The forest was busting with green, fully replenished after the change of seasons. The landscape had been staved by the cold of winter and renewed and reborn in the spring once again. Summer had finally descended upon the woods, coating the forest in warmth and green.
A full year had passed since the two children met the mysterious titan. During that time, Armin, Mikasa, and Rogue had formed the most unlikely but incredibly strong bond. Within the months, the two had discovered quite a bit about their giant companion. The titan knew nearly fifty or so words and gestures – and was still learning. The two children had taken the privilege to tutor Rogue, the titan's vocabulary gaining a few more entries. The creature had learned words like 'ocean' and 'city' as well as gesticulations such as 'be silent' and regretfully the gesture of 'flipping the bird' that Rogue had unfortunately picked up from Mikasa when she and Armin had gotten into a friendly spat. The children had also found the titan's likes and dislikes. Rogue enjoyed company, gazing at water and observing other small creatures, the children reading to him, and even engaging in simple games such as hide and seek – the titan usually being the one found first. Rogue's dislikes consisted of wolves, being lonely for long periods, being insulted, but most of all any threat that would come to his human acquaintances; which would include Armin's bruises from neighborhood bullies.
Mikasa and Armin continued at a brisk pace, following an undisclosed trail that the two had established themselves. During the past months, the two small children had mastered the art of keeping their titanic friend a secret. It was routine that they visited Rogue at least three or four times a week, always using the excuse that they were off to visit and play with a friend – which wasn't technically lying. If they suspected that they were being followed, they would always circle Shiganshina in the busy markets before going into Wall Maria. To keep other prying eyes away, the two traveled amongst the secluded but safe section of the forest instead of the common dirt path. To them, it seemed to be a foolproof strategy.
Armin looked down at his shoes as the two walked among the tangle of weeds and branches. He couldn't help the feeling of guilt pulling at him like a ball and chain. Their last visit with the friendly titan had hit a slight snag that seemed to affect Rogue on a personal level that neither he nor Mikasa understood. It had been when Armin decided to ask a series of questions that had been pulling at both his, Mikasa's, and nearly the majority of humanity's minds for quite a long time. Since then, that moment was all that was on Armin's mind. The blonde let out a condensed breath and let the thought seep into him once again.
The titan's internal heat warmed the interior of the great tree like a furnace, surprisingly comfortable although it was early summer. Rogue and the two children lay and relaxed in the titan's nest, sheltering themselves from a simple and sudden shower. All was quiet and just. Rogue lay on his back, his head propped up against the tree's bark with his eyes half-lidded as he indulged and endured Mikasa braiding a lock of his stringy hair. Armin sat on the titan's chest, looking through his grandfather's book that had become a favorite of the titan's. However, the boy could not enjoy his prized title for a thought had been eating away at him ever since he first read the book to Rogue.
Armin closed the book's cover and looked at the titan with doubt. The gentle giant was in utter peace like he was about to dose off as Mikasa braided the long strands; stopping every few minutes to scratch Rogue's pointed ear – a spot that the titan loved to have rubbed. The boy shifted nervously and twiddled his thumbs as he thought. To Armin, it was obvious that Rogue was oblivious as to what existed beyond the walls in the outside world. By the way the titan became thrilled as he flipped through the pages, it was as if Rogue had never seen the ocean, the mountains, or the deserts –something that was difficult to understand coming from something that supposedly had lived outside the walls. But of course, that wasn't the only query that rattled Armin's mind. The boy looked to the titan again, deciding that he had waited long enough.
Armin swallowed fretfully. "Rogue?" He asked, watching as the titan let out a soft croon and turned his head to focus upon the small boy – still looking relaxed. "There's – something that I've been wanting to ask you." Armin continued, getting Mikasa's attention as well. "I'm not sure if you have the capability to answer, but if you could give me some sort of sign I'd be grateful." The boy spoke, his voice clearly wobbly.
Rogue tilted his head at the boy's tone. Armin watched as the titan hesitated, his green eyes glancing down at his broad chest before he gave a slow and weary nod to proceed.
Armin's teeth clamped the inside of his jaw at the thought of the words he was about to speak. "Rogue… do you… know where the titans came from?" He asked, making the atmosphere grow stagnant.
At the boy's query, the titan's chest flinched and his green eyes widened. The two watched in awe and anxiety as Rogue began to dither. The titan shifted fretfully, his hand clenching and causing the dry leaves to crackle like campfire. Rogue placed his gaze onto his chest again, deep in thought, his lack of response only causing Armin to push forwards in their interrogation.
"Please! You must know where the titans came from! You're a titan yourself, Rogue!" Armin drilled, a spark igniting inside of him, a quest for the truth.
The titan only continued to hesitate, his eyes shifting back and forth as if he was trying to search his mind for an answer. Rogue moved a bit, seating himself more upright and forcing Mikasa to join Armin on his chest. Finally, the titan let out a pitiful whine and ran a set of fingers through his hair, his ears drooping and eyes sealing shut.
