Armin sat quietly as he scribed notes upon the pages of an old and seemingly ancient journal while Mikasa used a thin bone and thread to mend their wares. It was early morning in the cove once again, sun barely peeking through the overhanging branches and rocky wall. As usual it was peaceful, however a translucent feeling of dread masked the haven. After a full year, it was finally time. Both the boy and Mikasa had become of age and had grown quite a bit in the passing of seasons. While he was still the shorter of the two – they had both acquired several inches in their height. Not only that, but they were obtaining a mature mental state. Although they still gave in to whimsy every once in a while, it was clear that they were becoming adults. In a mere few days, the cadets would be recruiting.
The boy let out an exasperated sigh as he let his pencil rest in his palm. Ever since the days they had reached the crucial but tender age of twelve, Armin had been planning their safe return behind the wall, tackling the strategy of succeeding without being seen for all of their safety. As soon as dawn had descended upon them, the two children woke to put the finishing touches on their plan as well as sort out belongings to a choice few before their departure. Truthfully, it pained the two to do so, but it was a thing that had to be done and was for the best. Who knew what obstacles they would encounter in time if they stayed in the cove?
Seeing that Mikasa's emotionless gaze strayed from her current sewing, Armin trailed her vision to see the titan still nestled in his nest, cavernous snores filling the tranquil cove. Armin felt a small smile emerge from hiding onto his face. Rogue was sleeping soundly, body as loose as it could possibly be within the hollow. It truly relieved him. Both he and his friend had been increasingly worried about their titanic friend's current mental state. Over the year that had passed, Rogue's small episodes were occurring more often – escalating noticeably in the last month. The titan would bicker more often when asked what he did on his 'walks' or when the two tried to do something simple such as cutting meat with a blade. Armin had concluded that some of these instances were simply because Rogue was being protective, but others he had not a clue or explanation. The year before, the two children had heard the gentle titan whining and crying out in his sleep. As always, Rogue seemed to put their queries aside, the two never knowing what was going on inside the titan's mind. Now, at least four times a week, Rogue would yelp, cry, whine, and even screech in repose. It was torture to the poor beast. Unlike humans, Rogue, once he had fallen asleep at night, could not be woken up until morning. Meaning that he was trapped in whatever vision he was experiencing until the sun freed him. The children's pleas would do nothing of aid. The titan's distress usually began an hour after midnight and would continue throughout until he would awake. The two children hated to admit, but they themselves had lost sleep over the titan's stress. It was almost routine that when Rogue started whining, the boy and girl would wake up and rub the titan's neck in attempts to sooth – which worked usually to calm Rogue down. Of course, the children never expressed any sort of hate to the titan for they possessed none. They loved their giant friend and anything they did or asked was out of sheer concern. Seeing Rogue submerged in utter peace was now a blessing.
"It's nice to see him like this." Mikasa spoke softly, watching as the titan's tapered ear and pointed nose twitched.
Armin nodded, looking at the line of sunlight that was closely reaching the hollow, a reassuring sign that the titan would soon wake. "It is." He replied, closing his notes. The boy then fretfully bit his lip as Rogue continued to snore, trying to think of how he would put his next statement. "Mikasa, do you –
"Think we're doing the right thing?" She finished, shoulders sinking a bit with her tone. "Is this really what's best? Rogue may be big and strong, but he has sensitive feelings. He's very delicate mentally."
Armin dithered. "Unfortunately, it is the truth. We can't survive out here much longer. Goods are limited and there's no medicine if one of us grows ill. We have no choice even though it is painful."
"You're right." Mikasa replied solemnly as she then turned her gaze to Armin. "I just hate it that we have to leave him, Armin. I know that his bad dreams and behavior lately is because he knows we're departing. He doesn't cope with loss well." The girl spoke, her voice weak and wails of sorrow trying to break through.
The blonde dipped his head, knowing that her words were fact. Armin then directed his thoughts onto the only promising idea that he had in his possession. "Well Mikasa, it's not like it's going to be forever. We'll be in the Scouts and maybe, just maybe we can…
Armin stopped, his words cut off again but not by Mikasa's hand. A loud cry erupted through the cove, capturing the two's unsuspecting attention. Rogue's body was clenched in on itself and trembling like unstable earth as the creature whined and yelped like a fearful dog. The titan's brow furrowed and his teeth clenched tighter in agony. Rogue curved in tighter, burying his face into the leafy bed as he shuttered. Suddenly, the titan flipped onto his back and began to lash out, arms clawing at the air as if he was quarreling with an invisible enemy. The great tree began to moan with the force of the thrashing titan who had begun to wail and kick. With their hearts beating faster than what seemed possible, Armin and Mikasa stood from their seats upon the roots – completely infected with terror. Out of all Rogue's episodes, the two had never seen the titan react unknowingly violent.
The stench of ash, blood, and death tainted the air. Fire burned in an inferno, consuming what the monsters left behind. Like the cobblestone walk, the sky was stained red. Although the afternoon sun was still residing on the horizon, a feeling of darkness was cast over the city that had been reduced to rubble. Rogue stood in the debris, alone and terrified. Where were they! Where were his little ones!
The titan whined, scanning the desolate landscape for the two children's familiar faces. He sniffed, only for his nose to wrinkle in revulsion from the unbearable burning. Desperate, Rogue began to navigate through the ruined structures, lifting aflame beams and other pieces of human homes in a frantic search. WHERE!
Suddenly, a pair of hollow screams echoed across the district, bringing Rogue to a halt. The titan's gaze was drawn skyward to the source, making his heart stop. Standing behind the massive gate and stone wall was the colossal one. Its grotesque features like its lack of skin, corpse like mouth, and dark beady eyes instantly paralyzed the fifteen-meter. It was truly sinister, a symbol of death and a grim reminder. The pair of screams rang out again, causing Rogue to look to their origin. His stomach flipped and eyes widened, panic spread across his brain.
His dear little ones, his precious babies, were in the palm of the colossal one – screaming as their flesh was burned by the giant titan's immense heat. Rogue let out an agonizing wail as he threw himself forward. No! No! NO! His little ones, Armin and Mikasa – they could not be eaten! He would not let that monster get them! He would steal back his little ones! He would kill that fucker!
Rogue flung himself onto the fifty-meter wall, digging his nails as far into the stone as he could. The desperate titan piloted himself upward, only managing a mere four meters before his body gave in and Rogue slid back to the unforgiving earth. A searing pain soared through his leg as it was destroyed upon impact. The titan roared in anguish, looking up to see the colossal one edge his little ones closer to his vast jaws. Again, Rogue cast himself upon the hard and steep stone; again he fell to the bloodstained walk. His little ones screamed in horror as the skinless titan held the small children over his jaws, preparing to savor them. Rogue screamed as he began to scale the wall again, trying to ignore his protesting muscles that were shrieking for mercy, ligaments tearing inch by inch. He couldn't give up! He had to save them! He loved them!
The colossal one began to open his mouth, fingers peeling way from Rogue's dear little humans. The titan screamed again, tears welling up in his green eyes and dampening his face.
He fell yet again, crushing his bones as his little ones began their fall.
Again, he attempted to get to his feet, but his broken body only forbid him. Rogue met the ground again, screaming and wailing as he watched –
His little ones descend into the throat of his greatest enemy.
"Rogue! Rogue wake up!"
A soft shade of orange seeped through his eyelids as warmth soaked into his skin. The titan forced his eyes to open, still shivering from the aftermath. Rogue whined softly, struggling to calm himself.
"Rogue? Are you alright?" A gentle voice asked. The titan looked down to see his little one, Mikasa, rubbing his neck. Armin was seated next to her, looking at him in worry. It had only been a night vision.
The titan finally nodded, letting his frame relax. Almost instinctively, Rogue softly nuzzled his head into the two children like a child begging for maternal comfort. Again, the titan didn't care how he looked while doing so, he was just happy that his little ones were still alive and well. Rogue carefully wrapped his hand around their small bodies, cradling them closer.
"Did you have a bad dream?" Mikasa continued kindly. Rogue dithered, not knowing what a dream was, let alone a bad one. He had heard the two throw around the term before, but never questioned what they meant.
"DDRREEEaNNN?" Rogue asked innocently. "AADD DrrrEAaaNN?"
The two looked at one another in shock, realizing their neglect in informing the titan previously. Armin rubbed his chin in thought.
"A dream." He began, hesitating as he pondered how to explain. "A dream Rogue, is when you go to sleep and there is a vision or picture playing out in your head. Everything is in your point of view but you have no control over what happens. Some dreams are good and they are happy, but others are not quite so. Sometimes there are bad dreams that are called nightmares."
"Yes, they are scary visions Rogue. They are utterly terrifying, your worst fears realized." Armin paused, biting his lip – looking to the titan with a concerned gaze. "Rogue, you were having a nightmare weren't you?"
The titan dipped his head, chin resting in the dip of his collarbone. Again, he whined at bit as the truth hit him. He had been having a lot of these nightmares, much more than he was experiencing pleasant dreams. Rogue nodded softly, leaning into his little ones again. He didn't even have to guess why he was experiencing them.
