouldn't. Otherwise we might not ever see him again."
Armin gripped the reins of his horse in a nervous stronghold as the small party of fresh recruits and the Corporal charged through the forest. He was shaky, limbs feeling like jelly at the possibility that Rogue could meet his demise if he was seen violating the Scout's contract with the government. The titan was so very unstable, making him recall the time just after the Jaegers were killed. In circumstance, Rogue's behavior at that time was much worse. The titan would at least go into a mental fit every hour – sometimes even just sit and scream for a whole day until his voice was lost and there was no screech to leave his open mouth. This time however, the stake of things was much higher. If seen scaling the wall or passing through, Rogue was to meet the reaper's scythe with no questions asked.
To distract himself, Armin looked around the passing landscape for any signs that the titan had passed through. Of course, the time was not on their side for a whole different reason other than how far Rogue would put distance between them – their lanterns would only light up so much in the dark. Not seeing anything of value, Armin let his gaze wander off to his friends and comrades. Levi as usual, led the group with a firm hand, the expression on his face showing both his aggravation and worry for the missing beast. Since their search had begun, Levi had been nothing but determined – keeping his cursing and comments to a minimum and ignoring his leg. Next to the man rode Sasha who was their best chance at this point in finding Rogue. Not only had Sasha hunted with Rogue to catch the local game, but the gifted teen was one of the only people capable of tracking the titan. Unlike Mike and his keen nose, Sasha was using mostly her instincts – having gaining the skill from hunting in her village as she had told them over a meal while stuffing her face. In front of him was Krista and Mikasa, the small blonde girl clearly trying to keep the indifferent teen in promising sprits. Armin swallowed as he examined his longtime friend. If someone were to point out the more distraught of the two, Mikasa was currently the best candidate. Her body was shaking visibly in the more than tolerable temperature and rain. The girl's knuckles were white as she griped the scarf around her neck tightly. Deep in her grey eyes, Armin could see the slivers of terror interlaced with the lines of her irises. He could very well understand her reactions to the various situations. When it came to relationships – Rogue was really Mikasa's only official sibling. Thus, it explained her sometimes-overbearing nature over him. Of course, Armin too felt the same. Rogue was his best friend against the odds – one of the only two he had grown up with and he didn't want to lose him now.
The teen blinked, deciding that it was not the time to waste in his thoughts but rather focus on the task at hand. Suddenly, Sasha yanked on her reins, causing her horse to rear and neigh in protest.
"What the! Blouse!" Levi scolded as he followed her suit, the others halting as well.
"Did you see something?" Mikasa demanded; sounding harsher than Armin was sure she meant.
Sasha didn't reply as she quickly dismounted her horse, looking up into the canopy. The brunette then pointed upward with all eyes trailing her finger. "Yes, if you look closely you'll notice the broken twigs and limbs."
"Wait, could that be a opossum or something, Sasha? Krista questioned, squinting in the darkness in an attempt to see what the keen tracker had found.
"No. Those limbs up there are far too large for an animal like an opossum could break. Of course, that's not the only evidence I see here." Sasha trailed off as she motioned for a moist patch of dirt. Armin and the others watched as the teen knelt down to a slight indent in the mud. Carefully, as if she were examining a wound, Sasha ran her hands along the crescent shaped gouge, fingers deciphering each groove and dip.
"Is that his –
"Yes." Sasha informed. "It's Rogue's footprint – or at least part of one. It's a heel print technically."
"So he's defiantly been through here." Levi acknowledged. "Anything else?"
"It's a relatively fresh print so he's not too far ahead of us. Also, judging by the unevenness of it, it's clear that the Commander's hunch was a correct one. This print shows that there was an uneven weight distribution – meaning that Rogue is most likely stumbling." Sasha delivered as she stood back up. "He's definitely weak."
Levi let out a long and irritated sigh. "This is the reason why I resent his stubbornness." The man muttered as he ran a sweaty palm over his face, sighing before letting his cold eyes fall onto something before them, the object making the Corporal flinch. "Shit."
Armin's heart began to pound even faster as he realized that his superior was looking at the fence that ran around their border. He swallowed, feeling sick to his stomach. He didn't need to glance at Mikasa's face to know that she felt the same as he did.
"We have to move, there's only a few miles of forest from here before it thins out into residential farmland. We'll have to hurry."