The boy's heart dropped. "So – you don't know?" Armin paused, the emotions churning within him like a boiling pot. "How about this. Why do the titans – eat humans? I know you don't, but why do they?" The boy continued with his feelings growing stronger and neglecting to see the titan's stress. "You must know why Rogue! Why… why do they kill us! Armin choked, close to tears.
Again, Rogue was silent except for the groans of anguish forced through his teeth, but Armin took no notice, too immersed in his own feelings.
"Please! You must know! Why do the titans kill and eat humans! Why is the only weak spot at the back of their necks! How do they reproduce!" Armin continued, losing his composure, asking far too many questions.
Suddenly, Rogue sat up fully, causing the two children to tumble into the leafy bed in shock. Mikasa and Armin covered their ears as Rogue let out a disturbing cry that could have been classified as a painful screech. The titan bent over, burying his face into his hands and elbows resting on his knees. Rouge's nails dug into his scalp, nearly making it bleed as he droned.
"Armin." Mikasa whispered as she laid a hand onto the boy's shoulder. "He doesn't know."
The interior of the tree was silent except for the titan's muffled whines. To the children, the tenseness of the situation was even more so than when they first encountered Rogue. Armin swallowed, seeing the titan's reaction made it very clear to him.
"Rogue." The blonde began quietly, the creature pausing at the boy's softer tone to shoot a brief glance at him, green eyes still filled to the brim with desolation. "What – happened to you? How did you get inside the walls?" Armin dithered, trying to sound much more expansive but serious than a few seconds before. He swallowed a wad of saliva as he tried to put his next words into place. "Have you ever been outside the walls at all?"
At Armin's words, Rogue grew completely silent and all that could be heard was the gentle rain outside. The two children watched nervously, secretly bracing themselves for they had never seen their gigantic friend lose himself except for the time they were rescued. The titan's body suddenly trembled, his sharp nails breaking the skin upon his scalp – causing a small stream of blood to run down his face and jaw. Rogue let out a strained hiss through his teeth with his body quaking like a fall leaf in the wind. It was obvious that somehow the innocent queries were mental torture.
Seeing the titan's suffering, Mikasa warily approached the titan's thigh and outstretched a small hand to ensure a little bit of security to the stressed beast. Before her soft skin could meet his, Rogue unexpectedly let out another distraught screech that was louder and more painful than the first. The titan abruptly bolted from the tree's hollow into the rain soaked hideaway. The children watched as Rogue collapsed in the center of the cove onto his rump like a pouting toddler, making the ground vibrate just as loud as the thunder above. The titan simply sat in the rain, hunched over slightly with his arms lying limply in his lap and ears wilted like a thirsty flower. The titan let out a pitiful moan resembling a whining dog, making Armin feel incredibly remorseful.
"Mikasa," Armin spoke softly. "I don't think he's ever been outside the walls. He – doesn't know anything."
The raven-haired girl remained unresponsive, staring out worriedly at the titan who was as still as stone. "I think you're right, Armin." Mikasa dipped her head. "It doesn't even seem like he –
"Remembers." Armin finished with his friend turning to him, awaiting a proposed theory like he always put forth. "I don't know how, but I think Rogue has amnesia to some extent. It's clear he doesn't remember how he got here." Armin gulped. "It's likely a mystery that we'll never solve."
The two children stood silently at the entrance to the hollow, watching in unease, as the titan's hair became soaking wet from the rain. Mikasa then clutched at her scarf that still hung from her neck, even in the warm months. She shut her eyes in thought before opening them once again and turning to the blonde.
"I don't think we should ever ask him again. It hurts him too much." The girl uttered beneath the woven crimson cloth, with Armin knowing her statement was mainly directed at him. Mikasa then carefully climbed from the hollow tree and into the wet cove with Armin soon following her. Quietly, she approached the titan who was still in a frozen state, lost in his own mind. Mirroring her attempt before, Mikasa placed her hand onto the titan's calf and forced a weak smile onto her face despite her worry. "Rogue?"
Gradually, the titan turned to see her, his face riddled in what could only be classified as pity, making Armin feel worse. Rogue gave a soft moan in reply, but didn't make a move to beg for a form of comfort like the boy had anticipated. Instead, the titan returned to his previous position, sulking in his own grief. Armin swallowed apprehensively yet again; Mikasa and Rogue were incredibly close and it was unlike the titan to not react in his usual trusting way of purring or flickering his ears. Mikasa glanced back at Armin, knowing the very same thing as he did.
"It's okay Rogue." She began softly again with her voice having an almost motherly aura. "We won't ask you anymore."