His little ones' expressions only grew heavier with angst. "Rogue? What are you dreaming about? What happened to make you lash out? Toss and turn?" Armin continued.
Rogue's body seized up, muscles tense. He had been rolling around and kicking? Really? He could have killed his little ones had they been with him. The titan's teeth clenched, ears wilting. Ironically, his little ones were the cause of this. Deep down, he did not want them to leave and for nothing bad to happen to them. Still, he wanted his little ones to fulfill their desires and be safe. Like the birds up in his tree's branches, the young had to leave the nest at some point. They had needs; he couldn't keep the two children from them. Rogue dithered, if he told his little ones about what was happening in his nightmares – they might refuse to leave him. As much as he loved the idea of Armin and Mikasa staying, he knew that they couldn't.
It was only best for him to play titan again.
"EEEETTHH." Rogue finally answered, looking deep into his little ones eyes with his.
Their brows only rose in response. Mikasa's face fell, sadness coating her body like an itchy blanket. The girl then placed her tiny hands upon the bridge of his hooked nose. She then began to rub, her comforting strokes long and delicate.
"You had a dream – about death?" His little one choked out, voice heavily strained. "Who's?"
The single word sentence sent a cold tremor down the titan's spine and made his chest flutter. He grunted and groaned, delaying as he searched for a suitable false answer.
"Who's?" Mikasa asked again, making Armin bite his lip.
Rogue hesitated. He hated to hide the truth, but he had to. "UUMMANnnS." The titan answered, interlacing his fingers as his gaze shot to his chest. Even though his next answer was currently incorrect, Rogue still had nightmares ever since that day he lost his humans.
"CcUUrLA. GRRRIssa." Rogue reminded, gruff tone growing gruffer. He didn't want to use his beloved humans as a replacement. The memories of them flooded his head again, making his act suddenly real. The horrible image of the smiling titan returned, the scene of his sweet Carla being devoured consumed his mind yet again. Rogue withered, he should not have used them as a replacement – especially not in his current unstable state. Again, the gentle giant whined and pressed his face into his little ones in desperation. He was losing everyone it seemed. The thought brought forth eye water.
"Rogue." Mikasa began warmly, climbing upon the titan's breast. "Can I share something with you?"
The titan sniffed, tilting his head in question as he stared at his little one. Rogue then nodded weakly, waiting patiently for the young girl to continue.
"My mother once told me this a year before I lost her to those men. She said to me that we never really lose those we love even though they have since left the world. We carry their memories in here." His little one articulated tenderly, gesturing to the center of Rogue's chest.
The titan blinked, wondering what the young human was implying. Rogue raised a finger, emitting a small grunt in query as he followed Mikasa's gesticulation. The creature's eyes lightened a bit in wonder and hope. What was this thing that his little one was talking about?
"Yes." She smiled sympathetically. "That's where your heart is, Rogue."
His little one nodded, taking a moment to brush her long raven hair from her face. "Yes, a heart. Everyone has one. Of course some are corroded with hate, but most are full of understanding and kindness – a good heart. I'm not sure if other titans have them or if they are hollow, but you certainly do!"
Rogue's eyes widened at the information. He had this thing called a heart? How did his little one know? The titan tilted his head again, gurgling softly as a polite inquiry. Mikasa dipped her head.
"Oh yes! On the night that we first met you and every moment I rested upon your chest, I could hear your heart beating. It's loud and powerful, yet full of compassion. It's the strongest heartbeat I've ever heard, Rogue." The girl spoke as she knelt down and placed her tiny hands against his chest, feeling what the titan assumed was this beating.
Rogue's face softened a bit, giving into curiosity as he pricked his ears fully forward, straining to hear what his little one spoke of. Sure enough, there was a gentle metronome of thumps. They were just as the child described, the sound was upfront and formidable yet gentle as a spring shower. Rogue squealed elatedly, happy that he had this wondrous thing his little one spoke of. He couldn't help but return a smile, irises lighting up like candlelight.
"You can actually feel your heartbeat as well." The girl smiled as she grasped his fingers and guided them into place. "Try it!"
The titan's eyes widened in curiosity and innocence as his fingertips pressed lightly onto his flesh. Beneath muscle and skin, the rhythmic and smooth beat thumped clearly, feeling both alive and comforting. Admittedly, Rogue had sometimes felt the banging in his chest when he was angry, scared, or thrilled – but he had never known what it was. Now, he knew and was incredibly thankful that he was gifted with a heart instead of having an empty shell. It was amazing. Rogue expressed his pleasure with a high grunt and reverberating rumble, making his little one laugh.
"Incredible isn't it?" Mikasa asked with the titan responding with an eager nod. "Some say having a heart is a burden, but others say it is a blessing. I'm not sure which is true, but for you it's a blessing." The girl continued to beam, placing her hands onto his warm flesh again. "Anyways, as I was saying, people keep their loved ones alive by storing memories of them in their hearts forever. You can keep the memories of Carla and Grisha in yours as they did with you – in a special place. They are always alive within you."
"That's right!" Armin began as he joined Mikasa upon his breast. "You can keep Mikasa and I in your heart too. That way we can always be with you even when you can't see us."
Rogue dipped his head, purring a bit at his little ones words as the corners of his mouth pulled up into a smile. How incredible. There was another thing special about him it seemed, something unique and different. However, this thing was a very good thing, not just pointy ears or a proportionate frame. It truly made him happy. It was a bit of a relief from nerves and sorrow. He had another thing to call his. Rogue rumbled deeply, his expression of gratitude vibrating his little ones' tiny bodies, provoking a few giggles.
"Feeling better?" Armin asked, blue eyes holding hope.
The titan nodded quickly. "EEESS!"
"Good! Now Rogue, Mikasa and I are going to eat breakfast and we want you to join us. There's something we need to ask of you."
Rogue tilted his head in wonder as he watched the two children scale down the roots of the tree. Knowing that his little ones asking for his aid was a serious thing, the titan maneuvered himself from his hollow. He felt better since their exchange, but he couldn't help the vivid image of his little ones being consumed like humans feasted on cattle. Perhaps though, just maybe, this heart thing would help – especially in their impending absence.
The titan took a moment to stretch, reaching high over his head before joining his little ones by the designated fire spot that the small humans prepared their food upon. Rogue gradually took a seat upon his rump across from the two, waiting eagerly but anxiously for their explanation. For several minutes, his little ones nibbled and bit off strips of deer meat from bone – yet another one of the creatures that he was still hesitant to kill even after a year since he began to hunt them. Armin then cleared his throat.
"Alright Rogue. It's time that Mikasa and I share with you the plan of how the two of us will be sneaking into Wall Rose. As you probably know, humans can't see you yet, so I came up with what is perhaps our only safe option. Now, just knocking on the gate itself is out of question. The soldiers will think something is up when they see two kids in titan territory – with a titan nonetheless. There's no time to tunnel under the wall nor do we know how deep it goes. So, our only option is to scale over the wall." His little one began as he pulled out his book containing his human drawings; showing with a pointed finger at what Rogue assumed what his little one's plan. "This is the safest way over. Rogue will throw a weighted cable over the wall and Mikasa and I will climb up. Just so we don't strain or fall, a large knot will be tied every twenty inches in the cable so we can have something to grab onto and brace our feet on as we ascend. After we reach the top, Mikasa and I will take the military's service elevator down the other side. This will be done at night since the Garrison won't be on duty." Armin paused, reaching over to pick up the black vine that the titan had found long ago. "Okay Rogue, here is what we need. In order to tie the knots and have enough to go over the wall, we need you to break a promise."
Rogue tightened a bit at his little ones words, leaning back and brows rose slightly in surprise. His little ones wanted him to do something bad? They wanted him to do the act of stealing?
"I know we told you not to ever take things from there, but to survive we must. Rogue, Mikasa and I need you to go to one of the houses that smell of yeast. We need you to bring back as many of the cables as you can find. At least eighty meters in length is what we need. In addition, we need a large rock to be the weight. See if you can find one that's as big as your fist, Rogue."
The titan dithered. He hated to be put into a position like this. If only he could just climb that damned wall! Rogue gave a soft moan, dipping his head like a sheepish dog as if to ask if they were sure. Mikasa nodded.
"I can tell you don't want to break the rules, but like the deer, it's a task that has to be done. Please Rogue, we need them pretty quickly." The girl spoke; her eyes pleading for her, making the titan turn soft. To the creature, Mikasa was a master of persuasion – positive reinforcement.
Finally, Rogue nodded in agreement.
"Good! Now when you find the cables hurry back, Rogue. We have to take some time tie the knots and prepare the weight. As soon as that's done we must head out. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of time."
It was just like any early summer day. Spring was no more with the lack of buds upon branches. Everything had been replaced by massive amounts of green, the complete canopy sheltering the forest floor from the impending heat. Rogue walked deeper into a neighboring forest, one that was blanketed in ivy from the ground to the tops of trees. It was indeed beautiful and clouded with mystery with little sunlight peeking from the canopy, but Rogue also found it to be a bit troublesome. With nearly every step, the thick vines would sometimes tangle around his toes like tiny snakes. Annoying, but at least they broke away easily with every shift of his body. The other thing that bothered him was the sense of loneliness in the surrounding area. The landscape was all but empty with the exception of a few small mammals. For once, there was a lack of titans in the area as well and he was incredibly thankful for that. He preferred to have no distractions. He wanted as much time as could get with his little ones before they left his nest.