Thunder echoed in the distance, the sky lighting up briefly to illuminate the landscape before darkening yet again. Rogue hissed to himself in aggravation as he stumbled for the fifth time in the last ten minutes. To forbid falling against the earth, the titan caught himself on a thin tree, nearly uprooting it. He growled. In the last hour, his energy had depleted greatly and the titan was nearly tripping over himself trying to stay upright like a heavy drunk. Not only that, but sleep was pulling at him strongly. There had been several times where he nearly had passed out, but much like a stubborn toddler, Rogue fought to stay awake.
For a moment, the titan paused to examine his surroundings. The forest was definitely thinning. The trees were growing smaller and shorter to where his head was partially over the canopy. Also, it felt less peaceful and more like a creeping shadow that was about to descend upon him. This was because the land was unfamiliar; he had always felt the same when treading through new titan woodlands – like the constant feeling that he was to be ambushed. Rogue looked harder, seeing several human residents at least two miles across the adjacent plain. It was dangerous, his instincts told him but his heart was too upfront for him to listen to reason.
With his hair soaked to his scalp, Rogue naturally shook his head to rid it of the unneeded. However, the simple move threw him majorly off balance. The world spun around him and pulled him to the earth, landing in a cluster of small birches. Rogue snarled, the malicious sound echoing across the small area as he struggled to get back to his feet. The titan gritted his teeth as he slowly stood upright. Every muscle in his body felt like it had been worn ragged and beyond use, making him almost regret staying indoors for days. Rogue let out a snort, tired or not, he was going to defeat his enemy no matter what.
Again, he started forward in hopes of reaching the wall before the sun rose. The creature's ear then twitched, following a new sound that had caught his direct attention. Rogue stilled, turning his head in alarm with ears erect and absorbing a barrage of sounds that he knew instantly.
The clamor belonged to the sounds of invisible wings and the pounding of hooves. They had found him.
Seeing the lanterns and the shapes of horses coming through the pine, Rogue quickly turned and hobbled foreword. No! He had to get to the wall! He had to do his job! He had to protect them!
"Rogue! Stop right there!"
The titan groaned deep in his throat at the very clear and familiar voice. Turning his head, he found that it was just a small patrol of very memorable acquaintances: Levi, Sasha, Krista, and none other than his own babies. Rogue gritted his teeth in aggravation, of all humans that had to find him it had to be those closest to him. At least with a group of flying humans that he wasn't as close to he could pull off being unruly without feeling incredible remorse.
"Stop right now brat!"
Following his need, Rogue gave a warning hiss, waving his large hand as a bid for them to leave him be as he trudged forward. With a sense of weakness suddenly flooding his limbs, Rogue's legs crossed and he fell to his knees. Roaring in frustration, the titan struggled to push himself upright.
"Rogue! Stop this pointless shit at once!"
"NNNNRRRAAAAHHHHH!" He bellowed at them, finally able to reach his walking stance.
"Get you bare naked ass back here!" Levi ordered from somewhere below just as Rogue stepped out from the trees into the open plain.
Starting forward again, Rogue felt a sharp sting in the muscle of his shoulder. From the corner of his eye, the titan watched as Levi swung from horseback to perch on his skin, completely ignoring his casted leg. Like a feuding toddler, Rogue turned clumsily and waved his arm to send his wishes to be left alone, but Levi didn't heed to them.
"What the hell are you doing!" The Corporal spoke coldly into his ear, speaking loudly enough for it to break through the titan's grumbles and whines.
"EEII KKIILLL TTIITTAANNN BIITTCCHH!" Rogue shrieked defiantly, walking pattern now completely all over the place. Feeling another anchor bearing into him, Rogue turned to shout an obscenity at Levi but before he could make such a projection, the small frame of a flying human landed upon his face, holding his hair and straddling the bridge of his nose. The titan blinked, growling until he realized that it was none other than Mikasa hanging between his crossed eyes. The look on her face alone made him pause, snapping him out of his current state. Her normally stoic face was fixed into a look of terror and concern that was so deep that it chilled him to the bone.
"Rogue? Please stop. We need to talk with you. Can you please calm down?" Mikasa beseeched, the titan sensing the painful strain in her tone.
The beast hesitated, eyes sinking to his dirty feet. What – what on earth was he doing?