The titan responded with a brief glance before rising to his feet. The two children watched in worry as Rogue retreated inside his tree once again, seating himself and placing his face against the bark and hands hugging his shoulders, putting himself into his own domain of silence. It was a long moment of contemplating until Mikasa motioned for the secret exit of the cove. Armin blinked in confusion, not even taking notice that he was soaked. Finally, he jogged after the stoic girl after breaking free of his pondering.
"Mikasa, what are you –
"Let's go Armin." She cut in swiftly, her voice showing no emotion. "It's obvious that he wants to be alone right now." Mikasa concluded with a stern end, making it clear she was aggravated with the blonde for even bringing the topic up.
Armin did not respond, seeing that she was right and had the authority to be displeased with him. The boy then trailed her like a sheepish dog, looking back once at the titan who had barely moved before descending into the tunnel. His hand grasped his arm, a natural reaction of fear for him. Armin swore that he had seen tears gliding down the monster's face.
Armin snapped himself out of the depressing memory as he and Mikasa stepped into the rocky clearing that housed the cove's walls. Since that day, he had even more questions than before. The boy had come up with numerous theories about how Rogue could have ended up inside Wall Maria. From climbing over the wall to being walled in a century ago – in both cases hitting his head somehow in the general way someone would contract amnesia. As far as Rogue's knowledge about his kind, he only knew what was told to him from humans as far as Armin knew.
The two children then began to round the massive rock face that stretched upwards to the canopy. His blue eyes looked at Mikasa who had long since forgiven him since that troubling moment – admitting that she too, wanted to quiz the titan on the topics but was unsure how. In her delicate hands, she held a leathery ball that she and Armin had purchased from a toy merchant in town with plans of giving it to Rogue as a gift, hoping that it would cheer the titan up.
"So do you think he'll be better today?" Armin asked just as they reached the crack in the wall that they had always used.
Mikasa bit her tongue and strengthened her grip on the large ball. "I hope so." The girl spoke faintly, pausing for a moment as she thought. "Maybe he will be, if not I think he'll feel better with a new game." Mikasa smiled softly as they entered the narrow tunnel with Armin following close behind.
'I sure hope you're right, Mikasa.' The boy thought as the end of the tunnel came into sight.
Casually, Armin and Mikasa entered the secret hideaway that looked just as angelic as ever. Like the forest, the cove was lush and green, but it was even more so with blankets of moss accenting the rocky walls. Similar to spring, there was an abundance of life but the amount was far greater with new additions to families and new species; including birds that sang their songs and duets in the outstretched branches over the cove.
A familiar joyful rumbling came from the rear of the cove where the titan sat, his broad back facing the two children. Armin felt his body calm a bit at the view. Perhaps Rogue was feeling much better and hopefully wouldn't be upset at the sight of him. Mikasa smiled as she began to walk around Rogue's gigantic frame, her walk soon speeding up to a jog as her elation escalated. Suddenly, Mikasa gasped and stopped in her tracks. Armin's heart skipped several beats as he observed the stillness of Mikasa's body. Her mouth was hung open slightly and her grey eyes the widest he had ever seen them – ignited completely in shock. The leather ball dropped from her hands and rolled several feet as she gasped, looking like she had seen death before her. The titan's head suddenly jerked to her position, his eyes too, growing wide in astonishment. Seeing that something was discernibly amiss, Armin quickly circled Mikasa.
Armin's face fell at the sight and his blood ran cold, knowing very well that they had been caught. Before the seated fifteen-meter titan was none other than Mrs. Carla and Dr. Jaeger.
For a long moment, the couple and children stared at one another, even Rogue who looked almost terrified. Armin felt his palms beginning to sweat as he attempted to come up with some sort of explanation. However, before he could say a word, the couple smiled compassionately with the beautiful woman letting out a warmhearted laugh.
"Well now. I see that you two have met Rogue Jaeger haven't you?"
The two small children blinked in sheer disbelief. Armin then found that his mouth was functional.
"H… how? How did you… know?" Armin stuttered with the doctor letting out a small chuckle.
"Carla and I have been suspecting it from day one. When you stepped out of those trees the two of us knew. There was no way you could have gotten free from those men without a little help." Grisha beamed as he adjusted his round glasses. "And here we were wondering if it was possible for our son to make friends on his own."
The two children then broke out of their stunned state and began to relax. "How did you know it was the titan though?" Mikasa queried as she retrieved the ball.
"Well," Mrs. Carla began, her voice smooth as honey. "We noticed an obvious change in his behavior for one thing. Rogue used to be rather shy and would hold back, but now he's incredibly happy and likes to get in the middle of everything and be very vocal."
"Of course, Carla also caught you three playing the other day when she was going to pop in for a surprise visit." Grisha smiled almost triumphantly with the two children blinking in surprise. "There were also new additions in Rogue's vocabulary as well that we never taught him. However, the thing that confirmed my suspicions was actually the night you were taken."
Mikasa raised a brow in question. "It was?"