Rogue then crested a small hill, spotting what he had been searching for. He had been to this forest many months ago in search of supplies and dried food when he had discovered the small abandoned town before him. Like everything, it was covered in vines and coated in a layer of grunge. Half of the village's human residences had long since been destroyed with a scattered few still standing. Rogue of course came here for a reason. In his previous visit he had smelt the scent of yeast radiating from one of the buildings – meaning that one of the structures that he was told not to raid was one that he was now after.
The titan then paused in the center of the miniscule town and crouched to rest on his heels. Rogue then sniffed deeply, trying to detect and separate what was old and new along with the existing odors. As expected, the smell of yeast was present in the circumference of the area. Following his nose, the titan stood again and began to step lightly over the stony rubble in the direction of the scent's source. Rogue bent down to sniff again. No, it wasn't in a building with a flat covering, but in a human structure different from any that he had seen before. Although it was covered in vines, the human building was the most intact. It had a long pointed structure upon the room and the translucent coverings over the peeking holes were in an array of colors – some even making human pictures. Rogue tilted his head in awe, as much as he wanted to look and marvel at the human structure, he knew what he had to do.
With great care, Rogue placed his fingers precisely where they were needed, and pulled. The roof quaked and creaked, but the titan was a master at prying dwelling coverings off clean. Then, with little effort, the roof was free. Rogue then placed it aside with care and peered down into the human structure. A frown then came to his face. Although the building was colorful and almost cool on the outside, the inside was just like every other yeast smelling structure. The insides had been stripped out and replaced with tools and supplies. Although the interior didn't match the outside, the contents of the yeast dwellings were always interesting. But of course, Rogue reminded himself what he was there for.
The titan then began to messily fish through the contents of the human building, tossing aside boxes of what his little ones called 'food rations' and the strange steel log things that smelled and tasted utterly horrible. Not seeing what he was looking for, Rogue arched further, placing his keen nose into the interior of the building to let it do its work. These 'cables' that he was looking for had a scent much like many of the things that came from the yeast dwellings. Just as a feeling of dread began to bubble in Rogue's stomach, his nose caught the scent he was desperate for. Like a bear looking for food, the fifteen-meter titan ripped open a large chest, rumbling in delight as the cables tumbled out onto the dusty floor. A smile formed onto Rogue's horrid face, the creature happy with his find. Wouldn't his little ones be proud of him?
Rogue then retrieved the hefty coil of cable, a large amount that would easily take five men to lift, and fed his wrist through the center as if it was a giant piece of jewelry. The titan then checked to ensure the cables were secure before preparing to stand, but then Rogue caught the smell of the cables yet again. The creature's head tilted, hair falling messily around his shoulders as his ears twitched in question. Was there more? The titan then bent down to survey again, nose searching for any clue – scrutinizing every thing and surface. Rogue blinked in confusion as he came to a realization. He bent over further, nose pressed against the worn oak floor. There were more cables beneath the dwelling's ground?
The titan let out another curious rumble as he ran his nails over the floor like a dog trying to get food beneath a rug – sharp nails decorating the wood in deep lashes. Scratching rapidly, Rogue's nails caught a metal latch, making a small hole open up through the floor. The titan naturally grunted sharply in surprise. With curiosity guiding him yet again, Rogue bent over as far as he could to peer down into the dark abyss. From the small opening, he spotted more human objects like the things with bird feathers in them and more of the sharp sticks. Rogue tilted his head in question. Was it possible he had found some sort of human den?
The titan then tried to stick his hand through the small hole, but seeing that no matter how he approached, his fist was too big. Rogue sighed, releasing a great amount of steam in slight aggravation. There were more of the cables down there, and he wanted them. Although he didn't want to completely demolish the building, the thought of his little one's needs forced him to make a decision. Rogue then positioned a few of his fingers inside the hole, and with a slight tug, ripped up many of the floorboards and support beams. The titan purred a bit at his accomplishment, vibrating loose human objects as he pulled up a few more boards in an almost merry fashion. Once the floor had been stripped away, Rogue's eyes widened at what he had revealed. There were plenty of the giant plush bricks and even more things with bird feathers in them. Giving in to a bit of child-like whimsy, the titan quickly pulled a giant white brick from the human den –squealing excitedly as he ripped the object open to spill the snow like fluff onto the building's interior. Delighted, Rogue then innocently reached for another plush brick and mirrored his previous act, but then his mind recalled what he was supposed to be doing and returned to work. Scrutinizing the human den again, Rogue spotted a strange wooden thing resembling a giant spool – a thing that held his human's yarn when doing the act of sewing. However, instead of wool or thread, the giant spool held cable. Another proud and almost smug grunt came from the titan as he lifted the human object from its resting place and placed it aside. Wouldn't his little ones be happy!
Rogue then retreated from the building and placed the roof over the structure with tremendous care, but still shattering at least one window. His brows innately knitted together at the fragments of colored glass littering the ivy. No matter how careful he was, that always seemed to happen, but of course he had already torn the interior of the human structure useless so there was no need for perfection. The titan then hummed, ears flickering as he placed the giant spool into his palm with care and stood upright. Rogue then turned and headed back into the forest, off to look for a good rock.
The forest was beginning to open up again. Animals were more abundant and ivy was no longer coiling around his toes. Rogue glanced around his surroundings, looking at the moss and grass covered boulders that were nestled together like eggs in a nest. The titan scrutinized each one, looking from his fist to the rocks in an attempt to compare for the right one. Not seeing any that would be suitable, Rogue sighed, steam leaking from his incisors before moving on. He didn't want to waste much more time.
As he moved further along, the titan's chest began to grow heavy again, knowing that when he got back to his cove, he and his little ones would have to prepare the tool Armin spoke of and then depart. Soon, he would be alone again. His humans were long gone and his little ones were retreating behind the wall. His cove would be empty again with the exception of his deer. Rogue's ears wilted slightly at the thought. It was going to be hard to adjust not waking up to smiling faces or kind words – let alone any contact. It would be like it was before he had met his humans, lonely but not confused. The titan's free hand then snaked to his heart, feeling the gentle pulses beneath his fingertips. Yes, he would keep their spirits there, submerged within every beat. He wasn't just staying behind for his indifference, but for his personal reason. With his little ones safe, he was free to tear his enemies to shreds. He could rip out necks, organs, and crush skulls as long as he desired. While they were absent, Rogue was going to make it safe for them to return. He would see to that with the aid of his little one's memories.
The titan breathed steadily, pointed ears indulging from the gentle but deep beats of his heart. He loved the sound, not understanding why he had never taken the time to truly listen to it. Rogue began to scan the landscape again, but then a scent crossed his nose that made his heart pound against his palm. The titan froze in his path and quickly removed his free hand away from his chest and placed it onto his nape.
"Ah! Look at that! He already knows it's us!"
Rogue slowly turned to see the flying humans resting up in the nearby trees. The pack watched him intently, eyes bearing into his flesh with both tension and inquisitiveness. Over the last year, Rogue had gotten to know them quite a bit indirectly. The uniformed men would come to the woods at least once or twice a month. They would encounter his kind, but only if they HAD to. They just seemed to be more interested in him. The flying humans would always watch or lay out strange objects for him to look at, but never attacked. Rogue had figured that it was because of his looks and this word 'intelligent' that had been thrown around by his humans, little ones, and now these humans. Unfortunately, he had never really been told what the word itself meant, but whatever the implication – it meant that he was different. The titan had also learned much about the main four humans of the flying human pack. There was the tall one with hair on his face who had the ability to smell his kind from great distances much like himself. Then there was the female with messy hair. The human was always squealing or talking about his kind – often losing her composure when looking upon him. Then there was the short man who always wore a scowl no matter what the situation – always looking like his little ones when they complained of this thing humans called constipation, something related to some humanly body function. That aside, the short man was the best at flying, so fast that he was hard for Rogue to often track and the way the human took down his kind in a cold and precise manner amazed him. Finally, there was the eyebrow human that the titan had discovered was the pack's leader. He had hair the color of Armin's and a stony look that only reflected experience instead of aggravation like that of the short man. The other flying humans always answered to his words with a bizarre gesture of placing their hand over their chests and saying the word 'sir' with strong tones.
"This is so exciting!" The messy haired human continued gleefully. "The Rogue Titan is able to remember our scent and know it's us! How astounding!
The creature blinked. The Rogue Titan? How interesting, calling him by his name almost. The titan knew his name was a word in human tongue that Carla and Grisha had given him for they said that it seemed to fit him. They had said that it meant something, but Rogue had long forgotten the definition – but he did like the way it sounded.
"So it seems." The eyebrow man spoke beneath his breath, his eyes staring intently at the titan, making him uneasy.
"What's that thing doing with those cables?" The short one spoke, his voice threaded with irritation.