"Rogue? Let's sit down and talk about this. There's something we need to discuss. Will you listen?"
The titan droned loudly, shoulders sinking in defeat. He couldn't. He would have to give in, submit like a dog in the wrong. Rogue then collapsed to his knees, head hung low with water filling his eyes. He couldn't go forth and protect them from The Female's wrath. For a moment, all was quiet as both Mikasa and Levi scaled from his bulk to the wet grass, listening to the patter of rain before Levi cleared his throat.
"Now, I ask you again, what were you doing?" The man demanded, voice still stern but less aggressive than before.
Rogue dithered, green pools looking off into the trees beneath a lowered brow. He didn't exactly feel like disclosing the truth. "NNEEEDD AAHH AAALLLKK." The titan said simply, hoping that they would buy his story.
Levi's eyes rolled. "Yeah and I'm six feet tall." He retorted, unamused in his false claim. "You just told me what you were doing a second ago, Rogue. Where you off to hunt The Female Titan?"
The titan's shoulders bunched together, eyes looking at the bits of mud beneath his toenails. "EESSS." Rogue forced between his incisors, tears starting to leak from their ducts as he thought of his failed objective. Looking back at the group's clear worry, made regret settle deep into the pit of his stomach. Why was he even doing what he was doing? He was so immature and foolish to think let alone leave his position. Exposing his little ones or the others to The Female Titan, if she ever scaled over the walls, without his close company and fortification was the dumbest move he could make.
He was so fucking stupid.
"Rogue – The Female Titan you encountered is dead."
Wait? Did he hear his superior right? The skinless titan was dead? How? He looked to the man and his little one in question. Who? Who had –
"If you're wondering how or who Rogue it may come to you as a shock but it was by your hand." Mikasa educated softly.
The titan raised a brow, completely confused. He was broken and weak so how was he able to commence his slaughter? "EEEIII AAAASSS UURRRTTT TTHOOHH. AALLNNOOSSTT ASSSLLEEP. NNOOTT NNOOVVEE?" Rogue queried, trying to understand what he could not fathom. This couldn't be true could it? "AANNTT DDEE. SSHHEE NNUUSSTTT DDEE OOUUUTT TTEEEREE."
"I know Rogue," Armin began as he hopped off his equine. "It's strange and there is several theories as to how she ultimately met her demise, but it is for certain that you somehow set a horde of titans to kill her."
The titan sat up at this. He had what? He knew he could ward away titans, but telling them to kill another titan? How? He didn't recall doing anything but trying to stay conscious. "EEEEIII – OOLLDD DDEENN TOOO?"
Mikasa dipped her head to comply. "Yes, Hange, Levi, Erwin, Armin, and I think it was this weird scream you made Rogue."
"Yes. Soon after you did it there was a stampede of titans that completely ignored you and us and went straight for the bitch." Levi informed. "Talking everything over in my office when you were out on your little adventure, we are not a hundred percent certain if mating with you was her true intent either. We also wonder if she wanted your status. Arlert and Ackerman say that you are familiar with wolves and the way things work in their packs. The leading wolf is known as an alpha – it tells the others what to do and they listen. Since titans seem to listen to you, we think The Female was fighting you for that control you had. Understand?"
Rogue nodded, playing out the events in his head.
"Of course," Levi prolonged. "It's just an educated guess. The Female still could have wanted you to ride her long into the night. It's up in the air, but it doesn't matter now. What counts is that you're still kicking and annoying the hell out of me." Levi deadpanned, folding his arms – the titan sensing the underlining caring gesture in the short man's crude speech.
"Erwin briefly mentioned The Female Titan's death when we were entering Katness. We were stupid enough to not explain what he said to you Rogue. We apologize for thinking that you perfectly understood." Armin sighed.
At the news, a new sense of mortification fell over Rogue, making his body tremble and a few more tears grace his already wet cheeks. Everything that they had just shared with him was so overwhelming. There was his ignorance of understanding complex words, that he had left on a still stupid mission even if he didn't know the truth, and the fact that he had worried them all. In addition, there were still the lingering emotions about Petra and The Female Titan's intentions and actions. Rogue was so very distraught.