"Yes. During the search party, I came across the bodies of the three men that took you. At first, I thought they had become victims of wolves, but then I noticed that every bone had been crushed – meaning there had to be only one culprit." Dr. Grisha explained as he eyed Rogue in an almost cunning way.
The titan let out a sorrowful moan. Armin almost snuck a laugh as Rogue retreated once again into his tree and curled in on himself, knowing he had been busted. At the sight, the amber-eyed woman let out another hearty laugh.
"Oh Rogue. It's alright you're not in trouble!" Carla informed with the titan peeking at her warily. "In fact, we're actually quite proud of you. You saved these two children who would have been helpless if you hadn't come along and fought for them."
At her words, the titan lifted his head and emitted his telltale crooked grin. Rogue seemed to let out a sigh in relief as he climbed out of his nest to join the small group once again. Dr. Jaeger then cleared his throat.
"Well now. Carla and I were planning on having a picnic and we'd love for the two of you to join us. We can swap stories over sandwiches and tea."
Minutes later, the four took their seats upon a worn blanket indulging on the basket lunch that Carla had prepared herself. The titan lay next to them, his green eyes watching them eagerly with his ears fluttering a bit, seemingly waiting for the four to start a conversation.
"So," Grisha began after a gulp of tea to sooth his throat. "Can you tell Carla and I about the night you and Armin were rescued, Mikasa?" The doctor asked politely and sounding sincere. Since that night, Mikasa had never really spoken about what had materialized between the men and her parents, not even to Armin who had been too shy to ask – worried about how the girl would react.
He watched as Mikasa's body tensed up slightly as she lowered her portion into her lap, nails digging into the bread. Armin bit the inside of his jaw; she didn't look quite ready to share the dark tale yet. However, Mikasa let out a sigh.
"I suppose it is best that I get it off my chest." The girl began softly. "All of you have taken such good care of me so you deserve to know." Mikasa paused, her voice vaguely shaking. Carla held up a hand to ease her to stop, but the raven-haired girl looked too determined. "That day I was sitting with my mom working on a weaving as my dad prepared us dinner. I was about to ask them a question that I had been wondering about when there was a knock on the door. Since we were expecting visit from you Dr. Jaeger, we thought nothing of it." Mikasa paused again with a sharp breath with Armin able to hear her swallowing a lump of unease. "My dad then answered the door with a greeting, but his words were cut short. The next thing I remember was that my father was dead on our floor, impaled in his stomach. Seeing this, my mother suddenly rushed toward the men to fend them off although her attempt was fruitless. She told me to run, but for some reason my body was frozen – I couldn't take my eyes from them. " Mikasa paused, yet again concealing her emotions. "As she attempted to stab one of the men, she was axed. The last thing I remember was that I was alone before waking up in a sack with Armin."
"I was coming to visit when I ran directly into the three men. They decided to take me as well." Armin added, filling in the blank of Mikasa's story with the two adults nodding in understanding.
"What happened next?" Dr. Jaeger urged supportingly, patiently waiting for the girl to continue.
"After walking for a bit, Armin and I put whatever energy we had left into escaping the bag. We were able to, but being bound we didn't get far. Just as a man pulled a knife, Rogue showed up." Mikasa spoke, her voice suddenly not as shaky. "At first, he tried scaring them it seemed, but when those men persisted in taking us – Rogue disposed of them completely."
"He reacted defensively." Dr. Jaeger began. "Just like –
A sudden cavernous growl cut the doctor off. Armin turned to see that Rogue had rolled over onto his stomach. His head was resting onto his arms, and his mouth buried into the crooks. The titan's eyes illuminated with frustration as he glared at the ground with his brow furrowed in anger. Armin did not have to speculate. The boy knew Rogue well enough to know that the titan had been upset at Mikasa's words – especially the part about the fate of her parents. Rogue then let out another disgruntled growl, steam rising from his nostrils.
"It's okay Rogue." Mikasa encouraged with the titan instantly calming. "They're long gone now. You made sure of that."
Within an instant, Rouge calmed, pressing his finger into the ground – satisfied at taking out his frustrations at the earth.
"As I was saying, Rogue took us to the cove to shelter us from the storm and cold. We spent the night with him curled against us before returning in the morning. And you two know the rest." Mikasa concluded as emotionless as she began.
Both the Jaegers and Armin sat in silence. The boy found himself speechless. In the depths of his mind he had always known that Mikasa had been through hell before he had even appeared, but he had no idea as to how much that hell extended. It was no wonder why Mikasa was the way she was. After what seemed like an eternity, Carla broke the silence and leaned toward the mentally scared girl to embrace her.
"Thank you so much for telling us, Mikasa." The woman cooed. "I hate it that you two had to go through such a dramatic experience." Carla expressed earnestly with the titan grunting in agreement. Mikasa then smiled softly, clearly feeling better.