The humans became silent at the man's words, looking in question at the contents the titan carried. Alarmed, Rogue turned away and glanced into his hand and wrist. The cables? Were they – angry about them? The titan's head spun. Had they seen him take them from the human dwelling? Was it possible that they wanted to return the cables to where they came from? Rogue's gaze shifted back to the group who was still waiting for their next move before returning his eyes to his palm. The things had just been collecting dust, surely they didn't want them returned to their absent owner. Rogue NEEDED them, and he wasn't going to hand them over. His little ones were first.
"No idea." The tall man with facial hair spoke. "It's a bit strange. Why cables?"
"How did he –
Rogue ignored their words and began to walk away, pace quicker than before. With his hand still over his nape, the titan peeked over his shoulder to see a startling sight.
They were following him.
He moved faster. They had to be angry with him! Otherwise, why were they trailing him? Rogue rounded a great tree, and not wishing for the humans to find out what he was doing, the titan quickly lightened and bolted at top speed.
"He's – fast!"
Rogue swallowed hard as his legs carried him as fast as they could. The titan knew this forest well, and he was confident in losing them. However, as he looked over his shoulder, his hopes diminished. From a distance, the flying humans didn't seem so fast, but now that they were close – the situation was entirely different. In fact, he wasn't so sure he could get away anymore. But of course, he was stubborn and it wouldn't stop him from trying.
The trees shook and earth quaked as the fifteen-meter barreled through the wood. Birds flew in fright from their roosts and deer scattered from his tremendous wake. The titan glanced over his shoulder again to monitor the flying humans who were maneuvering with great skill, threading through tree limbs like thread through needles – fast and nimble as bucks and does. Then, Rogue made his move. With a deep breath, the creature let out a large cloud of steam for cover, repeating over and over until there was a light fog in the air – enough to obscure their vision temporarily. The titan then veered sharply to his right, zigzagging through the foliage and trees. Rogue then burst into a slight break in the trees to find a deep ravine that he was looking for. Without a second to wait, Rogue carefully climbed into the gulch. The titan nestled himself into the shallow water resting at the bottom and beneath the overhanging rock face. The creature clutched the cables to his chest and wrapped his other arm around his knees, trying to be as compact as possible. Rogue then held his breath, heart pounding against his ribcage, as he remained silent – looking up as much as he could to ensure that he had lost them. He hated that he ran from them, but he wasn't going to allow them to make him return the cables from whomever they had belonged to. Sure, he was a thief – but he was for good reason.
Suddenly, there was the sound of whipping wind overhead. Rogue watched in incredible unease as one by one the humans sailed over the ravine and into the trees beyond. Soon, the entire pack had vanished, allowing Rogue to let out a great sigh in relief. That was a close one. The titan then let his body uncoil from its upright fetal position, letting his free arm drop to the water as he released a rumble of gratitude and tilted his head back in sheer gratefulness. As the titan prepared to haul himself out of the gorge, his fingers brushed a large and rough surface. Interested, Rogue grasped the object and pulled it from the shallow river. A crooked smile came to his face; at least he found the rock he was looking for.
"How the hell can we lose a fifteen-meter titan!" Levi growled angrily as the regiment finally came to a halt in the trees.
Hange took a deep breath as she landed next to the Commander, Levi, and a few members of the Corporal's squad. The scientist looked around in shock. It was incredible. For the first time in the Scout's history, a titan had actually evaded their pursuit. It was as if The Rogue vanished into thin air like an illusion. Hange blinked in disbelief, the cogs turning in her mind. Why did the titan run? Why did it look so – afraid?
"Fucking thing!" Oluo complained, mirroring Levi as usual. "Where did it run off to? It tricked us!"
The Commander sighed deeply, turning to Mike with an impassive face. "Can that nose of yours pick up anything?" Erwin queried, his forehead wrinkling slightly in thought. The tall man sniffed, shrugging his shoulders.
"No. His smell just sort of went away when he did. Looks like he's not only intelligent but an escape artist as well. Still, why?
Hange thought further. Why did he run? The titan has never done anything like this. He looks at stuff we give him, he leaves most of it behind – but on the occasion he takes things, but never just straight up bolts away. More so, why was The Rogue so fretful and why did he look so frightened? Wait. How did he get the cables in the first place?
Erwin's arms folded over themselves yet again. "Impressive. The Rogue Titan strategized even when making a run for it. He breathed steam for cover then he probably moved erratically to throw us off while we were unable to get a clear visual. A great defensive technique." The Commander spoke, eyebrows knitting together as his gaze became fixed to the trees before them – a hint that indicated that there was something else bothering him to the veteran eye.
The scientist sighed, "I'm still wondering where –
Suddenly it clicked inside Hange's head. Pieces of the puzzle had come together. Now it all made sense!
"Commander!" Hange saluted, gathering the higher up's attention as well as a few surrounding soldiers by the pitch of her tone. Erwin raised a brow and unfolded his arms.
"Section Commander Hange?" The man alliterated, a hint of eagerness in his voice. "What is it?"
Hange's teeth briefly latched onto her lip, hoping that he as well as the others would hear her out. "Permission to go to the nearest safe house, sir! I believe I can explain some of the instances with The Rogue Titan!" She informed, nearly squealing at the end of her statement.
Erwin dithered, weighing options and dissecting facts. After what seemed to be several agonizing minutes, the Commander finally nodded and signaled the Scouts to move out. Hange rocketed herself into the air – hoping her hypothesis was going to be correct.
Within thirty minutes, and after dispatching a trio of titans, the Scouts arrived in the small town of Allana – a barren village that had long since been suffocated in vines since the abandonment of Wall Maria. Before, it was a peaceful village that was perfect for budding families and wood craftsmen. Now, it was nothing but an empty shell of its former glory like all the cities that once thrived in Maria. Once the area was clear of any danger, the Scouts descended from their perch to land before their target. Safe house number eighteen was established in an old church – an admittedly strange place for a depot and even a questionable one. However, the Scouts went by a code. Depots were placed at minimum twenty miles apart. When they had first surveyed Allana for the next location, the church was the most intact building. It was stripped from the inside, belongings taken with the residents when fleeing to Wall Rose. Admittedly it was one of the best safe house locations for its size and basement storage out of the fifty in the southern region of the wall. These days, the Scouts were thankful for anything.
"So, what exactly are we doing here?" Levi began, cross as usual. Hange however, routinely ignored him – humming as she thumbed through the ring of keys.
"Glad you asked Levi!" The woman cackled. "We're here for an exciting new discovery!" Hange elatedly informed, voice growing higher in pitch. "I think this will answer quite a few of our questions!" She smiled as she separated the key, watching Mike from the corner of her eye. As she suspected, the man was putting his incredible nose to good use. If she was correct, he already knew.
The eager scientist then placed the key into the lock, taking a few tries to get over her hands trembling in excitement. "Now Erwin, everyone, allow me to expose the formula to our equation!" Hange concluded as the lock clicked – hoping that she was not about to make a fool of herself. However, before she could place her hand onto the weathered wood, the entire door fell backwards – hinges detaching completely and revealing the interior of the depot. A few gasps escaped a few lips, but Hange only beamed from ear to ear.
"Fuck! This again?" Oluo announced, blissfully unaware of the impending truth.
Inside, the old church was completely ransacked, but much worse than the others. Aside from the scattered belongings and shattered glass, cotton and ripped cloth blanketed the floor – or what was left of it. A good third of the wooden base was no more. Splintered slabs and beams had been pried from their place, creating a gaping hole that exposed the basement that was in a similar state of repair. The floor was also decorated in deep groves, and tiny shards. If the walls weren't standing, the scene would have looked to be the aftermath of an earthquake or tornado.
"This is way worse than the last one." Petra uttered, looking around as they cautiously entered the depot. "What is –
"I'm about to answer your question!" Hange cut in as she supported herself onto a surviving stool, casually sitting like nothing had ever happened with a single boot propped. She then watched as her subordinates paused in their gawking and turned to face her. Hange couldn't help but smirk, light reflecting from her lenses. While some remained confused, it was obvious by their stern body language that both Erwin and Levi were already putting loose ends together. "Alright Mike! I need your nose for a minute. I'm sure you smelled our thief as soon as we walked in. Tell me yes or no with a nod if that's true!"
A smirk grew onto his face as he dipped his head, the Commander and Corporal looking to him in silent suspicion.
"AH! Yes! Just as I suspected! So Mike? How fresh is the scent? Pungent isn't it!"
The tall man leaned against the intact wall, clearing his throat. "Less than an hour old." Mike replied, mellow but with a hook of cunning.
"Damn! We just missed those bastards then!" Oluo continued, but quieted at Levi's steely glare. Hange only giggled in delight.
"Allow me to illustrate! I'm sure everyone is familiar with the safe house raids! Now, last year as Erwin and Levi both know, Mike and I's squads went on an investigation to find clues about our culprit. When investigating number fifteen, we only found clues that we could not connect. As usual, we found structural damage, which you all now know, is quite common in these parts! There were missing things, destroyed things, etc. At first, it just seemed like the settling of the building's foundation that busted windows and allowed animals to come in and of course turn the depot inside out. However, due to recent events – I have come to the conclusion of who our depot thief really is!