At the innocent question, the titan slouched forward and began to weep openly with his face pressed into Mikasa as he usually did when seeking comfort. "EEEIIII SSOOO SSTTUUTIID! EEII NNOO IIIDEEEAA AAHHT DDOOINN!" Rogue wailed. "OORRYY EEEII RRUUNN AAAHHHAYY!"
Mikasa rubbed his nose, the titan suddenly feeling the presence of a few other hands rubbing affectionately along his face and jaw as well. "Shhh… you need to settle down." His little once coaxed. "It's alright. Everyone makes mistakes."
"That's right, Rogue." The beast heard Sasha chuckle. "You don't need to be mad at yourself!"
"Sasha and Mikasa are right Rogue!" Krista encouraged cheerfully. "It's okay!"
The titan slowly unveiled his green eyes to see his little ones and fresh recruits gathered around his face with Levi standing close by. His heart was knotting up at their kind words.
"You can't hold yourself accountable for everything that was bad, Rogue." Armin rubbed his brow. "You can't let things haunt you forever. Just remember what we said about keeping those you love close to heart by storing only the good memories you had all right? Don't hate you or who you are. Forgive yourself."
Rogue shyly nodded, giving into a deep and affectionate purr as he nuzzled into his little family. They were right. He couldn't treat himself as the scum of the earth. Despite the cool rain, tender warmth settled into his body. Everything was okay.
"Well, since that's all said and done, we need to get back." Levi began, staring at his soaking cloak in distaste. "I don't want any of you catching pneumonia or some shit like that." The man commented before turning to the titan. "You're friends are right, brat. When shit happens, you can't pity yourself. Take it from me; you'll suffer a lot of grief if you keep holding on to shitty events. Petra would want you to think of the better."
Rogue blinked at the Corporal's heartfelt message, amazed and thankful at he sincerity. Taking a risk, the titan decided that his ultimate message of thanks was needed to be shared by abruptly pressing his brow and nose into the short man's face and crest – purring loudly in gratitude.
"Rogue – this isn't necessary." Levi grumbled, but still remaining against him even though he had the space to pull away and the others were now snickering.
Taking his show of appreciation further, Rogue gently licked Levi on his brow before sitting up, taking amusement in the man's baffled expression and the others laughing.
The Corporal sighed, face returning to his characteristic scowl. "You're very lucky that I'm already wet."
Levi stood in the fresh combines of the warm barn, keeping to himself in his now clean clothes. Expressionless, he observed the titan curl tighter around his sleeping little ones as the beast lay in repose. Rogue was purring softly, the rumbling sound filling the barn with a strangely relaxing feel. He was so very thankful that the troubled titan was now back where he should be and that no other soul saw the incident unfold. He was relieved to say the least.
"So I hear that Rogue showed you his thanks for encouraging him."
Seeing that Erwin was now standing next to him with a smug look on his face, made the shorter male roll his eyes. "Unfortunately." Levi replied, hearing the Commander give in to a chuckle before falling serious.
"I was going to tell you before all of the commotion happened, but this afternoon we had a letter come in from Zackley. To say the least, he wants to put Rogue on trial again."
Hearing the man's words, Levi instantly felt rage heating up his veins. "What!" He whispered. "Why!"
"Because the mission was ultimately a failure. Not only that but I'm guessing Nile read Rogue's sudden act as disobedience rather than your permission to defend as need be."
"Great." Levi uttered sarcastically. "When the hell is it?"
Erwin swallowed, watching the titan snuggle into the two young recruits. "In about a week. We have to escort Rogue into Stohess to stand trial outside the courthouse. Since he's going through the district, the government requested that he be restrained not to alarm the people by walking without a leash per say. Of course, that isn't all. Along with us, Rogue will have to testify on the stand about the reason for his actions."
"Fucking hell. This is bullshit. Rogue has already been through enough. Knowing that he has to defend himself just makes this worse. If we loose and they want to kill him – I'm telling him to run, Erwin."
The taller man was silent for a brief second before continuing. "I understand. But I think we have a strong chance, certainly stronger than last time. I wouldn't worry about that too much."
Levi glanced at the man, shifting his stance. "I damn sure hope you are right."
"Levi – one other thing."
He raised a brow in great suspicion. "What?"
"Looking back at what happened with Rogue and The Female Titan – I have a hunch that we are missing a major piece to the puzzle and we could be wrong."