Armin grasped his cup of tea and took a quick but leisurely sip, looking from the titan to the Jaegers as he prepped his next query. "Dr. Jaeger? Mrs. Carla?"
"Yes, Armin?" The doctor acknowledged as he poured more tea for himself and his wife.
"Now that you know what happened that night, could you tell us about how you two met Rogue?" He asked hopefully. Grisha nodded.
"Of course. However Carla is probably the best at telling the story since she is the one that technically met Rogue first."
Hearing his words, Armin turned to Mrs. Jaeger who bore a frail smile. Her amber eyes glanced into her cup, observing the small bubbles around the edge of the glass before turning to the two children.
"I met Rogue in a similar way that the two of you did. It was ten years ago and I had fallen into a deep depression. At the time, Grisha and I were trying for a child." Carla sighed as she stirred the dissolved sugar in her tea. "However, each attempt would end in failure. Just when there seemed to be hope, cramps plagued my abdomen and a tiny life would slip from me. After a while, it was clear that it was not meant to be so we stopped. On the day that we concluded that I was unable to have a child, I took a walk in the forest to gather herbs and clear my head."
Daylight was nearly spent, bathing the lush landscape in a warm light that bequeathed a relaxing aura. It was a common sight and feeling for a summer afternoon, but to the woman waltzing beneath the canopy it did not bring a feeling of ease. To Carla it was almost a metaphor; the sun had set on her dreams, ending the bright future she craved desperately.
She reluctantly released a trembling breath and wiped a tear from her eye. It was over and set in stone now, infertile and unable to bare young. Her goal of being a mother like many around her was no more. Carla found herself wandering deeper into the wood and her thoughts. At the moment, to her, it was bittersweet that she was alone. There was no life inside her, but at least no one would notice her expressions of sorrow.
Carla swallowed for the umpteenth time, trying to withstand bursting in tears as she traveled deeper. Her mind then focused on her other objective of gathering herbs to cook with in order to rid the others or at least put them a bay. Her eyes then cleared, still watery but able to see the surrounding bushes and weeds. Using a trained eye, Carla discerned the herbs from the foliage, carefully gathering each one and placing it into her basket with care. For a few minutes, the emotionally damaged woman went down her mental checklist and gathered all that she needed except for thyme. Carla let out an exasperated sigh; she would have to go deeper into the forest in order to retrieve the ingredient. She could not leave the woods without it.
She wandered further into the musk grown landscape, unknowingly heading in the wrong direction of where she was told the thyme was. The forest had grown and flourished quite a bit in the past months, Carla unable to recognize the paths. Soon, the forest grew darker with the sun sinking further behind the wall. Her nerves began to eat away at her again, discovering her misfortune. Carla cursed herself for being too ignorant to notice. She had accidentally ventured into the unsafe section of the forest that her husband had warned her about. Her luck could not get any worse.
Carla took a deep breath to calm herself as she tried to dissect her surroundings. She couldn't see the wall from where she stood, the towering trees blocking her view. As she searched, her eyes happened upon as small sprig of thyme growing several yards away upon a mossy stone. The woman let out a sigh. She had come this far so she might as well retrieve a small bit of good. Without another thought, Carla made her way through the brambles to the thyme, brushing off any clinging burrs before bending down to retrieve the small herb. She smiled; at least this was a small piece of happiness in the dreary day.
A savage growl erupted from behind her, making Carla drown in fear. Slowly, she turned to see a wolf perched upon an overhanging rock – the very creatures that were known to still lurk in Wall Maria. Carla quickly observed the animal; its lips were peeled back to display its fangs that were stained with the blood of many animals. The creature's eyes were yellow, wild, and were filled with hunger and viciousness. Carla swallowed back a bit of fear-induced bile. Gradually, she rose from her knees; the wolf's snarl growing louder as she tried to think of some way to escape even though she knew her chances were next to none.
Before Carla could take another raspy breath, a series of growls sounded behind her. Like helpless prey, she turned her gaze slowly to assess. There, cresting over a small hill in a break of trees, were five wolves; all just as furious as the first. The woman's heart almost went flat line at the sight, realizing she had stumbled into the beasts' territory. Without thinking, Carla turned and ran.
Within the initial few steps, the first wolf lunged, its teeth aimed at her bare throat. On instinct, Carla swung her basket and with luck, hit the animal upside its skull. It fell back a bit, shaking its head in confusion before racing after Carla once again. The woman ran as fast as her legs could carry her, but it was not enough. Suddenly, Carla found herself face first into the dirt with a great weight upon her back. Screaming for mercy, she thrashed helplessly as another wolf's teeth inched near her neck, the beast's rancid breath filling Carla's nostrils and making her hairs stand skyward. Her brain began to process the thought that her time had come.