Hange observed as silence fell over the room and both the first and second in command's faces loosened in realization.
"You have got to be fucking kidding me." Levi spoke, finally breaking the silence.
"So it's really him then." Erwin added, catching the interest of the others who like them, reacted to recognition.
"YUP!" Hange cheered, rocking on her stool. "It's The Rogue Titan!"
At the words, Oluo blinked in disbelief. "Wait… What! How –
"Please allow me to explain!" The enthusiast began, voice like that of a teacher in a schoolhouse. "It's obvious and I can't believe we missed it! You see, upon observing The Rogue, pieces to the puzzle fell slowly into place. On our way here, I was able to process what I've learned from our friend. Sure, he's a bloodthirsty beast that rips his own kind to shreds, but like a coin he has two sides. I believe I can now confirm that the titan not only has animalistic traits, but he truly does have human intelligence!"
Levi scoffed, a single thin brow raising and wrinkling his forehead. "Hange. If he had human like intelligence, he would be living behind the wall, running a damn business, or hell even talking like every one of us in this room."
She shook her head. "Let me dwell on that further. You actually mentioned this last year when you first saw our subject. The Rogue has human like intelligence, but not to our level. He – has the mental capacity of a child. A four or five year old. Six or seven at the most."
"So, an overgrown toddler then?" Levi retorted, scowl remaining fixed even at the news. "Or perhaps a –
Hange nodded, slower than before. Knowing the fact, it almost made her feel maternal and even a little protective. "Yes. His interest in us is what led me to that conclusion. Like any child, he's engrossed in what's in the world around him. Any kid will go pick up a toy and look at it if it's new to them. The Rogue is intrigued by us, thus his curiosity is a major factor. So, he likes to look at our belongings whenever he has the chance. When I saw him with the mattress for the first time, I knew what he was doing! As crazy as it may sound, he gave into his desires and began to actually play!"
"Oh yes!" Hange continued, ignoring the Corporal's demeanor. "Our titan friend is a marshmallow underneath all that muscle and ferocity! It's incredible!"
"It actually does make sense." Petra smiled. "In every safe house, the pillows and mattresses are gutted! They're always missing too!"
The scientist nodded animatedly. "The Rogue is not only interested in our bedding as I said. When we're not present, like a child, he gets bored. So he breaks his comfort zone like any adolescent, and gets into mischief!"
"By breaking into our depots." The Commander assessed, received a squeal from the Section Commander.
"Precisely! He gets into things, takes them away – and like any sneaky child, covers up his tracks as best as he can!" Hange pressed further as she stood and motioned to the wall, pointing to the edge of the roof where damage was present. "At first we figured that this aspect was foundation issues, but it is actually the result of the titan pulling the roof off carefully and then replacing it once he's finished. The pressure of the roof meeting the wall again causes the broken windows like that one there." She gestured. " If an animal had broken in, the glass would be on the inside, not the outside of the building. Just like a child told to clean their room, he leaves the mess and covers it up! This depot is a perfect example of that! The Rogue has pretty much demolished and ransacked the interior of eighteen here – the hole, the claw marks on the floor, and the missing equipment!"
"Missing equipment?" Petra asked innocently.
"The damn cables." Levi groaned, instinctively resisting the urge to lean against a dusty cabinet.
"Correct!" Hange sang. "That gets to today's incident! Levi, let me ask you something!"
"Oh god, Hange. For fuck's sake –
"When you grew up in Sina's underground, what did you do when you were caught by watchful eyes taking something that wasn't yours?"
For several minutes, the corporal was silent, obviously lingering in her tough request. Not many knew that Levi had come from what could be classified as the slums. The Underground was an abandoned project by the government to construct an underground city – but thanks to certain circumstances, all that remained was an uncompleted project that became a nesting ground for those in poverty and criminals. Levi himself had been a thug before joining the Scouts. Hange didn't know the rest of the story. She would ask the short man every once in a while about it, but he always refused. Even Erwin never spilt the beans. Finally, Levi let out an irritated sigh, shifting his weight onto one foot. "I'd fucking run."
"Yes! Our dear friend was caught red handed taking something that wasn't his, like any being wishing to escape trouble, he turned to flee! Before he bolted, I looked into his eyes and actually saw fear! Can you imagine! A frightened titan! How adorable!" She hummed. "He knew what he had done, and not wanting to get in trouble he ran! Just like a kid, he didn't want to give back what he found!" The woman laughed, completely tickled at the thought while the others only remained in a state of awe. Hange then let her body calm to a point where she could tame her composure. However, as she did, another realization hit her, one that made her smile instantly vanish and her face fall. The other higher ups took notice of the sudden change immediately - this behavior was unlike Hange.
"Something on your mind?" Erwin questioned, brows knitting together in concern.
The scientist bit her lip. What she was about to bring up was probably harder to believe than what she had just put forth into play. "I – noticed something else when The Rogue Titan ran from us. I hope I'm not imagining things and someone else may have noticed it as well."
"Well. It may just be a fluke, or just a reaction. I'm going out on a limb here so hear me out. Levi – did you notice how after you mentioned the cables, The Rogue immediately looked at the ones in his hand?"
At her words, the Corporal suddenly entered a state of incredible awareness. "Wait. Are you saying what I think you are?"
Hange nodded. "I believe… he may be able to understand us." She informed, making the disheveled room grow silent again.
"Wow! So you're saying The Rogue Titan knows English!" Petra exclaimed. "That's incredible."
Mike scratched his scalp, brows rising a bit. "How did it -
"It must have learned by observing us. That's the only way it could have." The Corporal answered. "Otherwise, like you said – it could just be a gut reaction to being caught with something that he should not have had."
"Yeah, could be. I believe more data is needed before I can confirm this." Hange sighed. "We'll have to do more tests in order to know for sure."
Again, it was still for several minutes before Erwin took a step forward in authority. His face had returned to his usual stony look, signaling a coming command. "This Information is astounding. You may share with the rest of Scouts what you uncovered about the depot raids and the titan's level of intelligence. However, the possibility that The Rogue may be able to understand English is to ONLY be kept between the six of us. Such news spreading to others could cause uproar. Like you said, further observation is needed before we jump to conclusions or make plans. Am I clear?"
"Sir!" The others saluted before leaving the safe house. Hange remained standing, watching as Erwin glanced back at her with acknowledgement, before trailing the others out the door. The scientist then entered another state of disbelief.
'Looks like the Commander is fully aware of this as well. Something is off here. Somehow, there is another hidden piece to the equation that's missing.'
Melancholy. That was the only word Armin could use to describe the current atmosphere. The sky was darkening, like a watercolor wash of grey. A coming rain was present on the horizon, the scent of it even detectible by human noses. The gentle swaying moment of the titan's walk making him feel tired, a wordless and tuneless lullaby. Everything just felt sad and slow.
Armin shifted a bit, repositioning himself to rid a cramp in his leg. Both he and Mikasa had relocated from Rogue's broad shoulders to the titan's tapered ears. In terms of safe and comfortable positions, behind the titan's elfish ears and nestled within Rogue's long hair was ideal. Of course, every once in a while, the titan would flick his ears both teasingly and purposely – swinging the two teens out and in and never failing to provoke a few laughs. To Armin's surprise and much relief, the sightings of titans had been few. Unfortunately, his previous theory of the titans overlooking them due to both he and Mikasa possibly carrying Rogue's scent was false. Amazingly, whenever a titan made a move to approach them, Rogue would snarl much like he had done on their hunting trip – the approaching monster then turning back in the direction it came. The display reminded him of just how protective their titanic friend could be. Normally, Rogue was the perfect definition of a gentle giant: loving, friendly, and almost like cuddly dog – and if he had a tail, Armin was sure it would wag constantly. When angry, Rogue was as untamed as a wild animal, completely feral and utterly terrifying – he didn't blame the titans for being weary. However, he was glad that Rogue was a bit of a mother hen.
He hated to leave Rogue, he really did.
The blonde let out a sigh, shifting again. From memory, and according to a map Rogue had confiscated, they were halfway to Wall Rose. Surprisingly, they were making great time. When the titan had returned with what Armin had asked for, surprisingly not bringing any extras like pillows or mattresses, the three sat to work on the device that would help both he and Mikasa scale up the massive wall. The original design had even gone through a modification for the better. In every knot, a branch that was still green beneath the exterior was fed through, creating a makeshift ladder that would be much easier and safer to climb. With the titan's help of course, the process of assembly had gone rather quickly. Armin and Mikasa would measure the space between each knot, begin the knot, and Rogue would pull the cable so that the knots were tight. The same process went for the weight as well, with the titan lifting the large boulder along with tightening. Overall, their fine work was quality in the short interval of time. By the map and Armin's calculations, the trio would arrive at Wall Rose by tomorrow evening.
Suddenly, Rogue emitted a small growl in annoyance as he stopped in his tracks. The titan sniffed heavily, ears naturally facing forward as the creature looked up in distress.
"Rogue?" Armin grunted as he held onto the titan's ear, trying to keep his grip against the shift. "What is it?"