The wolf's fangs ripped Carla's woven shawl from her shoulders with its greedy kin going for the cloth as if it was fresh meat. Feeling the weight lifting from her briefly, she seized the chance and fled again. After a few meters, Carla glanced over her shoulder to see that the pack was still on her. Cursing and screeching for aid once more, she turned her eyes forward – only seeing the sharp drop off at the very last second. With no time to stop, Carla lost her footing and tumbled over the edge.
The sky and earth traded places several times before she came to rest. Carla gasped as she quickly scrambled to get upright, only to have a searing pain shoot up her left leg. Carla directed her focus to her left ankle that was badly twisted, her foot angled awkwardly. The snarls reached her ears once again, and like a desperate and wounded creature, Carla limped as quickly as she could in the opposite direction. Though she could now see the massive wall that she often used like a guiding compass, she knew her survival rate was practically zero. Carla pleaded at the top of her lungs again for help, but knowing in the pit of her stomach how pointless it was. Her early grave was imminent.
A misstep caused the woman to trip into a large tree, cutting her head in the process. Knowing the wolves were just a few feet away, Carla forced herself to sit up. Her head spun and her eyes fought to gain their focus. When her vision cleared, Carla released a gasp. The wolves stood before her, creeping slowly with each set of fangs on clear display. The creatures growled, their eyes hooked solidly on their prey and not venturing elsewhere. Carla swallowed, waiting for the blood to gush from her esophagus.
Without warning, a tremendous bellow shook the ground beneath her and rattled the trees. It was a roar unlike any other, unworldly, angry, and incredibly powerful. It commanded a deathly silence to sweep throughout the forest with no delay. With her heart pounding wildly against her rib cage, Carla opened her eyes to see that the wolves had taken their attention from her and placed their once ravenous eyes to the trees. In unison, the tails of her hunters ventured between their legs and whines replaced snarls. Carla swallowed the rising bile in her throat again. To see fierce creatures like wolves frightened by something other than a steel barrel and bullet was almost unheard off.
Suddenly, the earth shook beneath them as limbs of the tall trees crackled. The first tremor was then followed by a second, then a third and fourth. The thundering sound grew louder, making Carla realize.
It wasn't thunder. It was footsteps.
Before she could contemplate any thought, a large figure emerged from the pines, knocking several down in its wake. Seeing what was before her, Carla became petrified. It was a titan. A massive fifteen-meter, the largest measurement on record, towered above them with its eyes blazing through the faded light with fury. As impossible as it seemed, Carla knew she was as good as dead.
The titan then quickly lowered itself onto all fours, its pointed ears cocked against its skull as it opened it mouth to a vast expanse – releasing another roar that nearly caused Carla's eardrums to rupture. The woman's hunters then bolted past her, yelping in terror much like frightened pups. She then turned her gaze back to the titan just in time to see its large hand reaching right for her. Coercing herself yet again, Carla attempted to get to her feet, but the pain in her ankle forbid it, instead collapsing back into the dirt. A scream left her again as the titan's fingers embraced around her petite frame, nearly crushing her rib cage by sheer strength. Carla let out a gasp as she was hoisted into the air and brought toward the titan's face. Her frail fingers dug into the creature's hot skin as she pleaded. 'This is the end.' she thought as she shut her eyes tightly. 'I'm going to get eaten.' Carla then waited once again for death to welcome her with open arms.
However, nothing of the sort happened. Curious as to why she wasn't in the titan's gullet, Carla forced her eyes open to see something that only puzzled her. The titan's eyes were no longer glowing brightly with rage, but were what could be classified as neutral. Unlike the atmosphere before, the forest was silent yet again with nothing but the monster's deep breathing echoing among the wood. Carla struggled for another breath while she tried to observe the titan further. It was unlike anything she had seen or let alone heard of before. Its humanoid body was rippling with muscles that expanded and contracted beneath its thick skin with every breath. Of course, Carla's gaze was fixed more on the creature's terrifying face. Along with its elfish ears and long wiry hair, the titan's face was angular with a pointed hooked nose and sculpted chin. It's teeth were nearly the size of small children and exposed for the world to view – making Carla tremble in its grasp, the very thought of them sinking through her made the vomit rise in her throat yet again.
Suddenly, the titan dropped roughly onto its knees, making the trees shake once again. Carla watched in horror as the creature's face came towards her, thinking that this was the absolute end with the titan consuming her in a way that she had always been told. To Carla's surprise, the titan only placed his nose before her and sniffed intriguingly much like a dog. With each breath, the woman's hair ruffled messily upon her head while she was placed into a state of shock. The titan huffed a cloud of steam into her face before continuing to sniff in an almost gentle way. Another hot cloud of steam blew from the titan's nose before it backed away, its giant green eyes blinking as they ran over the woman's body.
'Why – has it not eaten me yet?' Carla questioned herself. 'Titans are supposed to eat humans as soon as they grab them. Why hasn't this one? Wait. How is it even inside the walls?'