The two children watched as the titan sniffed again, leveling his head. "RRRRAAIIiinnN." Rogue answered as soon as thunder cracked overhead and water began to pour as if the sky had been gutted.
"Just our luck." Mikasa sighed. "Come on Rogue, let's find some trees or something." Armin heard her say, voice more caring and tender than before and he knew why.
The titan eagerly nodded in understanding and began to jog across the grassy plain. The boy and girl held tightly onto Rogue's ears as the titan looked from left to right, searching for shelter from the storm. After several minutes and the beginning of dampening clothes, Rogue spotted a small thicket with a few average sized trees and several giant ones like those in the forest that they had called home. Quickly, the titan made a run for the trees, pounding footsteps joining the rumbling in the heavens. Soon, the thicket's small canopy stretched over them as Rogue entered the deepest part where the giant trees flourished. The titan then let out a jet of steam in relief before looing up at the towering trees, eyes traveling from one to the other as if Rogue was making a selection. Finally, the titan pointed to one of the tallest with branches close at their bases and stretching far from the truck. Armin tilted his head in thought before looking to Rogue whose green eyes were lit with expectancy – obviously waiting for an opinion.
"That looks good. It will make a great place to camp for the night since this storm doesn't look like it will be going away anytime soon." Armin paused, looking to the homemade ladder wrapped around the titan's neck loosely like a scarf. "Let's try out –
Rogue's body swiftly lurched forward before the boy had a chance to finish. Before he could guess what was transpiring, the titan planted his nails deep past the bark of the tree – and began to climb with surprising speed.
"Rogue!" The raven-haired girl yelled. "What are you –
"Rogue!" Armin protested as the titan skillfully scaled nearly thirty meters, stopping every few seconds to examine a cluster of limbs before releasing a satisfied trill and climbing into what could be classified as a bowl of branches. Rogue then began to settle, lying on his back with head resting in clusters of leaves and legs lazily dangling around the trunk. The titan then rumbled in pleasure as he then carefully removed the two from his ears and placed them onto his belly. For moment, Armin sat in complete confusion with Mikasa, staring in bewilderment at Rogue who was purring and grinning awkwardly with eyes shut tight – completely content and proud with himself as if he had done nothing out of the ordinary.
"You… can climb trees?" Mikasa asked, eyes wide in shock. The titan responded to her query with a sharp nod and chirp, eyes opening to reveal green pools illuminated with glee.
"When did you learn how?" Armin finally questioned after he found that his mouth, tongue and lips worked.
Rogue's eyes narrowed slightly at the boy's words, making Armin bite his lip knowing he had brought on what was making out to be one of the titan's little 'episodes.' The creature grumbled non-threateningly, just a small growl that clearly meant that Rogue didn't wish to elaborate. Armin sighed.
"Oh well. You're better than me at it!" The boy gave in, hoping to solve the impending issue. To his relief, Rogue reverted to the pleased state he was in before, purring loudly and looking completely at ease.
Mikasa giggled lightly. "I hope you're not going to be like this cat that lived in our city once. It got stuck in the tree and was too scared to climb down!" She continued to chuckle – the visual of a fifteen-meter TITAN stuck in a tree nearly making Armin burst out in laughter.
Rogue replied in a series of cheerful huffs before cradling his arms around both he and Mikasa. For several minutes, it was silent between the three as the rain continued to fall, growing progressively harder. Armin and Mikasa's small bodies slowly rose up and down with Rogue's abdomen as the titan continued to purr softly – eyes half lidded in fatigue. Suddenly, a horrifying thought crossed the blonde's mind. Maybe they weren't so safe up in the canopy.
"Um, Rogue, maybe it would be better if you slept on the ground. You might have another nightmare." Armin frowned, hoping that he wasn't getting on Rogue's bad side.
The titan tilted his head in what appeared to be confusion but not quite betrayal at the inquiry. Then, Rogue denied with a small and fussy growl before beaming elatedly and pointing to his heart. The two watched as the titan began his odd way of explaining things, 'talking' in a series of ape-like grunts and grumbles that Rogue seemed to expect the children to understand. Sadly, it did get on Armin's nerves at points when he was trying to learn what exactly Rogue was up to, but of course he sympathized with the titan's unfortunate pain when it came to speaking. But thankfully, Rogue's wordless dialect, plus a few clear gestures, made some conversations easy to translate.
"You feel better since our talk this morning?" Mikasa asked, the titan nodding in reply, emitting a more grunts to boot. "That's great. Maybe that will keep your mind at ease, Rogue."
The titan dipped his head, purring again as his vast frame relaxed further. Armin smiled meekly, his mind processing thoughts. It was fortunate that Rogue did feel better at the simple and imaginary ideal, one that really didn't work for most people these days. Of course, any simple idea or thought the titan took seriously with his mental barriers. Although Rogue had the great ability to learn, his deficiency made him slightly gullible. To Armin and most, nothing was better than the physical appearance of someone you know and love.
The sky grew darker as the rain continued to fall, lightning flashing across the stormy heavens as time passed by. Thunder echoed loudly, sounding like one of the titan's angry bellows. Rogue protectively and loosely cupped his fingers around their small bodies, breathing deeply enough to make a few weak leaves tremble. Mikasa then sighed, relaxing against the titan's palm.
"Why don't we share a few stories to pass some time until we fall asleep?" She suggested - Rogue's eyes lighting up at the word of a tale. The creature grunted a bit, ears facing forward as he prepared to listen.
Armin chuckled. "Of course, it won't be stories from the books since we left those with you, Rogue. That way you can have more things to remember us by." The boy paused, hoping that his words didn't sound like he and Mikasa were leaving forever – hoping that it wasn't the case. To his relief, Rogue didn't notice, simply waiting with eyes glowing in delight. To Armin, it was clear that the titan was trying his hardest to be in good spirits at their imminent departure. During their journey, it just felt like Rogue was forcing bravery upon himself with every step. Perhaps every mile they gained, the titan's levelheadedness was lost bit by bit – replaced with false senses of security. It was nothing short of depressing and it made Armin only feel worse. The boy then forced himself to bare the same thin blanket of confidence that the titan himself was wrapped in. "I'll start us off. Do the two of you remember the time before the breach happened when the three of us used to go scare birds up in the canopy? Whoever had the most fly off the branches won?"
The girl chuckled. "I remember that. We had to constantly keep Rogue from cheating." Mikasa sneered.
At her words, the titan tilted his head, ears flickering and a single brow raised, pretending to not know what the two were referring to.
"Oh don't act like you have no idea! Yelling or in your case, roaring, was not allowed. We had to throw objects as high as we could to get them to fly away." Mikasa jokingly informed with the titan rolling his eyes. Armin chuckled at the distant memory. Rogue was always mischievous. During the game, the titan would try to sneak in a roar to get hundreds of birds to fly of frantically – doing so just to hear both he and Mikasa laugh.
"And when we finally scolded you enough, you decided to play along – well sort of."
Mikasa laughed. "You did say that throwing things was the basis of the game, but the rules didn't say how BIG the objects could be."
Rogue suddenly began huffing loudly, tossing his head back into the leaves as he laughed – the sound strange upon human ears. Armin crossed his arms.
"At least you weren't the one explaining how a thirty foot tree got into another one to a member of the Military police." He informed sternly but jokingly. Rogue only smiled cunningly, obviously amused. "Now that I look at it, you were probably hiding somewhere up IN a tree listening and laughing at the whole thing. You're lucky you didn't become a pile of bones that day, Rogue."
The titan continued to chortle, huffs trembling smaller branches. The giant being settled down a bit, obviously waiting for the two to share more.
"Remember that time when we went fishing, or at least tried to." Mikasa giggled, more animated than she had been in a while.
"Oh yeah, we were pole fishing and you kept hogging all the fish." Armin added. "I just kept getting my hook caught in everything before I could even cast out."
Rogue let out a huff and gestured to his ear, making the boy chuckle.
"The only thing I could catch that day was you!" Armin laughed as he recalled the titan's dumbfounded and priceless look when his hook had gotten snagged in the titan's earlobe. "We actually made you a rod too, Rogue if you remember. You used it for about ten minutes before you decided to fish bear style – which turned into you just splashing us with water." Armin snickered.
Mikasa smiled. "We all just ended up swimming after that."
The three of them chuckled a bit at that. During their visits with the titan, the giant's playful but unpredictable demeanor was what made things interesting and enjoyable. Rogue then grunted a bit, a small rumble that Armin and Mikasa recognized as one the titan would make when he wanted attention. The boy and girl observed as the titan's skin at the corners of his mouth pulled upward. Rogue then gestured to himself with a clawed finger, making eager noises that vibrated the beast's frame.
"You have a story that you want to share too?" Mikasa asked, enthused at the titan's willingness to participate.
Rogue immediately nodded vigorously at her query. The titan then swallowed, thyroid bobbing as he salivated his throat to speak. "AARRRnnINN… NNiKaSSaa… NNEEET… RROOGGuuE!"
Mikasa blinked in surprise. "Oh, when we all first met?"