The titan let out a profound rumble as it raised its other hand to Carla's face. Unable to hold back her whimpering but still completely frozen, Mrs. Jaeger watched in both horror and confusion as the titan's fingertips brushed the side of her face. The creature let out a series of grunts as its forefinger and thumb examined Carla's dark locks, the titan's green eyes suddenly filled with what she could only discern as complete wonder.
'What on earth is it doing? Is this what they call an abnormal?'
The creature then lowered its hand and edged forward again, its nose nearly pressing itself into Carla's face. On instinct, Mrs. Jaeger reached up and slapped the titan's nose as hard as she could without logical thinking. Instantly, the monster pulled itself away with an irritated growl and gave Carla a look of disgust, its brows furrowed and the skin at the corner of its jaw pulled downward in a frown. Her heart leaped at her mistake, knowing her reflex had just made her dinner. To her surprise, the titan's expression reverted back to an inquiring one as it raised its hand once again. The large fingers then felt the cloth at the bottom of her dress. Letting out another deep rumble, the titan then carefully pulled at the cloth to expose Carla's shins. Still in a state of disbelief, Mrs. Jaeger watched as the titan tilted its head in question with its pointed ears pricking forward. The titan's finger then touched Carla's foot and unfortunately her injured ankle. Excruciating discomfort soared through her leg and forced a wail from her lips as she kicked the titan's finger. Blinking back tears, Carla saw that the titan had flinched with its eyes wide in surprise before removing his hand. At first, she figured that she had somehow managed to startle the beast, but to her dismay the titan lifted its fingers again to continue its prodding. With another grunt, the beast placed its index finger on her chest, the digit slowly traveling to the ruffled strap of Carla's dress. Innocently, the titan took a moment to examine the folds in the cloth before its finger began to push the strap from her shoulder. With dopamine finally flowing in her brain, Carla let out another scream and threw her fist into the giant appendage.
"Stop it!" Carla scolded, making the titan freeze at her harsh tone. "Keep away from me you ignorant fucker! She yelled into the creature's deformed face, surprised by her foul language that she never used. "Put me the hell down!"
The titan blinked in obvious disbelief, tilting its head again before edging forward for another sniff. Again, Carla refused by thrashing and kicking.
"Did you not hear me you stupid fuck? Put me back! Is your brain the size of a walnut or something? I said to PUT ME DOWN YOU FUCKER!" Carla continued at the top of her lungs as she unleashed a slew of other insults.
Suddenly, the titan frowned again and let out an aggravated grunt in disappointment. Carla watched as the giant being let out a puff of steam and quickly but carefully sat her back upon the ground. For a moment, Mrs. Jaeger observed as the titan's face fell solemnly. Its eyes briefly adverted to the trees before returning to Carla. After what seemed like an eternity of staring, the titan let out another sigh and gradually arose to its feet before turning to vanish within the forest.
Alone again in the wood, Carla unsteadily stood upright and hobbled over to retrieve a branch to use as a crutch. With her mind in a buzz, she left the forest without her herbs.
"That's incredible." Armin spoke in a daze as Mrs. Jaeger took a break in her tale to sip her tea for her exhausted throat. "What happened next?"
"Well," Carla began as she placed her cup back onto its saucer. "When I finally got back home, Grisha was alarmed at my condition and demanded to know what happened to me. As he patched up my ankle, I told him about the wolves and of course about the titan. The two of us then became amazed as to why he never attempted to eat me but instead wanted to examine me. As you two may have learned from class, normal titans consume their victims as soon as they have them in hand, but this one was special. Therefore, Grisha made the decision that we needed to find the titan again." Carla paused with a quick drink before proceeding. "So the next day we set out into Wall Maria to retrace my steps. Surprisingly, we found Rogue sitting in the clearing where we had met. He looked completely lost and depressed, nowhere near as expressive as he is now as we approached him. Rogue was a bit started by our return, but remained intrigued as we attempted communication – with of course no response except for grunts and grumbles." Carla chuckled before putting on a soft smile. "At first, Rogue was incredibly nervous around me knowing that I was exceedingly terrified and angry the previous evening. I could tell he wanted to examine me again, but was hesitant to do so. Seeing how upset he was, I swallowed my fear and patted his lowered hand in reassurance. When he purred in response, I knew then that he was happy." Carla concluded as she looked at the titan who had been listening eagerly and let out a trill in response. The doctor then cleared his throat.
"It was in that first meeting when we determined that Rogue was indeed friendly and intelligent. Not only that, but Carla was the first human that he ever saw – hence the reason why he wanted to examine her. After that, we began to spend quite a bit of time with Rogue, teaching him about human customs and training him to speak a few words. Over time, he became the 'child' we always wanted – just a little bigger than what one could anticipate." Dr. Jaeger smiled softly at the rim of his glass.
"Amazing." Armin replied enthusiastically at the new information. "So – how did you two decide on his name? I'm interested in where it came from."