The titan dipped his head in reply. "OOOUUnnnD LIiiTTLE OoNS." Rogue spoke proudly, mouth twisted into a crooked grin with chin elevated slightly. Armin then found himself in a state of awe as he himself tilted his head. Was that the term Rogue secretly called he and Mikasa?
The titan nodded, purring yet anew as he gestured to the two children. Armin smiled at this. Admittedly, he did find Rogue's way of naming them a bit endearing.
"I'll never forget that night." Mikasa began softly, making Armin wonder if she had been impacted by the sudden recollection of her parent's deaths. "If you hadn't come Rogue, Armin and I would have been in serious trouble. That and we wouldn't have both made an unbelievable and caring friend – the best that anyone can ask for." The girl smiled tenderly as she leaned further into the titan's warm embrace. "I don't think I can ever thank you enough for saving our lives." Mikasa announced, grey eyes looking at Rogue in gratitude. "Thank you, Rogue. For everything."
The titan's eyes widened a bit at the words, and for a moment, Armin thought he saw the behemoth blush. Rogue then returned her speech with a low blink and nod, as if to say 'you're welcome.' Another thought then came across Armin's mind, once that flew in every now and again that he always wondered about. "Hey Rogue?"
The creature then turned his attention to the boy, waiting expectedly with forward facing ears. Armin bit his lip.
"I've always wondered this, but what – made you want to help us that night?" The boy asked inoffensively.
Instantly, the titan stilled at Armin's words – looking owlishly into the boy's blue eyes. Rogue shifted uncomfortably in his otherwise comfortable position. The large being's green orbs then transferred to Mikasa, swarming with worry. The titan then made a small pained noise from between his teeth, making Armin want to kick his own in – accidentally bringing up more questions that could possibly upset. "Never…
"HHeEELTLEESSS." Rogue unexpectedly returned. "NNEEN NeEAN." He breathed. "AARRNiiN NNiIIKASSA UURRT." The titan alliterated, ears drooping and eyes filling with obvious sorrow. Rogue then looked to Mikasa, opening his mouth to speak again, but quickly stopping himself, recognizably drawing a line before him. Instead, the titan suddenly grasped Mikasa in a gentle hold, bringing her to rest in the dip above his collarbone. Rogue then gave a soft and nurturing lick on the girl's tiny brow before resting his chin against her in nothing but affection. To Armin, it was incredibly clear that Rogue was going to share something along the possibility that he had seen Mikasa's parents – perhaps their lifeless and bloody bodies. It was incredible that the titan was considerate enough to take her feelings to his account. Perhaps that was why the two had such a close relationship. Armin beamed warmly; Rogue truly had a heart of Amazonian proportions.
For some time, they continued to share stories of their past visits, even some that included Carla and Dr. Jaeger. Soon, things had grown quiet, peaceful in the now relaxing rain. Mikasa had long since fallen asleep against the titan's chest, his giant hand draped over her like a warm blanket. Armin rolled over a bit on the titan's flesh, opening his eyes to notice that Rogue wasn't asleep yet. The titan's luminous eyes were set onto the distant horizon, looking in the direction of Wall Rose. The boy watched and felt as the titan let out a shaky breath, curling his fingers tighter around both he and Mikasa's frames. Rogue brows knitted together, grief present on his deformed face. Armin had been right. The titan was fighting an inner battle.
"Rogue?" He whispered, watching the titan turn his head in alarm before instantly calming. Rogue tilted his head a bit, silently asking what Armin wanted. "Um, I know you're worried about us and that you're going to miss us, but listen Rogue. Nothing is set in stone and we'll be back before you know it. Don't you worry."
At the boy's encouragement, Rogue gave a slight nod in return before letting his head lull to the side and his eyes shut. In no time, the titan was filling the thicket with gentle snores as he joined Mikasa in a state of repose. Armin sighed and rested his head, but sleep wasn't coming easy. He dreaded the coming day.
The moon had replaced the sun yet again, big and full – illuminating the dark landscape with a soft white glow. It was deathly quiet with nearly every living thing asleep except for Rogue's footsteps and his little one's small voices. They had left the safety of the thicket that morning with little issue. Although it was creeping into the later hours, Rogue felt active due to the fact that he spent the day walking out in the open – purposely for he would need all the energy he could obtain. The titan also felt something else, something that he had begun to feel the night before that made him almost sick to his stomach. The reality of the situation was settling in with each mile he traveled. Soon, he would be truly alone again for the first time in more than a decade. Rogue mewled at the thought; he hated being by himself. He wished that his little ones could stay or at least he could go with them. Alas, that was just another impossible thing. There were too many of his kin looking for a feast and he was a monster. This was their only plan and only option, but damn he felt like the world was constantly shitting on him. The titan sighed, could his heart really help him?
Rogue turned to see Mikasa looking up at him with a concerned gaze. Upon looking at her usually still face, the titan whined - quickly turning away to blink back a salty tear. He did not want her or Armin for that matter to see him like this; he wanted to be strong for them. He had to be.
"I can tell that you're upset, Rogue." She proceeded sympathetically. "You don't need to hide any tears from us. It's normal to be sad when someone is going away for a bit. Showing your emotions to them just says that you love them."
Rogue then let his attention drift to his little ones again, looking at their apprehensive but understanding faces. Tears threatened to leak from his eyes, but then his gaze caught sight of the vast stone barrier upon the horizon – one that now appeared as just a grim reminder rather than protection and promise.
"There's Wall Rose." Armin announced softly, tone low and despondent. "Just as the map said, we should be coming up on the Trost district. We – should probably hurry. In a few hours, The Garrison will be starting their early morning patrols."
The titan flinched at his words, dipping his head a bit as his feet forced themselves to keep pressing forward. He wanted to stop desperately, but it was as if his legs had a mind of their own. Rogue then gave in and descended into a trance, recollecting memories and touch. Everything just made his heart sink further. It was the most uncomfortable sensation he had ever felt.
The titan's breath trembled as the wall began to draw nearer, his body quaking with every inch gained. The hands of his little ones began to rub his neck in an attempt to sooth, but it truthfully only made him feel worse. Rogue swallowed back a wad of discomfort as the wall stretched higher and higher – it was menacing. His hand then snaked up to his chest yet again, feeling the rapid beating and the imminent crumbling. No, he had to be strong for his little ones. He wasn't going break. He couldn't. He couldn't worry them.
However, as the trio stopped at the base of the immense wall, the situation hit Rogue full force. The titan suddenly fell to his knees, his inner emotions taking the reins. His broad back hunched bit as his shoulders slouched – nearly making both Armin and Mikasa fall to the earth. Tears leaked from his eyes, but he kept the dam from bursting completely. Still, the titan whined - hair obstructing his face as he slowly gave in to misery.
"Rogue?" The girl asked, the titan feeling her palm against his ear. "Rogue?"
Listening to her concern, the titan took a breath. He had to compose himself. He had to. Rogue's green eyes shifted to his little ones once again; the layer of water making them almost fuzzy. Instinctively, he acknowledged them with a purr, one that was shaky and trying not to be. The titan blinked, a few tears gliding down his gaunt cheeks and teeth, frozen smile masking his inner battle.
"It's okay." Mikasa began, her throat tightening with her voice straining to hold back tears of her own. "Let's be strong for one another, Rogue." The girl smiled meagerly. "Remember," Mikasa continued. "Keep us in your heart as Armin and I keep you in ours."
Rogue withered a bit as he found himself unexpectedly trying to smile. The titan suddenly took his little ones in his hands, letting them rest comfortably in his palm as he buried his face into them. The titan rumbled in likeness as the two embraced his face as best as they could, Rogue's warmth and cool tears soaking into their clothes and skin. Yes, he would be strong. His little ones were leaving the nest – but they would return. The thing called love bounded them together.
"Just like we told you last night, thanks so much Rogue, for everything. And don't you worry – Mikasa and I will be back before you know it."
"Like Armin said, we'll see you in time, Rogue." Mikasa squeaked, suddenly pressing her face to his nose, finally giving way to her own sorrow. "Thank you so much for everything." She cried, making the titan's chest flutter. His little one suddenly pressed her lips to Rogue's flesh, performing a small but incredibly meaningful gesture that the titan knew was a kiss - an affectionate gesture that was the strongest way to express love and his humans had often exchanged with one another. "I love you."
Again, Rogue withered at her words. Tears broke through again, the titan giving in a bit before gathering himself to be slightly more stable. Strong. He had to be strong for his little ones, but of course he couldn't help to express his emotions.
"We love you, Rogue." Armin added, obvious that he was fighting tears as well. "I – never thought I would be saying that to a titan in my life. You may not be human, but you're our friend that's loved and cared for us ever since that night we met. Although we hate to do this, we have to – but you care about our safety and what's best for us. You love us enough to let us go."
The titan smiled as best as he could before gently licking his little ones' faces – giving them his own version of a kiss. Although some would call it disgusting and run in retreat, Armin and Mikasa embraced it for what it was.
"I guess we should get going now." Armin suggested. "It will be daylight soon."
Reluctantly, Rogue nodded and placed the two children back to his shoulder before unwrapping the ladder from his neck. The titan then took the rock in hand, looking to his little one for instruction.
"Okay, this part is critical, Rogue." The boy began, shoving his emotions aside for the moment. "You must get this right with little errors so that The Garrison, the uniformed men with roses on their backs, don't show up and see you. We need you to hold onto the end of the ladder without the rock as you throw the rock over the wall. You MUST hold on to the ladder. Got it?"
Rogue nodded and placed the end of the free cable in his left hand, wrapping it around his index finger once for added security before closing his palm. The titan then got a firm grip onto the bolder, raising his arm back over their heads as he judged his aim. Rogue breathed deeply, putting a lid on his anxiety as he tightened his muscles. He had to throw the weight just right with the correct amount of exertion. To hard and straight, he would just be damaging both the wall and rock. The boulder would have to be high, at an arch, and hard. The throw had to be perfect. Then, with a fluid motion and an explosion of kinetic energy, the titan released the boulder from his grasp. The nearly two ton rock sailed through the air, like the hollow ball that he and his little ones used to play with – almost looking like it was floating. Rogue held his breath as he watched nervously, hoping that his aim was good and he would make his target. To his relief and amazement, the rock flew over the wall to hang on the other side. The titan adjusted himself; walking closer to the wall to gain some slack and let the boulder slide slightly further on the other side for added security. Next to him, his little ones gave a silent celebration.
"Good throw!" Armin encouraged. "Now, keep holding on as Mikasa and I ascend the ladder. If…" His little one paused, swallowing nervously. "One of us falls, please catch us, okay?"
Rogue nodded as he held out his free hand to the two of them to hop on. Once they were secure in his palm he guided then to the ladder, feeling his heart act up again – but he had to ignore it. He had to be strong. The titan watched as the two children debated the order that they were to climb before Mikasa willingly volunteered to go first. Rogue watched nervously as the girl placed her small hands onto the bark of the first limb, steadying herself as she controlled her balance. Armin soon followed her, slow but secure as he adjusted his footing. After scaling several feet, his little ones looked back to him with soft and easy smiles, expressing a final verbal goodbye.
Rogue dipped his head in acknowledgement. "LLOOVV OOUUU."
"Love you too. We'll be back soon."
The titan then watched his little ones ascend further to the heavens. Indeed, they were young birds leaving the nest and taking to the sky. Retreating to a bit of safety. It was almost and accomplishment, a completed stage in a mission. In their absence, he would make it safe for them and all of the humans trapped by their cage. He would fight. His heart would keep him going.
Finally, his little ones reached the top of the wall, making Rogue squint just to see them. He smiled a bit as his two dear children waved at him, the titan himself quickly returning the gesture. With one last lengthy look, his little ones then departed over the crest of the wall – vanishing from his sight.
He was alone again.
After pulling the ladder back to him, the titan finally gave in to his desires and let his feelings escape him. Rogue let out a loud cry, baying in the face of the moon with grief. However, he would be strong no matter what. Soon, his little ones would return. But he didn't know when or how long that would be.
Sunlight bore down heavily from the cloudless sky, radiating heat off the stone surface of the wall. It was another miserably hot day of summer and being atop Wall Rose was the last thing that Corporal Levi wanted to do. The second thing he hated most in the world, right after unclean surfaces, was being hot and sticky with sweat. However, he didn't have a damn choice. An urgent message had summoned him from the comfort of his quarters. The only good thing about the current situation was the lack of Shitty Glasses. He was thankful for that at least.
Levi kept in sync with Erwin's stride as he secretly glanced to the garrison soldiers on duty. Due to the breach, none of the men drank alcohol on duty, the only positive thing that came out of the breach. However, knowing from a few trips prior of being atop the wall, most of the soldiers still goofed off on the occasion. At least they weren't as bad as the Military police – slacking off or fucking whenever they had the chance, doing whatever the hell they wanted in the interior – living off the king's spoils. How he hated them.
The Corporal blinked a bit as he continued to scrutinize the states of the present Garrison soldiers. In light of the rising issue that they were about to be briefed on, most weren't fooling around. Instead, they remained edgy but the older members seemed enthused – talking almost to the level of Hange as they shared information to the fresher Garrisons. Levi's scowl naturally grew darker. What were they dealing with and why in the hell did they call the first and second in command of the Scouts?
Then a familiar man approached the two seasoned soldiers. Levi knew him immediately from anywhere. The man was the highest-ranking Commander in the southern territories and of the Garrison, Dot Pixis. He was an aged man about the height of Erwin with a bald head, eyes clad with wrinkles, and a thick grey mustache. But of course Commander Pixis was really known by two things: he always had a flask of whiskey handy and he was eccentric. Levi could almost call him crazy, but despite his odd behavior at points, the man was brilliant.
"Ah, Commander Erwin and Corporal Levi!" Pixis began in his signature rough voice, sounding not at all like there was an emergency. "It's nice to see you two here on such short notice. I apologize beforehand that we're not discussing matters over a set of drinks."
"That's alright." Erwin nodded. "So, what seems to be the problem?"
The man laughed and gestured for the two to follow him. "Well, it's a bit of an odd situation if I don't say so myself. It all began with early morning inspections. One of our soldiers made the discovery when he was examining a few of the cannons. It's put us on high alert – mostly because we don't know what to make of the situation. We're a bit baffled to be honest, more so confused."
The Scouting Commander blinked in question. "What did your soldiers find?"
Levi watched as Pixis smirked a bit at the younger man's inquiry. The man then stopped in his stride and gestured over the side of the wall into the territory of Maria. "I don't think the question is what we found, but rather whom." He smiled cunningly as both Levi and Erwin met his side. Instantly, Levi's brows rose in astonishment.
There, at the bottom of the wall, was The Rogue. The titan was seating neatly, legs crossed with arms draped over his knees. The beast's green eyes were focused onto them, ears facing forward in alert. Levi's brow wrinkled a bit. What the hell was it doing here? During the past two years, he had never seen it venture further than its territory – moreover why did it look so sad?
"The Rogue Titan." Erwin recognized. Pixis nodded.
"Yup. It's the first time we've seen him since the breach a few years ago." The older man began, suddenly snickering. "Most of our veterans recognized him immediately. He's quite fetching for a titan, a sexy lady one would easily be attracted to him! He's quite a hunk!"
Levi crossed his arms, ignoring the man's humor. "So do you have any idea why he's here?" He asked, watching as Pixis retrieved his flask from his inner pocket.
"We're not exactly sure why. The titan has just been sitting there. He's not causing any trouble. He only gets up to dispatch a few titans and sleeps in a nearby forest. Hell, I caught a few of our new recruits throwing rocks at him and even firing a cannon at the fellow. Commander, you've debriefed me about your interest in this titan – so I was wondering if you could possibly provide some answers as to why you think he's here."
Erwin chuckled slightly. My scientist would have been better to ask, but I can say that this titan really is something else. For the last two years we've studied him since he caught our interest during an ambush. I can say from the presented facts that The Rogue Titan does indeed not show any interest in our consumption. In fact, he's made no move as of yet to even harm us, but he shows interest in examining our behavior and equipment. We believe he has human like intelligence, the level of a very young child. Still, he does surprise us. Right now, he's doing just that.
"So, we don't need to see him as a threat?"
Levi shook his head. "Just be vigilant. During our expeditions, we found out that he can climb trees quite easily and stay awake for extended periods at night. Looks like he can't climb the wall though since he hasn't made any attempts. Of course, if he wanted to harm you, he would have already been up here. So, how long has he been doing this?"
For the first time, Pixis dithered. "Well, for two weeks."
Erwin's eyes widened slightly, large eyebrows rising up on his face. "Two weeks?"
Levi was shocked. 'Two fucking weeks? That titan has been sitting there for two weeks! Why!'
"Yes." Pixis confirmed. "You know; if I didn't know better I'd say that he almost looks – sad. Detached from reality almost. He reminds me a bit of a dog that's waiting for his master to come home. I've actually begun to feel sorry for him."
As if to confirm suspicions, The Rogue Titan suddenly let out a moan, ears wilting as it adverted its gaze to the grass at its feet. Levi shifted in unease. What on earth was the damn thing doing?
Pixis then lifted his flask to his lips once again, brows knitted while he was deep in thought. "I've informed the rest of the Garrison to not speak a word of this, even to the trainees. A titan that hunts his own is a thing that could be considered beautiful at this day and age. I don't like wasted potential."
Erwin nodded in agreement. "Thank you Commander. I wish we could tap into that untapped potential. The Rogue Titan in truly unique."
The older man nodded. "Still, I wish I knew what he's doing."
Levi sighed, but then catching his breath as the titan suddenly rose to his feet. The Corporal and the two Commanders watched as The Rogue looked upon them one last time before turning away from the wall and vanishing into the nearby woods.
"Hmm, well I guess he finally decided to head back home since that's not the direction he goes in to shelter for the evening."
The Corporal sighed. There were so many components to this titan that were shrouded in mystery. This creature was more than what met the eye. That was for sure. Like Hange had noted, something about the titan just seemed – off. Levi really wished that he knew what it was.
He would find out one day. He just had a feeling – a bad one.