At the boy's words, the couple laughed. "It's a bit funny actually." Carla replied as she rubbed her chin in thought. "We wanted a name that would be easy for him to say. At first, we thought about the name 'Eren' but at the time, Rogue's speech was barely breaking the surface. So we picked out 'Rogue' since it seemed to fit him plus he was able to say it with relative ease." Mrs. Jaeger explained.
Armin nodded in acknowledgement before looking over to see that the titan's sight was set onto the leather ball that sat between Mikasa's legs. Rogue then unfolded his arm and used his clawed finger to point eagerly at the round toy, his digit disturbing the small picnic but only provoking the couple to chuckle at the titan's curiosity. Rogue then grunted, his eyes looking at Mikasa in question as she stood with the ball in hand.
"We brought you something, Rogue." The girl smiled as she guided the titan a few feet from them. "It's a toy called a ball that you can throw, bounce, or roll back and forth. You can also play catch with it too. I'll show you." Mikasa informed as she seated herself before Rogue. Armin watched as she gently rolled the ball to the titan who looked at it with incredible interest. After a few seconds of running his fingers over the surface and rolling the toy around between his knees, Rogue rolled the ball back to Mikasa who gave him praise. For some time, Armin and the Jaegers observed as the two exchanged the ball back and forth with Rogue gurgling in complete delight. A tender smile came to the boy's face. The titan and Mikasa had a special bond that not even he shared with the fifteen-meter beast. For some reason, they just clicked.
Carla then expressed a buoyant laugh. " You know Armin, sometimes I forget that Rogue is a titan. He has the mental stability of a child and like any; it's healthy for him to have attention and care." Mrs. Jaeger paused as she glanced over at the titan and Mikasa who had since graduated from rolling the ball to bouncing it back and forth with Rogue nearly squealing. "We're very glad that it was you two that found him, Armin. Unfortunately, we cannot always be there for him to sooth and entertain, but it seems that he has taken quite a liking to you. Rogue used to be so distant when we first began to interact, but now he's so blissfully happy and alert that it's clear he loves you two very much and will always protect you no matter what."
A sense of warmth swelled inside Armin at the words of the kind woman. "Thank you Mrs. Carla. And don't worry. We'll keep him a secret."
The amber-eyed woman nodded in gratitude before patting the boys shoulder to say without words that her trust was well placed. Suddenly, remembering their last visit with the titan, Armin decided to pop the question.
"Dr. Jaeger? Mrs. Carla?" The boy questioned hopefully with the two adults acknowledging him by putting away their tea.
"Yes Armin?" Grisha answered in his usual tone.
The boy bit his lip, glancing to the titan before returning to the doctor. "During the times that you mentored and cared for Rogue, did you happen to ask or find out where he came from and what happened to him?"
The Jaegers then sat up in alert at his query, making Armin recoil. "Armin," Dr. Jaeger began sternly beneath his breath. "Tell me you didn't ask him that."
Armin dithered. "Well… I was curious and desperate to know." The boy swallowed, fearing that he had made a mistake. Grisha sighed.
"Don't worry. You didn't know so don't pity yourself. Truthfully, Carla and I asked him that before, but as you probably saw, Rogue reacted in a way that seemed to be sheer agony for him. He doesn't respond to anything concerning his past or knowledge of the titans very well. Like you Armin, Carla and I wish we knew that answer as well." The doctor concluded. "Best not to ask him again, but I personally like to think that he was put here for a reason."
Disappointed, Armin simply nodded as the guilt briefly returned. As much as he wanted, he would very likely never know just what happened to his gigantic friend.
Suddenly, Armin's thoughts were cut short by a loud huffing sound. The three then turned to see that the ball that Rogue and Mikasa were playing with had somehow bounced off the top of the girl's head and into the pond. Mikasa's face was coated in disbelief where as the titan continued its strange huffing sound that Armin had never heard before. Looking to see that Rogue's eyes were alive with joy and the corners of his mouth were pulled into an awkward smile, Armin let out a gasp as he realized what exactly the titan was doing.
"Well, that looks like something he learned from the two of you." Carla smiled at Armin with the doctor nodding in agreement.
The titan then reached over and plucked the now wet ball from the cove's pond. Rogue then attempted the best smirk that he could manage with a mischievous glint filling his eyes. The titan suddenly tossed the ball in Armin's direction with the boy having barely enough time to catch it. The blonde held the ball in awe as he stared upward at the titan's face, Rogue tilting his head with his pointed ears facing forward as he purred. Knowing just what the titan wanted, Armin lifted himself to his feet with a broad grin plastered onto his face. The boy then began to join in on the merriment. For hours, the three laughed and played in the secret sanctuary, content at tossing a ball back and forth amongst them. Unfortunately, in another year's time, the harmonious days in the cove would come to an end and their world would be turned upside down.